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OT35: Boston Comment

This is my attempt to get away without writing posts because I’m still on vacation the weekly open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. Also:

1. The subreddit is still around and will host parallel open threads. Those of you who don’t like the commenting system here can go there and either post on the open thread or start a new topic.

2. Comment of the week is Sarah explaining the gift horse thing better than I could. I may have to ban myself from giving Sarah comment-of-the-week status too often because that’s too easy.

3. Thanks to everyone who attended the Boston meetup and my talks in the Northeast. Everyone was super nice and I’m really happy with how it all went and with all the great people I met. Some kind of video or transcript of talk possibly to become available later, maybe.

4. MealSquares (the Soylent-esque food substitute company that advertises in the sidebar here, as seen in Business Insider magazine) is looking for a formally trained nutrition expert who’s good at parsing and understanding studies in the field to serve as an advisor in exchange for equity in their company. If that sounds like you, you can contact them here.

5. Nathan Robinson, whose blog Navel Observatory is on the other sidebar here and whose work I’ve previously linked to, is starting a “new print magazine of political analysis, satire, and entertainment” and seeking donations/subscriptions on Kickstarter. Take a look.

6. Please use the “Report” button responsibly. If you don’t like someone, finding and reporting every single one of their posts doesn’t get them banned. It just means every single one of my posts appears on my reported comments list, and I have to manually clear all of them after I see they’re not bad. It doesn’t punish them, it just punishes me.

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890 Responses to OT35: Boston Comment

  1. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    SSC SF Story of the Week #1
    This week we are discussing “Crystal Nights” by Greg Egan.
    Next week we will discuss “The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      In accordance with the discussion in OT33, I will be posting a new science-fiction short story each Open Thread for discussion, and giving a heads up about the next story to be discussed so people can read it ahead of time. I have already decided on the next few titles, but feel free to make suggestions for stories to be discussed in the long term future; just make sure the stories have a properly-formatted online copy.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Loved the first half of this story, but it lost a bit of steam after Daniel changed the selection method. Actually, I think you could expand this into a novel just by showing the Phites struggling against the virtual environment and each other as they continued developing their technology inside the crystal’s unique physics.

      Also, I disagree with Lucien. Even if most people prefer private universes, all it takes is one faction with memes about the “real” world being the only one which matters or one AI with a utility function written so as to value only this universe for it to be completely colonized. And if two such players exist, conflict becomes a very real possibility.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Even if most people prefer private universes, all it takes is one faction with memes about the “real” world being the only one which matters or one AI with a utility function written so as to value only this universe for it to be completely colonized. And if two such players exist, conflict becomes a very real possibility.

        Scott makes the same point in “Don’t Fear the Filter”.

    • Suggestion for a future story: Turnover by Jo Walton.

      • Deiseach says:

        That one bored me so much I fast-forwarded to the end and was still underwhelmed.

        Sorry, Ms Walton. Maybe less “Ballette” and more “older than 20s adults seriously discussing options and not young geniuses deciding unilaterally to change the course of society” next time?

    • Deiseach says:

      Well, that was horrible 🙂

      It’s interesting that your first two choices are stories that grapple with theodicy (that’s certainly what Clarke is doing, and fairly consciously; I don’t know if Egan is as aware or intended that).

      I hadn’t read Egan’s story before, so thanks for the introduction to it (I know the Clarke one very well).

      Random thoughts:

      (1) Daniel is a massive pain in the neck. How he treats Julie is very much part of his whole character: deceitful control freak. She is not aware that it’s a job interview until he springs everything on her, he thinks all he has to do is wave money in front of her nose and she’ll drop her phony moralising, and he lies to her about ‘you’re the only one can do this for me’.

      (2) Daniel and Lucien deserve each other

      (3) I’m surprised Daniel and/or Lucien didn’t put it together about the Phites and fertility; the pleasure jolt humans get from sex, so that we’ll engage in sterile/recreational sex, is what the Phites get from reproduction. So of course they want to make babies! The whole evolutionary pressure that Lucien and Daniel designed to force them to evolve better, faster, smarter means that’s where they get the pleasure from sex: successful and fertile resulting in offspring.

      (4) Daniel needed some philosophers on staff 🙂 The idea that the language was full of rich, complex concepts perhaps even more evolved than human ones while the Phite tech lagged behind Earth tech obviously never occurred as a possibility to all the STEM types.

      (5) Seriously, what did Daniel expect? This is where the theodicy comes in: he’s trying to play God, literally as well as metaphorically, and while he’s not just, he is omnipotent in his little crystal world, and the thing that lets him down is that he is not omniscient.

      Given the history of how religion gets overthrown by science and Enlightenment in the human world, and how the first thing the advanced to in order to prove their advancement is decry all notions of God and any duties to the Creator (I’m sure you’ve all heard some version of “I could never enjoy a heaven while one soul was in hell and I’d refuse any god that ordained such a thing”), and the questions Primo asks him which are the classical questions of theodicy (why does evil exist? why death? what about the good people who suffer?), what did he expect the Phites to do? Happily sign up to be slaves of a god who admitted he needed them and wasn’t perfect and moreover had made their world as it was in order to force them to evolve into the slaves he needed?

      (6) It is horrible, the human world Egan describes. WiddulHands is appalling – 0-3? Babies of three months old on a social networking site? We’re socially engineering ourselves in the same way the Phites are consciously altering themselves and we don’t even know it.

      • keranih says:

        The Phites handled revelation much better than most human groups, to their credit. And they handled sterilzation better than I would have thought – it was the description of the Phites going on making babies over and over again, only to see nothing come of it that was the most emotionally affecting part of the story.

        I could not help but map the Thought Police (at least D and/or L had the integrity to name it such) as Angels, observing and manipulating creation according to the will of its creator.

        Overall, it was thought provoking, and opened up consideration of other interactions between powerful individuals and less powerful individuals – D’s motivations were rather self-centered and selfish, but I could easily see a more selfless/altruistic motivation for contacting/creating a primitive race.

        • Linch says:

          I think there’s a pretty fundamental difference between contacting a primitive race and creating one, but yeah. It’s a really intriguing (and arguably practically very important question). If we have the capacity to simulate minds, is it:

          a)immoral?
          b)permissible?
          c)obligatory?

          I think the question between a) and b) is mostly a practical one (it depends too much on the specific parameters of the minds in question, etc), but I’m curious if there’s a technological point or set of emprical observations in which certain simulations could cross from the line b) to c). (Excepting instrumental concerns, promises, etc).

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        It is horrible, the human world Egan describes. WiddulHands is appalling – 0-3? Babies of three months old on a social networking site? We’re socially engineering ourselves in the same way the Phites are consciously altering themselves and we don’t even know it.

        Agreed. But some humans actually know it and take active steps to socially engineer themselves in accordance with their values. The Amish are a fascinating example; their rejection of technology is not based on religious dogma so much as it is based on communities intentionally deciding which techologies, and in what forms, will improve their lives, and which will harm them. For example, an Amish community might decide that owning a car is not cool but that hiring other people to drive you around is okay. Why? Because hiring a car and a driver is expensive and inconvenient, so you will only do it when you really have to, as opposed to getting away from the community every weekend.

    • Max says:

      “The Star” is a brilliant story . It affirms the core idea while the main characters doubts the very same thing for good reasons. And the core idea is – humans cannot comprehend divine purpose, yet he should not abandon faith because of this

      I did now know Clarke was spiritual reading this story made me understand that it was large and core part of him

      • Jiro says:

        That same reasoning could be used to conclude that God is really evil. All examples of God doing good deeds are just situations where we don’t understand how what seems to be good is really evil.

        • Max says:

          I believe the most fundamental question which religions fail to answer convincingly is what is “good” and what is “evil”. Hence the inevitable confusion and ethical gymnastics among their adherents

          The jesuit gets his faith shaken because of his wrongly founded assumption about what is good and what is evil. But this is just because he is fallible human being following fallible human religion. Divine purpose is unknown to him

    • Max says:

      “Crystal Night” is a magnificent story. 9/10
      While the premise is a little bit shaky, philosophical implications are great. Shaky because simulating in a tiny substrate universe complex enough to model the the real one seems to break some fundamental laws of said universe.
      Now philosophical implications – this story is an extremely enticing explanations why our own universe could be a computation and why there seems to be a purposeful drive towards informational complexity. It is fascinating how many philosophical “why”‘s can be answered if framed in the concept of this story.

      Ethical and moral foundations of the story are quite naive, they seem just to serve as plot points. The characters are flat but in this kind of story they are not important.

  2. Luke G says:

    What books should SSC readers read–and what should they avoid?

    If you have a Reddit account, go to https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/3tgeca/ssc_book_list/ and upvote/downvote your book recommendations for SSC readers. You can add more suggestions, too, if you’d like. (I added a few more this weekend, so if you already voted once, you may wish to look again.) The list also doubles as sort of a list of Scott’s book reviews-I tried to list every book he’s reviewed, whether positively or not.

    Related: help improve this list of Scott’s fiction: https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/3u39yg/a_collection_of_scott_alexanders_literary_works/

    • Andrew Farrell says:

      Mets-question: if a friend of mine wrote a book about some of the problems with political discourse that Scott also describes, is it okay to plug it here? He wrote it for a general American audience so it might be a good thing to point people who don’t live in rationality-sphere at.

      • RCF says:

        Meta-mets question: I take it you meant “meta-question”? If you can appropriately discount your approval of the book to take into account your friendship with the author, and you are motivated by the content rather than said friendship, then yes. Although the issue is that you’re not an objective observer of your discounting ability.

        • 75th says:

          Meta-meta-[meta] question: Would it really be that grievous a transgression if OP had just posted the book with a disclaimer about his relationship with the author, even if everyone else decided they didn’t like it? And is “You’d better be careful!” really the tone we want to take with someone who already felt like they needed to ask whether they could ask a question instead of just asking it?

  3. houseboatonstyx says:

    I would like suggestions of search phrases that could find a layman’s term and explanation of … well, the fact that “X doubles the risk of Y” is not as impressive as it might seem, but in application can mean “X brings your chance of Y from 1 in 2 million to 1 in one million”. And sometimes it seems to mean something even less impressive than that.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      You want “absolute risk vs. relative risk”

      • RCF says:

        On the other hand, if you want to learn about the harms of spending time with your family versus going to a bar and getting drunk, you can search for “absolut risk vs. relative risk”.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Please use the “Report” button responsibly. If you don’t like someone, finding and reporting every single one of their posts doesn’t get them banned. It just means every single one of my posts appears on my reported comments list, and I have to manually clear all of them after I see they’re not bad. It doesn’t punish them, it just punishes me.

    Maybe that’s who they wish to punish, actually!

    While we’re on the topic of the comment system. Things that would be nice:
    – Reply links under every comment, regardless of nesting.
    – A “keep current date” checkbox to avoid losing the new posts timestamp.
    – Some basic markup buttons, like bold, italics, blockquote, etc.

    • Richard says:

      I suspect I may have reported a few posts unintentionally. When browsing on the phone, the ‘report comment’ link is often placed where I put my finger to scroll. I hope I have managed to click cancel every time, but probably not.

    • Jack V says:

      My feeling is, occasional false positives in reports are to be expected, but if someone systematically reports all of someone else’s posts, they’re clearly being malicious and wasting your time, and it’s SO OBVIOUS they shouldn’t do that, I’d temp-ban them just to get them out of the way a bit…

      • Error says:

        A system change that would benefit Scott more than us: maybe only have reported comments brought to his attention if they’re reported by at least X unique visitors, where X > 1 but I’m not sure what it should be.

        • Anthony says:

          X = 2, but Scott shouldn’t tell us that. Because soon after it’s known, X people will start teaming up to do that.

    • Technically Not Anonymous says:

      You can do markup by entering HTML tags, in case you didn’t know.

      • Anonymous says:

        I knew – as should be evident by my use of the quote in my post. But HTML markup is often tiresome to type. Especially long tags like blockquote.

    • Julie K says:

      > A “keep current date” checkbox to avoid losing the new posts timestamp.

      I’ve opened a duplicate tab just for posting comments to avoid losing the “new post” mark in the first tab.

    • RCF says:

      “It just means every single one of my posts”

      I take it Scott meant “of their posts”?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Anyone else find the latest Clarkhat post absolutely hilarious?

    • Murphy says:

      The response was the hilarious part. Though I’d like a more subtle long-form version. A good old space-opera which shows the reader the alt-history rather than just having it ranted at them.

      I did feel that the pro-hitlerite-refugee side was straw-manned a little.

      So here’s my own addition:

      With that in mind may I draw the Emergent’s attention to some of the earlier cases in history, indeed in the earliest days of the Hitlerite’s when citizens of the Hitlerite nation tried to flee as refugees but were turned away by the other [factions/phyles/nations] existent at that time.

      [ Mind-Data file attached https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS_St._Louis ]

      In the esteemed Emergent’s opinion did many of the other [factions/phyles/nations] make the right moral choice by turning away the people fleeing the Hitlerite’s in that case?

      Considering that the refugee ships nearing Jovian space are filled with citizens of the Hitlerite [phyles] who have been branded as [near jew] by the dominant [mindshare] of the Hitlerites might the esteemed Emergent admit any similarity between this situation and the historical example?

      • Anonymous says:

        I did feel that the pro-hitlerite-refugee side was straw-manned a little.

        Yeah, a little. Still better than most arguments one sees in the press.

        In the esteemed Emergent’s opinion did many of the other [factions/phyles/nations] make the right moral choice by turning away the people fleeing the Hitlerite’s in that case?

        Considering that the refugee ships nearing Jovian space are filled with citizens of the Hitlerite [phyles] who have been branded as [near jew] by the dominant [mindshare] of the Hitlerites might the esteemed Emergent admit any similarity between this situation and the historical example?

        I’d guess the answer to these would have to be based on the de facto similarity of the [near jews] to the dominant Hitlerites. If the Hitlerites are correct in their assessment that these people’s traits make them unsuitable to be proper Hitlerites, then it’s a good case to let them in. If the Hitlerites are wrong, it would be prudent to turn them back.

        There’s also another possibility: That those fleeing are not really refugees, but opportunists sensing that life conditions are better in the Oort Cloud and that the OCC authorities are weak against appeal to pity – regarding the Hitlerites and those fleeing them as inferior, dumb and incapable of deception to further their own ends at the expense of others.

    • FeepingCreature says:

      I can’t read this.

      I keep wanting to just yell the names of their fallacies out loud until I’m dragged from the room. It’s actually making me upset that I cannot do that.

      • Murphy says:

        For which side? Sadly both did a pretty poor job of defending their corner.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Everyone involved deserves a cone of shame.

          That post and its comments are the exemplar of why “mocking the other side” doesn’t produce anything useful.

          • Anonymous says:

            Hey, now, that’s a little unfair. It did produce a fair quantity of ‘lulz’, as they call them in the vernacular.

          • Murphy says:

            To be fair, it made the same point about people “reinterpreting” passages in their texts as this old article of scott’s using pretty much the same method:

            http://lesswrong.com/lw/fm/a_parable_on_obsolete_ideologies/

          • NN says:

            To be fair, it made the same point about people “reinterpreting” passages in their texts as this old article of scott’s using pretty much the same method:

            http://lesswrong.com/lw/fm/a_parable_on_obsolete_ideologies/

            I think both ClarkHat and Scott are off-target in those articles. If you look even a bit closely, you realize that most religious people “reinterpret” their sacred texts, even (maybe especially) the so-called fundamentalists and self-proclaimed “literalists.”

            A few examples from American Christianity: The New Testament Gospels contain a very clear and unambiguous condemnation of divorce direct from Jesus himself, yet the Bible Belt has a higher divorce rate than the rest of the US. The Religious Right has been far more active politically on abortion than any other issue, despite the fact that the Bible contains exactly zero condemnations of abortion (which totally existed back then, as demonstrated by contemporary Greek and Roman writings). The Prosperity Gospel movement has become popular in parts of the country, with none of its advocates seeing any contradiction between believing that material prosperity is a sign of divine favor and worshiping a dirt poor carpenter turned wandering preacher who spent most of his time talking about how much rich people suck.

            I don’t know enough about Islam to make many comparisons there, but I will say that both the Quran and Hadith contain multiple strong, direct, and unambiguous condemnations of suicide, and at a glance the “except if you are trying to blow infidels up” exception used by Islamic militant groups seems like exactly the same thing: creatively “reinterpreting” a sacred text to justify something that they already wanted to do anyway.

            I think the New Atheists made a major mistake when they tried to identify the details of religious texts as the source of various problems, because quite often the stated religious justifications are simply fig leafs for other motivations driven by larger social issues. For example, it becomes hard to blame Christianity or even religion in general for the problems that parts of the US have with abstinence only sex education when you read that China has virtually identical issues with that sort of thing.

          • Murphy says:

            @NN

            “If you look even a bit closely, you realize that most religious people “reinterpret” their sacred texts, even (maybe especially) the so-called funamentalists and self-proclaimed “literalists.””

            I think that was the whole point of scotts article.

            Scotts one simply doesn’t target Islam or even religious people specifically but rather all groups who’s sacred or important texts include things like “smash your enemies babies heads against the rocks for the glory of the hypnotoad” or even non-religious but sacred/worshiped texts which people have to work really really hard to reinterpret to make not-horrible.

          • NN says:

            @NN

            “If you look even a bit closely, you realize that most religious people “reinterpret” their sacred texts, even (maybe especially) the so-called funamentalists and self-proclaimed “literalists.””

            I think that was the whole point of scotts article.

            Scotts one simply doesn’t target Islam or even religious people specifically but rather all groups who’s sacred or important texts include things like “smash your enemies babies heads against the rocks for the glory of the hypnotoad” or even non-religious but sacred/worshiped texts which people have to work really really hard to reinterpret to make not-horrible.

            Saying that decent people have to work really really hard to reinterpet a sacred text to make it not-horrible implies that horrible people who claim to follow the sacred text “literally” do not have to work as hard. My point is that even those people apply plenty of creative reinterpretation to the parts of their sacred texts that they find inconvenient.

            I also object to the characterization of reinterpreting anything as “working really really hard.” If there is anything that we know about psychology, it is that humans are extremely good at reinterpreting contrary data to fit their existing beliefs, and in fact you have to work really really hard to not reinterpret or ignore everything that goes against what you already believe.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            @NN

            …yet the Bible Belt has a higher divorce rate than the rest of the US.

            Check fire! The Bible belt is much poorer than the rest of the US. Any comparison that does not take that into account is invalid. The divorce rate and religiosity are both almost certainly driven by poverty. Not each other.

          • keranih says:

            @ NN –

            (I don’t know if this is an object level argument or not.)

            The New Testament Gospels contain a very clear and unambiguous condemnation of divorce direct from Jesus himself, yet the Bible Belt has a higher divorce rate than the rest of the US.

            It’s less ambigious than many other of Christ’s decrees, but Matthew allows divorce “for sexual immorality”, while the other three are more blanket in their disaproval.

            Secondly, when controlled for race, wealth, education and rate of marriage, the Bible Belt doesn’t show higher rates of divorce (Link – there was a better study that included the relevant correlations, but I am not finding it.) The study I had read a few months back pretty convincingly showed that religiosity was a protective factor against divorce at all levels, just not a perfect protection.)

          • Jaskologist says:

            Using geography as a proxy for some other thing you want to study is a bad technique. Don’t do it. You end up sweeping in all kinds of other confounders. I usually see it used to declare red states as having the highest divorce rates, but this is essentially doing the same thing.

            We have more direct analyses available. As with most other statistics, if you measure religiousity by church attendance, it is negatively correlated with divorce.

          • NN says:

            Check fire! The Bible belt is much poorer than the rest of the US. Any comparison that does not take that into account is invalid. The divorce rate and religiosity are both almost certainly driven by poverty. Not each other.

            when controlled for race, wealth, education and rate of marriage, the Bible Belt doesn’t show higher rates of divorce (Link – there was a better study that included the relevant correlations, but I am not finding it.) The study I had read a few months back pretty convincingly showed that religiosity was a protective factor against divorce at all levels, just not a perfect protection.)

            I fully agree. I never intended to suggest that religion is the cause of high divorce rates in the Bible Belt. My entire point is that a lot of things that people claim are inspired or caused by religion are clearly inspired or caused by other things, then given after the fact religious justifications.

            Whatever the reason, the fact that so many devout Christians divorce (and even the study that Jaskologist links gives a 38% rate for evangelicals who attend church weekly) despite the fact that their scriptures clearly condemn the practice is evidence that words, even words in holy scriptures, aren’t nearly as powerful as some people think.

          • FJ says:

            @NN: I take your point, but it seems there is a much more obvious and unambiguous example than divorce rates in the Bible Belt. The weekly services for many major religions include a ritual self-denunciation, during which attendees declare that they have transgressed against the tenets of their faith in the previous week. My understanding is that you are not supposed to say to yourself, “Nah, I’m good” during this ritual; there is an irrebuttable presumption that each congregant has transgressed in the previous seven days, in some cases more than once. As you say, “words, even words in holy scriptures, aren’t nearly as powerful as some people think.”

          • Jaskologist says:

            It reminded me of “Parable on Obsolete Ideologies” as well. Both of them do all the real work before the essay begins, in the unstated premise “Assume X is the same as Nazism.”

            Now, it’s worth remembering that Nazism was a thing, and considering whether or not your approach is robust against Nazis, but there’s a lot that needs to go into figuring out if the current group is analogous to Nazis. It’s not the sort of thing you can assume away.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Parable is entirely about the criteria by which x can be approximated to Nazism; it does not talk about anything but Nazis and ‘moderate’ Nazis.

    • Skaevola says:

      I read it, doesn’t seem to be doing anything to raise the level of discourse on this topic.

    • Julie K says:

      Am I missing where the whole thing is tongue-in-cheek? I would have expected Popehat to be in favor of admitting refugees, and certainly would not have expected them to engage in blatant Godwinism.

      • Technically Not Anonymous says:

        Popehat has a few writers. Ken is libertarian, but Clark’s views are some blend of far-right and anarcho-capitalist.

    • Technically Not Anonymous says:

      As someone who isn’t anti-refugee, not really. It just seemed like incredibly heavy-handed satire to me.

    • RCF says:

      I’m pretty sure that “ficitive” isn’t a word.

      • Vaniver says:

        1610s, “formed by imagination,” from French fictif, from stem of Latin fictio (see fiction). Earlier as “convincingly deceptive” (late 15c.). Related: Fictively.

        Source.

        • Creutzer says:

          That’s “fictive”, not “ficitive”…

          • Anonymous says:

            Oh no, a one letter misspelling, call the space nazis.

          • Creutzer says:

            I thought RCF’s whole point was that “ficitive” doesn’t exist, because “fictive” obviously does… But when I searched upthread now, I didn’t find it, so it probably was a typo on his part.

          • Richard says:

            “Ficitive” was in the linked post on Popehat. Still, if a one-letter misspelling was the main problem RCF had with that post, I’m going to have to question their priorities.

          • RCF says:

            Okay, it’s somewhat nit-picky. But I think that if you’re writing a story with a bunch of intentionally-not-a-words, you should make more of an effort than normal to not have an unintentionally-not-a-word.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Not even hilariously bad. Just bad. Most Syrian refugees had their houses blown up by Assad’s Ba’athist government, not ISIS (since Assad’s government has considerably more military strength). Ba’athism is an ideology based around Arab nationalism and left-wing economics. It is much more similar to German national socialism than Islamism is. Of course, if all you want to do is write an incredibly shallow, unfunny story analogising people you don’t like to Nazis, accuracy doesn’t matter. It’s an easy thing to do:

      2278 Q.Z.
      On the planet Zog was Clark. There were some Nazis on Zog. Clark is smug. The Nazis were smug. Please draw your own conclusions.

      • Anonymous says:

        Most Syrian refugees had their houses blown up by Assad’s Ba’athist government, not ISIS (since Assad’s government has considerably more military strength).

        1) You are presuming that the migrants are a) genuine refugees b) from Syria. This seems incredible, given how many of them were born on the same day.

        2) If Assad’s regime is the stronger party in the conflict, why haven’t they won already?

        • NN says:

          2) If Assad’s regime is the stronger party in the conflict, why haven’t they won already?

          Because as the US’s experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam demonstrate, defeating insurgencies is really hard even when you have overwhelming military superiority.

          See also the Roman Empire vs. various barbarian tribes and the British Empire vs. American Colonial militias.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I don’t understand what you mean by “This seems incredible, given how many of them were born on the same day”. Googling it didn’t seem to reveal much.

      • For feck’s sake, only 20% of illegal immigrants in Europe are Syrian. Why even call them all refugees?

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Why is that relevant? I didn’t say anything about how migration in general. Clark’s smug story says that Islam caused the refugee crisis in Syria, so letting Muslim refugees in would be bad bad because they would cause a war here. I’m saying that that is wrong, since the side of the war in Syria that caused the most refugees (by virtue of being best-armed) is the more secular side (but also the one that is most similar to the Nazis ideologically). This point is somewhat facetious, since the difference in ideology between the sides isn’t the cause of the difference in harm done. However, the fact remains that the war isn’t caused by the allegedly relentlessly expansionist ideology of Islam, but by mutual hatred between two different Islamic factions, sparked into war by the fact that it is the minority faction in power. This is a pretty common occurrence historically. In countries where the factors that led to war aren’t present, Muslims live in peace (even if they belong to different factions). A good example is Indonesia, which also presents a counterexample to Clark’s ludicrous claim that Islam “has only ever grown by war”.

  6. jnicholas says:

    I just want to plug the SSC subreddit as well. Conversation threading is better there, and you can get notifications when someone replies to you, rather than refreshing and scrolling through three hundred other comments looking for one of the places where you stuck a comment in, just to see if there are any responses you need to rebut. Or maybe I’m missing some functionality here that makes all that significantly simpler?

    The comments for this open thread are here.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well, Reddit has some disadvantages:
      – Having to register.
      – The upvote system.

      • My take is that the subreddit is good for longer term conversations on specific topics, such as bringing up discussions of long-dead SSC posts, or letting community members make new interesting contributions on those topics. It’s also good for lists and things such as book recommendations. It can allow SSC community members to plug their own thoughts. Finally I think its an opportunity for SSC-folks to be able to PM eachother. Maybe its a chance to organise ideas by enabling the sub wiki, though Scott could add a wiki on here too I guess?

        It seems to be bad for things that invite conflict like political topics, and for discouraging casual drive-by comments from people who don’t want to register. It’s also bad where it splits/dillutes comments/discussions on a single topic so that one has two review to places to get all the community’s thoughts. For this reason I think it shouldn’t be used for regular SSC articles until they’re considered inactive on SSC.

        Not sure where the OTs work best. It seemed about the same on reddit? Good but awkward to navigate sometimes. Maybe a political OT on SSC and non-political on SSC-sub? Or something?

      • jnicholas says:

        You do have to register, but on the other hand it’s super easy and quick, and you don’t have to give an email address or anything. But if you don’t want to do that, that’s fine.

        There is a voting/karma system there, true. You’re welcome to ignore it, and there are options for sorting the order of comments in a number of ways that interact with karma scores, or don’t, at your discretion. What exactly do you see as being disadvantageous about Reddit’s voting system?

        • Anonymous says:

          It encourages pathological behaviours such as:
          – upvoting your friends, downvoting your enemies, without regard to the specific content of their posts,
          – upvoting or downvoting according to current popularity, popular comments get more popular, unpopular comments get more unpopular,
          – thinking that ‘popular’ is synonymous with ‘good’ and ‘worthwhile’.

          • AnonymousCoward says:

            The selection bias toward popular comments is corrected for in the ‘best’ algorithm. But that only corrects for the fact that people are more likely to see them, not for the fact that they are more likely to like them.

            Some subreddits hide vote totals until some time has elapsed, whilst still using them for sorting.

          • jnicholas says:

            Anonymous – My initial response to your (true) points is: Yes, and..? Those things do happen, but what do they actually hurt, besides possibly someone’s feelings who takes internet karma too seriously?

            The only thing I can think of that is an actual consequence of downvoting is that a comment that goes to negative karma gets auto-hidden, but even then you can still see that it’s there and expand it if you want to. But I’d be happy to have downvoting disabled on the subreddit, which the mods could certainly do if enough people wanted it. I don’t think downvotes impart any particularly important information that upvotes alone can’t.

            And upvotes do give some information, as well as being handles by which to rearrange the order of comments in assorted, user-selected ways. So I see them as being useful. Is there something you think I’m failing to account for?

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s basically a subtle system to reward you for saying things people will like. Not true things, not useful things, but things that make them click that up arrow. Posts rated low are automatically hidden, and it’s an opt-in to view them, not opt-out. Posts are automatically sorted according to their votes. It skews heavily towards, “read these early, well-liked comments, disregard everything else”.

            If you’re like me, you think that’s balls, and the channers have it right – you should post anonymously, and be judged on the content of your post, individually, not someone else’s opinion of your post, not who happens to say it, and not be incentivized to acquire a slavish cult following who upvote everything you post, regardless of quality.

          • jnicholas says:

            If you pick the right communities, the things that people like can be the same as the true and useful things. And I don’t know why anyone would spend time in communities that don’t like those things.

            I mean, that’s obviously an ideal that’s never perfectly realized, but I think there are places where it’s more realized than not, and this community has seemed more or less like one of them to me.

            But I’m not really interested in the personal politics of voting, so maybe it seems like less of a problem to me than to others. I am interested in ways to efficiently sort information, so that we can quickly and easily see which bits of the overwhelming flood are more likely to be worth our time, so to me upvotes are a very valuable tool for highlighting bits that many people have approved of. And as long as you pick the right communities, with lots of people who tend to approve of the same sorts of things as you do, that provides very useful guidance.

          • Jiro says:

            but even then you can still see that it’s there and expand it if you want to.

            Requiring people to perform a trivial action to see the comment is almost as effective as deleting the comment. Beware trivial inconveniences.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            That’s why I don’t like Reddit. Yeah, you can ignore the upvoting/downvoting function, but it influences the culture and content there regardless.

            Plus I’m not strong-willed enough to ignore the karma system entirely. During the brief period when I was using Reddit I found that it influenced the things I said. I would craft my posts in a way that I knew would get me more upvotes (even if that meant making them less nuanced) and I was less likely to say something that I suspected would be unpopular, because my lizard brain wanted the little dopamine rush that came from seeing people upvote my comment, even though my higher mind knew that that was stupid and that the points don’t mean anything.

            I suspect it’s the same for a lot of users, and the overall result is that the system nudges everyone toward saying the things that most people want to hear.

        • keranih says:

          There is a voting/karma system there, true. You’re welcome to ignore it

          Tis a pity, though, that ignoring the karma system doesn’t mean that it ignores *you*.

          (There are consequences of the karma system that are hardbaked into reddit, or so it seems. If who ever is running the SSC subreddit so that negative Karma doesn’t hide posts, that would be an improvement, IMO.)

          • Jaskologist says:

            They should disable downvoting altogether.

            As it stands, I’m automatically upvoting anything I see at zero. It’s usually been pretty clear that they were downvoted as a way to say “I disagree,” which is why I fully expect the subreddit to devolve into an echo chamber in short order.

          • anonymous says:

            Exactly. I’ve learned over my years on the Internet that culture of a forum is strongly influenced by how its software works. A mailing list is not the same as a flat forum with quotes is not the same as a nested forum with voting.

            I don’t like reddit’s way of doing thing and I’m not going to use it.

          • jnicholas says:

            Negative karma resulting in auto-hidden comments is the only actual consequence of downvotes that I can think of, and I’m totally on board with disabling downvoting on the subreddit.

          • JBeshir says:

            My main complaint about voting systems is that they convert “popularly held ideas” into “common knowledge” for the people involved in the conversation.

            Discussing things with someone who has a general sense that their opinion/narrative/factoid is popular is difficult. Discussing things with someone who knows that their opinion/narrative/factoid is common knowledge is impractical; no one updates away from common knowledge and even getting consideration of flaws is “arduous” to say the least.

            And that’s not something which is solved by anything I can do to the interface on my end without anyone else also does it.

        • Anonymous says:

          It’s always incredibly disheartening to see good arguments have votes in the negative. Typically this is because the argument goes against the consensus. I just don’t see any value coming from the ability to make a one-click response to posts in a form that amounts to “I disagree”.

          Upvotes aren’t as bad, but seem to encourage witty zingers rather than thoughtful comments.

          • jnicholas says:

            I think it mostly comes down to what community you have. In a good community, votes are valuable and useful guides to quality content; in a bad one, they’re used unreasonably.

            I tend to think this is a pretty good community, so a voting system doesn’t seem very dangerous to me. But I suppose it’s possible it only seems that way *because* it hasn’t had a voting system to encourage bad political behavior.

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        Also, not being able to identify the new comments, divorced from a subthread.

        Unless there’s a way to do this, which I haven’t heard about.

        • Winfried says:

          I think it’s a feature of Reddit Enhancement Suite, or at least it was before my banishment to mobile browsing only.

        • jnicholas says:

          That is a drawback, and I just spent a little time looking for a solution, without success apart from pay-to-play. It is a feature of Reddit gold, so you could pay (I think) $3.99 for a month’s subscription to gold, or go hang around in popular threads on default subs and attempt to make comments that you think might induce someone else to buy you gold.. if you really wanted.

          For me, there are enough other ways to navigate on Reddit, and the advantages of better threading and reply notifications are personally valuable enough, that Reddit’s system wins this comparison.

      • I might give the ssc subreddit another chance, but the truth is that reddit just never seems like home to me. I don’t mind registering, I can live with the voting system. Not being able to find new comments easily is a major drawback for me.

        I’d be grateful if someone here links to their favorite comments at the subreddit.

        • jnicholas says:

          Not being able to find new comments on subthreads is a drawback of Reddit’s system vs. here. For me it’s more than offset by Reddit’s better threading, ability to keep track of my comments and notify me when replies have been made, and various options for sorting and arranging comments. I suspect – but could very well be projecting my own preferences – that most people would prefer Reddit’s system to the one used here if they were fully used to it and aware of all the options it provides.

          The bigger problem to me is the coordination one: not wanting to split the community into two smaller groups each having separate discussions in separate places. And it’s not worth trying to make the whole system switch if that’s the result, so I’m commenting in both places until (if) some resolution is found for that.

      • coffeespoons says:

        I used to feel neutral about the upvote/downvote system at less wrong, but then I got mass downvoted by (I think) a neorectionary, which was pretty horrid. Everytime the mods kicked them off, they seemed to register under another username and downvote again. It has stopped me from using LW.

    • Deiseach says:

      It may be that I am such a dinosaur, but I don’t like the reddit as much as here. I find here easier to use and respond to, whereas the sub-reddit is mostly one or two new posts I’m interested in responding to and the rest are distinctly “meh” to me.

      It’s certainly cutting down on my “getting into fights with strangers on the Internet” interactions, on the positive side! 🙂

  7. Gwen S. says:

    Is the Word template or something that would let me write a fictional internet message board? Like in this chapter of The Northern Caves: http://archiveofourown.org/works/3659997/chapters/8143479

    • Stav Gold says:

      I’ve hacked together an HTML/CSS version of the chapter that doesn’t rely on any Archive Of Our Own-specific formatting. Unfortunately, my company’s firewall blocks filesharing sites; I’ll post it to Pastebin when I get home.

    • RCF says:

      You mean, something that will generate screen shots of a fictional message board? Just find a message board that you like as a template, look at the source code, and substitute your own content for the original.

  8. James says:

    esr is a known SSC reader and sometimes commenter. Now that rms has been effectively (honorarily?) inducted into the SSC diaspora, I ask Scott: What are your plans for capturing the remaining legendary initial-denoted hacker masters?

    • anonymous says:

      jwz is the only other one I can think of off the top of my head.

      • James says:

        Paul Graham is known as pg, at least on hacker news (and it would surprise me quite a bit if he hadn’t somehow read at least one SSC article). There’s also rtm, (in)famous for writing an early worm, but probably not quite well-known enough to be called legendary. I feel like there are some others, but I can’t think of them off the top of my head, either.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          DMR, though he’s dead.

        • Matt C says:

          djb, not dead.

        • James Picone says:

          ken isn’t exactly an initialism, but close.

          • [Not in this thread, just a way of getting a message to James]

            Day before yesterday in our exchange on Cook et. al. 2013, you criticized me for making an argument which I had not made, had indeed explicitly disavowed. I challenged you to either support your claim or retract it, and you have so far done neither.

            It occurred to me that perhaps you had abandoned that discussion without having read my response, so I am calling your attention to it here.

      • Maybe you need Zed Shaw. May not be so famous, but he writes awesome.

        http://zedshaw.com/archive/programmers-need-to-learn-statistics-or-i-will-kill-them-all/

        I sense his politics are far too left to mine, I suspect he is even open to some SJWism even, but he is one of the rare exceptions that he could be sucking Chairman Mao’s dick while pontificating about intersectionality and I would still like him because his writing style is making me crack up with laughter about every minute.

    • Dave M. says:

      There’s also Guy Steele (GLS). Initialisms were quite common at the time.

      • science says:

        Because for whatever software or cultural reason usernames used to be in that format. Which meant email addresses and webpages would be too (in the latter after a ~).

    • Emile says:

      pje used to be a LessWrong regular, and he’s a somewhat legendary hacker in Python circles.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      The unholy trinity isn’t complete without Linus Torvalds.

  9. James says:

    Apropos of that article about Corbyn dreams that Scott linked a while ago: I didn’t think much of the article at the time, but I had a Jeremy Corbyn dream a couple of nights ago (sharing breakfast with him at a bed-and-breakfast; some kind of conference going on). Has anyone else had any?

    • Alraune says:

      Well, Corbyn wouldn’t be the first shadowy, incubus-descended government minister in British history.

    • Pku says:

      I had a dream about having Brunch with Bernie Sanders last night. (It was awkward, he was really nice and I felt bad about having to explain why I disagreed with some of his policies and probably wouldn’t vote for him, if I could vote and some reasonable challenger came along).

      • someone says:

        I had a dream about visiting the White House and having a meal or some kind of meeting with … President Jeb Bush.

        (Then I apparently left something there and had to come back to retrieve it, and they were like “where did you leave it?” And I was like “in President Bush’s office”, and they were like “yeah, right”…)

  10. Daniel Speyer says:

    We discussed the recent Thing of Things post The World is Mad at the NYC meetup this week. One question that came up was how much any of us really disagree over this sort of thing.

    If you have a few minutes and nothing better to do, please take a quick survey on this theme. You don’t need to have read the original article.

    Please do not discuss the questions on the survey here. We want independent responses.

  11. I recently found this article by David Auerbach in which he subdivides the typical political compass by splitting “the left” into four quadrants on the axes of solidarity/suspicion and structural/ethical concerns. I normally like Auerbach’s writing, but his analysis here made no sense to me. Nothing seems to fit neatly in a single point on the chart; most leftist positions have elements from multiple places on each axis (and Auerbach seems to admit as much).

    Am I missing something or is his framework just not very good?

    • Alraune says:

      I think his point wasn’t subdividing the political compass, but claiming that there are four main philosophical sources drawn on by modern leftist discourse, each with a distinctive worldview. I found the article similarly unilluminating, though. So it probably just didn’t dissect things well.

    • PGD says:

      Yeah, I agree that the article didn’t really work. Too abstracted and imposed his own weird categorization rather than being sensitive to / observant of the actual intellectual and social currents emerging now.

    • ddreytes says:

      I think it’s very good as an overview of some of the varying impulses and thought-lines in leftism. I agree that he probably treats the framework too rigorously, but I think it’s pretty accurate in tracing some of the fault lines in leftism & their origins. If you understand it as encompassing all of leftism, it’s clearly wrong – but I think it does identify a lot of tensions within leftist discourse that really do exist. And I think it’s very insightful in its analysis of those tensions, and where they come from, and what they result in.

      It’s definitely been useful for me when it comes to talking with leftists, and I think it’s true in a lot of the basics. Like, at the end of the day, it is very accurate insofar as these are the ways that a lot of leftists think and a lot of the ways they disagree with each other.

      It’s also always nice to have something that is sense-making in the sense of allowing yourself to orient and place yourself in a specific position. So there’s that.

    • Julie K says:

      Speaking of leftists, here’s some things I’ve been wondering about:

      1) What’s the difference between “liberal” and “leftist?” I’ve heard that Americans are the first and Europeans the second.

      2) I’ve heard that a generation ago there were a fair number of “Liberal Republicans.” What does that mean? How did politicians back then decide which party to affiliate with?

      • ddreytes says:

        Those are… extremely complicated questions, and defining anything in these contexts is incredibly fraught, but briefly:

        1) Liberalism is a political tradition centered around freedom, equality, institutions, and markets; leftism is, basically, a distinct political tradition – encompassing socialism, communism, Marxism, anarchism, syndicalism, and a bunch of other ideologies – that generally puts much more emphasis on eliminating inequality, particularly economic inequality, and much less on things like civic freedom. Leftism is much more likely to be explicitly anti-capitalism, whereas liberalism is generally going to be comfortable with some sort of mixed economy.

        For a lot of complicated historical reasons, leftism is much stronger in Europe than in America. So in America, leftism in a classic sense has not really been represented in mainstream politics. The Democratic Party is more left liberal or centrist liberal than strictly leftist, but it’s the left-leaning party in mainstream politics. And so ‘liberal’ gets used in a lot of ways that leftist might in Europe. Even though this usage frankly makes no sense whatsoever if you’re actually looking at the definition of the word.

        2) Political parties a couple generations ago were generally more ideologically and regionally diverse – much more ‘big tent’ parties. Which party you joined would have had a lot to do with regionalism, with local politics, with history and tradition and tribal affiliations and stuff like that. It’s a complicated question, because the political party system in America is really amorphous and ad-hoc.

      • Jaskologist says:

        In modern American politics, “liberal” and “leftist” are synonyms. This is confused by the fact that “liberal” used to have a different meaning, referring to a cluster of beliefs in the freedom of the individual, capitalism, small government, free speech, etc, which are often rejected by leftists. This latter definition now goes under the name “classical liberalism.” If somebody uses the word “liberal” without prepending “classical,” you can assume they mean “leftist.”

        None of the above may apply outside the US.

      • keranih says:

        2) I’ve heard that a generation ago there were a fair number of “Liberal Republicans.” What does that mean? How did politicians back then decide which party to affiliate with?

        Like all things in a living system, it starts more than one generation back.

        While there were party vs party squabbles throughout American history, The Late Great Unpleasantness of 1861-1865 so far holds the record for causing the most long-lived social hostility and grudge matches. Under the Republican (a *very* new, *very* upstart party) leadership of Abraham Lincoln, the Confederacy lost the war, hundreds of thousands of men (population wise, the South’s losses of 260K or so were far more significant than the 360L of the North) and the right to vote, to live under their own laws (under the ten years of Reconstruction) as well as suffering the majority of the infrastructure damage of the war itself and the financial loss of the human slave capital. One could make a rational argument that this outcome was predictable from the start of the Succession, but I doubt you’d get very far with it.

        The states of the former Confederacy lost, they lost big time, and they held a grudge.

        From 1860 through 1970-ish (later or sooner depending on the exact region) very few Republicans were elected from the South, even to local offices like dogcatcher. A local group of die-hard GOPs might put a single nominee on the ballot, but overwhelmingly any real competition was in the Democrat primary, and that was the party that ran the region. One wasn’t a Democrat because the Democrats were wise, or kind, or charitable, one was a Democrat because Daddy and Grandaddy and all the others before them were Democrats, and Great-Grand had been a Democrat because he sure as hell wasn’t going to vote for a Republican.

        (Colored folks/Blacks were largely Republican for the same reason, when they were in areas where they could vote. The areas that didn’t care if Blacks could vote didn’t have many Blacks. The areas that suppressed the Black vote had most of the Black population.)

        And by the same token, being a Democrat in some northern areas was seen as being anti-American values – you were maybe a Southern sympathizer! Who caused that nasty war!

        Being in charge after the CW let the Republicans take credit for growing the country in the post war industrialization era – and set the party up for being the proponents of industry and business, while the Democrats in the North took on the mantle of the working man. (The Caucasian working man. Not Negroes and not Asians. They took in Mexicans first.)

        So even as far back the 1910’s and 1920’s, party identification was not a matter of what you thought, but of where you came from and what sort of work you/your family did. The New Deal, WWII and FDR’s expansion of the executive powers solidified the Democrats as the champion of the working class, which appealed to Southerners, who were *still* lagging the rest of the country economically.

        In both parties, there were people who were more conservative and others who were more liberal.

        After WWII, the economic boom brought increased prosperity and education to the whole country, and the social mixing pot of the draft had led to an easing of the geographic hold different parties had. The increased attention on women’s independence and worker’s rights also spilled over into the racial Civil Rights Movement.

        In 1964, the passage of the Civil Rights Act – which had been advocated for in the popular press as a way for the North to force the nasty evil Southerners to treat their Blacks better – pretty much broke the last of the Southern Social Democrats from the party. Now one belonged to the party that one identified most with – or, to the one that *wasn’t* the one that you identified the least with.

        As neither party was all good nor all bad (and they still aren’t) the drift from one party to another, and the ideological purification, happened slowly, over the course of a couple generations.

        (I know, very long. And I skipped big parts.)

        • MichaelM says:

          The Democrats were the party of the working man for a long time before the Civil War. In fact, it was the increasing discomfort of the Northern working class with slavery and pro-slavery politics in the Democratic party that led to the political upheavals of the period leading up to the Civil War and the (temporary) defection of the Northern white working class to the Republicans.

          The Democrats have always always aaaallllwaaaayys been the ‘popular’ party of the ‘people’, appealing as much as possible to the great mass of citizens in whatever way necessary to win elections. It started when Thomas Jefferson grasped the power of the expanded electorate to win elections and hasn’t REALLY changed since.

          • keranih says:

            Right, but that was *outside the South*. In the South, for quite a long time, including within living memory, people were Democrat because, well, wasn’t everyone? Rich people, poor people, and quite a few Blacks/African Americans – particularly those most integrated into upper society.

            It helps to remember that the Democrats are quite an old party, as American politics goes, and has re-invented itself a couple times.

      • Tatu Ahponen says:

        1. In Europe, you might speak of three important political traditions (I’m simplifying a large deal here). First, you had the liberal and conservative political traditions, where conservatism represented the traditional values of the European society like religion, (in many cases) monarchy and so on, though during time it increasingly came to also be defined by nationalism. The liberal tradition represented rationalism and the belief that old structures could be replaced by more rational means – though even inside the liberal tradition you had differences related to, for instance, the role of the state – some liberals (‘classical liberals’) might support only a minimal government, while others (‘social liberals’) would support quite an expansive one, though they all generally agreed that markets might have some role.

        At the late 1800s, the third tradition – socialism – started to gain force, being based on the idea of opposing social classes and the society being defined by class struggle. Siding with workers, socialism quickly became so popular that it often forced the liberals and conservatives to work together – so the left-right division was understood as one where the left was based on the idea of opposition and the right on the idea of cooperation of classes. Eventually, most socialists became social democrats, either believing that the capitalist society could become a classless socialist society through reforms or that overthrowing capitalism was not even necessary but there should still be workers’ organizations and workers’ parties.

        In the United States, socialism never really become a powerful force and the most traditionalist throne-and-altar conservatism really had a chance to exist, so American liberalism is social liberalism with some elements of social democracy (though less and less after the 80s, at least until Sanders) and American conservatism combines classical liberalism with some similar elements to European conservatism, such as nationalism and religiosity.

  12. Joe says:

    I was wondering what Scott or any others in the community thought of J. Budziszewski theory of the furies of conscience.
    http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-07-027-f

  13. Who else here experiences ASMR? How did you find out about it? Do you have any interesting stories to tell about it?

    For me: I found out about ASMR when This American Life did a story about it a while ago. My experience wasn’t the astounded “I thought I was the only one”, but rather the surprised “I thought that everybody had that”.

    For some reason, this seems to me like the sort of crowd which would have a lot of people with ASMR. Although… now that I reflect on it, I’m not sure where I got this idea, aside from projection. The typical ASMR script is (a) female-oriented and (b) heavily salted with various New Age, homeopathic, and alt-medicine concepts, neither of which is true of the commentariat here.

    • Female oriented? What? Half the videos I see are girlfriend-experience fantasies that look like the nonsexual equivalent of a private cam show.

      Anyway, I think I just found it through reddit. I tend to like videos with minimal roleplaying (not judging anyone else, it’s just a personal squick) that focus more on noises made with inanimate objects.

      Question for fellow ASMR experiencers: do certain sounds or other stimuli give you unpleasant tinglies that feel sort of like ASMR, but bad?

      • We must be watching different kinds of ASMR vids. About half of what I come across is “spa roleplay”, “relaxing haircut,” etc., which all strike me as basically female-oriented. Are you thinking of “supportive friend” roleplays? Those are a staple of the genre, but since I rarely watch those I guess I think of them as non-central. Needless to say, ASMR video creators are about 80% women, and my non-scientific impression is that the audience skews the same, so even the ones which come across as GFE to me are probably not intended that way.

      • Locrian says:

        I didn’t know this was called anything but frisson. It happens to me multiple times a day, not always triggered by anything that I know, but often by music, “crisp” sounds, things brushing me lightly, particularly intense thoughts(cant explain that better).it’s usually less than a minute long. if it’s the kind from music or from nothing, it tends to be longer, sometimes it starts spontaneously,increasing in intensity until I twitch which I guess relieves the feeling.

        I wouldn’t say pleasant or unpleasant but … pleasantly unpleasant. it makes me uncomfortable but I like it.

    • Alraune says:

      I’m not sure where I got this idea, aside from projection.

      Filter your social circle to be weird enough and projection works great.

    • Shit for Brians says:

      I don’t have ASMR (that I know of) and never heard of it before today. However, I do sometimes get this other thing and I’m not sure what triggers it…but I’ll springboard off your thread to mention it here:

      What happens is I get a kind of subtle Alice in Wonderland syndrome, most easily felt in my mouth and my fingertips, and my “inner voice” sounds like a very faint whisper but with the feeling of extremely loud screaming. The Alice in Wonderland syndrome isn’t clearcut: I can’t tell whether I feel like I’m the size of a galaxy or a quark. Maybe both simultaneously. And like I said, it’s very subtle; I have to focus a bit to notice it.

      This used to happen consistently when I was a young kid and got a fever. Now it just happens randomly once in a blue moon (i.e. once every few months at most), most often while I’m reading (from a page or from a screen, doesn’t matter). It lasts anywhere from about 1 minute to half an hour.

      Anyone else get this?

      • Anonymous says:

        I get the feeling when lying down or in the process of falling asleep/waking up. I’ve noticed taking melatonin seems to make this feeling more likely. This feeling also occurs on dissociative drugs and I suspect it has to do precisely with becoming less aware of one’s body (hence why it happens when eyes closed/lying down).

    • lvlln says:

      I experience ASMR, and my reaction was similar to yours when I heard that it wasn’t universal among all humans. I don’t recall where I first encountered it, but one of the first times I saw it mentioned was on Steve Novella’s skepticism-oriented Neurologica blog, where he wrote that while he didn’t see clear and convincing evidence that it was real, he didn’t see it as obviously false, and that the sheer number of anecdotes indicated that there might be something worth investigating there (in stark contrast to the typical post on Neurologica, it was the commenters in this one bagging on Dr. Novella for being too credulous).

      I’ve only started seeking out ASMR a few months ago. Now I put on a YouTube playlist when I go to bed. I enjoy the roleplaying ones more than the sound ones, and the GFE ones are pretty great. I noticed there’s a good number of Korean GFE ASMR vids, which has been a fun way to be more exposed to my original native language.

    • Some Anon says:

      Based on the wiki description of ASMR I seem to be able to experience it (or something similar) at will – some sort of tingling sensation going from my head-to-neck area down my back and occasionally continuing to my extremities. It’s not really pleasurable at all, and it kind of falls in the category of ‘stuff I can do that doesn’t really have a point’, like being able to wiggle my ears.

      Compared to similar sensations I’ve gotten from external stimuli, it feels different (sort of like tickling), though I might be confusing it with frisson. Sometimes I shudder when I experience it.

      I found about it through the internet (probably reddit) somewhat recently, perhaps in the last year or two. I don’t think I’ve gotten ASMR from something designed to purposefully induce it, though I haven’t tried much, maybe a video or two.

    • wow says:

      I had never heard of ASMR, but when I googled it and read the description my response was “Oh yeah, that! I love that feeling.”

      I’ve only ever gotten it from reading very boring passages of writing over and over. Will try the videos and see if they work on me.

    • Jeremy says:

      There is something that is deeply creepy and unsettling about ASMR videos to me. It’s like the weirdness of watching an alien mime a human activity combined with the creepiness of someone whispering in your ear. And I definitely get the “fetish” vibe from a lot of the videos like Wirehead mentioned.

      Seeing everyone here saying they experience it, makes me more likely to think it’s a real thing. But it’s still so unsettling to me… does this make me a bigot?

      • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

        It seems “fetish” is the default reaction of those who don’t have it. Just look at a random ASMR video, and there’s always a few sexual comments and a few “bruh, wtf did i just watch”. And the following thread consists of “no it’s not sexual, look at the wikipedia page and have an open mind”. Personally, I think ASMR is definitely related to intimacy. But intimacy doesn’t necessarily equate to sexual.

        I’ve also seen a Russel Brand video where he tries to make sense of the phenomenon. His working hypothesis is that it’s just porn, but he’s confused enough to be skeptical.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      After I discovered SSC and read the most recent post, I went to the Top Posts. The last one is called “What Universal Human Experiences Are You Missing Without Knowing It?” Threads discussed things like synaesthesia. One particular comment linked to an ASMR video (which has been removed).

      The first video involved drawing on a chalk board. I was bored and mildly confused. But I was still curious, so I tried a second video. It felt great and I cried.

      Embarrassingly, it took me a while to realize that ASMR was not a new experience for me. I experience it intensely when I visit the barber. Especially when the (buzzer?) barely touches the back of my neck. But I always passed it off as “still being ticklish”. Since I was just “being ticklish”, I kind of assumed that most people felt it, but grew out of it.

      I can experience it to a diminished degree on command. It appears to require concentration because I’ve tried listening to videos while being productive, but eventually I become engrossed enough in my task that I’ll suddenly realize I haven’t been feeling the tingles for a while.

      I haven’t really read anything scientific about it. But from my youtube experiences, I hypothesize that it’s a grooming response. Frankly, I still don’t know exactly which stimuli trigger me, except on a case by case basis.

      I find it interesting that 80% of ASMR vids are females role-playing a spa-technician, hair-stylist, or shaman. Not that the gender makes a difference. Maybe this is a product of google’s recommendation bubble. (fwiw I’m male.)

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        But I was still curious, so I tried a second video

        It’s Black Friday, my work systems are slow, I read this thread.

        Why the hell not?

        20 seconds into the video, I “X’d” out. That freakin’ terrified me. The only analogy coming to mind is a morphine tap directly into my spinal cord.

      • Holy crap someone else has the haircut feeling??

        Man, if that’s what ASMR is, then keep me the hell away from it. I absolutely despise getting a haircut, it’s one of my least favourite experiences in the world.

        (I guess I should check out some ASMR videos anyway, just to see. Maybe they actually manage to induce pleasure instead of extreme discomfort)

        • thedufer says:

          I also dislike haircuts (mild social anxiety – why do they always want to make conversation?). And I also get ASMR from them. However, I suspect that your dislike of ASMR is a learned response because of the correlation, rather than ASMR itself being uncomfortable, so I’d suggest you look into it. I get it very frequently, and it is a good feeling in any setting other than a haircut.

    • eh says:

      I experience an extremely unpleasant tingling sensation in response to some of those stimuli. ASMR videos, in particular, make me feel some combination of “ants are crawling down from the top of my head over my forehead, scalp, and neck” and “I’m about to pass out”.

  14. noodles says:

    If anybody is interested in Moscow postrationality meetup, please ping me ^^

  15. keranih says:

    The reddit karma system has had the (unfortunate) side effect of pushing me away from supporting a public rewards for virtue system. If this is the way karma-as-philosophy works, no thanks. I’ll stick with Christianity.

  16. Anonymaus says:

    When I think hard about a topic, I usually want to somehow write down my progress to help me think more clearly, and to be able to revisit my thoughts later.

    I tried a personal wiki (Zim), but the structure of wiki entries seems to be too coarse to capture the relationships of ideas well. I also had a look at Emacs org-mode, but I have the impression that it gets very messy very quickly.

    The “mind mapping” software I have seen seems to be more focused on looking nice than on organizing a large graph with many cross references. I also tried large (A1 sized) sheets of paper; while the more intuitive feel for spatial organization on a piece of paper (vs. links in a wiki) is nice, it lacks the option of reorganizing thoughts after they have been written down.

    Does anyone of you have a good system / software for capturing ideas and thoughts in a structured way?

    • Anon. says:

      I use ConnectedText, it’s a wiki system like Zim but a bit more full-featured. It probably won’t solve your problem with “coarseness” though.

    • robmobz says:

      I use MS OneNote and a graphics tablet. It lets me write or type freeform and then move it around after the fact. Also has the advantage of being free these days.

    • Ryan Beren says:

      Have you tested Evernote? It’s not as good as MS OneNote on a desktop PC, but if you occasionally take notes on your phone too I’d recommend giving it a try.

    • pneumatik says:

      I second the OneNote suggestion, plus a notepad, plus a large whiteboard, plus sometimes just talking to myself. Really, I have the same problem you do. By now I usually know which method will help me feel like I understand whatever I’m trying to understand better, but I don’t have a constant solution.

    • Emile says:

      I’ve used both a personal Wiki and some weird emacs stuff (not org-mode), but now I mostly use Google Documents, which allows me to easily have several linked documents, titles, bullet points, indexes, (sometimes) images…

  17. keranih says:

    Going to spam open comments here, and then bugger off to enjoy the holiday…

    For those SSC sorts who do organized exercise – do any play team sports? Which ones? Why that one?

    For those who do martial arts – which type do you do? Why that one?

    (I trained in both hapkido (Korean) and aikido (Japanese origin) and greatly preferred aikido. It’s been a few years, I should get back into that.)

    (Extra credit points: For those who are not of East Asian descent – do you think you are engaging in cultural appropriation by studying a martial art not of your cultural background? If the term ‘cultural appropriation’ – and all its baggage did not exist – would you think there was something “off” about taking up this thing which was “yours”?)

    • Tarrou says:

      Long ago I played basketball and soccer. I still play pickup games of basketball at the Y. For several years I practiced Muy Thai kickboxing, which is a martial art, but without any of the philosophical stuff. It’s just a very hard and brutal study of how to break bones quickly.

      Extra credit: Cultural appropriation is a good thing. It is how successful cultural memes can be spread, even from weaker cultures to stronger ones. History is not only written by the victors, it is often written by the losers who had some skill or knowledge prized by the winners (Epictetus springs to mind). The stigma from some groups toward this blatantly positive aspect of human nature says far more about them than it does those people willing to have an open enough mind to engage with other cultures.

      As currently used on college campuses, “cultural appropriation” is nothing more than anti-western shaming. When westerners adopt some non-western cultural bit, it’s “cultural appropriation”, and westerners should feel bad. When non-westerners adopt western cultural bits, it’s “cultural imperialism” and westerners should feel bad. In Realville, successful cultural memes spread, are modified by other people, sometimes so much that they are unrecognizable to the originating culture. This is usually a good thing. The only problem is when the cultural meme is a damaging one. The stigma, if there is any, is in spreading poor memes (terrorism, whiny PC victim-mongering, etc. ) rather than good ones.

      Isn’t the whole point of “multiculturalism” that we’re supposed to learn from other cultures? Now they call it appropriation. Relentless silliness.

      • Pku says:

        Re Cultural appropriation, the most absurd example I’ve seen of this was the time someone here accused me (as an Israeli) of culturally appropriating falafel. What made this especially absurd was that this guy was a former marine who’d fought in Iraq. (In other words, the guy who’s family had lived in the middle east for centuries was being accused of cultural appropriating middle eastern culture by the guy whose only connection to the middle east was as an a member of an occupying military force.)

    • Thomas says:

      I studied Tae Kwon Do for 8 years, got a second degree black belt, and realized that while I could probably kill someone with a carefully executed kick, I didn’t actually know how to fight an attacker, and that none of my training was appropriate for scuffling with drunk friends. I took a few Brazilian jujitsu classes, a few Krav maga classes, learned a tiny bit about fighting, then stopped for a while. I started studying aikido last year because I wanted to learn a soft style that would be more applicable to situations I would likely face/less likely to put me in prison. I considered judo but the club at my university is terrible. Aikido had been a lot of fun, although progression is slower than with TKD, probably because more precision is necessary.

      • AlexL says:

        I did TKD too for 17 years. 4th degree black belt before real life got in the way and I could not make time for it anymore (I still do practice my forms from time to time, to stay fresh). I did go to a couple of international competitions when I was younger (waaaaay younger) and worked part time as an instructor for a few years while in high school and college. This was pure TKD, WTF-sanctioned and all the bells and whistles. Recently I’ve inconsistently joined mixed-style TKD schools, but work and kids get in the way.

        As for team sports I do play flag football every week (except for 3 months a year when we take breaks due to summer vacation and winter weather) in a fairly structured league that has more contact than you would expect from FLAG football. 🙂

        You’d think I’m super fit and in shape given that, but no, I’m fairly overweight (although getting better now with a fairly strict diet). I’m also surprisingly fast for someone that heavy (over 200 lbs for a 5’10” height, and it’s not muscle).

    • dndnrsn says:

      Judo, formerly, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu currently. They’re a good workout, I like the tactical/strategic aspect, and I enjoy that (because there’s no striking) it’s possible to use near-max effort in sparring (whereas with, say, boxing, going near 100% frequently is a great way to forget your birthday).

      Extra credit: Judo has become an international sport, it appears that the codifier of judo wanted it to be an international sport, and there’s little to no mysticism or anything of that sort involved. As for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, any cultural appropriation was on the part of the originators who adapted judo. It’s hardly like it’s a major aspect of Brazilian culture in any case.

      The central examples of cultural appropriation tend to be when people misuse sacred symbols: the “feathered headdress worn to electronic music festival” sort of thing. Which is offensive in the same way that someone wearing military medals they aren’t entitled to because they look cool is offensive.

      The sillier examples tend to be by touchy university-kid types who are often not of the culture supposedly being offended against: eg, there were Indian yoga practitioners who actively worked to spread it worldwide.

      • Sastan says:

        I’m sort of with you, but I’d like to take slight issue with your headdress analogy.

        In one sense, it’s perfectly apt, the various feathers in a headdress traditionally were very much like medals.

        In another, it’s out of date, because no american indian today can claim his feathers are for all those scalps he took in the great Poker War of ’99. It’s sort of like if people wore military medals for decoration a hundred years after the last war and all militaries had been abolished. There’s just no one around today that the wearing of a headdress would take away from. Everyone knows you didn’t get those feathers counting coup, because no one has done that for a hundred and fifty years.

        It then becomes just another cultural symbol, like four-leaf clovers or kimonos. It’s an homage to or a spoof of some visible reminder of another culture. Broadly speaking, I’m not sure we should get that exercised about it, although I can envision usages that would be truly offensive.

        • dndnrsn says:

          It just seems disrespectful for it to be worn as a fashion accessory by some clubgoer high to the gills on what their dealer told them is definitely pure MDMA.

          I think that the context is a bit different from the four-leaf clover or the kimono (there are people who complain about non-Japanese wearing kimonos) in the degree to which Native Americans/Aboriginals have been and continue to be screwed over.

          • Sastan says:

            1: I deny the assertion that how “screwed over” a group is has any bearing whatsoever on whether or not cultural appropriation is tolerable/legal/whatever. How screwed a group is is completely orthogonal to the question. If it’s offensive to the Japanese to wear part of their traditional garb, then it’s offensive to the Indians, the Sikhs, the cowboys, and the cops, and the rest of the Village People. If it isn’t, then it isn’t for any of them.

            2: Native Americans are “screwed” by availability bias. Similar to inner-city blacks, most of the talented people from those communities left, and belong to other communities now. All that remains on the reservations are the unfortunately pathological. There’s not enough outside discrimination to keep the top performers in their communities.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Intellectually, there may be no difference; I’m not disagreeing with you there, but this is an emotional issue.

            On an emotional level, to me at least, it feels different to adopt something from a group based on the status of that group. I am not surprised that Native Americans/Aboriginals see some clubber in a headdress and interpret it as “ha ha, we beat you, now we’re gonna take your stuff”. Fictional example: non-Germans saying “hey, it’s Oktoberfest, let’s eat some sausages and get shitfaced” just seems like it would come off very different in a world where plans to reduce Germany to an agrarian nation that could never again assemble the industrial power to wage war again had gone through.

            With emotional issues, it seems like a cost-benefit tradeoff is merited. “You shouldn’t have free speech because it hurts my feelings” is crap, because free speech>feelings, and nothing can replace free speech. “You shouldn’t wear a headdress to the rave because it insults my culture” is different, because presumably any number of other things could be worn to the rave.

            I don’t know enough about the situation on reservations to comment in an informed manner.

          • Anonymous says:

            @dndnrsn

            With emotional issues, it seems like a cost-benefit tradeoff is merited. “You shouldn’t have free speech because it hurts my feelings” is crap, because free speech>feelings, and nothing can replace free speech. “You shouldn’t wear a headdress to the rave because it insults my culture” is different, because presumably any number of other things could be worn to the rave.

            With speech, you could use different words that don’t offend people. Or, if it’s the topic that offends people, talk about something else.

            I think the biggest problem with both issues is that, if we want to go down the regulation route, there is no good mechanism to produce the correct results. We don’t have any way of measuring what words or dress have what offense level to what number of people. If we put in place mechanisms to enforce this restriction then what will almost certainly happen is not that they will accurately evaluate offensiveness of words/dress and prevent only those that cross a threshold, but that they will be a tool for various groups to squabble over control of and use to bash each other with. Probably the least likely group to succeed in this is the kind of weak, oppressed group that the regulation is intended to protect.

            The alternative – totally ignore concerns over what people you don’t know and haven’t met do out of your sight that you might find offensive – is actually workable and seems to me infinitely more likely to produce a good outcome.

          • keranih says:

            @drdnsn

            On an emotional level, to me at least, it feels different to adopt something from a group based on the status of that group.

            To me adopting something from another group is most efficiently read as I ally/associate myself with you instead of I mock you. As an example: Caucasians of the American South who overtly reject appropriations of “Black” culture (aside from the brittle honor stuff, the food, the dialect, pre-rap music, etc etc) will avidly take on trappings and lore of American Indians.

            In that case, does it not do more good for the minority group to have a foothold with the majority group than not?

            If it *were* “better” and “less offensive” for a group’s trappings to be co-opted on the basis of their relative strength (ie, it’s okay to borrow from cultural equals, but taking from dispossessed/disenfranchised minorities is wrong) then would it not be better for a group to *encourage* the majority to co-opt their trappings, as a way to signal “See! We are EQUALS with Majority Group!”?

            Finally – good luck explaining to the Injin that it’s okay for the drunken Jew frat boy that it’s okay for *him* to wear a headdress to the concert, but not okay for a New England blueblood scion to do the same.

            I’m pretty much with Sastan – it’s not me oppressing a whole nation of people, and it’s not half the human race oppressing me because I’m female. It’s me, and the person I’m interacting with, and the best way to deal with all the different ramification is to assume, from the get go, that race, gender, etc, has little to no impact on my perception of you as an asshole (or not) – I judge you on your actions, not those of your family or your long dead ancestors.

            As for the emotional appeal –

          • Sastan says:

            @dndsrsn

            Offense, as they say, is taken, not given.

            Perhaps the energy spent on ever-finer introspection regarding “cultural appropriation” would be better spent telling everyone to harden the fuck up, drink water and drive on. What is better, to convince a marginalized people that any use of their cultural symbols is a mortal insult that should reduce them to helpless squawking, or to encourage them to succeed even in the face of real discrimination, and to take uses of their culture the way they are usually meant, which is a bit of an homage?

            Example: A sports team named after a primitive ethnic group is not done so to insult that group, but to use its positive stereotype as aggressive or scary as a mascot. Hence: Vikings, Tigers, Lions, Jaguars (my god, the Feline-Americans are gonna go APE! [Crap, can we say “ape”?]) It is meant as a compliment, but some are so determined to be offended that no amount of kowtowing (there it is again! Shame on me! I culturally appropriated a word!) will satisfy them.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            It is meant as a compliment, but some are so determined to be offended that no amount of kowtowing (there it is again! Shame on me! I culturally appropriated a word!) will satisfy them.

            While agreeing with much of your broader point (a lot of the cultural appropriation critique seems to mistake symbolic harm for actual harm, and is a particular danger zone for what Frederik deBoer calls critique drift), in the particular context of sportsball teams I think there is something unnecessarily patronising about using the name of a human tribe or ethnic group in a context where it is common to use the name of a wild animal – it is subtly dehumanising.

            Whether it is enough to be worth making a fuss over is a different matter – Eneasz Brodski makes the point that whatever is bad about it is better called by different names … my heuristic would be that if your use of a thing either makes explicit or can reasonably be interpreted to mean that you think of whatever demographic as less than fully equally human, then people can reasonably have a conversation with you about whether you shouldn’t be expressing racist sentiments that make members of that demographic understandably fearful that they can’t expect to be treated as equals by you, but if your use of the thing does not do that, then people should err on the side of letting you enjoy the thing in peace.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Sastan:

            Again, I think that most complaints of cultural appropriation, and cultural imperialism, are BS. Cultures adopting things from other cultures is an extremely normal way for human culture to change, and in many cases, improve.

            In many cases, it is an homage. There’s a reason I’ve been focusing on cases of objects with some sacred quality to them being used as fashion accessories, in a context completely unrelated to the original context.

            That is to say, there’s a difference between drugged-up club kids wearing headdresses, and US paratroopers in WWII shaving their hair into mohawks.

          • John Schilling says:

            “in the particular context of sportsball teams I think there is something unnecessarily patronising about using the name of a human tribe or ethnic group in a context where it is common to use the name of a wild animal – it is subtly dehumanising.”

            If you’re referring to the Washington R-words controversy, it may be worth noting that of the other 31 NFL franchises, ten are named after apex predators and three more for herbivores high on the fearsomeness scale. One team is named after a spectacularly impressive piece of machinery, one after the color of their uniforms. The rest after people, about evenly divided between those of great local stature and groups known for their martial valor and aptitude.

            There’s a common theme here, and it isn’t “dumb animals and people we want to compare with dumb animals”. And I’ve never heard of, say, meatpackers or steelworkers complaining about the subtle dehumanization of their name being used in that context.

            The “Redskins” name clearly was and is intended as a compliment. If the Native American community wants to reject the compliment, they’ll probably succeed in getting the team’s name changed, but it won’t result in even a subtle increase in their status or acceptance in the community.

          • Tracy W says:

            @Winter Shaker:

            I think there is something unnecessarily patronising about using the name of a human tribe or ethnic group in a context where it is common to use the name of a wild animal – it is subtly dehumanising.

            Out of interest, is there any conceivable data that could convince you otherwise?
            And, the animals that are used are often picked for their fighting ability, a human skill as well. Perhaps we are anthromorphising animals, not dehumanising people.

          • Loyle says:

            @John Schilling

            I’d hesitate referring to the association of someone’s group with ferocity, violence, and/or general fearsomeness as a compliment. I’d also hesitate doing so when the reference to those groups fits the pattern commonly used for slurs.

            Not saying it isn’t a compliment. Just that it is a bit weird to make that leap.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Tracy W:

            Out of interest, is there any conceivable data that could convince you otherwise?

            Probably. A well-sampled poll of people of the relevant demographic that turns up a majority ticking the ‘actually, we do take it as a compliment rather than a slur’ box would certainly persuade me that it probably wasn’t much worth worrying about. Have such polls been done? The Wikipaedia page on the Washington Redskins refers to a poll where there were almost-immediate complaints of it not having been done properly but doesn’t go into detail.
            Though in that case, as Loyle points out, ‘redskins’ is hardly the preferred term these days.

          • John Schilling says:

            Probably. A well-sampled poll of people of the relevant demographic that turns up a majority ticking the ‘actually, we do take it as a compliment rather than a slur’ box would certainly persuade me that it probably wasn’t much worth worrying about.

            And the obvious controls would be asking steelworkers, meatpackers, Texans, and Scandinavian-Americans how they feel about the matter, and asking Native Americans how they feel about the Kansas City Chiefs.

            If there’s a case to be made here, it’s that the R-word has been so delegitimized by its misuse in other contexts that it should no longer be used in any context, and I’m skeptical about that one. That having your group’s name adopted by a professional sporting franchise is generally intended to be insulting or generally taken as insulting, I don’t buy at all.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Anonymous: I don’t think it should be regulated or anything like that. And most cases of “cultural appropriation” are bunk, and creepily similar to white nationalist types who don’t want white people taking on the accoutrements of other peoples.

          But there are cases where the benefits of the supposed appropriation are so small, that it’s better just not to do it. This is a case-by-case personal-level thing, not something where I think regulation should be involved.

          keranih: I suppose the best way to put this is that using something sacred from another culture because it looks cool just seems disrespectful. Again, it’s an emotional thing.

          • Anonymous says:

            But there are cases where the benefits of the supposed appropriation are so small, that it’s better just not to do it.

            Are you saying that these actions impose local costs – people from the group whose culture is being misused seeing the misuse and getting upset by it? Or is it a global cost – people from the group whose culture is being misused getting upset at the knowledge that there are people out there, somewhere, misusing their culture?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Anonymous

            I suppose local cost. If it was global cost, it seems like it would be pretty much impossible to deal with.

            Don’t create some sort of Office for the Combating of Cultural Appropriation that would go around scrutinizing people’s family trees and determining what they were allowed to own. But electronic music festivals saying “no headdresses” is happening, and that’s not a hill worth dying on.

          • Anonymous says:

            @dndnrsn

            That’s my view too. But note that this also covers the reverse case, i.e. a music festival saying “headdresses are fine, if you’re upset about this please attend a different festival”.

            The claims in cases such as this do often seem to be that this isn’t okay – that not only is it fine for a festival to ban headdresses, it’s not okay for a festival to not ban headdresses. That even if the person complaining had no intention of attending the festival, just the idea that there is a festival where people are allowed to do things they find offensive is upsetting to them.

            Perhaps this is a weak man argument – perhaps nobody sensible actually thinks this. I would love to believe that, but I’m not sure I do.

        • Tracy W says:

          @Sastan, I understand now that Native American tribes now award the right to wear feather headdresses to their tribe’s military veterans (probably with some other restrictions), of which the US has a recent supply.

        • 27chaos says:

          I don’t care if someone wears a military uniform with fake medals as part of their Halloween costume or whatever, and don’t understand why anyone would. Because of this, I think a better analogy might be to think about regular people dressing up by wearing the pope hat. Personally, I find that non offensive, but I can also understand why some Catholics might feel insulted or have motivation to claim that it crosses a line. Love for oversized headgear that signifies social position is a universal human trait, I like to think. When I look at the two hats, I feel they are both beautiful, ridiculous, inspiring, and intimidating all at once, which is a fascinating combination. My inner Discordian says that people celebrating with what’s weird, strange, unfamiliar, or silly to them is a positive thing. And I would see a rave or music festival as an essentially celebratory act, so I see involving a hat in it as an accessory as also a positive thing.

          No discussion of the headdress is complete without referencing https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mardi_Gras_Indians. I find stories like that wonderfully inspiring, and I find it really hard to categorically oppose headdress wearing because I don’t want to risk precluding such amazing things, instead I want to maximize their chance of happening, and one thing useful for that is to try to make all things in life fun.

      • > I enjoy that (because there’s no striking) it’s possible to use near-max effort in sparring (whereas with, say, boxing, going near 100% frequently is a great way to forget your birthday).

        This is seriously a huge advantage for them, but don’t forget that amateur boxers use head protection. Nevertheless it is truly awesome to have a form of sparring where you are allowed to use 100% force all the time. The only problem I don’t do grappling is that do I really need someone’s sweaty crotch anywhere near my face? Disgust or personal sphere issues must be big for grappling sport beginners.

    • I do non-martial tai chi.

      I don’t think it’s cultural appropriation. I’m not claiming to be Chinese. I’m not claiming I’m doing authentic tai chi. I think it’s very bad if fear of cultural appropriation keeps people from learning from each other.

      Years ago someone asked me whether I thought I was less able to learn tai chi because I wasn’t Chinese. At the time, I said that I didn’t see a problem because the human body is the human body.

      Since then, I’ve found out that the Chinese word sung which is usually translated as relaxed is not well-translated that way. The usual distinction is that sung doesn’t mean like an overcooked noodle, it means like a cat watching a mousehole. The fact that English doesn’t have a word for the latter concept is probably a serious gap in our view of the world– our model marks too much effort (and valorizes it) and too little effort, while leaving optimal effort out of the picture.

      Secrets of the Pelvis for the Martial Arts has an appendix about the connotations of “round” in Chinese. In Chinese, it connotes completeness, fullness, natural order running smoothly…. it isn’t just about geometry. In American English, “round” has a range of meanings, but none of them have so much metaphysical force.

      The next is from memory of an article in Tai Chi magazine about a word which means resist without effort, like a wall standing in the wind. Americans tend to resist with too much effort.

      So, at this point, I’m willing to believe that people who don’t have a good understanding of Chinese will find it harder to learn tai chi. I’m reasonably sure that the three words I’ve found out about aren’t the only ones that cause confusion.

      • onyomi says:

        I would disagree with you. Most Chinese people don’t have these extremely subtle understandings of the terms, either. For most Chinese people, “song” just means “relaxed.” Even in China, Chinese martial arts are specialized disciplines with specialized terminology. A Chinese martial arts teacher may tell you “oh look, but the Chinese character for song has a pine tree in it, indicating that it should be a firm kind of relaxation…” but this is a very common kind of retroactive, just-so-story very common in Chinese culture. The word for relaxed has the word for pine tree in it because they are homonyms, and that’s all. The average Chinese doesn’t conceive of relaxation in some fundamentally different way, even if Chinese martial artists have meditated long on how to reconcile the pine tree appearing in the character for relaxation.

        In some cases martial artists use their own argot in a way which would be entirely unclear to the average Mandarin speaker unless he or she has studied said art and/or hails from the place where they speak the dialect the term came from. In other cases, normal words, like “song,” are used in specialized ways.

        In Praying Mantis, for example, the words gou, lou, and cai (勾搂采), which, to the non-martial arts practitioner, just mean “hook,” “embrace,” and “pluck,” are used in very conceptual ways which make sense to the Praying Mantis practitioner, but which would not be any more automatically intuitive to a Mandarin speaker provided with information: gou-lou-cai than they would be to an English speaker provided with: “hook, embrace, pluck.”

        Of course, there are cases of Chinese words which don’t have perfect English equivalents, but that’s not usually the problem with martial arts.

        If there is a sense in which a non-Chinese would have more difficulty than a Chinese in learning a Chinese martial art, I imagine it would be first and foremost because Chinese martial arts make use of what one might call typically Chinese movement patterns, which many Chinese have been exposed to growing up: not only do they see old people doing Tai Chi in the park all the time, but they have probably been made to memorize and perform calisthenic exercises at school every morning.

        And there is also the issue of “third world body”: most Chinese still have more of a “third world body” which comes of, for example, squatting to use the toilet, among other things. As a result, they have more mobility in their hips than the average Westerner, and may find some types of movement come more easily. Tai Chi emphasizes use of the kua (hips), for example, and the fact that most Westerners have very tight hips due to lifestyle factors probably is a not insignificant obstacle.

      • Tracy W says:

        In order, grounded, flow and staunch strike me as possible English equivalents of the concepts you discuss. I have done some fencing and the grounded state, relaxed but ready, seems similar.
        Although having just pushed through a Wellington wind I am struggling to imagine the concept of standing strong against a wind without effort.

    • lvlln says:

      I play ultimate Frisbee in a club league. I play that one for a few reasons, including the fact that it’s cheap and relatively non-contact and it tends to reward being thin and fast. But the single biggest factor is probably inertia – I started throwing a disc with friends in middle school, and due to the amount of years of experience I have, I’ve become very good at throwing the disc, which is a highly valuable skill in ultimate but doesn’t translate so well into other sports.

      As someone of East Asian descent who was born in East Asia, I consider my ultimate playing to be engaging cultural appropriation of US culture which invented the sport. Just kidding, I think that’s bullshit, whether it be for sports or martial arts, or the culture is US or East Asian.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      Played Baseball and Soccer in high-school, now a-days I do a lot more solo pursuits such as hiking, swimming and bike riding.

      In regards to martial arts, I got into boxing in my early teens largely thanks to my grandfather, as a way to work through my own insecurities. It worked and a I continued to box semi-professionally through my time in the service and in college. While I’m not really in “fighting shape” anymore I’ll still hit the bags for recreation and occasionally act as a sparring partner/target dummy at my local gym. Lately i’ve been getting into HEMA, and other forms of historical combat/re-enactment as it tickles multiple interests of mine.

      While I don’t think it’s quite what most people have in mind when the they say “martial art” I also shoot competitively and have qualified for the National Match in regional completions. Actually taking the time (and money) to properly train for and compete at the national/international level is one of my “bucket list” items.

    • I do neither team sports nor martial arts at present. I did Judo from about age ten or eleven through about twenty. I did SCA combat, mostly sword and shield, from about age 24 to age 65. That is also the only team sport I ever did much of, but not very much–I was always more into, and better at, single combat than melee.

        • Judging by a quick look at the video, not very.

          To begin with, the SCA does historical recreation in general, not just combat–I, for example, cook from cookbooks going back to at least the 10th century. At an SCA tourney, both the combatants and the audience will be in some attempt at period dress.

          Further, the combatants shown appear to be using steel weapons. SCA swords are made of rattan–similar in weight to the real weapons, but no sharp edges.

          If you use real weapons, real armor, and really fight you are at some risk of ending up really dead. One solution is real weapons, real armor, and considerable restrictions on the fighting. The SCA solution is real armor, fake weapons, and real fighting–although with some historically incorrect restrictions, in particular no grappling.

          Also, although some people do use two handed swords, SCA combat has a considerable range of weapon forms, of which the most common is sword and shield.

          I don’t know how the form being shown is scored. SCA combat is an honor system. If you receive a blow that would have killed you, you fall down dead and your opponent wins. If you receive a blow that would have crippled you, cost you the use of an arm, say, you continue fighting without using the crippled limb.

          If you are sufficiently curious, my wife and I self-publish a book on our SCA activities, and you can download a free pdf from:

          http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Misc10/Misc10.pdf

          • Thank you!

            BTW HEMA is trying to follow the logic of the modern fencing sport, just with historical swords and techniques. Scoring, rules are similar, uses modern protective equipment. The swords are usually metal, but unsharpened and blunt. Similar restrictions. There are some tournaments for plastic swords now as well, which take it easier, https://www.thehemashop.com/index.php/longsword but the logic is still very similar to modern fencing as a sport.

    • zz says:

      I play ultimate. It’s free, prevelant (where I currently live, there’s pickup twice a week, sometimes more, year-round; where I last lived, there was pickup every day (during the summer) if you were willing to drive at most 30 minutes), fun, noob-friendly, and preselects for intelligence, since most people start playing in college (although, with it coming to high schools, this is changing).

    • Nornagest says:

      I haven’t played team sports since school, but I’ve studied various martial arts, both Eastern and Western, from age twelve forwards. I have dan-equivalent rank in Kuk Sool Won (a generalist Korean art, probably heaviest on striking) and Toyama-ryu battodo (a Japanese sword art; though for those sword nerds here, the dojo I attend incorporates drills from Nakamura-ryu and Yagyu Shinkage-ryu as well as orthodox Toyama-ryu); I’ve also studied Western fencing (mainly saber and epee, the latter competitively) and Danzan-ryu jujitsu, and have some limited exposure to aikido and eskrima concepts. I’m a decent, but not exceptional, pistol marksman. Also learned some rifle and archery in Boy Scouts but haven’t used either one since.

      I don’t really buy cultural appropriation as a concept, or at least not one as broad as campus activists would have it; even the standard example of wearing a war bonnet for Halloween seems like it should be no greater a faux pas than wearing a fake Silver Star on your zombie soldier costume. But if I was inclined to get worried about it, I think I’d be satisfied knowing that the founders of all these arts (aside from the Western ones, of course) sent people to America specifically to teach them.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      For those who do martial arts – which type do you do? Why that one?

      I used to do Judo, mostly because it was in my high school, it was cheap ($20/month), and it was an extracurricular to list on my college applications. I got as far as yellow belt. I still remember a lot of what I learned, though I am obviously out of practice.

      For those who are not of East Asian descent – do you think you are engaging in cultural appropriation by studying a martial art not of your cultural background?

      Notto disu shitto agen.

    • I don’t give a crap about cultural appropriation, I think that is just one of the usual “shit tests”, you pass them by giving them middle finger, but I find Asian martial arts less effective on the average than European ones, so I am not that very keen on appropriating much from them. Notice how karate etc. doesn’t even use boxing gloves. Are they even sparring seriously? How? How are you going to punch someone in the face with at least 50% force, he puts the forehead into it and nothing happens to your hand? I think serious sparring is always noticed from the fact of using protective equipment. European martial arts are less arty and more fighty – in fact I prefer the term “combat sports” (see: Kampfsport) and I think MMA is a misnomer, MCS would be better. I would be happy with such a terminology that boxing or Greco-Roman wrestling are combat sports and aikido is a martial art. There are some exceptions – Muay Thai is very, very good, it is a huge exception, it is very seriously fighty and not arty, I think more combat sport than martial art. Also, karate roundhouse kicks are good idea, so we gladly appropriated them and thus kick-boxing was born, and mixing that with grappling basically you get MMA. Something similar happened in grappling, but I am not 100% sure how, Jiu-Jitsu got too sporty so it turned into something more fighty in Brazil and then BJJ was somehow mixed with Greco-Roman wrestling and the whole funneled into MMA. Anyhow, for all I care, for actual combat sports, I think Asia could just as well keep most martial art forms, except Muay Thai, because that one actually works, awesomely well. I think we Westerners are ultimately more aggressive than most Asians (Thais being an exception) and our boxing etc. traditions reflect this properly.

      • TrivialGravitas says:

        You only break your hand if you have shit form. The third metacarpal is delicate and has a huge surface area, hit with the third and forth knuckles and you’ll put all that force on one delicate bone. Strike with the first and second knuckle, which have more robust, dedicated metacarpals, and you will not break your hand. Martial arts, including actually real western martial arts as opposed to sports like boxing, do not use boxing gloves in training because it encourages shit form that will break your hand in a real fight.

      • onyomi says:

        Okay, but sort of by your own admission, MMA today is largely a combination of Muay Thai (Thai) striking and Jujutsu (Japanese) grappling. These are both Asian arts. So what makes you say Western fighting arts are more effective?

        • Striking is a combination of MT and boxing, grappling is a combination of JJ and Greco-Roman. There are techniques borrowed certainly, but the idea is that the spirit is not borrowed, the whole way of training and attitude is not borrowed, with the single exception of MT.

          Also dndrsn put it better I could, there a huge exceptions like MT, but as an average, there is a certain forms/art vs sparring/combat division.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @onyomi/TheDividualist:

            Everything makes a lot more sense when you consider that Kano, who essentially put judo together from various schools of Japanese ju-jitsu, was a teacher by trade.

            Everything I’ve read suggests that judo was a big leap forward in terms of pedagogy when compared to the various schools of Japanese jiu-jitsu. While Kano certainly had a philosophy he hoped to propagate through judo, judo adopted a far less mystical approach to training than the norm in East Asian martial arts.

            Additionally, I hesitate to call wrestling “Western”, because pretty much every culture has some form of wrestling. The ones seen in MMA (Greco-Roman, freestyle, collegiate, some catch wrestling) are Western, though. A bunch of ex-Soviet styles of folk wrestling found their way into sambo, though, so some of that has been seen in MMA I guess. Trivia: when people were trying to popularize it in the English-speaking world, they spelled it phonetically as “sombo” to differentiate it from the racial slur.

      • dndnrsn says:

        @TheDividualist/onyomi.

        Historical quibble: Japanese jujitsu->judo->Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

        The East/West division TheDividualist presents is more a forms/sparring division. Judo has tons of sparring, and in part this is because it dropped a lot of techniques that were considered too dangerous to use in sparring and in competition. The tradeoff of not teaching eye gouges and nut shots and such appears to be worth it, because it limits it to techniques that practitioners get used to using under real pressure.

        • onyomi says:

          For some reason I had thought the Gracies’ teacher had been a traditional Jujutsu practitioner, but it seems he actually studied Judo with the founder of Judo as sport, Jigoro Kano.

      • Tracy W says:

        Notice how karate etc. doesn’t even use boxing gloves. Are they even sparring seriously? How?

        Possibly the karate teachers think their students are unlikely to be wearing boxing gloves whenever they’re attacked?

        There’s always a trade-off in training martial arts between realism and not killing or maiming the students. I do not think a failure to use boxing gloves is a strong indicator of a lack of realism. I understand boxing gloves are a fairly recent addition to Western boxing too.

        • But the problem of teaching for self-defense is that in a real life situation most people shit their pants, curl in a ball and weep. OK exaggerating, but this psychological readiness is the primary problem. The idea in boxing is that if you were punched in the face a thousand time hard, you stop being afraid of it. It is courage training basically, repeated inoculation against that chilling, freezing, blood-curdling feelig that that big ol’ meanie is really, truly trying to hurt me now, it is not just a dance. Most people are entirely unaccostumed to the idea of how could be someone so mean that to really trying to hurt them and this is what needs to be simulated as an inoculation. This is what I see missing from e.g. karate.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Honestly, I’m not sure to what degree sparring, or even competing, would prepare someone for a life-or-death situation. Better than forms? Definitely. But that’s not a high bar.

            One thing that is clear is that martial arts that are heavy on sparring dominate in sports contexts: for instance, the karateka you see in MMA generally come from styles that involve a lot of full-force sparring, like kyokushin (which, if I’m not mistaken, also involves non-points competition?) and they still have to adjust to head punches.

            This leads me to think that in a life-or-death situation they’d probably do better than forms-based martial arts – if you can’t deal with one guy, with a cup and gloves on, and a ref there…

      • Saint_Fiasco says:

        Do Muay Thai fighters wear protective equipment?

        • dndnrsn says:

          I don’t do it myself, and I don’t know about fighters in Thailand, but as far as I can tell the equipment used by people training it and kickboxers (many of whom train MT) fighting amateur or pro wear essentially the same gear as boxers: mouthguard, cup, wraps, boxing gloves.

    • Outis says:

      I take (low-level) MMA classes just because that’s what’s available and convenient.

      Cultural appropriation does not, in fact, exist as a term or concept, save for a hyperleftist bubble of people in college and on tumblr. Since I am not in college or on tumblr, I don’t even feel the need to engage with it enough to say that I reject it.

  18. keranih says:

    Inspired by the Comment Pun –

    To what extent is it possible to argue that those who make the most use of “civil rights” – owning firearms (raising the number of firearms in society), engaging in disruptive protests (and/or engaging in protests rather than productively working), engaging in speech that annoys/enrages other people, pursuing sexual preferences that don’t lead to more kids and stable homes/society (including divorce), etc, etc – are “free riders” in the social common, and that an increase in this sort of activity can/will lead to a “tragedy of the commons” where the society that feeds, houses, and protects the “free riders” can no longer afford to do so?

    If this tragedy of the commons is possible, how would we recognize that this is happening (ie, that the commons is being overgrazed)? What is the best way to avoid it, both for individuals and for a society-wide morality?

    • Anonymous says:

      >owning firearms (raising the number of firearms in society)

      I don’t quite see how gun ownership is a free rider issue. Quite the opposite. Armed people can better effect their own protection and support than disarmed people can.

      >engaging in disruptive protests (and/or engaging in protests rather than productively working)

      To the point where they are subsidized and pampered in their protest. In a proper situation, they should understand that civil disobedience will still get you punished, regardless of why you’re doing it, and there will be no lenience because of it. If they’re prepared to do just that, and be punished as normal, that’s fine.

      >engaging in speech that annoys/enrages other people

      These are less like free riders. They’re more like brigands. Singapore bans this kind of stuff, for good reason. Those kind of people are tolerable in a homogenous society, but will lead to ethno-ideolo-religious strife in a multicultural one.

      >pursuing sexual preferences that don’t lead to more kids and stable homes/society (including divorce)

      To the point where they are rewarded and pampered for doing it. If they don’t engage in productive reproduction, they should be exempt also from the benefits that are dependent on it, such as elderly pensions, social security, child support, etc.

      • nope says:

        >I don’t quite see how gun ownership is a free rider issue. Quite the opposite.

        I think you’re both off a bit, as data-wise, gun ownership comes out neutral. No relation of homicide rates to amount of guns, and the argument about self-protection is dubious, because either implementation is too difficult (fucking hard to hit a moving target, for instance) or you get violence escalation where criminals respond by carrying more and more dangerous weapons. I’d say the biggest argument in favor/against, depending on your stance on this issue, is that gun ownership seems to mostly be a facilitator of more effective suicide attempts.

        >If they don’t engage in productive reproduction, they should be exempt also from the benefits that are dependent on it, such as elderly pensions, social security, child support, etc.

        Completely agreed, from a fairness standpoint, but in western countries that will probably end up having a strong dysgenic effect. A more practical thing to do would be to add a very, very progressive tax for those of prime childbearing age and above who don’t have kids.

        • Anonymous says:

          Completely agreed, from a fairness standpoint, but in western countries that will probably end up having a strong dysgenic effect. A more practical thing to do would be to add a very, very progressive tax for those of prime childbearing age and above who don’t have kids.

          Won’t that incentivize the government to discourage reproduction and start importing non-reproducing people from everywhere?

          • nope says:

            Perhaps, but that would be an equally acceptable outcome. Non-reproducing people very much tend to be the sort of people you want to import (well educated, career-minded). See: all of north east Asia.

          • John Schilling says:

            Non-reproducing people very much tend to be the sort of people you want to import

            If I’m thinking about the long-term future of my nation, don’t I want to import the sort of person who will then domestically produce a steady supply of healthy, happy, productive people, rather than just importing one healthy, happy person who will produce for a few decades and then retire?

          • Winter Shaker says:

            See: all of north east Asia.

            That implies a very entertaining resolution to the North Korea problem: somehow smuggle the entire civilian population out, and give them US citizenship; see if the Kim regime wants to risk nuking its own population in their new home 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            Non-reproducing people very much tend to be the sort of people you want to import (well educated, career-minded).

            So – the people you want reproducing are not the well-educated, career-minded, people? I foresee a problem there in the long-term 🙂

          • John Schilling says:

            So – the people you want reproducing are not the well-educated, career-minded, people?

            Possibly he wants people to do their reproducing someplace far, far away and send to his country a steady stream of educated, career-minded, baby-averse people to support a productive society with lots of cool stuff and no messy babies. Having to deal with children places substantial constraints on how much and what sort of cool stuff a society can do; there may be some advantages to outsourcing your nation’s human reproduction.

            I foresee a problem there in the long-term 🙂

            As do I. But that long-term foresight thing gets in the way of a lot of cool stuff; maybe we should dispense with it as well.

          • anonymous says:

            Trying to influence events 100+ years hence is a fool’s errand. Which is not to say what we do now won’t have an impact, of course it will, but we have very little idea of what will turn out to be important or how it will go.

            The best thing we can do is make the country as rich as possible, that will leave posterity with the maximum flexibility to solve the problems they have.

            The notion that we should reject a gay couple consisting of a top scientist and a top businessman in favor of an undistinguished straight couple because “children our or future!!!1!” strikes me as less a well thought out proposal than ego stroking for people who live undistinguished lives but want to feel special somehow, someway.

          • nope says:

            @Deiseach, it doesn’t really matter who I want reproducing, because the fact is that educated/smarter people have fewer kids than uneducated people, and creating a system where you don’t get social benefits if you don’t have x number of kids is only going to encourage those people who need social benefits… so not educated or intelligent people. The outcome of my proposed system where the government brings in lots of people from low fertility populations is ok not because I don’t want more kids in the country (I do), but because low fertility is so solidly associated with high education and intelligence that selecting for it is basically selecting for education and intelligence, and as long as we’re bringing in enough people with high potential for productive capacity, sub-replacement fertility is acceptable.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Anonymous
            “Trying to influence events 100+ years hence is a fool’s errand. Which is not to say what we do now won’t have an impact, of course it will, but we have very little idea of what will turn out to be important or how it will go.
            The best thing we can do is make the country as rich as possible, that will leave posterity with the maximum flexibility to solve the problems they have.”

            + this

            I haven’t read it in years, but I always think of Chernov’s _The Bright Side of Chess_. He begins by saying, iirc, that his key is not to adopt some particular long-term sequence, but at each point to do what will increase your power and options in general: capture and hold central positions, etc.

        • NN says:

          Completely agreed, from a fairness standpoint, but in western countries that will probably end up having a strong dysgenic effect. A more practical thing to do would be to add a very, very progressive tax for those of prime childbearing age and above who don’t have kids.

          That wouldn’t work. Singapore, Norway, and a bunch of other countries with fertility problems have tried various sorts of tax incentives and bribes to try to get people to have more kids, and none of these programs have significantly budged the fertility rate. The only practical effect of these measures seems to have been to encourage immigrants already planning on having children to go to those countries so they can get the goodies, but if the goal is to increase the fertility rate of the native population, then they have been an utter failure.

          Other measures that don’t work in increasing the fertility rate include banning abortion and contraception (Communist Romania), offering generous state child care benefits (the Nordic countries), and encouraging women to stay home from work (Japan). The contraceptive effect of economic development is one of the most powerful social forces known to exist in the modern world, and thus far no one has found any way to counteract it.

          The only groups in developed countries that have escaped its effects are those who don’t work in the developed economy, such as the Amish and sects of Haredi Jews that live on welfare and study the Torah all day. Mormons may be an exception, but I haven’t done enough research to determine whether or not the higher Mormon fertility rate is just a proxy for economic development (a quick glance at Wikipedia confirms that Mormonism, like religion in general, is more popular in rural areas than urban areas).

          • Anonymous says:

            I think the OP is optimizing for better social commons, not fertility.

            Quibble – Communist Romania did have limited success with their policy. It’s just that recreating their limited success would be very hard with easy access to information and advanced plastics manufacturing technology. You’d basically have to become Communist Romania in order to make it work even a bit.

            A less extreme way would be to try to emulate conditions of Francoist Spain, which suffered a fertility plummet along with its democratic reforms.

          • Julie K says:

            Actually, most Haredi women work outside the home, in order to support the family because the husband is studying Torah. But the philosophy that motivates them to want to work outside the home and also have large families is probably not going to be transferable to society at large.

          • brad says:

            How is 0-5 or 0-4, or whenever yeshiva starts, handled? Retired grandmothers? Older sisters? Day care?

          • nope says:

            I’m aware of the failure rate of these sorts of programs, and I think that the failure is a consequence of the fact that the measures universally seem to target the wrong populations (because anything benefits based, for instance, is going to have the most effect for the sort of people who need benefits). I’m trying to selectively create a strong enough punitive system to influence the wealthy and middle class, without creating even more incentives for the lower class, which so far none of these sorts of programs have achieved.

          • Julie K says:

            brad-
            Mainly daycare. Grandmothers etc. may sometimes pick up the slack if the daycare ends in the early afternoon.

        • orangecat says:

          A more practical thing to do would be to add a very, very progressive tax for those of prime childbearing age and above who don’t have kids.

          We sort of do that already with the per-child tax deduction, which becomes more valuable as your marginal tax rate increases. You could change that to say that you get to deduct Y% of your entire income for each child, which would substantially increase the tax benefits of having children for the wealthy. But I don’t think even that would work; the fundamental problem for first world nations is that the opportunity cost of bearing and raising children is greater than any incentive or penalty you can realistically impose.

          • Joe Teicher says:

            In the US the child tax credit goes away at $190K so it doesn’t do anything for people in high tax brackets. I agree with you that there is no politically realistic way to incentivize rich people to have more kids.

            On the other hand I don’t think rich people are the problem. I know a lot of them and most of them have a lot of kids. I guess they have 4 instead of the 10 they would have had before birth control, but they are still doing their part. It’s really the middle class or upper middle class that aren’t reproducing very much.

      • Creutzer says:

        To the point where they are rewarded and pampered for doing it. If they don’t engage in productive reproduction, they should be exempt also from the benefits that are dependent on it, such as elderly pensions, social security, child support, etc.

        Well, they are exempt from child support, and how is social security dependent on reproduction as opposed to being a tax-paying citizen? Government-provided retirement pensions, as we have them in Europe, are also, the way the are set up currently, tax-dependent from at least a moral point of view, although not in practice because it’s actually a Ponzi scheme.

        • Anonymous says:

          The OP specified divorce as included in the antisocial behaviours. Someone who divorces is entitled to a large share of their spouse’s wealth, plus alimony, etc (it’s usually the ex-wife who gets this, but there is a minority of poor husbands with rich wives who get paid off on divorce). Under the anti-free-rider program, someone who divorces is entitled to nothing of that, especially if they use no-fault divorce. Same thing for government handouts for single mothers – nothing; if you want to have financial support, then marry and stay married.

          Re: ponzi – yes. It doesn’t quite matter if they’re nominally derived from taxation, if they’re de facto derived from the currently working paying to support the currently retired.

        • RCF says:

          If the current generation doesn’t reproduce, then there won’t be anyone to pay taxes to support them when they retire.

          • science says:

            It’s a rather weak argument though as it substitutes a hypothetical about no one having children, which patently won’t happen, when what’s called for is an argument about the marginal additional or missing child.

            It also ignores immigration, which in spite of all the heated (and silly) rhetoric about “national suicide” surely even the natalists must see is superior to this everyone in a nursing home scenario.

          • Anonymous says:

            It also ignores immigration, which in spite of all the heated (and silly) rhetoric about “national suicide” surely even the natalists must see is superior to this everyone in a nursing home scenario.

            Why should the immigrants care to pay for the retirements of people they aren’t related to?

          • John Schilling says:

            Because the retirees in question are the ones who built the rule-of-law society and associated civic institutions that the immigrants in question want to enjoy living in. If you want to use something that someone else built, you generally have to pay them for the privilege.

          • science says:

            Or on a more practical level for the same reason the millenials are going to pay for it, not because they or may not have living grandparents in the group, but because the coordination problem to not pay is too difficult to overcome.

          • RCF says:

            @science

            I’m not arguing on the object level that the average rather than marginal cost is the proper criteria in this case, but on the meta level, I don’t consider the marginal cost to always be the proper criteria. For instance, suppose there’s a 100 person version of Prisoner’s Dilemma in which everyone who Defects gets $1, and if more than half Cooperate, then everyone gets $1000 (these two payments are additive). In this case, if 60 people are planning on Cooperating, then the marginal value of a Cooperator is zero. And yet I would find it reasonable for people playing this game to put pressure on other players to Cooperate.

            @anonymous

            Also, if the immigrants support the social security system, they will likely be able to draw on it when they retire.

          • science says:

            I don’t find the prisoner’s dilemma analogy to be useful. The type of argument you are making is often made similarly with respect to policemen or soldiers or even bankers. If we didn’t have any X the society would collapse. And it’s true in all those cases. But we don’t want everyone to become a policemen or a soldier or a banker, and simply knowing that that zero is too few doesn’t tell us what number is enough or what number is too many.

            On top of that it isn’t as though the preference space if flat — the intrinsic desires vary across the population. If enough people intrinsically want to reproduce and will do so regardless of subsidies (indeed even in the face of government oppression ala China) then there’s little reason to use moral suasion or fiscal subsidies to attempt to convince those less inclined to do so. Well little reason other than the desire of those that happen to have been born with the “right” preferences to have what they were going to do anyway be rewarded in status, dollars, or both.

            So first we need to see that there’s a problem to begin with, which after following this discussion for years I’ve never seen. In particular looking around it appears that the United States currently has positive natural growth rate.

            I’ve said before natalism seems to be a solution in search of a problem.

          • RCF says:

            “I don’t find the prisoner’s dilemma analogy to be useful.”

            It’s not an analogy. It’s a hypothetical. I assert that it establishes that there are cases where the marginal value isn’t the proper level of analysis. As I said before, I am not arguing for a position on the object level.

          • science says:

            I agree that if you had an actual multiparty prisoners dilemma of the type you outlined the marginal analysis would be at least incomplete. However, I maintain that hypothetical has nothing to do with the situation being discussed.

      • “If they don’t engage in productive reproduction, they should be exempt also from the benefits that are dependent on it, such as elderly pensions, social security, child support, etc.”

        Elderly pensions are not dependent on reproduction if the pensioner paid money into the pension fund and is now getting it, and its interest, out. Similarly for social security. The actual U.S. social security system is not funded, but recipients have paid in money, even if that money was then diverted to other purposes.

        Obviously if you don’t have children you will not get support from your children in your old age. I’m not sure if that is what “child support” is a reference to, or if it is a reference to welfare payments to single mothers or something similar.

        • RCF says:

          On a society-wide scale, if there are no young people, then there is no one to support old people. Whether people have pieces of paper from the Federal Reserve really doesn’t change that. Nor are stocks a good retirement plan if there’s no younger generation making money to buy them with (nor are they going to be producing dividends once the economy crashes). And Social Security? Economics trumps government promises.

        • Tracy W says:

          Ellderly pensions are not dependent on reproduction if the pensioner paid money into the pension fund and is now getting it, and its interest, out.

          But if there’s a shortage of, say, competent hip replacement surgeons, or even farmers growing food, then the prices of hip surgery and dinner will rise to bring about equilibrium. So you might have your pension but that doesn’t mean you have your buying power.

          • The money you paid in was presumably invested, increasing the capital stock, hence increasing the total output of the society, whether in food or surgeries.

          • RCF says:

            @David Friedman
            1. If there’s no unretired people, then clearly money is useless for buying services, and you have utterly failed to refute this point. Instead, you’re just obfuscating the issue with arguments for other propositions.
            2. Invested money may increase output relative to what it would have been without investment, but that doesn’t mean that output is increased relative to what it was in the past.
            3. The existence of long term investment opportunities is dependent on future workers. So, basically, you’re saying “If we assume that people will have pensions, then people will have pensions.”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I have to say that David’s answers seem willfully wrong-headed, in that they refuse to concede an obvious point.

            But I wonder if people are talking past each other. Zero young people is very different than merely changing age demographics.

          • If nobody at all had children, there would indeed be problems. But the relevant question is the effect of my not having children. If I don’t have children, do save and invest, that doesn’t reduce the next generation to zero, it reduces it to a few smaller than it would otherwise be, increases the capital stock to a little more than it would otherwise be. When I then live off the income from my investments, I am not free riding on anyone.

      • Jeffrey Soreff says:

        >To the point where they are rewarded and pampered for doing it. If they don’t engage >in productive reproduction, they should be exempt also from the benefits that are >dependent on it, such as elderly pensions, social security, child support, etc.

        Completely disagree.
        Both world population and US population are still rising, and there is no assurance
        that the increase can be sustained at current living standards. Breeders who think
        their DNA is so very special that it needs more copies floating around should be taxed
        on all the direct and indirect costs that they impose on everyone else.

        • What reason do you have to believe that the net cost, direct and indirect, imposed on other people is positive?

          For an old attempt to estimate the next externality from one more person, see:
          http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Laissez-Faire_In_Popn/L_F_in_Population.html

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            Good link! Thanks!
            (are you the author, or is the name match a coincidence?)
            Unlike David Friedman, I don’t consider transfer effects to be benign.
            If adding an extra child lowers average wages, I consider that damage
            to everyone else. It isn’t as if the marginal child _had_ to exist.
            If it didn’t, the utility of its wages to itself wouldn’t count.
            Friedman does count pollution effects, and those are certainly not
            small. Global warming was expected back in the 70’s, but it has
            become rather more salient now, and it is one of those negative
            externalities.

          • I’m the author.

            “If adding an extra child lowers average wages, I consider that damage
            to everyone else.”

            Including the people who are now paying the lower wages? You seem to be ignoring what I actually said and substituting some other argument. It has nothing to do with whether the additional child had to exist or with the utility of its wages to itself.

            You take it for granted that global warming is a negative externality. I don’t. The same argument I made in that piece applies to AGW. It will have both positive and negative effects spread over a long period of time, the size of both is quite uncertain, and we do not know whether the net effect will be positive or negative.

            For more detail on that point, see:

            http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2011/09/what-is-wrong-with-global-warming.html

            For much more:

            http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/search?q=warming

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            >“If adding an extra child lowers average wages, I consider that >damage
            >to everyone else.”

            >Including the people who are now paying the lower wages?

            If those are disjoint sets of people, then no.

            Let me phrase it another way:
            Consider the average across the population of the standard of
            living, denominated in some standard market basket to
            compensate for whatever happens to the currency as
            population rises.

            If the population is cranked up far enough, natural resources
            _do_ become limiting factors. Yes, I read your section on
            recycling – but recycling, even if were 100% efficient in terms
            of atoms, still has costs. In particular, if it ties up labor hours
            that people would rather spend on other goods, it is one term
            that detracts from the average standard of living. It also has
            to be developed and deployed, and it is quite possible for
            a resource to become scarce before a viable recycling process
            can be invented, reduced in cost enough to be viable, and
            deployed.

            The general consensus on global warming seems to be that
            it is going to be a net harm – yeah, with some winners, but with
            plenty of losers, and it certainly scales up with population.
            I’ve read claims

            http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/boundaries-for-a-healthy-planet/

            that there are a bunch of other (loosely speaking) resource limits that we are pushing, and that we are substantially past sustainable limits on three of them, climate change, biodiversity
            loss, and the nitrogen cycle. Rising populations exacerbate
            them all. I consider evidence that we are straining these limits
            to be evidence that an incremental person damages average
            living standards – that they are imposing negative externalities.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “If the population is cranked up far enough, natural resources
            _do_ become limiting factors. Yes, I read your section on
            recycling – but recycling, even if were 100% efficient in terms
            of atoms, still has costs. In particular, if it ties up labor hours
            that people would rather spend on other goods, it is one term
            that detracts from the average standard of living. It also has
            to be developed and deployed, and it is quite possible for
            a resource to become scarce before a viable recycling process
            can be invented, reduced in cost enough to be viable, and
            deployed.”

            That is assuming space travel won’t become an economic way to increase the resource base.

            “I’ve read claims”

            It is pay wall locked.

            “and that we are substantially past sustainable limits on three of them, climate change, biodiversity
            loss, and the nitrogen cycle.”

            Yes, when you are no longer in equilibrium, the situation is not sustainable. That isn’t very helpful; what happens next?

            ” Rising populations exacerbate them all.”

            The Amazon rainforest isn’t cut down because there are more people in America; it is cut down because there are more people in Brazil. The slash and burn is less efficient than factory farming; the correlation is poor and growth, not growth in general for biodiversity loss. Climate change can be dealt with simply by spamming nuclear power; it is a political issue, not an inherent feature of population growth. No idea what the issue with the nitrogen cycle is; maybe the dead zones from over use of fertilizers? That isn’t inevitable; it is a feature of how and where we farm.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            >That is assuming space travel won’t become an economic way to increase the resource base.

            For the next few decades, that is a very safe assumption.
            Sputnik was back in 1957 and the total mass of extraterrestrial
            material brought back from space travel since then
            is around a metric ton.

          • “If the population is cranked up far enough, natural resources
            _do_ become limiting factors.”

            I think you are again missing the point of my argument. A child does not arrive with a per capita deed to his share of the world’s resources clutched in his fist.As long as resources are private property, I can only get some for myself or my child by offering the current owner something he values at least as much.

            Two things happen with regard to natural resources that are private property:

            1. My child gets some from someone else, giving that someone else something in exchange–no loss.

            2. Their price is bid up, so any other transaction where A buys some from B, A is now a little worse off, B a little better off. Again no net loss.

            “The general consensus on global warming seems to be that
            it is going to be a net harm”

            That is the current orthodoxy. When I wrote that piece, the general consensus was that population growth was making the world worse–not that it would in another forty years but that it was doing so then. The extreme version was a confident prediction of unavoidable mass famine, hundred of millions of people starving, in the 1970’s. The milder versions had poor countries getting poorer because of increasing population.

            None of that happened–from then to now, the number of people living in extreme poverty fell about three fold, per capita calorie consumption in the poor countries went up, not down.

            It was a consensus that never had good arguments behind it, as my piece tried to show–just ideology and intellectual fashion.

            In my view the same is true with the current consensus on the effects of AGW. The standard motte and bailey trick is to claim all scientists agree and offer as evidence agreement that the Earth is getting warmer and greenhouse gases are at least part of the reason. Then turn around and pretend that the agreement is that warming will have terrible effects. President Obama, for instance, tweeted to the latter effect, with the famous 97% number, in response to an article that reported nothing at all about beliefs on consequences, only that 97% of papers which expressed an opinion on the cause of warming held that humans were at least part of the cause.

            Again, if you are curious, you can find my reasons for being skeptical of the claim that warming will have terrible effects by following the links I gave to my blog.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Jeffrey Soreff

            Orbiting space colonies access large amounts of solar energy and have plenty of room to expand. IE, lebensraum for more humans.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            I think you are again missing the point of my argument. A child does not arrive with a per capita deed to his share of the world’s resources clutched in his fist.As long as resources are private property, I can only get some for myself or my child by offering the current owner something he values at least as much.

            That doesn’t matter. Labor is one ingredient of production,
            but it is not the only necessary one.
            It doesn’t matter if all of the exchanges are consensual:
            If you crank up the population, there is more labor available
            relative to everything else, and the economic value of the
            incremental labor-hour drops.

            To put it another way: Add enough people, and it becomes flat out impossible for you or your child to produce anything with enough value to bid for enough of limited resources to live.

            Look, you have dealt with analysis of limiting cases.
            In the limiting case where population is large enough
            to exceed the ability of grow enough food to keep
            everyone alive, your arguments continue to formally
            apply: But drawing the conclusion from them that
            the standard of living doesn’t go down
            gives the wrong answer

            In fact, the mere fact that the exchanges aren’t forced
            doesn’t prove anything about what happens to the
            standard of living as you add more and more people to
            compete for limited resources. We might be over the
            optimum number for maximal median standard of living
            already. From the strain on climate and biodiversity I
            suspect we are.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @houseboatonstyx

            Orbiting space colonies access large amounts of solar energy and have plenty of room to expand. IE, lebensraum for more humans.

            Perhaps you meant to put that as a hypothetical?

            If space colonies were designed, funded, and built, then they
            could access plenty of solar energy? I don’t see any O’Neill
            cylinders in my night sky. It may be that they will never be
            built.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Jeffrey Soreff

            Pressure on earth resources is not likely to decrease, regardless of population. Constructing more off-planet room for homes and for solar panel farms, could save forest acres here. Asteriod mining could save mountaintops here.

            What solution/s do you think more promising?

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @ houseboatonstyx

            Pressure on earth resources is not likely to decrease, regardless of population. Constructing more off-planet room for homes and for solar panel farms, could save forest acres here. Asteriod mining could save mountaintops here.

            What solution/s do you think more promising?

            Pressure on earth resources certainly gets more severe as
            population rises, other things held equal. To 0-th order, it is
            simply a multiplier on all forms of pressure.

            Depending on how fast and how severe global warming and the
            other stresses on systems we depend on are, there may not be
            a solution. There were a lot of missed opportunities:
            If we’d followed France’s example, we could have been running
            most of our civilization off nuclear power by now, which would
            have made global warming a non-issue.

            If we’d funded Drexler/Merkle atomically precise manufacturing,
            we could have had cheap access to space (there are a number
            of routes which pass a first-order analysis, though there are
            always nasty surprises), _and_ much more efficient
            manufacturing, _and_ highly efficient batteries, _and_ much
            denser food production.
            (the efficient batteries matter because they make
            running our civilization off solar for the base load
            feasible)

            What I _don’t_ like seeing are explicitly pro-natalist policies.
            Subsidies, valorization of breeders, all that. Actively trying to
            crank up population is irresponsible – It makes all of our
            problems worse, and puts them all on a shorter fuse.
            And even with the best technology that physics allows, an
            exponentially growing population eventually crushes out
            every gain.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Jeffrey Soreff
            What I _don’t_ like seeing are explicitly pro-natalist policies.
            Subsidies, valorization of breeders, all that.

            Nasty nonsense, yes. But I doubt on the one hand that pro-natalist policies are going to work; and on the other hand, that even a best case immediate world ZPG would stop a growing pressure on resources. People will want more stuff, whatever number of people there are.

            For profit motives or whatever, research and projects will be done. Greater ‘resource extraction’ is directly harmful to the earth. Research toward expanding construction near ISS altitude is less harmful, may lead to useful lebensraum up there, and may be supported by the interests that want to put up orbiting sunscreens (a dangerous idea in themselves, but they might be re-used to build space shanties, since the people who want to put them up are unlikely to want to take them down).

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @houseboatonstyx

            Nasty nonsense, yes.

            Many Thanks!

            But I doubt on the one hand that pro-natalist policies are going to work; and on the other hand, that even a best case immediate world ZPG would stop a growing pressure on resources.

            Generally agreed. The best hope for ZPG is a natural
            demographic transition.

            People will want more stuff, whatever number of people there are.

            For profit motives or whatever, research and projects will be done. Greater ‘resource extraction’ is directly harmful to the earth. Research toward expanding construction near ISS altitude is less harmful, may lead to useful lebensraum up there, and may be supported by the interests that want to put up orbiting sunscreens (a dangerous idea in themselves, but they might be re-used to build space shanties, since the people who want to put them up are unlikely to want to take them down).

            What timescale do you have in mind?
            I’m viewing this as very unlikely on the 20-40 year scale,
            given the history of space travel – primarily that hoped-for
            reductions in launch costs have generally failed (the space
            shuttle being perhaps the more dramatic example).

            Over longer timescales, in the absence of Drexler/Merkle
            atomically precise manufacturing – Well, we might
            eventually start robotic mining of asteroids, which as least
            gives us a source of materials which isn’t sitting at the
            bottom of Earth’s gravity well.
            (Drexler/Merkle nanotech, if it had been funded, might
            have made this far easier in many ways, from reducing
            launch costs, to packing a robotic mining setup in a
            kilogram package instead of many tons, to taking
            advantage of atoms as intrinsically interchangeable parts –
            but that didn’t get funded, and we don’t have it.)
            Useful “lebensraum” is a very hard economic target.
            One needs to build square meters of living space at a cost
            below what one can do on Earth. Even in Antarctica, at
            least one can breath the air, and one doesn’t need
            protection from solar flares.

            To my mind, the main skeptical point isn’t a question of
            whether these are possible in principle but of whether
            we will clobber ourselves first. There are scenarios where
            climate change can trigger positive feedback loops e.g.
            from warming methane hydrates. Even without that, we
            might get a 4C rise by 2050 (BAU fossil fuel burning, and
            a bit of bad luck with what the climate sensitivity to CO2
            turns out to be). That’s enough to do a lot of damage to
            agriculture – perhaps enough to damage our civilization
            to the point where the possibility of any advanced tech
            solutions, space-based, nanotech-based, solar-based,
            or nuclear-power based, might be moot.

            And 35 years
            is not much time to get any of those solutions invented,
            debugged, and deployed. These days, getting one lousy
            power plant built with existing technology can take a
            decade 🙁 That is the
            sense in which I say that what I see are mostly missed
            opportunities rather than potential solutions.

          • science says:

            Re:L_F_in_Population
            Skimming through I don’t think you are discounting future benefits for the percentage of people remaining who were alive at the time the subsidies are paid.

          • James Picone says:

            @Jeffrey Soreff

            There are scenarios where
            climate change can trigger positive feedback loops e.g.
            from warming methane hydrates. Even without that, we
            might get a 4C rise by 2050 (BAU fossil fuel burning, and
            a bit of bad luck with what the climate sensitivity to CO2
            turns out to be).

            We’d have to be pretty unlucky for TCR to be high enough that we get 4c by 2050. RCP8.5 has a likely range, relative to 1850-1900, of 2.0c-3.2c. Probably on the order a 5% risk. Don’t know how unlucky you consider ‘unlucky’, though…

            You may find this and this Realclimate post on arctic methane interesting. Their conclusion is that, broadly speaking, the clathrate gun isn’t really more of a threat than just business-as-usual CO2 growth.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @ James Picone
            Thanks for the links!

            I got the 4C from
            http://skepticalscience.com/climate-best-to-worst-case-scenarios.html
            They are indeed using a larger TCR than 3.2 for their worst-case
            scenario. They use 4.5C. I indeed picked the numbers
            from RCP 8.5 as basically a business-as-usual,
            China-will-burn-its-coal scenario.

            (actually, at this point, from a personal perspective,
            this is all rather academic. I’m 57, so anything past
            about 2035 is probably past what I’ll live to see)

          • James Picone says:

            @Jeffrey Soreff:
            SkS is quoting ECS there, not TCR (And I’m not quoting exactly how high the TCR would have to be for 4c-by-2050; I don’t know offhand and don’t want to do the maths. :P. I do know it’s going to be outside the 95% CI). They’re pretty closely related though.

            The 4.5c ECS SkS uses for its worst-case scenario is outside the IPCC’s 90% CI for ECS, which is 1.5c-4c in AR5, and 2c-4c in AR4. Might be on the edge of the 95% CI, most of the remaining probability mass is above 4c. So somewhere between 1-in-10 to 1-in-20 sounds reasonable, so maybe not quite as unlucky as I was assuming.

            Don’t know how plausible RCP8.5 is; I’ve seen some claims that it involves burning more fossil fuels than there are reserves. Might be possible up to 2050 of course.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @ James Picone
            Many Thanks!

    • Tarrou says:

      There is more than one way to control behavior. Writ large, there are legal sanctions and social sanctions.

      It is my belief that legal sanctions should be reserved for actual damaging behavior, and social sanctions used to regulate those actions which skirt the edge of this sort of ToC.

      So, for instance, in the speech category: I completely oppose any legal restriction on “hate speech”, for this restricts too much speech and is too inflexible to deal with things like humor and satire. I support using social sanction, argument, shaming and ostracism against those who are actually trying to harm others via playing with this gray area.

      Many of the problems I see in culture today I believe spring from the loss of social cohesion, which means problems that used to be solved socially now go unsolved, leading some to try to control them legally, which is a blunt instrument, and is almost always overkill.

      • TrivialGravitas says:

        The problem with social sanction is that it lacks anything resembling due process or a fair trial. If enough people shout that what you’re saying is hate speech at the same time you’ll be hit with the social sanctions, including a sanction against being allowed to defend yourself from false accusations.

        I suspect we’d actually be much better off in terms of free speech in the US with laws against hate speech if only because then we’d have all sorts of really detailed precedent about what is and isn’t hate speech, and legal organizations devoted to defending stuff as ‘not hate speech’ when people are accused over bullshit. A couple (fairly nasty) groups would get pinned down as sacrificial lambs and in exchange media witch hunts get shut down by the FBI having to put out statements saying ‘there is no evidence of hate speech in this case’.

        • Bruce Beegle says:

          I suspect we’d actually be much better off in terms of free speech in the US with laws against hate speech

          I disagree strongly, for several reasons, but I don’t have time to describe them now. Normally I wouldn’t post a comment without the justification, but I consider this very important.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Bruce Beegle

            I’ll give a reason, which you could have given rather easily, so it is probably not yours.

            A previous comment said:
            A couple (fairly nasty) groups would get pinned down as sacrificial lambs and in exchange media witch hunts get shut down by the FBI having to put out statements saying ‘there is no evidence of hate speech in this case’.

            Unfortunately, there would then be hydraheadlines of
            “FBI Defends Hate Speech!”, “Hate Speech Apologist Head of FBI blah blah”, etc

          • Bruce Beegle says:

            With laws against hate speech, I’d expect to see:
            * campaigns to have new types of hate speech.
            * campaigns to have hate speech laws enforced in new contexts.
            * hate speech laws enforced selectively.
            * outrages against hate speech court decisions.
            * and lots of other conflicts.

            The US government seems to be pretty good at supporting free speech. I’d hate to lose that.

        • Kevin C. says:

          @TrivialGravitas

          I agree, and have made similar arguments myself. It’s why I’m an atheist “fan of the Inquisitions, because they brought order, formal procedure, and the possibility of acquittal or of recantation in replacing (or, post-Reformation, sometimes being replaced by) system of mob-driven “justice” that lacked these :

          One of the most enduring myths of the Inquisition is that it was a tool of oppression imposed on unwilling Europeans by a power-hungry Church. Nothing could be more wrong. In truth, the Inquisition brought order, justice, and compassion to combat rampant secular and popular persecutions of heretics. When the people of a village rounded up a suspected heretic and brought him before the local lord, how was he to be judged? How could an illiterate layman determine if the accused’s beliefs were heretical or not? And how were witnesses to be heard and examined?

          The medieval Inquisition began in 1184 when Pope Lucius III sent a list of heresies to Europe’s bishops and commanded them to take an active role in determining whether those accused of heresy were, in fact, guilty. Rather than relying on secular courts, local lords, or just mobs, bishops were to see to it that accused heretics in their dioceses were examined by knowledgeable churchmen using Roman laws of evidence. In other words, they were to “inquire”—thus, the term “inquisition.”

          Most people accused of heresy by the medieval Inquisition were either acquitted or their sentence suspended. Those found guilty of grave error were allowed to confess their sin, do penance, and be restored to the Body of Christ. The underlying assumption of the Inquisition was that, like lost sheep, heretics had simply strayed. If, however, an inquisitor determined that a particular sheep had purposely departed out of hostility to the flock, there was nothing more that could be done. Unrepentant or obstinate heretics were excommunicated and given over to the secular authorities. Despite popular myth, the Church did not burn heretics. It was the secular authorities that held heresy to be a capital offense. The simple fact is that the medieval Inquisition saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule.

          While I am a clear modern heretic of the Voldemortian flavor, I’d still much prefer a SJW inquisition to the SJW witchhunter mobs we have now.

      • John Beshir says:

        I think a lot of existing laws already require judging credibility, recognising humour/satire as opposed to serious statements, accounting for the full context in which the statements were made, make reference to what a “reasonable person” would think, etc, to a level that’s much trickier than that involved in judging hate speech.

        Laws against death threats and harassment are obvious ones, but there’s also a lot of trespass and property crime cases involving questions of whether a “reasonable person” would believe an area to be private or believe they had been granted licence to do whatever they did which require making trickier judgements on speech than “given this transcript, place, and time, did they communicate literally urging the killing or hatred of [minority group]”, and the legal system deals with these things day in day out.

        Now evidence has mostly been outsourced to expert witnesses, I’d say the main part of a judge’s job is either making calls about what a “reasonable person” would interpret a thing as given context, or remembering/referencing what calls other judges made in the past.

        I do think preferring to deal with hate speech and similar efforts at coalition building to create a tyranny of the majority via social sanctions is a perfectly sensible position. I just don’t think it’s justified on the basis that the legal system can’t deal with satire and humour because it needs to and does all the time already.

        • keranih says:

          And seeing as the original case which set up SCOTUS’s free speech vs communication of a threat standards involved the speaker – who was known for beating the hell out of his opponents – standing in front of a (sympathetic, approving) crowd and saying that people who opposed his ideas (by their actions) should expect that people would find them and beat them…weeellll. That’s a pretty high hurdle for the court to drag itself over.

    • nope says:

      Two points on the protest issue:
      1) I don’t think protests are actually disruptive in the west, unless they’re violent, which is both pretty rare and also a good way to get immediately delegitimized. In Denmark, the majority of radical leftist protests are either destructive (of property) or violent (like throwing cobblestones at the police) and everyone who isn’t already a radical leftist basically ignores them.

      2) You’re thinking about this in the sense of loss of productive resources, but in fact it isn’t. The sort of people who waste their time on long/involved demonstrations and protests are for the most part not people who would have been effective doing anything else. Visit any given liberal arts college or humanities department and you’ll see my point.

      • TrivialGravitas says:

        The media plays an excessive and dishonest role in determining whether or not a protest is violent in public perception. Somebody at a protest throws a plastic bottle and the cops respond with tear gas and beatings and the media will report it as ‘police suppressed a riot’, somebody gets physically assaulted, chased down the street by a mob, then turn and fights back and the media will report is as ‘peaceful protesters assaulted’.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I suppose you can argue it to any extent you want, but I don’t find the argument very convincing.

      For firearms it’s incredibly non-convincing, because one person’s ownership of firearms places no burden on anyone; the cost is on themselves (assuming the government isn’t handing out free guns). Amortized costs of “additional firearms in society”, if they exist, still aren’t a “free rider” issue. With free riders, as the proportion of “free riders” goes up, the ability of the system to support them goes down, and that’s clearly not the case with firearm owners.

      Doing “X” rather than productively working is a free rider problem if you have a welfare system supporting those doing it, but it doesn’t matter what “X” is; this is the common welfare free rider problem and has nothing to do with civil rights.

      Engaging in protests is again not a free rider problem. What price is due a person for their civil rights? If you accept natural rights theory, it is none. If you accept social contract theory, it’s enough that they pay their taxes and do not commit crimes and such. Either way, they aren’t free riding because any price due has been paid. If the protest is “disruptive” in some way, that’s another sort of problem, not free ridership.

      Engaging in unpopular/annoying/enraging speech looks the most like a free rider problem, in that those who engage in the most unpopular/annoying/enraging speech require the most protection. But the same objection applies as with protests. And the rationale can be stated as “those who require the most protection are free-riding on those of us who just get along”. Which is a recipe for conformism.

    • blacktrance says:

      If anyone can be said to free-riding on anyone else, there’s an argument to be made that the people who don’t use those rights are free-riding on those who do. See “If You Love Your Freedom, Thank a Dirty Effing Hippie”.

  19. Deiseach says:

    Some good news from me for once 🙂 Generally I’m whinging and complaining whenever I post on here, but there’s a good-news story in the local paper I want to share.

    If anyone has a subscription to the Investigational New Drugs journal (the journal of new anti-cancer agents), they may be interested in this article.

    There is or may be a promising drug treatment for acute leukaemia, if the human testing goes well (it appears to do well in mice). The local interest is that a man from my county (that would be “state” in American terms), Dr Florence* McCarthy and his team in the Department of Chemistry and the Analytical & Biological Chemistry Research Facility at UCC (Scott’s alma mater!) in collaboration with Professor Tom Cotter, Chair of Biochemistry at UCC and the National Cancer Institute in the USA, have created a novel molecule from a natural extract. It reduced leukaemia tumours by up to 70% in mice; the molecule is derived from an ellipticine which is isolated from the berries of the Bloodthorn tree and it was produced by Elaine O’Sullivan in McCarthy’s research group.

    According to Professor Cotter:

    We targeted acute leukaemia, which is a difficult to treat cancer, and to be honest I didn’t expect the experiments to work as well as they did. In fact I was so surprised with the results I kept looking at them for ages; I couldn’t really believe what I was seeing.

    *Florence is a male name in Ireland, at least in south Munster, generally abbreviated to Flor; it is particularly but not solely associated with the McCarthys – see Flurry Knox in The Irish RM whose full name is Florence McCarthy Knox. Traditional McCarthy names are Justin and Florence for the boys).

    • Murphy says:

      >Tom Cotter

      I had that guy as a lecturer.

      At one point he handed out a link to a [particular revision] wiki article on one of the topic which we were covering saying that he’d reviewed it and considered it far better written than any other text he’d come across on the subject.

      He’s a good teacher.

    • MichaelM says:

      We Americans have counties, too. You silly unitarians don’t really have an equivalent to our states.

      • anonymous says:

        They sort of do now (since devolution) — but they call them countries, which is just perverse.

        • Muga Sofer says:

          Where do you think the term “State” comes from? Nation-state, city-state, separation of Church and State …

      • Deiseach says:

        I know that you have counties inside states, and I didn’t want to use “county” and have you thinking I mean a smaller administrative district (like a townland) rather than the larger entity 🙂

        • MichaelM says:

          Your larger entities ARE like our counties. We have sub-county municipal governments, too. Vaniver gets it.

      • Vaniver says:

        Ireland is the equivalent of a US state. What they don’t have is the equivalent of our federal government. (The EU is a pale shadow, and much more similar to the Articles of Confederation.)

  20. Kevin B says:

    I’ve been lurking on SCC for about a year now and have been wondering what Scott and this crowd think about single payer healthcare for the US. I’m a medical student, and I’m thinking about involving myself in a pro-single-payer organization, but don’t want to do so if it’s not a good cause or not a valuable use of my time.

    The group itself loves to present slides and slides of data in support of single payer, most of which shows: a) how utterly expensive and inefficient our healthcare system is, b) how poor our healthcare outcomes are compared to other developed countries, c) how much of our current healthcare money goes towards administrative/overhead at insurance companies vs. how much of medicare’s funding goes to administration (much less, mainly because medicare is not in the business of rabidly fighting to not provide care), and d) the improvements that other countries have seen upon implementing single-payer (Canada, Taiwan, etc.). So they propose we transfer the current insurance premiums people are paying to private companies to healthcare taxes and everyone gets improved medicare, which is more efficient and has more bargaining power to make healthcare cheaper, without the incentives to not care for people, yada yada. All of this leads them to argue that it would save the country tons of money AND lead to hugely better health outcomes. They think Obamacare was a bandage on a gushing wound, i.e. better than nothing, but not by much.

    Now I realize I’m getting all this information from a distinctly biased source, and I haven’t been able to found very many counterpoints or unbiased analyses, which worries me. Only thing close is this cost break-down of Bernie Sanders’ proposal, which doesn’t consider the long term effects of better healthcare on future cost or increased utility for the country, but still ultimately decides we’d save $38 billion. What are some counterarguments besides the ruin of private insurance companies (and the current political implausibility)? I’ve been thinking about Scott’s post on bewaring systemic change, since this would be a huge overhaul of a system with hard-to-predict outcomes. Although perhaps the fact that a bunch of other countries have done it before us makes the ground a bit less shaky.

    Given his profession, I’m surprised I couldn’t find Scott addressing this topic anywhere.

    Thoughts? Reading suggestions? Life suggestions?

    • Tarrou says:

      Just be aware of the trade-offs. Government involvement assuredly means a few things:

      1: Trade universal access for fast access. If you think the average well-being can be improved this way, carry on!

      2: Trade patient choice for expert panels. I actually think this would probably be a good thing, but this is the “death panel” political pill you have to get swallowed. More a political issue than a health-care one, but it is definitely a biggie. Try telling a family that six more months with their loved one isn’t cost-effective. And prepare for the lawsuits.

      3: The regulatory problem. Regulatory capture is always a problem, but when a basic and massive public good is being produced and sold by the government to the government, who is going to regulate it? The government……..And any problems will be subject to political coverups and all the BS that entails.

      4: Innovation. Megan McArdle has written massively on this, and I’m not sure she’s convinced me. But I do think there’s a basic mismatch between the profit motive and government price regulation of novel treatments. Basically, there’s a trade-off between innovation and controlling healthcare costs.

      5: Trade corporate scamming for private scamming. Here again, individuals are relatively limited in how much they can scam, while corporations have a much larger possibility. But individuals are hard to catch, and when the entire population has the ability to scam, that adds up quickly*.

      *When I worked for a medical transport company, we often had “hospital discharges” which involved medicaid patients who wanted a ride somewhere. They’d call an ambulance, complain of chest pains, which by law gets you admitted to the hospital. Then they’d get discharged “home”, which they would claim was wherever they wanted to go. Total cost for what was basically a long and disjointed taxi ride – many thousands of dollars. One lady used to visit her sister across the state once a week like this.

      • John Schilling says:

        Trade patient choice for expert panels. I actually think this would probably be a good thing, but this is the “death panel” political pill you have to get swallowed.

        Of course, the competing systems have their own expert, or maybe not-so-expert, panels deciding what treatments will and will not be paid for. “Death Panels” have always been with us and probably always will be. A hundred years ago, the Death Panel was when the family met in a somber discussion around the dining-room table to decide whether Junior’s college fund would instead be used to pay for Grandma’s operation. A hundred years before that, the trade was for a bottle of overpriced snake oil, so that’s progress at least.

        But it turns out people hate that sort of thing. Tell them that Grandma is going to die in three months, OK, everybody knows that everybody dies, and we’ve learned to live with that. Grandma is going to die in three months unless Junior gives up his dreams, in which case Grandma doesn’t die in three months? That’s Drama, Tragedy, Unfair, and proof that somebody, somewhere is being evil in a way that Something Must Be Done About.

        The purpose of single-payer health care, or Obamacare, or employer-provided health care or private health insurance or any other such thing, is not really to provide better patient outcomes. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t, usually there’s not enough difference to be worth fighting about. The real purpose is to put a layer of impenetrable bureaucracy between the inevitable death panel and the inevitable death. There’s a panel somewhere that decides that your grandmother dies in three months while that other guy’s grandmother gets to live for nine, but all you know (if you don’t insist on reading the fine print) is that the kindly sympathetic doctor is telling you that the best available treatment will only keep grandma alive for X months. That’s a real, substantial increase in human happiness compared to the hard conversation and Junior maybe not going to college.

        And it means that any health-care system is vulnerable to attack by anyone who would prefer a different system, by pulling back the curtain revealing the first system’s hidden death panel. But if you believe in government transparency, it’s going to be really hard to keep the death panels hidden in a single-payer system – and that’s a real problem.

        • John Sidles says:

          SSC readers should be aware that John Schilling’s evidence-free comment is largely at-odds with the history of medical “death panels”.

          Two good (even thrilling!) death-panel articles by physician Christopher Blagg are “The Early Years of Chronic Dialysis: The Seattle Contribution” (1999) and “The Early History of Dialysis for Chronic Renal Failure in the United States: A View From Seattle” (2007).

          Even more riveting is medical student (and pioneering dialysis patient) Robin Eady’s account “The dawn of dialysis — reminiscences of a patient” … which provides a needed counterweight to healthcare discourse that is too-commonly unempathic.

          Needless to say, similar episodes are destined to multiply greatly in coming decades. Will the day come, when disorders like schizophrenia are no longer devastating life-sentences, as kidney failure once was? We hope that the answer is “yes” … even if the treatments aren’t cheap! 🙂

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I wish John Shilling’s post was etched in stone and forced to be read by everyone participating in health-care reform.

          We can’t have everything we want. And no politician is willing to say this.

          NHS is unpopular because it tells people that “you can’t have that treatment, it’s too expensive.” It still works better than the US because it actually stops the stupid treatment.

          What a bunch of other countries do is just have the doctor say “there is nothing that could be done.” This is often a lie, but it produces outcomes that leave people happier, wealthier, and with health that is statistically indistinguishable from the US system.

          Or it may not be that the doctor is lying, and instead the rationing is done at the regulatory level, by being extra stingy about what procedures and drugs get approved. This has the side effect of leaving a lot of useful innovations as well as dubious ones on the floor. Right now other countries have the benefit of watching what the US does and selecting off the best performing parts.

          • Anonymous says:

            NHS is unpopular because it tells people that “you can’t have that treatment, it’s too expensive.”

            I live in the UK, and my experience is that the NHS is popular precisely because people believe that the alternative of private healthcare entails telling people that “you can’t have that treatment, it’s too expensive”.

          • John Schilling says:

            All health-care alternatives involve telling people that they can’t have that treatment because it’s too expensive. The difference is how they hide and/or sugar-coat it.

            Having single-payer coexist with a private system may be the worst of both worlds, because the private system will advertise its treatments with exaggerated claims of their superiority and a transparent government won’t be able to hide the fact that it isn’t providing the “superior” treatments.

          • nope says:

            Universal healthcare doesn’t really reduce choice in the way people act like it does. If you want to be treated for free then you have to take what you get, but you can just go to a damn private hospital if you really want ultra-special treatment. Granted they aren’t cheap, but the cost of good private care in, say, Denmark is pretty much comparable to average American healthcare costs and often less.

          • Anonymous says:

            Further to my comment above, and re: John Schilling:

            I always find arguments like this kind of odd. As I said above, it seems to me that in my country, just as in the US, people are very very keen to have as much healthcare as they can, and abhor the idea of any system in which anyone is denied healthcare due to cost.

            It might be politically profitable, then, when starting with a socialized healthcare system, to expand it, offering your citizens more and better healthcare options, if that’s what they want – promising to do that when you’re in power ought to get them to vote for you. But only to the extent, of course, that the democratic system works. Which isn’t a very large extent.

            So… Does your argument rely on democracy not working? Would you openly celebrate the fact that voters’ desires re: healthcare are not met, and argue that this is better than a market system, in which customers’ desires are met? How far would you carry this view – would emigration restrictions sometimes be a good thing, if they would prevent citizens from choosing to migrate to a country in which they will be able to buy more healthcare than they ought to? And does this not cut directly against one of the main arguments in favor of democracy’s legitimacy – that the citizens choose who they want to govern them?

            I think one argument for favoring individual sovereignty is that, while it leads to absurdities when taken to its logical conclusion, the results of taking protectionism to its logical conclusion are an order of magnitude more absurd.

          • Anonymous says:

            @nope:

            I think that, as when arguing the merits of private schooling over public schooling, people concerned about choice are explicitly concerned about the choice of the poor. Of course rich people can always send their kids to private school, send themselves to private hospitals. The goal of the pro-private folks is to extend the benefits of the market system in this area to the poor as well as the rich.

          • John Schilling says:

            I always find arguments like this kind of odd. As I said above, it seems to me that in my country, just as in the US, people are very very keen to have as much healthcare as they can,

            In your country, when people catch cold do they ask the doctor to prescribe them three different kinds of antibiotics? That would be more health care than just taking one kind of antibiotic, and way more than the stay-home-and-rest think that actually works.

            In my country, people want to believe that they are having the best possible heath care. “Best” is not the same as “most”. And judging by the level of understanding most people have about the treatments they are seeking, e.g. antibiotics for colds, it’s pretty clear that most of them are going for “believe”.

            They also want to believe that their inevitable death is far enough in the future as to be beyond their present planning horizon, which causes problems when it clearly isn’t so.

            and abhor the idea of any system in which anyone is denied healthcare due to cost.

            This, too. But again, more as a matter of belief than of actuality. If they believe there isn’t a better treatment that they (or anyone else) is being denied on a cost basis, they are happy. If they have to make cost vs. treatment trades, for themselves or anyone else, they are unhappy.

            There is a better treatment that they are being denied on a cost basis, of course, and they do have to make that trade. OK, maybe not if they are ultra-rich, because there is no point in inventing a treatment that even the ultra-rich can’t afford, no way for the Best Cancer Surgeon in the Country to raise his fees beyond the ability of the ultra-rich to pay. But for everybody else, there will be new treatments that are still too expensive for everyone to have, and best surgeons that can’t treat every patient. And very expensive brands of snake oil that some patients will believe constitute the best available treatment.

            Democracy doesn’t help this. Democracy basically means putting to all the voters the question, “here’s a bunch of increasingly expensive treatments, and what will happen to your tax bill if we offer them to everyone who wants or needs them”. That’s exactly the sort of decision they don’t want to make. And since they won’t actually spring for the highest-possible-cost version, it means that they are stuck with all of the things they don’t want: settling for not as much health care as they could be getting, settling for less than the best health care, and knowing that people are being denied health care because of cost.

            The only way most people can get what they really want, at less than ruinous expense, is for someone to lie to them and say “there are no better treatments available than those on this list that we are offering”. In a democracy, they will tend to vote for whoever best delivers that lie. But whoever is in charge of curating that list, will be accused of being a “death panel” by the competing liars.

            As a rationalist who values truth, actually-effective health care, and the ability to make my own economic decisions, I kind of do celebrate voters not getting what they want in this regard.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Snake oil was a lot more popular 100 years ago than 200.

      • Unified policy can be an issue. My impression is that while it may be difficult to find a doctor who will do knee replacement for a fat person in the US, it’s harder in the UK.

    • John Sidles says:

      Thoughts?  Marco Rubio has marked medical students like you as his political enemies 🙁

      Reading suggestions?  Herzlinger and Parsa-Parsi’s Consumer-driven health care: lessons from Switzerland (JAMA 2004).

      Also, Kenneth Ludmerer’s Time to Heal: American Medical Education from the Turn of the Century to the Era of Managed Care (1999) is well-respected.

      Life suggestions?  Practice in Canada … physicians, patients, and citizens alike are reasonably happy there.

      Couplets?

      For forms of  government  healthcare,
         let fools contest.
      What’s best administered,
         is best.
         — Alexander Pope

      Unifying conclusions?  Global economic experience shows that diverse varieties of well-regulated healthcare systems all work well, whether they are Canada-style single-payor or Swiss-style private-sector.

      Which is what Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney similarly proposed decades ago (but alas, neither got).

      Meanwhile, the wasteful, harmful, unethical, moronic US healthcare wrangling futilely continues … 🙁

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ John Sidles
        Global economic experience shows that diverse varieties of well-regulated healthcare systems all work well, whether they are Canada-style single-payor or Swiss-style private-sector.
        Which is what Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney similarly proposed decades ago (but alas, neither got)”

        I think you mean ‘respectively proposed’.

        • John Sidles says:

          To be specific, the record shows that neither HilaryCare nor RomneyCare was a single-payor (Canada-style) plan … both were regulated-market (Swiss-style) plans.

          These three plans (and ObamaCare too) bear a close family resemblance, for the common-sense reason that (ideology aside) well-designed regulated-market plans work reasonably well … when naked political ambition doesn’t get in the way.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ John Sidles

            Hillarycare ~1992 and Hillarycare2008 both included government-paid plans that users could choose instead of user-paid plans. Obamacare* does not. This is a very important distinction.

            * staying out of ‘Did state Romneycare = 1990s national GOP proposal etc etc’.

    • ReluctantEngineer says:

      how much of our current healthcare money goes towards administrative/overhead at insurance companies vs. how much of medicare’s funding goes to administration (much less, mainly because medicare is not in the business of rabidly fighting to not provide care)

      No comment on the rest of this, but the standard counter-argument regarding Medicare’s administrative cost savings is that they are primarily the result of most of Medicare’s administration being handled by other government agencies (e.g. the IRS does the billing for Medicare, whereas private insurers do their own billing). I don’t actually have any sort of accounting statements or even rough estimates of the actual numbers involved, though, and would be interested in seeing them if anybody has any.

      • John Sidles says:

        For concrete administration/overhead numbers, see Himmelstein and Woolhandler, “Billing and insurance-related administrative costs in United States’ health care: synthesis of micro-costing evidence” (2014, PMID: 25540104), and references therein:

        Results  Billing and insurance-related (BIR) activities costs in the U.S. health care system totaled approximately $471 ($330 – $597) billion in 2012. This includes $70 ($54 – $76) billion in physician practices, $74 ($58 – $94) billion in hospitals, an estimated $94 ($47 – $141) billion in settings providing other health services and supplies, $198 ($154 – $233) billion in private insurers, and $35 ($17 – $52) billion in public insurers. Compared to simplified financing, $375 ($254 – $507) billion, or 80%, represents the added BIR costs of the current multi-payer system.

        Conclusions  A simplified financing system in the U.S. could result in cost savings exceeding $350 billion annually, nearly 15% of health care spending.

        Needless to say, no other healthcare system in the world incurs administration/overhead relative costs that are anywhere near US relative costs.

        • ReluctantEngineer says:

          That paper did not contain the information I was after, but it did eventually lead me to the Medicare fund trustees report, which does have some of it. Budget breakdowns can be found on pages 45 (Part A), 78 (Part B), and 106 (Part D), and for Parts A and B they include entries for things like “Treasury administrative expenses” and “FBI” (Part D’s section does not show these, but it’s the smallest). So while I’d still be interested in seeing more detailed numbers (and a private insurer’s balance sheet for comparison), it seems that the standard counter-argument needs improvement at the very least.

          • Kevin B says:

            One thing that surely muddies the issue is that it’s (from what I understand) nearly impossible to get detailed information about insurance companies and how they work.

          • John Sidles says:

            Kevin B observes (correctly): “It’s nearly impossible to get detailed information about insurance companies and how they work.”

            Yes, ubiquitously, and there is a common-sense market-based reason why insurance-industry opacity is ubiquitous.

            I attended a medical billing seminar which taught that, if a billing process is made sufficiently opaque, arbitrary, capricious, and complex, that a fairly high percentage of patients (about 30%) will forego needed treatment, rather than submit to a dehumanizing billing process.

            The associated savings to the insurance company are sufficiently great, and market forces are sufficiently strong, and customer familiarity with major medical care is sufficiently scant, that essentially all US healthcare companies embrace these perversely-incented (mal)practices.

            Bob Parr depicts these practices accurately and hilariously (yet poignantly) in the animated film The Incredibles.

            Can these perverse incentives be effectively mitigated, such that the (very real) choice-related virtues of the market come into play? Yes, and SwissCare/HilaryCare/RomneyCare all have shown the way to effective healthcare reform.

    • baconbacon says:

      “b) how poor our healthcare outcomes are compared to other developed countries”

      By what measures? The simple metrics like life expectancy are barely moved by health care and are heavily driven by other factors when cross country comparison. Years ago I got into an argument about the WHO’s rankings on health care (which were discontinued in 2000, and the argument was 06/07 I think- around the time Sicko came out)- where I realized you could “hack” their health care rankings. Found your own country, set up a tax plan that is “fair” by the WHO standards and provide zero health care to any citizen- perfect scores in two criteria, a terrible health care system by any judgement otherwise. Without getting any further into that wormhole the lesson I learned is this

      – Most rankings of health care outcomes are highly subjective-

      An argument against single payer will almost certainly take a different approach to measuring health care outcomes than those that support single payer. Neither is going to be objectively correct. One example (from memory) was a study on ACL repair in the US vs Canada. Proponents of single payer noted it was “1/2” the cost in Canada with only slightly worse outcomes than the US. Opponents focused on the “facts” that average wait time in Canada was months longer and the cost/benefit analysis ignored this (also that a large % of wealthy Canadians either get their major health care at illegal for profit clinics or medical tourism). Which is more important?

    • keranih says:

      All of this leads them to argue that it would save the country tons of money AND lead to hugely better health outcomes.

      …may I put in a request for a pony and a plastic rocket, while we’re taking orders of heart’s desires?

      More seriously –

      Government funded widgets are not the best widgets, nor the least expensive widgets, nor do they prevent shortages of widgets, nor are government funded widgets adequate to the desires of most people wanting widgets.

      They will, however, be sufficient for those people who must have widgets, yet for whatever reason have no other options to get one. Because as soon as people have the option to get widgets elsewhere, they do.

      One of the primary reasons healthcare is so expensive in the USA (and there are many) is because we have effectively removed market forces from the provision of care. The people who pay for healthcare are not the people using the healthcare, so that doctors, hospitals, and equipment/material suppliers are not at all motivated to find cost cutting innovations. This is the primary problem, imo, and single-payer does nothing to fix that, and will only make it worse.

      (Want a comparison of the effect of third-party paying on medical care? Look at the comparable cost between getting your 120 lb dog a c-section, and getting one for your sister. The medicine is different. It’s not 500% different.)

      Other reasons for higher costs include gatekeeping/rent-seeking by the various regulated shareholders, from hospitals fighting competition and forcing increased regulation on smaller clinics to the cap on medical doctors and licensing practice acts. (Also not fixed by single payer.) There is also the side costs of malpractice lawsuits (unsure how single payer will fix this) regulatory compliance (also not fixed by SP) economies of scale (*might* be bettered with SP) and certain quirks of the American consumer (private rooms in hospitals, first dollar insurance, low tolerance for wait times, physician choice, etc, etc.) And a few other things I am missing.

      As said above – it’s all about tradeoffs. For a given good/service like healthcare, as with everything else on the planet – you can get it good, you can get it fast, or you can get it cheap. Pick two. And then deal with not having the other one.

      I could be talked into a tax-payer funded, *very* basic, public-health oriented set of clinics that collected baseline info (ie, radiographs, ultrasound, ecgs, physical exams, blood chemistry panels, limited titers, limited cultures) as well as conducting the most basic public health interventions like vaccinations, all for a minimal co-pay. This information could be sent to the physician of the patient’s choice, so that formal diagnosis and treatment could be done by a doctor. If private charities wanted to set up as the physician of choice for people who could not pay, then they would be able to do so with minimal overhead. If some people chose to take that information from the clinic and “treat” themselves, well, that’s on them as well.

      I would not expect these services to be fast or as good as the for-profit clinics that would spring up to serve those who could afford to pay. But they would be there, and it might help return some sanity to a dysfunctional system.

      • John Sidles says:

        keranih opines  “One of the primary reasons healthcare is so expensive in the USA (and there are many) is because we have effectively removed market forces from the provision of care.”

        Uhhh … there is no “market force” acting to provide healthcare for schizophrenics (or other severe mental disorders), is there? Don’t “market forces” plainly act in the opposite direction to healthcare provision? Namely, don’t “market forces” proclaim, that the sooner these patients die, the better off (economically) society is as a whole, by any strictly rational metric?

        The above-cited Herzlinger and Parsa-Parsi review “Consumer-driven health care: lessons from Switzerland” (JAMA 2004) illustrates that humane yet market-driven healthcare systems are feasible. Indeed, politicians as diverse as Mitt Romney and Hilary Clinton proposed them decades ago …

        Meanwhile, ObamaCare is evolving (erratically yet inexorably) into SwissCare … largely because no alternatives are being seriously proposed. The sooner, the better?

        • Kevin B says:

          There seems to be something here (that I haven’t thought enough about to articulate well) about healthcare being viewed as a right vs. as an economic product. As a pure economic product, healthcare is refused to those who can’t afford it (and maybe they need it most). As a right, maybe the richer have trouble buying the diamond-studded care they’d prefer?

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Do you “have the right” to other people’s labor?

            If not there is no sane way that you can argue that health-care is a right rather than a simple commodity just like anything else.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG argues that “health-care is […] a simple commodity just like anything else.”

            That is the rationale of the Priest and the Levite, but not the Samaritan.

            Very plausibly, the Priest and the Levite went home to write editorials calling for more police patrols on the Jerusalem-Jericho highway, and decrying the immigration of the alien Samaritans. Note, however, that their editorials did not make it into “The Good Book”. 😉

          • Anonymous says:

            @John Sidles

            What do you mean by ‘commodity’? Wikipedia tells me that a commodity is a substantially fungible marketable item produced to satisfy wants or needs. Which part of that description do you disagree with?

            Or is it that you believe healthcare is fundamentally more important than other goods and services? But it seems to me that food, water, and shelter are all more important than healthcare. Are houses not commodities? How about bread? And why can’t an important good be a commodity, anyway?

          • keranih says:

            @ John Sidles –

            The Priest was a little rural religious official on his once-a-lifetime trip to oversee the Sabbath in the Temple, for which he had ritually purified himself for the last month. Touching a filthy bleeding man of unknown lineage would have required another round of purification. I don’t *agree* with his choice, but I *understand* it.

            Furthermore, the Samaritan ponied up his own donkey, his own money, and his own good name to take care of the stranger – he didn’t go hire a handful of thugs to shake down the local population for money to pay the hotel bill. If you want to play the Samaritan card, play the part of the Samaritan, not the Levite.

            @HlynkaCG –

            Very little of what is currently promoted as “health care” is all that much a commodity. Vaccines and basic supplies, yes, medications once they are discovered, most supplies, and to some level wellness visits. But one of the reasons healthcare has not dropped in price as much as everything else is because so much of it is produced by individual skilled labor.

            Market forces are still the only way I see to get prices to reduce, rather than to just continue to increase at varying rates.

          • science says:

            But one of the reasons healthcare has not dropped in price as much as everything else is because so much of it is produced by individual skilled labor.

            I agree with the basic point, but I’d give it a very different connotation. To my mind the fact that we have a fetish for bespoke, hand made, artisanal medical care is a problem that causes us to get an objectively inferior product at a high cost. Assembly line health care would be a good thing, not a bad one.

          • John Sidles says:

            Anonymous asks: “What do you mean by ‘[simple] commodity’? Wikipedia tells me that a commodity is a substantially fungible marketable item produced to satisfy wants or needs.”

            Anonymous, your quote omitted the key word ‘simple’ … which is crucial, given that health-care is a vaguely defined ‘item’ that is ‘fungible’ only dubiously, ‘marketable’ only opaquely, ‘wanted’ often desperately, and ‘needed’ crucially.

            As a case study in these distinctions, it’s hard to beat Robin Eady’s The dawn of dialysis — reminiscences of a patient” (op cit.).

            Needless to say, the humane value of these more-than-market medical traits has been appreciated since antiquity.

          • Anonymous says:

            @science: Interesting – but what would ‘assembly line health care’ actually look like?

            @John Sidles: Can you give some more explanation of why you believe healthcare isn’t particularly fungible? Is the kind of service you will get from each doctor really that different?

            Regarding the necessity of healthcare, I think this view requires a belief that extra time alive is more valuable than anything and everything else. The kind of grim but more realistic view is that healthcare is a want, not a need, and is supported by the observation that if you really held the first view then you would spend 100% of your income on maximizing the length of your life, which I suspect you don’t do.

          • John Sidles says:

            Anonymous wonders “What would ‘assembly-line health care’ actually look like?” and “Why isn’t healthcare particularly fungible?”

            A surgeon of my acquaintance (now retired) specialized in pediatric spina bifida patients … a condition that is not uncommonly associated with diminished life-quality and reduced life-expectancy.

            This surgeon took care to alternate the appointments of younger patients with older patients, to ensure that they spent time together in the waiting room (if necessary by deliberately delaying seeing a patient), such that the younger patients could learn from the older patients.

            Such deep personal consideration is the antithesis of ‘assembly line health care’, and the lifelong relations that this physician sustained with his patients (and their families) were incompatible with ‘fungibility of health-care’.

            Hopefully this physician’s example helps to answer your questions, “science” and “anonymous”.

            Now, good luck explaining these matters to Bob Parr’s boss! 😉

          • Anonymous says:

            Hopefully these examples help to answer your questions, “anonymous”.

            Perhaps they do – I’m not sure if I understand. Are you saying that by getting their patients’ trust, doctors can establish themselves as monopolists for those particular patients, who will be unwilling to seek out alternative doctors even if their own drops in quality, because those other doctors don’t have a rapport with them and/or an understanding of their medical history?

          • John Sidles says:

            Lol … yes, and to adopt your market-centric language, “anonymous”, my wife and I have for the past 36 years sustained a monopoly on each other’s affections!

            Why is it, do you think, that so few people use market-centric language … happily married people especially?

            Note too, that market-centric language is notably absent from the Hippocratic Oath. Why is this, the (non-Randian) world wonders?

            After all, isn’t the Hippocratic Oath’s “respect for privacy” utterly incompatible with “market efficiency”?

            That’s the plain verdict of the health-care information black market, isn’t it?

            Yikes.

          • science says:

            @JS
            No this blatant and unconvincing appeal to emotion doesn’t answer the question at all. By the way, how many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year was Mr. Saint withdrawing from the US economy every year?

            @Anonymous
            Assembly line medicine starts with evidence based medicine, instead of god-complex gut-feeling based medicine. It takes it even a step beyond how that is generally conceptualized though to not just have individual hero-doctors using best practices, but embedding them in a larger system with systematic data collection, feedback loops, and quality control.

            Of course if wealthy people want to get their artisnal medical care from hand picked doctors with just the right late middle aged look, neutral mid-western accent, a caring but slightly paternalistic attitude who will spend hours thoughtfully listening to their concerns they ought to be allowed to use their own money to LARP out whatever encounter they’d like.

          • Anonymous says:

            @John Sidles

            After all, isn’t the Hippocratic Oath’s “respect for privacy” utterly incompatible with “market efficiency”?

            No. No reason your interactions with your doctor can’t include a stipulation that they may not disclose your private information.

            @science

            Again, interesting. Why, exactly, could someone not set up this kind of business today? Advertise it as sleek and modern and evidence-based – all positive-sounding buzzwords. And true, as well! Why hasn’t someone done this already? This isn’t a trick question or anything, I’m serious.

          • science says:

            Because of the aforementioned fetish. As for how we got there, don’t look at me consumer psychology isn’t my thing.

            The largest beneficiary would be the payor. So my guess is that either it’d have to be imposed by the (possibly single) payor or would have to get patients to have more skin in the game to make it happen. But again, not my area, maybe someone could make it happen by putting up ads saying “one weird trick your doctor will hate”.

            Kaiser is probably the closest thing we have today at any sort of scale. Or maybe one of the government health services (veterans, Indian).

          • Hari Seldon says:

            @science: Interesting – but what would ‘assembly line health care’ actually look like?

            Not nearly as bad as you think. There are “assembly line’ clinics for lots of elective procedures. Hair restoration, Lasik, etc… You can get affordable, predictable treatment at the sacrifice of some hand holding. Or you can pay top dollar for lots of mental stroking and some branding.

            I happen to run what others in my profession call an “assembly line dental practice.” I focus on a few procedures in which I am very experienced and efficient. At my practice, you can get a dental implant for $700. You can have it restored with an abutment and crown for another $700. I realize that is still expensive, but it is about the 1/3-1/4 of the typical cost in the US.

            The standard experience for many patients seeking a dental implant goes something like this:

            1. Visit dentist for consultation. Pay for radiographs and exam. Take impressions for surgical stent.

            2. Visit imaging center or surgeon for conebeam imaging. ($$$) Have imaging sent to laboratory with impressions for guided surgical stents. ($$$)

            3. Have implant placed – often with sedation or GA ($$$)

            4. Revisit surgeon to have implant evaluated for restoration.

            5. 2-3 Visits with restorative dentist to place abutment and crown.

            At my office:

            1. Patient calls and says he wants a dental implant. They are quoted the fee over the phone.

            2.They come in for a free consultation and radiographs. My assistants do all prep work and history before I enter the room. I come in, introduce myself with minimal chat, review medical history, examine radiographs and do a clinical exam. I tell the patient whether they are a candidate or not, explain risks and answer questions. The patient is given the option of having the implant placed that day or rescheduling.

            Most patients choose same day treatment. I anesthetize, go do another procedure or exam and return in 10-15 minutes. Place the implant, take an impression for the restoration and thank the patient for coming in. The typical patient is in and out in about an hour.

            Do I have deep, lifelong relationships with my patients? No. But if you are going to the dentist for social reasons, you should know you can get escorts and therapists for a lot less money.

            Local dentists continually badmouth me for “undercutting the profession”. They tell their patients I cut corners and use inferior materials. None of which is true.

            The average dentist who claims to routinely place implants places 30-40 a year. I placed 30 implants on Monday. Honestly. Who has more experience? I can do this in my sleep. I don’t need conebeam imaging and cad-cam generated surgical guides to tell me where vital anatomical structures are. I have flapped open a thousand jaws; I know where stuff is. I could never have gained that level of experience charging $4-6000 to replace a single tooth.

            So you can have a dentist who sits and listens to you talk about your grandkids for 20 minutes, or you can save a few thousand dollars and have a dentist who is merely pleasant and professional. My clinic is in a non-descript office building; no waterfalls in the lobby; no pretty girls bringing you a hot towel to freshen up afterward. You come in, you get treated, you pay, you leave. It’s not for everybody, but it works for a lot of people.

            I get patients who find me online and travel from all over the US and Canada. They don’t come because I am “THE BEST”, but because I am cheap. I am a bald, homely, socially impaired introvert. You will never see my picture on my advertising. But I offer $1400 for an implant, abutment and crown. X-rays, imaging, lab work, exams – all complimentary.

            Just one biased perspective. Not everything in medicine can be that streamlined, but many things could be.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Why hasn’t someone done this already?

            I would say the chief obstacle to assembly-line medicine is guild restrictions on who is allowed to provide medical services and where they are allowed to provide them.

            Consider restaurants. Suppose you notice the main restaurant in town is doing a crappy job – service is slow and expensive and the food isn’t very good. It is LEGAL for you to open a competing restaurant right across the street and steal away all their customers by offering a better product. You can sell food that is better and cheaper and faster, put billboards up advertising this fact, and thereby force them to either GET BETTER or be driven out of business.

            Or suppose your restaurant does REALLY WELL and you think there’s enough demand specifically for YOUR kind of awesome food that it would make sense to buy the building next door and double the seating at your first location, or open a second location to handle the overflow. In the restaurant business, you can just DO that.

            Now apply the same idea to hospitals. If you want to open a competing hospital next to an existing one in most states you can’t because you won’t be able to get a Certificate of Need – you’re not ALLOWED to open a new hospital OR make more beds available in an existing one if this would in any way endanger the profitability of the already-existing hospitals.

            Hospitals are regional monopolies by law, kind of like auto dealerships only more so. They aren’t directly competing with anybody so there’s little incentive to improve.

            (In the few pockets of medicine where patients aren’t insulated from prices you do sometimes see assembly-line medicine. Most notably, LASIK mills are pretty much that. A vision-correcting surgeon gets really really good at doing just the ONE THING you need his level of expertise for while his staff does everything else including most of the patient interaction.)

          • John Sidles says:

            Hari Seldon practices “assembly line dental practice: I focus on a few procedures in which I am very experienced and efficient.”

            Glen Raphael observes “LASIK mills are pretty much that [assembly-line medicine]”

            Hari Seldon, please let me say that (1) Your post-name is awesome, and (2) your professionalism receives my highest respect. Would that all medical conditions could be treated as effectively and performatively as carious and fractured teeth.

            Glen Raphael, your post reminded me of a particle theory postdoc of my acquaintance — the former graduate student of a hyper-famous theoretical physicist — who left physics for ophthalmology, made a fortune as a Los Angeles LASIK surgeon, and retired rich while still (relatively) young … unlike any of his fellow post-docs! 🙂

            Needless to say, assembly-line medical/dental careers like these are already entirely consonant with regulated-market Swiss/Hilary/Romney/Obama-Care systems … by virtue of well-crafted market-mechanisms that Herzlinger and Parsa-Parsi’s JAMA study analyzes in-depth.

            This is the common-sense reason why precisely zero major medical/dental professional societies (known to me) have joined the strident far-right calls to abolish ObamaCare.

          • John Sidles says:

            Anonymous says [correctly but naively] “There’s no reason your interactions with your doctor can’t include a stipulation that they may not disclose your private information.

            What’s wildly naive is the expectation that medical data feasibly can be kept private in an unregulated healthcare system … given the immense black-market value of healthcare information in the unregulated setting of insurance rates.

            This isn’t a crime that any amount of forensic auditing can reliably detect, or any amount of punitive legislation can effectively prevent.

            The creation of perverse incentives for this privacy-invading healthcare crime is what’s head-slappingly stupid about Marco Rubio’s health-care legislation.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Atul Gawande on assembly-line surgery.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @ John Sidles:

            You realize that you are playing the role of the Levite in this scenario don’t you? You castigate others for failing to make sacrifices or show empathy. While refusing to make or display any of your own.

            Are actually going to present an argument for why you think health care is in a class apart? Some how more essential than or less of a commodity than food or shelter? Ir are you going to stick to thinly veiled insults?

            @ keranih:

            Anonymous already answered the question but I would add that the doctor’s time and attention is itself a service commodity.

            @ science
            Such “assembly line” does exist as others have already pointed out but licensing and insurance regulations are generally designed to keep them on the fringe. (See Hari and Glen’s posts below yours)

          • Anonymous says:

            @John Sidles

            What kind of regulation do you imagine would prevent this problem? It’s already illegal to sell private information, isn’t it?

          • John Sidles says:

            Anonymous asks:  “What kind of regulation  do you imagine would  do the Swiss use to effectively prevent this problem [of black-market privacy invasion]?”

            The ingenious market-based (not legislative!) answer is stated plainly in Herzlinger and Parsa-Parsi’s “Consumer-driven health care: lessons from Switzerland” (JAMA 2004, op cit., Google find a complete PDF)

            “Prices are adjusted only for the enrollees’ canton and age and the urbanization of their residence. […] The government also risk-adjusts compulsory insurers. Those with above-average medical care costs receive trans- fers from those with lower-than-average costs.

            In particular, the medical history of customers is irrelevant to the pricing of their policy  … which destroys the black-market value of this information. Which is an ingenious, elegant, market-based solution to an otherwise intractably toxic black-market in privacy invasion, eh?

            It is this crucial privacy-protecting risk-leveling mechanism that Marco Rubio — bizarrely and inexplicably, as it seems to me and many observers — seeks to disrupt. The intended mechanism by which Rubio’s disruption benefits the electorate remains “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” … for which no lover of privacy will thank Mr. Rubio.

        • keranih says:

          Uhhh … there is no “market force” acting to provide healthcare for schizophrenics (or other severe mental disorders), is there?

          I’m not sure if I’m understanding you. Please tell me if I’ve got it wrong:

          1) You mean that our current non-market-forced system is doing a bang-up job of treating severe mental disorders, to the point that other nations view our treatment as a superior blend of improved outcome, low cost, and patient autonomy, so that moving to any other system would be a negative…or…

          2) There are no people who are paying for mental (or other) health medical care for their children, siblings, or parents, just as there are no people paying for care for infants, children, people in comas, or elderly demented folks, so a market-driven health system will never provide good outcomes for those people.

          Namely, don’t “market forces” proclaim, that the sooner these patients die, the better off (economically) society is as a whole, by any strictly rational metric?

          Now I *know* you’re talking out of your hat. Rational people would not smoke tobacco, drink alcohol immoderately, nor waste valuable time on the internets trying to teach pigs to sing arguing with other invisible people.

          Yet here we are, and my local bar, computer shop, and internet provider are all well pleased with the situation.

        • [This has nothing to do with the thread–it’s just a way of getting a message to John somewhere he will see it]

          Yesterday you accused me of making a false argument (in the Cook et. al. 2013 discussion) that I did not make—indeed took some care to make it clear I was not making. I challenged you to either support your accusation or retract it. I have seen no response from you, and it occurred to me that you might have moved on to the current discussion and never seen my response. I am now calling your attention to it.

    • Vaniver says:

      I’m a data scientist. I think that the short term health and economic impact of single payer is muddy, and could easily go either way. (It’d be better than what we have with the ACA, but that’s not hard.) I think that the data and long-term health impact potential is immense–being able to consolidate all American health data would be a treasure trove many times the size of the various European data sources, which are already tremendously useful.

      We could learn much more about the impacts that treatments have in the wild, which is way more useful than a handful of tiny studies done in experimental conditions.

      • Kevin B says:

        Yeah the side effects in terms of consolidation and simplification of the whole system seems really attractive to me, even if it’s hard for me to imagine all the pieces to that puzzle.

    • brad says:

      how much of our current healthcare money goes towards administrative/overhead at insurance companies vs. how much of medicare’s funding goes to administration (much less, mainly because medicare is not in the business of rabidly fighting to not provide care),

      You are fooling yourself if you think doctors are going to be held harmless. More than a fifth of healthcare spending goes to “physician and clinical services” and that probably doesn’t capture all the physician income. Plus, especially when you look at specialist physicians, their compensation is a serious outlier internationally, (Yes, even after accounting for medical school debt and malpractice insurance.)

      If we are going to slow the growth of health care costs, and we don’t much of a choice, labor costs — which are necessarily someone’s labor income — are going to have to come back down to earth. There’s no magical pot of fraud, waste and abuse that’s going to do it.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        No, there really is the option of eliminating everything but labor. Singapore pays its doctors the same as America and that’s 2/3 of its healthcare spending. Yet its healthcare is at least as efficient as Europe.

        • brad says:

          I’m afraid I don’t know much about the Singaporean health care system. Do you think the model is replicable or is it dependent on some of the many differences between the US and Singapore?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It is worth learning about the Singapore healthcare system because it is so different. It is a counterexample to almost everything anyone ever says about what is possible.

            I don’t know if it is replicable. But one should also worry about whether the Canadian system is replicable, or whether it depends on differences.

            Edit: I meant differences like corruption. But maybe you mean racial differences in the need for healthcare. I doubt that there is such a difference: it is just as easy to spend lots of money in the last year of life, regardless of what age that is. Longevity statistics should be adjusted for race, but I think Singapore still looks pretty good.

        • Hari Seldon says:

          I suspect Singapore pays its doctors a wage similar to the numbers provided by the BLS. Those numbers are nowhere near accurate for total physician (and especially surgeon) compensation.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Surgeons make a lot of money, but there aren’t a lot of them. My memory of making the comparison was $250k, mean across all kinds of doctors. BLS puts the median PCP at $220k and specialist at $400k. (It also puts the overall median at $187k, but I think that’s top-coding.)

            Do you dispute those numbers? Do you have a source for a different numbers?

      • Kevin B says:

        Even in Canada, doctors get paid just fine. I would honestly fight for a fairer, cheaper system even if it meant I didn’t get paid quite as much.

    • US says:

      As for reader suggestions, I read The Oxford Handbook of Health Economics last year. It’s written for economists, but most of it is (I think – it’s hard for me to judge…) reasonably readable for non-economists as well. The book is well written and it has a lot of good stuff. It’s also quite long (~1000 pages), but you probably don’t need to read all of it. It’ll likely give you a much better appreciation of which various issues and tradeoffs are important at many different levels of analysis within a health economics context.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      I’m going to put my Machiavellian hat on. Whether single payer health care decreases the income of doctors or not, many doctors believe that it does. If such a doctor is reviewing your residency application, then being heavily involved in such an organization will not help you. You have your whole life, and more influence in the future to tackle controversial big issues, so I don’t see the need to start now.

    • As best I can tell, while U.S. healthcare is anomalously expensive, outcomes are not particularly poor. For details on the WHO report usually cited in support of the claim that they are, see:

      http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2009/09/international-health-care-comparisons.html

      It’s also worth noting that the U.S. system is far from a free market one. A majority of all expenditures are paid for by government, and both the insurance industry and the medical industry are heavily regulated.

      • Hari Seldon says:

        Thank you for pointing that out. Like so many of the economic issues facing the US, this is one of our own design. We insist on keeping the profit motive intact with private companies, but simultaneously socialize the payments and losses side of the equilibrium. We need to choose one or the other. Right now we are combining the worst aspects of two potentially viable systems.

        Healthcare, housing, student loans. If prices are spiralling out of control, you can bet the government is holding its well-intentioned finger on the wrong side of the scales.

        I prefer a free market, but realize that will never happen in the US for healthcare. Sometimes I think we may as well just get the inevitable out of the way and develop a rational, socialized system.

        There are many drawbacks. Innovation will be stifled. Current inefficiencies will be permanently enshrined. Bureaucracy will flourish. Uncomfortable immigration issues will HAVE to be addressed. My kids will never have Dr. Beverly Crusher diagnosing and formulating treatment for all their health problems with an iTricorder. But outcomes will probably be just as good as what we have today and many people on the margins will be saved from medical bankruptcy.

        Tradeoffs suck, man. I really want a medical tricorder. Preferably linked to my Amazon Prime Pharmaceutical Account.

        • John Sidles says:

          Hari Seldon says  “Tradeoffs suck, man. I really want a medical tricorder.”

          Lol … Hari Seldon, please let me say that your well-reasoned well-expressed comments are admirably smile-inducing (for me anyway) 🙂

          Yes, in domains as diverse as evolutionary biology, game theory, military strategy, healthcare economics, and human courtship, it commonly happens that optimal strategies are mixed strategies. Life would be a lot simpler if this weren’t true … in particular, we wouldn’t need our big complicated messily empathic hominid brains.

          As for medical tricorders, the way those things can diagnose and repair a rotator cuff tear, non-surgically within a few seconds, is pretty incredible! 🙂

  21. Primadent says:

    Is Nathan Robinson aware of your writings? Would you write for his magazine if he asked you to? I’m already imagining a publication that would bring together Fredrik Deboer, Scott Alexander and Nathan Robinson, how great would that be?

  22. John Sidles says:

    Torrents of divisive rhetoric are flowing in regard to terrorism … and so it is notable that the discourse of professional anti-terror strategists is unifying rather than divisive:

    The Starfish Caliphate:
    How ISIL Exploits the Power
    of a Decentralized Organization

    by LtCol Stewart Welch
    Small Wars Journal,
    November 20, 2015

    […] In their 2006 book, The Starfish and the Spider, Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom describe starfish organizations as those that survive without leadership. Centralized organizations are like spiders: cut off the head and the spider dies. Decentralized organizations are more like starfish, which multiply when you try to cut them to pieces. Groups like Napster, Wikipedia, or Alcoholics Anonymous have strength in their decentralized, leaderless nature.

    ISIL is a spider organization that acts like a starfish. […]

    ISIL’s brutality disgusts everyone in the world, and that is to our advantage. The widespread rejection of their ideology and brutality establishes single unifying factor for multiple different groups and nations. Consider the fact that U.S., Sunni Gulf states, Iran, and Russia are actively fighting ISIL ideology and seek to limit their influence and expansion.

    We should use this confluence of interests to develop a multi-faceted information effort highlighting the dangers and moral bankruptcy of their ideology. Our unified message should focus on universal rejection of their oppressive and murderous worldview. Our brand should be simple: the whole world is against ISIL.

    This requires connecting opposition voices and proactively messaging audiences that are susceptible to this toxic ideology. By multiplying nodes, sharing counter-messaging information and focusing our efforts, the international community will become a more expansive, diverse network than the jihadist sympathizers can muster.

    These efforts to coordinate messaging are currently underway, but networks take time to develop. The sheer number of nations, groups and individuals that reject ISIL is an untapped advantage that we need to exploit. Messaging alone will not solve the problem, but it is a critical aspect to countering any decentralized organization fueled by an ideology of violence.

    Peaceful, freedom-loving people around the world will be dealing with this threat for generations. We need to start to see ourselves as a bigger, stronger starfish with more tentacles and a far greater reach than our enemy.

    ———–
    Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Welch, USAF, is currently serving as a Middle East Strategist on the counter-ISIL team in the Joint Staff (J5). He earned a BA in Civil/Environmental Engineering from the George Washington University in 2000, and an MA in Religion from Southern Evangelical Seminary in 2008. Prior to his current assignment, Lt Col Welch was an Olmsted Scholar in Tel Aviv Israel, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Modern Middle Eastern History from Tel Aviv University.

    Resolved for purposes of SSC debate: Progressives have structured their movement as “a bigger, stronger starfish with more [rapidly adaptive social and cognitive] arms and a far greater [historical] reach than their [reactionary] opponents.”

    That is why, in demonizing “social justice warriors”, reactionaries are futilely fighting “a previous war” against a progressive movement that identifies itself as a “bigger, stronger science-respecting starfish” that is adaptively advancing its interests in multiple distributed theatres.

    • Deiseach says:

      a progressive movement that identifies itself as a “bigger, stronger science-respecting starfish”

      Depends on your flavour of progressive. The lady whose article I linked the other day would most likely identify very strongly as a progressive, and she blamed science for sexism 🙂

    • HlynkaCG says:

      A “bigger stronger science-respecting starfish” wouldn’t be all that progressive. It would basically be imperialism 2.0.

      • John Sidles says:

        The RedState reactionary meme is “you will be made to care” … the point being, that not everyone is good at this “caring” stuff … plenty of folks are flat-out incapable of it.

        • Magician says:

          I would like to preserve SSC as a place where we avoid this kind of contextless partisan posturing.

          • John Sidles says:

            Agreed that it’s not easy to steer between the Scylla of demagoguery and the Charybdis of solipsistic denialism. In regard to global terror broadly, and its cognitive aspects specifically, the OP-quoted Small Wars Journal threads this passage pretty successfully (as it seems to me and many). Which is not to say that some folks won’t get their hair mussed … but I do say no more than ten or twenty cognitive ideologies toppled, tops … depending on the breaks!

          • Magician says:

            I was not sure that I understand your reply, are you the demagogue or the denialist. Initially I was referring to your partisan posturing, not that of redstate, reactionaries etc. Above you seem to have reduced a series of complex issues to a some of black/white fight between rational science loving progressives and mentally ill reactionaries. This is the direct opposite of charitably trying to argue against the strongest positions of your opponents. Further in doing so you conflate the criticism of social justice activism by Steven Pinker, Jonathan Haidt, our host etc with far right opposition to basic rights.

          • Magician says:

            In relation to ISIL. I think the problem of defeating the organisation of IS is very different to neutralising the underlying ideology and preventing its reemergence in another form. I would argue there is only a common front against IS on the surface. The Gulf states and the US support radical groups with the same underlying ideology. Citizens of the former have most likely supported IS directly. Iran has its own murderous sectarian proxies both in Iran and Syria. Assad has been the worst actor in Syria and he has Russian support. Turkey’s main interest is in extending its reach and denying Kurdish influence. It’s hardly a collation of peace loving folks on one side and monsters on the other.
            To look at the situation on another level. The imam of my local mosque is often described as a moderate and has appeared on tv criticising the Islamic State. He is also a kind and generous man. In private however he suspects that IS is a black bag operation run by the mossad/CIA. Similarly he condemns Assad’s barrel bombs but supports suicide bombings in Israel.

          • John Sidles says:

            Reluctance to posture, practiced as a pretext for inaction — inaction in regard to social justice concerns, climate change, effective ISIL opposition, healthcare reform, etc. — becomes a roman virtue, which is to say, a virtue carried too far. As does any CinC of any national force, and any leader of any community or nation, Obama must wrestle with the difficult practical boundaries of virtuous practice. In this foggy realm there are no easy answers … without regard for ideology.

        • anon says:

          “Two Years Later, You’ll Still Be Made to Care

          In the last twenty-four hours, much of the mainstream media has shown itself perfectly willing to serve as agents of Satan (or should I use Moloch to make you feel better?)”

          Oh shit, they’re on to us

  23. Jacobian says:

    I’d love to run a quick poll: do you vote?

    If you do, is it mainly because you think it’s impactful, it’s a duty, or it’s pleasant?

    If you don’t, do you think that you should (but can’t be bothered) or that you shouldn’t?

    • Vaniver says:

      If anyone you know claims they vote for the sticker, send them this link.

      • Jiro says:

        A sticker obtained this way has a different history than a sticker obtained through voting, and therefore doesn’t count as the same thing.

        • Vaniver says:

          Do you think that other people can tell?

          (If someone is truly voting for the sticker, this does actually satisfy their values better, and teaches a valuable lesson about munchkinism and motivation. If someone is voting because they are more satisfied with themselves for voting, there’s still a useful message about acknowledging that directly.)

    • John Sidles says:

      Not only do my wife and I vote, she has twice run for public office (once winning, once losing). She ran because it was impactful, and from a sense of duty.

      As it turns out, a sense of humor is just as helpful as a sense of duty.

      • Deiseach says:

        I would also recommend an industrial-strength and finely-calibrated bullshit detector, because if someone is engaging in public office from a sense of duty and hoping to have an impact, every lame dog (and the crackpots, God love ’em, are not the worst) and scam artists will be on to them to get things done for them.

        I don’t know how American politics works, but it does no harm to remember that Mr Jones or Mrs Smith will also be asking every other local politican/council member/state representative to intervene for them, so don’t develop any swelled head about being “the guy (or gal) that people know is the one who gets things done” 🙂

        • John Sidles says:

          Deiseach comments resorts to stereotypical reactionary rhetoric: “bullshit”, “lame dog”, “crackpot”, “scam artist”, “swelled head”

          These are not the words my wife uses to describe her (unpaid) service on Seattle School Board. The great majority of the citizens (mostly parents) coming to the Board’s monthly meetings were neither “lame dogs”, “crackpots”, or “scam artists”. Neither did these parents speak “bullshit” or have “swelled heads.” Disciplinary hearings, especially, posed profoundly difficult moral, practical, and legal issues.

          A brief conversation with Ed Witten
              EW  My wife serves on the local school board.
              JS  So does my wife.
              EW  It’s harder than quantum physics, eh?
              JS  Much harder.

          • John Sidles says:

            LOL … the *other* good thing (for me maritally) is that my wife isn’t on the Seattle School Board any more. Because the the rewards are nonexistent and the headaches are *epic* …

            Wife  Am I in the newspaper today?
            Me  Hmmm … it seems not.
            Wife  Then it’s a good day!

            Have you considered running, Mark? `Cuz experience is the great teacher, yah know! 😉

          • Deiseach says:

            Your wife is definitely not a politician, then. Because any day they don’t get their name and photo in the paper is a wasted day! 😉

            Having seen how the sausage is made, as it were, it often makes me laugh to read/listen to the local news reports about “Councillor/TD/Minister So-and-So reveals X amount in new funding or new roads/building/jobs”.

            Councillor, TD or Minister may have had damn-all to do with getting new roads, building projects or jobs, but by God will they get their name and press release into the media first to announce the good news!

          • Deiseach says:

            Deiseach comments resorts to stereotypical reactionary rhetoric: “bullshit”, “lame dog”, “crackpot”, “scam artist”, “swelled head”

            Well, since I am flinging bouquets and honeyed words around…

            The great majority of the citizens (mostly parents) coming to the Board’s monthly meetings were neither “lame dogs”, “crackpots”, or “scam artists”.

            Then your wife was fortunate. She never had experience of parents who were disengaged with their children and the school and more or less turned over child-raising duties to the teachers and principal? Or who turned up screaming (literally) at the school secretary’s office, demanding the head of a particular teacher? Or who threatened to sue anyone and everyone for unspecified reasons?

            Or the revolving door approach of social workers, where as soon as one finally got up to speed on the case of a particular pupil they were replaced and a new one came along and had to be brought up to speed on the details all over again?

            Or coping with death by misadventure (usually drugs) of pupils and suicidal 13 year olds who were on special watch? Or seeing kids that you can forecast are getting on the wrong track but there doesn’t seem to be anyone who can or will step in and intervene (and I’m very sorry to say, ten years later, these are the same names I recognise turning up in the court report pages – one of them is currently serving a six month prison sentence for violent assault while her grandmother has custody of her one year old child).

            There are a lot of very sad and very hard cases out there.

            But there are also people who have bees in their bonnet and will ring up and call in to the local authority to complain about people, things and places at great length for no reason.

            And people who will try to scam, lie, and evade, e.g. we’re dealing with someone living and working in Britain and Ireland for thirty years but who suddenly can’t speak English when asked sticky questions. Or people who claim to be split up with their partners when they’re posting on Facebook about their engagement (complete with photos of the ring). Or going to local councillors and the newspaper about being homeless when the real truth is that – but this is a confidential case that I can’t discuss on here.

            I’m glad your wife had good experiences overall. But I stand by it: there are crackpots out there, and I’m not sneering at them, because their mental problems hurt themselves more than others. And there are people out there gaming the system – not just the clients; there are plenty of guys with several properties charging full market rents and not declaring their income to the tax authorities, and we can’t inform on them because we’re bound by regulations.

            You get cynical very fast where I’m working because you do get burned with the hard-luck stories and hard cases who turn out to be feeding you a line of bullshit. You don’t take anything on trust or on faith, even if the Archangel Gabriel himself came down and announced it to you.

            The swelled head remark was more for local politicos (and your wife does not seem to be one of the breed); we had three different enquiries from three different local politicians for the same client on the same day – obviously the client was going on the principle of “if one doesn’t work, another one might” and equally obviously each politician thought they were the only one working on the case.

            I’m not sneering from a vantage point of superiority here, I don’t know if I’m neo-reactionary or what that even entails. But I come out of the same class as our clients and I know the score. Like Javert, “I am from the gutter too/I was born with scum like you”.

            Everyone isn’t scum. Most of the people are doing their best and we want to help them. But there are chancers and petty criminals out there, too.

          • John Sidles says:

            My wife had plenty of experience of all the difficulties that the above comment mentions. And she responded humanely and fairly to each difficulty, “with firmness in the right as God gave her to see the right”.

            Which capability is why I am very glad (and fortunate) to be married to her. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      Voting is obligatory around here. Of course, the times where there were heavy inconveniences for my voting (being out of the country), I didn’t take the proper measures to do so. So I guess I’m not particularly inclined to do so.

    • keranih says:

      I vote because I think it justifies my loud and continuous bitching thereafter. Either I voted for the sumbitch, and he *lied* to me, or everyone else ignored me and voted for some other sumbitch, when they obviously should not have.

      • Deiseach says:

        They always lie. First rule of politics: say whatever will get you elected 🙂

        What’s worse is the ones who make themselves available to the public. This means everyone with a hobby horse to ride will unburden themselves and the representative will then get on to you to do something about it, or the ones who are gaming the system will go crying to the representative about how unjustly they’re being treated and ditto.

        You then have to find some tactful way (that won’t get you or the organisation sued) to inform the representative that their constituent is a lying liar who is lying to them and the reason they’re not getting what they want is that they’re damn well not entitled to it.

    • ddreytes says:

      I vote from a sense of duty, primarily. I don’t think it’s at all impactful, but it is Something One Ought To Do.

    • Deiseach says:

      Vote out of sense of civic duty.

      Also, having had close-ish contact in two jobs with public officials (from local councillors up to national representatives and ministers), I feel that if I want the bastards out of office, I had better go and vote ’em out to make sure 🙂

    • Anonymous says:

      No.

      Voting is haram.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Having a poll about whether people vote might be the most perfect example of selection bias I have ever seen.

      • jnicholas says:

        Mm. I wasn’t going to vote in this poll, because what would it actually change? But, well, here:

        I don’t vote, because I don’t believe it will actually change anything.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      I don’t vote. I consider voting vaguely disreputable and best avoided, so I would feel a little guilty if I did vote.

      “Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail.” – Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

    • brad says:

      I vote in Presidential elections and sometimes in midterm years. I rarely vote in local elections. Rationally I don’t think voting makes much sense, and where it makes the most sense is in the smallest elections. But I’m okay with behaving irrationally sometimes.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      Yes, I vote.

      The reason is a bit harder to pin down. Duty is definitely a part of it. Individually I realize that my vote doesn’t have much if any of an impact, but I genuinely despise the sort of “slack-tivism” I see from so many people. I don’t see how someone could claim to care about politics and not try to do their part influence the outcome. I honestly have more respect for apathy than I do for those who complain about x and y without doing anything to change them.

    • robmobz says:

      I vote because of a sense of duty and because that way I feel I can complain about the victor. I don’t feel my vote has much value since I knew the winner in my constituency going in and so almost voted Monster Raving loony (for those of you not in the UK they are pretty much the vote of no confidence party).

      • Deiseach says:

        Ireland is slightly different in that we have Proportional Representation via Single Transferable Vote.

        So often enough, you know who the TDs (representatives to the national party) will very likely be going in before you vote (because they’ve been the ones winning for the past twenty years and have such an efficient machine in place, they’re good for the next twenty years) but there is enough wiggle room to give Independents and “vote of no confidence” parties a chance.

        And if the public is angry enough, large-scale change happens. In the last general election, Fianna Fáil got slaughtered. They’re unlikely to make it up in the next one, even though most people aren’t much happier with the current coalition government. Most forecasts are that Labour, as the minority party, will bear the brunt of voters’ displeasure and lose heavily (due to them rolling over and wagging their tails to every proposal the majority party made, regarding the blue-collar vote – their traditional base – as lost to Sinn Féin and so instead repositioning themselves to appeal to the middle-classes).

        So though you can forecast more or less who is going to get returned to the Dáil for individual constituencies in the next election, there is enough doubt out there not to be able to say who is going to form the next government. That’s the fun of post-election vote counting, to see who is going to get the chop and who is getting in and what this means for who is going to form the next government.

        “First past the post”, as in England, is a lot more boring by comparison 🙂 We do have safe seats here as well, of course, and the same resentment about candidates being parachuted in when head office thinks the Bright Young Thing deserves to get elected as the next step on their path of ambition (and never mind the constituency’s needs).

    • suntzuanime says:

      I voted once, several years ago, to place a protest vote against my state’s corrupt governor. (I voted Green Party, since he was a Democrat but, like, Republicans, ew.) I have not been able to work up a level of hatred that would motivate me to go through such a pointless waste of time since he was arrested.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        So you’re not voting for Trump?

      • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

        If you read the local pages of the NYT, there is some fun brewing in the federal courthouses. NY State politics are ruled by an iron fist by the “three men in a room:” the governor, and the leader of each house. Two out of the three are currently on trial. There is a certain amount of speculation that the governor would have gotten a visit by the feds, too, if he hadn’t very suddenly disbanded the ethics commission. There are reports that he was quashing subpoenas, too.

        Either everyone was surprised the commission did what they were supposed to, or it was a masterful coup to consolidate power. I can’t actually tell. But between the obvious and mind numbing corruption, and the grossly uncompetitive elections (half of legislative seats are uncontested, 90% of races have incumbents, control of the legislature hadn’t turned over in 50 years)… I see no point in voting.

    • AlexL says:

      No, because I don’t reside in my country of citizenship and remote voting is not allowed. I’d love to vote in my place of residence, but I’m not a citizen and thus not allowed; but I do get involved in politics in other ways.

    • I sometimes vote, as a symbolic/consumption activity, usually for the LP candidate. When the LP nominated a non-libertarian a few elections back I didn’t vote.

      Many years ago, I got a flier from the local Democratic congressional candidate describing all the horrible things her Republican opponent was in favor of. I was in favor of all of them, so felt obliged to vote for him.

    • Nathan says:

      I vote. Partly because in Australia, it’s compulsory. Partly because I’m a political nerd and it would feel weird not to. Partly because in the Senate at least there is a heightened (though still low) chance of a single vote affecting the outcome.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      I might vote if someone I liked ran for office. But I generally dislike the Democrats and Republicans (I live in the US). Voting for a third party is kind of a waste of time. And voting for a Democrat or a Republican just solidifies their perception of support for the two incumbent parties. (At least that’s the rationalization I tell myself. The real reason is because I’m lazy.)

      Sometimes people tell me it’s my duty to vote. I point out that the idea of a “duty” is an Athenian concept which I believe never made sense to begin with. And then I ask them if they also believe we should replace our electoral colleges with a direct democracy, just like Athens. They usually get confused. (I know my appeal to absurdity Athens isn’t a coherent argument; I just do it to spite people.)

    • I’d love to run a quick poll: do you vote?

      If you do, is it mainly because you think it’s impactful, it’s a duty, or it’s pleasant?

      This will surprise no one, but I’m way out on the far end of the tail of the SSC distribution on this one. You might say I’m a pro-voting extremist.

      Voting is a pleasant duty for me, and an obligation given my elected role. I always recommend it to others, but I can’t deny that the impact of one vote on election outcomes is negligible.

      I’ve been involved in politics since I was a teenager, and I’m 60 now. The morning I turned 18, I hurried to the city clerk’s office to register to vote. In more than four decades as a voter, I have voted in every presidential election, every gubernatorial election, every city council election, every primary, and so on. As far as I know, I have missed voting in one election — a school board race in Ithaca, NY, when I was in grad school.

      What’s more, I have been involved for years in election wonkery, not just who-wins-who-loses stuff, but questions of how to design or change the process to be more fair, more efficient, less confusing, less subject to fraud, etc. (I discussed some of that in this SSC comment thread a couple weeks ago, but of course there’s enormously more to it than that.)

      I am interested in many things, but election administration has always been on that list.

      In November 2004, I was elected county clerk and register of deeds, ousting my predecessor, and I have held that position ever since.

      Among many other roles and duties, as Clerk/Register, I am the county’s chief election official. In some technical sense, I’m the one who counts the votes, but I don’t touch any ballots. More accurately, I’m just one of many people who manages the voting and vote counting process.

      So, yeah. I vote.

    • Emile says:

      All three, but in order of importance: it’s pleasant, it’s a duty, it’s impactful.

    • rsq says:

      I vote because I feel not voting is a tragedy of the commons/prisoner’s dilemma type thing, and there is an ethical duty to cooperate. If enough people (I agree with!) vote, we’ll all be better off, even if individual votes don’t matter much.

      • On the other hand, if enough people who disagree with you vote … .

        Voting isn’t enough. There is a second market failure problem in rational ignorance. Since you know your vote has almost no effect on the outcome, you have very little incentive to make a serious effort to be sure your beliefs are correct–especially since if you did, there is some risk you would come to conclusions that would make you unpopular with those who now agree with you.

        It makes far more sense, unfortunately, to simply persuade oneself of whatever the orthodoxy of one’s tribe is, often combined with the belief that everyone who disagrees is stupid, uneducated, evil, or being paid off by some shadowy conspiracy. That’s the pattern I observe—on both (all) sides of political issues.

    • Outis says:

      I’m an immigrant, so I won’t vote. I do wonder, though – *could* I vote, in practice? It seems that the right is concerned that people are voting without having the right to, and the left is concerned that even checking IDs would suppress legitimate voters. So what checks *are* there? In California, say.

      • Protagoras says:

        Show up at the polling place, and lie about who you are, giving the name of somebody who’s registered to vote who you think won’t. Of course, if they do vote (or something else goes wrong, like the poll worker knowing the person you are claiming to be), you’ll likely be caught, and there will be serious legal penalties, and if you get away with it, that’s only one vote. Which is presumably why this sort of thing seems to hardly ever happen. But it’s certainly possible; the standard system (without the IDs the Republicans are fighting for) is for people to just show up and say who they are, and the poll workers to look for that name on the list of registered voters.

  24. Vaniver says:

    Speaking of Boston, how about that Fallout 4?

    • It captures the feel of the city/area very well, though the geography is pretty compressed.

    • DrBeat says:

      Hot damn, son! It’s better than I could have hoped. I, like most everyone, was apprehensive about removing skills meaning it wouldn’t be an RPG any more, but I was wrong. I’m always an advocate of “know what you are doing, and build it to be good at doing that”, and the new system does that much better than any previous Fallout title.

      The amount of detail put into the world is amazing, the number of things my companions will comment on just blows my goddamn mind. Not only do the companions have a huge number of unique lines for different areas, but the way they interact with NPCs and the world is amazing. NPCs in FO3 and NV would stop you and give you rewards for having high or low karma — in this game, they do that to Preston, thanking him for all the work the Minutemen do. Piper will excuse herself in major settlements to go perform interviews with people. There’s (allegedly, I didn’t see this one) some raiders who will stop attacking you when they see you have Nick Valentine and talk about how what he does is too important for them to try and kill him. Learning your companions’ story is just as much of a reward for adventuring with them as the unique loyalty perks you unlock, though I wish when you got max loyalty they unlocked something for their own performance, so you felt less like you were missing out by continuing to run with them after you got their perk.

      It pulls off “morally grey factions” much better than New Vegas did, because the evil side can present a compelling and coherent argument for their worldview. And there are some great moments in the dialogue as the main quest nears its end, highly emotional decisions for your character. Unfortunately, the rest of the game leading up to that is sort of lacking in meaningful dialogue choices, and the conversation-wheel approach of summarizing everything to the type of statement it is makes it feel even more samey. You can’t define your character the same way you could in New Vegas or FO3, even as they give you better and more well-defined reasons and means of siding with the antagonists. And settlement building is fun but gets super frustrating very quickly as you can’t track what settlers are doing what job, and there’s no snap-to building grid for almost anything so you will end up with EVERYTHING in your towns at misaligned angles.

      Overall, there are some things New Vegas did better than FO4, some thing that NV put more effort and detail into — but that’s just because FO4 put an astonishing amount of effort and detail into other things. I think it’s the best Fallout game yet and I’m going to enjoy dumping hundreds of hours into it, but I’m also looking forward to what Obsidian does with the setting next with the vastly-improved model they’ve now been given by Bethesda.

      • Vaniver says:

        I, like most everyone, was apprehensive about removing skills meaning it wouldn’t be an RPG any more, but I was wrong.

        I had paid very little attention to the game before release, and was caught by surprise with that; I was going through character creation and thinking “when am I going to pick my tag skills?” until I realized that the perks were it. But once I realized what happened, yeah, it was obviously the right move.

        It pulls off “morally grey factions” much better than New Vegas did, because the evil side can present a compelling and coherent argument for their worldview.

        Assuming that the “evil side” in New Vegas was Caesar’s Legion? Yeah, basically the only thing they had going for them was acceptance of gays, but that doesn’t really make them better than either House or Yes Man.

        I’m bothered by the level of ‘pointless’ stupidity that I see with The Institute–at some point I should write a long comparison to Vault City in Fallout 2–but yeah, it’s good that there are three grey factions that each make a compelling case but aren’t perfect.

        And settlement building is fun but gets super frustrating very quickly as you can’t track what settlers are doing what job

        If you hover over the settler, the things they’re assigned to (like the bed and crops) will also be highlighted, which is not nearly as good a UI as I’d like.

    • multiheaded says:

      Copypasting from my tumblr because lazy

      Good things about F4:

      – the exploring
      – the scavenging
      – much of the improved combat (although issues/cheesy moments/etc remain, especially with the abuse of immortal companions, quickly accumulating chems, oh and powerful explosive spam from both sides; also, charging up on-demand crits with VATS attacks only is a horrible, pointless system)
      – settlement building really feels satisfying on a basic/deep level
      – many of the setting and narrative elements, especially what we see of the pre-war world, get that Future 50s Dystopia / early Philip K. Dick stories mood. Android body snatchers; paranoia, government oppression, the union of state and corporations; the average citizen is a heavily medicated drone behind the cheerful facade…
      – some locations are okay; Diamond City is definitely the best major settlement on this engine so far (although a low bar to clear; it’s quite lovely, shows some Metro 2033 inspiration)
      – stylish clothes
      – equipment upgrade system
      – excellent feel of the power armor, good customizability. Currently the game is too generous with the power cores, IMO? Also, needs a way to put all your numerous surplus frames to *some* use, beyond giving them to companions. Like, at least for settlement defense.
      – some companions are rather fun and appealing (Nick, Piper… haven’t met many others yet)

      Bad/stupid things about F4:

      – not a Fallout game in any way beyond a few superficial attempts to imitate one. Too many points to list. (Factions done about right: the raiders and the BoS; everything else about the world is pretty off.)
      – throws away most of what New Vegas has improved on
      – very mediocre writing, incredibly restrictive and obtuse dialogue system
      – invisible narrative rails everywhere; in F1 and F2 you could, if you knew what you were doing, go where you need and obtain what you want almost from the start; much of the main quest really WAS gathering information and knowledge and strength, not stepping on plot triggers as in here
      – scrapping the (fairly narrow and dysfunctional, okay) RPG system threw the baby out with the bathwater; hell, there are NO dialogue/interaction checks for S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats outside of charisma. That’s right, NONE. You can’t scrutinize a person’s manner with Per or catch them in an inconsistent lie with Int. It is fitting that Intelligence is the absolute most useless stat beyond serving as a perk gate right now. Hehe.
      – seriously, the “RPG mechanics” are closer to Far Cry than even Skyrim.
      – a lesser thing: Bethesda could have at least handled gender *some* way in the game while forcing a het marriage + child backstory upon the PC. Was it even like the real-world patriarchal 50s US? like an idealized version? There is/was a repressive, rabidly anti-communist far-right regime in power, and it’s not going to reinforce patriarchal gender roles and sexual repression and such? If nothing else, that’s a missed opportunity to score SJ points.
      – settlement management too fiddly. Seriously, not showing what job a settler has? No central menu/terminal to manage population? Which items are an extra happiness boost? No pop-up for scavenging results since your last visit? No cleaning shit up from the ground, like, y’know, SKELETONS and shit? No cleaner/higher-end structures to build alongside your marketplace and laser turrets and nuclear generators?
      – graphics suck on low setting and the overall optimization is just awful compared to some recent titles like MGS5 or Mad Max
      – companions are as annoying to manage as ever in this horrible engine; at least they are less of a hindrance in combat, though (although IIRC they were better in New Vegas). No, Piper, you’re awfully sweet but I don’t want a nuka-cola; I’d rather you could scavenge for some goddamn ammo if I give you a better gun!
      – time to take this goddamn engine out behind the barn and shoot it
      – again: not a real Fallout game. Width is not enough; you need depth and flexibility.

      ps the game made me read up on the abolitionist history of the city, so that’s a plus, I guess.

      • Vaniver says:

        Agreed that Settlement management is both deeply satisfying and getting that satisfaction mostly from the player’s desire to do it, not the engine making it fun/rewarding. I can see the argument for keeping the management system primitive–it’s not like everyone has PDAs or the settlement has a terminal or bulletin board or so on, and so having to physically find someone to tell them their job makes sense.

        But it also seems like you should be able to add a bulletin board to your settlements, which gives them that sort of management ability, so you can see how many people are devoted to farming / defense / shopkeeping / scavenging. And it’s kind of weird how easy the settlements are to support? A full farm with 20 people has food to spare if only 4 of them are farming, and then what the heck do you do with all the others? Water, power, and defense are all provided better by objects than people, so maybe I should just be making lots of rows of scavenging stations.

        scrapping the (fairly narrow and dysfunctional, okay) RPG system threw the baby out with the bathwater; hell, there are NO dialogue/interaction checks for S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats outside of charisma. That’s right, NONE. You can’t scrutinize a person’s manner with Per or catch them in an inconsistent lie with Int. It is fitting that Intelligence is the absolute most useless stat beyond serving as a perk gate right now. Hehe.

        In the USS Constitution quest, you can get some junk (and avoid a detour) if you repair things with Int instead of spare parts. I haven’t seen much else that it’s useful for directly (but maybe it determined my Railroad callsign options?).

        I actually still like Intelligence as a stat, since it basically determines your perk rate, which is the closest analog of what it did before (determining your skill rate). Sure, you could argue that a high-int char in FO3 had more skills for dealing with same-level monsters than a low-int char, but it’s not that obvious that was superior than the extra SPECIAL points, given how quickly one could max out their weapon skill. (That is, int helps you at low levels more than it helps you at high levels).

        Overall, I think I prefer the current system because it doesn’t limit choices when it comes to things like weapons. Having to choose between small guns and energy weapons always felt weird to me, and now I don’t have to; you can put any weapon in my hand and all that matters is whether I have perks that help with it (and the boundaries there are mostly determined by playstyle, which is sensible). And doing lockpicking and hacking through perks instead of skills just seems obviously better, because save/reload meant you were only gated by the skill level category anyway. “Am I good enough to attempt this lock? Yes? Then consider it open.”

        I also enjoy immensely that 10 is no longer the max for any SPECIAL stat (though it remains the ‘natural’ max, which is how it should be).

        No, Piper, you’re awfully sweet but I don’t want a nuka-cola; I’d rather you could scavenge for some goddamn ammo if I give you a better gun!

        What each NPC provices when you talk to them varies; if you want to get ammo, talk to MacCready.

  25. Shit for Brians says:

    I have a problem with Reddit comments, and I haven’t seen anyone else articulate this. I’m not sure if it’s just me or that nobody has thought about it:

    To comment on Reddit you have to sign up. OK, we all know that. But the problem with signing up isn’t that it’s inconvenient, it’s that once you have a Reddit account you become addicted to Reddit. (Or at least a lot of people do. I do, anyway.)

    I had a Reddit account twice (two non-consecutive times) and both times I decided to cancel my account after I realized I was spending WAY too much time there. Reddit has threads on just about every damn subject. After a while you discover yourself thinking about what threads are out there that you could read or post on. You do this even when you’re nowhere near a computer. (Or at least I do.) At that point, Reddit has rewired your brain in a way you never asked it to.

    I don’t want a Redditor’s brain.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      I have articulated this problem also.

      Years ago, I decided to keep several internet identities instead of just one. FMR is a handle I only use on SSC. As we both know, scott moved the OT comments to reddit last week. I decided to give in and reregister an account, despite the dangers of the siren that is Reddit. But instead of subscribing to all the interesting subs again, I only subbed to SSC for the OT’s. And I recycled the FMR handle. So in the future, if I want to sub to all the interesting subs, I can make a second account under a different handle. And in the meantime, the FMR handle will remain dedicated to SSC OT’s.

      Maybe this doesn’t mute the effect for you. But personally, I don’t feel compelled to check Reddit every 5 seconds given my front page only contains links from a single sub.

      Relevent Matt Might post: productivity hack: cripple your technology.

  26. Julie K says:

    Any recommendations for an online coding school/bootcamp?
    In particular, one that would be suitable for someone who may have ADD?

  27. Murphy says:

    I’ve been thinking about this article a little:

    http://lesswrong.com/lw/nc/newcombs_problem_and_regret_of_rationality/

    The idea that it should be possible to construct a decision theory which wins in all cases.

    But to me it seems obvious that it’s equivalent to the halting problem.

    Sketching some rough thoughts.

    Consider your particular decision theory as a black box function or set of rules F which take the description of a situation P and outputs a 1 or a zero, yes or no and one of those answers wins, the other loses.

    F(P)

    You want a decision theory, some set of rules to follow F which wins in all situation.

    But for all F it’s possible to construct a situation P “The winning situation is !F(P)”, feeding F into itself. (or a simplified equivalent)

    No matter what set of rules you include in your decision theory it cannot win in all cases. Ever.

    So why all the fuss about it on lesswrong?

    • M.C. Escherichia says:

      Win in all reasonable cases. If the game is set up so you can’t win, then so be it.

      • Murphy says:

        To a great extent Newcomb’s problem and some of the variants which include any form of agent who can predict you or plays a “what you would have done” game are simply disguised self references to your “program” and TDT simply handles a single level of self reference slightly better in some cases.

        Counterfactual mugging dressed the self reference to your “program” up as a [would give you x if your program P chooses to lose in some subset of scenarios]

        http://lesswrong.com/lw/3l/counterfactual_mugging/

        But then saying “we only win in reasonable cases” harks back to EY’s “Don’t lose reasonably, WIN.”

        Though I’m saying that it’s simply literally impossible to come up with a set of rules which satisfy EY’s “Don’t lose reasonably, WIN.”

        Nobody seems to have mentioned this impossibility on lesswrong despite spilling much ink so I’m wondering if I should submit a short discussion article.

        • rsq says:

          I think this is a key insight. There is probably a formulation of Newcomb’s problem’s that is halting-hard; its reference to something that perfectly understands you feels so Rice’s Theorem-y.

        • Jiro says:

          Nobody seems to have mentioned this impossibility on lesswrong despite spilling much ink so I’m wondering if I should submit a short discussion article.

          I have mentioned it at times.

          I seem to be the only one, however. Having a particular answer to Newcomb’s problem seems to have become LW dogma just like many worlds, genielike unfriendly AI, and effective altruism.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I’m not following the last two; genie is one of the unfriendly outcomes they list and effective altruism just means ‘spend money the most efficient way possible. The actual meat of the EA may veer into dogma, but I’m not seeing how the idea itself is.

          • Jiro says:

            For AI I was referring to the LW idea that if you create an AI and program it to do X, it is highly likely to interpret X in a literal way. Not everyone actually believes this!

            As for EA, it seems to me that although EA itself did arise independently of LW, LW support for EA grew from AI risk prevention. LW tries to sell the idea that you should donate lots of money to maximize utility, and you can best maximize utility by preventing rogue AI. If you spread that idea, you’ll get some people who believe the whole thing, and some people who just believe the maximize utility part, so selling AI risk prevention will have the side effect of spreading EA.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “For AI I was referring to the LW idea that if you create an AI and program it to do X, it is highly likely to interpret X in a literal way. Not everyone actually believes this!”

            That isn’t the genie. The genie is when an AI knows your preferences, but doesn’t care.

            EA doesn’t fit since it relies on reproducible results to compare charities; less wrong doesn’t get on their tables.

          • Jiro says:

            The genie is when an AI knows your preferences, but doesn’t care.

            It counts as LW dogma because pretty much the only people who believe it’s a threat are on LW or spun off from LW.

            EA doesn’t fit since it relies on reproducible results to compare charities; less wrong doesn’t get on their tables.

            It’s a side effect. LW tries to get people to donate huge amounts to stop AI risks. The arguments for donating to EA (shut up and calculate, maximize utility) are basically the same as the arguments for donating to stop AI risk, except without the AI-. So pressing people to donate to SI has the side effect that people who only believe 95% of what you’re saying will donate to EA instead.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “It counts as LW dogma because pretty much the only people who believe it’s a threat are on LW or spun off from LW.”

            I’m not parsing your statement. Are you saying a genie AI wouldn’t be dangerous? Or are you saying that only Less Wrong thinks it is possible to make a genie AI?

            I’m also not sure how you can say ‘the only people’; do you mean to say no one has ever believed that an individual could know what you want and not care?

            “It’s a side effect. LW tries to get people to donate huge amounts to stop AI risks. The arguments for donating to EA (shut up and calculate, maximize utility) are basically the same as the arguments for donating to stop AI risk, except without the AI-. So pressing people to donate to SI has the side effect that people who only believe 95% of what you’re saying will donate to EA instead.”

            Not the same at all. EA depends on measurable results- without them there is no calculation. People on less wrong believe 1) AI is a dangerous issue, but they also need to believe 2) the SI institute can help solve it, 3) the SI institute is uniquely capable of solving it and 4) this is a problem that gets easier with additional people. Otherwise simply donating to Google’s AI department is a better choice.

          • Jiro says:

            I’m not parsing your statement.

            I am saying that the belief in genielike AI as a serious existential threat is pretty much limited to LW and people surrounding LW. Professionals in the field (and most nonprofessionals) do not consider such a thing a serious threat.

            People on less wrong believe 1) AI is a dangerous issue, but they also need to believe…

            People on LW who believe the arguments given for donation in general, but not the arguments specifically about AI, would end up becoming EAs instead. If your point is that the arguments for donation in general are less than 95% of the whole thing, then sure–“95%” is a figure of speech, not a literal percentage.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I am saying that the belief in genielike AI as a serious existential threat is pretty much limited to LW and people surrounding LW. Professionals in the field (and most nonprofessionals) do not consider such a thing a serious threat.”

            — Are you saying a genie AI wouldn’t be dangerous? Or are you saying that only Less Wrong thinks it is possible to make a genie AI?—

            Answer the question. Your statement is impossible to parse because you are being incredibly unclear; I already pointed out how broad the term genie AI is.

            “People on LW who believe the arguments given for donation in general, but not the arguments specifically about AI, would end up becoming EAs instead.”

            Because Less Wrong requires you to give them money to be a member?

    • suntzuanime says:

      Yes, it seems likely there’s some sort of no-free-lunch-style theorem in decision theory. But no-free-lunch theorems are often not great guides to the real world, where McDonalds has a dollar menu and you can get your lunch cheap enough if you know where to look.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ suntzuanime
        “But no-free-lunch theorems are often not great guides to the real world”

        Especially if ‘no free riders’ is used interchaneably with ‘no free lunch’.

        A ‘free lunch’ costs someone, and usually the eater pays in some worse way (what you save in lunch you lose in the slot machine). A ‘free rider’ is a hobo hiding on a freight train, which effectively costs nobody anything.

        Focusing on keeping the hobo off is a waste of money, to say the least.

    • SextimusSeverus says:

      You can modify the Newcomb’s problem so that TDT loses to standard decision theory. You only need to have Omega fill the second box iff TDT mandates only taking the second box.

      Such game is equivalent to original Newcomb for TDT players, so they one-box and get 1M$. SDT players will two-box and net an extra thousand dollars. If you are so smart, why are you slightly less rich than me?

      The TDT-buster Omega doesn’t even have to read minds or predict future. He only has to be able to implement Timeless Decision Theory. This game can be run right now, w/o anyone having to construct any cyber-gods.

  28. Jiro says:

    1. The subreddit is still around and will host parallel open threads. Those of you who don’t like the commenting system here can go there and either post on the open thread or start a new topic.

    The problem, or at least one problem, with the subreddit is that it’s really hard to find new comments in it. You can sort by date which will give you new top-level comments, but there’s no way to get new comments including replies. One person comments that reddit gold will highlight them green, but reddit gold is a pay service (and even then, you couldn’t search on green like you can search on ~new here.)

    • Emily says:

      You might like the Reddit Enhancement Suite.

    • jnicholas says:

      Reddit Enhancement Suite, and Reddit New Comment Highlighter extension for Chrome are the best response I know of for this real drawback. It won’t let you navigate by new comments, but it will highlight new comments in a thread in the way that Reddit Gold does.

  29. Neurno says:

    Orthogonal political orientations: Towards a development of a Rationality Party Platform
    (note: please taboo all extant political parties/figures/platforms and discuss only specific issues and their merits. The point is to develop well-founded empirical evidence-based opinions on under-discussed issues.)

    Plank 1: More public funding for fission research.
    -Focusing on reducing externalities (cost of structures, risks, danger and quantity of waste produced, cost of storing/disposing of waste, inefficiency of delivery)
    Premise: Although it is theoretically possible to substantially redesign fission reactors to have decreased externalities and possibly to harness fuels like thorium, relatively little public research has been done on this issue.
    Premise: Fossil fuels are limited and have many pollution issues (esp. air pollution leading to lung cancer downwind, and global warming contributions), and have better uses to which they can be put (e.g. synthesizing plastic)
    Premise: much funding and scientific effort has gone into Fusion research with no pay off so far, making it seem like a dead-end for at least the near future (until some significant breakthrough in physics, or development of large expensive space-based facilities).
    Premise: Wind and solar have drawbacks and do not seem to offer a sufficient supply of power for humanity given costs of production, rare elements required that are in limited supply, etc. and given the assumption of substantially growing power-needs in a well-developed future world (e.g. all nations being 1st world nations).

    Plank 2: Pre-registration of all publicly funded scientific studies
    Premise: The scientific benefits would be huge: p-hacking is currently a really problematic issue in the life sciences (biology/neuroscience/psychology) and can most effectively be addressed by requiring scientists to preregister planned experiments (with and report their findings whether positive or negative instead of only when positive. Negative reports could be shorter in length, and need not be published in a specific journal, but must be publically available, precisely describe methods used, and be web-searchable so that meta-analyses may use them.
    Premise: The additional costs of this policy would be small, as would the additional burden on scientists.

    Plank 3: More public funding (direct support and medical research emphasis) for early-development humans (pre-conception to age 4 or 5).
    Premise: Average IQ and average mental health are very important factors for the well-being / success of a society.
    Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own
    by Garett Jones Link: http://amzn.com/B015PS7DBK
    Premise: Based on the current scientific understanding of human brain development, factors such as the health of the originating eggs and sperm, the womb environment, and the social/physical environment early developmental years are vastly disproportionately important for the eventual maximization of IQ and mental health potential of the resulting human (within the potentials/limitations of their genes).
    Premise: Funding for improvement of health/intelligence/well-being of people in society should be distributed where it can be expected to have maximal effect, and thus the bulk of the research and monetary focus should be on at-risk fetuses and infants rather than elementary-school-age children, teenagers, or adults.

    Plank 4: All political debates should have politically-neutral subtitles describing argumentative fallacies and fact-checking all factual statements (expressed or implied). For example: Clearer thinking’s subtitling of the debates. http://www.clearerthinking.org/#!the-2016-presidential-debates–subtitled/wt7g0

    • Vaniver says:

      Plank 1: More public funding for fission research.

      Fission research? What we really need is the moral / legal authority to incentivize fission plants correctly relative to coal plants (i.e. tax coal plants correctly for their exhaust, and I’m not talking about the carbon component). Right now fission’s externalities are correctly priced but other power production isn’t (and thus is implicitly subsidized).

      That is, yes, we could have even nicer fission plants. But we could also have even nicer coal plants. We need to cut at the root of the problem and correct distortions that make coal look better than fission, at which point research into superior fission will happen naturally.

      Plank 4: All political debates should have politically-neutral subtitles describing argumentative fallacies and fact-checking all factual statements (expressed or implied).

      This does not seem safe to trust the government to do.

      • Murphy says:

        “at which point research into superior fission will happen naturally.”

        Debatable. Similar to fusion the costs are so massive to build test reactors that few companies are going to be willing to invest the billions needed because any one company cannot really eat that kind of risk.

        • Vaniver says:

          Debatable. Similar to fusion the costs are so massive to build test reactors that few companies are going to be willing to invest the billions needed because any one company cannot really eat that kind of risk.

          This works in the semiconductor industry, with a similar cost profile and (I would argue) more risk. If companies decide that they can’t shoulder the risk alone, they make consortiums, like Sematech. (When companies don’t make such consortiums, it’s typically because of antitrust regulation concerns.)

          The trouble with tokamak fusion designs are that we know they won’t work, but they’re maddeningly close to maybe able to work, if you have hope and squint. They’re also why I’m very pessimistic about government funding into nuclear research: it’s done a miserable job over the last thirty years.

          I’m moderately surprised no Musk-esque figure has funded the Polywell yet.

          • Murphy says:

            Semiconductor research takes cash but it tends to involve lots of small projects and less monolithic ones. Funding a half dozen phd’s in materials science can have a very reasonable incremental payoff in semiconductors.

            In fusion you don’t get any notable payoff until there’s a working fusion reactor.

            I remember a while back seeing an interesting analysis in reference to predictions scientists made in the 70’s about fusion. All those “50 years away” quotes people like to mock.

            but they made the very good point that if you treat it as a statement of “50 years away at current funding levels” then look at the real timeline adjusted to billions of dollars spend then a lot of the predictions of the 70’s were remarkable accurate.

            So I wonder if to some extent, when it comes to research like this, as long as somebody ponies up the billions the research will happen at a rate largely controlled by the flow of cash rather than passage of time.

          • Vaniver says:

            Murphy, ITER cost $14B total. That’s actually about the same amount spent on EUV development, a similar future tech that has turned out to not work as well as expected (and which has had loud and prescient detractors). It’s about 6 months of R&D spending by the top 10 semiconductor manufacturers, and 3 months of all semiconductor.

            Semiconductor projects are not less monolithic; everything has to work with everything else, and if you build to a spec that people don’t use, your work is useless, even if your lab only had half a dozen PhDs working in it.

          • Murphy says:

            Yes but even if EUV development isn’t 100% successful the research still yields useful info which gives companies involved some market advantages. You may not get to go to 10nm when you wanted to but the knowledge yielded can still make your next generation of chips slightly more competitive. Returns can be incremental and getting less of a return than you expected isn’t so bad vs getting no return at all.

            Fusion research on the other hand rarely really helps energy companies run their existing fission and coal plants better.

            That 14 billion is only a tiny fraction of total fusion research spending and until they get all the way to being able to build a working plant there’s little in the way of payoffs. Even worse, the payoff can be more than 20 years away meaning that any patents involved will have expired so whoever invested the money gets no returns.

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            @murphy But in fission research, which is the actual topic, funding a half dozen PhDs can get you notable results in the same manner. Moreso going off what Vaniver is saying. I mean, if your goal is moving straight to production molten thorium reactors we’re a long way away from that. but we don’t need it right now either (except maybe as something to give people we don’t want having uranium enrichment facilities). There’s ton’s of incremental progress to be made figuring out if a new material is nuclear suitable or if x process can be replaced with y process safely (and for 1/10th the cost). Looking up the budget breakdown for Sandia National Labs 20m goes directly to nuclear and another 45m to energy efficiency projects that are sometimes nuclear, and they get usable results all the time.

            @Vanivier the Polywell, at least in forms that could reasonably be funded right now, isn’t actually a solution. Most of the cost of the fission plants we have now is in the power converter, thermal fusion will require an even more expensive power converter. Direct conversion options are a different story, but nobody has as far as I know laid down a realistic plan to get He3-He3 or proton-boron11 reactors going even at the garage scale. Musk types presumably have at some point been confronted with this aspect of nuclear economics.

      • science says:

        The situation around insurance for fission plants makes me quibble with your externalities are priced correctly point. Ditto for waste disposal and decommissioning generally.

        Agreed though that the situation with coal is far worse.

      • Neurno says:

        I’m in agreement that changing the unfair coal/gas incentives to make nuclear be less unequally persecuted would also be a good solution. I just thought that that would be harder to get past the fossil fuel private interest groups. I figured public funding for fission research would be less controversial because it lowers barriers to nuclear development (i.e. the research has been done to reduce the externalities) without triggering the NIMBY backlash that has been such a problem for nuclear power (because nonspecific to location) or triggering significant opposition from the fossil fuel lobby.

        As to plank 4: good point. Still, it might be possible to have some different branch of government oversee it?

    • Neurno says:

      Thanks for contributing! I think in a throwing-around-ideas context like this there’s no reason to censor oneself based on imagined political feasibility of good ideas. I’m now going to research the concepts you’ve referenced that I don’t understand yet to see if I agree.

      Planks 6,6a,9: I’ve had similar thoughts and I’m in agreement!
      Plank 9a: nice addition to 9! Hadn’t occurred to me before, but I like it. And seems a fitting general principle for dealing with assumably-deliberate false accusations of fine-worthy crimes.

    • Deiseach says:

      Plank 6a: the only legal records retention policy for a corporations/501cXs is “all records must be retained. forever.” Storage is cheap.

      Not when it’s “typed out on a manual typewriter and carbon copy with actual carbon paper” from thirty-forty years ago, it isn’t. Our council archivist is currently tearing out her hair because of all the files shoved into boxes and landed in to her for archiving after the amalgamation and musical chairs type change of departments and bodies in the council.

      We have a lot of stuff on paper in physical files and if by “storage is cheap”, you mean something like “everything digitised and in the cloud” then some poor bugger is going to have to sit down and digitise forty years’ worth of records, which is not going to be fast, cheap or easy.

      Even today not everything is done online, though that will change in future (even a dinosaur like myself can recognise that).

      A new startup that is only in existence six months? Yeah, everything is digital.

      A long-established law firm, bank or other entity? Decades’ worth of paper that you can’t just dump because there’s deeds, wills, contracts, etc. there.

      Plank 9: “Orphan works” shall enter the public domain. Copyright can only be maintained by someone other than the original creator only by paying an annual filing fee, which increases by 50% each year.

      What about if the original creator wants to sign over one of their works to another party for charitable purposes, like J.M. Barry did with Peter Pan and Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital?

      Under Plank 9, I could see all the profits being eaten up by filing fees instead of going to charitable purposes.

      And of course, that would mean no barrier to making “Tinkerbell Does Neverland” type movies and books (though that probably isn’t a barrier now either) 🙂

    • The Nybbler says:

      To plank 6a: Storage is cheap. Lawsuits aren’t. Someone — an actual person or persons — is going to have to go through all those records to see if they are relevant during the discovery phase of every lawsuit. That gets real expensive real fast, and is one of the reasons for retention policies.

    • Chalid says:

      6 would mean disclosing all kinds of proprietary/competitive data and would put any such corporation at a big disadvantage.

    • Haltingthoughts says:

      Excellent proposals.

      There was a PDF from a retired judge had a very good treatment of issues with criminal justice, not sure where it went.

      Plank 8b: in lieu of a improper prosecution suit or a lack of one there is a private right of criminal charges.

      Plank 8c: experts providing instruction relevant to interpretation of evidence shall be permitted. (Oftentimes calling experts on Bayesian reasoning for evidence are not allowed)

      Plank 8d: what can be done about sovereign immunity?

      Plank 8e: relax standing requirements for at least constitutional challenges if not more.

      Plank 8f: require discovery of all evidence and prosecute those not adhering to it.

      Plank 8g: require courts to decide all required questions. (It is crazy that sexual orientation has not been clearly defined as a suspect class yet).

    • Chalid says:

      Most of the standard boring good-government checklist ought to apply here. Tax reform and simplification, more high-skill immigration, reform social programs to minimize disincentives, reduce corporate/agricultural subsidies including tax expenditures, roll back the drug war’s worst excesses, patent reform, etc.

      More rationality-oriented additions might be issuing prizes instead of patents, encouragement of predictions markets, and increased funding for basic research.

      • Neurno says:

        Yes, those seem like worthy but boring additions. I guiltily confess I was hoping for more new/weird/exciting ideas.
        I like the prizes instead of parents idea. I’d heard of it in context of chasing specific scientific or engineering goals, but not yet heard of it suggested as a complete replacement for the faulty patent system.

        I had also wanted to say something about encouragement of prediction markets and/or their incorporation into political governance, but found myself stumbling over the details every time I tried to imagine the specifics.

        • Psmith says:

          “I guiltily confess I was hoping for more new/weird/exciting ideas.”

          Vote on values, bet on beliefs!

        • Chalid says:

          I don’t really know how it would work either but trying them in small limited contexts on an experimental basis seems like a worthy first step. You could forecast demand for a particular program and compare it to whatever the usual predictive procedure is.

    • Murphy says:

      Hmm. My problem with 6a is that it get’s more and more expensive over time and storage is only cheap on the small scale. Your little 4 TB drive is cheap. A multi-petabyte array in a datacentre is not cheap at all.

      There are companies that are hundreds of years old. They get put at a significant competitive disadvantage.

      What about file formats and readers? There’s archive material from the 70’s which is incredibly hard to read nowadays because the machines to read it are mostly gone. Does a company have to spend a fortune every 15 years on copying all their backup tapes to newer formats?

      What about backups? If a company has 2 copies of tapes from 70 years ago archived in separate locations and one burns down do they then have to spend a fortune reading and copying all that old archive data to make a new second backup location.

      I agree that the current 7 years or similar is far too short for many things but I’m not sure “forever” is practical either.

      • Neurno says:

        Hmm, but if the data is properly compressed/simplified (i.e. text files not PDFs), then storage of data of the same scope as pre-digital data shouldn’t be a problem. I mean, there’s room for entire libraries worth of compressed text data on the little 8gb flash memory chip I carry on my keychain…. I think you may be getting thrown off by the fact that digital data has allowed companies to store far more total information than they ever did on dead tree media.

    • Neurno says:

      Made a google doc for further elaboration if anyone is interested. Maybe a wiki of some sort would be fun?
      https://docs.google.com/document/d/1_S0USdcHH4uOP5UVmznp8Ntk5m_eJVRHQScDeOVpyVk/edit?usp=sharing

  30. Troy says:

    Okay, SSC readers, tell me what to think about the refugee crisis. My Facebook feed is mostly full of people talking about how stupid the Republicans are to try to block refugee resettlement in the U.S., and, while I’m inclined to agree, I’d like to take seriously the best anti-refugee arguments. Also, I don’t know what to say about Europe, which the refugee situation seems much more difficult to me and much less straightforward than in the U.S.

    Arguments in favor of resettling refugees in the U.S.:

    – Our existing screening process is already very thorough, and it makes no sense for would-be terrorists to go through the long arduous process of getting a refugee visa when there are much easier ways to get in the country (e.g., tourist visas, student visas). Moreover, we know of virtually no past refugees who went on to attempt terrorist attacks. (Examples that Steve Sailer and other alt-right commentators give of refugee terrorists seem to mostly be asylees, who come to the U.S. by some other means, and then, while already here apply for asylum status. This is an easier system to game than the refugee system.)

    – The U.S., which is not being inundated with refugees like Europe, can easily afford to take in ~10,000 refugees. Moreover, doing so will make those who enter the U.S. less radicalizable than if they stayed in refugee camps in Syria. (http://www.cato.org/blog/syrian-refugees-dont-pose-serious-security-threat)

    Arguments against:

    – The national security threat comes not from refugees themselves, but from their children. Most Islamic terrorists in the West are “homegrown,” but this just means that they are the children or grandchildren of immigrants. By resettling Muslims from parts of the world like Syria and Iraq into the U.S., we are planting the seeds of the homegrown terrorists of the next generation.

    – The Syrians in refugee camps are overwhelmingly Muslim, but it is the Christian refugees who are most in danger from ISIS, and who are in most need of help. Moreover, such Christians are mistreated by Muslim refugees even in refugee camps in Europe. (https://barnabasfund.org/news/muslim-refugees-persecute-christian-refugees-in-german-camps) We should make efforts to find and resettle Christians and other religious minorities fleeing ISIS, not Muslims who are comparatively safe in other Middle Eastern countries.

    – Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. can afford to take in many more immigrants than they have. Given that they are culturally and geographically closer to the refugees, the United States (and other Western countries) should put pressure on them to accept refugees before accepting more ourselves.

    • Emily says:

      Other arguments I have seen:

      -Refugees are a liability economically. They will cost money upfront in the form of taxpayer dollars and, because they’re poorly-educated, are likely to stay poor (and receiving subsidies). Their children are also unlikely to assimilate economically.

      -Many refugees are not actually refugees but rather economic migrants: people who aren’t in any kind of danger, but who are coming to the U.S. because it’s a more prosperous country. To the extent that we have some obligation to take in refugees, it does not extend to this other group.

      But I think the big difference between the pro-refugee and anti-refugee sides isn’t assessments of these arguments, but rather between to what extent they think American immigration policy should value the interests of Americans vs. non-Americans.

      • Troy says:

        -Many refugees are not actually refugees but rather economic migrants: people who aren’t in any kind of danger, but who are coming to the U.S. because it’s a more prosperous country. To the extent that we have some obligation to take in refugees, it does not extend to this other group.

        From what I understand of the screening process, I don’t think this is the case with Syrians in refugee camps who are resettled in the U.S. They do not choose where they go; instead they are resettled in a country that the U.N. chooses, in consultation with the host country. Moreover, refugees have to offer compelling evidence of being in physical danger before they are resettled; and at any rate, refugee camps aren’t a fun place to live for years if you’re just trying to go somewhere to live a better life economically.

        I don’t doubt, though, that many of the migrants in Europe are economic migrants who are taking advantage of the current mass chaos to make their way to Europe.

        • Emily says:

          What can I read about the “compelling evidence of being in physical danger” part? How good are we at assessing this?

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s pretty easy – you check if they could have stopped somewhere not afflicted by armed conflict on their way wherever here is. If they could, they’re not in danger. If this is the first country they’ve reached that isn’t war-torn, then it’s good evidence that they’re fleeing violence.

            Problem is not recognizing this – but rather that nobody enforces this.

          • Troy says:

            What can I read about the “compelling evidence of being in physical danger” part? How good are we at assessing this?

            This Facebook post has been making the rounds: https://www.facebook.com/BryanScottHicks/posts/1187326084630475?pnref=story Here’s what he says:

            “Before being allowed to come to the United States, each refugee must undergo an extensive interviewing, screening, and security clearance process conducted by Regional Refugee Coordinators and overseas Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs). Individuals generally must not already be firmly resettled (a legal term of art that would be a separate article). Just because one falls into the three priorities above does not guarantee admission to the United States.

            The Immigration laws require that the individuals prove that they have a “well-founded fear,” (another legal term which would be a book.) This fear must be proved regardless of the person’s country, circumstance, or classification in a priority category. There are multiple interviews and people are challenged on discrepancies. I had a client who was not telling the truth on her age and the agency challenged her on it. Refugees are not simply admitted because they have a well founded fear. They still must show that they are not subject to exclusion under Section 212(a) of the INA. These grounds include serious health matters, moral or criminal matters, as well as security issues. In addition, they can be excluded for such things as polygamy, misrepresentation of facts on visa applications, smuggling, or previous deportations. Under some circumstances, the person may be eligible to have the ground waived.”

          • John Schilling says:

            This sounds like a process where an honest man working from natural memory will be at a disadvantage compared to someone who has rehearsed a script written by a lawyer who knows refugee law and has crafted a story that checks all the right boxes. It’s not like the Refugee Coordinator is going to be able to fax Damascus with a request to look over this refugee visa application for misrepresentation of facts as compared to Syrian government records.

            It’s still not going to be an easy or reliable process for getting ISIS agents into the United States, but it is an area of legitimate concern I think.

          • brad says:

            I as understand it fraud by and large it isn’t a problem in US refugee programs. Mostly refugees come through UNHCR recommendations, take a long time to process, and involve a great deal of uncertainty. Not terribly gameable.

            Asylum, which has the same requirements but is for people already physically present in the US, on the other hand has exactly the reputation you describe. By far the largest country of nationality for asylee grants is China, while for refugees number one was Iraq and number two was Burma.

          • NN says:

            I agree with brad. From what I’ve read, even if everything goes well a refugee application would typically take at least 18 months to get approved, and could potentially take much longer. The duration alone makes it a far worse terrorist infiltration strategy than hiring people smugglers to take you to Latin America and then trying to sneak across the Mexico-US border.

          • John Schilling says:

            How long does it take to learn Spanish well enough that the smugglers who work the US-Mexican border would trust an ISIS agent? That sort of thing really does matter, and it isn’t trivial.

            So, cases for and against both routes, and all the others, and don’t trust anyone who suggests there is no concern with refugees being terrorists because there are other ways for terrorists to get in.

          • Troy says:

            This sounds like a process where an honest man working from natural memory will be at a disadvantage compared to someone who has rehearsed a script written by a lawyer who knows refugee law and has crafted a story that checks all the right boxes.

            Well, it’s hard to keep a story straight for 18 months, especially when you’re being questioned by multiple people about multiple different topics.

            That said, it seems very likely that the process does tend to favor people who have things somewhat together over the worst off of the worst off. On the other hand it’s not clear that that’s a totally bad thing, as the former will likely integrate better into U.S. society.

        • Jaskologist says:

          The process is about what one would expect from a government agency; it may or may not provide the security desired, but it definitely provides lots of inconvenient hurdles to jump over, so at least we feel like we’re doing something.

          Refugees have a number of tests they undergo. This includes medical screens, in-person interviews, fingerprinting, and some other security and case reviews. I don’t know how effective the security reviews actually are, especially since you’re usually dealing with cases where there is no government office you can confer with for corroborating paperwork, or any documentation at all.

          Every member of the family must do these, and they all have their own expiration dates attached. There was one family whose whole application was done, until they had a baby, who now needed to go through the whole process as well, including the interview.

      • Sastan says:

        The economic migrant thing is real, but in Europe, not the US. The refugees coming to the US come straight from refugee centers in Jordan, mostly. The people boating over to Italy are economic migrants.

    • Vaniver says:

      Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. can afford to take in many more immigrants than they have.

      Note that there are questions about how many refugees the Gulf States have taken in; it would seem that they don’t get counted by the UN, and so there’s the question of how comparable the Saudi Arabian govt. numbers are to the UN numbers.

      I agree with you that the ‘second generation terror’ arguments are the ones worth taking seriously, at least compared to first generation terror arguments. In general I am pessimistic on the value on taking on refugees, and would prefer they be housed as close to their original homes as possible (which means Turkey and the Gulf States).

      • Troy says:

        Note that there are questions about how many refugees the Gulf States have taken in; it would seem that they don’t get counted by the UN, and so there’s the question of how comparable the Saudi Arabian govt. numbers are to the UN numbers.

        Thanks.

        I agree with you that the ‘second generation terror’ arguments are the ones worth taking seriously, at least compared to first generation terror arguments. In general I am pessimistic on the value on taking on refugees, and would prefer they be housed as close to their original homes as possible (which means Turkey and the Gulf States).

        I do think it’s generally best to resettle refugees as close to home as possible. On the other hand, I think there is value in our making even a small contribution to solving the larger problem. Moreover, I suspect that for numerous reasons the next generation of Syrians (Iraqis, etc.) in America are less likely to be radicalized than the next generation of Syrians (Iraqis, etc.) resettling in Europe. The former are smaller in absolute number and don’t form the same kinds of ethnic enclaves as in Europe; and America seems to generally do better in Europe in assimilating Muslim immigrants.

        both because of numbers,

        • Jaskologist says:

          I don’t know where I first saw this, but I think that from an EA standpoint, it’s much more cost-effective to send money to resettle them somewhere over there rather than here.

          • Troy says:

            That’s probably true to the extent that we are able to resettle them over there. Still, it’s not like Western countries can just move in and put refugees where they want; and local organizations to whom we can send money may or may not be successful in resettling refugees themselves. As I say above, I’m in favor of local (or local-er) resettlement where possible, but I’m not sure it’s always possible.

            Also, if the U.S. government doesn’t resettle refugees here, I doubt the money they would have spent on that will go to resettling refugees elsewhere. More likely it will go to other wasteful/pointless projects.

          • keranih says:

            This is largely my stance – we *should* help those in need get back on their feet. (But not for forever, for a variety of reasons.)

            We do not have endless pots of money to spend on refugees, and we have competing priorities. Helping refugees settle elsewhere allows us to help more people.

            (And again, I would like our immigration system to be fixed so that we can bring in more people legally. But not all the world.)

    • Jaskologist says:

      I was disgusted enough by all the Facebook posers to actually write up a blog post on the subject, which I will shamelessly promote now. It is certainly not as charitable as Scott would be, but perhaps roughly as meta.

      • Troy says:

        I have also been irritated by the uncharitability towards conservatives displayed by my Facebook friends. On the other hand, I do have several local friends who both posted pro-refugee stuff on Facebook and are involved in efforts to help local refugees. But maybe I just have better friends than you. 🙂

        I liked this Social Justice Bible quote, and may steal it: “For I was hungry and you told someone else to give me something to eat, I was thirsty and you told someone else to give me something to drink, I was a stranger and you told someone else to invite me in… Truly I tell you, whatever you told someone else to do, you did for me.”

        Also, I’m sorry to hear about your wife and I hope that she is doing okay.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Your friends may well be better than mine.

          I can divide the people I know who posted about Syrian refugees pretty cleanly into two groups. Those on the right were very focused on trade-offs, clearly aware that there was some danger in letting them in, but also feeling a strong obligation to help those in need (this is no doubt influenced by the fact that all the people in this group were also Christians). On the left, the articles all read to me like “Conservatives are evil, and I am good because I care about Syrians.” They looked to me to be entirely about signalling virtue.

          Part of the reason I think this is because not a single one of them had shown any interest in Syria or ISIS prior to this point, while those on my right have been doing so for years.

          • Chalid says:

            I think the left’s pro-refugee tilt derives largely from the left’s general pro-immigration tilt (which partly comes from wanting to help those in need). No interest in IS required.

          • NN says:

            I can divide the people I know who posted about Syrian refugees pretty cleanly into two groups. Those on the right were very focused on trade-offs, clearly aware that there was some danger in letting them in, but also feeling a strong obligation to help those in need (this is no doubt influenced by the fact that all the people in this group were also Christians). On the left, the articles all read to me like “Conservatives are evil, and I am good because I care about Syrians.” They looked to me to be entirely about signalling virtue.

            Do you include in “reactions from the right” all those governors signing executive orders to block resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states, despite the fact that A) governors don’t have the legal authority to do that, and B) even if they did, it would be pointless, since state borders don’t have fences or checkpoints? Because if that wasn’t pure virtue signalling, then nothing is.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Governors do have control over state level funds though and can refuse to provide them, effectively preventing refugees reliant on subsidies from living there.

          • NN says:

            Governors do have control over state level funds though and can refuse to provide them, effectively preventing refugees reliant on subsidies from living there.

            1) I haven’t looked into it to be sure, but I would bet that assistance for refugees primarily or entirely comes from the federal government.

            2) Again, if any refugees really are a security threat, then what state they live in doesn’t matter. You can easily drive from one coast to the other in less than a week. If someone has legally entered the US and isn’t the target of an arrest warrant, then keeping them out of any of the lower 48 states is effectively impossible.

            Any way you slice it, the posturing by those governors had nothing to do with real policy and everything to do with signaling to their constituencies that they are Tough on Terror.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “1) I haven’t looked into it to be sure, but I would bet that assistance for refugees primarily or entirely comes from the federal government.”

            And states can (and are currently) ignoring federal law and mandates (Sanctuary cities, drug laws). The biggest effect appears to be telling the Republicans in congress that the states support them so that congress acts.

            “2) Again, if any refugees really are a security threat, then what state they live in doesn’t matter. You can easily drive from one coast to the other in less than a week. If someone has legally entered the US and isn’t the target of an arrest warrant, then keeping them out of any of the lower 48 states is effectively impossible.”

            Unless the government keeps track of refugees through their aid programs in which case they are limited to the locale they are sent to.

            “Any way you slice it, ”
            “I haven’t looked into it to be sure,”

          • brad says:

            Those on the right were very focused on trade-offs, clearly aware that there was some danger in letting them in, but also feeling a strong obligation to help those in need (this is no doubt influenced by the fact that all the people in this group were also Christians)

            The only anti-refugee post I got on my wall (not sure how it got there) was a picture of a guy in fatigues with a dog sitting on a sidewalk and meme style overlay text that said:
            “OBAMA IS BRINGING 100,000 SYRIAN REFUGEES TO AMERICA

            SHARE IF YOU AGREE WE SHOULD TAKE CARE OF OUR NEARLY 60,000 HOMELESS VETERANS FIRST
            © One Nation Under God”

            I suppose that’s “focused on trade-offs” in some sense, but not exactly what you seem to be describing.

      • Troy says:

        I will say that, while I understand the concerns towards resettling refugees (even if I think many of them are misguided), I am quite irritated by all the governors refusing to settle refugees in their state. It’s one thing to say, “I don’t think we should bring refugees in in the first place,” it’s another to say to them, once we’ve brought them in, “You’re not welcome here.” Once they’re here we should be as welcoming as we can be and seek to integrate them into our society, not drive them away and make them feel isolated.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Troy
          “all the governors refusing to settle refugees in their state”

          Perhaps they might take advice from the people who say ‘doubling the world population another time or two is not a problem, look at all the open space left for new US cities’.

      • blacktrance says:

        There’s an assumption in your post (which, to be fair, is probably applicable to many people) that wanting to let refugees in is out of concern (or a desire to signal concern) for their welfare. That works against people who aspire to utilitarianism or something similar – but there’s also a consistent position that says that favoring your family is permissible while not letting refugees in is not. It is the position that you may favor whomever you like, but you’re also constrained in what you may do to others, that it’s perfectly okay not to give a cent to refugees, but not okay to forcibly prevent them from coming in. People with low-skilled jobs are under no obligation to help refugees by sacrificing their own jobs, even if it would result in a utilitarian benefit – but they may also not prevent refugees from competing for their jobs any more than they may slash the tires of rival applicants for their jobs.

      • Haltingthoughts says:

        That sounds like very selective rigour. Are you doing all you can to mitigate your concerns with refugees?

        The actual question is whether allowing more refugees is a good idea. Given that more immigration is a good idea, I’d be very surprised if this was a bad idea. If it is please show your work.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          Then that boils down to ‘are Mexicans a better bet than Syrian refugees’. Given Mexicans are a net cash positive and Syrian refugees aren’t, that isn’t hard to answer.

          • Haltingthoughts says:

            Not sure what you mean by mexicans are a net cash positive. I assume you are only considering native concerns which only makes sense when considering negotiation issues. If that is the case then you are right but I question why only natives are relevant.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Because if your position is ‘screw the natives’ why should the natives agree with anything you say?

          • Haltingthoughts says:

            Because they are reasonable human being who care about others, why else would you vote?

            More precisely, I expect that social demands will expand to treat all humans as equals and anyone who doesn’t support this without good reason will be considered equivalent to the old racists for the same reasons.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @ Haltingthoughts

            That sounds like a rather naive viewpoint considering the circumstances.

            The objections to immigration generally boil down to no migration without assimilation. This seems like a fair request given the troubles we’ve seen in Europe with Muslim migrants and their children so what’s the counter?

    • Anonymous says:

      The migrants are Rational Economic Men. They see that:
      – the west is prosperous, comparatively very peaceful, and hands out money to people for essentially nothing,
      – the rulers of the west are weak against appeals to pity, no matter how deceitful those appeals may be.

      It comes naturally to conclude that if they can pretend to hail from Syria (and they can, thanks to Turkish passport forgers) and get to a western country that routinely takes them (like Sweden or Germany), they can be set for life. A little investment into paying off a smuggler and a fake passport claiming they’re born on 01-01-1995, and off they go.

      There is without a doubt a small minority of actual refugees, but the actual refugees tend to stop in the nearest country that isn’t afflicted by war. Those who are there for the benefits go all the way, disregarding EU regulations that mandate that they should register in the country of entry, and be processed there.

      Then there’s the actual enemy insurgents, backed by ISIS (who outright said they’d send them), melting into the crowd with aim of causing trouble behind enemy lines.

      • Vaniver says:

        fake passport claiming they’re born on 01-01-1995

        I think you mean 1998; the fraud appears to be mostly claiming to be 17 (and thus a “child”) to increase one’s likelihood of getting in. Yet another problem caused by not differentiating between children and teens.

        • Neurno says:

          Yes! There should definitely be more differentiation between the laws for protecting children versus teenagers. There’s a huge difference between 8 year olds needing asylum and 16 year olds!

    • John Schilling says:

      Taking in ten thousand refugees out of four million Syrian or eleven million total refugees worldwide, is pure signaling. Domestically, it’s an easy way to indicate your blue- or gray-tribe loyalty, and maybe for politicians in some districts to win votes. Internationally, I think taking in so few sends a mixed message of little effect, but I haven’t studied the issue and maybe someone somewhere is looking to see if the US takes in any at all. I doubt it.

      It helps those ten thousand Syrians, probably costs ten thousand Mexican immigrants their jobs, and is otherwise mostly harmless. Mexico being a better place to live than Syria and/or a refugee camp in Turkey, that’s probably a net gain. But it’s not effectively altruistic, or at least not efficiently altruistic – if helping the largest possible number out of a vastly larger pool of suffering humanity is your goal, think mosquito nets rather than transatlantic resettlement of refugees.

      More generally, the problem with resettling refugees on more than a temporary and local basis is that doing so at more than a token-signaling level results in ceding the disputed territory to the sort of people who caused the refugee crisis in the first place. Every refugee who leaves, shifts the balance of power in favor of the warlords back home, which makes for still more refugees, lather, rinse, repeat. The end state of that plan is about six billion people crowded into North America and Western Europe, and the rest of Earth given over to city-states ruled by tyrants and run by slaves who can’t or won’t escape, the spaces in between populated by tribes of barbarians who like living like Comanches but have AK-47s.

      This is intolerable, and won’t be tolerated. Long before such an outcome is reached, Western civilization will rediscover colonialism and go out with drones and nukes to reclaim the savage lands, or if it is no longer willing to get its hands dirty with that sort of thing, build walls and keep the outsiders firmly out. And if that’s the end state, then why bother with the intermediate state where we try to crowd non-token numbers of foreign refugees into your cities? Figure out whether you’re going ultimately to build walls or fight the savages, and have at it. If you’re going to fight the savages, it would be best to do it when the proto-refugees are still at home where they can help you build a civilized nation in place.

      W/re Syria, we had a perfectly good opportunity to do that in 2011 and we didn’t, and we had a perfectly good opportunity to do that in 2013 and we didn’t, and it would be vastly harder to do it now. So I’m guessing we’ll make token gestures at fighting ISIS and Assad, and token gestures at resettling refugees, and ultimately settle down to build walls. The Turks and the Europeans will do most of the actual wall-building, of course. If you want to talk about resettling ten thousand Syrians to the United States before the walls go up, go ahead and do so, but the largest number that will plausibly be accepted will do no harm worth mentioning and no good worth mentioning, except to make some Americans feel virtuous and other Americans feel afraid.

      • NN says:

        Every refugee who leaves, shifts the balance of power in favor of the warlords back home, which makes for still more refugees, lather, rinse, repeat.

        Are you sure about that? Because that doesn’t seem to be the case in the situation in question. Daesh has made extensive efforts to attempt to prevent refugees from fleeing its territory. Maybe that’s a strategic mistake, but I can think of some obvious motivations. For one, anyone living and working in Daesh’s territory provides it with tax revenue/protection money even if they don’t enlist. War is expensive, and if you drive out all of the productive people you will eventually find yourself unable to support your army.

        See also the Berlin Wall. That wasn’t what we typically think of as a war situation, but the principle is the same.

        As far as I can tell, the one time creating refugees might be an advantage would be if it was an ethnic conflict and the refugees were part of an enemy ethnic group, but in that case most of the refugees would probably flee to nearby territories controlled by their own group rather than attempting to flee the war zone entirely. So that seems like a separate issue.

        • John Schilling says:

          But see also the Mariel Boatlift, the Highland Clearances, the Expulsion of the Jews from half of Europe, and many other examples.

          Getting rid of dubiously loyal subjects makes a state absolutely weaker but relatively stronger. In the rare cases where a state faces an existential threat from the outside, it may want to hang on to (and forcefully oppress) such malcontents, but most threats to national security are internal rather than external. In those cases, the rational course of action is to encourage the unwanted minorities to leave if you can’t keep them solidly under control.

          And the Syrian Civil War is a largely ethnic conflict where the refugees are coming mostly from the ethnic groups on the losing sides. An awful lot of them are nonetheless trying to leave the war zone entirely.

      • Troy says:

        More generally, the problem with resettling refugees on more than a temporary and local basis is that doing so at more than a token-signaling level results in ceding the disputed territory to the sort of people who caused the refugee crisis in the first place. Every refugee who leaves, shifts the balance of power in favor of the warlords back home, which makes for still more refugees, lather, rinse, repeat.

        I agree that this is a concern. It seems that there is a conflict between short-term and long-term considerations here: in the short term it’s obviously better for the refugees to go to a safer place, in the long term it’s better for there to be people in a position to oppose and overthrow tyrannical governments.

        I suspect that the best course of action depends on the precise case. If a group is hellbent on genocide, it seems better to let the people being slaughtered take refuge elsewhere. If, however, a group is simply bent on conquest and dominance, then it may be better to leave the people they are oppressing there so that they can fight them.

        What this means for ISIS I don’t know: I don’t think their goal is genocide per se, but they are certainly much more willing and eager to use violence and killing on their political opponents than many tyrannical governments of the past.

      • multiheaded says:

        W/re Syria, we had a perfectly good opportunity to do that in 2011 and we didn’t, and we had a perfectly good opportunity to do that in 2013 and we didn’t

        http://fredrikdeboer.com/2015/11/15/but-whos-counting/

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      >The Syrians in refugee camps are overwhelmingly Muslim, but it is the Christian refugees who are most in danger from ISIS, and who are in most need of help. Moreover, such Christians are mistreated by Muslim refugees even in refugee camps in Europe. (https://barnabasfund.org/news/muslim-refugees-persecute-christian-refugees-in-german-camps) We should make efforts to find and resettle Christians and other religious minorities fleeing ISIS, not Muslims who are comparatively safe in other Middle Eastern countries.

      That sounds like a great reason to take in more refugees. Unless the argument is specifically about Muslim refugees, where taking in more christians would reduce the amount of muslims harbored.

      • Jaskologist says:

        The argument is specifically about Muslims, but we’re not allowed to say so. Honestly, I think that as long as the left persists in treating criticism of Islam as haram, it
        is pretty rational to respond with “ok, if we can’t address the root of the problem, we’ll just have to avoid the problem altogether. Keep Muslims out.” All the more nuanced approaches are already cut off.

        • NN says:

          The obvious problem with that is that there is no way to determine whether a refugee who claims to be a Christian is telling the truth or not. It’s not like Christians and Muslims have different blood types.

          • Emily says:

            Is it easier to determine who is legitimately in danger? These both rely on examining records and asking questions.

          • NN says:

            It seems like it is significantly easier to end up with no records available to prove your religion than it is to end up with no records available to prove that you are legitimately in danger.

            The only way to accurately verify someone’s religion would be to ask for records or testimony of church/mosque attendance or the like, and if you can’t contact the alleged place of worship due to, say, it being in the middle of a warzone, then there isn’t much you can do. And if the person in question is non-practicing or a recent convert, then all that person has is their word.

            There are presumably more ways to prove that you are legitimately in danger, though in a situation like Syria it is probably pretty easy to end up with no way of proving that either.

          • John Schilling says:

            Christianity involves a large and relatively cohesive body of shared knowledge; I am fairly certain a list of shibboleths could be compiled to provide fairly accurate discrimination over the course of an interview. You’d want to rotate through a large list with multiple questions per applicant, of course.

            Purely for the snark value, one of the shibboleths should be “do you know what a shibboleth is?” 🙂

            Edit for clarification: This is a thing that we can do with a moderate degree of success, not necessarily a thing that we should do. Neither the case for nor against are trivial.

          • Emily says:

            There are definitely other things that can give you information about what someone’s religion is – which in this case, is more about community and ethnic group, not personal beliefs or observance. Their name and where they are from (which you should have records for, or else you have bigger problems), what language they speak, and what information they have about their religious practices all are likely to carry some information. None of these are perfect, but they’re something. Israel has some expertise in this, including not just for screening people for citizenry, but also screening visitors (who they will have fewer records for.)

          • NN says:

            I have no doubt that you could devise a test that Christians would be more likely to pass than Muslims. I don’t see any possible way of devising a test that could reliably screen out determined fakers (which any terrorist infiltrators would be) and wouldn’t also keep out lots of real but not particularly knowledgeable Christians.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Many Muslim countries have citizens register their religion. I’m not sure if Syria is one, but it looks probable.

            Either way, we already routinely collect information on the religious background of refugees; it’s often highly relevant to determining whether or not they are actually under threat.

          • Troy says:

            The obvious problem with that is that there is no way to determine whether a refugee who claims to be a Christian is telling the truth or not.

            Offer them pork?

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t see any possible way of devising a test that could reliably screen out determined fakers (which any terrorist infiltrators would be)

            Determined, yes, but for this you also need skill. And convincingly faking membership in an alien culture is a skill most people don’t have and aren’t going to learn any time soon.

            Being able to teach other people this skill, is even rarer and it’s not clear that ISIS has a whole lot of qualified instructors.

            and wouldn’t also keep out lots of real but not particularly knowledgeable Christians.

            If we’re talking about accepting only 10,000 Syrian refugees, that’s not a problem. We can have a 90% false positive rate and still fill that quota. And keep in mind, we aren’t talking about academic knowledge here, but the actual practice of Christianity by lay Christians in the field. Academic knowledge would be too easy to fake.

          • NN says:

            Determined, yes, but for this you also need skill. And convincingly faking membership in an alien culture is a skill most people don’t have and aren’t going to learn any time soon.

            Being able to teach other people this skill, is even rarer and it’s not clear that ISIS has a whole lot of qualified instructors.

            —-

            And keep in mind, we aren’t talking about academic knowledge here, but the actual practice of Christianity by lay Christians in the field. Academic knowledge would be too easy to fake.

            To me, it seems likely that Syrian Muslims, who have lived in Syria all their lives and may well have had frequent interactions with local Christians before the war, would have a much better grasp on the finer points of Syrian Eastern Orthodox Christian culture than anyone the US government could find to devise and run a test like this.

            As an analogy, imagine that a second Civil War happened in America and for some reason China decided to start a refugee program that would only let in Jewish refugees. Because the circumstances left many refugees without access to records that could prove their religion, this program would require the Chinese government to develop a test that could reliably tell apart American Jews and American Gentiles pretending to be American Jews. How good a job would you expect them to do?

            For the record, there are about 800,000 Orthodox Christians who at least semi-regularly attend services in the US, 480,000 of those are Greek, and most of the rest are from other Eastern European countries. Only about 75,000 of them are members of the Antioch church, and I would guess that most of those are Lebanese. With a population that small, I wouldn’t be confident in being able to find someone who is both qualified and willing to help the US government design a test like this.

            This isn’t even touching the issue of what to do with someone who claims to be a recent convert.

          • John Schilling says:

            @NN: Do you believe you could talk your way to birthright Israeli citizenship on the grounds that you have friends who are Jews and live in a country with a non-trivial minority of Jews such that there is no way a government thousands of miles away could understand American Judaism[*] better than you do?

            There’s too much tacit knowledge that you really only get by actually participating in the culture of a religion, inside the walls of its churches or synagogues or whatever. Stuff that isn’t written down in scripture or catechism, and doesn’t come up in conversation with outsiders – not because anyone is trying to keep it secret, but because everyone knows that only insiders have the cultural context to understand or care. And there are 80,000 or so Syrian Orthodox Christians living in the United States, many of them first-generation immigrants, that we can ask about this sort of thing if we care to do so. Even hire some of them to do the final screening if we like.

            [*] I’m guessing you are a Non-Jewish American, but if not we can tweak the analogy appropriately.

      • ydirbut says:

        Isn’t that (only accepting christian refugees) a thing?

        • HlynkaCG says:

          Accepting Christian refugees over Muslims is not an option due to the risk of being branded racist / ismaliphobic.

    • Sastan says:

      There have been a range of Republican actions and statements, most of them of course grossly misrepresented by the media and the president.

      My governor is a Republican with a very pro-immigrant record, who ordered a pause in refugee resettlement until the federal government could provide some information about how they were vetting the refugees. The feds told him to fuck himself, they don’t have to explain shit to nobody, and then the president went on TV and called him a xenophobe and a coward. I thought it was a perfectly reasonable request, but that’s probably my rampant misogyny.

      As to the refugees themselves, I’m not terribly worried about the first generation. The vetting process will probably screen most of the obvious threats out. The real problem is what happens with the second and third generations. With the Lebanese in Michigan, there have been no problems. Hell, I’m third generation Lebanese. With the Somalis in Minnesota, there have been massive problems. Crime, ghettoization and second-generation radicalization is rampant, with thousands joining jihadi organizations and fighting overseas. Until you can be sure why this happened to one group and not the other, or why by and large US muslims are well integrated and European ones aren’t, this is a thorny issue.

      • Troy says:

        My governor is a Republican with a very pro-immigrant record, who ordered a pause in refugee resettlement until the federal government could provide some information about how they were vetting the refugees. The feds told him to fuck himself, they don’t have to explain shit to nobody, and then the president went on TV and called him a xenophobe and a coward.

        I don’t doubt that the media have misrepresented what’s gone on, but this doesn’t exactly read like an unbiased description itself.

        If I were to play Obama’s advocate, I might point out that information on the refugee screening process is publicly available, and that that information makes clear that the screening process is already quite intensive. It’s thus not clear what a request for information is supposed to achieve (unless the governor had questions about particular points not publicly available).

        As to the refugees themselves, I’m not terribly worried about the first generation. The vetting process will probably screen most of the obvious threats out. The real problem is what happens with the second and third generations. With the Lebanese in Michigan, there have been no problems. Hell, I’m third generation Lebanese. With the Somalis in Minnesota, there have been massive problems. Crime, ghettoization and second-generation radicalization is rampant, with thousands joining jihadi organizations and fighting overseas. Until you can be sure why this happened to one group and not the other, or why by and large US muslims are well integrated and European ones aren’t, this is a thorny issue.

        I agree that this is a concern. I don’t know all the reasons that the Somalis in Minnesota have been particularly bad, but if I were to bet I’d bet on Syrian refugees integrating more like the Lebanese than the Somalis. They are much closer, genetically and culturally, both to white Americans and to groups that have successfully integrated in the past.

        I wonder if Somalis have integrated so poorly in Minnesota partly because of progressive policies there affecting, e.g., the ability of teachers to discipline schoolchildren, but that is basically just pure speculation on my part.

      • Haltingthoughts says:

        You are looking at a value of at least hundreds of thousands of dollars to the average immigrant. I’d be very surprised if damages from radicalized Somalis is anywhere close to that value even not accounting for the likelihood of them being radicalized in Somalia.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          That still makes immigrants from countries we don’t have to worry about radicalization better bets; anyone up for half a million Congolese?

          • Haltingthoughts says:

            No it doesnt. I just said radicalization was negligible. In that case the most relevant concern is which immigrants benefit the most. Syrian refugees seem like a good candidate for that distinction.

          • Samuel Skinner says:


            The Second Congo war killed 5.4 million people. I’m not sure how ‘worst war since World War 2’ can be beaten for ‘refugees that can benefit the most’.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @ Samuel Skinner

            My thoughts exactly.

          • Haltingthoughts says:

            Whoops, didn’t do my research. Well then yes, that would be entirely reasonable.

            The main point is that people in favor or refugees are in favor of more refugees and more immigrants in general and are seizing the topical nature of the Syrian refugees to do so. You’re being demanding way too much rigor to demand that they select the most deserving immigrants.

      • NN says:

        With the Lebanese in Michigan, there have been no problems. Hell, I’m third generation Lebanese. With the Somalis in Minnesota, there have been massive problems. Crime, ghettoization and second-generation radicalization is rampant, with thousands joining jihadi organizations and fighting overseas. Until you can be sure why this happened to one group and not the other, or why by and large US muslims are well integrated and European ones aren’t, this is a thorny issue.

        I would put money on Syrians turning out more like the Lebanese than the Somalis. Not only are Syrians much closer culturally to Lebanese than to Somalis, but many Lebanese immigrants were themselves refugees fleeing from a bloody sectarian civil war.

    • NN says:

      – The Syrians in refugee camps are overwhelmingly Muslim, but it is the Christian refugees who are most in danger from ISIS, and who are in most need of help. Moreover, such Christians are mistreated by Muslim refugees even in refugee camps in Europe. (https://barnabasfund.org/news/muslim-refugees-persecute-christian-refugees-in-german-camps) We should make efforts to find and resettle Christians and other religious minorities fleeing ISIS, not Muslims who are comparatively safe in other Middle Eastern countries.

      Most Syrian refugees are fleeing the Assad regime, not ISIS. Assad has a much more powerful military than ISIS, so one could argue that it is actually Sunni Muslims who are most in need of help.

      • JDG1980 says:

        Most Syrian refugees are fleeing the Assad regime, not ISIS.

        If true, that’s all the more reason not to let them in; Assad is about the only real bulwark against ISIS in Syria. If Assad wants them dead, then there’s a good chance they are ISIS, or at least ISIS sympathizers. Of course, Assad is a dictator so it’s possible they did something else unrelated to piss him off, but I don’t think we should be taking that chance with Western lives.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          ISIS wasn’t one of the original factions against Assad. They only entered after the civil war started. The odds that a refugee is an ISIS sympathizer is low (since they can simply escape east to join ISIS).

          • John Schilling says:

            The legitimate concerns are not with ISIS “sympathizers” among the actual refugees.

            The short-term legitimate concern is with actual ISIS agents pretending to be refugees as a way to gain access to soft targets in the West. Take a six-month training course in urban terrorism with a western culture minor, show up in Europe saying “help, help, I’m being repressed!”, and use your shiny new residency papers and government stipend to set up the next Paris attack. Yes, these people could simply escape to the East and join ISIS. Maybe they did that six months ago. Now ISIS wants them in Paris.

            The long-term legitimate concern is that non-ISIS-sympathizing Syrian refugees make their way to Europe or America, can’t manage to fit in, and form an isolated and impoverished ethnic subculture whose sons will be ready to sympathize with whoever offers them a life with more meaning than “guy who starves in the gutters of paradise”. ISIS will probably be gone by then, but will have successors.

            Both of these are I think small but significant threats in Europe, and trivial in the United States. Europe, ISIS agents can walk to and once they are across the border with any reasonably-plausible story of repression pretty much can’t be evicted. To reach the United States as refugees, they have to convince skeptical US government officials of their sincerity before they’re allowed on the plane. And if they do make it to the US, they’ll be joining a well-established Syrian-American community substantially larger than any refugee population we are likely to admit, which should help with the assimilation.

          • @John Schilling:

            Wouldn’t it be a lot less trouble for your hypothetical terrorist, after his training course, to be provided with a forged or stolen passport from some reputable western country and to show up in Europe (or the U.S.) as a tourist? Why go to all the trouble of pretending to be a refugee?

          • John Schilling says:

            Wouldn’t it be a lot less trouble for your hypothetical terrorist … to be provided with a forged or stolen passport from some reputable western country?

            The Twentieth Century is over. Obtaining fraudulent passports from first-world nations that will pass first-world border checkpoints is now difficult enough that even national intelligence agencies are having problems with it. Israel, for example, has to ask sympathetic Jews in foreign countries if it can borrow their passports for a while so that Mossad agents can pretend to be foreigners. And with biometric data now both encoded in the passport and linked to a central database, even that’s not exactly easy.

            If there’s a mechanism where telling a sob story at a refugee camp gets you a passport-equivalent document, or where freshly-issued Syrian passports are accepted for travel to the United States even though nobody can check with the Syrian government to verify the data, it gets quite a bit easier. The refugee path isn’t the only way by which ISIS and company can infiltrate Western nations, but there isn’t any alternative so compellingly superior that we can discount this one as a significant added threat. The days when a few hundred francs to Mr. Ugarte over at Rick’s Place would get you letters of transit to America, are over and done.

          • @John Schilling:

            A quick google found some data on the cost of stolen passports. The most expensive is Danish, for a bit over four thousand dollars.

            “The top price for a U.S. passport is $2,057, making it the 13th most expensive. The low-ball price for a U.S. passport is one of the least expensive at $938.”

            Do you think that represents a significant barrier to a terrorist organization?

            http://www.vocativ.com/news/241487/fake-passport-prices-black-market/

            Do you have a different source showing a much higher price?

          • John Schilling says:

            The cost of the stolen Danish passport is a minor problem. The part where the fingerprints of the terrorist carrying the passport don’t match the fingerprints encoded on the passport is a bigger problem. The part where, when the passport is scanned at any first-world border crossing, a flashing red warning screen alerts the customs official that the passport was reported stolen last week (and/or that the holder was reported killed in a back alley in Istanbul), is a huge problem. And even if you’re quick enough to beat the theft report, the police are still going to start looking for you (with your photo, fingerprints, port of entry and last known alias) as soon as the theft report enters the database.

            Stolen passports are for entering less developed or security-conscious countries, or for checking into hotels etc in first-world countries. They are no longer a reliable way of entering first-world countries.

            Fraudulent passports that have been properly entered into the databases, e.g. by suborned government officials, work better, but those start in the five figures if you can find them at all. And if no fraudulent passport from that source has yet been compromised. The few organized criminal groups that can procure them, have obvious reasons not to sell to terrorists. The many people in the forged- or stolen-passport business, have obvious reasons to misrepresent their wares as the really good stuff.

            There are other options, but since 9/11 none of them have been cheap, easy, and reliable. Again, the CIA is having trouble securing reliable paper for its NOC agents. Mossad is having trouble with this. I’m not sure this is a good thing – where you favor open borders I’d prefer semi-permeable ones – but it is a thing. First-world governments are now capable of closing borders quite effectively when they want to.

        • NN says:

          Also, while Assad is unquestionably far less of a threat to the West than ISIS, it is inaccurate to say that he is Syria’s only bulwark against ISIS.

    • TrivialGravitas says:

      Regarding the ‘children of refugees’ question, blocking refugees would be useless unless you also block all Sunni Muslims if that’s true. A Syrian refugee’s kid isn’t more a risk than a Saudi economic migrant’s.

      • Troy says:

        A Syrian refugee’s kid isn’t more a risk than a Saudi economic migrant’s.

        There are likely correlations between, e.g., socioeconomic class and radicalization. In general refugees will be poorer than other immigrants.

        • keranih says:

          I’m not sure this follows…economic migrants are the people who are not doing well in their home country. Political refugees are those who can command enough money to move.

          Which would be more likely to become disaffected and commit violence is less easily answered, I think.

          • Troy says:

            It likely depends on the destination country and country of origin. I was thinking of immigrants to America; Saudis aren’t flocking over our border illegally like Mexicans are. If they want to come here to seek a better life they have to be reasonably well off to begin with in order to get over here.

            Point taken, however, with respect to Middle Eastern economic migrants flocking into Europe.

        • dndnrsn says:

          There may be a correlation between socioeconomic class and violent crime, but is there a correlation between socioeconomic class and radicalization? There are plenty of middle- and upper-class terrorists.

  31. I have a notion that nations are going to have to become different under the pressure of migration. A government can maintain a pretty good monopoly on the use of force without keeping track of every person in its territory, and I think that’s what the future is going to look like. Thoughts?

    • Anonymous says:

      So you’re saying the future is feudal?

      I’m not sure that’s likely. The government tends to assume a policy of maximum centralization possible while keeping peer competitiveness.

    • Vaniver says:

      Monopolies on force are maintained mostly through deterrence. If someone wanted to do their own violence, the only way for them to be stopped is A) the government has the ability to win any shootout anywhere at anytime or B) that someone has something to lose that the government can take from them in retaliation.

      Plan B is easier the more closely the government is tracking people and things, and Plan A also benefits from tracking people and things (so that the government can know what it’s up against and reallocate defenses as necessary).

  32. onyomi says:

    Looking only at the headlines, I was briefly encouraged to see Princeton reconsidering the legacy of Woodrow Wilson…until I realized what the problem was:

    Getting the US unnecessarily involved in the most horrific and arguably pointless war in history up to that point resulting in millions of lives lost and indirectly helping to cause Hitler and the Russian Revolution? And after running on a platform of keeping us out of said war? Oh, all that’s totally fine. In fact, it kind of makes you a “great man.”

    Being a racist who may have cost some black people advancement in some government jobs? Oh, now that we just can’t accept.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I have always been baffled by WWI Woodrow Wilson hate.

      Yeah, he got us involved in war. But his thing seemed to be having an equitable resolution without punishing the Germans and a strong international governing body.

      Well, everyone ignored him and punished the Germans anyway, and we ended up with Weimar and Hitler. And everyone ignored him about the strong governing body, so we ended up with a League of Nations too weak to do anything about them.

      I feel like if more people had listened to Woodrow Wilson the world would be a much better place. And anticipating/trying to prevent Hitler is a big enough deal that it excuses a lot of other stuff.

      • brad says:

        I guess it depends on what you think the most like counter-factual is if the US stayed out of the war. If you think it is continued stalemate until the two sides are forced to settle their differences at the negotiating table or if you think the British and French win anyway and impose Versailles (or even worse) or if you think the Central Powers win decisively and go on to build a empire extending the age of monarchs and colonialism well into the future — you’ll end up in different places on the US entry.

      • John Schilling says:

        Isn’t that kind of like being baffled by Bush the Younger hate?

        Yeah, he got us into the interminable Iraq war, but his thing seemed to be having a quick and relatively bloodless victory followed by all the Iraqis not named “Saddam Hussein” getting together to build a peaceful, prosperous, and stable country. I feel like if more people, especially Iraqi people, had listened to George W. Bush the world would be a much better place. And trying to build a peaceful, prosperous, and stable Iraq is a big enough deal that it excuses a lot of other stuff.

        If your plan is “Fight a huge war, but not too many people will get killed and then everybody lives happily ever after”, one part of that plan is very likely to happen and the other part is even more likely to not happen. If you want to not be hated, you have to actually pull off the “everybody lives happily ever” part, not just aspire to it.

        • DrBeat says:

          Well, the difference is that in situations like this, the actions of a country’s leadership are centralized enough that they can be considered moral agents, but the actions of a country’s populace are so diffuse and hard to influence they don’t have moral agency.

          Wilson’s plan would have worked if others would have gone along with it (and I think they agreed to do so? but may be remembering wrong). Those others who could have went along with it were moral agents, so fault can attach to their actions, and thus it is their fault things went badly — they were presented with the solution but instead opted to fuck things up.

          Bush II’s plan would have worked if others would have gone along with it, but he had much less grounds to tell those people to go along with his plan. Said people were the populace and general opinion of an entire country, who cannot be assigned moral agency because they cannot make unified decisions on plans like that and have all sorts of negative externalities imposed on them. Since the entity that could, in theory, have made the plan work does not have moral agency, the fault attaches to Bush for not being able to predict the outcome of the non-agentic process.

          You can fault someone in a group of five or ten or twenty people for defecting, and say “the solution is to stop doing that”. But it’s different in a nation of millions, where you know that someone will inevitably defect, and now everyone else has to act with that in mind.

          • John Schilling says:

            So actual human beings (the populace of a country) are not moral agents, but impersonal institution (the leadership of non-autocratic nations) are? That’s an interesting position.

            But largely moot, I think. The instability of postwar Iraq was not the result of each individual Iraqi deciding to start a civil war; a relatively small core of religious and secular leaders had disproportionate influence on that one. And at the other end, the nations of post-WWI Europe were democracies whose nominal heads of state and/or government couldn’t arbitrarily set policy for decades to come.

            And ultimately, who cares? If it was predictable that the leadership of post-WWI Europe wasn’t going to go along with Woodrow Wilson’s plan (and it was), and if it was predictable that the populace of postwar Iraq wasn’t going to go along with Bush the Younger’s plan (and it was), then they’re both whining children who knew or ought to have known perfectly well that they were breaking valuable stuff to no good end and saying “but it’s not my fault!”

            Yes, it damn well is your fault. And other people’s fault as well, but there’s no law that says we have to blame just one person.

          • Nornagest says:

            Bush II’s plan would have worked if others would have gone along with it, but he had much less grounds to tell those people to go along with his plan.

            Wilson didn’t exactly have a lot of moral high ground to play from, either. The US was a latecomer and a relative bit player in WWI; I’m not an expert in this part of history, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the European powers weren’t too keen on taking orders from these overseas upstarts who’d spent much less in blood and treasure than they had.

          • keranih says:

            I’m not an expert in this part of history, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the European powers weren’t too keen on taking orders from these overseas upstarts

            Yeap. And it had far less to do with any level of assistance than upstarts. It was the great, logical, high-moral-ground rational theory, of mofo, you ain’t th’ boss a’ME!.

            (Plus, a helping of Just look at them! They don’t even have a KING!!)

            It’s also important to remember that Europe hadn’t seen much of any actual fighting for most of a century, and in fact there was a lot of philosophy that this made Europe/Europeans morally superior to other places. (Americans even then had a rep for easy violence, esp after the ACW.) So after WWI, there was both grief over the losses and anger over the fact that there was a war at all. Which meant that Someone Must Pay. So This Never Happens Again.

            It’s not *rational* that WWII followed, but it is *predictable*.

            And Wilson suggested the League of Nations mostly on the strength that this was Not American’s Fault, plus Democracy for Everyone Is Best, Because I Am Wise Now Shut Up.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Europe hadn’t seen much of any actual fighting for most of a century, and in fact there was a lot of philosophy that this made Europe/Europeans morally superior to other places.

            Apart from the Franco-Prussian War, the Crimean War, the Wars of Italian Unification, the Carlist Wars, the assorted Balkan Wars…

            To clarify- most of those did not take place in Northern/Western Europe, and the Balkans were certainly seen as foreign/violent/not-really-European by people in those places. The Franco-Prussian War, however, most certainly did and had a major impact on the culture and politics of both belligerents.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            Bush II’s plan would have worked if others would have gone along with it, but he had much less grounds to tell those people to go along with his plan. Said people were the populace and general opinion of an entire country…

            So we are glossing over the regional balance of power proxy war thing?

          • DrBeat says:

            So actual human beings (the populace of a country) are not moral agents, but impersonal institution (the leadership of non-autocratic nations) are? That’s an interesting position.

            I don’t see how it’s controversial at all. Moral agency means you make decisions and can be held responsible for them. Holding a governing institution with a defined decision-making process responsible for its decisions obviously makes sense; holding a national or ethnic population responsible for things its members did obviously doesn’t make sense.

        • Benjamin Finkel says:

          I feel like the difference between the Wilson argument and the Bush argument is that the Wilson one is about particular policies (non-punitive WWI treaty, stronger international governing body) and the Bush one is about ideal consequences (bloodless victory, joyous effort to westernize Iraq).

      • keranih says:

        Good intentions count, but not *that* much.

        (I was always annoyed by Wilson’s arrogance and hypocrisy, same as with Thomas Jefferson. I will admit their individual greatness and accomplishments, but don’t see why other people think they were each all that and a bag’a chips.)

        (Which is to say, I didn’t think much of Wilson before he became another reason to point and laugh at CampusSturm.)

      • TrivialGravitas says:

        It’s the entirely two faced nature of him getting us involved in war that makes me hate him. At the pulpit he’s talking peace without victory and campaigning on staying out of war. But then he turns around and demands that the US be able to sell matériel to the allies, becoming an accessory to war crimes (human shielding, carried out both by arming merchant ships preventing capture rather than kill tactics and carrying matériel on passenger ships) in the process. Meanwhile he ignores the British blockade, essentially giving up neutrality, despite THAT blockade killing hundreds of thousands of civilians by refusing to let food through.

        A jingoistic warhawk I could respect, even if I disagree, but Wilson seems to have carefully calculated his actions to create profit while pretending to want peace, then gone to war to protect those profits.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      How can you blame American involvement in WWI, even indirectly, for the Russian Revolution? America entered the war after the February Revolution, even after Lenin’s return. Did its entry contribute to the October Revolution, seven months later? How?

    • Deiseach says:

      Yes to Hitler, no to the Russian Revolution. That was already on the boil, and if your argument is that Russia staying out of the First World War would have meant the internal strength to squash dissidents, I think you’re mistaken. They had centuries of squashing dissidents, that was part of what was creating the dissension in the first place!

      The First World War was going to happen in some shape or form; there was too much dealing and counter-dealing and the “scramble for Africa” and secret treaties that back-stabbed your allies and influence-peddling going on.

      Russia got pulled in precisely because of imperial ambition; it encouraged “pan-Slavism” in the Central/Eastern European States and positioned itself as the natural leader of the Slavs. This of course did nothing to encourage the non-Slavs in the region, who didn’t much fancy being under the control of the Tsar. The Ottoman Empire was slowly crumbling and was too tempting a prize for the various European powers to resist, and naturally since it too was involved on the periphery of the Balkans, anything that weakened its influence there (and so weakened it overall) was seen as a good thing.

      Hence all the meddling.

      Even Italy had imperial ambitions (consider the nibbling away at Ethiopia, which eventually bore fruit in the renewed expansion of Italian possessions in Africa under Mussolini in the mid-1930s). Had the assassination of Franz Ferdinand not given an excuse, something else would have done so. Possibly the weakening of Russia during the Revolution; the Germans would have been very tempted to push to the East and see what they could carve out there.

      Also consider: yes, the vindictive and punitive treatment of post-war Germany certainly set the seeds for the Second World War. But without the First World War, would the social upheaval and change have happened? The collapse of empires, the complete turn-around in confidence and the traditional social order – all the new ‘decadence’ in the arts, from jazz (which was a scandalous thing, it was considered literally “jungle music”) to the Cubists and Futurists, the attempts born out of a desire to heal the psychic shock of a generation to build the new, gleaming future which led to so much change in art, architecture, science, everything!

      Pre-war European society was stifling – Vienna with its hysteria and clandestine sexuality gave Freud a rich harvest of repression to reap – and something had to give.

      America too had imperial ambitions, though it might not have called them such (the annexation of Hawaii and the adventures in Cuba and the Philippines were the expansionist element). The post-war power vacuum let America step up and enjoy influence and power; what would the world be like if instead the European states had retained their strength and America remained isolationist? I think you would have definitely turned eastward, and I think eventually China would have become a bone of contention, with the added fear of American influence seeking to move towards Eurasia and India.

      In a world without the First World War we know, we might still be discussing such, only this time one between the USA and the European powers 🙂

      • Jiro says:

        Also consider: yes, the vindictive and punitive treatment of post-war Germany certainly set the seeds for the Second World War. But without the First World War, would the social upheaval and change have happened?

        If you try to justify bad thing X on the grounds that it had good result Y, that immediately raises the issue that it’s pretty unlikely you’re at the exact optimum level, so you would have to justify *more* of X. In other words, if the war was really a net positive, wouldn’t more war have been even better?

        • Deiseach says:

          I’m not saying the war was a good thing. I am saying that things we think of as good can come out of bad situations, and we don’t know all the consequences of actions.

          So saying “If Wilson had kept America out of the war, all these bad things would not have happened” might be true. But what about other things that might not have happened, things you might want to happen?

          • Jiro says:

            That’s subject to basically the same objection: if keeping the US out of the war would have prevented things that you want to happen, maybe failure to have more war also prevented things you would have wanted to happen. So we would have been overall better off with more war.

      • TrivialGravitas says:

        Russia post February revolution (which the US entered after) had no need to squash dissidents, they were already in transition to democracy. They needed the aid to feed people without also needing to fight a war. Without that it left things open to somebody crazy enough to think they could forgo the allied aid that was dependent on staying in the war.

    • onyomi says:

      I just want to note that while I am interested in the legacy of Woodrow Wilson and US involvement in WWI, and I may engage further with that discussion below, my point was rather to focus not on the object level issue of Wilson’s goodness or badness, but rather on the fact that seemingly the only reason a historical figure seems to get seriously reexamined nowadays (as in, monuments taken down, schools renamed) is if he turns out to have somehow been racist (though I am surprised they’re planning to replace Hamilton, rather than Jackson on the money).

      Scott has persuasively argued against calling everything “a religion,” but I think anti-racism really has risen to that level of late. Anything racist, however far back in history, must be obsessively rooted out like a heresy, and often with a fervor one does not observe when trying to discredit someone as, say, a mass murderer. Why do we care more if our school is named after a racist than if it’s named after a mass murderer? It feels like overcompensation for a kind of quasi-religious guilt/sin.

      • Anonymous says:

        Have you read Paul Graham’s essay on this kind of phenomenon?

        • onyomi says:

          I think I had seen it before, though I had forgotten about it; it’s still a good read. But yes, this is pretty much exactly what I’m talking about.

      • Deiseach says:

        “Racism” has become a parrot cry. People know Racism Is Bad, because they’ve learned this in school, and so when they want to accuse someone of being a bad person they throw accusations of it around (the same as with “fascist”).

        This is not to deny that real racism exists, but when you’ve seen white English-born children of Irish parents returned to live in Ireland people accusing your line manager of “Racism! You’re racist against me because I’m English!” for not immediately supplying them with social housing upon application*, it gets difficult to take the language about racism seriously.

        *You’re going on a waiting list and the people who have been on the list for years are ahead of you and no, claiming you are homeless won’t get you a house. Things were so bad, homeless services in The City were handing out sleeping bags and tents to people turning up presenting as homeless at one stage. No, we haven’t got accommodation for you because the hostels are all full but if you’re sleeping rough, here’s a sleeping bag. Yes, really.

    • BBA says:

      Wilson set out to replace the European balance of power with a League of Nations that would peaceably resolve all conflicts. This was a miserable failure.

      He also set out to impose Jim Crow upon the federal civil service. This was a resounding “success.”

      It’s high time we started taking him to task for what he did as opposed to what he didn’t do.

    • DrBeat says:

      I’ve been saying this for years. There’s a certain segment of the population with no sense of scale and no control over their emotions. Getting death threats (or “I hope you die” or “I would not be upset if you died” messages, which for some reason people count as death threats even though they are not) from these people means nothing.

      There are certain causes and movements that create more “death threats” than others, and we can look at why that happens, and also it is invariably the ones that talk the most about the death threats they receive proving their virtue. But even when and if we do so, we shouldn’t act as though that makes the other side virtuous.

      Every side that is a non-exclusive group is going to have some people who have no sense of scale and no control over their emotions, so saying “A random faceless someone from the other side has no sense of scale and no control over their emotions and sent me death threats!” doesn’t mean shit. Does that group have any ability to expel or condemn the threatener? Do they use that ability or do they not? Does that side have ideological unity that we could reasonably say that their ideas are influencing the behavior of some of their members to act this way? Does that side claim that their receiving of death threats makes them virtuous? Are the death threateners popular or powerful within that side, or are the random, nameless, faceless assholes?

      the worst example of this has nothing to do with feminism or social justice; it was when Hideaki Anno received death threats over the ending to “Evangelion” and people said that proved anime fans were awful, depraved, and should be discarded. What the fuck kind of ideological unity was supposed to have created death threateners among anime fans? What the fuck were the other anime fans supposed to do about it to escape your scorn?

      • Emily says:

        You mention lack of ability to expel or condemn the threatener. OK, So if you knew someone from your side who was sending death threats, what do you think an appropriate response would be, if you did have some ability to expel or condemn them? Not spending time with them? Not going to their website, if they have one? Not participating in online conversations with them? Removing them from leadership positions in the community? Not inviting them to presents at conventions/conferences, or disinviting them entirely?

        • DrBeat says:

          Not spending time with them, not offering support to them, opposing their efforts to gain support from the community we are in, not offering them positions of power, not allowing them the use of power in the community, and telling them “stop fucking doing that” every time I see them until they stop doing it and express some kind of apology. Arguing against them every time I see it brought up. Acting like a person who does not support it.

          You go into a much murkier area when you talk about removing or disinviting them, because that’s “no platform”-ing, which is abused constantly. If it’s acceptable to no-platform someone for this thing, then this thing will just become the thing you lie about in order to no-platform someone for hurting your feelings. Coercion should not be leveraged or directed at third parties, nor demands made of them, just inform them of the conduct of the person and then let them do with that as they will. Making it acceptable to go beyond that opens up way too much abuse. If an EVA death-threatener is speaking at Anime Expo or whatever, inform people what the guy did, and argue against him or her if he or she is saying that is acceptable, but don’t tell Anime Expo they must no-platform the guy or you will punish them.

          • JBeshir says:

            This seems like a balanced approach. It’s nice to see someone putting thought into the tradeoffs and difficulties involved in handling these things.

            The big problem that free speech stuff needs to contend with is that norms are prohibitions or obligations, always; you can’t directly have a norm of “everyone can engage in civil discourse freely without intimidation”, you have to resolve that goal into norms which prohibit interfering with/being intimidating to civil discourse. And then those norms need enforcement mechanisms.

            As far as preventing interference from law goes, that’s pretty straightforward. When it comes to preventing interference/intimidation from speech (e.g. death threats, mass abuse-throwing campaigns, mass calls for punishment, “no platforming”, etc) things get a great deal hairier and you run into unpleasant tradeoffs where any single simple absolute answer has unacceptable costs, e.g. ability to criticise vs not being subject to mass demonisation for saying unpopular things.

            I think letting platform-owners and hosts do what they will with their platforms, on the basis of what ideas about what should be bad behaviour they find compelling, combined with a strong rejection of coercion/demand campaigns, makes sense. Without pressure campaigns, you can lean on the market in platforms to deal with platform owners who make bad decisions.

            This also lets platform holders deal with other concerns they think are important, like dishonesty or calls for tyranny of the majority-based actions, emotive efforts to alter people’s values to lower the priority assigned to minority groups, etc, rather than prohibiting all efforts to select against things.

            I guess the main concern is whether we can actually reduce/limit pressure campaigns. If not, that’ll be a problem.

            I think it is worth considering exceptions for really big platforms, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit. They probably should not feel morally okay doing “whatever they think is right”. While the market will adjust, it will only do so if “whatever they think is right” is so awful it overcomes network effects, which gives a lot of room to get really bad.

      • NN says:

        I’ve been saying this for years. There’s a certain segment of the population with no sense of scale and no control over their emotions.

        There is also a certain segment of the population who enjoy insulting or threatening people online simply because they find the reactions to this amusing. These people, who used to be referred to as “trolls” before that became another word for “person I disagree with,” will send threats to both sides of an online dispute, each time claiming to be from the opposite side, and then sit back and laugh at the resulting chaos. The troll segment of the population is probably smaller than the segment of the population with no sense of scale and no control over their emotions, but their per-capita death threat output is undoubtedly much larger.

      • JBeshir says:

        Usually the reply I see to these kind of objections is “Yes, of course the other group has quite a lot of ideological unity and the members are being led to act that way because of its ideas, and of course no, that’s not true for us.”

        It’s almost always kind of true- the abusive behaviour is usually a ‘punishment’ grounded in some moral theory that justifies such punishment, and that moral theory derived by taking ideas about what is good and what is bad from the rest of the group and running with them.

        Even in the anime fans case, you can still see this to some extent; there’s collective ideas about what is good or bad in an anime, and the bad actors went and ran with this myopically without looking at other concerns, derived a moral theory that it was right to punish people for making bad things, and did so.

        So it becomes a question of degree, the extent to which the group is defined by having particular concerns and the extent to which those concerns lend themselves to dangerous myopia/absolutism. In the presence of outgroup homogeneity bias and it being very convenient to believe that the degree is high for the Other and low for you, the predictable thing happens and people hate the Other but view themselves as fine.

        • DrBeat says:

          Well, I’m one of the ones saying that the other guys are being led to act out by ideological unity, and I think it’s not as simple as outgroup homogeneity bias. When the outgroup is the social justice movement, impartial observers can indeed see that there is more homogeneity because the movement enforces ideological homogeneity in ways that its contemporaries really don’t. And when I say their beliefs lead them to this wort of behavior more often, I think it is an actual factual concern that I can point to, not just “they’re bad unlike my guys who are good”, because of the repeated insistence that some people Have Power and cannot be harmed, and some people Have No Power and cannot cause harm, actively encourages this kind of behavior because the threateners Have No Power and the threatened Have Power so obviously you never, ever need to restrain your emotions when dealing with them and saying you should is victim-blaming.

          I mean, there are other groups of people or causes I dislike that I dnot believe this about, and it’s always stupid when someone claims “a group I dislike did a bad thing like every other group, the fact that they were in a group I dislike caused it”, but I think there are situations where the argument has merit and this is one of them.

          • JBeshir says:

            The degree *does* vary, and I think it’s a meaningful thing to talk about, yeah.

            I think you’re right that that group is definitely more at risk of bad actors/problematic myopia from its ideas than others, because it has a lot of moral theorising going on, and anyone involved in it is going to have at least one concern they can be tempted to think is more important than anything which is a lot more plausible-sounding than “making anime wrong”.

            I think you overestimate the degree of ideological conformity quite a lot, though. My impression of the overall structure of social justice campaigning is that of a loose coalition of lots of concerns, with individuals usually dedicated to 2-3 concerns each, who have found that by allying together and agreeing to support each other they can get greater reach and maybe get some actual consideration.

            The theorising about privilege in abstract, oppressor/oppressed, etc, seems to be ongoing effort to build solidarity, find common arguments shared between all the concerns in the coalition, and establish norms for dealing with internal trade-offs, and it’s an inconsistent mess within people, let alone between them, in the way that post-hoc justifications mostly formulated in pieces on the Internet tend to be.

            Which is kind of a pity, because effort put into social system modelling and theory ala http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2002/04/seeing-around-corners/302471/ seems like it could be really promising in terms of finding ways to improve things if it were actually done well.

    • Emily says:

      Those examples are the lowest level of death threats because they’re totally non-specific as far as time, location, any other personal information. The more specific/plausible threat, the scarier it is. I think many people who get these more-specific threats are indeed scared, and this is not unreasonable. Sure, it’s probably nothing. But it might be something, and if someone is really after you and determined to do physical violence to you, your options are not great.

      Giving those minor examples of death threats but then mentioning contexts in which the threats have been more specific does not seem entirely honest to me.

  33. FullMeta_Rationalist says:

    “Because 7 ate 9” said Tom in jest.

  34. Sniffnoy says:

    So here’s a cognitive bias I don’t recall ever seeing mentioned on LW: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9569648

    Person A ascribes some trait to some other person B; other people listening then ascribe that trait to person A.

    Not something you’d expect and maybe worth taking account of!

    • I think there’s a bias (or mental glitch?) of forgetting the source of an idea. This would be an especially extreme case, possibly combined with availability heuristic.

      • Deiseach says:

        Transference? What the listener takes away is “Wow, A sure is angry about canetoads!” when A was describing at length how “All B ever talks about is canetoads!” and that easily gets turned into “A certainly cares a lot about canetoads” and then “All A ever talks about is canetoads!”

      • James says:

        Usually called “source amnesia”.

    • Linch says:

      Note to self: Update even further in the direction of always praising others to third parties.

    • Jiro says:

      You know, I’ve accused Nazis of wanting to burn people in ovens. And I think Nazis count as others.

      (Note: I don’t believe in Godwin’s law, and I am using the reference to make a legitimate point.)

      • Jiro says:

        By your original reasoning, if I consistently accuse *any* group of wanting to burn people in ovens, that means I really want to do it myself. There’s no exception that permits me to use it against targets for which it is actually true.

        And adding such an exception doesn’t work, either. Everyone believes their own beliefs to be true.

        Also, I find it a hard to swallow idea even when it’s false. I really doubt that the people who accused Obama of being a Muslim secretly desired to be Muslims themselves.

  35. suntzuanime says:

    I think the point of mass-reporting someone’s comments is to punish you for failing to punish them, as a second-best alternative to punishing them directly.

    • suntzuanime says:

      And that’s bad, because god forbid I should describe a dynamic without ascribing moral valance to it.

      • keranih says:

        I was going to say that this sounds remarkably like some of the behavior I’ve (objectively, rationally, dispassionately) observed at festival meals in my extended kingroup.

  36. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    I’m amused the Less Wrong is one of the embalmed ones.

    • Nornagest says:

      I can’t remember who said that LW‘s current regulars are the unquiet spirits who took over the ruins of the place after its builders all fled, but it seems fairly accurate.

      • anon says:

        “This you see here, these ruins wondered at by tribes of savages, do you not think that this will be again? Aye. And again. With other people, with other sons.”

  37. AlexL says:

    Anybody have any thought or experience with or about Optune (http://www.optune.com/) – a newish Glioblastoma therapy.

    A good friend of mine is considering it and going through the usual “deal with insurance” stuff; and while the treatment is FDA approved I’m wary about it’s claims (both the mechanism and the studies), worried about how approval was obtained (lots of pressure from the “public” at the FDA hearing) and reeling at the cost (~20k per month). My friend’s parents have offered to help with costs if insurance refuses to cover it and I would like to

    a.) be able to talk to them with real/better-than-marketing-brochures information, and
    b.) figure how to bring this up in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m trying to kill my friend.

    Right now I’m more concerned about “a”. Thanks!

  38. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    I think I remember Scott saying (on Tumblr? can’t find it now) that he sometimes goes on certain blogs (Xenosystems?) to express disagreement. I suspect these comments contain a lot of valuable thought and insights–anyone care to compile links to good ones?

  39. Eric says:

    Last open thread I asked if any one had a survey they wished could be run. Gwern had a question about the prevalence of catnip sensitivity. I have collected the data: Prevalence of catnip susceptibility in cats. About 15% of cats are reported to be insensitive to catnip.

    Let’s go again, if you could get a short survey distributed to thousands of people, what research question would you be interested in getting answered?

  40. vV_Vv says:

    What is the reason to use Reddit instead of LessWrong as an alternate platform for comments, given that being based on Reddit, LessWrong has essentially the same commenting system?

    • Alternate commenting threads on LW were tried a year ago and fizzled out. With more readers from non-LWsphere blogs like MR, it’s more likely now that a random SSC user will have a Reddit account than a LessWrong account. Plus, LW is less active now, and if every Scott post was posted, it would flood the site. Also talking about politics is taboo there.

  41. Sniffnoy says:

    Weird psychological case: The blind woman who switched personalities and could suddenly see (got this from Hacker News)

    Basically, person with DID, some personalities are blind but not others. The obvious explanation, that the person is making this up, is unlikely due to EEG evidence. (Original paper here.)

    • Tarrou says:

      DID isn’t universally accepted as a real thing. Better than half my psych professors at the undergrad level (and all the statistics/technical profs) thought it was a load of horseshit. I’m inclined to agree, with the caveat that the human brain is pretty incredible and at some level “made up” and “psychosomatic” become indistinguishable.

  42. 27chaos says:

    Comment of the week should go to this guy: http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=2537#comment-920686

    It’s not technically on your blog, but close enough.

  43. Waiting times for Surgery:

    About four years ago, I was diagnosed with a meningioma, a non-cancerous tumor inside my skull but (fortunately) outside my brain. The physician who diagnosed it had a very good reputation for surgery to deal with it–I was told that he taught the operation at Stanford. He ended up doing the surgery (successfully), but I had to wait for a considerable while first. Pretty clearly the waiting was at least mildly undesirable from a medical standpoint (I was on various drugs to prevent negative consequences) but a result of scheduling constraints.

    I currently am in a similar situation for a different medical issue (prostate surgery), with a total wait time of a bit over a month. Again the reason is scheduling.

    Which makes me, as an economist, wonder. Most goods and services you can just buy, you don’t have to wait a long time until someone is free to sell them to you. Why is surgery different?

    Two possibilities occur to me—there are probably others that haven’t.

    1. The demand for surgeons’ services is sufficiently irregular so that enough surgeons to get the waiting line close to zero would mean that surgeons often spent time not doing surgery. In the analogous restaurant case, this can be described as warehousing customers–keeping a sufficient supply in the line so that there are never empty tables.

    2. Surgeons vary in quality, or at least reputation. There are constraints in law or custom that prevent adequate rationing by price, so you get rationing by waiting time instead. My memory of the meningioma case is that I could have had the surgery done sooner by the partner of the surgeon who ended up doing it–who I presume was competent but not, so far as I could tell, expert. I don’t know if something similar is the case in my present situation or not–certainly the surgeon I am waiting for seems well qualified.

    Questions:

    Does anyone have evidence as between my explanations?

    Does anyone have alternative explanations?

    Can anyone offer other examples of goods or services that show a similar pattern, ideally ones that might help explain why some do and some don’t?

    • vV_Vv says:

      IIUC doctors in the US have artificial scarcity due to unusually high (by Western standards) legal barriers to entry. This allows them to command unusually high wages, imposing on the patients a cost of long waiting times.

      • The puzzle, in this as in other cases of lines, is why they impose the additional cost in waiting times, which doesn’t do anything for them, instead of in money.

        Query for those better informed than I am. Suppose my insurance is willing to pay $X for the surgery, the same amount for any surgeon, since they are not easily able to distinguish quality. Would it be legal for the surgeon to offer to operate for $X paid by the insurance company plus $Y paid by me?

        So far as wasting the insurance company’s money. It might be true so far as saving waiting time, although on the other hand there might be additional medical costs during the wait. But getting the higher quality surgeon is of value to the insurance company as well as to me, since it reduces the chance of complications that might require further treatment.

        • science says:

          That’s called balance billing. Generally it is forbidden by “in network” contracts between the insurance company and the doctor. fFor out of network doctors, there’s no federal rule against it but some states regulate it. It is forbidden by Medicare.

        • The way I would solve it is that I would find a friend’s friend link to a doctor of good reputation, not the best, which would generate enough trust in him towards me to accept a bribe for putting me ahead of the list. Not sure why this solution is unpopular in the US, maybe the sheer size of the country makes it harder to find such links or the lists are very public and the doctor could very easily get sued/licence revoked.

          I wonder if a too well functioning legal system has also drawbacks as well, you don’t get to avoid bureacratic costs by breaking some laws? As bribery in less well functioning legal systems is practically a free market simulation. This process works in many countries with less precise legal systems, because the other irate patient if trying to sue, must look forward to a 5 years long lawsuit with many very murky hearings and expert witnesses usually covering the docs back and so on which just does not worth it. I mean, “rule of law” may not only be such a good thing if the laws themselves are not very good, maybe if the laws are not so good then lax enforcement of them is better.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Isn’t the issue insurance? If a surgeon tried to raise their prices to get people seen more quickly, normal insurances wouldn’t pay, because you don’t need to be seen more quickly, all they’ve promised is to give you what you need, and from their perspective they’re wasting their money.

      In theory it should be possible to sell a better insurance that charges more money in exchange for giving you quicker surgeries, but nobody thinks about this when buying insurance, and most insurance comes through companies or state exchanges anyway, and the rich people who will always get what they want probably bypass the system entirely.

    • US says:

      “Does anyone have evidence as between my explanations?”

      The brief Springer publication Appointment Planning in Outpatient Clinics and Diagnostic Facilities has some basic stuff about operations research and queueing theory which is useful for making sense of resource allocation decisions made in the medical sector – you can take that publication as a ‘you can bet that people in this area are taking both capacity/utilization tradeoffs [your point 1] into account, as well as input heterogeneities [point 2]. I think this is the kind of stuff you’ll want to have a look at if you want to understand these things better.

      There are many variables which are important here and which may help explain why waiting lists are common in the health care sector (it’s not just surgery). The quotes below are from the book:

      “In a walk-in system, patients are seen without an appointment. […] The main advantage of walk-in systems is that access time is reduced to zero. […] A huge disadvantage of patients walking in, however, is that the usually strong fluctuating arrival stream can result in an overcrowded clinic, leading to long waiting times, high peaks in care provider’s working pressure, and patients leaving without treatment (blocking). On other moments of time the waiting room will be practically empty […] In regular appointment systems workload can be dispersed, although appointment planning is usually time consuming. A walk-in system is most suitable for clinics with short service times and multiple care providers, such as blood withdrawal facilities and pre-anesthesia check-ups for non-complex patients. If the service times are longer or the number of care providers is limited, the probability that patients experience a long waiting time becomes too high, and a regular appointment system would be justified […] Sometimes it is impossible to provide walk-in service for all patients, for example when specific patients need to be prepared for their consultation, or if specific care providers are required, such as anesthesiologists [these remarks seem highly relevant for the surgery context]. Also, walk-in patients who experience a full waiting room upon arrival may choose to come back at a later point in time. To make sure that they do have access at that point, clinics usually give these patients an appointment. This combination of walk-in and appointment patients requires a specific appointment system that satisfies the following requirements:
      1. The access time for appointment patients is below a certain threshold
      2. The waiting time for walk-in patients is below a certain threshold
      3. The number of walk-in patients who are sent away due to crowding is minimized
      To satisfy these requirements, an appointment system should be developed to determine the optimal scheduling of appointments, not only on a day level but also on a week level. Developing such an appointment system is challenging from a mathematical perspective. […] Due to the high variability that is usually observed in healthcare settings, introducing stochasticity in the modeling process is very important to obtain valuable and reasonable results.”

      “Most elective patients will ultimately evolve into semi-urgent or even urgent patients if treatment is extensively prolonged.”

      “Some planners tend to maintain separate waiting lists for each patient group. However, if capacity is shared among these groups, the waiting list should be considered as a whole as well. Allocating capacity per patient group usually results in inflexibility and poor performance”.

      “mean waiting time increases with the load. When the load is low, a small increase therein has a minimal effect on the mean waiting time. However, when the load is high, a small increase has a tremendous effect on the mean waiting time. For instance, […] increasing the load from 50 to 55 % increases the waiting time by 10 %, but increasing the load from 90 to 95 % increases the waiting time by 100 % […] This explains why a minor change (for example, a small increase in the number of patients, a patient arriving in a bed or a wheelchair) can result in a major increase in waiting times as sometimes seen in outpatient clinics.”

      “One of the most important goals of this chapter is to show that it is impossible to use all capacity and at the same time maintain a short, manageable waiting list. A common mistake is to reason as follows:

      Suppose total capacity is 100 appointments. Unused capacity is commonly used for urgent and inpatients, that can be called in last minute. 83 % of capacity is used, so there is on average 17 % of capacity available for urgent and inpatients. The urgent/inpatient demand is on average 20 appointments per day. Since 17 appointments are on average not used for elective patients, a surplus capacity of only three appointments is required to satisfy all patient demand.

      Even though this is true on average, more urgent and inpatient capacity is required. This is due to the variation in the process; on certain days 100 % of capacity is required to satisfy elective patient demand, thus leaving no room for any other patients. Furthermore, since 17 slots are dedicated to urgent and inpatients, only 83 slots are available for elective patients, which means that ρ is again equal to 1, resulting in an uncontrollable waiting list.”

      I think one way to think about the question of whether it makes sense to have a waiting list or whether you can ‘just use the price variable’ is that if it is possible for you as a provider to optimize over both the waiting time variable and the price variable (i.e., people demanding the service find some positive waiting time to be acceptable when it is combined with a non-zero price reduction), the result you’re going to get is always going to be at least as good as an option where you only have the option of optimizing over price – not including waiting time in the implicit pricing mechanism can be thought of as in a sense a weakly dominated strategy.

      A lot of the planning stuff relates to your point 1, and one way to think about it is probably to think of point two as one of many parameters which may be important in terms of how to deal with variable demand; surgeons aren’t perfect substitutes. Perhaps neither are nurses, or different hospitals (relevant if you’re higher up in the decision making hierarchy). An important aspect not alluded to in your comment is also the question of whether a surgeon might be doing other stuff instead of surgery during down-periods, and what might be the value of that other stuff he might be doing instead. Not only is demand variable over time, there are also issues such as that many different inputs need to be coordinated; you need a surgeon *and* a scrub nurse *and* an anesthesiologist. Etc.

      I think the potential gains in terms of capacity utilization, risk reduction and increased flexibility to be derived from implementing waiting schemes of some kind in this context would mediate strongly against a model without waiting lists.

      Scott’s comment about the incentives of insurance providers is probably sort of true; they don’t want to pay for it if you don’t need the surgery ‘that badly’ (/’you can wait’) because that would be wasteful. But if you don’t want to pay for insurance which makes sure that you get immediate access then you’re not willing to pay for that either. In my opinion it would make good sense if people who want immediate access were to get this by employing mechanisms bypassing the ‘traditional’ insurance system.

  44. Nicholas says:

    Can I get either a general rebuttal of Diminishing Returns as it applies to AGI, or an explanation of why it’s not a practical limitation?

    • Nornagest says:

      We know diminishing returns can’t sink AGI, because literal navel-gazing shows us an NGI that it doesn’t prevent. On the other hand, it’s potentially a very serious obstacle to superintelligence as strong as EY and his friends like to talk about.

      We don’t know how serious it is until we have a good computational model of general intelligence, though, and all we’ve got in that department right now is really clunky high-level stuff that would take hardware the size of a planet to produce the intelligence of a gnat. We have reason to suspect that humans don’t approach computational limits — the smartest humans don’t run a temperature of a hundred and six or have braincases the size of watermelons, and it sure looks like their intelligence is more than trivially better than their peers’ — but there are any number of reasons why that might not be a good guide. I reckon Eliezer’s probably thinking along precautionary lines, but I don’t recall him or any other rationalist discussing the issue in detail.