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OT36: Nes Threadol Hayah Sham

This is the weekly open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. Also:

1. Comments of the week are PSJ on college and timetraveler3_14 on sugar and obesity.

2. One of my posts has been placed on the short list for the Golden Giraffe Award. The final winner will be announced at a party December 18 in a restaurant in London. They say if I can’t make it to the party I am supposed to “nominate a friend or colleague who would enjoy attending on your behalf”. So if anyone would enjoy going (+1 included guest) to a blogging party in London that might involve David Brooks and Jeremy Paxman appearing as judges, and might involve free food although they didn’t say for sure, let me know below or send me an email. (found someone, no need for further applications)

3. The rationalist community is having its yearly Solstice party in New York the weekend of December 19th. If you want to come to the kind of church-service-ish main event you can, but if that’s too weird for you there will also be a concurrent free party hosted by “Reasonable New York” at the New York Society For Ethical Culture, 2 W 64th St, New York, New York 10023, December 19, 5:30 – 10:30, for all the people whom the service is too weird for. I will probably briefly attend the party at some point. There is also hope of a more interesting afterparty and/or a meetup Sunday, but right now we don’t have a big enough location. We used to do it at Raymond’s place, which was a big multi-person house in Brooklyn, but now he lives in a less big house and that won’t work; some people are looking for alternatives but we’ve got nothing yet. If anyone knows a big space in New York and wouldn’t mind 50 – 100 people descending upon it for a day or two, we could provide you with interesting conversation and maybe some money.

4. And I will be in the Bay Area very briefly next weekend (weekend of December 12th) and may try to set up some kind of meetup, so watch this space.

5. I am behind on answering various kinds of electronic communication and expect to remain so for the near future. Sorry!

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1,086 Responses to OT36: Nes Threadol Hayah Sham

  1. stillnotking says:

    I think the ban-Muslim-immigrants thing is the issue that will finally sink Trump — if not now, then later, when most of the electorate starts paying attention, and the serious attack ads come out. When you’ve lost Dick Cheney, you’ve lost America.

    I know, I know, The Onion is here to make fun of me, as usual. But I have a really hard time believing American voters will embrace a position that would’ve been considered extremist even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

    So congratulations, Donald. You have the opportunity to stomp out my few remaining flickers of faith in the American voter. Bring it.

    • TheNybbler says:

      I expect The Donald to backpedal a bit on the “no muslims” position, perhaps after the trip to Jordan he’s currently denying.

      • stillnotking says:

        Hmm. Will the uncompromising image he’s created make it easier or harder for him to change his position? I can see it going either way.

    • onyomi says:

      I don’t think this will be the cause of his downfall, but it might be a symptom of why he probably won’t win the nomination and is very unlikely to win the presidency if he does: namely, his limited appeal. There are probably at least 10% of Americans who really do think we shouldn’t allow any new Muslims into the country ever, and those are and have been the Donald’s constituency. 10% of Americans is enough to put you in an early lead of likely Republican voters when the field is so crowded, but probably not enough to win you the nomination once the field winnows, nor nearly enough to win the general.

      • Anonymous says:

        The most interesting result will be if Trump gets a plurality of pledged delegates but not a majority (say 25-30%).

      • Leit says:

        I have an unprovable suspicion that you misunderstand how broad Trump’s appeal really is, and how deep the resentment for the GOP establishment runs in the red tribe.

        • onyomi says:

          Well as a reddish-grey tribe member who deeply resents the GOP establishment, I think I have some sense of it, though maybe not enough.

          I do agree with Scott that the media’s constant declarations that “this time he’s gone too far” only give him power.

        • brad says:

          American political parties are, and always have been, coalitions. No matter how angry all the other parts of the coalition are at the business republicans I can’t see them all banding together under Trump’s banner.

          No matter how high a percentage of the blue collar not-very-religious voters he gets, he can’t be nominated without the evangelicals. And he can’t win the general without at least the grudging support of all major parts of the coalition, including business republicans.

          • Leit says:

            The answer is in the question. They’re not banding together under Trump, they’re banding together away from GOP.biz.

            Damn near everything written about Trump has been “can’t”. Yet he has. Past performance != future results etc., but as long as all of the right people keep shrieking at him, he keeps looking better.

      • Jaskologist says:

        I don’t see why this will hurt him at all. The reaction is key: the usual suspects on the left declaring how righteous they are to hate Trump for this. The trouble is, they spend the rest of the time signalling their righteous hate for all the people who they’d need to pull away from Trump (it’s not Sanders supporters that need to be convinced). Why would those people listen to you?

        This is the same strategy that was tried for every other thing that was supposed to kill Trump. How is that working so far?

        I’m sure most Americans would prefer a more moderate approach to Muslim terrorism. If anybody had bothered to offer that, it probably would have hurt Trump. But when the other side looks like they’ll keep declaring “Muslims are peaceful!” while watching a Muslim slitting throats, Trump’s solution of just avoiding the problem altogether looks more tempting.

        • gbdub says:

          This a thousand times. Trump has a crappy, racist plan. But he’s the only one with a plan. The Democratic frontrunner won’t even say the words “Radical Islam” and the president is proposing gun laws that even Slate and the LA Times think are dumb and unconstitutional and scolding people for being worried about a large, powerful group with a declared interest in murder.

          Hell, Trump’s initial appeal was based on the same sort of reactions, but for immigration – when the Democrat position is basically “you’re for open borders or you’re a racist!” and the Republican leadership is openly floating large-scale amnesty, where is the moderate supposed to turn?

          I don’t think Trump is the perfect candidate to many people. Most Republicans think he’s too extreme. But Trump is the only loud voice willing to allow the “average” Republican position on immigration and terrorism into the Overton window, and is thus attracting excitement.

    • Alraune says:

      I disagree that it’ll kill him. He pitched it early enough that it can’t tank him overnight, so that means it’s gotta be discussed. Once the signalling tirade burns out, and people are past that initial shock of conscience, and particularly if the biweekly terror attacks in the west continue, I don’t think the idea will look that bad in the light of day.

      If I had my ideal Magic Unicorn Government, would we have a Middle Eastern Exclusion Act? Hell no.
      But if I had my ideal Magic Unicorn Government, we wouldn’t militarily intervene in most of this stuff in the first place, and for that matter would probably be allies with Iran instead of Saudi Arabia. We’ve got to work from where we are though, and where we are is fucking dire.

      It is imperative that we leave the Middle East alone. There is nothing improvable there. Every time we touch something it breaks. Every time we stop touching something it breaks worse, and every time the patch fix lasts a shorter period after. The region is unpreventably descending into general chaos, and if the global powers are involved when it happens that chaos will likely mean World War III. I’m convinced at this point that if the next government gets its foreign policy right, nothing else it could do would be bad enough to outweigh that, and if it gets its foreign policy wrong, nothing else it does will matter. As ClarkHat likes to say, “Gigadeaths are coming.”

      But the necessary disengagement is impossible right now, not only because of decades of inertia and vested government interests, but because the cries to #DoSomething will be overwhelming for any government with a shred of democratic validity. The Syrian refugee crisis is bad enough, what’s coming will be far worse. An Exclusion Act is the only idea I’ve heard floated that could allow us the space to pursue longer term, less-than-purely reactive foreign policy in the ME. So I am tentatively in favor.

  2. lunatic says:

    Hi Scott, I’ve been getting a crapload of annoying popups browsing SSC on an android device this morning (one apparently from Zinq Media, closed the rest). In particular, they seem to come up when I tap on the comment box (sending this from my PC, doesn’t have the same issue). Maybe it’s a problem with my phone, but I’m not getting the same thing visiting any other websites I can think of.

    • Theo Jones says:

      Weird. Maybe Scott changed something, but I’m not seeing popup ads on any of my devices. Other than the sidebar ads (MealSquares, BeeMinder, etc) I don’t think the site has ads. If SSC hasn’t been pw3d or something, consider the possibility of malware on your device. A lot of malware injects ads into sites that don’t normally have them.

      • lunatic says:

        Yeah, I think that’s possible. Still, I haven’t been able to find another site that does it. I mean, I haven’t exactly gone looking for sites that spawn obnoxious pop-ups, but I’m not getting it from any of my usual sites or from comment boxes on any of these sites, so I thought it might be worth mentioning.

        If it’s not replicating on anyone else’s device, though, it’s probably me. Firefox on Android 5.1.1 for what it’s worth.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I have no popups, no affiliation with any advertising network, and no idea why this would be happening. Maybe you have a virus which is only activating on specific sites to cover its tracks?

    • lunatic says:

      Reinstalled Firefox, seems to be better for now. Looks like it’s a problem at my end, sorry for the false alarm.

  3. Psmith says:

    We had an interesting discussion recently about the IQ of Nigerian immigrants. Peter Frost suggests that it’s specifically the Igbo, “the Jews of Africa”: http://www.unz.com/pfrost/no-blacks-arent-all-alike-who-said-they-were/

  4. Immortal Lurker says:

    Guess who is a year behind Scott and not quite as well written*?

    http://www.vox.com/2015/12/7/9790764/partisan-discrimination

    Okay, that is not quite accurate, but I wanted to score points with the catchy headline. The actual accurate description is that Vox has an article on discrimination between parties, very similar to what Scott has in one of the sections in “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup.” They seem to have some slightly different descriptions and explanations of the phenomenon, which were helpful. They also go more in depth into the resume study, which was extremely helpful.

    That being said, I did find it extremely similar. I don’t know if someone at Vox read “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup” and decided they wanted to write a similar piece, or if they wanted to write on partisian discrimination and referenced the same studies.

    * Sorry if someone else brought this up first. I searched for “vox” and didn’t find any mentions, so I assume I am the first.

    • Theo Jones says:

      Take the implicit association test in there. Thats interesting. I’ve taken race/gender ones, and haven’t shown much bias, but the political one cleaned my clock. Very strong dem preference.

      From the Vox article:
      Together, the two experiments suggest that partisanship now extends beyond politics — it’s becoming a fundamental identity in American life, and may well lead to discrimination in completely apolitical contexts.
      This part doesn’t amaze me much. Partizans on both side are actually straight up open about taking politics into account in apolitical situations (ie. see the Brendan Eich incident, and other such flareups)

      • Immortal Lurker says:

        I took the test, and I also got a very strong Democratic preference. -0.5, I think, but only because they stopped marking the axis after -0.4, and I seem to be about one unit to the left of -0.4.

        The scale confuses me slightly. Weak Democrats are further left than strong Democrats! Shouldn’t strong Democrats have stronger Democratic preferences than weak Democrats? I don’t think I am misreading the graph, because strong Republicans are further right than weak Republicans. So color me confused about that.

        Also, their error bars seem really small. I assume that the bars mean X% of those who identified as Y fell within this range, but the bars seem awful small unless X is very low. Maybe the bars are the mean plus some fraction of the standard deviation?

        The test worries me slightly, or at least my results did. For the first three rounds (meaning both training rounds and the real pro-republican round), I was reading the entire NRA emblem, to make sure that it actually was the NRA and not some other group. By the fourth round, I had realized that there were only eight symbols in the test, and stopped reading it, which biased my score towards the Democrats.

        …Upon further thought, this only causes a problem if someone makes this realization during rounds 3 or 4, and not during the training round. Vox’s data are probably accurate, even if my result is skewed further left than it should be.

        EDIT: capitalization

        • Deiseach says:

          Non-American, probably had much slower answer times because I had to stop and go “The elephant is which party again?” but came out “Independent” (that is, slightly on the left of the dividing line).

          Since I consider I’m centrist-right by my own country’s standards, I’m not too put out by this 🙂

      • Urstoff says:

        If you take it again, do you get the same result?

        • Nornagest says:

          It scored me as extreme left the first time, strongly left the second time. Way off either way — I see myself as a libertarian-leaning centrist — but I grew up in a fairly Blue environment, so maybe that’s what it’s picking up.

          Or maybe the test just sucks.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I see myself as a libertarian-leaning centrist, maybe further to the right than most folk here, and I also got -.5 the first time (ie, off the chart to the left), followed by strong left the second time (still biased to the left).

            I can only assume that the left’s near total dominance of the social media and traditional media that I consume is to blame.

      • Cord Shirt says:

        Well, I started taking it, but though I reluctantly accepted calling the NRA “Republicans,” I really couldn’t stomach calling Texas “Republicans.”

        So I basically stopped right there.

        Really people. The NRA is the NRA, and anyone who supports the second amendment can join; more importantly, a state is a state, not a political party, Jesus H. Christ!

    • Chalid says:

      Ezra Klein has mentioned that he reads SSC.

  5. JK says:

    The comment section needs some kind of plus/minus system to separate the wheat from the chaff. I’m sure there’s a lot of good stuff here, but who has time to read 700+ comments?

  6. I have very strong honor-based taboo against criticizing someone behind their back, so I’d like to mention here, Scott, that I mentioned you here: https://dividuals.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/traders-masters-servants-predators-victims/

    • Mark says:

      How can you tell if you are a victim?

      • By being nicer than what is reciprocal. If someone hurts you, you should want punishment, not understanding the other. Traders are reciprocal, they pay for good with good and bad with bad. That is how they stay equal and free. Masters can forgive harm sometimes, due to their insane level of confidence. But you know if you are a Master. You also know if you are a Servant : someone strong is protecting you. Even if you are Darth Vader level top servant, you think if you cannot choke that one pesky Jedi the Emperor will help you, probably. So the only dilemma is whether you are a Trader or Victim.

        For example, if you ever felt shame for being privileged, like rich or white, you are a Victim. Because it is a ridiculous thing to do: most Traders actively try to get richer i.e. more privileged. This is the game of life. Being ashamed of luck having handed you a good hand of cards, or your ancestors were fairy brutal with other people so that you can have a good hand of cards in the game is classic Victim move because you are almost begging for someone to take them away. And by giving up privilege and power, you become defenseless, and just what happens to defenseless people? Predators can smell that.

        So even a Trader, the most egalitarian of these all, wants to have more privilege and power and will not be personally ashamed that his ancestors massacred some other folks just to give him his starting privilege. He will shrug, say it were tough times and promise not to do it again. But will never want to give up the fruits of it. Because that would mean becoming unsafe.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          You also know if you are a Servant : someone strong is protecting you. Even if you are Darth Vader level top servant, you think if you cannot choke that one pesky Jedi the Emperor will help you, probably.

          Are children usually servants of their parents, under this model?

        • Mark says:

          This might be an example of what you are talking about:

          http://www.wehuntedthemammoth.com/2015/10/26/thunderf00t-rebuts-charges-he-commands-a-hate-mob-by-unleashing-a-hate-mob-on-a-woman-who-made-this-charge/
          (Particularly the comments: feminists try to get anti-feminist youtuber fired, when he responds in a similar (though more restrained) fashion, they are outraged.)

          But I don’t think that the left can be characterized as willing to forgive slights against them/ being overly generous – far from it. They simply have a different idea about what is important/ damaging in society, and are, unfortunately, more concerned with theory than real lives – same problem as most people with strong ideological positions.
          That’s why an alliance of monarchists et al. with libertarians etc. would be a disaster. These aren’t real people who are concerned with real life. They are ideological anoraks, who never let reality get in the way of a good theory.

          Anyway… in my view, our institutions should be the “good master”, while we act as “traders” in our personal lives, within the bounds determined by those institutions. When I comment on political matters I do so as an adviser to the master – but that has no relation to how I act in my personal life.

          • Dan T. says:

            Leftists “more concerned with theory than real lives”… which makes it particularly odd that they like to go on about “lived experiences” trumping everything else, and attack “geeks living in their mother’s basement” for treating things as abstract intellectual discussions when real lives are at stake.

          • Nornagest says:

            How concerned the left is with theory depends on on how far left you go. The mainstream left isn’t the least concerned with theory out of the major political brands — that would be the mainstream right — but it adopts theory in order to justify care for those within its scope of concern, not the other way around. It objects strongly to anything that doesn’t work to reinforce that scope of concern, which is how you can get wholesale adoption of armchair sociology, but semi-hostile ambivalence towards economics with a much better empirical basis. Let’s not even talk about evopsych.

            Marxians, anarchists, and the like do put theory first, but they’re pretty rare outside the academy and a few other enclaves. It’s similar to the relationship on the other side of the aisle, between the mainstream right and libertarians, religious fundamentalists, and (in the US) hardline constitutional originalists.

          • Mark says:

            Yeah, that may well be true. I was thinking of the reaction to the death of that little Syrian boy by drowning – it didn’t seem to me to be the reality that they were concerned with… but I suppose they weren’t motivated by theory either. Perhaps best to say they are concerned with their own thoughts/feelings?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      At that level of abstraction I can’t read that as anything more than “there are two kinds of people in the world, one of them’s bad, and you’re one of those.” Too vague to be offensive.

  7. I was wondering if anyone else that blogs or comments on edgy/political stuff has ever received any hate mail or threats? I got a non-specific-but-not-very-nice anonymous message recently (to be clear I don’t think its anyone on SSC), pretty standard for political blogging I guess, but I’m at a loss to understand what about me is particularly offensive. I’m kind of a centrist or centre-left, a bit contrarian, pro-environment, got a pretty darn small audience and go to a fair amount of trouble to see both sides of the coin in anything I comment on. For those that have seen my blog is there anything that jumps out as likely to particularly get people worked up? I did touch on national security a little in my most recent post, but I think my view is so centre of the road, benign and frankly obscure that I’d be fairly lost for words if it was the authorities giving me a hard time. No big deal I guess its just really weird and I don’t know what to make of it.

    I was mainly wondering has anyone else here has ever received weird non-specific threatening stuff in response to blogging or commenting something, particularly political?

    • Nornagest says:

      I’ve never gotten anything that looked to be related to anything political I’ve said (I try to keep my political commentary object-level if possible these days, but I haven’t always been like that).

      But I’ve gotten a couple of death threats and more accusations of closet fascism than I can conveniently count from helping run an online game. Go figure, huh?

    • I have not. My wife has sometimes worried that someone I offended online would heave a brick through our window, but I’ve been offending people online for something over thirty years and it hasn’t happened yet.

  8. Technically Not Anonymous says:

    This should be interesting. The Future Primaeval announces they’re done pretending to not be completely evil (and confirms my suspicions that that is totally a thing ~the group which shall not be named~ deliberately does.)

    • James Picone says:

      Nominative determinism: the author is Warg Franklin.

      (Unless that’s a pseudonym, of course. I don’t know).

    • anon says:

      Interesting that anyone would want to make their blog more like Jim’s. If I wanted to read cuckposts and arguments about traps vs ladyboys, I’d just go to /a/. I understand that the strategy here is to deliberately say low status things that you believe to be true, but shitposting is shitposting

    • Alraune says:

      “Suspicions”? Really? That they’re salon-scene rightism was apparent from day 1. It’s their whole point.

    • Have you even read the conclusion of Jim’s article?

      >Weston’s error was that he proposed to kill them and take their stuff without first legitimately purchasing the land and tempting them into committing unspeakable crimes.

      • Murphy says:

        Ya, I was a bit puzzled since reading to the end it read as a critique of how such things were done. Not, “lets go actually commit genocide” but “this is how people dress genocide up to look socially acceptable”

        On a left wing blog with a few keywords changed it would read as a solid critique of middle east policy and the current responses to terrorist attacks.

        • JBeshir says:

          I… do not comprehend this reading.

          As I read it, the very first paragraph is describing modern Christianity as “suicidal”. The third states a core tenet of the philosophy espoused by the blogger has “survival” as a major virtue. The fourth then goes on to say that “survival” means they should conquer other nations, and this is where they disagree with modern Christianity. The first sentence of the next paragraph is “The Old Testament is pretty cool with genocide.”, and they go on to hold this up as the good alternative to modern Christianity.

          The rest goes on to argue a correct version of Christianity strikes a balance of the parts of the bible which permits Old Testament approaches to problems, with lots of little arguments for relevancy of them to the now, e.g. “The Starving Children of Africa are not good Samaritans. Given half a chance they will cut your throat for a nickel.”. It goes into detailed examination of when and how to switch between approaches. In general it makes statements directly, not statements that other people think these things.

          I am confused that you think it is better interpreted as descriptive of an attitude that is not agreed with by the author. Could you expand on this?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Reasonablism sure worked for Marine Le Pen.

    • Neurno says:

      @technically not anonymous:
      I have seen this tactic taken before by ‘dark enlightenment’ types. Only after seeing this comment thread did I finally realize how I might use this concept to my advantage. In my perception the ‘dark enlightenment’ types are often evil black-robed philosophers going about disguised under robes of grey. Upon garnering what they feel to be a sufficient audience, they dramatically cast aside their grey robes and reveal that they were black-robed all along. “Haha”, they say, ” I tricked you into taking my ideas seriously when normally you would have dismissed me out of hand! Now the seed of petty, small-minded, hateful philosophy has been planted in your brain and soon you shall grow to be like me!” Thus do they attempt to win converts.
      Having finally grokked this, I have taken their strategy and reversed it, to great success! I came skulking into this comment thread in tattered robes of darkest black, posing as a highly controversial and somewhat frightening Mad Scientist. Once my controversy had gathered me an audience, I cast aside my robes of black and revealed myself to be clad in robes of shining grey! “Haha,” I declared, “I tricked you! I got you to think about my ideas seriously, when normally you would have dismissed them out of hand for being too science-y and uncontroversial! Now I have planted the seeds of science and rational thought about boring matters of potentially great importance in your brain, and soon you shall grow to be like me!”
      I don’t know how necessary or efficacious this gambit actually was, because I lack an adequate control group, but it certainly was fun! For Fun Theory! For the bright shining destiny of Humankind! For the painstakingly slow and precise advancement of potentially-boring but also potentially-hugely-important plans/tools/concepts for the meta-advancement of human sapience! Huzzah!

      • Anonymous says:

        So, can I ask – what are your actual views?

      • This sounds like fun, but as a black-robe, I think the difference is not rationality and science but in emotions, such as outgroup compassion.

        To make things clear, the basic problem is status-laden language. “Small-minded” and “hateful” means nothing more “ideas that sounds low-status, shunned by elites”. And there is nothing particularly sciencey about making the emotional or value judgement of having universal ethics.

        So if you want to play this game, I recommend to purge status-ridden thinking from your own mind. Try to think of the black-robe in a status-neutral way, like “heartless rationality” and your side as “lightworkers”, roughly. I mean, you are being even less fair than Lucas here, as in the Star Wars mythology it is clear enough the Jedi are not more rational but more idealistic, and the Sith are actually more effective if you factor in the disadvantage they have in numbers.

        One thing to understand that the only reason we could don the black robe was that we managed to overcome status-related thinking. I mean, as your views become gradually more and more right-wing, you get called a hateful little pricky redneckbeard about a million times. You have to become desensitized to it in order to be able to continue the journey towards realizing the harshest truths. And thus in the Sith circle these brainfucks like “small-minded, hateful vs. reason and science” don’t have their usual effect. They are seen as mind tricks.

        This is what makes it a form of enlightenment. To see the world unaffected by the status-laden language of what is the cool, hip, compassionate, ethical and officially-truthful opinion and what is the low-status redneckbeard literally-dickler evil psychopath OMG I don’t even must be parody view, and focus only on what is really true.

        By all means play this game, but grow up to – be the kind of lightworker who is unaffected by and does not use status-laden language.

    • Zykrom says:

      I hope they decide against it, since “those guys” sometimes say some interesting things and I’d miss having a blog where I can read some of those things without the gratuitous edginess.

  9. Tar Far says:

    Anyone know what the following situation is called?

    In a debate or argument, one side asks that a term be defined. The term could in some circumstances be hazy, but really it’s clear that the only reason the one side is asking for the definition is to derail the conversation–or, that by asking for it they’ll derail the conversation anyway.

    I think this is probably the norm, not the exception, when one side demands a definition for a term, and so it seems important to have a name for this sort of thing, and it seems reasonable that the other side should be able to refuse to derail the conversation by going down the path of defining it.

    • TheNybbler says:

      I don’t know that the specific thing you’re describing has a term of its own; the general term might be a distraction tactic. (I tend to avoid “derail” as it has become SJ jargon).

      “it seems important to have a name for this sort of thing, and it seems reasonable that the other side should be able to refuse to derail the conversation by going down the path of defining it.”

      Down that path leads madness, or at least irrationality. “You know what I mean” is not part of rational discussion, though “we’ve already covered that” might be. Also I think usually the reason a person in a heated debate asks for a definition for a term is either to lay a trap, or to expose or forestall what they think is equivocation.

      • JBeshir says:

        One issue is that categories do not generally work off definitions; humans, like most effective classifiers, use lots of differently weighted factors and archetypical examples to identify clusters, rather than rules they can describe compactly (http://lesswrong.com/lw/nn/neural_categories/ and some of the surrounding posts talk about this).

        As a result, definitions are an approximation, rather than actually… defining, and so have cases where they don’t match how we actually categorise things. A lot of people work on the old “perfect reasoners applying logic to exactly defined concepts” 19th century idea of rationality, and will treat offered definitions as actually defining as opposed to “pointing at the cluster” or as “a first approximation”, and then find lots of ways to pick apart them as erroneous or the statements using them as wrong on the basis of unusual cases.

        This gets into the distraction of talking (usually very poorly) about exactly how that category’s boundaries are drawn, which is a reasonable topic but your original conversation is now gone.

        If you don’t remember or know to notice this and sort things out when it happens, even a well-intentioned request for definitions can end poorly. I think the best thing to do is to provide instead of “the definition”, something that’s explicitly an approximation, or to substitute for another phrasing which is less ambiguous. That kind of approach lets you resolve genuine issues recognising the cluster you’re pointing at, while avoiding needing to explain to people how categories work.

        I think a lot of principle of charity in practice seems to boil down to having the listener look for plausible to them boundaries for categories mentioned that would make the statement correct; a little of that probably helps.

    • dmose says:

      “I think this is probably the norm, not the exception, when one side demands a definition for a term, and so it seems important to have a name for this sort of thing, and it seems reasonable that the other side should be able to refuse to derail the conversation by going down the path of defining it.”

      The takeaway I get from that is one side gets to define things any way it wants and then doesn’t have to justify its actions. That’s not going to end well.

      Yes, political or societal discussions can end up as an argument over definitions. But that’s just another way of saying it’s an argument over fundamental principles, and that’s going to happen.

      • Tar Far says:

        In the case I’m thinking of, the term in question is generally understood by both sides. One side asks for a definition in order to bring up an exception to it that’s supposed to undermine the other side’s argument, as if showing an exception to the definition disproves its entire validity.

        For example, I had a debate that involved stats broken out by race. The other guy complained that race was an arbitrary way of dividing groups (he actually used the phrase “I don’t accept the premise that whiteness is a separate thing from non-whiteness”!) and asked me to define “white people”. We both knew what “white people” are, and the outcome of getting into a semantic discussion of what is meant by “white people” wouldn’t change the facts, only the labels: maybe I’d have to substitute the phrase “European-descended” for “white”, etc. Even if we recovered from that pedantic side-discussion, it would have been annoying and pointless to have to do that.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Around here it goes by “rationalist taboo”.

    • Gbdub says:

      I hate to respond by asking for a definition, but could you be more specific, or provide an example?

      Because it seems like sometimes asking for a definition, or even “derailing” the main debate to argue about definitions for awhile, could sometimes be appropriate.

      For example, perhaps one side is engaging in motte-and-bailey tactics – in that case I think it’s fair for the other side to ask that a term be nailed down so they aren’t forced or chase a moving target.

      Or perhaps the definition is legitimately vague, or has multiple accepted meanings. In that case you could be requesting clarity.

      I’m suspicious of anyone claiming another side is “obviously trying to derail” because that claim can be just as self serving as a constant request for definition.

      “Tabooing” a disputed term seems to be better and less confrontational, but I don’t think it’s a well known approach.

      EDIT: you seem to have responded with an example while I was typing, and yes, that particular case seems bad, though I’m not sure what to call it either. It’s basically a “gotcha” approach, probably related to the non-central fallacy.

      • Tar Far says:

        Right. The idea is, you ask me for a definition. Begrudgingly, I come up with one. You find an exception to it and use this to claim that my argument is unsound or that I don’t know what I’m talking about or that we therefore may only use your definitions.

      • Let me offer a real example where asking for a definition is entirely appropriate—the statement “Humans are causing global warming.” It could mean “Humans are one of the causes of,” “Humans are the main cause of,” “Humans are the sole cause of.”

        A widely cited article did its calculations on “humans are one of the causes of,” reported the result as “humans are causing.” The lead author then, in another article, claimed that the figure for the percentage of articles whose abstracts claimed that humans were a cause of represented the percentage claiming that humans were the main cause of.

        For details see:

        http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2014/02/a-climate-falsehood-you-can-check-for.html

        • Tar Far says:

          I didn’t mean to say there are never legitimate times to ask for a definition. I wanted to point out that there are many times where it is not legitimate.

  10. catherio says:

    RE: “If anyone knows a big space in New York and wouldn’t mind 50 – 100 people descending upon it for a day or two, we could provide you with interesting conversation and maybe some money.”

    I have had consistent luck gathering large groups (up to 40 people) at Die Koelner Bierhalle in Park Slope, on Sundays from about 4:30-8:30pm. It’s a huge space and very poorly attended in those hours unless there is a major sports game on, and you can call to reserve tables.

  11. Alrenous says:

    Do I have to prove that coercion is defection in the Prisoner’s Dilemma sense, or is it sufficiently obvious?

    • DavidS says:

      You have to prove it! To me, it seems coercion is often used as a way to ensure cooperation in Prisoner’s Dilemmas.

      • Alrenous says:

        Remove from consideration things like penalties for breaking contracts, since the signatory agreed to the coercion beforehand.

        Are there any remaining kinds of coercion that aren’t obviously defection?

        • JBeshir says:

          Sending a note to both prisoners saying “If you squeal, I’ll kill you when you get out.”

          Whether they previously agreed to this doesn’t particularly change the effect of it on the game.

          Edit: Thinking about it, the real issue I missed first time thinking this through is that not everything in life is a PD. PDs occur between sets of entities which can’t communicate or coordinate, generally. So probably the main argument against coercion in general being defection is that a lot of coercion occurs outside of anything fitting the PD model.

          This applies to coercion for contract enforcement; the mob boss, the contract enforcer, whoever, is not one of the participants in the PD at all and so is neither defecting nor cooperating.

          I think it’s hard to think of an example where one PD participant coerces the other which isn’t defection.

          It’s easy to think of cases where PD participants coercing *other people* would be cooperation- law enforcement officials would be the big example. Letting a friend go could be defection whereas coercing them to stop doing bad things could be cooperation.

          • Alrenous says:

            PD can be generalized. The traitor can of course communicate but chooses not to. As a result, there is no immediate epistemic difference between a cooperator and deviator: they communicate identically. Their communication is epistemically meaningless, meaning they can’t communicate.

            The mob boss has a superior position, but they still choose to cooperate or not-cooperate. The superior position, the asymmetric payoff quadrants, explains how the mob boss profits from repeated defect/defect cycles, if indeed not-cooperate maps to defect.

            Cooperating with a third party is two or three superimposed PDs. (That said, I hadn’t previously thought of this possibility.) With three parties there are three dilemmas, and each party gets to make two choices. Since the sheriff has previously agreed to defect on criminals, their dilemmas are not independent – to cooperate with their friend they have to defect on their agreement. (This is kosher since the criminal could have chosen not to defect, allowing the sheriff to cooperate with both, but didn’t.)

  12. Sinclair says:

    I was wondering what were SSC’s opinions of age of consent laws? I am personally somewhat against them as I am a minor feel like the government is silencing me by taking away my right to consent. However, I realize that we should probably keep them around because of Chesterton’s Fence. What do you guys think?

    • TheNybbler says:

      Well, I find Chesterton’s fence unconvincing (which just means I’m not that kind of conservative). But current age of consent laws aren’t so old we don’t know the reason behind them anyway; they’ve been raised significantly in recent history in many states. And the reason (IMO) wasn’t anything to do with the protection of minors from predatory sex partners; it was to extend the control adults have over children.

    • I think the concept of age of consent laws makes sense, but the actual form in our society is badly out of scale. There are states where the age below which all sex is illegal is higher than the median age for loss of virginity.

      I don’t think a two year old can reasonably consent to intercourse. I think there are lots of fourteen year olds, probably some twelve year olds, who are no less capable of doing so than many adults, perhaps than the median adult.

      Mencken mentions losing his virginity at fourteen with a girl of the same age. Traditional rabbinic law set female adulthood at twelve and a half plus some evidence of puberty.

    • keranih says:

      Age of consent is a restriction on the ability of an individual to act of their own free will. In an ideal free society, we should assume the maximum ability of an individual to pick the best choice for themself, and we should impose the minimal constraints on a person to do as they choose.

      Obviously, in our society, we put lots of limits on this freedom – minimum wage, zoning laws, food inspection, FDA control of medications, etc, etc. (Really, the amount of regulation we put on ourselves is vast.)

      IMO, age of consent is influenced by two principles: when is the person able to make a rational choice, and when is a person able to deal with the repercussions of a dumb-ass choice. It is accepted in our society that a minor may not enter into binding contracts except under the permission of their guardians, under the supposition that kids are idiots and can be easily taken advantage of. As agreeing to sexual intercourse can have life long consequences, it is generally agreed that idiot kids may not agree to this, because they don’t make reliably good choices.

      As for the physical repercussions – here we are mainly talking about women, and their ability to become pregnant. An undersized female who has not attained most of her adult size can have life-threatening issues with childbirth. So it is not permissible for someone to impregnate her until she can reasonably be expected to live through childbirth.

      In the bad old days, when nutrition was chancy and people didn’t grow as tall, the age of consent for women was generally set around 13 years old, as a 14 year old typically could deliver a child safely. (Do remember that in the bad old days, death in childbirth was a risk for every woman.) With better medicine and nutrition of today, the risks for even a pre-teen delivering a child are much much lower. This would argue for a lower age of consent.

      However, when we go back to the first part – the ability to make rational choices – it is also increasingly agreed on in our society that children do not become mature functional adults until much later in life. While in decades past a 20 year old man might be married with two kids and a job, and even sent out to defend his country against hostile invaders, today we assume that a 25 year old still operates under the protection of their parents and can not function independently.

      In my mind, we should probably shift legal age of consent up to match the social expectation that 20-year olds are children and need supervision and protection.

      Or we could also start acting as though 17 and 18 year olds were actual independent adults. Either way is fine with me – it’s the middle lukewarm course that’s the issue.

      • @Karanih;

        I think you are missing the largest reason for age of consent laws–the belief that below an age somewhere in the fourteen to eighteen range, having sex is almost certain to be a bad thing. It isn’t limited to concerns about the consequences of pregnancy–if anything, it focuses on supposed psychological consequences, and is applied to males as well as females. I’m dubious that it’s true, but I think it is clearly a widely shared view.

        Consider, for example, the argument I have seen that Islam is obviously an evil religion, since the founder married one of his wives young and consummated the marriage when she was nine. All the available evidence suggests that Mohammed’s marriage with Aiesha was a happy one. But he still gets branded a pedophile by people who simply take it for granted that that shows he was a wicked person.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          I find that whole story rather dubious. What would ‘consummate’ mean with a nine-year old, anatomy-wise?

          • I assume it means PIV intercourse.

            With a quick google, I find one case of a five year old who gave birth, several of six year olds, lots at seven, eight, and nine. Mohammed and Aiesha could have waited until her menses started. Currently, that can run as early as eight.

            There are a few people who argue that the conventional account is wrong and she was much older, but that requires them to reject pretty much all past accounts.

    • Alraune says:

      If age of consent laws didn’t exist, they would be the strawman I would make up to explain why it’s impossible to define the boundary between right and wrong with a law. “Is this romantic relationship exploitative?” is a question that can only be answered by people who know the parties directly.

      On a practical rather than philosophical level, they’re a badly botched attempt at social engineering. They make the practices of groups with short life history illegal, but the result isn’t a conversion to a longer life history, it’s the destruction of their previous social tech. Marriage at 15 shocks my sensibilities and is not a recipe for what I’d consider a successful life, but the type of person who marries at 15 likely does better in a society that encourages marriage at 15 than one which mandates 5 years of relational instability practice first.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think this is true as a much more general point: what is the best option to choose depends greatly on the situation you’re in. Often, a choice that you wouldn’t make when you’re in a good situation is the best one to make when you’re in a bad situation. Very often it seems to me that a choice is made illegal, with the justification that obviously it’s a bad choice to make, when in fact there are still some people whose situation is such that that choice really is better than the alternatives, and banning it serves to cut off their best option and force them to take the next-best option instead. Health and safety laws and building codes are, I think, two major examples of this phenomenon.

        • suntzuanime says:

          But if it cuts enough people off from making actual bad choices, it’s still welfare improving on net, even if it cuts some people off from making good choices.

          • Anonymous says:

            Possibly – but you need some good reason to assume that people who are in a position where making some choice is bad will commonly make it anyway. Observing people making that choice isn’t enough because the assumption we’re working on is that that choice is good under some circumstances, bad under others. What you need to do is first of all separate out those making the choice into those for whom it’s a good choice and those for whom it’s a bad choice, and then calculate the gain by the former group minus the loss by the latter. Then, if the number comes out negative, you have grounds to ban the choice.

            And of course there’s the problem that the people deciding on these kinds of regulations have no incentive to make sure their effect is actually positive rather than negative.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I don’t want to live in a city/town without building codes.

          Now, I understand you aren’t saying that you do, you are saying (I think) that, on the margin, building codes increase homelessness and increase rents. I understand the argument.

          The problem comes in, I think, when you start understand how much money is available to be made on a difference in (made up example) $10 a month per unit by the owner and how expensive it is for the renter to reliably determine how safe the units are (as well as all of the biases we have that cause us to ignore small everyday risks). At the bottom of the scale, the incentives seem to skew heavily towards “death trap”.

          • Anonymous says:

            @HeelBearCub

            and how expensive it is for the renter to reliably determine how safe the units are

            If the rental contract stipulates that the landlord is responsible for the costs of X or Y bad outcome then it seems this would not be a problem.

            I suspect that you will point out that there will be people who are so desperate for housing, or for cheap housing, that they will rent places without these stipulations and choose to bear these costs themselves. My argument is that these are exactly the people who really would be better off in slightly unsafe housing than no housing, or housing so expensive they don’t have money left for anything else – and that you being unable to imagine that being the better choice for you doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be the better choice for anyone.

          • Chalid says:

            The obvious counter is to take a step further and look at how expensive it is for the renter to reliably determine the quality of the contract he is signing with the landlord. You want to have to hire a lawyer every time you rent?

            And the problem is worse with minor items. I don’t have the bandwidth to do due diligence whenever I buy a toaster.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Chalid

            Sounds like a problem that standardization can solve. The manufacturer of a toaster stamps a symbol on the side of the box; the landlord stamps a symbol on the corner of the contract; this indicates they are following the terms that that symbol refers to. Compare with meat sold as halal: a single word is used to refer to a specific, somewhat complex concept. If state regulations required that all meat be halal, producers would not bother to specify that their meat is. But they don’t, so they do. It’s an optional regulatory extension. Seems entirely possible for the concept to be applied more broadly.

            EDIT: I’m also not really sure that this would be necessary for rental contracts after all. Presently, an awful lot can be stipulated in a rental contract, in a relatively small number of words. It’s entirely possible for there to be some legal meaning of different concepts, so you don’t have to define every single word at the start of the contract, without it having to be mandatory that contracts contain any particular combination of words or concepts.

            For toasters, where you don’t want to have to read through several pages of contract before buying it, the symbol thing is my preferred solution, but I suspect you’d be fine without it in the context of housing.

          • keranih says:

            Compare with meat sold as halal: a single word is used to refer to a specific, somewhat complex concept.

            This is maybe an object level objection, but halal products have to be certified by an independent body. At least in certain areas, Sunni and Shia have slightly different standards, so that what brands you bought – or what brands your store stocked – could have significant implications.

            Another example – UL labeling is held to indicate a certain level of safety wrt electronic devices (like toasters). This labeling is only useful when and where the owners of that mark are able and willing to enforce infringement on their right to control who gets to put the mark on their devices.

            If there is a demand for UL labels but no enforcement of the use of the label, counterfeiting will be rampant.

            In an area with customer-demanded guarantees of value (like investment ratings, or credit scores) there are generally multiple competing certifying agencies. These agencies will use somewhat different standards for assessing that quality – both in content and rigor. The cheapest assessments will be the most lackluster and the ones mostly likely to be modified by bribes.

            When the demand for quality assurance comes from the government, however, the dependability of that assessment is linked to the good faith in the government (to apply the standards fairly and to not accept bribes.) The government may or may not be trustworthy in either the content or the rigor of their assessments, and it is very likely for those who can afford to pay more for more strict assessments to do so. Meanwhile, those with less demanding preferences than the gubment do not have the option of choosing their more desired selection.

            (Edited to correct “GL” to “UL” – dunno where that typo came from…)

          • Glen Raphael says:

            I don’t have the bandwidth to do due diligence whenever I buy a toaster.

            That problem was pretty definitively solved by the free market about a hundred years ago via the Underwriters Laboratories.

            Here’s what happened: In the early days of home electricity lots of houses were burning down due to faulty wiring or faulty appliances. Companies that sold fire insurance (aka “underwriters”) found themselves on the hook to pay a lot of money for damage from fires that could have been cheaply and easily prevented via better wiring standards. So these insurance firms got together and formed an organization to set such standards. If you want to buy a house, you need to borrow money from a bank; the bank wants to protect its investment, so it requires (and/or incorporates into the mortgage) a fire insurance policy. The fire insurance firm wants to protect itself too, so it mandates inspection/verification that the wiring is “up to code” as a precondition for issuing a policy.

            The way the same process applied to toasters is that you buy toasters from Sears. If Sears sells toasters that catch fire they could be sued out of existence so Sears buys a liability insurance policy. Their insurance firm doesn’t want to pay needless claims, so…same dynamic. They end up only selling products that have a valid UL seal or for which Sears itself can be confident based on its own independent tests that the product is safe.

            Because both firms that sell toasters that catch fire and firms that insure firms that sell toasters that catch fire can go out of business, over time the market has evolved defense mechanisms such that most toasters you are likely to find aren’t prone to easily catch fire, even if you personally know nothing about toasters. All we really needed to get there was the institution of civil liability combined with freedom of contract and a bit of cleverness.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “If the rental contract stipulates that the landlord is responsible for the costs of X or Y bad outcome then it seems this would not be a problem.”

            Other than for the person, and everyone in the building, who died in the electrical fire caused by sub-standard wiring. And now the shell company is bankrupt and the person who reaped the real profit has externalized the loss.

            But other than that, sure, no problem.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Glen Raphael:
            I don’t think UL certifies houses.

            The problem here is that houses are not built over and over in a controlled environment, but one by one in a variable environment. You can’t certify the design and then walk away.

            This is why inspection for wiring, plumbing, foundation, and other aspects of construction has to be done for every house. A small organization can’t do that for the entire world. You need inspectors on site for every building constructed.

          • Anonymous says:

            @HeelBearCub

            It depends on what compensation the landlord has to pay. One possible solution is to have this determined within the contract itself. Contracts which allow the landlord to get away consequence-free would not be very attractive.

            EDIT:

            This is why inspection for wiring, plumbing, foundation, and other aspects of construction has to be done for every house. A small organization can’t do that for the entire world. You need inspectors on site for every building constructed.

            Who said the same organization needs to do the entire world? It’s perfectly possible for multiple inspection organizations to be following the same set of rules regarding what they’re checking for.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            I don’t think UL certifies houses.

            UL itself certifies insulated wires, fuseboxes, switches, fuses, electric appliances, and sets standards for how they’re all supposed to connect together. The building inspector who verifies your new house or business is “up to code” before approving it for insurance purposes (thereby making a mortgage possible) might or might not work for UL itself but a lot of what they’re doing is simply checking that all the subcomponents are UL-certified and haven’t been modified post-manufacture or post-installation in ways that make them unsafe.

          • Chalid says:

            Well I did not expect mentioning toasters instead of, say, baby bottle chemicals to create so much discussion. Seems more difficult to apply when the harm is not immediate and obvious (again baby bottle chemicals).

            Anyway the point being made by the anonymous poster was that people ought to be able to choose riskier, cheaper products. That doesn’t work if we then allow them to sue if they lose their gamble. Also doesn’t price externalities.

            Finally, standards have costs, but litigation is costly too.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Glen Raphael:

            And? The local inspection still has to be done. You aren’t going to eliminate the need for it. It will still be “expensive”.

            @Anonymous:
            UL is brought as an example because it is a global standard, it’s very safe and it’s cheap. Whereas you are wanting a cheaper standard than building codes that trades of safety for cost. Well, where do you think the cost comes from? It comes from the inspection process itself. Lost productivity coordinating inspection and rework because of failed inspection. I don’t believe the materials themselves are substantially more expensive, unless you use something that is completely inadequate (ex: using trash instead of fill dirt, like you hear reports of from India or China after a building collapses and kills several hundred people).

          • Anonymous says:

            @HeelBearCub

            Are you claiming that building codes effectively impose a fixed cost – that what’s expensive is getting the inspection done, not the actual requirements of the code, and even if they were much less stringent then it wouldn’t bring down costs much at all?

            If so, that seems unlikely.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            One way private regulations win in terms of affordability is the rules can be more flexible – able to change quickly to adapt to changing background circumstance – and you have more of an option to opt out when the existing rules simply don’t apply to your circumstance (for instance, you really want to live in a yurt or a dome and are willing to self-insure or post a bond).

            But the bigger win is in more flexible zoning. Right now in most neighborhoods of most cities it’s illegal to build cheap housing that poor people could afford due primarily to density restrictions. Huge areas are zoned for “single-family dwellings”; the equivalent of a student dormitory (small rooms with a collective bathroom down the hall) is often disallowed even where apartments are legal. Also, zoning means housing is separated from employment forcing everyone to own a car for commuting – without zoning, poor people would be less likely to need a car and more able to start a business.

            (If we have to have zoning, I much prefer a Japanese-style system that errs on the side of allowing mixed use by default.)

          • brad says:

            Chalid said:

            The obvious counter is to take a step further and look at how expensive it is for the renter to reliably determine the quality of the contract he is signing with the landlord. You want to have to hire a lawyer every time you rent?

            It blows my mind that people take out mortgages* without hiring a lawyer. “I’m only borrowing multiples of annual income from a highly sophisticated lender with an unsavory reputations. Who needs an expert to go over the paperwork, just show me where I sign!’

          • The Nybbler says:

            And that’s because mortgages are _standard_. Either by law or by the almost-law of what it takes to conform to GSE rules (so the loan can be sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac). There are a lot of different standards, granted, but there are no “gotchas” in nearly all cases. In particular, the TV villain staple callable mortgages/demand loans (where the lender can demand return of the principal balance even when payments are current… oh, no, the villain has bought the bank and is now going to take the house and the farm!) don’t seem to be countenanced by Fannie Mae.

            A standard like this can be achieved with either government rules or with private standards like UL; if the US didn’t have government standards, we’d probably have private standards set up by banks to make it easier to securitize loans.

          • brad says:

            It’s true that you are unlikely to see unique mortgages with terrible terms, but within the universe of off the shelf mortgages there are big differences, differences that it is apparent many borrowers don’t, or at least didn’t circa 2007, understand.

            A lawyer can and should explain the pros and cons of the various options to his clients. A two hour consult even at $400/hour seems like a good idea on a $300k loan so as to get advice from someone with a fiduciary duty instead of a salesman.

          • The Nybbler says:

            That’s a slightly different issue than I was thinking of. I think anyone reasonably financially savvy can figure out the various loan types today, especially given the calculator tools freely available. There are plenty of people who can’t… but most are probably in the situation of not knowing what they don’t know, so they won’t hire a lawyer either.

            Putting my money, or rather my house, where my mouth is… I have on my desk right now the papers from a mortgage refinance loan I recently took out without the assistance of a lawyer. Plain vanilla fixed-rate fixed-term. If I find myself on the streets as a result I’ll try to find open wifi to admit my error.

          • Chalid says:

            @Glen Raphael I agree with you that zoning regulation is generally really bad, but it doesn’t usually have much to do with this sort of safety vs affordability tradeoff. No one thinks building a high-rise in a single-family neighborhood is *unsafe*, they complain about “neighborhood character” and traffic and construction noise and the like. Indeed you often see resistance to building new dwellings that are *nicer* than the ones that currently exist.

            @Nybbler I was under the impression that the residential mortgage backed securities market is tiny outside the US (and thus away from the GSEs). On the other hand, there are a lot of non-agency loans that get securitized within the US; issuance was highest pre-2008 and crashed afterwards, but there’s plenty out there. (Remember pre-crisis there was huge demand for this stuff)

          • brad says:

            @The Nybbler
            I agree this is a don’t know what they don’t know problem, but it seems like they should. There should be a general societal attitude: Twenty pages of impenetrable documents and a big check -> lawyer, just like most people understand shooting pain in chest -> doctor.

            Instead just about the only widely held predicates for lawyer are arrested, car accident, and getting a divorce.

          • James Picone says:

            @This conversation in general:
            You’d think a forum full of programmers would have some familiarity with the varied and myriad ways private standards can and will fail that public standards aren’t prone to. What does Embrace, Extend, Extinguish look like in the regulatory space? Rambus’ patent trolling? USB’s growing proliferation of connectors? The many and varied phone connectors? Standards that have to be interpreted with a grain of salt because enough people have Done It Wrong for so long that the network effects make it impossible to shift (like HTML)? C++’s ABI (that is, it’s lack of one)? All of the fields where there’s an excellent format and nobody uses it because of network effects (APNG, for ex.)?

            I don’t know, but I for one am excited to find out.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Chalid

            One place where you do have a “safety vs affordability tradeoff” in building codes is the same issue as for most regulation in general: public regulators can over-regulate because they don’t pay any costs in doing so and can inflict their externalities on consumers whereas private regulators are somewhat less prone to doing that.

            For instance, consider electrical outlet spacing rules:

            A receptacle outlet must be installed in every kitchen, family room, dining room, living room, sunroom, parlor, library, den, bedroom, recreation room, and similar room or area so that no point along the wall space is more than 6 feet, measured horizontally along the floor line, from a receptacle outlet [210.52(A)]

            Having so many outlets in so many places that you’re never more than 6 feet from one reduces fire risk because it reduces the need for the occupants to add their own extension cords and outlet splitters to the mix. But on the other hand, it makes the place more expensive to build.

            Unionized electricians will lobby for standards that require more electrical work in houses; no similar group is lobbying with the same intensity for standards that require less. Regulators get criticized when there are fires due to the “electrical octopus” hazard; they do NOT get criticized when people can’t afford to buy/rent a place to live due to the price of installing extra outlets.

            In balancing fire risk against cost, public regulators will tend to choose too little fire risk and too much cost. If all you care about is safety you might not perceive that as a problem, but if you care about affordability too, you might.

          • CatCube says:

            The part of this whole thread that’s astonishing to me is that neither side seems to realize that building codes are generally written by independant organizations. The code governing steel-framed construction is written by the American Institute of Steel Construction, as AISC 360 (Specification for Structural Steel Buildings), and the bolting code is written by the Research Council on Structural Connections, RSCS (Specification for Structural Joints using High-Strength Bolts. For concrete structures, the code is written by the American Concrete institute, as ACI 318. For light-framed steel construction, it’s done by the American Iron and Steel Institute, as AISI S100. All of these are independent industry groups. (AISC, for example, only accepts as “full members” companies that produce over a certain amount of steel per year.)

            The loads on a structure are usually defined by the American Society of Civil Engineers, in ASCE 7.

            The vast majority of building codes mostly just specify that these model codes will be used*. For example, the Oregon building code specifies: “The deflection of reinforced concrete structural members shall not exceed that permitted by ACI 318”.

            And, if an engineer is working in an area without a “building code” he or she will pretty much just reach for the appropriate material code since that represents consensus state of the art.

            *Local codes sometimes make minor changes to the model code for something that they think needs more attention. Mostly, this is geotechnical work and the ASCE 7 loads–though their loadings generally track ASCE 7 pretty closely.

            Edited to add: The electrical code is written by the National Fire Prevention Association. There’s others as well.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Mu.

      Questions about the age of consent presuppose that our current sexual paradigm, in which high school and college students engage in hook ups and practice serial monogamy in the from of Long Term Relationships, is essentially correct and unobjectionable, and that the only thing left to quibble about is the exact age at which college boys can start screwing high school girls.

      I deny the frame.

    • Neurno says:

      How about we raise it to 150 years, in the hope of spurring more anti-senescence research?
      All current formication would be underage, but, hey, so much is anyway, what’s the harm in expanding the range for a good cause?

      • Sinclair says:

        Wouldn’t that just make the age of consent laws completely moot, because it wouldn’t be enforced? Kinda like how everyone drives over the speed limit on highways.

    • DavidS says:

      The obvious response is ‘do you really think there shouldn’t be any age of consent, or just that you should be above it?’

      In practice, the only replacement for age of consent laws I can imagine would rely on courts deciding who was ‘mature/capable’ enough to consent which while in theory less arbitrary would end up being far more paternalistic and controlling…

      • John Schilling says:

        The other theoretical replacement would be to not care about who is having sex with whom. But as some of that sex is going to be outright pedophiles engaging in blatantly exploitative relationships with prepubescent children who have been groomed and coached to say “Yes, I consent”, this isn’t going to happen. Any human society with laws, is going to have laws to put people in jail for having sex with someone too young for them. Any human society without laws, some of these people are just going to be lynched. Take your pick.

        • Alraune says:

          Problem is, I expect the lynchings would have better outcomes.

        • “Any human society with laws, is going to have laws to put people in jail for having sex with someone too young for them. ”

          As far as I know that is not true. I don’t believe either the Islamic or traditional Jewish legal system had such laws. There was a limit in Jewish law on how young a woman could marry without parental consent, but marriage younger than that was possible with parental consent, and I’m not aware of any legal limit on age of consummation, although there might well have been limits in social norms. Similarly for Islamic law.

          As best I can tell, the situation in Europe in pre-modern times was that there were age limits for non-marital sex, typically ten or above. But marriage sometimes occurred very young, and although I expect such marriages were not consummated until much later, I’m not aware of any legal restrictions on consummation.

          Do you have evidence to support your claim, or does it merely reflect what you view as obviously right and assume all other cultures would agree with?

      • Sinclair says:

        Here’s another possible replacement off the top of my head: sexual consent licences, much like driving licences. I imagine they would also be paternalistic and controlling, but not much more than driving licences.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Who would supervise the test drive?

          Not a bad idea if it included contraceptive use.

          • Deiseach says:

            Who would supervise the test drive?

            Probably the licence would be issued after a final exam when finishing sex education classes. “X is certified to be of legal age and to have passed with satisfactory knowledge of how to avoid pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and not to be fuddy-duddy about orientation, gender, or kinks”.

            Younger partner doesn’t have a licence or failed the test? You’re in trouble, buddy; this is a penalty point on your licence and collect enough, your licence is revoked for a period. Unlicensed sexual activity leads to a fine or jail time 🙂

          • Jiro says:

            Deiseach: Your own description shows why it’s a bad idea. It’s going to be used for social engineering. “And not to be fuddy-duddy about orientation, gender, or kinks”? Really? Why’s that anyone’s business? The only reason the test is required would be to verify that the person taking the test is able to handle having sex. If he’s “fuddy duddy” about something, presumably he wouldn’t be having sex in that manner, so there’s no reason to deny the license. Even if having those opinions makes him act badly towards people with the wrong orientation or whatever, you’re not going to create crimes of “being homophobic without a sex license” or “opposing polygamy without a sex license”.

            I’m sure you could reduce the occurrence of homophobia by making it a crime to have sex with a homophobic person when it would not be a crime to have sex with an otherwise similar non-homophobioc person (who passes the fuddy-duddy test and gets his license when the former cannot). But I never thought I’d see anyone actually stating that.

            Imagine if to get a business license you had to sign a pledge not to be fuddy-duddy about free trade, or to get a driver’s license you had to express support for carbon taxes.

          • Deiseach says:

            Jiro, come on, haven’t you seen anything about modern sex education classes? You can’t say “this type of sex is bad” because that’s a moral judgement, and that interferes with sex education that is based purely on best practice science.

            If Johnny or Mary fills in an exam question with “Bestiality is yucky and so it’s wrong!” then of course they fail because they are being judgemental about Tommy or Susie who may really love their dog. Really. Now, if Johnny or Mary write about lack of consent on the part of Rover or Spot, that’s different. Consent is good. But saying bestiality is yucky is saying Tommy and Susie are bad, and nobody gets to say anything about what anyone does in the privacy of their bedroom. After all, that’s the same bad old purity-disgust axis that is a sign of conservative right-wing notions and being opposed to marriage equality:

            In this article, we demonstrate that individuals with marked involuntary physiological responses to disgusting images, such as of a man eating a large mouthful of writhing worms, are more likely to self-identify as conservative and, especially, to oppose gay marriage than are individuals with more muted physiological responses to the same images.

            Sorry, Johnny and Mary, you’ve failed the exam and must re-sit it so that you can be a good citizen and useful member of society!

            This kind of exam is going to be excellent practice for when they go into the world of work and have to fill out diversity questionnaires for the HR department in their place of employment. Or even answer questions at the job interview.

            How have you handled a situation when a colleague was not accepting of others’ diversity

            “So John, tell me how you would handle a situation where a work colleague was not accepting of others’ intimate preferences?”

            As for homophobia being a crime, remember you can be sued for not selling wedding cakes to gay couples. Anti-gay rights today, anti-trans rights tomorrow, zoophilia after that!

            EDIT: Jiro, if you think I support the notion of a sexual licence, I see I have been rather too subtle in my approach. Of course it is social engineering. It’s already taking place. It’s merely a parodic exaggeration to say you should have a sex licence, but the underlying attitude of “we must make sure not alone factual information but Right Thinking are inculcated” is already present.

          • James Picone says:

            Deiseach, my sex ed was pretty close to the modern day, and nothing even remotely like what you’re suggesting appeared in it. It was pretty much entirely based around “Here’s how a condom works”, “Here are the symptoms of and some other information about STDs”. All-boy’s school, heterosexuality was pretty close to assumed in said sex ed. It was a non-governmental school, religious, but not very religious (I forget the exact denomination. Uniting Church I think?)

            (Combined with some of the rest of the stuff I’ve posted here, I’m probably very easy to locate in the real world…)

            That’s anecdote, of course, but your claim is even less than that. Care to back it up in any way?

          • For another datum on sex education…

            My older son went to a suburban public school in the Philadelphia suburbs. By his account, AIDS was presented as a normal venereal disease, with no suggestion that its transmission mechanism was different than that of others. That would probably have been about 1990.

            My guess, with no evidence, was that this reflected pressures from both sides of the political spectrum. People on the left didn’t want it perceived as a gay disease, people on the right wanted to use it to scare teens out of ordinary heterosexual sex. Not mentioning that transmission risk was much higher via anal than via vaginal intercourse served both purposes.

      • Deiseach says:

        Again, this is where you need to look into why we have age of consent laws in the first place. As always, it wasn’t “We are resolutely anti-fun and we are inventing for no reason a whole bunch of laws to prevent people enjoying themselves”, it was in response to abuse.

        There was certainly a sensationalist and muck-raking, not to mention whipping up moral hysteria, element of prurience about the campaign to pass raised age of consent laws in England. The fact remains, rape cases could not be prosecuted because in the “he said, she said” system, men could buy girls as young as twelve for sex and their defence was “this was consensual sex” and, with the age of consent set at twelve (later raised to thirteen because of concerns about girls being sold into brothels), there was only the fall-back on whose testimony do you believe? Particularly if a poor family had pimped out their daughter and were backing up the accused in “No, she agreed to this”?

        After Stead’s newspaper campaign created public uproar, eventually the age of consent was raised to sixteen. Maybe we’re ever so much more sophisticated and knowledgeable nowadays, but human nature doesn’t change, and there will always be abuse and misuse. Having a higher age of consent may err on the side of caution, but it’s better to have it set at sixteen, with fourteen year olds upset that their parents won’t let them have eighteen year old boyfriends, than at twelve or ten.

        Anyway, if we’re all anticipating living well into our eighties or even nineties, and twenty-plus year olds are not any more expected to have their lives together, and “fifty is the new forty”, then why the rush to be maturely sexually active by such-and-such an age? If everything is being delayed and advanced by increasing life span, should not “age of first sexual encounter” likewise be delayed?

    • Anonymous says:

      @Sinclair, I’m in favor of adjusting age of consent laws downward* but keeping the prohibition on a large age gap between a minor and an older partner (e.g., >4 years). There are cases in which 19-year-olds end up having to register on sex offender lists because they had an underage partner and (usually) a parent objected.

      *or eliminating them in cases where both minors are about the same age. Not that I think underage people should be having sex, but I don’t see what criminalization will do to help that.

      • Deiseach says:

        The trouble is, at very young ages, there is a much greater difference in maturity and plain experience of life than the chronological gap would indicate.

        For example, taking the “top limit four years difference”, there’s a huge difference – I would submit – between a 14 year old and a 19 year old, whereas 22 and 26 is not so huge (and again, 17 and 19 is not so bad).

        Were I a parent of a 14 year old child and a 19 year old was hanging around in a “romantic” relationship, you bet I’d put the run on them! Maybe not to the extent of calling the cops, but then again, if they were having sex, I might well do so.

        And I know most 14 year olds would be very indignant and claim they were old enough to know their own mind (that was how I was at 14: I knew everything, right?) but sorry, I am going to be the oppressive adult here. We don’t let you drink, smoke, vote, drive, take out bank loans or kick you out to make your own way in the world at that age, so when it comes to a legal adult wanting you to be their intimate partner, same thing goes: until the age of legal majority, we’re responsible for you.

        And of course, there’s always the suspicion that a 19 year old interested in 14 year olds is going to still be interested in 14 year olds when they themselves are 20, 30, 40, etc.

        On the other hand, there was tolerance of huge age gaps when it came to marriage in previous times; men in their forties and fifties marrying women in their early twenties (usually a second marriage for a widower but not always). I certainly think that’s not ideal, but it seems to have been accepted that this was a “beauty for money” deal; older man gets pretty young bed-partner/potential mother of children/step-mother for his children by deceased first wife, younger woman gets security for herself and more importantly her family by making a financially good marriage. That’s not really any better, either.

        • Murphy says:

          Looking back on 15 year old me I wasn’t worldly wise but I was as sentient and as capable of making reasonable choices as I am now. Before 15 there were distinct flips of perspective that probably corresponded with various stages of brain development but the me I was at 15 is pretty much the me I am now only a little faster to learn and a little less experienced.

          My 14 and 13 year old selfs far less so but they also knew themselves.

          I’ll see if I can dig up a cite but there’s an interesting article by a specialist in neurological development where the author argues that most of our positions on what people are allowed to do at what age are totally backwards vs the reality of neural development.

          That teens are generally just as capable of making “cold” choices where they have a few minutes, hours or more to think about things. That part of the brain develops pretty early:

          things like voting on important issues, making major life or relationship choices etc

          Meanwhile teens are far worse at making “hot” choices where you only have a few seconds to make the choice. Do I swerve left or right?

          Yet in our society we fuck the whole thing up and get it backward.

          We let teens drive at 16 or younger in many places yet insist that they’re incapable of making the slow choices that in reality they’re just as capable of making as the older people around them.

          Re: 40 year olds and 20 year olds, in farming communities it’s simple and logical. Before significant mechanization young men are the staple of farm labor. Farms would tend to pass to the children physically capable of farming them.

          A young 20 year old woman with goals like a family isn’t going to look twice at a 20 year old farmers son who owns nothing and has no notable income. If she’s sensible she’ll be looking at the 35-40 year olds who are soon to inherit the farm, who can actually support a family.

          She could marry the other 20 year old and wait but by the time he’s independent and able to support a family she’ll be 40 as well and nearing the end of the ability to have children at all.

          “beauty for money” implies she’s just treating it like a transaction rather than trying to plan her life. It’s in her interest to ignore the 20 year olds for the same reason it’s in her interest to ignore the unemployed alcoholic drifter slumped outside the local bar as a romantic partner.

        • JBeshir says:

          Maybe two years would work better?

          The UK’s age of consent is 16, but there’s special protections for <=12, some rules relating to 16 and 17 year olds (abuse of trust, pornography manufacture, etc, are all applicable until 18), and there's a policy of not prosecuting teenagers of "similar age" below age of consent, but there's no spelling out of what "similar" is anywhere I've seen. The question I guess is whether it'd be useful to add.

          I recall getting a leaflet as a teenager in school about all of this (including the no prosecution policy).

          • TheNybbler says:

            All that starts to look like a bunch of workarounds on an ill-thought-out general rule. Which usually seems to be justified by the thought that consensual sex is somehow an incredibly damaging thing to teenagers, which is something far less true now (with easily available effective condoms and other forms of birth control) than it has been in the past.

            Personally I suspect the real impetus is parents wanting a way to punish (or more charitably, deter) the 17-year-old Lothario-in-training who dares have interest in their 15-year-old daughter.

    • onyomi says:

      I lean strongly towards allowing discretion on the part of whichever judges, administrators, etc. are deciding a particular case. There are very mature 17-year olds and there are very immature 19-year olds. People who dislike discretion cite the potential for unfairness, bias, etc. and the need for uniformity, but I think laws forcing people to ignore their own conscience and evaluation of a particular situation are more likely to result in net injustice than erring on the side of allowing more local-level discretion.

      This is why it makes me bonkers that the most common criticism leveled against libertarianism is that it’s anti-social: I’m PRO-social. I’m pro-humans making decisions about humans at a human-level of scale and social organization. I’m ANTI-one-size-fits-all, abstract rules applied to all of society. The latter strikes me as a distinctly anti-social way of avoiding having to deal with actual people–of looking in the eye of the person you’re firing or sending to jail.

      • nil says:

        One important consideration that you’re leaving out here is that discretion is expensive. It means more court time, it means more time spent traveling and gathering information by guardian ad litems/other investigators, and it means more time spent on arguments. In common law systems, especially in the civil context, that last one leads to a structural inequality–those who can afford lawyers get the right/freedom/benefit, while those who can’t may not.

        If you’re a libertarian, you may not care, and that’s all well and good, but if you’re puzzled at why moderates/liberals often favor bright-line rules, this is a big part of it.

        • JBeshir says:

          I’m not sure preference for bright-line rules align clearly with either social liberalism (liberals) or classical liberalism (libertarians).

          The argument that any discretion will be unclear and so create chilling effects, creeping regulation over time, exploitation and abuse, and so we need a clear absolute position of No Whatever for maximum defensibility is a pretty common strain of thought in libertarianism, I’ve thought. I have seen it applied to speech most often, regulation slightly less often.

          On the other hand you do run into such things in social liberalism, too, where inconsistency is felt to threaten things.

          I suspect they are a kind of thing which one can favour regardless of object-level position if they seem useful for it.

          • nil says:

            Eh, I probably shouldn’t have used the term “liberal.” I use it in a very broad sense that includes everyone who supports a property-and-civil-rights based legal regime overseeing and providing some safeguards within a market-based economy–i.e., everyone to the right of (true, anticapitalist) socialists and everyone to the left of libertarians and fascists. I will gladly defend my definition as correct, but, given how bastardized the term is in US discourse, I probably shouldn’t be using it in places where that isn’t already understood. Instead, I should have just said “the legal establishment,” where the preference for bright lines starts in law school and continues forevermore.

            And within the legal field, discretion is widely understood to open the door to both direct bias (see, e.g., federal civil rights legislation), and to increase procedural costs that also can introduce inequality in the way I mention. Obviously, that doesn’t mean it’s BAD, because there’s obvious costs to less flexible approaches–but it does mean you need to find a balance between discretion and inflexible rules.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @onyomi:
        Hold on.

        You really support the idea that a judge should be able to, based on their own internal set of metrics and rules, decide that some 17 year olds are mature enough to enter into (in this case sexual) contracts and others aren’t?

        And carrying on the idea, are you willing to apply that to 40 year olds?

        I agree that judicial discretion is a necessary part of a judicial system, but I’m failing to see how that maps onto libertarian ideas very well. Libertarian thought seems to favor a very bright line that says “let me make voluntary contracts, regardless of why” with the voluntary test being very limited.

        • onyomi says:

          I’m in favor of bright lines saying “coercion is bad” and “voluntary contracts are valid.” Those two lines don’t resolve all questions, however. You still need a judge or mediator or somebody somewhere to interpret whether or not coercion has taken place, whether the terms of a contract have been fulfilled, whether the people entering into a contract or interaction were capable of giving meaningful consent (contracts with people who were in a coma at the time their hand was made to sign a piece of paper seem obviously invalid), etc.

          And when it comes to how such determinations get made, I’m in favor of local norms, precedents, and yes, individual discretion being deciding factors. This is arguably a key difference between minarchists (small government libertarians like Ayn Rand) and anarcho-capitalists (no-government libertarians like David Friedman and myself): the minarchist wants a set of clear, top-down rules to be applied to everyone, within a large society, or even in the world: what distinguishes them from other statists and central planners is just that they think the set of rules which works best is a very minimal one.

          Anarcho-capitalists, on the other hand, consider it illegitimate and/or inadvisable to force any particular set of rules on anyone, preferring instead to allow market forces to select for whichever set of rules, judges, standards, etc. a given set of consumers prefer. That is, there is no objective standard for how one should decide a case, but judges who decide cases in ways which please all parties involved and/or society at large will tend to out-compete judges who render decisions participants deem biased, unfair, or ill-informed. In practice, this will tend toward laissez-faire, but it’s not inconceivable it would produce very anti-libertarian laws as well: in a community where everyone despises crystal meth usage and is willing to pay to keep crystal meth out of their community, for example, we might find a very un-libertarian ban on the use of that substance; but you could very well buy it over the counter in the next town over.

          In theory, this is a bit like the “archipelago” idea or Nozick’s conception of everyone seceding until they reach the level of political organization where everyone wants to be there voluntarily. In practice, I expect it would result in a million little Singapores springing up everywhere, each with its own set of slightly different rules determined by the people in the market for justice and enforcement. In practice, I expect this to be a much more “local discretion” state of affairs, though, to the extent a consumer base prefers uniformity to discretion, they will also tend to get uniformity.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @onyomi:
          “judges who decide cases in ways which please all parties involved”

          I want to steel man that, but I am finding it hard. I’m laughing too hard (kidding, but I did do a double take).

          Who gets to decide what judge decides the case? By mutual agreement? What happens if you can’t mutually agree (which is exactly what will happen in a huge chunk of cases)?

          Do people who are not party to the conflict get to decide on the slate of acceptable judges? And when you say “willing to pay to keep crystal meth out of their community” this seems, again, antithetical to the whole libertarian ideal. You are going to have someone who has a thriving business and then the community can simply take that away from him by paying to do so? Doesn’t that devolve to oligarchy?

          But back to the main point, who gets to decide the judge who says whether I am competent to make a decision? Presumably I will not agree to any judge who does not think I am competent.

        • Anonymous says:

          You really support the idea that a judge should be able to, based on their own internal set of metrics and rules, decide that some 17 year olds are mature enough to enter into (in this case sexual) contracts and others aren’t?

          And carrying on the idea, are you willing to apply that to 40 year olds?

          Actually, we already do this in the case of mental retardation. From a theory of consent standpoint, youth and mentally retarded people are similar in that they likely fail the knowledge prong. Authors like Wertheimer treat them almost simultaneously, noting only a small difference: youth are expected to grow older and gain the ability to consent; mentally retarded people may never be able to do so (meaning such laws would be a larger infringement of their right to positive autonomy).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Anonymous:
            They do that within a framework of law that, I believe, onyomi rejects as insufficiently protective of the rights of individuals.

          • brucee says:

            What is the nature of this insufficiency?

            It seems there is no end to the din of complaint of the well-provided for.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Does anyone else sometimes think that the “OMG Gun Control” flurry which occurs after every time the media decides to care about a multiple homicide might be a cynical ploy to sell guns? There’s always this huge surge of sales. It’s very profitable for the manufacturers and retailers of firearms. As such, it gives them a perverse incentive to promote fear-o-tyranny every time the media picks up a multiple homicide.

    • John Schilling says:

      Lots of people sometimes think this. But as there’s no evidence that it is happening and no plausible mechanism by which it could happen, I’m not one of them.

      “X happened, Y would benefit from X, therefore X is a conspiracy by Y, and the bit where I can’t find any evidence just goes to show how clever a bunch of conspirators Y is”, this way lies madness for all possible X and Y.

      • onyomi says:

        I certainly don’t think the gun sellers are at all behind the push for gun control, but I also would expect them to capitalize on any surge in public attention to gun control as a means to scare their own clientele into buying more, sooner.

        This doesn’t strike me as particularly dishonest, though: as a seller, if there is any plausible probability (however remote) that something you are currently selling might be banned or unavailable in the future, it makes perfect sense to use that fact as a selling point: “buy now since you might not be able to buy later.”

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t think they’d want to ban their own product, certainly, but I’m wondering if they’re sufficiently convinced that the product won’t be banned to become temporarily very interested in finding, reproducing, parodying, and/or flaming anti-gun voices. All forms of attention serve as amplification. Amplifying that voice at that time is worth money.

        • John Schilling says:

          First, how would they do that? Does the president of Smith and Wesson call the editor of the Los Angeles Times and say “Look, I know you were printing one special edition covering the San Bernardino Massacre before you get back to the serious policy issues of the Paris climate summit, but we’d like to see three special editions and a week of large-print headlines, how does a million dollars in extra advertising sound?”

          What, specifically, do you think the gun industry is doing, or even could do, to make this happen?

          Second, how do they not get caught doing this? The people they would have to deal with tend to hold a visceral hatred of the NRA, and you think none of them are going to blab? Firearms manufacturers have in the past faced boycotts by their own customers over their support for “modest” gun-control measures; a secretive campaign to fan the flames of prohibition and confiscation will indeed result in the sales of millions of firearms – from every company not part of that campaign.

          And third, again, what is your evidence that any of this is happening?

          • Anonymous says:

            I already said specifically what I think they’re doing. Finding, reproducing, parodying, and/or flaming anti-gun voices. This occurs simultaneously as a point where anti-gun voices know they’re more salient than usual.

            I was suggesting this occurring in small-scale across numerous actors working independently. “Secretive campaign to fan the flames of prohibition” is your phrase, not mine. Some of the boost anti-gun voices get comes from people who hate them who wouldn’t normally spread those voices, but who will spread those voices at that time because they have a financial incentive to do so. Again, this is on an individual level. People sharing links. Forums detonating. Mailing lists filling with propaganda and call-outs. The first half of my suggestion here is, “there is social media around guns; gun manufacturers may be hiring people to alter the focus of concerns in that media in ways that make profits for them”.

            In the modern day, if there’s anyone trying to manage how the internet responds to things, they actually have wonderful new tools with which they could be even more clever with than usual. You’re not limited to one reputation on the internet. If you actually want to stir the pot, you can now stir it from both sides with no risk of being caught. Maintain a few Twitter feeds with different political alignments; this is good for both tracking opposition *and* promoting controversies du jour. Open burner accounts on forums where detonations would constitute favorable attention. Label yourself on both sides of the issue and spread the ideas in politically unpalatable, crazy extreme versions. These things panic the activists on both sides and make them do marketing work FOR you. The second half of my suggestion is, “there is social media around guns; some individuals have a financial incentive to misrepresent their position.”

            Again, “attention is amplification” is the process I was pointing to, and I was suggesting that it can be manipulated for profit.

            Your demand for evidence is based on a failure to understand the point I was making. You caricatured my argument and swiftly won a war on straw. Congratulations!

          • John Schilling says:

            I already said specifically what I think they’re doing. Finding, reproducing, parodying, and/or flaming anti-gun voices.

            That’s not specific, that’s generic. And this part,

            I was suggesting this occurring in small-scale across numerous actors working independently.

            doesn’t fit with your claim that this is a “cynical ploy to sell guns”. For each of these supposedly independent small-scale actors, what’s the motive? A general climate of fear might sell more guns, but the owner of Bob’s Discount Guns and Ammo posting to an online forum (or whatever it is you specifically think he’s doing) isn’t going to singlehandedly generate a climate of fear, isn’t going to increase guns sales across the nation by even one percent, and isn’t going to increase the all-critical sales at Bob’s Discount Guns and Ammo by even one percent.

            Being caught in a “cynical ploy to sell guns” by promoting gun control or anti-gun sentiment, is going to lead to an organized boycott of Bob’s Discount Guns and Ammo. Low reward, high risk.

            Sorry, but your proposed cynical ploy is the sort of thing that Moloch eats for breakfast; the necessary action cannot be coordinated overtly or covertly, hierarchially or decentralized. And yes, I am going to keep asking for evidence if you keep suggesting that it is actually happening, and if you can’t come up with any you’re going to look plenty ridiculous.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      No. If this was the case, why would gun manufacturers fund the NRA?

      • Leit says:

        By and large, they don’t. Most of the NRA’s funding comes from membership dues, followed by donations by private individuals. Manufacturers fall pretty low on the funding totem pole – between 2.5 and 5% of their revenue.

        This information is hilariously easy to find, given that the NRA declares its income by source and its tax information is readily available, along with information from their partner program. Evil manufacturers owning the NRA just makes a better bogeyman than 5+ million dues-paying, donating members.

        Basically, every manufacturer could drop all support for the NRA and they’d keep happily ticking away.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I know that not much NRA funding comes from manufacturers, but I think most manufacturers’ charitable donations probably go to the NRA rather than the Brady Campaign.

          • Leit says:

            If you didn’t mean to imply that the NRA is paid for by manufacturers’ money, you should really find a better way to put it than “manufacturers fund the NRA”. The accusation that the NRA represents companies, not people, is a common one. Your comment pattern matched pretty heavily to that.

            To be clear, I agree with you that the idea of a conspiracy to drive sales by threatening anti-gun legislation is underpants-hat level silly. John Schilling has the right of it when he points out the costs of being found out supporting anti-gun causes; for an example see the reaction to Jim Zumbo’s ill-considered 2007 comments on black rifles, which were taken… poorly.

            I think most manufacturers’ charitable donations probably go to the NRA rather than the Brady Campaign

            Not the Brady campaign no, but most of, for example, Smith & Wesson’s charitable donations go toward supporting shooting sports and events. Pretty much all manufacturers predictably donate heavily to veterans’ care organizations and similar causes. There’s a mix across the board.

            This isn’t to say that they don’t have their own lobbyists in the halls of Washington, nor that they don’t donate directly or indirectly to politicians and their PACs. American politics and the money involved therein are shady as fuck.

    • JBeshir says:

      The fact that creating the flurry and promoting fear-o-tyranny draws lots of clicks and views and delicious, delicious ad money is enough to create a huge incentive to do so. We should expect it to exist and to be very difficult to avoid for that reason alone.

      Only articles and stories which are bad at drawing clicks and views need other explanation, and I suspect most of those are at least attempts to do good.

  14. Zykrom says:

    Does anyone think it’s likely that a lot of religious rituals/superstitions were invented by people with OCD or something like it?

    (relevant: the latest post on slatestarscratchpad)

  15. Alex Z says:

    December 12th is the Bay Area solstice party. Do you plan to attend?

  16. Luke G. says:

    My wife and I have slept in separate beds for years. (I snore terribly). We both sleep much better for it.

  17. onyomi says:

    http://www.ozy.com/pov/honey-i-love-youbut-we-need-separate-beds/3464

    Though I have had girlfriends with whom I slept in the same bed every night, that has never really been the case with my fiancee, with whom I’ve now been living for about 3 years. In the beginning it was her snoring. We managed to figure out ways to manage that, but the habit has stuck. We still sleep in the same bed when we have company and need the extra bedroom, or when traveling, or when we just feel like being especially cudly, but separate bedrooms is now the norm for us, maybe 6 days a week.

    I think she worries sometimes that this indicates some sort of problem with our relationship–though probably more when say, showing our house to a friend who notices we have separate bedrooms and starts to wonder–but I really feel like it doesn’t. I just feel like I sleep better when I don’t have another person next to me making noises, shifting, getting up to go the bathroom, wanting to sleep and wake up at a different time, etc. etc. Also, I like my bedroom to be relatively uncluttered, as I find clutter to be un-relaxing, but when the bedroom has two full-time users I find this to be nearly impossible to achieve.

    • Chalid says:

      My wife and I have always slept in separate beds except under special circumstances. Sleep quality is very important!

    • blacktrance says:

      My parents and both sets of grandparents slept in separate rooms. My girlfriend and I sleep in the same room but in separate beds, and when we move into a bigger apartment, we’ll have separate rooms as well. It’s surprisingly uncommon considering the advantages (snoring, separate bedtimes, etc).

    • Pku says:

      Evidence in favour of this: I really hate sleeping alone, which suggests that sleeping alone or together is a personal preference rather than a universal quality-of-relationship measure.

    • Neurno says:

      As an avid cuddler, I love sleeping with my partner and with my friends. I shared a bunk-bed with my little brother as a kid, and he snored, and I snore sometimes. This experience, and seeing the nice set of grandparents who love each other after 60+ years have always needed separate bedrooms due to irreconcilable sleep schedules convinced me that separate bedrooms are just a practical necessity in some cases. I’ve always figured separate bedrooms would become a necessity for me and my partner once I’m a loud-snoring overweight late-middle-age human. Not my ideal, since I love to cuddle so much, but practical nonetheless.

    • http://healthland.time.com/2012/06/06/sharing-a-bed-makes-couples-healthier/

      I suspect there is pheromone-sharing or something similar going on in co-sleeping which helps maintaining bonding. Maybe it is purely psychological – shared vulnerability/trust.

      My advice would be to couples who don’t sleep together to at least eat together. That is another basic form of bonding.

    • Urstoff says:

      Have you tried earplugs and an enormous bed? That tends to minimize the effects of the other person in the bed.

    • Psmith says:

      Via Robin Hanson:

      “Research studies consistently find … that adults “sleep better when given their own bed.” One such study monitored couples over a span of several nights. Half of these nights they spent in one bed and the other half in separate rooms. When the subjects woke, they tended to say that they’d slept better when they’d been together. In fact, on average they’d spent thirty minutes more a night in the deeper stages of sleep when they were apart. (more)

      In 2001, the National Sleep Foundation reported that 12% of American couples slept apart with that number rising to 23% in 2005. … Couples experience up to 50% more sleep disturbances when sleeping with their spouse. (more)
      – See more at: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2013/03/sleep-signaling.html#sthash.DM510A53.dpuf

      (I can’t sleep worth a damn with someone else in the bed, for what it’s worth.).

  18. Faradn says:

    It seems a lot of transhumanists and transhumanist-adjacent rationalists believe that Drexlerian nanomachines are going to happen, when the current scientific consensus seems to be that it’s physically impossible. Am I misunderstanding the typical transhumanist position, the scientific consensus, or maybe both?

    • John Schilling says:

      Where do you find a scientific consensus about Drexlerian nanomachines being physically impossible? The general argument is that nanomachines are not ascribed any properties not already demonstrated by bacteria, and bacteria exist, so nanomachines physically can exist.

      That we don’t have a clue how to design a bateria that spends its time doing microscopic bits of some arbitrary macroscopic project of interest to us, is another matter. Drexler and company are clearly a tad optimistic on the engineering side.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      No, not really.

      Most of the big disconnects between lowercase-r rationality and uppercase-R Rationality come from their founder, who founded the group with the explicit goal of training people to be rational enough to agree with his extremely fringe views on things like AI and cryonics.

      Since most of his apocalypic AI scenarios rely heavily on it quickly devising and releasing something like Molecular Assemblers it makes sense that the idea was hardcoded into the Rationalist system despite not making much rational sense.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        You sure? Bioweapons as well as the long game fit fin in a doomsday AI fear.

      • anon says:

        While I agree completely that Yudkowsky founded LW to spread his fringe views (mainly the fringe view that people should give him their money) I think you’re underestimating the damage a superintelligent machine could do even with just today’s technology. There’s plenty it could do just over the internet, and it would be trivial for something several orders of magnitude smarter than human beings to cajole, bribe or blackmail real people into doing everything else.

      • Neurno says:

        Dr. Dealgood: I disagree with the factual implications of your comment, and I take issue with you insulting my meme-group, which I perceive you as describing as Yudkowky’s fringe. He is not the origin of my ideas, he is just a popular spokesperson. Furthermore, I have rather a lot of experiential evidence to support my views on these “fringe” ideas. For example, cryogenics works, for the definition of work meaning “can successfully preserve the information contained with the brain of the subject as represented by the structure of neurons and glia, arrangement of synapses, and types and approximate quantities of proteins present in specific parts of each cell”. Furthermore, the digitizing of this information is already possible with current technology. As a neuroscientist I have carefully cryosectioned, labelled, and imaged with laser microscopy many mammalian brain samples. I don’t know when it will be possible to digitally emulate a mind based on this brain data, but my understanding of computational neuroscience suggests that it is quite possible. However, asserting that I support cryogenics would be incorrect. I don’t support cryogenics because it is outdated. There is a better, safer (less likely to lose brain information), cheaper, easier method that does not require an expensive cryogenics company: hydrogel embedding (CLARITY). (If researching this, do not confuse with brain plasticization which risks losing information.) I have informed Yudkowsky that he is factually incorrect in this regard, but I don’t know if he has yet researched the topic himself and correspondingly updated his views.
        Furthermore, my understanding of the current research in computational neuroscience speaks to the near-term plausibility of biomimetic AI. I am not qualified to speak on the subject of non-biomimetic AI. I am unsure whether biomimetic AI presents any existential risk, but I do believe it will be commonplace within a couple of decades.

        I do doubt that non-biological nanomachines will ever work well, although some crude ones have been made in labs. Don’t underestimate the power of biological nanomachines/ engineered cells though! I’ve only dabbled in genetic engineering/virus manufacture/stem cell engineering, and yet my humble projects have done some pretty impressive things on occasion!

        Again, on any topic outside his field, please consider Yudkowsky to be a well-intentioned popular science-and-philosophy writer (whom I happen to like a lot even if he’s not as correct as he seems to think he is about a lot of current science!). Don’t judge the capacities of science and the possibilities that the future holds by any perceived flaws or limitations in his writing.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          I might have phrased my comment too impolitely, since this is a rationalist space. After all I don’t particularly like it when other people metaphorically come into my house and spit on my carpet. But it seems pretty clear that these positions have for the most part been adopted without or even against the available evidence.

          Going back to cryonics for example: I’m not a neuroscience guy myself, though I am working with a glial cell transcription factor at the moment, but I would contest your characterization of it nonetheless. There’s a huge difference between freezing or perfusing a 10 micrometer slice of tissue that you never intend to thaw and cryonically preserving an entire human brain. Maybe at some future date we will be able to do that, but in the meantime paying even a single dime to companies like Alcor is utterly irrational.

          For another example, take nanotechnology. Yudkowsky seems not to know the difference between wet protein or nucleic acid enzymes which actually exist and dry Drexlerian assemblers which probably can’t exist, and that leads him to some very bizarre statements. Like the idea that, once his hypothetical UFAI cracks protein folding (without actually having done any non-simulated experiments naturally) it can whip up the sequence that codes for build-anything nanobots, send it to some guy, and FOOM… world destroyed. It’s just more grey goo hysteria, except with a killer AI instead of a sloppy chemist.

          There’s other examples that I’m not really qualified to speak on, like the QM stuff or the basic computer science behind his conception of AIs, but the responses I’ve heard from other people who know what they’re talking about sounds like my responses to the above. It’s not encouraging, particularly for a self-proclaimed expert in rationality, to pick irrational positions so consistently.

          • Neurno says:

            Dear Dr Dealgood:
            Thank you for your apology, and in return I also apologize for being touchy about it. To give some context to my reaction, I labored intensely for many years in intellectual isolation researching what I felt to be my possible avenue of contribution to the meta-progress of the human race, radical biological intelligence enhancement via genetic modification of consenting adults. Then, relatively recently, overcoming bias spawned LessWrong, and suddenly an intellectual community willing to seriously discuss the issues I believe to be of utmost importance sprang up.
            It is the willingness of people like yourself to discuss these issues that I primarily value, but I do also very much appreciate Yudkowky’s popularization of the ideas. Why, despite his frequent factual errors? Because I cannot communicate these things nearly so compelling or clearly. My partner and my close friends did not understand when I tried to explain why I have been laboring on this personal project for so many years. After getting them to read LessWrong, they do get it. They get my quest, why I care, why it might really matter. That is no small thing, and for that, I am willing to overlook rather a lot of factual failings. Hopefully if the new book form (Rationality: AI to zombies, which I haven’t read yet, so maybe it’s already somewhat better) gets enough traction, a second issue with the factual failings ‘updated’ by scientists from each specific field referred to can be issued.

          • nope says:

            @Neurno: if you’re still around, I’d like to pick your brains re: intelligence enhancement in adults. My partner and I are involved in various things related to human intelligence, but on the enhancement side, the only significant possibilities look pre-natal. If this is wrong, we would be very excited to learn why. throwaway5283 at google mail dot com if you’re interested.

          • Deiseach says:

            There’s a huge difference between freezing or perfusing a 10 micrometer slice of tissue that you never intend to thaw and cryonically preserving an entire human brain. Maybe at some future date we will be able to do that, but in the meantime paying even a single dime to companies like Alcor is utterly irrational.

            Thank you for succinctly stating my lack of interest in (I can’t really call it opposition to) cryonics. I get that, for raising money for research purposes, companies need to do the whole “we can freeze you and thaw you out in the future” bit, but it does feel to me like taking advantage of the vulnerable, the desperate, and the grieving right now as any people or parts thereof frozen under current technology have, I submit, little to no chance of being successfully re-thawed (that’s not getting into “Oh, the future won’t thaw them out, they’ll read their brain engrams and copy them into a new body/upload to virtual space”).

            I’m not saying it will never work, just that there is a lot of research and trial-and-error and experimenting on animals to see if it can be done right (and I’m sorry all the animal-rights people, but we’re talking about doing this to chimpanzees and other high-level primates to see if it can work for us).

            Right now? Donate for research, certainly. Pay to have your dead body frozen and kept in storage for fifty-plus years? That’s hucksterism on the P.T. Barnum scale.

          • Murphy says:

            personally I don’t think it would work, (my opinion <1% chance) but I can hesitate to call it irrational.

            It's a long-odds bet with massive potential payoff.

            If I was a multi-millionaire or billionaire I could see myself taking that bet.

            Even if it doesn't work and nobody can extract a whole personality from a frozen brain there's good odds that the future equivalent of archaeologists will find the very well preserved bodies of people from, say, a century in their past to be highly useful for understanding our current society,health,diseases etc.

          • Neurno says:

            @nope: email sent. Let me know here if you don’t receive it.

            @Deiseich and Murphy:
            Would you please please please stop discussing horse-and-carriage technology in the discussion about whether it is better to cross a continent on foot or with a cheap jet plane ticket? Seriously, no! That is not the issue at all! Eghads! What are you, Amish, Mennonite, Shaker? Why would you ever ever freeze a brain?! No. Bad. Wrong. Multiple vastly superior options exist.
            The best option currently is, as I said, hydrogel embedding. This requires only a dead brain (or more conveniently a severed head) to be immersed in a bucket of ~10% paraformaldehyde solution, and the sealed bucket placed in a refrigerator. In a few days, or weeks, whichever is convenient, an expert can come along and convert the brain tissue to a hydrogel embedded sample.
            This hydrogel embedded sample is optically clear and can be very effectively immunolabeled and confocal laser microscope scanned over and over with no loss of information. The sample is physically stable (strong and plastic-y)(unlike brain tissue preserved in paraformaldehyde and/or alcohol), and will be stable at room temperature for many decades (at least). Scientists can safely study your brain many times over without damaging the sample or its precious information, and many separate attempts to digitize the information can be made (and compared with each other to get the best total info). The hydrogel embedding and initial paraformaldehyde preservation are quite cheap (under $100) and so useful to scientists that they might well pay your descendants for the privilege of non-harmfully studying it.
            Because there is pretty much no downside to asking your grandkids to keep your preserved brain in a bucket in their garage, you might as well in the slim case that you might be successfully uploaded and in the hugely probable case that your brain would be of great benefit to science at no loss to you. Having scientists non-destructively studying your brain for generations to come would only increase the odds that you might be successfully digitized and emulated someday!

          • nope says:

            @Neurno Hm… nothing on my end yet.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Can you practically use CLARITY on a whole human brain? When I looked it up the only protocols I found were for <=50 mL samples, which is excellent for studying mice but raises questions about how well the process would scale. I'm not an expert here by any means but given that it takes 5+ days to fix a mouse brain the rate of perfusion might be an obstacle in larger organs.

            Also it's a bit of a moot point because, while this is a potentially workable idea for preserving brains nobody is actually doing it. Almost all of the advocacy and all of the money in the Rationalist sphere is focused on freezing.

          • Murphy says:

            @Neurno

            I’m even more skeptical but hey, if it’s really cheap. Let us know if/when a company starts doing this commercially.

            If I could get my brain preserved somewhere safe like that for, say, $1000 I’d possibly go for it. It’s be cheaper than many currently popular death-rituals.

          • Neurno says:

            @Murphy:
            No company necessary if you’re able/willing to talk a friend/relative into the DIY option. Just ask that your brain be stuck in a bucket with some paraformaldehyde and ask a scientist to come study it with CLARITY.
            That being said, I can see how a lot of people might not be so into the DIY option. I recognize that I may be somewhat unusual in enjoying studying/handling the brain tissue of the recently deceased. I do hope someone starts such a business soon!

            @Dr Dealgood:
            I use this forum for my DIY nitty-gritty on CLARITY.
            forum.claritytechniques dot org
            clarityresourcecenter dot org

            Here is a link to a paper in which it was used on a whole human brain from a brain bank (processed in about 1 cm thick slices) which had been stored a long while previously in formalin.
            It is possible to do this in much thicker sections, it just takes longer before the brain is optically clear and ready to observe. It’s actually better for information preservation to use the slower method, but it’s hard to be sufficiently patient! I hate having to leave a sample in the clearing solution for months just to be able to answer the question that I prepared it for!
            http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nan.12293/full

            Actually, it can be done not just on brain tissue but on the whole body (but why bother for other than medical research? You are your brain). Note of caution while researching this: images of whole animal hydrogel preservation samples are not for the weak of stomach.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Thanks for the link. I had seen the bit on preserving other organs, I think it was mentioned in passing by a team optimizing the protocol for whole mouse brains.

            I also think our definitions of whole are a bit different. To me, once you section a brain it is by definition no longer a whole brain. Asumming arguendo that you can scan and emulate brains you’d still presumably want it in as few pieces as possible.

            But yeah, definitely going to check that place out.

          • Deiseach says:

            Neurno, right now people are forking out good money to have themselves, or their heads, frozen and preserved, or paying for the upkeep of frozen deceased family members, via that horse-and-carriage technology.

            That’s my main beef: people are being sold a bill of goods that cannot be fulfilled. Better preservation techniques, invention of however the fuck you are going to read engrams or whatever, animal testing of both that shows they work and you get out the other end something almost entirely approximating what you put in – fine, once those bugs are worked out, then sell people “step right up, sign up for our process, and wake up in the wonderful world of tomorrow”.

            As it is? Right now? And the companies that started forty years or so ago and froze people in the 60s? I think you’d be as well off to be turned into an Egyptian mummy.

            Also – so you slice up the brain into sections? Well, if you can put Humpty-Dumpty back together again, then I think okay. I’d really like to see some animal tests done first, though 🙂

            It sounds rather too like Victor Frankenstein stitching separate body parts back together into a coherent whole and getting the resultant jigsaw to work.

    • rsaarelm says:

      I think most transhumanists believe that physically possible nanomachines are going to happen. The Drexler debate was about whether it’s physically possible to build dry nanotechnology where you move individual atoms around into a crystalline structure instead of just setting up a wet nanotechnology protein soup and hoping something useful comes out of it. We already know that wet nanotechnology is possible because we have living cells.

      • Faradn says:

        Yeah, Smalley’s objections are part of what I was thinking of. Nanotech as biomimicry with some limitations of application would still be on the table, but not nanotech as magic.

    • Neurno says:

      My perception (as a far-left transhumanist rationalist, and neuroscientist) is that I don’t have a very good understanding of the full potential of dry nanomachines. However, I suspect, and have read multiple papers that seem to more or less agree, that the likely near-term potential is of a machine less powerful than engineered bacteria (wet nanotechnology). Is that the full physical possible extent of the power of dry nanotechnology? I dunno, maybe.
      So, I suspect the future will not have powerful dry nanotechnology (I.e. Drexlerian). But I don’t suspect this with more than about 75% confidence.
      So, update on this as you will, keeping in mind that the simple plural of anecdote is not data as issues from a controlled experiment. 😉

      • Jeffrey Soreff says:

        So, I suspect the future will not have powerful dry nanotechnology (I.e. Drexlerian). But I don’t suspect this with more than about 75% confidence.

        Any specific reasons? A scanning tunneling microscope was used to position xenon atoms on a nickel crystal with atomic precision back in 1989.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_%28atoms%29
        Now, whether anyone is actually ever going to pay for developing atomically precise
        mass production technology is anyone’s guess, but I think there is a strong case that
        it would work if it were built.

        • Neurno says:

          Yes, good point. I guess what I meant to say is that I think it only 25% probable that anyone will successfully build working Drexlerian-style powerful dry nanomachines in the next 100 years. Now that you point it out, I agree that I have no evidence that the existence and function of such machines (if built) would be physically impossible.

  19. Pku says:

    Two things people here might enjoy: Economics paper analyzing the effects of the destruction of the death stars and the fall of the empire (which raises the theory that Palpatine built the death stars to assure that, should he be defeated, the galaxy would go into economic collapse, in order to intimidate the rebellion), here: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1511.09054v1.pdf

    Also, this analysis of how maximizing her daughters’ average marriage utility actually meant cinderella’s stepmother neglecting her in favour of her sisters actually was the optimal strategy: http://econpapers.repec.org/article/ucpjpolec/v_3a100_3ay_3a1992_3ai_3a2_3ap_3a430-32.htm

    • Mark says:

      In a cashless economy, where current account bank deposits are money, it would be impossible for a bank to default on its payments to depositors. (Because the fact that the numbers are written down means that they are there.)

      • Pku says:

        But if it’s impossible not to default on a debt, doesn’t that make money effectively meaningless (since you could always reliably go into arbitrarily large debt to pay for stuff, so you lose the concept of not being able to afford things)?

        • Mark says:

          Well… it’s not as if there is some *thing*… like a piece of gold… that they can’t get hold of, so if you have the bank default on deposits, that must simply be some kind of administrative mechanism.
          Is that the best way to prevent the creation of too much money? I think regulation/legal restrictions would probably be better – alternatively just allow inflation – it’ll sort itself out.

      • Jeffrey Soreff says:

        Wait a minute:
        If bank A records that depositor D1 has $X in their account,
        (but it recently arbitrarily doubled D1’s balance from $X/2 to $X)
        what says that if depositor D1 writes a check to depositor D2 in bank B,
        say for $3X/4, that bank B is going to honor that check?

    • Jiro says:

      Sounds like an argument against average utility. Maximizing average utility with lots of inequality can be bad.

    • anon says:

      I thought he built the Death Stars to zap the Yuuzhan Vong and their planet sized space ships when they tried to invade the Galaxy

  20. Joe says:

    December 12 is the feast of our lady of Guadalupe so if you’re going to the meet up bring Mexican food!
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Guadalupe

  21. Tar Far says:

    I want to know whether same-sex couples who are married (or long-term cohabiting) try to start families using adoption, IVF, or surrogacy as often as opposite-sex-but-infertile couples who are married (or long-term cohabiting) try to start families using adoption, surrogacy, or fertility treatments. Actually I want to know the exact rates of each. So far the numbers don’t seem to be anywhere in one place.

    Can anyone point me to reliable sources for all the relevant stats I’ll need to get an answer?

    • I think you can find it in the American Community Survey microdata files for the USA anyhow. That’s where the granularity by variable that you would need would be located.

      But I can tell you right now that the answer is, no, SS couples do not try to start families as often as infertile OS couples. I can’t give exact rates, but I can tell you that just doing a per capita comparison (all SS couples who do this against all SS couples vs all infertile OS couples who do this against all OS couples), the OS couples do it way more often. There’s only about 100k SS couples with children total, most of them lesbian.

      Here is a good starting point for American data, in any case.
      http://www.census.gov/hhes/samesex/data/acs.html

      • Tar Far says:

        I can tell you right now that the answer is, no, SS couples do not try to start families as often as infertile OS couples.

        That’s my hunch too, and I actually did a preliminary calculation using gov’t numbers for the relevant infertility and overall adoption stats while using numbers from gay websites for the stats on gay couples and gay adoption rates (to ensure I wasn’t being unfair), plus Pew data for number of gay married couples. I got about 18% adoption for married/infertile OS couples and about 16% adoption for married SS couples. I expected the first number to be higher and the second number to be lower, and then thinking more about it I realized I probably left out some data that I needed, and might have not done the formula right anyway.

        Some other problems with the comparison:
        – couples might think marriage is necessary for adoption (even though this was only true in 2 states over the last 15 years) and thus gay couples in states without legal gay marriage might not have adopted even though they wanted to, but of course if we include ALL gay couples then the figure will be incredibly low since this would include just couples who date and report themselves as “in a relationship” when a survey gets taken.
        – including stats about fertility treatment was problematic because a) it’s very complicated, what with all the different types of fertility treatment available to either men or women, and b) it’s often not broken down very well.
        – a significant number of gay households have kids from previous marriages (go figure), complicating those stats.

    • A says:

      If it helps, many IVF statistics are probably screwed up by the fact that folks are going out of the country to evade regulations, at least in Europe-I’m not sure about the US.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Is there usually cuddling at these rationalist parties?

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Cuddling is a prohibited topic.

      ***You have been banned for 1 month***

    • Scott Alexander says:

      There is cuddling at some house parties, but I would be very surprised if there was any at the Reasonable New York party (which is not actually rationalist, just some other people taking advantage of the Solstice). California I still have no idea what the party/meetup schedule looks like.

  23. onyomi says:

    This might be breaking the “don’t politicize a tragedy within 72 hours rule” (though I think it’s been at least 48 now?), and if so, feel free to delete, but really I mean this as more of a meta-commentary on reactions to tragedy than on the tragedy itself.

    It seems to me the gun control-as-reaction-to-mass-shootings thing is one of the most brain dead discussions in American politics today. Every time a shooting happens there is an instant reaction from those in favor of gun control to say “when will this madness end??” “how many more deaths before we enact sensible gun control???” etc., but they never make an argument about why gun control would have prevented the specific tragedy that just happened.

    They would respond, perhaps: “d’uh, making guns harder to get and less common will reduce the incidence of gun violence,” but beyond the whole “criminals don’t care about laws” argument, I also wouldn’t consider it an improvement if school shootings were replaced by school bombings.

    There is usually some feeble attempt to say something about mental health, but that always gets overshadowed by the gun thing.

    To the supporters of gun control (which I am not, if it’s not obvious), I’d say that if you don’t want to keep shouting inside an echo chamber where none of the pro-gun people can hear you, then you need to start making arguments about why gun control is going to help or why the specific measures you want to institute would have helped prevent this particular tragedy you are trying to politicize. It always seems to take the form of “this person shot up a school with a handgun he bought at Wal Mart, therefore let’s ban assault rifles and gun shows.” It always strikes me as a non sequitur.

    Also, can we at least be open to any other possible solutions?

    • Richard says:

      I’ve been curious about the effects of gun control for ages and according to my standard method, I’ve been reading studies. The thing is that studies on this subject are either so horribad that they are completely useless or inconclusive.
      My current prior is that guns have ~zero impact on the frequency of violence. It may have some impact on the effects. The problem is that this too swings both ways; The harm a gun man can do is somewhat larger than the capacity of one with a knife, but a madman who is stopped by an armed civilian does less damage than one who is able to keep at it until stopped by police.

      Unless someone can come up with a high quality study, it may be more productive to try and find out why americans seems to be significantly more violent than just about everyone else rather than harping on guns.

      • onyomi says:

        What always strikes me as a particularly bad and disingenuous (as in, I have a hard time believing that even those who offer it really believe it, deep down) arguments is the idea that civilians with guns are going to make live shooter situations worse by just wildly shooting all over the place.

        First of all, the sort of person who is likely to do concealed carry is certain to have a higher-than-average level of gun handling skills–an off-duty police officer, ex-military, a hunting enthusiast, range shooter… they’re not going to be perfect under pressure, but they’re going to be better than just handing a gun to some random person on the street.

        Second, if I had to be in a theater when a gunman came in on a rampage, I’d *strongly* prefer if it turned out there were armed civilians among the other patrons, as I would *strongly* prefer to learn that some of the faculty had guns if I heard that there was an active shooter at my school. I’m not going to be running around between the shooter and the armed civilian; I’m going to be hiding under my seat praying someone else shoots the guy before he gets to me.

        The probability that the shooter will himself get shot or scared off by the armed resistance seems much higher to me than me or my child getting accidentally hit by a movie patron or faculty member with bad aim.

        • The Anonymouse says:

          The probability that the shooter will himself get shot or scared off by the armed resistance seems much higher to me than me or my child getting accidentally hit by a movie patron or faculty member with bad aim.

          I know there are many folks who would say, “I don’t care, I’m still dead.” But for me, if I’m going to be shot, I’d far rather it be by someone working to protect his fellow men than by an evil person specifically trying to kill me for no damn reason.

        • Guy Incognito says:

          I’m pretty sure I remember reading that there were friendly fire casualties in Koreatown during the 1992 LA riots (and I’m guessing that most of the Korean storeowners who were packing heat had prior military training).

          Deterrence is obviously the most desirable effect of gun ownership, and I’d guess that gun ownership does prevent things like home robberies (I think the UK has roughly the same rate of home robberies as the US, many of which seem to be committed by some chump wielding only a knife or something like that). In a public setting, though, it’s much harder to say that the deterrent/prophylactic effect outweighs the risk of fubar.

          • onyomi says:

            I recall reading somewhere that the UK had a much higher incidence of robberies which occur while the victims are at home, owing to the fact that American robbers know there is a decent chance they will get shot if they attempt this much more brazen act. I like robbers thinking there is a decent chance I own a shotgun.

          • Nornagest says:

            The UK doesn’t make stats on robbery (much less home-invasion robbery) available as far as I can tell, but its rate of burglary appears to be about 10 in 1000, compared to 7 in 1000 for the US (ONS vs. FBI stats). It’s always tricky business comparing crime stats between countries, though; differences in reporting procedure and the definition of the crime can matter much more than its likelihood. And that’s when the numbers aren’t being fudged, which we can safely assume they are.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        Gun control can work well in places like the UK (or perhaps Japan and Australia), and less well in places like France or the US.

        The dude in the London tube had to resort to stabbing people, so the gun control narrative is correct in this case — if you can get gun control to work, it’s harder to do a ton of damage. The implication is what’s tricky. EU open borders + France being on the continent made the same not reproducible in Paris.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          Guns are like a lot of other things: if they’re reasonably well-controlled to start with, a competent government can do a good job of controlling them the rest of the way. If they aren’t, all bets are off.

        • Anonymous says:

          I suspect that gun control probably does prevent some types of crime – those dependent on guns specifically – when enacted in places where illegal importing is costly, such as islands.

          However, the anti gun control narrative, as far as I understand it, is not that gun control can never prevent any crime. Rather, it’s:

          – most gun crimes are not spur-of-the-moment lapses in reason by normally law-abiding citizens, but intentional acts committed by people with criminal backgrounds
          – most gun crimes do not actually require a gun, only some weapon that puts the perpetrator in a position of power over the victim
          – attempts to prevent this imbalance via bans of increasingly less powerful weapons quickly become unfeasible due to the nigh-impossibility of preventing criminals from getting hold of blades and blunt weapons
          – if citizens could defend themselves against blades and blunt weapons, criminals’ demand for guns would rise, and illegal imports would increase (so the situation of low supply of guns in island countries is possible only because demand is low)
          – citizens armed with guns can win this arms race; nothing beats a gun, and in a situation where both sides are armed, but one has the law on their side and the other doesn’t, the former side is the powerful one
          – therefore, allowing citizens to own and carry guns will increase the cost of committing violent crime and lower criminals’ propensity to do so

          One interesting claim in this that could be investigated is the extent of illegal imports, into island nations, of other goods for which there aren’t good substitutes that can be produced within the nation.

          • JBeshir says:

            If you want to know about whether gun restrictions affect availability of guns to criminals, you can just look at the effect of gun bans on gun crime. Looking at gun crime as opposed to, e.g. homicides in general is incorrect if you want to ask “does a gun ban reduce crime”, but it *is* a good way to ask “does a gun ban make guns less available to criminals”.

            The answer is “very strongly yes”- gun bans make there be less gun crime, fewer guns per capita, etc. The part that’s unclear is whether this reduces crime in general, and the messy efforts to to analyse that so far haven’t shown any effect.

            This is kind of a counter-intuitive state of affairs which in total isn’t hugely helpful to either side, which is probably why it isn’t well reported. Scott’s old blog talks about it at http://squid314.livejournal.com/347454.html

            My personal interpretation is that this admits three interpretations:

            1) Gun restrictions strong enough to affect gun crime, do not impose significant barriers to committing crime. The substitutability of alternative means of committing crimes relative to determination to commit crime is really high, “coke vs pepsi” high.

            2) Gun restrictions strong enough to affect gun crime, do impose significant barriers to committing crime, do reduce crime, but other things they correlate with in practice are masking the effect in the imperfect examinations we can do without being able to run RCTs; the number of potential confounders is probably higher than the number of data points.

            3) Gun restrictions strong enough to affect gun crime, impose significant barriers to committing crime, but gun possession has a deterrent effect against crime, and in practice the two roughly cancel out on average on the global scale.

            I find 1 kind of absurd- it requires a near perfect substitution effect, between a ranged, easy to use point and click killing device, and chasing people down with a knife and physically fighting with them to kill them. Criminals would have be almost exclusively highly dedicated determinators who set their eyes on a specific murder and then accomplish it, rather than low-IQ people with bad impulse control.

            Additionally, the gunshot mortality rate is 22%, and the stabbing morality rate is ~4%, so you’d need the removal of gun availability to result in quintuple the number of stabbings somehow.

            It’s a popular idea but its popularity seems to come from people thinking in terms of possibilities as opposed to probabilities. On the other hand, 2 and 3 both don’t seem to imply anything obviously incongruous with reality.

            In practice, I’m in favour of maintaining strict gun control in the UK where I live just for the quite well evidenced effect on suicide rate, and (speculative) the more polite relationship one can enjoy with the police when the police don’t need to worry about people having a “point and click make cops die” interface available to them.

            But that’s because gun ownership isn’t a big part of culture and so the restrictions don’t make people sad like they would in the US. The US has different tradeoffs to consider.

          • Anonymous says:

            @JBeshir

            I have no doubt that gun bans make guns less available, but your suggestion of looking at falls in rates of gun crime do not show by how much. This is because you are ignoring the other factor that’s relevant – how good substitutes there are for guns. If gun homicides fall sharply but homicides stay the same, that suggests that there are good substitutes for guns for the purpose of committing homicides, which means that a small increase in how difficult it is to get a gun will cause a large drop in demand for guns.

            If there were some legal change made that meant that the substitutes for guns became less good – for example, if citizens could carry baseball bats for personal protection – then, depending on how easy it was to smuggle guns into the nation, gun availability, hence gun crime, might rise by a lot or by a little. That’s what I’m interested in here.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Anonymous: I think your summary is generally correct, but that the emphasis on “island nations” as having an advantage w/re gun control may be off. The United States has a fair degree of experience with trying to prevent illicit goods from being sold on domestic black markets, and we have found that cross-country foot or vehicle traffic is only a minor contributor. Much of what is available is locally produced, and yes, quite deadly firearms can be locally produced just about anywhere and do not require factories. What is smuggled, comes mostly through ordinary commercial channels, and it hardly matters whether the point of entry is a seaport, airport, rail line or cross-border highway. The minority that is smuggled across a desolate stretch of the border can come by sea, land, or air.

            Island nations have, at best, a small advantage in this regard. Or, now that I think about it, they may have a large advantage in that the barrier to casual cross-border traffic allows them to maintain unique cultures that would otherwise diffuse into the global or regional norm. So it may not be entirely coincidental that two of the nations most often cited as gun-control success stories are islands. But the cultures of the UK and Japan would be nearly impossible to recreate elsewhere, I think, and it is the cultures more than the borders that matter.

          • JBeshir says:

            @Anonymous

            While you were posting, I was editing, and edited in more detail about what we currently know, but the short answer is that it isn’t clear what if any effect gun restrictions have on homicides overall- it doesn’t look like it’s clearly very much.

            In terms of substitutability I think I would probably be more inclined to go off the percentage of stabbings which are lethal compared to the percentage of gunshot wounds which are lethal as a starting point than off effect on homicide rates, because there’s things other than high substitutability (like gun deterrence effect) which would cause the effect to be small or zero or even negative, and sky high substitutability seems… absurd given all we know about lethality differences, the average criminal’s notable lack of intelligence or conscientiousness, the entirely different required… format of the attack, different time taken to successfully kill someone etc.

          • Anonymous says:

            @JBeshir

            I expect the substitutability is at least somewhat high because for many uses, what matters is relative not absolute power, and gun bans are typically paired with restrictions on other weapons too. So in order to mug an unarmed civilian, a gun and a knife ought to work similarly well. Both pose a significant enough risk that doing what the mugger asks is the best option.

            EDIT:

            Additionally, the gunshot mortality rate is 22%, and the stabbing morality rate is ~4%, so you’d need the removal of gun availability to result in quintuple the number of stabbings somehow.

            You mean “you’d need the removal of gun availability to result in quintuple the number of stabbings as there were gunshots previously“, right?

          • JBeshir says:

            @Anonymous

            Yes on the five times the number of previous gunshot wounds part. Each substituted gunshot wound needs to be replaced by five stabbings to compensate for different mortality to get the same death rate.

            You might be right that expecting there to be a low substitutability might not be called for when it comes to muggings, where even a small risk you can threaten with is probably enough to make it better to just give you the money. I expect it’d be less likely to end in death, though, even if just due to the lower mortality of being stabbed, and this to not generalise to attempts to murder.

          • John Schilling says:

            You all seem to be assuming that shootings and stabbings involve one wound each, or at least that the number of wounds will be identical. For murderous attackers, the number of gunshot or stab wounds is quite likely to be “Until the sonofabitch is dead, duh!”, and if that means stabbing someone twenty-five times so be it. Though multiple wounds are synergistic, so it usually won’t take twenty-five stabbings to kill someone if that’s the intent.

            For non-murderous attackers, guns will be more likely to inflict an unintentionally-lethal injury than knives. Indeed, one of the reasons for criminals to prefer knives when targeting unarmed prey is the greater control over the level of violence. But even if circumstances lead non-murderous criminals to use guns, relatively few of their victims will die, and the killings will likely be dominated by the murderous criminals.

          • JBeshir says:

            I don’t *think* mortality rate for stab wounds vs gunshot wounds counts multiple stabs separate times, but just as one instance per person.

            I did some digging into this and the best I could find was http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/news_releases/2014/01/band/ which talks about people who get to their hospital with either gunshot wounds or stab wounds. Their goal is to compare different people bringing them in, but they find that of those brought in, 33% of people with gunshot wounds die and 7.7% of people with stab wounds die, which is different absolute totals because different place, selection effects, different data, but a fairly close ratio in something that’s explicitly counting in people rather than wounds.

          • Anonymous says:

            @JBeshir

            One other point that occurred to me is that it might well be the case that you are safer, murder rate wise, in a place where citizens and criminals both have guns, than you are in a place where criminals have knives and citizens have nothing – but that you are even less safe in a place where criminals have guns and citizens have nothing. Note that the US, and presumably other countries where citizens can carry guns, is made up of some of the first and some of the third kind of environment. So the enactment of gun control, in turning both of these into the second kind of environment, might make some places more safe and some less safe (again, from a murder rate perspective), and so have fairly little effect on the murder rate of the country as a whole.

            I’m under the impression that most of the places in the US with particularly high murder rates do in fact have fairly stringent restrictions on guns compared to the rest of the country.

          • JBeshir says:

            @Anonymous

            Yeah, “guns have deterrent effect” is way more plausible to me than “knives are near-perfectly substitutable for guns” and that’d be a sensible read of things.

            There’s causal lines from both “urban area” to gun control, “urban area” to high crime, and “high crime” to gun control, which I think covers why the gun controlled areas are those with higher murder rates, in the US. This doesn’t rule out what you describe, but it means it’s quite hard to detect.

            Edit: I should note that the reason I kept saying “gun restrictions strong enough to reduce gun crime” is because a lot of the US gun control seem to me dubious in meeting that criteria, and for that gun control there is no mystery to its lack of effectiveness on crime in general.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            There is no such thing as “drive by stabbing”, although I suppose the substitute might be “drive by molotov” but that seems like it is hardly a reasonable substitute.

            Call this an anecdote, but I think it maps well to a class of crimes that results in some significant chunk of murders. I have a friend who is a public defense lawyer. He was involved with a murder trial wherein members of two different families had some argument over what was essentially an “honor” violation. The actual murder involved someone driving by and shooting at the house of one of the families.

            One person was struck and killed, but all parties agreed that this was not one of the people who had been party to the actual conflict (in fact this person had been a peacemaker). The most likely target was in the yard at the time.

    • keranih says:

      (pro-gun person here (or, at least, strongly anti-control as currently advocated in the USA))

      For my part, while there is deep distrust towards those who claim to only want common sense laws, because the same folks keep coming back and wanting to seize weapons, there is also a sense of frustration re: the more rational restrictions.

      As an example: mandatory training to be demonstrated prior to permitting purchase, and a renewable license, same-same as for drivers licenses. On the surface, I don’t actually disagree with this, as firearms can be dangerous and I don’t have a problem with supervised firearms training for all high schoolers the way we used to for drivers ed. Make it mostly universal, we’ll reduce accidents, make it not a huge burden for people to get firearms licenses, it’s all good.

      Except…the same Blue Tribers who want licenses and mandatory training for firearms are saying that enforcement of licenses, registration, and insurance for *cars* is an unreasonable burden on the impoverished and minorities. That making people actually demonstrate where they live and forcing them to keep their addresses up-to-date is too hard, and that our current system – as demonstrated in Ferguson – only makes criminals out of ordinary citizens.

      Likewise, I think the same people who advocated “mandatory” universal health insurance are generally good intentioned people who would never consider letting their drivers insurance lapse, nor to fail to update their drivers license when needed, or otherwise not comply with the bureaucratic burden of state and local rules. They just haven’t dealt with people who can and do make idiot choices and/or decide to not comply with the decision of the council, on the grounds that in their opinion it’s a stupid-ass decision.

      In many cases, people comply with laws when there is a higher cost to not complying than there is to comply. When the cost to not comply seems minor or marginal, people are at the least strongly tempted to disregard the law.

      If we’re not going to strongly enforce drivers licenses and failure to have insurance for the car, or health insurance…why should we expect that firearms licenses/insurance are going to be better enforced?

      • Theo Jones says:

        On reasonable gun control. A lot of the problem is that gun control activists have chosen post Heller v. D.C to take the same tactic that pro-life groups took post Roe v. Wade. The gun control activists want to disrupt gun owners and gun dealers by generating as much pointless restrictions as possible. Just as pro-life activists want to disrupt abortion clinics through a large number of pointless restrictions. The presence of this tactic destroyed the room for compromise, and turns otherwise inoffensive regulations into troublesome ones. Take the universal background checks bill going through Congress right now. It uses dealers as intermediates for the background checks. The problem occurs in places San Fransisco which have managed to force all gun dealers out of business. There it becomes a defacto ban on gun sales.

        • The Anonymouse says:

          “I want to eradicate X from the United States. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has ruled that I cannot ban X. Therefore, the most productive approach is to continually advocate for incremental, seemingly innocuous restrictions on X, so that people eventually have a theoretical access to X, but in reality have no access to X, thus achieving my goal of eradication.”

          It consistently amazes me that when X=abortion, the blue tribe has no problem seeing through this process as a sham, and reliably understands the true goal behind “common sense” restrictions. But when X=guns, they seem to be collectively blind to the exact same tactic they decry as used by the other side.

          • Jiro says:

            It also works with X=”death penalty”.

          • Theo Jones says:

            It doesn’t amaze me. Just flip the issues around and you get a description of red tribe behavior. In the abortion case its the GOP using the tactic and the Dems defending against it. In the gun case its the Dems using it and the GOP defending.

            One interesting thing is that both (non-politician, at least) activists on both issues don’t realize/don’t want to admit what they are doing. Gun control activists believe they are being reasonable. Pro life activists believe they are being reasonable.The best explanation I can come up with is that for both movements the preferences of the other side have close to zero value. The other side is just crazy from that perspective. “Why would I care what some gun nut thinks about filling out paperwork??” “The women will regret their decision eventually” For gun control activists there is almost no reason any regular person would legitimately want a gun. For pro-life activists there is pretty much no legitimate reason anyone would want an abortion. So, the bar for “reasonable” is set very low.

          • The Anonymouse says:

            I’m not sure both sides don’t realize what they’re doing. It has been my experience (YMMV) that when X=abortion, at least certain segments of the red tribe do explicitly say, “Hey, we can’t ban it, so we’re using every tactic available to institute a de facto ban.”

            Whereas, when X=guns, I’ve yet to hear a blue triber be so straightforward about it. It’s always about “common sense” that rarely proves to be so.

          • TheNybbler says:

            The current front page New York Times editorial is about as honest as they get short of “Mr. and Mrs. America, turn them all in” (Feinstein):

            “yes, it would require Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up for the good of their fellow citizens.”

            Personally I see it as either odd or desperate, tactically, to do a big push for gun control following an attack by people (reportedly) associated with a foreign terror group.

          • The Anonymouse says:

            I’m guessing desperate. Gun control has been a dead letter, politically,1 for some years now, and proponents are hoping that something, anything, will break up that stasis. If it has to be a tragedy that, while involving firearms, likely would not have been prevented by the measures being promoted, well, you dance with the one who brung ya.

            1 For the primary reason why, think of all your blue friends and all the political issues they care about. Gun control might well be among them, but is unlikely the number one issue, and almost certainly is not the issue they’d single-issue vote on. There are literally millions of red-tribe voters for whom a candidate’s stance on gun control will make or break their vote for that candidate.

          • Theo Jones says:

            I made a response to Nybbler’s comment. I’m not sure if the comment system ate it, or if a spam filter got it (both attempts were eaten, and there was a link — so I’m thinking filter). If someone with the proper powers could check the spam trap, that would be appreciated.

          • Theo Jones says:

            @Anonymouse
            I don’t think its desperation. Its salience. People way over estimate the threat posed to them by this type of event. I had a FB “friend” post a meme that read “I lived through the Cold War, and I am more scared of guns than I was ever scared of nukes”. When you consider the very large casualties that a nuclear war would cause, thats an absurd position, even under low probabilities of war.

          • onyomi says:

            “If it has to be a tragedy that, while involving firearms, likely would not have been prevented by the measures being promoted, well, you dance with the one who brung ya.”

            And this is precisely the problem. Their motivations are transparent, at least to me, and so they lose credibility on other questions.

          • Anonymous says:

            Whereas, when X=guns, I’ve yet to hear a blue triber be so straightforward about it.

            I'm loosely in favor of gun control, and I have never, nor have I ever had anyone in the "blue tribe" tell me, that they favor the complete elimination of legally owned guns. The fact that you haven't heard the sentiment expressed may well be due to the fact that it just isn't widely held.

          • onyomi says:

            See, I actually give most of them the benefit of the doubt when they say they don’t really want to ban all guns; they just want modest, sensible reforms. The problem is, if those sensible reforms get implemented and the shootings don’t stop, I also fully expect them to start pushing for ever more “sensible” reforms until we get to the point where firearm ownership for self-defense may, in fact, be de facto illegal.

            This is based on my overwhelming experience with humanity in general, which says that, if you start out with a very strong sense that x is the solution to y and you implement x but y persists, by far the most common reaction is not to rethink x, but to start pushing for 2x, and 3x, and…

            Further, the overton window tends to hover over whatever the legal status quo is at the moment. In the US, where firearm ownership is still relatively free, saying “ban all private firearm ownership” sounds like an extreme position in a way that it wouldn’t in Japan or the UK. In some cases this may mean that some radicals are forced to keep their true end goals to themselves, but in many cases, I think it genuinely affects what people think of as “reasonable.”

            Though the type of person to be a lobbyist for gun control may secretly wish to ban all guns, I think their average supporter genuinely thinks he/she just wants “common sense,” “reasonable,” reforms. The problem is, when the law changes, so too does “common sense.”

          • The people who favor gun control seem to have a large contingent who start with “why would anyone want to own a gun, anyway?”. I see this as indicating a desire to ban guns.

          • Mark Z. says:

            They both see through it just fine. It’s just that the blue and red tribes see nothing wrong with using stupid bureaucracy tricks to achieve their goals, if that’s what works, and then turning around and scolding the opposition for doing the same thing, because that also works.

        • keranih says:

          The analogy to abortion arguments is definitely legit – it’s been brought up in (polite, restrained) debates with friends.

          I have yet to find a way to support “regular” medical clinic standards for abortion clinics that doesn’t come across as disingenuous to the pro-choice side. I myself want to blame this on the illogic of the pro-choice side, but then I would, wouldn’t I? And these are (generally) rational people I’m arguing with.

          • But here’s the thing. Stricter standards for abortion clinics (to the level of the average Western European country, incidentally) is extremely likely to result in fewer abortions because the people who perform abortions disproportionately lack proper medical credentials and also disproportionately don’t do basic things like sanitize the operating theater between patients.

            Pro-abortion people (as distinguished from pro-choice people) will sometimes directly say that these laxer standards of sanitation and credential acquisition and maintenance are fine, because the goal for them is maximum abortion access for the entire duration of a pregnancy. And given that this is an extreme goal, disproportionately extremists who really want it sit on the regulatory boards for abortion provision in each state. So that’s what pro-life people are confronting even if they are in the camp of wanting better standards (again, at merely the level most of the prosperous social welfare countries in Europe enjoy) for non-extremist reasons.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ The Practical Conservative
            these laxer standards of sanitation and credential acquisition and maintenance are fine, because the goal for them is maximum abortion access for the entire duration of a pregnancy

            Hm? I bet what this refers to, is that handing someone a package of abortifacient to take at home, doesn’t require a surgeon with hospital admitting privileges scrubbing the entire office first.

          • keranih says:

            @ houseboatonstyx

            I bet what this refers to, is that handing someone a package of abortifacient to take at home, doesn’t require a surgeon with hospital admitting privileges scrubbing the entire office first.

            …oh, that we were in person, and I could shake your hand to seal that bet. Because that’s not what it’s about. And that’s not how even the medical (ie, non-surgical) abortifactants work.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ keranih

            So how about a link to what it is about?

          • Deiseach says:

            Have a look at this Washington Post coverage of the Kermit Gosnell story. Now, I’m not American, I don’t know if the Washington Post is seen as pro-Republican or pro-Democrat or what, somebody enlighten me.

            But the facts are pretty much this: Bob Casey Jr. was Governor of Pennsylvania 1987-95. Like his father before him, he was one of the pro-life Democrats. When he was succeeded as governor by Tom Ridge (a Republican, by the way), the Pennsylvania Department of Health happily gave up on inspecting abortion clinics, because they didn’t want to be perceived as being a deterrent to abortion access. This allowed Gosnell (and I believe a couple others) to run crappier and crappier “clinics” and get away with overcharging and dangerous practices, because hey, don’t interfere with the right to abortion by closing these guys down!

            I really recommend reading the Post series of articles. Even abortion providers organisations wouldn’t touch Gosnell with a ten-foot barge pole, but he was allowed to operate his clinics largely, it seems, because his clientele were poor, young, and women of colour. So what if they kept ending up dumped on hospital steps or even dying (Karnamaya Mongar)? He was doing community service, providing choice!

            Ironically, it was a raid for illegal drug prescriptions that finally brought the whole house of cards down.

            But believe me, demands for hygiene standards are a lot more serious than “make sure you scrub your entire office before handing over a dose of mifepristone”.

          • keranih says:

            @ houseboatonstyx –

            D already beat me to the Gosnell issue. Here is an editorial from a pro-standards side. 538 also did a brief piece here, which would seem to indicate that abortion centers are less in need of oversight than dental surgery clinics, *but* if you read to the bottom, they talk about re-examining the data after adjusting for age – meaning that they didn’t adjust for data before. (The study itself is paywalled, I might be able to get to it this week. There is no indication from the abstract that the mortality/morbidity rates were adjusted for age (or anything else) and they should have been (and the abstract should have said that.)) So the support for the idea that there is no need – in regular clinics, not abattoirs like Gosnell ran – for surgical-level standards is suspect.

            (If the full study show something else I will revisit.)

            Now, as to more object level concerns (because, frankly, if the regulations are not needed then yeah, why have the regulations?) I agree that if all the clinic will do is non-surgical, consult/physical exam only, no sedation work, then I agree that there is not a need to have surgical suite requirements. I’m iffier on a medical center of any sort that has doors and hallways that you can’t get a gurney through.

            However, any sort of sedation? No, they need to act like an actual medical center – hallways for gurneys, parking lot access for ambulances, and real docs who have the qualifications to get admission privileges at the local hospital.

            What really strikes me is the way these centers supposedly have to shut down entirely if they can’t do abortions – despite all that has been said about how abortions are only part of the many vital services they provide.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Keranih
            I agree that if all the clinic will do is non-surgical, consult/physical exam only, no sedation work, then I agree that there is not a need to have surgical suite requirements.

            No need for you to look deeper, thanks. What I’m concerned about is anti-choice politicians using vague language to shut down clinics whose services have no reasonable need for expensive facilities and personnel.

            In some areas of the US, the same voter base oppose all contraception, saying ordinary ‘birth control pills’ and IUDs cause abortions — much less RU-486, which actually does. So there is plenty of room for equivocation in the fine print in the laws they get written, and how they are interpreted.

            Where otc and mail order purchase of RU-486 is limited, getting it may require a visit to an ‘abortion clinic’. Swallowing the first dose there and taking the rest home, would not seem to require special facilities.

            See http://www.abortionadvantage.com/abortion-pill-ru-486.html

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Keranih

            I just read the 538 link you gave. I think you should take another look at the implication of its end paragraphs.

            http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/new-clinic-standards-in-texas-wont-make-abortions-safer/
            lawyers from the Texas attorney general’s office argued that the law is designed to improve women’s health by holding the clinics to the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs).
            ….
            Dan Grossman, a doctor and the vice president of Ibis Reproductive Health, a nonprofit reproductive health research organization, analyzed data on the number of major complications — hospitalization, abdominal surgery, intravenous antibiotics or blood transfusion caused by an abortion — from a chain of Texas clinics that included one ASC and three non-ASC facilities. [He found that] not only were the major complication rates low at all four of the clinics, women who went to the ASC were slightly more likely to experience a major complication than women who went to one of the non-ASCs.
            This doesn’t mean, according to Grossman, that the ASC was less safe. “Higher-risk women were being sent to the ASC, so I think if we could control for risk factors like age and obesity, we’d see that the ASC and the non-ASCs were equally safe,” he said. “What it really shows, though, is that there’s no indication that abortion is associated with a higher risk of complications outside of an ASC.”

            The conclusion is that safety of the clinics is the same, though the ASC clinics _appear_ worse because the patients sent there were in worse condition (older, etc) to begin with. Closer adjustment for the age factor would just put the ASC and non-ASC clinics at the same score. It would not make the non-ASC clinics score worse.

          • “Higher-risk women were being sent to the ASC, so I think if we could control for risk factors like age and obesity, we’d see that the ASC and the non-ASCs were equally safe,”

            I don’t see how he can know that–it looks like a declaration of faith. He has offered a reason why his statistics make the ASC’s look less safe, relatively speaking, than they are. He has offered no way of knowing how big that effect is, hence no way of knowing whether allowing for it would leave the ASC’s less safe, as safe, or safer than the non-ASC’s. Am I missing something, or is this just hand waving?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ David Friedman
            He has offered no way of knowing how big that effect is, hence no way of knowing whether allowing for it would leave the ASC’s less safe, as safe, or safer than the non-ASC’s.

            I don’t see how it could move the ASCs to a notably safer level; the best it could do would be to produce a tie, by moving the ASCs up to the level of safety the non-ASCs show now.

          • “I don’t see how it could move the ASCs to a notably safer level; the best it could do would be to produce a tie, by moving the ASCs up to the level of safety the non-ASCs show now.”

            Why?

            Consider the limiting case. Imagine all people who want an abortion are in two categories, safe and at risk. The safe develop no medical problems, the at risk sometimes develop medical problems.

            Any at risk person who went to a non-ASC and developed a problem would die–but the at risk people, knowing they are at risk, always go to the ASC’s. The non-ASC’s are more dangerous, but they have a perfect safety record and the ASC’s don’t. How do you know that something like that—obviously a less extreme version—isn’t the case?

            Perhaps I’m missing something. What’s the argument behind your claim?

          • keranih says:

            @ houseboatonstyx –

            I’d rather not shift the goalposts to contraception/”what the voter base approves of” – imo it’s of as little use as bringing up legal access to nukes and anti-aircraft firearms for the current gun debate.

            Per the Wikipedia article on mifepristone, five to ten percent of women who abort their babies via this drug need surgical intervention there after. In Europe, where the drug is used heavily, there is a required observation period. While I agree that the patient need not be in a surgical facility in order to have this drug administered, I think that the requirement for the provider to be able to get the patient to a hospital when needed is absolutely sensible.

            Regarding the differing degrees of risk at different clinics – yes, if one doesn’t allow for confounders correctly, one can reach entirely the wrong conclusion from a study. For instance: a study finds that 3.25% of patients at clinic A have complications, while only 2.3% of patients at clinic B do. Obviously, clinic B is doing a better job – clinic A’s rate is almost half again as much.

            But if we look deeper – 25% of clinic A’s patients are high risk. Only 2% of clinic B’s are. When we divide out the complications by risk group, the rate for complications for high risk patients at clinic A is 0.1, and the rate for low risk is 0.01. At clinic B, the rate for high risk patients is 0.2, and the rate for low risk is 0.02 – twice the risk for all groups as at clinic A. The difference in total rate is due to the different patient make up.

            Failing to adjust for age, gender, complications, etc is a fairly simple way to completely trash an otherwise fine analysis. You really can not say what the difference really is until you do the math.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Keranih
            I have yet to find a way to support “regular” medical clinic standards for abortion clinics that doesn’t come across as disingenuous to the pro-choice side.

            It’s possible to find an advocate less credible on a particular topic without suspecting them of disingenuity. But … what is their expertise, and why are they spending their time on particular issue X? If an expert in home safety vs construction cost spends much time on a set of issues including water leaks/mold, asbestos, width of stair steps, etc, etc, including a small section on spacing of electrical outlets, then we may assume they know their subject and are probably not speaking from bias. But if someone who already opposes all government housing projects supports closing one project for not having enough outlets, without having expertise on outlets in general and having shown interest in outlets in other buildings … then we wonder just how much expertise and fair-mindedness they really have here.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Keranih
            Here is an editorial from a pro-standards side*. 538** also did a brief piece here, which would seem to indicate that abortion centers are less in need of oversight than dental surgery clinics

            Keranih, dental surgery clinics (or dentistry in general) seems a good comparison. Something can go very seriously wrong in the dentist’s chair, but that’s not reason to deny dental care to patients who can’t afford a facility with “nurses on duty, a safe blood supply, and a hospital within 30 miles. Having a doctor with hospital admitting privileges, so there won’t be an hourslong wait in the emergency room, seems like a good idea too”*

            *http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2013/07/18/medical-standards-for-abortion-clinics-are-no-war-on-women
            Much dishonest (and swarmy) presentation in this USNews op-ed (written by a G. W. Bush speechwriter).

            **
            http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/new-clinic-standards-in-texas-wont-make-abortions-safer/
            Good article, quotes below from Friedman and me.

        • John Schilling says:

          Another useful analogy is to gay rights, in that people who are frustrated in directly attacking the legality of the underlying thing attempt to suppress the cultural expression of the thing. W/re gay rights, sure, you can do whatever you want in the privacy of your own bedroom, but you can’t have the cultural institution of marriage, and the gay bathhouses are a menace to public health and need to be torn down, the gay pride parades are obscene, and nothing about your lifestyle can be taught in schools or shown on television.

          On the gun control side, shutting down gun shows, obviously, and enacting gun-free zones everywhere people can get away with it (because obviously the mass murderer is going to see a no-guns-allowed sign and go home sighing “curses, foiled again”). Restricting the transfer of firearms within families. Banning or at least stigmatizing open carry, shutting down school rifle clubs, and making sure every self-respecting parent knows they have to verify that every other parent on the block runs a certified gun-free house before they can host a play date (even if the star attraction of the play date is a backyard swimming pool).

      • “Except…the same Blue Tribers who want licenses and mandatory training for firearms are saying that enforcement of licenses, registration, and insurance for *cars* is an unreasonable burden on the impoverished and minorities.”

        I’ve never heard anyone say that.

    • Theo Jones says:

      Hope this doesn’t break the politisation rule.

      I think the whole gun control debate is probably the mainstream political debate most polluted by bad faith arguments and actions (perhaps other than the abortion debate) from both sides. I’m against most gun control for what its worth. But the quality of the debate is bad. As exhibit A: you know that “355 mass shootings” number thats been going around. Its on very weak ground http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/04/opinion/how-many-mass-shootings-are-there-really.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

      I would hypothesize that mass shootings are the type of shooting that are the least likely to be affected by gun control. You have a premeditated shooter who does not intend to get out of the situation intact (and therefore is willing to take extreme risks to get armed). The type of shooting that I would propose that is the most likely to be affected by gun control are unplanned shootings (ie. two people get into a brawl at a bar) because that type of shooting is dependent on opportunity. But over all I would guess the effect of gun control is relatively small, and that the difference between the U.S and other countries in terms of gun violence is mostly due to social/economic factors (ie. poverty).

      The choice of mass shootings as the focus of the debate seems weird. As I said above I don’t think that they are really that susceptible to gun control. And they are a relatively small part of over-all homsides. The best I can chalk it up to is salience bias. A large, noticeable, but rare event is likely to get a lot more attention than a bunch of smaller events that add up to something more destructive.

      And the focus on “assault weapons” also seems odd to me. Yes, big and scary. But it is a largely political and cosmetic classification. If you want to target a type of gun, go for hand-guns. They are more likely to be used in crime than long-guns, and because of their size are better suited for unplanned/opportunistic crime.

      • “I would hypothesize that mass shootings are the type of shooting that are the least likely to be affected by gun control. ”

        They are much more common is some places than others, so they are affected by something.

        • suntzuanime says:

          It turns out there are a lot of things that aren’t gun control, both in absolute terms and relative to the number of things that are gun control (which pretty much comprises just gun control).

          • There are an infinite number of things which aren’t smoking, but why would any of them cause lung cancer?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Because the little fibers flake off and you breathe them in. Because the air in the mines is full of coal dust. Because it’s radioactive. There are so many things that cause lung cancer and aren’t smoking.

          • And the thing that is causing american shootings actually IS…?

          • drethelin says:

            You say that in a sarcastic tone as if the answer is obvious but the important thing here is that it’s NOT and acting like it is just security theater. We fundamentally don’t KNOW why America has x number of mass shootings. Policy changes based on this ignorance are extremely unlikely to help.

          • Alraune says:

            And the thing that is causing American shootings actually IS…?

            People living in places where they aren’t naturally supposed to. We moved a lot of low density orientation, high territoriality populations into close quarters and they shoot each other a lot. We send pretty much anyone to Wyoming or Alaska and they shoot themselves a lot.

            Or if you meant spree killings specifically? The most plausible theory there is that nothing is moving spree killings one way or the other. They are unresponsive to incentives, and the natural number of them just looks increasingly horrifying as violence in general grows rarer.

          • Mark says:

            Most spree killers smoke cannabis, or take other mind-bending drugs.

            If we ban cannabis, maybe we’ll make some headway.

          • @Drthelin

            I don’t think there is an obvious answer to what is causing American shootings other than american guns. I am expressing frustration with people who insist that guns are not the cause, without saying what is the cause.

            @Alraune

            It’s clearly more complex than that, since you don;’t have huge rates of spree shootings in Tokyo.

            @Mark

            It’s clearly more complex than that , since you don’t have ots of spree shootings in Amsterdam.

          • John Schilling says:

            I am expressing frustration with people who insist that guns are not the cause, without saying what is the cause.

            Per Mencken, for every complex problem there is an answer that is simple, obvious, and wrong. Frustration, is being unable to find the right answer because the problem is really complex. Folly, is believing the wrong answer anyway because it’s the only one you can think of.

          • The Anonymouse says:

            I am expressing frustration with people who insist that guns are not the cause, without saying what is the cause.

            I understand that you’re frustrated, but one does not need to prove an alternate hypothesis to disprove yours. If someone said, “Unless you prove to me exactly what causes autism, you must accept that it’s vaccines,” you would reject it out of hand, and rightfully so.

            Fact is, guns cause spree shootings in the same way that hammers cause houses, desks cause paperwork, and spoons cause obesity; that is, not at all. Guns are instrumental in the process of spree shootings (tautologically so: hence, “shootings”), but being objects, cannot cause anything. Human behavior causes spree shootings, and specifically sussing out how to remedy that is exactly what we’re discussing.

          • Urstoff says:

            @The Anonymouse

            I think what people are saying when they say that guns cause shootings are that the availability of guns leads to more shootings than if they were less available. In that sense, it’s perfectly reasonable to hypothesize that guns cause shootings. Of course, that’s an empirical question that is very difficult to test, and not obviously true, but I don’t think responding with “guns are tools; they can’t cause anything” is helpful.

          • Aegeus says:

            Yes, human behavior is ultimately responsible for everything, but that doesn’t mean you must only solve a problem by changing human nature. By your logic, we shouldn’t put seat belts and airbags in cars – we should just work on changing human behavior so people don’t get into accidents.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            People should approach gun deaths in the US like Scott approached the water crisis in California: using the amazing technology called the “pie chart.”

          • Anonymous says:

            @Aegeus

            By your logic, we shouldn’t put seat belts and airbags in cars – we should just work on changing human behavior so people don’t get into accidents.

            Funnily enough, I have heard an argument that the effect of seatbelts is to cause people to drive less carefully, resulting in roughly the same number of accidents as there were before.

            I think that the way people will change their behavior in response to changing circumstances varies greatly with the behavior in question.

          • Alraune says:

            It’s clearly more complex than that, since you don’t have huge rates of spree shootings in Tokyo.

            You mean it’s precisely as complex as that. The Japanese as a whole likely have the highest density-orientation of any human group, and Tokyo in particular has had Chicago-like population densities since it was Edo. There’s no mismatch with the environment there.

            In America, however, we had the Great Migration from the South to the North within living memory, which put millions of people into environments literally hundreds of times more population dense than previously. This tends to get glossed as “black problem”, but I’d bet my bank account that if you looked at the violence rate among the descendants of pre-Migration blacks in e.g. Chicago, it’s significantly lower than among the children and grandchildren of the new arrivals.

          • I think it’s clear that if you could make guns very, very hard to get at, spree shootings would become less common. But doing that requires something pretty close to banning private ownership of guns. Many of the people in favor of gun control are probably in favor of that, but they cannot say so, both because that would be to concede the argument of the other side and because banning guns would be unconstitutional.

            If the Democrats win the presidential election and get to put a couple of their people on the Supreme Court, the interpretation of the Second Amendment might change, in which case it will be interesting to see how many of the people who have been saying that of course they are not in favor of a gun ban decide that, after all, they are.

          • Mark says:

            “It’s clearly more complex than that , since you don’t have ots of spree shootings in Amsterdam.”

            Americans smoke more cannabis than Dutch people.

            I don’t know… is there more to it? Has there ever been a spree killer who wasn’t on drugs?

          • “Per Mencken, for every complex problem there is an answer that is simple, obvious, and wrong. Frustration, is being unable to find the right answer because the problem is really complex. Folly, is believing the wrong answer anyway because it’s the only one you can think of.”

            If the only argument to the effect that GC is the wrong answer is that there is another, better, answer, the the other, better answer needs to be supplied.

          • @Urstoff

            Yes, thankyou. The argument that “when you say causation, you mean agency” argument is horribly awfully terrible, and it is disappointing to see it in a forum of this caliber (sorry).

          • @Mark

            “Americans smoke more cannabis than Dutch people.”

            i wrote Amsterdam rather than the Netherlands for a reason.

            “I don’t know… is there more to it? Has there ever been a spree killer who wasn’t on drugs?”

            High as you may be, your chances of shooting people are slim if you don’t have a gun, So it’s more complex than that.

          • @Alraune

            If your point is that it takes two or three generations to adapt to a high density environment, as per your second comment, then it was not well served by using the word “natural” as per your first comment. Anything that happens that fast is cultural.

            “Or if you meant spree killings specifically? The most plausible theory there is that nothing is moving spree killings one way or the other. They are unresponsive to incentives, and the natural number of them just looks increasingly horrifying as violence in general grows rarer.”

            Why aren’t they declining with other forms of violence? Why re they so much more common in the US?

          • @DavidFriedman

            I consider the question of whether gun control would work in principle to be orthogonal to the question of whether it is politcally feasible given the 2nd amendment.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @TheAncientGeek

            Why are [spree killings] so much more common in the US?

            What makes you think they are?

            The easy answer to your question is that the US is very big. By land area, it’s 2.5 times bigger than all of the EU – France is smaller than Texas. And spree killings aren’t all that rare in the EU taken as a whole. They are rare events in most individual EU countries but they are also rare in most individual US states.

            (Or to turn it around: “Why are spree killings so deadly in France and Norway – what’s wrong with those countries?”)

          • “I consider the question of whether gun control would work in principle to be orthogonal to the question of whether it is politcally feasible given the 2nd amendment.”

            I agree. But people who are pushing gun control have an obvious incentive to argue that there are forms that would work that are consistent with the current interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.

            That may change if the membership of the Court changes enough to change the interpretation.

          • John Schilling says:

            @TheAncientGeek:
            “Americans smoke more cannabis than Dutch people.”

            i wrote Amsterdam rather than the Netherlands for a reason.

            OK, then. According to the FBI definition (one shooter, 4+ fatalities, any motive), the United States suffered 111 mass shootings between 2009-2013, with an average of 5.0 fatalities per incident. The US population averaged 311.69 million over that period, so 0.07 mass shootings per million people per year.

            The total population of the Amsterdam metropolitan area is 1.6 million. If the people of Amsterdam, pot-smoking hippies and otherwise, take up the mass-shooting hobby at American levels, we would expect 0.57 incidents with 2.85 fatalities between 2009-2013.

            A quick google shows one mass shooting with six fatalities.

            Possibly you should not have chosen Amsterdam as your example. Based on the (very) limited data available, one might conclude that the makers of “Reefer Madness” were onto something and that excessive cannabis use results in a vastly enhanced mass murder rate even in the presence of strict gun control.

            The more general lesson is, if you are dealing with something for which “one in a million” is a gross overstatement of the probabilities, you need to A: restrict yourself to sample sizes of a hundred million or more. And B: ask yourself whether or not delving into this subject is really the most productive use of your time.

        • keranih says:

          They are much more common is some places than others, so they are affected by something.

          They are still an astonishingly rare event – even in the USA, more rare (on average) than hurricane landfalls, if on the same order of magnitude.

          An old game warden of my acquaintance used to say of both hurricanes and bears, that “you can say where they’re likely to be, but you can’t tell ’em where to go.”

          In any case, the evidence points strongly away from “what affects them = firearms access”, so I suggest that we put a little more effort into figuring that out, ahead of deciding on a course of action.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            True mass shootings (not the 355 number being bandied about) seem to be much more frequent than US hurricane landfall here in the last few years.

            I mean, it’s two in the last week, and that isn’t even really surprising.

          • TheNybbler says:

            Four mass shootings according to FBI figures, zero hurricanes I think. Only three died in the Planned Parenthood attack, so it fails to make the grade.

            US hurricane landfalls after 2005 have been unusually rare; it’s enough to make one start believing in the gambler’s fallacy.

      • Jason K. says:

        That is probably true. Mass shooters are probably going to be the least affected. Of those that still can’t get a hold of their favored tool, the dumb ones will switch to knives or cars and the smart ones will switch to bombs.

        The assault weapon focus is relatively easy to explain. It is simply an issue of going after the most extreme example first as it is the easiest target. It isn’t about what is most beneficial, but what target is easy and prominent in the minds of the public. Just like if you want more censorship, you don’t go after someone committing minor apostasy, you go after some shock jock or someone with widely unpopular opinions.

        Probably the easiest thing we could do to lower the amount of violence (gun violence included) is to end the war on drugs. Go full legalization and switch to a care/rehab model rather than a deny/punish model. The next best thing would be to revamp how we handle people that have been convicted during the punishment and post-punishment phases. A lot of how we treat them now create a self-reinforcing cycle. Of course, both of these options are unpopular with the populace at large.

      • Echo says:

        I’d argue that one of the reasons for my side’s constant success has been not giving in to bad faith argument. The Supreme Court laughs off their briefs, but treats ours seriously because we actually reference case law and legislative history.
        Similarly, every “True Statistic” pushed by the other side eventually turns out to be an easily pointed-out lie that hurts their credibility, from “27 times More Likely!” to the latest incident of the entire media copy-pasting propaganda from a kooky trolling subreddit.

        I self-converted after immigrating from the UK, just from seeing the available evidence. I suspect much of the american population has done the same.

    • Anatoly says:

      Meta-meta-commentary: I’m confused by people saying they cannot understand how pro-gun-control people can genuinely think gun control would help curb mass shootings. The pro-control argument here seems obvious. I don’t know if it’s true, and in any case I oppose trying politicization of mass shootings by either faction because they’re statistically insignificant. But it seems weird to me that, as you seem to be saying, you don’t know how to roleplay a gun control advocate who honestly thinks mass shootings strengthen their case.

      The argument goes something like this. Mass shooters are rarely career criminals; they’re often law-abiding citizens up until the shooting. The act itself is a psychotic break from normal behavior. Although it is often premeditated and prepared, the preparation can be internalized as violent fantasy and does not by itself cross over easily into criminal behavior. To put it in simpler words, if I’m a bullied person who fantasizes about killing my classmates or coworkers, it’s one thing if I have trivially easy ways to stockpile legal guns at home, and it’s a very different situation if I need to obtain them illegally. It’s naive to pretend that if I “decided” to do a mass shooting, a small thing like getting an illegal gun won’t stop me. Humans don’t work like this. You don’t “decide” until you do it, and even when you do become very sure, that process of becoming sure is very much helped by easy availability of legal guns.

      Career criminals often find it easy to get illegal guns (although that ease can also be exaggerated). But mass shooters aren’t career criminals. If they couldn’t buy guns easily, they wouldn’t know how to get them, and if they tried, they’d make mistakes. Suppose I really wanted to get heroin right now, I wouldn’t know how to do it. I don’t have friends that I suspect are dealers. Maybe I try some of my sketchier friends, and one of them is sketchy enough to call the police on me, or whatever. Same thing with getting an illegal gun, only worse.

      So much for the “criminals don’t care about laws” argument; now if there’re no legal guns, does it mean there’d be the same amount of mass bombings instead? Seems very doubtful, now you need an actual knowledge of how to make a bomb plus a criminal mindset and an iron precommitment to the plan (you’re BUILDING A BOMB, not just keeping a gun at home, a completely normal thing to do, and engaging in fantasies). Seems reasonable that most mass shooters, especially the frustrated-and-bullied-student types, would just, well, suck it up if they didn’t have guns, rather than graduate to bombs. Maybe you’d have mass stabbings? Probably some (and indeed in places like the UK and Australia they happen), but stabbing is harder to fantasize about, harder to carry out efficiently, seems to require a much higher level of precommitment.

      • onyomi says:

        If you’re responding to me specifically, I didn’t mean to imply that I couldn’t understand the opposing view: as I said, it would probably be something like “d’uh, making guns harder to get reduces the probability of shootings.” Maybe an oversimplification, but I think that is the basic argument. I tend to disagree that people desperate enough to open fire on their school are going to just give up if they find one means of slaughter foreclosed to them, but I can certainly understand the argument.

        What I, personally, was expressing confusion or annoyance about was the clearcut disconnect between actual tragedies and the proposals we are supposed to adopt in reaction to them: assault weapon bans in response to crimes not committed with assault weapons; gun show bans in response to crimes not committed with guns purchased at gun shows, etc. That is, there is a transparently opportunistic, disingenuous quality to much of the reaction to these tragedies which rubs me the wrong way and makes me less receptive to the gun control message than I would be if it weren’t always trying to ride on the coattails of tragedy.

        This doesn’t only happen with gun control; actually, it is how a lot of legislating gets done: interest groups working on an issue for a long time craft proposals and wish lists and policies and bide their time. When a tragedy comes and politicians are scrambling to respond to all their constituents demanding they “do something,” these groups are waiting in the wings to provide their neatly packaged wish lists, all of which were crafted, of course, long before the tragedy actually happened.

        • Anatoly says:

          I may have misread the degree to which you implied you couldn’t understand the opposing view, sorry (and yes, I was responding to you). But it’s also a situation I encounter frequently enough that I felt compelled to write up what seems to me like a pretty straightforward non-naive pro-control argument. I’m still uncertain from your comment whether you acknowledge this argument as part of the “opposing view”. Consider two exchanges:

          A1. D’uh, no legal guns -> no shootings
          B1. That’s so naive, someone who wants to shoot up their school will just get an illegal gun or make a bomb.

          A2. No legal guns -> way fewer shootings, because here are [reasons] why a typical potential mass-shooter might not get an illegal gun or make a bomb.
          B2. Hmm, I acknowledge you have some [reasons], but I disagree that they’re compelling, because [arguments].

          So what I find frustrating is when anti-control people say things like: “All I ever hear from pro-control people is A1, but it’s so stupid because B1!”. First, if all you ever hear is A1 and never A2, maybe *you* are in an echo-chamber. Second, why can’t you steelman A1 into A2 yourself, it’s pretty straightforward, if only for the purpose of countering with B2.

          (the “you” in the last paragraph is generic and not directed at yourself)

          > What I, personally, was expressing confusion or annoyance about was the clearcut disconnect between actual tragedies and the proposals we are supposed to adopt in reaction to them

          That’s a good point, it also rubs me the wrong way. I guess the devil’s advocate position here is: we want to get rid of guns eventually, let’s start where we can. But the pro-control faction could certainly be more open and self-aware about this disconnect. “Opportunistic and disingenuous” seems fair.

        • So what is the targetted, relevant, effective measure you would take to avoid further tragedies?

          • Anatoly says:

            (Edit: realized you weren’t asking me, slightly edited my answer but left it standing)

            Mass shootings are a tiny insignificant blip in homicide statistics, an even smaller one in violent deaths, and indistinguishable from noise in deaths overall. The less time we spent obsessing over them, including trying to create broad policy decisions to address them, the better the outcome is for everyone involved.

            But if I still had to answer – how to reduce mass shootings without banning guns? The only thing that comes to mind is some sort of very narrowly targeted ban on publishing in mass media the names of the shooters and the circumstances of the cases. You can’t make it targeted enough to conform to the 1st amendment, but if it’s truly laser-focused and perceived as effective, maybe – maybe – it can survive because no one will want to spent the resources and incur the negative publicity of pursuing a challenge up to SC.

          • CatCube says:

            @Anatoly

            You may not be able to pass a law prohibiting the publication of the names of shooters, but why news outlets don’t voluntarily stop doing so is a mystery. After all, they routinely refuse to publish the names of rape victims as a matter of policy.

          • onyomi says:

            I also tend to agree that the mass shooting thing is primarily a mental health/meme problem, more than an access-to-guns problem. If you have a bunch of super disgruntled, alienated young men with access to the internet, gasoline, and matches, you’re going to have a problem even if they find it more difficult to get their hands on guns.

            The fact that the mental health questions always gets massively overshadowed by the gun question is particularly annoying.

            Unfortunately, I think the real problem is much, much harder to treat in a “biology is easy, society is hard,” kind of way. Personally, I think our whole system of compulsory k-12 education is alienating, indoctrinating, and unnatural, but no one’s going to talk about changing that, or even about how our society might produce fewer alienated young men (the one time that sort of came up was when that guy who was supposedly interested in MRA killed some women; the idea that the problem could be with anyone other than such young men themselves, however, was never considered).

          • Psmith says:

            I think it’s probably some kind of feedback loop.

            Media is run by people who are not part of gun culture. Some of them are scared of and repulsed by guns; some of them are sober policy wonks who see the costs of widespread gun ownership but don’t see the benefits, or don’t see it as an integral part of life as a free citizen. Journalism is an anti-gun profession.

            So imagine that we start out with mass murders by randomly distributed means. I speculate that the media’s pre-existing anti-gun tendencies mean that they’ll publicize mass shootings more than bombings or arson. I can think of two reasons why this might be. First, mass shootings can be spun as arguments for gun control, which most of the people who control news content would want to argue for anyway. Second, there may be enough people in the media who are sufficiently squicked out on a gut level by guns that a good deal of the people who control news content think mass shootings merit additional reporting as uniquely heinous events compared to stabbing rampages or arson. Evil high-capacity assault clips, etc., but you can’t very well say that about a can of gasoline and some matches. This is how we get to the point where I’ve known about Columbine (as a school shooting–not an attempted school bombing) since we talked about it in 7th grade (public school, too) but I had never heard of the Happy Land fire until someone mentioned it in a gun control debate on SSC. And this publicity, of course, leads to more mass shootings in the usual way.

            This has both benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, as someone pointed out in a previous SSC thread, we’re probably better off in a world where mass murderers use guns than we are in a world where they use explosives or accelerants. On the other hand, this is still a case in which publicity encourages murders that otherwise might not have occurred–and mobilizes gun control advocates to boot. So it’s a real mess.

          • Ano says:

            > You may not be able to pass a law prohibiting the publication of the names of shooters, but why news outlets don’t voluntarily stop doing so is a mystery. After all, they routinely refuse to publish the names of rape victims as a matter of policy.

            Because there’s not really a huge amount of demand for information about rape victims. People are fascinated by mass murderers in a way they simply aren’t by victims (of shootings or otherwise).

            News outlets don’t really lose anything by protecting the identity of rape victims, and it’s pretty apparent how that can be potentially harmful. On the other hand, if you don’t post a article delving into Elliot Rodger’s history and psychological state, you are going to lose readers to the other news outlets that do. And the connection between news coverage of shooting sprees and shooting sprees themselves is more tenuous and harder to demonstrate clearly.

          • @Anatoly

            “Mass shootings are a tiny insignificant blip in homicide statistics, an even smaller one in violent deaths, and indistinguishable from noise in deaths overall. The less time we spent obsessing over them, including trying to create broad policy decisions to address them, the better the outcome is for everyone involved.”

            Why is the outcome better? Because broad policy decisions are never the answer? Because it’s completely lacking benefit, so there is only the cost of the policy? Because the costs of the benefits is too great? Because the benefits are too small?

            What I am trying to get at is whether you are coming from a standard or nonstandard position (and if the latter, whether you are applying it consistently).

            It’s actually very counterinutitive, very nonstandard, to dismiss statistically minor crimes as statistically minor: the newspapers are full of rare but horrible crimes. It’s also difficult to apply consistently.: for instance,terrorist crimes are generally dwarfed by other sources of fatality, but hardly anyone sees that as a reason for complacency.

            “But if I still had to answer – how to reduce mass shootings without banning guns? The only thing that comes to mind is some sort of very narrowly targeted ban on publishing in mass media the names of the shooters and the circumstances of the cases.”

            That would have been my guess. But why not combine it with GC?

          • John Schilling says:

            @TheAncientGeek: Broad policy decisions are never the answer to narrow problems, because the broad unintended consequences will dwarf the narrow positive effect you are trying to achieve.

            And that’s assuming that you understand what you are trying to achieve. As you note, it is counterintuitive to dismiss statistically rare crimes as statistically rare; we have been trained by the news media (and the news media trained by us) to greatly exaggerate the perceived importance of such crimes. That is the problem. Not the fact that fourteen people died in San Bernardino last week or maybe a hundred last year if we define “mass shooting” broadly enough. Children drowning in backyard swimming pools is a bigger problem than that by far, and I haven’t seen any broad policy decisions for e.g. filling in all the pools.

            The problem, is that about a hundred million people are terrified. That’s a real problem. But there’s almost certainly no magic about the word “gun”, or the underlying physics, that causes this terror. There’s lots of stuff scarier than guns, and lots more that can be made scary by an expert propagandist. We have trained the media to deliver us a regular dose of Very Scary Stories about something, doesn’t matter what, and the media has trained us to be Very Scared, and aside from the advertisers who pay for all this, nobody benefits.

            That’s the problem. Anatoly is on the right track for a solution, if you want one.

            If, along the way, you invent a magic Continental Gun Evaporator that makes every firearm in North America vanish, that’s a broad policy decision that doesn’t even address the thing you are trying to achieve. We will instead get Very Scary Stories about Amazon delivery drones crashing into crowds, and drug-resistant infections in hospitals, and imminent economic collapse, and about mass murderers burning hundreds of innocent people alive. The statistically insignificant “mass shooting” blip in mortality statistics vanishes, other deaths increase a bit, and a hundred million people are still terrified.

          • Anonymous says:

            @John Schilling

            But there’s almost certainly no magic about the word “gun”, or the underlying physics, that causes this terror.

            I’m not sure about that. I think there is something inherently frightening about the idea of a device whose entire purpose is killing people. In my country, where gun control is fairly stringent and there is effectively no gun culture, it is taken completely for granted by people all across the political spectrum that guns are awful and terrible and that the US is totally bonkers for allowing people to have them. I suspect that in a modern country without a preexisting gun culture, it is very hard to get people to accept guns as something that a regular, law-abiding citizen might ever be permitted to own – let alone want to own.

          • John Schilling says:

            Perhaps, but that isn’t quite the core issue here. Lots of things are perceived as “awful”, “bonkers”, “never permitted”, and “nobody would even want to…”, not just guns. But what we’re interested in here isn’t “awful”, or “bonkers”, or any of that. What we’re interested in here, is what’s Terrifying. And that’s not the same thing. People may think that recreational drug use, or sex with thirteen-year-old children, or any number of other controversial things, are perfectly awful, etc, without being terrified of them. And people can think that guns are awful without being terrified of them, in most any other context. In a week where a couple of hundred people are shot dead by ordinary common criminals, the latest celebrity sex scandal is headline news and everyone is titillated. Fourteen people are killed by a couple of terrorist with guns, that’s headline news and everyone is terrified.

            So it’s more than just the guns. And it’s not necessarily the guns. Terrorists are, by and large, experts in the art of terrifying people. And sometimes they use guns, and sometimes they use military high explosives, and sometimes they use fertilizer bombs, and sometimes they use swords, and sometimes they use airliners, and people are terrified. Regardless of the awfulness, bonkerosity, permitted status, or desirability of the weapon du jour. Sometimes terrorists don’t even kill people; kidnapping and hostage-taking are old staples of the trade. There is no magic to guns.

            Terrifying = Guns, doesn’t even begin to cover what’s going on. And when you finish expending all of your political capital trying to arrange strict gun control in the United States, even if you miraculously succeed and all the guns go away, you’ll still have the terror. You just won’t be able to do anything about it because nobody will trust you any more. And that’s going to make it even more terrifying.

          • @JohnSchilling

            “Broad policy decisions are never the answer to narrow problems, because the broad unintended consequences will dwarf the narrow positive effect you are trying to achieve.”

            Never? Even if there is no targeted alternative? “Don’t use broad policy” and “Don’t use broad policy when a more targeted approach is available” mean different things.

            Broad policy decisions often are the answer used, in practice. Speed limits, ages of consent and so on. Perhaps because targeted alternatives are often lacking.

            And unintended consequences are often quite bearable. Speed limits affect a lot of people, but not very drastically…what’s the inconvenience of driving 5mph slower compared to lives saved? The wrong way to do a cost benefit analysis is to just count the number of people inconvenienced: the right way is to consider the number of people inconvenienced, and the AMOUNT of inconvenience, and what is gained.

            “And that’s assuming that you understand what you are trying to achieve.”

            A life saved is a life saved, surely.

            ” As you note, it is counterintuitive to dismiss statistically rare crimes as statistically rare; we have been trained by the news media (and the news media trained by us) to greatly exaggerate the perceived importance of such crimes. ”

            The second sentence isn’t what I said, and doesn’t follow from the first.

            We don’t know what the objective importance of anything is: all we have is competing ethical theories.

            You are complaining that the media is causing people to value things in some incorrect way..incorrect according to your favoured theory of value.

            I was pointing out that even absent mass media, people never valued things according to your theory. Your theory basically assumes that body counts matter, and that’s it. But everyone’s intuitions include other factors, notably how difficult inevitable or easy-to-fix something is, how intentional it is, and how it is likely o grow if left unchecked.. Your theory borrows the intuition that death is bad — remember, we don’t have value-ometers that can measure these things directly — and neglects the other two intuitions.

            And spree shootings are intentional, and they seem fixable, because the rate seems to be systematically varying something. So it’s business-as-normal that people focus on them.

            “That is the problem. Not the fact that fourteen people died in San Bernardino last week or maybe a hundred last year if we define “mass shooting” broadly enough. Children drowning in backyard swimming pools is a bigger problem than that by far, and I haven’t seen any broad policy decisions for e.g. filling in all the pools.”

            I haven’t seen advocating complacency about terrorism on the grounds that terrorism has a negligible effect compared to smoking.
            Does anyone really believe the swimming pool argument?

            “The problem, is that about a hundred million people are terrified. That’s a real problem. But there’s almost certainly no magic about the word “gun”, or the underlying physics, that causes this terror. There’s lots of stuff scarier than guns, and lots more that can be made scary by an expert propagandist. We have trained the media to deliver us a regular dose of Very Scary Stories about something, doesn’t matter what, and the media has trained us to be Very Scared, and aside from the advertisers who pay for all this, nobody benefits.”

            You haven’t demonstrated that people have been whipped into an irrational panic, because you haven’t disproved the theory, outlined above, that their concerns are rational given their actual values and intuitions. You need to refute your opponents’ strongest argument.

            “That’s the problem. Anatoly is on the right track for a solution, if you want one.”

            Uh-huh. You have evidence that will work? You have evidence that that will work for the wider problem , such as they US’s high levels of gun violence, absent spree shootings? Your real preference for this is based on its efficiency on reducing body counts, and not on its allowing you to keep your guns?

            Do you support Brady/NICS as a targeted check?

            “If, along the way, you invent a magic Continental Gun Evaporator that makes every firearm in North America vanish, that’s a broad policy decision that doesn’t even address the thing you are trying to achieve.”

            It absolutely would, since I am trying to archive fewer dead bodies, and 100% substitution is very unlikely to occur.
            A life saved us a life saved.

            “The statistically insignificant “mass shooting” blip in mortality statistics vanishes, other deaths increase a bit”

            Why? Since that is an extraordinary claim, and you have based your whole argument on it, I think it behoves you to to provide a nonzero amount of support for it. You are aware are you not, that there are countries where the spree shooting rate is much lower AND the non-spree shooting rate is much lower AND the general murder rate is much lower. Whatever your mysterious Law of the Constancy of Carnage is supposed
            to be, it doesn’t operate across national borders. Or time.

            Consider medicine. We now have longer lives and less disease. We did that by addressing both the big killers, and the smaller less significant diseases. No law of constant death rate came into force. If we had neglected the smaller diseases and only gone for the big killers, we would still have longer lives and less diseases … but not so much. The thing about statistically insignificant things it that they can aggregate into statistically significant things. A life saved is a life saved. The other thing about statistically insignificant things is that they are significant enough when they affect you.

            But we didn’t follow your advice about ignoring statistically minor things, because no one thinks that way, and no-one should.

          • “. I suspect that in a modern country without a preexisting gun culture, it is very hard to get people to accept guns as something that a regular, law-abiding citizen might ever be permitted to own – let alone want to own.”

            Consider introducing the idea that the ordinary citizen could own nukes.

          • “Terrifying = Guns, doesn’t even begin to cover what’s going on. And when you finish expending all of your political capital trying to arrange strict gun control in the United States, even if you miraculously succeed and all the guns go away, you’ll still have the terror. You just won’t be able to do anything about it because nobody will trust you any more. And that’s going to make it even more terrifying.”

            You care about terror. I care about dead bodies with holes in them.

          • Leit says:

            And what happens when, as predicted by the pro-gun side, bodies with holes in them fail to stop appearing?

            Let me answer that: you double down and try restricting blades, and katanas (not a joke, the UK has specifically banned “samurai swords”) and anything else you can think of to “do something” in the blind hope that you can legislate criminals into non-violence.

            Meanwhile you lose the deterrent effects of an armed populace – like having fewer housebreakings as opposed to burglaries, fewer armed hijackings, fewer confrontational crimes in general as opposed to property crimes. You lose the economic benefits of the gun industry, in an economy where jobs disappearing is already an issue.

            Most of all, you lose credibility. Gun control is a non-starter because people have more information available to them, and coming out of a period of restriction, it’s not hard to tell that “common sense gun control” didn’t achieve squat.

            In the end, you’ve squandered your political capital for a slim hope based on “it has to be something, and I don’t like guns so it’s that”.

          • @Leit
            “And what happens when, as predicted by the pro-gun side, bodies with holes in them fail to stop appearing?

            You can give up, or you can do more. The US’s gun laws are pretty quarter-hearted compared to some countries.
            The UK actually has much more restrictive laws, and lower rates of gun violence and murde in general, so that’s the argument in favour of doing more.

            “Let me answer that: you double down and try restricting blades, and katanas (not a joke, the UK has specifically banned “samurai swords”) and anything else you can think of to “do something” in the blind hope that you can legislate criminals into non-violence.”

            Restricting bladed weapons makes rational sense. They can be used to kill people (a british MP was killed by one afew years ago), and banning them inconveniences very few people. (That’s a characterisitc of weapons ingernal. Weapons are mostly used to defend against other weapons, so once you are into the virtuous, downward spiral, there is less and less need for them, asnd so less and less incovenience in restricting them).

            Of course you can’t legislate criminals into 100% nonviolence, but it is blatant fallacy of grey to assume that only a flat zero level of violence is acceptable. Rates of violence and kinds of violence are important. Replacing gun violence with knife violence leads to fewer fatalities because knives are a less effective weapon. Ditto replacing knife violence with fist violence.

            “Meanwhile you lose the deterrent effects of an armed populace – like having fewer housebreakings as opposed to burglaries, fewer armed hijackings, fewer confrontational crimes in general as opposed to property crimes. ”

            You do lose the deterrent affect, and that is a nett plus. It makes rational sense to trade burglaries for murders. Anybody would rather be burgled than shot if given a straight choice. You get burgled, you claim on the insurance, life carries on. You get shot, it doens’t.

            A well ordered civilian militia is not a bad idea. Trying to achieve a well ordered milita by letting everyone buy weapons, and then hoping that the good eggs will be able to outgun the bad, is not an efficient route to obtaining one, to put it mildly.

            “You lose the economic benefits of the gun industry, in an economy where jobs disappearing is already an issue.”

            Really? You went there?

            “Most of all, you lose credibility. Gun control is a non-starter because people have more information available to them, and coming out of a period of restriction, it’s not hard to tell that “common sense gun control” didn’t achieve squat.”

            The US has never had common sense control. Common sense would a preseumption against the right to purchase.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            The UK actually has much more restrictive laws, and lower rates of gun violence and murde in general, so that’s the argument in favour of doing more.

            That might constitute an argument in favor of doing more if the lower rates of gun violence and murder in general in the UK didn’t substantially pre-date the more restrictive laws, and if the gap in those metrics between the US and the UK hadn’t somewhat narrowed since those stricter laws were put in place.

            Looking at US states individually, Vermont is one of the very least restrictive in terms of gun laws and its homicide rate is slightly below the rate for the UK. Does that mean the UK should change its laws to be more like Vermont?

      • Theo Jones says:

        Just to clarify, if I’m one of the people you are responding to. I didn’t say no effect. I said there would be a relatively weak effect. Namely, to be effective against mass shooters the gun control needed would have to be close to a total ban. You are dealing with people who foreplan (meaning that waiting times are out), and have no criminal history or other risk factors (meaning that background checks are useless). Any thing that excludes them from the legal gun market would have to strike broadly.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Theo Jones
          You are dealing with people who foreplan (meaning that waiting times are out), and have no criminal history or other risk factors (meaning that background checks are useless).

          Risk factor of being a young male loser already under observation as a scary nutjob: Tucson, Virginia Tech, EliotRodger (or having one of them in the same house: Newtown). Young male loser ordering suspicious amounts of armament and explosives: Aurora. (I’d have to look up Columbine and Roseburg to see how scary those young male losers were known to be.)

          Edit: See wikipedia on
          Umpqua_Community_College_shooting#Perpetrator
          and
          Eric_Harris_and_Dylan_Klebold#Journals_and_investigation

          Same profile as the ones who would wear exploding shoes on airplanes, or bomb a marathon, or try to bomb a Christmas tree.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Wikipedia on Aurora, Tucson, Virginia Tech perpetrators:

            (Re Aurora/Batman)
            James_Holmes_(mass_murderer)#Personal_life

            2011_Tucson_shooting#Perpetrator

            Virginia_Tech_shooting#Perpetrator

      • keranih says:

        But it seems weird to me that, as you seem to be saying, you don’t know how to roleplay a gun control advocate who honestly thinks mass shootings strengthen their case.

        I strongly applaud the commitment to exercising mental stretching (or just, y’know, talking to someone else) to steelman the arguments of opponents.

        (I have more object-level quibbles with the argument that the current anti-gun proposals will have any measurable impact on terror attacks, mass killings, or the over all US homicide rate…but the first two rest on rare incident measurement and the second on other factors.)

        I mostly just wanted to post that I support people trying to figure out why other people disagree with them. On an intellectual level, it’s just a wee bit sexy.

      • TheNybbler says:

        It’s easy to understand why pro-gun-control people would think gun control would curb mass shootings. It’s somewhat harder to see how they can believe _particular proposed measures_ would do so. For instance, suppose it’s true that mass shooters tend not to be career criminals. If that’s so, it also means they’ll pass background checks. So, any laws based on “stricter background checks” simply won’t work unless it also prevents people who will never become mass shooters from buying guns.

        The NYT suggestion about banning certain calibers is even more unreasonable when it comes to mass shootings; a .223 Remington hunting round fired from a 7615 Ranch Carbine will kill you just as dead as a 5.56mm NATO military round fired from an AR-15. I see no reason a mass shooter would care that they couldn’t use a particular round, or a particular gun.

        Basically, if you want to prevent shootings from people whose first crime is that shooting, nothing short of a gun ban will work… and that should be obvious if not immediately, at least after being pointed out.

        • Pku says:

          I’d argue that it could cause a trivial inconvenience which might be enough to reduce them having them (maybe indirectly; inconvenience might prevent someone from getting a gun they weren’t planning to use, and then not having it would prevent them from using it). This isn’t as absurd as it sounds – Scott’s commented on how chinese people can easily bypass the firewall if they bother but few do, for example, and pro-abortion people claim that similar measures that make abortion inconvenient (e.g. you have to drive an extra hour/drive twice) reduce the number of abortions.
          The other claim is that banning certain kind of bullets might make things harder for mass shooters but not for “legitimate shooters”, based on the assumption that military-grade weapons are made to be more effective at killing large numbers of people, while “legitimate shooters” would only have to deal with one gunman. This doesn’t make sense if your principles are to allow guns unless there’s strong evidence that you shouldn’t, but if you don’t have any preference towards allowing guns, you can say that it would, on average, do slightly more good than harm (how people think this tiny potential benefit’s worth the effort of pushing politically is beyond me, though).

          • Wrong Species says:

            One thing I wish people would understand is that even trivial restrictions of something are going to reduce its consumption and banning it will significantly reduce it. My political pet peeve is people saying “people are just going to do it whether the government bans it or not so we should just have it be legal” as if that was a slam dunk argument.

          • TheNybbler says:

            Trivial restrictions reduce use, but not necessarily misuse. The number of mass shootings is small compared to the number of guns, and it’s not clear at all that a small or large reduction in the number of guns would affect the number of mass shootings.

            Economically, restrictions raise the supply curve and thus increase the market price and reduce the number of consumers. But there’s good reason to believe that misusers are relatively insensitive to price.

            “based on the assumption that military-grade weapons are made to be more effective at killing large numbers of people, while “legitimate shooters” would only have to deal with one gunman”

            This assumption is simply wrong, at least when considering semi-automatic “assault weapons” usually being demonized. The two calibers I mentioned — .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO — are interchangeable. They’re based on an older hunting round. The 7615 is a pump action rifle slower than a (semi-automatic) AR-15, but not much slower, and less likely to jam. It’ll kill you just as dead. If you want an even closer comparison, the Remington R-15 “varmint hunting” rifle is basically an AR-15 that’s not black. It’s hard to see how to distinguish this hunting rifle from a “military grade” weapon.

            Basically any rifle good for killing things somewhat smaller than a human is also going to be pretty good at killing humans. A rifle good at killing game roughly the same size as a human (e.g. whitetail deer) is going to be really good at killing humans.

          • John Schilling says:

            Trivial inconveniences “reduce consumption” at the margin, by dissuading ambivalent consumers. Mass murderers are not ambivalent about having powerful weapons; we have seen them go to extraordinary lengths to acquire powerful weapons.

            The person who is in the right place at the right time to stop a mass shooter, was probably a marginal and ambivalent gun owner up to that point. Inconvenience her, and she’ll probably not have a gun when we’d really prefer she did.

          • You need more that an argument against trivial restrictions to make an anti-anti-gun argument.

          • John Schilling says:

            No, all I need is to point out that you haven’t made an overwhelmingly compelling case for the anti-gun argument, which is what it takes to actually win in the real world. I thought it might be helpful to explain some of the relatively trivial stuff as well, and maybe other people will find it helpful even if you don’t.

          • > No, all I need is to point out that you haven’t made an overwhelmingly compelling case for the anti-gun argument, which is what it takes to actually win in the real world.

            No, not in the least. Nobody made an overwhelming apriori argument that the speed limit should be 55, or 60, or 70. There’s a convincing argument that there should be a speed limit plus empirical tweaking to get a broadly acceptable level.

          • John Schilling says:

            There’s no Constitutional Right to Drive Cars Fast in the United States, and at the time the national speed limit was enacted there was no organized constituency to oppose it, no general distrust of speed limits. Those things make a big difference in what, practically, you need to have to win a legislative battle.

            And to reenact a national speed limit, or to dial any state’s speed limit down to 55 mph, or to rigorously enforce any speed limit, here and now in the face of organized opposition from the AAA and others, you would need to make an overwhelmingly compelling case.

          • Anonymous says:

            @TheAncientGeek

            I think you might be somewhat cheating by characterizing the anti gun control argument as ‘no restrictions whatsoever’. Actually, ‘no restrictions whatsoever’ would include the right to own any weapon whatsoever, up to and including nuclear bombs. So the argument for allowing guns implicitly involves drawing a line somewhere after guns but before nukes. Nobody is saying there shouldn’t be a limit; what they are talking about is exactly the tweaking to get an acceptable level that you refer to.

          • @Anonymous

            has there ever been a piece of GC legislation that the NRA didn’t oppose?

            @JohnShcilling

            “There’s no Constitutional Right to Drive Cars Fast in the United States, ”

            Is falling back on the second amendment an admission that there is no other argument for gun rights?

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Would you consider someone invoking the first amendment to be an admission that they see no compelling reason to value free expression?

            A number arguments and a fair bit of evidence has been offered to show that Gun Control is, at best, unlikely to bring about the results that it’s advocates say. As such what reason is there to support gun control beyond screwing with the out-group because they are the out-group?

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @TheAncientGeek

            has there ever been a piece of GC legislation that the NRA didn’t oppose?

            The NRA favored and even helped WRITE much of the existing US GC legislation prior to about the 1980s.

            Here’s Salon on that. (Warning: it’s Salon, so the only explanation they can think of for why the NRA switched tactics is a “Paranoid Libertarians’ Hostile Takeover”. 🙂 )

          • Has there ever been a piece of GC legislation the NRA didn’t water down?

        • > or instance, suppose it’s true that mass shooters tend not to be career criminals. If that’s so, it also means they’ll pass background checks. So, any laws based on “stricter background checks” simply won’t work unless it also prevents people who will never become mass shooters from buying guns.

          You slid from “most” (tend not to) to “all” (simply won’t work) in that paragraph. There is evidence that a background check would have prevented at least one shooter, had it actually been applied:-

          http://abcnews.go.com/US/fbi-director-background-check-system-failed-allowing-charleston/story?id=32358311

          • TheNybbler says:

            I think in this thread it’s accepted (if only for the sake of argument) that mass shooters who are career criminals can obtain guns (illegally) despite background checks, so I was only addressing the other case, of mass shooters who are not career criminals.

            As for Roof, I’m unconvinced by the FBIs post facto claim that he shouldn’t have passed a background check. The regs state

            “A person may be an unlawful current user of a controlled substance even though the substance is not being used at the precise time the person seeks to acquire a firearm or receives or possesses a firearm. An inference of current use may be drawn from evidence of a recent use or possession of a controlled substance or a pattern of use or possession that reasonably covers the present time, e.g., a conviction for use or possession of a controlled substance within the past year; multiple arrests for such offenses within the past 5 years if the most recent arrest occurred within the past year; or persons found through a drug test to use a controlled substance unlawfully, provided that the test was administered within the past year.”

            Roof was not convicted of the drug use, there was only the single arrest as far as I know. Some news reports say Roof admitted to use of the drug, but the police report only says he admitted to knowing possession.

            Volokh goes into it in some detail here:

            https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/07/11/dylann-roof-apparently-had-not-been-arrested-for-a-felony-a-month-before-he-went-through-a-gun-purchase-background-check/

          • “As for Roof, I’m unconvinced by the FBIs post facto claim that he shouldn’t have passed a background check. [ewtc etc tc]”

            And that generalises into a point that background checks could never possibly work?

      • John Schilling says:

        Mass shooters are rarely career criminals; they’re often law-abiding citizens up until the shooting. The act itself is a psychotic break from normal behavior.

        While I have no trouble understanding that this belief is often sincerely held and may inform a belief in the utility of gun control, it is worth noting that it isn’t actually true. Well, maybe pedantically true depending on your definition of “often” and “law-abiding” – if you live in a free state where everything that doesn’t involve actually killing your neighbors is OK with the law, then you’re a law-abiding citizen right up until the shooting.

        But, empirically, most mass shootings are preceded by an extensive period of preparation and planning. For psychological reasons as well as material, but it simply isn’t the case that the typical mass shooter is a normal, mentally healthy, not-planning-to-murder-anyone citizen right up until some sudden psychotic break causes them to grab whatever weapon is closest to hand and go out killing. If it takes months of effort to figure out how to buy or make an illegal gun, or that homemade bombs and flamethrowers are more effective than guns, that’s what’s going to happen.

        Because almost always, once we get past the neighbors talking to the TV cameraman and saying “Gosh, he seemed like a perfectly normal, quiet guy to me” and the police start looking seriously at the case, that’s what we find actually did happen.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Is there a strict definition of “mass shooting”? If any shooting with multiple victims qualifies, then the situation where someone with no criminal record shoots somewhere up with an AR-15 or whatever is probably a minority of mass shootings. It’s not that unusual that people involved in some other sort of crime shoot more than one person at a time.

          • Echo says:

            Around half of the “300-400 mass shootings” the media went on about had 0 fatalities. There’s no strict definition other than the FBI’s.

          • There are a variety of different definitions. The one popular with people who want to claim large numbers is something like “a shooting incident in which at least four people, counting the perpetrator, are killed or injured.”

            Not surprisingly, different definitions support different claims. If your measure is deaths per capita, Norway comes out considerably higher than the U.S.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ David Friedman
            If your measure is deaths per capita, Norway comes out considerably higher than the U.S.

            Norway, uh-huh.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_Behring_Breivik

          • CatCube says:

            Yeah, I’ll bet that’s Friedman’s point–using the average like media outlets pushing an agenda have been doing is disingenuous.

          • My point was that there isn’t a natural definition, and that one can select definitions to support more or less whatever one’s political position is.

            The problem with the Norway case is that Norway is a small country. If you did the corresponding calculation for U.S. states, the high per capita figure would be a lot higher than when you do it for the whole country. Alternatively, the Brevik numbers look less striking if you assign them to Europe rather than to Norway.

            The claim that this is a uniquely U.S. problem is obviously nonsense. Whether it is a much bigger problem in the U.S. than elsewhere depends, so far as I can tell, on how you define what you are measuring.

    • > but they never make an argument about why gun control would have prevented the specific tragedy that just happened.

      Not even this one?

      http://abcnews.go.com/US/fbi-director-background-check-system-failed-allowing-charleston/story?id=32358311

      > but they never make an argument about why gun control would have prevented the specific tragedy that just happened.

      Or the Argument from Other Countries?

      > but they never make an argument about why gun control would have prevented the specific tragedy that just happened.

      And the pro-gun side never explain why complacency is an acceptable answer to attacks on US citizens by US citizens, but not to attacks on US citizens by foreigners.

      • Jiro says:

        Not even this one?

        That shows (assuming you take the FBI guy’s word for it) that the background check failed. Presumably if it had worked properly and caught the guy he wouldn’t have been able to buy a gun.

        That doesn’t count as “gun control would have prevented it” because in that context “gun control” means new laws, not enforcing existing laws properly. If anything, showing that this could have been prevented by enforcing an existing law shows that we *don’t* need new laws to limit guns.

        • “Through a database known as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — or “NICS” — the FBI performs background checks for those looking to buy weapons from dealers in 30 states, including South Carolina”

          And the other 20?

          • Jiro says:

            It clearly doesn’t count as “gun control would have prevented the case for which gun control is being invoked”.

          • Gbdub says:

            Not sure where/when your information comes from, but background checks are run by all FFLs (gun dealers) on all firearms sales.

            Some states run their own NICS program, in which case the FFL contacts the state, who is the point of contact to NICS. Perhaps that’s the “20” you’re seeing? But NICS checks are a federal mandate on all FFL sales, regardless of state.

            The only gun sales not subject to background check are private sales between individuals, e.g. at a gun show. Even those only apply to in-person transfers in the same state. All interstate sales or sales involving shipment of a gun must pass through at least one FFL, with the associated background check.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            It’s still a felony to sell or otherwise provide a firearm to a prohibited person all 50 states. Even in the gun-show case you’d be hard pressed to find an “above the board” seller who isn’t going to do a background check or want you to sign bunch of paperwork simply for CYA purposes.

        • How about defining “gun control” as “default to sale-not-permitted” if the background check doesn’t come through in time?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Yes, that’s a sensible tweak. A few other tweaks: a buyer does not pass a background check unless all persons in the household also pass (Newtown). Slightly more complicated: ‘gun control laws’ include some teeth so information is followed up on (Tucson, EliotRodger). Amazon etc should report sales of excessive amount of armament and explosives to an individual (Aurora).

          • HlynkaCG says:

            If we go that route the anti-gun side will simply defund or otherwise sabotage the background check system to ensure that no sails are ever made, thus achieving a de-facto ban.

            The pro-gun side would have to be rather dense to leave themselves open to such an obvious line of attack.

          • That’s poisoning the well. Any piece of legilsation, however reasonable or moderate, could be seen as the prelude to an almighty conspiracy, if you are paranoid enough. However, since it is not a reasonable objection, it seems there are no reasonable objections.

      • TheNybbler says:

        “And the pro-gun side never explain why complacency is an acceptable answer to attacks on US citizens by US citizens, but not to attacks on US citizens by foreigners.”

        Because in general we don’t believe that, but we don’t all agree on what the appropriate measures are; there’s no single pro-gun answer. We also don’t always know the answer, but it’s possible to not know a good answer and still oppose a proposed bad one; to reject that is to accept the politician’s fallacy (we must do something / this is something / therefore we must do it).

        The only case I’ve seen complacency considered a good answer is gang violence; there are a fair number of people who don’t consider criminals killing criminals to be a problem worth dealing with.

        • “Because in general we don’t believe that,”

          Yeah, I actually figured out that the not-saying was the result of the not-believing. The issues are whether the the pro gun people are running off a set of consistent principles, and, if so, whether those are their stated principles.

          “. We also don’t always know the answer, but it’s possible to not know a good answer and still oppose a proposed bad one; to reject that is to accept the politician’s fallacy (we must do something / this is something / therefore we must do it).”

          I’m aware that pro-gun people vary. I’m only concerned with the subset who propose the Swimming Pool arguments, because as far as I can see, the subset of Swimming Poolers who adopt it as a consistent principle that informs all their decision making has zero members.

          “The only case I’ve seen complacency considered a good answer is gang violence; there are a fair number of people who don’t consider criminals killing criminals to be a problem worth dealing with.”

          The point is that complacency about a very wide range of issues would follow from the Swimming Pool principle, if anyone believed in it sincerely and consistently, which they clearly don’t.

      • Glen Raphael says:

        Or the Argument from Other Countries?

        Have you ever seen a truly honest and convincing Argument from Other Countries? The attempts I’ve seen generally boil down to the fact that for any plausible policy X and positive outcome Y you care to name, somewhere in the world you can find a country which has both X and Y. If you then find an excuse to exclude from your training set all the cases of X and not-Y and all the cases in which switching to X was followed by Y getting worse and all the cases where the positive outcome Y pre-dates the institution of policy X, you can pretend that X reliably causes Y and therefore we should do X.

        And the pro-gun side never explain why complacency is an acceptable answer to attacks on US citizens by US citizens, but not to attacks on US citizens by foreigners.

        I’ll bite that bullet: I think we’d be a lot better off applying more complacency in both circumstances. Ill-considered overreaction often does far more harm than the original event. That applies when over-reacting to “mass shootings”; it also applies when overreacting to attacks on US citizens by foreigners, up to and including 9/11. And it applies for the exact same reason: when something extremely unusual and extremely terrible happens, we collectively lose our shit and demand that the people in charge do something about it. They don’t actually know anything useful to do but they have to appear to be doing something so they look at whatever dumb legislative ideas they had lying around that were previously thought too stupid to enact, and decide to enact them anyway. Which is how we got saddled with the Patriot Act, the Gun-Free Schools Act, and a never-ending War On {various things}.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Every time a shooting happens there is an instant reaction from those in favor of gun control to say “when will this madness end??” “how many more deaths before we enact sensible gun control???”

      I disagree with your core assumption. When Dylan Roof shot up a black church, the instant reaction was not to talk about gun control, but to take White America to task, and censor Confederate historical monuments just to be on the safe side. When Gabriel Giffords was shot, we zeroed in on the clear inspiration behind that act: Sarah Palin, who recklessly spoke of politics using military words like “campaign.” A week or two ago when there was a shooting near a Planned Parenthood, the reaction was to blame pro-lifers, since obviously that ideology caused it.

      The problem with the latest shooting is that the motives behind it are a complete mystery. There’s clearly no ideology to blame, so we must reach for the only lever left to us: gun control.

      • Jiro says:

        The motives behind it aren’t a complete mystery. “Radical Islam” is a well known motive that lots of people would understand if the media bothered to mention it somewhere in a paragraph that isn’t at the bottom of the article. It’s even an ideology, so there is an ideology to blame.

        Of course, although there is an ideology to blame, there isn’t an ideology to blame that fits the narrative.

        • NN says:

          He was clearly being sarcastic.

        • TheNybbler says:

          I think you’ve been mildly trolled… all the examples are wrong, not just the last one which efficiently outlines an elephant-shaped* blind spot in the room.

          *Or perhaps another shape that you risk your life drawing.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I’m just a man passing out blank pamphlets. Why bother filling them out? It’s so obvious!

      • g says:

        Very witty, but maybe it’s worth mentioning the following things.

        1. Shortly before shooting up a black church, Dylann Roof wrote up a white-supremacist manifesto expressing his intention to “go into the ghetto and fight”, explaining that he was motivated by high rates of black-on-white crime, listing his grievances against a succession of non-white racial groups, etc., etc., etc. I doubt that removing Confederate flags from state buildings will do much to stop such incidents (nor, so far as I can tell, was that ever the point of doing so), but if you’re suggesting there was any real doubt about this being a race-motivated incident then you’re out of your tree.

        2. The complaint about Sarah Palin was not, oddly enough, that she had used the word “campaign”. It was that she had put out a map showing what were obviously intended as rifle crosshairs over various legislators’ locations (including Giffords’) and promoted it with the words “Don’t retreat, instead — RELOAD!”. My impression, though, is that scarcely anyone claimed that Palin was actually to blame; just that promoting a view of politics as armed battle makes that kind of thing more likely.

        3. The shooting was not merely “near a Planned Parenthood”. The killer didn’t stay in one place, but a substantial part of the attack took place in a Planned Parenthood clinic. When police talked to the killer immediately after, he is known to have complained about “baby parts”, an obvious reference to the anti-PP videos that were circulated earlier this year. He has attacked a PP clinic before (but in a much lower-key way — he glued up its door locks) and is on record as calling violent anti-abortion activists heroes. He may have had other motives too, he may just be nuts, but if you think there’s any doubt whether he was motivated by “pro-life” views then again I think you’re out of your tree.

        So. By all means be as sarcastic as you like if you see people making out that the San Bernardino killings were random unmotivated actions for which there’s no explanation to be found. But enough already with the pretence that it was unreasonable to portray those other guys as motivated by race, anti-Democrat politics, and religious anti-abortionism. They very plainly were.

      • Are people assuming that “caused by ideology” and “caused by ready availability of guns” are mutually exclusive?

    • Jeffrey Soreff says:

      It seems to me the gun control-as-reaction-to-mass-shootings thing is one of the most brain dead discussions in American politics today.

      True enough – but given the quality of American political discourse, it has a lot of competition.

  24. null says:

    If you think this refugee/migrant crisis is bad, wait until the Indo-Pak one.

  25. Peter says:

    Theory: Women Spend 1/4 of Time Questioning Sanity, gain Power Thereby

    I enjoy reading your blog regularly. Particularly liked the (very important!) mention you made of the study stating that men have more overall variance in traits (due to the X-Y, it was conjectured).

    Here’s another angle on psychology of gender studies to consider. I keep reading the post that mentions Ozy’s statement in this context:

    This is a big part of cognitive therapy – building the understanding that just because your brain makes assessments like “I will definitely fail at this” or “I’m the worst person in the world” doesn’t mean that you have to believe them. As Ozy points out, this one can be easier for people with serious psychiatric problems who have a lot of experience with their brain’s snap assessments being really off, as opposed to everyone else who has to piece the insight together from a bunch of subtle failures.

    Consider that since puberty a modern woman may spend almost 1/4 of her life under the threat of subtle disorder to their thinking processes due to hormones. It seems clear that for a self-aware woman, the rest of the time they may have an advantage in noting when they are biased.

    Just a thought. Also, domain specific knowledge transference issues with recognizing you’re being influenced, obviously. Regardless, that’s a ton of practice if they give even the slightest thought to ‘is this because I’m on my period, or because i really feel that way?’.

    • Dahlen says:

      What? This is ridiculous. Women are mostly the same when menstruating, it’s not a goddamn werewolf transformation. Where do people get these ideas?

      • Anonymous says:

        IIRC (I may not), the commentariat here skews heavily male.

        • Dahlen says:

          Okay, understandable, but don’t these people have women around? Or do they get their ideas about PMS from pop culture, where 25% prevalence turns into 100%, moodiness becomes cognitive impairment, and everybody seems to forget what the “P” in “PMS” stands for?

      • Alexandra says:

        I know that I once started crying from frustration at something that would normally have been annoying but tolerable. There’s definitely some change mentally, but I still act almost the same.
        Honestly the biggest issue is being expected to work as usual when it feels like your insides are turning themselves inside out and you can’t do anything about it. That can feel like a werewolf transformation.

      • suntzuanime says:

        sounds like something a werewolf would say

      • I am not the same, there’s major shifts that are directly related to where I am in my cycle. This is normal, PMS and all that is based on real changes many women experience at certain points during their cycle.

        Similarly there are real mood shifts during pregnancy and while nursing. Not for all women, but many and perhaps most women do literally feel quite different during those times than when they are not.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Disagree. Behavior changes noticeably depending on where a woman is in her cycle. I will note that the effect does seem toned down for women on the pill. No doubt the wisdom that comes with age also helps.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ Dahlen
        Women are mostly the same when menstruating, it’s not a goddamn werewolf transformation.

        Sensible women (like me!) have learned to moderate their opinions and behavior by noting the differences that menstruation, nutrition, children pushing their buttons, etc etc, can make. Thus we build a set of consistent habits of better quality than the reactions and behaviors of men (and less sensible women) who take their own every unexamined reaction at face value.

      • Peter says:

        Yes, and people with depression or neurological difficulties are also ‘mostly the same.’ My point is that it’s the questioning process that might lead to a generally more self-aware outlook, not that there’s some sort of ‘transformation.’

        I mean, I did say ‘subtle’ disorder. It’s just an opportunity for more chances to specifically note changes in thought processes due to hormonal inputs.

      • Deiseach says:

        it’s not a goddamn werewolf transformation

        Considering my most reliable indicator, after a burst of irrational anger, was to go “….Wait. Is tonight the full moon?” because I generally went with the moon – don’t be so quick to dismiss that 🙂

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        This varies a lot by person. Can be very bad indeed.

    • keranih says:

      If I had a nickel for every time I had to say to myself, “Well, I should probably call X back and say “Sorry I yelled at you yesterday, you screwed up but you weren’t actually the worst human in the history of the planet,”…

      …well, I wouldn’t be rich. But I could buy me and the latest idiot a cuppa joe.

      From convos with gal friends, it’s not the same gradient from person to person, nor even from month to month, but there is definitely a span of 12 to 72 hours days pre-menses when one is hyper-touchy, sufferers fewer fools, and is more than normally ready to take offense.

      I’d rather be like that a couple days a month than be randy 24/7, but heck, how do I know? And a steady level of hormones would probably be easier for coworkers and subordinates.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ Peter
      Consider that since puberty a modern woman may spend almost 1/4 of her life under the threat of subtle disorder to their thinking processes due to hormones. It seems clear that for a self-aware woman, the rest of the time they may have an advantage in noting when they are biased.
      Just a thought. Also, domain specific knowledge transference issues with recognizing you’re being influenced, obviously. Regardless, that’s a ton of practice if they give even the slightest thought to ‘is this because I’m on my period, or because i really feel that way?’.

      Yes. I noticed that about myself … during puberty. I found checking any odd reaction with “Wait, what week is this?” is good training, and soon extends to “Wait, have I had breakfast yet?”, “Wait, does that guy have an accent I don’t like?”, etc etc.

      Taking recreational drugs gives similar training. So does noting my reaction to the same issue, depending on what I’ve been reading that week. All this also gives training in keeping quiet till I’ve considered the issue in several different states; only vote after debating once drunk and once sober.

      Menstruation is great training wheels for this. There’s the calendar to check with, and soon physical evidence too.

    • Tracy W says:

      Meh, I don’t get PMS or period pains but pregnancy and the post-partum period I knew I was batty for tearing up at TV ads anyway.
      For me the big change was having a summer job at a secure unit for people with behavioural problems and thus slowly learning to think through the adrenalin rush. Something reasonably achievable by most men.

  26. I’m pretty sure that my attention revs up slowly when it comes to hearing speech– I spend a fair amount of saying “”excuse me, would you repeat that?” even though my hearing is average or close to it. Any thoughts about making it easier to focus on outside words. It’s possible that I get too focused on my inner monologue.

    ***

    I believe that when some people disagree with “Torture doesn’t work” it’s a geek mistrust of generalizations rather than a desire to have torture done (only on enemies, of course). Would it be better to go with “torture isn’t worth it”?

    I’ve listened to an interview about Why Torture Doesn’t Work and am currently reading the book. It’s a neurological take on why high stress interferes with access to memory.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I have the same experience, with speech. I’m not sure it’s an inner monologue thing (although it certainly happens when I’m inner-monologuing); it’s also when I’m reading, etc. I have no advice for fixing it, though, mostly because I’m usually not terribly interested in what people have to say to me, and am only forced to respond for social reasons. When I’m talking to someone interesting, I find I have little trouble (though not quite no trouble) maintaining focus on their words.

    • Tar Far says:

      I haven’t read it, but if the argument against torture in Why Torture Doesn’t Work is that stress (of the kind experienced during torture) interferes with memory, then doesn’t that only support the claim that “it’s harder to remember things while you’re being tortured”? It doesn’t, for example, refute the claim that knowing they could be tortured is a deterrent to our enemies, or that torture breaks down a captured enemy’s will to withhold information. I have no idea, but I’d guess most information gotten using torture is gotten not right after a torture session but right BEFORE the next one.

    • stillnotking says:

      “Torture never works” is dumb — there are plenty of historical examples in which torture has worked. “Torture doesn’t work nearly as often as one would naively expect, and is not worth the associated costs to national credibility and the greater liberal project” is a much easier argument.

      • Protagoras says:

        You forget one of the most important costs. Torture may, rarely, “work” if you have the right person and you ask the right questions. If you’re reliably getting the right person and reliably know the right questions to ask, you have good enough intelligence sources that you almost certainly didn’t need the torture anyway. If you’re frequently getting the wrong person and/or asking the wrong questions, people under torture try to please the torturer by making up information if they don’t have what the torturer is looking for, so you’re setting yourself up for a lot of wild goose chases.

        At least, that’s if you want information. Torture does reliably make torturers think their victims are guilty, so if you’re Stalin, and you want your NKVD goons to become more convinced that the dissidents truly are a dangerous enemy so that they’ll be more loyal and ruthless, sure it makes sense to have the NKVD torture dissidents.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          “If you’re reliably getting the right person and reliably know the right questions to ask, you have good enough intelligence sources that you almost certainly didn’t need the torture anyway. ”

          ‘Where did you hide x’ is one where torture is routinely used.

          “If you’re frequently getting the wrong person and/or asking the wrong questions, people under torture try to please the torturer by making up information if they don’t have what the torturer is looking for, so you’re setting yourself up for a lot of wild goose chases.”

          Alternatively if you just use it to make people start talking, it has less of a wild goose chase effect.

        • A couple of historical points on torture:

          1. The argument that it’s unreliable because the subject will say whatever satisfies the torturer is an old one. In Athenian law, slaves could only testify under torture, presumably because their testimony was wanted against their owners, who could punish them.

          Athenian litigants had to speak for themselves, but could hire an orator to write an oration that they then memorized and delivered. Such orations are one of our main sources for information on the law. They include one that argues that slave testimony under torture is entirely reliable, never having proved false, and one arguing that it is worthless, since the slave will say whatever the torturer wants.

          They were composed by the same orator. For different customers.

          2. Visigothic law used essentially the same approach Samuel mentions. The accuser had to include in his accusation facts about the crime that were not public information. The testimony of the defendant under torture was only accepted if it matched that information. If the accuser had made the facts public, the defendant could not be tortured.

  27. walpolo says:

    Has anyone looked at this Kelly McGonigal research that claims to show stress is only harmful to your health if you believe it’s harmful? Very curious about whether this is accurate/whether the studies are good.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/vanessaloder/2015/06/03/can-stress-kill-you-research-says-only-if-you-believe-it-can/

    “Eight years later, the researchers found that high levels of stress increased the risk of dying by 43%…but only for those people who also believed that stress was harming their health.

    Even more fascinating, people who reported high levels of stress but who did not believe their stress was harmful were not more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of death of anyone in the study, even lower than those with little stress.

    This means that stress itself is not actually bad. It is the belief that stress is bad that is bad.”

    My concern here, of course, is that perhaps the causal arrow goes the other way: some people are harmed by stress and some are not. Those who are harmed by it form a belief that stress is harmful, those who can get away with being stressed and still have good health don’t form this belief. But perhaps the researchers have done something to rule out this possibility.

    Here is the actual study:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374921/

    • onyomi says:

      My personal interpretation of it would be that there’s some kind of meta-stress they are failing to distinguish: for example, exercise is a kind of stress on one’s system, but the consensus seems to be that exercise is good for you, within reason. Stressing about stress, on the other hand, might be biologically distinct from stressing your system by running an extra mile, or even by staying up late to finish a report, etc. Stressing about stress is basically worry/anxiety, which seems like it would be bad for you. It would make little sense, for example, to say that “worrying is not bad for you, but worrying about worrying is bad for you.” It does seem to make perfect sense, however, to say “exposing your body/mind to taxing situations is not bad for you, but being anxious/worried about those taxing situations is.”

    • Deiseach says:

      There’s the kind of stress from “My work hours have been reduced, I’m afraid I’ll lose my job, it’s getting tough to pay the bills, this is putting strain on my relationship and I’m fighting more with my partner, I have to get up early in the dark for the long commute and I’m crammed in with people on the train/bus/Tube” and the kind of stress that is “I work long work-weeks as head of my own company, mine is the desk where the buck stops, I do a lot of international travelling to conferences where I give presentations” stress.

      “Stress plus lack of control” is probably a lot more harmful than “stress and I can afford to walk away from this any time I like”.

      • Psmith says:

        Yes, this comes up quite a bit in Sapolsky’s “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”. Control makes a big difference. So does social status.

  28. Deiseach says:

    Haven’t read this, only saw it by chance due to a link on a news feed, curious to know what people here think of it. I don’t know if it’s a book club recommendation or a present recommendation, but here goes, blurb from the Amazon page:

    The concept of evolution is widely considered to be a foundational building block in atheist thought. Leaders of the New Atheist movement have taken Darwin’s work and used it to diminish the authority of religious institutions and belief systems. But they have also embraced it as a metaphor for the gradual replacement of religious faith with secular reason. They have posed as harbingers of human progress, claiming the moral high ground, and rejecting with intolerance any message that challenges the hegemony of science and reason. Religion, according to the New Atheists, should be relegated to the Dark Ages of superstition and senseless violence.

    Yet Darwin did not see evolution as a linear progression to an improved state of being. The more antagonistic members of the New Atheist movement who embrace this idea are not only employing bad history, but also the kind of rigid, black-and-white thinking they excoriate in their religious opponents. Indeed, Stephen LeDrew argues, militant atheists have more in common with religious fundamentalists than they would care to admit, advancing what LeDrew calls secular fundamentalism. In reaction to fundamentalist Christianity and Islamism, this strain of atheism has become an offshoot of the religion it tries so hard to malign.

    The Evolution of Atheism outlines the essential political tension at the heart of the atheist movement. The New Atheism, LeDrew shows, is part of a tradition of atheist thought and activism that promotes individualism and scientific authority, which puts it at odds with atheist groups that are motivated by humanistic ethics and social justice. LeDrew draws on public relations campaigns, publications, podcasts, and in-depth interviews to explore the belief systems, internal logics, and self-contradictions of the people who consider themselves to be atheists. He argues that evolving understandings of what atheism means, and how it should be put into action, are threatening to irrevocably fragment the movement.

    Naturally, the first thing that leapt to mind was “Is this guy religious or what is his background?” He’s a sociologist, currently doing a post-doc at the University of Uppsala, and according to this promo piece, he’s an atheist himself.

    As I said, I haven’t read it, but I find it interesting to see a critique/examination of the “New Atheist” movement looking at it the way they’ve looked at religion; that is, not admiring reviews of works by fellow members or supporters or well-wishers, but treating them as a movement that has flaws and agendas.

    I’d be really interested to see atheists/non-believers’ take on this; yeah, I admit a certain degree of “how do you like it when the shoe is on the other foot?” in anticipating “But that’s not right, that’s not what we think, that’s only some not all, he’s completely misinterpreting that!” reactions about your own side of the fence.

    • Wrong Species says:

      It’s very easy to compare something you don’t like to religion. But just because there are a few things in common doesn’t mean the accusation has any substance. And New Atheism has far less in common with religion than the Marxist ideas our sociologist author probably believes in.

      • Deiseach says:

        See, this is precisely the kind of comment I luxuriate in.

        How do you know he’s a Marxist? A bit defensively circling the wagons there, eh? Can’t take rational criticism?

        You religious types are all the same! 😉

        • Wrong Species says:

          I don’t really care one way or another about New Atheism. I’m still not even sure what the difference between it and regular atheism is. It’s just that nothing from that blurb was an actual criticism.

        • MichaelM says:

          Every time I see someone use the phrase ‘circle the wagons’ I want to find a good, thick book on the Hussite wars that isn’t either $80+, written in a different language, or both.

          …the search continues, I suppose.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “Thinks evolution is a linear progression to a better state of being” is something I hear a lot more as an insult / declaration of the other person’s stupidity than as something people actually endorse.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      “I’d be really interested to see atheists/non-believers’ take on this; yeah, I admit a certain degree of “how do you like it when the shoe is on the other foot?” in anticipating “But that’s not right, that’s not what we think, that’s only some not all, he’s completely misinterpreting that!” reactions about your own side of the fence.”

      He appears to be identifying ‘politics’. Seriously-
      –The New Atheism, LeDrew shows, is part of a tradition of atheist thought and activism that promotes –individualism and scientific authority, which puts it at odds with atheist groups that are motivated by –humanistic ethics and social justice.

      Got that? New Atheists (people who focus on antitheism as a primary objective) don’t get along with people who focus on different objectives.

    • Anonymous says:

      He argues that evolving understandings of what atheism means, and how it should be put into action, are threatening to irrevocably fragment the movement.

      I disagree with this. There is no unified atheist movement to be fragmented (unless he’s referring specifically to “New Atheism” here, but my reading of the excerpt makes me think he isn’t).

    • James Picone says:

      This is just the accommodationist/fuck-religion split. Nothing new.

      Conflating a naive view of evolution as having a direction and Whig history is not terribly honest.

    • stillnotking says:

      Does he provide any citations for the claim that the New Atheists “embraced [evolution] as a metaphor for the gradual replacement of religious faith with secular reason”? I can’t recall them doing that off the top of my head. If they did, bad on them. Terrible metaphor.

      That said, religious faith pretty clearly is being gradually replaced by secular reason, although the beginnings of that shift predate New Atheism and possibly even Old Atheism. For instance, most Western countries no longer have ecclesiastical criminal courts, religious texts are no longer seen as legal documents, theology has shriveled while philosophy has expanded, etc.

      • Cauê says:

        Does he provide any citations for the claim that the New Atheists “embraced [evolution] as a metaphor for the gradual replacement of religious faith with secular reason”? I can’t recall them doing that off the top of my head. If they did, bad on them. Terrible metaphor.

        I’d say that what Dawkins did was close to whatever the opposite of that would be, with the Viruses of the Mind thing. Religion as the result of memetic natural selection.

  29. onyomi says:

    Though I can’t find more info on the author, I’m assuming it’s not that Bill Murray, but he would make a good point either way:

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2015/12/05/first_roosevelt_then_reagan_and_now_trump__128939.html

    The thesis is, essentially, that FDR was as successful as he was because he was the first president to harness the power of radio–at a time when old-style orators were walking away from the microphone at the podium, he was immobile and had a powerful voice and expert delivery–that Reagan was as successful as he was because he was the first really telegenic president (movie star experience), and that now Trump is successful because he’s the first reality tv star presidential candidate.

    People had always joked that the Donald was only successful as he was because he started out as a reality tv star; what’s scarier to think is that maybe being a reality tv star is actually a huge advantage in our current political culture, above and beyond the initial name recognition it confers. Even scarier, as future politicians had to try to imitate the success of FDR and Reagan, maybe reality tv-esque qualities will become more and more de rigeur for politicians… though almost anything strikes me as better than the status quo… and that’s part of Trump’s appeal, of course.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      It’s certainly possible, and if it were true it would pose an interesting question. Is it more useful to win with the majority through clownishness or the elites through pseudointellectualism?

      Populists typically crash and burn in the face of elite opposition so a reversal in the form of a Trump victory would have a lot of implications. Obama followed by Trump would be a pretty strong indicator that the torch has passed from pseudointellectuals to clowns, at leat temporarily.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Sure, but why should this predict trends? Maybe Reagan had some kind of movie star charisma that helped him win office, but he wasn’t followed by many other actors, so why should Trump be a sign of things to come? I’ve heard it suggested that celebrities could take over politics if they started at the bottom and worked up, but those who want to enter politics generally try to jump in at too high a level and fail. And there isn’t much selection pressure for broadcast charisma on the normal career path because it isn’t as valuable at the lower levels, so normal politicians at the top don’t have much.

      • onyomi says:

        I think the fact that we haven’t had a movie star president since Reagan is actually kind of the point: a movie star proved the power of being telegenic and witty on camera and non-movie star politicians did their best to learn from him. Obama, Clinton, and even Bush Jr strike me as much more “movie star-like” than LBJ, Nixon, or Carter, for example (though arguably JFK was the first real “tv president” as evidenced by the anecdote that he won a debate with Nixon as determined by those viewing it, but not as determined by those listening to it).

        I don’t predict future candidates will all be reality tv stars, but they may act more like them. This may actually be a good thing: social media savvy doesn’t strike me as bad, and allows people to get closer to the actual opinions of candidates without so many canned responses and carefully orchestrated appearances.

    • walpolo says:

      “In this way, Trump supporters and the Black Lives Matter and identity-politics campus protesters have more in common than one might think. All these constituencies are unhappy with the status quo to the point of near violence, and no longer care what their supposed betters think about them. ”

      Near violence?

  30. Lurker here, couple of questions about the SSC blogosphere:

    1) Does anyone know what happened to The Last Psychiatrist? He suddenly stopped posting last year, and was about to put out a book (I’m guessing it wasn’t a literal porn book).

    2) Does Sister Y now blog anywhere other than Ribbonfarm?

    3) Which (if any) of the writers at The Future Primeval is Konkvistador? I enjoyed his LW posts when he was there and TFP, but havn’t been able to pattern-match him to any particular author.

    Thanks!

    • Douglas Knight says:

      1. In 3/2014, he was doxxed. In 5/2014, he moved to blogging in an unknown location. With the value of his reputation up for grabs, a smokescreen of imitation blogs popped up in the same month.

      2. Probably not, but you know about carcinisation, right?

      3. There are three ways to figure out the answer. Most FP posts (those labeled “archive,” I guess) are copied from More Right, so compare the archives. Ethnicity uniquely identifies a number of people from the list of author names. His twitter account contains a big clue.

  31. Alrenous says:

    There is a dominant society-wide status system. It is supposed to reward anyone who upholds X and punishes anyone who opposes it.

    What is X? Specifically, what is the highest-status thing to signal you believe X is? If we had the highest-status person in front of us, we would have the person with the most X. What are we supposed to say we have found the best specimen of?

    • What makes you so certain of the premise in the first paragraph? If you have strong evidence for it, the framework behind that evidence should give at least an indirect definition for X and probably an approach to figure it out more precisely. If you don’t, why do you think your question has a sensible answer?

      (Unless you’re really asking a naming problem: You know what X is, but you don’t know what to call it.)

      • Alrenous says:

        Sounds like you assert there is no such dominant system. Do you have an alternative model?

        • JBeshir says:

          I would propose “people award people who do things they like with status”, with “support me” being a common “thing they like”, and there being a lot of optimistic grants of status to people who could be useful to court them for support.

          An economy of status rather than status being assigned to innate traits directly, but innate traits that grant usefulness generally get the status economy to reward you as incentive to do what other capital-holders want, much like the regular economy.

          I’d also suggest that you can exchange status and money back and forth enough that things are much closer to a single economy of social and economic capital than they are to two independent economies.

          Relativity of status to groups as noted elsewhere complicates things but I think the model remains basically valid, just the awarded status has differing value to different people. I am reminded of Stellar as described amusingly in http://www.kalzumeus.com/2014/08/05/harry-potter-and-the-cryptocurrency-of-stars/, in which this relativity applies to economic capital too.

          There’s a lot of things this doesn’t capture and I’m very unsure about (is status actually expended when e.g. you use it to get money via a Patreon?) but it’s my best guess at a starting point.

          • Alrenous says:

            I support your proposal as a starting point.

            I would say, with Patreon, like regular patrons, the patron gets status by associating with the patronized. Rather than trading status directly, the patronized trades time, which they could be using to increase their own status, instead spending it associating themselves with the patron.

            That link has made it into my permanent bookmarks.

        • CatCube says:

          People assign different status depending on their closely-identified groups. These don’t necessarily have to be the same for a particular person at all times and places.

          People aren’t math; they’re not required to obey some transitive principle.

        • I admit that part of the reason I responded is as an acquired distrust of people using the Hansonian framework of status/signalling. However, I’d put the existence of status on a global scale as one of the better-supported points. Simply from a pattern-matching point of view, I think there’s a relatively sensible clustering that puts presidents and CEOs on one cluster and illegal immigrants on the opposite cluster. Even people unfamiliar with the Hansonian framework use the word “status” to refer to this pattern.

          However, you also made an additional claim: that the status system is supposed to reward anyone who upholds X and punish anyone who opposes it, for some X. In contrast, the null hypothesis is that the status system doesn’t have a purpose. Recall that I accepted status existing as a pattern, and patterns typically have a reason but not a purpose. Perhaps you mean something more specific when you say “supposed to” and you could clarify that.

          Finally, my point is not just about dislike of “status”, it is also based on a philosophy of constructivism. You could reply and justify your premise, and I may or may not find it convincing. However, it would be remarkable if your reply really grapples with the problem of showing that there is a single specific X such that the premise holds, without also giving a hint on what X is. Even if I disagree I could get a better impression of what you’re asking. The point is also to demonstrate a cognitive strategy you may not be familiar with.

          • Alrenous says:

            By ‘supposed’ I mean, ‘what winners in the system are supposed to say about it.’ As opposed to what it actually rewards, and as opposed to what winners think it rewards.

    • Mark says:

      Are you asking us to answer the question “What thing gives high status?” with the answer that would give us the highest status?
      I don’t think you can answer the meta-question without some knowledge of the audience – but whatever the best response is, it should be delivered with confidence.

      • Alrenous says:

        I defined the audience – society as a whole. So, I’m looking for the most popular single answer.

        • Mark says:

          I think that confidence is a thing that is widely rewarded by status rewarding mechanisms, but I don’t think I will gain much status for saying that.
          Um… so… having sex with me. That is the highest status activity anyone can engage in.

    • Tracy W says:

      As a Kiwi, this is easy. X is beating the Aussies.

      • multiheaded says:

        😀 nice

      • Alrenous says:

        So the highest-status NZ-er is the one who beats the Aussies most comprehensively? Presumably, across the normal status defaults – economically, sexually, socially, intellectually, physically?

      • onyomi says:

        I think this says something important about status: status is defined by comparing favorably to your nearest reasonable competitor or aspirant peer. If you’re the richest guy in your small town, it doesn’t matter much that you’d be only upper-middle class in NYC.

      • stubydoo says:

        Tracy – I wanted to post a link to a case of Kiwis beating the Aussies but since I’m worried about setting off filters with it… if you google “research has proven that New Zealanders” it should take you right to the story I’m thinking of.

    • Chalid says:

      I definitely disagree with the idea of a society-wide status system. If you’re an academic, status is measured by intelligence and impact. If you’re in Washington, status comes from political power. If you’re on Wall Street, status is money. In other areas it might be fame, virtue, coolness, or something else entirely.

      • Alrenous says:

        Academia per se is higher status than Wall Street.
        Using these pairwise comparisons, we can find the highest-status arena, which will have a status system everyone cares about.

        • Chalid says:

          Wall Street (and many others) would disagree with that.

        • Mark Z. says:

          What happens when the pairwise comparisons give you inconsistent answers depending on who you ask?

          What happens when you ask someone “which of these two is higher status, furries or Star Trek cosplayers?” and they say “What’s a furry?”

          I call shenanigans on this whole project. Social status is not a well-ordering.

    • Chalid says:

      If we had the highest-status person in front of us, we would have the person with the most X. What are we supposed to say we have found the best specimen of?

      Granting arguendo the existence of X, is there any other candidate for the United States’ “highest-status person” besides the president?

      • Status is status in some particular group. I expect that, in the group of serious chess players, the world’s top players have more status than the President. There must have been quite a lot of people for whom Feynman had more status than whoever was president. I expect one could think of many other examples.

        • Chalid says:

          Yes that point has been made before, hence ‘arguendo.’

          Anyway, I do think it makes sense to talk about average status assigned to a person, where the average is taken over the population. And for the president, that status is quite high – even those who dislike him intensely will assign him high status.

      • Alrenous says:

        I was thinking of starting the successive approximation with POTUS.

    • Well if SSC and rationalist culture is anything to go by, obviously X = being meta 🙂

      As other people have said, subcultures often have their own status rules. In a way, you can actually see the status rules as being so central as to effectively defining that subculture. Some sociology likes to portray subcultures as essentially collective efforts to reject the dominant status system and construct an alternative status system, where X is rubbish and all the cool people know Y, which is coincidentally what the group members have in spades, is what you really want to be like.

      I think there is usually still a society-wide status system too, but in heterogenous cultures its not especially strong. Even in a single culture or subculture there is sometimes multiple effective status signals (eg. money, job, possessions, morality etc etc), so I think it should be viewed as multipolar, organic and constantly shifting. (I wrote more thoughts on social status on my blog here, though I think I probably need to update it)

  32. Mark says:

    How do the good people of the slatestarcodex comment section feel about arguments for god presented in (1)The Silver Chair by CS Lewis and (2) Life of Pi by Yann Martel?
    My thoughts: The idea of “other minds” (that are similar to our own) would be superfluous if our only desire were to explain and predict the (social) events of external reality. We only entertain this as a concept in order to create an intellectually and emotionally appealing moral framework. (On the other hand, directly felt empathy, emotional projection, probably exists as a basic property of the normal human mind/brain.)
    This means that almost everyone who thinks about this (except the sad, sad, solipsists – or maybe them too?) already operates in the puddleglumian mode and therefore has no grounds to object to the method. Disagreements over the ultimate nature of reality or morality are fundamentally a matter of taste.
    (If Christianity were the ‘greatest story ever told’, that would be an excellent and compelling reason to become a Christian.)
    Do our feelings determine how we view reality? (Only on an intellectual level? Not at all?)

    [(1) “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one…That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia… we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say”]
    [(2) *Spoiler* Where there is no way to test which theory is correct, choose (on pragmatic grounds) the one which appeals to you most. The reason why Russell’s Teapot doesn’t exist is that is isn’t very interesting.]

    • A Postdoc says:

      I have often thought that choosing whether to believe in external reality at all is in some ways an analogous question to choosing whether to believe in God.

    • Alrenous says:

      The nature of beliefs always gives us a way to test which theory is correct.

      1. Thoughts are ontologically subjective – what you think they are defines their existence. (I like to fudge a bit and say if you think you’re thinking of a blue cube, that’s what causes it to be true that you’re thinking of a blue cube, but really it is the identity relation.)
      2. We are in direct control of some thoughts but not others, commonly called sensations.
      3. The purpose of beliefs, the reason to hold them at all, is to control sensations by knowing the true relationships between our thought-actions, which we can control, and their sensation-consequences, which we cannot.

      Therefore, the ‘correct’ beliefs are the ones which lead you to take actions that lead to your preferred consequences. If a belief is irrelevant to such outcomes, then it is pointless – it doesn’t matter if it is ‘correct’ in some sense, there’s no reason to find out. (I’m fairly but not 100%-philosopher-approved sure that effect-less putative facts are actually falsehoods, or not-even-wrongs.)

      Puddleglum perceives he returns to the sunny upper world. The underworld queen would say this is a dream, but Puddleglum has successfully achieved the sensation-consequences that were his goal. The point is not to ‘really’ be in his important world per se, but to stably(1) perceive himself to be.

      (1) The reason we call dreams unreal is because actions in the dreamworld don’t have long-term consequences. Actions upon illusions have the same quality – you can make your daughter pretend to be happy, or alternatively you can make her actually happy. The problem isn’t really that one is ‘real’ and one isn’t, but the fact the former isn’t stable. Yes, we would prefer her to be actually happy and think her unhappy than to think she’s happy and be actually unhappy, but this is an evolved instinct to deal with illusions.

      If an illusion was completely permanent, it would be impossible to tell the difference between it and reality. A difference of no difference is the identity relation – an illusion that’s fake in every way except it can’t be pierced is not an illusion. Fundamentally, perception is reality. That is, ultimately I became convinced that the subjective is primary, not the objective. If your daughter pretends to be happy so well there’s no way, even in principle, for you to find out, she’s not pretending, she’s really happy.

      The queen shouldn’t be able to convince you the upper, sunny world is unreal. But, if through extreme cleverness, she can, the correct conclusion isn’t, ‘stay in the lower world’ but instead to ignore the real/illusion bit, since it’s an irrelevant piece of information.

    • How are other minds superfluous? We see that we are people, that other people exist and look and act like people, and that they report and observe having minds. We also perceive ourselves, and self-report having a mind. The simplest explanation, assuming we trust that we exist and have minds, is that other people are similar; we’d need to multiply entities to include Us and P-Zombies otherwise.

      Of course, the real simplest explanation is it’s all random; not only does no one in the external world have minds, neither do we; we’re just random noise in the quantum froth and the fact that, at a given instant, we think that we are a coherent being with a past and a mental state is simply an artifact of randomness, and each instant is completely disconnected from each instant before it.

      This doesn’t really give you a lot in terms of predictive power, of course.

    • Partisan says:

      I don’t think too much of these arguments. The notion that materialist descriptions of the world are dull and unappealing are wrong! Virgin births and magic lions aren’t obviously better than tunneling electrons and cooperative evolution.

      Basically: come to the dark side; we have cool science.

      I haven’t read the C.S. Lewis book, but I did read Life of Pi. I really didn’t like it. The main character was really unappealing, and I thought the depictions of how the various faith leaders who try to convert Pi were terribly written. The twist at the end was at least entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying – I could imagine the author grinning and jabbing me, saying “That was pretty clever, right? See, you can’t resolve it one way or the other from what’s in the story! Pretty clever!”

      • Deiseach says:

        The “dull and unappealing” part comes in with reductionism:

        “That’s a beautiful sunset!”

        “What do you mean by ‘beautiful’? There’s no such thing as ‘beauty’. All you are reacting to is stimuli on your visual system from refraction of light rays. It has no actual value apart from evoking a learned aesthetic response, and that only occurs because what you think of as ‘beauty’ is the result of millennia of evolutionary changes due to sexual selection pressures where symmetry is seen as evidence of youth and fecundity and these are desirable traits indicating successful reproductive strategies, and that’s because our genes are blindly maximising their chances of continuance.”

        “So I only like sunsets because they make me horny? I’ll let you in on a little secret: sunsets don’t make me horny”.

        “That’s only what the top-level of the constructed illusion called ‘consciousness’ is telling you. Science knows the real truth: we are only organisms and all organisms react to stimuli with feed, fight, fuck or flee.”

        Yes, that’s boring, because there’s no point in having a brain, I might as well be a dungbeetle or an earthworm. And it’s not “But the wonders of discovery and knowledge are why humans have such big brains!” The universe doesn’t care about discovery and knowledge, we’re not created or intended to discover and know things about how it works, it’s all natural, unconscious, unaware physical forces. We have big brains because they’re weapons in species survival and victory over other competing species for resources. Indeed, you could say we’re over-weaponed and have been too successful.

        “Cool science” does not matter. Nothing matters. Even if we all attain the Singularity and learn how to reboot the Universe and create new ones so that we exist forever eternally, it doesn’t matter; we’re still only following the blind dictates of life, which is “exist, reproduce, continue”.

        • Partisan says:

          I think in your version “reductionism” is “being a jerk.” We can make supernatural explanations dull and unappealing the same way.

          “It’s really amazing to think that computers work because electrons can tunnel through barriers.”

          “What do you mean? There’s no such thing as a wave function. Aslan decides where the electrons go.”

          “…OK. I guess it’s cool that we can make a model about what Aslan will decide that works every time though.”

          “Don’t be stupid. Aslan will do whatever he wants; he is controlling your ‘prediction’.”

        • Anonymous says:

          When you say, “look, an elephant,” reductionists don’t say, “there’s no such thing as elephants, only certain collections of organs enclosed in sacks of gray skin.” Similarly when you say “look, a beautiful sunset,” reductionists don’t say “there’s no such thing as beauty.”

          • Deiseach says:

            When you get down to “science explains all”, it does.

            I would gladly welcome a complete absence of any more “Men have affairs because bonobos!” articles in the mass media, I really would. But that’s the kind of thing we get for “why are humans like this?”

          • Richard says:

            @Deiseach

            I normally find your comments lucid, informative, interesting and thought-provoking even though I don’t often agree. This bit about reductionism, however is so alien to me that I can’t even parse what you are trying to say, so if you would take the time to elaborate, possibly with examples, I’d be grateful.

            For the way I view reductionism, I’ll quote my favourite poem in full:

            There are the rushing waves
            mountains of molecules
            each stupidly minding its own business
            trillions apart
            yet forming white surf in unison

            Ages on ages
            before any eyes could see
            year after year
            thunderously pounding the shore as now.
            For whom, for what?
            On a dead planet
            with no life to entertain.

            Never at rest
            tortured by energy
            wasted prodigiously by the Sun
            poured into space.
            A mite makes the sea roar.

            Deep in the sea
            all molecules repeat
            the patterns of one another
            till complex new ones are formed.
            They make others like themselves
            and a new dance starts.
            Growing in size and complexity
            living things
            masses of atoms
            DNA, protein
            dancing a pattern ever more intricate.

            Out of the cradle
            onto dry land
            here it is
            standing:
            atoms with consciousness;
            matter with curiosity.

            Stands at the sea,
            wonders at wondering: I
            a universe of atoms
            an atom in the Universe.

            -Feynman

          • Reductivism and eliminativism are distinct positions.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Science explains elephants, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t elephants. Can you do even the most basic application of your claim to the example given, rather than just posting a bare contradiction?

          • Mark says:

            There is a tension though. I think it is the fact that unconscious processes are necessarily alien to us – utterly alien.

            What am I trying to say here?
            It’s not so much that we can’t empathize with evolution… though that is true… it’s that when something happens, it is always the sense data that is the important part. If X is related to Y in some way… how can I know this and why is this important? Because x is some kind of perception and so is y. Even logic/mathematics requires language, requires some kind of mental object.

            But, if we claim that an unconscious process is at the heart of everything, what are we really saying? We are saying that everything occurs even without that sense data, without the mental objects – which is literally unthinkable.

            And if the unthinkable can’t exist for us, is nothing to us, it is not too surprising that people equate this with everything being nothing.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Richard

            Much thanks for posting Feynman’s poem. That’s the first description of ‘reductionism’ that my literary mind doesn’t bounce off of. ….Because opposite of Hostile Witness. Feynman is defending ‘reductionism’, so I know his description not a straw man. Sure he’s putting a spin on it (Rumplestilstkin, stay out of this!) for poetic/emotional effect. But when Feynman says something like “mountains of molecules each stupidly minding its own business trillions apart yet forming white surf in unison” … it registers as an honest description, worth taking at face value.

            As for “tortured”, I’d raise him Blake’s thing about dancing devils whom the preachers think are being tortured, if I could find it, and if Feynman wasn’t probably already riffing off it. (Note to self: read more Feynman.)

    • Deiseach says:

      Haven’t read “Life of Pi” and am not enticed to do so. Enjoy “The Silver Chair” but not for apologia purposes, even though I’m Catholic; Puddleglum is a treasure 🙂

      “I suppose this means we’ll all die horribly. Oh well, I wasn’t expecting anything better” is pretty much how he operates.

    • Tracy W says:

      The idea of “other minds” (that are similar to our own) would be superfluous if our only desire were to explain and predict the (social) events of external reality.

      A bold claim. How do you support it?

      If Christianity were the ‘greatest story ever told’, that would be an excellent and compelling reason to become a Christian.

      Non sequitor. There would still be a massive amount of moral problems with being Christian, amongst them Deuteronomy 22:28-29.
      (Also, why must “greatest story ever told” = true?)

      • Mark says:

        “A bold claim. How do you support it?”
        Well, I don’t know. I think that you can tell very little about how a person will behave simply because they are a person. You have to look at their behavior and then take a step backwards and imagine the mental process, or emotion that might give rise to those actions.
        But if it were only the actions you were concerned with, wouldn’t this backwards step be… nothing but a backwards step? Is there anything that we can know people will do if we have a conception of them as conscious beings, that we couldn’t know if we didn’t?

        “why must “greatest story ever told” = true?”

        True stories are better? (CS Lewis stated that puddleglum’s speech was a restatement of the ontological argument)

        If there are massive moral problems associated with being a Christian, then surely it wouldn’t be the greatest story ever told (and by greatest story ever told, I mean most appealing theory of reality/morality.)

      • Tracy W says:

        You’re equivocating between two meanings of a backwards step. A backwards step to get a better view (your first meaning) is very different conceptually to a backwards step in the sense of a step that takes you further from your goal (your second meaning.) That’s the equivocation fallacy.

        On your second claim re the greatest story, are you really seriously claiming that you find the ideas about rape presented in Deuteronomy appealing? Or the idea that millions of people are being tortured for all eternity, including three of my grandparents, for not worshipping God?

        I feel some sympathy with Puddleglum’s argument, just in a different direction: the moment I fully considered the moral ideas of Christianity was the moment I decided that even if what the evil queen said was true, I would prefer to live outside in the howling darkness.

        Also, your claim that true stories are better is unsupported, and it strikes me that lists of the most popular books do not tend to be dominated by true stories: we know who wrote the Lord of The Rings, and Harry Potter, and the Discworld.

        • Mark says:

          “That’s the equivocation fallacy.”
          No… I wasn’t drawing any conclusions based upon the similarity of the words – I was saying… this is backwards step [1]… is it not also backwards step [2]? (Also known as “a joke”(obviously not a funny one, but still… not quite a fallacy.))

          So, you’ve criticized the joke, but you haven’t answered the substantive question which followed it:
          “Is there anything that we can know people will do if we have a conception of them as conscious beings, that we couldn’t know if we didn’t?”

          On the second point… the word “if” is doing a lot of work in the sentence “If Christianity were the ‘greatest story ever told’…”
          (I consider myself to be some kind of modern secular quasi-Christian/heretic – I take a puddleglumian approach to the bible and am, to my shame, not especially interested in its contents.)
          So, no. I certainly *wasn’t* suggesting that the ideas about rape in Deuteronomy were good (because I know nothing about them.) I was saying that *if* Christianity *were* a really, really great “story”(not so much a narrative like Lord of the Rings (though I don’t think that is such a great narrative) but rather a theory about life, the world, and morality) then that *would* be a good reason to believe in it.

          Personally, I feel that *aspects* of the bible/Christianity get there. They are in some respects as good as anything else that anyone has come up with. You know, all the old favorites. “Turn the other cheek”, “left hand shouldn’t know what the right hand is doing”, “blessed are the peacemakers”, “don’t have abortions”… etc etc

          • Tracy W says:

            Sorry but I think our senses of humour and the meanings we attribute to words are too far apart for our conversation to be interesting to me. Eg I had no idea you were joking, and I now have no idea what else in your responses are jokes. And apparently by “story” you mean “theory about life, the world and morality”. I think we’re talking too different languages.

            I take it from your answer that you have no actual evidence to support your bold claim, unless that is another of your jokes.
            Thank you for your time, I hope it has been more enlightening for you than it was for me.

          • Mark says:

            Just for future reference (for when you next engage with humans) the above comment strikes me as vaguely passive aggressive – “I’m really sorry… but you are boring” “Thank you for talking with me … it was pointless” – I’m not sure what you were trying to achieve with it?
            Do you want me to attempt to explain what I mean, or not? If not, why bother to respond at all? Why not just leave it at the apology?

            Meh…

          • Tracy W says:

            There is a big difference between a person being boring and a conversation with a person being boring because we do not share enough language to properly communicate.

            If you want to do something different in the fixture, as tone is notoriously difficult in written form perhaps tag your jokes with a smiley face.

        • Mark says:

          OK… let me rephrase.

          We have consciousness.
          We see people doing things.
          We predict what people will do by watching them and looking for patterns.
          We don’t predict what people will do by assuming they have the same minds as us.

          Example: This conversation.

          The end.

    • stubydoo says:

      I’ve read the Life of Pi but don’t remember there being any arguments for god in it. Was I supposed to be reading something in between the lines?

      (note” for what it’s worth, my own religious views are somewhere between atheist-leaning-agnostic and agnostic-leaning-atheist).

        • stubydoo says:

          OK, so now I know then, and can answer the question atop the subthread. We have a choice between a story that is true but problematic to contemplate, versus a story that is more comforting but a complete pile of horse manure, “and so it goes with God”. As an “argument for God”, I find this to have a persuasiveness level that is significantly below zero, and I would have trouble respecting anyone who does not consider this to be the case.

    • Aegeus says:

      1 seems like a perfectly reasonable approach. The fact that something is intangible, or exists only in your mind, does not mean that your belief in it doesn’t have power. Narnia might just exist in your head, but love also just exists in your head. So does honor, and justice, and every other abstract concept humanity relies on. “Living as a Narnian with no Narnia” is no more absurd than “living honorably when honor isn’t real.”

      It’s not an argument that will convert people – the atheist can freely say “Well, I could live life as a Narnian, or I could just live life as a good person and then I don’t have to worry whether or not Narnia is real.” But it’s a perfectly reasonable defense of your faith.

      2 is the “God of the gaps” argument, and I’ve never liked that one. Sure, at the moment there is no way to test which theory is correct. But what happens when someone finds a way? Do you abandon your old beliefs and go to the second-best story? Do you go back and retcon your story to try and fit it? I don’t like doing that. I think your faith should have value to you even if a scientist manages to study every physical bit of your story out of existence.

    • g says:

      I think Puddleglum’s argument in The Silver Chair seems persuasive (in so far as it does) only because CSL has contrived by other means to have us sympathize with Puddleglum and not with the Witch, and has already told us that the choice he’s making is a correct one in-story, and has made the welfare of others depend on Puddleglum’s making the correct choice.

      Consider another example in popular culture where someone makes an almost identical decision on almost identical grounds: the scene in The Matrix where Cypher says “I choose the Matrix” and resolves to betray his companions in exchange for getting his old life of illusion back. Like Puddleglum, Cypher is comparing a dull drab world with an exciting lively colourful one. Like Puddleglum, Cypher decides that really it doesn’t matter which is real — he just wants to be in the nice one. But in this case, unlike the Narnian one, (1) we’ve already seen that Cypher is a bit of a dick, (2) we know that (in-story) the choice he’s making is the factually wrong one, and (3) by making that choice he’s making other people’s lives worse rather than better.

      Everyone’s inclined to cheer for Puddleglum. No one is inclined to cheer for Cypher. But it’s the same argument both ways.

  33. Daniel Speyer says:

    Last Open Thread I posted a survey based on ToT’s The World Is Mad. I now have some results (xpost overcomingbiasnyc).

    I got 18 responders from New York and 134 from SlateStarCodex.

    Answers to the questions:

    You develop rheumatoid arthritis. I tell you I’ve just figured out a cure for that. It’s p0.1).

    Part of this could indicate that the questions turned on things other than the intended dilemma. Several freeform comments gave examples of this: the arthritis question offers a potential cure *now* versus a more reliable one *later*; the forensic lab question trades a small risk to *yourself* against a large one to *someone else*; at least one person wanted to understand *what the crackpot believed* despite not taking it seriously at all.

    Another factor could be how well the responders know the various fields. A few people commented on that. I tried to phrase things to indicate confidences after considering that, but in hindsight I failed. It’s probably impossible: a person who really doesn’t know one of these fields and knows they don’t will never reach the high-inside-view-confidence I was trying to describe.

    The “stupid theory” question generated a massive range of theories, and may have suffered from too much variation in how stupid they are. Stupid theories ranged from “VAK Learning Styles” (sounds plausible to me) to “Pi = (14 – sqrt(2))/4”. Amusingly, they included both “global warming” and “global warming is not caused by humans”.

    Also of interest, if not directly relevant, one responder refused to accept my hypothetical that “your personal honor is as nothing compared to the stakes”.

    Maybe not the most enlightening study ever, but a few interesting results. I hope you all found it worthwhile.

    • g says:

      Daniel Speyer, it looks as if something has gone wrong in your comment, probably a block of missing text. Unfortunately I think it’s quite important missing text.

      (First paragraph after “Answers to the questions:”. I guess what’s gone missing here is, er, pretty much all the answers to the questions?)

  34. Kevin C. says:

    I keep meaning to ask this on one of these threads, but generally don’t get here early enough: has anyone else here read Xunzi?

    • onyomi says:

      Yes, though not recently. He used to be my favorite pre-Han philosopher, though over time I’ve gravitated more towards Daoists (Zhuangzi, Laozi). He might still be my favorite early Confucian, though Mencius is more fun as a master of rhetoric, I think.

  35. A Postdoc says:

    The New Yorker published an article recently about mass shootings as a sort of meme (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/10/19/thresholds-of-violence). But I don’t think I’ve seen anything yet comparing mass shootings to the culture-bound syndrome of “running amuk“, despite what seem like obvious parallels. Could we be seeing the emergence of a new culture-bound syndrome, perhaps with similar connections to “male honor”? Stretching the connections somewhat past plausibility, could Daesh/ISIL be a manifestation of the same thing metastasized to an entire social group?

    • soru says:

      This is one of those things i have a hard time imagining as not being true. If you put a 5-question multiple choice survey question in front of anyone, all of the options will always be chosen by at least single digit percentages of your sample. Doesn’t matter if they are ‘Washington discovered America’, ‘shoot up a school’ or ‘fly to a foreign country and join a militia’.

      The range of options for living in society may be infinite, but any particular culture has 3 to 5 that are actually on the menu.

    • W.T. Dore says:

      I see Steven Pinker’s quote from “How The Mind Works” used as a response to events like these: hackernews discussion. I linked that one because it also has a quote from Brunner’s “Stand On Zanzibar”

    • It’s not an answer to your question, but you might be interested in Randall Collins’ examination of the characteristics of this culture-bound syndrome (here), if you haven’t come across it already.

    • Nero tol Scaeva says:

      The running amok thing seems to be relevant: You never read about men who have a high sexual market value going on shooting rampages. Though there could always be some other variable that correlates with both which is the actual cause.

      Even worse, the men who go on these shooting rampages and live… well, they increase in sexual market value. Hybristophilia seems to be a thing that mainly affects women.

  36. Gvaerg says:

    I’m interested in reading some BDSM and rolequeer fiction books. My purpose is to grok the relevant mindset, particularly the competing strategies for power dynamics management. Sort of like someone interested in the Singularity could read books like “Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect” or “Accelerando”. I’ve gathered a preliminary list based on online recs lists (which tend to overlap a lot), but given that there have been some sporadic discussions on the subject in rationalist circles in the last few years, I’m hoping that an explicit statement of purpose will get more results. Do you have any suggestions?

    • The classic BDSM books, back before bondage was thought of as a more or less legitimate subculture, are Norman’s Gor books. The good thing about them is that he’s a good story teller. The bad thing is that he does far too much preaching. The views he is preaching are weird, but that isn’t, in my view, a bad thing–weird views are interesting. But the preaching gets in the way of the story, especially in the later books.

      • multiheaded says:

        Oh SSC comments

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I hate drive-by comments like this one, that consist exclusively or primarily of snark.

          • Anonymous says:

            Well it’s even worse when the snark is tied up with some point they seem to be trying to make that you end up too alienated to even take seriously.

          • multiheaded says:

            My point is that I tried the books, thinking that hey, porn is porn, and they were even more boring + more boringly misogynistic and *earnest* about it than I expected. It’s all some /r/theredpill tier crap.

            (I’m against policing such things, “progressive” moralism doesn’t belong in fiction. I’ve read BDSM erotica with sexism, patriarchy, etc in the narration and setting – hell, I like it in kink, actually – and *some* people are pretty good at writing it. Not Norman.)

      • Anthony says:

        After reading Houseplants of Gor, I’m pretty sure I don’t need to read the rest.

      • Did you not notice some issues with consent?

        This being said, I’d be delighted if some more benign person would write sf which included riding on giant falcons.

    • Bugmaster says:

      FWIW, Kushiel’s Dart is usually brought up as an example of such a book. Well, bah humbug to that I say, because I’ve read the entire trilogy and found it boring. The protagonist is a classic Mary Sue, the plot relies on an almost literal Deus ex Machina, and yes, it does get preachy in places. I found most (if not all) of the sex scenes to be either boring or silly (I think there may have been one that was ok); but I’m not into BDSM at all, so maybe that’s just my bias talking.

      Edited to add: That said, I gotta admit, the alternate-history worldbuilding in that trilogy is actually not bad.

  37. Loki says:

    Scott; I am in London and would be very interested in a blogging award! Also if you win first prize I don’t know if they will send you the golden giraffe, but if needs be I can post it to you?

  38. Oleg S says:

    Is there any idea of why there are so many different neurotransmitters in the brain?

    Ok, I understand that glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter and GABA is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter. Excitatory and inhibitory synapses are modeled really well by artificial neural networks with positive and negative weights on connections. But there are also D-serine, serotonin, acetylcholine, dopamine, norepinephrine, histamine and the whole lot of other compounds that somehow stimulate or affect neurons. Wouldn’t it be much easier to drop them and use plain excitation/inhibition networks?

    Of course I understand that Nature has her own reasons. Still the question is what do those additional neurotransmitters do that cannot be captured by classic artificial neural networks, and why this function is so vital that they persist through almost entire animal kingdom.

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      A partial reason is that they do more than excite or inhibit. A lot of the receptors for the less common neurotransmitters are g-proteins, which means they release special signaling molecules inside the cell. This can trigger a complex chain of other reactions, which I don’t think anyone has fully mapped. Sometimes there can be an excitatory or inhibitory effect, but sometimes something gets phosphoralated.

      • Oleg S. says:

        Ok, I can understand that there are some sort of motor-like neurons, which excrete some less common neurotransmitters that activate GPCRs, which in turn trigger other reactions that ultimately lead to changes in pattern of genes expression, secretion of hormones and other rather specific events.

        However, take for example dopamine signaling. It functions very much like ion channels: for example, once D1 receptor is activated by dopamine, corresponding G-protein binds to adenylate cyclase, which converts ATP to cAMP, which activated PKA, which phosphorylates Na+ ion channel, which opens, and so action potential is generated and sent down. Binding of dopamine to D2 receptors inhibits adenylate cyclase, so these receptors can be regarded as inhibitory.

        Serotonin receptor 5HT-4 works very similarly to D1 – it also activates adenylate cyclase. So, from internal point of view these receptors works very similar. And one of serotonin receptors family,5-HT3, is ion channel that functions very much like other ion channels, causing depolarization when bound to serotonin.

        But the distribution and overall effect of these neurotransmitters are profoundly different. Dopamine receptors are abundant in CNS, and are implicated in motivation, pleasure, cognition, learning etc. It’s like I would have two type of electric wires in my house: copper wires for mundane appliances and silver wires for devices which help me to earn money.

        • Neurno says:

          I think it would be totally possible to design a brain/mind with a simpler set of neurotransmitters, but that would require a substantial (inefficient) redesign of neurons. Consider, for instance, the frontal cortical pyramidal neurons that receive glutamate/GABA as instructions to increase/lower probability of firing in a near-future time sensitive way. But then they use background diffused dopamine levels to adjust variables such as firing threshold and “mental exhaustion threshold” (poetic license for clarity’s sake!). This could be accomplished as well by having a direct connection from the dopamine-diffusing neurons to every single target neuron to adjust all their thresholds, but that would require far more neural tissue and physiological effort, with high associated costs. So there is no need to code these neurotransmitters into an AI as such, but a substantial need for them in the messy part-digital, part-analogue system of a meat brain.

    • onyomi says:

      I can’t even understand how there could be so many different dials, controls, etc. in an airplane cockpit; and yet…

      http://etc.usf.edu/clippix/pix/portion-of-a-control-panel-in-an-airplane-cockpit_medium.jpg

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t have a good answer, but here’s a crackpot theory:

      One of the main ways we get new genes is by mutations that randomly duplicate old genes. The genes randomly diverge for genetic drift, and then evolution gets the chance to do one thing with one copy while leaving the other copy mostly intact.

      (warning: the following is a really really dumb toy example and bears no relation to real dopamine receptors)

      So suppose that at first all we had was D1 receptors doing everything . Then the gene randomly duplicates, so we have two copies of the D1 receptor gene. Then they drift apart, and one becomes modern D1 and the other modern D2. And suppose by coincidence of whatever drift they’re getting, D1 is expressed more in the reward system and D2 in the motor system. And suppose evolution wants to implement something like “sex should be very rewarding, so when you get sex, increase stimulation of dopamine receptors in the reward system”. And suppose evolution doesn’t want you to be having weird muscle tics and seizures every time you have sex because you’re also overstimulating the motor system, or make you get Parkinson’s Disease every time you have a dry spell. Evolution can make the D1 receptors sensitive to sex, and the D2 receptors not sensitive to it, and get what it wants. Now there’s evolutionary pressure to keep the D1/D2 distinction and it will be preserved.

      Fast forward a few million years and you’ve got the modern picture of 5-7 different dopamine receptors plus serotonin, norepinephrine, glutamate, GABA, and a million other things.

      In other words, the more neurotransmitters you have, the more finesse evolution can use when tuning different systems up or down. If we only had one neurotransmitter, glutamate, and evolution wanted us to have less sex for some reason, all it could do is tone down glutamate, in which case we’d be generally more tired and relaxed and non-thing-doing. But that would be bad for other reasons, for example, we would also have less food. If there’s a single neurotransmitter involved in sex, then it can just up that.

      I realize that this has the problem of neurotransmitters not really corresponding well to simple things like sex, but it may be they correspond better to very complicated hidden variables that evolution frequently wants to tune, or at least they did in the past, or at least as much as they can given that evolution is inherently hard and inefficient.

      I have no idea if this is actually true or not and other people may correct me if they know better.

      • Oleg S. says:

        Corresponding analogy in silico, as I understand it, would be “Let’s have a genetic algorithm evolve us the best neural network for some particular purpose. We’ll have several types of neurons and some basic architecture of connections, and the prevalence of each type of neuron (or strength of their connections) will be varied in GA.” Type of neuron in artificial network would then correspond to neurotransmitter/receptor. If we design the network really good, we’ll be able to assign same type label to the neurons that have similar function, and optimize them in GA separately.

        Some way to avoid a lot of receptors would be to compartmentalize neurons: have neurons that do a certain aspect of information processing (like emotions, motor control, image recognition) located near each other (like in amygdala, cerebellum, visual cortex – I’m simplifying of course), and then have handles on blood and nutrient flows to that regions. The two ways are very similar from computational point of view – we can label groups of neurons in whatever way we want. Probably Nature uses both ways to control neuronal population responsible for particular task.

        A way to test this theory is to engineer a small animal (like a round worm C. elegans) that have all its amine neurotransmitter receptors internalized at some point of life and replaced by glutamate/GABA channels, and then to see how well it would do. The null hypothesis would be that once neural circuitry is established (the animal is adult), and receptors are replaced by their analogues, the behavior of modified animals should be basically the same compared to control group.

        However, my gut feeling is that worms lacking all amine (dopamine, serotonin) receptors and enzymes producing those neurotransmitters would not develop normally. So, I expect that apart from being the tools to regulate different information processing systems on evolutionary scale, different neurotransmitters may have something to do with neural development in each individual animal.

        • nope says:

          Wouldn’t compartmentalization be worse for more general abilities? And for communication between modules?

      • nope says:

        This was the first thing that intuitively occurred to me. I can’t really think of an easier way for biology to stumble onto selectivity in up/down-regulation than this one, which may simply speak to my level of sophistication on this issue. Are there any examples of organisms displaying high behavioral complexity with few neurotransmitters? And does neurotransmitter complexity correlate decently with behavioral complexity? Sounds testable!

      • Neurno says:

        This fits well as a simplified explanation of what I understand the current somewhat-more-complicated scientific explanation to be for the question “how did all these similar but different genes/neurotransmitters/receptors come to be?”

        • Neurno says:

          Oops, the response system is unclear without specification! I meant to put @Scott Alexander at the top of my comment here to make it clear that I was referring to that specific comment by Scott.

      • JuanPeron says:

        This seems to be a solid biological path to acquiring more degrees of freedom in a system. That doesn’t reflect on whether it’s the true explanation, but it’s really promising as a way to get more mental states without adding tons of new neurons or whole brain regions. Basic excitement neural nets seem to be fully representative of brains (Turing complete and all that), but we can use more complicated signaling/neurotransmitter systems to shrink those nets.

        If you want to have some, but not all, regions of the brain change their behavior in the face of tiredness, sex, etc, you can either add a lot of new neurons to modulate the new effect, or slap some new transmitters on the regions you want to alter and keep brain size the same.

  39. Max says:

    Do you think world needs new religion as a unifying and positive force? Such religion should be compatible with scientific and rational worldviews . But main thing it would gives purpose and meaning , answering some of the ethics and moral question in a way not contradicting logic and evidence.

    I think last few religions (humanitarian liberalism and communism) failed for same reason old one did – they are simply not true, their commandments are demonstrably false and practical implementation were corrupted and lead to effects opposite of what their sacred texts aim at.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’ve thought the same at times, but since part of the apparent purpose of religion is to more clearly define Us and Them, even if you got everyone to believe in it you’d probably immediately start getting schisms and corresponding hostility.

      • Max says:

        Well if you focus religion on division (like Islam or Christianity does) then yes. But Buddhism, Hinduism or Bahai are less divisive and more unifying. I mean thats one of reasons I think we need new one – existing religions are extremely divisive over pretty stupid reasons

        I think one of the purposes of religions is to elevate humans to higher moral grounds. One way to do it is to be honest about human nature and to provide guidance according to human nature, not against it.
        Suppressing human nature and channeling resulting angst outwards against “others” is the property of divisive religions.

        • Anonymous says:

          IMO it’s not the so much religion itself that drives division, it’s game-theoretical power struggles. Any religious aspects are just the excuse. So even if you have some religion where schisms don’t matter, it won’t stop people dividing on other lines.

    • 578493 says:

      Taboo ‘religion’, I reckon. If you’re using the word broadly enough to include explicitly atheist ideologies, it’s going to cause a lot of unnecessary confusion. And I don’t know how to answer your question, because I’m not really sure what it means.

      • Max says:

        By religion I mean “ideology which transcends national and racial boundaries and gives philosophical guidance” .

        • Alrenous says:

          “ideology which transcends national and racial boundaries and gives philosophical guidance” & “they are simply not true”

          So, what used to be called a philosophy. Probably best called a science nowadays, so a science that happens to be numinous.

          • Jiro says:

            Religions don’t work by testing and rejecting hypotheses, so I wouldn’t use the term “science’ here.

          • Max says:

            So, what used to be called a philosophy. Probably best called a science nowadays, so a science that happens to be numinous.

            Science does not give purpose and moral grounds.

          • Alrenous says:

            Hence, a modifier, ‘numinous.’ Purpose and morality are hardly immune to inquiry.

    • A Postdoc says:

      I was pondering recently whether part of the “purpose” of religion is to hack the intensely social nature of human cognition to get people to do things. It’s just easier to make people care about doing something if it “makes God happy” or “defeats the demons” than for some abstract reason like “it will make society better.” This seems to still be a true thing about human cognition (for instance, look how angry we get about terrorists while ignoring problems with a much larger body count but no human face.) So maybe we need a religion that includes both untrue-but-psychologically-motivating aliefs (“malaria nets make God happy!”) and true-but-abstract beliefs (“God is just a convenient label for an abstract set of moral principles.”) I’m not sure how well people could handle the cognitive dissonance in practice, but I feel like it would be an interesting experiment.

      • Max says:

        I’m not sure how well people could handle the cognitive dissonance in practice, but I feel like it would be an interesting experiment.

        Trick is to have no cognitive dissonance. Unite and guide without forcing yourself to suppress your logic and rationality

      • Every time my kid start whining that they don’t want to wash their hands, I am seriously tempted to tell them that they have to do it because “God said so.”

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      We haven’t had a very good track record with materialist pseudo-religions over the last few centuries, it’s probably for the best to avoid repeating that mistake. I’m also a little fuzzy on why the world needs yet another competing unifying force: if anything it seems like they’re the root of a lot of our present issues.

      As for religions compatible with science, why not go back to classical sources? Stoicism is probably the most logical choice, but I’ve heard good things about Neoconfucianism (New Confucianism on the other hand seems like a bit of a mess). If you really wanted to you could even go for something like an updated Hermeticism: alchemy and astrology historically developed into chemistry and physics, so the idea of using those disciplines to seek enlightenment still sort of makes sense.

      • John Schilling says:

        Materialist pseudoreligions, e.g. Marxism, Gaian environmentalism, have stumbled into the religion niche inadvertently and often in opposition to their founders’ intent to Not Start A Religion Because Religions Are Reactionary Nonsense.

        It seems like it would be worth trying to design a few nontheistic religions with deliberate intent and through selective appropriation of the good parts of traditional religions, to see if it would do any better. I can think of one obvious example that shan’t be named, that has turned out to be fairly successful and mostly harmless except for all the vindictiveness towards apostates and critical heretics. Probably we could do better; maybe we could do well enough to base a society on the results.

        • Protagoras says:

          I think someone may have mentioned it elsewhere in this very thread, but one theory that seems to militate against any such materialist pseudoreligion being worthwhile is that our brains seem to be mostly wired for social interaction, with the other things we do with them being mostly lucky side effects. This is presumably the reason people mistakenly try to interact with the inanimate world as if it were consciously motivated. It’s plausible that this is also responsible for some of the benefits of religion; if the main goal is changing yourself, rather than understanding or changing the world (and there are plenty of cases where changing yourself seems extremely valuable), interacting with the world as if it were conscious may well get more of your brain involved and make it easier to make more extensive changes. Obviously, if there’s any merit to that theory, trying to construct a religion without the supernatural elements isn’t going to be very productive. It may be possible to get the benefits without taking the supernatural elements fully seriously; it’s not clear how this works. But if you wish to do supernatural pretense, there are existing religions that are tolerant of doubt and metaphorical interpretations. No need to invent a new one.

    • Deiseach says:

      The kind of “religion of Humanity” which R.H. Benson describes in his 1929 SF apocalyptic novel “Lord of the World”? Based on scientific understanding, where Mankind is the only transcendent thing?

      There was but one hope on the religious side, as he had told Mabel a dozen times, and that was that the Quietistic Pantheism which for the last century had made such giant strides in East and West alike, among Mohammedans, Buddhists, Hindus, Confucianists and the rest, should avail to check the supernatural frenzy that inspired their exoteric brethren. Pantheism, he understood, was what he held himself; for him “God” was the developing sum of created life, and impersonal Unity was the essence of His being; competition then was the great heresy that set men one against another and delayed all progress; for, to his mind, progress lay in the merging of the individual in the family, of the family in the commonwealth, of the commonwealth in the continent, and of the continent in the world. Finally, the world itself at any moment was no more than the mood of impersonal life. It was, in fact, the Catholic idea with the supernatural left out, a union of earthly fortunes, an abandonment of individualism on the one side, and of supernaturalism on the other. It was treason to appeal from God Immanent to God Transcendent; there was no God transcendent; God, so far as He could be known, was man.

      Yet these two, husband and wife after a fashion — for they had entered into that terminable contract now recognised explicitly by the State—these two were very far from sharing in the usual heavy dulness of mere materialists. The world, for them, beat with one ardent life blossoming in flower and beast and man, a torrent of beautiful vigour flowing from a deep source and irrigating all that moved or felt. Its romance was the more appreciable because it was comprehensible to the minds that sprang from it; there were mysteries in it, but mysteries that enticed rather than baffled, for they unfolded new glories with every discovery that man could make; even inanimate objects, the fossil, the electric current, the far-off stars, these were dust thrown off by the Spirit of the World—fragrant with His Presence and eloquent of His Nature. For example, the announcement made by Klein, the astronomer, twenty years before, that the inhabitation of certain planets had become a certified fact—how vastly this had altered men’s views of themselves. But the one condition of progress and the building of Jerusalem, on the planet that happened to be men’s dwelling place, was peace, not the sword which Christ brought or that which Mahomet wielded; but peace that arose from, not passed, understanding; the peace that sprang from a knowledge that man was all and was able to develop himself only by sympathy with his fellows. To Oliver and his wife, then, the last century seemed like a revelation; little by little the old superstitions had died, and the new light broadened; the Spirit of the World had roused Himself, the sun had dawned in the west; and now with horror and loathing they had seen the clouds gather once more in the quarter whence all superstition had had its birth.

      (After Mabel has seen a volor crash and people killed for the first time in her life; there are government officials who mercy-kill the very badly hurt, not likely to survive victims. “Down the steps of the great hospital on her right came figures running now, hatless, each carrying what looked like an old-fashioned camera. She knew what those men were, and her heart leaped in relief. They were the ministers of euthanasia.”)

      “My dear, it’s all very sad; but you know it doesn’t really matter. It’s all over.”

      “And — and they’ve just stopped?”

      “Why, yes.”

      Mabel compressed her lips a little; then she sighed. She had an agitated sort of meditation in the train. She knew perfectly that it was sheer nerves; but she could not just yet shake them off. As she had said, it was the first time she had seen death.

      “And that priest — that priest doesn’t think so?”

      “My dear, I’ll tell you what he believes. He believes that that man whom he showed the crucifix to, and said those words over, is alive somewhere, in spite of his brain being dead: he is not quite sure where; but he is either in a kind of smelting works being slowly burned; or, if he is very lucky, and that piece of wood took effect, he is somewhere beyond the clouds, before Three Persons who are only One although They are Three; that there are quantities of other people there, a Woman in Blue, a great many others in white with their heads under their arms, and still more with their heads on one side; and that they’ve all got harps and go on singing for ever and ever, and walking about on the clouds, and liking it very much indeed. He thinks, too, that all these nice people are perpetually looking down upon the aforesaid smelting-works, and praising the Three Great Persons for making them. That’s what the priest believes. Now you know it’s not likely; that kind of thing may be very nice, but it isn’t true.”

      Mabel smiled pleasantly. She had never heard it put so well.

      “No, my dear, you’re quite right. That sort of thing isn’t true. How can he believe it? He looked quite intelligent!”

      “My dear girl, if I had told you in your cradle that the moon was green cheese, and had hammered at you ever since, every day and all day, that it was, you’d very nearly believe it by now. Why, you know in your heart that the euthanatisers are the real priests. Of course you do.”

      • Max says:

        Well not quite exactly (because “Science!”) – man is not “the only transcendent thing”. Anyhow why when painting some anti-utopia majority writers insist that euthanasia is some sort of irredeemable evil which automatically makes the whole idea fail?

        Kinda similar to the Man in High Castle show where they paint fairly good society in the background. And then throw random acts of irrational violence and cruelty, draw swastika on it and say – its horrible because Nazis!

        • keranih says:

          they paint fairly good society in the background. And then throw random acts of irrational violence and cruelty, draw swastika on it and say – its horrible because Nazis!

          Emm. TMITHC shows a society in the 1960’s which is far closer to the 1940’s in terms of prosperity and material goods, not to mention self-expression and self determination.

          I grant that it’s fairly subtle – and so is in line with the quality of the show’s storytelling – but it’s there.

      • Neurno says:

        @Deiseach:
        This comes from an apocalyptic novel? How odd. It sounds fairly utopian to me so far. What’s the catch?

    • Tar Far says:

      No, I don’t think the world needs a new religion. No, I don’t think the old religions have failed (or at least I don’t think my religion and its offshoot–Judaism and Christianity, respectively–have failed). No, I don’t think my religion’s commandments are demonstrably false.

      Why does religious belief have to be compatible with science and rationality? Science and rationality are tools to help man understand his physical world and its systems. It’s a perversion, even a subversion of religion to presume it has the same purpose.

      • Jiro says:

        That’s a variation on No True Scotsman: All those religious believers who think religion tells man about the physical world aren’t really following religion properly.

        “Religion isn’t supposed to tell us about the physical world” only came into fashion after we started learning enough about the physical world that what religion told us about the physical world became embarrassing.

        • Tar Far says:

          Maybe I was unclear, but I don’t think it’s the NTS fallacy. I’m not saying that religion doesn’t tell us anything about the physical world and its systems or that people who think religion does do this are perverting/subverting religion.

          But it’s fairly obvious this is not religion’s core purpose (not mine anyway), and I don’t agree with you that it ever was. Many people go to science and rationalism for understanding of the physical world and its systems, and also go to religion for an understanding of something else (usually something deeper that underlies the physical world, or something more personal that can’t be touched by science or rationalism).

      • Max says:

        Why does religious belief have to be compatible with science and rationality? Science and rationality are tools to help man understand his physical world and its systems. It’s a perversion, even a subversion of religion to presume it has the same purpose

        Because when the preacher goes and say something evolution is wrong because “holy book”, and the “love is most important thing” – but said love is very hard to find among its practitioners, when you can see the corruption without even trying hard – you kinda start doubting whole thing very fast. And wonder if your purpose is to spend life on the things which you intuition tells you is wrong in many cases

        Old religions worked all right when they were compatible with general worldview. But even then not everything was peachy either – hence churches generally tend to become very corrupt and very violent prone in order to keep population “believing in the right thing”

        • Tar Far says:

          I don’t know what your preacher said, and I take it as a given that some number of preachers are corrupt, but my general impression of the religious response against evolutionary science comes out of a fear that fallible men will interpret evolution to mean that there is nothing divine or sacred about our bodies, that there is no higher purpose for living besides perpetuating the species, that morality and virtue are relative, etc.

          Isn’t such a fear justified?

          • Max says:

            Nope. Because Truth should be sacred, no matter how much it can hurt.

            Yeah its is easier to accept lies and give rationalization and justification for them. “The road to hell is paved with best intentions”

            Challenge is to accept that people die, that people commit extremely cruel and violent things – not because of Satan corruption, but on their own volition. Because acceptance of Truth is first step towards understanding and finding solutions.

            If you give in to Lies, even comforting ones – that is path… Where to exactly where old religions and ideologies lead us so far

          • Tar Far says:

            Max:

            If a scientist says “The best evidence supports the theory that humans evolved from simpler organisms over a period of millions and millions of years” it isn’t “truth” for some guy to turn around and say “Aha! That means God doesn’t exist because it doesn’t literally say that in the religious text!”

            It isn’t science that is harmful, but the way ignorant people (i.e. most people) report on and interpret scientific claims. Scott Alexander has written a lot specifically about that here. You ought to second-guess how well you understand the science yourself.

            My religion doesn’t have a Satan. When people commit evil acts, we can’t presume to know God’s exact role or motive in it. By definition, God’s intentions are unknowable to us. That is a basic religious Truth to me. It’s not comforting (or, it’s far from the most readily comforting thing possible, anyway). I suggest you learn a bit more about what religious people believe before you call it “comforting lies”.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      More Right had a good post about what a post-rationalist religion might look like. On the other hand, sacrificing some sanity for a better life may be an inescapable bargain of successful religions.

    • Neurno says:

      Absolutely not. I see religion as a failing of weak minds. Improve the weak minds, and I predict religion (along with any apparent social need for it) will simply disappear due to disinterest.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        See, this is why people dislike us atheists 🙂

        I would agree that religion is a failing, from a standpoint of trying to create an accurate map of reality, but it’s a failing of perfectly normal, average-intelligence-plus minds, not just the below-average. The project of raising the sanity waterline should eventually get us to the point where the only people who are able to hold religious beliefs are the far left of the bell curve, and we have, as far as I can tell, been moving in that general direction for a while now, but we are not there yet by a long shot.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          You sure? Sweden seems to imply otherwise; they are at what, 40% of the population not believing in God?

          • John Nerst says:

            Something like 40% explicit atheists, 40% wishy-washy “maybe I believe in Something” and perhaps 20% who would actually call themselves religious. Percentage that attend church services is somewhere in the single digits.

            But even though a large share would say “no” if asked “do you believe in God?”, that doesn’t mean most people have well thought out non-religious worldviews. It’s just that here, and many other places in Europe and some parts of Asia, it’s closer to being the default in a way it isn’t in the USA. I assume that in most places and times only a small percentage of people are seriously religious or non-religious by temperament – the rest won’t think about it and will identify as whatever is normal.

            “Source”: Am Swedish.

      • Max says:

        well “improving weak minds” is quite a problem. How would you go about it? Create AI? I also think that AI utility function should include the “ten commandments” of sorts

  40. Wrong Species says:

    This week we are discussing Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Next book thread we’ll discuss The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. I welcome any suggestions. As you can tell, the theme is basically social science although that is flexible. Obviously, I’m looking for books that will interest people here but I’m also thinking that we need to try something a little controversial.

      • Nicholas says:

        After Progress, by John Michael Greer, would be a book that I would expect people to disagree with vehemently, but I don’t know how divisive it would be within these comments outside of the Progress/Decadence split that already exists in the community.

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        If you want to continue on a similar theme, Joshua Greene’s Moral Tribes reads almost like a sequel to The Righteous Mind.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      IT DIDN’T DISCUSS THE POSSIBILITY THAT NATIONAL PROSPERITY INCREASES IQ RATHER THAN VICE VERSA. WHY WOULDN’T IT DISCUSS THIS?

      • Wrong Species says:

        He does mention it in chapter 2 although he doesn’t elaborate.

        “Any simple story that ‘wealth causes IQ’ has to account for the puzzlingly high average scores found in Taiwan and Hong Kong decades ago, as well as the high scores found in the poverty-stricken but fast growing China we all know about today. A healthy environment helps to boost IQ, but it can’t be the whole story.”

        But yes, that question probably deserved a whole chapter. To be honest, I thought the whole book was framed rather weird. He always talked about the “benefits to raising IQ” rather than the benefits of having high IQ. There was this optimism about the ability to raise IQ even while admitting that our knowledge of how to do so is incredibly limited. And he mentions things like Asians having higher IQ while ignoring the possible genetic links. My theory is that he wrote this book as an attempt to get progressives to actually believe in IQ differences between groups but in a progressive point of view so his book wouldn’t immediately be denounced as evil and racist.

        • nope says:

          I didn’t read the book because it isn’t free yet and I’m poor, but is it possible that he meant “raising IQ” in a national sense rather than a personal sense? Because that one isn’t difficult – you just bring in smart immigrants, or if you can’t attract those you can do some subtle or not so subtle form of eugenics.

          • Wrong Species says:

            He doesn’t mention anything like that, although he probably should have.

          • Neurno says:

            You should just “modern library loan” it. Free, illegal torrents of the eBook are readily available from a simple Google search. If this makes you feel guilty, promise yourself you will delete the eBook once you are done reading it.

          • Anthony says:

            There are a number of simple (and not-so-simple) interventions which can “raise national IQ”. Simple: Add iodine to salt – iodine deficiency causes cretinism, and isn’t that hard to fix. Not-so-simple: raise living standards to the point where children are never malnourished while growing up. One season of real malnutrition can have permanent effects on a person’s cognitive development.

            The difference in average IQ between west African nations and American blacks suggest that there are some big gains to be made through environmental improvements.

      • Alrenous says:

        Ruled out by adoption.

        Adoption of poor babies by a rich household is a direct prosperity injection.
        Poverty to the point of malnutrition decreases IQ, same way it stunts height. Beyond that threshold, prosperity does not increase IQ.

        At this point it probably behooves me to remind us all that this wouldn’t be a problem if some asshole hadn’t decided that IQ should bestow social status.

        • JuanPeron says:

          I think for this result we have to differentiate wealth from stability.

          There are some results suggesting that growing up around violence, death, and instability inflicts a lifetime IQ hit (or equivalent-to-IQ hit). That’s a pattern that can continue beyond the malnutrition line, but isn’t equivalent to poverty. In particular, it suggests that high-stability poverty (religious, rural farming, whatever) is ‘safer’ than low-stability poverty (refugee or urban violence).

          Do you happen to know if there are good adoption studies addressing the possibility that there’s an effect here with only indirect links to wealth?

      • Perhaps because the author thinks that it doesn’t, but the possibility that it does offers some cover against certain accusations so the author mostly ignores this possibility. If the author stated that prosperity doesn’t seem to increase IQ, it would be much more politically difficult for other professors to support the author’s conclusions.

      • anon says:

        Offtopic, does anyone other than me believe that even sparing, brief, ironic violations of the social norm against all-caps should still be considered beyond the pale?

      • JuanPeron says:

        That’s particularly disturbing since there’s a huge body of evidence saying that “prosperity —> IQ”. Whether or not “IQ –> prosperity”, there are a bunch of results saying that everything from nutrition to childhood instability will slam individuals with significant IQ hits.

        This is a huge deal because we see a lot of mismatches between populations – for all of the shouting that “African-American IQs haven’t normalized to white American levels”, I haven’t seen anyone eliminate urban poverty as a sufficient explanation for the result. When urban black IQs look more like urban white IQs than African black IQs, it’s time to look really hard at the possibility that it’s a financial/social result.

        • ilkarnal says:

          That’s particularly disturbing since there’s a huge body of evidence saying that “prosperity —> IQ”.

          Not really… Oh, there’s lots of evidence that malnutrition and disease hurt IQ, but none whatsoever to support the idea that they explain the persistent gaps between populations. And we’d be overflowing with such evidence! As soon as you take some sub-saharan africans from the third world to the first, they’d basically shoot right up to par. It has been a long, long while, and they haven’t.

          I haven’t seen anyone eliminate urban poverty as a sufficient explanation for the result

          The face of urban poverty is looking rather chubby at the moment. And it’s not like the inner city is overrun by plague and a co-incident antibiotics blockade.

          When urban black IQs look more like urban white IQs than African black IQs, it’s time to look really hard at the possibility that it’s a financial/social result.

          We know, for sure, it isn’t a “financial/social result.” Again, we’d be awash in evidence. Instead, there’s not a shred of evidence that absent serious infection, injury, or malnutrition, IQs can be changed in any significant and persistent manner. And in the first world there’s no ethnic group that is suffering physical damage of the sort that would create the sort of gaps we see. It is every bit as absurd as claiming that Asians are shorter than Blacks and Whites not because of genes, but because they are starving (unbeknownst to anyone, including themselves.)

          Instead of evidence, tired, insulting nonsense is dribbled out about various outliers. Have you heard of a gaussian distribution? Well, they show up all over the place, including measurements of population IQ. If you look at the top of the distribution, you have not invalidated or changed the rest of it. Yes, there are smart Blacks. Yes, there are stupid Jews. To say otherwise is to fly in the face of the current HBD position on the matter, not to mention common sense!

        • Unknown says:

          “I haven’t seen anyone eliminate urban poverty as a sufficient explanation for the result.”

          The wealthiest black kids score lower on the SAT than the poorest white kids. Additionally parental IQ is a better predictor of IQ than parental wealth.

          “When urban black IQs look more like urban white IQs than African black IQs, it’s time to look really hard at the possibility that it’s a financial/social result.”

          You are not the genius who first hypothesized that that wealth might impact IQ, as opposed to the other way around. Other people have looked into that, they just moved on.

          I was originally going to write a more detailed and respectful response, referencing differences in height between West African men and men of West African descent living in the UK, but there’s only so much of this nonsense that I can take before getting snarky and to the point.

          • Anonymous says:

            Then don’t comment. Some of us consider this an open question and find such discussion interesting.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            Do you have any source for your claim that the wealthiest black kids score lower on the SAT than the poorest white kids?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            First useful bing hit
            http://www.jbhe.com/features/49_college_admissions-test.html

            “• Whites from families with incomes of less than $10,000 had a mean SAT score of 993. This is 129 points higher than the national mean for all blacks.

            • Whites from families with incomes below $10,000 had a mean SAT test score that was 61 points higher than blacks whose families had incomes of between $80,000 and $100,000.

            • Blacks from families with incomes of more than $100,000 had a mean SAT score that was 85 points below the mean score for whites from all income levels, 139 points below the mean score of whites from families at the same income level, and 10 points below the average score of white students from families whose income was less than $10,000.

        • Anonymous says:

          I really have to wonder why, if only between (say) 50 and 80 percent of IQ differences can be explained by heritable/genetic factors, the causes put forth for the remaining variation are restricted to simple nutrients (iodized salts and/or folate).

          Why ignore culture and education as potential factors?

          • ilkarnal says:

            Why ignore culture and education as potential factors?

            No-one is ignoring them as potential factors. Indeed, far too much attention is given to them by everyone as potential factors, because it is basically a religious dictum in this society that upbringing just must be behind racial gaps in mental ability.

            They have been scrutinized far more closely than can be justified given the overwhelming evidence one immediately comes across that IQ gaps cannot be explained through upbringing. Over and over again it is found that upbringing has about as much impact on IQ as it does on height – that is to say NONE under anything like normal circumstances. Of course, every spurious, nonsensical contrarian argument is trumpeted to the skies, and the obvious reality is restricted (in the elite circles that matter) to whispers.

    • Wrong Species says:

      So based off this book, wouldn’t it be more utilitarian for high iq people to increasingly segregate themselves from the rest of society?

    • Wrong Species says:

      I’m not seeing a clear way that low IQ countries can raise their IQs to the level of more developed countries. All of the ways he mentions either seem very speculative or something with small effects. The only exception seems to be nutrition but that still doesn’t lead to equal IQs. His optimism seems very unfounded.

  41. Anonymous says:

    There seems to have been a flurry of long-form articles published about CRISPR over the past few weeks. For example:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/magazine/the-crispr-quandary.html http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/11/16/the-gene-hackers https://www.sciencenews.org/article/gene-drives-spread-their-wings

    Reading these, I’ve been especially interested in seeing how the mainstream discussion of CRISPR-ethics starts to unfold. For now, the articles seem to focus nearly exclusively on the problems/risks involved with editing human DNA, with some also mentioning ecological risks of gene drives gone wrong in plants or animals. While there’s obviously a lot to unpack with these issues already, I’ve been surprised by the relatively small concern there seems to be about deliberately edited viruses used for bioterrorism, which is the particular risk that scares me the most. Apart from one vague mention at the end of a Wired article from July (http://www.wired.com/2015/07/crispr-dna-editing-2/), I haven’t found anything that talks specifically about CRISPR as a weapon.

    Could someone more knowledgeable about biology than I am please let me know why we shouldn’t be completely terrified about this? Is there some reason why it would be insanely, unrealistically hard to, say, make a couple choice edits to an influenza virus and create something way more deadly and infectious? Because right now I’m having a hard time seeing why CRISPR isn’t a “black ball” discovery, to use Bostrom’s term.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      CRISPR is a tool that’s mainly used for precisely modifying eukaryotic genomes: viral genomes are small enough that you really don’t need anything very sophisticated to make new viruses. In fact CRISPR is often delivered via a modified and very safe derivative of HIV called a lentiviral vector.

      And as for being used as a weapon on its own, the only thing I’ve heard of close to that might be the idea to use it for gene drives against mosquitoes. Basically adding in “selfish genes” (that are more likely to be passed on) which also code for a particular trait, so that in a few generations much or most of the targeted population would have it. For obvious reasons this isn’t practical as a weapon against humans: even if millions were hit initially and it went completely undiscovered it would still be somewhere on the order of centuries before it would be a problem.

      (EDIT: Didn’t see you already mentioned gene drves, presumably you knew about that already. Woops.)

      Anyway, as a general rule I would argue that we should avoid worrying about things we don’t understand. Wild speculation doesn’t make anyone safer and can distract you from risks which you do have meaningful control over.

    • svalbardcaretaker says:

      We’ve had the technology to make deadly plagues since early 2000nds. Interestingly enough the effort to keep that out of the publics eye seems to have been successful; digging it up is somewhat convoluted.

      CRISPR only makes stuff like that easier; so in short, there is every right to be terrified.

    • Neurno says:

      As a researcher who has been hacking genomes since well before convenient and powerful tools such as CRISPER… This is a real issue, the world has been in danger from this for well over a decade now, and the government had been scrambling quietly and largely ineffectually to try to reduce this danger. Fortunately, so far, the only people smart/educated enough to be a risk for designing such a weapon have been too wise to do so. Let us all hope that remains true for the foreseeable future, at least until the government comes up with some better defenses. I recommend increasing government funding for counter-bioterrorism research.

  42. FacelessCraven says:

    So, I occasionally binge on sci-fi that could be generously described as lowbrow. Stuff by John Ringo, some of the less-great David Drake books, stuff like that. Several of the books I read this past year revolved around the trope where fancy people with modern knowledge end up stranded among savage primitives, and set to work carving out a kingdom for themselves by “inventing” gunpowder, the pike square and other fruits of the renaissance and industrial revolution, which lets their growing band of followers outfight the numberless barbarian hordes in a series of dramatic blah blah blah. I have now read way too many books using this formula.

    Lately, though, I’ve been rolling an idea around in my head: what would this scenario look like from our perspective, if a super-advanced person dropped in on us? What would be their best strategy or technological option for making themselves effectively king of the world? Obviously, hindsight is what makes the whole “give radio to the romans” trope its fun, and if we could predict what technologies were low-hanging fruit, we’d just invent them already. On the other hand, this comment section seems to have a pretty good percentage of futurists, tech geeks and sci fi nerds, so I thought I’d put the question to the group.

    For someone from the far future stranded in our present, what would be the best method for gaining immense influence and power in a very short time? FAI doesn’t count; with rare exceptions, it ends stories rather than starting them.

    • Anonymous says:

      Most technologies need to be built with other technologies which need other technologies etc. The main exception I can think of is mathematics. If the future person knew some very advanced (but sub-super-AI) machine learning algorithm that could still work with modern-day computer power, they might be able to make billions in the stock market or something.

      The other one might be if there was somehow some easyish method of fusion/FTL/anti-gravity etc hiding under our noses this whole time, in which case they might be able to implement it and get power/money.

      • Virbie says:

        There’s a famous paper called “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Data” written by a research director at Google sometime in the last decade. The gist of it was that larger datasets has been unintuitively disproportionately significant in improvements in ML (and the blossoming of applications you’re seeing in all the subfields of AI that depend on machine learning). There have been exceptions, of course, but much of the advances we’ve seen use relatively old algorithms on far larger datasets or more efficient usage of distributed “supercomputers” for ML.

        That doesn’t rule out your suggestion of course, but it’s interesting to think about whether this trend will continue, which would obviate or at least mitigate its effectiveness.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Are we limiting our Michael Jon Carter to technology that makes any sense, or can he have things like molecular assemblers a la Drexler?

      If not, I would bet on materials science being a good choice. There are a lot of crazy things we’re just learning how to do with inorganic carbon that seem like they could reveal some low hanging fruit. For example, you can make graphene wafers with pencil lead and scotch tape and we’re thinking of new potential uses for the stuff constantly.

      Sticking on the subject of carbon, synthetic biology is another good area. There are hard limits on what a biological process can do but there will probably still be some game-changers. Like artificial or modified baker’s yeast that can “brew” whatever organic compound you tell it to, from medicines to plastics to biological weapons.

    • rsaarelm says:

      We might be entering a bit of trouble for the solitary innovator to be able to do interesting stuff. It’s not that hard to learn how to put together a radio or a gunpowder. It’s a lot harder to learn how to put together a semiconductor fabrication plant.

      To ground things a bit, if an educated present-day persion was dropped in 1900, what could they do, tech-wise? Not a lot of people are going to know how to make a transistor from scratch, though I guess a vacuum tube computer could be a start. Recreating 20th century math and physics as publication-quality articles would be a pretty tall order for most people even if they did have a hand-wavey idea about what’s going on with it.

      With the future scenario, the first question of course is what the future is going to be actually like. How much are people in, say, 2130 going to look like present-day people if there hasn’t been a civilizational collapse? With naive extrapolation, the tech stack is going to be more and more specialist-driven and more and more dependent on extremely deep and complex pre-existing infrastructure. And you’re having more and more people, probably the median majority people at this point, who aren’t cognitively cut out for any sort of professional technical work and mostly just consume and maybe produce cultural media that has minimal connection to the workings of the physical reality. You’d basically need someone who has specifically trained to bootstrap technology from a specific level, so maybe your time travellers would need to be something more like a deliberate invasion force than generic Heinleinian Competent Men who end up time travelling entirely by accident.

      • Tracy W says:

        In a Terry Pratchett story, this happens to a guy (he’s dropped into WWII times) and he introduces McDonalds.

      • Virbie says:

        > We might be entering a bit of trouble for the solitary innovator to be able to do interesting stuff. It’s not that hard to learn how to put together a radio or a gunpowder. It’s a lot harder to learn how to put together a semiconductor fabrication plant.

        For a very well written post on this topic for computing: https://plus.google.com/+JeanBaptisteQueru/posts/dfydM2Cnepe

      • Joe Teicher says:

        How about pharmaceuticals? I think chemistry in 1900 was advanced enough to make a lot of the most popular drugs of today. They just didn’t know what to make.

        • Gbdub says:

          How many non-pharmaceutical chemists know anything about that though? “Well, there’s this one pill, that, umm, helps you get boners. I think it’s blue?”

          The general thrust of the genre in question is that the time-traveller is competent but not particularly a specialist or genius (although some are “US military unit gets sent back”)

      • John Schilling says:

        We might be entering a bit of trouble for the solitary innovator to be able to do interesting stuff.

        Perhaps, but wasn’t it just a month or two that we were seriously entertaining the idea that Dr. Todd Rider had pretty much singlehandedly eradicated the scourge of viral disease from his basement lab at MIT? Granted, that specific case is looking a bit less likely, but it clearly isn’t obvious that the era of the solitary innovator is over.

        And if something like DRACO does turn out to be the antiviral panacea of the 22nd century, it seems like any 22nd century physician or med-chemist would likely know enough about how it works to have a handle on recreating it starting with even late-20th-century tools and libraries.

    • John Schilling says:

      I think that question demands too much in the way of forecasting what the far future will be like. Their technology will almost certainly include things substantially superior to what we have but capable of being built with modern technology, because that’s been true of every past generation. But what about their educational system? Does it produce genius polymaths who can find those easy breakthroughs, or narrow specialists who are SOL if their field doesn’t mesh with our world, or hedonistic dullards on account of AIs do all the real thinking? Maybe they’re all expert social manipulators, and maybe they can translate that to our society or maybe they can’t. Physiology – are they baseline humans, genetically engineered supermen, cyborgs, or whatnot? And how much of their technology will they bring back with them?

      There’s good stories to be written around any combination of these. One that comes to mind, and maybe up your alley, is S. M. Stirling’s “Drakon”. Two people from the 25th century wind up in 1996 Earth, one by accident and one deliberately.

      Ms Accident is a genetically-engineered superwoman, of the ruling class of a society that makes you pine for the days when “alternate history” meant nothing worse than the Nazis building their thousand-year Reich. Very good at social and psychological manipulation, armed and unarmed combat, so rather than the bored old “become a warlord via technologically superior firepower” bit, she starts by robbing and murdering criminals nobody will miss (using low-tech weapons with superlative aptitude, then allying with and ultimately taking over their organizations, then moving on to more legitimately wealthy and powerful targets to build a shady business empire that can hire enough physicists to build her a time portal home from her attentive-layman’s knowledge of the field. And come back with a 25th-century army to conquer and enslave our Earth, obviously.

      The other time traveler is the assassin deliberately sent back to stop her. Mundane human trained to roughly Bondian levels of competence, but trained to infiltrate 25th century Earth so about as out of place as James Bond would have been in 15th-century England. But, being sent back deliberately, he does have bits of useful technology including a nanotech fabricator. Plan is to go to the authorities and say “Hey, I’m a time traveler sent to help you defeat the time-travelling supervillainess who’s about to enslave your world”, until eventually someone doesn’t lock him away as a lunatic.

      It’s a Stirling novel, so he’s a bit too enthusiastic about his evil supervillainess and it almost feels like he regrets having to write the good guys winning. IIRC, slightly less kinky lesbian sex than you’d expect for a Stirling novel as well. I do recall enjoying it.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      Thanks to everyone for their replies so far. After considering them, I think I’ve got a more focused formulation of the question: If you had access to science from several hundred years in the future, which fields seem like they’d have the greatest impact on the modern world, and why? What technologies seem like they have the most room to grow in revolutionizing the world we live in?

      @Anonymous – “Most technologies need to be built with other technologies which need other technologies etc.”

      Sure, and the usual scenario relies on stuff far enough down the tree that all you need is the information. But what I’m more interested in, I guess, is what potential breakthroughs we think could really, seriously change the world. Gunpowder, disciplined troops, germ theory and some knowledge of engineering seem like enough to change the world of 1100 AD. What would it take to change the world for us, to a degree that the existing society couldn’t just integrate smoothly?

      “The other one might be if there was somehow some easyish method of fusion/FTL/anti-gravity etc hiding under our noses this whole time, in which case they might be able to implement it and get power/money.”

      Fusion underwhelming, rather like iron in the bronze age. it’s better, and it’ll change things, but it seems like a linear advantage rather than an exponential one. What really changes? Suddenly, New York City has unlimited free electricity, and then… what?

      FTL or Antigrav (or possibly Teleportation) seem like they might be more revolutionary, but I’d like to try for hard science options before resorting to handwavium.

      @Dr Dealgood – “Are we limiting our Michael Jon Carter to technology that makes any sense, or can he have things like molecular assemblers a la Drexler?”

      Things that make sense would be optimal. Have people actually proved that Drexler-style MA is impossible? Synthetic biology seems like a decent option; seems more immediately useful and more scalable than something like workable fusion. On the materials science side, how do the materials of 500 years from now make you personally king of the world? It’s not enough to make the society around you run a few hundred percent more efficiently. We’re looking for something that gives an individual or a small group immediate, worldwide significance.

      @Rsaarelm – “We might be entering a bit of trouble for the solitary innovator to be able to do interesting stuff. It’s not that hard to learn how to put together a radio or a gunpowder. It’s a lot harder to learn how to put together a semiconductor fabrication plant.”

      Good point. On further reflection, I’m not sure I’m that much of a stickler for the castaway having to make everything by hand; some future-tools are fine. Alternatively, maybe the future person is configured such that to us, they ARE a tool. The part that matters is the power of a massive potential tech differential put in the hands of a single person, with the difficulty of realizing that differential providing balance.

      “With naive extrapolation, the tech stack is going to be more and more specialist-driven and more and more dependent on extremely deep and complex pre-existing infrastructure… You’d basically need someone who has specifically trained to bootstrap technology from a specific level, so maybe your time travellers would need to be something more like a deliberate invasion force than generic Heinleinian Competent Men who end up time travelling entirely by accident.”

      Also a good point. Then again, a specialized bootstrapper might be fairly useful for building up settlements and such to a higher tech level as efficiently as possible with the minimum number of resources. That seems like the sort of thing that might come up if space colonization happens in a big way. …Alternatively, the castaway might have the next 500 years worth of Wikipedia implanted in their skull. The deliberate invasion might be an interesting option, though.

      • rsaarelm says:

        “What technologies seem like they have the most room to grow in revolutionizing the world we live in?”

        The current big bottlenecks seem to be that we’re pretty bad at modeling complex nonlinear systems (biochemistry, ecosystems, economies, software, societies) and that most of what we do is bottlenecked by needing to have one or more humans in the decision-making loop to move the thing ahead. The artificial general intelligence, which you pretty much nixed as unwritable is a part of both, but so are intelligence augmented humans and possibly some more handwavy mathemathical advances. Problems with the human condition, humans aren’t very smart, human bodies aren’t always like we’d want them to be, humans get sick, age and die, all need tech that can cope with the massive complexity of human biochemistry and human neurology to do something about. You don’t get to just know which reagents to mix together so that you can start making philosopher’s stones to turn people immortal.

        If you want a plot device instead of speculation of likely stuff, you could have the future people have a proof that P=NP and an actual practical method for solving NP-complete problems. Beyond breaking most encryption, this might also let you brute-force all sorts of currently intractable analysis problems by just throwing processor time at them. Of course “build an AI” would probably be there, but so might simulating protein folding and molecular simulation and figuring out lots of new interesting things to do with DNA sequencing. And the present-day internet could probably be quite thoroughly pwned by someone with an ability to mechanically run through source code and identify security holes in it even without an encryption-breaking magic wand.

        • James Picone says:

          ability to mechanically run through source code and identify security holes in it

          That’s noncomputable in the general case, and even in the specific case IIRC it’s in a harder class than NP. I don’t know if practical P=NP gets you anything when it comes to mechanical analysis of source code. Don’t know for sure it doesn’t though; I’m much more programmer than computer scientist.

          • rsaarelm says:

            Yeah, you still couldn’t solve the halting problem style things, which means you couldn’t find all the holes. I understand that the actual formal verification methods are based on extracting a sub-Turing-complete subset of a program as a state machine and exploring their state space, and that these run into NP-style limits. With a P=NP magic wand, you might be able to find eg. security holes that can be tripped with less than 100 bytes of input.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        On the materials science side, how do the materials of 500 years from now make you personally king of the world? It’s not enough to make the society around you run a few hundred percent more efficiently. We’re looking for something that gives an individual or a small group immediate, worldwide significance.

        We’re talking about* things like room temperature superconductors, materials roughly as strong as diamond but less brittle, nearly frictionless moving parts, lenses and mirrors with really bizarre optical properties, extremely fast computer chips, highly targeted drug delivery systems and the like. Even if all you’re going to do is sell the stuff you made, the profits alone would make you one of the world’s power players overnight. And if we’re talking a standard “fight the barbarians” plot then it doesn’t take much imagination to see how any of these would function as a force multiplier.

        *Assuming we’re right that these sorts of things can in fact be practically made. It seems so but a lot of this could be our version of firing people into obit with giant cannons.

      • SUT says:

        The question reduces to: What type of [compelling future] technologies could be reconstructed with today’s engineering know-how.

        An interesting example is the claim that NASA couldn’t competently build and launch a Saturn V rocket right now. Not because detailed specs have been lost, but the thousands of technicians required to do Quality Control on each part don’t exist anymore. So any type of complex fusion drive thingy is out.

        There is one exception but we don’t know if it exists. There could be a physics “trick” to cold fusion with simple ingredients. The notion of Sonoluminescence and supposed Bubble Fusion are an example of what this might look like.

        With arbitrarily powerful synthetic biology though, all you’d need to do is carry back the genetic sequence for a wonder organism. You could synthesize the sequence and boot it up into say a yeast cell. Although you’d start with yeast it could bootstrap itself into anything more useful. So this could be built from scratch today with 2-3 lab workers and couple million dollars for dna-synthesis costs. However, we also don’t know if this technology “really exists” in the future. It could be that rational design can’t be applied to the nature’s biology stack.

      • Tracy W says:

        The scary future technology strikes me as being able to read people’s minds (more precisely decode the electromagnetic waves) and hack them.

      • Jeffrey Soreff says:

        Things that make sense would be optimal. Have people actually proved that Drexler-style MA is impossible?

        As far as I know, they still look feasible. One way of thinking about them is that they are a generalization of ribosomes, which are also programmable (via messenger RNA) assemblers, albeit purely of proteins.

    • Dahlen says:

      Several of the books I read this past year revolved around the trope where fancy people with modern knowledge end up stranded among savage primitives, and set to work carving out a kingdom for themselves by “inventing” gunpowder, the pike square and other fruits of the renaissance and industrial revolution, which lets their growing band of followers outfight the numberless barbarian hordes in a series of dramatic blah blah blah. I have now read way too many books using this formula.

      If you haven’t read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, year of publication 1889, it’s all been for nothing.

    • They would exploit out weaknesses, and particularly our weakness for superstimuli, by inventing a variety of gaming and social media platforms, the later serving as a conduit for their propoganda. having become immensely rich. Having become immensely wealthy and influential, they would then leave fro somewhere better on their privately-funded spaceships.

      I mean, seriously, developments in warfare mean being able to do more with less, so the ultimate refinement is being able to control people’s minds and resources without their realising that anything untoward is happening.

    • keranih says:

      what would this scenario look like from our perspective, if a super-advanced person dropped in on us?

      S.M. Stirling’s Draka novel has already been brought up, so all I’ll say about that one is that the villain in Draka is easier to boo than most of the “bad guys” in the rest of the series. Which I count as a plus, frankly, due to the really horrific implications of the whole Domination.(*)

      I agree with the already presented idea that most of the easy solutions have already been done, and that changes would need to be done in a stepwise fashion. To that end, I would say that energy would be the ideal starter, if only because it would allow Our Hero to make below the radar progress in their Mountain Fortress whilst building up other breakthroughs. Added to this, a gene-engineered bug to eat and destroy crude oil would crash the rest of the planet’s economy, leaving Our Hero controlling the most advanced viable alternative. (Esp if the alternative could produce heat to replace coal-fired metal refineries.)

      I find it interesting that no bio breakthroughs have been proposed so far…I wonder if that says more about the commentariant or the possibility for bio impacts. Perhaps something that allowed focused attacks on enemy soldiers or specific persons?

      Another example of “advanced person amongst the peasants” – CJ Cherryh’s Morgaine novels. Alternatively, Cordelia Naismith amongst the Barrayarans – there the technology she introduces is biological, and the implications subtle but profound. (And also takes a long time to have effect.)

      (*) Edit: The Draka manage to combine several admirable Red tribe qualities (pro-military, politeness, pro-hunting, etc) with universal negatives (rampant oppressive racism) and several admirable Blue tribe traits (sexual freedom, women’s equality, atheism, statism). The books run the constant risk of having the reader “cheer for the wrong side.” I would be interested in the recommendations of left-leaning SFF fans of books which have sorta-leftist villains which have had the same impact on them.

      (I meant to make that last comment but forgot.) end edit

    • Linch says:

      Folks, I think you guys are attacking this problem from a somewhat misguided direction. Ie, you’re looking at successes we have now vis a vis several hundred years ago, and expecting that future advances would continue along the same directions. While I will not (to a broad degree) disagree with that assessment, we should take Anon’s point quite seriously: “Most technologies need to be built with other technologies which need other technologies etc.” In other words, things we’re quite good at are unlikely to be low-hanging fruits to implement.

      I would suggest a different angle: Look at things we expect to be “easy” now, yet somehow mysteriously isn’t (because of shoddy science or complex systems that are surface-level simple or whatever). Off the top of my head I could think of:
      -social psychology
      -positive psychology
      -nutrition
      -exercise science.
      -pedagogy (Khan Academy is leaps and bounds superior to the Prussian model, and Salman Kahn’s not exactly a social genius).

      Obviously social psychology is very culture-specific, and our story relies on the protagonist a)physically looking close enough to a 21st century human b)quickly assimilating the language, culture, physical cues of people of our time and c)not going into a catatonic shock upon seeing all the suffering around him/her/it/zey.

      But it’s plausible to imagine that in a few hundred years, social psychology will be SO MUCH BETTER and people already have an exquisitely subtle understanding of psychological, interplay, persuasiveness, memes, signaling etc (similar to how blantantly unsubtle ads from the 50’s just look comical to us). So we can imagine that if our protagonist is capable of emulating a 21st century person w/o going into catatonic shock, then said protagonist is also capable of easily becoming one of the most persuasive people we’ve ever seen.

      A possible means to power is starting a New Agey cult based on Science! (and Technology! Maybe call it Technoscientism?) teaching the ways of Nutritional Methods that Actually Work(TM) and Health Tips that are Actually Useful, and Mindfulness Techniques that Actually Make You Happy. Obviously it will be untrivial for zey to sharpen the true signal among the molasses of noise that is our current landscape of those fields (and it will be difficult to get it past the bullshit filters of people like me), but a) centuries-advanced understanding of the art of persuasiveness will lend our protagonist a hand up and b)on expectation, reality will eventuality bat last. After zey makes a shitload of money, zey will start hiring geneticists to do genomic profiles and offer even more calibrated advice. (Eg, presumably zey will be able to look at your 23andme profile and just point at the five most obvious risk factors that we don’t even know about). Plus, the eventual billions of dollars from this positive psychology/nutrition/exercise techniques/Totally Not Cult organization will allow our protagonist to either a)amass the physical resources to implement Really Advanced Hard Science Technologies or b)Launch a Political Campaign the Likes of Which We have Never Seen Before(what, you think our politicians don’t become better at bullshitting in 300 years?).

      In the meantime though, zey will probably devote a lot of resources into ending all the suffering in the world (because man is there a shitload, and there’s strong reason to believe ex ante that we’re currently living in a moral catastrophe: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10677-015-9567-7 )

      • Maware says:

        I doubt that social psychologist would be able to even understand people from 300 years ago, let alone be able to convince them. I don’t think your grand science of memetism would have much sway for people who live their lives without anethesia or antibiotics, or who live with their cities being emptied out by diseases we eradicated a long time ago.

        More likely they’d die. No artificial insulin, no mental health drugs, no antibiotics, poor or no food, etc. The advancements we have are due to interlocking dependent technology. That means they are incredibly easy to break, and we’d feel the absence far before anything.

    • Nisan says:

      Oracle by Greg Egan is kind of like this. It takes place in the 1950s.

    • Neurno says:

      Easy answer: releasing a weaponized mind-altering virus which made all other humans instinctively loyal and subservient to them on a “gut level”. (Similar to the Pink pill from the pill story posted by Scott) I don’t think exploring that line of technological inquiry would be a net positive for our current international society.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      Ringo and Weber really like that stuff (I just read Empire of Man earlier this year, so this question is fresh on my mind as well). Weber, especially, has written that story at least three different times now – the Mutineer’s Moon/Dahak series, Empire of Man alongside Ringo, and of course it’s the entire premise of his Safehold series of books.

      Maybe it’s just because we enjoy reading about Rorke’s Drift over and over.

  43. CB says:

    A fun paper on pseudo-intellectual bullshit, and the people who fall for it: http://journal.sjdm.org/15/15923a/jdm15923a.pdf

    …and some commentary on it by Derek Lowe: http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2015/12/03/sounding-like-deepak-chopra

    Not much that folks around here are likely to disagree with or find surprising, but some folks might get a kick out of it.

    • Nombringer says:

      “Participants were also given an attention check. For this, participants were shown a list of activities (e.g., biking, reading) directly below the following instructions: “Below is a list of leisure activities. If you are reading this, please choose the “other” box below and type in ‘I read the instructions’”. This attention check proved rather difficult with 35.4% of the sample failing (N = 99).”

      I admit that one provoked a bit of a chuckle.

  44. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    The Anti-Democracy Activist has just finished his a series of blog posts dealing with the decline of America, appropriately enough titled the decline trilogy. “Sinking” is about the loss of the working class, “The Day They Tore Down The Future” is about the unkempt promises of past, more hopeful days, and “Playboy After Dark” is about how even hedonism has become baser and less cultured. It’s a very good series of posts, and I heartily recommend it.

    • Virbie says:

      > the unkempt promises of past

      This is a typo for unkept, right? I’m mostly sure it is but I had to indulge the part of me that’s imagining which promises could be described as “unkempt”.

    • J says:

      I read the “tore down the future” post and didn’t get much from it. Seemed like sentimentalism of a sort that doesn’t really speak to me.

    • anon says:

      Read all three. There’s nothing that distinguishes them from the usual content-free “things sure were better in the past” thinkpieces churned out by the likes of David Brooks.

      • Nicholas