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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. Luke G. says:

    I recall from last week that there was planned an Open Thread book discussion on Garett Jones’ The Hive Mind this week. I’ve not read the book, but I have a question for those of you who have. On Twitter, Jones wrote:

    @GarettJones: Hive Mind shows how Machiavellian Intelligence can become Coasian

    https://twitter.com/garettjones/status/670258189280018433

    I found this mystifying but intriguing. What do you who have read the book think he means by that?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I did read the book and will be posting a review sometime next week. I’d forgotten about the book club and I hope this doesn’t screw it up.

      I’ll let you guys decide whether you want to continue having it or else wait for the comments thread of the review post.

      In the book, he describes how by Machiavellian intelligence he means that human intelligence evolved to plot against other people and raise our own social status. By Coasian, he means create win-win situations. So he’s saying that intelligence that we expect to use to plot against other people is actually used to plot with them to come up with mutually beneficial solutions.

      Review may explain more.

      • Dahlen says:

        This pattern-matches to your Goddess of Cancer vs. Goddess of Everything Else post.

      • Alrenous says:

        The Machiavellian thing is definitely true.

        If you look at the non-human world, it’s almost completely mastered at a relatively low level of intelligence. Once you’ve got fire and spears, the effect of a marginal increase in IQ is negligible. A few IQ points don’t master disease, which is the main remaining external threat.

        Luckily this means conspecifics become the main threat. Hence, Machiavellian plotting. Hence, opposed Machiavellian plotting checks. Hence, continued IQ accumulation.

        On the downside, this more or less guarantees that any intelligent species will breach the civilization/runaway technology/whatever threshold while mainly optimized for being evil. You can be Coasian, but it doesn’t come naturally.

        On the plus side it turns out evil is imprudent, so eventually that gets washed out too.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Hijacking your comment to say that I posted the “official thread” down below.

  2. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    SSC SF Story of the Week #2
    This week we are discussing “The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke.
    Next week we will discuss “Inconstant Moon” by Larry Niven.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I am not sure how realistic it is that the aliens were unable to survive the destruction of their sun. They managed to build a vault and fill it with all sorts of cultural artifacts; why not build a habitat and power it with a nuclear reactor instead? Granted, saving the whole species would have probably been logistically impossible, but they could have saved a skeleton crew to keep researching interstellar travel and eventually start anew in another system (presumably with frozen gamete samples to ensure genetic diversity).

      Also, I understand how the emotional shock could cause a crisis of faith, but at its core isn’t this just the problem of evil writ large? Well, okay, non-consequentialist moral philosophies make a distinction between what you actively cause to happen and what you passively allow to happen, as well as things which happen near you versus those which happen far away from you. But while these distinctions can be very wise given the way humans actually work, they become a bit meaningless when we are dealing with an omnipotent, omnipresent God.

      • John Schilling says:

        Closed-cycle life support systems good for thousands of years are a pretty tall order. So are nuclear reactors good for thousands of years, see e.g. neutron embrittlement. And they do need to be refueled every five years or so; that’s an awful lot of highly-enriched uranium. At the end of which the goal is, what, a starship that can be built by a few thousand people with the resources of a blasted Pluto orbiting a dead star in empty space?

        There’s a subset of SF where genius inventors working in small groups and austere facilities can come up with whatever gizmo the story requires, including a warp drive. The universe doesn’t usually work that way, and this isn’t one of the stories where we pretend it does.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Huh, yeah, now that you mention it, I guess I forgot to factor in the lack of a global economy. That makes things quite a bit harder.

          • I agree! If global economy collapses you can’t be a scientist because you’re going to spend all your time trying to figure out how to make a toothbrush out of animal hair instead of doing sciency stuff. Only a massive economy allows the specialisation required for advanced science, especially in the long term.

            I feel like this is a pretty good reason to look after the environment, even if you’re not an environmentalist that sees intrinsic value in the biosphere. The large underdeveloped parts of the global economy are very exposed to environmental problems. In half a century or so, we’ll probably be able to start moving heavy industry off-planet and none of that will matter, but we’re in a bottleneck right now where it makes sense to have strong protections for the environment. It’d be great to see this sort of thing talked about more in the rationalist community.

        • Banananon says:

          To expand on this, Kim Stanley Robinson recently wrote an article Our Generation Ships Will Sink.

      • Loquat says:

        It’s an instance of the problem of evil that strikes at the heart of Christianity, though. Sure, objectively speaking there’s not much moral difference between God causing a civilization-killing supernova that humans regard as an astronomical curiosity and God causing a civilization-killing supernova that humans incorporate into their religion – the civilization’s dead either way – but the birth of Jesus is supposed to “mean” Life, Hope, and Truth, God incarnated himself as a human to bring us all salvation, all that jazz. If the birth of Jesus was marked with the destruction of billions of lives, it’s basically impossible for all of that to be anything other than a hideous lie.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I don’t see how that’s the case, though. The birth of Jesus was already marked with the destruction of dozens (or more) lives; finding this out would certainly be a shock, but it wouldn’t be some huge refutation.

          • Nicholas says:

            Harod the Great is an agent of Satan. “Satan causes people to do evil trying to thwart God’s plan, but fails.” is a key narrative of Catholicism. But the star can’t be Satan, because “Satan’s powers are purely psychological/telepathic.” is also a key narrative of Catholicism.

          • keranih says:

            In fact, I would argue that the Slaughter of the Innocents – which flowed from the Star of Bethleham, through the Wise Men stopping in Jerusalem to ask directions (Note 1 &2) – rather blunts the impact of the story.

            We already know – we believers – that death and misery and loss is woven into the narrative. We already know that the forefathers of Jesus include Cain and Abel, David and Bathsheba, and Boaz and Ruth. God took this rough timber and made Christ of it – just as He took Peter and Saul and built a Church on them.

            Note (1) – Which is why guys won’t stop to ask directions to this day

            Note (2) – It’s not obvious from the text, but apparently the wise guys (who most likely numbered more than 3, and were more mages than kings) were the intellectual descendants of Daniel (you know, Daniel and the lions’ den) and the rest of the Hebrew scholars of the Babylonian exile, after the destruction of the first Temple. Which puts God on the hook for that sacking and related misery as well, if that’s the way one wants to interpret it.

        • Mary says:

          All believers still die. The promise is not perpetual life on earth or in the universe, but eternal life, and everyone knows what the gate to eternal life is. Putting one’s faith in time is the way to have it dashed — regardless of one’s philosophy.

          And, indeed, everything and everyone in this universe is going to die — at the heat death, if no sooner. Having this fact dramatically intrude into your awareness is unpleasant, but it’s still a fact.

        • Deiseach says:

          I’m going to bite the bullet here, and it ties in with Scott’s question further down about “What religion would you be?”

          Christianity is about the salvation of souls and right relationship with God. It is not about being nice, making the world a happy and just place, or helping people live better, fuller, richer lives.

          Earthly (and by that term I’m going to mean “all the physical substance of the universe) things – from cultures to the very globe itself – pass away, fail, die. What matters is the things of eternity – and the created soul is one of the eternal things. Worrying about a dead planet is like a hermit crab worrying about the shell that it grew out of three shells ago.

          So whether the planet survived to be destroyed in the ordinary way, or whether it was destroyed by an unforeseen supernova, makes little to no difference. The people there are dead anyway. They would, in the ordinary course of nature, have died besides (being mortal) eventually of old age.

          “Oh but it’s so unfair of God to kill me when I was six! I was going to have this wonderful life, I had it all planned out, I was going to go places, see things, have a career where I made a difference” – oh, really? You can guarantee that is going to happen? You know for absolute sure you are not going to be poor, sick, or killed in an American shoot-out?

          We already give people the right to curtail the lives of beings they created, and we say it’s because foetuses are not children, are not people, have no rights, and the right of the parent over-rides all other concerns. If the parent does not, for any reason at all, wish to continue supporting the life of the new entity, it does not have to.

          We invented the violinist thought-experiment. Why is God any more compelled to support the lives of the aliens than you are to support the life of the violinist?

          For we should now, at long last, ask what it comes to, to have a right to life. In some views having a right to life includes having a right to be given at least the bare minimum one needs for continued life. But suppose that what in fact IS the bare minimum a man needs for continued life is something he has no right at all to be given? If I am sick unto death, and the only thing that will save my life is the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand on my fevered brow. then all the same, I have no right to be given the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand on my fevered brow. It would be frightfully nice of him to fly in from the West Coast to provide it. It would be less nice, though no doubt well meant, if my friends flew out to the West coast and brought Henry Fonda back with them. But I have no right at all against anybody that he should do this for me.

          As Judith Jarvis Thompson works out in her thought-experiment, the “right to life” and “right to the means of life” are different things, are they not?

          This is the hard, crunchy kernel we all have to bite down on. We were created to know, love and serve God in this life and to be happy with Him forever in the next. We were not created to have long lives, or any assured length of life at all, or happy lives, in this world. Eternity is the higher level of reality than this physical creation which had a beginning and which will have an end. To complain the planet was destroyed is to complain that people were woken out of a simulation to the real world.

          (And yes, this is the attitude that militant atheists set their faces against and think should be extirpated along with all those that hold it, and I can respect that).

          This does not mean that as humans we get away with being unjust, exploitative or uncaring of each other. But the end of Christian charitable works is not merely easing physical misery, it is to evangelise and witness. That’s why “religion as social work” doesn’t work and it is better and more honest to be purely secular.

          • Jiro says:

            We invented the violinist thought-experiment. Why is God any more compelled to support the lives of the aliens than you are to support the life of the violinist?

            1) You didn’t put the violinist in the situation of needing something from your body. God did put the aliens in the situation they are in. He’s God; he’s directly responsible for every supernova.
            2) In fact, you didn’t even create the violinist. God did create the aliens.
            3) Attaching the violinist to you is a violation of bodily autonomy. For God to refrain from creating such supernovas or save aliens doesn’t violate his bodily autonomy.
            4) Attaching the violinist to you necessarily causes you some inconvenience. For God to help the violinist causes no inconvenience whatsoever; he’s omnipotent.

            If you had endangered a violinist (#1) and the violinist was your child (#2), and saving the violinist only required some money (#3), and the monetary amount was 1 cent with no prospects of this amount increasing if you saved more people (#4), you would be obligated to save the violinist.

            we say it’s because foetuses are not children, are not people,

            But aliens with a civilization endangered by a supernova are people….

          • @Jiro:

            Judith Jarvis Thompson’s violinist thought-experiment was intended to be applied to the question of abortion. In that context, your points 1 and 2 hold. Whether 3 does depends on whether you think that bearing a child counts as a violation of bodily autonomy.

            The relevance of point 4 depends on what you see as God’s purposes and constraints. Being omnipotent doesn’t mean he can do anything you can imagine, because some things are internally inconsistent. It might be that not killing A means not achieving some objective with regard to B that is more important–saving his soul. Or some objective with regard to A.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            God is only “directly responsible for every supernova” if you adopt some form of occasionalism, which, whilst not completely unknown in Christian theology, has never been the only option, or even (AFAIK) the dominant one.

          • John Schilling says:

            God is not directly responsible for every lightning bolt, but if one hits Richard Dawkins on the podium in the middle of a righteous atheistic rant I’m going to be a tad suspicious about that one in particular.

          • James Picone says:

            @The Original Mr. X:
            I don’t think it requires occasionalism.

            The extension of the problem of evil is that if there’s an omnimax god, the universe perfectly matches their values. This is the universe that god likes best, exactly as it is, now and in the future. If it changes in any way, it’s because god wanted that change to occur exactly like that, exactly then, because otherwise god would stop it happening like that.

            If there’s an omnimax entity, there are no accidents.

          • Deiseach says:

            You didn’t put the violinist in the situation of needing something from your body.

            According to Thompson, that doesn’t matter. Still not obligated to support the being:

            Suppose a woman voluntarily indulges in intercourse, knowing of the chance it will issue in pregnancy, and then she does become pregnant; is she not in part responsible for the presence, in fact the very existence, of the unborn person inside? No doubt she did not invite it in. But doesn’t her partial responsibility for its being there itself give it a right to the use of her body? …And then, too, it might be asked whether or not she can kill it even to save her own life: If she voluntarily called it into existence, how can she now kill it, even in self-defense?
            The first thing to be said about this is that it is something new. Opponents of abortion have been so concerned to make out the independence of the fetus, in order to establish that it has a right to life, just as its mother does, that they have tended to overlook the possible support they might gain from making out that the fetus is dependent on the mother, in order to establish that she has a special kind of responsibility for it, a responsibility that gives it rights against her which are not possessed by any independent person–such as an ailing violinist who is a stranger to her.
            And we should also notice that it is not at all plain that this argument really does go even as far as it purports to. For there are cases and cases, and the details make a difference.

            My last word on this is: religion is not about niceness and uplifting concepts that make us all happier and better people. Religion is about darkness and blood.

            You say that’s horrible. I say and what else did you expect from something that has to do with humans?

      • Nicholas says:

        The answer to why this is so difficult has to do with the star’s specific symbol. First off, this isn’t a garden variety naturalistic problem of evil. This is god purposefully choosing to magically destroy a star before its appointed time. The why is the really pernicious part.
        The Star of Bethlehem is a symbol of God’s Mercy, his benevolence, of how his values are in tune with human values of goodness. So the symbol of sparing millions of humans (not the act, just the symbol to let them know it was happening) was the murder of several billion non-humans.

        • Mary says:

          Magically?

          If it were miraculous, how did they know to prepare for it?

          • Nicholas says:

            When the Star of Bethlehem isn’t fictitious it’s a miracle. This is the Star of Bethlehem. It isn’t fictitious.

          • Mary says:

            How do you know it’s one or the other? Perhaps it was use of a natural occurrence.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Nicholas
          The why is the really pernicious part. The Star of Bethlehem is a symbol of God’s Mercy, his benevolence, of how his values are in tune with human values of goodness.

          Nodding in. Perhaps next vignette discussed should be Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God”. This sort of thing was a common conceit in mid-century SF, somewhat after the stories that began as hard SF and ended “And their names were Adam and Eve.”

          • Deiseach says:

            Oh, “The Nine Billion Names Of God” is merely a fun little story. I don’t think that Clarke means it seriously on any level (other than using the SF trope of “suppose this premise were in fact true, how would it work out?”)

            I could, I suppose, be very grumpy about how he treats Buddhist doctrine respectfully but uses Christian doctrine to beat religious believers over the head with “Can’t you see this must be wrong?”, but that would be too curmudgeonly even for me.

            The last line of “The Nine Billion Names Of God” is sheerly delightful 🙂

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Deiseach

            Yes, sheerly.

            I’d have to re-read “The Star”, to check my memory that Clarke wasn’t very serious about it either. Sure, the character and point would be serious if taken seriously (uh-huh) … but I’m sure gimmicky mid-century SF shorts could use gruesome premises while still being not seriously meant. Does TS pick up things Clarke did say seriously elsewhere?

        • Eli says:

          Well, I am told that the God-Emperor protects us filthy xenos.

          By the way, what’s with all this talk of a God who isn’t the Emperor? You people aren’t heretics, are you?

    • Deiseach says:

      I’ve always liked the Clark story, and the fact that he makes the Jesuit sympathetic.

      That being said, as a “Ha! Theodicy that for me now!” it doesn’t work.

      For instance, the main character is reflecting upon suffering and the indifference of God as he’s looking at a crucifix. What does he think that represents, for the love of Mike? This is God who has become Man and suffered and died with us!

      I resist the urge to make jokes about faithless Jesuits 🙂

      But really, the big bang in the end is supposed to be the revelation that this is the Star of Bethlehem and that knowing this will make people all lose their faith overnight? Okay, so Clark was probably raised Church of England and once again, I will resist jokes, but um – 27th December. Feast of the Holy Innocents. All the two years and under boy children killed for the sake of the infant Christ.

      It’s a good story, but it’s not the kind of ‘slapping Christians in the face with the problem of pain’ story he thinks it is. And the alien civilisation is every bit as destroyed at the end, with even less meaning, if there is no creator, if this was only a cosmic coincidence because of the way the appearance of the skies lines up with events as viewed from Earth. If Jesus didn’t exist and is a purely mythological figure, the legends associated with His birth are just legends, and if a bright light in the sky made astrologers think this signified the birth of a great king, that was all simply superstition. God did not kill the aliens, Nature did. Hand in your complaint to the Universe and see how far that gets you.

      • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

        The religious angle takes any bite out of the story, because it makes it like God punished the aliens, in a way just a little bit more complete than he did with humans in the time of Noah.
        For a christian like the jesuit this could be taken as proof of God’s existence and a cautionary lesson from Him.

      • Jiro says:

        For instance, the main character is reflecting upon suffering and the indifference of God as he’s looking at a crucifix. What does he think that represents, for the love of Mike? This is God who has become Man and suffered and died with us!

        Why should that matter? So he’s suffering himself. That doesn’t reduce the suffering of others. If you didn’t have any money, would you consider it help if I burned all my money so I didn’t have any either?

        (Then too, one of the main reasons death is bad is that you don’t come back from it. Jesus being able to come back from it negates the main reason why it is bad.)

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          I’m not a Christian but I think the idea is that it’s an example. By living a perfect human life despite rather extreme suffering he demonstrates the productive way to respond to it. As a Christian you’re supposed to be emulating that as closely as you’re able to.

          The resurrection that you mention plays the same role. In the end (according to Christianity) EVERYONE is coming back from the dead, the resurrection was just a sneak peak.

          It’s a different sort of parental role than we’re used to today: a distant role model who occasionally teaches painful lessons as opposed to more nurturing or protective “hoving” behavior. Ultimately still paternalistic but leaving somewhat more room for freedom than something like a Culture Mind or FAI.

          • Jiro says:

            By living a perfect human life despite rather extreme suffering he demonstrates the productive way to respond to it.

            If you didn’t have any money, would you really be happy if I burned all my money and then showed you how a poor person could survive?

            Or to use an even closer analogy, if every time you had money, I took it and burned it, would you be happy if I also burned my money and then showed you how to live as a poor person? No. What you’d want is for me to stop taking and burning your money in the first place.

            The best way, if you’re God, to fix suffering is to stop causing suffering–not to suffer yourself in addition.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            That’s what I was getting at with my third paragraph.

            Is God’s job as a father to protect mankind from any and all suffering, including the consequences of our own choices? Or is it to give us a set of rules whereby we can grow from suffering or be destroyed by it as we choose?

            If you want the nurturing maternal Goddess type of deity then if course a distant paternal God will seem pointlessly cruel. But there are a lot of people who see it the opposite way, and find your paradise tyrannical. It’s not the black-and-white you’re making it out to be.

          • Jiro says:

            Is God’s job as a father to protect mankind from any and all suffering, including the consequences of our own choices? Or is it to give us a set of rules whereby we can grow from suffering or be destroyed by it as we choose?

            The race destroyed in “The Star” neither suffered through the consequences of their own choices, nor had a choice to grow from it rather than be destroyed.

            (And if you really thought that the good from giving suffering people the chance to grow exceeded the harm from the suffering itself, what makes you think we’re at the optimum level of suffering? Maybe we need *more* suffering and that would be even better.)

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            I haven’t read the book, but apparently they had several generations worth of forewarning about the supernova. That’s a lot of time for tests of faith, repentance, etc. Remember that from a Christian perspective their deaths aren’t the end: in that framework you can absolutely die without being destroyed or become stronger in death.

            if you really thought that the good from giving suffering people the chance to grow exceeded the harm from the suffering itself, what makes you think we’re at the optimum level of suffering? Maybe we need *more* suffering and that would be even better.

            We’re starting from the assumption of an omnipotence omniscient being. A bit of Panglossian reasoning isn’t out of place.

          • RCF says:

            “Or is it to give us a set of rules whereby we can grow from suffering or be destroyed by it as we choose?”

            This idea that people are somehow to “blame” if they end up in hell because they “chose” to not follow God’s arbitrary, obscure rules seems rather like how a characters in Saw remarks that Jigsaw didn’t technically actually kill anyone, he just put them in situations where they, of their own free will, chose to kill themselves. It’s bullshit in both cases.

          • Mary says:

            Calling the arbitrary and obscure begs the question. Anyone can see that at least some of them are neither. And a sage soul might ponder that a being wiser than he was might have good reasons for rules that seem arbitrary and obscure to him.

            And why do you put “chose” in quotes? You are attacking a philosophy that believes in free will. Your personal belief or lack thereof is moot because it’s not the premise they are starting with.

          • RCF says:

            “Calling the arbitrary and obscure begs the question.”

            Calling them arbitrary does not beg the question in response to Divine Command Theory, and if someone’s going to claim that God’s will isn’t obscure, then they’re clearly not being reasonable.

            “Anyone can see that at least some of them are neither.”

            The ones central to Christianity are facially so.

            “And a sage soul might ponder that a being wiser than he was might have good reasons for rules that seem arbitrary and obscure to him.”

            Whether there is a reason is not the issue, the issue is whether there is a good reason for believing there is a good reason.

            “And why do you put “chose” in quotes? You are attacking a philosophy that believes in free will.”

            I reject the notion that “free will” applies to choosing results, when the results are not known. If you’re sick, and I hand you a red pill that’s poison, and a blue pill that’s a cure, and you choose the red pill, it’s not accurate to say that you chose to take poison. You chose the red pill, but you didn’t choose to take poison. Just because the result of X is Y, that doesn’t mean that it’s accurate to describe people who choose X as choosing Y. People who don’t follow Christianity aren’t choosing hell, they’re choosing to not follow Christianity. Claiming that they’re choosing hell is sophistry.

        • The Anonymouse says:

          If you didn’t have any money, would you consider it help if I burned all my money so I didn’t have any either?

          I suspect many would, even if that didn’t admit it (even to themselves). “Reducing inequality” and all that.

          • Deiseach says:

            That’s also an “eat your cake and have it” attitude on the part of the presumed non-believer in the story: you don’t want an interventionist God, you prefer one who’ll stand back and let the natural laws play out but then you say “Why didn’t God intervene and stop this from happening?” when it’s something like the nova.

            The aliens are destroyed. All that is left of them is what records they managed to store, and now those will be read by humans so they’ll have some living in memory but only as long as humans who can or who want to remember them exist, which is still not very long.

            Since Clark is writing this to a Christian viewpoint, the Christian answer would be that everything ends. One day there will be nothing left and the universe will be a cool, dead, silent thing. So the only eternity is with God. If the aliens or we humans or the others in the universe are to have any hope of existence and continuity, it is with God.

            And if God exists, then the aliens continue to exist. And if God does not exist and it is all the natural laws that bring stars into existence and end them, then there is no-one to blame and no fault.

            The only hook that pierces is if the Jesuit continues to believe. If he believes God exists, and that God permitted the destruction of the alien civilisation, and that God used this to mark the birth of Christ (of course, there is the other view that is not expressed here: rather than killing off the aliens to mark the birth, that the reason the birth took place at that particular time – and no other time in human history – was to bring meaning out of the destruction of the star which was foreseen from the creation of the universe).

            Clark wipes out all of humanity – unevolved humanity, that is – in his “Childhood’s End” when the evolved human children (who are no longer human as we understand it) ascend to join the Overmind and the Earth is destroyed. Before that, the old species humans have been gradually killing themselves off by suicide and other means; human innovation and creativity stopped stone-dead after the Overlords (the instrumental species of the Overmind) arrived to bring peace and plenty.

            Earth doesn’t even exist as a blasted planet with its cultural treasures warehoused for a space-faring civilisation to discover. If the ascended Humans ever remember Earth and its past, it’s not said. It may not even live in memory.

            So – is the Overmind guilty for destroying Earth and all that belonged to it in order to mark and usher in the glorious ascension of transformed Humanity? 🙂

          • keranih says:

            @ Deiseach

            I wrote my response(s) without reading yours.

            It’s a bit scary, the overlaps.

          • Jiro says:

            you don’t want an interventionist God, you prefer one who’ll stand back and let the natural laws play out but then you say “Why didn’t God intervene and stop this from happening?” when it’s something like the nova.

            Who says nonbelievers don’t want an interventionist God? Non-believers want a God that intervenes in good ways but not in bad ways. Criticizing a specific intervention by God for being nonsense doesn’t mean you don’t want any intervention whatsoever.

            (Also, there’s usually a subtext of “the way you’re describing God is so full of nonsense and ad-hoc justifications that a better explanation is that there isn’t really a God”.)

            Since Clark is writing this to a Christian viewpoint, the Christian answer would be that everything ends.

            If killing a civilization isn’t really harmful to the civilization because when they die they will be with God, it equally follows that the victims of a serial killer will be with God, and therefore the serial killer isn’t really causing any damage either (although he is disobeying an arbitrary anti-murder law).

          • Mary says:

            “Non-believers want a God that intervenes in good ways but not in bad ways. ”

            Fine if they actually want it. I regret to say that many people want a God that intervenes in ways they like but not in ways they don’t like — without regard to whether their likes and dislikes would be good and bad, respectively. It requires an stunning confidence in one’s knowledge and judgment to be sure you know how God could act better.

          • James Picone says:

            @Mary:
            “It requires an stunning confidence in one’s knowledge and judgment to be sure you know how God could act better.”

            Seriously?

            “Not allowing the existence of malaria” seems like a gimme. “Preventing the holocaust”. There’s almost certainly someone being raped, somewhere in the world, right now, and I don’t think it requires much arrogance to note that if you can stop it, you really, really should.

            You make ethical arguments for positions. I’ve seen you do it in the comments. That seems inconsistent with the opinion that ethics is so murky and unknowable that we can’t know whether we should let several million people die.

          • Mary says:

            So you think that the problem with Big Brother is that he was too wimpy? Let people get away with too much? Because certainly a suitably beefed-up surveillance state could prevent a lot of rapes. By your logic — if you take it seriously — it is your duty to implement it.

            You pick three things out of a hat in isolation and consider them in isolation. You do not even mention that perhaps there might be consequences, let alone that there might be a price to pay for stopping them. Yet we see every day evils that exist precisely because people were trying to prevent evils. That is where the arrogance lies.

            The larger the picture gets, the more the Law of Unintended Consequences reigns for merely human vision. If you don’t factor it in. . . .

          • Deiseach says:

            Who says nonbelievers don’t want an interventionist God?

            Every time they say or write or post “I don’t want some god telling me what to do; I can make up my own mind about what’s best for me and the right choice. I don’t think a god going around zapping cities or letting your sports team beat their sports team is any kind of a god I want to believe in, and I certainly don’t believe in any kind of god that will put me in hell for not believing in their nonsense” 🙂

          • Jiro says:

            You do not even mention that perhaps there might be consequences, let alone that there might be a price to pay for stopping them

            That’s only because I’m human.

            God is omnipotent. God never has to worry about consequences if he doesn’t want to.

          • Jiro thinks that, because God is omnipotent, he never has to think about consequences if he doesn’t want to.

            “Can God make a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it.”

            The answer, I think, is “no.” God is constrained by consistency. If there is no such thing as “a rock so heavy God can’t lift it,” then he can’t make one–the fact that you can combine words in a particular way doesn’t guarantee that the words describe a thing.

            Similarly, God can’t both give you free will and constrain what you do so you always do the best thing.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Well given the homicide rate differs among populations while the ‘free will’ does not, you can simply follow a similar tack.

          • Jiro says:

            God is constrained by consistency.

            I find it hard to believe that consistency requires that God use a supernova to kill people.

          • Mary says:

            “God is omnipotent. God never has to worry about consequences if he doesn’t want to.”

            Omnipotence is the ability to do all THINGS. Contradictions in terms are not things. It is impossible for God to make us free and yet prevent our acting freely — and for Him to negate all consequences of our freedom is the same as to prevent it.

          • Siger von Brabant says:

            @David Friedman

            If there is no such thing as “a rock so heavy God can’t lift it,” then he can’t make one–the fact that you can combine words in a particular way doesn’t guarantee that the words describe a thing

            Earth is just such a rock. You can’t lift the Earth because lifting something means making it go up, and up and down make sense only in regards to Earth.

          • James Picone says:

            @Mary:
            If you think the world is perfect as it is and any deviations from exactly as it is are just pathways to worse unintended consequences, why do you make ethical arguments? Why do you have preferred political positions that are different to the current political position?

            The idea that an omnipotent, omniscient entity couldn’t do better than what we’ve currently got boggles belief. Every natural disaster had to happen, or things would have been worse. Every murder victim, every rape victim, every illness, every birth defect or heritable condition, all of it couldn’t be prevented, or the implications would be worse.

            That includes, of course, classic conservative issues. Gay marriage: part of God’s plan. Every abortion, necessary to prevent worse evils. Every prostitute, every piece of porn, every divorce, every Communist dictatorship, every left-wing politician, all for the best.

            I don’t want to live in a police state because, yes, the implications are worse. But I’m rather confident that were I Superman, I could prevent some crimes without setting up a police state. And were I God, well, there’s so many things that could have been set up better.

          • Mary says:

            “But I’m rather confident that were I Superman, I could prevent some crimes without setting up a police state. And were I God, well, there’s so many things that could have been set up better.”

            “I’m confident” is not an argument.

          • Mary says:

            “If you think [a lot of things you made up]”

            I don’t, and therefore will not defend myself against what you have imputed to me.

          • James Picone says:

            “I demand more rigor in your claim that superman (and god) could improve the world!” combined with “I reject the suggestion that I think the world cannot be improved!” makes for an interesting combination.

        • Deiseach says:

          Looking at the crucifix, he sees nothing there. But the crucifix is “God is not far away and ignorant of human suffering, God came down and suffered as a human”. So if this is really the first time the Jesuit character has considered the nature of suffering, it’s really very late in the day.

          Great, so it’s all a big lie. No god, no Christ, no Buddha, no nothing. The aliens are just as dead. Do we all go “Cosmic wonder! Cool science! The marvels of the universe make up for this!” It’s still a problem either way, and the struggle then is to find some way of living with meaning in a universe that spares no-one, not the good or the intelligent or the cultured or the innocent, because the way the natural laws work is that stars go nova and if you are a civilisation living on a planet near one and you don’t have interstellar travel, you are toast.

          I don’t know if we’re supposed to take from it “Science! Science instead of superstition will help us!” because science wasn’t enough for the aliens (yet) and it may not be enough for humans if a sufficiently big disaster comes along and knocks us out before we can save the species off-world.

          It’s a good story, but it’s not going to change anyone’s mind (unless you’re twelve and it makes you think “Wow, religion is false, now I’m an atheist!” upon first encountering it).

          • Nicholas says:

            Again, I don’t think this priest is failing to believe if god is, I think he’s struggling with whether or not God is Good. I don’t read him as being convinced that god doesn’t exist, but that the concept that Jesus’ story of totally understanding proportional human suffering is marred by the idea that god used the eradication of a star system as advertising, and he no longer takes emotional comfort in the idea that Slaughters Billions to Give Directions god is watching over him.
            (The bit about using the knowledge of when the supernova would reach Earth to plan when to send Christ, as a Newcomb’s paradox sort of scheduling is brilliant, but then why are there supernova at all I guess.)

          • Nathan says:

            I really don’t get why non-Christians tend to think that suffering is some difficult thing for Christianity to come to terms with. This is a religion whose founders up to and including Jesus himself were all executed horribly. The peace and comfort of the modern west is the abberation from the Christian perspective.

            Want a world without death or suffering? That’s what heaven is for. What right does God have to expect us to put up with the discomfort in the meantime? Well, he’s been there too. He’s not asking us to do anything he hasn’t.

            I mean, if you don’t think it’s true, fine, but it’s hardly inscrutable.

          • Jiro says:

            Want a world without death or suffering? That’s what heaven is for.

            Pretty much every religion which has a literal heaven also has requirements for getting in that are bizarre (although some fudge and say “we don’t really know who gets in, so I’m not saying people like you are excluded, but just in case, you really ought to follow these bizarre requirements anyway).

            What right does God have to expect us to put up with the discomfort in the meantime? Well, he’s been there too. He’s not asking us to do anything he hasn’t.

            Death is most discomforting because it is permanent. Non-permanent death isn’t really as damaging as permanent death. And this is still like arguing that it’s okay to burn someone else’s money since after all you’re burning yours as well.

          • Mary says:

            “Non-permanent death isn’t really as damaging as permanent death. ”

            walks around, eyes, pokes with a ten-foot pole

            You do realize that Christianity teaches that point of that whole venture is to make OUR deaths non-permanent?

          • Jiro says:

            Mary: If it isn’t bad when people die and go to heaven, why is it bad when a serial killer kills someone? After all, that person too would go to heaven.

          • Mary says:

            “Mary: If it isn’t bad when people die and go to heaven, why is it bad when a serial killer kills someone? After all, that person too would go to heaven.”

            Just because a landlord has the right to evict you doesn’t mean that a random stranger off the street has the right to evict you.

          • Tracy W says:

            I really don’t get why non-Christians tend to think that suffering is some difficult thing for Christianity to come to terms with.

            Personally it’s because I read the Book of Job.

          • John Schilling says:

            Just because a landlord has the right to evict you doesn’t mean that a random stranger off the street has the right to evict you.

            But if everyone who gets evicted from their apartment is whisked away in a limousine to their new luxury mansion provided by the extremely generous public housing authorities, well, the stranger doing the evictions might not technically have the right, but it doesn’t sound terribly bad. And that was, I believe, the question.

          • Jiro says:

            Just because a landlord has the right to evict you doesn’t mean that a random stranger off the street has the right to evict you.

            I think you’re being vague here about exactly what you’re saying about God. Are you saying that when God kills you, it doesn’t hurt you (at least more than it helps you)? Or are you saying that when God kills you, it does hurt you, but God is permitted to hurt you?

            The argument “people killed by God go to heaven” is about the first one, but the landlord analogy is about the second.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Just because a landlord has the right to evict you doesn’t mean that a random stranger off the street has the right to evict you.

            It’s also worth noting that (under normal circumstances) the landlord has a right to evict you because you signed a contract setting out in what situations you could be evicted. And you are in the apartment in the first place because of that same contract that you signed.

            None of us chooses in advance to come into existence, and if we somehow did, then assuming a) this earthly existence is valuable enough that we should want to delay death as long as possible even if death is then followed by a positive-sum afterlife, and b) the proto-us that would be doing the choosing has values sufficiently aligned with earthly-existence us to be reasonably considered the same entity, then most people would presumably negotiate for a contract that says that we get a decent lifespan.

            If a) is not true, then we shouldn’t object to being murdered; indeed we should actively welcome it. And if b) is not true then we’re back to the situation where the caprice of a murderous human is not morally distinguishable from the caprice of a murderous deity.

          • Mary says:

            if everyone who gets evicted from their apartment is whisked away in a limousine to their new luxury mansion provided by the extremely generous public housing authorities

            IF.

            We’re talking about Christianity here. Not some hypothetical religion. You do not get to ask us to defend a doctrine we don’t hold.

          • Mary says:

            “None of us chooses in advance to come into existence”

            It was, in fact, a gratuitous gift. Something, unlike the contracted apartment, for which you give nothing in return. This does not strengthen your position; it weakens it. If you did not sign a contract with God stating that God will give you a year of life in return for X, Y, and Z, if God decides to cut off the spigot, it is not an injustice.

            Just as (in sane jurisdictions) staying as a guest in someone’s apartment gives you fewer rights than signing a lease.

          • Mary says:

            “The argument “people killed by God go to heaven” is about the first one”

            People are really arguing that?

            One notes it is not a Christian argument.

          • Jiro says:

            “The argument “people killed by God go to heaven” … is not a Christian argument.

            Deseach made that argument:

            Since Clark is writing this to a Christian viewpoint, the Christian answer would be that everything ends. One day there will be nothing left and the universe will be a cool, dead, silent thing. So the only eternity is with God. If the aliens or we humans or the others in the universe are to have any hope of existence and continuity, it is with God.

            And if God exists, then the aliens continue to exist. And if God does not exist and it is all the natural laws that bring stars into existence and end them, then there is no-one to blame and no fault.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I really don’t get why non-Christians tend to think that suffering is some difficult thing for Christianity to come to terms with. This is a religion whose founders up to and including Jesus himself were all executed horribly. The peace and comfort of the modern west is the abberation from the Christian perspective.

            I’m often had similar thoughts about the problem of suffering more generally: people seem to be much more exercised about it now, when we all live lives of hitherto-unimagined ease and luxury, than back in the bad old days when there were no painkillers and most people could confidently expect to die of a toothache before they turned thirty. Maybe we just tend to over-estimate how bad suffering is through lack of acquaintance with it.

          • Cypher says:

            Mary, if we follow that logic, it applies from parents to children as well.

            Additionally, normal concepts of obligation break down when you have literally infinite resources at your disposal.

            If someone is living in your apartment but you have the ability to instantaneously clone the apartment with just a thought, which takes place outside of time and has no opportunity cost, that’s different than if the apartment costs you even one cent.

          • Mary says:

            The parents are not the cause of the child’s continuing life, as witness that they can die and not affect it.

            And you are not entitled to gratuitous gifts regardless of the difficulty of them.

          • cypher says:

            > And you are not entitled to gratuitous gifts regardless of the difficulty of them.

            Let’s dig deeper. Why?

            Typically, I would expect an argument that it puts a burden on the other party. But if the cost is literally zero, then there is no burden.

          • Mary says:

            I notice that you seem to be certain that the burden of proof is not on you to prove that you do have a right.

            And you also assume that the only conceivable cost to living thus is to God.

          • tomkob says:

            Jiro says:

            “Mary: If it isn’t bad when people die and go to heaven, why is it bad when a serial killer kills someone? After all, that person too would go to heaven.”

            I think it would be reasonable to believe that when each person comes into being, that their existence is tied to their purpose for being. Every person has a job to do, so to speak. God calls you to Heaven when you complete your job, you don’t get to go to Heaven if you choose not to do your job, and a serial killers are bad because they interrupt/prevent you from completing your job, and are not doing the job they should be doing.

          • Jiro says:

            tomkob: That’s no answer because you can say that someone’s purpose is whatever you want to say it is in order to make the argument come out right, and it would be unfalsifiable.

            Also, it would suggest that saving lives could thwart someone’s purpose just as much as killing them, if their purpose was to die at a specific time.

          • cypher says:

            > I notice that you seem to be certain that the burden of proof is not on you to prove that you do have a right.

            Well, under a typical Consequentialist ethics, it’s pretty much a no-brainer if you have literally free-as-in-violates-TANSTASFL-and-is-unlimited to just give stuff away.

            Also, the opposite strikes me as an oddly anthropomorphizing way to think of something that’s supposed to be beyond time and space. As in, here you are, thinking in terms of essentially private property when there is something that isn’t bound by essentially any of rules the class of creatures that created that idea in the first place are.

            Aside from that, there should be an argument that can be mustered against it.

            Admittedly, some of this on my part is a refusal to believe something so grand could actually be as incredibly petty as is indicated in religion. Like, if the creator of the universe is in some way, wouldn’t that way be incomprehensible to humans and not cares about shellfish?

            > And you also assume that the only conceivable cost to living thus is to God.

            Well, see, here’s the thing with the infinite resources cheat code. If you do that, you’re capable of splitting off entire universes and pretending to be all the people therein. I’m not saying that’s an absolute obligation, but I feel like a lot of people don’t fully work on what literally infinite power actually means.

          • Eli says:

            Great, so it’s all a big lie. No god, no Christ, no Buddha, no nothing. The aliens are just as dead.

            What lie? Most of humanity never believed your nonsense in the first place. It’s not even a lie. Lies bear a distinct relationship to the truth: they cover it up. This is just bullshit.

            Do we all go “Cosmic wonder! Cool science! The marvels of the universe make up for this!”

            No, of course not. We change it, the slow way and the hard way.

            the struggle then is to find some way of living with meaning in a universe that spares no-one, not the good or the intelligent or the cultured or the innocent, because the way the natural laws work is that stars go nova and if you are a civilisation living on a planet near one and you don’t have interstellar travel, you are toast.

            That’s not a problem. The meanings are already built into you and how you relate to events. They don’t have to “come from” somewhere supernatural, they’re already a more-or-less innate part of how you get sapient, sentient agents in a natural world.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @ cypher

            Well, see, here’s the thing with the infinite resources cheat code. If you do that, you’re capable of splitting off entire universes and pretending to be all the people therein. I’m not saying that’s an absolute obligation, but I feel like a lot of people don’t fully work on what literally infinite power actually means.

            Another way of viewing it is to look at why we make moral
            judgements normally: We want to encourage or deter some
            behavior by praising or blaming it, to either make the person
            more or less likely to repeat it, or to make other people who
            are similarly situated more or less likely to behave that way.

            Given an omnimax deity – what’s the point? Anything it wants,
            it has (if it is that powerful and is rational). One might as well
            praise or blame a dawn or a hurricane.

      • John Schilling says:

        I liked the story for about the same reasons as you did. Even as a non-Catholic it’s nice to see the Church getting the respect it has earned in places where it is more often treated with disdain. And, theological details aside, it was a good look at what a crisis of faith might feel like from the inside.

        Bounced off the ending in a different direction that you, though. The Star of Bethlehem just plain doesn’t work as a mundane astronomical phenomenon, either natural or placed by divine will. No such thing can plausibly both lead “wise men” from “the East” to Jerusalem, and then from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. And long before I managed to read The Star, I had become tired and dismissive of silly attempts to pin the star to this comet or that conjunction or maybe it was Venus refracted by swamp gas or whatever.

        Even putting on my theist hat and dialing faith up to maximum, that only works as an outright pious fiction, as a vague recollection of some other astronomical event of about that time that Matthew finally wrote up the tale a century or more later, or as the Lord God Almighty pointing to a spot maybe a thousand kilometers above Bethlehem and saying “Let there be light! (only not so much as last time…)”.
        What’s the Roman Catholic Church’s take on the literalness of the Star?

        So that part of the story breaks my suspension of disbelief, as either an Act of God or of nature.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          I thought the Star itself only led them to Judaea, and then they went to Bethlehem itself because of a prophecy that the Messiah would be born there. I could be misremembering, though.

          As for the cause of the Star, AFAIK there’s no official Catholic position on the matter. Personally though I tend towards the “Guys, it’s a miracle, it doesn’t need a natural cause, stop overthinking it” school of thought.

          • John Schilling says:

            “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. ”
            – Matthew 2:9, New International Version.

            The Star led the Magi approximately west to Jerusalem, waited for them to have an audience with Herod, then led them due south on the road to Bethlehem, and told them where to stop.

      • Nicholas says:

        I don’t think this is an atheistic crisis of faith. The priest is wrestling with maltheism. His model of god would have declared “Murdering 9 billion aliens to advertise the location of Jesus” to be an unforgivably wasteful act of evil. And then he finds out that that’s a thing god totally did. And now his model is updating toward “God exists, and he should be worshiped for all the same reasons Kim Jong Un should be, that he’ll hurt you. But he doesn’t actually love every sapient thing equally as his children.”
        And as I understand it, the Massacre of the Innocents can be placed at the feet of Herod and/or Satan. God didn’t send the angel of death out to miraculously kill all the infants.

        • Viliam says:

          God didn’t send the angel of death out to miraculously kill all the infants.

          But he did that in Egypt.

          • TheNybbler says:

            Yes, but that was the old vengeful God of the Old Testament. Who had earlier killed off nearly the entire world in a flood. The God of the New Testament is supposed to not do those things any more.

          • Deiseach says:

            The God of the New Testament is supposed to not do those things any more.

            Good is not Nice

          • Murphy says:

            Good is not Nice

            When someone is covered up to the elbow in baby-giblets chanting “blood for the blood god!” it’s hard to argue that they’re really either nice or good.

          • Eli says:

            Firstly, there will be no Khornate Chaos bullshit up in here.

            Second:

            Good is not Nice

            No, Good is reflectively coherent, a posteriori effective nice. If your “good” is just the commands of some benighted Warp entity pulled from the imagination and given form by religious belief, you don’t get ascribe any genuine moral property to it.

        • Deiseach says:

          But the Massacre of the Innocents is a foreseeable thing (after all, God is omniscient) arising out of the birth of Christ. You could equally say “Why didn’t God change Herod’s heart” or “Why didn’t God send down a legion of angels to protect the infants”.

          Clarke is writing using one of the theories about the Star, that it was a nova (other theories are that it was a conjunction of certain planets and as the Magi were astrologers they interpreted such as omens of a king). I’m not too sure what the current consensus is; older, more literal views dismissed the idea of conjunctions and supernovae and plainly said it was a miraculous event (due to what you point out, the nature of it being a moving, guiding light).

          So the Catholic Encylopaedia of 1906 would have robustly rebuffed Clarke’s version in favour of the miraculous 🙂

          That the Magi thought a star led them on, is clear from the words (eidomen gar autou ton astera) which Matthew uses in 2:2. Was it really a star? Rationalists and rationalistic Protestants, in their efforts to escape the supernatural, have elaborated a number of hypotheses:
          •The word aster may mean a comet; the star of the Magi was a comet. But we have no record of any such comet.
          •The star may have been a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn (7 B.C.), or of Jupiter and Venus (6 B.C.).
          •The Magi may have seen a stella nova, a star which suddenly increases in magnitude and brilliancy and then fades away.

          These theories all fail to explain how “the star which they had seen in the east, went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was” (Matthew 2:9). The position of a fixed star in the heavens varies at most one degree each day. No fixed star could have so moved before the Magi as to lead them to Bethlehem; neither fixed star nor comet could have disappeared, and reappeared, and stood still. Only a miraculous phenomenon could have been the Star of Bethlehem. It was like the miraculous pillar of fire which stood in the camp by night during Israel’s Exodus (Exodus 13:21), or to the “brightness of God” which shone round about the shepherds (Luke 2:9), or to “the light from heaven” which shone around about the stricken Saul (Acts 9:3).

          Me, I’m not going to swallow the camel of the Virgin Birth and the Incarnation and strain out the gnat of a miraculous guiding light like a star in the sky that moved 🙂

        • malpollyon says:

          Good is not Nice

          Nor is it, apparently, in any way Good.

      • RCF says:

        “What does he think that represents, for the love of Mike? This is God who has become Man and suffered and died with us!”

        There’s a rather big difference between taking on suffering yourself, and imposing it on others.

        “All the two years and under boy children killed for the sake of the infant Christ.”

        They weren’t killed for his sake, they were killed to try to kill him.

      • James Picone says:

        I don’t think you understand the view you’re criticising.

        Sure, if there’s no God their deaths were meaningless. But the argument isn’t so much that that would be better, the argument is that their deaths are inconsistent with the existence of a good god, so either god exists and has unknowable values which have no alignment with anything we call ethics, or god doesn’t exist.

        This is pretty straight-forward.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Seriously. Theodicy is a long standing well-known problem with an all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful God. People have proposed answers, but they are all more or less unsatisfactory.

          It’s not as if us atheists are just ignoring the arguments. Many of us know them very well.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Obligatory SMBC cartoon about theodicy, in case anyone’s not seen it.

          • Deiseach says:

            And contrariwise, it’s not like believers in all traditions have not noticed that “Oh gee, bad things happen to good people! How about that, huh?”

            I don’t know if Clarke was seriously proposing that “find out the Star of Bethlehem was a supernova that killed a nice race of aliens, lose belief”; I rather think not and that he was just writing a mood piece. It’s a very good story, as I said. But even in the time since it was written, it has probably lost some of whatever shock value or thought-provocation it had, and as time goes on, it will lose more.

            In the Happy Future Days of Rationalist Freethought, when nobody believes any of that jazz, reading this story will be akin to “Well, duh, of course there’s no deities!” It may be a historical curiosity about “So that’s what it was like back then when people believed in gods?” but that’s about all. There will be no more emotional affect (and yes, I don’t mean “effect”) than in saying “water is wet”.

            Actually, somebody should write the updated atheist version of this 🙂

            The nice, hopeful, “humanity is immanent god” type who believes in progress and society is getting nicer and nicer and the more we know, the better we can be. Who then comes face-to-face with Lovecraft’s cosmic indifference because here a nice progressive species is wiped out in what is (in cosmic time terms) the blink of an eye, and this leads them to question all their values and beliefs.

            I stare at the Effective Altruism poster that hangs on the cabin wall above the Mark VI Computer, and for the first time in my life I wonder if it is no more than an empty symbol.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            You mean communist deconversion stories?

          • Mary says:

            “they are all more or less unsatisfactory.”

            You say that as if it were an absolute. As C.S. Lewis observed, all the worlds’ religions were practiced for millennia in a world without anesthesia. Some people must conclude they are satisfactory.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            The nice, hopeful, “humanity is immanent god” type who believes in progress and society is getting nicer and nicer and the more we know, the better we can be. Who then comes face-to-face with Lovecraft’s cosmic indifference because here a nice progressive species is wiped out in what is (in cosmic time terms) the blink of an eye, and this leads them to question all their values and beliefs.

            It seems like you’d need a different type of event to have that impact on a pro-science transhumanist type. I mean, the sort of person you’re describing already believes that the universe is cold and indifferent and liable to wipe you out in the blink of an eye, which is why they’ve embraced a philosophy of wanting to do everything possible to improve a crappy reality. A supernova destroying an entire species wouldn’t conflict with their existing beliefs. If anything it seems like it would spur them to want to do more.

            On the other hand, if you have a seemingly nice progressive species that does something horrible in the name of its ideals (while remaining consistent with its ideals), that might serve as a kind of crisis of faith.

            Come to think of it that describes a lot of dystopian fiction (THE GIVER and everything onward), except that the main character in those stories tends to be a regular schmoe who just accepts the cultural narrative in the beginning, as opposed to a progressive crusader.

          • Eli says:

            Look idiots: you manage to bite the philosophical bullets of your primitive religions in ways that make your beliefs sound abhorrent to nonbelievers. What makes you think that atheistic naturalists won’t bite the bullets of their primitive beliefs in ways that make them sound abhorrent to nonbelievers?

            Because, trust me, I’ve seen it.

        • Deiseach says:

          And if God does not exist, they are still just as dead, their culture just as lost, and there is no redress at all because there is not even the imaginary hope that they continue to exist in eternity.

          Really the story is saying “There’s nothing to all this silly superstition, now Cosmic Wonder! Yeah, sure the aliens are just as dead, and it’s all down to the workings of the natural universe so it sucks for them, but hey, Cool Science!”

          The main character has just as much right to be upset about the workings of an indifferent cosmos rolling along the lines laid out by natural laws that cares nothing for the good and beautiful; that crushed this people into dust, and will do the same for Earth one day. That there is no meaning in any achievement because it makes no difference that these were peaceful cultured people instead of cannibal torturers; they existed due to local conditions and the properties of matter, they died for the same reasons.

          So likewise it makes no difference if you are an Ethical Altruist or Stalin. One day you will be dead. The people you helped or hurt will be dead. The Earth will be dead. The universe will be dead. Suffering or kindness is all valueless because it’s down to whim: you like how it makes you feel when you ‘do good’ or when you have the power to condemn others to slow death in Siberia with the stroke of a pen. There is no ultimate difference. You can’t stack utility.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “So likewise it makes no difference if you are an Ethical Altruist or Stalin. One day you will be dead.”

            That only follows if you assume things that last for eternity are the only things that are valuable.

            “Suffering or kindness is all valueless because it’s down to whim: you like how it makes you feel when you ‘do good’ or when you have the power to condemn others to slow death in Siberia with the stroke of a pen. There is no ultimate difference. ”

            Why do you think ethics has to be backed by the nature of the universe to be important? People value sports despite soccer’s rules not being woven into the fundamental nature of the cosmos.

          • James Picone says:

            I’m genuinely confused that you think this is even remotely relevant.

            Yes, it sucks and is awful that the alien civilisation is destroyed. An atheist in the same position would have every right to be upset. But it’s not evidence against the atheist worldview the same way it’s evidence against omnimax deities.

            So likewise it makes no difference if you are an Ethical Altruist or Stalin. One day you will be dead.

            But for now I’m alive, and defecting is for scrubs.

          • Aegeus says:

            Really? You complain that theodicy arguments have been done to death, and then bring up the old chestnut about how all atheists must be nihilists who don’t care about good and evil?

            >Really the story is saying “There’s nothing to all this silly superstition, now Cosmic Wonder! Yeah, sure the aliens are just as dead, and it’s all down to the workings of the natural universe so it sucks for them, but hey, Cool Science!”

            How on earth did you read that into this story? This story doesn’t feel the slightest bit triumphant. There’s no indication that the narrator found any comfort in science after losing his faith. What happened to the anonymous alien race was a tragedy and the only solace you can take is that they left something behind.

            The only difference is, the atheist can just come out and say that it’s a tragedy, rather than try to find a reason that it was really a good thing because God did it.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Aegeus says: Really? You complain that theodicy arguments have been done to death, and then bring up the old chestnut about how all atheists must be nihilists…

            Well one is basically the logical flip-side of the other.

            The choice to believe that action “X” has some sort of moral property/value, or in the existence of an external reality at all, is an epistemological leap on a par with theism.

    • keranih says:

      Good choice for the book club. I would appreciate more examples (they don’t have to be theological) of examination of deeply held priors in light of new evidence.

      The story seems to set up a conflict between grief for lives lost senselessly and righteous anger at deaths caused for a whim, or to serve some other, capricious purpose. Either the deaths were deliberate, in which case God is a vicious, murderous monster – or the deaths were random, and the Sign which foretold the birth of the Son of God to all the nations –

      – it was the star which led the first of the Gentiles to belief in the Messiah, and whose witness led to the Slaughter of the Innocents –

      – or else that sign was nothing more than what came of the physical interactions of atoms – no more meaningful than the particular path of a flower petal as it fell from a cherry blossum.

      I suggest two things: firstly to assume that one knows all of the history of one nation from a solitary vault is rather…suspect – what would one think of the parades in the Red Square? Of the history that the Third Reich would have left, had they the opportunity to do so? I am rather struck by the fact that the narrator “does not know what gods they worshiped” – did no ceremonies nor practices that were recognizable as religious appear? Or…had this civilization done as Sodom and Gomorrah, and turned their faces from God, and despite all the warnings of their doom, refuse to repent? Was the Vault their Tower of Babel? Who was their Jonah?

      Secondly…death comes to us all. Is this evil? Is it more evil when death comes to the spiritually unprepared (the young, the unrepentant, those not expecting it) than it is when it come to the devout and the elderly? Death is written into the fabric of the universe – as entropy, if naught else. Every flame, eventually, snuffs out. Every day comes to a sunset. Every atom stills. Is this evil? Is it wrong that in the structure of this universe pi is equal to the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter, that light crosses less than 3 meters in 10 to the eighth seconds, and that all flows down to entropy?

      Or is it not still possible to say that there are things between heaven and earth still undreamt of in your philosophy?

      Suggestions for further reading:

      From Narnia to A Space Oddessey: The War of Ideas Between CS Lewis and Arthur C Clark.

      The novella “Pots” by CJ Cherryh (found here and here.)

      • Jiro says:

        Is it wrong that …

        Well, that depends on what you mean by “wrong”. But in the sense “has a wrong been done“, then the answer is “if it is caused by natural forces, no, if it was caused by an entity who thinks and plans, yes”.

        • keranih says:

          …I think you might say the same of the surgeon, who thinks and plans out the process of cutting open the patient, with blood and pain and all the mess.

          And I am reminded of Job and God, as revisited by Scott.

          I am open to the possibility that I could not be what I am, without my faults.

  3. Lyle Cantor says:

    I’ve been reading a lot about genetic modification and embryo selection. This seems pretty feasible in the next 20 years. It strikes me that Asian countries have a sort of memetic comparative advantage when it comes to genetic enhancement of humans. I’m pretty sure the West will lag behind the East in enhancing its human capital.

    What sort of long-term investments might one make on this assumption?

    • Odoacer says:

      What sort of long-term investments might one make on this assumption?

      Are you asking about financial investing or something like, “should I move to China so I can make sure my kid is genetically modified?”

      I can’t answer the former, but I believe that embryo selection and gene editing in humans will be allowed in the West in the future. In fact they was just an international conference (including China) held in DC and AFAIK they issued language against editing human embryos, however, they they didn’t enact a moratorium on gene editing in humans.

      There are prominent geneticists in the US who are arguing for human germline editing. I believe that there are are too many incentives, e.g. elimination of simple recessive diseases, for it to be banned here.

      More here: http://www.nature.com/nature/outlook/genome-editing/

      • Kevin C. says:

        I think you’re too optimistic. I’ve seen people condemn “elimination of simple recessive diseases” as evil, via the argument “removing defective genes from the gene pool? Isn’t that what the Nazis were trying to do?” For them, eugenics is a singular entity, morally speaking: to approve of any attempt to improve peoples genes is to approve of Treblinka. It’s all the same to them; eugenics is eugenics is eugenics, period.
        I also seem to recall arguments made in various forums that the UN should interpret its Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights to forbid not only reproductive cloning, but also germline engineering, on the grounds that the human genome is part of common heritage of mankind, and thus that germline engineering should be considered morally and legally equivalent to, say, vandalizing the Parthenon.
        In fact, given talk I’ve heard IRL, I expect the eventual emergence of a real-life Blue Cosmos.

        • alexp says:

          If only Gundam Seed were a better show that wasn’t constantly torn between nostalgia for UC Gundam and constant pandering towards the loudest fans.

          Pinker recently did an interview condemning bioethicists.

    • nope says:

      Gene editing is going to be controversial for a long time to come in the west, but embryo selection is less so, is still quite powerful, and is already here, as in viable commercially. If one is selecting for intelligence, which we know the Chinese will, non-iterative embryo selection is powerful enough to reverse regression to the mean at least, and iterative is a whole other crazy bag that’s impossible to predict.

      Then again, if it’s only the Chinese doing it, they’re already damn smart and somehow still have a disproportionately small amount of, say, Nobel prizes, so I dunno what they’re doing over there, but I’m skeptical about future world domination.

    • akaltynarchitectonica says:

      I would be very skeptical of stories discussing chinese superscience. They tend to be written for the fears of the west rather than an accurate reflection of the facts on the ground.

      China is equally conservative, it just doesn’t manifest itself in the same ways as in the west. There’s been a massive backlash against GMO food here already. The medical sector is also conservative and slow to innovate, theres a reason the rich go abroad for treatment.

      > I’m pretty sure the West will lag behind the East in enhancing its human capital.

      Even if embryo modification happens in China it would be at a very small level compared to the overall population. You’re talking a population of 1.4 billion with massive wealth inequality, the majority of people still don’t have access to decent primary healthcare. So assuming no technological or legal barriers you might see a few of the super rich having genetically modified children, but the economic impact would be negligible.

    • baconbacon says:

      If I was to guess I would think Israel would have a good chance at being a world leader in genetic modification. They have the resources and a small subset of the population (Tay Sachs carriers) with a large interest, and also expertise in the screening steps (again due to Tay Sachs carriers) that are crucial to modification.

  4. Scott Alexander says:

    I was thinking about this earlier and if I were Muslim, I’d want to be Shia; if I were Christian, I’d want to be Mormon; if I were a more religious Jew, I’d want to be Hasidic; and if I were Buddhist, I’d like to be Vajrayana. Anyone else have preferences?

    • Interesting. Would you mind elaborating on your preferences?

      I’m… at least nominally Mormon, and if I remain any kind of Christian then I’d like it to be the Mormon kind, because (IMO) it lends itself more easily to transhumanism, compared to other Christian faiths.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        It’s not just your opinion. There is an objective measure: there exists a Mormon Transhumanist Association and not other religiously affiliated associations, as far as I know.

        • There are Catholic and Evangelical transhumanists too. I’m not sure about the level of organization among either of those denominations, however.

          • JuanPeron says:

            I’ve definitely heard of some fairly devoted efforts at reconciling Catholic theology with transhumanism. I’m not sure if that’s anything inherent to the beliefs of the the Catholic Church, though.

            My suspicion is that’s it’s more about a long history of Jesuits, logicians, and attempts to reconcile Catholicism with all sorts of other things.

      • Daniel says:

        I don’t know much about other branches of Christianity, but Mormonism seems to say that everything is around getting our bodies. And as I transhumanist I don’t think it’s very impressive. Are we assuming that “body” is some kind of metaphor?

        • It isn’t just getting a body, but getting a “glorified” body like what God has (Mormonism teaches that God has a physical embodiment, unlike most other Abrahamic faiths, which teach that God is non-physical).

          Getting a mortal body, with all its drawbacks, is just one of many steps on the path to getting a perfected body (or perfected “physical embodiment”, rather).

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I think a lot about what kind of Christian I’d be if I actually converted some day. The Amish and some Mennonites have very interesting characteristics, but their lifestyle is way too hardcore for my taste. The Mormons form extremely functional communities, and I was particularly impressed to learn that they make prepping a part of their faith, but the two-year mission requirement (that you pay for, no less) would put me off (on the gripping hand, that’s probably how they weed out the insufficiently committed). Catholicism has centuries of tradition and experience backing its instutions and doesn’t require that much of its adherents, but currently seems to be in decades-long state of decline. And I don’t know enough about Russian Orthodoxy to give it a thorough evaluation.

      So I guess if you put a gun to my head and told me to choose, I’d go with the Mormons, too, but not by a huge margin.

      • TrivialGravitas says:

        You don’t have to do the mission, in fact they outright reject a decent chunk of the guys who apply to do it. (unless you want to try and climb the church hierarchy anyway, as that’s the first step).

        • There’s a strong stigma against not serving, though.

          • jeorgun says:

            What happens if you apply and get rejected? Does the stigma still apply, or does that count as having made a decent enough attempt?

          • Jeorgun: It depends on the reason. I would rank “getting rejected because you were considered immoral in some fashion” to be as bad as not applying at all. “Getting rejected for a disability” carries a stigma to the degree that a given person believes that it’s valid (e.g. you’ll have an easier time if you were rejected because you’re in a wheelchair, than if it were due to bipolar, because you’ll find more people who don’t consider bipolar to be Really That Bad).

            Disclaimer: Speaking from personal experience, not from studies, so this is anecdotal and based purely on my own understanding of the culture. Among other things, this will probably vary depending on location (e.g. Utah and Idaho are stricter and more orthodox than Missouri, which is stricter and more orthodox than New Zealand, etc.).

          • smocc says:

            My experience (as a Mormon) is that the stigma does wear off pretty quickly as you age out of the eligible window (about 25). The stigma — which is definitely real — is mainly focused on getting young men who can go but don’t want to to do so. Once you can’t people largely forget about it as long as you stick around and participate in the usual ways. There also would be no stigma at all if you were to join the church as an adult.

    • jeorgun says:

      I have very strong preferences for being Sunni and Catholic (or, failing that, Orthodox) respectively. I don’t have any particular justifications for either, except that they appeal to my sense of aesthetics more than the alternatives.

    • nope says:

      Throw me in the pot for Catholicism. It’s the sexiest denomination, and it has a king, which is anachronistic enough to merit my amusement, if not my respect. Also, I fucking love ritual, and I mean *real* ritual, not the garbage we who have lost all our traditional cultural ties try to make up.

      • gbdub says:

        Same here, though I’m biased, being raised Catholic.

        But Catholicism does the whole “ancient pomp and ritual” thing better than any other Christian denomination. It’s easy to FEEL something in a big cathedral, even if you don’t believe. Plus it’s pretty easy to find every sort of Catholic from the easy-going to ultra hardcore.

        I can’t stand the sanitized mega-churches of Protestantism-light these days. If religion is just going to be “do whatever you want, but sing soft rock Jesus songs in a conference center once a week” what’s the point?

        • Anonymous says:

          Hm . . . I associate the mega-churches with more fundamentalist teachings, particularly a rejection of evolution, rather than Protestantism-light. Is there a specific church you’re thinking of?

          • Gbdub says:

            Really? By “mega church” I mean literally a very large church building, not a large denomination.

            I live in AZ, and “mega churches” are these big, modern buildings hosting large non-denominational congregations with names like “Cornerstone” and “The Grove”. Many of them have attached bookstores/coffee shops and “community centers”. They don’t seem particularly fundamentalist or particularly strongly for any position other than “Jesus is pretty cool”. It’s basically church for people who want to be culturally Christian but not get too hung up on the specifics.

            I actually went to a summer camp as a kid that had much of this ethos – not because our family was particularly hardcore Christian but just because it was an awesome summer camp. It was distinctly Christian but in a soft warm fuzzy way – we said grace before meals, sang acoustic Christain rock around the camp fire, and had once a day “Bible sessions” that had more in common with motivational seminars than Jesuit scholarship. Mostly we rock-climbed, zip lined, kayaked, and rode BMX bikes.

            Maybe you’re thinking of something else, but that’s always how I’ve heard “mega church” used.

            Anyway, now that I e described them hopefully my point is clearer. To me these sorts of things break the “suspension of disbelief” you need to really get into a worship session. That’s a weird phrase to use about something that is theoretically all about belief, but I dunno, it would be like if they tried to set Jedis with lightsabers in 20th century New York. Doesn’t work at all, even though “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away” totally does.

            EDIT: the best definition of what I’m thinking of is in the Wikipedia page on “McChurch”.

    • Helldalgo says:

      All I know: I’ve been Baptist, and I’m not going back. On the other hand, my cousin is doing a lot of cool “debunking the complementarian marriage structure” stuff, and trying to make internal changes to the Baptist church.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I still consider myself a Baptist, though my current church is nondenominational – could you expand on those changes your cousin’s trying to make?

    • danfiction says:

      I am a Catholic, and I prefer it theologically and morally and ritually etc., but when I drive through small, suburban towns in Utah I find myself wishing I could be Mormon, because they seem to have erected stronger barriers between themselves and what I can only describe as Anxious Internet Liberal culture.

      Unfortunately, I would read to those people—mostly correctly, so far as it concerns them—as an Anxious Internet Liberal, and it’s vital to the continued survival of their promised land that they keep me out of it.

      • anon says:

        This gets at something that doesn’t come up as often as it should: grey is the only tribe that you can voluntarily join, you have to be born into the other two. Reds and blues rarely welcome defectors from the other side. This has implications for the whole atomic communitarianism thing

        • HlynkaCG says:

          I don’t think that’s entirely true.

          While anecdotal I am aware of at least a few people who grew up “blue” or “grey” now firmly ensconced in “red tribe” circles.

        • nydwracu says:

          Blues welcome defectors from the other side as long as they disown everything from their former life, and even then, they’ll have noticeably lower status than the people who were born into it — not that the people born into it all have the same status, of course.

          How much do Reds care about whether or not you were born into the tribe? I don’t think they do.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            “How much do Reds care about whether or not you were born into the tribe? I don’t think they do.”

            My Grandmother is the minister for a church that contains a Phd, a doctoral candidate (her), a businessman who owns his own small plane. There are a few older stereotypically church ladies who don’t seem to be particularly wealthy or educated and one man who has a long string of drug arrests and driving felonies. Everyone seems to more or less get along pretty well (obviously everyone would be pretty pissed off if he continued to use drugs).

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            How much do Reds care about whether or not you were born into the tribe?

            Do cultural Blues ever try to go cultural Red? I can imagine a converted Liberal being celebrated, but someone claiming to have changed from liking opera to liking Nascar would just be laughed at.

          • How very unlike the attitude of every other group to converts!

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @houseboatonstyx:
            If you actually really like NASCAR, in the way red tribe does, you would be welcomed, I’m fairly sure. I mean, any convert to anything is usually suspect, but I don’t think that is a special problem.

            So, if you appreciate and are interested in why people used to/still hate Jeff Gordon, the history of Dale Jr. and why he now drives 88, what a bump draft is, what a restrictor plate is, etc. then many NASCAR fans will happily have a conversation. If you also like 2 meats and 3 sides you are well on you way. If you think more people should go to church on Sunday and fear god’s wrath you are practically there.

            But if you like NASCAR because it represents the circular nature of man’s essence, then you have an issue.

            I mean, one big question is are you converting or a member? If you show up in brand new gear to the deer blind and do everything wrong, insisting you are right because you read it in a book, well, you aren’t actually a member yet, so you get treated as an outsider.

          • Loquat says:

            @houseboatonstyx:

            Are you sure about that? My impression is that a fair number of Reds (particularly the “real America” variety) would be delighted to welcome an ex-Blue who said some variant of “Opera is totally boring and we Blues mostly just pretend to like it for social status, I’m so glad to have joined a group where the entertainment is actually fun!”

            See also: any movie/book/music video where City Slickers encounter Country/Hillbilly culture and are converted by its simple pleasures.

          • PSJ says:

            I was born into a Red family and went blue. Nobody has had anything like the reaction you describe and I’m curious where you’ve seen this. On the other hand, some (but far, far from all) Reds in my town became anywhere from annoyed to violent when a cultural Blue entered their spaces (although this may have been driven partially by race). I’m not sure I’d believe that either tribe is particularly more exclusionary as a whole, but rather different areas have different receptivity.

            ^I realize now that you are thinking about 20-something online activist blues. I just want to say that this is far far from a majority of us, and over amplified because 1)online and 2)activist

        • Chalid says:

          To describe one common route, people come from small red towns, go off to college, and effectively join the Blue Tribe and get a job in the city and never go back. Happens all the time. All those silly email forwards about atheist college professors are based on a real Red Tribe fear of deconversion.

          I don’t have particularly finely tuned status radar but I don’t see any evidence that such people somehow enjoy lower status either.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think the charitable interpretation of “being born into” a tribe would have to encompass being educated into a tribe. At a minimum, neither Red nor Blue exclude or stigmatize adoptees from other-aligned cultures. And most everyone I think extends tolerance for the “still learning what you want to be when you grow up” phase through undergraduate college education.

            So the real question is I think, do the tribes differ in their openness to “conversion” after graduation? Are you still welcome as an equal even if googling your name brings up that antifeminist/antichristian/whatever screed you made on your blog when you were 25?

            Red tribe has the advantage in this respect of being closely aligned with a religion that explicitly allows such conversion and offers forgiveness for sins; if a former Blue’s realignment is thorough enough to encompass becoming actually Christian (or convincingly faking it), they’re in. Blue to Secular Red might be harder, but I think it’s still doable.

            Blue tribe has the disadvantage in this respect of having aligned its Purity&Hygiene moral axis with the left/right political one, such that the antifeminist blog post is going to be a sticking point. Certainly people have been accepted into Blue Tribe on the basis of piously, vocally denouncing their past beliefs and everyone who still holds them, but I don’t know if it is possible to quietly join Blue Tribe after having been outed as Red.

          • Chalid says:

            I’ll grant that if you wrote a bunch of HBD posts and then tried to start posting regularly on SJ sites you would probably have to do some thorough and convincing denunciations of your old views.

            But “activist Tumblr” is not the same thing as “Blue Tribe” as conventionally defined. If you’re just talking about someone from Texas who gets a job in the Bay Area, moves there, and then starts to absorb the culture over several years, going to church less and less while gradually realizing he enjoys visiting Europe on vacation, until eventually he has generally picked up native Bay Arean tastes, politics, habits, etc? No one will care.

          • The Anonymouse says:

            “Bay Arean” is probably the most amusing thing I’ve heard all day.

          • Anonymous says:

            How are blue and red tribes conventionally defined? Because I haven’t seen these terms used anywhere but here, where multiple definitions could fit (or maybe they have changed over time?).

          • Chalid says:

            @Anonymous

            Scott’s rather facetious definition gives you the general feeling:

            The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.

            The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            This is something I’m curious about, given these definitions. I feel that I vaguely grok Blue vs Red tribe, but I’m not certain where I fit in:

            I have conservative political beliefs, heretical Methodist beliefs (rapidly trending towards Catholic), believe in evolution, support gay marriage, I have no desire to own a gun but also strongly support the right of my fellow citizens to own them, eat steak, pretty much drink nothing but water, read lots of books, enjoy American football, loathe terrorists and communists, marrying late, enjoy visiting Europe but also believe that the US is clearly the superior civilization, and don’t really listen to music at all.

            The Grays’ atheism and technophilia has always put me off – I am a lover of history and literature and think of computers as vague magic boxes, so I don’t think I fit in there. Going by politics I’d say I was Red, but by lifestyle I am apparently generally Blue. (I vaguely recall a LessWrong post about this issue but can’t be arsed to look it up).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Chevalier:
            I think you are getting at one of the reasons Scott coined the terms. Although there is strong affiliation between the tribes and the politics, they do not overlap completely.

            Obviously, they aren’t really tribes either, but two divergent clusters of somewhat overlapping interest bubbles. Like any regular mapping of things that are not regular, the mapping is necessarily imprecise.

            Eating steak doesn’t make you red tribe, but mocking people who don’t is. I’m guessing you probably don’t do that. You understand why people choose not to eat red meat, or go vegan. You understand why people say Budweiser sucks, etc.

            “Urbane and Multi-Cultural” might throw a blanket over “Blue Tribe”.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Chevalier Mal Fet
            “Going by politics I’d say I was Red, but by lifestyle I am apparently generally Blue.”

            Which I thought was why Scott coined those terms. Culture and politics are different axes.

            Edit: Leaving this up as an object lesson in why I should not post before reading down the thread to see if the wiser HeelBearCub has already said something better. 😉

          • Cord Shirt says:

            Yeah, I had the same kind of question as Chevalier:

            What if you’re a bit left of center, atheist, accept evolution, support same-sex marriage, don’t own guns but support Americans’ right to do so, eat neither steak nor arugula (well, do flap meat and kale count?), drink neither soda pop nor fancy bottled water (where does “tap water, carried when necessary in a Nalgene you originally bought for actually camping” fit?), drive an SUV, read lots of books, are an autodidact, neither enjoy nor mock American football, [used to] *play* soccer, would rather not get conspicuously upset about anything but when you do it’s about violations of civil liberties, married early, haven’t divorced and don’t plan to, are proud to be an American but not shouty about it and also enjoy (and have heard of!) “For he is an Englishman,” and listen to country (and, obviously, Gilbert and Sullivan too)?

            HUH HUH CAN YOU TELL ME THAT?!?! 😉

            I am pro-monogamy and anti-open borders so don’t *tell* me greay tribe. 😉 Honestly if there’s an “opposite” to greay tribe just like Red and Blue are “opposites,” I’m probably that.

            Hmm…what’s the opposite of “grey thinking”…”black and white” thinking right? Hmm…

            …wack tribe? 😀

          • anonymous says:

            Cord shirt sounds pretty clearly blue Chevalier Mal Fet pretty clearly red. Not every member is going to be a central example. Also it’s a social thing – you don’t like country music or eat arugala respectively, but you probably know people that do.

            Finally, there are also people that fit none of the above. The South Asian guys that attend the mosque down the block regularly are not red, blue, or gray.

          • Nornagest says:

            I am pro-monogamy and anti-open borders so don’t *tell* me greay tribe.

            I don’t see polyamory or open borders as defining points of the Gray Tribe; some of the grayest people I know are in long-term monogamous relationships, though I’m having a harder time thinking of open borders opponents. If you’re so opposed to either that you can’t stay in the same room without getting in a fight, that might disqualify you… but you’re posting here, aren’t you?

            That being said, you sound Blue to me, if a slightly grayish blue.

          • Cord Shirt says:

            @anonymous:

            Thanks, this suggests what you think is and isn’t important for cultural classification.

            Can I ask, what tribe are you? What tribe did you grow up in?

            Chevalier and I both (to quote them) “believe in evolution, support gay marriage…have no desire to own a gun but also strongly support the right of my fellow citizens to own them…pretty much drink nothing but water, read lots of books…enjoy visiting Europe but also believe that the US is clearly the superior civilization.”

            But one of us is “clearly red” and the other “clearly blue”…

            Where do we differ?

            Chevalier is politically on the right, I lean a bit left;
            They are religious, I’m atheist;
            They eat steak, I eat flap meat (and kale);
            They enjoy American football, I enjoy soccer;
            They loathe terrorists and communists, I try not to loathe people;
            They married late, I married early;
            They “don’t really listen to music at all,” I listen to country (and other genres).

            So are you saying those are definitive? Politics and religion, is that what you’re judging on? Or is it American football and steak vs. flap meat and soccer?

            Personally, *I* would say I’m about as blue as Ronald Reagan was a Democrat.

            And yes: That *is* a reference to his famous line: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me.”

            I’m certainly a raised-blue, but…

            But.

            I’ve spent a fair amount of energy trying to restrain/redirect Our Kids, but…

            But.

            But I can see the writing on the wall.

            @Nornagest:

            (I see you said elsewhere you grew up blue…)

            First, I didn’t say much in “Setting the Default” for a reason.

            Second…

            “If you’re so opposed to either that you can’t stay in the same room without getting in a fight”

            …when you’re talking about someone who (a) has always enjoyed the “we’re pursuing truth together, brainstorming together and bouncing ideas off each other” frame and has always disliked the “we’re competing” or “we’re play-fighting” (never mind real fighting) frames; and who (b) now also has been through two “accidentally said the wrong thing” mobbings that they’ve not yet recovered from…

            …”can’t stay in the same room without getting in a fight” just…is not an accurate metric.

            “Can’t stay in the same room at all” might be a better metric…for which I refer you to point #1.

            Third…

            “some of the grayest people I know are in long-term monogamous relationships”

            Yeah not into the “Oh of course polyamory is the best, but, heh-heh, poor little me, I’m just too weak for that, I’m just, heh-heh, one of those pitiful few ‘natural monogamists’ (who, as we all know, are on our way out)” thing.

            On Thing of Things someone commented that to greay tribe, polyamory was supererogatory.

            Which is my point. I don’t see poly as an ideal to shoot for, supererogatory or not.

          • Nornagest says:

            Debate isn’t what I was trying to gesture toward. I’ll debate a lot of things, but there are only a handful of issues I’ll fight over — mainly those I see on some level (and not necessarily correctly) as existential threats to my agency or my culture.

            As to polyamory, the people I was talking about take an approach somewhere between “I don’t really get it, but if you want to, that’s fine” or “I could probably do poly, but I don’t see it buying me anything over the relationship I’ve got, so why mess with it?”. I wouldn’t call that supererogatory. “Optional” would fit.

            (Personally, I’ve historically been happier in open relationships of some kind, but I’m increasingly unimpressed with poly ideology.)

          • Echo says:

            How have we gotten this deep in a thread with nobody mentioning accents and fashion sense?
            Oh right: we’re on SSC.

            You lose a lot by ignoring that kind of thing. How many red-associated accents/dialects do you hear in San Francisco tech circles, despite the high non-native population?
            Bay Aryans don’t offer dhimmi status to economic immigrants, and participating in economic life means adopting their cultural norms–from dress to accent to trendy beers.

            There’s a lot of talk about “tribes”, but a more appropriate word is “caste”. The same kind of system that stopped my grandfather from getting a bank account, because as soon as they heard him speak they told him to come back through the tradesman’s entrance.

          • anonymous says:

            @Cord Shirt

            Those are just my impressions based on the short vignettes and my understanding of the concepts. I’m, of course, in no position to define either of you for yourselves or others.

            That said here was my thinking:

            For you, besides the obvious — left (or at least left-ish) political views and non-religiosity, there was also kale and Gilbert & Sullivan, both of which could easily have been tucked into Scott’s original list. Of course there were some countervailing indicators — the strongest being support for gun rights but the overall impression to me was blue with some heretical political beliefs.

            As for Chevalier Mal Fet, again there’s the obvious conservative political beliefs, but beyond that deep Christian beliefs are a very powerful red signal. There are some old line protestants that are very involved in church life and still very much blue, but if you are at the point where you are very interested in Church doctrine and considering switching over the Catholicism for doctrinal reasons, I don’t think that’s a pattern that matches. “Enjoy American football, loathe terrorists” and “believe that the US is clearly the superior civilization” were just gravy.

            As for me I’m a Blue poster boy. I have Blue parents. I grew up in a Blue suburb of a Blue city now live back in that city. I love sushi, don’t own a car or TV, am an atheist (but not in any movement sense), have a graduate degree, am unmarried in my mid-30s, read lots of books, pro-gay rights and pro-gun control, and so forth so on.

            There’s maybe a tiny bit of gray because I’m a computer programmer but I’m not a libertarian, don’t think I ever heard filk, don’t get tumblr, have no interest in poly/pan anything, and I don’t have any tattoos. Besides, I’m not sure that gray is really a thing outside of the bay area.

          • Nornagest says:

            I know Grays in Portland and Seattle and Boston, a few in DC, and at least one in LA but he’s originally from Northern California. But they’re densest in the Bay Area, and it probably wouldn’t be too far off to describe it as an urban Blue insurgency, from what I’ve seen. John Schilling or someone like him is welcome to tell me I’m wrong, though.

            Filk is hella embarrassing, and I’ve heard it but I wish I hadn’t. I don’t think it’s a marker of the Gray Tribe, though, so much as of old-school fandom and people linked to it. There are lots of Grays in fandom, but it’s older than the Gray Tribe and less tribal; the solidest Red I know is also arguably the biggest fan, and then on the other side you have people like the Nielsen Haydens.

        • Agronomous says:

          I disagree about the difficulty of switching: the Reds were happy to take Blue-born me, and I’m certain the Blues at universities try to get every Red-born they can to switch to the Blue tribe.

          I think what stops people from switching is themselves: aesthetic preferences for cities vs. non-cities, complicated food vs. burgers, and hanging out with everyone they already know vs. having to build a whole new social circle. Plus in some situations your job may depend on maintaining your current tribal affiliation.

          (Is it me, or do “Blue-born” and “Red-born” sound kinda Game of Thronesy?)

          • Cord Shirt says:

            Well…to quote myself (an old wrote-but-didn’t-post)…

            Yeah…after having been mobbed twice and unpersoned during the second one…I’ve really had to depart from blue tribe. I’m very open to being recruited elsewhere (as Norma McCorvey aka “Roe” of Roe v. Wade was)…but it doesn’t really work, at least not so far. I mean, one blog that claims to welcome everyone who’s been unpersoned by SJWs, also has a tradition of calling everyone to the economic left of Rand Paul a “vileprog.” So…

            My experience of red tribe is pretty much that every time I think of maybe starting to trust them, one of them says something ranging from thoughtlessly dehumanizing (FIL habitually uses “humanist” as an all-purpose insult) to hostile–like this. (I mean, I like a lot of those commenters as individuals…but…nice attitude to have toward those who were looking to ally with you…and if your reaction to having those feelings is to gleefully indulge them rather than to soberly acknowledge and then control them… :backs away slowly:)

            And if greay tribe were to begin supporting monogamy, then I might join it, otherwise it’s a big nope. So as for me, right now I’m basically no tribe. :shrug:

            So is it me? Sort of. And is it them? Sort of. I mean, is it that I don’t like their attitude toward potential converts, or is it that they’re not willing to change their attitude toward potential converts in order to become more welcoming? Well…both.

    • You don’t specify what sort of Shia. All variants strike me as at least somewhat nuttier than Sunni, what with the final Imam still invisibly around, and the various sevener variants nuttier than the twelvers.

      What is your reason for preferring Shia?

    • Kevin C. says:

      Christianity: (pre Vatican II) sedevacantist catholic
      Buddhism: Theravāda branch, Dhammayuttika Nikaya order (founded in 1833 by Prince Mongkut, later King Rama IV, who most of you probably know from The King and I).
      Chinese philosophy and traditional religion: Xunzian Confucianism.

      • Psmith says:

        “Christianity: (pre Vatican II) sedevacantist catholic”

        My man. Although like everyone else ITT I gotta acknowledge that the Mormons are on to something.

    • Outis says:

      I’m not even sure Mormons count as Christians. At any rate, I don’t see the point of being Christian if you’re not going to be Catholic.

      OTOH, if I were born Jewish, I would definitely stay Jewish. I mean, a religion whose central distinguishing tenet is that I’m better than everyone else? That’s got to be hard to beat.

      • The Anonymouse says:

        I’m not even sure Mormons count as Christians.

        If not, they are playing a very deep game indeed. What with that whole “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” thing.

        • Chalid says:

          It just depends where you draw the boundaries of Christianity. Lots of conservative Christians don’t think Mormons count – extra holy books, the Mormon take on Trinity, etc. are seen as too much.

          I have even talked to evangelicals who say that Catholics aren’t Christian!

        • Siger von Brabant says:

          Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet of Islam. Are they Christians too? Also, some earlier Christians took Islam to be a Christian heresy, not a separate religion.

          http://www.stpeterslist.com/11698/islam-as-a-christian-heresy-8-quotes-from-st-john-damascene-a-d-749/

          As shown by the artwork above, the Middle Ages also viewed Islam as a heresy. In Dante’s Inferno, Canto XXVIII, Muhammad is depicted as “twixt the legs, Dangling his entrails hung, the midriff lay Open to view…” Muhammad suffers the punishment of the schismatics: having his body rent from chin to anus for how he rent the Body of Christ. The great Catholic thinker Hilarie Belloc (1870-1953) is also known for his treatise on Islam as The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed.

          • I would argue that a good definition of Christian would be “Individual who accepts Jesus as the Christ / Messiah.” Restricting it to acceptance of the Nicene Creed retroactively un-Christian-izes all of the pre-Nicene sects that would have disagreed with it.

          • Mary says:

            There were scientists — good, legitimate scientists — who accepted phlogiston. That does not make it illegitimate to say that people who accept it nowadays are not scientists.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            There were scientists — good, legitimate scientists — who accepted phlogiston. That does not make it illegitimate to say that people who accept it nowadays are not scientists.

            I think the crucial difference is that the reason no respectable scientist could now believe in phlogiston is because the phlogiston conjecture has now been experimentally disproved, and an explanatory framework that better explained the data is now in place. Whereas no one to my knowledge has ever experimentally disproven the pre-Nicene variants of Christianity; they just lost a culture war (or in some cases, actual wars) that the Nicene variant happened to win.

            But I’m not very well read-up on the subject. If someone has devised a reliable test that can show Nicene Christianity to be more probably than pre-Nicene Christianity, then I’d be interested to hear about it.

            Though in general, I think the important thing to remember is that ‘Christianity’ is a leaky generalisation; in reality there are a myriad different Christianities, some much further away from a hypothetical weighted-average compromise Christianity than others are. The simplest thing is to provisionally accept that any group that calls itself Christian counts as Christian, then argue about the specific claims.

            Heck, there are even a few people practising a deliberate syncretism of Christianity and Islam. Worrying about whether they are Christians, Muslims or both is unlikely to get you a satisfactory answer; even worrying about where to draw the numbers if you want to consider them X% Christian and Y% Muslim is probably not much more useful.

            Of course, ‘scientist’ is also something of a leaky generalisation…

          • Mary says:

            “. If someone has devised a reliable test that can show Nicene Christianity to be more probably than pre-Nicene Christianity, then I’d be interested to hear about it.”

            Here we go again. Christianity’s standards of evidence MUST be science’s.

            I remember the last time it came up. No one had a coherent answer for the question of whether you have a reliable test that your mother loves you.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Here we go again. Christianity’s standards of evidence MUST be science’s. ”

            Why not? The existence of something fits neatly into ‘requires evidence’ bin.

            “I remember the last time it came up. No one had a coherent answer for the question of whether you have a reliable test that your mother loves you.”

            … really? You don’t think ‘someone who provides and cares for you’ is evidence that a person loves you?

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Here we go again. Christianity’s standards of evidence MUST be science’s.

            Not necessarily. But you were the one who brought up the comparison when you said “There were scientists — good, legitimate scientists — who accepted phlogiston”. But in any case they ought to have some standard of evidence that is better than ‘being the one variant of Christianity that happened to win the culture war against the other variants of Christianity on offer at the time, if you are going to make that comparison.

            And note that I did not say ‘give 100% unassailable proof that Nicene Christianity is correct and the other varieties are false’ – I merely said that you should be able to provide some test that shows Nicene Christianity more probable (excuse my misspelling in the earlier comment) than other variants of Christianity.

            Samuel Skinner has already had a go, but if someone puts up with my shit for decades, consistently pours resources into my upbringing, consistently takes an interest in my wellbeing, in ways that she does not do for people who are not her child (and in ways that people who are not my mother do not do for me), then I would say that that is pretty good bayesian evidence in favour of the hypothesis that my mother loves me, relative to all the other hypotheses.

            If you genuinely meant the comparison – if you genuinely meant that the non-Nicene Christianities have been as thoroughly intellectually discredited (as opposed to economically and militarily conquered) as the phlogiston conjecture, such that a modern-day believer in a non-Nicene version of Christianty can no more reasonably be considered a Christian than a modern-day phlogiston-believer could be called a scientist, then you ought to be willing to show how that intellectual discrediting happened.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        ” I mean, a religion whose central distinguishing tenet is that I’m better than everyone else?”

        I don’t think you get Judaism at all.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Ilya Shpitser:
          I don’t really have a “dog in this fight” but religious Judaism has a couple of salient features a) It maintains that Jews are the chosen people of God, and b) It is not evangelical and does not seek converts.

          I mean, that maps pretty well to think the Jews are better than other humans, but still insignificant before God. It seems like a valid point but I’m happy to learn otherwise if I am wrong on this.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Yes, the way you phrased the chosen thing is a common anti-semitic trope. There is some phrasing to this effect in early texts, but mostly it’s something like “chosen for more scrutiny — blessed if you do well, cursed if you do poorly.”

          • keranih says:

            My impression has always been that Jews held their place as chosen people and the fact of the awesomeness of their God as two separate things.

            It wasn’t “we are awesome, therefore God picked us” so much as “Our God is DA BOMB – are we not the luckiest sumbitches on the face of the planet? Yes, yes we are, all ya’ll wish you were us, but nope, can’t touch this!”

            (I also suspect that certain rival tribes held that the Israelites and their God richly deserved each other as no deity and people had ever done so in the history of the world. A jealous, judgmental God and his stiff-necked rebellious people – you guys have fun, there.)

          • Glen Raphael says:

            My sense of it is that having been “chosen” is (from the inside) seen as more of an obligation than an honor. It doesn’t indicate Jews are better than others. Indeed, it’s something one might resent. eg:
            Q: “Why do we have to follow all these rules when nobody else has to?”
            A: “Because God said so, that’s why.”

          • Winter Shaker says:

            It doesn’t indicate Jews are better than others. Indeed, it’s something one might resent. eg:

            I’ve heard the joke expressed something like: “Apparently we are God’s chosen people. Please, God, choose someone else next time.”

    • ediguls says:

      If I were a Muslim, I’d want to be Qur’anist (for eschewing the hadith); in Christianity, Catholicism (and especially the Jesuits) would appeal to me the most. I don’t know enough about Judaism and Buddhism to choose a denomination. Other than that, I find Sikhism to be quite an interesting and attractive religion as well – its tenets appear to be compatible with and encouraging what I consider a virtuous and productive life.

    • I’d never thought about the question, but I’m so temperamentally agnostic that I’d go for the most insipid modern version of whatever religion.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        My fundamental agnosticism points me in the other direction, or two. Since I can’t imagine actually believing anything, I’d go for the most extreme and colorful, or dark and dramatic.

    • nydwracu says:

      …Nobody here would be any sort of Protestant? (Unless you count the Mormons.)

      • Anonymous says:

        Is there any point to being Protestant?

        • keranih says:

          Any point to being Protestant?

          Changing church families at the drop of a hat when your current pastor turns out to be an unsavory type. Speaking as a Catholic, it’s a lot harder to pry a bad priest out of the frame, and while Mama Church attempts to compensate by requiring a long period of education and scrutiny, it’s pretty clear that process has some failings.

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s not like Catholics aren’t allowed to go to church in a different parish if their priest is not to their liking. And there’s a big problem with “church shopping” in general, as described here.

          • Jiro says:

            If you actually believe that’s a problem with church shopping, you’re halfway to atheism already, because you’ve just admitted that churches are subject to memetic evolution and survive for reasons unrelated to the truth of their teachings. Once you’ve admitted that, you may as well realize that that applies to present-day churches as well as future ones and you only believe the teachings of your own church because of a process unconnected to truth. (Even if church shopping itself wasn’t popular in the past, there are other memetic forces that certainly affected the popularity of your church. What’s the real difference between “this church only got big and popular because of selection pressure from church shopping” and “this church only got big and popular because its adherents happened to be able to kill and forcibly convert lots of people”?)

          • Anonymous says:

            >you’ve just admitted that churches are subject to memetic evolution and survive for reasons unrelated to the truth of their teachings

            No.

            Long-term survival of a church is entirely related to the truth of its teachings. Church teachings aren’t just some boiler-plate that is just there to be there, and without relevance to the world. Falsehood within teachings is like genetic load; as it increases, so decreases the ability of the church to reproduce and survive. Teachings that are good and true are useful, improving the fitness of their adherents. Teachings that are evil and false drag them down.

            A church that strays sufficiently from what is true will suffer extinction, eventually. Nowadays, our particular circumstances of great affluence and isolation from the consequences of our actions simply delay and minimize the negative outcomes of taught falsehood. It’s similar to how modern people survive infancy due to medicine, where they would die due to otherwise life-threatening genetic conditions.

            Suppose an anti-natalist church becomes popular, a not altogether unreasonable supposition, given widespread anti-natalist attitudes – that church, while initially gaining popularity, will eventually die, because it will be like an elephant graveyard, where people go to die, not to reproduce, as anyone susceptible to becoming a member and internalizing its teachings will be damaging their own fitness.

            Similar points can be made about a myriad other teaching-matters.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Can the rationalist community stop conflating “true” and “useful” for one goddamn second?

          • Jiro says:

            No.

            But that’s the whole point of that criticism of church shopping that you linked to. The argument is that church shopping causes the churches that survive the best to be churches which match people’s predilections.

            Nowadays, our particular circumstances of great affluence and isolation from the consequences of our actions simply delay and minimize the negative outcomes of taught falsehood.

            That amounts to special pleading: memetic evolution leads to the wrong churches surviving just long enough to be a problem, but not long enough that it calls into question why my own church survived.

          • Mary says:

            “The argument is that church shopping causes the churches that survive the best to be churches which match people’s predilections. ”

            That’s an argument against Protestantism with its endless schisms, not “halfway to atheism”.

            “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers”

            Of course the Protestant could counter-argument that he is relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

          • Jiro says:

            That’s an argument against Protestantism with its endless schisms, not “halfway to atheism”.

            The argument assumes that things other than truth spread a religion. The argument only mentions some of those things. The ones it *mentions* apply to Protestants, but the ones it didn’t mention apply to your religion as well.

            It may be that only Protestant religions are spread by church shopping. But *your* religion’s history includes killing or forcibly converting lots of people. Surely, if religions can spread by church shopping regardless of truth, they can spread by killing and forcible conversion regardless of truth.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Can the rationalist community stop conflating “true” and “useful” for one goddamn second?

            Not a chance. Sacrificing sacred truth for mere winning is our taboo trafeoff.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Jiro

            But that’s the whole point of that criticism of church shopping that you linked to. The argument is that church shopping causes the churches that survive the best to be churches which match people’s predilections.

            No, the complaint is that church shopping encourages people choosing their church according to how it matches what they already believe, rather than how true, how good, or how useful its teachings are. That way the theological landscape comes to match the zeitgeist, rather than shaping it. From teaching it comes to merely repeating what extra-church influences are saying.

            That amounts to special pleading: memetic evolution leads to the wrong churches surviving just long enough to be a problem, but not long enough that it calls into question why my own church survived.

            Memetic evolution in circumstances of isolation from consequences of error permits the survival of greater amount of error than otherwise. Error is hardly good, and damages society’s ability to deal with the world. Encouraging it is not good, either. What exactly is it that you’re objecting to, here?

          • Jiro says:

            Anonymous: Your description is the same thing as what I said, except you worded it differently. Church shopping leads to churches that match people’s predilections becoming more widespread.

            But if you admit that, then you have to admit that your own church got widespread by killing heretics and converting people by the sword.

            What exactly is it that you’re objecting to, here?

            That you admit that other religions spread for memetic reasons when it comes to church shopping, but you don’t admit that your own religion spread for memetic reasons, or consider the implications of that,

          • Anonymous says:

            Your description is the same thing as what I said, except you worded it differently. Church shopping leads to churches that match people’s predilections becoming more widespread.

            Right.

            But if you admit that, then you have to admit that your own church got widespread by killing heretics and converting people by the sword.

            In part, yes, but that comes much later in the story. The church really got going by offering a superior set of ethics to the alternatives at the time. The pagan Romans were decadent, and the early Christians were not. Christianity survived by providing its adherents with what they needed to outcompete the rival faiths.

            That you admit that other religions spread for memetic reasons when it comes to church shopping, but you don’t admit that your own religion spread for memetic reasons, or consider the implications of that,

            This is the first time I hear orthodox Catholicism called populist pap, I must say. If you mean a heavily americanized, decadent Catholicism, then I suppose you’re right.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            The church really got going by offering a superior set of ethics to the alternatives at the time. The pagan Romans were decadent, and the early Christians were not. Christianity survived by providing its adherents with what they needed to outcompete the rival faiths.

            Offering a set of ethics that allows you to outcompete other groups because of the behavioural consequences of adhering to that ethical framework is a very different proposition from offering a set of truth-claims that allow you to outcompete rival groups because those truth-claims are more accurate than the truth-claims of those other groups, which seems to have been what you were claiming earlier, assuming you are the same Anonymous who said

            Long-term survival of a church is entirely related to the truth of its teachings.

            It is easy enough to imagine a memeplex which contains a large number of manifestly false truth-claims and some useful ethical precepts outcompeting a memeplex which contains a large number of true truth-claims and some profoundly maladaptive ethical injunctions, as long as the truth-claims are about subject matters which do not impact too strongly on your ability to live and compete in the real world.

          • Anonymous says:

            It is easy enough to imagine a memeplex which contains a large number of manifestly false truth-claims and some useful ethical precepts outcompeting a memeplex which contains a large number of true truth-claims and some profoundly maladaptive ethical injunctions, as long as the truth-claims are about subject matters which do not impact too strongly on your ability to live and compete in the real world.

            Example?

          • Anonymous says:

            Example: The Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints.

            Or, heck, just about any major religion.

            Of course, you have to acknowledge that “true” means “true” rather than just “useful.”

          • Jiro says:

            This is the first time I hear orthodox Catholicism called populist pap,

            That’s not what I’m saying. If I meant that I’d have just said “it gets you to atheism” rather than “it gets you halfway to atheism”.

            It didn’t spread by being populist. But it spread because of forced conversions, and killings, and missionaries (even peaceful ones), and the emperor declaring it the official religion of Rome, and the coincidence that the people who had it managed to do well in war even when the war wasn’t for Christianity, and teachiongs opposing birth control and abortion, and all sorts of other reasons. Some of these reasons were violent; some were peaceful; but what they have in common is that just like populism, they help ideas to spread regardless of whether the ideas are true or false.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Example?

            The pink Anonymous has a good one there, with the LDS church. But just to make the extreme point, let’s say you have a group that believes that, say, mice are the projections into this dimension of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings that created this planet to settle a philosophical question, that Bigfoot is real and hiding out in the mountains, that people who do not have children can look forward to a lifetime of ennui and regret but that those who have many children are especially happy, that fairies will abduct anyone who tries to go and join that other group across the river and that Freddy Krueger will kill anyone who doesn’t keep some savings and prepare for emergencies.

            Meanwhile, across the river lives a group that believe the Earth was formed from the gravitational collapse of a cluster of interstellar gas in the same process that created the Sun and the other planets of our solar system, that there are no large apes that we have not yet discovered, that people who do not have children are no less happy on average than those who do, and that Freddy Krueger and fairies don’t really exist.

            In many circumstances we would expect the first group to eventually outcompete the second even though the second technically has a more accurate set of beliefs overall.

            That has been a cartoonishly exaggerated version of the point, but I hope you get why people are keen for you to understand that there is no necessary correlation between the truth and the usefulness of an idea.

            [Edited to add: of course, the theory of memetics adds a further complication that an idea or set of ideas can be useful to itself as it spreads in competition with other sets of ideas, while being actively anti-useful to the people who believe it, measured either in happiness or in genetic success. And of course, all else being equal we would expect there to be a correllation between truth and usefulness on average; it’s just that we cannot infer truth from the fact that an idea has proven adaptive.]

          • Anonymous says:

            It didn’t spread by being populist. But it spread because of forced conversions, and killings, and missionaries (even peaceful ones), and the emperor declaring it the official religion of Rome, and the coincidence that the people who had it managed to do well in war even when the war wasn’t for Christianity, and teachiongs opposing birth control and abortion, and all sorts of other reasons. Some of these reasons were violent; some were peaceful; but what they have in common is that just like populism, they help ideas to spread regardless of whether the ideas are true or false.

            Okay. I see your point.

            I’m not sure I would agree with the implication that the acceptance of these beliefs by ascendant groups is unrelated to their truth, especially their perceived truth. Who, indeed, comes to believe a thing they understand to be false? I expect nobody with a properly functioning mind does*.

            Evidently false beliefs will make a faith less competitive, both in conversion of others, and in retaining homegrown members with non-broken minds.

            * Excepting false conversions, of course, which do occur. I don’t think they’re the norm – otherwise we’d have seen a “everybody is a secret atheist perceiving everyone else as true believers” scenario happen in the Soviet Union.

            That has been a cartoonishly exaggerated version of the point, but I hope you get why people are keen for you to understand that there is no necessary correlation between the truth and the usefulness of an idea.

            Not in theory, no. I somewhat doubt that it’s uncorrelated in practice.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @anonymous:

            The spread of religion in general refutes the idea that spreading and truth are related. The core truths of several major religions are antithetical to each other, and yet spread anyway.

          • Does the Church tend to put the worst priests into the graveyard shift? Literally. Burials. I’ve yet to see a burial priest who does not show up drunk or has a serious speech impediment or other forms of undercompetence at the job. Maybe for actually religious people they tend to have their own priest speak over them, but when you have this normal Euro case of grandma not having been church in 40 years and yet the family wanting to give her a church burial because his hubby is in the same graveyard, we seem to get these graveyard shift priests who aren’t very competent.

        • Nathan says:

          I’m a (non-denominational) protestant, so I’d say there’s a point. Unless evangelicals get their own category now I guess, in which case I probably fit that one most closely.

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          Calvinists are pretty neat:

          http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=3656

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        I briefly toyed with Quiverfull, but one of the benefits of religion is supposed to be a strong community, and the Quiverfulls don’t really have that. And like I said, the Amish are too extreme, plus there is also that troublesome pacifism of theirs. So, yeah, no real standouts among the Protestants.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes: Presbyterianism (for their humility).

      • I could do Pentecostal, Amish, or Shaker light.

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t really wish to be anything else but Catholic. My only regret is the decadence of the west and its faiths in general, which includes mine. Fortunately, we have risen from ashes more than once now, and I expect our descendants will live to see that resurrection.

    • keranih says:

      I am imperfectly content with the Roman Catholic Church, and look forward to an increasingly deep relationship. Having said that:

      Mennonite for Christianity, Orthodox Zionist if Jewish, and Taoist for the Eastern faiths. Regretfully, I don’t know enough of the general practice of the various American Indian groups (which would probably not even be an option, due to genetics, although the Wyandot(Huron) seem appealing) nor of the various Hindu sects.

      I prefer a faith that emphasizes rejection of materialism and of self-interest/self promotion in favor of community service and attention to the natural world, combined with a human awareness of…things beyond? That what is seen is not everything? Humility in the face of the great unknown? Something like that.

      FWIW

      – All the Mormons I have met have been at least attempting to follow Christ, they count as Christian to me.

      – I was under the impression (please correct me if you have advanced knowledge) but Sufi isn’t a third branch of Islam, but a style of practice, like, say – high church vs low church in the Anglican traditions. There are other subbranches of Islam, most of which divide themselves into Sunni vs Shia, but some hold themselves as separate.

      • You are correct that sufi is not a third branch of Islam. Sufis can be Sunni or Shia.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        rejection of materialism and of self-interest/self promotion

        I get the impression that a lot of needlessly unproductive argument stems from the accidental confusion of ‘materialism’ in the sense of consumerism; the desire to gain status by accumulating material wealth, and ‘materialism’ in the sense of philosophical naturalism, the position that, sure, we don’t know all the facts, there remain great unknowns, but we can provisionally reject the hypothesis that reality contains anything supernatural (in the technical sense, articulated by Richard Carrier here, and endorsed by Eliezer Yudkowsky on Less Wrong here, of containing ‘ontological basic mental elements’ – things that have mind-like properties such as desires, intensions, emotions, while not being subdivisible into simpler elements that individually lack any mind-like properties).

        I’d say that rejecting materialism in the sense of trying to get off the hedonic treadmill is probably a good idea, but that rejecting materialism in the sense of explicitly embracing supernatural explanations is probably not … at least if you care about your beliefs being accurate – it’s possible that you could be more happy in a group that believes false but comforting supernatural claims than you could in a group that rejects such claims. But given all we have discovered so far, it seems more likely that supernaturalism is a bias that the human mind is prone to, rather than a true fact about reality.

        • keranih says:

          I appreciate the distinction you’re making here, and the clarification, but to be clear – I would prefer to reject the materialism of stuff-I-have-to-get-and-have (which I was talking about, above) and the materialism of there-are-no-unseen-forces (which I wasn’t.)

          But given all we have discovered so far, it seems more likely that supernaturalism is a bias that the human mind is prone to, rather than a true fact about reality.

          This is an intriguing idea, and I’m not inclined to reject it out of hand. (It seems to fall into the sorts of general biases that humans have, like “preferring clustering with genetically similar people”, “not finding siblings sexy” and so forth – things that we do which lead to racism, but don’t make bigoted beliefs real (or strangers particularly hawt.) However, I find my faith and my God sufficiently real and useful that I’m not inclined to accept the implicit rejection of religion.

          (I hope this comes across as mildly and pleasantly as I mean it – I really do appreciate you pointing out the potential confusion between the two terms.)

        • >I get the impression that a lot of needlessly unproductive argument stems from the accidental confusion of ‘materialism’ in the sense of consumerism;

          No – sufficiently trad Christians at least fully accept the human desire to “better our conditions” i.e. be consumerist-materialist. Though they often prefer it the older fashioned ways (get an expensive painting if you want to brag, not the latest iPhone). There is a difference between improving our condition materialistically and between being a stupid consumer who buys the latest fads instead of long term value things like antiques. Trad Christians tend to approve of this materialism as long as it does not become this kind of stupid fleeting things, so as long as it is about things of a lasting value.

          >But given all we have discovered so far, it seems more likely that supernaturalism is a bias that the human mind is prone to, rather than a true fact about reality.

          On one hand, yes, I blogged about this here: https://dividuals.wordpress.com/2015/09/17/towards-a-more-mature-atheism/ it is the overdetection of agency.

          On the other hand, be aware of how many intelligent people buy the we are living in a simulation / brains in the vat agreement. That is the same as religion – the Simulator being omnipotent, omniscient etc. And advanced intelligent theism always said god isn’t just a lvl 1000 wizard in the world but behind in the way that the universe is basically his thoughts.

          Thus it seems we have the common cases of agency overdetection from voodoo to Plantinga type primitive personalist theism, and then we have the actual theology of Aquinas etc. who are a whole different class, something similar to the simulated universe argument…

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        Sufism is sort of “esoteric islam.”

    • Anon. says:

      On the Christian side, Catholic for sure. Just look at their art! Look at this thing, do Mormons have anything like this: https://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/gvl8oqkphithnwtvxcbq.jpg

      And this isn’t just a relic of the past. Pynchon, DeLillo, Richter, von Trier. In every medium, Catholics dominate. Even in the Protestant countries, it’s the Catholics who make art.

      • Joe says:

        I’m not a fan of Mormonism but they have some cool art. Although it is weird to see an almost Norman Rockwell quality painting of Christ preaching to native Americans.

    • BBA says:

      If I were Christian I’d be a Quaker. I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned the Quakers yet.

      • DES3264 says:

        Seems to me that someone who would become a Quaker if they were Christian should consider becoming a Quaker anyway. From an official looking FAQ

        Are Quakers Christian?

        The Quaker way has deep Christian roots that form our understanding of God, our faith, and our practices. Many Quakers consider themselves Christian, and some do not. Many Quakers today draw spiritual nourishment from our Christian roots and strive to follow the example of Jesus. Many other Quakers draw spiritual sustenance from various religious traditions, such as Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and the nature religions.

        Agreed that Quakers have a lot of admirable features, and that you probably wouldn’t be happy as a Quaker if you were actively antagonistic to Christian imagery.

        • MichaelM says:

          The Quakers have their own schisms. The FAQ you’re quoting comes from some damned dirty Hicksites. Not all meetings are going to be like that and, personally, the so-open-minded-your-brain-falls-out attitude that leaks from it really, really bothers me. Quakers are Christians. If you’re going to start calling non-Christians Quakers you’re just using the same word to mean something different.

        • Ryan Beren says:

          Given MichaelM’s comment about Quaker diversity, a similar organization is the Unitarian Universalist Association. It’s formerly Christian, and is now officially post-Christian, but it isn’t unusual for some members to be Christian. (Most members now are staunch atheists, pagans, moralistic therapeutic deists, or undecided.)

          OTOH, Quakers have their own unique rituals and shared commitment to peace, which many prefer.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        whywouldyoudothat.jpg

    • The Anonymouse says:

      Mormons tend to be fantastic at creating communities, extol and enjoy the virtue of industry, and are really good at being the grown-up in every room. And there’s a halo effect: communities with substantial Mormon populations tend to be nicer places to live, even for non-Mormons (social stigma for not being a member of the Church is exaggerated).

      Slightly off-topic, but when we colonize Mars, it should be Mormons. All the cultural competencies are in place for stable communities, and it plays right into the handcart pioneer mythos.

    • Deiseach says:

      My choices have always been if I’m not Catholic, then I’m atheist. But Tibetan Buddhism very strongly seconded (there’s a ceremony for giving water to the dead which pings all my ‘prayers for the souls in Purgatory!’ buttons).

    • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

      I would choose Catholicism or Orthodoxy because they allow for many different paths, from being a cultural christian to being a hermit. Plus they have old, beautiful churches, lots of paintings and music to go with their elaborate rituals and lots of saints with interesting lives.
      Animism always appealed to me so I would choose Shinto over Buddhism.
      I would prefer polytheism like Hinduism over strict monotheism like that of Judaism or Islam.

    • onyomi says:

      Not sure if this is sort of what Scott is getting at, but personally I’d want to be the most mysticism-oriented version of whatever religion, which also has the advantage of offering more overlap: Sufism (subset of Shia), maybe whoever studies Kabbalah, Vajrayana is pretty esoteric (and lets you eat meat, which might be what Scott likes), maybe Eastern Orthodox?

      There are also just aesthetic issues: Eastern Orthodox>Catholic>Protestant in terms of just the beauty of the vestments and stuff, imo.

      My personal list combining above factors: Russian Orthodox Christian, Suffi Muslim, Kabbalah-studying Jew (not sure if one subset of them like Hassidim study it more), Japanese Zen Buddhist, Shiva-devotee Hindu…

    • nimim. k.m. says:

      I like being a Lutheran, but mainly for the cultural externalities stemming from it being the state religion in Scandinavian / Nordic countries, and I like being from Scandinavian / Nordic countries. It has had an ability to be quite unsavory at times in the past and tendency of producing not always very pleasant evangelical sects, but so has about every Christian denomination, but the mainstream version today seems quite easy to adjust to even as a secular person.

      For a similar reasons, if instead of choosing a specific Buddhist tradition one is allowed to choose just from geographic neighborhood, I might tempted by Shinto.

      Don’t know enough of different Islamic traditions to differentiate.

    • anonymous says:

      Hasidic seems like an odd choice to me, what with the personality cults, the mysticism and the redicoulus shokeling. Assuming MO was out, I’d go litvak.

      • But do the Litvaks get shtreimels?

        All of those things seem like they might be considered pluses to some folks. (And what is wrong with swaying? I know plenty of autistic people find it pleasant enough.)

        • Winter Shaker says:

          If I wasn’t worried about being shouted at for cultural appropriation, I would totally wear a shtreimel. They are one hell of a hat.

        • anonymous says:

          There are litvak groups that wear shtreiemls, especially the ones associated with old yeshuv yeshivas I think.

          @WS
          I don’t think the haradi know about cultural appropriation, but they are eye wateringly expensive. Even the Lubavitch fedora is expensive.

          • As might be expected in this culturally appropriative and generally silly era, try searching on As might be expected in this culturally appropriative and generally silly era, try searching on “shtreieml” and shopping and you’ll find cheap knock-offs.

            In case anyone was wondering, the baseball cap with the Hebrew letters says “shtreieml”.

            The site claims I already posted a version of this with the shopping link, but that comment isn’t appearing.

    • smocc says:

      I am Mormon and really like it, but I have often remarked that if I couldn’t be for some reason then I wouldn’t mind being Catholic, especially if I could be a monk. As a quiet, contemplative type who likes routine, good deeds, and singing, it kind of seems like the life. Also, as someone else already mentioned, Catholicisms artistic and musical heritage blows Mormonism out of the water (they’ve got like a thousand years on us though!)

      If I had to not be Christian my first instinct is to go Sikh. My experience is that it is a practical, no-frills sort of religion that gets things done. Once when my wife and I visited the big gurudwara in Delhi we were standing around in a mass of people looking a little confused about what to do with our shoes, when a Sikh woman walked over, asked if we were visiting, directed us where to go, welcomed us, and walked off. She didn’t work at the gurudwara or anything, she was just visiting too. That’s the sort of practical kindness that I want my religion to help me develop. The free-meals kitchen associated with every gurudwara is another manifestation of this.

      My inability to grow a beard would be a downer, though.

      • Jacobian says:

        A Sikh, so I could match a colorful turban to my tie. In a business-formal environment, Sikhs always look the coolest.

        In Judaism, I would heartily recommend Ashkenazi Religious Zionism (Rabbi Kook style). You get the benefits of a tight-knit religious community AND being an elite in the military / tech / political sector (unlike the withdrawn Orthodox). Plus, you have nationalistic success reinforcing your religion, as long as Israel is prospering you’re basically seeing proof of your faith in every detail of day to day life.

    • Mary says:

      ” Anyone else have preferences?”

      How the devil would I know? I’m not a Catholic because I prefer it but because I think joining any other sect would be entering a culpable state of schism. Were I convinced of another religion’s truth, I would want to join whatever sect of it I thought best on the basis of what convinced me.

    • I think this hinges heavily on what you mean by “be” and “want.”

      The Mormons and Chasidim stand out as being particularly good at family and community formation. All of the churches are suffering a tremendous attrition problem, except Mormons. The Chasidim and other Orthodoxish groups probably have the same thing going for them. So from that POV, these faiths seem the most functional.

      But both of these groups are highly natalist, and you aren’t even married and don’t seem to have any desire for children, so why would you “want” to join a religion where you are clearly instructed that one of your duties in life is to make and provide for children?

      You might “want” that if you already believed in Mormonism or Chasidism, but then we could also say that if you believed in the Amish religion you’d want to live a simple lifestyle, and if you believed in Catholicism you might want to be a monk.

      Since I have children and like children, if I were choosing a faith to believe in, (if one could do such a thing,) and wanted to be sure it got passed on to my children, Mormonism, Hasidism, and Amish-ism would be top picks. But if I were starting from the perspective of really believing in Christianity, I’d head either to the Catholics or some Charismatic/Messianic Jewish variety, because the idea of a Christianity that isn’t Jewish just seems to be missing the point of the entire first 2/3s of the Bible.

      ETA: Some form of Eastern Orthodox might also satisfy my criteria; I just don’t know much about them.

      But for you, why not just be a Unitarian Universalist? Or a Quaker? They seem more your style.

      (I can’t comment on Buddhism–or lots of other religions I don’t know much about, like Jainism–but the Shia/Sunni split is clearly an ethnic thing, so why chose one ethnic group over another?)

      • “but the Shia/Sunni split is clearly an ethnic thing”

        ???

        Iran being Shia is a relatively recent development–originated under the Safavids in the fifteenth century. Egypt and much of North Africa were (a different variant of) Shia for quite a while under the Fatimids. And there are a variety of Shia groups scattered around the world that are not Persian, which I’m guessing is the ethnicity you are thinking of.

        • Currently, it looks like most Shiites–even those outside of Iran–are in areas where Iranian languages are spoken. And “dispute over succession” sounds like the sort of thing you get in a dispute between two ethnic groups, not a religious debate. I could be missing something, of course.

          A lot of Christian splits are ethnic, too. I wouldn’t expect the Church of England to be of much interest to anyone besides the English, of course.

          • onyomi says:

            Recently I’ve been thinking that most splits among religions, and even between religions are really more about giving an ethnic group its own unique version of god than any real theological dispute (though the latter are often the cited reasons for the split). Isn’t “Allah” just the Arabic word for “God,” for example (and isn’t He, moreover, supposed to be the same god of the Israelites)? Why do we not translate it as we translate most other Arabic words we talk about in English? Because “Allah” doesn’t just mean “God” in Arabic, it means “Arab God” (except when it means “Persian God,” in which case we have a different sect for you).

            Even with the Protestant split, it seems, at its core, kind of like a cultural disconnect between Northern and Southern Europe.

            I’m not entirely sure I buy this theory myself, mind you, but I’ve been thinking more in terms of ethnic politics as the Democrats and Republicans continue to sort themselves into the “Non-White” and “White” parties. And if that latter contention is true, it could also explain why even an originally non-ethnic differentiation (Sunni v. Shia) could tend to become one over time, as the Republican and Democrat parties were not started as ethnic parties.

          • dndnrsn says:

            EvolutionistX:

            Pedantry: The Church of England is, of course, English, but there are related (and technically subordinate) Anglican churches in many different places, and their makeup is far from being only English diaspora.

          • Nornagest says:

            Why do we not translate it as we translate most other Arabic words we talk about in English?

            We used to. The transition seems to have started by the Victorian era but wasn’t complete by the Edwardian — the Burton translation of the Thousand and One Nights uses “Allah” throughout, but the Lane-Poole translation uses both, “God” more often.

          • “And “dispute over succession” sounds like the sort of thing you get in a dispute between two ethnic groups, not a religious debate.”

            That makes sense for the third and least successful part of the split, the Kharijites. They rejected the claim of the Quraysh, Mohammed’s tribe, to the Caliphate, holding that the Caliph could be any Muslim.

            But the Shia/Sunni split was between supporters of Ali, who became the Shia, and supporters of Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, who became the Sunni. Both Ali and Abu Bakr (and the other two of the first four caliphs as well as the next many) were Quraysh, not only the same ethnicity but the same tribe.

            The link between Shia and Persia developed many centuries later.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The state of Sunni/Shia split today looks ethnic, but historically it looks a lot less ethnic than Christian splits.

        • Bruce Beegle says:

          The state of Sunni/Shia split today looks ethnic,

          That is contrary to my understanding (which could easily be wrong). Are the Shia in Iraq ethnically different from the Sunni in Iraq?

          • John Schilling says:

            At the coarsest ethnic level, they are all Arab. Well, except for the Kurds and arguably the Madan; the latter are negligible on account of being mostly dead but the Iraqi Kurds are a major, ethnically distinct Sunni force in Iraq.

            Among the Arab population, the Sunnis are a predominately urban, rich minority that is accustomed to being Iraq’s ruling class since the days of the Ottoman Empire if not before. The Shiites are descended from the relatively poor, rural tribes who have been generally oppressed since the days of the Ottoman Empire but are now, because someone said “Poof You’re A Democracy!”, Iraq’s ruling class.

            The religious divide I think follows the cultural one in this respect. The poor rural tribes were Sunni through at least the fifteenth century, but were not well served by the faith of their urban overlords and open to anything different.

    • Deiseach says:

      Okay, is this a “This is the kind of thing I could believe” choice or “Studies show this variety has good social effects” in which case to hell with it? ‘Religion as social work’ is neither fish, flesh nor fowl.

      I don’t like social religion, because I think it does no-one any good. Be honest and be secular if you’re looking for “something that fosters social cohesion, healthy living, and charitable interactions”. Either honestly believe in miracles, or honestly say that “This is a fairytale and I don’t believe it”. Otherwise, you end up with Ice Floe Jesus which satisfies nobody.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Okay, is this a “This is the kind of thing I could believe” choice or “Studies show this variety has good social effects” in which case to hell with it? ‘Religion as social work’ is neither fish, flesh nor fowl.

        I don’t like social religion, because I think it does no-one any good. Be honest and be secular if you’re looking for “something that fosters social cohesion, healthy living, and charitable interactions”.

        The last convenient possible world is the one where atheism and secularism inevitably have a negative effect on social cohesion and quality of life, such that you have to choose one or the other. And, unfortunately, it’s starting to look an awful lot as if we actually live in that world.

      • I must disagree. Cohesion is another word for nationalism or tribalism (cohesion and altruism for the ingroup necessarily counter-balanced with at least suspicion for the outgroup) and this has always been the primary goal of Pagan religion. For the Athenian, the cult of Athena and the city-state of Athens were one and inseparable. It was 100% about identity.

        Catholicism got Germanized, Paganized in the Carolingian which then flowed back to Rome during the Otto emperors, and then flowed out from there eveywhere. And during this process it got a more this worldy focus, more of a focus on national cohesion. Classic example being the Nordic state flags.

        National-tribal identity HAS to have religious symbols. The alternative, of turning secular symbols into quasi-religious is usually far more destructive.

      • I liked Ice Floe Jesus. 🙂

    • If I were Jewish, I would definitely be Hasidic or other Orthodox.

      If I were Islamic, I’d be Sunni, in one of the less-iconoclastic sects.

      If I were a non-Abrahamic, I’d be Zoroastrian.

      If I were non-monotheist, I’d be Asatru or some other form of reconstructionist paganism.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      For Christianity, Catholicism and Orthodoxy have equally strong truth claims, with the Greek Orthodox Church having an advantage in interpreting what the Apostles were saying, while the RCC is more into expressing the faith through rationalism.
      For Muslims, I like the Ismailis, but fear that the fundamentalist Sunnis are the ones who get Muhammad’s truth claims right.
      If I were Buddhist, I’d want a Theravada sangha that hasn’t kowtowed to Western interpretations of Gautama Buddha. I just couldn’t bring myself to believe in Mahayana truth claims about sutras that only seem to postdate the Buddha by 700 years but are authentic because they were written down by nagas and then hidden.
      For Hinduism, most varieties aren’t really available unless you move to India. Otherwise you’re practically limited to the sort of ecumenical temples that serve the Indian diaspora, or the Hare Krishnas.

      I’d be happy to elaborate on any of this if anything seems unclear.

    • Jaskologist says:

      No pretend Hindus here? I don’t know the many, many sects which fall under that umbrella, but it long struck me as the only (non-Christian) worldview with enough breadth and depth to be interesting. I’d fall back to that one.

      Or Stoicism. That would be easy for me; I’ve already got the temperament.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Hi. I was a convert to Hinduism, having been convinced of Hindu truth claims by independent reading of Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. I attended the nearest temple, learned hatha yoga and some vague theology from an acharya, and met a couple of gurus. I still admire Hindu culture, but was frustrated by how few scriptures were accessible and the so-open-minded-your-brain-fell-out tolerance for dubious intellectual propositions (astrology works, Jesus is an avatar of Vishnu, etc.)

    • William says:

      Sufi and Quaker — if we’re not allowed to pick esoteric ancient cults. I’m insufficiently read on Judaism and Buddhism to have a preference.

      Someone commented about preferring whatever lends itself better to transhumanism, but honestly I feel like a lot of sects or denominations can be read quite positively in that direction.

    • I presume you are talking about how desirable those things are, and not how likely the religions are to be true. Which religion do you think is most likely to be actually true? Or is the probability of all of them so low that you have never thought enough about the question to come to a conclusion on that?

    • JuanPeron says:

      I’d love to hear your reasons for some of these. In particular, Mormonism is a thoroughly non-central Christian faith, so I assume there was some specific pull outside of “high social status” or “core, devout version of faith”. One guess is that these sects all include directly transferred knowledge from teachers and tight-knit communities relative to the overall faith (Vajrayana stands out here) but that makes Shia something of an odd one out.

      My first-pass answers were all the “lite” versions of each faith, because it was the smallest leap from my current beliefs. Giving proper weight to “if I were X” means abandoning similarity my existing beliefs and gives some more interesting answers.

      Christian: Catholic
      Jewish: Reform
      Buddhist: Zen
      Muslim: Shia, but I’m not knowledgeable enough here

      Beyond those, I have a certain sympathy for esotericism and ritual/mystery groups from every branch: Gnostic, Kabbalistic, Vajrayana, Sufi.

    • Eli says:

      Hasidic? Why the hell not Modern Orthodox?

  5. Scott Alexander says:

    The weekly open threads here are starting to feel overdone. One possibility is to have open threads here even numbered weeks and on the subreddit odd-numbered weeks. I can link the subreddit thread somewhere prominent on the sidebar. Is there any way to make a single stable link that will go to whatever the current subreddit open thread is?

    • Anonymous says:

      >Is there any way to make a single stable link that will go to whatever the current subreddit open thread is?

      Don’t think this is possible to do in a trivial way – would require a bit of code.

    • Max says:

      (EDIT: This used to explain how to do it, but then I just went ahead and did it instead.)

      Use this URL: http://tinyurl.com/ssc-reddit-open-thread

      It will automatically update once per hour to point to the latest open thread on /r/slatestarcodex.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        It could be done client-side.

        • Max says:

          Yeah, but I don’t regularly do web scripting so I am much more familiar with how to do it server-side, and I didn’t want to spend ages working this out when I knew how to do at least something that worked.

          If you want to code that up, send it my way 🙂

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Just merge with the link posts.

    • Urstoff says:

      160 posts in less than 12 hours; clearly there’s a demand for open threads.

  6. Error says:

    Is the Solstice service and/or party recorded at all? I’m much too far away to attend (Atlanta) but always found the concept interesting and worthwhile.

  7. Anonymous says:

    [[I’m removing this because I’m not sure about the ethics of popularizing a thing that’s that mean to a named member of our community. I hadn’t fully read through that part when I posted a link to that blog earlier. If Ozy says they don’t mind I’ll unremove it. – Scott]]

    • Anonymous says:

      I didn’t read the criticism as mean in the sense of mean-spirited, more on the lines of tough-but-needed, but I understand if you don’t want to risk public drama.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I agree it wasn’t intended as mean-spirited, and for a certain amount of social cluelessness I could even believe they didn’t expect anyone to be upset, but yeah, I’d prefer not to rub it in, and I already feel really bad for popularizing that before I really knew what was in it and this is my way of signaling contrition. Thanks for being so understanding.

        • Anonymous says:

          On reflection it might have been better if they had censored the names of everyone they quoted, since there was no need for any of it to be personal (of course you could just google the text but few people would bother).

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Yeah, I think just using a hypothetical person instead of a real one would have been a better idea, if only to avoid the chance of hurting someone’s feelings or creating a wagon circling effect in their tribe. It’s a good piece with plenty of stuff I hadn’t thought about in regards to how people signal their mental health

      • 578493 says:

        [edit: I really need to learn to refresh the page before commenting.]

        Give Scott some credit; I doubt he’s just trying to avoid ‘public drama’. I found the post in question interesting, but it’s not hard to see why publicly psychoanalysing someone in order to hold them up as an example of Bad Mental Health Coping Strategy might be considered a dick move, and why raising it to prominence for further discussion in a place like this might do real harm.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I don’t know. It’s not like this was revealing privately shared information, or even tracking down something the person in question had thoughtlessly posted years ago on some message board without considering how it could later come back to haunt them. This was stuff that they shared publicly, for the purpose of showing what mental illness is like and, I’d wager, to tell the rest of us how we are supposed to react to it.*

          But why should we be obligated to agree with an activists’ interpretation just because they use themselves as an example? If you put something in the public arena, you’ve got to expect to be challenged.**

          * Correct me if I’m wrong here. I don’t follow Ozy.
          ** It is, of course, different when it’s somebody you actually know, as opposed to somebody on the internet.

          • anon says:

            Is it public? I haven’t been able to view Ozy’s tumblr for months so I assumed it was set to private somehow. It’s possible they blocked me but I don’t know why that would be the case, considering I’ve never interacted with them or anyone they know

          • Jaskologist says:

            If it wasn’t public then everything I said is forfeit, and OP is clearly in the wrong.

          • JBeshir says:

            I think it is… unkind to examine and critique harshly, in fine detail, publicly and non-anonymously, everything someone has said on a casual personal Tumblr/Facebook account/Twitter feed about how they feel and how they want to be treated and think others like themselves should be treated.

            Yes, it’s self-advocacy, and being politically active, and so if the choice when responding to it is between being unkind and being silent, we must let people be unkind. But I don’t think the choice *was* that- they could split the critique over multiple sources rather than making it a take down of a single person, or just plain be nicer to the person while critiquing them. Try not to “rake them over the coals” quite so much.

            They could acknowledge that failing to show rigour in a short, dubiously grammatical post on a personal Tumblr is not on par with failing to show rigour in an NYT editorial, and so not act so… surprised.

            I wouldn’t condemn them for it- failing to be kind in a blog post is hardly the worst thing ever, and to criticise them harshly for it would, in turn, be an unfair demand for exceptional virtue. I can definitely understand not wanting to popularise people who have been unkind, especially people who have been unkind to people you know, though.

          • Liskantope says:

            I appreciate the point that Hotelconcierge was trying to make (recently expanded on this on Tumblr), but completely agree that there were probably much better alternative ways to make it. Even if he wanted to use someone’s blog posts as an example, I suspect (admittedly, I’m not sure) that it wouldn’t be too difficult to dig up similar posts by someone else — a person such that they and their friends are much less likely to stumble across the critique — and quote them anonymously. I agree — and I think Hotelconcierge himself agrees — that the critique itself could also have been made more kindly, but that is slightly trickier. Anyway, while I think what he did was over the line, I’m pretty convinced from his response to Scott’s comments that he had no malicious intent and will probably try to be more conscientious in the future.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It was posted in April, when Ozy’s tumblr was still open.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Anyone want to put odds that it’s TLP? Odds that we’ll ever know?

      • Anonymous says:

        Did remind me of TLP a bit but TLP was never so rationalist in content or tone, plus the article didn’t mention narcissism so it can’t be him :P.

        • dndnrsn says:

          The writing style is reminiscent. There’s some stylistic things – the use of all-lowercase without full punctuation in picture captions. There’s some things that seem like direct callbacks to stuff TLP wrote (the line about dilaudid, for instance).

          It kind of reads like someone taking TLP’s style and formalizing it.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I joked about it, but I don’t think it is. For one thing, he mentions “I am not a doctor” at one point, which is surprising – he seems to know about the experience of medicine (not just textbook stuff) that he must be either a med student, nurse, or something like that.

        For another, he has a little more insecurity about him. TLP was always perfectly self-assured; this guy tries at it but sometimes just isn’t sure and seems like a normal person with normal person concerns.

        • nydwracu says:

          Works in an ER, I think.

        • Outis says:

          TLP got into some serious trouble, which resulted in the loss of his job, his medical license, or in general his ability to practice medicine. He stopped blogging because of the upheaval in his personal life. Unable to work as a psychiatrist any more, he eventually found work as a concierge in a hotel, which gave him enough stability and time to start blogging yet again. But the experience, and the fact that he is “not a doctor”( any more), has left his confidence somewhat shaken.

          • W.T. Dore says:

            Do you have a link to the new blog?

          • Outis says:

            W.T. Dore: judging by the comments earlier in the thread, I don’t think I should post it. Anyway, my post was just a conspiracy theory. It’s possible that this person is just aping TLP’s style and mannerisms.

      • suntzuanime says:

        She claims not to be TLP, for whatever that’s worth.

  8. Anon says:

    There is also the Bay Area solstice.

  9. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    A lot of people claim that the SSC comment section has been drifting right for a while. If we assume that is correct, what is the supposed mechanism behind the shift?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      That leftists are more uncomfortable with the presence of a few rightists than rightists are by the presence of a few leftists.

      Which I think comes from educated people being mostly leftist, so leftists are used to not having rightists around in most apparently-neutral-spaces but rightists have had to compromise and learn to deal with having leftists around.

      • 578493 says:

        You banned the worst of your right-wing commentors a while back, didn’t you? I don’t think any plausible explanation can fail to consider the effects of that. I’d be interested to hear more about your motives, too — obviously you wanted the comment section to be less of a shit-fest, but did you think through the less direct consequences?

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Why would banning the worst right-wingers increase the amount of right wing?

          • 578493 says:

            Yeah, I realised that my comment was pretty lightweight, so I was just about to add this (and then managed to post it as a reply to my other comment instead…):

            I really don’t know what the effects were, and I’m not even sure whether I remember the banning strategy correctly. What I have in mind, though, is that raising the bar for a certain group means presenting the rest of your readers with a cultivated selection of the most capable representatives of that group, unencumbered by the ones that would just annoy everyone and make the movement look bad. Which is fine if we’re really in the realm of pure ideas — why would we need to hear from the shitty advocates of a position when we have access to better presentations of it? — but in a political struggle it seems like a bit of a free kick to the side that you’re ostensibly cracking down on. More so when you’ve done a lot of (often high quality and important) work highlighting the shitty representatives of some of the opposing sides.

          • 578493 says:

            To be more specific, and to explain why I care about this: the average reader, when exposed to a random sample of [I think the name of the group I have in mind is tabooed here, so I’ll just say ‘far-right’] commentors, will be put off by the nasty ones who are gleefully racist/sexist/generally unpleasant. But if you ban the nasty ones, you’ll end up with a positively-skewed sample. From a pure marketplace of ideas perspective, that’s great: we all have a better chance of absorbing whatever insights the better class of far-rightist has to offer, without their signal being drowned out by low-quality noise. But none of us are perfect rationalists. The likelihood that we will accept an idea depends a lot on the emotional affect we attach to the idea and its representatives. So if your posts are full of case studies of progressives/SJWs/feminists being nasty and unreasonable, and your comments are sprinkled with an unrepresentatively intelligent & mild sample of far-right thought, your readers are likely to be drawn further to the right than is rationally justified. Since the contest of ideas is always part of a struggle for real-world power, and since the beneficiaries of a lurch to the right will include the nasty characters you’re protecting your readers from, this matters. If, even with the best of intentions, you help the extreme right to gain more sympathy and prestige than it deserves, the result will not be the creation of whatever utopia their nicer intellectuals are selling us.

          • Psmith says:

            An uncharitable summary: if you ban the crazies, you support their side. If you don’t ban the crazies, you also support their side.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I think the point they’re trying to make is that you need to ban everyone the crazies associate with, no matter how sane, or you’re providing aid and comfort to the crazies. Not sure if this is more or less charitable, is incoherent worse than villainous?

          • Evan Þ says:

            Seems to me another way out of it would be to ban an equal proportion of crazies on each side? That assumes each side has an equal proportion of crazies, of course…

          • One problem with “an equal proportion of crazies on each side” is that it requires an objective definition of “crazies.”

            In my view, a large fraction of the people preaching the dangers of AGW qualify–because they are going far beyond what the actual science implies into something pretty close to end of the world cult territory. Arguably that includes Obama.

            But obviously people who think there is a substantial chance that AGW will produce hundreds of millions of climate refugees and a dead ocean will disagree.

      • Odoacer says:

        Razib Khan, who is conservative, has mentioned that liberals in academia have privately messaged him in agreement on certain topics. They might be too afraid of dissenting from the current liberal dogma.

      • Dahlen says:

        Oh good, this came up.

        That leftists are more uncomfortable with the presence of a few rightists than rightists are by the presence of a few leftists.

        This is true. Can confirm – it’s a large part of the reason why I eventually left* LessWrong and am starting to leave LW-associated spaces (despite not being technically a leftist; I identify with them more in spirit than on object-level beliefs). The acceptance of far-right types or strongly libertarian people is also one of the first things critics of the LW rationality movement and associated people point out and are bothered by. (No idea how come most of these critics are blue tribe.)

        However, my suspected cause is a different way of engagement with the opposition, correlated with political sympathies. For some reason I think of leftist echo chambers more likely to exclude their “undesirables”, and then mock them from afar, and of rightist echo chambers more likely to keep theirs around as butt monkeys. The left might just have a lower tolerance for this kind of friction, whether they are in the majority or not. (Uncertainty warning: I’m not completely sure I’m not talking out of my ass here.)

        * This is not to say that I reject inter-faction dialogue, or fail to see the value in learning from someone with different beliefs, but for one, the gloves started to come off long ago, and for another, I’ve been doing this for the past two years or so (during which I had ample opportunity to learn about what makes rightists tick, and as you can see I’m still not a convert) and frankly, speaking to people who don’t share most of my values and who probably think I’m crazy, stupid, degenerate or various combinations thereof is simply not a nice way to spend my evenings. Why keep coming back to a crowd to which I have a mildly negative relationship, as long as I don’t get off on conflict?

        • “and frankly, speaking to people who don’t share most of my values and who probably think I’m crazy, stupid, degenerate or various combinations thereof is simply not a nice way to spend my evenings. ”

          Speaking as an extreme libertarian who has been arguing with a wide range of people for something over fifty years now, I think that describes the attitude of people on the left to those not on the left a good deal more than it describes the attitude of most of the right to those not on the right.

          I don’t know you, wonder how well you could reproduce the arguments of the people you disagree with. If you really understand their ideas as well as they do, you probably don’t have much to gain by arguing with them–but I rarely encounter people who meet that criterion. Scott is about as close as I’ve observed.

          Also, interpreting disagreement as entirely due to different values assumes away the possibility that people might disagree about the consequences of alternative policies. A lot of conservatives and libertarians believe that policies popular with the left produce bad results as judged by left wing values. Those are arguments worth engaging with, unless you are confident that you already fully understand them.

          • Dahlen says:

            I had a longer reply to David Friedman (about 350 words more), tried to post it several times and failed. Is there a 200-word limit to replies on this level? (Edit: Now whatever little I managed to post out of my reply has disappeared too. Imgur link to the reply. If this doesn’t work either, I give up.)

          • The link to your reply works. In it you write:

            “You are right that there is a ton of disagreements arising out of a different model of the world, where one is right and the other is wrong, but this is theoretically much more fixable than fundamental, psychological disagreements, assuming people are capable of changing their mind.”

            So why isn’t it worth trying to fix it by interacting with people who have a different model, parts of which might be correct? If there is any significant chance that policies you support make the world worse, by your values, rather than better, wouldn’t you like to know?

            It may be true that at some point you encounter differences based on different values, but at that point, unless you believe there is some way of discovering what values are true, you stop that line of investigation and switch to a more productive one.

          • Dahlen says:

            Mostly because I have indeed interacted with such people well past the point of diminishing returns, and being correct about politics is not all there is to life. I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time intellectually engaging with people from other factions; I barely ever read material catering to me. All out of a fear of being wrong. There comes a time when you need to assume that at least a few of your beliefs don’t need discarding, take a break from the internet and go do something you actually enjoy for once.

            I’ve already assimilated all the logos-based right-wing arguments which my conscience could muster, save for the ones based on complicated economic reasoning for which I lack a theoretical basis. Barring new discoveries about the world or having my brain rewired, I can and will go no further.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I had a longer reply to David Friedman (about 350 words more), tried to post it several times and failed. Is there a 200-word limit to replies on this level?

            I believe that Scott has placed a Taboo on the name of The-Ideology-That-Must-Not-Be-Named so that posts which contain it or its abbreviation, like yours, are now eaten by the spam filter.

        • Deiseach says:

          What interests me is this talk of all the far-rightists taking over the commentary here on SSC.

          There are certainly a few I’d call far-right, but not everyone. And I’d consider myself centre-right, or centrist but on the right side not the left side of the dividing line.

          So how right-wing are the rightists here? Is it more a case of very liberal* Blue Tribe people encountering right-wing views and thinking “My gosh, these are so extreme compared to what I know is good, true, right and normal!” that they label them as far right, when really it’s merely “right versus very left”?

          *When Scott, in the “Adam and Steve” post, has to go all the way back to the 1800s to imagine a dominant culture where marriage = monogamy, I have to think “okay, very liberal surroundings”.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            I’m pretty left-wing, and I certainly don’t consider you as one of the far-right commenters. Far-right views are things like “women have evolved to enjoy rape” and “everyone was better off under racial segregation”.

          • Theo Jones says:

            I’d also bin you in the center-right/main line conservative camp.

          • alexp says:

            It’s kind of funny because I always thought that going back 20 years made more sense than going back 200 years for a time when marriage always meant monogamy.

            Thought there was never a time when this was completely true.

          • Dahlen says:

            This place is still very mixed, but it might not stay that way for long if circlejerking becomes a normal feature of the comments section. I suspect Scott’s writings and network are what maintains the left-of-centre presence here after the social dynamics started discouraging it. If SSC became a forum, the rightward shift would accelerate.

            The extremists mostly come and go, but there seems to be at least one far right poster at any given time who is occasionally disruptive, in addition to the regulars with some extreme views that are nonetheless more polite and socially well-adjusted. Then they’re banned and a new wave comes.

            It’s not just the bubble effect. I hail from a somewhat traditionally-minded country and don’t have much of a youth presence in my life, and some of the views espoused here still strike me as something that would be considered outside of the mainstream where I’m from.

          • Chalid says:

            I’ve always thought of you as slightly right of center.

            The marriage!=monogamy thing is Scott’s personal bubble, shared by virtually none of his commenters 🙂

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Chalid
            The marriage!=monogamy thing is Scott’s personal bubble, shared by virtually none of his commenters

            I apologize if we haven’t been commenting loudly (or often) enough.

        • For some reason I think of leftist echo chambers more likely to exclude their “undesirables”, and then mock them from afar, and of rightist echo chambers more likely to keep theirs around as butt monkeys.
          I was basically having this exact same conversation with very similar observations (but not as amusingly phrased) earlier today. I think you are on to something.

          Most of the liberals I know just aren’t interested in debating with non-liberals. They want to hang out with other liberals where they can further, hrm, purify their thought processes. For the past decade or so (the time period when I’ve been paying attention,) it’s seemed like liberalism (or those who call themselves liberal) made a big shift from being essentially a stable meta-ethic about non-interference (freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, etc.) in the lives of others, to an arrow of change (“progress,” if you will,) in which one is constantly receiving and absorbing new wisdom in order to “educate oneself” and become a better person. So a decade ago, one was perhaps advocating for gay issues, but had never heard of trans folks; today, people are calling for trans folks to be allowed to use the restroom of their choice and so on. A decade ago, one may have proudly claimed not to “see race;” today that same person believes it is imperative to recognize “the violence done by society against black bodies.”

          In the process, the meta-ethic of respecting other people’s beliefs fell by the wayside. It’s hard to simultaneously say, “I respect trans people, and I respect people who think trans people are mentally ill,” without pissing off the trans people. Supporting gays, blacks, women, trans folks, etc., is now seen as incompatible with simultaneously supporting the meta-ethic of allowing or respecting other people not to support gays, blacks, women, trans folks, etc.

          When you are constantly moving forward and have to figure out what the latest thing you are supposed to believe to be a good person is, you don’t have a lot of time to argue with people who just want to pull you backwards.

          On top of that, there’s a personality issue. The liberals I know seem to really like consensus and dislike conflict. Whereas most of the conservatives–even the super-polite ones–seem to be just fine with disagreeing with other people. They might keep their mouths shut if they think it inappropriate to interject their opinions, but they don’t mind the fact that they associate with people who have opinions different from themselves. In a sense, they still believe, vaguely, in the meta-ethic (though if they were in charge, they probably wouldn’t. One’s belief in the meta-ethic probably has a lot to do with whether one is on top or on the bottom.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @EvolutinistX:
            I think you are making a mistake in modeling the meta-ethical thought process.

            The “argument gets counter argument, not bullet” point is repeated, and I think this essentially the meta-ethical problem you are identifying. I think it also gets applied selectively, and I think you are doing it here.

            Respecting other people’s beliefs is required. But what if they believe they are allowed to “shoot bullets” at certain people they disagree with? How do you resolve that meta-ethical problem?

            If A thinks that X is outside the bullet free zone, should that idea be tolerated by the group containing X?

            At a very simple level, if your ideas seem to map to “we should be able to discriminate against blacks, gays and women” (leave out for the present whether they actually do) then a liberal can reasonably say “You want to be able to fire bullets at people you disagree with, and that is the one idea I can’t tolerate”

            I agree with your point that liberals tend to like conflict less. I think it’s because we tend to actually want what we say we want, which is essentially the elimination of outgroups. Of course being intolerant of conflict is actually a bad way of eliminating outgroups, but that’s a different story.

          • Jiro says:

            I’d suggest that you should try to hurt people who you disagree with but are not attacking you personally if they are causing harm and if the type of error that results in them causing harm is particularly inexcusable. Of course, there can be disagreement on what is inexcusable, but I think even a pro-lifer can understand that killing someone who is verbally and in clear German telling you not to kill him is different from killing a fetus. Even if the fetus is a person, thinking it’s not is an understandable error.

          • Anonymous says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I think how broad your definition of bullet is goes a long way toward determining whether you really are following the “argument gets counter argument, not bullet” approach. For example, I don’t think the claim “anyone disagreeing with me on anything is a bullet; I therefore think it should be illegal for anyone to disagree with me; but this is still permissive and tolerant, I just have a different definition of what is and isn’t a bullet than you do” is particularly defensible.

            It is my observation that the Blue Tribe definition of what counts as a bullet has expanded over time. Whether they have good reasons for that expansion is a separate issue, but I don’t think you can handwave this observation by claiming that what a person counts as a bullet is totally orthogonal to how tolerant they are of disagreement.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Anonymous:
            But that isn’t a meta-ethical point. That is a problem in execution or application.

            I think people all across the spectrum take valid ethical positions and then apply them incorrectly or selectively, but that is very different than not holding the ethical position in the first place.

        • The problem is, politics is really personal. I am actually working on a right-wing version of how to express our values – obviously very different from yours – on a more personal lifestyle level. Explicit carnivorism, weight lifting for the feeling of physical dominance, tougher martial arts for the same reason, chopper bikes and so on.

          My point is, you avoid politics but perhaps discuss forms of exercise. You may or may not notice there are the same basic considerations behind as in politics. http://www.psmag.com/health-and-behavior/half-lifts-workout-says-social-class-85221

          So you eventually run into politics anyway. Perhaps the best idea is to discuss, also with people on the other side, like myself, the “metapolitics”, the psychology of it all. My proposal is that everything is about status, left is more prestige status and right is more dominance status.

          • dndnrsn says:

            TheDividualist:

            I have seen articles by left-wingers arguing against the idea that personal practices seen as “left wing” are revolutionary/radical – along the lines of “getting high and having kinky sex with lots of people is not going to destroy capitalist white supremacist heterosexist patriarchy”.

            The whole Jack Donovan “get together and lift weights and shoot guns and live with your gang on a compound in the woods” sort of deal – isn’t that prey to the same criticism? Jeff Monson, to take the most huge and terrifying left-wing guy I can think of off the top of my head – it’s not as though weights and 84 MMA fights have made him right-wing.

            A lifestyle that focuses on strength and violence will exclude those who are neutral or negative towards those things, just as a lifestyle of sex and drugs will. There will be some overlap with political views, in both cases, but is there enough to create hardcore activists?

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ Scott Alexander
        That leftists are more uncomfortable with the presence of a few rightists than rightists are by the presence of a few leftists.

        For me the problem is not how many rightist commenters there are, but how many comments of a certain style, and how many sideswipe zingers in them.

        Disclaimers – I may not be noticing similar faults in my own side’s comments; and I probably don’t represent those people who have left, since I’m still here (though not commenting as often as I’d like).

        • I’ve spent a good deal of time arguing with people online over the past thirty years or so. The very worst comments I see here are if anything a bit above the average elsewhere.

          I don’t care if people post “sideswipe zingers.” What matters is that most people here seem to be trying to make actual arguments for their positions rather than taking the exchange as an opportunity to insult those who disagree with them and boast of their own superior wisdom and virtue.

          Which is why I almost certainly spend more time here than anywhere else, probably than all places else combined, online.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ David Friedman
            I don’t care if people post “sideswipe zingers.” What matters is that most people here seem to be trying to make actual arguments for their positions rather than taking the exchange as an opportunity to insult those who disagree with them and boast of their own superior wisdom and virtue.

            Hm? What I mean by sideswipe zingers, or any sideswipes, is “taking the exchange as an opportunity to insult [in a condensed form] those [not present company] who disagree with them and [by implication] boast of their own superior wisdom and virtue”.

          • JuanPeron says:

            My complaint with the insult + derail pattern here isn’t the level of vitriol, or a lack of rationality. It’s only with a tendency for people to push certain issues into every comment chain, with a tendency to mindkill any discussion it happens in.

            That said, Scott has been very good lately about shutting down needless derailment, and in general the ‘aggressive but topical’ debates here are really quite good. Interestingly, they seem to have a higher rationality waterline than most of LessWrong, which has a larger stream of ignorant or dishonest respondents.

        • Dirdle says:

          This, basically. I’m not sure if it’s actually so – I’ve recently been trying to keep track of some of the more blatant political-shot-taking in the comments, but there’s mercifully not actually that much (woo! go us!), so it’s not really going anywhere fast – but it certainly feels like if you post a right-wing opinion you mostly get a productive discussion, but posting a left-wing opinion of similar extremity gets a multitude of different replies asking how you can dare (dis)agree with [thing], and not-quite-snidely adding something along the lines of “thats the problem with those leftists.”

          If we mostly agree as a community that leftist opinions really are just stupider, well, maybe so, but then we can hardly complain when the people holding those opinions don’t want to hang around. Why stay with friends who speak poorly of you and then insinuate that you’re just too sensitive when you complain?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            To boost this idea, “That’s the problem with leftists” is a frequent comment type here (over the last year that I have been active, anyway).

            I can’t remember seeing “that’s the problem with conservatives” from anyone who is a regular.

            I feel like that this comment type, the broad over-generalization, is supposed to be anathema in this space and that anyone who is liberal here has absorbed that norm, or goes elsewhere.

          • Chalid says:

            Do extreme left-wing opinions ever really get posted anymore? I’m basically center-left, probably toward the right side of the US Democratic party, so if you ordered the population on a left-right scale I’d probably be about 75% of the way to the left. And while I don’t read every comment, I feel like it’s pretty rare that I see a substantial comment staking out a position that is more left than mine.

            (And when I do it’s usually a grey-aligned idea, e.g. open borders)

          • Technically Not Anonymous says:

            Self-selection, yo. It’s no surprise that a blog known for its anti-SJ posts is going to scare away hard leftists. And it attracts anti-leftists commenters whose views and are …less sophisticated than Scott’s, which makes the leftists want to either shut up or leave.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ HeelBearCub
            To boost this idea, “That’s the problem with leftists” is a frequent comment type here (over the last year that I have been active, anyway).
            I can’t remember seeing “that’s the problem with conservatives” from anyone who is a regular

            +

          • JBeshir says:

            As someone who when pushed to name their side thinks that “left” is a closer descriptor and who is closer to the “liberal” result on Moral Foundation tests, “That’s the problem with leftists, [thing which boils down to accusing them of all being lying Stalinist power seekers so they can finish the job of controlling all thought in society]” is both a quite common comment type and probably the thing I find most off-putting here.

            Especially when you get little chains of people affirming it and agreeing it is common knowledge, I would expect that anywhere this got commonly said would tend to shed left-aligned people and be poorly thought of.

            It’s no different to the “Right-wingers are all compassionless sociopaths” thing that goes around elsewhere, and I imagine that, especially when affirmed by groups, makes those communities shed right-aligned people and be poorly thought of by them too.

            It’s true that there’s something to the former, but also that there’s something to the latter- people in the two groups have marginally different levels of concern for different values, thus different things they think society is already worrying about too much already, and both usually fail to factor in the concerns that they think society is already worrying about too much in their proposals (and thus produce awful proposals).

            But said “something” is a lot milder than the actual statement in both cases, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for being turned off by either sentiment.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Chalid:
            “Do extreme left-wing opinions ever really get posted anymore?”

            I have seen perhaps two commentors that match. I can only really remember one, actually. On the the book review of the Brit liberal turned anti-communist there was a fervent communist, IIRC.

          • Anonymous says:

            The other thing I often see is little cliques of commenters tossing around an assumption that should rightly be questioned (esp. by anyone calling themselves Rationalists), but which instead sits comfy in its own little echo chamber.

          • keranih says:

            To boost this idea, “That’s the problem with leftists” is a frequent comment type here (over the last year that I have been active, anyway).

            I might have done this – I don’t immediately recall having done so, but it feels like the sort of thing that I might have done.

            I did not recognize this as a significant issue. Looking at it, I can see where this can be a problem. Henceforth, I resolve to try to remember to not use this format, and to question its use where I see it.

          • Chalid says:

            That’s the problem with leftists” is a frequent comment type here

            It wouldn’t be so bad if this type of comment came with statistics or evidence that leftists are actually being accurately described, but it generally doesn’t. At best it comes with handwavy philosophizing or an anecdote about the poster’s Twitter feed.

          • Neurno says:

            I consider myself to be a far-left rationalist (I was raised progressive quaker, and went left-er and more rational and athiest from there). On political test maps (e.g. political compass) I find myself placed so far left that the multiple choice tests don’t often even have choices for my true full views on political matters. I enjoy polite and well-thought-out comments from all areas of the political spectrum. Whenever I consider an unsatisfying political comment, I try to imagine what a smarter, more rational version of that person would say if they had approximately the same underlying values.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Honestly, from my (fairly conventional right-wing) perspective, it looks more like the comments section isn’t necessarily shifting rightward so much as it’s shifting libertarian-ward – you still won’t find any real Republicans here, but there are scads of people willing to criticize the role of the State in society/the latest social justice fad/new gun control push.

            We have a handful of Catholics and evangelicals (I’d put myself somewhere in between), but their views also don’t seem to map to conventionally right-wing positions. Basically, what I’m saying is you’d never mistake any of the posters here for a National Review writer.

            However, inasmuch as the modern US considers libertarianism to be “right-wing,” I must agree that the comments here have gotten significantly more tilted that direction since I first showed up a couple of years ago. The fact that we can say, “Well, there was that one communist a few weeks ago…” is evidence of this – the communist has become the exception, not the rule.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Straight out communism is sort of crazy though. I mean thinking that a post scarcity economy will use communism isn’t, but thinking the government should run the entire economy… well, it is a bit to off the wall and outside the American Overton window to function.

          • @Skinner:

            But then, anarcho-capitalism is also outside the Overton window, and there are several of us here.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I guess the important difference is the reason- rejection or ignorance of the position, although this doesn’t explain the lack of syndicalists in the comment threads. Does no one on the left subscribe to that anymore or are there simply too few in our area of the internet?

      • If you can live an in environment that’s 95% free if the contaminant your disgust response might kick in to get you to eliminate the remaining 5%, but if you are always covered in (what your brain kind of processes as dung) then you’re probably best off not feeling any disgust.

      • My own impression is that there is relatively few regular conservatives around SSC, but that there is an unusual concentration of quite vocal dark-enlightenment-types. Considering that they kinda advocate removing democracy, which is pretty far-right in most people’s minds, I’m guessing that makes the comments seem more right wing than the views of the average commentor, at least to casual or left wing people. I’ve seen one or maybe two communists commenting, which is as left as you can go, but they don’t seem to comment quite as often. My impression of the average commentor is them being grey tribe kinda libertarian crossed with centrist, but I think there’s a big variety and that’s good.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Citizensearth:
          I think it is correct that there are few “regular” conservatives here. But there are few “regular” anything here. I’m not sure that really tells you anything about the balance of conservative vs. liberal thought espoused.

          If I had to guess at the tone of the median comment, it would be conservative libertarian.

          • My 2 cents: SSC seems to extremely liberal about sex and gender, and indeed moderate-libertarianish with kinda bourgeois values about everything else.

            So basically standard geeks, something this was noticed about the Eric Raymond type hacker culture decades ago.

          • onyomi says:

            If the median commenter is a conservative libertarian, does that mean half of SSC readers are more anti-government or more conservative than say, me?? I find that pretty implausible, though I am mildly tickled to be considered the median anything when it comes to politics. If we’re talking about statistical mode, then maybe.

        • Maware says:

          The types that must not be named are happening because the average conservative is moving to the left, and the average leftist even further left. If you’re an iconoclast of a conservative temperament, you have the choice between the party that accepts gay marriage fast, or accepts it slow. The types that are flourishing some are happening because of that. If the battle is lost, what do you do if you can’t surrender?

        • Nathan says:

          I would say the median commenter is a socially liberal libertarian, probably onyomi or Friedman. Deiseach somewhat right of median, myself probably further right, Scott slightly left of median, HeelBearCub and James Picone further left, etc.

          I look forward to Scott doing another survey to see if those results match my perceptions.

          • This may be the first time I have ever been classified as median. I suppose it’s a result of trying to squeeze a multidimensional reality into a one dimensional line.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Instead of waiting for Scott to do another survey, you could use his old survey. You’d have to go back and read the comments of a year ago. You could then compare your perception of those comments to that survey; and compare your perception of those comments to these comments.

        • moridinamael says:

          I think there might be some value in distinguishing between different senses of holding a position. Like, I “unconsciously and reflexively” exhibit conservative thoughts, I “rationally and deliberatively endorse” more libertarian perspectives, but I will only “verbally argue for” positions that I both rationally endorse and reflexively feel. So this probably places a weird filter on my posting history where I look like a conservative and talk like a conservative even though I identify as libertarian and consistently score as libertarian on all political spectrum quizzes.

          Maybe everybody else here is way more consistent then I am in terms of feeling-thinking, but I doubt it.

      • W.T. Dore says:

        The “good, righteous” leftists may also be uncomfortable with being argued against constantly. They might leave because they have rounded this space off to “bad, unrighteous”.
        Got this from the associated subreddit, thought it may apply.

    • Theo Jones says:

      I like the current balance. Part of the reason I read/comment here (recently started commenting, long time lurker) is that this community has a good mix of conservative and liberal viewpoints represented. Most internet communities have a hegemony of one viewpoint or the other. If it matters, if pressed I would identify my political views as centrist.

    • Chalid says:

      Well pure chance is always something to consider. People come and go, and there aren’t so many frequent commenters interested in discussing left/right issues that you can depend on the law of large numbers to keep things even. I’d guess that the top 10 commenters would make up over half the comment text written about politics here. And of course there tends to be an ideological positive feedback loop.

      If I were to look for a “cause” beyond that, though, I’d probably start by checking to see if Scott’s referral mix had changed, which would drive commenter change with some lag. That might also give a clue as to whether his posts had changed ideologically.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Because when Scott identifies things about the current world which are bad and evil, they are almost always things which liberals hold dear or identify liberals as bad. He is much more charitable towards conservatives and conservative ideas.

      Scott’s preferred explanation above is another example of this.

      • onyomi says:

        But in a way, I think this actually speaks to the fact that Scott still views his primary readership as being fundamentally liberal and/or left wing in some way. Consider his recent post on “setting the default.” It kind of boiled down to “guys, maybe those culture warriors we all dismiss as being illiberal know-nothings actually kind of have a point.”

        Consider the opposite case: a post by Scott saying, “you know guys, there are actually some good pro-gay marriage arguments out there.” Almost all of the SSC readership would be like, “d’uh,” which, to my mind, proves that our fundamental assumptions around here are quite liberal (in the traditional sense), if not always blue-tribe/leftist (though I think they also tend that way as well).

        Scott likes to be a Haidt-esque contrarian, I’ve noticed. He likes to point out blind spots to his own tribe. If he frequently posts things attacking liberal or leftist orthodoxy I think it’s because he sees himself and his readership as being more likely to have blind spots there, because that’s where most of them are situated.

        Also, if a blue tribe member wants an intelligent left-wing perspective on how dumb right wing ideas are they don’t really need to go to SSC. They can just open the NYT or Atlantic.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I agree with your hypothetical about gay marriage, but I think that right-wingers on here tend to be me more liberal about gay marriage (and to an extent transgenderism) than on race or gender issues. I don’t remember ever seeing a left-wing comment on an economic question.

          • Theo Jones says:

            There seems to be a lot of support for basic income type proposals here.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            The basic income is an odd concept, as although it does have considerable left-wing support, it also has support from e.g. Milton Friedman.

          • I think what may be going in with regard to the views of right wing people here on gay marriage vs race and gender issues is rationalism. If you are a rationalist and believe, as may well be true, that there are substantial innate differences in the distribution of abilities by gender or by race, it’s natural to say so–rationalism doesn’t fit very well with “that’s true but saying it is tabu.” But saying it is tabu in blue tribe culture–quite aside from whether it is true.

            It’s a lot harder, although I’m sure not impossible, to create plausible reasons why gay marriage being bad is a fact rather than a value, and so speaking truth, being rational, requires you to say so.

          • Basic income proposals, like a carbon tax, have an interesting relation to pro-market views–which are at least part of what we associate with red tribe (and grey tribe). From the pro-market standpoint, they are the right way of doing something if you are going to do it.

            One of the reasons I think well of Hansen is that he gives the correct economic argument for a carbon tax over more direct forms of subsidy or regulation. Similarly, if you believe in the free market, it obviously makes more sense to help poor people by giving them money and letting them decide how to spend it than by a detailed system of subsidy and regulation run by welfare workers.

            On the other hand, this assumes that it is something you want to do. My disagreement with Hansen is that he is confident that warming has large net negative consequences, I’m not confident that the consequences are negative at all. And many on the right think having the government use tax money to subsidize the poor is, for one of a variety of reasons, a bad idea—even if done in the least bad way.

          • @David Friedman

            >It’s a lot harder, although I’m sure not impossible, to create plausible reasons why gay marriage being bad is a fact rather than a value

            Why, Susan M. Shell provided a decent work here (PDF): http://www.nationalaffairs.com/doclib/20080710_20041561theliberalcaseagainstgaymarriagesusanmshell.pdf

            It really demonstrates the strength and cohesion of the ruling narrative that a Boston College professor’s article is almost unheard and unknown if it does not match it.

          • anonymous says:

            When libertarians talk about basic income i remember the yiddish proverb “Good tidings are heard from far away.”

            It costs nothing to advocate basic income in a culture that’s headed the other way as fast as it can.

      • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

        HeelBearCub: Speaking as someone who agrees with Scott on most things… you’re right.

        Scott hasn’t exactly been defending or promoting Red Tribe ideas; but he’s been criticizing Blue Tribe ideas more than Red Tribe ideas. This has made him a sort of unwitting ally of the Red Tribe.

        I’m in the same boat as him. Criticizing the Red Tribe is pointless for me because I’m surrounded by Blues. So I criticize the Blues… and that makes me appear Red, even though I’m really Grey.

        • God Damn John Jay says:

          He wrote two massive articles, one criticizing [tabooed] and the other criticizing libertarians.

          Last time he wrote an anti-social justice post was 11/09 with the gift horse post.

          Next most recent was 10/23 – A Whiter Shade of Candidate which was not particularly conservative.

          Next would be 09/22 – Beware Systemic Change. He wrote a few posts around August defending MIRI/Singularity research, which touched on the aspergish white nerd issue.

          Next was 07/22 with Freedom On The Centralized Web. Next was probably

          05/19 – Beware Summary Statistics. Next was probably 04/19 – Blame Theory.

          04/10 and 04/08 had posts about Growth Mindset. 03/26 – Extremism In Thought Experiment Is No Vice which was not a conservative post but defended a conservative.

          02/14 had Drug Testing Welfare Users Is A Sham, But Not For The Reasons You Think. 02/11 had Black People Less Likely.

          01/24 had Perceptions Of Required Ability Act As A Proxy For Actual Required Ability In Explaining The Gender Gap.

          Finally 01/01 had the legendary Untitled.

          This overall comes to about one right wing-ish post per month, during which time he only made one serious insult to a person (and was consistently raked over the coals for it). By contrast he posted multiple works of fiction and heavily researched articles on topics in medicine. By contrast read any post on Slate / Salon / Jezebel and you will see crude caricatures of political opponents and blatant ad-hominems explaining how their enemies are stupid and ugly. If you dislike Scott’s writing I don’t think the problem is that he is being too hard on the left.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            I agree with you 99.99%, but honestly, saying “He’s not nearly as bad as Salon/Jezebel” is the faintest praise possible.

          • Theo Jones says:

            @Whatever Happened to Anonymous
            Salon/Jezebel clickbait probably was a bad comparison. But still Scott’s political writing is better than 90% of mainstream political writing. This is because Scott 1)tries to understand opposing views, 2)generally refrains from bad faith arguments, 3) doesn’t endorse attempts to personally destroy people who disagree with him, 4)generally concedes blatant errors, 5) isn’t over-confident in the strength of his arguments, 5) assumes that the rights and preferences of those who disagree with him still matter. Sure, all of those should be pretty much universal among commentators who retain any credibility. But in the current hyper-partizan and toxic U.S political climate, they aren’t.

          • anonymous says:

            You really want this subject to go away.

        • Dan T. says:

          He’s one of the more thoughtful, articulate spokespeople for the Grey (or Gray?) Tribe these days, and while this tribe has cultural values mostly from the Blue Tribe (and political positions taken from both other tribes), their main opposition in today’s Culture Wars, particularly in places such as college campuses and anywhere else where tech/gaming/atheist/skeptic/rationalist/geeky types can be found, is the Blue Tribe (the Red Tribe has very little presence in such circles), so that’s what most of his criticism ends up aimed.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Daniel Kokotajlo:

          This is kind of the conclusion I’ve come to, although slightly different. I’ve had essentially this conversation with HeelBearCub before.

          Being “blue tribe” or whatever you want to call it usually means being surrounded by similar people, meaning that when people you know post dumb political stuff on Facebook, they’re posting dumb left-wing stuff. If you have a majority of left-wingers on Facebook or whatever, it follows that a majority of the annoying stuff (empty posturing, bad statistics, whatever) will be left-wing, and if you criticize something it will probably be left-wing.

        • I suggest comparing Scott to George Orwell. Orwell was a democratic socialist. He wrote things criticizing both left and right. But the work of his that stands out is his criticism of his own side.

        • Dain says:

          Right (so to speak), which is why I consider Scott a de facto member of the right at this point. An adherence to thinking for its own sake – the rationalist’s bread and butter – will provoke far more probing exploration of the Blue Tribe’s arguments because they’re dominant, and their talking points more tempting to deconstruct.

          http://dryhyphenolympics.com/2015/06/14/yes-even-polyamorous-drug-users-are-conservative/

          • HeelBearCub says:

            This attitude, right here, is what I find infuriating about the comments section, and it is also why I find what Scott is doing to be harmful.

            Now, don’t twist my words. Not harmful on net, not intentionally harmful, etc.

            But Scott is in the act of persuading people that “an adherence to thinking for its own sake” is some how the enemy of liberals/the left and friend to the conservatives/the right.

          • suntzuanime says:

            What I find infuriating about the comments section is the large fraction of commentators who take it as read that improving the status of conservatism automatically equates to harmful.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There seem to be two major groups who consider anyone not an SJW to be a conservative. One is conservatives trying to recruit, as Breitbart has been doing. The other is the SJWs themselves, who try to shame other left-of-center people to their position by claiming anyone who disagrees is a *shudder* conservative.

            But this is nonsense; there’s more than two groups. There still are _liberal_ liberals, and they still have fundamental disagreements even with more libertarian conservatives. These disagreements are probably smaller than those they have with the current SJW-left, but they’re quite significant.

            Check out the comments on r/KotakuInAction (liberal left worker ants) versus AccordingToHoyt (libertarian right, Sad Puppies associated) versus Vox Populi (rather less libertarian right).

            The American conservative trio of God, Guns, and Country is very much in evidence on AccordingToHoyt (and more so in other Sad Puppy associated blogs). Also in Vox Populi, with old fashioned racism and hatred of “inferiors” a big part of it. Almost completely absent from KotakuInAction; nobody talks about God or Country, and guns are somewhat disputed territory.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @TheNybbler:
            If we could taboo “left”, “right”, “conservative” and “liberal” around here I would be perfectly happy for it to happen.

            I don’t think that is possible.

            I try (perhaps not successfully) to not use these terms, but find that I am forced to do so because I am responding to comments that characterize left/liberals in one broad weakman.

            Edit: And to be clearer, I really try not to characterize “the right” broadly, but rather, refer to specific sub-groups and their qualities. This is especially important for me to do because I am on “the left”.

          • anonymous says:

            @TheNybbler
            For a comment whose basic point is that there are lots of different ideological groups out there, those three examples are rather … parochial.

            @HeelBearClub
            There’s at least one regular poster who delights in posting screeds about “the Blue Tribe” writ large, which I find even worse.

          • James Picone says:

            @Suntzuanime:
            “Making it common knowledge that conservatives Think For Themselves and the left doesn’t” is not the same as “Improving the status of conservatives”. The latter is much more classical-liberal-values-neutral. The former is false.

      • lvlln says:

        As a far-left member of the Blue tribe, I’ve never once felt that this indicates any sort of right-wing bend in Scott Alexander or his comment sections or the way he manages his comment sections. I’ve always seen it as him noticing that in this currently world, criticism of bad things in this world that the left hold dear seem disproportionately small compared to the criticisms of bad things in this world that the right hold dear. This may be affected by the environments in which Scott Alexander and I reside, but this seems obviously true to me. Bad actions/politics from the right are consistently derided vigorously and relentlessly, often without much care for honesty or veracity, while bad actions/politics from the left are at best ignored and at worst completely denied and you must be an evil conservative shitlord for even believing that such things could be considered bad.

        As such, writing long intricate essays criticizing right-wing evils adds very little to the conversation and creates very little good in the world compared to writing long intricate essays criticizing left-wing evils. This is despite the fact that (to me, and according to my observations to Scott Alexander) left-wing values and politics are unquestionably better than right-wing values and politics by a huge amount. In this situation, someone who supports left-wing values and wishes to push the world in a more left-ward direction can rationally attack actions and policies of people on the left more than they attack those on the right without any sort of dissonance in their thinking.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          “This may be affected by the environments in which Scott Alexander and I reside”

          Assuming the predicate (that neither you nor Scott want to bend the world in a conservative direction), then this part of the statement seems obvious to me.

          Statements about how bad arguments by those on the left are not challenged, but bad arguments on the right are … well, there are just bunk. Bad arguments on both sides are ignored by the more tribal and/or more credulous on that side. The worst arguments of the other side are always signal boosted on your side. There is nothing unique about left/right in that regard.

          People on the right don’t mock Jim Inhofe for bringing a snowball onto the floor of Congress to “disprove” climate change. They cite him approvingly, or ignore him. People on the left savage him. But I guarantee that people on the right are well aware of, and savaging Maxine Waters, or the latest graphic that cites “gun deaths”.

          I get the sense that perhaps people are not hanging out in mainstream conservative spaces and therefore are only exposed (via a sort of osmosis) to the mainstream arguments of those close to them. The mainstream does not like nuance. The mainstream is tribal. This is not unique to left or right.

          I think the lack of sports fandom in these spaces hampers peoples ability to see this clearly. Fans in sports rivalries hate the other side and make brain dead arguments about them (all while being thoroughly convinced that the arguments are irrefutable). Seriously, every rivalry is this way.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            To be fair, often the hatred in sports rivalries is a sort of affable hatred, and the tribalism is often cheerfully acknowledged.

            The latest Chiefs/Raiders showdown (the Raiders were the examples my parents used to teach young Chevalier what a sports rivalry even /was/) was full of commenters telling the other side things along the line of “I hope you bastards never go away because it’d be a pain to find someone else to hate at this point.”

            Political rivalries, on the other hand…

    • stargirl says:

      What counts as “right wing.” The set of SSC fans do not seem very liberal to me. Rationalist tumblr is not a fair sample but I follow rational tumblr pretty closely. Recently nostalgiabrist posted that he would be uncomfortable if a person had sex with a dead chicken. The most common reaction on tumblr was something like “there is nothing wrong with fucking a chicken. I am concerned/creeped out that anyone in the in-group would judge someone for something as harmless as fucking a chicken.” This seems like the least conservative community response I have heard of. Maybe we need to post the chicken question to SSC but I think the response is going to be way less conservative than that of almost any community.

      What the community is becoming is more anti-SJ. I do not see how this is avoidable. The current LW-sphere contains many people who are either openly anti-feminist or consider HBD likely. A common attitude among SJWs is that people with either belief set do not belong in polite society. As an example: If a SJW was on a hiring committee and knew an applicant was “pro-HBD” the SJW would probably try to block the hiring.

      The attitudes of SJWs may or may not be good for society on net. But they are definitely hostile to the LW in group. The LW-sphere either needs to either purge its undesirables/extremists (especially the HBD people) or accept it is not going to be friendly with SJ. It is not controversial that the mainstream SJ view is that being friends with racists is not ok. Where as the sequences say we should “tolerate tolerance.” This is a fundamental conflict. Its unclear which side is right but the conflict cannot just be ignored.

      • HlynkaCG says:

        HBD?

        • stargirl says:

          It stands for human bio-diversity. Being pro-HBD means believing in cognitive or temperamental differences between the races. :West Hunter” is a human bio-diversity blog and is in the sidebar. Scott often discusses talking to “Jayman” who also runs an HBD blog. Steve Sailer is also discussed positively by Scott and Steve Saler also openly believes in important cognitive differences between the races.

          Here is an openly “racist” article from the gene expression blog on the sidebar: http://www.unz.com/gnxp/biologists-some-minorities-cant-do-math/ .

          I personally believe in the “tolerate tolerance” idea. But it is just ridiculous to expect SJ types to not be hostile to the community when the community openly tolerates out-right racism.

          • Your definition of “outright racism” being “factual beliefs, possibly true, about racial differences”?

            If so, not “tolerating racism” means not tolerating arguments for factual beliefs one disagrees with. Which I would view as a very illiberal attitude.

            To me, “racism” implies something like hostility to people because of their race. Using it to cover beliefs about racial differences looks to me like a tactic for avoiding factual arguments that one is not confident of winning.

          • stargirl says:

            Whether I personally consider this racism is not very important. What is important is that a large fraction of people consider holding certain “Factual beliefs” to be racist. And virtually everyone who considers themselves a SJ person/feminist thinks that the “Factual beliefs” + attitude in that article is open, outright racism.

          • Whether one considers it blue, red, racist, antiracist, or whatever, the attitude “arguments for factual beliefs I disapprove of ought not to be tolerated, and people who tolerate them ought to be shunned” is an illiberal attitude. It makes a very bad fit with rationalism in general and the tone of this blog and its author in particular.

            That doesn’t depend on whether it or he is more left or right–it would make just as bad a fit if the factual claims whose toleration was objected to were left wing ones.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            It’s the title. If it is an attempt at being humorous it is in poor form. If it’s an attempt to infuriate, I’m sure it succeeds. It is trying to stick a thumb in the eye of those who disagree with the approach and conclusions of HBD proponents. It is attempting to sound racist.

            So, the fact that you just breeze past the title as if this matters not at all is … interesting.

          • TheNybbler says:

            Khan’s attitude is certainly nasty (check the comments), and the title is inflammatory clickbait. But the reasoning in the article makes more sense than the one it is lampooning, which points to the same discrepancy in scores and concludes “therefore the test is flawed”.

            And saying that I find the “differences are real” explanation better than the “test is flawed” explanation would mark me as a racist in the eyes of many. Certainly among all the SJ people I have contact with (but they think I’m horrible anyway). This is true regardless if I include a nasty dig about minorities not being able to do math. In fact, I’d wager that if I didn’t include such a dig, then when the SJ people characterize my positions, they would characterize them with such a dig.

            At the graduate level there are other explanations besides HBD or bad tests. For instance, the effect of positive discrimination (affirmative action) earlier on. But that explanation would not make the SJ people any happier.

          • Neurno says:

            I apologize in advance for a somewhat off-topic comment about HBD, but I feel my radical left viewpoint is being under-represented. As a radical leftist I believe that equality-of-mind is far more important than equality-of-capital. As a neuroscientist, I see the brain as a machine than can be taken apart, fixed/upgraded, and put back together. Hypothetically speaking, if a radical brain surgery existed which had an 80% chance of upgrading the recipient two standard deviations of IQ and a 20% chance of killing them or making them much worse off, at what level of intelligence should we consider an adult intelligent enough to make the decision as to whether to accept this surgery? My guess is around half a standard deviation above average IQ.(less than that, and it should be mandatory). A good way to figure out exactly where this cutoff should be would be to give each subject a factual document regarding the surgery, and if they then were able to pass a test on the material they would be allowed to make up their own mind.
            In my worldview, minor differences between races (although real) seem like a petty and irrelevant topic for discussion.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @Neurno,

            When you get to the point that you think killing 14% of the population (~45 million people) is a reasonable move, you should really step back and reevaluate the situation. Are those two standard deviations such a life-and-death issue?

            The irony being that, since you subscribe to racial IQ differences, by your own estimation your hypothetical would end up killing proportionally many more African Americans (about 19% or 7.3 million). That’s going further than any actual racist I’ve ever met would admit to.

          • Not Robin Hanson says:

            Might it not be more utilitarian the other way around? My impression is that there are strongly superlinear returns to IQ, so if you could administer the treatment to X people it would be best to choose those who already have the highest IQ. (At least to first order, but it seems futile to consider much more when hypotheticals are generally so underspecified.)

          • Jiro says:

            When you get to the point that you think killing 14% of the population (~45 million people) is a reasonable move, you should really step back and reevaluate the situation.

            He only proposes letting the population (take a risk that it would) kill itself. He isn’t proposing that *he* kill anyone.

          • stargirl says:

            I would personally take the treatment if offered. But is not offering to “let” people take the treatment. He is arguing that anyone below an IQ of approx 107.5 should be forced to take the treatment.

          • Neurno says:

            Dr. Dealgood:
            You are absolutely correct that 80% is an unconscionably low success rate. I would never approve a mandatory operation with such a low survival rate. I just wanted to start with a provocative number to get people thinking and talking about it. At what survivability rate do you think it would be ethical/reasonable to allow people to choose such a treatment of their own free will? I’m thinking maybe 90%?

            NotRobinHanson: You are absolutely correct. Thus, I have only offered such to those who I suspect an increase of intelligence would be of substantial benefit to society, and at the current level of risk made it clear to them that the offer is only valid if they can confirm that they are already in imminent danger of death from a currently-incurable illness (e.g. advanced pancreatic cancer).

          • stargirl says:

            The tables have now obviously flipped around lol.

            I think people should be able to get any medical treatments they want provided they can show they understand the situation. I would probably institute a waiting period though.

            I think people should be able to have doctors cut off their limbs or make them blind if that is what they want after serious consideration. If people want the IQ I do not think society has any right to stop people from undergoing the procedure.

            Maybe if this procedure is destroying society we should put a stop to it. But the damage has to be clear, proven and large before we have a right to stop people from getting the treatments they think will improve their lives.

          • Not just races, that is simply the politically controversial aspect of it. It is all about heredity, where race is merely a really vague, bare-eye-astronomy predictor of heredity. If you run a private school, it would be more HBD like to exclude a child on the grounds that one of his grandfathers had a criminal conviction, and it would be far less HBD compatible to exclude the black love child of Thomas Sowell and Condie Rice – they have demonstrated their good genetics.

          • anonymous says:

            David,

            I hate to break it to you, but by any earthly measure you are a rigidly biased political partisan who bizarrely condemns others of the same. How is that rational?

        • JBeshir says:

          The motte of HBD/race realism stuff is “for many innate attributes X, the proportion of people who are X differs between ethnic groups”.

          The bailey is “therefore you should revoke moral concern for people in some ethnic groups”, generally expressed as a series of slurs, this being what slurs mean. Sometimes it is expressed more explicitly, e.g. https://www.vdare.com/articles/the-sailer-strategy-updated-three-steps-to-save-america or http://blog.jim.com/war/how-to-genocide-inferior-kinds-in-a-properly-christian-manner/ as linked from http://thefutureprimaeval.net/reasonableism/ lower down in the comments.

          • I think you are not understanding it properly. Jim’s thoughts are not about *specific* causes to remove moral concern but about a *general* rejection of universal morality in favor of strictly in-group morality, on the grounds that nonwhites do the same thing. HBD-based lower intelligence of plains indians is merely the method. Jim does not say revoke moral concern because they are stupid, he says revoke moral concern because they are not you, and they don’t care about you. And the HBD part is only when he says they can be tricked.

            Sailer doesn’t even promote anything particularly immoral, just violating the “sanctity” aspect of liberalism. None of the points are relevant to HBD either – the first is about nonwhite voters voting in their own interests (this actually means they aren’t stupid, the whites are being stupid), the second is about identity politics, and the third is about political math. None are related to HBD.

            Anyhow Jims and Sailers ideas rest on the assumption that whites are far too nice with nonwhites, far less than they reciprocate that, and on the idea that universalistic morality harms whites when everybody else is running tribal morality. This is not about HBD.

            Actual HBD related political argument would be roughly like this: if you still care about universalistic morality and care about Africa, since they are unable to govern themselves well, colonize them again and provide good governance.

          • Jiro says:

            It’s interesting to read Jim’s post as arguing against EA. It works fairly well as that.

            Also, his post and the comments replying to it make it clear that there are contradictory passages in the Bible adn you can use them to prove whatever you want *without* much distortion other than by being selective.

          • JBeshir says:

            I’ll concede that the particular examples of explicit “revoke moral concern” arguments here are only maybe 30-40% based on their beliefs about their own group’s superiority as opposed to simple selfishness. I reached for convenient posts I already knew about rather than looking for the clearest possible examples.

            I do think those two are still heavily based on their assumption of superiority of their group, though, and still represent examples of stuff that, once you agree with HBD per the motte position, it is expected that you’ll support via an extended definition. Consider the annoyance for Scott in http://thefutureprimaeval.net/reasonableism/ for not going beyond the motte properly.

            Here’s a clearer example, although still not ideal because it’s another one I had to hand: http://www.sunnation.co.uk/hopkins-rescue-boats-id-use-gunships-to-stop-illegal-migrants/

            (And no, “use gunships” because they’re “cockroaches” where the answer to “do I feel pity?” is “Only for the British drivers” is not just being strict for the greater good of everyone. You could make such an argument, but this is not it, and it would probably not involve gunships when you did it.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @TheDividualist:
            And “white people” are “you”? Sailer’s argument is one for explicit racially based borders. It implicitly stated that whites and non-whites can have no shared group/national interest. Even though the Republican party is currently super-majority white, going a step further and saying it should explicitly propose policies to help “whites” and harm “non-whites” is quite different. The logical upshot is a kind of race war, wherein non-whites are the enemy.

            He explicitly says this is required to “save America” meaning he sees non-whites as an enemy.

          • @heelbearclub

            That is a very good question. I am Euro, and our group identities are far deeper than white and nonwhite, e.g. Serbs and Croats can easily hate each other despite they are not only of the same race but same south slavic subrace and same country for a couple of generations. It was the Yugo civil war that led me to not believing in universal identities and being fairly cynical about humankind ever stopping this tribal bloodshed.

            I think, but it is only a guess, in the US white identities merged into one ethnic one, and former ethnic differences with e.g. Irish or Italians have ended. But it cannot merge with the blacks due to the ressentiment culture white liberals stoke and it cannot merge with the Hispanics due to their national loyalty is simply to other countries, because other countries like Mexico are far less ashamed about having their own ethnic culture, so it is easier to preserve that kind of pride that to try to assimilate into an US culture that is no longer proud about itself.

            So these fault lines are probably deep.

            But the point is that pretty much every culture is all about only ingroup solidarity, because that is natural, except for this liberal universalist ideology, and the normal thing is that there are lot of tribal fighting inside a race too. It happened on all continents. And the only huge exception is white universalism but only in certain cases, it is pretty clear that in Yugoslavia it was not the case for example, nor is it the case between Russia and Ukraine now.

            So we see many examples how people cannot for ingroup identity, even within their own race, like in African countries, or between Russia and Ukraine.

            Should we expect US whites and blacks are able to form ingroups? Despite black ressentiment fueled by white liberals? This sounds really unlikely.

            I think US whites esp. white liberal really want a shared identity, but black and hispanics are gonna refuse that.

            Well, unless the _civic_ nationalism in the US is far, far bigger than I thought. But it seems to be in a decline for a long time? I mean it would be a brutal case of exceptionalism to posit that. We have no reason to think American whites and blacks are somehow better than say Bosnians and Serbs.

          • Psmith says:

            @TheDividualist: there are plausible arguments that ethnic conflict between different groups of whites is not only still active but a major driving force in US politics, but that we don’t necessarily recognize it as such (and that this is partly because one side won in 1864.). “Coastal urban elites” and “rednecks in flyover states” turn out to map pretty well to historical patterns of settlement from different parts of Western Europe. See, e.g.,
            https://jaymans.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/maps-of-the-american-nations/
            https://jaymans.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/more-maps-of-the-american-nations/
            https://jaymans.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/demography-is-destiny
            https://jaymans.wordpress.com/2015/07/29/genes-climate-and-even-more-maps-of-the-american-nations/
            https://hbdchick.wordpress.com/2015/09/18/the-genetics-of-the-american-nations/
            And David Hackett Fisher’s “Albion’s Seed” for a reputable, book-length, academic source.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @TheDividualist:
            “I think, but it is only a guess, in the US white identities merged into one ethnic one, and former ethnic differences with e.g. Irish or Italians have ended.”

            There is essentially no ethnic strife in the U.S. between any ethnic groups that came in the immigration waves of the 1800s or who were here voluntarily previous to that. As you get to immigration waves that were closer in time, especially those with still living original immigrants, you will see some ethnic tension. For a less obvious example than Hispanics, look at the various Hmong populations in the U.S., who came in a wave after the Vietnam war.

            Compare this to the inter-ethnic strife in various Balkan countries, and it should be clear that there is nothing intrinsic in the gene expression that is causing the inter-ethnic strife.

            Compare the relative black-white inter-ethnic strife in the U.S. vs. the UK, and it should also be obvious that there is no intrinsic requirement that blacks and whites be in inter-ethnic strife. But, unlike the U.K., the U.S. maintained that Blacks could be legally separated from whites, and were de facto inferior under the law, even if de jure they were merely “separate but equal” and this occurred within living memory.

            Ethnic differences lead to strife when they are enforced (de jure or de facto). Strife (and the differences) fade if they are not enforced.

      • Anon. says:

        >What the community is becoming is more anti-SJ.

        Surely LW and SJ were always fundamentally opposed. I don’t think this is an ingroup/outgroup issue, but a fundamental disagreement about stuff: SJ is anti-rationality and anti-empiricism (contra Enlightenment in general). What common ground could there be with LW-ism?

        Scott’s denouncement of SJ in the anti-reactionary FAQ is perfect:

        >Real Progressivism is Enlightenment values – like the belief that free flow of information is more important than any particular person’s desire to “cleanse” society of “unsavory” ideas. Real Reaction is the belief that free expression isn’t as important as making sure people have “the right” values. Upper-class white Reactionaries will try to enforce values protecting upper-class white people. Lower-class minority Reactionaries will try to enforce values protecting lower-class minorities. Whatever. They’re still Reactionary.

        >Likewise, real Progressivism is color-blind. It may be sophisticatedly color-blind, which involves realizing that just saying “I’m going to be color-blind now, okay?” doesn’t work, and that affirmative-action type policies may paradoxically lead to more genuinely color-blind results. But it would be unlikely to promote the idea that people should have racial pride, or that one particular race is evil and is not allowed to have racial pride. “White people should identify strongly with white culture; black people have no culture” is the upper-class white Reactionary slogan. “Black people should identify strongly with black culture; white people have no culture” is the lower-class minority Reactionary slogan. “Lots of races have culture but let’s ignore them and let individuals identify with what they personally like” is the academically-neglected but still-popular true Progressive position.

        >Finally, real Progressivism opposes segregation in all its forms. Upper-class white Reaction says that it’s necessary to protect white people from being “polluted” by black culture like rap music. Lower-class minority Reaction says that it’s necessary to stop white people from “appropriating” black culture like rap music. Either way, we get white people not allowed to listen to rap music. Progressivism is the position contrary to both: that everyone can listen to whatever music they damn well please.

        • Nornagest says:

          Lower-class minority Reactionaries will try to enforce values protecting lower-class minorities.

          If Scott thinks this is what drives SJ, he’s got a lot of counterexamples to account for.

          I doubt he’s trying to encompass SJ there, though. He might be describing a subset of activists who currently fight under the social justice banner, but it’s probably a small one.

      • multiheaded says:

        I don’t like mainstream SJ, but I still absolutely don’t like being friends with racists. It’s my personal disgust response, not something I do out of piety.

        • Can you define “racist?”

          I ask because a lot of talk along these lines seems to be getting its emotional effect from “racists are people who want to kill or enslave blacks” and then applying it to “a racist is anyone who thinks there is a significant difference among races in the distribution of innate intellectual characteristics.”

          Where on that scale are the people who you react with disgust to being friends with?

    • Urstoff says:

      The complaints seem fairly bizarre to me. There’s much more diversity here than in most online spaces.

      • Viliam says:

        That could exactly be the problem. People who enjoy “diversity” in far mode do not necessarily have to enjoy diversity in near mode.

        • Dain says:

          +1

          Related, backing up Scott’s impressions, liberals more likely to block or unfriend on Facebook: http://www.mediaite.com/online/pew-study-liberals-more-likely-to-unfriend-or-block-someone-over-politics/

          Conservatives must tolerate liberals lest they’re left with no friends at all, apart from uncle Louie writing from Key West.

          • Nornagest says:

            Conservatives must tolerate liberals lest they’re left with no friends at all, apart from uncle Louie writing from Key West.

            Unless you’re defining “liberal” as “anyone to the left of Francisco Franco”, this seems somewhat at odds with the demographics I see on the ground. My liberal friends are probably more likely to be active on Facebook, but I still see plenty of conservative memes floating around. And then there’s the surprisingly robust jarhead propaganda machine.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nornagest:
            I think there is also probably a demographic selection effect, as the GOP skews older, and therefore is not as likely to be active on social media, and definitely less likely to be active with their peers.

          • Anonymous says:

            liberals more likely to block or unfriend on Facebook

            Sure, but why are we assuming symmetry here? Anecdotal evidence: My (liberal) postings on fb tend to be links to articles or studies, with the occasional snarky captioned pic. My (conservative) in-law’s posts are almost exclusively the latter.

          • Nornagest says:

            Assuming symmetry between both sides is probably closer to being true than assuming bad faith on the part of one.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nornagest:
            We have a documented difference. Assuming the difference is real, we do not know causation.

            Why is it more charitable to assume something bad about liberals is the cause, than to consider other possible causations?

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, it looks pretty bad on its face.

            I’m open to options other than “liberals just can’t handle disagreement” — it could be for example that the base rates here are so low that the effect’s driven entirely by the Tumblr crowd, and so accusing the left at large amounts to committing the noncentral fallacy. (Anecdotally, the only people I’ve ever seen threaten to defriend others for political reasons are student activists.) Or the stats could be bad for one reason or another, which is never a bad bet with politicized sociology research.

            But jumping straight to “oh, this must be a reaction to conservative bad behavior” smacks of writing your bottom line first, especially when your side likes to think of itself as the tolerant, thoughtful one.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Urstoff:

        More diversity here doesn’t tell you anything about whether the balance is left or right. And given that most spaces pattern match to either echo chambers or flame-war battlefields it doesn’t even tell you very much about what the relative balance is.

        • Urstoff says:

          Diversity is at least some indicator of balance. I’m not sure what more you’d want out of a commentariat, anyway.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Urstoff:

            “Diversity” means that it the comments are not an echo-chamber with a few lone flamers. But it does not tell you how close to 50/50 the commentariat splits (if one could even assume a single-axis measure, which I agree is a poor way to measure).

            As to what I could want? I hesitate to point out examples of the kinds of comments I would want to eliminate, as that would necessarily identify specific commentors, which seems like it would be poor form.

            But I don’t think I am wrong in saying that one “side” of the equation does not regularly make the mistake of painting the opposite “side” with a broad brush. It does not identify specific groups as “enemies” or “evil”.

            This seems to me to be the essence of what Scott is striving for in discussion. Violations of that tend to skew one way (in my opinion, obviously).

    • Seth says:

      SSC, LW, and similar orbits are “liberal/left-wing” in the old meaning of anti-religious strictures, that is basically in favor of Sex, Drugs, and Rock-And-Roll. To the extreme – not only is gay marriage ok, but polyamory is fine, and even per above, having sex with a dead chicken (again, not my example, but it’s funny because it’s true). It’s not “liberal/left-wing” in the current SJW sense of the words, or race and gender identity politics. Inversely, it’s “right-wing” not in the religious sense, but having a very anti-government, pro-laissez-faire, individualistic view of the world. In sum, the old saying, “Libertarians are Republicans who like to smoke pot”.

      Just a speculation, but maybe some mostly economic liberal types are drifting off into a (Bernie) Sandersverse, now that there’s an uncommon political mobilization on that front.

      • multiheaded says:

        anti-religious strictures

        Hello? There’s a big circlejerk here at least every months about the wonderfulness of community and ritual and church stuff. In this open thread, there’s like a dozen people all talking about how they are either Mormon or like Mormons. SSC type rightists/centrists might be fedora-tipping atheists re: belief in God, yet they all seem to love churches at least in far mode.

        “right-wing” not in the religious sense, but having a very anti-government, pro-laissez-faire, individualistic view of the world

        America, stahp

        • Seth says:

          Note, “strictures”, not “structures”. That wasn’t a typo. It’s the difference between regarding homosexuality as a sin because God supposedly said so, and having a nice sing-along on Sunday morning while listening to mild recommendations about being kind and charitable.

          • Skaevola says:

            It’s interesting you say this though, because that description seems a very close match to my experiences growing up attending a Presbyterian church. Get together on Sundays, sing a couple of songs, and listen to the minister tell you a story illustrating a moral lesson. In fact the Presbyterian church has such progressive strictures (I hope I am using this term correctly) that even now it ordains openly gay ministers. But nobody in that comment thread picked an average, milquetoast Protestant denomination.

            The commentators above are intentionally picking the denominations that seem to me to have the most intense strictures (Catholic, Mormon, etc.)

          • Anonymous says:

            But nobody in that comment thread picked an average, milquetoast Protestant denomination.

            I actually picked Presbyterianism. (Reform Judaism would be a close second.)

        • Maware says:

          This is because they are so irreligious that they can say “wouldn’t it be nice to be this?” The people who daydream about living on a south seas island have nothing in common with those who live on one, and if they had to actually deal with the reality of living on said island, would go nuts and probably disdain the islanders.

          The people who hate a religion are closer to it than those who view it as a tourist spot with lovely architecture and quaint local rituals

          • multiheaded says:

            Agreed, actually.

          • Jiro says:

            The people who daydream about living on a south seas island have nothing in common with those who live on one

            Somewhat unrelated comment: remember back when the same was true for sci-fi fans wishing they could live on a space colony?

          • Neurno says:

            As a educated rationalist who grew up in an apparently happy-go-lucky outwardly-cheerful, highly repressive and bigoted but low-crime (other than domestic abuse) small Mormon town as a non-mormon…. I would like to very strongly second Maware’s point. Fie on religious conformity approaching the power of law or uniform social sanction. I can assure you that bad things lurk down that road for free-thinkers.

  10. Dan T. says:

    Perhaps when the AI Apocalypse comes, our machine overlord won’t be converting the entire universe to paperclips or to friendship and ponies after all… it’ll be converting it to high-quality Wikipedia articles and the computronium to host them…

    https://blog.wikimedia.org/2015/11/30/artificial-intelligence-x-ray-specs/
    Artificial intelligence service gives Wikipedians ‘X-ray specs’ to see through bad edits

  11. 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 says:

        There’s a point worth discussing in They Tore Down the Future, but the piece is less about that point, and more about how sad that point makes the author. It basically has to do with two things.
        1. In all of American (If not human) history, the subcultural-political groups of every era made promises of the “If we could all just come together and X, then in The Future Y” variety. Every decade, a couple of those “If X’s” come true, and either the Y doesn’t materialize (because X doesn’t actually cause Y) or Y turns out to have unadvertised side effects that make it really dumb to want Y, or the group succeeds in dominating the political landscape of a generation to the point where it just becomes one of the background assumptions of everyday life. In a period going from roughly 1976-94 an abnormally large number of “If X’s” from all over the political scale came true, and basically none of them worked out to be successes. This created a sort of Race to the Bottom in cynicism and skepticism, which has messed up cultural vision something fierce. Jet-packs, orbital jets, Sea Labs, Trickle-Down Economics, The End of History, an Ecologically-Aware Media and a host of other things turned out to be Really Dumb Ideas that Don’t Actually Do Anything Good, so some of the Pizzazz has come off of visions of The Future.
        2. In a lot of ways the United States has less Concentrated Wealth than it did in the 50’s, because India and China have advanced their industrial and political power and now the world’s resources are spread more thinly. Within the United States certain regions have maintained and built upon the material prosperity of the 50’s and 60’s, but the result has been that other areas of the United States had their access to resources severely curtailed. That’s why, for example, Iowa and Louisiana are building new roads in cities and highways, but not maintaining rural state roads at all and letting them go back to dirt. So The Future isn’t just unevenly distributed in the sense of not rolling out everywhere at once, but it’s actually seeing some areas loose investments and infrastructure that was already in place, so that even more infrastructure can be built somewhere else. The people who live in these “rollback” zones are unimpressed by a future where they don’t get any new stuff, lose some of the old stuff, and the new stuff other people get doesn’t even make for a cool postcard.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          Briefly, I thought its point was more that once society fragments (converging on universal atomic individualism?), the culture’s ability to implement or even imagine a large-scale vision of the future dies out. When our culture is defined by the needs of the individual, its goals shrink to an individual scale as well.

    • multiheaded says:

      Say what you will about the Classical Marxists of the past – Lenin, Stalin, Mao – but they built massive hydroelectric dams, intercontinental missiles, skyscrapers, and atom bombs. Yet in The Current Year, they and their grand projects have been replaced by the Cultural Marxism of Gramsci, Marcuse, and Alinsky.

      I have no comment.

      (Let me just note, however, that Gramsci – whatever his other views – had a raging Puritan anti-sex attitude and complained a lot about the slovenly lecherous Italian proletariat of his time.)

    • Jeffrey Soreff says:

      From https://antidem.wordpress.com/2015/11/12/the-future/

      The increasingly impoverished remnants of what was once our middle class shuffle in to buy cheap junk made by political prisoner slave labor in some dismal factory in faraway China.

      That’s probably the best one-sentence summary of the last two or three decades of the US economy that I’ve ever read.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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

  17. 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.

  18. 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?

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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?)

  23. 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.

  24. 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.