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Links 12/15: Ma’oz Tz-URL

In 2007, the Texas Legislature officially declared that the West Pole was in the town of Bee Cave, Texas.

Vox: Hamilton’s Cabinet Battle #1 Explained. Using a silly song to investigate a tough question: how easy it is to map our current concepts of “right” and “left” onto the 1700s’ Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties? Is there a clear line between either of them and either modern party? With the perspective of history, can we clearly identify either as the “good guys”? Just similar enough to our own time to produce an uncanny valley effect.

“Blowback theory” is the common belief that the West’s overly harsh response to terrorism is itself encouraging more Middle Easterners to become terrorists. Anonymous Mugwump explains how studies do not support it. [EDIT: But some disagree, see here and comments]

That experiment people were saying showed a “cure for diabetes” that would prevent people from needing insulin? Actually an n = 14 safety study not designed to test efficacy. Yet still pretty cool.

The Greater Male Variability Hypothesis says that men will have more variability on most traits than women, and therefore the highest and lowest performers in lots of areas will be disproportionately male. It goes along with a neat genetic explanation: males don’t have a backup for the X chromosome and so small mutations there have more effect – and a neat evolutionary explanation: men have more variability in their reproductive success and so should pursue higher-risk strategies. A 2013 study gives the theory an interesting test – what about birds, where females are (bird equivalent of) XY and males XX? Here the female birds have more variability, suggesting the genetic principle is sound but casting doubt on the evolutionary explanation. Unless I’m misunderstanding something.

The 21 Bitcoin Computer is a computer that’s constantly producing bitcoins in the background and integrating them into some kind of micropayment structure so you can buy things without spending any of your own money on them. Problem is it costs $400, costs more in electricity than it makes in bitcoins, and is worse than any other payment method in practically every way. Nevertheless smart people have informed me that for complicated reasons this is The Future. We should probably all get three of them if we don’t want to be buried beneath the tide of progress.

I know I mentioned that there were rationalist solstice celebrations in SF and NYC, but I have been reminded that there is another celebration in Boston this Friday evening and one in Seattle on the 19th.

Israeli Jews have a fertility rate of 3, very high for developed countries, despite a high level of female education. Some of this is driven by the Orthodox, but even more liberal Israeli Jews average about 2.6, compared to more like 1.3 for secular Jewish Americans. Why such a big difference?

Related: Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas says he turned down a peace plan in 2008 because the Israelis demanded an on-the-spot decision from him and wouldn’t even let him show the plan to his advisors first. Now he is reduced to drawing the proposed border from memory because Israel wouldn’t let him keep the map. Really, Israelis? Really?

Steven Pearlstein: Four Tough Things Universities Should Do To Rein In Costs vs. Daniel Drezner: Four Tough Things Columnists Should Do Before Writing About Universities.

The Islamic State has a really professionally done English-language magazine, and you can read every issue online as long as you don’t mind probably ending up on various FBI lists. My favorite article is Issue 11, page 16, where they pre-emptively denounce Iran for taking the side of the Jewish Messiah in the End Times, even though said Messiah will probably be the Devil.

As usual you should read Harold Lee: The Confucian Heuristic.

As usual you should read Sarah Constantin: Regulatory Problems With Cancer Research.

I have always been skeptical of the research showing that spanking traumatizes children and causes them various problems throughout their life. For one thing, it’s a shared-environmental effect. For another, it’s just too convenient – this thing everyone in history has done forever turns out to be really bad for you, and the late-20th-century-rich-Westerner way of doing things is actually provably way better! Brian Boutwell is also skeptical, but unlike me he did a really complicated study that shows that a lot of this may be genetic confounds – some of the variation in which parents spank their children may be genetic, and these genes could be passed down to children and correlated with child outcomes. Exactly how much of the variation this explains I’m not sure, as the statistics get really complicated and their model goes all over the place.

New study: White police officers do show a racial bias in favor of ticketing black motorists. Twist: black police officers show a racial bias in ticketing white motorists.

RCT: Diet soda causes (slightly) more weight gain than water. You might think that’s obvious, but it really isn’t – a lot of diet sodas are zero-calorie, and water is zero-calorie, so classically they ought to be equivalent. Not sure whether this is a real result or confounded by something else – eg group randomized to diet soda primed to eat fast food because it goes well with soda, or something.

In the old days, people said poverty explained racial gaps in educational achievement. Then someone did a study controlling for poverty and found the gaps still remained. The new conventional wisdom points to concentrated poverty, the effects not just of being in poverty yourself, but growing up in a neighborhood full of other poor people. So what happens when you control for that? (warning: simple, non-peer reviewed analysis)

Space and time may be built out of quantum entanglement. Scott Aaronson very kindly tried to explain this to me, but I got hung up on how the qubits knew which other qubits they were entangled with if there was no spatial arrangement to them and information about those relationships didn’t seem to be encoded in any of the qubits that made up the universe. The answer seems to be “look, saying that qubits are entangled with each other might sound more complicated than saying they’re arranged in space, but the math is actually a lot simpler, so this is an important forward step”.

What should we do about the moribund state of the Less Wrong website? Should it be an aggregator, an archive, or something more?

That “gold standard” study “proving” that brain training worked? Included 70% attrition rate, carried over data from dropouts in a weird way, used a self-report measure, et cetera

What factors determine whether a country’s men are happier than its women or vice versa? As per a new paper in the Journal of Happiness Studies, the main determinant was that the lower the female employment rate, the happier (relative to men) women were; the female:male happiness ratio was highest (in favor of women!) in Muslim countries and the Middle East. Woodley papers always give me the impression that they are trolling, and this one is no exception. Related: Meta-analysis of gender differences.

So there is epigenetic information about weight carried in sperm cells, but that still doesn’t explain how it survives the general post-conception epigenetic reprogramming and nobody seems to be asking that question.

The big debate in effective altruism this month: earn to give, or choose a directly beneficial career?

You’ve heard of embodied cognition, now get ready for enclothed cognition.

Jacobin Magazine is obviously really variable, but Real Utopias is a surprisingly mature and readable piece. After admitting that advocating a giant revolution probably isn’t the best way to deal with the excesses of capitalism, they start a classification system for anti-capitalist activity including “eroding capitalism”, ie working within the system to create non-capitalist institutions that are better than capitalism and will eventually take over. Sounds a lot like some of the best libertarian and conservative ideas I hear about as well. There are worse futures than the one where politics turns into everyone competing to create awesome institutions that catch on and take over.

Dog Rating Twitter. Related: Guide To Dog Rating Twitter Breeds.

You know those oil paintings you can get for like $50 at Wal-Mart? You know how they look hand-painted? Turns out they are indeed hand-painted on giant art assembly lines all in a single Chinese village. I betray my Fake Capitalist Girl nature by feeling like maybe it would just be easier to print them off and save everyone the trouble.

I always felt the universally-cited statistic that 15% of depressives eventually commit suicide sounded way too high. Turns out it was indeed way too high. The study lasted five years, and 15% of the depressives who died during those five years died of suicide, but since most people don’t die in any five year period it was disproportionately the ones who died young who got counted. The real number is more like 2%. Also, REALLY?! NOBODY THOUGHT ABOUT THAT UNTIL NOW?!

Depending on what you classify as a “mass shooting”, you can prove pretty much whatever you want about mass shootings.

I discussed this during my talk in Boston, but it’s nice to have it all in one place: A meta-analysis of the fade-out effect in raising early intelligence. Extrapolated just a little, this is the sort of thing that makes me doubt college’s effects on critical thinking last very long.

The best discussion of gun control, like the best discussion of most other things, comes from Popehat: “OK, maybe not actually ::air quotes:: hounds ::air quotes::”

Finland is likely to enact a basic income of 800 euro/month! Not sure how close that is to a living wage in Finland or what will happen if it’s not enough for somebody. [EDIT: Finns are skeptical, preliminary, may not be happening]

After the Titanic sank, the government passed a law requiring ships to have lots of lifeboats. The weight of all the extra lifeboats made the S. S. Eastland top-heavy, and in 1915 it sank, killing 844 passengers. Sometimes I feel like everything is like this.

In my post on Lizardman’s Constant, I suggested polls include an obviously stupid option so we could see how many respondents were trolling. Now some tried that, and apparently the answer is it depends.

University of Ottawa bans free yoga class because yoga is a form of “cultural appropriation”. I hate to have to make a big deal of this, but since we still live in a world where Vox wants us to edit our browsers to auto-change “political correctness” to “treating people with respect”, fine, big deal it is. [EDIT: Doubts]

I’m cautiously optimistic about the Paris climate talks, and they have already resulted in an agreement to restore 360,000 square miles of African forest by 2030. Talk may be cheap, but they’ve also agreed on $1.5 billion in funding.

There are only two known polyhedra where each face shares an edge with each other face: the common tetrahedron and this thing.

Coronary angioplasty in stable heart disease does not improve survival.

Study: Sweden’s intensive refugee integration program has no effect on integration of refugees as measured by employment and earnings.

Why Is English So Weirdly Different From Other Languages? It’s got a lot of unique features, and their theory is that this was because Olde England was a complicated melting pot/invasion target of all different cultures. Fine. But wasn’t everywhere a complicated melting pot/invasion target of all different cultures? Still not seeing why that would make English special. Related: Is “eeny, meeny, miny, mo” the numbers one through four in Cornish?

Why does building subways in the US cost five times as much as building similar subways in European countries? How come American railroads have the same issues? How come Robert Moses was like the only American in the entire 20th century who could actually do a halfway-decent job getting infrastructure built, and how did that shape New York’s position as America’s preeminent city? Transit Infrastructure and the Temptations of Techno-Autocracy.

We know professors are more likely to be liberal than the average American. How much of that is increased intelligence versus some sort of academia-specific factor? Here, have a bar graph on the subject.

More on the compound interest question: The Effects of General Sherman’s March To The Sea. Southern counties devastated by Sherman’s scorched-earth strategy in the Civil War had some lingering ill effects even fifty years later. No news on whether those still persist.

Why don’t we ever hear about Alexander the Great’s brothers? Probably because he killed them all so they wouldn’t give him trouble.

Nowadays uniquely black names (eg DeShawn) are strongly correlated with poverty and other bad outcomes. But the early 20th century had its own set of uniquely black names, and black people with those names actually lived longer than everyone else. Why the change?

FDA approves clinical trial of metformin as anti-aging drug. Can’t we just use the randomized controlled trials for diabetes and see if the metformin group lived longer? Or did those not last long enough?

People with ADHD who take medication are about 30% less likely to turn to crime than those who remain unmedicated.

Paul Krugman reviews Robert Reich on skills gaps and unemployment, argues that there’s more monopoly in the economy than we think and this is having lots of bad effects despite the apparently convincing theoretical arguments for why this shouldn’t happen.

Why not build nuclear reactors in the ocean? Well, okay, but aside from that?

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785 Responses to Links 12/15: Ma’oz Tz-URL

  1. Articulator says:

    Well then. I’ve always found Scott and this website to be very reasonable, if about as Right as I am Left, but in a reasonably amiable way.

    I’ve never really seen Popehat before, but that comments section was possibly the most vile place I’ve even set foot in not expecting it. The vitriol was as bad as with militant SJWs. I can imagine that I saw the worst in some of the people there, but at the same time, an endorsement of that website from Scott Alexander is a kick to the stomach for me.

    Is there anything I’m missing here? I’ve always treated the Rationalist community’s Libertarian tendencies with polite disagreement, but I almost feel like I don’t belong here at all, if those are the kind of people you link to and associate with willingly.

    I just don’t know what to think anymore, and if anyone has anything helpful to say, I’d really appreciate it.

  2. Outis says:

    I read “The Confucian Heuristic” and found it interesting. Then I clicked one of the recommended articles on the same blog, and it was praise for some Jim guy who wrote a post titled something like “How to genocide inferiors in a Christian way”. I followed the link, thinking that the title was hyperbolic clickbait, but no, it was just what it said on the tin.
    It makes me kind of uncomfortable.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Jim can be a bit of a trip, but I’m guessing that you have missed his point. Do you have a link?

      • Tatu Ahponen says:

        Wasn’t too hard to find and, yes, seems to indeed be recommending genocide: http://blog.jim.com/war/how-to-genocide-inferior-kinds-in-a-properly-christian-manner/

        • onyomi says:

          I read that article; I don’t think it’s recommending genocide. It is actually providing what I consider to be a pretty insightful commentary on the real reason for “false flag” operations and the like: one thing one notices throughout history–from the Romans to FDR–is that when you want to go to war, you first goad the enemy into giving you an excuse, or, if they won’t, you sometimes just outright orchestrate an attack on yourself (the so-called “false flag,” which conspiracy theorists see everywhere; I don’t see them as very common, but I’m sure they do exist).

          I always thought of the reasoning for this as no more than political expedience: it may be hard to get the population jazzed to go to war “because they’ve got land and stuff we want”; it is much easier to whip people into a patriotic fervor after they feel they themselves have been attacked and wronged.

          But I think Jim’s point here is that it is more than just that: the “wait for your enemies to lose patience and attack you; then annihilate them with a clear conscience” strategy may also be about maintaining a certain pro-civilization, cooperate-cooperate balance: a civilization which just takes what it wants whenever it wants does not respect property and has no claims to moral superiority when a stronger warlord arises.

          And then he kinda, sorta seems to be okay with genocide.

          But this is why I don’t read people like Jim nearly as avidly as Scott; nor do I have much desire to engage with his commentariat: these kinds of issues are hard enough to think about and discuss dispassionately without the heaping tablespoons of facetiousness, hyperbole, and c- words.

          • Chalid says:

            I don’t think it’s recommending genocide

            It seems pretty clear to me.

            “The Dark Enlightenment emphasizes survival as a virtue, as indeed the root of all virtues… If survival is the root of all virtues, then we should conquer other nations to survive, colonize space to survive.”

            followed by a bunch of stuff about “love thy neighbor” not applying to everyone, followed by “best practice for acquiring land and resources currently occupied by no-good people who prevent it from being put to its highest and best use.” Given what he says about black people throughout the post it’s clear he has at least a few “no-good” people in mind.

          • onyomi says:

            Well this is the problem with being a facetious provocateur: at a certain point it becomes hard to tell what you’re actually advocating and what you’re just saying to shock or to make some unrelated point. I think a certain motte-bailey dynamic can come into play too: by maintaining a general tone of levity you can always say, “can’t you take a joke” if someone calls you out on anything specific.

            Still, I don’t think that’s actually the point of the article, is my point (even if Jim is actually, on some level, okay with genocide, which is a bit hard to tell).

          • anon says:

            He may or may not be recommending genocide. Either way, if you went to the trouble of reading the entire thing, you’re should understand more than just that one point.

        • Christopher says:

          On the surface, it seems to be a defense of genocide livened up by a lot of self-congratulation about how daring it is to be an old-timey racist.

          Maybe there’s something else buried in there somewhere, but you know, I get the same feeling with this guy I get with Mencius Moldbug; he never says what he means plainly because if he did we’d realize what he’s saying is actually really banal.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I think Moldbug at least has a few intriguing ideas, but overall I think you’re right. Moldbug is full of this sort of “Dear reader, what you are about to see next may shock you” bullshit.

            As Nietzsche said: “They muddy the water, to make it seem deep.”

  3. Troy Rex says:

    “I have always been skeptical of the research showing that spanking traumatizes children and causes them various problems throughout their life. For one thing, it’s a shared-environmental effect. For another, it’s just too convenient – this thing everyone in history has done forever turns out to be really bad for you, and the late-20th-century-rich-Westerner way of doing things is actually provably way better!”

    1. God. This is a tough comment, because one part of it seems almost certainly true, and the other part of it came across to me as flippant, ignorant, and callous. Slatestar is my favorite blog, so those aren’t words I use lightly.

    2. I assume Scott means that spanking is part of the shared environment, so if it really did have a lifelong effect on children, the effect should show up in every child of that family, but it doesn’t.

    This point fits well with the three laws of genetic inheritance, as Steven Pinker outlines them, which basically say that your family’s biggest effect on you is your genes. One middle-class American family is much like another. Authoritarian and laissez-faire child rearing practices basically all wash out by your 30s, which is counterintuitive to pretty much every child rearing ideology ever.

    3. I also agree with Scott’s point that, given that many Western elites believe in more laissez-faire or non-violent child rearing practices as a matter of ideology, they’re likely to generate studies showing Scientifically that this is The Best Method.

    4. However, the final comment came across to me (and I think can reasonably be read) as implying that (a) the historical record and common sense show you can spank your kids and they’ll be fine, so (b) only lilylivered liberals could possibly have any problem with this.

    5. Deiseach wrote, “[criticism of spanking as child abuse] annoys me because there is a huge variation in how parents discipline their children.” I think it’s important to begin with this point (although she appears to underestimate the amount of variation). It’s hard to know what historical examples to toss in Scott’s direction, because his casual comment seems to give carte blanche to any form of spanking, but this is Scott so I don’t feel that’s fair.

    So let’s briefly consider common forms of spanking, and historical analogues.

    6. I’ve read many books and known hundreds of decent and caring people who teach and practice spanking. They’d insist on specific guidelines: no leaving marks, never in anger, explain why you’re disciplining. But be sure to leave the child sobbing, and choose your implement with care, and discipline to ensure positive attitudes and immediate obedience. If you want to read up on this ideology, “Love, Joy, Feminism” on Patheos will have a lot of (overwrought) stuff on it.

    7. To be fair, those aren’t the only guidelines around. In the United States parents may leave marks on their children with belts and other implements (at least in Texas).

    8. In fact, the harm of this sort of moderately intensive discipline is both predictable and predicted. The long history of sadomasochism engendered by British public schools and Russian schools over the past couple of centuries springs to mind. I’ve read a fair amount of history in both, with the Russians being if anything more brutal. “We’d mock the victim, ‘Just now, you had your head between a girl’s knees!’ [To restrain the child another pupil would hold them] And yet, the next day the victim would join in the chanting crowd!”

    9. As an adult, I was staggered to learn of this history, so similar to modern disciplines, and with a long line of commentators wryly or bitterly complaining of its brutality and lifelong effects. (Hell, even Stalin asked, “Mother, why did you beat me so much?”, which even from Stalin strikes me as incredibly sad every time I think of it.)
    Why in God’s name had none of these caring people considered this?

    10. In my own experience, and too often in history to ignore, “this thing everyone in history has done forever turns out to be really bad for you.” If you take a small stick and strike a child until they are crying, afterwards the child cannot see, walk, or think straight. Surprisingly (apparently), this occasionally, although not always, has a bad effect on people for some time afterward. The better part of two decades, in my case.

    11. Yes, I can hear you sneering now, but I’m no lilylivered liberal. I’ve deployed to Afghanistan and done lots of other tough things. Off you fuck.

    12. The pro-spanking teachings I’ve gestured to above also say, loudly and often, that children simply must be spanked, so as to avoid teen attitude, teen sex, drug use, and general shittiness. Does Scott’s appeal to tradition, or to a Chesterton fence, or to okay-I-don’t-really-know-why-a-long-history-of-child-beating-is-in-itself-evidence-it-does-no-harm-considering-the-generally-crappy-state-of-the-world, open the door to other traditional ‘observations’ of the benefits of spanking? I won’t go that far – all he’s really said is that studies purporting to show lifelong negative effects of spanking are probably flawed. In which we agree.

    I just think he’s wrong about the rest of it, and would welcome any sign he’s thought about it more than showed in that comment.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      If you’re comfortable I’m curious about hearing more about your experience. I’ve never been spanked myself, only ever hit once as a kid, and so obviously don’t really have a good barometer on this stuff.

      Also I won’t speak for Scott but in general he and a lot of people here tend to distrust their immediate emotional reactions to things. I’m certain that most if not all of them are horrified by the idea of corporal punishment but are trying to use statistical inference to determine whether that horror is warranted. Particularly when you’re talking about writing something into law it’s a good idea not lead with your gut.

      • Troy Rex says:

        Yes, I certainly agree about the dangers of writing something into law. Since the United States is so far away from any sort of criminalization of most forms of child discipline, I regarded the previous discussion in this thread about criminalization as a distraction.

        That’s probably not the case for Deiseach, who I believe is in the UK. And to be fair there are many cases in the US where parents have been arrested for letting their kids walk home from school and so forth, so the concerns she raised could even apply in the US, eventually.

        I will say that striking an unreasonable adult is treated as battery, so the legal and cultural approval for striking an unreasonable juvenile, incapable of adult reasoning, seems a little odd. But, you know, if my kid hit me I’d pop their hand right back. Which is on the level of what Deiseach seems to approve of.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          She’s Irish actually, though I think she was talking about British law in this case. She’s also a social worker in a rural area so I’m sure gets it from both barrels on the issue between hypersensitive political activists and indignant abusive parents.

          Personally I think your comparison with battery is interesting because it provokes the opposite reaction in me. Having the option to hit an unreasonable adult without risking serious legal consequences might de-escalate conflicts. Right now if you have an unreasonable adult your options for dealing with him are all pretty bad, particularly if he doesn’t care about getting arrested but you do. The way these laws are applied to adults doesn’t make me very enthusiastic about extending them to cover children.

          • Troy Rex says:

            Well, the battery comparison was meant to be a cultural comment.

            I agree about criminalization – the criminal law is a blunt instrument at the best of times, and particularly in the US badly applied.

    • Christopher says:

      The way Scott phrased that was a hug excluded middle.

      There’s room to oppose corporal punishment on moral and practical grounds without believing it inevitably traumatizes a child for life.

      • Troy Rex says:

        If you read my response, I spent some time providing reasons why Scott’s probably right that corporal punishment doesn’t inevitably traumatize a child for life. Your point was not lost on me.

        What I’m objecting to is Scott’s casual appeal to history as evidence that corporal punishment does no harm.

        Given the wide range of corporal punishment practiced throughout history, and the many instances of trauma resulting from it, that handwave is sloppy at best.

        In fact, the only folks I can think of who appeal to History in that way – loose and mostly wrong – are the reactionaries, who think the aristocracy was, I don’t know, restrained and chivalrous.

        I’m with Churchill here: “‘Naval tradition? Naval tradition?’ said Winston. ‘Monstrous. Nothing but rum, sodomy, prayers and the lash.’”

        • anon says:

          Nothing wrong with appeals to history, they’re small evidence. Not enough to prove anything, but that doesn’t mean we can’t mention them. Plus, the emphasis on the sentence where Scott mentioned history was more on “I’m suspicious of things that sound good also happening to be the better way”, with the appeal to history being there just to add a bit more weight, as it should as a small piece of extra evidence.

          Also, I’m quite fond of Chesterton’s fence personally and wish more people would take it seriously.

  4. Peter Gerdes says:

    The Israeli thing isn’t that unreasonable. It’s merely an attempt to grab an opportunity that wouldn’t otherwise be availible.

    Given that a peace proposal would inevitable have winners and losers on both sides and a rejected peace proposal might well be seen as a sign of weakness it’s entierly plausible that public awareness of a peace proposal would impose a huge electoral cost on the proposing politician (all the people who saw he was willing to trade away their interests) unless it was accepted. Similar considerations apply on the Palestinian side and a leaked peace deal might very well be used to turn candor and pragmatic choices into public relations swords to use against the proposer.

    So if you are an Israeli leader you know that making public peace overtures is a losing proposition (you’re likely to be replaced by someone more wary of peace proposal after you gamble and lose). Even providing documents to Palestinian leaders would prevent you from suggesting the kind of hard compromise that might work lest those documents be used later to (selectively) publicize your offer. After all the Palestinians are heavily reliant on international support and promises of confidentiality aren’t worth much in such an acrimonious relationship. Involving more than a few top level advisors physically present at the meeting is equally problematic as the resulting paper trail on the Palestinian side plus the authentication your (leaked) secret meetings provide effectively leaks your proposal.

    Presenting the Palestinian leader with a take it or leave it immediate proposal is a good solution. Everyone in this mess has spent enough time hashing over it to have all the significant issues memorized. It isn’t a contract with the devil so if Abbas signed the agreement only to later find out it included some deliberately obscured fine print screwing the Palestinians over that’s plenty of justification to back out and credibly claim to be the aggrieved party.

    If Abbas felt the proffered proposal was a good option I doubt he would have hesitated because he couldn’t first consult with other experts on the one issue he’s devoted most of his adult life to dealing with.

  5. Christopher says:

    So, in Confucianism, you give one guy all the power, and in exchange, he promises to use it in a judicious and wise fashion.

    And if he breaks that promise?

    Well, don’t worry, we can… Oh wait we can’t do shit because he has all the power and we have none.

    If only there had been some way to predict the incredibly obvious.

    It seems to me that you could argue that the Soviet Union was built on exactly these Confucian principles; the government had all the power, but it was philosophocally trained to use that power only for the uplifting of the proletariat.

    I forget how that turned out. Really well, I bet.

    Anyway, the modern meritocratic systems are at least partially an attempt to hold leaders to their obligations; to provide ways to remove poor or selfish leaders who abandon their duties to their subordinates rather than simply hoping they become better leaders before too many people are sent to the gulag.

    Also after all that Confucian talk was a link to an article about how awesome genocide is, and how intellectually daring it is to talk like a 50s racist, so, you know, fuck it.

    Hey, maybe parroting the lazy thinking of a previous decade is just as lazy as parroting the lazy thinking of the current decade. Just throwing that out there.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      My feelings exactly on Confucianism. It is a terrible idea in theory. And the practical results in China were damn near exactly what you’d expect: centuries of stagnation and an extremely hierarchical and oppressive social system.

      One thing I find odd about the … novo-regressives is their extreme collectivism. Because usually American conservatives are fairly individualistic. That’s the good part about them. But novo-regressives are obsessed with the survival of the group.

      In some ways, I suppose this can be explained by Scott’s zombie apocalypse theory of the political spectrum. Probably, people would be more collectivistic in the zombie apocalypse.

      But partly I think it is all the old 19th-century philosophy they look at. The 19th century was an extremely collectivistic era philosophically. (That’s where we got the ideas behind all the wonderful 20th-century totalitarian dictatorships!)

      Anyway, Confucianism is of course very anti-individual, so I think that’s why they like it.

      • onyomi says:

        I think you guys are severely misapprehending Confucianism within the Chinese thought context. Confucianism is not an authoritarian philosophy, nor a collectivist philosophy. Legalism, the school of thought of Shang Yang and Hanfei zi more nearly corresponds to authoritarianism, and has been, it is frequently argued, the “secret” ruling ideology of every major Chinese Dynasty since the Qin (the stereotype, since the Han officially adopted Confucianism, has been “Confucian in name, Legalist in reality”).

        Confucianism is not about extreme concentrations of power; it is about distribution of power in accordance with ability to handle it. The greater the power, the more responsibility. The patriarch is responsible for making sure his household runs well, the local mayor or governor is responsible for making sure the households under his jurisdiction run well, and the emperor is responsible for making sure the whole kingdom runs well.

        What’s more, the primary mechanism Confucianism suggests is not authoritarian rules but personal moral example. The emperor, if he is a moral paragon, will inspire all the ministers, who will inspire all the fathers, who inspire all the children, etc.–a kind of trickle-down morality. This is also why the emperor could be blamed not only for flood and famine, but even things like earthquakes; it was believed nature responded positively to a virtuous ruler and negatively to a non-virtuous ruler; unlike the Japanese tennou, the Chinese Son of Heaven was viewed as replacable if he lost the “mandate of Heaven” as indicated by things going well. Mencius explicitly states that bad rulers can be replaced.

        Confucianism is arguably anti-individualist in that it emphasizes the importance of relationships and hierarchy, but I think relationships and hierarchy and moral example are a good replacement for strict, authoritarian rule: “If the people be led by laws and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment but have no sense of guilt. If they be led by virtue and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety, they will have the sense of guilt and moreover will become good.”

        Sure, Confucianism tacitly endorses monarchy, but there was no other real option at the time; it wasn’t like the argument was between Confucian monarchs and some other group arguing for a constitution republic. Within the context of Chinese thought, Confucianism is a school which demands pretty high accountability from those who would rule or occupy positions of high social status.

        Compare this to Mo’ism, which denies the importance of family–basically love everyone the same regardless of personal closeness, and Legalism, which is basically the Hobessian philosophy of its day, and Confucianism comes out very pro-social, yet also pro-individual cultivation and individual judgment.

        The Daoist school of thought (Laozi, Zhuangzi) is more anarchic, and maybe better in some ways, but it also advocates reclusion, abdication of political responsibility, and Luddism, so, while possibly appropriate for a personal life philosophy, would probably be very hard to run a kingdom on.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Confucianism had far more depth than that. It emphasized many relationships beyond ruler/ruled, most especially those of the family, whereas Communism sought to stomp out pretty much all of those relationships except ruler/ruled. Indeed, Confucius seemed to regard the king as the least important part of his system. It had its flaws, but they weren’t the same as Communism’s, which is why it was able to sustain a society at a pretty decent level for a few thousand years.

      • onyomi says:

        Yeah, the nearest Chinese predecessor to Communism is, by far, not Confucianism, but Mo’ism, with its hatred of extravagance, ritual, and superstition, and emphasis on “universal love” and science. I know, sounds great, but also weirdly similar to atheistic “scientific socialism.”

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          All this pattern matching of the Hundred Schools of Thought to 19th century philosophies is making me think of Oswald Spengler.

          • onyomi says:

            Care to elaborate?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @onyomi: In Spengler’s Decline of the West, there’s a fold-out chart of parallel columns summarizing his evidence for his cyclical theory of history. In Spengler’s theory, each literate, state-level culture (“high culture” or “civilization”) starts with “the birth of a new God-concept”, which then gets systematized (Hesiod is the Classical Aquinas), then Reformers create an alternative to the system (Pythagoras goes in the Classical column), and this dialectic sparks the development of philosophy, out of which comes each civilization’s unique form of atheism (Epicureanism), which is in turn defeated by a school of philosophy suitable for the “world empire” that each civilization becomes when all but one of the states within it becomes decadent and static and that one conquers the rest (Roman Stoicism). When religion and politics reach this stage, other areas of human activity (math, art, etc) end their development and the civilization endures in a “fixed form” until overtaken by another.
            In this model, modernity (as well as the Hellenistic period) are equivalent to China’s Warring States period, and the proliferation of Western philosophies from the 17th century to WW1 are analogous to the Hundred Schools of Thought that emerged in the Spring and Autumn period, with the preceding Western Zhou priest-kings being equated to the medieval popes.

      • Christopher says:

        Fair enough. I was talking more about Lee’s very poor attempt to sell a “Confucian Heuristic”; I assume a philosophy can’t be totally summed up in a few paragraphs.

        There’s this bit in The Illuminatus Trilogy,

        “[Hagbard] was remembering a house lease in Professor Orlock’s class. ‘What it amounts to, in English,’ Hagbard had said, ‘is that the tenant has no rights that can be successfully defended in court, and the landlord has no duties on which he cannot, quite safely, default.'”

        There are very few philosophies that encourage leaders to be incompetent or evil. The question is what you do with leaders who are those things. The greater the disparity in power between you and the authorities over you, the harder it is to call them to account for reneging on their duties, but of course, they won’t have much problem punishing you when you screw up.

        I have trouble taking a philosophy seriously when it just sort of assumes this won’t be a problem.

        • Jaskologist says:

          One of the tenets of …those people… is that power is preserved. Thus, the question isn’t how to get rid of power disparities (you can’t), the question is how to manage them humanely.

          Consider the “strong, independent woman,” crying because Planned Parenthood was defunded and now how will she afford birth control? This woman is not actually independent. She has simply exchanged dependence on a husband, who might have loved her, for dependence on a faceless bureaucracy, which never ever will.

          Confucianism is quite clear that both sides of the relationship have responsibilities to the other. Enforcement is an issue, of course, but when is it ever not? I would not put my faith in the kafkaesque appeals process of any bureaucracy either. And Confucianism explicitly recognizes the right of the people to rebel if the king doesn’t hold up his end.

          • Christopher says:

            This is my point, though; we have a system which pays a great deal of attention to finding ways to remove the incompetent and evil from power, and it’s still quite difficult to manage those relationships well.

            I’m very suspicious of the idea that we should go backwards.

            The Republican congress can’t love the woman in your example, but they won’t beat her, either. Indifference, even a rather cruel indifference, is quite often preferable to a personal hatred.

            That’s the flip side of developing a personal relationship with authority; it might just as well hate you as love you.

            And the big thing to me is that what I’m saying is really explicitly spelled out in the literature and philosophy of the last couple of centuries, so it’s weird to me that in the couple of articles I read Lee doesn’t address, or even seem aware of what I’m saying here.

  6. > Depending on what you classify as a “mass shooting”, you can prove pretty much whatever you want about mass shootings.

    The link only demonstrates the unsurprising fact that the absolute rate of mass shootings varies according to the threshold value of “mass shooting” used. Which is to say, it doesn’t demonstrate that facts about the relative rates of mass shooting based on the same definition of mass shooting change from their usual values. That’s a pretty important exception to “pretty much whatever you want”.

  7. Ian says:

    The Szilassi polyhedron is really neat.

    I can’t tell from the Wikipedia article whether it was constructed specifically to share this property with the tetrahedron; does anyone else know?

  8. Parker says:

    I’m worried about the direction of The Future Primeval. I’ve really liked Harold Lee, and I loved his explanation of Confucianism. His other stuff is just as thought-provoking.

    But this from the latest TFP post: “But I think this blog so far has been erring too far on the side of reasonableism. There are important things we haven’t written because its [sp] hard to put them in reasonable-sounding language. We will have to work on that, becoming a bit less reasonable so we can be more correct and useful.”

    He even calls out Scott’s goshdarned reasonableness.

    I’m … skeptical, not least because Warg Franklin seems to think this guy Jim is the shit, when he seems to be anything but. I’m hoping that Harold Lee will be allowed to just do his thing in the future.

    edit: added links

    • Murphy says:

      I’m not a fan of them but to steelman the retreat from reasonableism:

      Sometimes true things can sound unreasonable. If you limit yourself to saying only things which sound reasonable in your current cultural context you may be limiting yourself to not saying some true things.

      For example if you were from a very communist culture which held it as self evident that markets are bad then it would be very hard to get across the point that markets can work really well for some things while also sounding reasonable and you may find yourself unconsciously retreating from positions which the evidence indicates to be true in favor of positions closer to those already held by your readers.

      So that “markets can work really well for some things” gets turned into the more watered down “perhaps, maybe, sometimes, occasionally, possibly control economies might, just might not always yield the optimum outcome”

      You get called terribly reasonable because you only diverge very very slightly from the socially acceptable position and work really really hard to support those diversions but you may still be retreating from the truth of reality in order to get called reasonable.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        I think you can “steelman” it a bit further than that.

        (Disclaimer: not actually a Death Eater myself, just reading between the lines.)

        The big strike against being reasonable or moderate for these guys is that it doesn’t actually get them anything. They’re not treated with any more respect, arguably less since they aren’t even scary. Their eloquently expressed compromise positionss aren’t received any better than other people shouting extreme positions on the street corner. And on top of all that they’re open to attack from their own side for weakening their bargaining position by giving up so much right out of the gate.

        Why should they keep playing a game they can’t win? Flipping the table might not be any more helpful but it feels good and can hardly make their position worse.

        • Echo says:

          “Compromise turns the wheels of politics. Libs say we’re evil. We agree with some portion of their critique. Libs say we’re evil. Progress!”

      • Parker says:

        That’s a good point. Yet it’s not the retreat from reasonablism that I disagree with. I suppose it’s more that they like this guy Jim, and point to *that* as being brave and true and whatever. And if that’s what you’re trying for, maybe even your standard, it says really bad things about where you’re headed.

        It’s almost like there is a competition to say the most unreasonable things, when it should be a competition to say the truest things.

    • Nornagest says:

      There are a lot of things that confuse me about the Death Eaters, but the apparently high regard for Jim in that culture is one of the more confusing. Kinda like the ritual invocation of Rhodesia.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Jim is kind of like The-Political-Philosophy-That-Must-Not-Be-Named’s version of Robin Hanson. He is really good at disregarding mainstream taboos and looking at social reality from the outside, which allows to him to say a lot of interesting, if not always true, things.

        The other great thing about Jim is that he is so extreme that, after reading him, the other You-Know-What’s blog posts no longer seem so shocking by comparison, which allows one to actually think about them. Jim expands the Overton window to the right all by himself, just by existing.

        • Nornagest says:

          Robin Hanson is pretty good at avoiding fnords, which allows me to focus more easily on his object-level claims. Pretty useful if you’re in the business of breaking taboos.

          Jim’s writing on the other hand is more fnord-dense than just about anyone I’ve read outside Tumblr or the Gawker network; now, I’ll grant that they’re a fascinatingly extreme kind of fnord that I tended, before reading him, to dismiss as extinct in the wild, but that doesn’t make him any more accessible.

          Maybe that’s supposed to work as a shibboleth. Maybe being able to read and appreciate Jim without getting hung up on connotations every five seconds is the memetic equivalent of downing double shots of Laphroaig without making a face, but if I’m not trying to look cool to Death Eaters, why should I bother?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yeah, if you listen to what he’s saying Robin Hanson sounds a lot like the N_R_x, but since he’s smart enough to use the terms “forager” and “farmer” instead of “decadent” and “civilized” he gets away with it.

        • dndnrsn says:

          jaimeastorga2000:

          On the latter point, on the one hand, you are probably right that Jim has a sort of effect like lifting a really heavy weight, after which a still-heavy-but-lighter weight feels much lighter. For instance, when contrasted to Jim’s views about women (and Jim’s views about women and rape…) someone who is arguing for (very) traditional gender roles seems like a member of the NOW exec.

          On the other hand, isn’t that undermined by the fact that you can see (a few? Some? Many?) of the traditional gender roles proponents quoting Jim approvingly.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          @jaimeastorga2000: I’m skeptical that this is a conscious or effective strategy. It’s more like… contrarian Tourette’s. I saw this to a lesser extent in Moldbug. He couldn’t stick to “Dear open-minded progressives, here’s why you should consider being a Tory”, but had to go “Hate speech! Carlyle said it!”
          Never mind that in the American Revolution, the Tories were the ones against racial slavery…

          • dndnrsn says:

            Yeah. Moldbug slides very quickly from “American revolutionaries were not the good guys; the history you are given in which they are pure and good is very distorted; here are some historical sources that paint it in a very different light” (which is a revisionist reading of history, but not an especially absurd reading of history) to racist stuff that is clearly false (eg, when he starts claiming that the current system in the US treats blacks as nobles and whites as commoners – which is an absolutely bogus position to take).

          • Nornagest says:

            I’ve found that Moldbug makes a lot more sense if you mentally replace every instance of “US culture” or equivalent with “San Francisco progressive rhetoric”. You could be forgiven for missing it, given that if you read one of his articles to the average Bay Aryan they’d probably attribute it to a hypothetical bastard child of Lord Voldemort and Satan, but his views are actually super parochial: it’s the angle on American society you’d get if you were a Martian whose flying saucer landed at the Civic Center BART station right after a major protest.

            Of course, this undermines a lot of his points. San Francisco progressives don’t reliably translate San Francisco progressive rhetoric into substantive action, much less the rest of the country.

          • suntzuanime says:

            They do, but at a delay; his whole point is that today’s mainstream is the progressive rhetoric of fifty years ago. When the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Wedding Cakes is forcing you to bake at gunpoint, it’s cold comfort to realize that the SF progressives have even bolder ideas that have yet to be implemented.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: That’s insightful. It didn’t really register with me that he’s a Bay Aryan, beyond recognizing that he’s a rich programmer. When I read/skimmed him (good heavens he’s a windbag), I was paying more attention to the stuff about Washington and how the State Department won’t let us win a war except against an enemy of the Left and it’s the fault of people like his Communist grandparents.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I find it bizarre that people think Scott is long-winded. Moldbug is on a whole different level. Also, where did he get the idea from that “sci-fi thought experiment/analogy” was in any way helpful?

  9. >I have always been skeptical of the research showing that spanking traumatizes children and causes them various problems throughout their life. (…) For another, it’s just too convenient – this thing everyone in history has done forever turns out to be really bad for you, and the late-20th-century-rich-Westerner way of doing things is actually provably way better!

    I really respect you for writing this, Scott – the only problem with you is applying this logic inconsistently and in isolated cases, hence you are a liberal. Do it all the time consistently and you become rrrrrr…

    Anyway it could be interpreted so that genetically bad behaving children earn a spanking all the time / cause it to happen through bad behavior, or it could be interpreted so that both parent and child have inherited genetic bad behavior, and the genetic bad behavior in case of the parent is precisely the spanking. I.e. that both misbehave for the same genetic reasons, the kids misbehavior is i.e. disrespect and talking back to parents or something similar, loudly refusing to accept their place in the family hierarchy, and the parents misbehavior is resorting to spanking or slapping instead of what would be ideal is some kind of a non-violent Heartiste type amused mastery alpha stuff. (Don’t be surprised, if the idea behind Heartistry is that women are children, then this kind of amused mastery stuff is supposed to work on children. I certainly saw some really talented dads handle problem teenagers well through amused mastery kind of alpha stuff. Like “That is my shoes. I didn’t give you permission to wear them.” The boy takes them off, puts them back, then the dad says: “Well actually, I don’t need them now. You can wear them.” Trollface. Slight cussing on the boys side as he puts them on again. Not a bad way to convey a lesson.)

  10. >Vox: Hamilton’s Cabinet Battle #1 Explained. Using a silly song to investigate a tough question: how easy it is to map our current concepts of “right” and “left” onto the 1700s’ Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties

    To be on the right would have been being an anti-revolutonary Tory. So the discussion is between moderate left, like Madison, and far left, like Paine. (In the context of that age, where modern socialist leftism was not popular, you can also call it moderate liberal and radical liberal.)

    In a hindsight, state elites were probably more aristocratic in nature than federal elites. Pro-centrifugal is to be interpreted as more conservative in this case. Hamiltons position sounds far-leftist or radically liberal: by tying local elites to FedGov i.e. the natural, coercion based, might makes right, non-ideological aristocracy of slave-owning planters and other basic simple brute-force based elites to the ideological, idealistic creation of the FedGov. Creating a robust bond market looks like liberal social engineering: back then capitalism was a weird new liberal experiment.

    >To opponents, the combination of redemption and assumption piled unfairness onto unfairness. He was proposing regressive taxes (mostly tariffs and excise taxes) in order to give money to rich speculators.

    Yes, this is conservative. There is a robust history of conservative anti-rich, anti-capitalist attitudes. See Chesterton. To “true” conservatives aristocratic merit worths far more than monetary elitism.

    In short, Hamiltons strictly capitalistic, money-based elitism and its more populist opponents sounds very similar to the Anti-Semites vs. Jews types of conflcits. If you read Henry Ford on makers vs. getters, it is a similar story. I think in this particular case it had no ethnic/religious conflict: Hamilton and the likes were New England Protestants, not Jews. I am just pointing out the same set of disagreements tends to reappear over and over in history, amongst various ethnic groups. One group, you may call it populist right wing, accuses another group of supporting an unproductive, “getter not maker” type capitalism, sometimes with ethnic or religious contexts: damn Jews, damn Protestants, even, damn Chinese. In this case, probably, damn Yankees, damn Northerners. The real seed being sown were that of the Civil War. If there was an ethnic difference, it was South-North.

    This conflict is a left-right type of conflict, but earlier than the modern socialist left, capitalist right types of conflicts. It was a conflict between the agricultural capitalism of “makers” who tended towards a more populistic right wing, something Chesterton or Southern Agrarians would support, read Richard M. Weaver, or even Russel Kirk, and between a very liberal elite understanding of capitalism that is permissive towards less virtuous getter activities like speculation, interprets capitalism as a way to get rich and not a way to develop solid bourgeois civic virtues and sows the seeds of moving further to the left.

    This is somewhat forgotten today, but it was totally real in many countries. The resurgence of Anti-Semitism in Europe around 1930 was something similar: Jews were made the symbolic scapegoats of Hamiltons unproductive, liberal, permissive capitalism, this pitted against strictly productive, traditionalist capitalism, where the focus is on virtue through work, not maximal profitability, and that got linked to Christianity and nationalism.

    Call it capitalist infighting: a commie would certainly be correct to call it so. But a form of capitalist infighting where liberal and conservative sides are easy to identify.

    • MichaelM says:

      I have to wonder where your understanding of the era in question comes from, because it bears no resemblance to what I know about it.

      “To be on the right would have been being an anti-revolutonary Tory. So the discussion is between moderate left, like Madison, and far left, like Paine. (In the context of that age, where modern socialist leftism was not popular, you can also call it moderate liberal and radical liberal.)”

      If Paine is far left and Madison (who was driven from the Pro-Administration faction into the arms of Jefferson by Hamilton’s policies) is moderate left, presumably you mean to imply that Hamilton would be somewhere between the two? I really hope not, because, that would be really weird with the way Paine treated Hamilton and his program, as antithetic to what Paine had wrote about and fought for an America and France. He continuously likened it to the Old World policies of Great Britain and the old regime on the Continent. If Paine is a radical liberal, Hamilton is SOME kind of conservative.

      The real problem is right and left don’t really map too closely onto the issues back then. If I had to take a real stab at it, I would say Hamilton was most like a national security conservative today. However, even that comparison falls flat on its face because the social model implicit in Hamilton’s program is so totally alien to what a Paul Wolfowitz or a Dick Cheney would recognize or be in favor of.

      “In a hindsight, state elites were probably more aristocratic in nature than federal elites. Pro-centrifugal is to be interpreted as more conservative in this case. Hamiltons position sounds far-leftist or radically liberal: by tying local elites to FedGov i.e. the natural, coercion based, might makes right, non-ideological aristocracy of slave-owning planters and other basic simple brute-force based elites to the ideological, idealistic creation of the FedGov. Creating a robust bond market looks like liberal social engineering: back then capitalism was a weird new liberal experiment. ”

      And this is just…you have no idea what society looked like in the Early Republic period, do you? You’re trying to read this simplistic, anachronistic narrative into everything that just wasn’t there. Yes, Jefferson and many of his political friends were part of the planter aristocracy — but then Hamilton and many of HIS political friends were part of the finance-merchant aristocracy. And notice I left out the sectional distinction here, because it’s important to remember that the tensions and differentiation that turned into Civil War 70 years later were barely a seed of what would come later. North and South alike were overwhelmingly agrarian with little lights of large scale commerce here and there. Hamilton got support from both New York AND Charleston.

      The conflict was driven through with ideology. Jefferson, at least in theory, was a radical egalitarian who wanted to see a future America of happy, land-owning small farmers governing themselves in neat, compact little townships and pursued their trade using careful reasoning and the latest sciences. Seriously, the central parcel of land in his hypothetical ward republic wasn’t reserved for a church, or a government building, or a god damned slave block, but to a school: A school that every child in the ward was supposed to attend for all the reasons of personal cultivation and enrichment that Enlightenment figures attached to education.

      It can’t be emphasized enough how silly it is to call Jeffersonian resistance to the Federalist program ‘non-ideological’. Jefferson was a dreamer through and through. He didn’t really run his administration like one, but he did do a good job of rolling back significant portions of the Federalists’ work.

      Hamilton himself had an ideological commitment to hierarchy. This is the guy who came from nothing in the Caribbean and made it a point to hob-nob his way into the commercial aristocracy of New York City. He’s an older archetype of the self-made man than you’ll see today: A self-made man who is desperate to hide the fact that he’s self-made. He wanted to tie the wealthy to the new Federal government because he thought that was all that matter for giving it stability. He wanted to create a permanent class of owners who had all the wealth and property as a solid foundation for the government, in the best traditions of kings and dictators everywhere, everywhen. Unless you want to call the Germanic kings who parceled land out to their supporters ‘liberals’ or ‘leftists’, don’t pretend like patronage of any kind of ‘liberal’ or ‘leftist’.

      As you keep drilling down into the details involved your story starts making less and less sense. Creating a bond market for public debt wasn’t a daring venture into something new, it was him emulating (very, very well, by the way — the man was definitely a genius who knew exactly what he was doing and how to do it successfully) what had existed in Europe for more than century. The drama surrounding the Mississippi Company and John Law in the 1720’s was an attempt by the King of France to reduce his debt burden (a financially sophisticated, although faulty, one). Public finance wasn’t anything new in Hamilton’s time, it was just new in America, which had been financially repressed when it was a series of colonies. Deliberately. Capitalism, at least of the sort Hamilton was working with, was not a weird new experiment, it was a practiced mechanism that had centuries of history in more or less developed form.

      As paragons of policy, Hamilton and Jefferson don’t map very well onto right and left. They definitely had ideologies they believed in very strongly (and which their supporters did even more so) which also don’t map very well onto modern ideas of right and left. They were both aristocrats, or least advocated for the interests of an aristocracy (in addition to others — sailors and shipyard workers in the cities voted for Federalists, the same as farmers and mechanics voted for Democratic-Republicans). Both of their visions failed and neither of them was able to exert the control over the destiny of the country they wanted to. Reality has a habit of doing that, running away from our attempts to make it behave the way we want.

      Jefferson’s ward republics never came into being, even in the Old Northwest where he had immense influence on its foundation. People didn’t want to move into staid little democratic communities and be rational and enlightened, they wanted to make money, so they did. Instead of buying up parcels of public land and settling there to found a family, the first wave of settlers would buy a parcel, farm it as intensively as they could until the soil was ruined, sell it off or just leave, and buy a new parcel further out. Jefferson, the seeming radical egalitarian, completely failed to anticipate how people would act when they were actually made equal (no surprise there…people tend to think ‘equal’ means ‘just like me’). By the time permanent settlers moved in you already had the kind of town economy Jefferson didn’t like.

      Hamilton’s financial aristocracy never came into being. He failed to lock up the capital of the country where it could be controlled and directed by the central government into the hands of its supporters and a new kind of self-made man popped up in the next generation — one who made no bones about his origins and took PRIDE in making himself more than he once was. A raucous kind of democracy that didn’t care about status or social privilege came about that would have terrified Hamilton. If what happened in the US in the 19th century was capitalism of the ‘weird, new, experimental’ variety you talk about, then Hamilton did not like that capitalism and tried to prevent it.

      This is the kind of ‘history’ that I don’t like and that’s part of the reason I’ve been increasingly wary of this ‘Hamilton’ play the more I’ve learned about it. It seems like an increasing mainstreaming of a process I’ve seen going on in historical circles where early American history is appropriated and reimagined into political or partisan propaganda. It makes some sense when it’s just ignorant socialists on the internet who know little more about Hamilton than that he liked ‘big government’ (and big government is obviously good in all cases to ignorant socialists on the internet), but to see something like that play come out of someone who is supposed to have done their research is depressing. To see it become even a small part of popular culture is even more depressing, because popular culture is almost entirely deaf to academic nuance and it matters what’s put on TV or in a movie, not what the truth is. The Vox article does a good job with push-back, but how many more people will see the Hamilton play than read the Vox article?

      • Tatu Ahponen says:

        “It makes some sense when it’s just ignorant socialists on the internet who know little more about Hamilton than that he liked ‘big government’ (and big government is obviously good in all cases to ignorant socialists on the internet)” What are you referring to? I’m mostly reminded of this article from Jacobin which is rather more nuanced than “Hamilton liked big government so he was a socialist”: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/08/reading-hamilton-from-the-left/

        • MichaelM says:

          I’ve spent enough time watching debates between relatively uninformed leftists and rightists on the internet to see the Jefferson versus Hamilton debate played out a million times. Generally, the most pro-worker, left-wing person in the debate is always the biggest fan of Hamilton, the consumate crony capitalist. Because in the minds of most internet debaters, nuance is an unnecessary frivolity. It’s by no means true of everyone and I’m sorry if I gave that impression.

          That article doesn’t do the best job of capturing the nuances and really seems to be a more thoughtful write-up in the same tradition I’m talking about (one which tries to reach back and place modern conceptions of politics in an era that didn’t have them) just so it can build Hamilton into the kind of modern day hero that people have traditionally used Jefferson for. It’s not great history and kind of a good shibboleth is how wrong it gets Shays’ revolt. It cherry-picks writings to build its narrative, rather than using writings to determine what kind of narrative it can build. In fact, it’s more or less the same sectional narrative that Dividualist here tried to tell us, one that betrays frightening ignorance of the actual politics of the period.

          Anyone who tells you Hamilton wanted ‘industrialization’ is lying to you. Hamilton didn’t know what industrialization was. No one did. Industrialization was something brand new that was only happening in England and Scotland and Hamilton never traveled there in this period, or at least never spent time wandering the backstreets of Manchester or Birmingham. He didn’t know what it looked like, what it was about it, or really anything about it. He wanted MANUFACTURING, as an export oriented alternative to commerce. More importantly, he wanted manufacturing dependent on his government that would bring prosperity to the manufacturers who would then support the government.

          He didn’t want internal economic development where we traded with ourselves at increasing levels every year. No one did. No one knew that could be a thing where a country gets richer based off of an internal economy at the time. International trade was the sine qua non of national prosperity in the minds of the time, hence theories like mercantilism. The immense economic growth of the next several decades happened by surprised and kind of in spite of what people at the top were doing. The ‘Market Revolution’ was most definitely bottom up in the US. It wasn’t represented by Jefferson or by Hamilton, both of whom wouldn’t have been fans.

          It’s all a bit too neatly Whiggish, or perhaps Marxian, in its sense of ‘first we’ve got to be capitalist, then we can be socialist! If you go back far enough, anyone pro-capitalist is the ancestor of the pro-socialist!’ It completely replaces any other consideration of political positioning with, “Are you for or against a large role for government in society?”, which is total nonsense. Hamilton was about national development…in the sense that he wanted an economy that could support a government able to tax and borrow the money to support a military capable of competing as a world power. His vision was ALWAYS bound up in military power and in the social mechanisms to support it. Ignoring that to turn him into some early progressive is utterly bonkers

          The summary of more later antebellum politics in that article is even worse. I can’t even fathom this person doing more than cursory research into the topic. It’s a political piece from beginning to end. Don’t trust political pieces to get history right, history is rarely so neat as to support any particular modern politics.

    • Tatu Ahponen says:

      The basic question of federalism and anti-federalism does not necessarily map to a left-right scale at all. Look at Europe and the question of European federalism: there are forces opposing it and supporting it both on the left and the right. Just recently there was a referendum in Denmark about whether it basically should integrate some aspects of its systems more closely to the EU. Opposing it were Unity List (socialist), Liberal Alliance (quasi-libertarian) and People’s Party (nationalist). Supporting parties were a similar melange of social democrats, liberals and conservatives. In Spain, related to the issue of whether Spain should be centralized, federalized or if some regions should be independent, you similarly have parties esposing all sorts of views both on the left and the right. Etc etc

  11. prbotts says:

    Regarding the Eastland, it’s a stretch to say that the lifeboats change caused its tragic accident. That ship had previously had repeated problems and was provably top-heavy long before the lifeboats were moved. Really it simply shouldn’t have been allowed in passenger service at all, and under a modern regulatory regime wouldn’t be.
    Note also that while despite contemporary criticism of the new lifeboat law there were no further non-weather-related capsizings of that era’s Great Lakes passenger ships. (Of which there were many, it was a pretty big sector through the first third of the 20th century.)

  12. houseboatonstyx says:

    From Scott’s essay today
    Depending on what you classify as a “mass shooting”, you can prove pretty much whatever you want about mass shootings.

    Haven’t seen anybody else comment on this, so I hesitate to bring up the subject. But a useful term might be NECAR* — an acronym of Newtown, EliotRodger, Columbine, Aurora, Roseburg. This list includes events that weren’t in schools (Aurora/Batman was in a movie theater) nor primarily shootings (EliotRodger), and I hope a minimum body count won’t be required for using it.

    * Apologies to NASCAR. If that’s too confusing, other acronyms are solicited.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      Is there a unifying thread to those incidents, other than attention paid in the media?

      • John Schilling says:

        “Attention paid in the media” is what makes people terrified, and the terror is the problem we’re really trying to deal with, so if there’s a more important unifying thread I’m not sure what it would be.

        • > , and the terror is the problem we’re really trying to deal with,

          No, people don’t die of terror.

          • CatCube says:

            The number of people killed in these incidents is tiny as a percentage of population. We could probably save more lives by banning swimming pools (385 deaths per year only for those under 15 according to the CSPC–I didn’t care enough to track down the numbers for the whole population) compared to stopping highly-visible mass shooting incidents, but nobody is wailing and gnashing their teeth about those.

            I’d say the media whipping up terror is exactly the issue.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ TheAncientGeek
            >> and the terror is the problem we’re really trying to deal with,
            > No, people don’t die of terror.

            Assuming an equal body count, the effect on the survivors in a case of death plus terror causes more dis-utility than death without terror, and death plus horror also causes more than death without, and death plus both horror and terror causes more yet.

            So preventing these NECAR-type incidents deserves more attention and much stronger measures than might be justified for gun deaths in general.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ John Schilling
          “Attention paid in the media” is what makes people terrified, and the terror is the problem we’re really trying to deal with, so if there’s a more important unifying thread I’m not sure what it would be.

          Exactly. (Well, my side thinks those horrifying incidents are worth avoiding per se, and the other side thinks they give guns a bad name. But both of us would like fewer of them.)

          The next unifying thread (which may cause the media attention) is the profile of the assailant (which is the same as the Middle Eastern suicide terrorists): young loser male. In the US cases, it’s young loser males who are already behaving like nut cases and/or have been reported as threats by their schoolmates and/or families.

          I’m being quite rudely non-PC here. I’m not saying “We need better mental health services for these poor victims of society to offer them the help they need etc etc.”

        • I think you’re mistaken there. Black people (possibly mostly lower class black people– see the beginning of The New Jim Crow for some clues about the divide between poor black people and black professionals) were already afraid of the police and the justice system.

          If you like, I can find you a discussion between a couple of black men about non-police black vs. black violence being a much more serious problem than violence by the police.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Nancy, your comment nested wrong. We’re talking about NECAR incidents: ie Newtown, EliotRodger, Columbine, Aurora, Roseburg.

  13. Eli says:

    Paul Krugman reviews Robert Reich on skills gaps and unemployment, argues that there’s more monopoly in the economy than we think and this is having lots of bad effects despite the apparently convincing theoretical arguments for why this shouldn’t happen.

    Well no. He says there’s exactly as much monopoly in the economy as we think, which is a whole hell of a lot, and it’s having bad effects despite people convincing the government not to enforce existing, on-the-books anti-trust laws.

    When laws were made for a reason, and the government is convinced not to enforce them because that would be mean to criminals, you can see how Bad Stuff might result.

  14. nydwracu says:

    As a rule, every article about linguistics written for a non-specialist population is garbage. There are almost no exceptions. That article is not one of them. Even though McWhorter is a linguist.

    English speakers know that their language is odd. So do people saddled with learning it non-natively. The oddity that we all perceive most readily is its spelling, which is indeed a nightmare. In countries where English isn’t spoken, there is no such thing as a ‘spelling bee’ competition. For a normal language, spelling at least pretends a basic correspondence to the way people pronounce the words. But English is not normal.

    This is retarded. Some languages have writing systems where sounds and letters correspond regularly with no exceptions, but these are generally the ones that were unwritten or at least unstandardized until relatively recently, like Finnish (and the correspondence isn’t perfect in Finnish, and anyway no one speaks the standard), or the (rarer) ones with a long-standing tradition of reform to bring about this correspondence, like Spanish. English has been written for a long time and does not have a tradition of reform, so it’s accumulated irregularities — like French — see Derrida’s différance, a deliberate misspelling of différence which is pronounced identically — or Tibetan, where the school of Buddhism known in English as ‘Kagyu’ is spelled བཀའ་བརྒྱུད (i.e. bka’-brgyud) and pronounced Kajü. (And the Tibetan word for ‘eight’ is spelled བརྒྱད brgyad and pronounced .) English preserves the spelling of loanwords, like Thai and many other languages of Southeast Asia, which have letters that exist specifically for spelling loanwords from Sanskrit — ทัณฑฆาต daṇḍghāt is pronounced thanthakaat (with tones that I don’t care enough to mark), and the letters romanized ṇ ḍ have never had distinct values in Thai from the letters romanized n d. (The daṇḍghāt, incidentally, is a diacritic placed over a letter to show that it shouldn’t be pronounced — it appears on the last letter of นฤเบศร์ nṛp̉eśr̽, for example, and that’s pronounced naruebeet.)

    But actually, it’s us who are odd: almost all European languages belong to one family – Indo-European – and of all of them, English is the only one that doesn’t assign genders that way.

    Afrikaans, Armenian, Bengali, and Oriya are Indo-European and have no grammatical gender. There are probably other Indo-European languages that don’t have grammatical gender, but they’re not on the list on Wikipedia. Which is trivial to find. (Afrikaans is a Germanic language. Some other Germanic languages, including many dialects of Danish/Norwegian/Swedish and Dutch, merged the masculine and feminine gender and now have a two-gender system of common vs. neuter.)

    There is exactly one language on Earth whose present tense requires a special ending only in the third‑person singular. I’m writing in it. I talk, you talk, he/she talk-s – why just that?

    Because the Old English plural verb marking -aþ disappeared for some reason, the second-person plural replaced the second-person singular, and the Old English first-person singular verb marking -e was lost when unstressed vowels were lost.

    And try naming another language where you have to slip do into sentences to negate or question something. Do you find that difficult? Unless you happen to be from Wales, Ireland or the north of France, probably.

    Well would you look at that those are all parts of the world that are right next to England you blithering idiot.

    Icelanders can still read similar stories written in the Old Norse ancestor of their language 1,000 years ago, and yet, to the untrained eye, Beowulf might as well be in Turkish.

    Icelandic is a very unusually conservative language. This is like being surprised that someone is shorter than Yao Ming. Late Middle Chinese was spoken about eight hundred years ago, and a monolingual Mandarin-speaker would probably understand even less of it than a monolingual English-speaker would understand of Old English. For one thing, Mandarin lost the majority of LMC’s final consonants — it merged -m with -n and lost -p -t -k.

    The first thing that got us from there to here was the fact that, when the Angles, Saxons and Jutes (and also Frisians) brought their language to England, the island was already inhabited by people who spoke very different tongues. Their languages were Celtic ones, today represented by Welsh, Irish and Breton across the Channel in France. The Celts were subjugated but survived, and since there were only about 250,000 Germanic invaders – roughly the population of a modest burg such as Jersey City – very quickly most of the people speaking Old English were Celts.

    Crucially, their languages were quite unlike English. For one thing, the verb came first (came first the verb). But also, they had an odd construction with the verb do: they used it to form a question, to make a sentence negative, and even just as a kind of seasoning before any verb. Do you walk? I do not walk. I do walk. That looks familiar now because the Celts started doing it in their rendition of English. But before that, such sentences would have seemed bizarre to an English speaker – as they would today in just about any language other than our own and the surviving Celtic ones. Notice how even to dwell upon this queer usage of do is to realise something odd in oneself, like being made aware that there is always a tongue in your mouth.

    This would predict that do-support should appear in Old English, or at least before 1400, which it doesn’t.

    When saying ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’, have you ever felt like you were kind of counting? Well, you are – in Celtic numbers, chewed up over time but recognisably descended from the ones rural Britishers used when counting animals and playing games. ‘Hickory, dickory, dock’ – what in the world do those words mean? Well, here’s a clue: hovera, dovera, dick were eight, nine and ten in that same Celtic counting list.

    The author confused eeny meeny miny moe with yan tan tethera. There is no Indo-European language where the words for ‘two’ or ‘three’ start with m-.

    The second thing that happened was that yet more Germanic-speakers came across the sea meaning business. This wave began in the ninth century, and this time the invaders were speaking another Germanic offshoot, Old Norse. But they didn’t impose their language. Instead, they married local women and switched to English. … Life went on, and pretty soon their bad Old English was real English, and here we are today: the Scandies made English easier.

    One would expect any article that explains Old Norse influence on Old English to mention that the pronoun they was loaned into the latter from the former.

    Old English had the crazy genders we would expect of a good European language – but the Scandies didn’t bother with those, and so now we have none. Chalk up one of English’s weirdnesses.

    Not sure about this. The decay of grammatical gender seems to have begun earliest in the northeast, so it might not be completely wrong. But I don’t know the specifics or the chronology.

    What’s more, the Vikings mastered only that one shred of a once-lovely conjugation system: hence the lonely third‑person singular –s, hanging on like a dead bug on a windshield. Here and in other ways, they smoothed out the hard stuff.

    Right, the second-person singular marking -(e)st was lost in the Danelaw period, not due to the much later loss of the second-person singular. Which is why it appears in the King James Bible.

    Finally, as if all this wasn’t enough, English got hit by a firehose spray of words from yet more languages. After the Norse came the French. The Normans – descended from the same Vikings, as it happens – conquered England, ruled for several centuries and, before long, English had picked up 10,000 new words. Then, starting in the 16th century, educated Anglophones developed a sense of English as a vehicle of sophisticated writing, and so it became fashionable to cherry-pick words from Latin to lend the language a more elevated tone.

    Not completely inaccurate — there were many loans into English from Norman French and Latin — but loaning from Latin had already begun in the Old English period.

    The die was cast: English had thousands of new words competing with native English words for the same things. One result was triplets allowing us to express ideas with varying degrees of formality.

    Sure, but this isn’t unique to English — see Burmese or Javanese.

    Here is Old Norse from the 900s CE, the first lines of a tale in the Poetic Edda called The Lay of Thrym. The lines mean ‘Angry was Ving-Thor/he woke up,’ as in: he was mad when he woke up. In Old Norse it was:

    Vreiðr vas Ving-Þórr / es vaknaði.
    The same two lines in Old Norse as spoken in modern Icelandic today are:

    Reiður var þá Vingþórr / er hann vaknaði.
    You don’t need to know Icelandic to see that the language hasn’t changed much. ‘Angry’ was once vreiðr; today’s reiður is the same word with the initial v worn off and a slightly different way of spelling the end. In Old Norse you said vas for was; today you say var – small potatoes.

    In Old English, however, ‘Ving-Thor was mad when he woke up’ would have been Wraþmod wæs Ving-Þórr/he áwæcnede. We can just about wrap our heads around this as ‘English’, but we’re clearly a lot further from Beowulf than today’s Reykjavikers are from Ving-Thor.

    “Wrathful was Ving-Thor / he awakened.” So there’s a different (Germanic) derivational suffix. Big deal.

    • Punk rock girl says:

      Deleted. Unkind comment, and uninformed too. I ain’t no linguist. Sorry nydwracu. Pardon my French, so to speak. I got carried away.

      • Nornagest says:

        Amusingly, “Nydwracu” is Old English — it’s from a line of Beowulf usually translated as something along the lines of “most baneful of burdens and bales of the night”.

    • onyomi says:

      There’s a weird phenomenon where people like to think of their own language as uniquely difficult to learn or weird somehow. One of the more interesting aspects of English is the huge amount of Romance language vocab it absorbed after the Normand Conquest, but Korean and Japanese basically did that with Chinese, too, and I’m sure there are many other examples (I think these are partially just easier to see than earlier waves because the import accompanied the introduction of writing).

      One of the bigger ironies is preservation of non-phonetic spellings, which most people hate and/or make fun of as being stupid and archaic, but which linguists like because they preserve an earlier state of pronunciation.

      • Liskantope says:

        There’s a weird phenomenon where people like to think of their own language as uniquely difficult to learn or weird somehow.

        Indeed; I’ve only recently become aware of this after moving to Italy and hearing from multiple Italians how difficult it is to learn Italian compared to learning English. I had grown up in America always hearing about how it’s obviously harder for a foreigner to learn English than for an English speaker to learn a foreign language (I think I mostly heard this from native English speakers sympathizing with immigrants, rather than from immigrants themselves). The truth of course is that each language is easier or more challenging in some aspects — English pronunciation/spelling is tough, while Italian verbs are tough.

        • onyomi says:

          I do think there is such a thing as “absolute difficulty” in languages–the Chinese writing system, for example, takes longer for even Chinese people to learn than our alphabet takes us (or, indeed, the Chinese) to learn–but most of the issue of language “difficulty” depends on whichever languages you already speak. I’ve been learning Korean and Cantonese recently, and they seem “easy” to me, but only because I already speak Japanese, Mandarin, and one other Southern dialect of Chinese. If Korean and Cantonese had been the first Asian languages I ever learned I’m sure they’d seem hard.

          That said, as you noted, there is also a phenomenon whereby languages which are simple in one parameter make up for it by being complex in another and vice-versa, which may just be a necessity for adequate communicative variation: Japanese pronunciation is easy and has very few total possible syllables, but, “to make up for it,” as it were, many Japanese words are very long.

          • anon says:

            Mandarin doesn’t have the arbitrary multiple readings per kanji, but it also doesn’t have kana to make it all easier. Kanji are a lot of work, but that’s because learning words is a lot of work, and kanji are baggage on top of that, comparable to learning bullshit english spellings or verb past forms or the gender of each substantive in the language. Tradeoffs, tradeoffs..

          • onyomi says:

            Well, they’re not arbitrary, exactly… most of them are either a Japanese way of pronouncing a Chinese word (an onyomi…) or Japanese words that have been assigned to Chinese characters because of their meaning (kunyomi).

          • Machine Interface says:

            A pet theory is that all spoken, ordinary languages are within the same order of magnitude of difficulty, but that literary, written, semi-artificial registers can vary considerably more in difficulty. Literary Old Irish is a particularly challenging language even for classicists used to Ancient Greek or to Sanskrit; by comparison, Latin is, in pretty much all respects, from pronunciation to spelling to grammar to vocabulary, a walk in the park; but Old Irish was probably never used in writing (let alone in speech) by more than a small literate elite. The medieval Irish people didn’t talk like that.

          • onyomi says:

            Literary Chinese is like that; probably never really spoken the way it is written and with a growing divergence over time. I have found many passages where multiple experts with decades’ worth of experience disagree about the basic meaning of a passage. I feel like this probably doesn’t happen so often with Latin and Greek.

          • Creutzer says:

            A pet theory is that all spoken, ordinary languages are within the same order of magnitude of difficulty, but that literary, written, semi-artificial registers can vary considerably more in difficulty.

            This maaay be true for syntax; it is definitely not true for morphology. Even children don’t take equally long to learn the morphology of all languages.

          • Licinius says:

            Different but related to the idea of languages that are simple in one regard being more complicated in another regard, I remember reading a study somewhere that with most languages, there is almost exactly a one-to-one tradeoff in how many syllables it takes to say something and how many syllables per second people speak. So, for example (from my weak recollection) Spanish is unusually inefficient in terms of how many syllables it takes to get your point across, and as a result, people speak more syllables per second. There were a couple languages that were exceptions, but generally, if a language took 30% more syllables to convey a bit of information, people would speak that language 30% faster.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Licinus

            Could that be because a more inefficient language has more redundancy, so errors are less costly, so you can afford to talk faster and tolerate a higher error rate than you can in a terse, efficient language where every syllable counts?

          • onyomi says:

            “Could that be because a more inefficient language has more redundancy, so errors are less costly, so you can afford to talk faster and tolerate a higher error rate than you can in a terse, efficient language where every syllable counts?”

            Not exactly, I don’t think, though slower languages can add more nuance to each individual syllable.

            I can speak one of the slowest and tersest languages, Chinese, and one of the faster, more verbose languages (Japanese). Chinese has more one and two-syllable words than English, and far more than Japanese, but the inflection (tone) of each syllable must be correct, or people will not understand you.

            That said, it is not as if the average Japanese speaker is “sloppy” about his/her phonemes either. This is an impression one often has as a language learner or when encountering a non-prestige dialect, but usage and pronunciation is almost always pretty precise.

            Basically, Chinese packs a lot of meaning into a single syllable, but each syllable is relatively effortful. Japanese uses more syllables to same the same thing but with a much lighter kind of intonation, less obvious stress contrast, and just plain easier-to-say syllables. A syllable like “ta” is inherently easier to say than “drink.”

            Precisely because a language has dropped more marked phonemes, longer words are easier to say because each individual syllable in languages like Spanish and Japanese is easier to say. Try saying the three syllables “drink,” “drank,” “drunk,” as quickly as the three syllables “ka-ta-na.”

          • Anonymous says:

            @onyomi

            I was imagining the errors to be occurring more on the part of the listener than the speaker, so not exactly sloppy pronunciation. Although your point on different syllables being easier or harder to say is noted.

          • onyomi says:

            Well, as you get better at listening and understanding any language, the number of syllables you can miss or hear only indistinctly and still understand the meaning increases. I think this is why anyone who has studied a foreign language has the subjective impression that native speakers speak too quickly and/or mumble. You are, of course, as bad as them in your own native language, but the native speaker listeners one usually deals with are accustomed to that level of fudge factor.

            Since there are more total syllables in any given Japanese sentence, I guess one could miss a larger total number and still understand.

      • nydwracu says:

        Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Zhuang, to name four. Compare:

        Bouxboux ma daengz lajmbwn couh miz cwyouz, cinhyenz caeuq genzli bouxboux bingzdaengj. Gyoengq vunz miz lijsing caeuq liengzsim, wngdang daih gyoengq de lumj beixnuengx ityiengh.

        Rénrén shēng ér zìyóu, zài zūnyán hé quánlì shàng yīlù píngděng. Tāmen fùyǒu lǐxìng hé liángxīn, bìng yīng yǐ xiōngdì guānxì de jīngshén hùxiāng duìdài.

        Just looking at the text, without any knowledge of Zhuang etymology: cwyouz ~ zìyóu, cinhyenz ~ zūnyán, genzli ~ quánlì, bingzdaengj ~ píngděng, lijsing ~ lǐxìng, liengzsim ~ liángxīn. Six obvious Chinese loans (recent ones from Mandarin, probably, except for genzli, which would’ve had to be borrowed before palatalization of kj- to q-, and liengzsim, which has to have preceded the merger of Mandarin -m into -n) in a text of 25 words.

        (Some languages are influenced even more than that — the Teanu, Lovono, and Tanema languages of Vanikoro have a lot of lexical dissimilarity given how closely related they are (about 55% of their Swadesh list words are cognate — for reference, the figure for English and German is about 60%), but their grammars and their semantic categories are identical. It’s been hypothesized that the three separate languages only exist because the people who speak them want to retain distinct identities and make their languages as distinct as they can from each other by replacing transparent cognates. But those are three languages with about equal social status, not one dominant literary language that the educated speakers of other languages would be familiar with, as with Chinese and Japanese/Korean/Vietnamese, Sanskrit/Pali and Thai/Khmer/Burmese (and even Tocharian), Latin and English/French/German/Spanish/etc., French and English, or English and every other language.)

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Afrikaans, Armenian, Bengali, and Oriya are Indo-European and have no grammatical gender. There are probably other Indo-European languages that don’t have grammatical gender, but they’re not on the list on Wikipedia. Which is trivial to find. (Afrikaans is a Germanic language. Some other Germanic languages, including many dialects of Danish/Norwegian/Swedish and Dutch, merged the masculine and feminine gender and now have a two-gender system of common vs. neuter.)

      Even as far back as the 13th century BC, Hittite divided nouns into animate and inanimate, rather than masculine and feminine.

    • Did Tibetan influence Lloigor?

    • Stezinech says:

      One thing that I’m confused about nydwracu:

      At one point you criticize McWhorter for proposing that do-support is an import into Old English from the Celts.

      Yet, at another point you seem to suggest that it is natural for English to have do-support because of its proximity to Wales, Ireland & France. Which is it then, did do-support come from Celtic languages or not?

      • As nydwracu says, do-support became obligatory in negatives long after the contact with the Celts began. I don’t know about how it developed in the other languages, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it arose in many of them after it arose in English, or at a similar time, in which case the Celtic influence theory doesn’t really explain anything.

        (Linguistic changes propagate over areas larger than the range of individual languages more often than you might think–for example the initial fricative voicing which is responsible for German “See” being pronounced “zay” spread across the whole northern continental Germanic-speaking area, I think, and even extended into the West Country in England. And French and German have exactly the same development in colloquial speech of the present perfect into a simple past tense, although I don’t know the history behind those developments [maybe it happened in one language much earlier than the others, although given that it’s still not quite standard in either language I’m guessing it’s quite recent].)

        • Stezinech says:

          Thanks for the explanation. I still consider it possible that do-support came into English from a Celtic language, but I can see that it’s not as clear a case as McWhorter laid out.

          I think the Celtic influence on English is interesting to think about in general. Hearing Old English pronounced reminds me of Irish or Scottish Gaelic sometimes, and not purely a Germanic language.

        • nydwracu says:

          The pronunciation of r is another example of a linguistic change that propagated over areas larger than the range of individual languages. Icelandic, Swiss German, and Scots have the trilled r (as in Spanish perro), which is generally considered to have been the original pronunciation — but English, Faroese, and some dialects of Norwegian, Swedish, and Dutch have an approximant r (with some minor differences in phonetic details — English r is usually bunched, rather than retroflex), and Danish, German, one dialect of English, and other dialects of Norwegian, Swedish, and Dutch have a uvular r, as do French and Portuguese — and Sotho, probably due to influence from European missionaries.

      • nydwracu says:

        It’s natural for languages in close proximity to each other to end up sharing features. The classic example is the Balkan sprachbund. Then there’s Ossetian, an Indo-European language that acquired ejectives due to contact with Caucasian languages; Xhosa, which acquired clicks due to contact with Khoisan languages (not that Khoisan is a language family — it probably isn’t); etc. Tone is especially strongly areal — see here. (Note that that map doesn’t do a good job of capturing the tonal area in Central Europe, which, come to think of it, isn’t contiguous unless there’s a large swath of tonal dialects cutting across Germany to join the northern part [Luxembourg, parts of the Netherlands and Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia, and maybe Estonia] to the southern part [Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia].)

        On the one hand, it’s natural for languages that are in close proximity to each other to share features. On the other hand, there’s no evidence AFAIK that do-support was brought into English right when the Anglo-Saxons invaded England — it was probably a much later development.

    • Luke Somers says:

      > Well would you look at that those are all parts of the world that are right next to England you blithering idiot.

      In one sentence you have greatly reduced your own credibility. THAT WAS HIS POINT.

  15. Liskantope says:

    Regarding the “English language” article…

    But wasn’t everywhere a complicated melting pot/invasion target of all different cultures?

    As I said under Machine Interface’s comment above, I think the article overplays the “weirdness” of English. However, I think it’s fair to say that the English language is more profoundly the product of a melting pot (at least from two, arguably three, sources) than most other languages. While at its core remaining Germanic, English massively overhauled its vocabulary after the Norman conquest so that now a great majority of our words are borrowed from Norman French. Even a few of our more basic words that exist to perform grammatical functions, such as very, came from the Normans. Of course most other languages do gradually absorb words and characteristics from nearby languages throughout their histories, but they don’t generally get completely revamped in the way that English did (with a few possible exceptions, such as Maltese). (I also can’t think of any other language whose earliest written form looks so unintelligible to the modern speaker — to be fair, we don’t have written documents from the 7th century in that many other known languages.)

    I have a couple of quibbles with the article not mentioned above. First of all, the writer keeps making it sound like the Scandinavian invasions brought about the loss of grammatical gender and verb conjugation in English. In fact, both were still going strong by the end of the Old English period — that is, long after the Viking invasions and up until the Norman conquest. The dramatic simplification of English grammar (at least, in the sense of losing a lot of inflections, including noun declensions) happened throughout the Middle English period while the French aristocracy ran things and English was mainly spoken by the lower classes. Sure, Scandinavian influence still had a lot to do at least with the loss of verb inflection — as well as the introduction of 3rd person plural pronouns starting in “th” — so that the northern dialects of English led the way in making these changes during the Middle English period. However, it’s wrong to suggest that these changes were a direct result of Viking invasions some centuries earlier. (Disclaimer: this view is mainly based on research I did on the history of the English language many years ago.)

    Secondly, I really doubt that the shortness of English words is as surprising as the author suggests. Swahili is a pretty bad example, because not only are the choices of syllables pretty restricted but it’s very agglutinative; i.e. multiple prefixes have to be added to most words to indicate noun class, number, both subject and object of verbs, etc. It’s no wonder the words in Swahili are usually long. Other very polysyllabic languages that come to mind are the Polynesian languages (very few consonant phonemes and extremely strict in what constitutes an allowable syllable), Japanese (similar), Finno-Ugric languages (very agglutinative), and polysynthetic languages like Inuit. Given that English a decent number of phonemes, lots of freedom of consonant clusters and ending syllables in consonants, and little inflection, one would naturally expect English to have much shorter words than many other languages.

    That said, the article was interesting and fun reading, and I get the point it was trying to make even though I’m picking at a few of its arguments.

  16. LeeEsq says:

    The transit link seems pretty strait on. American politics provides many different avenues for people opposed to infrastructure projects of any sort to oppose them even after a vote has been taken. Another issue with transit in the United States is that for decades, with the exception of a few major cities like NYC or San Francisco, transit was seen more as a social service than a transportation service. The assumption was that nearly everyone who could afford a car would buy one and use it for all their transit needs that didn’t involve long distances or crossing an ocean. Americans associate transit with poverty more than other people. Transit was maintained for the really poor and not really paid that much attention to politically. New York City attempted to build a subway line down Second Avenue for decades but getting funding was never easy. In other countries, funding a subway line down a major avenue in one of the most economically important cities would be a no-brainer. In the United States, it was considered unimportant on the state and federal level even though NYC would have liked to have a Second Avenue subway built.

    • Nornagest says:

      San Franciscans of all social stripes might take BART, but that doesn’t make BART a good system. I’ve seen much better systems in places where transit is seen as a sop for the poors. Washington, DC, for example — which actually uses BART’s rolling stock and a lot of its equipment, it just does it better.

      • LeeEsq says:

        I was thinking more about MUNI than BART. BART’s problem is that it is trying to be both a mass transit system and a commuter rail system at the same time. DC is kind of the same but covers a smaller area so the differences are less and you have more stations without parking on the DC metro than you do on BART. For all of BARTs fallings, its a lot better than what other cities did at the same time.

        I also wouldn’t call the DC metro a sop to the poor. Any rail based transit system is going to require a substantial infrastructure investment and will be seen as a transit rather social services masquerading as transit. Any social services masquerading as transit is going to be bus based.

        • Nornagest says:

          MUNI’s problem is that for half its service area, it’s a streetcar system pretending to be mass transit. The lines along Embarcadero at least have dedicated track, though even they have to deal with crossing traffic, but the rest of the system outside the Market corridor is a glorified bus network.

          • LeeEsq says:

            Mass transportation is simply on transit system designed to carry a lot of people at a time. Even a bus only transit system is a mass transit system under the technical definition. Mass transit systems with a dedicated right of way are called rapid transit, usually rail based but you can also have bus based rapid transit.

          • Nornagest says:

            Rapid transit, then. The point is it has to compete for road space on San Francisco’s incredibly congested streets, which makes it no faster than cars and not as effective at relieving congestion as other systems would be.

            San Francisco’s very dense for an American city; it should be able to justify dedicated track.

  17. Sigivald says:

    Nevertheless smart people have informed me that for complicated reasons this is The Future.

    Thesis: The fact of a posting being on Medium argues against it being very smart.

    (I do not mean “Medium only posts dumb things”; I mean “Medium seems to filter for Fairly But Not Super Smart”.

    And when his arguments include “lets you rent out Internet of Things objects like locks!”, I can do nothing but roll my eyes at it.

    I’m sure he’s a legitimate enthusiast on the subject, but frankly it also looks like they’re making a really nice markup on their ASICs at $399 a unit [since the RPi2, wall wart, WiFi dongle, and SD card together should be something like $75, retail.]

    Medium as sales pitch platform is depressing for Medium’s prospects.)

  18. Anonymous says:

    @Scott Alexander, has a zombie nativity scene/zoning dispute been done? Huh??

  19. Charley says:

    Hey Scott, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the debate going on in EA about earning-to-give or working directly in EA fields. I’m a youngster (22) still in the career choosing phase of my life. I’ve been teaching English in a developing country for about six months now and find myself pretty happy doing so. Lately I’ve been considering working in the nonprofit sector long-term. I do care about whether I could be doing considerably more by earning-to-give, and I try to think about the principles of effective altruism when I think about what to do. Utility maximization is definitely not the only thing that matters when choosing what skills and jobs to pursue, I know that – I don’t think of myself as a martyr, or even particularly unselfish – but it is an important factor in my decision. Your thoughts on this would be quite appreciated.

    Also, since I never get to give anything back to you for all the super good writing you do, I’m just gonna say thank you here. I really love this blog.

    • Anonymous says:

      It seems obvious to me that earning to give is almost certainly better. Specialization and trade is just such an enormously more efficient way of getting what you want than trying to produce everything yourself. I don’t see why this wouldn’t be true if your goal is charity just as much as if it’s anything else.

      • Chalid says:

        Somebody has to actually do the altruistic work that the earning-to-give people fund. Why not him?

        If he has unusually high earning potential then that should certainly point him toward earning-to-give. But if not, then pursuing the nonprofit career doesn’t seem like the obviously wrong choice.

        Also, picking an altruistic career is a way to precommit yourself. Of the people who become bankers at 22 thinking they will earn to give, I wonder how many are actually following through when they turn 30.

        • Anonymous says:

          I think it’s the other way round. If you expect you will be particularly good at doing something, that’s a reason to do it yourself. If not, the default option is to do what you are good at and then pay someone else to do the other stuff.

          This doesn’t apply to everything – for example, cooking for yourself is probably a good idea unless you’re especially rich, because for various reasons it’s particularly expensive to pay other people to do it for you. But I don’t know of any reason to expect charity work to similarly be an exception.

          • Chalid says:

            I don’t get the impression that he has some particular thing that he knows he is particularly good at and enjoys, though. Of course he’s just 22, so perhaps the best thing is to do some additional experimentation.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Chalid

            Me neither, but I also don’t see any reason to assume that that thing will turn out to be something that directly contributes to charity. There are, after all, a lot more careers that don’t fall into that category than ones that do.

          • Chalid says:

            That doesn’t mean charity isn’t the right place to start trying careers though. Whatever non-charitable career he starts with is unlikely to be the “best” choice for the same reason charity isn’t the “best” choice.

            Of course in the longer term whatever you work at becomes the “best” choice as you gain skills and experience.

          • LeeEsq says:

            Just because San Francisco needs dedicated track, doesn’t mean it will get the funding for it.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      https://80000hours.org/2015/11/why-you-should-focus-more-on-talent-gaps-not-funding-gaps/ seems pretty convincing to me, but it really depends on your own personalities and skills. If you would be a really good nonprofit manager or development economist and that’s what you want to do, then you’re golden. If you don’t want to do those things, I don’t think forcing yourself into it would be very effective, and then the much greater flexibility of earning-to-give shows up.

  20. W.T. Dore says:

    Robert Moses and his legacy have indeed dramatically shaped NYC, and point to a way out of the transit and public infrastructure struggles that many other cities face: unaccountable Great Men, bending local, municipal and state governments to their will through skill and merit, armed with a clear vision of the future?
    Hmm.
    The geographic areas I’m most familiar with do have one of the following: weak and fractured transit systems with large public oversight; large, effective, and well-integrated polity-separated transit systems with public input but little public oversight; and large and ineffective public transit authorities with lots of public input and oversight.
    I agree that infrastructure is one of the least sexy areas of public policy, and one that is the easiest to ignore, or leave up to technocratic elites. This includes things like water, sewer, electrical, etc. But since transit affects everyone who wants to move anywhere, cutting out the public feels like a bad idea.
    This is hard.

  21. gwern says:

    Fulltext of the fadeout/intelligence study: https://www.dropbox.com/s/935qnt807ax2t9l/2015-protzko.pdf / http://moscow.sci-hub.bz/408d4c486970ff2aac94b5905cc094ca/10.1016%40j.intell.2015.10.006.pdf Abstract:

    Many theories about the role of the environment in raising IQ have been put forward. There has not been an equal effort, however, in experimentally testing these theories. In this paper, we test whether the role of the environment in raising IQ is bidirectional/reciprocal. We meta-analyze the evidence for the fadeout effect of IQ, determining whether interventions that raise IQ have sustained effects after they end. We analyze 7584 participants across 39 randomized controlled trials, using a mixed-effects analysis with growth curve modeling. We confirm that after an intervention raises intelligence the effects fade away. We further show this is because children in the experimental group lose their IQ advantage and not because those in the control groups catch up. These findings are inconsistent with a bidirectional/reciprocal model of interaction. We discuss explanations for the fadeout effect and posit a unidirectional–reactive model for the role of the environment in the development of intelligence.

  22. Anonymous says:

    “this thing everyone in history has done forever turns out to be really bad for you”

    This fallacy probably has a formal name but I’m too lazy to look it up. The list of things that humans have believed or done for thousands of years that have turned out to be untrue or harmful is long and distinguished. The number of people who believe something or when they believed it is not evidence of its factualness or even desirability.

    • keranih says:

      The list of things that humans have believed or done for thousands of years that have turned out to be untrue or harmful is long and distinguished.

      Hmmm. I can believe that things that may have been seen as positive might turn out to be negative in new environments, but I am curious as to the specifics of the long list you’re thinking of.

      • Machine Interface says:

        A good example would be: pretty much the entirerity of medical practice (with the notable exception of surgery) until the mid 19th-century.

        • keranih says:

          pretty much the entirerity of medical practice (with the notable exception of surgery) until the mid 19th-century

          Eh. Leeces are used today, willowbark and foxglove. So are warm compresses. And splints. I completely agree that we have made great strides in the use of medications, but that’s a bit of a stretch.

          • Machine Interface says:

            Splint are historically considered part of surgery, that is, practical, hand-applied medicine that requires the intervention of a technician, by opposition to the art of phycisians, which consisted mainly of diagnostic and remedy prescription (in fact, when the remedy happened to require physically touching the patient, the physician would typically call on the services of a surgeon).*

            This is not to say that some of the things used in medicine didn’t find an actual purpose, but until the 19th century the methods of diagnosis and prescription were largely arbitrary and based on not-completely-wrong-on-all-levels-but-still-horribly-inaccurate-and-ineffectual understandings of the human body and of how diseases work. Thus, the remedies were generally applied with what in practice amounted to randomness, and they were often weakening the patients and making them *more* likely to die than if they had just done nothing.

            *However*, this is only true for the classes of people who had the means to afford the expensive services of a physician. Most people were to poor for this, and generally relied on folk medicine (which was equally ineffective in its theoretical aspects, but was less invasive and occasionally had good practical insights, so at worst the patient got a placebo, at best he got something that did look like a somewhat effective remedy) and/or on prayer (again getting a placebo out of it).

            So in a twist of irony, poor people generally got better medicine in the pre-modern period than rich people.

            *: this division dates back to antiquity; medicine was seen as a form of science (or “natural philosophy”), therefore it was taught in book and school only to the elites, and was generally completely detached from observations and concrete practice, since truth could be reached by reason alone, and relying on the texts of Old Masters (Galene of Alexandria provided the standard for human anatomy until it was realised that he had not in fact directly dissected human body, and that his descriptions were both inaccurate and lacunary).

            Surgery, by contrast, was all the parts of medicine that required touching the skin; it was considered an artisan craft of low order, and was mostly transmitted orally and developped through trial and error.

            As the result, surgery steadily progressed throughout all of history, and was already quite sophisticated in the middle ages (surgeons of the time knew how to perform a rhinoplasty), while medicine largely stagnated until the necessity of actual observation and experimentation was recognized, and until the advent of the microscope allowed for the development of an accurate theory of diseases.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @kerinah:

            Despite Machine Interface’s hyperbole, the list would be long and distinguished, would it not?

            As one specific example you mentioned, I have some (unsupported) pet theories on leeches , but you really can’t compare how leeches are used now (and why) to the how and why of bloodletting.

      • Anonymous says:

        How about for starters:
        – Human sacrifice
        – Sympathetic-magic based medicine
        – Witch burning
        – Cannibalism
        – Animism

        Not very effective responses to problems.

        • Psmith says:

          Of interest (not necessarily endorsed): http://www.peterleeson.com/Human_Sacrifice.pdf

          In general, whether these practices are effective at solving problems depends on what your problems are.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I haven’t read this one, but his one on trials by ordeal (basically arguing that they worked because the priests rigged them) was really interesting.

            It still made me say this guy when I saw this one.

          • Anonymous says:

            The context is solving practical problems like increasing the harvest or improving one’s chances of success in battle. Things for which the success or failure of a practice can be measured.

            The paper you link does end with this gem, “It is unnecessary, and I would argue, unhelpful, to approach the institutionalized purchase and ritual slaughter of innocent persons by abandoning rational choice theory.”

            Is it some kind of academic performance art?

    • Randy M says:

      Sure it is. It may not be strong evidence, or strong evidence that it is exactly right, but it is evidence nonetheless.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        That seems like nit-picking? I mean, I love a good nit-pick, but I like to acknowledge that it is what I am doing.

        “Evidence” hear is easily read as strong/dispositive evidence. Absent any other evidence, the fact that people did “X” for 100s of years isn’t very good evidence that it was the “correct” thing to do. You could quibble about what correct means, and the economists would say that it was de facto correct, but those would still be nits.

        • Randy M says:

          I don’t know anonymous well enough to know whether he meant “weak” evidence or, as written, “no” evidence. Questioning whether an assertion is true or the opposite of true seems more than nit-picking, but that’s subjective and you are welcome to judge it however you like.

          • Anonymous says:

            Well, I meant it provides no evidence. I also love a good nit-pick. Perhaps I should have qualified it by saying that it provides no evidence in support of factual propositions. Why do you think “x number of people believe something” could even provide even weak evidence? Perhaps you are making a subtle point I’m missing.

            On the other hand, if “x number of people believe it” were qualified, as something like “90% of astronomers employed by European universities today say X is true” then personally I would be inclined to count that as good evidence. But is that really good evidence? Not really. Hundreds of years ago they would have agreed on Ptolemaic epicycles.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            Presumably, the argument is something like this:

            1. 90% of astronomers believe X.
            2. Whatever 90% of astronomers believe is more likely to be true than a randomly selected belief.
            3. Therefore, the fact that 90% of astronomers believe X is weak evidence for X.

          • Anonymous says:

            @ Vox Imperatoris

            That’s a very nice formulation. There is one thing I would add. The scientific revolution introduces a demarcation point in time. Before which I would not think it holds but after which it would. For “astronomers” we might substitute something like “a group of people who practice an honest empiricism.” That is, people who are willing to subject their ideas to empirical test and abandon them if they fail.

          • Jaskologist says:

            There’s an important distinction to be made between “doing” something for hundreds of years and “believing” something for hundreds of years. The doing implies a certain amount of empirical testing, even if it hasn’t been done according to proper scientific procedures.

          • Randy M says:

            -Why do you think “x number of people believe something” could even provide even weak evidence?

            Because 1, people usually don’t believe things for no reason, and 2, truth tends to be adaptive.
            No, these aren’t absolute. But if 3 villagers tell me the pink berries are poisonous, I’ll leave them for a last resort.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Randy M:
            Obviously I misread the original claim and you did not, my apologies.

            Soldiering on, the claim itself, it’s content, is evidence as well. That is an important piece of the evidence. If they say, “don’t eat the berries, you will be possessed by a water sprite” you have priors for two parts of that single claim.

            Statements of belief are weak evidence of truth. But if their is absoloutely no other supporting evidence of the claim, and some evidence against it? (Ex: People 1 village over eat the berries)

          • Randy M says:

            “Statements of belief are weak evidence of truth. But if their is absoloutely no other supporting evidence of the claim, and some evidence against it?”

            Now who is nit-picking? I already said it wasn’t strong evidence. If there is evidence on both sides, it comes done to the reletive strengths, which depends on the particulars and isn’t well served by ever-more convoluted hypotheticals.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Randy M:
            I was agreeing with you that they are weak evidence.

            I just thought the example you gave made a stronger case than was warranted, given the context of belief in the supernatural.

          • Randy M says:

            Wait, what? I thought the context was spanking. That’s the context in which Scott made the remark quoted in the parent of this thread.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @RandyM:
            Oh, man, wrong sub-thread. My mistake.

  23. 4bpp says:

    How does the male variability hypothesis interact with the recent hypotheses that the (intra-population) genetic component of intelligence is largely absence of mutation load? Assuming that deleterious mutations are more often recessive than dominant (I’m not sure how reasonable that assumption is, although it seems reasonable given a “recessive=mutation that breaks something, dominant=mutation that introduces something working towards a different end” model), wouldn’t the two together predict that female IQ should be distributed noticeably higher?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      There is a whole spectrum between recessive and dominant. I think that most known genetic effects are much closer to additive than to either allele being dominant.

      The mutational load theory is that the cause is rare variants. Since they are rare, you never see homozygous versions, so if they were recessive, they would have no practical effect. Your recessive assumption is in direct contradiction with the mutational load theory. But, yes, your assumption would imply that females would have higher IQ. If the mutations were dominant, males would have higher IQ. I’m not sure either scenario would be noticeable, though, since it’s only 1 chromosome.

  24. W.T. Dore says:

    Oh man, a Hypocrite Reader link? Now where am I going to go for ever-more-obscure articles?

  25. anon says:

    Confucianism isn’t scalable. First world countries being controlled by faceless bureaucracies rather than nepotistic relationships between superiors and inferiors isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Societies which have delicate webs of interpersonal relationships instead of good institutions don’t look like advanced technological civilizations, they look like the majority of South America, at best. “Meritocracy that privileges diligent, politically savvy nerds” is what enables civilization to exist.

  26. Machine Interface says:

    The oddities of English as a language tend to be overstated by its speakers (nothing new here, speakers of any given language frequently tend to think of their language as being special, as having some unique features, as being the oldest/easiest/hardest language in the world, etc).

    As it turns out, loss of grammatical gender in Indo-European languages is not restricted to English. Starting with the Germanic sub-family to which English belongs, gender is absent in the Afrikaans language spoken in South Africa, very closely related to Dutch, as well as in some dialects of Danish and Swedish. Expending beyond Germanic to other Indo-European sub-families, several Indo-Iranian languages have lost gender (including standard Persian), and the Armenian language had already lost gender by the time it was first attested as Classical Armenian, in the 5th century AD (a time where English still had three genders).

    The lack of a closely related language to English with which some degree of mutual intelligibility is shared is inacurate, or at least, hypocritical, because such a language does exist: it’s Scots — the hyprocrisy being in that Scots is often described as a mere dialect of English and so implied not to count. Futhermore, this is irrelevant: many languages have no directly closely related language which the speakers of the first one can understand, either because the language in question has evolved isolated from its sister languages for a really long time, leading to idiosyncratic developement (as is the case for Hungarian, which is part of the Uralic languages (which include Finnish and Estonian), but is not mutually intelligible with any of them), or because related languages are simply not known to exist (as is the case for the Basque language, which has not been conclusively demonstrated to be related to any other language).

    English spelling is indeed complex, but this is along the level of complexity that is found in languages like Thai, Burmese or Tibetan, which all have deeply layered orthographies which record older stages of the language, as well as numerous loan words from an unrelated prestigious language (Sanskrit, in their case). Closer in Europe, while French spelling spells its vowels more consistently than English, its spelling is however notoriously difficult due to preserving grammatical agreement rules that have almost completely disappeared in speech (in “le petit chat noir mange” [the little black cat is eating] vs “les petits chats noirs mangent” [the little black cats are eating], only the first word is actually pronounced differently in the two sentences)), additioned with complex rules (and sometimes pure arbitrariness) over which written final consonants are actually pronounced and when.

    The English trait of having the third person singular of the person of the present tense as the most (and only) marked person is indeed an oddity, but it’s an oddity of the kind which other similar oddities are not rare in the world’s languages. Staying in French, in Old French, there was a rudimentary case system inherited from Latin that still contrasted a subject case (“I, he, she, we, they”) and an oblique case (“me, him, her, us, them”) in nouns. In regular masculine nouns, it worked thus. An -s marked both the *singular subject* case and the *plural oblique* case, while the *singular oblique* case and the *plural subject* case were unmarked.

    Example, with the word for “wall”:

    Singular:
    Subj: li murs
    Obl: le mur

    Plural:
    Subj: li mur
    Obl: les murs

    In addition to the traits mentionned in the article, one can mention that the unusual number of loan-words in English is mostly an effect of English having not been gone through the process of “renativization” that many European languages underwent in the 19th century during the era of nationalist awakening; German used to be full of Latin and French words too, but they were replaced with native words and calques as often as possible to assert the status of German as a distinct language. American and British nationalism developped in rather different shapes than continental nationalism, with little to no trace of the cultural/linguistic insecurity/inferiority complex which prompted the kind of overhaul German and other continental languages went through.

    Besides, having a lot of loans is hardly unique to English. Malay/Indonesian has layers upon layers of loans from the languages of North India, the languages of South India, Chinese languages, Javanese, Persian, Arabic, Dutch, English; nearly three quarters of the vocabulary of Basque is actually loaned from Latin or surrounding Romance languages; Armenian has so many Persian loanwords that when linguists first tried to classified it, they mistakenly put it among Iranian languages

    Finally some of the “odd” traits of English are actually conservative. English “th” sounds, for instance, used to be present in all Germanic languages, but have been preserved only by English, Scots and Icelandic.

    In conclusion, English oddities are mostly oddities compared to the rest of Germanic languages, and they can easily be explained as the product of separate and isolated evolution.

    • Thank you for covering this. I found most of these oddities in the linked article, but didn’t have the time to write up a proper fisking.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      If McWhorter’s example of mutual intelligibility had been Spanish vs Italian, it would be fair to bring up Scots and say: English has dialects, too. But his example was Spanish vs Portuguese.

      • Machine Interface says:

        “Dialect” has a variety of definitions and the criteria of mutual-intelligibility or semi-intelligibility is just one proposed axis, which has its own complications (French and Catalan are mutually intelligible in writing, but not in speech). The point is that the presence or absence of a language/dialect sharing a degree of mutual-intelligibility with English is not an odd or unique feature either way.

      • Liskantope says:

        I don’t understand what you’re getting at here. I expect that English and Scots are even more mutually intelligible than Spanish and Portuguese — probably more at the level Danish and Norwiegen.

        It seems to me that the distinction between “dialects” and “closely related but different languages” is almost entirely political.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Yes, at the level of Spanish and Italian.

          • Liskantope says:

            As someone who studied Spanish for years, but is currently living in Italy and trying to learn Italian, I can tell you that the two languages are a lot more different than I had previously imagined. Certainly Portuguese is more closely related to Spanish than Italian is. At least this level of closeness is easy to measure in terms of shared vocabulary — I think the usual quoted figure is 90% between Spanish and Portuguese — while Spanish and Italian share somewhat less, including differing in a lot of the most basic lexicon. I could also argue that Portuguese and Spanish grammar are strikingly more similar to each other than Italian grammar. Now Portuguese does contain a lot of sounds that Spanish and Italian don’t have, which perhaps is the reason that (as David Friedman notes below) Portuguese speakers are said to have a much easier time understanding Spanish than Spanish speakers have understanding Portuguese. I’m not sure how easy it is for native Spanish speakers to understand Italian or vice versa; I remember one of my Spanish teachers, who was a native speaker, saying that she could follow some Italian if she listened carefully.

            But my educated guess would be that even Spanish and Portuguese are not quite as similar as English and Scots are.

          • anon says:

            I’m Italian and I need to use English to have decent conversations with Spanish speakers.

        • 1. A language is a dialect with an adequate army.

          2. I was told by Portuguese speakers in Brazil that they can understand Spanish but Spanish speakers cannot understand Portuguese.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            1. A language is a dialect with an adequate army.

            Have linguists removed the requirement for a navy? :p

            2. I was told by Portuguese speakers in Brazil that they can understand Spanish but Spanish speakers cannot understand Portuguese.

            I’m thinking of two random hypotheses for this: a) maybe the Portuguese-speakers are more exposed to Spanish than vice versa, and b) Portuguese just seems weirder and more complicated to me. But b) is probably entirely explained by a) on my part.

          • Anthony says:

            A language is a dialect with an army and navy is one of the most misattributed aphorisms ever.

          • John Schilling says:

            Ah, so the navy is obligatory. This must be why Switzerland has many dialects but no common language 🙂

          • Cauê says:

            I’ve had conversations with native Spanish speakers where I found myself speaking Portuguese and they answering in Spanish (it’s much easier to understand the other language than to be comfortable speaking it), without too much trouble.

            But yeah, it’s probably easier on the Brazilian side, I think because of more awareness of the non-shared vocabulary (Vox Imperatori’s “a”), though I suppose I may not be aware of other problems from the other side (as per Machine Interface’s hypothesis below).

            This isn’t possible with Italian, and I’m puzzled as to why Douglas Knight thinks it’s closer to Spanish than Portuguese. I understand Italian today, but I had to work on it, while understanding Spanish comes basically for free.

          • Tibor says:

            I guess the navy might be important. Swiss German is no doubt a different language than High German but the Swiss, being landlocked, do not have a navy, so their language is often demoted to a dialect by people other than the Swiss (although the Swiss are happy to inform you that High German is a foreign language for them which they learned at school).

            On a more serious note, I always found it funny that the Slovak language, which is closer to Czech than Portuguese is to Spanish and a speaker of one can read and understand the other without problems (at least as long as one speaks the standard version of the languages and save for a handful of words) is considered a separate language (they also do not have a navy by the way, so I guess that casts doubt on the paragraph above) while Swiss German, which is much more different from High German is (outside of Switzerland) usually only considered a German dialect.

            Spanish/Portuguese : A Colombian told me that she could understand the Lusitanian Portuguese pretty well whereas she has problems understanding Brazilian Portuguese. I would have guessed it the other way around.

          • onyomi says:

            I think mutual intelligibility is the most reasonable place to draw a line, sort of like how ability to produce fertile offspring defines a species.

            There are, of course, grey areas–Portuguese and Spanish, for example, but when I say “mutual intelligibility,” I mean, “can have a conversation about a complex topic,” not “can get by with a lot of repetition and hand waving,” which is what I think a Spanish speaker and a Portuguese speaker have to do.

            By this logic, of course, China has at least 10, if not many more languages, as does India, but China tries to downplay the differences by calling them dialects. But China also tries harder to push a unitary Chinese identity line than anyone in India.

            The one place where I’ve noticed Chinese dialect politics being prominent is Hong Kong, where people preferred to speak to me in English rather than Mandarin in many cases, even if their Mandarin was as good or better than their English. Like India, they somehow don’t mind English as a kind of colonial lingua franca, but like India and Hindi, they see Mandarin as a kind of encroachment on their local cultural heritage.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Interfertility is not transitive, but it isn’t usually a big deal. Mutual intelligibility isn’t transitive and you can get a lot of results you probably don’t want if you define a language by repeatedly adding what’s mutually intelligible. In Europe today, you get sensible results. Most speech is mutually intelligible with the national dialect and not with dialects in other countries. But that is the result national standardization. If you go back a few centuries, this definition would result in all Romance dialects forming a single language. I think that is true of Indic languages today, although the existence of official provincial languages is doing the same thing that national languages did in Europe.

          • onyomi says:

            Well, I was also going to compare languages to races, where there is no objective border between black people and white people, but there are many people who are unambiguously one or the other… but then the issue of intelligibility came up, which had no obvious analogue in race.

            Also, the history of national borders and movements of people has, I think, drawn the lines more clearly than with race: in China, though there are many cases where you go one village over and they speak a still-intelligible but slightly different version of the same dialect, there are also cases of going one village over and having no idea what anyone is saying. In the former case I think it’s fair to say that the two dialects are one language, though which of them gets to be the official, “prestige” version of said language is just a matter of historical contingency (though versions of a language which include fewer signs of having recently changed due to contact with other languages arguably have a better claim to being the prototypical).

            So with Chinese languages, at least, I don’t think this results in a transitive collapse into one big language: rather, what you find is about 10 clusters of varying degrees of mutual intelligibility, but no member of which is reasonably intelligible to the monolingual speakers of any other cluster. There are a very few “in-betweenish” ones that are hard to categorize, but of hundreds of dialects in China, they are maybe 2 or 3.

          • Tibor says:

            Hong Kong: An acquaintance of mine who is a Hongkongese native really does not like the Chinese (in the sence, mainland Chinese, she is ethnically Chinese herself) and I think that this is the prevalent sentiment among Hongkongers. Mandarin is something associated with mainland China, so they are not keen at speaking that. If you are Asian and speak Mandarin well, they might mistake you for a mainland Chinese and I would guess that they would especially prefer to talk in English (or Cantonese with those who actually are from Canton) to them. Also, even though I don’t know any Cantonese or Mandarin, one can hear that the languages are very different, they even sound different…they are similar in written form but mainland version of Mandarin uses simplified characters, that is not a perfect match either.

            I think the intelligibility distinction is sensible but it still does not say what is a “proper language” and what is a dialect. Unless you define a language as a group of related dialects…and then you have problems with dialect continuity. Bavarians supposedly understand Swiss German pretty well but someone from Hamburg will not. Same with other languages.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The comparison to races is good. There is a pretty clear boundary between black and white with not many ambiguous people. There is a pretty clear boundary between caucasoid and mongoloid with a larger ambiguous boundary (eg, Burma). But it is very difficult to draw a sensible line to sharply subdivide big races into smaller races. People generally think of Europeans and Indians as different races, but it’s a pretty smooth continuum from Europeans to Arabs to Persians to North Indians to South Indians.

            Talking about languages made up of mutually intelligible dialects makes sense in some places today. If that’s all you want to talk about, that’s OK. But I don’t think it makes sense in most historical settings, or indeed, in most places today. What is normal is clear boundaries between, say, Germanic and Romance families, and the families are too big to be plausibly described as single languages, but the families are continua with no clear lines to divide them.

        • Machine Interface says:

          For the language/dialect distinction, the following definitions seem tobe held by different people or in different context:

          1: two languages are dialects of each other if they are mutually-intelligible (the linguistic criteria, trying to reach an objective distinction but in practice has many problems, as mutual-intelligibility can be highly variable even within the “same” language French speakers from France’s understanding on Québécois speakers varies from “perfect” to “completely” opaque depending on individual Québécois speakers).

          2: a language is a dialect with official status in a sovereign country (the “flag and army” criteria, or the Chinese definition, which also has many problems — such as calling dialects of Italian or Chinese languages languages which are not only not intelligible to them, but in fact not at all related to them — Italian fascists called Maltese a dialect of Italian; it’s not even an Indo-European language, it’s a semitic language closely related to Arabic).

          3: a language is a dialect with a standardized, de jure or de facto official pronunciation, orthography, grammar and vocabulary (the language as an institution criteria, as contrasted with the high variability of dialects, where even two villages said to speak the same tongue can show noticeable variation in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary — but of course there are intermediary cases that are difficult to put into this definition; Occitan has a standardized spelling and grammar mostly based on the Languedocian and Provençal dialects, but dialectal forms and adaptations are explicitely allowed and even encouraged, so as to not stiff the diversity of the linguistic ensemble).

          4. a language is a dialect with a strong literary tradition (language as derivating its legitimacy from prestigious artistic usage — a well known historical phenomenon; Occitan and Tuscan dominated premodern southern Europe simply because they had better poets).

          5. a dialect is a lesser, dependent form of a language (the nationalist criteria, usually used to push away one form in favor of another, often the form spoken by whoever is in power, though not always — French, Italian, English and German were prestigious enough to displace other local languages even in areas that had not (yet) been conquered by France, Italy, Britain or Germany).

          6. a dialect is a local variety/accent of a language (but this poses the problem of which level of variation is acceptable before a language is considered separate; is Scots a dialect of English, or a separate language?)

          7. there are no differences, the words are synonymous (this conforms to the etymology of “language” and “dialect”: Latin “lingua” and Greek “δῐᾰ́λεκτος” can *both* mean *either* “language” or “dialect”, implying that the concepts weren’t thought of as distinct to the ancients).

          As for Spanish and Portuguese intelligibility, it can be worth noting that speakers of more inovative languages have an easier time understand conservative languages than the opposite. A French speakers don’t have too much trouble realising that the Italian word “scrivere” (to write) corresponds to their “écrire”, but the reverse might be less true.

          Whereas Spanish has relatively conservative vowel system compared to Latin, Portuguese has an innovative one, having developped nasal vowels (like French) and often diphthongs in weird places, thus making it easier for Portuguese speakers to identify “archaic sounding” Spanish words than the opposite.

          • Tibor says:

            I guess number 3. is why Swiss German is often not considered a language, it does not have a standard spelling. Then again, a lot of various tribe languages do not probably even have a writing system and still they are not just dialects, there would be nothing they could be dialects of, so this kind of classification is definitely incomplete at best.

          • anonymous says:

            7 is the sane option; the words language and dialect should be considered synonyms.

    • Liskantope says:

      Yeah, I basically felt the same way about the article. While it’s true that English has a pretty unusual history, and partly for this reason English definitely has quite a few weird quirks (a conlanger might call it “kitchen-sinky”, if it were someone’s conlang), the article downplayed a lot of similar oddities in various other languages as well. In addition to Machine Interface’s examples, I would point out for instance that the auxiliary use of “do” in English seems at about the same level of weirdness as, say, the use of pas in negative constructions in French (e.g. the French quote near the end of the article).

      I also think a lot of the author’s arguments showed that English has a lot of properties that are unusual within the Indo-European family, or just the Germanic branch, but aren’t at all unusual when you consider the world’s languages altogether — for example, no grammatical gender, short words, etc. Moreover, it’s not hard to point to various aspect of other languages which set them apart from the other members of their family/branch. For instance, Spanish is the only Romance language that puts tildes over N’s, and the only language in the world (as far as I know) that has upside-down question and exclamation marks (to be fair, neither affects the spoken language). French, in contrast to other Romance languages, has short words (even though, like English, the spelling reflects older forms which were longer), the aforementioned use of pas, and a number of unusual vowel sounds, and subject personal pronouns can’t be dropped. Rumanian, unlike other Romance languages, inflects nouns for definiteness (the definite article is more or less suffixed to the noun, as in the Scandinavian languages) as well as case. Bulgarian is unusual among Slavic languages also for suffixing definite articles to nouns and for expressing infinitives with a preposition as in English as well as other aspects of the Balkan sprachbund. Afrikaans (as Machine Interface pointed out) has no grammatical gender and arguably has even less inflection than English, not to mention a double-negative construction that as far as I know is not present in other Germanic languages. And I’m sure there are other “locally unusual” languages that I’m not aware of.

      Of course, there are languages that are by almost anyone’s standards much “weirder” than English, if you allow for much more obscure ones. By far the most famous example is Piraha, but I could also point to the language with object-verb-subject word order (too lazy to look it up right now, I think it was central American).

      • Tibor says:

        Czech is one of a very few languages today which uses a vocative case. A vocative case is used when you address people or animals (or things, but you usually do not do that) and changes the noun accordingly.

        Actually, given that there seem to be people knowledgeable about linguistics – one thing always seemed strange to me and I thought about a bit more now that I am trying to help a Colombian understand grammatical cases (in German, so only four, not that hard, but still difficult to explain to someone who has no intuitive understanding of them, at least when you do yourself). Latin has 7 cases (including a vocative) and no articles. None modern romance languages (or most at least, I don’t know about Rumantsch or Romanian) have cases and they do have articles. They also only have two genders, whereas Latin has three. The addition of articles could have come from Germanic invasions to the Roman Empire, but Germanic languages have cases and also three genders (at least German does, I don’t know about Scandinavian languages). How come these features disappeared and how come they did in all (or did they?) romance languages?

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Well one of the usual reasons for languages losing their cases is sound changes taking them away. If you have a language where the case is marked by the word ending and this ending is unstressed, then a sound change where unstressed endings are no longer pronounced effectively does away with the case system. (You can see an example of this process in French, where the spelling preserves the old declension/conjugation system, but this isn’t pronounced — le chat mange and les chats mangent sounds pretty much the same except for the article.)

          Another reason is simply making it easier to learn. In more colloquial Latin older case structures are often replaced with a preposition plus accusative, simply because it’s easier to learn and remember. The fact that the language got adopted as a lingua franca by large numbers of people whose mother tongue was something different probably helped with this process. (I can’t remember any examples from Latin off the top of my head, but I can think of one from Ancient Greek: the -de suffix used to indicate motion towards was later replaced by and eis + accusative construction: so “Athenasde” [to Athens] became “eis Athenas”.)

          As for the articles, they might have come about due to Germanic influence, but I was under the impression the words themselves came from Latin pronouns: so “the” (le/la, el/la, etc.) comes from the Latin ille, illa, illud (that one); “a” (un/une, uno/una, etc.) from Latin unus, una, unum (one). (Incidentally, the closest Classical Latin has to “a” would probably be quidam, quaedam, quoddam, “a certain”, although it doesn’t seem to have been used as such by later Romance, possibly because it’s too long.)

          As to why articles are found in all Romance languages, the answer’s probably quite simple (aside from the fact that they can be really useful): these changes took place during the time of the Roman Empire, before Latin split off into different languages.

          • Tibor says:

            I guess one thing might also be that the High Latin of Cicero was not the vulgar Latin even of ordinary Romans (or people from Latium) and that language might have been much simpler already (for example, one does not use the genitive case in German today very much either, it can often be replaced by dativ and a preposition and it often sounds kind of literary, so something like that could have been the case with Latin…on the other hand going from 4 cases to 3 is different from going from 7 to 1 🙂 I would have expected a varying number of cases among romance languages instead.

            Changes still during the Empire – well, I don’t think language was as institutionalized then as it is today. Sure, if you wanted to be an orator, you’d have to learn the High Latin and there probably were definite rules even back then. But most people were not and they would not speak High Latin often or even ever. Then it should not matter whether those regions were unified politically or not.

            What puzzles me the most are not the changes themselves but that they seem to be the same across the Romance languages.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’m not sure how much Cicero’s Latin differed to that of the man in the street, although presumably there were some differences. During the Imperial period Roman education tended to consist largely of memorising chunks of the canonical Latin authors (Virgil, Cicero, Caesar, Horace, Terence, and a few others, depending on the school) and learning to write in their style, which naturally exerted a strong conservative influence on formal Latin.

            As for political unity, this tended to boost trade and interconnectedness among the provinces, and hence to prevent the various dialects from splitting off into different languages.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Tibor, the whole point of Mr X’s supposition that changes like the introduction of articles happened under the empire is that it explains why they happened the same in different places. The definite articles all seem to have evolved from the same Latin word, suggesting that this word played a quasi-article role in an Imperial stage of Vulgar Latin.

            Why are they speaking Romance languages in the first place? Why don’t the Gauls keep their own language? The need some Latin to speak to the occupying soldiers and long-distance merchants. You could imagine that a separate pidgin develops in each place. But the commonalities suggest that there was a single Vulgar tongue spanning the whole empire. Perhaps the soldiers or merchants circulated and kept it uniform. There are many Lingua Francas that are uniform over large areas and seem to be spread by merchants. There is a general trend that Lingua Francas tend to evolve from synthetic to analytic (ie, replacing inflections by extra words). And it could be merchants maintained the uniformity of Vulgar Latin after the fall of the empire (eg, spread articles), but there was a decline in long-distance trade, so it seems unlikely. After the Dark Ages the language called Lingua Franca probably made the existing Romance languages more uniform.

          • Tibor says:

            Douglas: I got the point but I was/am unsure whether the political union really kept the language unified. But if there was enough migration plus the legions moving around, I guess it could have kept the whole Empire’s language “up to date”. I guess the relatively big differences between say Portuguese and Italian are actually an argument for that. Since Latin began to diverge quite a lot in various regions after the fall of the empire, the changes from classical Latin that are shared probably happened before that, otherwise there would be more variation in the cases, articles or genders.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          As a random example of linguistic change which has nevertheless stuck with me: in Petronius’ Satyricon (mid-1st century AD), a character says he’s been trying to improve his son’s prospects by getting him to learn “a bit of law”. In Classical Latin, this should have been expressed by a partitive genitive — “aliquid juris” — but Petronius’ character (who, it should be pointed out, is meant to be uneducated and speaking in a bit of a slangy register) uses a de + ablative, “aliquid de jure”. Now, “de” originally meant “down from” (as in de-scend), but Petronius is here using it in the more general sense of “from, out of”. And this is, of course, the origin of the possessive construction in modern Romance languages — e.g., in French the expression would be “un peu de droit”. We don’t see much of this change in Antiquity due to the conservative nature of formal Latin prose, but beneath the surface this new construction clearly became widespread enough in everyday speech to end up entirely displacing the genitive in Latin’s descendants.

          • Tibor says:

            I also wonder if all the change is from more complex rules to more simple rules and fewer exceptions. Nowadays the changes in languages seem to go that direction and cases are probably more difficult than just using prepositions. But I would also expect early languages such as some kind of proto-indoeuropean to be simpler than say classical Latin. Are there documented examples of languages evolving into more complex rather than simpler ones?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            IIRC the usual change is a kind of cycle from inflected to analytic to agglutinative to inflected again. So an inflected language loses its inflection and makes up for it with increased use of prepositions etc., which then get turned into affixes, which in turn become case-endings, and so we’re back to an inflected language.

            Proto-Indo-European is probably more complicated than Latin, at least in terms of number of cases. I don’t think the trend can uniformly be from complicated –> simpler, as otherwise the languages spoken by our Stone Age ancestors would have to have been far too horrendously complex for anyone to learn.

          • onyomi says:

            “I don’t think the trend can uniformly be from complicated –> simpler”

            It definitely isn’t, though there does seem to be a general trend to move from more phonemes to fewer, but even that gets compensated for in various ways, like Chinese tones (Old Chinese had more complex consonant clusters, but no tones), or longer words. What tends to happen is they lose certain types of complexity and gain different types.

            Sanskrit, which I think may be the closest written language to proto-Indo-European, for example, seems very complex with its large number of cases, three genders, three numbers, etc. but it is also a language of basically just nouns and verbs (many East Asian languages don’t really differentiate adjectives and verbs in nearly so fundamental a way as Western languages, either). The options for declining the nouns and conjugating the verbs are many, but this, along with building of compound nouns, does a lot of the work that we would do in English with say, prepositions, conjunctions, etc. So with Sanskrit you get sentences like “all-powerful-best-among-men Rama did going-royal-forest-hunt-deer-ing.” Seems complicated, but in a weird way actually very simple.

            I do wonder about the seemingly rather one-directional movement of phonemes, however: it seems like languages gradually lose phonemes (probably when they come into extensive contact with populations which can’t distinguish them) but very rarely gain new ones. Hopefully this won’t result in every language eventually sounding like Hawai’ian: Humuhumunukunukuapua’a.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Languages gain phonemes all the time. Don’t all Romance languages have more phonemes than Latin? Modern Greek has many fewer vowels than ancient Greek, but many more consonants.

          • onyomi says:

            Do Spanish, French, and Italian have any phonemes Latin didn’t have? With Spanish and Italian, my guess is mostly “no.” With French it seems like probably so, but that probably resulted from people who spoke Gaulish attempting to speak Latin, and might be more properly considered as Gaulish losing phonemes, rather than Latin gaining them.

            Put another way, to choose numbers randomly, let’s say Latin had 25 phonemes and proto-Gaulish had 50, and French has 40, all of which were present in either Latin, Gaulish, or both. At the end of the day, especially once everyone stops speaking Latin, the total number of phonemes is reduced.

            If we consider French to be, in some sense, the same language as Latin, then we might say “Latin has gained some phonemes through contact with Gaulish,” but the overall trend is still towards fewer total phonemes in the world. Hence my feeling we might all end up talking like humuhumunukunuku… one day (as it happens, optimality theory considers syllables like these to be among the least marked, so there is a constant pressure on all languages to move in this direction… though there is a countervailing pressure towards not having super long words).

            This overall trend seems to be supported by the fact that the places where human beings have lived the longest (East Africa) tend to have the most phonemes, whereas the places which represent possibly the most extensive migration (Polynesia) have the least.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            French doesn’t have particularly many phonemes.

            Phonemes bifurcate all the time. They start as allophones, pronounced differently in different contexts, but then people become aware of them, write them differently, and use them in the same context. The presence of a neighboring language may influence what the new phoneme sounds like, but it probably would have split all on its own.

            Here are two bifurcations that probably occurred in Vulgar Latin and are preserved in modern languages with the same pronunciation but different spelling: The sound /ʎ/ appears in both Spanish ⟨ll⟩ and Italian ⟨gl⟩. The sound /ɲ/ appears in Spanish as ⟨ñ⟩ and both Italian and French as ⟨gn⟩.

            Latin ⟨i⟩ represents both a vowel and a semivowel. At some point the semivowel was written ⟨j⟩. That transformed into a consonant in modern Romance languages. Which consonant it represents varies across languages, probably because of the influence of the native language. This left room for the semivowel to reappear, again written <i>, thus increasing the total inventory.

            A common form of bifurcation is “hard” and “soft” versions of consonants, as in ⟨c⟩ and ⟨g⟩ in English. This is much of why modern Greek has so many consonants. This doesn’t get many extra phonemes in Romance languages, but it is a phenomenon that could do it. Soft ⟨g⟩ is usually the same phoneme as ⟨j⟩, so that is new, but already counted in the previous paragraph. Soft ⟨c⟩ is often ⟨s⟩, but in Italian it is a new phoneme /tʃ/.

          • Proto-Indo-European inflectional morphology was simpler than that of Latin in one way: it didn’t have multiple declensions and conjugations. (Well, Jasanoff’s h2e-conjugation theory, which is fairly new and not generally accepted yet, says there were two conjugations, but even then the differences between the two would have been very slight.)

            In fact, Proto-Indo-European might have had less cases than Latin as well. Some of the nine cases of the traditional reconstruction (the eight cases of Sanskrit, plus the allative, attested in Hittite) might have been conveyed by postpositions at the stage of the proto-language; these postpositions would have fused with the preceding words and become case endings in the individual daughters’ histories. The fact that the instrumental plural ending goes back *-mis in some languages, *-bhis in others is suggestive, for example.

            (There are also Indo-European languages which are universally agreed to have innovated case endings; the Tocharian languages, for example, have perlative, comitative and causative cases between them, and I think many of their other cases which PIE also has were actually absent in pre-Tocharian; they were independently re-innovated via postpositional fusing, so that the endings are completely etymologically unrelated to the endings in other IE languages.

            Also, from what I know of the history of the Germanic languages it’s quite often happened that a morphological ending has been worn down into absence or indistinctness by sound change, but then it is modified by analogy, or fuses with another case ending, or a postposition or something, and thereby becomes more distinct. So innovation of new case endings of a slightly less striking form has been happening even in the less exotic IE languages. That also suggests something more might be needed to explain why English and the Romance languages lost their case endings and [in the case of English] most of their verb endings, although it could just be that the sound changes that happened to them were particularly severe.)

        • linguistrix says:

          Many Indian languages use the Vocative case too.

        • Army1987 says:

          Colloquial spoken central and southern Italian also sort-of has a vocative case (obtained by removing everything after the stressed vowel from the noun), though for some reason I can’t remember anybody calling it that.

  27. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Recent mainstream-media science headline: researchers can’t tell make and female brains apart: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/nov/30/brain-sex-men-from-mars-women-venus-not-so-says-new-study

    This one definitely trips the “look deeper” alarm. Reading the article in full shows that researchers can totally tell male and female brains apart, but the way you can tell faces’ sex, not the way you can tell genitalia’s.

  28. Does the propensity of kings to kill their brothers apply to other aristocrats? What is the long-term genetic effect of that?

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      It was commonplace in empires like the Ottoman and Mughal ones, for one. Christianity made sure lots of kings didn’t have as many brothers as islamic ones would have in Europe, but the history of a nation like Spain shows just how much a mess wonky succession laws and multiple male heirs can ensure.

  29. Jose says:

    Many of my friends are U of Ottawa students, and it should be noted that the decision to stop the free yoga classes was mostly about low attendance.
    From one of them: “this is taken from the sun (shitty source in general) and they completely misrepresented the situation!! the centre had actually temporarily cancelled the yoga classes to be put under review in terms of financing it vs marketing vs actual student use but planned to bring it back in the winter .. conveniently disregarded from the sun’s piece tongue emoticon”
    “When a centre staff was asked if it was about reviewing the program, cultural appropriation, or both, the response was “Truly the latter. The idea to switch up the program and make it general fitness and stretching and stuff was, we thought, an acceptable compromise. But we needed to ensure it was something students still wanted before we invested significant SFUO resources into marketing it/create a strong marketing plan.” Either way, i know that the staff at the centre were considering different options for the program and while i personally think that just changing the title without tackling appropriation aspects isn’t really solving the concern of appropriation, i know that they didn’t downright shut their eyes to all suggested options and were definitely willing to keep the program going if it was actually wanted by students “

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      Perhaps the U of Ottawa student government should speak up, then, and make it clear they were misrepresented in the media and that they don’t take the absurd position that yoga classes are cultural appropriation. Right now, they seem to be very willing to go along with this narrative, which makes their original reasoning irrelevant.

      • JBeshir says:

        It looks like they have made some such statements. The Ottawa Sun quotes some and offers its rebuttal here: http://www.ottawasun.com/2015/11/26/university-of-ottawa-student-leaders-take-new-position-on-cancelled-yoga-class

        As someone who is probably inclined to give the benefit of the doubt I initially read the situation, after reading the above, as being one of “about appropriation, but they denied it on realising it was a wildly opposed thing”, “about appropriation in that it’s why they came to attention, but also had decent reasons why it wasn’t working out”, or “the majority involved were focused on performance, but one or two of the people involved in the decision were motivated by appropriation”, with the weight on the middle one simply because probably most programmes people try for helping people with disabilities go poorly.

        It’s interesting to hear that people actually there say it wasn’t about that at all, though. Could be an example of the media getting out of hand again.

      • Tatu Ahponen says:

        Wait, so if someone makes up a false narrative about you and you say nothing about it, it means that the false narrative becomes true and you’re at fault anyway? That sounds awfully… unfair.

    • Tatu Ahponen says:

      Reminds me of the case of a Finnish city deciding to end subscription to Donald Duck magazines to save money and this somehow becoming a huge story in foreign media on how Finland is banning Donald Duck because Donald Duck does not have pants. (https://larko.wordpress.com/2006/05/25/the-truth-about-donald-ducks-pants/)

      • akaltynarchitectonica says:

        Third example, in the UK a moderately famous right wing speaker caused a fuss because he was “censored” when his talk at a university was cancelled. Talking to the students at the actual college, the group hosting him just didn’t properly reserve the room

        There’s probably a meta lesson here about being sceptical of motives ascribed to people in the media. Since those are harder to prove/be sued over

        • Tatu Ahponen says:

          Another Finnish example: A Finnish city commissioned pig statues made of concrete to show drivers at parking lots where not to park, which were subsquently removed because the city decided they were garish and posed a danger to children. Silly, I know, but somehow the narrative got out that the statues were actually removed due to MUSLIMS and a lot of angry people suddenly materialized online to defend the pig statues at all costs because removing them would be dhimmitude and creeping Shariah or something. The Muslim community, meanwhile, tried to ensure the people that it had nothing to do with the issue.

          Is there already a word for the misuse for these “POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD!” -type narratives for cases where political correctness was in fact no way involved?

          • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

            Perhaps “Moral Panic?” This sort of thing happens all the time: some incident gets blown way out of proportion and is used as an opportunity for people to get on their soapboxes, and as a scary bedtime story to rally the troops.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            It’s just the right wing version of Poe’s Law. When you’re constantly being surprised by the other side’s “inexplicable” goofy behavior you lose all of your credulity.

  30. szopeno says:

    Did I miss something, or did Protzko (Study about fade-out effects of education interventions) actually provided heavy ammo for explaining the FLynn Effect??!

  31. Joe says:

    Metformin is used to treat infertility as well. At least they used it to treat my wife. Apparently fertility clinics don’t like to use it because they want to sell you IVF. Of course that was the rumor.

    • Deiseach says:

      Metformin is used for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which is something that affects fertility. Since there are many reasons why people may be infertile, it’s not one size fits all (though I agree that fertility clinics, being for-profit, want to sell the ‘guaranteed to give you a kid’ treatment that costs more).

      • Joe says:

        They told us she needed it because her insuline was spikeing at different times during the day and that that caused some hormone to screw up the hormone that makes the uterus receptive to embryos. That’s as well as I can remember it(sad I know). I would have to check with my wife but I don’t think she had polycystic ovarian syndrome.

  32. moridinamael says:

    So, we have a drug with essentially negligible side effects, and potentially boosts healthspan by tens-of-percent in mice, worms and fruit flies. Isn’t this one of those cases where we should all start taking the drug immediately and then stop taking it only if the trial shows it to be ineffective? (Or stop taking it if you happen to experience unpleasant side-effects.) Especially considering that the trial will probably take a long time to render a verdict?

    I mean, isn’t this basically a slam dunk from a decision-theory point of view?

    • Deiseach says:

      The main serious side-effect would be lactic acidosis. You certainly shouldn’t decide to source a packet of tablets and start taking them, you do need to be checked out by a doctor because some people cannot tolerate it. Dosages also vary.

      Really, if you’re healthy, then I would say be cautious about taking any medication you are not prescribed. Why does metformin apparently have this effect? Until the mechanism is better understood, I’d hold off on taking it unless necessary.

      The effect seems to be down to some anti-cancer properties but more that metformin has protective properties against cardiovascular events. So it may not be this wonder anti-aging drug you are hoping for, rather that it reduces risk of heart attack/stroke and so reduces mortality overall.

    • gwern says:

      I mean, isn’t this basically a slam dunk from a decision-theory point of view?

      I gave it a shot: http://ww.gwern.net/Longevity#metformin Upshot is under reasonable assumptions and using that study’s effect size estimate, metformin is profitable but ideally you start at age 54 and stop at 90. Since I don’t think you or most SSC readers are 54…

      While I think Deiseach is overstating the lactic acidosis issue, I was intrigued that when I sat down and tried a decision analysis, it turns out that no, it’s not at all obvious that someone should start metformin while young. With a correlation!=penalty, the current best age is ~54. (So assuming you expect TAME to take another 10 years before any results get reported, no one under 44 really needs to think about the issue. If TAME delivers an RR of 0.85 just like the study being cited, then the optimal age snaps down to ~44.)

      This turns out to be, along with how even large RRs yield small life expectancy gains, yet another consequence of the Gompertz curve: in your 30s and 40s, mortality is just too low for a 15% reduction to outweigh the immediate cost of using metformin (not just the monetary cost of ~$100/year but also the hassle, at least equivalent in cost, and the fixed upfront cost of dealing with the diarrhea and initial side-effects).

  33. Douglas Knight says:

    Here is the study claiming that diabetics on metformin live longer than non-diabetics.

  34. Michael K says:

    The birds are r-species, the humans are clearly K.

    There is obviously some evolutionary explanation for the birds’ pronounced sexual dimorphism and male garishness but it would be just as silly to look at humans to “test” it.

  35. nil says:

    re: Black names

    One difference could be the increased importance of paperwork. A major downside of having a conspicuously black name in the 21st century is that is allows people to discriminate against you without ever seeing you, but I feel like paper resumes, applications, etc were less important in the early 20th century–far more likely that hiring, renting, etc would be done face-to-face from the very start.

    But I think the biggest difference would be Jim Crow. In 1910, being a successful black person usually means joining the ranks of the black bourgeoisie, where the bulk of your professional interactions will be with other black people. In 2015, being a successful black person is much more likely to be about integrating into a multi-cultural-but-largely-non-black bourgeois. This hits it on both ends–a conspicuiously black name is going to pose more of a barrier to the now-necessary integration, and, ambitious parents with high hopes for their children (and knowing that consummation of those high hopes relies on regular and routine interactions with whites) are less likely to give that child a conspicuous name.

    • stillnotking says:

      Those are possibilities. Another is that white people are more sensitive to class divisions within blacks in 2015 than they were in 1910 — presumably most whites saw blacks as an undifferentiated mass back then. There is some evidence that both whites and blacks associate stereotypically “black” names with the ghetto, playing into Chris Rock’s memorable distinction.

      • nil says:

        Yeah, although that increased sensitivity could also be a result of Jim Crow. Lot easier to ignore a black bourgeois when they’re busy running a semi-distinct parallel economy that you have nothing to do with vs. when they’re working side-by-side with you.

    • baconbacon says:

      Another major difference is that blacks are simply much more free than a century+ ago. Taking/giving a distinctive name at one point was probably an act of courage and a way of distancing yourself/your children from a slave name.

      I wonder what the comparisons are for blacks that took a muslim name in the 60s/70s.

  36. Vox Imperatoris says:

    The Islamic State magazine is pretty great (well, as a source, not in my estimation of the content).

    My favorite so far is Issue 9, where they refute in the first place conspiracy theorists arguing that the “blessed raid on the Two Towers” was perpetrated by the “kuffar” or else allowed to happen by him. These conspiracy theorists attribute absolute power—which, of course, is reserved only for Allah—to the West and use that as an excuse for fighting against the Caliphate. The righteous struggle waged by IS only plays into the hands of the kuffar, they say; therefore it is a “greater good” to fight against them.

    It goes on to defend sexual slavery in the most explicit terms, and with profuse citations from the Quran and the hadiths:

    Saby (taking slaves through war) is a great prophetic
    Sunnah containing many divine wisdoms and
    religious benefits, regardless of whether or not the
    people are aware of this. The Sīrah is a witness to
    our Prophet’s (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) raiding
    of the kuffār. He would kill their men and enslave
    their children and women. The raids of the beloved
    Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) convey this
    to us. Ask the tribes of Banī al-Mustaliq, Banī
    Quraydhah, and Hawāzin about this.

    […]

    After the Battle of the Trench, Banī Quraydhah
    yielded to the judgment of Sa’d Ibn Mu’ādh
    (radiyallāhu ‘anh). So Sa’d said, “I rule that their
    fighters be killed and their families be enslaved.”

    So Allah’s Messenger (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam)
    said, “You have indeed judged in their affair by
    the ruling of Allah”
    [Reported by al-Bukhārī and
    Muslim].

    […]

    The Sahābah and their followers in goodness treaded
    upon the path of the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa
    sallam) after him. Therefore, we almost cannot find
    a companion who didn’t practice saby. ‘Alī Ibn Abī
    Tālib (radiyallāhu ‘anh) had nineteen slave-girls. Ibn
    ‘Uyaynah reported that ‘Amr Ibn Dīnār said, “’Alī
    Ibn Abī Tālib wrote in his will, ‘As to what follows:
    If something happens to me during this battle, then
    my slave-girls whom I copulate with are nineteen in
    number.
    Some of them bore me children, some of
    them are pregnant, and some of them are childless’”
    [Musannaf ‘Abdir-Razzāq].

    […]

    After all this and after the sun of the Khilāfah
    radiated once again, and the winds of victory and
    consolidation blew, and the Islamic State, by the
    grace of its Lord alone, brought out the Islamic
    punishments and rulings of the Sharī’ah from the
    darkness of books and papers, and we truly lived
    them after they were buried for centuries… After all
    this, the ramblers dare to extend their tongues with
    false rumors and accusations so as to disfigure the
    great shar’ī ruling and pure prophetic Sunnah titled
    “saby”? After all this, saby becomes fornication and
    tasarrī (taking a slave-girl as a concubine) becomes
    rape?
    If only we’d heard these falsehoods from the
    kuffār who are ignorant of our religion. Instead we
    hear it from those associated with our Ummah,
    those whose names are Muhammad, Ibrāhīm, and
    ‘Alī!
    So I say in astonishment: Are our people awake
    or asleep? But what really alarmed me was that some
    of the Islamic State supporters (may Allah forgive
    them) rushed to defend the Islamic State – may its
    honor persist and may Allah expand its territory
    – after the kāfir media touched upon the State’s
    capture of the Yazīdī women. So the supporters
    started denying the matter as if the soldiers of the
    Khilāfah had committed a mistake or evil.

    Thus, after the matter transcended its limits and the
    barking of the charlatans – the wicked scholars – rose
    upon the pulpits of deviance, it became necessary to
    face their declarations with a declaration, but one
    of truth, to suppress their falsehood and restrain
    their tongues.

    Yes, Allah has opened the lands for His awliyā’,
    so they entered and dispersed within the lands,
    killing the fighters of the kuffār, capturing their
    women, and enslaving their children.

    I write this while the letters drip of pride. Yes,
    O religions of kufr altogether, we have indeed
    raided and captured the kāfirah women, and drove
    them like sheep by the edge of the sword. And
    glory belongs to Allah, to His Messenger, and the
    believers, but the hypocrites do not know!

    It really refutes the absurd notion that the Islamic State is “perverting” the pure message of Islam. The truth is precisely the opposite: the Islamic State is loyal to the true message of Islam. It is the modernistic “moderates” who are perverting it.

    It also goes to show how backwards it is to state that “Islam needs a Reformation”. The Islamic State is the equivalent of the Protestant reformers like Luther and Calvin! They are restoring the true brutal message of the religion after centuries of worldly, self-serving priestcraft tried to make it compatible with Aristotle, with reason, and with naturalism.

    What the Islamic world “needs” is an Enlightenment: i.e. to stop taking Islam seriously.

    • JBeshir says:

      That seems pretty reasonable.

      I think what we need is the “true, brutal message” to fail horribly, and obviously, and be discredited for a long time as a viable answer to the melancholy of modern life, with the failure and obliteration of IS. I suspect this will happen, although not until everyone has spent a while fighting over what comes after them for a while first. There are too many national leaders who would look good for getting rid of them, and they’ve managed to at least slightly annoy every permanent UN Security Council member.

      And then the Enlightenment-absorbed Western practices- the main way people seem to cope with the disjunct between their religion and surrounding culture is adopting impressive levels of “no imposing of beliefs” liberalism, which is about as principled on the meta level as you could ask for even if object-level beliefs are not good- and the… pragmatic, still pretty awful, but not nearly so insane versions in other parts of the Middle East go back to defining the window of beliefs to campaign inside.

      • Salem says:

        Why do you think that the military defeat of Da’ish will discredit their message? Indeed, this seems almost the opposite of Da’ish “fail[ing] horribly, and obviously.” People who were inclined to like Islamic fundamentalism wouldn’t say that it had been discredited, but rather crushed in this instance by a foreign power. And they’d be right! If America bombed the crap out of Singapore, this would be bad times for the PAP, but it wouldn’t prove anything about their economic or social model.

        Da’ish is not a response to the “melancholy of modern life” (although that may be why they have supporters in the West). It’s not a coincidence that the areas of Iraq they’ve taken over have suffered 10 years of persecution by the government in Baghdad. It’s not a co-incidence that all the areas where Islamic terrorism has taken off were first ravaged by civil war or foreign occupation*. When society-wide co-operative mechanisms break down, the only move is defect.

        Yet at the same time, these societies (or sections of them) retain a distinctively Muslim identity and aspiration, so the natural way of forming new, co-operative institutions is to base them on that shared Muslim identity. Those participating in these movements no doubt see themselves as conducting a new Abbasid Revolution. Yet the outcome often becomes terrorism, because:

        * There are non-Islamic, or non-Sunni counter-currents within that society.
        * Islamic regimes arouse massive hostility in the West.
        * Precisely because these movements arise in the context of existing civil war/violence, it leads to a Hayekian “Worst Get On Top” dynamic, where more moderate groups get forced out.

        And so you get Da’ish, who are unquestionably the worst getting on top, but they don’t come from nowhere. The way to “discredit” them is to demonstrate a Middle Eastern country where “liberalism” (broadly defined) works. Not works in the sense of perfection, or banishing melancholy, but in the sense of providing the ordinary public goods of security and rule-of-law that government is supposed to provide. It was basically working in Iraq pre-1958, but the West were very happy to throw Nuri al-Saeed to the wolves. Turkey is OK, but I suspect the West would be very happy to see the back of the person who’s delivered that success. The UAE is awesome, but small. And so on.

        * My list would be Algeria, Chechnya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya. A little bit Egypt. Note that without exception, the ravages came before the Islamism. It is emphatically not a case of Islamic terrorism destroying previously stable societies.

        • As far as I know, Islam is based on submission to the will of God. If ISIS (or whoever) is crushed, that means it was God’s will that ISIS be crushed.

          • stillnotking says:

            As if the ISIS version of “God’s will” is a principled idea! The best you could hope for would be “It was God’s will to test the believers” or similar. More likely, “We failed by not conforming to God’s will in X, Y, and Z” (where X, Y, and Z are yet more horrible traditionally-prescribed atrocities).

          • Salem says:

            If it’s God’s will that bad things happen to someone, that doesn’t necessarily discredit his ideas. Indeed, it may give them extra salience. For instance, few Christians think that the crucifixion of Jesus discredits his ideas, even though they ascribe that to God’s will.

            You seem to be thinking that if Da’ish are crushed, it must be God’s will to punish them. But it could equally be God’s will to martyr them. It is hard to imagine Da’ish being more thoroughly crushed than was Hussein ibn Ali, yet it would be fair to say that he retains a certain degree of popularity!

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Why do you think that the military defeat of Da’ish will discredit their message? Indeed, this seems almost the opposite of Da’ish “fail[ing] horribly, and obviously.” People who were inclined to like Islamic fundamentalism wouldn’t say that it had been discredited, but rather crushed in this instance by a foreign power. And they’d be right! If America bombed the crap out of Singapore, this would be bad times for the PAP, but it wouldn’t prove anything about their economic or social model.

          Is this really true?

          I mean, I’m sympathetic to the idea. Certainly, crushing Islam on the battlefield is not an argument against it.

          But I can think of a lot of historical examples where military or other existential defeat succeeded in discrediting an ideology or movement. Fascism in Italy and National Socialism in Germany were doing quite well until they got suddenly discredited by losing WWII—they have had precious few open supporters since. The same can be said for State Shintoism and the ideology of Imperial Japan.

          The Israeli victory in the Six-Day War dealt a killing blow to Nasserism and Pan-Arabism. Similarly, Thatcher’s defeat of Galtieri in the Falklands War led to his downfall and the return of democracy within the year.

          Socialism (i.e. actual socialism: the idea that the state should assume control of the means of production) was dealt a pretty heavy blow by the fall of the Soviet Union. It has survived to the extent it has in no small part due to the fact that at one time socialist ideals in one form or another had almost complete dominance even among Western intellectuals.

          The American Civil War rapidly shifted abolitionism from a fringe belief to a core idea of the culture. Even the romantics left who imagined that slavery wasn’t so bad did not seriously entertain the possibility of bringing it back. The “Lost Cause” of the South (in their opinions) was noble but doomed and should be remembered, not fought for.

          So why hasn’t this happened to Islamism in the wake of U.S. success in crushing the regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan? Well, for one I would submit that that these victories were almost completely irrelevant to crushing the main sources of (respectively, Shia and Sunni) Islamism: Iran and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the U.S. is allied to Saudi Arabia at the same time it continues to spread radical Islamism around the world, so it’s hard to see how it would be discredited by this.

          If the U.S. made clear that state-backed Islamism will not be tolerated and acting accordingly, suppressing it in the same manner as it suppressed State Shintoism, I think this would be effective. Whether it would be worth the cost is another question.

          • JBeshir says:

            Yeah, I don’t think people are joining them because they’re going “Hey, actually this makes really good predictions about the world and is much more logically consistent than what I previously thought”, I think they’re going with Daesh because they promise glory, women, respect, status, and a utopian dream for the sufficiently fucked up. And agreement with the religious interpretation comes as rationalisation.

            So by discredit I meant discredit those promises. Preferably dramatically. And then no one benefits from believing its religious interpretation, so few will. It being truer to the source text is, I think, not going to be a major factor. I may be somewhat cynical about adherence to source text in the presence of incentives.

          • gbdub says:

            I’ve actually heard that ISIS’ apocalyptic world view actually requires their military defeat to come true. They will have a climactic battle with the Crusaders in which ISIS will be reduced to 5000 soldiers, who will flee to Jerusalem, where the REAL final battle will take place when Allah comes down to ride to victory just when things seem darkest.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’ve actually heard that ISIS’ apocalyptic world view actually requires their military defeat to come true.

            Well, it requires them to be *almost* defeated, before, as you say, God intervenes and rescues them.

            So, if we actually, totally defeat them, and God doesn’t rescue them, I’d say that’s a pretty convincing disproof of their prophecy.

          • “So, if we actually, totally defeat them, and God doesn’t rescue them, I’d say that’s a pretty convincing disproof of their prophecy.”

            It just means they got the date wrong. After this temporary setback they will rise again, get almost defeated, get rescued by God.

            Consider all the end of the world cults that survive the predicted date. Or, for a more modern example, the people who predicted imminent catastrophe from population growth fifty years ago and are still predicting it, with a few details updated.

    • nil says:

      I agree that Salafism/Wahhabism (which date to the mid-18th century at the earliest, and it didn’t incorporate aggressive jihad and theocracy until it the 20th century under influences by people like Sayyid Qutb) bare some pretty strong similarities to the textual literalism of Luther, but I don’t see how it in any way follows that the moderates are therefore modernistic. It’s the opposite–moderates are pushing a tradition with a millenia of practical testing in how to make a reasonably functional and prosperous society, while Salafists/Wahhabists are pushing largely modernist Millenarian abstractions that can’t, won’t, and aren’t necessarily even intended to be sustained.

      Well-crafted propaganda, though, if it could convince even an opponent like yourself to not only agree with, but endorse and approvingly distribute, their views

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I would think that the only thing keeping traditional Sunni Islam moderate and functional were moderate caliphs. The two most authoritative hadith collections (Bukhari and Muslim) are full of material like what ISIS quoted there. But a countervailing force was the strong tradition that you don’t disobey the caliph for interpreting scripture differently from you.
        Ever since the Ottoman Empire was dissolved, literalism is the only option Sunnis who want to take Islam seriously have, and the literal meaning is pretty scary for everyone else.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        @ nil:

        Of course you’re right that there are two separate groups opposed to the Islamic State: the traditionalists and the modernizers. However, I’ll say that I certainly think anyone who would be described in the U.S. as a “moderate” Muslim is a modernizer. And when I say “modernizer,” I mean someone who thinks that Islam is basically compatible with post-Enlightenment Western values.

        But sure, there have been and are traditionalist Muslim and societies that are more “moderate” than the Islamic State.

        This is all beside the point, though. There is a strand uniting both the traditionalists and the modernizers in opposition to the Islamic State: their worldliness, and their willingness to compromise the actual meaning of the Quran and the sayings of Muhammad in order to “make a reasonably functional and prosperous society”.

        Of course the actual teachings of Islam cannot serve as the basis for a society that wants to achieve worldly success. The Bible cannot serve as the basis for a society that wants to achieve worldly success. That’s why there were parallel developments in both Islam and Christianity to mix in an enormous amount of pagan Greek philosophy, in order to make the religions at least somewhat rationally intelligible and functional. But whether it’s in the form of Mutazilism or Thomism, the idea that Greek philosophy (and especially Aristotelianism) is compatible with the basic spirit of the religions is preposterous.

        I’m not disputing that that these rationalizations of Islam and Christianity were beneficial—and in fact had to happen if the system was not to collapse altogether. But they have about as much loyalty to the actual source material as Maimonides’s interpretation of the commandment to stone a disobedient son.

        The Islamic State’s persuasive force derives in no small part from the fact that they are clearly interpreting more accurately the source material which they and their co-religionists claim to share.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          But whether it’s in the form of Mutazilism or Thomism, the idea that Greek philosophy (and especially Aristotelianism) is compatible with the basic spirit of the religions is preposterous.

          Wow, I sure am glad that you, despite being neither a Catholic nor a Muslim nor an Aristotelian, nevertheless know so much about the “basic spirit” of these things as to know which ones are compatible with which, and that you’re kind enough to share your wisdom with us poor benighted proles.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I am an Aristotelian, depending on how strictly you define that term.

            I certainly think I’m more of an Aristotelian than any Christian or Muslim has a right to be.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I’m always skeptical of the notion of a “true version” of a religion. Taboo “true” and you might still have some criteria on which the fundamentalist version wins (agreement with the text, accordance with historical tradition, internal consistency insofar as the moderates believe they should follow the text), but at the end of the day “Islam” most usefully means “the religious beliefs of the people who say their religion is Islam.”

      Based on the example of Christianity, irreligiosity among the elite seems helpful, but for the populace it’s more promising for the illiberal aspects of their religion to just kind of phase out without anyone ever feeling like they’re abandoning it.

    • Tatu Ahponen says:

      “What the Islamic world “needs” is an Enlightenment: i.e. to stop taking Islam seriously.”

      That’s what the socialist and nationalist movements tried to do during the Cold War. The Western camp, together with its allies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistani intelligence services, had a rather large role in snuffing it.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        That’s certainly true. And I think this was unfortunate.

        On the other hand, Marxism was even worse than Islam and certainly a bigger threat to the U.S. and the world at the time. I don’t fault the U.S. for picking the lesser of two evils by supporting jihadists against the Soviets and their allies.

    • Tatu Ahponen says:

      Also, considering what’s there is Daesh’s interpretation and there are, in fact, numerous interpretations by Islamic scholars saying that what Daesh is doing is bad and un-Islamic, well, we get to a rather important matter – by what authority and knowledge can we declare that Daesh’s interpretation is more correct than the others?

      • nil says:

        There is a large segment of the US right that is bound and determined to affirm radical Salafism’s claims to represent Islam. To some small degree I think this is based on a desire (based on regional Middle East politics) to include Shia militants within the WoT despite the fact that they haven’t attacked America or Europe in decades, and the fact that it provides support for wide-scale profiling is definitely in the mix (although it also begs the question of why that wide-scale profiling is so desired) but I’ve yet to figure out a satisfactory reason that doesn’t smell like my own biases.

        Possibly not any more complicated/nefarious than much of the US right being text-based-fundamentalist Christians who correctly identify Wahabbists as text-based-fundementalist Muslims?

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          I’m not a text-based fundamentalist Christian (or a Christian at all), so I can’t speak for them. But for my part, it is a simple matter of feeling that the “moderate” side is plainly using strained interpretations and just plain ignoring large sections of their holy books (and other official doctrine, for the Catholics out there who feel that the Pope has the authority to override the plain meaning of the Bible—someone who really takes seriously every Catholic teaching is not a “moderate” Catholic), while the “extremists” are intellectually honest. I have the same feeling toward Christianity as Islam in this respect.

          Unfortunately, the Bible is a far more incoherent document than the Quran and often contradicts itself, so it’s harder to find out exactly what it means. But I think the people who make the most sincere effort are either the Reconstructionist Calivinists who want to impose theocracy or the extreme ascetics-pacifists in the model of Tolstoy.

          But I have a very low opinion (intellectually, anyway) of the mindset that interprets Christianity to teach that you should live a standard American life and go to church on Sunday.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            “But I think the people who make the most sincere effort are either the Reconstructionist Calivinists who want to impose theocracy or the extreme ascetics-pacifists in the model of Tolstoy.”

            Er… no, just no. Reconstructionist Calvinism contradicts Calvin’s own position on the Mosaic Law and, going sola scriptura on you, pretty much everything St. Paul said about the Law. If you’re going to say the New Testament can’t abrogate or modify correct interpretation of the Old, you’ve gone outside any sort of Christianity and back to Judaism.

          • Machine Interface says:

            The opposing argument coming from a Catholic point of view is that literal interpretation of a text written 1500 years ago in a different language and culture is impossible and meaningless, because semantic meaning is produced in context — in this view, the holy text is not seen as funding document of the religion but merely as *a* document among others, used as a basis to build a scholarly tradition of interpretation, the same ways that ancient texts of laws are interpreted and re-interpreted differently over time — the current US supreme court doesn’t interpret the US Constitution today the same way it did 50, 100 or 200 years ago.

            In this perspective, the Bible is an important text for Catholics, but no more than the writings of the Church fathers or the rulings of the Pope — the teaching of Jesus preceeds all of those.

            This is of course more problematic for Muslims who generally still have an aspiration to be a literalist movement — but if a consciously and deliberatedly anti-bibliophile form of Islam was to see the day, it could provide a resolution to this contradiction for moderate Muslims. (On the other hand, the existence of this contradiction and the blatent inconsistencies it produces doesn’t prevent hundreds of millions of moderate Protestants to live their faith in serenity).

          • nil says:

            I definitely get what you’re saying as an aesthetic preference, and as an atheist I have (possibly share?) a respect for the theists who actually take the claims they make seriously, and ISIS is serious as a heart attack about their doctrines.

            But I also keep that to myself. The war on militant Salafism/Wahabbism is a war of memes (in the Dawkins/Blackmore sense of the word), and, to me that makes it particularly important to not signal boost the enemy’s propaganda. That doesn’t really extend to a place like this or a person like yourself (and let me apologize for my snark to you, that was small of me), but it very much does extend to the major public figures on the right who seem personally aggrieved at the left’s failure to “name the enemy” (not to imply that they want the enemy to be named in anything but the least specific terminology this side of “people with imaginary friends”).

            Like, it’s not a weird thing to want, but, to me, it’s a weird thing to be fixated on in light of the potential downsides.

          • nil says:

            re: Machine Interface

            On the whole, I agree with you, but it’s worth noting that classical Arabic is commonly used and understood in the Arab world and it’s basically the same language the Koran was written in. Plus, there’s a meaningful difference between the divinely inspired books of the Bible and a Quran consisting of directly transcribed words of God.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Le Maistre Chat:

            I don’t especially wish to defend them, but I will say that the Reconstructionists are very clever and have good arguments against this kind of criticism. Basically working from Matthew 5:17-18

            17 “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

            18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

            Anyway, the Reconstructionists are not completely Judaistic, but they accept all of the Biblical laws not explicitly abrogated by Jesus.

            @ Machine Interface:

            Yes, the Catholic idea that sola scriptura is not mentioned in the Bible itself is a good argument for their position. Also, there is the pure fact that it is obvious God would have to have an official institution on earth to correct humans when they inevitably interpret his teachings in conflicting ways. But they have plenty of their own problems.

            To take just one, they want to say that you can prove by reason that God exists, that Jesus was resurrected, and that the Pope in Rome is the legitimate heir to the Church Jesus founded in Peter. Let’s set aside the fact that you can, in fact, prove none of these things.

            The problem is that they want to say you can prove the Catholic Church has actual Divine authority in its teachings and other heretical churches don’t. At the same time, they say (as is obviously true) that we cannot simply allow people to use their own private judgment in matters of religion, or else they would split off into a million sects. But how can you prove to yourself that the Catholic Church actually has Divine authority, except through your private judgment?

            All you are properly allowed to conclude is that if your private judgment as to the Church’s authority is correct, then they have that authority. But your private judgment could be wrong. Therefore, you cannot be certain (as you are supposed to be) that the Catholic Church is the true Church. Therefore, by their own premises it is irrational to have faith in it.

          • Machine Interface says:

            There are of course many flaws in Catholic doctrine and logic. The point was to show that there are consistent theological arguments for why a literalist approach of the holy text might not in fact qualify as the best/most consistent/only acceptable approach.

            In other words, while it is weird to claim that Salafists are not “true” Islam, it is equally weird to claim they are the “only true” Islam on the sole basis of them being literalist.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The problem is that they want to say you can prove the Catholic Church has actual Divine authority in its teachings and other heretical churches don’t. At the same time, they say (as is obviously true) that we cannot simply allow people to use their own private judgment in matters of religion, or else they would split off into a million sects. But how can you prove to yourself that the Catholic Church actually has Divine authority, except through your private judgment?

            “The problem is they say that people should trust their doctors. At the same time, they say (as is obviously true) that laymen shouldn’t simply use their private judgement when deciding which remedies to give themselves, or else people would make the wrong call all the time and end up making themselves worse. But how can you prove that a given doctor is actually trustworthy, except through your private judgement? Therefore, etc.”

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The original Mr. X:

            The difference is that I think “human reason” is the final word on all questions and they don’t. They think you should trust the Catholic Church’s authority even when it appears to go against your human reason. Because after all, you know with certainty that they are relating the teachings of God, who is infinitely superior to you.

            On the other hand, I am perfectly happy to say that if your doctor tells you something that seems crazy, you should get a second opinion!

            In other words, they say you should put complete faith in the Catholic Church and its teachings, while I say you should only put a modicum of faith in your doctor and his medical advice.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            That “down with human reason, don’t ask difficult questions” attitude you seem to be describing is closer to Protestantism (especially Fundamentalism, although historical Protestantism had it too; cf. Luther’s “Reason is the Devil’s harlot” line) than Catholicism. In fact, one of the Reformers’ main criticisms of the Catholic Church was precisely that it was obsessed with rationalising and over-thinking everything to do with the faith, instead of just shutting up and putting their trust in the Bible.

        • Jaskologist says:

          It is not terribly useful to attempt to understand a religion by reading its texts in isolation, any more than you can understand a program by reading its raw bytes without knowing if it’s running on RISC or x86. All of them have related interpretative traditions (usually more than one of them) which affect what that text actually says. I read the Tao Te Ching; this prepared me in no way for a visit to a Taoist temple. You will not derive the high church and low church styles from a reading of the Bible (neither of which are incompatible with it). Even the sola-est scriptorist is filtering things through an interpretive tradition.

          I’ve seen how poor a job people do telling Christians what they believe, on the evidence of one or two isolated verses. I have even less faith in those people’s ability to tell me what Islam is.

          Islam (like the other major religions) has many different interpretive traditions, some of which ISIS can legitimately claim descent from. There may be less awful traditions, but as long as people are dedicated to proclaiming that the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam, arguing as much is going to look like so much wishful thinking. Ultimately, it’s up to Muslims themselves to prove it. How’s that Arab Spring working out so far?

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            Arab Spring seems to have worked out pretty swell in the one country where it was let run its course without foreign interference, ie. Tunisia.

          • John Schilling says:

            Foreign intervention in Libya and Syria didn’t really take off until well after it was clear that the “Spring” was a nightmare. And I didn’t see much foreign interference in, say, Egypt or Bahrain.

            Really, the “Arab Spring” was only ever the Tunisian Spring plus a lot of wishful thinking. And the genies granting those wishes were the malevolent kind.

      • [This was intended as a response to someone who thought it was an open question whose interpretation of Islam was correct. It doesn’t seem to have ended up following his post, hence this explanation]

        I think if you read pretty much any pre-modern Muslim account of early Muslim history, it is clear that this particular claim by ISIS is true. After the early Muslims defeated a Jewish tribe in the region of Medina, the adult men were killed and the women enslaved. And the legitimacy of having slave concubines is a standard feature of Sunni (and, I presume, Shia) law.

        Doing it that way isn’t obligatory. One of the other Jewish tribes in the area surrendered on terms, agreeing to leave, taking their families and some of their possessions with them. In the case of the tribe ISIS discusses, which put up a fight, Mohamed put the decision of whether to kill the men to one of his people who had been wounded. He said to do it, and Mohamed endorsed the decision.

        The same rules would not apply to fighting other Muslims. And non-Muslim people of the book have the option of accepting Muslim rule, in which case they are protected by Muslim law—although the law distinguishes in various ways between the legal status of Muslims and of non-Muslims.

    • Nero tol Scaeva says:

      Neil Godfrey over at Vridar is having a good series on the origins of Islamic militancy/terrorism.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      It really refutes the absurd notion that the Islamic State is “perverting” the pure message of Islam. The truth is precisely the opposite: the Islamic State is loyal to the true message of Islam. It is the modernistic “moderates” who are perverting it.

      It also goes to show how backwards it is to state that “Islam needs a Reformation”. The Islamic State is the equivalent of the Protestant reformers like Luther and Calvin! They are restoring the true brutal message of the religion after centuries of worldly, self-serving priestcraft tried to make it compatible with Aristotle, with reason, and with naturalism.

      I am reminded of Scott’s “A Parable On Obsolete Ideologies”:

      The swastikas hanging from every boulevard stay up, but now they represent “traditional values” and even “peace”. Big pictures of Hitler still hang in every government office, not because Hitler was right about racial purity, but because he represents the desire for spiritual purity inside all of us, and the desire to create a better society by any means necessary. It’s still acceptable to shout “KILL ALL THE JEWS AND GYPSIES AND HOMOSEXUALS!” in public places, but only because everyone realizes that Hitler meant “Jews” as a metaphor for “greed”, “gypsies” as a metaphor for “superstition”, and “homosexuals” as a metaphor for “lust”, and so what he really meant is that you need to kill the greed, lust, and superstition in your own heart. Good Nazis love real, physical Jews! Some Jews even choose to join the Party, inspired by their principled stand against spiritual evil.

      The Hitler Youth remains, but it’s become more or less a German version of the Boy Scouts. The Party infrastructure remains, but only as a group of spiritual advisors helping people fight the untermenschen in their own soul. They suggest that, during times of trouble, people look to Mein Kampf for inspiration. If they open to a sentence like “The Aryan race shall conquer all in its path”, then they can interpret “the Aryan race” to mean “righteous people”, and the sentence is really just saying that good people can do anything if they set their minds to it. Isn’t that lovely?

      Might the existence of “reformed” Nazis, he asks, enable “full-strength” Nazis to become more powerful and influential? He thinks it might. It becomes impossible to condemn “full-strength” Nazis for worshipping a horrible figure like Hitler, or adoring a horrible book like Mein Kampf, when they’re doing the same thing themselves. At worst, they can just say the others are misinterpreting it a little. And it will be very difficult to make this argument, because all evidence suggests that in fact it’s the “full-strength” Nazis who are following Hitler’s original intent and the true meaning of Mein Kampf, and the “reformed” Nazis who have reinterpreted it for political reasons.

    • A possibly relevant tangent …

      According to Maimonides, Jewish soldiers are entitled to rape captive non-Jewish women. There are a bunch of restrictions–they can only do it once, they have to do it in private, and if the woman is willing to convert to Judaism her rapist is required to marry her. And Maimonides clearly regards the rule as an unfortunate compromise with the evil inclinations of humans. So less unambiguously favorable than the corresponding Islamic rule–but still there.

    • 27chaos says:

      Consistency is overrated, attacking ISIS on many fronts is a better idea for our PR overlords.

    • onyomi says:

      I am not at all an expert on Arab history, but I have the impression that at the time many of Mohammed’s new rules (though maybe not about women) were relatively liberal, or, at least, peaceful by the standards of the time. Like, if you read a book that says “you may rape a captured woman once, but do not kill her,” you might think “oh, good, what a horrible, illiberal philosophy!” But maybe less so if it turns out that the context in which the rule was written was one in which gang-raping and murdering a captured female was common practice.

      If I am correct, that Islam was mostly kind and gentle by the standards of its day, then one could make an argument that it is not true to the “spirit” of Islam to be more brutal than average now that merely raping someone once is no longer considered nice.

      Of course, post-Mohammed Arabs seem to be much more successful conquerors, but that’s arguably because they stopped fighting with each other long enough to get organized. Also, I think the pre-Islamic Arab world may have been more matriarchal, so patriarchy may, indeed, be true to the spirit of Islam, but that is not, to my mind, at least, a bad thing automatically. Patriarchy, like not fighting with your neighboring tribe all the time, seems to be associated with the rise of more advanced civilizations (though maybe sometimes a result as much as a cause), though obviously I’m not in favor of taking it as far as Muslims do.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        If I am correct, that Islam was mostly kind and gentle by the standards of its day, then one could make an argument that it is not true to the “spirit” of Islam to be more brutal than average now that merely raping someone once is no longer considered nice.

        The sayings and doings of the Prophet are not interpreted by Muslims simply as being “as good as could be expected—for a savage”. They are supposed to be an example for people to follow. And not in some vague analogous way; in similar situations, you are supposed to behave as he did.

        Moreover, Muslims believe that Muhammad, along with other prophets, did not commit any major sin. And in regard to minor sins:

        It is well known that no Prophet committed sin but he hastened to repent and seek forgiveness. The Prophets did not persist in sin or delay repentance, for Allaah protected them from that, and after repenting they became more perfect than they were before.

        […]

        The fact that Allaah has commanded us to follow the Messengers and take them as our example. The command to follow them is taken as meaning that everything they did is an example for us to follow, and that every action and belief of theirs is an act of worship. If we suggest that that the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) committed a sin, there will be a dilemma, because that implies that we are commanded to imitate this sin which was committed by the Prophet because we are commanded to follow his example, but at the same time we should no agree with it or do it, because it is a sin.

        This argument is valid and is appropriate if the sin is hidden and not obvious in such a way that it could be confused with acts of obedience. But Allaah has explained to His Messengers where they went wrong and enabled them to repent without delay.

        This is from the first source I could find, not the Islamic State or anything.

        • onyomi says:

          Oh, I’m sure they believe that–it is very hard to view one’s own spiritual leader as having been fallible and/or bound by historical contingency–but I don’t see how this invalidates my point.

          Mohammed’s problem is he was both a spiritual and political leader. It may be easy to contrast Jesus with him favorably–after all, I can’t think of anything obvious Jesus said which would be morally objectionable to us today. But Jesus also wasn’t concerned with creating laws to govern a city or empire. Had Jesus been in charge of writing laws for Galilee, maybe the laws he came up with would have looked like: “instead of chopping off a thief’s whole hand, just cut off his pinky and give him a stern talking to.”

          We might think this is imperfect, but it’s also possible it would have been the best law that would have been acceptable to the people at the time; hence, we don’t even have to think Mohammed made any mistakes to think that living by the letter of the Sharia of the 7th c. goes against the spirit of that very law (not being a Muslim nor a scholar of Islam, I don’t have a dog in the race about the “true” interpretation of Islam; I’m just trying to steelman the position that ISIS is not being true to the “spirit” of Islam).

      • Salem says:

        The point is not so much that Mohammed’s rules were peaceful or liberal, as that they were universally recognised as fair.

        Basically the Arabian peninsula didn’t have an overall potentate capable of imposing law, and it’s really hard to impose laws on nomadic populations anyway. But people still needed to trade, resolve disputes, etc. So resolutions had to be acceptable to both parties, which was often done by marking out a special area of ground as haram, and getting some person respected by both parties to make a ruling. In other words, you could only be the lawgiver/chief by consent (because otherwise the people who didn’t like you would just ride away).

        Mohammed was resolving disputes like this even before his revelations. He united the Arabian Peninsula partly by conquest, but mostly because the tribesmen wanted to be governed by his rulings. (This is also why lots of them rebelled after he died, because their allegiance was to him as a charismatic lawgiver, not to some abstract system of rules). This is actually a very standard model of tribal rulership. And then the Muslims started conquering the fertile lands of the Middle East – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Egypt, etc. In these places it’s easy for a ruler to impose self-serving laws through bureaucracy because the people are settled; the farmland isn’t going anywhere, and you can send out your tax inspectors, etc. So when they got this system that had been built up out of consensual laws, it seemed incredibly fair compared to the despotic rule of the Byzantines, Sasanids, etc.

        But of course, times have changed.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Heisenburg’s moral uncertainty principle: a person will judge righteousness by either position or direction, but not both at the same time.

        This is a split I see a lot. A liberal will look at some founding father, point out to that he was to the left of his society, and therefore claim the FF as his own. A conservative will look at the same founding father, point out that the two of them hold the same actual position on whatever topic under discussion and so also claim them as his own.

        I think leftists in general tend towards directional thinking. Hence, always trying to follow the arc of moral progress ever further. Conservatives believe in positional morality; the goal is to find the correct moral position and stop there.

        What you think of Mohammed’s rape rules will depend heavily on whether you see them as staking out a position, or pointing in a direction.

        • onyomi says:

          This is a good point, and I think it helps us succeed in steelmaning the argument that, at least from a certain perspective, ISIS is not being true to the “spirit” of Sharia, even if they are trying extra hard to be true to the letter. From a conservative perspective they might be practicing the “true” Islam, but from a liberal perspective, which is where most such critics are coming from, they are not moving in the direction Mohammed was pointing to.

      • Note that the “rape only once” rule was Jewish, not Muslim.

        I’ve seen it argued that Mohammed’s rules were more favorable to women than existing Arab practice, both in limiting men to four wives and in giving daughters a share, although not an equal share, in inheritance. I don’t know enough about pre-Muslim Arabic law to tell if it’s true.

        • onyomi says:

          Yeah, I was just grabbing that as an example of the sort of rule which seems, at first, to be unusually cruel or harsh, but which may have actually been an improvement over the status quo at the time.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        The problem with that argument is that the Koran is meant to be God’s final, perfect, one-and-for-all revelation. Saying “The Koran was good for its day, but not for present times, and we need to move beyond it” is complete anathema to the spirit of the Koran itself.

        • Salem says:

          This. The Qu’ran states that the Islamic revelations were given to Adam, Moses, Ibrahim, etc, but they were perverted by exactly this process of bid’ah through overweening people who thought they knew better than God and so corrupted the pure message. Hence the Qu’ran, and the seal of the prophets. And there are very sharp words for people who engage in that sort of thing. Trying to find the “real spirit of Islam” by moving “beyond” the Qu’ran and the Sunnah is obviously un-Islamic and should rightly be condemned.

          This is in contrast to Christianity, where there are new revelations, new laws, and the New Testament partially overturns the Old. According to the Qu’ran, Moses was a Muslim.

          • onyomi says:

            Okay, so question which may seem dumb, but seems pertinent:

            Muslims also recognize that they worship the same god as Christians and Jews, even if they think Christians and Jews have somehow perverted the message along the way; how, then, do they find theological justification for, you know, killing Christians and Jews all the time? Surely they must recognize that the US is a majority Christian country, even if it seems to have gone wildly astray? And obviously Israel is explicitly Muslim, though I can imagine there one could justify it on grounds of oppressing Palestinian Muslims?

            I guess it’s just a case of the Protestant Irish hating the Catholic Irish way more than they’d ever hate a Hindu, though I also feel like it’s also a mask for ethnic tensions.

            But either way, does the Qu’ran say “kill people who believe in Allah, but not the exact version of the faith of Allah which is set down here”?

            Of course, I could ask the same question of US Christians who hate Muslims, though they don’t usually explicitly advocate actually slaughtering them, even if policies they advocate amount to that…

          • Salem says:

            So:

            1. There is nothing in the Qu’ran saying that Christians or Jews should be killed just for their religion (unless they are apostates). They (and the Sabaeans) are specified as “People of the Book” and are supposed to be treated better than other non-Muslims (but worse than Muslims).

            2. But that doesn’t mean they’re immune from being killed either, if they do bad things. There’s nothing un-Islamic about making war against bad people who happen to be Christians or Jews. In fact, Mohammed did just that – e.g. the Banu Qurayza, Banu Nadir, etc.

            3. Israel is not an explicitly Muslim state. I don’t know where you get that from.

          • John Schilling says:

            Muslims also recognize that they worship the same god as Christians and Jews, even if they think Christians and Jews have somehow perverted the message along the way; how, then, do they find theological justification for, you know, killing Christians and Jews all the time?

            Because getting rid of apostates and heretics is far more important than getting rid of mere pagans and unbelievers. Isn’t that the case in pretty much every religion everywhere? And religion-substitute, for that matter? “Them” are outsiders, unlikely to be able to harm the unified “Us” and their attacks will only serve to further united “Us”. But a defecting “Us”, or an “Us” that tries to fracture or subvert the group, is a mortal danger and must be eliminated.

            Islam does not, of course, call for the extermination of all Jews and Christians. But the extent of its tolerance for fellow “people of the book” is finite, and stepping outside the tolerance zone gets puts you solidly in the “spreading corruption in the land” exemption to Islam’s general non-murderyness.

          • onyomi says:

            Israel is an explicitly Jewish state, I meant to write.

          • Salem says:

            Nah, the “uncanny valley” in Islam isn’t Christians and Jews, it’s Baha’i, Ahmadis, etc. The tekfiri push this further and even include Ismailis, Shi’i, etc. Christians and Jews are emphatically not seen as defectors; if they were seen as such (e.g. a Muslim were to convert to Christianity) that would get severe persecution in many countries.

            Non-Muslim religions in Muslim countries can’t go around proselyting (otherwise they really would be persecuted), so they have long since become quietist, with religion an ethnic/tribal marker. Of course, that doesn’t rule our ethnic/tribal conflicts. My grandfather told me that when he was a child, he and his friends used to enjoy throw vegetables at the Yazidi kids at school in order to ritually defile them in their religion.

          • “how, then, do they find theological justification for, you know, killing Christians and Jews all the time?”

            “Because getting rid of apostates and heretics is far more important than getting rid of mere pagans and unbelievers. ”

            As you mention further down, Islamic doctrine doesn’t call for killing other Peoples of the Book. They are supposed to be protected by the law, provided they pay the relevant tax.

            Apostates are supposed to be killed–including, in some versions of the law, apostates from the other tolerated religions (although not, of course, converts to Islam). It’s legitimate to kill non-Muslims who are refusing to accept Muslim rule. But Islamic doctrine is more friendly to the other Peoples of the Book (Jews, Christians, and probably Sabeans) than to pagans, not less. Which is just the opposite of what I just quoted you claiming.

          • John Schilling says:

            Which is just the opposite of what I just quoted you claiming.

            I don’t see that it does. The part that you actually quoted, says nothing about whether Christians or Jews count as apostates to Islam. And the context was a response to the question, “how do [Muslims] find theological justification for killing Christians and Jews all the time”; since it is obvious that Muslims don’t as a matter of policy kill all Christians or even Jews, I thought it equally obvious that this referred only to the subset that Muslims do find theological justification for killing.

            The subset of Judeo-Christians that Muslims find theological justification for killing, are the ones who are heretics, apostates, and the like by Islamic standards. And they are generally treated worse than the average pagan. That, was my point. Being a co-religionist never grants theological immunity from homicide, as implied by the question, and being a defecting or disobedient co-religionist generally makes one a particularly high-priority target to the faithful.

        • The Koran contradicts itself in various places, which is interpreted as meaning that some early revelations were appropriate for the people at the time, but overruled later in changed circumstances. Statements on alcohol are a standard example.

  37. John Ohno says:

    Regarding Jacobin’s anti-revolution slant: this is standard/canonical Marxism (having a bourgeois revolutionary class revolt on behalf of the proletariat is an idea that originated in Leninism; the Marxist position is that capitalism will eat itself at which point communism will establish itself automatically because it’s the stable/steady state of society). Understanding this explains, for instance, Accelerationists — who are Marxists of the capitalist class who try to bring about the end of capitalism by being as capitalist as possible (so that they use up all the capitalism and we run out, to comically oversimplify).

  38. I’m not at all surprised by the happiness study; that is what I would have expected. Especially since I will openly admit that if you give me a basic income of $1,000 per month, I will never get a job.

    • Anonymous says:

      I go back and forth on this. It would be really tempting to just move back to the midwest, live somewhere super cheap, and have zero occupational responsibilities for the rest of my life. I mentally toy with the question of how much, precisely, I’d have to have guaranteed in order to make such a move. Currently, I think $1k/month is enough to do it. I think the decision line is closer to $10k/year for me.

      • Chalid says:

        You two have no children I’m guessing?

      • Psmith says:

        You guys might be interested in Early Retirement Extreme and Mr. Money Moustache (who has 2 kids, IIRC and by the way.).

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Right, they are very interesting.

          For as much as people complain about the slowdown in economic growth (and it is a problem), the fact is that living standards are still higher than they have ever been in history.

          If you are willing to have a lower standard of living—and not even that much lower, really!—it is perfectly possible to save up money early in your working career and give yourself a “guaranteed basic income” in the form of the returns to your accumulated capital. Even on a very low salary, one can become financially independent in under 20 years of full-time work. And with a higher-paying job (above $60,000 per year, say) it can be done much sooner.

          As Mr. Money Mustache points out, the conventional wisdom is that you should save 20% of your income. But that comes from over a hundred years ago, a time in which 20% was all people could save! In today’s world, you are able to save much more than that if you so choose.

          • meyerkev248 says:

            FWIW, you can’t get a useful amount of capital.

            1) Returns to capital are in the 1% range. (Well, unless you spent a million bucks on coastal real estate, which has tripled in value since 2011, and averaged something like 5-10% since the ’90’s).
            2) In the last decade, housing supply constraints have led to an increase in the percentage of income people are spending on housing.
            3) The only places you can make significant money are the ones where you have to spend half your income on rent and over a third in taxes.

            So let’s say you live in the Midwest. You make $60K, keep $43K, spend $18,000/year on food, rent, housing with roommates (or you know, buying a cheap house and paying it off as quickly as possible so your housing spend is maintenance and property taxes as opposed to rent/mortgage). Which lets you save $25,000/year.

            After a decade, that’s $250K. There’s some pay raises in there and mild interest, but at 5%, that’s $12-$15,000/year, which in practice will just about pay the property tax on your small property (The side effect of having very nice $150,000 houses is that the only way to pay for the schools is to have 2-4% property tax RATES).

            Ok, so that doesn’t work.

            So you move to SF. You make $100K, and keep $60K.

            Except that you’re in SF, which means spending about $20,000/year minimum on rent/commutes. While being worried that your roommate is going to murder you in your sleep because he has issues. If you want your own place, it’s $40K. Which trickles UP into everything else. And keep in mind that that number is going up 5-10% YOY.

            So in SF, you’re saving a max of $30K. $300K after a decade, which in practice will just about get you to a point where you have half a down payment or $15K/year at 5%. If you manage to make MORE than $100K, your marginal tax rate is 46%, so basically divide by 2.

            Or you can just keep working and pick up the $43K/$60K that you were hanging onto in the beginning.

            And keep in mind that in both of those examples, you’re making quite a bit more than the median income for the region (Albeit, with SSC, that is probably a fair assumption on the average).

            /By the way, I’m quite serious about the roommate thing and am considering moving to Seattle next May just because I actually CAN afford my own place and not have to deal with homicidal roommates. Has anyone done that?

          • The Anonymouse says:

            @meyerkev248

            I suspect that moving to Seattle may not help as much as you expect. Most of the things that people find unsatisfactory about the Bay Area occur in Seattle and Portland, albeit at a slightly discounted (but still crazy) price point.

            One of the longest-running jokes in the Northwest (in Portland, at least, and I’ve heard it from Seattle folks) is the tendency of Californians to get frustrated at California, move to the Northwest, and promptly implement all of the same policies and culture that they were so irritated by in California.

            (Source, me: raised in Cali, lived for years in Portland, now happily and finally ensconced in the Mountain West with a former-Seattleite SO. BTW, the rent on our three-bedroom apartment in the nicest part of town is ~$800/mo. ;))

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ meyerkev248:

            Returns to capital are in the 1% range.

            Absolutely not. Maybe if you’re putting the money in a savings account…

            But a straight index fund (such as Vanguard) that simply buys the whole index with no selectivity will get 5-7% returns after inflation.

            The only places you can make significant money are the ones where you have to spend half your income on rent and over a third in taxes.

            You absolutely do not have to live somewhere where you spend half your income on rent in order to make “significant money”. And even then, the relevant value is not the percentage spent on housing but the total amount of money you make compared to your total expenses.

            If the ratio is of total income to total expenses is greater in the South or Midwest than in New York, you should live in the South or Midwest. And vice versa.

            (or you know, buying a cheap house and paying it off as quickly as possible so your housing spend is maintenance and property taxes as opposed to rent/mortgage)

            The benefits of owning vs. renting should not be exaggerated, as Mr. Money Mustache points out in “Rent vs. Buy: If You Have to Ask, You Should Probably Rent”.

            After a decade, that’s $250K. There’s some pay raises in there and mild interest, but at 5%, that’s $12-$15,000/year, which in practice will just about pay the property tax on your small property (The side effect of having very nice $150,000 houses is that the only way to pay for the schools is to have 2-4% property tax RATES).

            I’m not aware of anywhere in the country that has a 4% property tax rate.

            Most states have property taxes below 1%, so there’s plenty of places to live that can avoid this. New Jersey, the worst, has an average rate of 2.38%. And even then, the median burden is $7,331 per year.

            The idea that $15,000 per year will “just about” pay the property taxes on a $150,000 home is not in accord with the facts.

            Mr. Money Mustache gives a simple projection of how two teachers could retire in 13 years of working:

            But what about a more typical family – say, a high-school teacher (median US salary $51,000 according to Wikipedia) and an elementary school teacher ($40,000 from payscale.com) with a kid and a mortgage on a $200,000 house. These folks have a combined before-tax income of $91,000, which works out to $80k after federal and state taxes according to the tax calculator at efile.com.

            Let’s say they spend just as much as the MMM family does for our lavish lifestyle with plenty of travel, great bicycles, and two cars ($24k per year), plus have zero equity on their $200,000 house, so they pay $10,000 of interest per year on that as well. Total spending is thus, $34k/year, leaving $46k of their $80k take-home pay available to save.

            We will assume their savings earn a 5% return, whether from paying off the mortgage or saving in index funds:

            End of Year 1 ‘Stash: = $46,000, plus investment gains of $1150, total = $47,150
            Year 2: $47,150 + 46,000 + $3507 investment gains = $96657
            Year 3: $99,657 + 46,000 + $6132 investment gains = $151,790
            Year 4: $151,790 + $46,000 + $8739 investment gains = $206,529
            Year 5: $206529 + $46,000 + $11,476 investment gains = $264,005
            Year 6: $264,005 + $46,000 + $14,350 investment gains = $324,355
            Year 7: $324,355 + $46,000 + $17,367 investment gains = $387723
            Year 8: $387722 + $46,000 + $20,536 investment gains = $454258
            Year 9: $454,258 + $46,000 + $23,863 investment gains = $524120
            Year 10: $524120 + $46,000 + $27356 investment gains = $597476
            Year 11: $597476 + $46,000 + $31024 investment gains = $674,500
            Year 12: $674,500 + $46,000 + $33,724 investment gains = $754,224
            Year 13: $754,224 + $46,000 + $38861 investment gains = $839085

            OOPS! The investment gains are larger than your entire living expense! Congratulations, you are retired!

            So with two median US teachers, the maximum reasonable length of a career under MMM Principles is thirteen years. This puts our quintessential teacher couple out on the streets enjoying an early retirement by their mid-thirties at the latest – assuming no teacher pension, no social security, and no career advancement – only 2% annual raises to keep up with inflation.

            Now, you might say it’s unreasonable to expect the couple to spend so little (and they have a child, as well), but the guy does post his annual spending online every year. And the whole site consists of tips on how to do it.

            But sure, perhaps many people would rather work longer than have to live on so little. The first question is: is this really making them happier, or are they too lazy to get out of their bad habits? Nevertheless, I’ll admit I don’t spend as little as he does, proportionately.

            But if a couple can retire in 13 years with “extreme” cost-cutting (and really Mr. Money Mustache is much less extreme than some people), they can certainly retire in 20-25 years with a more conventional lifestyle.

            I think the best expression of his way of thinking is his (sarcastic) article “Early Retirement is an Impossible Dream for Most”.

          • brad says:

            Real total annualized return of 5-7% is realistic if you have a lump of money to invest and you want a lump of money out of it in decades — even better yet if you have a few years over which to decide when to grab it.

            But that’s now how people usually invest. Instead you have a steady real increased investments in monthly or annual contributions over some period, typically ~40 years but significantly less in the MMM style, and then steady draw downs over another significant period of time.

            Especially with the shorter savings period, longer draw down variant, the variance is as or more important than the arithmetic mean return. And the variance on S&P total return is brutal. I have a feeling that the next serious downturn we hit (i.e. the first since MMM started getting many adherents) there are going to be some “early retirees” that are going to be in very bad situations. They’ll need to go back to work but not have the resume to do so. Don’t know about those working as bloggers encouraging other people to stop working — they may be okay.

          • Chalid says:

            5-7% going forward on the stock market is definitely not something to depend on even in the long run. It depends on past performance predicting future returns (doubtful) combined with survivorship bias. (Imagine your hypothetical investor in 1900 deciding where to put his money – he wouldn’t know whether to pick the US stock market or, say, the Russian markets, where his investment goes to zero.)

          • Whee rationalist investing subthread!

            brad, one quick and simple way to mitigate the variance risk is a target retirement fund. The idea is that the fund shifts its asset allocation to a more conservative position as the target date comes due. With one of these, you take advantage of the high rates of return during your earning years, and have stability when you rely on the money. And if you’re coming up on 2050 and your total isn’t as high as you like, you just do an exchange for the 2055 fund, work for 5 extra years, and now you’ve got a nice comfortable buffer.

            Of course, people who put all of their money in Hyper-Specific Not Indexed At All Fund, earn 10% for a few years, then decide to settle back and retire on the earnings thereof without any consideration for how risky they are will be in big trouble. But I think you’re overestimating the risk to a diversified investor with the ability to draw on their principle during lean years, then make up the deficit by saving extra in subsequent times of plenty.

          • Psmith says:

            Robert, what do the fees typically look like on targeted retirement funds? And how do they compare in terms of risk/volatility to passively managed portfolios like 50/50 Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF/Vanguard Total Bond ditto (or even just 100% Vanguard Total Stock)?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Psmith:
            Vanguard has targeted retirement funds. There isn’t anything intrinsic to a targeted retirement fund that requires more or more expensive management.

            And as to the risk/volatilty question that answer completely depends on whether you are looking at a “Target 2015” fund or a “Target 2055” fund.

          • brad says:

            @Robert Liguori
            Sure, if you gradually move from stocks to bonds you are going to lower your variance, but you are also going to lower your expected returns. You aren’t going to be able (honestly) plug 6% into your spreadsheet and so get it to spit out retirement at 39 years old.

            On a separate note, MPT says that everyone should hold the maximally diverse portfolio diluted or levered with the risk free asset to match the desired level of risk. I’m not sure why no one (AFAIK) has constructed target date portfolios along these lines rather than the rather crude expedient of varying the total stock market to total bond market ratio.

          • Chalid says:

            @brad In the US, the law limits mutual funds to a max of 33% leverage. (And also limits derivatives use in a complicated way that prevents you from achieving much leverage that way.) In practice you want to stay well below such limits because of redemption risk. Other countries have similar regulations.

            Combine that with the fact that the unlevered “market portfolio” would be pretty conservative, and you can see there wouldn’t be that much demand for it.

          • Chalid says:

            Also: CAPM doesn’t hold up well empirically. For stocks, if anything the relationship between vol and return is negative.

          • (Disclaimer: I am not an investment professional.)
            psmith, I concur with HeelBearCub above. A target retirement fund composed of mutual funds owned by a company is really cheap to manage. Vanguard, for instance, offers target retirement funds that are basically collections of mutual funds like the two you mention, in varying proportions. A fund that has a decades-off target retirement fund will be almost all stock, and one that targets tomorrow will be mostly stock with lots of bonds and maybe some money market (although I think no one’s in money markets if they can help it these days).

            brad: I think if you actually do pull out the aforementioned spreadsheet, you’ll fund that losing a few percentage points on your return for the last quartile of your investment time frame will matter less than you think. High returns early and compounded is where the gains are.

          • brad says:

            @Robert Liguori
            What’s needed is monte-carlo simulation rather than a spreadsheet. I’d be interested to know if anyone has done one. I’ve seen some simplified versions with intriguing results (e.g. http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/07/average-stock-market-returns-arent-average.html) but not a full accumulation phase, draw down phase simulation over a target date type investment strategy.

            I could make one myself, but I’d have to be really convinced it doesn’t already exist.

            @Chalid
            Thanks that explanation makes a lot of sense, if not the policy behind it (especially given that the government will not only allow you to lever real estate up to 27:1 but will actually loan you the money!)

            While the risk-vol relationship may not stand up well within an asset class, I think it does fairly well between asset classes. But I’m by no means an expert and it’s been a long time since I studied this.

          • Chalid says:

            @brad the relevant law was written in 1940 and hasn’t been updated since. There are many things in it that make much less sense than that, though perhaps they made sense back when the law was written 🙂 In particular the derivatives restrictions are a total nightmare to interpret today.

            With that said, the advantage of a dumb limit like 33% leverage is that it basically isn’t gameable. This is a lot of the reason surprise mutual fund blow-ups basically never happen.

            I don’t know about risk vs vol across asset classes either. But that reminds me of another problem with “buying the market portfolio”, which is that it is very difficult to passively invest in some asset classes. e.g. real estate, illiquid high-yield or EM bonds, etc.

      • Murphy says:

        Hmm. So I’m guessing one knock-on effect of a country adopting basic income would be a sudden increase in costs of living and property values in the cheapest areas and a sudden drop in some of the most expensive as people attempt to move to where they can live on the basic income.

        • Vaniver says:

          In particular, one thing to consider is scaling the basic income based on capacity–in such as a way as to encourage people moving from high density environments to low density ones. (That is, the GBI should be lower in NYC than in Utica, because we want people to move from NYC to Utica, not the reverse.) Capacity is some combination of density and utility availability–we don’t want people moving to the desert and then having to build more pipelines to ensure they have water, but we have a bunch of places that used to be more populated where they could likely absorb a new wave of people moving in fairly easily.

          • Anonymous says:

            Why do you want to encourage people to move from high density areas?

          • Vaniver says:

            Anonymous: I changed from “density” to “capacity” in order to be clearer, but as you can see, I only changed the term midway through my comment. Oops.

            The underlying assumption is a U shaped cost-of-living curve. If someone wants to live in a very low-density fashion, they have to spend a lot in order to maintain a ‘normal’ lifestyle, and if someone wants to live in a very high-density fashion, they have to spend a lot in order to maintain a ‘normal’ lifestyle. But a small town or small city gets a lot of returns on scale without running into costs of scale. (Imagine a place with enough people to have highways but not enough people to have stop-and-go traffic in rush hour.)

            But ‘density’ isn’t quite the right measure, because if you took the population of NYC and moved them to a similarly sized area in Wyoming things would fall apart, because NYC is built for that many people and Wyoming isn’t. ‘Capacity’ is the right measure, which is basically “should we have more or fewer people here?”

            Moving people from places with negative capacity (“we can support 100 people here, but we have 120”) to positive capacity (“we can support 100 people here, but we have 80”) reduces the amount of infrastructure investment you need to do and reduces congestion.

            (There’s also the argument that big cities run into a Tulip Subsidy problem–if the government makes NYC and Utica equally expensive, but NYC is way cooler than Utica, then even more people will move to NYC, making NYC even more expensive, making the equalization problem even costlier, etc.)

    • Nero tol Scaeva says:

      I could receive about $2,000 a month… from disability through the Veteran’s Administration. But that would mean that I was on dialysis. Which I don’t recommend.

  39. Chalid says:

    So, based on my reading of Wikipedia, metformin appears to be very widely used and generally safe, and side effects look manageable. And from the article:

    And diabetics who took metformin regularly lived longer than non-diabetics by about an average of eight years.

    which seems pretty darn convincing. I assume we’ll start seeing people taking this stuff from online pharmacies or getting it off-label pretty soon? Any reason not to, other than the usual?

    Also, this drug has been out for *decades* and this is the first time an enormous effect like that got noticed? If it holds up, it’s a bit of a sad commentary on our society’s ability to process information.

    • JBeshir says:

      It looks like some preventative use has been recommended by NICE in the UK for people at risk of Type 2 diabetes to avoid approaching it, with dosage information. There’s talk on what checkups doctors should do, nothing looks weird to me: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph38/chapter/recommendations#recommendation-19-metformin

      This suggests there’s probably no serious reason not to use it.

      Edit: Deiseach’s comment further up (https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/12/08/links-1215-maoz-tz-url/#comment-277950) suggests that the ‘warn about side effects’ part might include some nastier side effects than the usual.

      I agree with your comment on society, and would add that it’s a sad reflection on society that the recommendations say to only do so after they’re convinced they can’t pressure you thin. I mean, encouraging people to get thin is good but medical solutions shouldn’t be held back because the people they would help have failed to display virtue sufficiently.

      • Chalid says:

        I know a doctor who says that her clinic doesn’t give chronic pain medication to people who aren’t making an effort to take care of themselves (smokers and the like). I have pointed out that they are likely resorting to these vices to help themselves deal with the misery of chronic pain, but she was unmoved.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Doctors promote lifestyle interventions first because they find that it’s practically impossible to get patients to adopt lifestyle interventions if they have a pill.

        • JBeshir says:

          I guess that’s fair enough, so long as it’s done only so far as actually justified.

          The real problem is if the presence of a lifestyle intervention affects development of drugs, but this is just a sub-problem of the greater problem that drugs for making healthy people better aren’t researched, triggered by the idea that if a lifestyle intervention would help they aren’t really ill.

          And that greater problem is the main thing which is objectionable.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I don’t know if their beliefs are true, nor whether they would justify their actions. I’m just saying that they have a consequentialist line of reasoning and it’s not about patients displaying virtue.

    • Chalid says:

      Just realized one good reason not to get it from a dodgy Indian pharmacy is that, unlike something like modafinil, you can’t judge the effects yourself. If you get a bad batch of modafinil you know it’s not making you smarter/more focused/etc. Meanwhile, of course you likely can’t feel your lifespan being lengthened. And it looks like the common side effect of metformin is gastrointestinal distress, and there are tons of things that will give you that without extending your lifespan. It’d take a lot trust to say “these pills I bought from a sketchy online pharmacy give me diarrhea – they must be working!”

  40. Daniel says:

    I wanted to share something I wrote last week, because I think a lot of the SCC audience would find it interesting/relevant.

    http://danfrank.ca/the-case-for-selfish-charity/

    I argue that there are two distinct rationales for giving to charity; ethical and self interest. While there is good reason to support ethical donating (effective altruism), most people reject it. Given that most people view charity as being supererogation, I think people should accept the full implications of this and exploit the benefits that charity can provide.

    I think this is particularly interesting for this community because it pits two opposing “rational” views against each other; utilitarianism (do the most good for everyone) and strict self-interest (do the most good for yourself).

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      There’s a third motivation there that you’re failing to consider: charity towards your own is preferred even if it’s “inefficient,” because marginal happiness per dollar is much less important than your obligation to take care of your own people.

      Maybe this is just my folks being weird or maybe a blue collar vs white collar difference but I was always taught that family comes first unconditionally and beyond that all responsibilities are conditional on both sides holding up their ends. You take care of your friends because they would do the same for you, and you stop as soon as they break the friendship. You can’t have an obligation to someone you’ve never met and will never meet on the opposite side if the planet.

      It might not be a very common way of thinking here but I think it’s probably a better explanation for people’s behavior than saying they’re just selfish.

      • Daniel says:

        I agree with your sentiments, but I include that in the category of giving to enrich oneself.

        What’s a better use of your money – buying your 18 year old son a membership to a ski club, or saving a life in Malawi?

        What will provide you with greater enrichment?

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          What will provide you with greater enrichment?

          Well it isn’t really about my enrichment is it, it’s about my (future) son’s. Something like knowing how to ski or play golf or being familiar with contemporary theatre can be a pretty important skill for networking with wealthy people. Investing in cultivating expensive high-brow tastes is directly to his benefit and to the benefit of his children. That’s more or less how my father pushed me and my brother into the middle class, nearly working himself to death in the process.

          That’s what I mean when I say it doesn’t reduce to selfishness. One can be extremely self-sacrificing, just on the behalf of people close to you rather than distant strangers.

          • daniel says:

            The response is supposed be that you care about helping your son out of self-interest. However, this detracts away from the main point as it’s not a realistic scenario to be grappling with in this context.

            Why do you buy christmas presents for your friends? They don’t need it. Even though it costs you money, you do it because it makes you feel good (and is as a result, in your self interest).

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        You take care of your friends because they would do the same for you, and you stop as soon as they break the friendship.

        How is this not selfishness?

        Now, I’m in favor of selfishness, so I’m hardly criticizing. But the idea that you take care of them because you expect them to do the same for you is a purely reciprocal relationship.

        I grant that the term “selfishness” is usually used to refer to a type of action which is narrowly self-regarding, and that a “selfish” person is supposed to be someone who will never lift a finger to help anyone else for any reason. But if we insist upon using “selfish” in this manner, then we have to separate it entirely from the term “self-interested”—because such allegedly selfish behavior is clearly against one’s self-interest.

        On the other hand, the idea that family “come first unconditionally” is another matter—and in my opinion, clearly wrong. You have obligations to your family for the same basic sort of reason: that their company is personally valuable to you, and they will also help you out in times of need. But if a member of your family behaves badly enough, you cut ties with him unless and until he reforms.

        The same goes if your parents or other relatives demand to control your life in unreasonable ways, such as by dictating your career, your religion, your spouse, or by demanding you stay to take care of the family farm. This is not as common as in the “good old days”, but in any case I don’t think you have an obligation to give in to such demands.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          If you define self interest too broadly you risk becoming an economist. Saying that anything one wants to do is in one’s self interest is a useless tautology as I’m sure you agree. If self interest has meaning it needs to have an atonymn.

          The definition that I implicitly used above was based on uncompensated versus reciprocal giving. You’re right that friendships are reciprocal: helping your friends is absolutely self interested behavior. That’s the distinction I was drawing between familial clan or national groups versus outsiders. Blood is thicker than water.

          As for not being bossed around by your family, just because you have a responsibility to take care of someone doesn’t mean you have to do whatever they say. After all, an actual dependent can’t really take care of the person on whom he’s dependent. You need to already be independent for it to have any meaning.

          (Also I’m not sure what’s so bad about your parents picking your wife or career. It seems to work pretty well for Indian and Chinese families from what I’ve seen, certainly a lot better than my parents’ marriage and jobs. And religion is only a choice if it’s false, which presumably I wouldn’t believe if I had one.)

  41. Marche says:

    Coincidental to the Lizardman’s Constant link, I just learned yesterday that the most effective test of effort is the Forced Choice Digit Memory Test. When shown a five-digit number and then immediately shown pairs of numbers, even severe amnesiacs get nearly perfect scores out of 32 trials, whereas malingerers will score as bad as chance-rates.

    On a related note (but with a different battery), Lloyd Flaro et al. found compensation-seeking workers to be 23 times as likely to fail a test of effort as parents looking to prove competence for child-rearing. In the same study, the mild traumatic brain injury group was twice as likely to fail the test as the severe TBI group. Lesson: we need solid testing to accept self-reported injury claims.

    • Jeremy says:

      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0887617797000206

      Suggests that the difference is not so stark. For one dataset, it was minimum of 97% accuracy for the ‘real’ group, 82% for the ‘fake’ group. For the other dataset it was a minimum of 87% accuracy for the ‘real’ group ‘Dementia of Alzheimer’s type’, 72% for the ‘fake’ group. For reference, they were 2-choice questions, so random chance would be 50% accurate in both cases.

      It seems like there is a strong signal, but I don’t want people to have the impression that it’s a 100% clear metric.

  42. Deiseach says:

    The spanking thing annoys me because there is a huge variation in how parents discipline their children. Some people will flog them because “spare the rod, spoil the child” but some parents will only spank them a couple of times with their hand and that’s it.

    The “spanking is child abuse” campaign makes me roll my eyes, because no. Based on cases of our clients:

    Your three year old is sleeping in a drawer because the bedroom is full of bursting sacks of rubbish is child neglect and abuse.
    Your children are going hungry and wandering around in their underclothes in the night because you’re out drinking, gambling and getting into fist-fights is child neglect and abuse.
    Your ten year old child is making explicit sexual comments and rape threats to a girl because he’s hanging round with older boys who are, in the old phrase, “bad company” is not good child rearing even if you never lay a finger on him.

    Now we can argue over whether slapping children is wrong or not, but people who are likely to beat and abuse their children are not likely to be stopped by “Oh no, it is now illegal to spank my kid!” while it only serves to make responsible parents more neurotic about “How badly am I screwing up Junior merely by being in the same vicinity as him?”

    You get angry for what (to the child) is no reason, you yell and hit them, and there is no predictability, no rationale? Yeah, that’s likely to have a bad outcome. You only smack and don’t use implements, you do it rarely and there’s a reason why which you explain? I don’t think that’s going to cause eternal trauma.

    • keranih says:

      Now we can argue over whether slapping children is wrong or not, but people who are likely to beat and abuse their children are not likely to be stopped by “Oh no, it is now illegal to spank my kid!”

      (An attempt at a steelman.)

      Perhaps then, the move to classify corporal punishment as child abuse is a Shelling point to determine the learning & self-control abilities of the parents.

      If we make CP = abuse, then parents with the will and ability to model themselves to social standards of childcare will stop doing so. We can then safely remove children from the care of parents who continue to use CP, on the grounds that they can not or will not conform to social standards, including other standards like “feeding your child more than once a day” and “maintaining an environment free of daylight roaches”. CP is probably seen as an imperfect measure, but can be defined and witnessed, and it is difficult to argue that the parent struck the child because they couldn’t afford more food or that the landlord was horrible and that is why the place is a mess.

      • Randy M says:

        Wait, what? Conforming to social standards is not why I feed my children regularly, and there are things social standards will not compel me to do.
        Your reasoning is confusing and backwards. “Let’s call corporal punishment abuse so we can see who is the non-conformist and take their children away! They are probably non-conformist in other ways as well then.”
        I like social standards when they encourage good behavior, but lack of conformity is not proof of bad behavior.

        • keranih says:

          It’s not *my* reasoning.

          I like social standards when they encourage good behavior, but lack of conformity is not proof of bad behavior.

          Depends entirely on who is defining good and bad.

          • Randy M says:

            Only if there are people who would define good and bad entirely in the context of social violations.

      • Deiseach says:

        My point is that you don’t need to criminalise smacking in order to remove children from abusive parents.

        Unfortunately, very often, cases of gross neglect continue either because social services aren’t involved, are overworked, or the case collapses in court.

        Making it a criminal offence to smack a child might result in frivolous prosecutions (Mrs X prosecuted because lady in supermarket saw her smack her child and called the cops who are obliged to bring her in because It’s The Law) without addressing real abuse.

        Is this case a genuinely neglectful mother or a storm in a teacup? The neighbour intended well but triggered more than she knew – “I thought she’d just get a warning” – and the likes might happen with “Mrs X smacked her kid” cases.

        I think it’s more likely to make people anxious and suspicious, and the negligent will sail happily on, not giving a damn about their kids.

    • JBeshir says:

      Laws have impressive norm-setting power.

      While I wouldn’t be surprised if a majority failed to change their practices in reaction to laws, I doubt the proportion of those who changed would be zero, especially over time. With the need to remember to act different around strangers as a continual pressure, and with the low probability but high impact risk that the child might mention something in earshot of a teacher, and the system would react mechanically, I’d expect it to be somewhere upwards of 20% at least.

      Whether that’s worth the rest of the stuff you point out is an entirely different matter and one I don’t feel in a position to comment on.

      • baconbacon says:

        “Laws have impressive norm-setting power.”

        In which direction? Drug laws don’t appear to automatically deter drug use, segregation laws were steadily eroded. I can think of counters to these of course, but some laws will pass with a lot of support (so the norm is creating the law) and some little support. That is a hard thing to account for.

        • JBeshir says:

          In the direction I named is what I meant, but obviously it goes the other way too.

          Drug laws failed to absolutely eliminate drug use but I doubt they had zero effect, especially given their impact on convenience. I suspect legalisation increased drug use.

          Segregation had massive cultural pressure moving the other way, so to determine if the segregation laws had norm setting power you’d have to ask if it culture changed any slower than you would have expected it to had the laws not been present. It’s difficult to measure. My personally guess is that it probably did.

          Probably the strongest examples for “unenforceable laws which are lacking existing support from norms” I can think of are copyright laws, but even there I would expect them to cause at least 10-20% of people to think “stealing movies is bad” and removing them to increase preference to engage in previously-illegal copying (as well as resulting in more work on infrastructure to support it).

          • baconbacon says:

            “Drug laws failed to absolutely eliminate drug use but I doubt they had zero effect, especially given their impact on convenience. I suspect legalisation increased drug use.”

            Studies on decriminalization of marijuana don’t support increased use, nor does Portugal’s broad decriminalization (total users in the past year are lower than the baseline and lifetime use is down).

            Norms are best understood as ways to interact with those nearest you. People willing to try drugs under restrictions have to spend a lot of time with other drug users, which shapes their view of norms. Segregation laws gave a tangible target for civil rights leaders and mechanisms (the courts) for fighting.

            Of course the counterfactual for segregation is difficult to demonstrate, but the story line is very telling. There is a steady march of progress in terms of the law (slavery to Jim Crow to separate but equal to Brown vs Board) and a steady march of gains in terms of poverty and wages of blacks until the 60s/70s. It is only after the law of the land is officially changed via the supreme court (various decisions through decades) that the economic gains of blacks stagnate vs whites. This is the exact opposite pattern you would expect if laws have strong norm setting powers.

            “Probably the strongest examples for “unenforceable laws which are lacking existing support from norms” I can think of are copyright laws, but even there I would expect them to cause at least 10-20% of people to think “stealing movies is bad” and removing them to increase preference to engage in previously-illegal copying”

            You have to look at the tails as well as the margin. Some people may very well be deterred by copyright laws, but people that dabble in illegal downloads are more likely to get sucked into that culture and do it perpetually. Laws have a tendency to split norms, reinforcing in one group while encouraging that exact behavior in another.

          • JBeshir says:

            It’s pretty plausible that most of the norm-setting power comes from having the law in place, not escalating penalties, and so there’s a very big gap between “decriminalised” and “legal” for such purposes.

            There are certainly a lot of studies on decriminalisation not increasing use. It does look, preliminary results, like full legalisation does, amongst exactly the population which is now legally allowed to use it: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/12/30/more-adults-are-using-weed-in-the-states-that-legalized-but-teen-use-is-flat/

            (This is generally reported as “teen use is unchanged”, with no mention of change in the now legal adult use.)

            We may find this doesn’t stay long term (decriminalisation caused a brief spike as well, apparently), but I’d be surprised, because I’d expect this to reduce likelihood of, e.g. workplace drug testing as now it is no longer testing people for crime but for personal habits in their own time, and to reduce the extent to which people avoid talking about it in public and so fail to bring people in to using it.

            The problem with the segregation story line is that if the laws had norm setting power, you’d expect that to help speed things up on a matter when the law changed, and if they didn’t, you’d expect things to stay at the same pace when the law changed. Stagnation doesn’t fit either case- something else is afoot, like differences in the kind of problems being tackled, and you’d probably expect such a “something else” to overwhelm any acceleration changes to norms either way. It’s evidence, but weak.

            On the copyright case, I’m dubious that you better more connected to a supply chain for currently-illegal stuff as a pirate now, than you would if copyright didn’t exist and we could have centralised, organised hubs everyone knew about, leaning on standard ad networks.

          • baconbacon says:

            “It’s pretty plausible that most of the norm-setting power comes from having the law in place, not escalating penalties, and so there’s a very big gap between “decriminalised” and “legal” for such purposes.”

            Then how do we explain prohibition’s total failure? (btw I would not argue that laws have no norm setting power, or that they can’t at times have strong norm setting power. There does not seem to my eyes to be evidence of consistently strong norm setting power.

          • LeeEsq says:

            Prohibition didn’t totally fail even though it repealed. It had real serious effects on the drinking habits of Americans in terms of reducing them. Even after repeal Americans drank less than they did before Prohibition even among the wets. Saloon culture died and never came back. The bars that replaced it were different because they weren’t working men’s social clubs in the same way the saloons were.

          • baconbacon says:

            @ LeeEsq

            “It had real serious effects on the drinking habits of Americans in terms of reducing them.”

            It did? Browsing graphs it appears that alcohol consumption per capita was back to pre- prohibition levels before the end of WW2.

            “Saloon culture died and never came back. The bars that replaced it were different because they weren’t working men’s social clubs in the same way the saloons were.”

            Prohibition is also credited with bringing women out to bars/saloons (something prohibitionists would have been aghast at). That the drinking scene changed between WW1, prohibition the depression and WW2 isn’t exactly surprising.

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, as you say about ” child might mention something in earshot of a teacher”, are we going to require mandatory reporting? Johnny says his mom slapped him, so teacher has to call the cops and the whole machinery creaks into action, even resulting in Johnny being temporarily taken into care?

        And if Mom decides to fight, instead of docilely agreeing she’s a bad mother and signing up to parenting classes to make sure she knows Smacking Is Bad, then the prospect of jail time? Which means a worse outcome for Johnny than a smacked behind for biting his little sister.

        • At a slight tangent …

          Some years ago, we had a candidate for employment (law school) who, as a law student, had helped provide free legal services to the poor. By his account, most of what that involved was helping poor people interact with welfare, child protective services, and the like.

          I asked him whether he thought the fact that government actors had the power to take children away from their parents had, on net, good or bad effects. His answer was that he didn’t know about the world as a whole, but in Ithaca, where he had been, he thought the net effects were bad.

          I was probably more sympathetic to that view having followed the Texas FLDS case, which involved massive abuse by the authorities–taking several hundred children away from their parents because the authorities disapproved of the parents’ religion, defending the acts by misleading claims up to and including the level of perjury, and only returning the children after unanimous decisions by both an appeals court and the state supreme court held they had no right to take them. Anyone curious about that case can find a good deal from my blog at the time:

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

          Then there was the Canadian treatment of First Nation children not all that long ago, and similar acts by the U.S., I think somewhat earlier.

          • Tibor says:

            There was this case in the Czech media a year or so ago about this woman who moved to Norway whose two sons were taken away from them by the authorities. If I remember it well, there was an accuse for child abuse, but at the end the police did not find any evidence and the trial did not convict her either, the children were not given back to her though. What makes this complicated is that their child protection agency makes decisions about its actions more or less autonomously and all the relevant information is kept secret by them to protect the children which makes the whole system completely nontransparent and easy to abuse. Therefore it not clear who was right in this particular case (although there seemed to be some strange things such as the fact that there was no conviction and that the service apparently actively tried to prevent any contact of the mother with her children – who were not even Norwegian citizens, which I guess does not matter in Norway – it also seem very strange to me that they put the kids into two separate families) but it makes for a really bad system where there is an organization working mostly unchecked by anyone else in a fashion similar to that of the intelligence. I don’t know how this is done in the US, but the Norwegian model seems to be broken.

        • JBeshir says:

          Mandatory reporting, probably, as soon as a good “Teachers heard but didn’t say” news story happens.

          And yeah, it’d end up worse for everyone in the cases where it happens. That’s not especially different to a lot of laws about parental behaviour, though, I think.

    • Seth says:

      Some empirical experience:

      http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/09/world/sweden-punishment-ban/
      “In Sweden, a generation of kids who’ve never been spanked”

      “In 1979, a few years before the Swanson family arrived, Sweden became the first country to ban physical punishment of children.

      Since then, 30 more countries have passed bans on corporal punishment at home, and even more have banned it in schools, according to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. Just last month, Togo confirmed to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child that parts of its children’s code are meant to ban physical punishment.”

    • Technically Not Anonymous says:

      I can’t believe it’s even up for debate whether it’s okay to physically assault the weakest and most vulnerable members of society at our own arbitrary discretion.

  43. Dr Dealgood says:

    This is a very pedantic nitpick, but male birds are not XX and female birds are not XY. Male birds are ZZ and female birds are WZ. While it certainly looks similar to ours, the ZW system seems to be the result of convergent evolution rather than a common origin.

    With what to do about LW, I would say that the biggest problem that needs to be overcome is how boring and inward looking it has become. If you went there in the last week the two biggest discussions going on were a really brain-dead argument about whether or no to respond to terrorist attacks and a meta-argument stemming from that about the two main participants in the first argument having a Wiki edit war. It’s not as though there is a shortage of interesting things to talk about in the world, they’re just being ignored in favor of more karma-assassination or “is LW dying?” posts. It’s pretty bad when the Incel derailing troll is much more fun to read than the thread he hijacked.

    • youzicha says:

      Even worse, the incel derailing troll was since banned from the site, thus further decreasing the average thread quality. 🙂

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Yeah that was unfortunate, especially considering the stated reasoning behind the ban.

        If Nancy had said “I’m sick of this guy derailing every thread to whine about being a virgin” or “he is probably abusing the karma system” nobody would disagree. It’s fun to read but arguably not very healthy for the site. But the explanation given was essentially that he was banned because he was too anti-feminist to tolerate, which is a serious strike against LW’s intellectual integrity.

        • I saw him as being too anti-women to tolerate rather than too anti-feminist. I wonder whether someone who was similarly anti-men would have been defended as much as he was.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Didn’t we have that one girl from the Women on LW thing who explicitly put out the all men are rapists meme? I remember a lot of white knighting defending that point in particular.

            That said, being anti-man is generally less threatening sounding than being anti-woman so it’s hard to find a real equivalent. Even the SCUM manifesto or something isn’t scary in the way women express fear about run of the mill bitter virgins lIke AA. So I’ll concede that his weirdness was probably a lot more threatening than goofy to some women posters.

            I still really would have at least preferred a face-saving lie though. As I said before he had already done enough derailing and alleged karma manipulation to merit banning, bringing the political angle into it just made the whole thing distasteful.

          • Jiro says:

            Even the SCUM manifesto or something isn’t scary in the way women express fear about run of the mill bitter virgins lIke AA.

            Banning someone because people fear him creates an incentive for people to become as fearful as possible so you have to listen to them when they tell you the next target to ban.

            Abd the reason Nancy actually gave is that he (almost) posted bigoted policy proposals. Do you know how many things people post on LW fit into that category? Especially if they only have to post something sort of like one?

            Also, she seems to have been misreading him even considering that. Nancy said he wanted to force women to have sex, and I don’t see that at all. He seemed to want celibacy before marriage.

          • Viliam says:

            Didn’t we have that one girl from the Women on LW thing who explicitly put out the all men are rapists meme? I remember a lot of white knighting defending that point in particular.

            If I remember correctly, she left soon afterwards, disappointed by the website. So in this case the problem was solved. Maybe not soon enough or elegantly enough, but still.

            Unfortunately, the “incel” guy was unable to take a hint.

  44. Vaniver says:

    Thanks for the LW 2.0 link! If people want to leave comments here instead of registering at LW / finding some other way to contact me, I’ll read all responses to this comment (made before 12/11).

    As you might imagine, I’m particularly interested in people’s opinions if they feel unwelcome at LW / don’t think LW is for them / and so on. If you got turned off, I’d appreciate knowing why.

    • Joshua Fox says:

      Vaniver, thanks for the initiative. This has been needed for a while. I don’t favor any solution, but clearly the closest thing to a community-facing site for MIRI (and other organizations) should be a high quality site or should be shut down.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Biggest reason that I’m turned off of LW now is, as I said in the comment below yours, the discussion is largely boring and insular. The debates don’t seem to be about anything anymore, just forum drama.

      The reason I stopped posting a few years back was that the discussion norms were too stifling, especially compared to here. If I wanted to bring up an interesting topic for discussion it basically meant committing two or three hours to writing the equivalent of a review article. I don’t mind people asking for citations on a particular point but the amount of work you had to put in upfront was excessive.

      There was also an odd focus on narrowing the range of acceptable positions. So many things “didn’t belong on LW” and it blinkered discussion. Nobody really got banned, which is good, but a lot of folks got driven off.
      >Religious people who can articulate sophisticated arguments in favor of their beliefs? Do not belong because theism has been disproven read the sequences.
      >Domain experts who pointed out the irrationality of Official LW Positions when dealing with their field of expertise? Do not belong because EY already explained why you’re wrong read the sequences.
      >Proto-Voldemorts who were on LW and OB from the beginning? Do not belong because politics is the mindkiller and read the sequences.
      >Life-hackers who mentioned pick up instead of just sticking to safe tips like illegal drug use or buying huge life insurance policies from hucksters? Do not belong on LW because that’s Dark Arts and read the sequences.
      >Newbies with reasonable questions? Do not belong on LW because read the sequences.
      Is it a surprise that LW is so boring?

      • JBeshir says:

        I don’t post on LW, only read, because I tended to find anything I wanted to say had already been said, or the posts I was reading were really, really old.

        I notice that all of those things would make me less inclined to start, though, *maybe* except the newbies if the explanations given were reasonable and useful, and *maybe* except politics, because of toxoplasma making it exciting and me being a flawed human, but I’d really like the Sequences to be moved to neutral ground somewhere if you wanted to open up that one.

        The others I’d just expect to lead to lots of low-grade conversations- actual domain experts writing critique would be great but I imagine it’d just turn into holy wars where everyone was uninformed.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          I’d really like the Sequences to be moved to neutral ground somewhere if you wanted to open up that one.

          I don’t really follow you here, can you rephrase that? I’m not sure if you mean that those posts should be moved off site to “neutral ground” or if you mean that I’m taking a cheap potshot at the emphasis given them or something else entirely.

          The others I’d just expect to lead to lots of low-grade conversations- actual domain experts writing critique would be great but I imagine it’d just turn into holy wars where everyone was uninformed.

          You’re about half right: they did generally lead to low quality conversations, but mostly because about a third to a half of all replies were “this doesn’t belong on LW” or “read the sequences.”

          The actual discussions were pretty interesting and informative: I remember some of the hardest fought debates on Fun Theory / CEV were the only times I had ever seen proponents actually forced to explain what exactly they meant by those terms (yes I read the sequences, it was still extremely vague). The discussions of cryonics / brain emulation, interpretations of quantum mechanics, etc were also great because if you followed the citations you could learn quite a bit about pretty obscure topics.

        • JBeshir says:

          The offsite bit is what I meant.

          If LW’s community got political it’d develop political affiliations, and the weaker any sense of political affiliation around the rationality-improving documents is, the better.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Any community that doesn’t explicitly make a point of welcoming new members will stagnate.

        Those that actively drive off new members (as opposed to simply not making them welcome) will rot to death within a year or two.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        ” >Religious people who can articulate sophisticated arguments in favor of their beliefs? Do not belong because theism has been disproven read the sequence.”

        Because LW is about using Bayesian evidence to calibrate your model of reality. Sophisticated arguments are irrelevant.

        • Anonymous says:

          If an argument is not Bayesian evidence for a position, then in what sense is it sophisticated?

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          All arguments are Bayesian evidence and thus not very useful when there are two sides.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            “Bayesian evidence” is not something separate from arguments. For something to be accepted as evidence, you have to produce an argument that shows it is valid evidence.

            To take the most basic example, say you want to argue that I should believe something because I can see it with my own two eyes. Then I say, “Ah, but can we trust the evidence of the senses?” You have to produce some argument against this; otherwise I’ve completely nullified the persuasive power of your supposed evidence.

            “Bayesianism” is not a magical tool by which you can dismiss the need for the subject of philosophy. The problem with scholastic philosophy was not fundamentally that they were not Bayesian. It was that their arguments were fallacious. If their arguments were logically sound, their behavior would be properly Bayesian.

            For example, take this argument (which is certainly far below the quality of good scholastic argument, but it’s funny) from a man who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope:

            “These satellites of Jupiter are invisible to the naked eye and therefore can exercise no influence on the Earth, and therefore would be useless, and therefore do not exist.”

            Besides, said Sizzi, the appearance of new planets was impossible—since seven was a sacred number: “There are seven windows given to animals in the domicile of the head: two nostrils, two eyes, two ears, and a mouth….From this and many other similarities in Nature, such as the seven metals, which it were tedious to enumerate, we gather that the number of planets must necessarily be seven. Besides, the Jews and other ancient nations as well as modern Europeans, have adopted the division of the week into seven days, and have named them from the seven planets; now if we increase the number of planets, this whole system falls to the ground.”

            If this were really a valid argument—if you really could prove that the number of planets were necessarily seven—then it would be perfectly proper Bayesianism to refuse to waste your time by looking through the telescope. It’s the same reason you don’t spend all your time refuting every crank who says the Earth is flat.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            ““Bayesian evidence” is not something separate from arguments.”

            Yes, that is why I said
            “All arguments are Bayesian evidence ”

            “You have to produce some argument against this; otherwise I’ve completely nullified the persuasive power of your supposed evidence.”

            I just wink out of existence because that argument also covers someone else talking to you in the first place.

            “It was that their arguments were fallacious. If their arguments were logically sound, their behavior would be properly Bayesian.”

            The arguments were logically sound, just like the argument that wave and particle are mutually exclusive. The principles they were based on were wrong.

            “if you really could prove that the number of planets were necessarily seven—then it would be perfectly proper Bayesianism to refuse to waste your time by looking through the telescope. ”

            That isn’t how it works. Lets take a real example- thermodynamics. If someone says they have a device that beats it, you can ignore it. If they plug it into the power grid and it works, you have to pay attention.

            “It’s the same reason you don’t spend all your time refuting every crank who says the Earth is flat.”

            Empirical evidence? The fact I know people who have flown all over the planet is a biggie.

    • Urstoff says:

      No need to go to LW because SSC exists. More ideological/epistemological diversity here, and the LW community seems like it has developed strong consensus positions on a lot of things through social accretion.

      Disclaimer: I haven’t spent that much time on LW because of those subjective perceptions, which could be altered if I spent more time there.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’d been reading LW since 2009 or thereabouts. I started going there less often two or three years ago, and gave it up almost completely sometime early this year.

      No one’s posting rationality content. Half of Discussion is Silicon Valley gossip that I can get on Reddit with more (and often better) commentary. Almost all of Main is press-release material from LW-aligned institutions. The balance on both sides is mostly forum meta, open threads, and annoying quotes. What original content there is comes almost exclusively in short-lived threads about basic points of EA ideology or AI risk, which might be kinda interesting if I hadn’t read better-written treatments of the same material before, but in any case aren’t what I’m there for.

      That doesn’t speak well for the forum’s long-term prospects. But I think what finally drove me away was realizing that posting anything substantive there meant getting into a protracted argument with some rando which would consist mainly of slowly and painfully proving very very obvious points. If I wanted to do that, I’d work through a textbook on the foundations of mathematics and at least learn something in the process.

      • Goof says:

        But I think what finally drove me away was realizing that posting anything substantive there meant getting into a protracted argument with some rando which would consist mainly of slowly and painfully proving very very obvious points.

        Yeah, Lumifer becoming the forum’s most active user was terrible for LW.

        • Viliam says:

          In theory, this should be solved by downvoting. Especially if many people feel this way. I wonder what happened.

          The current voting system is biased to reward people who comment a lot. People prefer to upvote (some of them genuinely believe it makes them nice); downvotes usually reflect a really stupid comment (or karma assassination attack, which again attaches bad feelings to downvoting).

          Posting many comments while avoiding obviously stupid things predictably leads to high karma. However, if too many people become angry at you, how does the average comment karma remain positive? Maybe those people get tired soon…

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, within a discussion, however grinding and tedious, I’m very hesitant to downvote the other guy unless he’s straight-up trolling. And outside of one, I may have applied a few downvotes in my time, but consistently downvoting for smarm or misuse of emoticons or being boring makes me feel like a shithead.

          • Goof says:

            I suspect people generally don’t take the time to read the drawn-out, tedious exchanges that Lumifer specializes in… hence there aren’t many people to vote on them. I’m also a bit frustrated by how Lumifer seems to frequently criticize the toplevel posts of others and yet has no toplevel posts of their own. That said, I have not used LW much recently and it’s possible their behavior has gotten less obnoxious.

    • Matt says:

      Dr Dealgood is entirely correct – as an outsider my perception is that LW is not so much interested in rationality as advancing its own, peculiar, (quasi) rationality derived agenda. LW demands you believe in no God but atheism, cryogenics, utilitarianism, and the impending singularity. Discussing (other) politics is verboten. At best, disagreements are met with “read the fucking sequences”. Attempts to read the fucking sequences are quickly abandoned after fruitlessly engaging the Cthulhu of circular links.

      Some silly/off putting examples in the concrete:
      * EY’s shibboleth of measuring peoples’ rationality factor (de facto brain worth) via their endorsement of his unorthodox beliefs in far flung fields is not good for the heretics!
      * Enroll your kid in cryogenics or you are a “bad parent”!
      * Theism is the canonical example of crazy thought (read the sequences!). See also: I don’t know what made the universe, and I have no evidence, but I’m sure it wasn’t God!

      Actionable feedback:
      1. Diversity of topics is critically important.
      2. Diversity of opinion is critically important. It is not possible to engage with an echo chamber.
      2. Avoid the circular link maze. If you can’t do that, at least have the decency to enumerate propositions/axioms/hypothesis so that newcomers aren’t forced to wade through the entire text.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        At best, disagreements are met with “read the fucking sequences”. Attempts to read the fucking sequences are quickly abandoned after fruitlessly engaging the Cthulhu of circular links.

        MIRI’s official ebook and Ciphergoth’s unofficial ebook allow a man to read The Sequences in a straightforward, linear format, and MIRI’s AI debate ebook further supplements them.

        • Irenist says:

          This is a very helpful comment. Your comment downthread about LW in book form was, for me, even more helpful (“more” because I already had Rationality: From AI to Zombies downloaded to my Kindle app). Thank you very much for them both. I’m grateful for the pointers to good reading.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        ” * Theism is the canonical example of crazy thought (read the sequences!).”

        It is. More importantly, theism is terrible for the kind of discussion EY wanted to have. When you have people with a straight face implying that letting people be raped was the ultimate good because it allowed ‘moral improvement’ and let human’s choose between good and evil… you do not want those individuals near an AI utility function.

        “See also: I don’t know what made the universe, and I have no evidence, but I’m sure it wasn’t God!”

        I don’t know why my uncle died, but I know it wasn’t a T-Rex eating him.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Exactly.

          And I don’t even get the sense that Yudkowsky was out to ridicule and “other” religious believers, or to insult their intelligence. Rather it seems more of a matter of: if someone this smart could believe in something as batshit insane as Orthodox Judaism, the same thing could happen to you! And whatever crazy thing you might fall for won’t seem crazy, especially if you don’t learn to think more rationally.

          • Matt says:

            I was a latecomer to LW, so I missed the Orthodox Jewish stuff.

            > And I don’t even get the sense that Yudkowsky was out to ridicule and “other” religious believers, or to insult their intelligence.

            Maybe that wasn’t his intent, but I doubt it. He certainly wasn’t opposed to it:

            > Paul, since “rationality” for many people is a function of what they think they can get away with, I think there is winnable territory in terms of making belief in a scriptural religion – Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Scientology, etc. – socially less acceptable within the science/engineering community. If people know that saying “I believe in this 2,500-year-old culture dump” will be met by people saying, out loud or silently, “How incredibly stupid”, they will be more reluctant to do it. One small step toward waking up out of the long nightmare. If people are not socially expected to think, they will not think.

            http://lesswrong.com/lw/i8/religions_claim_to_be_nondisprovable/eid

            There are probably better links. This one was on hand. I strongly do not want to live in his utopia. Moreover, how do you expect a theist or otherwise to respond to LW when proper etiquette is “How incredibly stupid” undoubtedly followed by “go read the sequences.”

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Yes, Yudkowsky thinks religion is stupid. It is stupid to suppose that the Supreme Lord of the Universe was incarnated as a Jewish carpenter. It is stupid to suppose that there was some kind of completely unrecorded mass liberation of Jews from Egypt. It is stupid to suppose that the Supreme Lord of the Universe dictated the final word on everything to a seventh-century Arab warlord. It is especially stupid to believe in one of these sects in particular as if you could show it were true and the others false.

            To the point he made in the article you linked, it is really stupid to suppose that religion occupies some kind of “separate magisterium” immune to reason and evidence. The ancient Israelites had no such illusion: they truly believed in testing the power of God through miracles like asking him to light the sacrificial pyre. But—what a curious thing—exactly as scientific and historical knowledge became more accurate and complete, the scope of miracles shrunk proportionally until the state we’re now in, where alleged medical miracles can’t even be detected through statistics.

            But on the other hand, he doesn’t think it’s something only stupid people can believe in. That’s why he so often uses it as an example of various cognitive biases and failures of rationality. Effectively, it’s “You (atheists) see how stupid religion is. But if you don’t learn to think better, you might believe something just as stupid.”

            Yudkowsky wants to live in a world where religious belief is not socially acceptable for approximately the same reason I do. Namely, it is that the arguments for religion are so bad (especially for any religion people actually believe in; I’d say deism is in a marginally better place, but no one supports it) that if we can’t even refute this, we have no chance on any more difficult issue. We want to live in a world where people actually try to live by reason.

            I do not believe, and I do not think Yudkowsky believes, that religion should be opposed only by telling people it’s stupid and intimidating them into silence. I think atheism can win on the merits of the arguments. But after a certain length of time of atheism persisting in winning all the arguments, at some point religion should be reduced to the status of geocentrism. If someone came up to me and argued for geocentrism, I would (and I presume you would) tell him more or less directly that his belief is stupid. I might have the patience to hear him out; but on the other hand, I might just direct him to a textbook.

            Indeed, perhaps a better comparison would be to Olympian paganism. If someone came up to me and said he was thinking of converting to Olympian paganism, I would tell him that was stupid. But I actually think monotheism is a good deal less plausible than Olympian paganism: at least polytheism explains why there is so great a mixture of good and evil, order and chaos, etc. in the universe by explaining it as a product of warring gods who are neither all-good nor all-powerful. On the other hand, if someone comes up to me and tells me he’s Catholic, it is not thought proper for me to tell him how stupid that is. But I hope that one day we advance to the point that it is thought proper.

            Now, that’s not to say religion is the only form of irrationality, and that eradicating religion would be eradicating irrationality. Obviously, a world where everyone was expected to adhere dogmatically to Marxism and dialectical materialism would be just as bad, if not worse. I (and I certainly presume Yudkowsky) am not for anything that fights against religion by hook or by crook. I am for rationality; religion is simply the most obvious species of irrationality.

            Anyway, I have now defended Yudkowsky at length, but I don’t wish to give the impression that I agree with him on every issue. We have very significant disagreements: just to name a few, I oppose a) his reductive materialism, the obvious falsity of which I think has been very destructive historically to the case for atheism; b) his insistence on the “many-worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, especially insofar as he acts like this is a settled question; c) his utilitarianism; and d) his framework of timeless decision theory. But on religion, and on the basic idea that we really need to focus on how to think more rationally, I’m with him.

          • Matt says:

            @Imperator

            Thanks for the civil replies.

            > It is stupid to suppose that the Supreme Lord of the Universe was incarnated as a Jewish carpenter. It is stupid to suppose that there was some kind of completely unrecorded mass liberation of Jews from Egypt. It is stupid to suppose that the Supreme Lord of the Universe dictated the final word on everything to a seventh-century Arab warlord.

            Perhaps a bit human-centric, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say stupid. Nothing can be said about the motives of something that created the universe if such a thing were to exist…

            > It is especially stupid to believe in one of these sects in particular as if you could show it were true and the others false.

            I generally agree and would lump atheism in the mix for good measure.

            > that if we can’t even refute this, we have no chance on any more difficult issue. We want to live in a world where people actually try to live by reason.

            I believe this an OK post hoc reason to argue against monotheism. LW on Christianity on average feels more like bludgeoning than any attempt to live by reason. SSC style charity is important if you want people with different beliefs to stick around.

            > religion is simply the most obvious species of irrationality

            This could be, but on average, it is probably the hardest belief to change. In the mean time, LW 2.0 could be effecting (meaningful) changes in people that were driven away – eg. EA or donating to friendly AI, take your pick.

          • onyomi says:

            “at some point religion should be reduced to the status of geocentrism.”

            I’m going to say it cannot, nor will it, because, unlike geocentrism, religion cannot be reduced to purely factual, measurable claims. Religions may make some factual, measurable claims, but they aren’t reducible to them.

            You are right that, as science has advanced, miracles have receded. But I think this coincidence is about more than just religion retreating to more defensible intellectual ground. Rather, I think religion was the science of pre-scientific peoples. It was their way of generating hypotheses about how the world worked–it just wasn’t very rigorous compared to today’s science.

            Take Yijing divination, for example: you ask the gods a question, bake a shoulder bone or turtle shell over a fire and see how it cracks. Then, depending on how things turn out, you learn to see the correlations between world events and cracks in turtle shells (or appearance of entrails, or flight patterns of birds…); it’s really pretty scientific, but for the whole gods don’t talk through turtle shell cracks thing.

            So factual religious claims have retreated as factual claims generated by simpler, better methodologies have replaced them.

            But there’s a very important space where science doesn’t go–in some sense can’t go–and that is the realm of subjective experience. You can feel like the world is a dark, hopeless place and I can’t tell you you’re wrong exactly–only that it doesn’t seem that way to me. I could also probably feed you some sort of mushroom or cactus juice or something which for a time would make you feel that everything was bound together by a web of eternal love. This, also, would not be something you could prove true or false in a factual sense, since it is just a different way of perceiving the same physical, objective reality.

            Religion never distinguished nearly so much between subjective and objective reality, which may have been to its detriment in terms of its capacity to make reliable predictions about measurable facts. Some religions, like Buddhism and Daoism, even explicitly state that the subjective and objective are mutually codependent in their arising.

            Regardless, religion actually has better technology for dealing with the realm of subjective experience than anything science has produced or is likely to produce anytime soon. Meditation, prayer, yoga, chanting, devotion, whirling, etc. may have effects we can measure in the brain, but they aren’t the sort of thing which science has come up with independently, nor can information about neurotransmitters or blood flow to different parts of the brain tell us anything about what it’s like, subjectively to, say, have a religious experience, or even see the color red.

            Maybe this is just religion retreating to its proper role. The fact that religion has become outdated as a mode of understanding objective reality doesn’t necessarily imply it is outdated as a mode of understanding subjective reality.

            I hope, in the future, that people will laugh at you if you say you’re not going out today because Mercury is in retrograde, but that those same people will themselves meditate, chant, pray, etc. as a means to better mental health and subjective clarity when they get home.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          No, I think he was partially out to do that. EY seems to be laser focused on “unfriendly AI is a problem”. If you want to solve it, the best way is to see if other people have pieces of the puzzle. First you exclude people who would be actively harmful; anyone who believes that there is an objective morality that can be found just by looking at the universe and that causes people to believe in it (and so it is impossible to make an unfriendly AI). Unfortunately this is pretty mainstream religion (in fact is almost entirely found in religion) so you explicitly point out how they are wrong.

          Unfortunately the pool of people you have left includes reactionaries, libertarians, social democrats and apoliticals who don’t get along. Declare politics is the mind killer and crack down hard on anything that could exclude people from coming to less wrong.

          This is the reason mockery of philosophy is a less wrong tradition; most of philosophy is garbage and almost all of it deals with things that are useless to him. So new stuff is perfectly welcome (because it could have useful insights), but old stuff is to be meet with eye rolls (since EY is perfectly capable of reading it or having friends who did).

          It is a bit coldblooded, but his entire focus is on acting rationally; additionally I imagine making something whose structure encourages the kind of result you want appeals to the social engineer in him.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            What you’ve just described sounds more like dogmatism and narrow-mindedness than “focus[ing] on acting rationally”.

          • Jacobian says:

            I completely agree. Blue/red and God/atheism debates spread like cancer through every online forum that allows them, and the fora die by pacifism. Banning discussions of politics is being inclusive of everyone who hates that and/or would find themselves in the political outgroup. LessWrong is 28% liberal, 37% soc dem and 2% neorx, claims that neorx has taken over LessWrong and drives people away are dishonest.

            There is a huge variance of opinion on LessWrong on any but the most obvious topics (like atheism), even on topics where LW is usually accused of dogmatism (like cryonics). Forcing the inclusion of theists for example will surely kill what is still an amazing archive/resource and a decent ongoing community.

          • “This is the reason mockery of philosophy is a less wrong tradition; most of philosophy is garbage”

            Most of lesswrong’s philosophy 2.0 (or rather 1.0001) is garbage.

            “(since EY is perfectly capable of reading it or having friends who did).”

            He is capable of passing his eyes over sentences. He isn’t good at understanding it — for he makes a variety of standard and nonstandard errors in considering modal logic and modal realism.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            The original Mr X
            How? EY’s goal was ‘learn how to deal with AI’. So he set up something to supply him with as much information as possible.

            The Ancient Greek
            Less Wrong’s philosophy is simply a copy of a lot of currently existing philosophy (“go read Gary Drescher for an example of the kind of mental labor I’m talking about.”); EY admits that a good portion of the material is not remotely unique to him. The goal is to be better than what currently exists; hence the name ‘less wrong’. Unless you think the philosophy on less wrong is worse than people who still argue over free will, they have passed that minimum threshold.

            I seriously doubt EY cares much beyond that; the goal is to get a working AI and utility function, not sophisticated arguments.

            As for model logic you mean this?
            http://lesswrong.com/lw/tg/against_modal_logics/

            Because complaining he doesn’t understand something doesn’t really contradict ‘EY set up a site in order to understand things’; when told there was a new philosopher that answered his issues he said-

            “Did Kripke mark his work as unfinished for failing to answer such questions? Or did he actually try to answer them? Now that would earn serious respect from me, and I might go out and start looking through Kripke’s stuff.”

            So yeah, EY isn’t perfectly. Which is explicitly what ‘starting something to cover gaps in your knowledge and get better’ implies.

          • Goof says:

            “Most of lesswrong’s philosophy 2.0 (or rather 1.0001) is garbage.”

            Does anyone who thinks this want to take the time to write up an explanation of why this is the case? I think the biggest thing that makes me an “LW partisan” as it were is the people commenting on the site seem mostly pretty smart & reasonable (at least if you go far back enough) and most of the LW critiques people have written don’t rise far above name calling and pattern matching. Not trying to say the community is flawless, far from it; I’m just saying that I haven’t seen persuasive documentation of flaws nearly as deep as the ones you allege. Obviously I want to learn about such flaws if they exist.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            How? EY’s goal was ‘learn how to deal with AI’. So he set up something to supply him with as much information as possible.

            Well, if you’re concerned about unfriendly AIs, surely you should at least be open to the possibility that there’s nothing to be worried about. Excluding people who argue that it’s impossible to make an unfriendly AI suggests that you’ve already made up your mind on that point — which is, by LW’s own professed standards, irrational.

            (And, as an aside, LW’s strapline is “dedicated to improving the art of human rationality”, not “dedicated to finding out as much about dealing with unfriendly AIs as possible”. If you want to do the latter, that’s fine by me, but doing the latter whilst saying you’re doing the former is at best sloppy, at worst actively disingenuous.)

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            You mean like excluding creationists from biology conferences? People who think AIs will automatically be good or that it is impossible to build an intelligent machine because it lacks a soul aren’t worth listening to.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            You mean like excluding creationists from biology conferences? People who think AIs will automatically be good or that it is impossible to build an intelligent machine because it lacks a soul aren’t worth listening to.

            (a) A BTL commenter and a speaker at a conference aren’t really comparable. Conferences only have limited numbers of speaker slots available, so giving one to a creationist would mean one less slot available for a more mainstream scientist to speak in. On the other hand, an extra person commenting on a blog doesn’t stop anybody else from commenting too.

            (b) Once again, LW’s strapline is “dedicated to the art of improving human rationality”, not “dedicated to thinking about AI risks”. To adapt your analogy, it’s like going to a conference about how to promote critical thinking skills, only to discover that all the speakers keep talking about evolution and any non-evolution-related questions are dismissed with cries of “That doesn’t help us discover more about evolution!” No it doesn’t, but the whole event was sold as a critical thinking conference, not an evolution conference.

            (c) There’s nothing about theism simpliciter that rules out the possibility of unfriendly intelligent computers. At best your argument justifies excluding only certain views commonly associated with theism, not theism full stop.

            (d) I see no reason why I should accept the analogy between evolution, a mainstream and overwhelmingly well-supported scientific hypothesis, and unfriendly AI, a fringe concern without a tenth of the evidence supporting evolution, as valid.

            (e) Speaking of dogmatism and narrow-mindedness, dismissing everybody who doesn’t share your intellectual bubble’s pet concern as “not worth listening to” sounds like a good example of this.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “On the other hand, an extra person commenting on a blog doesn’t stop anybody else from commenting too.”

            It takes up time spent dealing with them; that is the reason why Less Wrong has ‘read the sequences’ as a mantra for dealing with things that have been brought up before.

            “Once again, LW’s strapline is “dedicated to the art of improving human rationality”, not “dedicated to thinking about AI risks”.”

            And? You did read my comment that started this tangent, right? Where I said that I think EY started Less Wrong to help him think about AI risk which is why the site is the way it is?

            “There’s nothing about theism simpliciter that rules out the possibility of unfriendly intelligent computers. At best your argument justifies excluding only certain views commonly associated with theism, not theism full stop.”

            It almost invariably depends on dualism and is thus nearly useless for figuring out how to actually make an AI. It doesn’t justify excluding people, but less wrong doesn’t exclude people- the sequences are meant to discourage people with certain views.

            “I see no reason why I should accept the analogy between evolution, a mainstream and overwhelmingly well-supported scientific hypothesis, and unfriendly AI, a fringe concern without a tenth of the evidence supporting evolution, as valid.”

            Er, what? Unfriendly AI is possible is the minimum criteria EY wants for people who are commenting on Less Wrong; whiter or not it is probable or going to happen soon is an entirely different concern, one which people are free to and encouraged to argue over. Do not confuse the two; one is trivial (intelligences can be built and not share our values), the other isn’t (we can do that soon).

            ” Speaking of dogmatism and narrow-mindedness, dismissing everybody who doesn’t share your intellectual bubble’s pet concern as “not worth listening to” sounds like a good example of this.”

            Read what I wrote, not what you wish I wrote so it is easier for you to earn status points mocking me.

        • Matt says:

          > I don’t know why my uncle died, but I know it wasn’t a T-Rex eating him.

          Ha! I appreciate this reply, but I think you will admit your analogy does not map very well. In the one case, there are known things that kill uncles, of which, T Rexes are not one (I did not check the ICD). In the other case, to the best of my knowledge, nothing is known. At the very least, I’d expect you to feel some … pangs of curiosity or doubt (because there is a giant fucking hole in our empirical knowledge)?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            There is no “giant hole” in our knowledge. “What made the universe?” is not a question that needs an answer, nor even the kind of question that we should expect to have an answer.

            The universe is a term that refers to everything that exists. In some form or another, it always existed. The universe is not a thing in time. Time has a meaning only as a way of relating the various motions of things inside the universe.

            I compare it to the question: “What movie is the universe watching?” Such a question has exactly the same status in my mind. Namely, why would you even think the universe is watching a movie?

          • Urstoff says:

            Just need to rephrase the question: why does something exist rather than nothing?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Urstoff:

            Yes, that’s exactly the same question.

            And the answer is: why do you think there needs to be a reason for something to exist, rather than nothing? Whatever the reason is, is it something or nothing? If it’s something, why does it exist?

            Now, this is where you get into the whole complicated morass of arguments about necessity and contingency and whether a thing’s essence is contained in its existence, etc.

            All I will say to that is that it’s entirely useless as an argument for God. The argument goes only so far as to show that there must be some substance(s) whose existence is necessary. Entities can’t all be contingent; the universe can’t just blip out into nothingness. (And even that is somewhat controversial, but I am perfectly willing to grant it. In any case, denying it would certainly uproot the God argument.)

            So there are some substance(s)—which may take the form of either mind, matter, or neither matter nor mind—whose existence is primary and fundamental. You can’t get beneath or explain why they are fundamental. That’s inherent in the nature of explanations: you trace one fact back to another fact back to another fact, until you eventually reach the foundational facts. There can be no reason why there are fundamental foundational facts, rather than no foundational facts.

            The argument in no way points toward the conclusion that there is one necessary being that created the universe—and certainly not that this being exists outside the universe, i.e. outside the totality of everything that exists.

            “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is an invalid question, with the same status as “What is the meaning of the universe?” or “What is the Form of the Good, from which every other fact can be deduced?”

            The universe is not a play. It doesn’t have an author; it is not a product of anyone’s intent. Therefore, it doesn’t have a meaning. It’s an invalid question to ask what the meaning is.

            Likewise, there is no reason to think (as Plato did, with a strong influence on Christianity) that there is one ineffable fact from which all other facts can be deduced. Indeed, Aristotle showed that this is in principle impossible, since in logic you can’t have something in the conclusion that didn’t appear in the premises. “What is this fact?” is an invalid question.

          • Urstoff says:

            I, myself, am not arguing for theism. I’m just maintaining that it’s a well-formed question and can’t be rendered a “psuedoproblem” by defining “universe” and “exists” in certain ways. I’m skeptical that we can answer the question, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a legitimate question.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Urstoff:

            I grant that it’s not a meaningless question. “What movie is the universe watching?” is a meaningful question.

            Now, there are nitpicks I have with questions like that. For instance, wouldn’t whatever created the universe be part of “everything that exists” and therefore be part of the universe? But there are charitable ways to interpret it, like “everything that exists except the creator”.

            In any case, I wouldn’t say I’m skeptical that the question can be answered. I think the answer to the question is that it is invalid because it assumes something that isn’t true (namely, that something did create the universe, prompting the question of what it was).

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The argument in no way points toward the conclusion that there is one necessary being that created the universe—and certainly not that this being exists outside the universe, i.e. outside the totality of everything that exists.

            Sure it does — see Aristotle, Plotinus, Thomas Aquinas, etc., etc., etc.

            Plus, in my experience, there’s a lot of motte-and-baileying used with the term “universe”. Sometimes (usually when the speaker is trying to refute the cosmological argument), it’s used to mean “everything that exists”, in which case “what caused the universe?” is held to be a meaningless question, because any cause would have to exist, and hence be part of the universe. The next moment, it means simply the physical universe, and since God wouldn’t be physical, he wouldn’t be part of the universe, but as we’ve established above, there’s nothing outside the universe, so no God, QED.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The original Mr. X:

            Aristotle does not use the argument from necessity and contingency. The argument from the first motion is not the same.

            Moreover, Aristotle doesn’t even firmly commit to the idea that there is just one Prime Mover. At one point, he says that either 47 or 55 might be needed to explain all the different components of motion.

            In any case, the argument from necessity and contingency is a fallacious argument. It was just as wrong when Aquinas formulated it as it is now. In addition to the problems I pointed out above, it’s simply a fallacy of composition: even if every individual object in the universe really is contingent, it does not follow that the universe as a whole is contingent. (For instance, if there are multiple fundamental substances that can change into one another but not be annihilated completely. Although I suppose it’s a semantic question whether you wouldn’t just consider that one fundamental substance that can take several forms.)

            Plus, in my experience, there’s a lot of motte-and-baileying used with the term “universe”. Sometimes (usually when the speaker is trying to refute the cosmological argument), it’s used to mean “everything that exists”, in which case “what caused the universe?” is held to be a meaningless question, because any cause would have to exist, and hence be part of the universe. The next moment, it means simply the physical universe, and since God wouldn’t be physical, he wouldn’t be part of the universe, but as we’ve established above, there’s nothing outside the universe, so no God, QED.

            Sure, I guess people do this sometimes. I think that often part of the problem is that religious people are unclear about what they mean by “the universe”, too.

            I don’t think it’s a meaningless question to ask “What caused the (physical) universe?” Rather, it is a loaded or complex question that assumes a false (or certainly unproven) premise. Like “When did you stop beating your wife?”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Aristotle does not use the argument from necessity and contingency. The argument from the first motion is not the same.

            It wasn’t at all clear that you were referring to the argument from necessity as opposed to the cosmological argument, which is what people are usually referring to when they say “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

            In any case, the argument from necessity and contingency is a fallacious argument. It was just as wrong when Aquinas formulated it as it is now. In addition to the problems I pointed out above, it’s simply a fallacy of composition: even if every individual object in the universe really is contingent, it does not follow that the universe as a whole is contingent. (For instance, if there are multiple fundamental substances that can change into one another but not be annihilated completely. Although I suppose it’s a semantic question whether you wouldn’t just consider that one fundamental substance that can take several forms.)

            If something is contingent, that just means that it could have been other than it is. If the parts of something could haven been different, then obviously the thing as a whole could have been.

            I don’t think it’s a meaningless question to ask “What caused the (physical) universe?” Rather, it is a loaded or complex question that assumes a false (or certainly unproven) premise. Like “When did you stop beating your wife?”

            You keep saying that, but I’ve yet to see you give a single justification for it.

          • Matt says:

            @Vox

            > When did you stop beating your wife?

            Never!

            > The universe is a term that refers to everything that exists.

            This is certainly not what I meant by the term. By universe I refer to physics, not philosophy. My fault for not clarifying.

            > “What made the universe?” [is not] even the kind of question that we should expect to have an answer.

            Agreed.

            > “What made the universe?” is not a question that needs an answer.

            For some definition of need I suppose… I mean, humans are doing OKish given we don’t have a verified answer atm. It just seems rather… incurious? to push the question out of mind.

            > In some form or another, it always existed.

            Likely untrue, if considering the physical universe. Even considering your extended universe, “exists” is an inappropriate thought/word. Perhaps we agree on that if for different reasons. I suppose it could turn out that the physical universe is one and the same as metaphysical universe in which case you would also be correct.

            > The universe is not a thing in time.

            Could be. No evidence one way or the other.

            > The universe is not a play.

            Wild speculation.

            > It doesn’t have an author; it is not a product of anyone’s intent.

            Were you there?

            > Entities can’t all be contingent; the universe can’t just blip out into nothingness.

            I wouldn’t know.

            > In any case, denying it would certainly uproot the God argument.

            Sure.

            > The argument in no way points toward the conclusion that there is one necessary being that created the universe—and certainly not that this being exists outside the universe, i.e. outside the totality of everything that exists.

            I agree, but I believe you think it implies the opposite somehow.

            > I think the answer to the question is that it is invalid because it assumes something that isn’t true (namely, that something did create the universe, prompting the question of what it was).

            Our fundamental disagreement: you assume the opposite with just as much evidence.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @The original Mr. X

            Plus, in my experience, there’s a lot of motte-and-baileying used with the term “universe”

            I don’t see how the example you give involves any motte-and-baileying. I do define “the universe” as “everything that exists” which is to say everything that physically exists, which means God either IS part of the universe (and thus can’t have “created” it) or ISN’T part of the universe (and thus doesn’t exist). Those are the only two options, right? Is there a third one?

            Why does saying that require more than one definition of “universe”?

            Are you claiming there is stuff that “exists” and is part of the universe but not part of the “physical” universe? If so, what is that stuff, and where is it located? (For reference, Google’s definition of “universe” is: all existing matter and space considered as a whole; the cosmos.)

          • Irenist says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:

            it’s simply a fallacy of composition

            Nope.

            @Glen Raphael:

            God either IS part of the universe (and thus can’t have “created” it) or ISN’T part of the universe (and thus doesn’t exist). Those are the only two options, right? Is there a third one?… Are you claiming there is stuff that “exists” and is part of the universe but not part of the “physical” universe? If so, what is that stuff, and where is it located?

            Great question. Lots of nonphysical things exist. Numbers, for instance. They aren’t located anywhere because location is a property of physical objects, and they are nonphysical.

            God is a nonphysical person who is not part of the universe, on the classical theist understanding of God that has, throughout Christian history, characterized theology in the Catholic, Orthodox, and most confessional Protestant churches (i.e., all but a few Mormons and fundamentalist Scriptural-literalist Protestants in places like the U.S., in quite recent times, all of which are fringe oddities in the broader Christian context). For instance, on Aquinas’ understanding, God is seen as “Being Itself,” and His relation to the cosmos is as the cause of its “being” in particular, rather than its matter or energy or something like that. This is all wrapped up in a complicated metaphysical scheme (involving things like formal and final causality, the essence/existence distinction in beings other than God, etc.) that it would certainly be tedious and almost certainly be fruitless to get into here. The links in this paragraph provide a starting point for further reading, if this sort of thing is of sincere interest to you.

            For reading beyond that, Feser’s Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction is just what it says on the tin. If you want a good introduction to what in the heck I’m talking about, I would use Scott’s Amazon affiliate link to buy that book.

            If you want a free, but very inaccessibly non-contemporary introduction, you can try an online copy of Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought, but I can’t imagine it would prove very helpful without reading a more contemporary (and less sectarian Catholic) work first. (But it is free.)

            *

            A general note: As Jacobian rightly says elsewhere on this thread:

            Blue/red and God/atheism debates spread like cancer through every online forum that allows them.

            This is true, and I have been a contributor to the problem here at SSC, particularly in my endless back-and-forths with Samuel Skinner whenever metaphysics comes up. Mea maxima culpa, as my sort say. Indeed, this very comment is something of a contribution to the problem. So while I thought it was worth making this comment merely to offer the information that the assumptions to which I’m replying are not the only possible viewpoint on these questions, I have no interest in further muddying Scott’s comments with interminable debates on these questions, and won’t be replying to comments upon this comment: you may read the links I offer, or ignore them, as you wish. I’m not here to convert anybody. If it pleases zim, the reader may consider that a forfeit of some argument if ze likes; my main goal is just to try to restrain myself from wasting my time and Scott’s space.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I don’t see how the example you give involves any motte-and-baileying. I do define “the universe” as “everything that exists” which is to say everything that physically exists, which means God either IS part of the universe (and thus can’t have “created” it) or ISN’T part of the universe (and thus doesn’t exist). Those are the only two options, right? Is there a third one?

            It’s motte-and-baileying when somebody switches definitions halfway through (i.e., from “the universe” as “everything that exists” to “the universe” as “every physical thing that exists”), and then acts as if a claim that was established using the first definition (“there is nothing outside the universe”) is also true under the second.

            What you’re doing in the quoted section isn’t motte-and-baileying, but rather good old-fashioned begging the question.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @The original Mr. X

            What you’re doing in the quoted section isn’t motte-and-baileying, but rather good old-fashioned begging the question.

            How so?

            To me it seems like the term doing any heavy lifting here isn’t “universe”, it’s “exist”. Yes, it’s true that abstract objects can also be said to exist (for certain values of “exist”, in certain contexts, given certain premises) but abstract objects don’t have agency – they don’t do stuff. We could perhaps imagine a hypothetical one that did – a hyperintelligent shade of the color blue, or a Santa Claus, or a God – but being able to imagine something doesn’t make it real. (Descartes’ silly Meditations argument notwithstanding.)

            Is God immune to set theory? If not, is there any reasonable definition of “universe” and “exist” that is compatible with the simultaneous claims that God “exists” and that God “created the universe”?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            How so?

            You’re defining “exist” such that only physical things can exist, and then “proving” based on this that a non-physical thing can’t exist.

            Yes, it’s true that abstract objects can also be said to exist (for certain values of “exist”, in certain contexts, given certain premises) but abstract objects don’t have agency – they don’t do stuff.

            I’d like to know what you mean by “abstract” here, although the point is somewhat moot, since God is not an abstract object.

            Is God immune to set theory? If not, is there any reasonable definition of “universe” and “exist” that is compatible with the simultaneous claims that God “exists” and that God “created the universe”?

            There are plenty of definitions. Define “universe” as “the set of things within this space-time continuum”, or “the set of physical things”, and it’s perfectly intelligible to say that God exists and created the universe.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @The original Mr. X

            God is not an abstract object

            Then what kind of thing is it?

            Define “universe” as “the set of things within this space-time continuum”, or “the set of physical things”, and it’s perfectly intelligible to say that God exists and created the universe.

            Is it? If God isn’t among “the set of things within this space-time continuum”, in what sense is it intelligible to say that God “exists”? Are you suggesting God was a thing that existed in some OTHER space-time continuum not contiguous to this one? Regardless, relative to THIS space-time continuum, whatever “God” refers to, it doesn’t exist. It’s not here.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I take it, Glen, that you also reject the multiverse theory and any fantasy/sci-fi works involving parallel universes as being completely unintelligible?

          • Glen Raphael says:

            I take it, Glen, that you also reject the multiverse theory

            Heck no! I even wrote a song based on Many Worlds!

            and any fantasy/sci-fi works involving parallel universes

            If you want to put God in the same category as a fantasy/sci-fi work…that’s pretty much how I see it too. But I thought you were claiming God actually exists, and I was interpreting that as meaning exists in our universe as opposed to some hypothetical other one which ours is not connected with. Was I wrong about that?

            If you just mean to claim God “exists” in the same sense that Santa Claus and Darth Vader exist, then we’ve got no dispute.

      • Vaniver says:

        At best, disagreements are met with “read the fucking sequences”.

        I’m sort of pessimistic about fixing this, actually. It’s really hard to talk engineering with people who don’t know calculus, and it’s difficult to explain just the bit of calculus people need to understand a particular conversation, because of the dependencies. And even if they know calculus, but have totally different names for everything, it’s going to be a pain to get on the same page.

        (I do agree that LWers vary widely in their willingness to try to cross that bridge to talk with people who don’t have the same background, and that more willingness is better. But I don’t know where to get that willingness from.)

        Attempts to read the fucking sequences are quickly abandoned after fruitlessly engaging the Cthulhu of circular links.

        I suspect this is just a presentation problem, but a very important one to solve.

        That is, if you actually look at the dependency graph of the Sequences, I don’t think there are any cycles. Some of them are holy shit huge, but that’s not too surprising.

        My first guess at how to approach this is to actually present the dependency graph, maybe even as some sort of flowchart or twenty questions-style approach. Another ingredient seems to be some sort of test to determine if people understand / agree with the content of posts; many people will read an article and come away from it not actually sure what they just read about. (Or maybe they read an article about a bias, and then they still show that bias immediately after reading the article.)

        So one could, ideally, take someone who needs to Read The Sequences, specifically point #182, and then direct them to something that says “okay, you’re here for #182. But first, do you know what ___ is? Yes? Okay, in situation ____, would it be correct to ____? …” until it finds the right place to start them. And then you can compare pre-test to post-test questions and determine which sequences are effective and which ones aren’t, and spend more effort improving the ones that aren’t. (This would also give a good sense of which of EY’s idiosyncratic views are agreed with, by who, and why. If someone says “I disagree that cryonics is a good buy because of X”, even EY might nod and agree that their perspective makes sense, but if one says “I disagree that cryonics is a good buy because of Y”, EY would throw his hands up in exasperation.)

        For example, I’m not signed up for cryonics (deliberately) and I don’t consider myself utilitarian (though I do give utilitarian answers to many ethical dilemmas), but am an atheist and futurist. But I think most LWers who are signed up for cryonics and consider themselves utilitarian would see my objections to the two as ‘reasonable.’

        One trouble with this is the number of concepts that are narrow but are adjacent to something wrong, and are described with a broad summary. So many people hear the broad summary, and think or say “but wait, doesn’t this broad summary contain [wrong thing]?” without realizing that Eliezer specifically excludes [wrong thing] from his point. (For example, at some point someone on LW observed that posts were cited mostly for their title, not the actual content of the post. Politics is The Mind-Killer, while explicitly not saying that Overcoming Bias should be apolitical, is mostly cited as justification for keeping Less Wrong apolitical.)

        • Anonymous says:

          I guess I just feel the idea that you are required to read some specific large text before being allowed to disagree with certain views is kind of obnoxious. It’s not enough to say that you should read up on what you’re talking about before forming strong views on it – you have to read Eliezer’s version of it and Eliezer’s views, and only after that are you permitted to disagree with Eliezer, if you can give a good enough justification.

          This is exactly why people describe LessWrong as cultish. It’s not about gaining knowledge in general, but about gaining LessWrong-brand knowledge, written in LessWrong’s proprietary terminology. It seems less like an attempt to extend the wisdom that everyone else has already built up, more like an attempt to isolate from it.

          • suntzuanime says:

            You’re allowed to disagree with our views, there’s just no guarantee we’ll take you seriously and not treat you as an uneducated savage.

            I try not to mention the Sequences explicitly in an argument, but trust me, I can be plenty condescending without them. When others are telling you to read the Sequences, it may be an act of charity, because they’re giving you a way out instead of just chortling at your lack of philosophical sophistication like I would.

          • John Schilling says:

            General rule of thumb: If someone tells me I have to read a specific text for them to take me seriously, I don’t take them seriously. Outside of some very esoteric fields, and rarely even there, nothing worth knowing is found only in a single text and no single text is the best guide for all students.

          • suntzuanime says:

            It’s less “you have to read the Sequences to be taken seriously”, and more “you have to achieve a certain level of philosophical sophistication to be taken seriously, and the Sequences are a relatively convenient path to that level”. Your concerns about “what about my idiosyncracies as a student, man, learning styles, how dare you ask me to learn from a text that has not been proven 100% optimal for me personally” seems like an excessive demand for rigor that is not actually motivated by a desire to learn.

          • John Schilling says:

            Not rigor, but a useful heuristic. People who have the One True Book, people who imagine ” you must read the One True Book” will be taken as a shorthand for “you must achieve a certain level of philosophical sophistication”, are effectively cultists and are very unlikely to have anything useful to teach me.

            Also on that list, people who claim to know my motives better than I know them myself, and/or that I am lying about my motives. Stop digging.

          • suntzuanime says:

            You must admit, you have a conflict of interest when it comes to your own motives. You can act all offended if you want, but that sort of bluster is too easy to use as a cover for scoundrelry.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            General rule of thumb: If someone tells me I have to read a specific text for them to take me seriously, I don’t take them seriously. Outside of some very esoteric fields, and rarely even there, nothing worth knowing is found only in a single text and no single text is the best guide for all students.

            A number of texts have been described as “LW in book form”. It’s just easier to tell someone to read The Sequences than it is to tell them to read Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, Irrationality: The Enemy Within, The Nature of Rationality, How the Mind Works, Good and Real: Demystifying Paradoxes from Physics to Ethics, and Thinking, Fast and Slow.

            Also, Vaniver makes a good point. Even if you can learn the material elsewhere, you won’t learn our idiosyncratic jargon for it.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Don’t forget Causality!

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Speaking as someone who read the sequences in their entirity and was then subsequently told to read the sequences, the philosophical sophistication argument isn’t quite right.

            There is an assumption that failure to agree with something in the sequences reflects a failure to understand them. Even on factual claims where you have relevant domain knowledge and Yudkowsky clearly does not. This attitude actively prevents people from reevaluating their beliefs in light of new evidence, which is a rather serious failure of even informal Bayesian inference.

            I understand it’s an insult and I wouldn’t open a discussion with it, but that is really prototypical Holy Book type behavior.

          • Urstoff says:

            Equating philosophical sophistication with having read the Sequences is the biggest howler I’ve read all week.

          • > I guess I just feel the idea that you are required to read some specific large text before being allowed to disagree with certain views is kind of obnoxious. It’s not enough to say that you should read up on what you’re talking about before forming strong views on it – you have to read Eliezer’s version of it and Eliezer’s views, and only after that are you permitted to disagree with Eliezer, if you can give a good enough justification.

            That wouln’t be so bad if the material actually established the point. Massimo Piglucci gave up after being directed to a dialogue which had no indication of which character was supposed to be right.

        • Matt says:

          > That is, if you actually look at the dependency graph of the Sequences, I don’t think there are any cycles.

          Not in The Sequences proper, no. If you venture into other posts, I’m guessing there are. I would also guess general LW posts the most likely first exposure for most people.

          > It’s really hard to talk engineering with people who don’t know calculus, and it’s difficult to explain just the bit of calculus people need to understand a particular conversation, because of the dependencies.

          Hrmm… I don’t think we explain calculus to explain engineering (in general)- I don’t think its really possible to understand something without doing it. However, mostly everyone can still understand the first principles even if they can’t apply them. Perhaps that doesn’t bode well for the rationality movement…

          > My first guess at how to approach this is to actually present the dependency graph, maybe even as some sort of flowchart or twenty questions-style approach. Another ingredient seems to be some sort of test to determine if people understand / agree with the content of posts; many people will read an article and come away from it not actually sure what they just read about.

          I think a before/after test would be both interesting and useful if not hard to implement.

    • Dahlen says:

      I left because I realised I had started to loathe the commentariat at large. As a rule (4chan and such exempted), people would rather not hang out around those towards whom they feel antipathy. LessWrong as an online community, as opposed to the meatspace/meetup/CFAR equivalent, has done little to foster an actively welcoming atmosphere for its users, and whatever actions had been taken in this direction were put in terms of “we have an obvious problem and we need to do something about it”. Neutrality can be pleasant if people can self-moderate; when they can’t, it’s not unreasonable to interfere for ensuring that users generally enjoy each other’s presence. You reap what you sow.

      This was meant to be my goodbye post, which I never really got to publish because my decision to cut ties with LW came more quickly; also because it’s a bit too drama-queen-ish coming from such a minor poster. (I have trouble with browser crashes and usually save my longer or more important posts as text documents. Linked as image for the sake of brevity this time; I know it’s the second post here that I reference in such a way, if this is bothersome tell me and I’ll post it as text.) I haven’t logged in back, and now browse the website in private mode only. A little bird told me that there’s stuff awaiting in my inbox. I don’t wanna hear, I don’t wanna know. In any case, every problem I’ve talked about seems to have gotten worse. Mr. Schedules-His-Excretions recovered from HIV and mental illness and came back to spam the board some more, there’s an edit war at the wiki, and Vaniver’s post LessWrong 2.0 has just made the website’s terminal illness official. Oh well, at least the incel got banned. My applauses, NancyLebovitz. I’d even tip my fedora, if I were the kind to have one. (Gods, I’ve become mean, what happened to me?)

      For those who don’t want to read the whole thing, the takeaway is that you failed to ban your trolls and never had much in the way of formal rules, instead relying on moderation-by-karma. And the problem with karma is that votes legitimise agreement/disagreement, even of the uninformed kind, so that instead of a few random users saying stupid things, you look at the karma score to see near-unanimous agreement and come to think, “oh God, this place really is a cesspit”. To which I’d now add, the main rule you did enforce was to not make MIRI look bad, because LessWrong was heavily used as a promotion and fundraising tool for MIRI — probably its first. Which in itself put off a lot of people who may be interested in rationality, but a) get iffy when strangers ask for their money and b) prefer their rationality free of futuristic and utilitarian baggage. But that’s the kind of criticism that was relevant back when the worst thing you could say about LW wasn’t that the discussions were low-level and plagued by incivility.

      P.S. I noticed that I seem to leave communities when they are just on the cusp of sharp decline. I’ll join a website in its heyday, enthusiastically participate while it still has good content, start fretting early on about the first signs of the problems that will cause its eventual death, and wave it goodbye a little before it becomes apparent to everybody that it is dying. A bit like the proverbial canary in the coal mine. I wonder what to make of that.

      • Ziq says:

        Sorry to say I agree with your comment. LW has declined to the point of embarrassment. There are some remaining posters hanging on but there is no active management, or prolific posters/commenters who generate high-quality content and serve as examples of community standards.

        The new community standards seem to be pedantic argumentation and personality clashes, and the numerous meta-discussions about decline in quality. EY’s Sequences still sit around like holy texts, as do some of the seminal high quality posts by others on various “LW topics”, but people who were previously interested in posting new articles or constructively discussing ideas have nearly all moved elsewhere.

        I’d go so far as to say that the forum content on LW is actively making its affiliated organisations look bad, very bad, in a way that snarky media articles about weird intellectuals never came close to. Does LW fulfill the function of encouraging rationality any longer? Doesn’t look like it from here – time to shut those forums down.

  45. Vaniver says:

    FDA approves clinical trial of metformin as anti-aging drug. Can’t we just use the randomized controlled trials for diabetes and see if the metformin group lived longer? Or did those not last long enough?

    Did they test it on non-diabetics originally? Why would they have?

    This is news for two reasons: 1) the FDA is allowing clinical trials for anti-aging drugs, which is great news for anti-aging research, and 2) everyone without diabetes wants to know if metformin will work for them, because if so, let’s start churning it out by the truckload.

  46. LosLorenzo says:

    Somewhat relevant to the article on racial bias in traffic tickets. Even more relevant to the one-year-old post on this site “Race and Justice: More Than You Wanted to Know”. First time poster (I think), so I’m sorry if this belongs in an open thread rather than here.

    I’ve been trying to dig up the best stats on a) ‘police killings’ and b) ‘officers KIA’ as they relate to the race of victim and perpetrator, respectively. The thinking is that situations where officers face mortal danger is a good proxy for situations in which they should be within their rights to use deadly force.

    Getting right to the point, the very best sources I found on killings perpetrated by US law enforcement were:
    http://killedbypolice.net/
    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database

    Both are comprehensive lists for YTD 2015 numbers. As of Dec. 2., the tallies were respectively 1.085 and 1.041 (the discrepancy is mostly in recent months, 22 since September, but killedbypolice had a few more in each earlier month as well).

    The Guardian has racial info on all victims, and tells us that 523 were white and 265 were black. Killedbypolice do not have this info on all victims, so I’ll use the latter from now on. I guess we could factor these numbers up according to the “missing” victims, but it’s less than 4% and not very important for the larger point.

    Let us assume that December is a completely “average” month both in terms of number of police killings and racial identity of victim. Obviously this is a terrible assumption, but one I’ll make all the same. If you want, go back and run the numbers again in January. It gives us about 571 whites and 289 blacks killed by police in 2015.

    Moving on to officers KIA… The very best source I could find for this purpose was the FBI’s overview of “Officers Feloniously Killed”
    https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/leoka/2014/officers-feloniously-killed/main

    That’s the link for 2014 (the latest year). They have a similar page going back a number of years. Each states the ethnicity of all alleged offenders. The sample size is (fortunately for the police, unfortunately for statisticians) pretty small for each year. I decided, for the purpose of this exercise, to tally the numbers for the five most recent years (2010 – 2014). That gives us 136 white alleged offenders and 104 black alleged offenders.

    You probably see where this is going.

    White victims killed by police (2015) per officer killed by allegedly white offender (avg./yr. 2010 – 2014) is 21.
    Black victims killed by police (2015) per officer killed by allegedly black offender (avg./yr. 2010 – 2014) is 13,9.

    Obviously this is full of statistical shortcuts, apples-and-oranges, approximations and confounders. The significance of this in the broader context of racism among police and police shootings is dubious. But it *is* interesting.

    • Similar patterns exist in the assaults with deadly weapons and police injury data (much higher frequency than actual deaths). I touched on this in a blog post briefly last year.

      • LosLorenzo says:

        Interesting stuff.

        The *real* eye-opener there is that the average perp in LEO assaults grew three inches between 1997 and 2006. Hehe 😉

    • RCF says:

      Looks like you spent a lot of work on this. I think that a similar statistic was mentioned in the article you mentioned. The gist is familiar, although the particular numbers may not have been there.

      When you say “allegedly white offender”, do you mean that is is alleged that the offender is identified, and alleged to be white, or that a white person is alleged to be the offender?

      Also, you should keep in mind that the period for decimal point and comma for thousands separator are standard in English.

  47. Vaniver says:

    Friendly reminder that evolution is a local hill-climbing algorithm, and we should expect some things to not be optimal, especially if it relies on many pieces working together in concert. If everything was correctly engineered, that would be knock-down evidence for intelligent design and against evolution.

    (By ‘some’ I mean there’s a specific numeric range that we would expect, given mutation rates and selection times and so on. Obviously nothing fitting its purpose would also be knock-down evidence against evolution.)

  48. Deiseach says:

    Music recommendation! For those of you who may have heard this in Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake of “Nosferatu”, or on the Kate Bush track “Hello Earth” and couldn’t find out what or who it was: Tsintskaro (one of several variant spellings), a Georgian folk song.

    I know nothing about Georgian folk music, or what this song is about. But I was looking for this for years and recently came across it by luck.

    Re: metformin and anti-aging – the problem with using diabetes test groups is all the lovely complications that accompany diabetes. Being Type II, I have been warned that eventually I will develop some/all of a selection of the following (the only hope is to control the blood sugar, lose weight, and stave these off as long as possible but eventually these will be problems):

    Eyes – glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy
    Skin – diabetic ulcers, itching, dryness, prone to cracking, slower healing, prone to infections
    Feet (“the diabetic foot”)/legs – diabetic neuropathy leading to loss of sensation in lower extremities, meaning injuries to feet less likely to be picked up; skin problems (see above) so diabetic ulcers/wounds/infections; problems with circulation meaning threat of gangrene and necessity for amputation; oedema of lower extremities
    Everything else – diabetic neuropathy (as above) meaning loss of sensation in hands/feet; problems with digestive system, circulatory system; cardiovascular problems; kidney disease/failure and a bunch of other stuff I can’t bring to mind right now.

    Basically, you’re diabetic = you’re fucked (never mind the chirpy feel-good support sites that say you can live a perfectly normal life as a diabetic. Sure – before you go blind and need your feet amputated).

    So even if metformin has anti-aging properties, there is so much else that can knock you off because of the problems associated with diabetes, you can’t take diabetic test groups as meaning anything one way or the other.

    • Vaniver says:

      Re: metformin and anti-aging – the problem with using diabetes test groups is all the lovely complications that accompany diabetes.

      Read the friendly study! The reason why everyone is agog about metformin is because diabetics lived longer than matched controls. Read that again: diabetics, with the host of problems associated with diabetics, lived longer than people without diabetes, presumably because of metformin. (Diabetics on a competing medicine lived shorter than matched controls.)

      That is, every reason to think that diabetics are going to have poor outcomes regardless is evidence for metformin being the bee’s knees. Now, maybe most of that effect is simply pushing back against those effects of diabetes–but that seems unlikely, and that’s why we’re testing it in healthy adults (where right now I expect diabetes + metformin to be worse than no diabetes + metformin).

      • Deiseach says:

        The testing in healthy adults will be interesting. Warning: metformin does have some severe side effects which means some people can’t take it at all.

        If you’re planning to acquire some and use it on yourself, be aware that you are likely to be spending the first couple of weeks in very close proximity to your bathroom 🙂

    • Type 2 should react well to anything that raises insulin sensitivity / reduces the resistance to insulin, the best ideas being intermittent fasting like in in Fast-5, and lifting heavy weights or doing other kinds of high-intensity exercise, HIIT, like 10 30 second rounds on an exercise bike at full force ( heavy resistance setting and full speed, giving it all) with 1 min rests in between. I would still recommend lifting if your spine etc. can bear it. Losing weight would help and these things should lead to losing weight too, precisely through raising insuling sensitivity, making sure the food goes into the muscles not into the fat cells. Most diet-and-exercise routines often do nothing for insulin sensitivity, intermittent fasting and either heavy lifting or HIIT does, this is the key difference.

      Although Intermittent Fasting is more to pre-diabetics (insulin resistors), when already in diabetes I would certainly ask the doctors advice about it.

  49. John Schilling says:

    Sorry, cannot resist the temptation. Vox’s s/”political correctness”/”treating people with respect”/ brower hack also needs to append “…in bed” to the end of the relevant sentence. Just as useful, and twice as entertaining.

    • stillnotking says:

      This is but the merest glimmer of the dystopian future in which browser extensions will be customizable to display one’s political opponents as frothing, leprous imbeciles with tiny penises.

    • RCF says:

      I find it somewhat of a shame that misuse of the word “substitution” has apparently been enshrined in coding terminology: to wit, if one originally has A, but then later has B, then B has been substituted for A. Thus, s/B/A strikes me as the logical means of expressing such a situation, but s/A/B is the standard syntax.

      On the object level, it really is amazing that people consider “Once I replace what someone said with something else, the modified quote supports my position” to be a valid argument.

      • Luke Somers says:

        Read it as ‘substitute all A with B’ and it makes perfect sense forwards.

        As for the object level, I think the idea is that most PC amounts to treating people with respect, so attacks against it should be evaluated against their main targets to make sure that they make sense. Valid attacks will make sense against the objectionable parts of PC and be nonsense against the OK parts, and making the substitution could make that clearer.

        Like, if the thing they’re objecting to isn’t actually just treating people with respect, then the pattern substitution will fit badly and you’ll see that maybe they’re on to something.

  50. The 21 bitcoin computer has the following benefit.

    For many businesses, if you want to make micropayments to a variety of third parties, you are subject to Know Your Customer laws, you may be required to get a money transmitter license (in many different states/locales), etc. Similar rules would be in effect if you purchased bitcoins on a bitcoin exchange and then gave those bitcoins to people.

    This is completely prohibitive if you want to pay $3.27/month to 1000 people spread around the world.

    However, if you simply have a computer doing calculations, and you share the result of those calculations with other people, you are not subject to KYC/money transmitter laws. The 21 computer is inefficient – transmitting $3.27 to someone might cost you $7.52. But it’s far cheaper than a money transmitter license.

    I’m told lawyers have vetted this and it’s solid. Of course, I wouldn’t build a long term business on this premise.

    • DensityDuck says:

      So it’s Coase’s Transaction Cost, then.

      ********

      It also gives an interesting pushback on the idea that Bitcoin and its ilk should start being accepted as legal currency. Maybe there are some reasons we don’t want that!

  51. Murphy says:

    The absurdity of treating yoga as “cultural appropriation” cannot be overstated.

    That’s would be like treating drinking Guinness as “cultural appropriation” against the irish.

    The indian government intentionally promotes it’s sale and use to other countries and other cultures.

    It would be like someone calling buying paintings from Dafen “cultural appropriation”.

    • Pobop says:

      The added irony is that modern postural yoga was largely influenced by YMCA and european physical culture. The actual functional part of yoga isn’t traditional hindu culture, it’s swiss gymnastics. (for example this Mark Singleton synopsis)

    • JBeshir says:

      Yeah, this is true.

      It’s at least a relief that the yoga class story isn’t actually the University of Ottawa’s administration barring it, but the university’s student association deciding to stop partnering with a class/advertising a class in their facilities. I mean, it’s stupid, but at least it’s stupid with their own facilities rather than other people’s. (This is one case where the original story’s headline generated a more accurate understanding than the link text.)

      Student associations tend to be in a kind of “leadership is fun” state where they spend a lot of time basically finding things to debate and change and cancel and promote and start because they’re more interested in playing at leadership than running something well, and the incentives on them are dubious at best. I think the best thing to do is just avoid ever relying on the presence of their facilities while planning, because lack of good incentives + students running things doesn’t seem to go well.

      I’d defend the “turn ‘political correctness’ into ‘treating people with respect'” thing. You’re not editing the reported action, you’re just changing how the motive is described, to something that the person performing the action would accept. Similarly, it’d also be a good idea to routinely turn “moral authoritarianism” into “promotion of virtue” or something like that when reading criticisms of the Red Tribe.

      Terms like “moral authoritarianism” or “political correctness” or “nannying” as well as kind of referencing the underlying motive also bring in a lot of other connotations the person performing the action wouldn’t endorse and acts as a boo light and an “our tribe has already agreed that any action done with this motive is wrong” sign. Swapping those terms for a description of the motive that the person doing the action would actually agree with makes it easier to evaluate actions against their goals properly.

      For example, if you turn “Nowadays people get upset with you if you go around calling women sluts, it’s political correctness gone mad” and “Nowadays people get upset with you if you advertise a yoga class, it’s political correctness gone mad” into “Nowadays people get upset with you if you go around calling women sluts, it’s treating people with respect gone mad” and “Nowadays people get upset with you if you advertise a yoga class, it’s treating people with respect gone mad”, in both cases you can now comprehend why the people getting upset are doing so, and judge more reasonably that in the former case they were reasonable but in the latter case they have indeed gone mad.

      And then rather than just going “You’re acting on political correctness/moral authoritarianism, that’s wrong according to my tribe!” and engaging in tribal warfare, you can actually make a proper case that their effort to have people be treated with respect/promote virtue is doing unacceptable harm in other ways or is ineffective.

      • Murphy says:

        My problem with the word-substitution is that it filters out a lot of connotations and even denotations.

        Flip it around some more and you get some real absurdities. A protester in a country which has lots of foreign soldiers hanging round being dicks wants to say

        “The presence of Foreign Soldiers are an Oppressive Occupation by a Foreign Power to Prop Up the Puppet Government

        and the filter which substitutes words to ones which your opponent would agree with turns this into

        “The presence of Liberators and Peacekeepers are a Stabilizing Force by a Peace Loving Nation to Defend the Legitimate Government.”

        They both now see statements they “agree with” but they’re saying totally different things with a lot of implications being filtered out.

        There’s a lot more to “political correctness” than “treating people with respect”.

        There’s a lot more to “moral authoritarianism” than “promotion of virtue”.

        • Randy M says:

          Yes, the entire argument is whether what is being done fits the connotations of political correctness or not. Changing the words in the story to something “neutral” is changing the story.

          • JBeshir says:

            Making that the entire argument would be fair enough, but alleging that something or someone’s motivation includes those connotations is avoiding the argument.

          • Randy M says:

            Calling an action PC says nothing about the motives of the person doing it. But changing what I call their actions misrepresents my judgment of them.

        • JBeshir says:

          Hmm. Okay, this came out long but I don’t think I can shrink it quickly and already ate one example.

          I think that’s reading a bit overbroadly- I suggested that you should phrase people’s motives in terms they’d agree with, not phrase all claims you make, and I’d stand by that.

          Let’s assume the foreign soldiers believe they’re doing a good thing, which you should because more or less everyone does. If you want to criticise them being present, and think people should be hostile to them everywhere they go, you should say things like “These foreign soldiers, here to stabilise and defend a legitimate government, are in fact propping up a puppet government, and should be spat on”, and then have to make the argument as to why.

          You shouldn’t just say “These foreign soldiers here to prop up a puppet state should be spat on”, because it misrepresents their motives, and avoids having to make the argument for why. Misrepresentation like this lends itself to erroneously harsh retaliation and hate- by slipping their motives being evil in as a premise you avoid having to make any further case.

          Replacing the incorrect motive for why they’re here with the real one: “prop up a puppet state” -> “stabilise a legitimate government” corrects the misrepresentation of motive and shows the lack of any argument other than the misrepresented motive, so I think it’s a pretty reasonable substitution to make.

          Consider a hypothetical phrase, “libertarian oppression”. Libertarian oppression is freedom of contract that leads to people becoming poor, starving, and disenfranchised.

          Now let’s say someone says “Ron Paul campaigns for libertarian oppression, via removal of workplace protections”. This is misrepresentation of his position- you’re taking your believed consequences of their action, and claiming that they’re part of the motive. You’re hiding an allegation that they’re just an evil person who wants people to hurt in the connotations, so that whatever you say next everyone is going to agree with it. In actuality they may think the alleged consequences don’t exist or think they’re an acceptable trade-off for freedom, but they’re not part of the motive.

          Substituting for “Ron Paul campaigns for freedom of contract, via removal of workplace protections”, you get an accurate representation of motives, and a sensible starting point for critique.

          “Political correctness” is vague and has multiple blurry meanings, but often it is used as a phrase a little like “libertarian oppression”. In this meaning it means something like expectation of treating others with respect that leads to censorship, stifling, suppression of research, and thought policing.

          Saying that a person is campaigning for political correctness, or that proposals or actions are motivated by it, has the same error. You’re taking your beliefs about the consequences of their actions, and alleging that they’re part of the motive for the actions, which avoids you needing to argue for them existing, and being as the resulting motive is evil, leaves their actions unjustifiable even if those actions are “asking them to kindly stop calling women sluts”. And this is probably north of 90% of usage of the phrase “political correctness”.

          This is, I’m sure, a very useful tactic. I’m sure accusing everyone who is in favour of less taxation than you of supporting “libertarian oppression” would be a decent tactic for campaigning for more welfare.

          But I think it’s entirely reasonable for people who dislike the tactic to just search and replace the incorrect motive with the real one before they evaluate your argument, whether it’s “libertarian oppression” -> “freedom of contract” or “political correctness” -> “treating people with respect”.

          • Anon. says:

            This argument would hold a lot more water if people who like political correctness treated people with respect.

          • Seth says:

            Err, *why* should one feel obligated to describe people’s actions by their *claimed* motives? That extends the principle of charity to absurdity, excuse me I mean, the path to peace love and mutual understanding.

            People are wonderfully good at coming up with rationalizations and propaganda for acting in cruel and oppressive ways. Do you want to replace “enslaving the populace of conquered nations” with “civilizing primitive races”? Or “invading another country” with “bringing democracy”?

            Yes, connotations matter in rhetoric. Denying that is conceding ground to the worst liars, I mean, practicing enlightened even-handedness.

          • Bill Murdock says:

            “Substituting for ‘Ron Paul campaigns for freedom of contract, via removal of workplace protections'”

            My god how dishonest, and in a comment about honesty! Perhaps “Ron Paul campaigns for freedom of contract and workplace safety, via removal of counterproductive bureaucratic rules and incentives.”

            Note to self: Do not engage JBeshir.

      • Tracy W says:

        “turn ‘political correctness’ into ‘treating people with respect’”

        That’s not quite the same thing. Eg, say you have an uncle keeps making racist and homophobic jokes. If you stay silent, you may be treating your uncle with respect, but I doubt anyone would say that you were being politically correct.

        Of course there’s another problem that the word respect has many different meanings, and the same behaviour (eg standing up to your uncle) can be defined as disrespectful, or respectful (by treating him as a rational being whose mind can be changed.

        And things like photoshopping out Churchill’s cigar or bleeping out a homophobic slur in The Pogue’s Christmas song may be politically correct, but they’re hardly respectful to the originals.

        • Deiseach says:

          bleeping out a homophobic slur in The Pogue’s Christmas song

          Really? You can sing “You’re a bum, you’re a punk/You’re an old slut on junk/Lying there almost dead/On a drip in that bed/You scumbag, you maggot” but not the succeeding “You cheap lousy [BLEEEEPPPP!!!!!]”

          Am surprised by delicacy of delicate flowers 🙂 Wonder what heated and possibly drunken rows are like in their world:

          “Well, well, Tarquin, you – you simply do not appreciate Forster, is all I can say!”

          “Melisandre, you – you take that back immediately!”

          “I shan’t! And what’s more, you’re only a poseur! You don’t even rise to the level of a dilettante!”

          “Saskia! Saskia, unhand me, I intend to post about this egregious attack upon my integrity at once! We’ll see who has the last laugh, Melisandre, when the Debating Society For Refined Gentlefolk Of Intellect’s Annual Thé Dansant is closed to you this year!”

        • JBeshir says:

          I think I may be working off a slightly different definition to you; I wouldn’t think of staying silent as either “politically correct” or “politically incorrect”, merely non-action.

          I agree with the fact that expecting someone to treat people with respect is, in the general case, a lot more complicated, double-edged, tricky, and full of internal conflicts let alone conflicts with other goals than people give it credit for.

          In this respect, I think it is quite accurate to the situation and explains some of the issues that result from people acting on it as a motive, and if we could talk intelligently about those issues rather than just alleging they exist because people want evil we’d have more useful conversations about resolving them.

          I do think it’s fair to say that it the PC stuff isn’t about treating *all* people with respect- treating someone with respect is essentially declining to make status moves against them, and playing the game of ethnic tensions precludes it, so there’s no major effort at that, just the odd people like Scott who try individually.

          The left-related PC conflict is rather over the narrower matter of whether you should be expected to treat people picked out by their ethnic/gender/etc group with respect, for a given set of ethnic/gender/etc groups in abstract.

          “Treating more people with respect” would be better, and a more specific version would be better if I could work out a way to make a compact one.

          • Cauê says:

            treating someone with respect is essentially declining to make status moves against them

            The way this actually plays out in the wild is another reason the proposed substitution doesn’t work.

            PC has turned a large number of opinions, including many about facts, into sacred cows. The act of uttering the wrong opinions, questioning the right ones, or even being silent when they demand overt support, effectively becomes a “status move against them”. Which it is, but only in the sense that refusing to give up your lunch money is a status move against the playground bully. And it doesn’t help that this can also be done unintentionally by people unaware they are walking in a minefield.

            You’re probably feeling the elephant’s trunk and we are feeling the legs, and “treating people with respect” only makes sense when speaking of the trunk.

          • Cord Shirt says:

            Cauê, exactly. Thanks for pointing this out.

      • Matt says:

        All aboard the euphemism treadmill! Apropos, the demand to treat SJ (PC) statements with political correctness is at least slightly ironic, mostly pointless, and largely hypocritical – SJ *is* tribal warfare with a heavy emphasis on despoiling (if not pillaging/plundering).

        I really don’t mean to be so uncharitable – I guessing those were just examples, but I had to laugh.

      • Tom Scharf says:

        As soon as the politically correct = treating people with respect crowd starts treating conservatives with respect I’ll start listening to that argument. It is hilarious that there is now a politically correct term for political correctness, “treating people with respect”. I guess I am just an a-hole, oops, I mean respectfulness challenged.

        The recent hysterical hyperventilating screeching on gun control is a good example of how respectful this group can be. Apparently praying for victims of a massacre is unworthy of such respect. That was extraordinarily ugly, and highly entertaining.

        The outright obsession with verbal conformity is baffling.

    • JBeshir says:

      On an entirely different theme here’s another example of something being alleged to be appropriation where the “appropriated” thing is being deliberately exported by the country in question: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2015/08/04/commentary/japan-commentary/kimono-cultural-appropriation/

  52. The West Pole is actually pretty much in the middle of the Galapagos. If Isla Genovesa wanted to claim they were the West Pole I’d say that was sort of reasonable.

  53. yarbel says:

    “Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas says he turned down a peace plan in 2008 because the Israelis demanded an on-the-spot decision from him and wouldn’t even let him show the plan to his advisers first. Now he is reduced to drawing the proposed border from memory because Israel wouldn’t let him keep the map. Really, Israelis? Really?”

    Let me make a bit of sense out of this seemingly odd behavior. Due disclosure: am Israeli. There are a two relevant rules for the negotiations between Israel and Palestine: decide first, consult later and everything leaks.
    The first rule captures the very strong belief on both sides that public opinion would be unwilling to accept any concession unless convinced that they were getting something real and big in return. So for Israelis to accept Palestinian refugees, for example, we need to see that we screwed them with less land than they wanted, and vice versa. Public opinion will only accept the necessary concessions for a settlement agreement if they see the whole picture; but hearing that your leader gave something up without getting something in return is a big no no.
    The second rule is that everything somehow leaks to the press. There is no trusting anyone except–big maybe–the leaders themselves.

    In the case noted here, PM Olmert came to Abbas, showed him a rough map of the future Palestinian state and asked him to sign his initials on it, as a sign of good-will and tentative agreement, before consulting with his advisers. It was necessary, Olmert thought, because if the map leaked before Abbas signed it, Olmert would be seen as an even lousier PM than people thought he was. The concessions he made were very significant, relative to Bibi and public opinion. But Abbas was unwilling. He wanted to consult first. This is less sensible then you would think, because at this stage, everyone involved in the negotiations knows exactly what areas we are talking about. And it doesn’t take a great mind to have an initial sense of whether this makes sense or not. Recall, it was known to be a preliminary agreement, not a final one, so if Olmert set out a trap (which I don’t think he has, but Abbas would be wise to think so), Abbas could still call it out.

    Anyways, think about it what you will, it is at least somewhat frustrating that Abbas did not made a counter-offer after seeing the map.

    • JBeshir says:

      I think this makes a great deal of sense and puts it better than I did elsewhere. Incentives to keep things from the public until it can be presented as a fait accompli and concessions are shown to have gained something are pretty strong, and expecting Israeli leadership to resist them is perhaps unrealistic.

      I think whether it was reasonable or not on whoever’s part depends on whether measures were offered to compensate for the restrictions, e.g. did the Israelis offer the opportunity to have a larger meeting with the advisers present so they could look at it the proposals without walking away with things, did the Palestinians actively ask for and work for such things, was PM Olmert’s position at the time realistically such that the proposal was at all likely to materialise, what was the history in terms of trust and risk.

      I imagine that you’d get disagreement and conflicting accounts on all of that if you did try to dig into it.

    • keranih says:

      Anyways, think about it what you will, it is at least somewhat frustrating that Abbas did not made a counter-offer after seeing the map.

      This. I mean, I’m a relatively dis-interested party (sympathetic to the Israel side, but this is not my fight in any sense) but even I’ve seen multiple different versions of the maps that have been proposed, along with why the people involved want particular five acre plots more than they want other 15 sq km areas. I would think that the people involved, whose land is actually involved, would not only have a very good sense of what the maps would be, and that “remembering” specifics would be less of a deal than we would think.

      I am struck by the similarities to US fights over gerrymandered districts. Every square inch matters, but only in relation to the square inches that one trades.

      • JBeshir says:

        There could be much more than just comprehension of the proposal to sort out, though- there’s questions of consequences from the proposal and political impact. Who will care, and how much. What will the public think of it, would the tunnel be practical as described, etc.

        I can definitely see wanting to talk to advisers rather than feeling confident trusting an immediate answer to all of that from yourself alone. I mean, the future of their country is at stake, and effects are big and long lasting.

        Similarly, if the Palestinians went to the Israelis with a proposal, I would imagine that the Israeli PM would want to talk with their political advisers about what impact it would have, what plans they would need to make for dealing with things, what security implications would be, what effect on public opinion would be, before they endorsed it, because if one of those things turns out bad they get hit politically badly. PMs are non-expert managers who mostly work by picking advisers to listen to, almost all the time.

        It’d be unreasonable to be angry at the Israelis because when their PM got a peace plan shown to them alone with no opportunity to take it to the rest of their staff they didn’t agree to it, and same swings the other way.

        • yarbel says:

          JBeshir,

          I understand your point and I think I tried to address it in my OP. Reading maps is hard; understanding the political implications of any given division of the land is super-hard. There is something that feels unfair about one party preparing well in advance and then expecting the other party to sign on the spot. I agree to all these points.

          But bear in mind two things that I think are crucial. First, there is a real, objective problem for both leaders with letting other people into the loop. The proposal will leak and then your counterpart loses political power to do anything. Second, Abbas has gone through so many rounds of negotiation in his past that I am pretty much certain he has been considering these issues for twenty years now. I find it hard to believe that he was really in the dark when he saw the proposal and had to reanalyze everything. Especially given that it was meant to be a starting point for negotiations.

    • Decius says:

      Solution: “Have this map with certain areas noted. Consult your advisers regarding whether you would be willing to use this map for preliminary meetings.”

  54. Salem says:

    Krugman’s points on market power are very weak. Not to get too deeply into the minimum wage stuff (again!) but the clear evidence across multiple fields is that higher minimum wages are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices, which (whatever you think about the disemployment effect) demonstrates that there is no monopsony, or market power.

    And as for his more general “class war” points – it’s true that labour has been doing badly by some measures over the past 30 years or so. But capital has also been doing badly! Real interest rates have declined from 7% in the early 1980s to 0.5% today – that’s a more than 10-fold reduction in your return on capital! You need to dig deeper. A large part of what is going on is that a lot of what gets marked as returns to “capital” is really returns to entrepreneur labour. Another large part is the rise of land values, so implicit rents in owner-occupied homes get counted as “capital income.” But I’d say the biggest part is a Tyler Cowen, Average-Is-Over story, applying equally to capital and labour.

    In 1980s, if you saved money, you could get a decent real return on it. And if you didn’t have exceptional skills, you could make a good wage. But population growth has stagnated, which has taken away a lot of the “easy” anticipated growth, and (software + globalization) has eaten a lot of the value ordinary people can provide. So a huge amount of the value is being created (and kept) by entrepreneurs, which is really labour, but most people can’t do it, and the risk profile means most people wouldn’t want to do it if they could. And these people don’t need much capital, so general returns on capital stagnate too. Hence the bifurcated distribution, where the excellent are pulling ahead and the ordinary are being left behind.

    There is, however, one huge avenue where politically-created market power really has had a huge effect on general returns to labour and capital, and inequality more broadly. But modern-day Krugman can somehow manage to write a lengthy review about the reinforcing cycle between political influence and market power, and never once mention the words Intellectual Property. He’s no longer worth reading.

    • baconbacon says:

      “In 1980s, if you saved money, you could get a decent real return on it. And if you didn’t have exceptional skills, you could make a good wage. But population growth has stagnated, which has taken away a lot of the “easy” anticipated growth, and (software + globalization) has eaten a lot of the value ordinary people can provide.”

      Supply/demand curves imply that stagnating population growth runs counter to wage stagnation. Retirement is a return to very low productivity relative to consumption, this force should boost wages at the very least relative to capital (if you have a factory that can employ 100 workers a stagnant population should mean you fight with all your margin to retain/replace workers). The population/globalization stagnation story has lots of holes. For example when you say

      “And if you didn’t have exceptional skills, you could make a good wage.” A reader would probably be surprised to hear that real median household income has risen since the 1980s, and is still up 5% since 1990. If globalization/technology is killing wages for the low skilled some strong force is counter acting that.

      • Salem says:

        Supply/demand curves imply that stagnating population growth runs counter to wage stagnation. Retirement is a return to very low productivity relative to consumption, this force should boost wages at the very least relative to capital (if you have a factory that can employ 100 workers a stagnant population should mean you fight with all your margin to retain/replace workers).

        It may boost wages “relative to capital” in some sense, but it still hurts both labour and capital. My view is that any story that doesn’t explain how the freely-available return on capital has fallen by an order of magnitude is radically incomplete. Remember, a worker’s productivity, and hence wage, is a function of the available capital, which is in turn a function of the extent of the market. It’s like Adam Smith’s example of a blacksmith in the Highlands. And this is particularly bad for workers because a lot of what shows up as return to “labour” is, in the economic sense, return to capital, just that it’s embedded human capital. If it’s not worthwhile for blacksmiths in the Highlands to engage in deep division of labour and capital investment because there’s only so much demand for blacksmithing services, then the same applies to accountants. The accountant in a small town in Inverness-shire is doubtless a generalist without the same training (i.e. capital investment) or specialisation (i.e. division of labour) as exist in London, so how can he expect earn the same wage?

        So, because there’s less possibility of (easy) extensive growth due to population, the rewards go only to the people involved in (hard) intensive growth. There is still extensive growth in the developed world, of course, but that is less relevant for Westerners because the institutions there are so much worse, and the production frontier so much lower, that emigration is not a serious option for more than a small fraction of the population. It’s the opposite of Smith’s day, where the talented Highland blacksmith could go to London, i.e. from the underpopulated, low-technology, institutionally backward area to the highly populated, high-technology, institutionally advanced area. Now, the low-technology, institutionally-backward areas are the ones with the population, and population growth, which means average Westerners are kinda stuck.

        A reader would probably be surprised to hear that real median household income has risen since the 1980s, and is still up 5% since 1990. If globalization/technology is killing wages for the low skilled some strong force is counter acting that.

        Who said anything about “killing” wages? The question, however, is why has median wage growth in the US been so disappointing, and why do we have such a bifurcated distribution? 0.2% annual growth over a 25-year-period is really bad. Now, I think this actually understates the growth that has taken place (Don Boudreaux writes very well on this) but it’s still worrying.

        To be clear, I don’t think globalization/technology is killing wages for the low skilled. Technology is raising productivity, and hence wages, for a constant level of human capital, and globalisation is raising purchasing power for constant real wages. However, I do think that globalisation and technological growth have lead to the creative destruction of other kinds of capital. In particular, human capital. So it all adds up to bifurcated distributions.

        • Brian Donohue says:

          “0.2% annual growth over 25 years is really bad.”

          Hmmm. As you acknowledge with your Boudreax reference, CPI likely overstates increases in cost-of-living, so the actual story is better than this.

          But why is 0.2% annual growth really bad? I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, middle middle middle class. I wanted for nothing, but, from today’s perspective, it looks like a hardscrabble existence.

          My kids are mostly grown now, but I never once had the feeling that I wanted to give them all the things I never had.

        • baconbacon says:

          “My view is that any story that doesn’t explain how the freely-available return on capital has fallen by an order of magnitude is radically incomplete. ”

          Agreed- but a monopoly story fits these facts as well. Monopolists (traditionally) extract higher profits by tapping into consumer surplus, and invest in maintaining their monopoly status and not in innovations. Increasing monopoly power should (could, can, may?) cause a decline in both labor and capital’s share of income with rent seekers taking the balance. I think you come close to this when you said

          “But modern-day Krugman can somehow manage to write a lengthy review about the reinforcing cycle between political influence and market power, and never once mention the words Intellectual Property”

          but you need a broader scope.

          • Salem says:

            I’m aware that monopoly fits those facts. But cost pass-through refutes monopoly (sony) in the markets Krugman is talking about.

            General market power is counter-factual, the only reason this corpse keeps getting dug up is that it’s politically convenient for certain viewpoints.

          • baconbacon says:

            “I’m aware that monopoly fits those facts. But cost pass-through refutes monopoly (sony) in the markets Krugman is talking about.”

            You are going to have to link what you mean by cost pass through in this sense.

        • baconbacon says:

          “It may boost wages “relative to capital” in some sense, but it still hurts both labour and capital.”

          Demographic changes have uncertain outcomes, there are pressures in both directions. If you live in a world of durable capital and population declines you end up with more capital per person and you should at the very least get a productivity per worker bump simply by cutting out the marginal capital.

          The “Average is over” story has to overcome two hurdles. One is that lower productivity with older demographics should be inflationary, not deflationary (fewer goods produced compared to either the total population or total money supply should lead to higher prices). The 2nd being that areas you (or I at least) would expect stagnation to show don’t appear to be happening in this timeline (yield per acre is one).

          • Salem says:

            I think you are confusing the “Great Stagnation” story with the “Average is Over” story. This is not about falling productivity. Productivity is rising.

            I’d also note that real changes are neither inflationary nor deflationary when central banks are inflation-targeters.

          • baconbacon says:

            “I think you are confusing the “Great Stagnation” story with the “Average is Over” story. This is not about falling productivity. Productivity is rising.”

            When I read Cowen they seem two sides of the same coin.

            “I’d also note that real changes are neither inflationary nor deflationary when central banks are inflation-targeters.”

            Even if you grant that CBs can control inflation real changes are still the causes that they are responding to.

      • Vaniver says:

        A reader would probably be surprised to hear that real median household income has risen since the 1980s, and is still up 5% since 1990.

        Is that 5% per year, or 5% total?

        For example, I grew up in the age of increasing computer power. Every year or two you needed to get a new one if you wanted to be able to play the latest games / use the latest software most effectively / and so on. And then we hit the power consumption limit (and the speed of light limit would have been just around the corner, even if we hadn’t), and computers stopped getting faster.

        Sure, hard disks continue to get better, memory improves some, network bandwidth is getting better, and so on. But one doesn’t really need to buy new computers any more; the differences, while there, aren’t palpable. My six year old desktop continues to hold its own against a similar PC made with contemporary components. (I got a new graphics card recently, but could still run modern games fine on low graphics settings with the old graphics card.)

        It seems to me that a similar argument holds for economic growth / real wage increases. If someone is used to 5% growth in a good year and then gets 5% growth over the course of two decades, well, that’s definitely worse than expectations.

        • Salem says:

          5% total.

        • baconbacon says:

          “Sure, hard disks continue to get better, memory improves some, network bandwidth is getting better, and so on. But one doesn’t really need to buy new computers any more; the differences, while there, aren’t palpable. ”

          Do you imagine this is the first instance in history? That cars/TVs/plows/breeding programs didn’t all go through similar periods?

          “It seems to me that a similar argument holds for economic growth / real wage increases. If someone is used to 5% growth in a good year and then gets 5% growth over the course of two decades, well, that’s definitely worse than expectations.”

          It isn’t about expectations, it is about explanations. Technology growth is just about the only way* to increase median income by increasing productivity. If today’s tech is now doing the opposite (reducing real pay) then how median income still higher? How is it that capital gains are declining in the same time frame?

          *you can manipulate median income with redistribution but I don’t see anyone arguing that this is the case in the US in recent decades

        • Lupis42 says:

          But one doesn’t really need to buy new computers any more; the differences, while there, aren’t palpable. My six year old desktop continues to hold its own against a similar PC made with contemporary components.

          That was true six years ago too – you were just using things that needed the extra horsepower. Today’s cutting edge machines are as much faster than 2010’s cutting edge machines as 2010’s were faster than 2005’s.
          One big difference is that that hardware isn’t the limiting factor for gaming now, because the cost of making games that take full advantage of the new hardware is so high.

    • Theo Jones says:

      Agreed. I can’t fathom why people consistently pretend that services produced by labor don’t follow fundamentally the same rules of economics as other economic product. Must be wishful thinking.

      The lack of mention of the increasing role of IP was a major omission by Krugman.By some accounts IP is the single largest factor contributing to the declining labor share of income. See, https://ideas.repec.org/p/red/sed015/844.html

  55. Nathan says:

    A video of Ted Cruz reciting a scene from the Princess Bride is posted on popular blog Slate Star Codex. Subsequently, Ted Cruz’s poll numbers surge. Coincidence? I think not.

    More seriously, check out this piece on Cruz’s changing position on monetary policy: http://qz.com/566019/texas-tea-party-senator-ted-cruz-is-getting-behind-loose-money-at-the-federal-reserve/?utm_source=YPL Between Cruz tiptoeing towards market monetarism and Clinton supporting incentives for worker-owned co-ops, some of my favourite niche economic ideas are getting decent representation in this campaign.

  56. andy says:

    On blowback theory: It seem to me that western people is much more likely to support bombing or war after each terrorist attack. We are also much more likely to support cuts in civil liberties – either to get feeling of security or get back on the enemy.

    Is there an explanation for why are middle eastern people fundamentally different to not be affected the same way?

    I agree that goals of Islamic states are independent from what west does at this point and bulk of terrorism has more to do with local politics and regimes there then anything we do. Most terrorist attacks are targeted at those local regimes anyway.

    However, the assumption that they are cool and unaffected by overly harsh response of the west (when that happen) would made them quite unique. Maybe I am just projecting reactions I see around me on them, but seeing blood of “ours” or feeling of being treated unfair tend to push people around me into more extremist side.

    • JuanPeron says:

      Spitballing a theory: people are incredibly responsive to being given a reason for something, no matter how vacuous or disconnected from what’s actually happening. The studies on asking people to give up seats on a subway got far better results if they offered a reason for the request, no matter what it was.

      US/Israeli attacks on Middle Easterners typically have the stated goal of stopping terrorism and reducing violence. We can talk incompetence, ineffectiveness, and collateral damage all day, but the reason everyone puts in the speeches is a “good cause”.

      Hamas/Al Qaeda/ISIS attacks on everyone are generally done with the stated goal of killing civilians and causing fear. It might be to defeat the US, inspire moral behavior, or bring on the end times, but the proximate, stated reason is to harm civilians.

      Perhaps people are more amenable to being harmed by accident than by design. Note that bombing the Middle East has substantially worsened how Middle Easterners perceive the US – it just hasn’t translated to support for terrorism.

      There are a lot of things that push me towards radicalism, but few/none that make me want to support actively innocent-harming groups. As an example: racism, unprosecuted rapes, and violent attacks on Planned Parenthood push me towards extremist liberalism, but do nothing to increase my support for the Internet SJ types who want to convict innocents to make a point.

  57. Anonymous says:

    Interesting: Simply seeking the death penalty makes jurors more likely to falsely convict.

  58. Jack V says:

    “Why not build nuclear reactors in the ocean? Well, okay, but aside from that?”

    I saw a film about that! It was called “Godzilla”.

    But seriously, yes, it doesn’t immediately sound like a good idea to me, but it sounds worth investigating — it would be nice for renewables to take over entirely, but nuclear has got to be lots better than fossil fuels, and I’m scared of assumptions that say otherwise.

  59. Eoin says:

    Very disappointing as a writer of legislation to note that the Texas Legislature did not also define the East Pole, which should be somewhere off the eastern coast of Australia according to: https://www.freemaptools.com/tunnel-to-other-side-of-the-earth.htm

    • Scott Alexander says:

      You’re a writer of legislation? Real-world, or the other type?

      • Not Eoin says:

        I’m not Eoin.

        I read here fairly regularly. I think that I’ve commented four times in several years.

        I’ve done administrative stuff in a governmental legislative and regulatory affairs shop and one of my partners is a government regulatory drafter. I’m not sure that it’s so uncommon a job.

      • Eoin says:

        Real-world now. More of a “take down my boss’ comments on legislation and then alter the draft document”-er than a writer, but one day…

    • Siah Sargus says:

      That’s an amazing little tool. One that surprised me was Wellington, New Zealand, and Madrid, Spain. Unsuprisingly, the entire United states comes out in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

  60. Winter Shaker says:

    I used to love making cardboard polyhedron models when I was young. Sadly not enough time now; it’s really fiddly to do neatly, especially if you’re going to paint them in mathematically satisfying colour arrangements before you glue them together, but I can recommend Robert Webb’s Great Stella programme for designing your own and printing out the nets. I’m pretty sure it has the Szilassi Polyhedron.

  61. Imaginatrix says:

    “The study lasted five years, and 15% of the depressives who died during those five years died of suicide, but since most people don’t die in any five year period it was disproportionately the ones who died young who got counted. The real number is more like 2%. Also, REALLY?! NOBODY THOUGHT ABOUT THAT UNTIL NOW?!”

    I wonder if something similar is at the root of the various statistics I keep hearing about the causes of death of trans individuals which also (however bad you think trans individuals have it) seem implausibly high: like 1/3rd die of murder and 1/3rd die of suicide.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think Ozy looked into it and no one has a citation for the murder statistic. Not sure about suicide.

    • JuanPeron says:

      It’s worth remembering that among young people, the baseline causes of death are essentially “accident, suicide, murder”. Suicide is a problem, but when people hyperventilate about how suicide is high up among causes of youth death, all I can think is “so start injecting young people with ebola and move it down a notch!”

      Still, the deaths among trans individuals numbers are freakishly high, even for a study with the same flaws as the depressive suicides one. The murder result being as high as suicide in particular is utterly weird – hate crimes are a thing, but not at those levels in first world countries.

      I’m strongly inclined to call bullshit on the 15% numbers, even beyond experimental failings like Scott outlined.

  62. szopeno says:

    If intelligence explains at least part of ilberal/conservative gap, then in fields which require higher IQ (generally, STEM) there should be larger gap. But it seems that the gap is highest in social sciences than in computer science or physics. Why?

    • It mentions intellignce but doesn’t appear to take that as being the same as IQ (fair enough. eg. Scott is smart and apparently bad at math). It does seem to think, if I’m reading it right, that a vocabulary test is a reasonable proxy for intelligence though, which does raise a few questions for me.

      • Emily says:

        WORDSUM, from the General Social Survey? Pretty well-correlated with IQ among adults, at least in 1980: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2010/05/wordsum-iq/#.VmbfIbiDGko

        • suntzuanime says:

          Wordsum measures verbal intelligence, which is certainly correlated with overall intelligence but far from perfectly. And the ways in which it’s uncorrelated are not random, but predictable, because people whose verbal intelligence is higher than their systematic intelligence behave differently from those whose systematic intelligence is higher.

          This feeds into the Moldbuggite theory of liberals, which is that they are people with high verbal intelligence who want to advance the status of verbal intelligence and making stringing together the right words in the right order a prerequisite for power (i.e. political correctness).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “stringing together the right words in the right order” is already a prerequisite for power, and has been, I posit, for thousands of years. Even in succession monarchies, politics is still a huge part of the game.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Obviously, but politics can be made more or less important, and some people want to make very sure the personal is treated as political.

      • Randy M says:

        I recall when Scott discussed it in more detail, it turned out that he didn’t enjoy math and didn’t get it as intuitively as his physicist friends, not that he took 3 years to pass High School algebra or can’t make change, as normal people might use the expression.

    • Virbie says:

      Even if we would expect the intelligence effect on the gap to be stronger, I would imagine there are other differences that provide much stronger confounding factors that overwhelm the intelligence effect. Most obviously, the fact that computer science or physics concerns itself far less with matters directly relevant to politics than almost every social science does. It wouldn’t be surprising if this meant that the kind of political echo chambers that form in certain parts of the social sciences are a lot less likely in CS/Physics/et al.

      Leaving aside the fact that it’s not really academia, even examples like Curtis Yarvin getting banned from Strangeloop are actually evidence in support of this point. Someone getting banned from a social science conference would hardly raise eyebrows, especially because a politically-motivated movement to ban someone could always fall back on “well the fact that he’s so wrong about racism speaks to the quality of his work in the discipline”, an argument which hardly works for more apolitical, technical work.

    • Technically Not Anonymous says:

      Maybe it’s because people in CS or physics are less likely to be exposed to the evidence from the social sciences that supports liberal views? (Not that that evidence is all unbiased and correct, of course.) Or maybe the kind of person who wants to study human behavior and society for a living tends to have different political views than STEM-inclined people in the first place? Like you said, intelligence only explains part of the gap.

  63. ivvenalis says:

    “Blowback” used to refer to retaliation against someone unaware of the instigating event (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blowback_%28intelligence%29), sort of a variation on the principle-agent problem. For instance, the CIA covertly supports the Ruritanian United Front’s guerrilla warfare against Krasnovia. Then the virulently anti-American Krasnovian Nationalist Party seizes power and confiscates the property of American corporations operating in the country out of what appears to be spite and why do they hate us so much? The key was that covert operations provoked hostility/violence out of “nowhere”. This has certain implications for propaganda and trust.

    Israel bombing Palestine (e.g.) -> Palestine bombing Israel is just straightforward retaliation. Maybe I’m just being fussy.

    • Tatu Ahponen says:

      I thought that in general usage ‘blowback’ might also include things like “Ruritanian United Front turns anti-American and starts using the weapons provided by the CIA to fight Americans” or “Ruritanian/Krasnovian conflict creates social disintegration and leads to gray, lawless zones that allow terrorist movements to incubate” and so on.

    • Punk rock girl says:

      I remember the old meaning, too. But it’s not really a big definitional slide. US actions in Zakovia needn’t have been strictly covert for the US public to be broadly ignorant of them. So the Zakovian reprisals against US interests still seem shocking and unwarranted to those not in the know.

      (Also, the actions that inspired Blowback Classic didn’t remain covert forever, or we wouldn’t have known to name the phenomenon.)

  64. Anonymous says:

    “Finland is likely to enact a basic income of 800 euro/month! Not sure how close that is to a living wage in Finland or what will happen if it’s not enough for somebody.”

    I live in Finland and it’s remarkable how little media attention this has received inside my country. I’m not the most avid reader of popular news sources, but it’s still strange that I found out about this first from several American blogs. Sure, Yle.fi is a Finnish website, but I can’t find the article linked here from their Finnish news feed.

    800 euros/month can be enough to live on even in Helsinki if you live in a cheap shared apartment, eat cheaply and don’t basically use your money for anything else. It seems from the article that housing benefits are retained (which, depending on your situation, can be something of the order of 400-500 euros/month) as well as some income support packages which I have no idea what they are.

    In any case, I think this is great news. I’m of the opinion that we are rich enough to guarantee basic living standards for everyone and basic income is just so much better way to do it than the current maze of various assistance programs and unemployment benefits.

    • jukvalim says:

      You can’t find anything about it in Finnish news sources because it’s not happening. Today the topic did receive some attention, when one of out tabloids wrote a story on how weird false news story about Finland adopting basic income is spreading all over the world, including in quality newspapers: http://www.iltalehti.fi/ulkomaat/2015120820795743_ul.shtml (it’s in Finnish, sorry)

      The whole thing reminds me of an earlier similar case with Sweden and 6-hour workday. http://liljat.fi/2015/10/no-sweden-is-not-moving-to-a-six-hour-work-day/

      • Nathan says:

        So this whole story is a case of Chinese (Finnish?) whispers and wishful thinking?

        • Tatu Ahponen says:

          Actually, what is happening is this:

          1. One of the promises of the Finnish government is that it will start conducting experiments with basic income. However, there’s still no details how those experiments would be conducted, what would be the sums, what benefits would be replaced or, indeed, whether it’s actually a basic income as commonly understood (ie. an unconditional benefit paid to everyone) or whether there would be conditions. Indeed, when it comes to the current welfare system, most of government’s actual policies have been about making it *more* conditional.

          2. Finland’s national welfare bureau has made a study on basic income, recommending the 800€ sum.

          3. Excitable foreign media has linked these two things together.

          • Tracy W says:

            I don’t get why everyone is so keen on running experimental studies on basic income. The fundamental problem with basic income is paying for it, which these studies don’t address (“Hi! Sign up for our study in which we’ll take 50% of your income in taxes! Full disclosure we mean 50% on average, not top marginal! Hey, where did he go?”)

          • brad says:

            If you already have high taxes and an extensive welfare state, switching to unconditional basic income is not so bad cost wise. You are replacing a lot of spending and you will get a lot of the money sent out back in taxes.

            If I’m doing the math right, it looks like Finland’s social spending is currently around €940 per person per month.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I wish people would get over the National Income stickershock. If you’re a middleclass person and your taxes go up 9600 euro per year to pay for the National Income, and you get 800 euro per month as your share of the National Income, you have not actually lost anything, and quoting the large tax increase is super disingenuous.

          • John Schilling says:

            If a middle class person’s taxes go up 9600 euros per year to pay for an 800 euro/month basic income, who is paying for the basic income received by poor people?

            If your answer is “rich people”, show your math, because I think you may be greatly overestimating the income of rich people. And their willingness to stick around in countries with high tax rates, particularly those who have signed on to a generation-long experiment in eliminating nationalism.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Who’s paying for the benefits the poor receive now? Same people. I’m not saying National Income is free, I’m saying that multiplying the National Income by the population and pointing to the huge amount of taxes that need to be paid is beyond dishonest.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            That wasn’t his point.

            If everyone gets $9600 a year in BI, and one individuals taxes in particular go up $9600, that individual should not be complaining about the horrible rise in their taxes.

            If their taxes go up $9700, they should be saying “Hey, I’m paying $100 for this BI program” not “My taxes went up $10K! Thanks, Obama.”

          • Tracy W says:

            @suntzuanime, that figure of 50% average was for a basic income at a level that was about 1/3 lower than the government’s basic superannuation payments per individual at the time and assumed that the basic income totally replaced all existing government social benefit spending.
            (Back of the envelope type calculation, no behavioural impacts, but the envelope was a database with a lot of information on income distribution.)

            If you load all those taxes on people earning above national incomes then the sticker shock is much worse than 50%.

          • Tracy W says:

            @Heelbearcub:
            The problem for that is the people whose taxes go up by *only* the same as the basic income are going to be a small set of those people whose taxes go up.

            And it’s the people whose taxes go up far more than what they get in basic income who are both the incredibly vital ones for this policy to work and the much harder ones to recruit for any experiment.

            It’s disingenuous to talk about only those people whose net tax change is minimal when discussing a basic income and totally ignoring the people who will be paying for all of the beneficiaries.

            @Tatu: that Vox article is incredible, in a banging head against the wall way. All that prattle about rigorous evaluation when the experiment, as described, is totally ignoring the paying for it side. Exactly the fault of every basic income experiment ever!

          • suntzuanime says:

            You have not understood the objection.

          • Nathan says:

            @ Tracy W

            For me, the reason to get excited about a basic income trial is to test its effect on work incentives in the real world. The question is whether low income people would be more likely to work (since they don’t lose their payments) or less likely (since low paying jobs suck and they have all their essential needs provided for anyway). The outcome of that question is pretty important for determining how affordable – and indeed, how good an idea – the basic income really is.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Nathan

            But the situation of ‘low-paying jobs suck and they have their essential needs provided for anyway’ is the one we’re in already. It’s not like we’re moving from a world without welfare to a world with basic income.

          • Tracy W says:

            @Suntzuaine: I don’t follow. Your objection was that quoting an average figure was dishonest, because a middle-income person would be getting about the same payment in UBI as their extra payment was in taxes.

            But my comment was about the full group of people who actually pay for the UBI, and some of them *have* to be paying considerably more in taxes than they get back, or you have a very low UBI level, much lower than existing welfare schemes.

            You haven’t addressed that at all.

            @Nathan: [Edit: added] if there’s no impact on the work incentives of the poor but the people making up the tax base all run away like scalded cats then the basic income is not going to work. Experiments that ignore the cost side of the equation are a waste of money because that’s obviously by far the biggest problem.

          • John Schilling says:

            @HeelBearCub:
            That wasn’t his point. If everyone gets $9600 a year in BI, and one individuals taxes in particular go up $9600, that individual should not be complaining about the horrible rise in their taxes.

            I got that, yes. My point, which I suppose I have to make explicit, is that “middle classperson” isn’t going to see his taxes go up by 9600 Euros a year, but some larger value. A guaranteed basic income will substantially increase the income of the working poor. The only way it can be revenue-neutral at the mean is if it also substantially decreases the income of the unemployed poor. This may be seen as a bug or as a feature, for reasons discussed at length here before, but it isn’t happening at 800 euros a month. A GBI at that level can’t help but reduce the income of the middle class.

            Which is why it won’t actually happen at 800/month, but conceivably could at 400.

          • Kaj Sotala says:

            Tracy W: @Tatu: that Vox article is incredible, in a banging head against the wall way. All that prattle about rigorous evaluation when the experiment, as described, is totally ignoring the paying for it side.

            From the article: “But before any experiments start, all the models, their costs and distributional effects — who wins and who loses — will be evaluated by rigorous microsimulation, Kangas says.”

            The cost of the whole thing *is* one of the things being evaluated. First there will be economic simulations and models which attempt to model the cost of the whole thing, and then the experiments will – among other things – determine how people’s behavior actually changes in response to the basic income, to help evaluate whether the assumptions made in those models hold.

            There have already been several previous models and simulations that have sought to determine the cost of a basic income model in a Finnish context. At least some of them have been for schemes that were found/designed to be approximately cost-neutral. But the proposed models have generally included a revamp of the income tax, in order to effectively tax away the added income from people who don’t really need it. Whenever you make drastic changes to something as wide-influencing as the income tax, there’s a chance that this will lead to additional effects in people’s behavior which you didn’t anticipate, so you’ll want to run experiments to find out what actually happens and whether that changes your cost calculation.

          • Tracy W says:

            @Sotala: “rigorous microsimulation” is not a synonym for “actual experiment”. The outcomes of a microsimulation all depend on the assumptions you put in, and there’s very little data about how people react to, say, a 30% increase in their taxes because normally governments don’t do that. I think the last increases on that scale were WWII.

            According to the Vox article the Finnish government is setting aside €20 billion (!) for this experiment. So the money provided is endogenous to the actual experiment, making it a waste of money.

          • Kaj Sotala says:

            @Tracy W:
            “rigorous microsimulation” is not a synonym for “actual experiment”. The outcomes of a microsimulation all depend on the assumptions you put in, and there’s very little data about how people react to, say, a 30% increase in their taxes because normally governments don’t do that

            That… was pretty much what my comment was saying? That the experiment’s needed for figuring out what the actual costs are, since the microsimulation alone won’t be enough.

            If you agree with that, why are you saying that these studies won’t address the basic problem of paying for basic income?

    • Anonymous says:

      One problem with basic income, that I’m not sure I’ve seen effectively addressed, is that it seems in a sense worse than the preexisting welfare system, in terms of how rigid it is. It assumes that how deserving a person is of wealth transfers comes down entirely to their current wealth*. I think that’s a mistake. It seems to me that people who are poor because they suffer some kind of disadvantage, such as a disability or similar, that stops them from working, deserve transfers enormously more than people who could work but rationally choose not to in light of welfare.

      Switching to a basic income would simplify the system, prevent people from gaming it, and solve disincentive problems, but at the cost of being less effective at what it is supposed to be doing, i.e. helping out the disadvantaged. I don’t think it’s analogous to a carbon tax: all CO2 emission is presumably equally costly, but all poor people are not equally deserving of sympathy.

      *however this is calculated – I’m not aware of there being any consensus on what kind of taxes BI would be financed from.

      • suntzuanime says:

        It’s not supposed to be helping out the disadvantaged; it’s supposed to be helping out people. The idea of the “undeserving poor” is a source of unending miseries and is incompatible with Christ’s teachings, since we are all sinners, we are all only capable of virtue through God’s grace. You can either love the sinners, or not.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          since we are all sinners, we are all only capable of virtue through God’s grace.

          Better check that Jansenism!

          In all seriousness, though, the Bible certainly seems to suggest that certain people are more virtuous than others, and that this is at least partially a result of their own free choices.

          The Calvinist/Jansenist idea that God arbitrarily selected a certain group of people and chose to give them efficacious grace, while knowing with full certainty that the others were unable to do anything other than sin, makes a mockery out of the idea that there was any justice in the proceedings.

          Of course, the only really consistent alternative position is Pelagianism—the idea that man has the free will to refrain from sin and does not need grace in order to attain salvation, but it really helps—which is a heresy in the Catholic Church but accepted by some modern Protestant denominations and a very large number of both Protestant and Catholic laymen. The Catholic compromise position does not really make sense.

          Anyway, getting back to the topic at hand. Sure, if you deny free will (which is what Jansenism does), you make the concept of “undeserving poor” meaningless. But you also get rid of a whole lot of other things, including the concept of “desert” in general.

          Really, it gets back to the whole question of utilitarianism in the first place. Leonard Peikoff once described it as “hedonism combined with Christianity”. “Hedonism teaches man to love pleasure; Christianity teaches man to love his neighbor. Utilitarianism teaches him to love his neighbor’s pleasure.”

          The idea with utilitarianism is that everyone’s pleasure/utility is supposed to count equally. But why would you think this? I am completely sympathetic to the position that wants morally deserving people to be happy and morally bad people to suffer. Which is not too far removed from what heaven and hell are supposed to be (especially in the popular imagination, before theologians get their hands on the concept).

          • Anonymous says:

            The concept of a deserving and undeserving poor is totally compatible with utilitarianism, if you consider desert as being based on how much the person’s utility varies with how much assistance they are given. Someone whose utility is greatly dependent on the level of assistance they receive – i.e. if they have assistance they will have somewhat high utility, if they don’t have assistance then they will have very low utility – is deserving of that assistance. Someone whose utility is only weakly affected by how much assistance they receive – i.e. if they have assistance they will have somewhat high utility, if they don’t have assistance then they will go and get a job and get somewhat high utility by themselves – is not deserving of assistance. If you have some finite amount of assistance to give – and you do – then you will get more utiles per dollar by giving to those who can’t help themselves than by giving to those who can help themselves but will happily accept free money if it’s on offer.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            The concept of a deserving and undeserving poor is totally compatible with utilitarianism, if you consider desert as being based on how much the person’s utility varies with how much assistance they are given.

            That’s totally different from what “desert” actually means, though.

            The concept of desert, as normally used, implies that a person could potentially benefit a lot from being given free money, but he doesn’t deserve it because he’s evil.

            If you want to redefine “desert” in this way, you would have to be very clear about how you’re using it in a totally different way from everyone else. And still, it would seem a superfluous concept, because utilitarianism already says that you should help the poor in the most effective way at increasing total utility.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Vox Imperatoris

            That’s totally different from what “desert” actually means, though.

            Is it? I was under the impression that a common concern regarding welfare is whether it’s being given to people who actually can’t work, versus being given to people who could work but just choose not to because welfare is available. Would it be a nonstandard use of the term to describe the first group as deserving of welfare and the second group as not? Perhaps I’m misapplying a word that’s more specific than I thought.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            This surely is a concern people have about welfare.

            But the reason they are reluctant to give money to layabouts is not (in my estimation) simply that the money could be better spent elsewhere. They surely think it could be better spent elsewhere. However, the more fundamental objection is the idea that deciding to take welfare instead of working is a free choice for which people are morally responsible; that such laziness is an immoral choice that reflects a desire to parasitize others; and that people who make that choice forfeit any sympathy for their plight.

            On the other hand, if “work-shyness” were some kind of involuntary disease, you would expect we would treat it the same way we treat other psychological and physical handicaps that prevent people from working.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Vox Imperatoris

            I would argue that they might think they care about this problem because it’s immoral for someone who could work to accept handouts, but that the reason they have this moral view in the first place is because it serves to create the efficient outcome I describe.

            Similarly, why should we punish wrongdoers? From a utilitarian standpoint, it’s because wrongdoing creates disutility, and punishing wrongdoing disincentivizes people from doing it. From a moral standpoint, it’s because doing wrong is wicked and punishment makes it right and whatever. I suspect that most, perhaps all, of our moral views are essentially evolved justifications for serving utilitarian ends.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I would argue that they might think they care about this problem because it’s immoral for someone who could work to accept handouts, but that the reason they have this moral view in the first place is because it serves to create the efficient outcome I describe.

            Similarly, why should we punish wrongdoers? From a utilitarian standpoint, it’s because wrongdoing creates disutility, and punishing wrongdoing disincentivizes people from doing it. From a moral standpoint, it’s because doing wrong is wicked and punishment makes it right and whatever. I suspect that most, perhaps all, of our moral views are essentially evolved justifications for serving utilitarian ends.

            We are adaptation executers, not fitness maximizers. People really do care that a person who can work accepts handouts because they have the intuition that it is immoral, and that intuition did evolve because tolerating free riders is a low-fitness strategy. Saying that they “think” they care about the immorality but “really” care about the superior outcome is misleading at best. If nonreproductive sex can be an important human value, so can punishing wrongdoers.

            The other problem with your post is that you keep saying that the outcomes our morality evolved to lead to are “utilitarian”.

            lolno

        • Salem says:

          Poverty != sin.

      • Viliam says:

        It seems to me that people who are poor because they suffer some kind of disadvantage, such as a disability or similar, that stops them from working, deserve transfers enormously more than people who could work but rationally choose not to in light of welfare.

        The frequent problem in real life is: who decides whether you suffer enough disadvantage to be classified as disabled? It is a continuous scale, so someone draws a line at X, and if you have health problems X, you are entitled to government support, but if you have health problems 0.99 X, you are just a lazy parasite who wants to abuse the system.

        So, could we make multiple disability levels? Well, my country has that, and it doesn’t make things any better. You can get diagnosed as “fully disabled” or “partially disabled”. If you are “fully disabled”, you get enough money to survive. But if you are “partially disabled”, you don’t get enough money to survive, because it is assumed that you could find some easy, part-time job. The problem is, as soon as you find an easy part-timy job and make some money, you lose a part of the government support, maybe not exactly in 1:1 ratio, but ultimately, to get enough money to survive, you have to make as much that you are not entitled to the support. So, being classified as “partially disabled” in real life means that you either don’t get any government support, or you get some government support and some support from your family. In other words, people who need support most (because they don’t have a family to support them) actually get less.

        Etc. The idea is, as long as the government decides who “deserves” help and who does not, there will be many people fucked by this process; genuinely having problems, but not being classified as having problems by the system.

        Also, think about all the perverse incentives to slightly damage your health so you finally get from 0.99 X to 1.00 X, and now you finally “deserve” support. Or rather, punishing people for trying to fix their health, when they merely succeed to get from 1.00 X to 0.99 X. — This is the part I hate most; when people are punished for trying to improve their own situation but failing to improve it sufficiently.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Additionally, the cost of a bureaucracy intended to figure out who is disabled and how disabled they are is not insignificant. It also introduces more and more of a human element into it: someone has to decide, and the decisions they make could be biased by everything from their prejudices about a given applicant to whether or not they’re having a bad day.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ dndnrsn
          “Additionally, the cost of a bureaucracy intended to figure out who is disabled and how disabled they are is not insignificant.”

          When the help is cash, yes. But a ‘free to everyone’ national health system like NZ’s is self-limiting: no one, however poor or crippled, gets an unrelated treatment that their health doesn’t need. It’s like giving out free local bus tickets; people who have their own cars won’t use the tickets anyway.

          Some US food banks work this way too. Anyone can come in and get food, but people who can afford, and can reach, fancier stores usually don’t come in.

          Legalizing sleeping under bridges, is not likely to make the bridge space overcrowded by rich people.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ Anonymouse
      “we are rich enough to guarantee basic living standards for everyone and basic income is just so much better way to do it than the current maze of various assistance programs and unemployment benefits.”

      It all seems to be hypothetical now, but just in general, I think (US here) that a UBI system would still want something single-payer, free to patient, for health care. You can’t average everyone’s health needs and give everyone X amount, because people’s health needs are so different.

      The great thing would be to get rid of the bureaucratic overhead of deciding which individuals qualifiy for stuff, checking their records, etc.

    • >so much better way to do it than the current maze of various assistance programs and unemployment benefits

      I’d bet that maze will be kept anyway, since it offers government jobs to a lot of college educated people.

      A disincentive to work while a commitment to such levels of future spending sounds also like a recipe for bankruptcy to me.

      I hope you have at least the good sense to not offer it to non-citizens, in order to keep the opportunistic “asylum seekers” out. However, EU rules do not allow discrimination against EU citizens, so make sure not to advertise the basic income in the Bulgarian language much.

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        A disincentive to work while a commitment to such levels of future spending sounds also like a recipe for bankruptcy to me.

        Current Finnish social security schemes already disincentivize work, as there’s an unfortunate tendency for them to effectively reduce your benefits on a 1:1 basis for each extra euro that you earn from work, and also requiring a hassle of paperwork that you need to file for any work that you do. That it’d reduce the disincentives for work is probably one of the greatest selling points for the UBI, since it’d both mean that working was always profitable, and by virtue of being automatic, would eliminate any uncertainty about whether you’ll stop qualifying for benefits if you take some particular job.

  65. Kaj Sotala says:

    The basic income article is on the optimistic side. Only an initial trial has currently been planned, not a full-scale roll-out. Also not sure where they got that 800 euro figure from – as the article itself states, the proposal hasn’t been finished yet.

    An earlier news article about it.

  66. daronson says:

    Very skeptical on the entanglement = space-time issue. This makes about as much sense mathematically as saying, “addition = multiplication”. In certain contexts this isn’t totally false. For example, 1.000042 * 1.000017 = 1.000059 with very high precision (59 = 42 + 17 for the lazy). When you are looking at different areas (or different geometries) of space-time, you are fundamentally doing something like multiplication. When you are trying to understand entanglement, what goes on is fundamentally like addition. In certain limiting cases like the above, the two might be similar. But in a number of cases where both are well-understood from the point of view of modern physics, there is no way that one can be explained by the other or vice versa without totally changing the “tame” part of modern theory that actually seems to work. (DISCLAIMER: I’m not a physicist)

    The interesting thing we might be able to say in this context that is not pseudo-science is specific to black holes, and reads “there is no way to understand the quantum mechanics in a black hole without using entanglement in a fundamental way”.

  67. PDV says:

    What the hell is up with that bar graph? “This is set equal to zero for ‘Mother working does not harm children'”?

    • Well, they have to pick something to set at zero, so evidently picked that as their example of something ideologically weighted but effectively established as fact. It wouldn’t have been my choice, but at least they were up front about it.

      (I would have picked something about evolution. Low-hanging fruit, maybe, but it’s the best example I could think of at the intersection of “controversial” and “scientifically unambiguous”.)

  68. Setsize says:

    I thought “[males] have more variability in their reproductive success” was supposed to be true for other than chromosomal reasons, and other than phenotypic-variability reasons. A male bird might fertilize many females, or none, while a female is more often limited by the number of eggs that can be grown in a season.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yeah, that’s the evolutionary reason I mention but which doesn’t seem to have been borne out.

      • stillnotking says:

        From their chart, it looks like humans show a greater variability increase in the heterogametic sex than birds do, so selection still might have a hand in things. (Hard to imagine how it couldn’t, really.)

        Still, this is a great object lesson about overlooking simple mechanical explanations in favor of complicated selection hypotheses.

      • Setsize says:

        I guess I missed why “reproductive variance explains phenotypic variance” was a hypothesis in the first place.

        • If you can get desirable characteristics at zero cost, everyone will have them—we are interested in the ones that not everyone has. It seems plausible that one cost of getting desirable characteristics is an increased risk of undesirable–think sports car vs sedan.

          The reproductive payoff to having a reproductively desirable characteristic is larger the larger the variance in reproductive outcomes. A very successful male can have a harem of females producing offspring for him. A very successful female is still limited to the offspring she herself can produce. So trying for a desirable characteristic at the risk of getting an undesirable one makes more sense for males, so we would expect the variance in phenotypic characteristics to be greater for males.

          Does that answer your question?

          • baconbacon says:

            This model works well if there is no female selection of mates. In lions (if the discovery channel taught me anything) males basically fight for control of a pride/territory and then females submit sexually to the winners. In this case a high variance strategy is directly selected for in males. If the female has some choice in a mate then the result is murky. A male killing off other males is a risk to related genes (brothers/offspring) and if those males are also contributing to the group (hunting/defense) it is even worse. Sure if the male kills all other suitors then females have no choice (but that makes the strategy even riskier for the male) and up till that point females might shun those males.

            In short there is probably a bell curve of risky behavior for males when females have some choice in the matter. To much risk and one tail becomes fatter than the other.

          • Anonymous says:

            @baconbacon

            I think the risk being referred to is on the genetic level, not the behavior level. If the mating pattern is one in which most females mate with the best few males – which would be the case if, e.g., the male makes no contribution to his offspring beyond genetic information – then genes which produce some very desirable and some very undesirable males are more likely to be propagated than genes which guarantee moderately desirable males. This is entirely congruous with female selection of mates.

          • baconbacon says:

            “The reproductive payoff to having a reproductively desirable characteristic is larger the larger the variance in reproductive outcomes. A very successful male can have a harem of females producing offspring for him. A very successful female is still limited to the offspring she herself can produce.”

            This view is only true when looking at a single generation, but high variance strategies are more likely to see their frequency go to zero than conservative strategies. You need an unbroken line across millennia to maintain a presence. One single generation of heavy selection against high variance strategies can lead to a near 100% dominance by conservative strategies.

          • Tibor says:

            @baconbacon I don’t think this works even if the females have a say in the choice of their mate. The male simply does whatever he does to maximize the average number of offspring. If you have fewer offspring and a chance of each of offspring to also reproduce (so you play it safe), you end up with a lower average number of offspring across all the generations. Assume the following wrong* simple model: Everyone’s offspring is an identical copy of you and there are no sexes. Everyone also has a positive probability of having no offspring in a generation and also a positive probability of having more than one offspring (otherwise it is not a very useful model for obvious reasons). Then the distribution of your offspring does not matter. If you likely die without offspring but have a high expected number of offspring due to also having a slim chance for a large number of offspring you are better off than if you are careful and less likely to die without any offspring while having a lower average. To be precise, if [i]m[/i] is the mean number of offspring you have then the the expected number of offspring after [i]k[/i] generations is [i](m^(k+1)-1)/(m-1)[/i]** which is higher for higher [i]m[/i]. Now, your actual offspring are not your exact copies, most importantly, some are female. It is also important that the success of your offspring is independent of each other, which is also not true. The different sexes are not really a big problem, the independence could be, but I guess that at least in animals other than humans, the dependence is not very strong. Having a successful brother in terms of procreation, but that of course correlates with high status, can improve your chances of finding a partner as well because you get to share some of that status yourself. Also, your kids do not have equal chances, some have better genes than others, but this should not improve the chances of the more cautious individual (a possible problem might be that maximizing the number of offspring at a generation might not maximize the procreating quality of that offspring and so your average might go down in time – this might be basically your argument as for that to happen you need the high quality females to choose the males who do not maximize their immediate offspring average…it is not clear why they would do so however since choosing the average maximizers would maximize their long-term average as well)

            * All models are wrong, some are useful

            ** unless [i]m[/i] is 1, in which case it is [i]k+1[/i]

    • Anonymous says:

      That’s the just so story that surprise, surprise didn’t hold up.

  69. Vulture says:

    *known* polyhedra

  70. Setsize says:

    A blind patient with dissociative identity disorder recovers some useful vision via some kind of therapy. But only certain personalities regained vision. This was confirmed using behavioral threshold measurements. This was also confirmed using EEG measurements. When presenting some personalities, a flash of light evokes the expected electrical response at the latency matching primary visual cortex; in another personality there is no electrical response. The patient could be switched between personality states by name, which was convenient for data collection. Eye tracking devices and other observers confirmed that the patient had their eyes open and pointing forward for the test stimuli.)

    The primary visual cortex that generates the evoked potential they’re looking at is an area where responses are mainly driven by input, with relatively little influence of attention or consciousness; in other words one can’t will off the responses in this area. So the inference is, whatever is turning the visual responses on or off has to be at an earlier stage than that even; perhaps something in the thalamus is responsible for both the blindness and the DID.

  71. re: overperformance of blacks in mostly-black schools, reminds me of the recently discussed greater (negative) response of *male* blacks (than female) to low-SES neighborhoods.

    part of an explanation: socially, whoever’s white+asian in such a more-black school has fewer ‘weirdness points’ they can spend on visibly nerdy study-tryhard (and this hits boys harder?), if they want a comfortable place in the social order. you also have the more competent families in such situations fleeing (for this and other social reasons).

    th