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How Bad Are Things?

One “advantage” of working in psychiatry is getting a window into an otherwise invisible world of really miserable people.

I work in a wealthy, mostly-white college town consistently ranked one of the best places to live in the country. If there’s anywhere that you might dare hope wasn’t filled to the brim with people living hopeless lives, it would be here. But that hope is not realized. Every day I get to listen to people describe problems that would seem overwrought if they were in a novel, and made-up if they were in a thinkpiece on The Fragmentation Of American Society.

A perfectly average patient will be a 70 year old woman who used to live somewhere else but who moved her a few years ago after her husband died in order to be closer to family. She has some medical condition or other that prevents her from driving or walking around much, and the family she wanted to be closer to have their own issues, so she has no friends within five hundred miles and never leaves her house except to go to doctors’ appointments. She has one son, who is in jail, and one daughter, who married a drug addict. She also has one grandchild, her only remaining joy in the world – but her drug-addict son-in-law uses access to him as a bargaining chip to make her give him money from her rapidly-dwindling retirement account so he can buy drugs. When she can’t cough up enough quickly enough, he bans her from visiting or talking to the grandchild, plus he tells the grandchild it’s her fault. Her retirement savings are rapidly running out and she has no idea what she will do when they’re gone. Probably end up on the street. Also, her dog just died.

If my patients were to read the above paragraph, there are a handful who would sue me for breach of confidentiality, assuming I had just written down their medical history and gotten a couple of details like the number of children wrong. I didn’t. This is a type.

Here’s another. 60 year old guy who was abused as a child, still has visible scars. Ran off at age 15, got a job in a factory, married let’s say a waitress. There was some kind of explosion in his factory, he got PTSD, now he freaks out every time he steps within a hundred meters of a place where manufacturing is going on. Gradually stopped going outside because there were too many scary loud noises, his wife started yelling at him and telling him he was useless, he started beating his wife, put in jail for a year or two for domestic violence, came out, by this point his wife has run off with another man and took everything he owned with her. Moved in with an abusive uncle who is 80 years old and hates his guts, but the uncle needed a caretaker and the guy needed a place to live and they were each other’s only affordable option. Currently lives off disability payments, but the government keeps trying to cut them off, and he keeps having to spend what little he has on a lawyer to prevent them from taking even that away, but half the time he doesn’t make it to his lawyer appointments because he’s too nervous about going outside. Also he has chronic pain. Also he only sleeps two hours a night because of the nightmares, and he’s tired all the time.

(“You have the pill that fixes all of this, right, Doctor? The one they advertised on TV?”)

A while ago I wrote about how strongly we filter for people who are like us intellectually and politically:

According to Gallup polls, about 46% of Americans are creationists. Not just in the sense of believing God helped guide evolution. I mean they think evolution is a vile atheist lie and God created humans exactly as they exist right now. That’s half the country.

And I don’t have a single one of those people in my social circle. It’s not because I’m deliberately avoiding them; I’m pretty live-and-let-live politically, I wouldn’t ostracize someone just for some weird beliefs. And yet, even though I probably know about a hundred fifty people, I am pretty confident that not one of them is creationist. Odds of this happening by chance? 1/2^150 = 1/10^45 = approximately the chance of picking a particular atom if you are randomly selecting among all the atoms on Earth.

About forty percent of Americans want to ban gay marriage. I think if I really stretch it, maybe ten of my top hundred fifty friends might fall into this group. This is less astronomically unlikely; the odds are a mere one to one hundred quintillion against.

People like to talk about social bubbles, but that doesn’t even begin to cover one hundred quintillion. The only metaphor that seems really appropriate is a bizarre dark matter parallel universe.

Since starting working in psychiatry, I have realized that we also filter for misery. I think a big part of this is sorting by social class. But it’s in a more subtle way than you might think. That first patient, the 70 year old, might on paper have more than the median income if her dead husband’s pension is high enough. I could even imagine the second patient getting a decent payout from his factory and being financially in the clear for a while. It’s more complicated than that – something to do with being the sort of person who ends up in these sorts of situations.

I have three non-mutually exclusive theories for this:

1. The people who come to a psychiatrist are disproportionately the unhappiest and most disturbed. This is obviously true to some degree. But I got the same sort of people when I worked in general medicine and primary care. Even the people who come to a primary care doctor are going to be a little biased towards the sorts of conditions that produce or result from sickness, but people were still much worse off than I thought.

2. My ordinary life shields me from these people. I don’t live in an especially bad neighborhood, so I won’t meet the unhappiest people there. Unhappy people are really depressing, so their lives won’t be covered as much by newspapers and TV. And insofar as they stay in their homes all the time and never come out or talk to anyone else, that in itself is going to prevent me from meeting them.

3. Or maybe many of the people I know are in fact this unhappy, but they never tell anyone except their psychiatrist all of the pieces necessary to put their life story together.

If it were mostly (1), that would be pretty encouraging and mean I’m just biased toward seeing very unlucky people. If it were mostly (2) or (3), that would be pretty bad, and mean everyone else is biased toward not realizing how unlucky everybody else is.

So I made a short script based on the following information:

– About 1% of people are in prison at any given time
– About 2% of people are on probation, which can actually be really limiting and unpleasant
– About 1% of people are in nursing homes or hospices
– About 2% of people have dementia
– About 20% of people have chronic pain, though this varies widely with the exact survey question, but we are not talking minor aches here. About two-thirds of people with chronic pain describe it as “constant”, and half of people describe it as “unbearable and excruciating”.
– About 7% of people have depression in any given year
– About 2% of people are cognitively disabled aka mentally retarded
– About 1% of people are schizophrenic
– About 20% of people are on food stamps
– About 1% of people are wheelchair-bound
– About 7% of people are alcoholic
– About 0.5% of people are chronic heroin users
– About 5% of people are unemployed as per the official definition which includes only those looking for jobs
– About 3% of people are former workers now receiving disability payments
– About 1% of people experience domestic violence each year
– About 10% of people were sexually abused as children, many of whom are still working through the trauma.
– Difficult to get statistics, but possibly about 20% of people were physically abused as children, likewise.
– About 9% of people (male and female) have been raped during their lifetime, likewise.

These numbers might be inflated, since I took them from groups working on these problems and those groups have every incentive to make them sound as bad as possible. There’s also a really big problem where a lot of these are conditional upon one another – that is, a person in prison is not also in a nursing home, but a person who is unemployed is far more likely to be on food stamps. This will likely underestimate both the percent of people who have no problems at all, and the percent of people who have multiple problems at once.

Nevertheless, I ran the script twenty times to simulate twenty different people, and here’s what I got (NP stands for “no problems”):

01. Chronic pain
02. Alcoholic
03. Chronic pain
04. NP
05. NP
06. Sexually molested as a child + suffering from domestic violence
07. Unemployed
08. Alcoholic
09. NP
10. NP
11. NP
12. Abused as a child
13. NP
14. Chronic pain
15. NP
16. Abused as a child + unemployed
17. NP
18. Alcoholic + on food stamps
19. NP
20. Clinically depressed

If the two problems mentioned above haven’t totally thrown off the calculations, this makes me think Psychiatrist-Me is getting a much better window into reality than Normal-Person-Me.

And remember, this doesn’t count all of the problems that don’t fall into easily quantified categories, like “everyone hates them because they’re really ugly and annoying”. It doesn’t count things that I couldn’t find good statistics on, like “had a child die recently”. It doesn’t count things that I would have gotten in trouble for including, like “autistic” or “single mother”. It doesn’t count a lot of things. Consider that the first patient I mentioned – the homebound seventy year old with no friends who’s being extorted by her drug addict son-in-law – would appear on this list as “NP”.

The world is almost certainly a much worse place than any of us want to admit. And that’s before you’ve even left America.

This is part of why I get enraged whenever somebody on Tumblr says “People in Group X need to realize they have it really good”, or “You’re a Group X member, so stop pretending like you have real problems.” The town where I practice psychiatry is mostly white and mostly wealthy. That doesn’t save it. And whenever some online thinkpiece writer laughs about how good people in Group X have it and how hilarious it is that they sometimes complain about their lives, it never fails that I have just gotten home from treating a member of Group X who attempted suicide.

This is also why I am wary whenever people start boasting about how much better we’re doing than back in the bad old days. That precise statement seems to in fact be true. But people have a bad tendency to follow it up with “And so now most people have it pretty good”. I don’t think we have any idea how many people do or don’t have it pretty good. Nobody who hasn’t read polls would intuitively guess that 40-something percent of Americans are young-Earth creationists. How should they know how many people have it pretty good or not?

I think about all of the miserable people in my psychiatric clinic. Then I multiply by ten psychiatrists in my clinic. Then I multiply by ten similarly-sized clinics in my city. Then I multiply by a thousand such cities in the United States. Then I multiply by hundreds of countries in the world, and by that time my brain has mercifully stopped being able to visualize what that signifies.

This wasn’t supposed to be a Christmas post, but it took me longer than I expected to write, so here we are.

And this wasn’t supposed to be advocating any particular response, but I was recently asked to plug Giving What We Can’s pledge drive, and maybe one of the good responses to realizing how awful things are is committing to donate a little bit of what you’ve got to making them better.

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992 Responses to How Bad Are Things?

  1. Since starting working in psychiatry, I have realized that we also filter for misery. I think a big part of this is sorting by social class.

  2. weaselword says:

    There is a compelling argument that negative life events are not independent, as presented in “Social Conditions as Fundamental Causes of Disease” article:

    https://campus.fsu.edu/bbcswebdav/institution/academic/social_sciences/sociology/Reading%20Lists/Mental%20Health%20Readings/Link-HealthSocial-1995.pdf

    The authors argue that social conditions interact with negative life events (disease, losing a job or a loved one, etc.), sometimes causally, sometimes reverse-causally, but the spiral tends to draw forth other negative events, so “when it rains it pours”, consistent with your observations of patients who are walking clouds of misery.

    This recent article in the Atlantic, “Hollowed out”, describes why we don’t tend to meet such people: walking clouds of misery tend to be very, very lonely, and lack all sorts of social support.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/01/white-working-class-poverty/424341/

  3. BarryG says:

    If you want to shift upwards in happiness, read books by Albert Ellis, one of the creators of cognitive therapy. A new guide to rational living is one of his key books and one of the few self-help books that is based on sound principles and works.

  4. BarryG says:

    It’s BS, most people, most of the time are tonically OK to happy. A large percent (hey, half are below average) are fairly stupid and bad choices accumulate and influence bad health etc leading to bad consequences.

    My father is 98, all there mentally, kept himself busy, hobbies, interests. This last year had an accumulation of health problems so that one year ago he was walking and playing ping pong, and now he shuffles with a walker. He’s not happy about that. Do I count his life therefore as “unhappy”. No, it was pretty damn happy until the last 1% and he still has many intellectual enjoyments. I think that is one of the big separators? Do you have intellectual enjoyments and pursuits? Those you can keep at, the rest of things fall away.

  5. Michelle Hutchinson says:

    Thank you, this is really interesting.

  6. amy says:

    Yes: people are miserable. Often quite desperately miserable. The older they get, too, the more responsibilities and life/physical malfunctions they’re likely to have accumulated, and the less help they’re likely to have, both because older, better-off people have died, and because the people they know are also likely to be miserable, in pain, in some degree of financial ruin, and overburdened. Welcome to America, the goldene medina.

    The big question for me has long been who all these NP people are. How does this happen? Really, your family was nice, you got married and it was nice, you had nice smart healthy children, you’re in good health, you don’t know what suicidal depression is, you wouldn’t know from alcoholism, you have work you enjoy and it pays you enough to be comfortable and happy? And you’re 50?

    That said, it occurs to me that you’re taking the “you have no problems” line a bit literally, and that we’re still stuck on the nonsense that went around on Shtetl-Optimized last winter, with the failure to recognize that some “bad off” is a hell of a lot worse than other “bad off”, and that this matters. Not that rich people, or white people, or any other group X of people have *no* problems, but that the problems they do have are mitigated like crazy by the sound things in their lives, and that this fortune is not shared by all. In the unfortunate parlance, that privilege exists, and that it figures. As I think I said back then: I’m a single mother, a condition that apparently rates with, let’s see, clinical depression, autism, unemployment, and a bunch of other lovely things. (Maybe it does while your children are teenagers, depending on what their father’s like.) This is a difficult and grueling thing, and it doesn’t help that my kid’s father is a lying ass and my own parents are poster children for Boomer self-absorption. But I’m also a physically healthy and reasonably sane single mother of a smart, healthy kid; I’m white and overeducated and employed meaningfully in one of the last remaining stable places of employment in the country, with nice benefits and miles of vacation time and an understanding boss; I have enough money and property to send the kid to, at a minimum, a state university, and retire someday and live decently. The bow on Christmas this year is the news that a paper I helped with, and am happy and proud to have been part of, will indeed run in Science.

    My big problems at the moment: I’m too busy and obligated to do the work that matters most to me, or rest much, or exercise or see friends often enough, and will have to wait another few years before I can, so to speak, come back to life; I have plantar fasciitis that’s finally gotten bad enough that I’ll have to go to physical therapy and am probably done with running for a long time (makes no difference in my work, since I can do most of it on my head in my pajamas if I want); my kid is months away from her bat mitzvah and it turns out they really haven’t done much in a bazillion years of Hebrew school, and me, the atheist, I’ll be schlepping her through the training and stories and thinking and arguing because while I don’t care whether she has a bat mitzvah or not, if she’s going to have one, I’m damned if she’s going to get up there and make a lot of meaningless noises and then have a party for doing that. These are my big problems. Oh, and how to break it to my parents that they’re not invited because they suck, which will, mostly, leave them relieved that they don’t have to take a trip to a place without a beach.

    I do not know from caring for an autistic child — not the everyday experience, not the continuous underlying dread of knowing that the work will not end for me till I’m dead, that child will always be helpless, and that after I’m gone no one is likely to care enough. I don’t know fear of a drug-addicted ex, or public housing, or the wrecking ball of prejudice that black single mothers with the wrong speaking voice get slammed by daily. I don’t know anything about trying to get a kid through without having been to college myself. Or having to go home with a child and live in a room with her while my mother is the real mother in the house. I am not generally afraid that I’ll put a foot wrong with the school principal and have police showing up at my house. My daughter has never witnessed one adult beating another. Nobody comes into my house unless I want them there, and I know where we will live this year, next year, until she’s grown. I don’t even have to deal with a terrible flaky ex-husband’s girlfriend.

    So when one of those mothers tells me I have it good and that I don’t know what I’ve got and all the rest — they’re right. They’re absolutely right. Next to them, I do not have real problems, and haven’t had for a few years now. (Before my daughter was old enough to get herself home from school and stay on her own for a while, we had real problems, because I couldn’t get enough freelance work to get us by. Now it’s safe for me to be at work when she gets out of school, and she has activities and whatnot anyway, because we live in a nice place with a well-funded school district.) When one of them is talking, I shut up and am embarrassed by my relative privilege, and think about where the line is: at what point can I afford not just my life and what it takes to raise my own daughter, but to help.

  7. Aasha says:

    . Either you have felt miserable at some point in your life or you could imagine that you could be miserable given certain circumstances. I recommend that if someone is feeling these feelings they should choose a therapist or phsychiatrist who can own and acknowledge their own miserable feelings. Often people in these professions project their issues onto others when they themselves could stand to connect to these aspects of their humanity. Feelings and experiences are a part of the human condition regardless of what socioeconomic group you belong to or neighborhood you live in.

  8. Shakespeare'sDebtor says:

    Ask what is human life—the sage replies,
    With disappointment, low’ring in his eyes,
    “A painful passage o’er a restless flood,
    A vain pursuit of fugitive false good,
    A sense of fancied bliss and heartfelt care,
    Closing at last in darkness and despair.”
    —William Cowper

  9. Peter says:

    Things really were better in the 1950s. Those who deny this are ideologues. Sure, some things have gotten better. But before you start repeating the word ‘racism’ over and over note that in many respects blacks were doing much better in the 1950s e.g. family integrity, crime and incarceration, drugs, etc. We need to reflect on the fact that ‘single mother’ is a prohibited term of analysis according to the author. As if it made no difference to quality of life for children (and mothers) whether they had two parents. What is this world coming to? Many of our problems result from listening to “social scientists.” Time to change course.

    • amy says:

      Actually when the mothers have reasonably well-paid part-time salaried work that allows for parenthood, and good state childcare — the sort of thing that’s ordinary in Europe, and extremely difficult to find in the US — things are pretty good for both the mothers and the children. It’s poverty and the cult of the ideal worker that make the problems, not whether the parents live in one place or two.

  10. richard40 says:

    I suspect your simulation underestimated the number of people with no problems, because as you stated in your caveat these problems may tend to help cause each other, and thus are more likely to occur in clusters than individually. I also suspect there are people with weak coping personalities, who tend to be more prone to have problems, and thus more likely to have each of the problems listed, while people with stronger personalities would be more likely to avoid those problems. You could verify that possibility by matching your simulation against the actual data, where the actual data also includes figures on the likelihood of multiple problems, not just one,and also has figures on how many have none of those problems.
    If you find that your simulation underestimated those with multiple problems, and also underestimated those with none, I have a way to fix that. I suspect you did your simulation by just running a probability check on each problem to assign it, and if a person missed all those hits they were NP. How about a simple alteration. Before the run for each person, have an added 50-50 parameter assigning them as problem prone, or not problem prone. Then when you do the run bump up the likelihood of each problem for the problem prone by 50% (problem probability * 1.5), and halve it for the non problem prone (problem probability * .5). I suspect this would produce the same numbers for each problem (.5*1.5+.5*.5), but make it more likely they are clustered, and also more likely people will get through with NP. If you want more variety in the effect, have 3 classes, problem prone (.33*1.5), average (.33*1.0), or not problem prone (.33*.5). If you want to enhance the clustering and NP effect, change 1.5 to 1.75 for the problem prone, and .5 to .25 for the non problem prone.

  11. Larry says:

    Let’s put this up against the decreasing lifespan of US Caucasians and wonder whether her caseload is racially skewed. It also may be gender skewed. Men are quickly losing their position, role and raison d’etre. Might that be a factor (in both)?

    • amy says:

      Larry – possibly men could grow some imagination about this. Women have learned to be quite flexible about it. No kidding, it makes for happier people.

  12. Dr jon says:

    One other thing, which perhaps the author doesn’t realize is ho w much we tend to think that people who say nothing agree with us. The majority of young earth creationists keep their views pretty much to themselves when around people like the author, since he thinks their views are evidence of a lack of intellectual sophistication or knowledge, and he communicates that pretty effectively. I suspect about 40% of his friends are young earth creationists. The number might be somewhat less, as in my observation they are much more common in the physical sciences and Engineering than in Healthcare and the social sciences. But it is pretty unlikely that they number fewer than maybe 25% of his social circle.

    In the same way, most people who have experienced the sort of life events he is writing about don’t talk about them to very many people. I don’t. If I met the author socially, I would go to some pains to avoid telling him about those things.

    So be kind. People have hard lives.

    Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share it’s joy. – Proverbs 14:10

  13. Dr jon says:

    People’s lives are hard. We live in a fallen world – things are not the way they should be. While the American middle class can often afford to hide their difficulties – partly because they are relatively isolated – their lives can be hard. You need to get to know people to find out how difficult things are.

    So let us be kind, even to people who appear foolish or selfish or ungrateful. God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked, and directs those He blesses to be kind to them also.

  14. Peter Martin says:

    Great Piece Dr. Anderson! A lot of problems stem from lack of income/money. Some problems can’t be fixed but with some extra money just to survive, society may reduce some of the worse situations. Please visit the WGO website noted above (“www.i-globals.org”) for an alternative to the status quo. I will gladly answer all your questions. Best wishes for 2016.

  15. Tom says:

    I wonder, what fraction of these groups overlap? I can certainly see that if I were in some of these groups (chronic pain, depressed, abused, etc) I would probably be a lot more likely to put myself in other groups (drug abuser, probation/prison, unemployed, etc).

    Your simulation is interesting, but it assumes that (except for a couple of exclusive ones, like prison) they’re independent factors. But your own examples of “types” show people with several of these problems together.

    Instead of 11 people with these troubles out of 20, maybe it’s 6 people with the same number of troubles. No one type of trouble is shared by more than 3 people in your simulation, and there’s 14 troubles total, so there’s quite a spread of possible distributions with the same average.

  16. Jimmy Hartzell says:

    I’m sure you know plenty of 6-day, young-earth creationists. It probably just hasn’t come up in conversation with them.

  17. Jay Elink says:

    “According to Gallup polls, about 46% of Americans are creationists. … And I don’t have a single one of those people in my social circle. … Odds of this happening by chance? 1/2^150 = 1/10^45 = approximately the chance of picking a particular atom if you are randomly selecting among all the atoms on Earth.”

    What bullshit.

    Film critic Pauline Kael of the NYT said “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”

    IOW just because YOU don’t KNOW anyone who believes/voted for X it’s not that the “odds are 1 to the 100th power that YOU live in a special universe, it’s just that YOU don’t know the same people or YOU didn’t bother to ask everyone you know , or…… YOU know very few people.

    If half the people in America are liberals, and I don’t know any of them, what the hell does that prove?

    And, to get to the guts of it, what about the bizarre beliefs of Bernie Sanders supporters, who believe in “Scientific Socialism”???? I don’t happen to know any such people, but the next town over from mine is filled with zealous progressives. What are the odds of that????

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      You misunderstood. The odds are low that it happened by chance, but he goes on to explain that it is not chance.

  18. lwfoiohpk says:

    “According to Gallup polls, about 46% of Americans are creationists. … And I don’t have a single one of those people in my social circle. … Odds of this happening by chance? 1/2^150 = 1/10^45 = approximately the chance of picking a particular atom if you are randomly selecting among all the atoms on Earth.”

    The odds that the universe arose naturally are even greater.

    http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-fine-tuning-of-universe-to-one-part.html

    In fact the multiverse theory predicts large universes are much less probable than small ones, so under mainstream physics, it is much more likely that our universe consists of just our Sun and the planets and is 6000 years old and everything else is an illusion. Scientists don’t take their own theories seriously when they contradict their philosophical beliefs.

    http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2015/04/video-guillermo-gonzalez-on-fine-tuning.html

    More here:
    http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/p/62014-contents-evidence-for-afterlife.html#articles_by_subject_id

  19. William O. B'Livion says:

    A couple weeks ago my Martial Arts instructor was whining about his shoulder not being quite right. He said “I have no idea why this is”.

    I, being a medical doctor[1] informed him that it was due to his grey hair.

    I have arthritis in both my big toes.

    I have had chronic knee pain since around 1985. Comes and goes *a bit* (quitting smoking saw the biggest improvement, along with deadlifts and squats).

    I have had sciatica, and it comes and goes.

    I have a patch of kevlar in my abdomen from a hernia repair. There is a scar trapped in the nerve tissue and my more-than-occasional inability to push myself away from the table fast enough causes pulling at the corners where it’s tacked in.

    I had my C6-C7 vertebra fused, and there’s still some angles at which my fingers go numb.

    I am farsighted (+4 diopter correction), and have presbyopia, which means that my arms are getting shorter and shorter.

    Oh, and I’m bald as hell.

    But I didn’t wake up like this https://fivethousanddrones.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/20120323-064701.jpg or like this https://www.flickr.com/photos/toribear5/56880077

    I kept that first one on my desktop when I worked in Iraq as a reminder that no, my life wasn’t bad AT ALL.

    Most of my generation has NO IDEA what this is http://cdn.wonderfulengineering.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/iron-lung2.png or knows anyone who needed one.

    No one in my daughters generation (either one) will either.

    I have reasonably clean water, a reasonably clean food supply.

    Even without the best paying job I’ve had since the last time I worked in a war zone (still had hot running water. Sometimes no cold, but we always had hot).

    So yeah, I hurt. I can’t run marathons, can’t turn my head far enough to get good at Archery. Hell, I’m almost 50 years old and *lived* my life. So yeah, I’m going to hurt.

    But I live in a country where I can get 500 caps of Ibuprofen for less than half an hour’s wages.

    I have *NO* grounds for whining or complaining.

    So put me in the NP category.

    The thing is that most of this stuff IS “relative”. The worst pain I’ve ever felt (either putting swab up my urethra for a VD test, or getting a steroid shot into my left big toe) isn’t a patch on a *good* day for Red Erwin during his recovery (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_E._Erwin)

    We in this country *do* have to realize that we have it good.

    Grandma with a druggie son-in-law? Just take a hit out on the junkie. Too rude? Call the cops, get him arrested before he rents the kid to someone as a sex toy, or just uses the kid himself.

    We all feel bad from time to time. We all (well, mostly all) take brutal hits.

    My mom has Parkinsons. A couple months ago she was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure.

    She’s going to *die*.

    Well, DUH, we’re ALL going to die. She’s just now got two big race cars lined up at the flag trying to beat each other to her finish line.

    In 2004 a good friend of mine was working in Iraq as a security contractor[2], and ran across some Iraqis who were living on edge of the road from Mosul to the Mosul Dam. They made their living selling off-brand sodas and cigarettes to people traveling up and down that road.

    Every day just before sun-up their sons would sneak out into the desert and hide for the day (when Saddam was in power) for fear of getting drafted.

    While my friend was there they were being preyed upon by a small band of “ali-babbas” who had bravely come into Iraq to help throw off the oppressor, but realized that that was just a painful form of suicide but couldn’t go home because they’d lose face. Or their head or something. It’s the middle east, one leads to the other sometimes.

    Anyway, these idiot bastards were stealing stuff from people who don’t have that much stuff to begin with.

    It would suck to live out there and get MS. Of course it doesn’t suck for *nearly* as long as getting it here in the US.

    So yeah, in one sense life in the US *DOES* suck for a lot of people. but it sucks in a decent apartment with utilities and cable TV. It would not improve by sucking in a third world country.

    Also it would suck a lot less if people understood that no, it probably wasn’t their fault they got shitty genes for neurotransmitter production, or that a random bullet hit someone they loved, but it’s still their *responsibility* to deal with it.

    And working on a problem is the first step to fixing it, or at least making it manageable.

    Oh, and utterly rude, crude and possibly triggering gallows humor:

    https://ifunny.co/tags/Charliesheen/1449264937

    [1] No, I am not.

    • Marc Whipple says:

      One often fruitful approach to dealing with people like Junkie Son is to give them a large amount of cash at once. They will sometimes either buy a bunch of drugs and OD or be robbed and killed by one of their associates. Not foolproof, but as close as you can get to trying to kill somebody without doing anything that will actually get you convicted of homicide.

  20. Doug Santo says:

    Things are not awful, things are generally good. Most people are not neurotic nuts, most people are generally normal, happy, and friendly. I thank God for my many blessings in life. I strive to be a good man, good neighbor, and good citizen. I ask nothing in return from anyone or any entity—public or private. I have few friends, but the ones I have I cherish. I cherish family.

    I am thankful that I have never had any desire to seek psychiatric help. I have always had the impression, rightly or wrongly, that folks who pursue psychiatry as a career may themselves be the ones most in need of such therapy.

    Go to the mountains and look. Get up early and see the sunrise. Stop anywhere and take a minute to look at the beauty of nature all around you. We are a small piece in the universe, but still a part. The plan is good. You are fine. You will succeed if you try hard enough. Everything you need spiritually is inside you and has always been there.

    Stop complaining.

    Doug Santo
    Pasadena, CA

  21. raven says:

    the obvious followup question is this-
    Just how happy are the creationists you are unaware of?

    The children of my “liberal” friends seem to have a lot more problems than the ones of my conservative friends. Not something I ever mention , of course. Just odd.

  22. How did the “greatest generation” survive the depression and WWII (and North Americans had a cakewalk compared to the horrors faced in Europe or Asia). Or the pioneers the hardships of the frontier? The people torn up in the Civil War (what a misnomer that is) or in the bonds of slavery. Life is suffering, what people have done through out history is transcend that suffering.

  23. shimrod says:

    “– About 0.5% of people are chronic heroin users”

    1 of every 200 people are chronic heroin users? CHRONIC? I don’t think 0.5% of the population has even once used heroin. Maybe 0.5% even knows someone who’s used heroin.

    I’ve read that one prerequisite for a career in psychiatry is that you have to be insane yourself. You’re not making a case against that theory….

  24. Life is what it is. It is not always fair. By and large there is the good, the bad and the ugly. I know people who fall into any of these categories. Some are lucky to be born in stable and well off families but their lives are not necessarily guaranteed to be uniformly great. And yet we see others who, as parents have lived hand to mouth and their off spring turn out to be virtually perfect. Very many lives are destroyed by self indulgence in alcohol, drugs, gambling, promiscuity etc. I am 82 years old and I don’t see only misery all around me, but I have seen plenty, both as a physician and otherwise. I would say I see that the majority of people I know are reasonably happy and well adjusted folks, but there are others who have minor, major or sometimes insurmountable problems.

  25. Matt C says:

    On the subject of “have you ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when you did not want to?”.

    I think if I had been raped by having a gun pointed at my head, or a knife held to my throat, I would answer that question yes. It is not precisely literally correct, but I would consider a threat to my life as a form of force.

    When you’re talking about grown men and adolescents, or even a big 15 year old and an adolescent, you don’t need the knife any more for there to be a threat to your life.

    It’s a good attempt, but I’m not sure this question is really all that cut and dried, if I imagine myself in the shoes of some of the (former) kids I know about.

  26. Mariani says:

    Just about everything you wrote lends credence to the idea that healthy families lead to stable societies with widespread well-being.

    Why is this idea considered an uncool conservative talking point, again?

    • Marc Whipple says:

      Because patriarchy.

    • anon says:

      The left loves healthy families, they just blame neoliberalism for destroying the blue collar jobs that let low IQ people form them, whereas the right blames social liberalism for destroying the social fabric that let low IQ people form them

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        porquenolosdos.gif

        • anon says:

          Because populist economic policy combined with social conservatism isn’t a mainstream political position here, although the erstwhile Perot candidacy, and more recently the rise of Trump, indicates that there’s at least an appetite for it.

      • Mariani says:

        The left seems to love the idea of replacing fathers with a government check and a social worker, and to redefine families to whatever New York Magazine thinks is cool.

        • Psmith says:

          Oh come on, man. I’m somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun most days, but this sort of partisan sniping isn’t what we do around here. Scott’s house, Scott’s rules. Plenty of other places where you can have fun throwing rocks if that’s what you fancy.

        • anon says:

          Okay, but if you get to cite tumblr as the modal leftist position then I get to cite the alt right guys who want to sterilize low IQ people as the mainstream conservative position, which makes them looks significantly less friendly to family values

          • Mariani says:

            But they aren’t tumblr positions. Subsidies that create bad incentives (single motherhood) exist in the USA. And remember that Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage?

            This isn’t fringe stuff.

          • Adam says:

            The problem here is you seem to think there is no difference whatsoever between ‘the left loves the idea of replacing fathers with a government check and a social worker’ and the existence of poverty assistance programs for single mothers. That is at the very least an extremely uncharitable reading of why the left supports subsidy programs that create bad incentives. That’s like saying whoever came up with the idea for health insurance wants you to go out and recklessly injure yourself.

      • Simon says:

        1. Left-wing paranoia – normative values and social cohesion are being undermined by Chicago School libertarian ideology.

        2. Right-wing paranoia – normative values and social cohesion are being undermined by Frankfurt School Marxist ideology.

        3. Far-Right paranoia – Chicago and Frankfurt are all in it together.

  27. liquidassets says:

    If you work in a wealthy town ranked as a “best place to live” you’d be naive not to think your town isn’t filled with unhappy people. Many of the most common mental disorders fit a U shaped curb and the wealthy are known to have higher rates of depression and anxiety than the middle class. Expectations are higher and therefore loss or sense of loss is very high. But from a business perspective, you’re in the right place. Folks with high rates of mental disorders and ability to pay.

    • Jay Elink says:

      Ah yes! The old Catholic answer to the poor: “Don’t be concerned that you live in poverty and misery! You are not fortunate in not being subject to the problems and temptations of the rich!

  28. Jay says:

    If an American complains about how poor he is, we can take that with a grain of salt. Unless he is really among the poorest of all Americans, he is probably still living better than 80% of the world or more. But trite as it may be to say, money doesn’t buy happiness. There are lots of people who have fancy cars and big houses but who are miserable because their marriage has fallen apart, or their children are drug addicts, or the doctor has just told them they have only a few months to live and they are afraid their might really be a Hell and they’re going there after all, etc. If my daughter was brutally raped, I can’t imagine I’d say, “That’s too bad, but I have this big screen TV so on the whole my life is good.” I used to regularly think that once I was able to buy X — a bigger house or a new computer toy or whatever — that wow, that would really make me happy. And I discovered that 9 times out of 10, when I bought X, I’d play with it for a few days … and then I’d put it on the shelf and never touch it again, because it wasn’t nearly as much fun as I’d imagined. Real happiness comes from things like love of family, a sense of purpose in life, and faith in God. And video games.

    • Petey says:

      “Real happiness comes from things like love of family, a sense of purpose in life, and faith in God. And video games.”

      What works for you, works for you.

      But again, going off the data showing Scandinavian nations consistently reporting higher life satisfaction than in the US, it’s almost as if universal healthcare, education, and welfare state policies have all kinds of downstream effects that actually make life notably more bearable for a large number of their citizens.

      Society can actually be set up to create conditions that allow fewer or more folks to experience more bearable lives.

      What works for them may or may not be not what works for you. But what counts is that more folks are able to have what works for them.

  29. Lord Koos says:

    Wanted to respond to a couple of comments — firstly, about Singapore, while their regulations may have institutionalized taking care of the elderly, it is an Asian cultural tradition to take care of aging family members, and to respect the elderly. You can see evidence of this in almost any East Asian country.

    Secondly to respond to the person who was doubtful about the 10% rate of sexual abuse — I’m pretty certain that the 10% figure is if anything, a conservative number. Let’s not put a happy face on humanity here — we humans are still animals, after all, with a fairly thin veneer of civilization ordering our behavior. Incidents of child sexual abuse, spousal rape, and sex crimes in general are commonplace all over the world. Just anecdotally, out of women I dated when I was in my 20s, 30s, and 40s, at least 10% confided in me about their experiences with childhood sexual abuse and rape. And then you can try to guess how many people are ashamed to report these incidents. It is well known, for example, that a high percentage of rapes go unreported.

    As an American, I feel that citizens of my country are perhaps some of the unhappiest people in the world. I have visited countries where the average person is generally much poorer than most Americans (although perhaps with less debt) yet the average person seems happier, though they usually have much less material wealth. In so-called developing nations such as Jamaica and Thailand, while there is poverty and misery, you hear a lot more laughter and see bigger smiles than you do in America. Go holiday shopping here, everyone looks stressed and miserable…

    I’m in my mid 60s and have ended up fairly happy and very grateful for what I do have. I’m sure that is partially because I have managed to never work for a boss and have no kids. While I’m not very well off, I am debt free and have a little savings. I am lucky in that my father was able to save a lot of money during his lifetime and I have benefited somewhat from that. Neither my wife or myself have had children, but we do actively keep up friendships with younger people. I think for happiness in general, relationships are the most important thing. If you don’t get along with your family, make friends that become your family. Cut negative people out of your life, embrace the positive. Cultivate friendships with people who are from different generations. Humans evolved as tribes where all generations lived together in villages and cared for each other, and I think a lot of human suffering in the so-called first world is because we have strayed too far from that.

    I find it interesting that Adam posted above how his wife and he both have what are considered to be great jobs but are still unhappy. Being a hedge fund manager or a defense worker would be unthinkable for me — I’m not trying to pass judgement here, but I could never be happy working for the American war machine or managing money for the elite. While these kinds of jobs are high-status, high-paying, and socially approved, you wonder how many of the people that have them are satisfied with their lives. Happiness most definitely does not come from having a big house, new car, and a high income. On the other hand, it’s hard to be contented if you are poor to the point where life is a constant struggle.

    Finally, I think good percentage of the unhappiness (and anger) in the USA is because of the political direction the country has taken in the last 40 years. Our middle class has been trashed, the poor are becoming more desperate, while the wealthy have become measurably much, much wealthier. We have become an oligarchy, where the needs of the 99% are no longer a priority for our so-called leaders. It’s a recipe for social disaster.

    • Adam says:

      To be clear, I never said we were unhappy. She’s clinically depressed but that’s a medical condition. She’s been that way her entire life and it’s effectively controlled with medication. I suffer from some chronic pain, but that has nothing to do with happiness. I just played sports my entire life, was in the Army, and orthopedic injuries add up over time and eventually stop healing. It sucks, but I’ve adapted to a new life where my body doesn’t do much that is useful but I can still get by with my mind.

      Honestly, though, we do think about what you said with respect to our chosen lines of work. The thing is, they’re not completely ‘chosen.’ Neither of us comes from a wealthy background. The Naval Research Lab was the first place to offer her a job out of school, and she ended up with a top secret clearance out of it, and in many ways that’s a dead end, because you end up with an extremely specialized skill set and the inability to ever tell a prospective future employer what you actually did in your last job. She started doing this when she was 22, and it’s a career that is nearly impossible to get out of once you’re in.

      In my case, I got recruited while I was still in school, and it was a drastic career change because I had previously been an Army officer and decided to pursue technical work and went back to school for applied math and computer science. I was hurting for money, needed surgery, continually doubted I’d made the right decision, had no idea how to put together a technical resume when all of my prior work had been non-technical, and then lo and behold, a hedge fund contacts me and asks me if I’d like to work for them and is basically willing to give me just about anything I ask for, when I wasn’t even looking for a job yet. It’s pretty hard to say no to that.

      The ability to just follow what you love or do the most good in the world is a rich person’s game. It’s easy for someone like Scott to do that when he has his family to fall back on. When you come from nothing, and you’re at risk of permanently losing the use of a hand if you don’t get some money together quickly, you just say yes to whoever offers you the most money.

  30. Alex says:

    You know, when I was younger, I used to think that intelligence was the key to success in life. As I got older, however, I gradually realized that what is much more important is an ability I call *keeping your shit together*, or, to put a more elegant spin on it: the ability to analyze things dispassionately, cut your losses, and not let your emotions control you.

    Perhaps it supports your “self-selecting” theory, but most of my friends tend to be very successful. The interesting thing is that they don’t *start out* successful – in other words, I am not trying to make friends with successful people. One of my besties I met at age 17 – he had grown up in a refugee camp. Ended up on Wall Street and retired at 35. Another one started out as my roommate after his first divorce – when I moved in, he didn’t even have any furniture. We kept in touch after I moved out, and I eventually was the best man at his wedding to his current wife. Now he works for a top forty company making almost $150k per year and has a big house with two lovely children.

    The main commonality other than success is the trait that made me originally value them – the fact that they can understand their feelings, evaluate them clinically, and then put them aside and make a decision based purely on logic. This is what I feel separates the success stories from the failures. For example, your story about the elderly woman whose drug-using son holds her grandchild hostage is a classic example of a self-inflicted problem. Me and my girlfriend have already had conversations about what to do if we ever have a drug-using child together – we will cut them off entirely. Likewise, we plan to have multiple children for the sake of redundancy, so that if one child is defective due to genetics or simply a flawed character, we have backups. Similarly, alcoholism runs in my family. When a group of friend told me that I was drinking too much, it wasn’t the huge deal that your patients make it out to be – I simply stopped drinking cold turkey for a month and then modulated my drinking from that point on.

    All this may sound very cold and calculating, but you have to understand that we are very happy people, and we are on track to be very successful also. I sometimes wonder if this is some form of natural selection. In earlier epoques, people who freaked out and lost their shit under pressure would get lost in the woods, stabbed in knife-fights, or create other natural endpoints to their lineage. Now, they don’t die, but they destroy the stability of their own lives progressively more. This means that we will find increasingly more people in therapy as time goes on, as the people who would normally bump themselves off due to Darwinism end up sticking around thanks to the built-in protections of society.

    Obviously this is only a theory and there’s no way to test it, but I’m curious about whether you think the data correlates to this hypothesis.

    • Adam says:

      I’m sure the traits you identified matter in the people for whom you’ve identified them, but I just want to say my wife is an absolute basket case who panics and shuts down at the first sign of adversity. I’m one of the flakiest people you’ll ever meet, constantly growing bored with life and near intentionally starting over with nothing, maintaining almost zero friendships longer than a few years. Neither of us is the picture of stability or dispassionate decision-making. It takes a daily pill regimen for her to function at all and I’ve done so many stupid and reckless things that frankly, it’s largely luck I’m not in prison or dead right now.

      Nonetheless, we have a pretty nice house (several, in fact), she works on a classified defense program and I work for a hedge fund and we both make good money. To any outside observer, I’m sure we look about as ‘together’ as you do. The major thing we have going for us is we’re both very intelligent, not in the sense of making good life decisions but simply in the sense of having extremely high standardized test scores and being able to solve problems that few people can solve and that rich people are willing to pay us a lot of money to do.

      Of course, by Scott’s reckoning above, I guess we’re actually unfortunate, since she’s clinically depressed, I have chronic pain, we’re both alcoholics, and I guess I’ve technically been raped (a woman once had sex with me while I was sleeping, which I know because someone else witnessed it and told me, but I never pressed charges and don’t care).

  31. Petey says:

    I’ll just note how it’s funny that folks in the Scandinavian nations consistently report much higher life satisfaction than folks in the US.

    It’s almost as if universal healthcare, education, and welfare state policies have all kinds of downstream effects that actually make life notably more bearable for a large number of their citizens.

    One could even go so far as to assume that some more refined version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is in operation in nations that provide fundamental basics for their citizens, and thus allow them the freedom to achieve higher levels of satisfaction with their lives.

  32. Jay says:

    It’s interesting that the writer acknowledges the affinity bias — assuming that everyone else in the world thinks, feels, and acts just like you do, and gives as an example that absolutely zero of his friends are creationists even though polls show that 46% of Americans are. And then just a few paragraphs later he falls for this very error using the very same example: “Nobody who hasn’t read polls would intuitively guess that 40-something percent of Americans are young-Earth creationists.” I’d think that most of the 46% of Americans who are creationists would not be surprised by this poll result at all, and some number of Americans who are not themselves creationists probably know many people who are, and so wouldn’t find the poll results surprising. So it’s likely that well over half of Americans would say that this poll is exactly what they expect — but the author finds it baffling.

    • Adam says:

      I’m not sure he’s being completely honest with himself. Or maybe he’s just really good at restricting his experience of other people to only his friends. I’m reasonably certain no one I would currently call a ‘friend’ is a creationist, either, but I know for certain at least half my extended family is, as well as a large number of people I follow on Facebook because I went to middle school with them but haven’t talked to them in twenty years, or people I knew from the Army, where you pretty much have no choice but to work with and interact with people from all walks of life and can’t just pretend your ideological bedfellows are the only people who exist.

  33. Dr. MG says:

    As afellow psychiatrist, I know what you see on daily basis does make reality quite a horrific place at times. Having said this, we are also in a unique position to see people as whole entities, neither “all good” or “all bad” and this can be quite enlightening and even inspiring at times.

  34. Victoria says:

    You’re right, things are pretty bad for a lot of people. And there are reasons why, in average conversation, you won’t hear about this, or you hear “most peoples’ lives are pretty good”…

    The first reason is, no one wants to hear it. It’s the same reason why people ignore the homeless woman pushing a shopping cart through the streets – they would prefer to not know why she is in that state, mostly because (as many normal people might do) they then might feel compelled to help in some way. They might feel uncomfortable.

    Conversely, some people ignore people who are suffering and then, if pushed, blame the sufferer – because if that wasn’t the case, if it wasn’t somehow the sufferer’s fault, then wow someday that might be me out there! That would blow my “life is fair” mythology straight out of the water, and would make me feel vulnerable to losing everything. Too uncomfortable to think/feel that.

    It isn’t that there is more or less suffering, it’s that there is suffering at all. And it’s uncomfortable for the non-suffering to address this. It’s even more uncomfortable for the suffering to address it, because no one wants to hear, or people want to throw in their anecdotes of “welfare cheats”, “the undeserving”, and “people who brought it on themselves”, and who wants to sit there and argue the point that YOU are suffering, and YOU do not fit their preconceived biases, and can’t they just have a tiny bit of compassion towards ANYONE who is suffering?

    One cannot do that, because then one is accused of looking for a handout, being ungrateful for the food stamps and medical assistance one already has, and “being negative” (my favorite thing to be accused of, it’s so new agey and hip).

    I write a blog about what it’s like to be poor, disabled, and over 50, chronicling my life experiences with the mean-spirited people I encounter on a daily basis. You see, I am a former mental health therapist with a master’s degree in psychology, and I know what it’s like “on the other side of the desk”. But rarely do we professionals really know what day-to-day life is like for the poor and hurting, and since I am now in that class – and, as much as I want to get off disability, it’s unlikely anyone will hire me again – I am trying to educate people, to engender empathy (not for me, but for people like me), to get people to stop their stereotyped thinking.

    But people don’t want to hear/read it. Because it makes them too uncomfortable.

  35. Robert Chartier says:

    I’m going to turn 50 shortly. I’m married, somewhere in what is considered lower middle class. I have a job wherein I love the work, but hate my job. I get my bills paid every month, but just barely. We’re balanced precariously on the edge of ruin. Blow a tire unexpectedly, and I could have my power turned off. My wife and I have raised 2 children, and the youngest will be going off to college in the fall. We’re eyeball deep in debt, and I see no escape. so, basically, we’re normal.

    • Anomalous says:

      You’re living beyond your means. You should have scaled back your lifestyle enough to build up a rainy day fund.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        He should have chosen to be born to richer parents, too, while we’re castigating him for sunk costs.

        • Being born to different parents is not something we can expect someone of sound mind and body to do. Acquiring savings, even if it means scaling back portions of your lifestyle that you find really desirable, is.

          Of course, expectation or no, it’s not really useful to shout at people about their poor financial decisions unless they’re asking for very specific advice, but that doesn’t make said shouting untrue.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Deleting six characters from your prior post would turn it from what I was complaining about to what you just said. (Technically, five, but I hate double spaces.)

  36. Generally, I agree with your factual observations. However what I think you are leaving out is how some people respond to these problems(aka life). I have observed in myself and others that you don’t have to be a “loser” because of the actions of other people. Most of the problems you are talking about have always existed. They were just not as visible in the past as they are today. Still I fear for the country. In a real catastrophe natural or man made, the people you listed as examples would not fare very well. Contrast the response to “911” with Katrina. The country is reaching a tipping point. We are not there yet. But I am afraid we will be there soon.

  37. Jens Rantil says:

    Whoa! Thanks for a great article. I just skimmed the rather long discussion and thought I’d add a few comments and general remarks:

    First off, there’s a discussion about this article on Hacker News: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10799124

    The article states

    The world is almost certainly a much worse place than any of us want to admit. And that’s before you’ve even left America.

    This is a highly biased statement that seem to assume that everything outside of America is worse. I live in Sweden. It’s outside of America. We are generally ranked fairly high on happiness indexes. Usually above the US (if that’s what you mean by America).

    I appreciated that the use of references to back your assumptions in the article. That said, it’s interesting how many comments fall flat on the premise of the anecdotal fallacy and appeal to probability. That said, to quote George E. P. Box:

    Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.

    I think it’s a useful reemphasize this.

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      “The world is almost certainly a much worse place than any of us want to admit. And that’s before you’ve even left America.”

      This is a highly biased statement that seem to assume that everything outside of America is worse.

      That’s not how I read it. I think all Scott is trying to say here is that most places are worse than America, which is hard to argue with.

  38. Chris says:

    Guy discover America is not a Nation

  39. Dave says:

    Dude, you need a hug, it’s OK. Everything will be alright.

  40. gattsuru says:

    Someone may have already brought this up, but it’s worth pointing out that you live in Michigan, not far from an industrial center of the “Rust Belt”, and along one of the major (hard) drug trafficking corridors. This isn’t an argument against the data points you’ve observed, but it does give caution against generalizing them to the entire country (and countries without the US’s drug issues).

    The other issue is the distance between the listed events and misery. I’ve got a chronic painful illness often described as excruciating, and it’d be less miserable than the average bird. Being in a wheelchair isn’t fun, but many people can still live fulfilling lives. Of the unemployed, a large percent are transitioning between jobs in a way that doesn’t really hit the misery of long-term unemployment. Long-term unemployed folks on disability payments will almost always overlap with those on food stamps, but not everyone on foodstamps is in the same level of hell. Richard Dawkins was fondled as a child, and still (infamously) considers it less harmful than having been introduced to the concept of the Christian hell — and he’s only miserable to listen to.

  41. Deiseach says:

    While we’re on the cheerful topics of drugs, misery and psychiatry, has anyone done CBT and found it worked for them?

    I did an Official Online eight-week session which finished a couple of months ago, and my opinion of it is mixed. I think, for a certain kind of person, it would work. I don’t seem to be that kind of person. Not that it wasn’t helpful in some aspects, just that I didn’t take anything away that I could use day-to-day.

    Though the mood monitoring part of it helped me discover that bumping along on an average day-to-day 4/10 is the best for me; if I ever went as high as “Today is 6/10!” there was a resultant crash down to 3 or even 2/10 which took a while to get back up to 4/10. So that was something I didn’t previously know and now I do.

    As to the rest of it – not really.

    So – opinions, experience, evaluations?

    • Faradn says:

      Ozy’s critiques of CBT helped clarify some of the things I’d been thinking for awhile but wasn’t able to articulate. One thing with CBT is that it assumes your negative thoughts are incorrect and deluded. This can be very frustrating if you have evidence for your negative thoughts, and have already accounted for confirmation bias to the best of your ability. Ozy suggests DBT instead. DBT seems to be more along the lines of “things may or may not actually be terrible, but here are some techniques for dealing with your emotions.” I’m not sure DBT is right for everyone either though. It’s really hard to do without other people holding you accountable for practicing the skills. Anyway, I’d suggest looking at the DBT sequence at Thing of Things. It’s much more readable and engaging than the official material.

  42. Ian Random says:

    To anyone that doubts the 70 year old type at the top, my mom’s friend was like that. Her son was using again, so any gift from the grandmother was returned. So as to not cast any suspicion on the son’s drug use, the mother would take a picture of the kid in the clothes first. Years later my mom finally realized what was going on with her friend, because she’d complain that the kid was never in the clothes that she was buying.

  43. Surely you know the story of Wilhelm Reich; I have no way of knowing how likely you are to know the overlapping story of his contemporary, Magnus Hirschfeld?

    In both cases, what drove them into research into ordinary people’s problems (and in both cases, into research into sexual dysfunction) was that, in the wake of their loss in World War I, the new democratic government in Germany offered anybody who needed it free health care for a year. As psychologists running free clinics in a nation that had lost a war, Reich and Hirschfeld both expected to see a lot of soldiers with PTSD and a lot of civilians with depression, and they saw both of those … but both groups were outnumbered badly by ordinary people whose lives were miserable, and who hoped that, now that they could afford to see a psychologist, they were hoping for some help, or at least some comfort. The experience politicized both of them, both whom made it their life’s work (each in his own way) to try to persuade the world to /stop breaking people./

  44. Anonymous says:

    Your simulation seems to assume that the various mental/life problems are (mostly) independent events (in a probability-theoretic sense). I suspect that there actually exist causal relationships between them that may even be strong enough to invalidate conclusions drawn from it. Notice how you had to special-case some mutually exclusive problems in order to have your script’s output make sense at all.

    It might very well be the case that there is a sizeable fraction, maybe even a slight majority of relatively healthy people, there are some people with one or two problems, and then there are people who are so unlucky that you’d be thinking they should have committed suicide several times over already.

  45. onyomi says:

    I want to know why selection didn’t get rid of snoring: in a social animal that presumably values the safety of sleeping in numbers and without calling attention to oneself, a largeish percentage of them start making a loud, annoying noise as soon as they fall asleep.

    I feel like snoring disproves both evolution and the existence of a benevolent god.

    • Perhaps it helps keep the sentries awake? 🙂

      … or perhaps it’s a (relatively) modern phenomena?

      • onyomi says:

        Being overweight and/or old definitely seems to make it worse; probably most hunter-gatherers were neither. I still think it needs its own theodicy, though.

      • Jaskologist says:

        I’ve known animals (cats, dogs) to snore.

        Babies/small children also breathe loudly in their sleep, and I can even give you the telos for that one: it is so that parents don’t feel obligated to check to see if they’re still breathing.

    • CatCube says:

      I dunno. Once we started banding together in tribes, we could pretty much take on all lions, tigers, and bears that decided to fuck with us. Sleeping quietly probably became a lot less necessary.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ onyomi
      I feel like snoring disproves both evolution and the existence of a benevolent god.

      Sorry, but I wish people wouldn’t use ‘prove/disprove’ when they mean ‘is evidence for’. I know you know better, but think of the children.

  46. Brian Donohue says:

    I’ve decided to mentally replace “check your privilege” with the much nicer “count your blessings”, something I’ve always tried to do and which can benefit even those with serious problems. Perhaps a society in which half of members don’t suffer from any of the problems you identified isn’t doing so bad. Life really wasn’t so great in the good old days.

    I’m pretty much an NP on this list, although my wife and I lost a child 17 years ago. Prior to that, I really did live in a bubble with little appreciation for how fortunate I was, but, at a stroke, I looked at everyone around me and figured they had some private tragedy they were carrying around. The horrible experience sensitized me to this possibility at least.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’ve decided to mentally replace “check your privilege” with the much nicer “count your blessings”, something I’ve always tried to do and which can benefit even those with serious problems.

      Personally, I find it funnier to replace “privilege” with “superior phenotype” or the like.

  47. szopeno says:

    Just a sidenote to a discussion above about rapes in colleges: a very high percentage of males is sexually abused or raped in a college by women (1/5 to 1/3 of males):

    http://www.psmag.com/politics-and-law/women-sexually-assault-men-92099

  48. Natasha says:

    Re: the conditionality issue, one good place to measure the “comorbidity” of these various shitty conditions is the National Health Interview Survey [http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm], where you can find detailed health, demographic, and income data for a fairly representative sample of Americans. Unfortunately the survey excludes people in prisons, psychiatric institutions, and nursing homes, but from a brief review of the survey documentation, I found exact matches or decent proxies for all the items in the middle section of your list (dementia through disability payments).

    If I’m feeling inspired and have the time sometime over the next few days I may have a crack at doing a quick comorbidity analysis myself, and will be sure to report back if I do.

  49. BG says:

    A simple question: if things are so bad, why are so many people self-reporting relatively high levels of life satisfaction?

    In 2014, Americans reported a 7.2/10 on overall life satisfaction (note: excludes certain institutionalized populations, see: http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/life-satisfaction/) Do we really believe this reflects widespread, enormous social desirability bias or instead is a better theory that despite things being really bad, (a) people are often much more satisfied with their lives than we expect, (b) positive experiences are more readily available for recall in survey responses, (c) survey-inspired introspection leads to reweighing of experiences to reflect less biased weighing and a systematically more positive evaluation than we expect based on verbal expression of emotions, and/or (d) even for the elderly woman described, much of her life is on net satisfactory despite a few major things being terribly awry. Perhaps Scott simply sees these people at their worst!

    • I think we’re talking about the worst-off 5% or so, though I wouldn’t leave out the possibility that there are a good many people who aren’t likely to be answering surveys but who aren’t institutionalized.

    • onyomi says:

      I do wonder if maybe human happiness isn’t set point at around a subjective 7/10 and doesn’t really go a lot lower or higher than that unless things have recently changed for the better or worse.

      This, of course, is both reassuring with respect to the lives of the third-world poor–they are clearly not as subjectively unpleasant as we imagine if we imagine ourselves living them–but also discouraging with respect to the possibility of bringing everyone up to a 9 or 10: even movie stars seem often to be surprisingly miserable, perhaps because they have no obvious reason to blame for the fact that they still feel only 7/10 when everyone around expects they should be experiencing 10/10.

  50. TheNybbler says:

    Probably true that #2 is true most of us who are doing relatively well don’t have friends and acquaintances that meet these profiles. And probably a little of #3 and a large dose of #1. But I’ve known, or at least known by one remove (friends of the family) a few people who probably fit that first profile now (at the time I knew them, they just had problem children; the grandchildren were yet to come). Person at one remove who was a chronic alcoholic… more than one. I would guess male, alcoholic, often unemployed and in and out of jail for driving drunk on a suspended license is another such profile?

  51. Meh says:

    As long as Group X people don’t then berate others for sharing problems in *their* communities (black people being murdered by police, stalking and harassment of women, etc), no problem. Just because Group X believes it’s proper to keep quiet about their problems doesn’t mean others are wrong for speaking out.

    And it’s not that you necessarily said as much, but usually any time I encounter the “no real problems” rhetoric, it’s in response to Group Xers who have chided younger non-Group-Xers about their vocal-ness about certain issues.

    Secretly having problems gives no one license to demand silence of others.

  52. Sastan says:

    So, Scott noticed the vast amount of selection we put into not having severely dysfunctional people around.

    I’ll go ahead and cop to doing this to some degree consciously. I think it’s healthy, up to a point. We all have to make the judgement call on whether we think our continued involvement in another person’s life is worth the time, effort and cost. Some people are irretrievable. Some can be helped onto their feet. We all pick and choose.

    One friend of mine spiralled down after her brother died in Iraq. Drugs, bad friends, bad boyfriend, felony charges, things were tough. Her family and friends banded together, got her out, clean and back on her feet. It’s five years on, and she’s making a go of it. It was tough before that, but we’re all glad we stuck with it.

    Then I know of people who just hoovered up all their family’s patience, time and money, and left them broke and broken hearted. When was the time when there was enough evidence that more help wouldn’t improve anything? And are any of us cold enough to put our finger on it in the moment?

    My method has been to ruthlessly weed out sad sacks from my larger group of acquaintances. My friends and family have loyalty, but to get there, you need to not be a fuck-up. If you’re constantly whining about your fourth abusive partner in as many months, or about how “wasted” you’re getting on a weeknight when you’re thirty-seven, I’m going to let you slip right out of my life. No, we’re not getting coffee, no I will not approve your facebook request. No hard feelings.

    I have enough tragedy to deal with without finding more.

  53. Things are very bad. Processes are better.

  54. blacksqr says:

    An important message. Thanks for your compassion.

  55. Alaskanred says:

    Scott – I’d love for you to review the ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Event) study and the other large scale childhood studies related to these events. Some of this comment conversation got into the adult problems you mentioned, such as adult finances, number of children, putting yourself in bad situations, but your link to the childhood experiences is much more concerning. If truly 10-20% of children are sexually attacked, then this dwarfs nearly every problem I hear on American news or in the blogosphere.

    If true, we should drop nearly everything to figure out why.

    • Sastan says:

      Depends as always on the definitions, and people’s response to situations.

      Define it broadly enough, and I bet 100% of kids have been “sexually abused”. Define it narrowly enough, and you’ll find it’s not a big problem. Then factor in that it’s something almost impossible to prove did or did not happen when people claim it did years later. And that people who are severely dysfunctional have a large incentive to offload responsibility onto a sympathetic traumatic experience.

      Hard to look too closely at it without seeming like you’re re-victimizing traumatized kiddies. Same problem as the “campus rape crisis”.

  56. EveMatteo says:

    The fewer actual trials a person has, the more petty trials can look like horrific circumstances. The less adversity a person has experienced, the lower their bar for adversity is set. To a person who experienced physical abuse as a child, breaking a leg is no big deal. To a person whose worst childhood experience was not getting that one toy for Christmas, breaking a leg is End of The World terrible.

    I think there’s a couple forces at work here. There’s one part of our selves which looks for errors, so we can get better, or have better lives. There’s another side which seeks to mitigate all blame towards ourselves. When they work properly, they keep us balanced. When they work badly, the person has an issue. Sometimes, “it’s not my fault” turns into “there’s nothing I can do to make things better”. Sometimes, “it’s not my fault” turns into a god-complex. Sometimes, “I can be better” turns into “I’m a horrible person”. Sometimes, “It could be better” turns into entitlement.

    We need to be taught how to do anything else. Why are we expected to get the hang of how to grow emotionally without any help at all? Why are we expected to just know how to deal with loss, trauma, pain? My roommate was interpreting neutral faces as aggressive, and I was trying to point this out to her. I tried to pull up a faces chart to show her what I meant, and she goes “I’m not autistic!” Like only autistic people need to be taught how to read emotions.

    I understand, therapy and self-help books are there to teach people how to deal with these things. But if we weren’t expected to already know all this, there wouldn’t be such a stigma around trying to learn how. Instead, the only socially acceptable way to learn is religion. How crazy is that?

    • I wonder if this is true. This implies diminishing marginal harm of misfortune, where if I have been hit by five units of harm and you twenty, then the last unit of harm I suffered has reduced my happiness by more than the last unit of harm use suffered reduced your happiness.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Well, the function clearly isn’t linear. Think about 5 minor bad things happening over 2 months vs. in 1 week or 1 day.

        But, I believe it’s also fairly clear that there is a great deal of individual variance in the function.

      • Jeffrey Soreff says:

        I was under the impression that for e.g. repetitive head injury, each injury makes the effects of subsequent injuries worse.

        • God Damn John Jay says:

          I worked with a man who did Health and Safety for a manufacturing company. He would describe how employees would routinely dip their hands into turpentine which had minimal acute effects, but after sufficient use it destroyed their hands.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      The fewer actual trials a person has, the more petty trials can look like horrific circumstances. The less adversity a person has experienced, the lower their bar for adversity is set. To a person who experienced physical abuse as a child, breaking a leg is no big deal. To a person whose worst childhood experience was not getting that one toy for Christmas, breaking a leg is End of The World terrible.

      I suspect that that’s true. At any rate, it would explain why (e.g.) people in the past seem to have been in generally happy and well-adjusted, even though they had to cope with far more physical trials and discomforts than we do today. It would also explain why moderns seem far more preoccupied with the theological problem of suffering than ancients or mediaevals, even though (or perhaps because?) ancients and mediaevals generally had far more first-hand experience of suffering than the average modern does.

      ETA: Also, I guess it would fit in with the theory that political correctness is driven mainly by people not being used to disappointment or upset.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ The original Mr. X
        moderns seem far more preoccupied with the theological problem of suffering than ancients or mediaevals

        Now that the sub-thread is drifting toward the gravity well of theology … I’ll say that for me Evolution pretty much disqualifies the Jehovah/Allah type of creator, on moral grounds (though the reincarnational religions handle it somewhat better).

        • Anonymous says:

          What?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Anonymous
            What?

            ‘I want to create some humans. Okay, I’ll start with some primordial globule, send its descendants through many generations of suffering till finally they develop some humans.’ Even if we epicycle the human babies’ suffering to sin visited from Adam and Eve, that’s still pretty cruel to the pre-humans (who don’t even get a Heaven to make up for it*).

            In the Reincarnational religions, at least everyone (human, animal, plant, pre-) eventually works its way up through the levels to Nirvana (or whatever), with nice temporary heavens in between lifetimes.

            * According to C. S. Lewis’s _The Problem of Pain_, chapter on “Animal Pain”.

      • name says:

        And contradict the theory that political correctness is championed by people who have been hurt so much that it takes very little to give them a flashback.

        I wonder when you say that the people of the past seem to have been happy and well-adjusted, do you happen to think of the most fortunate of them? I’d guess that a ton of human misery went unnoticed because people were both less capable of seeing it and less motivated to care about it and depict it in detail.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          I’m going by my readings of old books, inscriptions, and the like (and before you bring up the common objection, no, not all of these were written by rich people), none of which really give the impression that society was a mess of unhappiness and mental trauma.

    • dust bunny says:

      “The fewer actual trials a person has, the more petty trials can look like horrific circumstances. The less adversity a person has experienced, the lower their bar for adversity is set. To a person who experienced physical abuse as a child, breaking a leg is no big deal. To a person whose worst childhood experience was not getting that one toy for Christmas, breaking a leg is End of The World terrible.”

      Everything in my experience points to the opposite. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is appealing conventional wisdom, but it’s not true. The opposite is true. What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. We generally have only as much capacity for strength, goodness and resilience as our environment provides us with, in the form of need fulfillment.

      Any adversity you experience tends to make you MORE sensitive to future adversity, not less. People who grow up in stressful conditions suffer heightened responses and lower tolerance to stress in adulthood, instead of having become hardier. Poor people are less resilient than affluent ones.

      Being taught basic emotional, social and metacognitive skills is a need. Not having had these needs fulfilled is not the same as being coddled. It’s just another kind of deprivation. Your roommate is the way she is because a bad thing happened to her, not because not enough bad things happened to her.

      Sometimes people who have experienced few problems in their life do react disproportionately to bad things, this is true (although I don’t think this is very common). I believe this is because of how they interpret the situation. People who grow up having things go their way may not learn proper empathy and respect for those less fortunate than themselves. They see others deal with circumstances they find terribly frightening, and form (or receive) a belief structure where bad things happen to other people because of who those people are. If it was random, it could happen to them, too, and that’s scary. So, bad things only happen to people who are somehow broken or wrong or low status or immoral. And when a bad thing finally happens to them, they fear they’ve now become one of those broken people. That is terrifying, and definitely warrants a strong reaction.

      eta: sometimes the reason why people who are already in a terrible situation don’t seem to respond to additional shock is that they don’t have the energy left to even grasp what is happening to them, much less to show their distress. Kind of like in triage the loudest patients are not the most urgent cases, or like on beaches the people who splash, shout and flail are not the ones closest to drowning.

      In less acute cases, self pity is a luxury that someone who needs to focus on survival cannot afford. My mother and her mother and sisters share a family culture of self pity, pessimism and rumination. I’ve observed all of them respond to a real crisis in a surprisingly mature way, displaying fortitude, coping skills, emotional intelligence and even optimism I could never have guessed them capable of. Then after the crises are resolved, they go right back to being the way they were before. This doesn’t mean the crises are actually good for them or make them happier, or that their normal lives aren’t miserable and worthy of expressions of unhappiness.

      • Anonymous says:

        >Everything in my experience points to the opposite.

        Are you sure you’re not just an outlier/projecting? Because everything in my experience agrees with OP.

      • Anonymous says:

        Any adversity you experience tends to make you MORE sensitive to future adversity, not less. People who grow up in stressful conditions suffer heightened responses and lower tolerance to stress in adulthood, instead of having become hardier.

        So true, but I wonder if it’s the case for physical abuse. Healing from a broken leg in adulthood isn’t made any easier or harder by having grown up with a physically abusive parent (unless that particular leg tended to be injured).

        • dust bunny says:

          It might be. Physical abuse would constitute a stressful environment and lead to statistically higher odds of stress or depression in adulthood, both of which make recovery from physical injury slower and more prone to complications.

      • EveMatteo says:

        My roommate was brought up to illustrate my point about the stigma of needing to be taught emotional literacy, not to push my point about poor circumstances.

        She and I both had bad teenage years. They were bad in different ways. I had a bad childhood, but she had a much less bad childhood. I am better able to handle minor issues than she is.

        I did not say that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. It does make you weaker. But working past badness in childhood leaves you better equipped to know how to work past badness in adulthood, unless you’ve been specifically taught how to handle badness before you encounter it.

        Right now, there are three methods that I know of for learning how to handle badness if your parents didn’t teach you. One is religion. That method is socially acceptable. One is self-help (books or youtube). That method is at best socially awkward, and is outright stigmatized in many circles. One is therapy. That method is outright stigmatized in most circles, with a few being supportive of it. There are no actual classes on how to handle emotions that don’t require you stating an intent to become a therapist or caregiver. I think this points to an expectation by society at large that it’s something that normal people “just know”, and only abnormal people need to explicitly learn it.

        • 1212 says:

          There is of course at least a 4th: logic/rationalism (not in the less wrong sense, in the figuring things out with your mind (woah) sense, without extensive rigorous data gathering or white coats (empiricism), though it seems to me that this capacity is generally crippled and discouraged wherever possible, so I guess that’s not so much a direct option as it is an option to cobble the option together.

      • Max says:

        Studying various and numerous historical accounts of men surviving great adversity (wars, massacres, gulags) makes your argument look dubious

        People who wallow in self pity dont survive. It takes greater motivator than self pity to be able to act courageously trough very dire circumstances – whether its patriotism, rugged survival-ism, strong belief in something. Those who are “shocked”, give up – they all end up dying

        • But here you have massive selection effects as the people best capable of surviving great adversity might have been born with genes predisposing them to great resilience, health, and intelligence.

        • dust bunny says:

          What James said. A couple of people out of millions will always succeed in extraordinary ways, no matter how awful their background. Pointing at them and saying conditions were clearly good enough and the rest are responsible for their own failure is not helpful, accurate, or kind.

      • 1212 says:

        a comment on this as I read it:

        That first “any adversity you experience” should probably be “near back-breaking adversity” or something, as otherwise it’s trivially untrue. (it’s slightly less trivially not meant that way, but still).

    • Max says:

      There was a study that people who are no accustomed to rough play as children have trouble with socializing later in life. Because they can not distinguish between playful contact and aggression they threat everything as aggression making it hard for normal functioning

      • dust bunny says:

        I obviously don’t know what the study was or any of the details, but that summary just screams to me an alternative interpretation where a couple of kids through some miracle grew up thinking they should set their own boundaries. Yeah, that would lead to “trouble socializing”, if you’re surrounded by assholes who think it’s only a boundary violation if they intended it as such.

    • Marc Whipple says:

      Patrick McManus speculates that everybody has what he calls a “Worry Box,” and that the box is always full. If you don’t have enough big worries to fill it, smaller worries will appear to ensure that it stays full. The size of the box is what determines how happy you are overall. The smaller the box, the happier you’ll be: its content is largely irrelevant. He also postulates that for most people the box gradually shrinks with age.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Being with my parents over the holidays, it was amazed how little they worried about stuff. Much less than I do, for sure.

  57. Squirrel of Doom says:

    On a lighter side, I know a few alcoholics who are perfectly happy with their alcoholic lives.

    By that I mean that even if you’re in one of these seemingly hopeless categories, you can be happy.

    • I’ve known two people I would describe as alcoholics, meaning that I not uncommonly observed them under the influence, and one reformed alcoholic. All three appeared to have reasonably successful lives, so far as I could judge by casual observation.

    • bbartlog says:

      One of my uncles was an alcoholic, in the sense that he normally had 4-5 drinks per day and often had far more on the weekends. That, plus smoking, killed him in his 60s. But … he was a reasonably successful person (head chef for university dining at the Uni of Hamburg) and I wouldn’t say he was unhappy.

    • onyomi says:

      While I’m generally anti-drug–both illegal and legal–I think there’s a big double standard about drugs: certain drugs are always a “problem” if you use them frequently, even if you manage to be highly functional, while others (thinking especially of Rx drugs here), even if they have dangerous long-term side effects, are considered not inherently problematic, basically because recommended by doctors.

  58. Any thoughts about what proportion of people are discouraged from wrecking their lives with drugs by the drugs being illegal?

    • Anonymous says:

      Also curious about the proportion of people discouraged from improving their lives with drugs (e.g. Modafinil) by the drugs being illegal.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’d simply compare the incidence of illegal drug use with incidence of alcohol use and tobacco use, especially in a country that bans the first but doesn’t extensively regulate the other two.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I don’t think use is the right measure.

        Abuse is the right measure. Abusers are far less likely to have their usage correlated to legality. As a simple test case, think of the rate at which DWIs are committed by abusers and non-abusers of alcohol.

        • Anonymous says:

          How do you measure abuse versus use of illegal substances?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t know the answer to that, but that is the question at hand.

            I believe there are standard psychological questions. (made up ex: Does using [substance] ever interfere with your ability to perform your work adequately?) Yes, these are self-report, but level of consumption doesn’t map well to abuse.

    • LCL says:

      My younger self managed to get addicted to cigarettes despite never really even liking them, just because they were there. Also he liked stimulants and tended to misuse whatever stimulants were easily available. Which, in his social circles, were fortunately not the really addictive ones – had those been easily available, he’d probably have become addicted to them. So I strongly suspect I’m one person discouraged from wrecking my life with drugs by the drugs being illegal.

      I think generally we underestimate the influence of convenience. Becoming addicted to illegal drugs requires you at least to know and frequently contact a drug dealer, and more realistically to hang around with drug addicts. Both are substantial barriers to entry that would cease to exist if you could just buy your hard drugs legally at the corner store (or on the internet).

      It also strikes me that the type of person likely to be deterred from drug use by simple inconvenience is possibly also more likely to become reliant on drugs if granted easy access. As in, someone without much initiative or personal agency.

      • Jeffrey Soreff says:

        I think generally we underestimate the influence of convenience. Becoming addicted to illegal drugs requires you at least to know and frequently contact a drug dealer, and more realistically to hang around with drug addicts. Both are substantial barriers to entry that would cease to exist if you could just buy your hard drugs legally at the corner store (or on the internet).

        It also strikes me that the type of person likely to be deterred from drug use by simple inconvenience is possibly also more likely to become reliant on drugs if granted easy access. As in, someone without much initiative or personal agency.

        Good point.

        That suggests a class of solutions that could be far less damaging than the current drug war: Make recreational drugs legal, but require a fair amount of paperwork to get them. Have the corner store sell them, but make the buyer fill out some form in triplicate, and don’t allow internet sales.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          My own proposal is to make them all legal and either free or heavily subsidized, but provided through the government and taken in controlled environments. (Think Opium Den, but with cable TV, Foosball, and free Internet.) Go to your local House o’ Euphoria and take as much as you want of anything you want. Stay there free or for a modest fee until you are sober again. As often as you like. If you die of an overdose, we take care of your funeral and your kids qualify for SSI and Medicaid until they’re 18. Every incentive one can imagine shall be put toward making sure addicts exercise their addictions in a safe, controlled environment. And that door over there leads to the treatment center – also free, but if you relapse you have to wait a bit before trying again, just to keep the load down.

          But if we find you outside the HOE with so much as a joint, we execute you.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            Sounds reasonable to me…
            (one needs something like a HOE exemption for use in say
            chronic pain treatment centers, surgeries, etc.)
            Include alcohol under the same restriction?

            I’m going to assume that caffeine doesn’t need either
            my proposal or your proposal, as it doesn’t interfere with
            employment, driving, etc. and has small effects on health
            (of uncertain sign), and is only barely habit forming.

            Nicotine is a sticky case… Very habit forming, very
            very unhealthy, but doesn’t interfere with employment,
            driving, etc…

          • Marc Whipple says:

            My proposal is still in the early draft stages, but there would be limited medical exemptions. Hospitals, hospice, surgicenters, etc. To possess prohibited drugs outside medical establishments would require a prescription and a dosage log. Possession without prescription or egregious violation of the documentation requirements would be severely sanctioned.

            Alcohol is a special historical case and I’m still on the fence on that one. Drunk driving would be a capital offense even if possession outside the HOE were permitted.

            Nicotine and caffeine, not really concerned. I am mostly worried about protecting everybody else from the results of your use of drugs, and in minimizing the profit opportunities for criminals. While admittedly there are cigarette bootleggers, they are pretty few and far between. Also, while nicotine is very addictive, my (willing to be corrected) understanding is that it itself is not all that dangerous absent actual acute nicotine poisoning, it’s smoking, and its byproducts, that is dangerous.

  59. Peter Gerdes says:

    This is what makes me so upset about resistance to developing drugs that simply make people more happy … even if they reduce their total productivity.

  60. John Abbe says:

    You went through all of that and your answer only includes charity?

    Nothing against charity, but brother, can you spare a little social change as well?

  61. Whoa. I have a lot of thoughts about this. I’ll express a few of them.

    (1) My wife is a clinical psychologist. As one of her professors often said: “It’s a tough world out there.” A clear-eyed look at exactly what is going on right now in many people’s lives would make us recoil in horror, and our generation is not the first to discover this.

    (2) The people of the world as a whole are indisputably better off now than they were at any past time. Worldwide, generally speaking, there is less war, less violence, less poverty, less hunger, less disease, less disability, more freedom, more education, more literacy, longer lifespan, than ever before.

    None of that is disproven or made irrelevant by the intense personal misery Scott has found even right here in our affluent college town.

    (3) Past eras had more robust social structures — families, guilds, unions, friendly societies, clans, lodges, churches, etc. — which tended to keep track and take care of people, rather than letting them fall into isolation. It seems obvious that at least some of the folks we see with awful lives would have been better off if those structures were in place for them.

    Contrary to the dark imagery in some comments, those traditions and institutions were not killed by government fiat or conspiracy, but gradually weakened by individual people freely deciding that they didn’t need them any more, or that the obligations of supporting such structures were onerous. Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone documents this very thoroughly.

    (4) Life has become more free and prosperous for ordinary middle-class people, in ways that have not necessarily worked well for people at the bottom edge of society.

    Paleoconservatives, such as Ross Douthat, point out that elite ideas like the sexual revolution, recreational drug use, and loosening of individual obligations to family and community, became destructive when imitated by those with more fragile lives.

    Meanwhile, liberal writers like William Julius Wilson blame the disappearance of jobs for unskilled labor (or for the less educated), and the rising standards of social skills and behavior to hold any kind of job at all. We have machinery to dig ditches at a fraction of the cost of hand work, so the former ditch diggers (or the people who would have been ditch diggers in a previous generation) are out of work, perhaps even unemployable.

    A 21st century First World economy seems to entail a small but growing proportion of adults who are not reasonably employable at any kind of living wage. I think this is driving the decline in men’s labor force participation. The lives of those people are likely to be rife with miseries.

    We can deplore all these impacts, but there is no way to return to the old days. All we can do is cope with the way things are now. I certainly don’t believe in or advocate any utopia, but humanity has overcome past dislocations, and I am optimistic that things will continue to improve, even for the most miserable among us.

    (5) I’m not a fan of Tumblr, but it irritates me a bit to see the name of the platform used as a synonym for “social justice warrior”.

    I would hazard a guess that at least 95% of Tumblr sites either have no discernable political content, or lay very little emphasis on it. If all you’re seeing on Tumblr are screeds denouncing heterosexual cisgendered white men, then you are deliberately seeking out a tiny little sliver of activity. If that stuff bothers you so much, maybe you should stop. Tumblr may have a different atmosphere than Reddit, but the range of topics is just as broad.

    (6) Happy Boxing Day!

    • nydwracu says:

      Past eras had more robust social structures — families, guilds, unions, friendly societies, clans, lodges, churches, etc. — which tended to keep track and take care of people, rather than letting them fall into isolation. It seems obvious that at least some of the folks we see with awful lives would have been better off if those structures were in place for them.

      Contrary to the dark imagery in some comments, those traditions and institutions were not killed by government fiat or conspiracy, but gradually weakened by individual people freely deciding that they didn’t need them any more, or that the obligations of supporting such structures were onerous.

      Isn’t there a bit upthread about how the fraternal societies were killed by government fiat and conspiracy under FDR?

      • anon says:

        Yes, that’s why he said contrary to dark imagery in some comments

        • How do we (third parties reading the thread) easily figure out which version is correct, or by how much?

          • I think I am fairly knowledgeable about the political history of that era. The allegation that fraternal societies (which still exist) were deliberately killed off by FDR and his minions has no basis in fact as far as I’m aware.

            The Wikipedia article on the Independent Order of Odd Fellows has this paragraph:

            The Great Depression and the introduction of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal brought a decline in membership. During the depression, people could not afford Odd Fellows membership fees, and when the New Deal’s social reforms started to take effect, the need for the social work of the Odd Fellows declined.

            A footnote points to a source, which refers to Franklin Roosevelt only in his role as a member of the Odd Fellows organization.

            Beyond that, I don’t think I’m obligated to prove a negative.

          • onyomi says:

            So far as I’ve heard, the claim is not that left wing politicians intentionally killed off voluntary associations, but that Shriners and the like withered away by virtue of being “crowded out” by government welfare programs.

          • You aren’t required to prove a negative. But if you assert a negative and someone else asserts a positive, the rest of us don’t know who to believe unless we are provided with evidence one way or the other.

          • You aren’t required to prove a negative. But if you assert a negative and someone else asserts a positive, the rest of us don’t know who to believe unless we are provided with evidence one way or the other.

            If there is good evidence in favor, I’d like to see it. I certainly don’t know everything, and I could be wrong. If there is ambiguous evidence, I could engage with it.

            That being said, the gradual long-term decay of old-line community organizations and institutions, regardless of any particular mission, is a reality we can see everywhere. That decay is plainly driven by the choices of individuals.

          • @Larry:

            I don’t know which claim is correct. I think part of the argument on the other side is that the professionalization of medicine resulted in pressure against medical services provided through fraternal organizations. Another part is that government welfare provided substitutes for the services provided by such organizations. Since the substitutes were paid for by taxes they were free from the standpoint of someone deciding whether to use them, whereas the fraternal organizations were not.

            None of that requires any deliberate attempt to suppress such organizations, but it does involve a causal link.

            As to evidence on deliberate opposition to the organizations, we will have to wait for a response from the other side.

    • Marc Whipple says:

      Careful. Discussion of the Dire Problem can lead to many negative consequences, both internal and external.

  62. houseboatonstyx says:

    Very bright moon tonight. Very bright.

    • Tom Womack says:

      Full moon of normal brightness (possibly slightly brighter than normal, rather nearer perigee than apogee). Northern Hemisphere midwinter night dark for comparison.

  63. Stuart Armstrong says:

    >There’s also a really big problem where a lot of these are conditional upon one another.

    I fear that not knowing the details of the conditional, makes the entire exercice pointless. Not knowing the correlation and thus acting as if things are uncorrelated is a huge mistake (eg the 2007-2008-etc financial crash). Back when we were talking with insurance people about what could destroy their companies the fastest, they said “unexpected correlations”.

    The highest numbers in your list are 20%: on food stamps, in chronic pain, having been abused. None of these are mutually exclusive. And none of them imply that they automatically have an utterly miserable experience (scales of happiness / unhappiness would provide a better answer to this issue; there’s a lot of this around in the happiness literature, some may be relevant). In fact, even a half-assed happiness survey that attempts to reach a representative sample, is going to work better than assuming that correlated variables are uncorrelated, and that they match up to real misery.

    Eg: found this report, didn’t go through it all. The usa seems to have a relatively high happiness, with a large but not huge standard deviation (eg see page 34). This would argue against a large population of miserable people. Not sure about the methodology
    .
    http://www.earth.columbia.edu/sitefiles/file/Sachs%20Writing/2012/World%20Happiness%20Report.pdf

  64. JB says:

    Well, this was about as heartwarming as my grandfather’s “Christmas death stories.”

    • Marc Whipple says:

      Tangentially: I love that song, but who the Hell tells “scary ghost stories” at Christmas? Even A Christmas Carol isn’t that scary, and it’s just the one.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I always thought “Hang your stocking, say your prayers, ’cause Santa Claus is coming tonight” was ominous.

  65. Jack LaSota says:

    Your script underestimates exclusive bad things. Your statistics say 5% unemployed, but this is 5% of the 99% who aren’t in prison, or 4.95%. The same effect should build up more by the time you get to being in a nursing home.

    Edit: this is wrong because https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/12/24/how-bad-are-things/#comment-290576

  66. Arthur Schopenhauer says:

    I’d wish you a merry Christmas, but we both know happiness is a lie.

    • Deiseach says:

      How about for today “Happy Feast of Stephen, commemorating the first martyr, stoned to death”? 🙂

  67. onyomi says:

    Maybe we can feel better in the knowledge that we have even arrived at a state in which we can say “alas! there is still so much suffering!” This implies that we have arrived at a state where we kind of expect life not to suck. I think most people who have lived throughout history had no such expectation. The Buddha states axiomatically that “existence is suffering.” Christians describe our world as a “vale of tears.” Yes, I know those statements can have a more philosophical import that would apply in any case, but I think they also have something to do with the times and places when they were first uttered.

    Related, we have arrived at a place where we can worry about the persistent “problem” of poverty. Of course, poverty is the default state of humanity. Not being poor is special and remarkable in human history, as is, more generally a reasonable expectation of a life which won’t mostly suck. We have a long way to go, but have also come a very long way.

    • nydwracu says:

      I listened to a pop album a while back and noticed that the song I figured was the obvious choice for a single had a line saying, direct quote, “life is pain”. So.

      (Turns out there were three singles, it wasn’t one of them, and, although I know I heard all three, I can’t remember any of them. But still.)

      • onyomi says:

        One, perhaps encouraging corollary: if misery is the default (even for white, middle-aged, upper middle-class, heterosexual men), and the default assumption is that people who are miserable are default deserving of sympathy, then people in general are probably deserving of sympathy unless proven otherwise.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @onyomi:
          The funny thing is that, this is, roughly, the default position of blue tribe, broadly. Everyone is deserving of sympathy.

          John Edwards ran two moderately successful primary campaigns based (again, roughly) around this idea. But when you also build your campaign around your loving wife who has cancer, and turn out to be a philanderer, well…

          And this was the standard criticism of liberals from the right when I was growing up. “Bleeding heart” liberal does not refer to a strain of Catholicism 😉

          I know you will say that you don’t see sympathy for white people coming from blue tribe, but I think this is mostly confirmation bias in action. Certainly things like Obamacare and other social welfare programs are motivated more by sympathy than they are by a desire to achieve some optimal healthcare market. (Please don’t straw man what I am saying there.)

          • onyomi says:

            My problem with blue tribe politics is not the object of their sympathy but that they tend to want to show that sympathy with other peoples’ money.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            You say “other people’s money” I say “societal obligation”. Basically I view everyone in the society as to have obligation to the whole society. Not all-consuming obligation, just obligation.

            And you actually believe this too. (Protection orgs cost money, you know). You just want to have a free market for what society you belong too. I happen to think this is roughly impossible.

          • Anonymous says:

            You say “other people’s money” I say “societal obligation”. Basically I view everyone in the society as to have obligation to the whole society. Not all-consuming obligation, just obligation.

            That pattern matches to communism*, to me. Is that what you wanted to describe?

            (* It also pattern matches to a normal family unit, which is the scale at which communism works. Scale is precisely the problem with communism.)

          • onyomi says:

            @Heelbearcub

            I don’t believe in any sort of generalized “societal obligation.” I believe in obligations to family, friends, and people with whom you have entered into voluntary agreements.

          • @onyomi:

            I don’t believe in any sort of generalized “societal obligation.”

            I think being asked to respect the concept of private property counts as a societal obligation.

          • onyomi says:

            “I think being asked to respect the concept of private property counts as a societal obligation.”

            To strangers one is obliged to “do no harm” or “live and let live.” I don’t believe in unchosen positive obligations.

          • @onyomi, if you don’t accept that someone is entitled to property rights over a particular piece of land, then from your perspective violating those rights isn’t harming them. So allowing people to own land is an unchosen positive obligation.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Mark Atwood:
            Let’s say, your local NPR station. If that is objectionable, then Habitat for Humanity.

            But I do also invite you to listen to NPR’s news coverage as well. You might be surprised at how very, very little “white male bashing” there is.

          • Mary says:

            “The funny thing is that, this is, roughly, the default position of blue tribe, broadly. Everyone is deserving of sympathy.”

            Har, har, har. That is the default claim of the blue tribe. Maintained by carefully censoring those whom you don’t think deserve sympathy out of existence.

          • Mary says:

            “Basically I view everyone in the society as to have obligation to the whole society. Not all-consuming obligation, just obligation.”

            And you will decide what said obligation is, and you will force other people to pay for it. Which that, so far from being a obligation to the “whole society”, the blue-tribe position is that some people in society have obligations to others who have no reciprocal obligations.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Mary:
            Hmmm. And what do you think about the interaction Mark and I just had?

          • Jiro says:

            Mark, HBC: There’s a hierarchy among who the blue considers to be oppressed groups. White men aren’t on the *very* top of the oppression hierarchy; even for white men, there’s still employers oppressing workers, conservatives oppressing liberals, etc. Even the most extreme blues would express sympathy for white men as long as they are being oppressed by another group of white men that is higher on the oppression scale.

            So while HBC did literally answer the request, I don’t think he answered in a way that really affects the point Mark was using it to make. The Mother Jones article is about unionized white men being victimized by antiunion, anti-science, capitalist, conservative white men.

            I don’t think the NYT one even counts at all. It isn’t so much expressing sympathy with white men, as it is accusing others of having sympathy only for white men when they took a hard line with blacks.

          • @Mary

            “Har, har, har. That is the default claim of the blue tribe. Maintained by carefully censoring those whom you don’t think deserve sympathy out of existence.”

            Whereas the explicit nastiness of the Red tribe means they are on the moral high ground, because non-hypocrisy is the only virtue that counts.

          • onyomi says:

            @Harry Johnson

            But respecting others’ property rights doesn’t require any positive action: only that you not steal, not trespass, etc.

            I guess in some very abstract sense one has an “obligation” to recognize the existence of property rights, but that sounds to me like an “obligation” to recognize that the sky is blue. You either can or can’t perceive it. You can’t really choose to perceive it or not.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Mark/@Jiro:
            First off, Blue Tribe and Proponents of Social Justice Theory are not the same group. Social Justice is a small subset, mostly contained inside blue tribe. But you aren’t going to see a Democratic candidate for President trot out the word kyriarchy anytime soon.

            The only thing I think I have proven is that when people toss out insults directed at liberals or blue tribe around here, they are mostly the result of clouded thinking. If Mark hadn’t internalized the rhetoric he is using against blue tribe, he wouldn’t have made the bet, and certainly not the same bet.

            Liberals don’t, as a group, “hate all cis white men” and I wish people would stop saying things like that around here. It’s not true and leads to poor conclusions.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            I’m not following your contention on property rights. Little kids take toys from others all the time. They have to be taught not to.

            It seems history is rife with “when I take it, it’s mine” as a guiding principle.

          • onyomi says:

            Even animals recognize property rights, though they’re often not good at respecting them.

            And even if we assume one must be taught not do x, that doesn’t make x a positive obligation. It’s “don’t do x.” That’s a negative obligation.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            Animals recognize property claims. I don’t think you can state that they broadly recognize rights. This is a big difference.

            Like I said, “If I [can] take it, it’s mine.”

          • @onyomi,

            I guess in some very abstract sense one has an “obligation” to recognize the existence of property rights, but that sounds to me like an “obligation” to recognize that the sky is blue. You either can or can’t perceive it. You can’t really choose to perceive it or not.

            That’s quite interesting: it seems you’re taking property rights as an objective moral fact. I don’t think I’d entirely appreciated that.

            Obviously, I don’t accept it as true. For example, I could just as easily have turned my earlier observation around and pointed out that private property causes harm – at a minimum, it impedes freedom of movement – and hence, from my perspective, violates your “do no harm” precept.

            So we may be getting closer to our axiomatic assumptions here. By the same token, then, I begin to suspect that many people would put an obligation to pay taxes (above and beyond the level necessary to run a libertarian government) on the same “sky is blue” basis as you’re putting private property.

            Personally, though, I see neither as an axiom, but both as two ends of what I think is a more-or-less reasonable trade-off. Something like “OK, we’ll let you own private property, since it is good for society to do so, but you’ll have to pay taxes” and conversely “well, for the good of society you’re going to have to give up your freedom of movement and your ability to forage for food, but we’ll make sure that even if you can’t find a job you’ll have enough money to live on”.

          • onyomi says:

            “OK, we’ll let you own private property, since it is good for society to do so, but you’ll have to pay taxes” and conversely “well, for the good of society you’re going to have to give up your freedom of movement and your ability to forage for food, but we’ll make sure that even if you can’t find a job you’ll have enough money to live on”

            First of all, who’s this “we,” and what if I didn’t agree to consider myself part of it? Unless it’s just “humanity,” in which case, why do I have obligations to people Seattle but not to people in Mexico, even though I live closer to Mexico?

            Secondly, I wouldn’t consider “give us some of your stuff and we won’t steal the rest” to be a good deal. To those who do want to enter into an agreement of the sort “give us some of your stuff now and we’ll take care of you if you fall on hard times,” there is a voluntary way to do so: insurance.

            Re. the objectivity of property rights, yes I am a moral realist. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that people who want to have a government conveniently decide that they can become moral non-realists or otherwise deny the objective immorality of stealing (rather than what we might hope would be the case, i. e. moral non-realists therefore deciding in favor of government on utilitarian or other grounds). I’m not saying this is the case with you; I’m just pointing out a suspicion I have about this issue in general.

            Of course, it may be that I am only a moral realist because I’m looking for an excuse to support my gut-level predilection for libertarianism. It probably works both ways, though personally I’ve never met anyone who didn’t think stealing was wrong at the individual level, whereas philosophers looking to justify government somehow mysteriously arrive at a conclusion which is counterintuitive to nearly every “man on the street.”

          • Onyomi, I have a few comments, but on the whole I think I can provisionally accept your position as not unreasonable, while continuing to disagree with it of course. 🙂

            First of all, who’s this “we,” and what if I didn’t agree to consider myself part of it?

            Sure, but you have the same problem with any system. (As in, if you didn’t have any say in the method used to distribute property rights as carried out by a libertarian government before you were born, why should you respect those rights?)

            why do I have obligations to people Seattle but not to people in Mexico

            Ideally, I personally would prefer there to be no such artificial borders. But they are probably necessary, at least for the time being, and at any rate there’s no realistic way for us to get rid of them.

            On other fronts: I investigated income insurance recently in advance of buying our first home and so far as I can tell there is no such thing as insurance that remains available indefinitely. They generally only lasted for six months or a year, if I remember rightly. Plus this obviously isn’t an option for someone who hasn’t had a job before.

            It seems entirely reasonable to describe my trade-off as a rationalization constructed to justify what I see as morally necessary. But I consider it a reasonably sound one. The issue with moral realism/non-realism isn’t whether theft is wrong or not but with what constitutes theft IMO. A Marxist, I believe, would agree with the assertion that theft is wrong but then combine it with the (not unreasonable) assertion that private property is theft, as per Enclosure.

            As for the man on the street, I think much of the problem is that our society conflates and confuses conceptually distinct concepts such as personal property, money, land ownership, territory, and sovereignty. (Not to mention copyright and patents!)

            That is, I entirely agree that stealing someone’s car is wrong. But I don’t agree that it constitutes theft to insist that you pay taxes if you want to own land that rightfully “belongs” to everyone collectively. The average person in my part of the world probably wouldn’t accept that argument as a justification for taxation (either because it smells of communism or because they’ve never thought about or disagree with the distinction I’m drawing between personal property and land ownership) but they do agree that taxation to provide a social security net is justified. Presumably, they simply don’t care to think about it that hard.

            Whether it is preferable to rationalize moral conflicts within the social system you want to live in or to simply accept that system without thinking about them, I will leave as an exercise for the reader. 🙂

          • @Harry Johnston

            Two different points on your interesting exchange re property:

            1. On the idea of welfare as compensation for not being permitted to treat the world as a commons, see:

            http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Machinery_3d_Edition/Initial%20Appropriation.htm

            It’s a webbed draft of one of the chapters added in the third edition of my first book, which came out of an exchange I had with Baruch Brody over that approach. The original version, from 1983, is webbed at:

            http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Comment_on_Brody/Comment_on_Brody.html

            One of several problems with the approach is that it doesn’t justify either a level or a pattern of redistribution that any supporters of redistribution would be happy with.

            2. I think people outside of law, in particular law and econ, may not appreciate how wide the range of possible definitions of private property is. I discuss some of that in

            http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Laws_Order_draft/laws_order_ch_10.htm

            which is a webbed chapter from one of my books.

          • Anomalous says:

            @HeelBearCub:
            The necessity of property rights is based on the physical fact that the same object cannot be in two places at the same time; and therefore, since we cannot both hold the shiny stone in our hands, we better have a clear notion of who owns it, lest we bash each other’s heads in over it (and possibly with it).

            It seems to me that the blue tribe hates straight white men at least as much as the red tribe hates Mexicans. And there are fewer voices denouncing SJ in the blue tribe than there are voices denouncing Trump in the red tribe. Therefore, I expect my uneasiness over Democrats to be taken at least as seriously as a Mexican’s uneasiness over Republicans.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @David Friedman, re

            2. I think people outside of law, in particular law and econ, may not appreciate how wide the range of possible definitions of private property is. I discuss some of that in

            http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Laws_Order_draft/laws_order_ch_10.htm

            which is a webbed chapter from one of my books.

            Many thanks! That was an interesting and informative chapter. I’d heard of surface and mineral rights, but not of separate, salable, support rights. It will be interesting to see if increased surveillance and record-keeping make more rights start to be treated similarly to land rights, as tracking becomes more feasible…

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @onyomi

            I guess in some very abstract sense one has an “obligation” to recognize the existence of property rights, but that sounds to me like an “obligation” to recognize that the sky is blue. You either can or can’t perceive it. You can’t really choose to perceive it or not.

            I heartily recommend David Friedman’s chapter on property rights, http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Laws_Order_draft/laws_order_ch_10.htm
            The issues involved as vastly more complex – and contentious – than perceiving the sky as blue.

          • onyomi says:

            In the analogy between perceiving the wrongness of stealing and perceiving the blueness of the sky, philosophical justifications for property rights might be more analogous to an analysis of wavelengths of light, cones and rods in the retina, etc.–an explanation of why we perceive what we perceive, but not necessary nor equivalent to experiencing the perception.

            Of course, perceptions of property vary somewhat from culture to culture, but so, too, do perceptions of color (Homer’s wine-dark sea and all that).

          • @David,

            That’s interesting; it wouldn’t have occurred to me to even attempt to calculate specific appropriate levels of compensation on an individual basis. Having now been exposed to the idea, I can’t say it appeals at first glance. It’ll need further reflection, though.

            One of several problems with the approach is that it doesn’t justify either a level or a pattern of redistribution that any supporters of redistribution would be happy with.

            As to level, it seems to me it’s pretty much a seller’s market. Excessive taxation is morally wrong IMO simply because it causes harm, but not because “being allowed to have property, et. al.” is only worth a certain amount to some people and we shouldn’t charge them any more than that. So I suppose I’m saying we can charge what the market will bear. (More accurately, what it would bear in an ideal world where everyone had the option of emigrating, but now I’m just nitpicking.)

            As to pattern, granted that my approach would suggest that all taxation should be based on land use only (ala council rates) I personally don’t have any major problem with mixing that with income tax as a matter of practicality. (I would, perhaps over-optimistically, expect the government to base that decision on sound economic advice.)

            Similarly, while the most reasonable basis for redistribution would be a UBI (also my own preference, perhaps not by coincidence) I’m not convinced that is economically practical at present.

        • Bingo.

          “Be kind, for everyone you met is fighting a great battle.” While good rationalists will disagree with “everyone”, I think it’s fair to say that it’s very easy to underestimate what other people are up against.

          Scott’s list doesn’t include those who are taking care of people who are in very bad shape.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        “Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

    • Maybe we can feel better in the knowledge that we have even arrived at a state in which we can say “alas! there is still so much suffering!” This implies that we have arrived at a state where we kind of expect life not to suck. I think most people who have lived throughout history had no such expectation. The Buddha states axiomatically that “existence is suffering.” Christians describe our world as a “vale of tears.” Yes, I know those statements can have a more philosophical import that would apply in any case, but I think they also have something to do with the times and places when they were first uttered.

      Related, we have arrived at a place where we can worry about the persistent “problem” of poverty. Of course, poverty is the default state of humanity. Not being poor is special and remarkable in human history, as is, more generally a reasonable expectation of a life which won’t mostly suck. We have a long way to go, but have also come a very long way.

      Yes! This is my perspective as well.

  68. Paul Crowley says:

    The various ways your script doesn’t handle exclusive things correctly, and other things, annoyed me about your script, so I wrote my own: https://gist.github.com/ciphergoth/e35759d56f5c32f0f628

  69. Deiseach says:

    Vaguely medical related: more clashing studies popped up on my Facebook.

    On the one hand – good news! Ibuprofen could increase lifespan by a decade thanks to anti-inflammatory properties, so you should take long-term regular doses!

    On the other hand – bad news! FDA is going to strengthen its warnings re: NSAIDs (including ibuprofen) as increasing risk of stroke and heart attack, especially if you are already at risk for heart problems or take long-term regular doses!

    So if it doesn’t give you a stroke, it might let you live ten years longer?

  70. Dan King says:

    Re: evolution. This post here might change your opinion slightly.
    http://trotskyschildren.blogspot.com/2015/12/politics-evolution.html

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I don’t think any of Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens or Obama raise evolution to a moral principal. In fact, I’m pretty sure the closing remarks of The Selfish Gene were to the effect that it’s a good thing that we are able to rebel against the tyranny of the replicators.

      What they do (well, not sure about Obama), is raise to a moral principal that you should believe evolution to be true, given the overwhelming evidence in its favour. That is a fairly standard specific example of the general rationalist shtick, that it is something approaching a moral duty to make your beliefs as accurate as you can. You can argue against that – claim that there are some specific beliefs which are unlikely to be true but which are so much more useful to believe than the likely truth that we are better to believe the probably-false claims – but I find it hard to envision situations in which rejecting evolution would be instrumentally useful (outside of ones where you just really need to get along with other people who already reject evolution, but that’s stretching the point).

      • Dan King says:

        I don’t see how any real politico–passionate about a moral cause on either the Left or the Right–can hold a consistent position on evolution. At some point passion has to carry the day or the political argument loses its force. So yes–the professor types can be consistent, but only because they live in an ivory tower. Real politicos–from Ben Carson to Bernie Sanders–have to submit to political and moral reality.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          What is a “consistent” position on evolution? And how would being political necessarily prevent such a position?

          If you are saying that if I accept evolution, I must also accept the theories of HBD proponents if I am to be consistent, I reject the claim.

          • hlynkacg says:

            There in lies the problem.

            If you don’t believe that genetics and gender generally result in quantifiable differences you don’t actually believe in evolution do you?

          • Anonymous says:

            I think he means that in America, the right appears to claim that evolution is false, but they otherwise act as if it were true, whereas the left appears to claim that evolution is true, but otherwise acts as if it were false.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @hlynkacg:

            Accepting genetic differences is not the same thing as accepting all arguments about what differences are genetic, what differences are environmentally produced, and what differences are artifacts induced by instrumentation.

          • “Accepting genetic differences is not the same thing as accepting all arguments about…”

            True.

            But I don’t think one can consistently believe in evolution and treat it as axiomatic that differences in outcome by gender are almost entirely due to discrimination. Evolution doesn’t tell us with great confidence what differences to expect, although it provides some plausible guesses. But it does tell us that we have been optimized for reproductive success and, since male and female differ precisely in their role in reproduction, it would be surprising if the same characteristics were optimal for both.

            The racial version of the argument isn’t as strong, but the very fact that we can distinguish the races by physical characteristics such as skin color implies that they were optimized against different environments. It’s hard to see why one should assume that all resulting differences were in unimportant but easily observable physical characteristics.

          • nil says:

            “It’s hard to see why one should assume that all resulting differences were in unimportant but easily observable physical characteristics.”

            I think it was Dawkins who suggested that racial phenotypes could be peacock-tail-style sexually selected traits (which in general do tend to be very visible but otherwise superficial).

            Not to put that forward as something one must or necessarily should believe, but just as something consistent with a decent understanding of evolution that isn’t stupid/crazy.

          • bbartlog says:

            The problem is that the observed phenotypic differences don’t exactly look like ornament. A great many of them are adaptations to disease, diet, and environmental hazard. Even the few that look like they might just be for display, like eye and hair color, turn out to come from genes that are expressed in other areas, so that we can’t rule out the possibility that they were selected for on some other basis. The spread of blue eyes, for example, is particularly mysterious.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            Absolutely their are genetically mediated sex differences. There are also absolutely, socially mediated sex “differences”. Women can’t be doctors or lawyers because … reasons, was commonly accepted as true at some point in the recent past. This was untrue.

            As to racial differences that are genetically mediated, absolutely these exist, and clearly some of them are adaptive. Decreased melanin prodiction is an adaption for people as they live farther from the equator. Sickle cell is adaptive against malaria, etc.

            But so to do differences that are socially mediated.

            And it’s very hard to tell which is which. With further evidence that brings a sort of Lamarkian inheritance through epigenetics, I think the nature/nurture question becomes even harder to tease apart.

            In other words, it’s both. Both nature and nurture. Both genetics and society.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            ” Women can’t be doctors or lawyers because … reasons, was commonly accepted as true at some point in the recent past. This was untrue.”

            Because the careers requires a substantial time investment and women tended to die younger then men and the custom get entrenched?

            “In other words, it’s both. Both nature and nurture. Both genetics and society.”

            Anime and manga- the twin threats making the Japanese short. If environment is held constant, what should be the outcome is what HBD is all about.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Samuel Skinner:
            I don’t think any sort of morbidity rate filter was applied to medical school. Women did not work outside the home, especially upper class women (who might have had the family resources to afford college and medical school). Then other, post hoc, reasons are invented for why it’s clear that women (or blacks) can’t possibly be doctors.

            HBD proponents pattern match awfully well onto a long line of of explanations of why today’s unfair discrimination is actually “totally backed by science. No, really!”

            Actually serious work on these issues makes far less grand pronouncements than do HBD proponents.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Anonymous
            I think he means that in America, the right appears to claim that evolution is false, but they otherwise act as if it were true, whereas the left appears to claim that evolution is true, but otherwise acts as if it were false.

            That statement is so cool that I’ll disagree with its concept somewhere else (if I get around to it).

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ hlynkacg
            If you don’t believe that genetics and gender generally result in quantifiable differences you don’t actually believe in evolution do you?

            That takes jumping to a lot of conclusions about a lot of different things. Fie on belief.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I don’t think any sort of morbidity rate filter was applied to medical school. ”

            I was explaining the existence of the custom; why would there be a morbidity filter? Some customs it is clear why they exist (aka no unaccompanied women/minors because of the danger of sexual assault), while others become lost over time.

            “Women did not work outside the home, especially upper class women (who might have had the family resources to afford college and medical school).”

            Women worked outside the home all the time. Upper class women did not. The custom certainly predates the foundation of European universities and medical schools.

            “HBD proponents pattern match awfully well onto a long line of of explanations of why today’s unfair discrimination is actually “totally backed by science. No, really!””

            And? EY pattern matches onto a cult leader and Less Wrong matches onto Objectivism. Are we going to accuse Scott of secretly recreating Atlas Shrugged in his spare time?

            It is also weird that you seem to be arguing that discrimination doesn’t occur against Asians; after all HBDers think they have a high IQ which is different than a lot of past scientific racists.

            “Actually serious work on these issues makes far less grand pronouncements than do HBD proponents.”

            About IQ gaps or about the effects of IQ? Because the IQ gaps are real; all that people appear to be arguing about is how much they approximate g.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yes, well g is the whole point isn’t it?

            The arguments about IQ as promulgated by HBD proponents presume that IQ and g are synonymous, or at the very least that g can reliability extracted from IQ so as to make comparisons of IQ across radically different cohorts relevant.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            The arguments do not require g and IQ to be synonymous; they just require them to be correlated and the law of large numbers to be true so that estimates based on larger groups are more accurate representations of g.

            Your position requires a systematic bias in IQ tests. You can go ‘the tests are flawed’ or ‘g does not correspond to genetic intelligence’; both of those can be checked and the latter can be corrected for. Notably you need to have a reason for either of those.

        • > I don’t see how any real politico–passionate about a moral cause on either the Left or the Right–can hold a consistent position on evolution.

          I can see how they can just not bother about the topic at all: they have to be in one of the 199 countries where it is not a political football.

      • “but I find it hard to envision situations in which rejecting evolution would be instrumentally useful ”

        Evolution implies that it is likely that the distribution of intellectual and behavioral traits for women is different than for men. Suppose you think that belief is both true and dangerous, since it makes it too easy for people to treat differential outcomes as evidence of innate differences rather than of discrimination. Rejecting that implication of evolution is now instrumentally useful. It’s easier to be convincing if you lie to yourself as well as others.

        This is not an imaginary example. It’s my explanation of why people on the left, although they claim to believe in evolution, reject what seem to me to be obvious implications thereof—take it for granted that differing outcomes by gender or race must be due to discrimination.

        For another example of the same pattern, not involving evolution, consider the issue of jury nullification. You are on a jury. You think it is clear that the defendant is guilty, but of something that ought not to be illegal–and the punishment is large. It seems obvious that you should vote to acquit. But it’s at least arguable that for that view to be widespread would have very bad consequences.

        • I think of jury nullification as a way of getting the government to be no worse than the public, but there’s also the implication that nullification will cause the government to be no better than the public.

          • Nancy:

            Your version might be right if juries gave their verdicts by majority vote. My point hinges on the fact that conviction, in almost all contexts, requires unanimity.

          • I think my version makes sense if the goal is to convict the guilty as well as to not convict the innocent.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            One person can’t convict. One person can find not guilty.

            I see your point, but the analogy doesn’t have strong math.

          • Surely if one person refuses to convict despite the evidence, the proper outcome is a hung jury and a retrial? OK, if the rest of the jury don’t really care they’ll probably just give up, but I would hope that doesn’t happen often when the case really is important.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Okay, fine, if you want to be all technical about it. 🙂

            You are of course correct, and I phrased that clumsily. My apologies.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Evolution implies that it is likely that the distribution of intellectual and behavioral traits for women is different than for men. Suppose you think that belief is both true and dangerous

          Good point. But I would have thought that evolution also implies that there would be variation within groups as well, and if we observe that on just about any axis you can name, even if there do turn out to be significant differences between men and women on average, there are still many individual exceptions, that would still lead you to conclude that differential outcomes may be partly due to discrimination and partly due to genuine between-sexes average differences, and that you’d therefore get a more optimal outcome if you can figure out what the ratio is.

          If someone isn’t willing to entertain that possibility – if they insist that any deviation from a 50/50 split must be due to discrimination, and make like unpleasant for anyone who doesn’t share their presumption, then you’d be in a situation not unlike the one where it’s instrumentally useful to believe in creationism only because other people that you need to get along with are already sold on creationism.

          And I’m not quite sure what you mean with the bit about jury nullification. Are you saying that it is true that nullification is a thing you can do if you’re on a jury, but that it is instrumentally useful for as many people as possible to not know that? If so, that may be true, but it still seems like a thing that is a useful check on government abuse of power. And if it isn’t – if jury nullification does more harm than good – then it ought to be possible to make it officially illegal, and take steps to make sure that jurors know that they are not allowed to vote against conviction if they are not genuinely persuaded that the defendant didn’t do it. (Not that you could completely prevent it, but you should be able to reduce it)

          • My first example isn’t a case of saying something because other people believe it but because you believe that one true statement will lead to other people reaching a false conclusion. I don’t know how plausible it is in the case I described, but I think it’s pretty clear that a lot of people believe it. There are lots of smart people on the left (and the right) after all. How many are willing to agree that the standard evbio explanation for the shortage of female math professors at Harvard might be correct?

            For my second example, I was imagining something like the following scenario. A sizable minority of the population is made up of people strongly prejudiced against homosexuals (or Muslims, or …). One such person murders a homosexual. He does so with reasonable confidence that at least one person on the jury will share his prejudice, hence think that he shouldn’t be punished, resulting in a hung jury.

            Here again, what drives the situation is the belief that other people will combine one true belief (you should acquit someone if he hasn’t done anything wrong) with one or more untrue belief (there is nothing wrong with killing homosexuals) to get an untrue conclusion (you should vote to acquit the murderer).

            There may be much to be said for “believe and say the truth” as a rule of thumb, but it’s hard to show that it always can be expected to have desirable results.

          • The opposite error is to assume that if there might be some reason for an unequal ratio of men and women in a line of work, then the unequal ratio doesn’t reflect any prejudice whatsoever.

            The results of blind auditions in classical music suggests to me that there’s quite a bit of prejudice.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            Although this still isn’t an obviously bad thing. It might well be that there are relevant statistical differences between male and female musicians that aren’t elicited from just hearing them play. Perhaps men tend to be more dedicated, for instance. Or perhaps not, but I don’t see why statistical discrimination ought to be considered wrong – it makes the assessment of the candidate’s quality more accurate not less.

          • At sufficient levels of exclusion, it’s rather unlikely that a lot is known about whether the excluded group is different in relevant ways.

          • Anonymous says:

            That seems to assume that you can’t generalize from information gathered in other similar cases. Such generalizations won’t be perfectly accurate, but they don’t need to be.

          • That blind auditions thing is a really great test case; widespread adoption of blind auditions brought the number of female orchestra musicians from about 5% to about 25%. So now, in a case where there are rigorous enough controls against sex-based discrimination and also rigorous controls on talent and ability, we have a lopsided 25%/75% split.

            A widely-prevailing belief that there are no members of a given group who can be a doctor, be in the 1% of a given sport, commit violent assault, or code in Lisp is going to be pretty obviously wrong, for any non-trivial group. But that doesn’t mean that all groups are created equal.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Robert Liguori:
            Given that women clearly were being discriminated against in auditions, what are the odds this had an adverse effect on the supply of female musicians? How far down the supply chain did the discrimination go? Sensing discrimination, how many potential top tier quality female musicians chose to forgo music all together? How many orchestras have fully turned over since they instituted blind auditions? Have all orchestras implemented blind auditions? What effects of discrimination still exist at the feeders to orchestras?

            A 25/75 split today does not necessarily represent the innate difference of women and men.

          • Probable, from that article; probably not that far down, based on the large numbers of women who play musical instruments; probably some, but looking at other fields, you’d expect the actual top performers to play first and foremost, and just find their employment elsewhere (and then gratefully take advantage of blind auditions as soon as they became available); the vast majority; what discrimination specifically?

            As for your questions, I have but one in return. (Well, two, counting the clarification). What in the history of women in classical music, from the 70s until now, makes the structual discrimination model fit the data more than the difference in ability which was perceived and overextended? We see a quick adjustment from under 5% to about 25% female participation in 1970 to 25% participation in 1997, with little significant change past that point up until now. Given that the many, many social and structural changes around gender roles in the past 20 years have barely moved the needle in terms of participation, it seems reasonable to assume that they had a minimal effect on the participation of women in the orchestra in the 30 years prior relative to unblinded auditions.

            Of course, this is assuming that the landscape of professional musicianship has remained unchanged in the past few decades, which is a wild-to-the-point-of-frothing oversimplification, but since I can’t really test to see how many female would-be orchestra violinists decided to instead go out and be Lindsey Stirling, I can’t really control for this.

        • Anonymous says:

          @Winter Shaker

          Maybe phrasing this as ‘intellectual and behavioural traits’ makes it sound like the effect will be negligible. But consider that among those traits are gynephilia and androphilia, possessed by overwhelmingly more men than women, and vice versa, respectively.

          In other words, I expect the difference in outcomes between men and women based on their different interests in isolation to be small. I expect the difference in outcomes based on men and women each being attracted to the other, and each behaving in certain ways in order to make themselves desirable to the other, to be large.

        • Ghatanathoah says:

          “Evolution implies that it is likely that the distribution of intellectual and behavioral traits for women is different than for men.”

          It also implies that it can’t possibly be that different. Since men and women reproduce sexually, they need to have mostly similar genomes. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to successfully mate.

          Similarly, the fact that different races of humans can produce fertile offspring implies that genetic racial differences must be relatively small.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            I agree with your conclusion, but not with your argument. 🙂

            To my mind, a stronger argument for small intellectual differences is that men and women of all races speak, which is something no other creature on earth does.

            Yeah, the genetics are similar enough for interbreeding – but men and women still differ by XY vs XX, which is a whole chromosome – half of one chromosome pair out of 46 pairs. This isn’t much smaller than human/chimp differences, about 1.2% of the genome. (Is it known if humans and chimps are interfertile?)

          • Creutzer says:

            I don’t think language is a good argument. People with an IQ of 80 speak, and so do those with an IQ of 145. The most gregarious extraverts and the most reclusive introverts also both speak. I think if the intellectual and personality differences between the average man and woman were of that magnitude, we would call them huge.

            Is it known if humans and chimps are interfertile?

            Unclear.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @Creutzer

            I agree with your examples, but I’m comparing to inter-species differences, which is why I’m viewing the differences as comparatively small. Which do you think sets the tighter bound on differences: shared language ability or interfertility?

          • Creutzer says:

            One would think that a shared language sets some constraints on intellectual similarity. To the extent that intellect and personality are independent, however, I don’t see how it would constrain the latter.

            But I’m not sure that’s a very meaningful question, anyway. Once you’re considering a species where the genders differ in their mental attributes at what’s normally inter-species levels, why keep the assumption of a shared language? If you hypothetically allow for people to be attracted to something as dumb as a chimp, why does that something even have to talk?

          • Jaskologist says:

            I don’t think that follows. We have many examples from nature of males and females of the same species differing wildly. The male anglerfish looks nothing like the female, and will end up merging into her as a sperm-producing pimple once they meet up. The side-blotched lizard has multiple kinds of males (and females!)

            Or consider a non-sex example. A frag and tadpole have exactly the same genes, but they are radically different, unable to even breathe in each other’s environment. Nature can produce a lot of variation within one genome.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Ghatanathoah

            I haven’t seen anyone propose any difference between men and women greater than the difference between a penis and a vagina – presumably a gender difference you would not dispute exists.

      • Happy says:

        I don’t understand the blue tribe obsession with belief in evolution. It doesn’t have any real bearing on the day to day lives of Americans. The obsession seems much more like an issue for tribal signalling.

        It’s an easy issue for John Stewart to find a clip of a politician who embraces “god breathed into a handful of dirt” creationism and then spend the next five minutes hilariously pointing out how stupid the red tribe is and how smart his viewers are for belonging to the blue tribe.

        As an aside, I live in one of the reddest states in the Union. I would have trouble finding someone who voted for Obama, but it would be just as hard to find someone who completely rejects evolution. Despite its popularity with the blue tribe, belief in evolution is a poor tribal marker.

        • I don’t think many nonscientists, regardless of politics, are “obsessed” with evolution.

          The concern over politicians’ views on evolution came about because some Christian conservative politicians see it as such a subversive topic that they want to protect children in public schools from hearing about it. Not just the children of certain believers, but ALL children.

          Of course the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 was a set-up, but the Tennessee legislature did enact the prohibition, and passed another one as recently as 2012. Even today, some state legislatures and textbook commissions and school boards would purge evolution from the curriculum if they could, and failing that, want to make sure it’s presented as being a lie, or a discredited theory.

          Maybe liberal atheists lack compassion for people who sincerely adhere to the strains of Christianity that inspire this kind of action. And of course Not All Conservative Christians Are Like That. Still, the ones who oppose the teaching of evolution are numerous enough, in some states, that politicians cater to them.

          For people who are pro-science, regardless of religious affiliation or tribal color, opposition to those politicians is entirely appropriate.

          • Deiseach says:

            I am fascinated by the way this power struggle plays out in American education, because there’s nothing like this here in Ireland.

            I don’t know how this developed in America into a pitched battle between “Take religion and public prayer out of public schools!” on the one hand, and “Okay, then we’ll take evolution out of public schools, too!” on the other, so you have the ludicrous examples of a school putting on the Charlie Brown Christmas play deliberately leaving out Linus’ lines from the Gospel because otherwise they’ll breach federal laws and court decisions about agents of the state promoting an official religion, and on the other hand school boards deciding to censor chunks of the science curriculum, all for point-scoring purposes and signalling to their respective tribes.

            In Ireland, we have criticism of schools being mostly owned and run by the Catholic Church even when publically funded (our last Minister for Education, who was an atheist, was going to Get Tough on this but didn’t really do much before he was removed in the internal blood-letting of his party’s leadership battles), yet the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference have not issued nationwide instructions (or any instructions at all) about taking that godless Theory of Evolution out of the curriculum (as I’ve said here before, my secondary school biology teacher was a nun, and we covered Darwin and Lamarck as part of the national curriculum with no ifs, ands or buts).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Deiseach:
            The Catholic Church does not object to the theory of evolution, in part because the church’s position is not one of biblical literalism.

            You need to pick a category, like sex education, or homosexuality, where church doctrine is at odds with the science. Then you can do an adequate comparison.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            You need to pick a category, like sex education, or homosexuality, where church doctrine is at odds with the science.

            How exactly is the Catholic Church’s doctrine “at odds with the science” of sex education and homosexuality?

          • Anonymous says:

            Yeah, that mystified me too.

            Catholic teaching on homosexuals: “It’s very unfortunate that your instincts are disordered. Same rules apply to you as for heterosexuals, if you can keep to that, we’re fine.”

            Catholic teaching on sexual education: “Have sex only with your spouse. Don’t use artificial contraception. Don’t abort your children.”

            (The above are strictly AFAIK. I do not have formal catechesis education.)

          • Deiseach says:

            Ah, the science of sex education. That’s not science as such, that’s what is now considered socially acceptable versus what is or is not required by various religions.

            Used to be (and you can blame Judaeo-Christian traditions for this if you like) that unwed parenthood was disgraceful. Then we got Dan Quayle (and yes, I agree, ordinarily he probably was as dumb as popular ridicule liked to paint him) hammered over his “Murphy Brown” criticism of unwed parenthood.

            There’s no science involved there, merely a change of attitudes, since the science of reproduction has nothing to do with the marital state of the participants – unless you’re going to argue some evolutionary psychology angle on “men are hardwired to spread their seed” or the likes.

          • EveMatteo says:

            “There’s no science involved there, merely a change of attitudes”

            The science about teaching sex-ed is that teaching abstinence-only education tends to lead to more teen pregnancies than acknowledging teens will have sex and teaching them how to use birth control.

          • Mary says:

            Got stats to back that up? Because the stats I have seen tend to revolve about kids claiming to use contraception, and it’s easy to affect what you will claim.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Anonymous:

            You forgot one:

            Catholic teaching on marriage: “One man, one woman.”

            Which means that they are condemning homosexuals to a lifetime without sex under all possible circumstances. In other words, that there is no homosexual sex which is “natural,” if natural is defined as “within God’s plan.” That’s not in accord with science, where homosexuality is observed not only in humans but in other animals and therefore if one considers God to have planned the Universe, homosexuality cannot be logically considered to be outside His plan. This applies even if one assumes that the Adversary disorders people’s instincts: animals, so far as I am aware WRT Catholic dogma, do not have souls.

          • Anomalous says:

            Marc Whipple, you have successfully proven that homosexuality is just as much a part of God’s plan as cannibalism.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            But cannibalism is considered acceptable under dire necessity; it isn’t considered wrong to eat the dead when there is no other food.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            To Catholics, cannibalism is not only natural, it is a religious requirement. So really, I don’t expect praise for that one. 😉

          • nydwracu says:

            they are condemning homosexuals to a lifetime without sex under all possible circumstances.

            If the Catholics believe that biological sex is what matters and the homosexuals believe that gender identity is what matters…

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        it is something approaching a moral duty to make your beliefs as accurate as you can

        My attitude is, that we (well, I anyway) should rather cultivate lack of beliefs. Having a belief seems to mean, “I pretend I know something I don’t really know.” It’s jumping to a too-strong conclusion (and in many cases, swallowing a lot of detailed emotional baggage).

        • HeelBearCub says:

          That seems very, very meta. It depends a great deal on inferences you attach to the word “belief”.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ HeelBearCub
            That seems very, very meta. It depends a great deal on inferences you attach to the word “belief”.

            Thank you. 😉 I think avoiding (or at least qualifying) “belief” is an attitude worth cultivating. (Sometimes known as ‘Bayesianism’?)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @houseboatonstyx:
            Fair enough.

            I do think it’s a good idea to fully qualify our beliefs, even, perhaps especially, when we are referencing them internally.

            “Lack of beliefs” has a certain Nitzschean inference that seems more “edgy” than useful, if you get my drift.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ HeelBearCub
            “Lack of beliefs” has a certain Nitzschean inference that seems more “edgy” than useful, if you get my drift.

            I just Googled for ‘lack of beliefs’, and you’re right, it may have become a thing with a baggage of its own. I’ll look for a better wording.

  71. Ialdabaoth says:

    Whoever you are, wherever you are, remember, even when it seems absurd or impossible or unbelievable:

    You are loved.

  72. Dr M says:

    This reminds me of calculations I did when I got divorced. At that time I was a single female, aged 41 and taking a class in statistics. I looked at the likelihood of finding another relationship.

    I only wanted a non-smoking heterosexual male in good health and never in prison. There were a few other factors that I included that I don’t remember but they weren’t anything majorly restrictive.

    I calculated my odds at approximately 1 in 325,000 of finding a new partner. I would essentially need to go on a different date every day for the rest of my life with a strong chance of no success.

    It was reassuring in a way because it convinced me of the futility of spending time looking for a new relationship and led me to focus on more rewarding areas in my life.

    • Deiseach says:

      Can’t speak from personal experience, but looking at our clients – a guy of that age is probably already married/in a long-term relationship.

      If he’s come out of a marriage/long-term relationship, he’s not looking for a woman his own age, he wants a younger model. That’s the guys who fit the “non-smoker, good health, never in prison”.

      Quite a few of the “not so great but not the worst” won’t have anything to do with a woman with kids, but have no problem leaving an ex-partner and taking up with a new partner and then new partner gets pregnant.

      As for the “how the hell do these specimens manage to do it?” ones, they regularly leave one partner with the kids, take up with a new one, she gets pregnant, they split up and he finds another girlfriend who probably ends up pregnant by him if she hasn’t got kids of her own by another guy or guys.

      There are kids out there who have no idea who the hell their father or their half-siblings’ fathers or their new half-siblings by dad’s other partner(s) are and I have a damn better idea than they do because I’m reading the files going with the applications of their mother, their father, and various ex-partners of both parties.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yeah, uncertain paternity is a very real inbreeding risk, if those hidden relatives meet up later in life.

        • I’ve seen it claimed that genetic problems due to a single case of inbreeding, such as a sibling mating, are small. Does anyone here have any actual data?

        • bbartlog says:

          One of the better papers out there on some overall effects of human inbreeding depression is here. Has beefy sample size and sound methods, although on the down side it wasn’t really aiming to measure inbreeding depression and just did that incidentally.

          http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v523/n7561/full/nature14618.html

          It doesn’t explicitly cover sibling mating, but it might be possible to extrapolate from their data. But they do show that first cousin marriage reduces height and educational attainment.
          It is true that the observed incidence of severe genetic disorders is not very high in case of one occurrence of inbreeding, from what I remember. But I don’t have a reference handy for that.

        • Anonymous says:

          I did not mean it in the societal sense – unless there’s a real lot of this stuff going on, the impact will be minor, certainly not on the level of middle eastern inbreeding. I meant in the individual sense, since the hidden siblings will likely be in the same geographical area – those people will likely get very severely disabled offspring for no apparent reason.

        • “those people will likely get very severely disabled offspring for no apparent reason.”

          Only if a cross between half siblings is likely to cause disabled offspring. Do you have any evidence that it is? That was the point of my question. I had a vague memory that it wasn’t–that the effect was real but much smaller than usually portrayed.

        • Mary says:

          Statistically, the children are more likely to be healthy than not. But the minority who will have the unpleasant recessives come out is fairly sizable.

        • bbartlog says:

          Still haven’t found anything on disability per se, but I did find a cool paper on mortality risk vis a vis inbreeding coefficient for the Mormons: http://jorde-lab.genetics.utah.edu/elibrary/Jorde_2001b.pdf

          Superficially it looks like offspring from first-cousin unions had approximately twice the death risk (before reaching reproductive age) as the baseline, while those from even more closely related parents had three times the mortality, with over 30% of them dying before adulthood.

          I don’t see any indication that the researchers tried to correct for a possible SES confound (maybe really dirt poor Mormons were more likely to inbreed), but superficially it sure doesn’t look good. Of course this doesn’t directly address the odds of disability, but between this paper and the other one I linked above, I’d say that cousin marriage leads to demonstrably worse outcomes even in the first generation.

        • Anonymous says:

          @David Friedman

          According to this, the risks are somewhere between

          (for first cousins)

          1.7% to 2.8% for significant congenital defects
          4.4% for pre-reproductive mortality

          and

          (for full siblings)

          31.4% for death and severe defect (4 data sets)
          6.8% to 11.2% for significant birth defects (extrapolated from first-cousin data)

          since half-siblings are in between the two. I’d call those risks very significant.

      • Garrett says:

        As a single man in my mid-thirties looking to start a family, this is very frustrating. Not only do I not have a family, but my (considerable) tax burden is going to fund the offspring of other deadbeats.
        At a certain point I’m not sure when I’m best-off just checking out of society.
        Find a way to make 1/3 my income for 1/2 the time and spend my free time playing video games or something.

        • Have you figured out just how much of your tax burden is “going to fund the offspring of other deadbeats”? It might be less than you assume.

          • DensityDuck says:

            How low does it have to be before his point isn’t valid?

          • onyomi says:

            Also, I think there is a corrosive effect on society when people see that struggling to have a career or at least be consistently employed often doesn’t pay much better than finding a way to milk the system, even if a larger total percentage of the tax dollars are going to say, the military.

            (I think people should also be outraged at how much of their tax dollars are going to fund the military, but at least that can sort of be construed as something you’re doing to keep you and your family safe rather than a pure transfer from productive to non-productive members of society).

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ onyomi
            a pure transfer from productive to non-productive members of society

            I dispute the ‘non-productive’. Some of the most valuable members of the community are those who never had a cash income other than ‘dole’. They are the ones who are available for helping the rest of us with errands; baby-sitting; instruction in gardening, sewing, cooking etc; projects; refuge from pressures, wise advice over cracked tea cups. Yanno, like extended family used to be.

          • onyomi says:

            Houseboat,

            Please see the difference between me actually arguing for a position and simply stating that such a position is understandable or conceivable.

            Also, you seem to be arguing against a strawman similar to the claim that women who don’t work outside the home 40 hours a week don’t actually “work.”

          • Adam says:

            Well, even the military is a fairly small percentage (about 1/5th) of your total federal tax burden. Most of the transfer payments just go to old people. I don’t know any way of telling whether their parents were deadbeats or not. The only poverty assistance program that makes up any appreciable portion of the federal budget is Medicaid. If that really irks you, fair enough, but healthcare is expensive and I’m not sure it actually covers all that much. And, you know, the kids themselves never see the money. The doctors do.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, it’s true our government does a lot more to help old people than poor people, contrary to the vague impression some may have that we are spending a fortune on “deadbeats.”

            I still stand by the point that, regardless of the actual sum being spent on “deadbeats,” it is socially corrosive for a large portion of the population to perceive that their money is being spent on deadbeats, however you define “large” or “deadbeat.”

    • name says:

      I take this to mean single older men pairing with young women, leaving the leftover young men and older women tragically alone? The 1 in 325 000 figure looks completely made up to me and I’d love to see a rough calculation coming up with a remotely similar number (if it’s not too hard to understand).

      • witchwestphalia says:

        Men tend to prefer “half your age + 5 years” when choosing female partners. Women tend to prefer close in age. The two strategies diverge widely after 30 years of age.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          More generally, younger women seem, ceteris paribus, much more open to relationships with older men than vice versa. So younger women take older men out of the dating pool for older women, but younger men, “Cougar Power” notwithstanding, do not have as significant an effect.

          This reminds me of the observation my friends and I made in high school, which was that one often saw senior boys dating freshmen girls, but rarely the other way around. So it seems to start quite early. 🙂

    • Error says:

      My gf calls a “physically and mentally healthy and available man over the age of 35”, a “unicorn”.

      The way I’ve heard it put is “attractive, available, mentally stable: pick two.”

      I know quite a few more “hot young bi poly girls” [than] I know “physically and mentally healthy and available men over the age of 35”.

      That’s interesting, because the former always seem like unicorns to me. Admittedly I have the additional filters of “neither has nor wants children,” “doesn’t demand a lot of attention,” and “prefers Soul Calibur to soap operas.”

      Yeah, not asking for much. At all.

      • DensityDuck says:

        So basically you want a sex toy and a really good video game AI.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        The joke is that in the poly community the former are usually referred to as unicorns (because they are allegedly so rare as to be mythical) whereas as the OP points out, the latter may actually be rarer.

        • Error says:

          I don’t know about the latter being rarer — but the conjunction seems like a needle the size of a grain of sand in a haystack the size of the Moon.

    • Error says:

      I calculated my odds at approximately 1 in 325,000 of finding a new partner.

      Sometimes I think the correlation of people’s mate-selection is the most depressing fact in the universe. Because it leads to numbers like this. (I’d be curious to see your math, by the way). It also implies that the vast majority of people will either be Forever Alone or be with partners they’re not terribly happy with.

      That last sounds like something someone has probably studied. Maybe I’m wrong.

      • Anonymous says:

        >the vast majority of people will either be Forever Alone or be with partners they’re not terribly happy with.

        Sounds like a good reason not to divorce.

        • Error says:

          I don’t see how. Presumably you’re not looking for a divorce in the first place unless you’re unhappy with your current partner.

          • Anonymous says:

            How many people divorce with the understanding that they’ll probably never be able to marry again, and certainly not get anyone as good as their first mate?

          • Error says:

            I don’t know. Could be an interesting question, though; certainly there’s a difference between “I can do better, let’s get a divorce” and “no mate at all is preferable to what I have now.” The divorcees I know (of both genders) are pretty firmly in the latter category.

            I’d expect most people with the former perspective to cheat first and divorce later in order to hedge their bets, but that’s an intuition, not data.

          • The Anonymouse says:

            Sounds like a good reason not to divorce.

            Once you’re past, oh, 30, I strongly suspect you have better odds of reconciling with your spouse* than finding another one with traits as desirable as the one you just left.** Re-read the Parable of Grandma’s Lamp and consider whether you want to be right, or want to be happy.

            * If you try. Yeah, there are many cases of abuse where you should divorce your spouse posthaste. But many, many more divorces are for considerably less-serious reasons.
            ** Obviously, previous spouse had/retains traits you found desirable in the first place.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Anonymous: Almost none, in much the same way that very few countries start a war expecting to lose.

      • BBA says:

        ELAINE: So what you are saying is that 90 to 95 percent of the population is undateable?
        JERRY: UNDATEABLE!
        ELAINE: Then how are all these people getting together?
        JERRY: Alcohol.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        This reminds me of the furor around the idea of “settling,” which a few people have tried to advocate in a serious way recently. While to me it seems eminently practical, it does not go over well in current society. (Megan McArdle refers to it as the “Grandmother’s Lamp” problem.)

      • Jaskologist says:

        Though I have searched repeatedly, I have not found what I was looking for. Only one out of a thousand men is virtuous, but not one woman! –Ecclesiastes 7:28

    • “I calculated my odds at approximately 1 in 325,000 of finding a new partner.”

      I’m curious how you did the calculation–in particular how you made allowance for ways of pre-filtering your dates. Just living in a college town probably improves the odds by an order of magnitude or more, assuming that what you are looking for is the sort of partner common in college towns. Finding dates in your church, or your environmentalist group, or your Students for Liberty group, or … has a similar effect.

      After my first marriage ended, I did a rough calculation of what fraction of women (implicitly, American women) would have the characteristics required for a good second wife for me. My estimate was about one in a hundred thousand, so not so far from yours. But that was before allowing for the available filtering mechanisms.

      And, in fact, I found her. I think I was lucky, but not phenomenally lucky.

    • AnotherAnon says:

      A lot pivots on the mentally healthy part of that. Women’s definition of mentally healthy can be very stringent.

      • I also suspect that it is difficult for most men to remain entirely mentally healthy for more than a few years without companionship. (I think Paul Reiser said something about that, so perhaps it wasn’t just me!)

        And I’m thinking (not based on my own experience this time, thankfully) that most recently divorced men probably aren’t in the healthiest of places, mentally speaking.

        So the window may be kind of narrow.

    • Sastan says:

      Well, when I was a younger man, and single, my experience was that I would meet a worthwhile woman about once every three years of active dating. Attractiveness is easy. Intelligence is hard. Character is damned near impossible.

      Those of us who find one aren’t in a rush to chase more.

  73. keranih says:

    God bless us, every one.

  74. One added complexity is that not everyone who experiences a potentially traumatic event is traumatized, especially for the long term. As I understand it, a lot of PTSD gets better on its own.

    This means that the fact that a person was raped is not equivalent to saying that this person is currently carrying a load of misery.

  75. Scott Messick says:

    I like the spirit of inquisitiveness here, but I wouldn’t read anything into these results. Scott pointed out the main problem himself: many of these variables are highly correlated. But to me, this reads like “this experiment is completely invalid and may be dangerously misleading, but let’s draw conclusions from the results anyway”. Other commenters have pointed out specific reasons for correlations, and Federico basically made this whole point already (again, after Scott himself), but still I think this point is not being hit nearly hard enough.

    My guess is, given a realistic degree of correlatedness, we’d see 20 outcomes where 1 or 2 people have lots of problems, 1 or 2 more people have one problem, and the rest are fine.

    I’d be curious to see someone try to rerun the experiment taking into account whatever correlations they could find. Even then, the overall correlatedness would likely be underestimated. Remember that you can have three variables with every two of them being independent, but altogether they are positively correlated. (My prediction that most of the big correlations would turn out to be positive is just intuition, though.) The only sure way to get a fully realistic picture would be to do a comprehensive survey for all the different types of problems. A very large survey.

    Scott also correctly said that accounting for correlatedness would increase the rate of people with lots of problems, which is entirely consistent with his own observations of the real world.

  76. Squirrel of Doom says:

    Let’s not forget that 94% of all people are dead.

  77. Bryan Willman says:

    First in reply to various comments about money – money is a claim on the aggregate (rather than particular) output of the rest of society. Which is why it can buy almost anything society produces in general, but often not the particular thing needed. (Medical care but not a close friend.)

    Second its quite useful to note how many of the sources of misery have been very resistent to any sort of public policy or technical treatment. Drug abuse stories more or less like the one recounted here are very common – and a very common thread is that the addict imposes all sorts of pointless nasty costs on people around them. Yet while there’s real (and I think often quite honest) debate about what to do about drug addiction (for example) there’s not really a clear winning strategy – rather, there are quite good arguments for strategies that will be somehow better the current circumstance.

    Never mind the sources of misery for which there is no credible treatment.

    Which all suggests that *some* high level of “misery” is unavoidable. Perhaps not as high as implied here. But higher than we would hope for.

    • Deiseach says:

      Again, speaking out of job experience: women addicts who clean up/women with druggie partners who want out of the scene generally do so when they become mothers and all of a sudden they’ve got a kid or kids that they’re responsible for and they don’t want them around that life.

      Not to say they all do; there are plenty of junkie mothers out there. But generally that’s why women come out of it.

      The guys who do have to really hit rock-bottom first: burned all their bridges, no money, nowhere to live, prison sentences, health problems, etc. Again, not all of them go straight but those who do have exhausted all options.

      There’s no easy way of doing it. I’m inclined to go that, when they’ve had chances, the only way to go is cut them out of your life completely: no bailing them out, no lending money, no paying off bills for them or settling their affairs for them, no letting them back to live at home. This is very damn tough on most people who do care about their family members.

      And even that – hitting rock-bottom – is not going to work in all cases. So no, no easy solutions or one definite strategy. Rehab does work for some people, but a lot just use it to get themselves out of prison sentences – their lawyer goes “Your honour, my client has a place in such-and-such treatment centre, give them a chance rather than send them to jail” – and to get nagging family members off their back but don’t really intend to change before they find themselves hitting the end.

      • Tibor says:

        I am personally for legalizing or at least decriminalizing drugs. Not because I think that drugs are not that bad. Well, some really are not, marihuana is generally ok, LSD is ok with some caution (the biggest problem is that you cannot be sure what you bought exactly, I would rather buy it in an apothecary with a certificate telling me the exact content), cocaine can be perhaps done with moderation, but one should be very careful (there is no physical addiction but a psychological addiction is another thing, plus it is not exactly healthy). Then there is stuff like heroin or meth I would not touch with a ten foot pole. But the current state of things does not help there either.

        1. Most addicts do not have money, so they buy the cheaper stuff, which is more likely to be cut with some even worse shit than what they put into their bodies willingly. Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia test their cut drugs on junkies. They round some up, give them a free drug and see if it kills them. If it does not, they sell it. At least this is what Roberto Saviano describes in Gomorrah (a book about mafia because of which he is currently under permanent police protection somewhere). The same pattern occurred during the US prohibition in the 30s – the alcohol that was sold was stronger and of lower quality than that which was drunk before and after and the consumption of harder liquor rose (people who wanted to get drunk but who would normally drink beer would find the price of beer prohibitive so they would buy hard liquor, which is cheaper to make illegally measured by alcohol contained, instead). If you legalized heroin, the heroin addicts would get heroin that is a bit less bad (still horrible, but better) than they get today, or they would perhaps even switch to something else and less harmful entirely.

        2. Since they do not have money, they also end up doing a lot of crime to get some, falling even deeper into their mess and perhaps being then more reluctant to seek help with their addiction (because they fear they would get caught)

        3.They are even more likely to hide their addiction (than when drugs are not illegal or not criminalized), which makes an intervention by friends and family more difficult.

        4. The mafia would still make drugs, sure, same as they make yogurt for example (the way Camorra operates in particular is to do legal business as long as it goes smoothly and then use some less “conventional” methods once they are threatened by competition – so for example “buy our yogurt for your supermarket and no other brands or an accident will happen to you”) but now they would stop having a monopoly in that business. In any case, it would likely lower the income of organized crime, which means less violence overall. Again, the US prohibition was the best thing the gangsters could wish for.

        5. With drugs no longer a domain of organized crime, a lot of deaths would be prevented – no drug lords fighting each other any more. Colombia would never have had Pablo Escobar and Mexico would be way safer and more peaceful today.

        6. The huge amount of tax money that goes to the “war on drugs” could be spent in a more sensible way (or not collected at all).

        I don’t like the argument some libertarians make about drugs when they say “it is your body, so you should be free to inject heroin if you feel like it”. The problem I have with that is that after a few doses, it is hardly a question of free will any more. Also, I doubt the same people would just say about a heavy alcoholic who has ruined his life completely with drinking that it is all just his free will. Addicts do not have much left of free will. The reason I still support the same conclusion is that I think that making drugs illegal and criminalizing them does not really help the addicts much, it helps pretty much only the mafia and the government organizations in charge of the “war on drugs”. I don’t think that people would suddenly start doing heroin en masse either. First of all, I could probably get heroin today if I wanted and I suspect that a lot of people would too. Go to your first “underground alternative” kind of club, make some friends there and you can get pretty much anything from “a friend of a friend”. I doubt that people do not do that just because they respect the law so much. The kind of people adventurous (or maybe I should say stupid) enough to want to try heroin are not going likely to be stopped by law from buying it (now, selling it is a completely different thing, but you cannot wish the sellers away by law, where there is demand, there shall be supply, as the God sayeth to Moses…or something, I only ever go to the Christmas mass, so I don’t always get things quite right). It is true that criminalization of drugs makes getting them more costly in terms of both money, time and effort, so you’d probably get some extra marginal addicts. If I am not wrong though, there would not be terribly too many and the positives I listed above would then outweigh the negatives.

        • That reminds me– might the world be a better place if coca leaves were generally available?

          • Tibor says:

            Well, cocaine is far more concentrated but the effects should be similar, so I imagine the difference as one between beer and absinthe. If that is correct, them probably yes. The US prohibition increased the consumption of hard liquor, making cocaine and coca illegal might have a similar effect. Cocaine is basically a concentrated version of coca leaves (although the process includes filtering it through sulfuric acid and other not so nice things) and it is much easier to smuggle a kilo of cocaine than the equivalent in terms of getting high of coca leaves – the same principle behind beer and hard liquor prices during prohibition. Making coca legal could decrease the consumption of cocaine (and it would make it way safer) and increase that of coca leaves.

  78. Deiseach says:

    I’m actually in pretty good form today, which is surprising (Christmasses for the past ten years or so have been stressful in one way or another, partly due to this ongoing depression).

    So good wishes to you all, have a good time, or whatever makes it a bearable time for you (because for some people this is the worst time of the year) and if it is a bad time, the one consolation is that it will be over in a few days.

    Hope all goes well with and for you all today!

  79. Sarah says:

    I was especially surprised by the chronic pain stats being so high. Do you have the link to the *paper* they were published in?

    • Scott Messick says:

      I can speak from personal experience. I have chronic pain (and yes, it’s serious, though I improved a lot with an SNRI) but none of the other problems on Scott’s list. And my interactions with the health care system have made it clear that chronic pain is very common (and all but impossible to treat). It’s just that special way a doctor’s eyes glaze over when I describe my symptoms, you know?

      I’m in no way comparing myself to the kinds of people Scott has to try to help. I love everything about my life, except chronic pain.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        Yep. While doctors, one assumes, by and large want to help people, once you reach the end of their strategies they usually seem to get very impatient with you. “Some people just seem to get a lot of sinus infections.” “There’s nothing wrong with your digestive system.”

        I don’t think they mean to be dismissive, and the frustration must be terrible. But it doesn’t incline one toward wanting to go to the doctor when one’s chief complaints can’t be addressed and mostly seem to irritate doctors.

    • Sastan says:

      I think Mark has the right of it. Chronic pain is the price we pay for living to middle age and beyond.

      I lost part of a hand, still have phantom pains ten years on. Feels like the missing fingers got smashed with a hammer. Happens two to five times a day, was really annoying and distracting for the first five years. With time, I almost don’t notice it. I mean, it hurts like hell, but my brain kind of shunts around it now. Kind of like hot peppers if you eat a lot of them. My brain has learned that it’s just a signal, not an injury.

    • TheNybbler says:

      Agreed; my knees often hurt (arthritis). My hip hurts (an injury which led to surgery; without the surgery it would hurt a LOT more). I get frequent headaches (genetics, probably, this isn’t new and runs in the family). My teeth hurt (I’m getting orthodontics which I hope will help that, but THAT hurts even more). And I’m in my 40s. Pretty much everyone I know in their 60s or older has more severe joint pain than I do (based on the complaining, anyway).

      No single event led to any of my joint pain (even the hip), but it’s probably due to wear and tear. I don’t see any way of avoiding it, aside from really good genetics or being a complete couch potato (which will lead to other problems).

  80. Eph says:

    So many people have it bad. And yet, the suicide rate is really low. How do we reconcile this?

    Explanation 1. People are irrational in that they don’t kill themselves even if their lives are not worth living. Or perhaps the laws make it too hard, or they fear hell.

    Explanation 2. The lives of most alcoholics, lonely people, unemployed, sexually molested etc. people still have enough positive experiences that they are better than nothing.

    I suspect explanation 1 is more likely true, but I’m not sure. Is there a scientific way to distinguish?

    • name says:

      Banning guns/chemicals/effective suicide methods resulting in significantly lower suicide rates, and vice versa.

      • keranih says:

        Eh. A comparision of Japan’s suicide rate vs that of the USA would tend to show that there is more to it than just access to the methods.

        • Eph says:

          Why? What’s different in Japan?

          • onyomi says:

            The Japanese have much less access to guns and commit suicide at a much higher rate. Stepping in front of trains was a preferred method, though that has fallen off somewhat, I believe, since they started billing families for the cleanup.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      People with crappy lives who commit suicide leave less descendants than people with crappy lives who don’t commit suicide. It would be miraculous if selection hadn’t biased us towards staying alive through adversity.

      • Eph says:

        Sure, but natural selection isn’t a magic force that optimizes perfectly, it has to work with what’s there, and even then it has to optimize for more than one constraint.

        For example, the cognitive architecture needed to understand suicide, self, life as abstract concepts is relatively new. The invention of painless suicide methods is very recent and natural selection has had no time to adapt to it.

        Also, why did evolution make people miserable in the first place? Why create brains that can suffer from PTSD? If evolution were this good at optimizing the pro-life instinct, it would make even torture victims happy enough to prefer it over no experience. (And yet, people pay for anesthesia during surgery)

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Your response here is actually subtly inconsistent: you are claiming that natural selection isn’t powerful enough to account for suicide-aversion, while at the same time demanding that natural selection also explain a host of finer-grained phenomena. I think the right answer falls somewhere in the middle: natural selection is the ultimate explanation for why most people most of the time are predisposed not to kill themselves, but it doesn’t explain why people suffer from PTSD or depression, because it isn’t a magic force that optimizes perfectly, it has to work with what’s there, etc. I’m pretty confident saying this based on the magnitude of the selection pressure alone– suicide is so catastrophic to fitness that any gene which significantly reduced its frequency in our ancestral environment would have had an overwhelming tailwind behind it.

          I don’t think the anesthesia case is relevant. Death and going under may be comparable in terms of (the lack of) phenomenal experience, but not at a biological level.

          • Eph says:

            I think anesthesia and painless suicide methods are similar in that they are both new enough for natural selection not to have reacted to it, and they both provide a comfortable off-switch for painful consciousness.

            As long as natural selection could simply make all the paths into unconsciousness painful, the pressure wasn’t really directed to make life worth living. Birth happens because parents want sex, babies are fed and comforted so they stop screaming, food is sought out because hunger sucks, all tissue damage is painful, etc.

            This is only a part of the story, of course selection also worked a lot with rewarding experiences. But there was never any pressure to convince an organism that the worst pain is still better than painless, comfortable death, because there was never any painless, comfortable death to be had. Perhaps otherwise the resulting pleasure-pain frequencies and intensities would have looked much better.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            This is an interesting question: could selection have gotten away with giving us an aversion to pain without a specific death-avoidance instinct? My inclination is to say no, because there are lots of ways of bringing about your own death where the pain won’t kick in until it’s too late. Jumping off a cliff, ingesting a mushroom, strolling through the encampment of an enemy tribe, etc. Death-but-not-pain-avoidance can be observed in other animals, too, I think– many will steer clear of precipices, flowing water, and enclosed spaces.

          • Eph says:

            Fear can be just as compulsive or unpleasant as pain. Fear of heights is very common. Also the anticipation of pain, suffocation etc. is intrinstic to most of the situations you described, e.g. people who jump off a cliff do *not* in fact have a realistic expectation of dieing without pain.

            (Evolution has clearly worked in many more such unpleasantness, e.g. hypothermia is very unpleasant long before it becomes deadly)

    • Anonymous says:

      There’s also explanation 3: people care about others as well as themselves, and so refrain from suicide even when inclined towards it because of the expected negative consequences it would have on their family and friends.

      I also think that the threshold for how bad a life can be before it isn’t worth living is a lot lower than you seem to.

      • Eph says:

        Maybe, but people also sometimes feel like a burden, or are actually a burden, and so altruistic inclinations should push in both directions. It’s not clear this always works against suicide.

        • EveMatteo says:

          When I made my suicide plan, it was sparked by the belief that my life made others’ lives worse, not by the idea that my life was worse than my death. When my plan was interrupted, my decision not to try again was sparked the the realization that my death would be even worse for those others than my life was, and was stuck wishing I had never existed in the first place.

          To overcome this, I had to get to a point where I stopped believing that my life made other people’s lives worse.

          Since then, my only suicidal inclinations have been of the “there’s nothing worth living for anymore” variety. The greatest argument against that has been having a steady partner who would be devastated if I died. It’s a double-edged sword though, as fights with said partner are usually the trigger for feeling like life’s not worth it. x.x

          Suicide is a function of depression. Not a function of a normal person experiencing shitty things. Living with depression is a constant battle to focus on the good in (whatever your mind is currently trying to convince you has no good whatsoever). Being fairly rational helps me- I’m capable of telling my depressed mind when it’s being ridiculous, and when it’s obviously lying, and my depressed mind will calm down in response. Many people aren’t so lucky. When the (whatever your mind is currently trying to convince you has no good whatsoever) is either your self or your life, suicide is the result of losing that battle.

          • “and was stuck wishing I had never existed in the first place.”

            “Better not to have been born. But who could be so lucky–not one in a million.”

            Leo Rosten, The Joys of Yiddish, by memory so possibly not verbatim.

            Not exactly relevant, but a wonderful line.

          • Eph says:

            Someone go tell Bryan Caplan that, I think he still thinks life is a horse gift.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ David Friedman

            I remember Freud’s version as “The best thing for mortal man is never to be born, but unfortunately this happens to scarcely one in a hundred thousand.” Can’t find it in English, and I can’t read German.

          • EveMatteo says:

            Honestly, I think Leo Rosten has it right, because that quote puts it at nobody not existing, while yours has people not existing, which is a contradiction.

            In order to be a person, you must first exist. Therefore, there is not a single person who has not existed. Only hypothetical people can have not existed. (grammar runtime error: How do you conjugate something that didn’t happen when talking about the possibility of it happening?)

            (BTW, I think that quote is beautiful and awe-inspiring, because it makes me aware of just what goes in to making someone exist on the molecular level, and it makes me think of stars for some reason.)

          • DonBoy says:

            “It is better never to have been born. But who among us has such luck? One in a million, perhaps.” — consistently attributed to Alfred Polgar, although consistent attributions have been known to be wrong. And, he being Austrian, I presume he was writing in German.

          • Montfort says:

            EveMatteo: we call that mood the subjunctive. In English, it has very few differences from the indicative.

  81. Rick G says:

    I am reminded that Richard Simmons (of all people) used to talk about all the morbidly obese people that never leave their house, and how we don’t even realize how many there are because they don’t leave their house and so they are invisible, and how he would go to their houses to try to help.

    That also makes me wonder if some of the “you don’t know how good you have it” stuff on Tumblr, etc. is written by similarly suffering people who never leave their house, because they are so miserable, but who have just enough will to get online.

    • Loquat says:

      In my experience on more SJ-inclined websites, there were definitely active community members who were either what you suggest, or largely homebound due to physical disability and lack of resources to get out and about. One guy who particularly sticks in my memory would frequently talk about his despression ruining his life, and at one point actually complained at length about how unfair it was that his family was demanding he perform one step of the seeking-treatment process himself as opposed to them doing 100% of it for him.

    • nydwracu says:

      That also makes me wonder if some of the “you don’t know how good you have it” stuff on Tumblr, etc. is written by similarly suffering people who never leave their house, because they are so miserable, but who have just enough will to get online.

      Yes.

  82. For the record, my experience supports the idea that your script produced a fairly representative sample.

  83. sabril says:

    “The people who come to a psychiatrist are disproportionately the unhappiest and most disturbed. This is obviously true to some degree. But I got the same sort of people when I worked in general medicine and primary care.”

    I think selection bias may be more of a problem than you realize. Based on general observations, I’m pretty sure that people with mental problems are far more likely to go to the doctor with physical ailments. For one thing, these people often subconsciously want attention and to be taken seriously; nobody in their families listens to their nonsense or takes them seriously. For another, they tend to engage in subtle (and not so subtle) self-destructive behavior which results in health problems. Last, the doctor’s office is a potential source of stuff they want — excuse slips for work and sometimes prescriptions for opiate pain medication.

    • On the other hand, Scott may be underestimating the number of people with seriously debilitating physical problems who don’t go to psychiatrists.

      • sabril says:

        “On the other hand, Scott may be underestimating the number of people with seriously debilitating physical problems who don’t go to psychiatrists.”

        He may be, but based on my general observations, I’m pretty confident that the selection bias will lead to psychiatrists and general practice doctors encountering problem people.

    • Maware says:

      1. Psychology is EXPENSIVE, if I recall. Not sure how it’s covered by insurance, but generally finances I’m sure are a big issue. There’s no “psychology walk-in clinics” or emergency rooms, and you aren’t just going in for a single session and a cheap prescription.
      2. Psychology has a stigma. Who wants to admit they are mentally ill? That’s admitting you don’t have as much agency as you thought.
      3. The psychological symptoms are a lot easier to hide. Many people think to themselves its something they do. If you’re in physical pain, you know its an outside cause. But depression people can mistake as laziness…they don’t realize it can be an external condition too.

  84. Deiseach says:

    The “put together from several different cases” grandmother you mentioned is precisely why I’m so anti- “let’s legalise drugs, what harm could it do?” campaigns.

    Most people who support those are the “I smoked weed in college with my pals and we’re perfectly okay and have normal, successful lives and careers! So drugs are just fine!” types. They really want legislation so they and their friends can have access to soft-ish drugs with no hassle and plenty of convenience. They currently may have to acquire their stashes via a dealer (though that’s less and less face-to-face and more by online methods now), but that is second- or even third-hand and they’re more or less insulated from the criminality, so in their minds the whole legal prosecution of drugs is what is causing the problem: just make it legal to buy your stuff from a shop in the high street and nobody needs to steal anymore in order to pay the artificially inflated prices crime gangs charge! (I admire the naive assumption that gangs of people willing to commit murder over drug supplying will meekly fold their tents and give up that market once the state permits legal drug stores).

    But the majority of drug users aren’t like that. They’re like the son-in-law: they use, and by that I mean they use not just drugs, they use everyone and everything to get the next fix. Daughter is probably making excuses for him all the time, if she’s not using herself; son-in-law doesn’t care about anything except the next batch he can get high on, not even his kid; grandmother is not going to go to the cops or social services because she’ll lose contact with the grandchild for sure, her daughter will hate her for taking son-in-law away and probably there’s some blinkers in her case as well about “things aren’t that bad as long as I can be involved somehow”.

    I could even imagine the second patient getting a decent payout from his factory and being financially in the clear for a while.

    Doubtful. This is why unions, and union power has been steadily eroded for years now. Right this minute, for instance, the former workers for the Waterford Crystal factory are only now getting their pension rights after six years litigation, going all the way to the European Court, and backed strongly by their trade union.

    If your patient wasn’t a union member, he’s probably left to try and take a case on his own. Given that he can’t even leave his home some days, it’s going to be even harder than usual to hire and pay a lawyer, make a case (and the company will drag it out as long as possible in the courts hoping his money to pay a lawyer will run out before a final judgement can be made), and turn up in court, and even then it’s not cut-and-dried he will get a settlement, or if he does, a lot of it will go to pay his legal costs (that is often a shock to people who take cases for accidents or abuse and get a settlement, how much of it gets snaffled by the lawyers). If by government standards he’s not disabled, or disabled enough, to qualify for disability payments (as can be assumed from what you say about him having to get legal representation to have it restored when the government payments are cut off on the grounds “he’s fit for work”), then it’s not so likely the courts will rule differently. They might pay out for the accident at the time if negligence can be proven, but if they don’t accept that long-term damage was caused and your patient is incapable of working again, then any sum is likely to be small.

    These are the kind of things I saw in my education job and my social housing job. There’s a lot of suffering out there that nobody knows about because it’s not in their circle of work and social contacts, or it’s not plainly visible, or it’s assumed “Oh well, those are the kind of people who come from the housing estates in the first place, that’s a natural life for them”.

    • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug_policy_of_Portugal

      Portugal decriminalized drugs in 2000, with no obvious ill effects and some good effects– notably less spread of needle-born diseases.

      This isn’t a libertarian program– there’s a strong campaign to get people to use clean needles (including supplying the needles) and pressure to get people into government-supplied rehab.

      Your description leaves out the damage done by punishing people for using drugs.

    • Vitor says:

      > I admire the naive assumption that gangs of people willing to commit murder over drug supplying will meekly fold their tents and give up that market once the state permits legal drug stores

      That’s a bit of a strawman, but I’ll bite. The mechanism by which gangs will disappear is the presence of law enforcement. When a legal seller gets robbed or shot at by a gang, that person can call the cops, unlike a black market seller.

      Lawlessness is a requirement for gangs to flourish. I think your argument proves too much: why aren’t we seeing bakers willing to commit murder over the bread supply? Of course there would be a transition period, but the existence of gangs is not stable in the presence of effective law enforcement (almost a tautology, I know).

      Furthermore, you are ignoring the huge cost to society imposed by locking up many people for petty crimes (drug use and posession) that don’t harm others.

      I agree with you that indiscriminate drug access can seriously harm many people who wouldn’t handle that access responsibly. However, I think that legal drugs de facto allow for better access control and education of the public.

      I’m curious if you advocate alcohol prohibition as well. It seems to me you would have to if you want to keep your position consistent.

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      I admire the naive assumption that gangs of people willing to commit murder over drug supplying will meekly fold their tents and give up that market once the state permits legal drug stores

      That’s pretty much what happened in the US when they legalised alcohol. I don’t see why other drugs would be different.

      As for that story about the family of drug addicts, I don’t see what argument for drug prohibition you’re trying to make here. This is something that is happening right now, despite the strict anti-drug laws in the US. In fact, those laws are making things quite a bit worse for that family since they need to pay inflated prices for drugs and the drugs they get are much more dangerous since there is little in the way of quality control, so the drugs you get from your local dealer may be adulterated with who knows what.

    • Loquat says:

      You know, when we ended our experiment with banning alcohol in the US, the armed and murderous gangs making loads of profit from black-market alcohol did in fact lose that market to the legal retailers. I’m sure people like the Sinaloa cartel would try to keep the cash cow flowing, but in the long run the corporations would win.

      Also, just as drug dealers today frequently extend their product by cutting it with substances that harm the user, bootleggers during prohibition frequently “enhanced” their alcohol with poisonous substances, or used industrial alcohol known to have been poisoned by government order to deter consumption – ending prohibition of alcohol ended that problem with alcohol, and ending prohibition of drugs would likely do the same for any drug legalized.

    • Anonymous says:

      I find that much of the pro-legalization crowd doesn’t understand the idea of the marginal case. Furthermore, a lot of the time, their plans are short on details, being some amount of (1) Legalize drugs, (2) A miracle occurs, (3) Utopia has been achieved. I have no doubt that there will be some positive effects (one of which is the reduction in the black market), but almost every time, pro-legalization folks downplay the negative effects more than I am comfortable with. I can understand why they do it – a lot of the negative effects are harder to measure than being able to show, “Now, profit stream X isn’t going to bad guy Y.” How do you measure, “Uses grandson to extract drug money from grandmother”?

      Generally, the most common downplaying comes in two forms. First, they tie their brains in knots trying to explain how usage won’t go up. This is really important for them to continue believing in utopia, but it’s just completely nonsensical. Second, they handwave all of the actual problems away with “treatment”. One of the things I’ve learned from reading SSC for years is that “treatment” is not a magic bullet. Besides his general descriptions of his experiences in the field, he has also pointed me to some statistical truths. In a previous BadStatistics post, he showed how many alcohol rehab programs lie to show effectiveness and pointed out that honest alcohol rehab programs struggle to show any effectiveness above a placebo. As I’ve looked into rehab programs for substances like heroin, they don’t even bother trying to measure success in terms of things like, “Stops using heroin.” Of course, they are trying to show some measure of harm reduction, but bald appeals to treatment can’t justify ignoring the fact that usage will go up and bring negative effects.

      I’m not going to sit here and claim to know that either path is decidedly better than the other, but given the crowd I experience most often is pro-legalization of this type, these are a couple common issues I’ve seen.

      • Dan T. says:

        Whatever the problems caused by drug use, is it going to improve them in any way for those who suffer them to take them and put them in prison and give them a lifelong criminal record for using drugs?

        • Anonymous says:

          That’s simply not an accurate description of what actually happens today. Lots of effort is expended to pull qualifying drug users into drug courts or other pretrial diversion programs, which can result in no prison time and no conviction record. They use carrots and sticks to encourage individuals to get clean and participate in treatment programs (even though, again, these are not silver bullets). Not only will legalization increase the number of users, it will remove this stick that actually pushes people toward the treatment that everyone wants them to have.

          Now, this is not a utopia, either. The criminal justice system gets it wrong sometimes. When the system grabs hold of you, there’s a chance that something stupid messes up what should be the optimal result. However, it does provide a push toward people being clean that wouldn’t exist otherwise (and can also cause individuals to engage with resources they wouldn’t have otherwise that can help them avoid committing other crimes). The hope is always to catch people early, before they commit a crime that leaves everyone saying, “Yep, that gets prison… regardless of whether you’re a drug addict or not.”

          Of course, I imagine there will be some immediate pushback on this point – “What about the drug users who are reasonably responsible with the rest of their lives and are unlikely to commit worse crimes?” First, I think the percentage of drug users who are truly responsible with the rest of their lives is pretty low (sure, son-in-law holds down a job, kinda, and is usually around for grandson… even if he’s a little high and not a very engaging father… but he’s also stealing from grandma). Second, the people who are actually pretty responsible with the rest of their lives are precisely the people who are almost certain to do well with some sort of pretrial diversionary program.

          • Sastan says:

            I’d say the percentage of drug users who can hold it together is likely identical to the percentage of drinkers who don’t become complete alcoholics. Which is to say, the vast majority.

            Addictive people are gonna use. Meth, alcohol, paint thinner, smack, sex, gambling, internet…..doesn’t matter. You’re not going to save them. They are going to ruin their lives and the lives of everyone who sticks their neck out to help. The question is how many other lives you’re going to ruin with your prohibition?

            The ultimate question is who is responsible for monitoring each person’s chemical intake. The state or the individual?

          • Anonymous says:

            Perhaps the would-be percentage of drug users who can hold it together is similar to that of alcohol, but we’re looking at pretty distinctly different populations right now. The population of current illegal drug users includes, pretty much by definition, those who would be willing to break the law for their substance of choice. A responsibility metric for new users, post-legalization would almost certainly fall between the current alcohol rate and the current illegal drug rate, and it would vary by substance.

            Your second paragraph is a prime example of the first failure I mentioned – not understanding the idea of the marginal case. There are people who will never try any drugs no matter how legal/available/subsidized they are. There are people who will do everything they can to get drugs no matter how illegal/unavailable/penalized they are. Those people are likely to be influenced the least by changes in drug policy. It’s the marginal cases that matter – those who want to follow the law, those who are cleaned up by court-ordered rehab, those who decide, “It’s legal, so it must not be that bad!” We can’t just ignore the effects in the marginal cases.

            Finally, your last paragraph isn’t really a very useful question. The state regulates some chemical intake, and it doesn’t regulate others. This is always going to be the case regardless of whether we change the law for your particular recreational chemical.

        • Deiseach says:

          put them in prison and give them a lifelong criminal record for using drugs?

          You know, I have no damn problem with that, because a lot of the people I see will already have criminal records for other things associated with the effects of their drug use: theft, assault, public disorder and public nuisance arrests, up to stabbing people or threatening people that their criminal friends will shoot them (all instances I’ve seen).

          Again, this is the “nice college kid busted for weed or maybe some E and eek oh no a criminal conviction! his life is ruined!” notion, which a lot of the habitual users are nowhere damn near. One case I have personal experience of from the person’s trajectory bringing them within the ambit of both my jobs: dropped out of school early because of the old-fashioned “hanging out with bad company”. Placed in early school leaver programme which she constantly blew off because weed was more fun, despite trojan efforts by the staff and adult education officer to keep in contact with her, get her back to some kind of education, and keep her from going off the rails. Moved out of home and moved around to various addresses so she couldn’t be found easily. Eventually moved in with guy who helped her move on from weed and develop a smack habit. Had a couple of kids by the age of twenty-two. Had a string of suspended convictions for petty theft and shoplifting to feed her habit with public disorder (getting in fights, being under the influence in public, etc) charges for a bit of variation. Is now doing serious jail time for stabbing someone in the stomach during a fight and one of her kids is with its grandmother. I’ve been able to track her progress thanks to the local paper court reports and work files on her and her family.

          By the time “a criminal record for using drugs” came along, her life was already fucked up thanks to harmless fun recreational drug use.

          I am not seeing “Charlie and Sally have weekend fun with a few pills that they buy from a reputable guy and they’re sober and straight for the work week”, I’m seeing “young woman ringing office in hysterics because she’s getting death threats from local dealers and their associates, her former friends who are still using, because she named names to a guy investigating his son’s drug-related murder.” I had to take the call at eight in the morning when she was in fear of her and her childrens’ lives and wanted us to get her out of there and put her in another house anywhere as long as it was out of the area.

          • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

            It is still not obvious how much drugs being illegal is a barrier to people becoming drug addicts (remember that all the addicts you have known *do* manage to get drugs). I suspect that e,g, cultural factors have a *much* stronger effect than the War on Drugs.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @ Deiseach:

            Well, of course those are the cases you see.

            But you see those cases regardless of the legality of the drugs. It’s not an argument for whether or not the illegality prevents the cases occurring.

        • multiheaded says:

          I am not seeing “Charlie and Sally have weekend fun with a few pills that they buy from a reputable guy and they’re sober and straight for the work week”, I’m seeing “young woman ringing office in hysterics because she’s getting death threats from local dealers and their associates, her former friends who are still using, because she named names to a guy investigating his son’s drug-related murder.” I had to take the call at eight in the morning when she was in fear of her and her childrens’ lives and wanted us to get her out of there and put her in another house anywhere as long as it was out of the area.

          Well, legalization would at the least eliminate the local dealers and the drug-related murders, duh.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        In a previous BadStatistics post, he showed how many alcohol rehab programs lie to show effectiveness and pointed out that honest alcohol rehab programs struggle to show any effectiveness above a placebo.

        So, possible tangent: Here’s an article on Alternet (not the most reliable source, I know) claiming that most people with a drug addiction simply grow out of it. It points to a number of studies backing up this claim but there is no way I’m going to take the time to seriously look into this. Does anyone else know more about this?

      • Nestor says:

        I fail to understand how legalization or not changes the dynamics of Scott’s example 60 year old and her hostage grandson.

        This is a polite way of saying I don’t think you have made a convincing argument but I’m willing to hear you elaborate.

        • Anonymous says:

          That’s probably a reasonable thing to be confused about, because in that comment, I didn’t make any claims on legality changing that particular situation (or any other particular situation). I used it purely as an indicator of a type of thing that is difficult to measure.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ Deiseach
      grandmother is not going to go to the cops or social services because she’ll lose contact with the grandchild for sure, her daughter will hate her for taking son-in-law away

      In the US, the illegality of drugs makes people fear to call social services, or seek help elsewhere, for that sort of reason.

      Worldwide, sfaik, regulation of addictive substances ranges from attempts at total prohibition to almost no regulation, depending on how seriously addictive the substance is, how physically dangerous to self and other the direct effect is, and whether substitutes are practical. I think that lumping ‘all [currently] illegal drugs’ together is unhelpful, whether as ‘legalize them all’ or as ‘support the War on Drugs’.

    • Psycicle says:

      There’s a pretty big distance between legalizing weed/LSD/etc… and legalizing opiates and powerful stimulants. The majority of the life-ruining addictions come from the latter categories.

      • Psycicle says:

        I saw the Adderall one coming from a mile away, I definitely agree about it being a major addiction for the “type A personalities”, and I’d class it on the low end of the “powerful stimulant” class. As a general rule, staying far away from things that affect dopamine is an excellent rule for drugs.

        Nitrous surprised me a little bit, to be honest, but it’s always nice to learn about another thing to be careful of. I knew it was very “more-ish”, rather like eating a bag of chips. When you are halfway through a bag of chips, the action of eating the next chip can’t really be said to be a conscious one, and likewise with nitrous, if you have some quantity on-hand, you will continue to use it until it’s gone. The only point at which a decision can really be made is the decision to purchase more nitrous/purchase another bag of chips. I guess I just never put it together before now, but it makes sense. If you get to the point of frequently purchasing nitrous, it would drain your bank account pretty quickly.

      • Anomalous says:

        My psychiatrist diagnosed me with adult ADHD and prescribed me Vyvanse. I was reluctant, but he insisted that I give it a try. It really helped with my symptoms, but I feel neither the need nor the desire to use it regularly. I’d rather use only the lowest dose, and only when needed.

        Should I be concerned?

        • Psycicle says:

          Probably not. Two reasons. One is that you don’t feel the need or desire to use it regularly. If that changes, feel free to be more concerned.

          The second reason is that Vyvanse is fairly safe, as far as amphetamines go. Vyvanse is actually a prodrug. The body needs to metabolize it into amphetamine before it does anything, so instead of having the amphetamine enter your body all in a short period of time, it produces a low flow of amphetamine throughout the day from metabolism. As the dopamine peak is lower (because there is a certain maximum rate at which the body can metabolize Vyvanse), the effects are longer-lasting, and the come-up is longer, it does not condition behavior as strongly as the other amphetamines.

          (If anyone with medical training wants to point out flaws, I’d welcome it)

        • Creutzer says:

          Given what you describe, there is no need for concern at all. Detrimental long-term effects of amphetamine (ab)use are certain only for several times the dose that you are likely to take.

      • ryubyss says:

        the future will judge the present harshly for giving (legal) meth to children.

    • DensityDuck says:

      If drugs are illegal, then going to a court and saying “my son-in-law is an unfit parent because he uses drugs” is a criminal accusation, which will cause problems for him and his family. It’s the start of a chain of events the grandmother in question doesn’t necessarily want.

      If drugs are legal, then this guy being a user means he’s a scumbag but not a criminal. Taking the kid–or, at least, not denying access–becomes a civil matter, which is easier to deal with. No reasonable doubt, just a preponderance of evidence and a bench review.

      • Jeffrey Soreff says:

        Interesting point. Doe we see the expected differences between alcoholics and opiate addicts, due to the different standards of proof? If I’m reading your post correctly, we should expect kids to be removed more easily from an alcoholic parent due to alcohol use being legal and not requiring as strong a proof. Am I reading correctly? Is this what winds up happening?

        • DensityDuck says:

          You aren’t reading me correctly at all. It’s not that alcohol abuse requires a lower standard of proof, it’s that drug abuse is a criminal act. Accusing someone of criminal act starts a different process which someone might not wish to enact against a family member.

          To put it differently, she might be thinking “I just want to see my grandson, I don’t want him to go to jail and leave my daughter without support”.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            Accusing someone of criminal act starts a different process which someone might not wish to enact against a family member.

            Many Thanks for the clarification!

    • Sastan says:

      Dieseach, you are completely correct, but one problem.

      Every bit of that complaint applies equally well to alcohol, gambling, and a thousand other vices. Read the jeremiads from the Prohibition folks. They weren’t pissing in the wind about the problems alcohol causes. Problem is, banning it only adds more problems, and doesn’t subtract enough to make it worthwhile. The people who have it together enough to think “damn, I don’t want a felony on my record, maybe I’ll skip the X tonight” are also together enough to not let it run their lives if they did do it because it was legal. The fuck-ups who can’t control their urge to self-annihilate aren’t going to be stopped by laws.

      I completely accept and understand the arguments for prohibition. And I’m not a drug user, now or ever (except alcohol). I still think everyone is better off ruining their own lives (or not) without help from the police. A drug addict isn’t improved by a felony stint in prison. He’s still an addict, and now he’s unemployable, lost contact with any support system, and has had to deal with prison for however long. Not a recipe for success.

      Yes, my policy will allow people to be gigantic fuck-ups without putting them in jail. I see this as the point, not the problem.

      • Jeffrey Soreff says:

        And I’m not a drug user, now or ever (except alcohol).

        No caffeine? 🙂
        Albeit that is more of an occupational drug than a recreational one…

      • Anonymous says:

        There are salient differences between alcohol and most other illegal drugs. The biggest is production. Fermented alcohol can be produced by leaving standard food products in the back of your cabinet for a few too many weeks. Essentially any sugar/starch can be turned into alcohol anywhere. Higher-proof alcohol can be made with a standard cooking pot and a tube. It is so utterly impossible to ban this chain of production that it makes comparisons with any other prohibitions almost universally void. It’s bad when people compare alcohol to opium; it’s bad when people compare alcohol to guns. Both sides love to appeal to, “Prohibition is just bad, m’kay,” when it suits their preferences.

        The people who have it together enough to think “damn, I don’t want a felony on my record, maybe I’ll skip the X tonight” are also together enough to not let it run their lives if they did do it because it was legal. The fuck-ups who can’t control their urge to self-annihilate aren’t going to be stopped by laws.

        This is pretty standard, “Not understanding the idea of the marginal case,” at work.

        I covered the final bit in another comment above. As a pretty general rule, the people who aren’t “gigantic fuck-ups” see drug courts and diversionary programs, not felony stints in prison. The gigantic fuck-ups generally commit additional crimes and are imprisoned primarily for those reasons.

        • anon1 says:

          Growing plants or mushrooms isn’t necessarily hard either, and can also be done by accident. All it takes is dirt and sunlight in the first case and cellulose in the second.

          • Anonymous says:

            Sure, but most plants aren’t desired for recreational drug use. One could perhaps meaningfully say, “In order to prevent production of alcohol, we would have to ban all sugars/starches,” while one cannot meaningfully say, “In order to prevent production of [other recreational drug of choice], we would have ban all plants.”

        • Psmith says:

          In addition to what anon1 said, it’s not that hard to make a gun, either. Fifteen dollars and a trip to Home Depot is all you really need for a Four Winds shotgun. Shotshells are basically kitchen-table stuff as well, except for the primer. But they’re also relatively easy to smuggle.

          • It also requires the relevant knowledge. Now that you have mentioned it, I expect I could find it online, but I don’t assume that the random person would either consider making his own firearm or know how to learn how to do it.

          • Psmith says:

            Eh. Zip guns (which are slightly more complicated than a slamfire shotgun, actually) saw a lot of use for criminal purposes in NYC in the 50s, and apparently are still used around the world. See, for instance,
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Improvised_firearm
            and
            https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/673240-zipgun1.html.

            And I think I would need to do about as much research to make an improvised firearm as I would to distill my own spirits or grow mushrooms, let alone weed. Which is to say, it’d take some googling, but not a whole lot.

            In light of both those points, I think it’s fairly reasonable to compare alcohol prohibition to gun prohibition or mushroom (and possibly marijuana) prohibition.

          • Mary says:

            Also notice that while you need to keep on making alcohol to drink it, guns are buy-once, keep-a-long-time. Ammo may be a problem, but guns would have to be a lot harder to buy to make it not worth your while.

          • What puzzles me, then, is why gun prohibition works so well (or at least appears to do so) in many parts of the world. (Perhaps it’s a “setting the default” thing?)

          • Tom Womack says:

            ‘What puzzles me, then, is why gun prohibition works so well (or at least appears to do so) in many parts of the world’

            Because it turns ‘petty criminal with gun’ into ‘serious threat justifying closing roads, deploying some of our small number of actually-armed police, making a great fuss about it and sticking you in prison for years once you’re caught’; and that’s a degree of severe certain consequence enough to counteract petty criminals’ justified belief that they can mug more effectively with a gun.

          • Geirr says:

            > What puzzles me, then, is why gun prohibition works so well (or at least appears to do so) in many parts of the world. (Perhaps it’s a “setting the default” thing?)

            Gun prohibition or availability has a surprisingly small effect on societal violence. Basically every adult citizen male in Switzerland has ready access to guns. Violence is negligibly different from the very culturally similar areas it borders. Norway and Finland have lots and lots of guns, Denmark many fewer, similarly small differences. Population propensity to violence is a much bigger deal than how available firearms are.

          • Creutzer says:

            Aren’t the guns in Switzerland actual military rifles, though, as opposed to handguns?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            The guns that almost every adult male is required to keep in his house are military rifles. However, handguns are extremely common.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’d say there are also some other important differences for banning guns. One is physical size. The guns that most people have access to are rigid and take up a meaningful amount of space. They’re easier to detect than a little bit of weed in your sock.

            Another is pattern of usage. Many people who use drugs use them on a regular basis. This causes them to fall into patterns of transporting them in order to keep them available for use at the desired times. (Of course, the more responsible don’t do this and are less likely to get caught.)

            Weapon usage patterns would probably look more like what you see in prison. Today, carrying a gun in public is legal in many places (with various caveats, of course). Some people then take to carrying one “just in case”. In a society where they are prohibited, people are less likely to carry “just in case”. There will probably be homemade production of weapons (as there is in prison), but they are likely to be well-hidden and less transported unless an individual intends to use it for a particular purpose (or has a heightened sense of a threat to himself).

            Edit: I should note that as I pointed out above, home production of alcohol is obscenely easy and impossible to prevent (unless we ban all sugar/starch). A ban will still see some transportation from more coveted sources, and this effect will increase with other illegal drugs, since home production is likely more difficult. But otherwise, transportation is more likely to follow usage patterns.

          • Mary says:

            “What puzzles me, then, is why gun prohibition works so well (or at least appears to do so) in many parts of the world. ”

            Define “works so well”.

            After all, Great Britain has had a century of steadily mounting gun control without lowering the crime rate to that of times without any.

          • @Mary,

            Define “works so well”.

            As in “very few people break the gun laws, even though it is theoretically really easy to do so”. As opposed to drug laws, for example, or even what restrictions remain on alcohol.

            (I think I also had in the back of my mind the fact that NZ police don’t need to carry guns on a day-to-day basis, so they almost never shoot people by mistake. Although I think there are plans afoot for them to start carrying tasers, so we’ll have to wait and see how that works out.)

            After all, Great Britain has had a century of steadily mounting gun control without lowering the crime rate to that of times without any.

            Did Great Britain have a significant gun crime problem to begin with? Even in the US I would have guessed that the majority of crimes don’t involve guns, so even supposing that criminals were too chicken to commit crimes without them the effect on crime rates would be minimal.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Great Britain did not (and compared to the US does not) have a lot of gun crime. However, banning guns has not kept the crime rate from increasing at a truly appalling rate, nor has it lowered the rate of crimes committed with guns. Comparing “crime” and “gun crime” is not apples to apples, but even if you just look at gun crime there is no question that the gun ban(s) in GB has been comically ineffective at reducing it.

    • hrtoll says:

      I just have to step in and object to the assertion “But the majority of drug users aren’t like that.” Yes, yes they are. And by quite an overwhelming majority at that. Let’s take the UK as an example:

      Total population in 2014: 64.1 million

      In England and Wales the 2013/14 CSEW, conducted among people aged 16–59, showed that 35.6 % of respondents had tried any illicit drug at least once in their lives.

      That is, around 22.8 million people aged 16-59 had tried drugs at some point in their life. The number of “Problem drug users” in the UK was estimated to be around 400000 in 2014 by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

      So ≈1.8% of drug users are classified as “problem drug users”. That’s not even a minority, that’s a rounding error.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’ll note a couple things. First, lifetime use rates are generally seen as less reliable and suffering from age effects. It’s not terribly useful to know that Uncle Johnny smoked a joint that once in ‘Nam, but has been clean the entire rest of his life.

        The second thing that is useful to note is that the same gov’t organization reported that the police recorded 169,964 drug offences in the year ending March 2015. Given that this is less than half the number of “problem drug users”, it’s is a pretty good sign that law enforcement is rather tailored toward problem users rather than 35.6% of the population. I continue to be shocked by how thoroughly wrong the popular impression is that, “Little Suzy was the perfect college student, but she smoked one joint and the War on Drugs put her in prison for five years on a felony charge.”

        • hrtoll says:

          I don’t in any way deny the social and economic costs of the population of problem drug users – 400,000 junkies spread out over Britain is a fair number of dysfunctional people after all. Neither am I claiming that Little Suzy runs any real risk of landing in a federal prison for smoking a joint. I am merely pointing out that the idea that “the majority of drug users aren’t like [Uncle Johnny]” is off by something like a factor of at least 25. The ratio of Uncle Jonnies:problem drug users seems like a relevant data point to put that notion to bed.

          And it at least raises the question of whether it is wise to base a country’s entire drugs policy on the behaviour of a relatively minute minority of problematic edge cases. The number of people involved in traffic accidents over their lifetime is probably higher than 1.8% of the population but we’re not banning cars because some people are accident prone.

          • Anonymous says:

            The number of people involved in traffic accidents over their lifetime is probably higher than 1.8% of the population but we’re not banning cars because some people are accident prone.

            Right, the percentage of people who are involved in traffic accidents over their lifetime is far higher than the number of problem drivers. The reasons are pretty much a direct analog. Nevertheless, society makes laws restricting high risk behavior. You can be a totally responsible driver who answers a cell phone call once…. but regular cell phone use while driving is dangerous to society. (For example)

  85. Svejk says:

    I don’t mean to minimize anyone’s suffering, but I charitably understood the ‘Tumblr complaint’ to be that members of certain groups can experience the categories comprising ‘baseline’ human suffering (for the general population vin question), and many are indeed quite miserable, but that others are additionally exposed to other group-specific sources of pain, and may also have higher population-wide probabilities of experiencing the more widespread sources of misery. Whether specific instances of the Tumble complaint deserve to be treated charitably is another question requiring individual judgment.

    • Anonymous says:

      But there doesn’t seem to be any reason to treat Tumblr’s favorite disadvantages as any more important or bad than any of the other thousands of disadvantages they don’t talk about. From what I can tell, Tumblr disadvantages are chosen based on being a) concentrated, and b) obvious, rather than because they are especially bad. Personally, I think I am much more advantaged by being intelligent than by being white, straight, or male. As in, I would rather become a black lesbian woman and retain my IQ, than remain straight, white and male, but be given an IQ of 100.

      I don’t see why it wouldn’t be equally valid to say, “oh, so you’re ugly, depressed, and stupid? Try having all that, AND you’re gay!” as it would be to say, “oh, so you’re black, female, and gay? Try having all that, AND you’re depressed!”. There existing multiple possible disadvantages isn’t a reason to privilege your preferred ones over others.

      • Anonymous says:

        For a long time, I’ve tried to figure out how to bring some rigor to this problem. The two biggest issues are category scope and order-dependence.

        It is obvious that we must have some scoping. When I was taking queer theory classes, they were quite adamant that the core of most of what they can talk about is modern-day US. They can poke out from that a bit here and there, but if we stretch out our scope too far, things get dicey. So, we have statements like, “Given that I was born in the 1980s in America, I have statistically better outcomes if I am white than if I am black.” Soon after, we conclude that this statistical result is caused by systemic racism, but the qualifiers are really important. They provide scoping, and that scoping is done before we run the statistical test.

        The first problem is how broad or narrow do we make these scoping categories? Should the relevant scope be “born in 1980”, “born in the 20th Century”, “born after the Roman Empire”? How do we pick one? Likewise, is the relevant geographical scope “lived in America”, “lived in a developed western country”, “lived in a rural town in the midwest”, or what? This scoping can change the results of subsequent statistical tests.

        Then, it seems as though we should probably have an ordering… but we need some sort of logical way to pick an ordering. It seems pretty nonsensical to just be able to pick any set of scoping parameters we feel like, because then we could cherry-pick the results. The only idea I’ve come up with is in the vein of, “We’re trying to understand what advantages or disadvantages people.” Thus, at least one reasonable method of determining an order is by maximum effect size. I think it’s still likely that era and general location are likely to be the biggest factors in my personal advantage category. As you point out, IQ is probably shortly behind it. Now, for the next test, do I control for IQ? I don’t know… I really still can’t find rigor in this idea of intersectionality besides, “People are unique.” To that extent, it’s great… but it hardly lets us make the types of comparisons that you’re talking about in your second paragraph. I wish I could.

        • Arbitrary_greay says:

          Obviously this page itself is coming from a place of forgone conclusions, but it does contain a nice number links to studies that I haven’t fully examined yet.

          As anonymous-with-blue-icon points out, though, while leftists try to claim intersectionality and privilege theory aren’t supposed to be the Oppression Olympics, the inevitable result of creating this vague quantification method by which people are allowed to complain is to incentivize the Oppression Olympics. Svejk’s description, which was also the “defense” I first leapt to when I read Scott’s OP, is in its essence the Oppression Olympics.

          The argument has its place. People got irritated by continually having their discussions about the plight of Group X interrupted with “But what about Group Y?” The response of “Well, because intersectionality, Group X has privileged Group Y’s baseline PLUS Group X’s own oppressions!” is a classic debate trick called the permutation. “Yep, that issue is also one of ours.”

          But that argument is to be used for specialized spaces trying to keep on track. It has no business being taken into the mainstream, trying to make everywhere into pet safe spaces. The argument shifted from the cooptive “Yep, that issue is also one of ours ” to the rejecting “Cry moar,” because the latter drives more clicks and feels more satisfying, shutting down the opponent instead of humoring them. It also often stems from Group X’s activism being “Why don’t you care about Group X, Group Y?” in the first place.

        • Garrett says:

          I don’t understand how all of this can be controlled for.
          For example, it’s easy to point out that on average, white people earn more than black people.
          But that doesn’t deal with co-morbidities (eg. if black merely happens to select for less intelligent as well, on average), or the causes for a particular person.
          President Obama won with a significant majority. And Justice Thomas is certainly influential, so it can’t be categorical.
          Too much of what the Right refers to as “grievance studies” strikes me as post-hoc rationalization for measured results.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      That’s the motte. The bailey is that nobody outside of the designated victim groups can ever suffer, and anybody who claims otherwise deserves to be mocked and bullied mercilessly for having the temerity to ever feel pain.

  86. A Critic says:

    “The world is almost certainly a much worse place than any of us want to admit”

    Any of us?

  87. Anonymous says:

    This is, I think, one of the best arguments against taking from the haves to give to the have-nots. There is always some cost involved in redistribution – the cost of the bureaucracy to handle it; the cost in mistakes, where some of the deserving are taken from and some of the undeserving are given to; the disincentive effects, where people try less hard to avoid being disadvantaged; the problem whereby people try to fiddle the system to get themselves categorized as disadvantaged. If there are very many avenues across which someone can be disadvantaged, then, as you point out, almost everyone will have some disadvantages. If the aforementioned costs mean that when redistributing across each avenue of advantage, the net gain to the disadvantaged is less than the net loss to the advantaged, the result of redistributing across all of them will not be to even things out between two distinct clusters of the advantaged and the disadvantaged, but to make almost everyone worse off.

    • Soumynona says:

      Many of the problems you enumerate disappear if your policy is to take from the haves and give to everyone.

      • Anonymous says:

        Not really – distinguishing the haves is the same problem is distinguishing the have-nots.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          I assume that Soumynona is talking about a Basic Income Guarantee, which, yes, you still need to figure out who you’re taxing to fund it (which can be easily enough done in the same sort of way we currently base income taxes on how much you earn), but you longer need to have a bureaucracy to work out who gets benefits, and you no longer have anything like the same incentives to game the system to get yourself classified as disadvantaged.

          • Anonymous says:

            In which case you don’t solve the problem of distinguishing the advantaged from the disadvantaged, but just choose to acknowledge only one kind of advantage – income – and redistribute across that while ignoring everything else.

    • name says:

      Even in this case, maybe there is a threshold above which the have-seeming have-nots won’t become bigger enough have-nots to result in a net loss from redistribution.

    • StephenMeansMe says:

      Something like a universal basic income might make the difference between “people with hardships that stick around because of lack of money” and “people with hardships that stick around because of cognitive or social dysfunction” a lot more clear.

  88. name says:

    I was extremely miserable growing up with many obvious signs like chronic lack of sleep, poor hygiene, no friends, no interests, very strange behaviour, struggling in school, fearing everyone and talking to no one. I thought the people around me had a general idea of the pain I was in (and just didn’t care or thought I deserved it as my doing). Turns out my own parents had close to no idea. They are otherwise normal people whom no one characterized as bad parents. Quite the opposite, they were complimented. I have no explanation for the degree of blindness required to miss the suffering of a loved child under your nose. (I’m sure I’m blind to others’ pain too).

    • anon says:

      Back when I was 10, I felt extremely happy. I had everything – lots and lots of great friends, high self-esteem, lots of fun and not a care.

      During my mid teens, I was miserable. I had no friends, I couldn’t sleep, and while I was still “good” at school, it felt like a nightmarish struggle for various reasons.

      I recently found out that my parents had no idea either way.

      • What signals of your unhappiness might your parents have noticed?

        • name says:

          (Replying as a different commenter) I think the meme about teenagers becoming moody and thinking life sucks and suicide is cool as a normal part of development does damage. Noticing unhappiness is useless if you have a a ready explanation that it’s part of your kid’s “awkward phase” and will disappear with enough time and patience.

          • Garrett says:

            One of the things that irritated greatly about my mother is that when I got angry about something, it was dismissed as “just hormones”.
            Unfortunately, we had incompatible modes of thinking and communication which took me until my mid-twenties to understand. So I was frequently angry because I wasn’t receiving communication from my mother which indicated that she understood the particular issues we were dealing with.

    • StephenMeansMe says:

      How much of it was blindness, and how much of it was an unwillingness to admit (or point out) a failure? Depending on the local culture of child-rearing where/when you grew up, the idea that “nobody should tell me how to raise my kids” might have been a barrier… even if neither your parents nor anyone else who noticed something wrong believed it!

  89. Nick Anyos says:

    Your script doesn’t account for the fact that many of the bad things correlate with each other so the true numbers would have more NPs and more people with multiple problems.

  90. Mike says:

    Small bug in your python script: `exclusive` will never be 1 at the end because it’s set as a local variable. You need `global exclusive` at the top of `bad`.

  91. sabril says:

    Another issue is that a lot of people will wildly exaggerate or even flat out lie when describing their problems to other people. I suspect that a physician with the authority to prescribe powerful drugs; to write out excuse slips for work; or even to help people towards collecting disability is going to be very much subject to this kind of bias.

    I have a lot of interest in the subject of diet, exercise, and obesity and one thing I’ve come to believe is that any study based on self-reporting is basically worthless.

    • People lie or underestimate in the other direction, too. Or at least, people get knocked into depression for a while (anecdotes from several people) after applying for disability– they hadn’t previously thought about how much their problems add up to limit what they can do.

    • This is true, but on the other hand people also exaggerate and lie about how good their life is when describing it to other people in common social interaction–i.e., unless you know someone very well, there’s a good chance they won’t want to say how they are depressed and sometimes thing about killing themselves, that they have chronic pain, that their job causes them physical pain, etc.

      • sabril says:

        ” but on the other hand people also exaggerate and lie about how good their life is when describing it to other people in common social interaction”

        I agree with this too. In a wealthy industrialized country like the United States, it’s not easy to measure human misery.

  92. Anonymous says:

    Strangely, this was probably the most uplifting piece I’ve read for a while. I have certain problems myself (my career is in a dead end and I don’t know what to do next, I’m mildly depressed and mildly addicted to video games, etc.), but this made me realize that even among people in my white, relatively wealthy neighborhood, I’m still better off than at least 50% of the people (not to even mention other, poorer parts of the world).

  93. Janet says:

    This is Christmas night, and here I sit reading your suffering, when we have this night, this magical night, a savior born to us, a child who will expiate our sins, our accumulated sins, our sorrows, our addictions, our wounds. My God Jesus Christ is born and the world rejoices. Bow down.

    • Nick says:

      I’m not sure if you mean it this way, but you’re basically saying:

      “You are Suffering, I’m a Christian, Fuck You.”

      Empathy is something you might consider. “My God Jesus Christ” had more compassion than you display in your post.

      • I think you may be misunderstanding Janet’s message. She may not have intended any “Fuck You” which you apparently read into her post, but may merely have been trying to share some good news which she finds helps comfort her when confronting issues like these. (I do not share a belief in this news, but II think I can understand where she is coming from. And I find that taking the more charitable interpretation of others’ intent is more useful.)

        • Maware says:

          It’s tone deaf, if you seriously wrestle with suffering yourself or its place in the world. It seems caring, but all it says in reality is “You still have to suffer, but at least God won’t send you to hell when you die!”

          At best, Christianity can really only offer that suffering is a mystery, albeit one God himself suffered too. Triumphalist utterances like Janet’s really don’t help much.

    • keranih says:

      @Janet –

      Consider refining your message a hair – in particular, the admonishment “Bow down!” often raises the hackles of secularists, as it carries the connotation of forced participation in a faith they don’t follow. An emphasis on blessings or an invitation to join in joyous celebration (rather than in humble wonder and self-abasement, no matter how much all of us could use the latter) seems to go over better.

      (Rejoice!)

      • Winter Shaker says:

        “Bow down!” often raises the hackles of secularists

        There is certainly a creepy coercive undercurrent to some forms of mainstream Christianity 🙂
        “The world will bow / The knees will be broken for those who don’t know how”

      • Jeffrey Soreff says:

        in particular, the admonishment “Bow down!” often raises the hackles of secularists

        Typing as one of those secularists: Yup. The rest of Janet’s message I can just agree to disagree with. Writing from California, where we just had a faith-based mini-massacre http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-san-bernardino-shooting-live-updates-htmlstory.html this month, “Bow down!” doesn’t go down well.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Typing as one of those secularists: Yup. The rest of Janet’s message I can just agree to disagree with. Writing from California, where we just had a faith-based mini-massacre http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-san-bernardino-shooting-live-updates-htmlstory.html this month, “Bow down!” doesn’t go down well.

          Wait, are you seriously attacking a Christian because of something a pair of Muslims did?

          Come on, don’t be a fedora.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            I don’t regard them as fundamentally different. Both groups have been known to e.g. kill heretics. Now, it is a fact that both groups are large and heterogeneous. Some Christians are harmless, as are some Muslims. And it is also a fact that both have subgroups which have forced conversions at sword point. I view them as pepsi/coke – and I’m not fond of colas… And “Bow down” is bitter coming from either. It is a demand, rather than a (however mistaken) statement about history. And it is potentially a threat.

        • Happy says:

          Does anyone else see the irony of hardcore secularists constantly blaming religion for hatred and violence and wars?

          Readers of this blog know that the true root of violence and war is tribalism. Religion is one way of drawing tribal boundaries, but it is not the source of the violence. Religion can be corrupted to paint your tribe as the one true “good” tribe and all others as worthy of contempt or even outright violence.

          But if religion doesn’t serve that purpose then something else will. One of the most popular methods of defining tribal boundaries within the hardcore secularist tribe is defining atheism as the one true “good” tribe and the bad religious tribe as being the source of all things evil and corrupt.

          Blaming the other tribe for the ill effects of tribalism while engaging in unthinking tribalism yourself. That is irony. And not the delicious kind.

          • Anonymous says:

            That said, some religions are easier to use as casus belli than others. To justify an offensive war as a Christian (or a Buddhist, or any other pacifistic religion), you have to have a really, really, really solid reason or else bend your morality into a pretzel to fabricate that reason. As a Muslim (or an Aztec pagan), you don’t – the Islamic scriptures mandate religious warfare directly.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Jainism is pacifistic. Christianity is mildly pacifistic (it still has the stuff from the old testament) and Buddhism is a bit neutral on the issue of politics.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Samuel Skinner
            “Jainism is pacifistic.”

            The Jainism I was taught said that it was okay to join the military and fight using violence in [presumed] defense of one’s country (ie India). The pacifiism was at levels below that.

          • NN says:

            That said, some religions are easier to use as casus belli than others. To justify an offensive war as a Christian (or a Buddhist, or any other pacifistic religion), you have to have a really, really, really solid reason or else bend your morality into a pretzel to fabricate that reason. As a Muslim (or an Aztec pagan), you don’t – the Islamic scriptures mandate religious warfare directly.

            Maybe in theory. In practice, an ocean of blood has been spilled in the name of Christ since pretty much the day that Christians attained any sort of political power. Prominent examples include but are certainly not limited to the persecution of Pagans after Christians took power in the Roman Empire, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Thirty Years War, the European conquest of the Americas (especially the Spanish conquests), the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army cult, and religiously justified persecution of LGBT people that continues to this day in places like Uganda and Russia.

            Buddhism’s history is hardly spotless either. Here is a small sampling of statements made by prominent Zen Buddhist monks in support of Japan’s 20th century imperialist wars that killed tens of millions of people:

            “[If ordered to] march: tramp, tramp, or shoot: bang, bang. This is the manifestation of the highest Wisdom [of Enlightenment]. The unity of Zen and war of which I speak extends to the farthest reaches of the holy war [now under way].” – Harada Daiun Sogaku

            “Showing the utmost loyalty to the emperor is identical with engaging in the religious practice of Mahayana Buddhism. This is because Mahayana Buddhism is identical with the law of the sovereign.” — Seki Seisetsu

            “I wished to inspire our valiant soldiers with the ennobling thoughts of the Buddha, so as to enable them to die on the battlefield with confidence that the task in which they are engaged is great and noble. I wish to convince them…. that this war is not a mere slaughter of their fellow-beings, but that they are combating an evil.” — Shaku Soen

            “In the present hostilities, into which Japan has entered with great reluctance, she pursues no egotistic purpose, but seeks the subjugation of evils hostile to civilization, peace and enlightenment.” — Shaku Soen

            “It is just to punish those who disturb the public order. Whether one kills or does not kill, the precept forbidding killing [is preserved]. It is the precept forbidding killing that wields the sword. It is the precept that throws the bomb.” — Sawaki Kodo

            For more recent examples, see the persecution of religious minorities by Buddhist majorities in places like Sri Lanka, where in 1959 a Buddhist monk assassinated the president for being too accommodating towards the mostly Hindu Tamil minority ethnic group, and Myanmar, where in the past 5 years there have been numerous massacres of Rohingya Muslims by the Buddhist majority with the support of Buddhist monks in the 969 movement.

            Nor, for that matter, are atheists off the hook, since any top 10 list of the worst mass murderers in history, no matter how the list is compiled, will include several outspoken atheists such as Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot. Some have responded to this by claiming that those people’s crimes “were not done in the name of atheism,” but to me it seems absurd to claim that, to name a few examples, Stalin killing more than 100,000 Russian Orthodox clergy members, the Khmer Rouge massacring all but 3,000 of Cambodia’s ~65k-80k pre-war population of Buddhist monks, and the massive destruction of China’s religious heritage during the Cultural Revolution, had nothing to do with atheism.

            Though at this point it would probably be a good idea to take a step back and remember that historical surveys have found that only about 7% of recorded wars since the Punic Wars have had any sort of claimed religious motivation.

            You may be right that “you have to bend morality into a pretzel to fabricate a reason for an offensive war as a Christian or a Buddhist,” but I think it’s obvious that humans are extremely good at bending their moral precepts into pretzels to fabricate reasons for whatever they want to do anyway. Even a brief historical or psychological study will make it clear that you should never underestimate the power of human hypocrisy.

          • “You may be right that “you have to bend morality into a pretzel to fabricate a reason for an offensive war as a Christian or a Buddhist,” but I think it’s obvious that humans are extremely good at bending their moral precepts into pretzels to fabricate reasons for whatever they want to do anyway. Even a brief historical or psychological study will make it clear that you should never underestimate the power of human hypocrisy.”

            I have just put this up on my web page as my quote of the month. Let me know if you don’t want me to and I’ll take it down.

  94. Nasdm says:

    As for your filter bubble effect with not knowing a single creationist in your social circle, I think you need to modify your statistics for local modifiers. Like how many people in California are creationists? How many in the bay area? How many in your town? How many in medicine? How many of them are college educated or better? How many of them are non-religious? I think you would start encountering far more creationists if you moved to Houston.

    The pervasive atheism of the bay area & college educated people alone would be enough to filter out most creationists for example.

    Sorry if you addressed this already in your linked post.

    Also as a religious person in the bay area, I barely bring up religion, because I know that group of friends wont take it well. I go do religion things with my religion friends.

    People who support the liberal ideology but are ‘conservative’ in some parts are not going to bring it up if it will alienate them from some friends in a group, even if some other ones wouldn’t care.

    For example, I know women who are sick of the entire feminist victim “person of color” BS as a person of that same supposed ‘victim’ group, but they never bring it up because a bunch of people will react very badly around them. They just complain to their close friends about the latest bullshit in class.

    • mark thompson says:

      This.
      Scott, I’m picking on your comment about not knowing any creationists, not because it is central to what you are saying, but because you probably are mistaken. I can vouch that they even work in the biological sciences – but know better than to mention it.
      Part of the construct of your apparent bubble is the “normal” people you know are well/strong/healthy enough to pass for the sort of people you know – even if they have many things they hide.

      • I know one creationist. He is a member of the church my wife attends, West Indian, competent, intelligent, nice. But I only know that he is a creationist (more precisely, doesn’t believe in evolution) because the matter happened to come up once in casual conversation.

        So I think it quite likely that Scott knows one or more creationists, but doesn’t know that he knows … .

        At a slight tangent, I don’t assume that a creationist has to be stupid, fanatical, uneducated, any of that stuff. All of us get large parts of our picture of the world at second or third hand. One result is that most people, perhaps everyone, believe some things that are not true. If the people whose judgement you have good reason to trust on other subjects tell you that evolution is a theory pushed by people in order to argue against religion and there really are not good arguments for it, it’s reasonable enough to believe them unless you have, for some reason, put substantial effort into investigating and understanding the arguments.

        In my time on a FB climate group I see lots of people, left and right, who have beliefs that strike me as just as unreasonable as creationism.

        At a slight tangent …. . I had surgery three days ago. My wife told me that our West Indian friend said his prayer group had prayed for me. According to my surgeon, the surgery went unusually well–took two hours when it was expected to take four. Well enough so that I came home the day before Christmas instead of the day after.

        As a good Bayesian …

    • Deiseach says:

      Again, how do you define “creationist”? Literal six days of twenty-four hours each, six thousand year old Earth? Man and dinosaurs co-existed? God created the universe but theistic evolution?

      I’m a creationist by the “God created the universe” measurement but not by the “Archbishop Ussher’s timeline” measurement, and some surveys are not very helpful as they break it down into “Biblical literalist vs science all the way” (and that’s not even getting into the “Genesis vs Darwin” choices).

      So depending how the question is phrased and which you think is more important can colour your responses (e.g. “No I’m not a six-day literalist but if my answer here is going to be taken as ‘do not believe in God’ then I’ll have to go with “yep Adam rode a dinosaur to work”).

      • I suspect that the other questions that immediately proceed a question can also influence people’s choices. Like, if you just ask, “Do you believe that God created the world in 6 days, as per the Biblical account,” then I think you’ll get different numbers than if you ask, “Do you believe in God? Do you believe that the Bible is God’s Word? Do you believe the Bible is literally true? Do you believe God created the world in 6 days?” Surveys tend to have a lot of questions on them, so they probably tend to be more like the latter. But the latter setup “traps” people by leading them to a specific conclusion, which may lead to over-reporting specific 6-day creationism in order to avoid looking inconsistent.

        Amusingly, my creationist friends like talking about human genetics. I don’t think they really find these things all that contradictory.

        • I suspect that the other questions that immediately proceed a question can also influence people’s choices.

          Yes Prime Minister had a scene about that. 🙂

          Amusingly, my creationist friends like talking about human genetics. I don’t think they really find these things all that contradictory.

          To be fair, they’re not. God could have created humans a few thousand years ago, genetics and all. For that matter, fossil light from stars and galaxies that never actually existed could have been created already en-route to Earth. It doesn’t seem like a good bet, but it isn’t logically inconsistent.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Last Thursdayism, while it is usually brought up as a bad example of some kind, is logically (and empirically) irrefutable. That is the whole point of Last Thursdayism. 🙂

        • Patrick says:

          You don’t need to guess. The fact that the earlier questions in a survey can prime people to answer later questions in a particular way is a well established fact.

          The easy way to show it is to ask questions about abortion. Ask half your respondents if abortion is ok under conditions N, then O, then P, then Q. Ask the other half if abortion is ok under conditions Q, then P, then O, then N. You’ll get a different break point depending on which direction you’re going.

    • KR says:

      Also remember that these surveys are for the most part being done by “blue tribe” types who are looking to validate their oikophobia. Of course the results are going to be spun towards “wow, look at those rubes who believe the Earth was created 6000 years ago”.

      When someone receives a poll question asking anything about creationism, the responder is going to (correctly) interpret the question as “really” asking something along the lines of “Do you really believe in all that God stuff and go to (ewwww) church?”

      For similar reasons there is basically no poll question related to global warming that is at all worthwhile. Some are going to interpret a global warming question as, roughly, “Should Al Gore be able to tell you what kind of lightbulbs you can have?” and others will interpret it as “You’re not a creationist, right?”

      • The original Mr. X says:

        There’s a similar problem in the UK, where public opinion has somehow been convinced that the only two options for providing public health services are “The NHS exactly as it is now” and “Nothing whatsoever”. Hence surveys asking “Are you satisfied with the NHS?” are likely to pick up a lot of false positives from people who aren’t actually satisfied, but still think it’s better than leaving poor people to die on the streets of consumption.

        Also, when you mention “oikophobia”, do you mean they have a fear of oiks, or a fear of their own homes (οἶκοι)?

        • johnnycoconut says:

          In right-wing circles, oikophobia is used to mean something like xenophobia against a group of people who are taken to be representative of your own nation, e.g. blue tribers being averse toward red tribers.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @KR:

        This is just you letting bias against blue tribe cloud your thinking.

        Some polling tasks are looking for a particular result. Things that might be utilized as “facts” in a political ad or marketing campaign. Sometimes the poll is really an argument for something.

        But when Gallup publishes data for everyone to see, they have a huge interest in that data being right. They make money because they provide useful data. Otherwise, Pew’s results would embarrass Gallup, instead of confirming their basic findings.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Doesn’t Scott live in Michigan? I don’t know much about the place, but I’d expect it to have more creationists than the Bay Area, simply because the Bay Area is about the place in the USA I’d least expect to find a high proportion of creationists.

  95. The two types you mentioned both have very few friends, which is why you are unlikely to be friends with someone like them.

    And what they both need (among many other things,) is friendship. They are critically alone.

    Still, compared to your social life, mine appears to be filled with miserable people:

    At least 4 people I know have been arrested and gone to jail or faced jailtime.
    Multiple relatives have gone through nursing homes/hospice and died
    At least 2 people with chronic pain–one of the occasional severe flareups variety, and one of the constant pain at all times
    At least 2 battling serious depression and loneliness
    1 friend has a retarded child
    1 schizophrenic friend, formerly homeless
    Five people currently on Food stamps or the equivalent, plus numerous relatives who went hungry during the Depression
    3 wheelchair-bound
    1 alcoholic
    Numerous people struggling to get and stay employed.
    At least three domestic violence
    1 childhood sexual abuse, 1 physical abuse, 1 emotional abuse, 1 abandoned as a child
    At least a couple of rapes
    1 trans person with insecure housing/job/no family support
    Several people with the misfortune to be very ugly
    A couple of teen moms
    1 autism
    (oh, and, hahhah, I bet I know at least 5 Creationists.)

    Some of these are the same person, but a lot of them aren’t.
    I don’t *think* I seek out misery.
    But you know, what the vast majority of these people want is love, family, and friendship.

    How about the rest of you? How many do you know?

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      Fwiw, many of the people in my neighborhood have one or more of the problems you list. They’re stressed by objective lacks, worried about getting through the week or day with cars that don’t run, days without work, roofs that leak. They’d be much happier with fewer practical worries, ie better income. But they’re not emotionally miserable, as Scott’s patients seem to be.
      ,
      My neighbors are, forgive the expression, challenged. At least, the ones I know well, are. They react to each day’s several crises with … adrenalin, ingenuity, triumph. Between crises they laugh, have potlucks, watch out for each other.

      • Maware says:

        The idea that they don’t show their misery to you because you are a neighbor and not a family member or confidant doesn’t seem to occur to you, though.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Maware
          “The idea that they don’t show their misery to you because you are a neighbor and not a family member or confidant doesn’t seem to occur to you, though.”

          People at any income level may have misery that they show only to intimates. While I’d support a generous UBI for all my neighbors, still some examples in this thread remind me of Paint Your Wagon.

          Mud can make you pris’ner
          And the plains can make you dry
          Snow can burn your eyes
          But only people make you cry

          Well. that’s the way it is for me, anyway. I sportingly cope with winter and foul weather … unless something depends on someone else, which anchors it in soap opera world.

      • None of these folks is miserable all of the time, but most of them have endured a serious bout of misery at some point in their lives (eg, the ones who were abused as children were pretty suicidal for a while,) or are only a good friendship or bit of good luck away from that state, (eg, disabled person with one really good, solid relationship.)

    • sabril says:

      “And what they both need (among many other things,) is friendship. They are critically alone. ”

      Probably it would help a lot. But I think this type of person has difficulty maintaining relationships of any kind. I have a family member like this and one thing that’s salient about her personality is that she will never lift a finger to do something nice for another person. A person like that is going to have a pretty miserable life.

      • Creutzer says:

        There are other ways of being unable to maintain relationships, too: Some people are, personality- and resource-wise – not in the position to contribute anything to anybody’s life. They don’t ignore opportunities to do something nice for others, they simply don’t have any.

        • sabril says:

          “They don’t ignore opportunities to do something nice for others, they simply don’t have any.”

          Can you give me an example? It seems to me there is pretty much always an opportunity to do something nice for another person. Even if it’s just calling them on their birthday.

          • Creutzer says:

            Calling someone on their birthday and wishing them a merry Christmas is entirely insufficient for maintaining anything that deserves to be called friendship. You can do that with distant acquaintances whom you see once a year.

            I’m not sure what you want to hear when you ask for an example, but maybe I can flesh out a bit what I have in mind. Some people are just not very entertaining, cannot give you access to new social connections, are not romantically attractive, have trouble coming across as sufficiently warm so that anybody would want to be close to them and rely on them for emotional support, and are therefore pretty much useless to everybody – quite independently from any kind inclination they might have, but just cannot act on.

          • sabril says:

            @Creutzer

            “Calling someone on their birthday and wishing them a merry Christmas is entirely insufficient for maintaining anything that deserves to be called friendship. ”

            Ok, but do you agree that calling someone on their birthday counts as “something nice”? Because here’s what you said before:

            “They don’t ignore opportunities to do something nice for others, they simply don’t have any.”

            “Some people are just not very entertaining, cannot give you access to new social connections, are not romantically attractive, have trouble coming across as sufficiently warm so that anybody would want to be close to them and rely on them for emotional support, and are therefore pretty much useless to everybody ”

            I think a lot of people have pretty low standards in terms of their minimum requirements for a relationship. It’s pretty easy to make friends just by walking into a bar and listening to people complain about whatever while you drink beer with them.

          • Creutzer says:

            Because here’s what you said before:

            “They don’t ignore opportunities to do something nice for others, they simply don’t have any.”

            In my mind, the “any” was implicitly restricted to “any that would be sufficient to maintain a relationship with any substance”.

            I think a lot of people have pretty low standards in terms of their minimum requirements for a relationship. It’s pretty easy to make friends just by walking into a bar and listening to people complain about whatever while you drink beer with them.

            I really don’t know what to say, except… no, it’s not. Not for all kinds of people in all kinds of places, anyway.

            All I’m saying is that there can be systematic reasons for lack of social support other than lack of kindness.

          • sabril says:

            @Creutzer

            “I really don’t know what to say, except… no, it’s not. Not for all kinds of people in all kinds of places, anyway.”

            Can you give me an example of such a person and place then?

          • Creutzer says:

            Well, myself and at least half of my friends, central Europe. Talking to strangers in bars and that leading to anything like friendship is just… completely outside of our world. We wouldn’t even know how to start. I’m pretty sure we’d also be seen as plain weird and not friend-material by people who hang out in bars and are ready to talk to strangers.

          • sabril says:

            “We wouldn’t even know how to start. ”

            That’s a different issue.

            “I’m pretty sure we’d also be seen as plain weird and not friend-material by people who hang out in bars and are ready to talk to strangers”

            Why? What specifically about you as a person would make you seem weird?

          • I know a guy who is severely disabled. He cannot walk, and the average bar is not very disabled accessible. He can almost talk, if you listen really closely, but most of the time he has to use a machine to talk for him, and it takes a long time for him to type messages on the machine. He chokes when he eats and drools when he talks.

            He is not going to make any friends at the bar. Heck, he can’t get his own relatives to come spend Christmas with him (so I brought him cake and presents last night.)

            There’s still a person inside, a perfectly lucid person who manages to pay his bills on time (slowly, but on time.) A very lonely person who can do very few of the things that people want a “friend” to do.

            Another friend of mine was homeless for over a decade. Not a lot of people want to be friends with homeless people. It’s an extremely isolating experience. And needless to say, calling you on your birthday is beyond the average homeless person’s capabilities.

            There are plenty of people in this world who could do more or be a better friend. I stlll need to write my Christmas cards, for goodness’ sakes. But there are genuinely people who are already doing their very best, and remembering one more thing or making one more phone call or getting to a bar is truly more than they can do.

          • Creutzer says:

            That’s a different issue.

            No, it’s not. Being unable to even make friends because you don’t know how to start is a reason for not having friends that is not kindness-related.

            As for the rest, I don’t feel like writing long paragraphs about how we belong to entirely different subcultures and have no common ground with people who sit in bars waiting to make friends by drinking beer with strangers. I also don’t really believe that you don’t know what I mean.

            I don’t know where you’re from, but believe me when I say that where I live, people are not as open as you seem to think they are to making new friends with random people who don’t have anything to offer. You’re sounding like one of those people who say that getting a girlfriend is really easy.

          • sabril says:

            @Creutzer

            “Being unable to even make friends because you don’t know how to start is a reason for not having friends that is not kindness-related.”

            Umm, did you forget what you said before?

            “They don’t ignore opportunities to do something nice for others, they simply don’t have any.”

            Please stop weaseling. If you change your position, please do it explicitly.

            “As for the rest, I don’t feel like writing long paragraphs ”

            No need for long paragraphs, it’s a simple enough question. Besides, the sky won’t fall if you just admit that your original position is not correct.

          • sabril says:

            “I know a guy who is severely disabled. He cannot walk, and the average bar is not very disabled accessible. He can almost talk, if you listen really closely, but most of the time he has to use a machine to talk for him, and it takes a long time for him to type messages on the machine. He chokes when he eats and drools when he talks.

            He is not going to make any friends at the bar.”

            I agree with this. Do you disagree with anything I have said?

          • Creutzer says:

            To reconstruct how I see this debate. To my mind, this involves no shift in the position that I’m defending. Please let me know if I misinterpreted the points you are trying to make.

            1. You implied anyone who doesn’t have friends is in that situation because they’re not trying to be kind to other people and add to their lives.

            2. I said that’s not true because some people have nothing of substance to add to anyone’s life. Where I live, a birthday card does not a friendship make, and I have plenty of acquaintances to whose life I have nothing more to add than things on the order of a birthday card.

            3. You seemed to say that everyone can add to other people’s lives by listening to random people at bars and thereby acquire friends.

            4. I dispute that idea because it strikes me as bizarre and I know plenty of people, among them myself, who don’t even have any idea what to do with random strangers at bars, who would come across as alien and awkward, and who would not make anybody, themselves included, happy by inserting themselves into such an environment where they do not belong. Some people are introverts who are incompetent in certain cultural contexts, and for whom things are genuinely impossible which are easily possible for culturally competent extraverts.

          • EveMatteo says:

            Hi there!

            You asked for an example. I’m a living example of one.

            I’m an introvert. At any one time, I have the emotional ability to maintain a deep friendship with up to 4 people, and a mild acquaintanceship with up to 10 people. 1 deep friendship can be substituted for 3 mild acquaintances.

            I was adopted at 13. I have contact with my biological family, for a combined total of 4 parents, 5 siblings, and 3 sisters-in-law taking up my 10 acquaintance slots. Oops, two too many, take that number of available energy for friendships down to 3.

            I have a long-term partner.

            His family includes two parents, an aunt, 2 sisters, a niece and a nephew.

            Oops, we’re up 7 more acquaintances.

            Just adding one partner maxed out my relationship energy pool.

            I currently live paycheck-to-paycheck. I have a hard enough time finding the money to keep my car in good enough condition to not break down on me, let alone lend someone any money at all. I work for commission, which means my paycheck is largely determined by how much energy I can direct towards making it.

            Someone on the outside looking in would look at my life and say “she could easily find more time/energy to make enough money to help people.” Yet I’m already doing everything I possibly can to keep my head above water both emotionally and financially.

            I am 30. I want to have children sometime soon, because I know I only have about 5 years before my reproductive capabilities start to decline, and about 10 years before they disappear entirely. However, I have doubts that children will be possible within the time constraints.

            You asked for an example. As stated, I’m a living example of exactly what Creutzer was talking about. I would totally help people if I could. But I do not have the money, and giving any more of my time to other people will lead me to not have enough time to de-stress from a job that requires I pretend to be an extrovert.

          • @Sabril
            I am trying to contribute, not contradict. You asked for an example of someone who would have trouble calling you up and wishing a happy birthday, and someone who’d have trouble listening to folks at the bar. So I provided both. Obviously some people–the severely disabled, the extremely poor, those mourning a recent death, etc., may in fact be unable to perform even minimal displays of friendship. (And we may be able to bypass some of this discussion by substituting “culturally appropriate friendship ritual” for “going to the bar” if that does not work everywhere.)

            Some people can learn better techniques for interacting with and befriending people. Some people are doing their best already. Ultimately, you make a personal judgment call which is which.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ EvolutionistX
            There’s still a person inside, a perfectly lucid person

            An example of the Efficient/Effective Altruism principle (aka Bang for Buck) applied locally, might be supplying whatever accessibility equipment he would need to socialize on the Internet. Ie, a cheap-to-provide service that could greatly change a person’s life experience.

      • Yes, some people are terrible at friendship. Some people don’t really get how friendship works, and some people are just really nasty to the people around them. People who are critically lonely tend to be particularly bad at friendship, and some of them are just plain nasty people. Whether someone you know deserves a helping hand or an offer of friendship is an entirely personal judgment call.

  96. suntzuanime says:

    How bad are bad things, though? On average? You may get an inflated view of how bad the things on your list are because people only come to you if their problems are ruining their life, which tends to select for problems being bad enough to ruin people’s lives. I’ve had a couple of the things on your list and had friends and relatives with more, and many of them did not seem enough for me not to describe them as basically all right. (At least in retrospect; my judgment on whether or not I was all right was probably not trustworthy while depressed.)

    Not all of them are bearable, and all of them can be unbearable, depending on the conditions. But sometimes the conditions are better than the worst conditions, sometimes a problem in your life isn’t that big a deal and you can cope. Sometimes you’re unemployed because you’re being picky about job quality because you have a safety net. Sometimes you’re going through a rocky patch and foodstamps mean you can feed your kids while you wait for it to smooth out. Sometimes if half of all sufferers of chronic pain are in unbearable pain, the other half can bear it. Sometimes people even get on with their lives after being molested or raped.

    Take heart, the world isn’t as bad as all that.

    • sabril says:

      “You may get an inflated view of how bad the things on your list are because people only come to you if their problems are ruining their life”

      Well he said that he still met a lot of people like this while he was in general practice. But as I pointed out elsewhere, even being a general practitioner might give you a biased view.

      • Jiro says:

        Scott did pay lip service to the possibility that since people with problems see doctors, it’s a biased sample. But he dismisses it far too fast.

  97. caryatis says:

    Healthy people don’t see doctors.

    • Cole says:

      I see doctors. All the time. Everywhere. Walking around like regular people. They don’t see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re doctors.

  98. houseboatonstyx says:

    I hope someone has published a list of what sort of least cost to provide charities can leverage someone out of an all-around bad situation. AA comes to mind, Goodwill, domestic violence services (aimed at getting the victim out of an abusive relationship, by legal help and/or by helping zim become self-supporting), etc.

    Is there a triage principle? Your two elderly examples seem beyond major life-changing help (except by anti-depressant medication strong enough to get them happily out of the house and developing new connections and interests).

    • keranih says:

      (aimed at getting the victim out of an abusive relationship, by legal help and/or by helping zim become self-supporting)

      This is a nit, and to be clear, I would like to discuss/get opinions, rather than dictate a path.

      “Getting the victim out of the relationship” seems akin to…moving someone out of a bad neighborhood. Great for that person, (maybe) but…

      Many domestic violence victims spend a lot of time looking for someone who will treat them in a similar manner – loud emotional outbursts mean, at the least, that someone cares. There’s often an undercurrent of mutual abuse between ‘abuser’ and ‘victim’. And even if the abusee leaves, that’s just an empty space, like an empty house in a rough neighborhood. Someone else will move in.

      Meanwhile, the abusee isn’t self-supporting, and needs financial and emotion inputs from someone, generally the taxpayer. The abuser will find someone else, and will return to the life-wrecking cycle of before – running the risk of incarceration and all that which comes with it. (Is not the abuser a human who needs a better life as well?)

      I emphasize that I’m asking about this because I don’t have a best preferred solution – and I don’t want to encourage the status quo of screaming fights and beatings. Is a best/better solution possible? Would it require a higher level of close community involvement in everyone’s relationships and marriages? Would we-in-the-West tolerate that level of nosy-neighbor interference? Or is “getting the victim out of the relationship” the best we can expect from the blunt instrument of government?

    • Deiseach says:

      aimed at getting the victim out of an abusive relationship, by legal help and/or by helping zim become self-supporting

      Lot tougher than you’d think. My head of department comes from a social work background, and I’ve discussed with her how I want as little direct contact with clients as possible.

      Because I’m a blunt instrument when it comes to tact and sympathy. I would be inclined to say to our clients (and some of them are like the daughter in Scott’s example): “Dump this guy. Leave him or kick him out. He’s a scumbag, he’s dragging you down, he’s dragging your kid down, and now he’s dragging your mother down with him as well.”

      That’s easy for me to say because I’m aromantic/asexual. I approach relationships from a logical/rational viewpoint (or try to, that’s not to say I don’t have emotional involvement in my own close family relationships and problems there). But because I’m like that, I don’t understand the need for love and affirmation that people have (my response to the “But I loooooove him” would be “So the fuck what? He’s bad news, cut him loose!”), especially romantic/sexual companionship and love and how much emphasis our society puts on being coupled/sexually and romantically active as a marker of worth. So although my advice would be objectively good (get rid of the damaging element), it would not do any real good to the person who couldn’t or wouldn’t take it.

      My head of department has the empathy, training and experience to work with people in difficulty. It’s a lot harder to disentangle yourself from a situation like that than it sounds to an outsider (and don’t get me started on the uselessness of the social services to do anything if they even recognise a problem exists in the first place).

    • ThrustVectoring says:

      Oh dear god please don’t give money to Alcoholics Anonymous. That shit is worse than what it’s trying to cure.

      • The Anonymouse says:

        If you truly believe this to be true, I am very happy that you have avoided the rock-bottom consequences of alcoholism.

  99. JoyCS says:

    I am a listener on 7cups.com, a site where people can vent to others, called listeners, over text chat. Not sure if you are familiar with the concept. Some of us are better than others, and you can see listener’s reviews and ratings and pick those you like.

    I have been listening to people for a few months now, and before I started I could have never imagined the amount of misery that is around. Like you, I filter the people around me very strongly. But not on that site. There people find me from my profile, and I rarely turn them away.

    The amount of abused people is staggering. I don’t have any statistics, but I could have never imagined anything like that before I started listening. Outwardly normal and well-adjusted people come with the stories of childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Incest. Some of it is truly horrifying. I completely believe your data, though it’s probably low, due to selection effects. I meet people who would never go to a psychiatrist or a therapist. All ages, too. From 18 to 70.

    • Jiro says:

      Finding that “the amount of abused people is staggering” because you went to a website where they gather is a really low bar to meet. There could be a 0.1% or 0.0001% prevalence and there would still be so many that going to an Internet site there would seem like an endless supply of them.

      You are completely unjustified in believing Scott’s data based on a visit to such a site.

      • Kaminiwa says:

        I mean, the site itself says “6 million people helped”. It doesn’t have any obvious links to other languages, so we’re limited to the 335 million people that speak English.

        That gives us a prevailence of 0.018%

        Of course, it’s unlikely that EVERY person who has these issues goes to this ONE website, or even any website at all. And on the other hand, that 6 million number is probably exaggerated since people can have multiple accounts or otherwise appear as multiple visitors. I strongly suspect that the real prevalence is vastly higher than 0.018%, but we’ve at least established that 0.0001% is rubbish.

        It’s not a full proof, but it is DEFINITELY Bayesian evidence that should update you in favor of Scott’s data.

        • Jiro says:

          The exact number 0.001 is an example, not a statement that you can literally justify that exact number. Otherwise I wouldn’t have said 0.1% or 0.001%. (Also, I think you want 1.8%, but as you said, that number obviously includes the same people multiple times. I suspect they’re counting visits and you have to divide by at least 100 if not more, leading to 0.018% after all.)

          The point is that even tiny percentages can look staggering by the standard of “I see lots of them”. The Internet, by gathering together people out of a huge population, can make you see lots of pretty much any kind of person.

      • Vitor says:

        I think JoyCS’s intention wasn’t making a statistical argument, but rather pointing out that the existence of “Outwardly normal and well-adjusted people” with “stories of childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse” etc is something that is not intuitive for people lacking first or second-hand experience and hence easily discounted.

    • Psmith says:

      Thanks for linking the site. I used to participate in something similar and found it very rewarding, but it got pretty terrible (mission creep, startup culture, IDK) and was disbanded.

  100. Federico says:

    Scott, I appreciate your overall point, but unless I missed something, your simulations are critically flawed. Those afflictions you list are highly co-morbid. For example – the incidence of depression is probably much higher in patients that have chronic pain. Alcoholism is highly correlated with PTSD… and so on.

    In practice, given your numbers, I suspect that a few people have very shitty lives, but most people have OK lives. If you want to do this properly – there’s lots of ways to estimate covariance – the simplest is probably using Gaussian Copulas.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      Scott acknowledged the potential for comorbidity– “there’s also a really big problem where a lot of these are conditional upon one another – that is, a person in prison is not also in a nursing home, but a person who is unemployed is far more likely to be on food stamps”– but I suspect you may be right that the rate of co-occurrence will be so high that the way Scott went about the exercise is just plain uninformative.

    • Jeremy says:

      Strongly agree. Errors even on the order of ~1 would strongly change the qualitative nature of the simulation, so I definitely think the results should have a stronger disclaimer attached.

    • Mammon says:

      +1. The simulation part felt mildly cringey to me. Maybe it’s just an excuse for Scott to humblebrag about knowing Python :o)

        • I’ve been aware of the retraction, but this is the first time I’ve read it. The retraction comes across as pure political BS. Most significantly, the linked article contains no dispute at all of the data, but only penitential language about how bad it is to suggest that some people can’t program. (However, all of the links that I can find to the more substantial retraction are dead.)

          Unless the substantial retraction contains some additional data which none of the secondary sources reproduced, then the substance of the retraction makes it significantly more likely that the original article was basically correct.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:
        • Yes, that’s it. Reading the full thing is interesting but inconclusive.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Mai La Dreapta:
          The original paper is awful as well, full of unsupported statements.

        • James Donald says:

          The paper’s conclusion is politically incorrect. It concludes people are inherently unequal. Of course it has been withdrawn.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Mark Atwood:
          Mai La Dreapta was engaged in a selective call for rigor by ignoring all of the unsupported, and sometimes frankly weird statements in the original “paper”.

          I was merely pointing that out. If you dismiss the retraction do to its absence of data, then you should dismiss the many parts of the original that do not rely on data.

          As to whether I have taught programming from scratch, no, not in a formal way. I was a Lab Assistant to an “Intro to Computers” course for four years (88-91) when most people coming into college had not touched one.

          As that class was not taken by any Comp Sci majors, being a Lab Assistant posed challenges. Patience and the willingness to keep working with the student until they arrived at knowledge seemed to me like the required qualities to do the job well, past simple understanding of the material.

          There was only some very rudimentary programming in the course, towards the end.

      • EveMatteo says:

        As a Math Major having no programming classes yet, I would’ve looked at that problem and realized that it had to be one of the two answers where A and B were the same, but would have no idea which one it was. I likely would’ve been one to either check off multiple answers, or leave it blank, because when I don’t know the rules I don’t like to try.

        And yet, despite much of my homework going missing (I’d turn in the wrong disc, but correct printout, so get only half credit about 50% of the time) and being entirely incapable of remembering the jargon for the tests, I ended up with a C in the Intro to Programming class (which was basically Intro to Java). Every part of homework that I successfully turned in was flawless. On the tests I aced the bits that were about what code to put down. My instructor was frustrated that he couldn’t give me a better grade because he knew that I was the best in the class at the actual programming.

        Now, I recognize that the last line of code tells the program to give A the value of B, so they both have the value that B had at the beginning.

    • sabril says:

      “In practice, given your numbers, I suspect that a few people have very shitty lives, but most people have OK lives.”

      For what it may be worth, I have a job which puts me into contact with people from all walks of life, and that’s my general impression. Most people seem to be muddling through lives which are basically okay; a small percentage are pretty miserable.

    • Tibor says:

      This is my impression as well. While it’s true that all models are wrong and some are useful, I don’t think Scott’s model falls into the useful category here. It works under the assumption of all those things happening independently or being only slightly correlated but that is an extremely strong assumption and it is not treated in any way. Yes, Scott does note that his model does not work once the assumption is false but when I make an assumption which, if proven falls, breaks the whole thing, then I should at least have a heuristic for why one might hope that that assumption is true. in fact, his prior should be the opposite, not just because the assumption is strong but because his typical patient seems to be full of those things rather than having one weird problem like having an obsessive compulsive disorder about leaving a hairdryer on (like that other “based on a true story” patient of his from an older post) and having an otherwise (serious) problem-free life. In fact, what I found surprising is how troubled the typical psychiatric patients are in almost all areas of life.

  101. Richard says:

    What we need to do is to figure out why I’m happy all the time.

    At some point or other during my life, I could have checked chronic pain (if you count 15 years as chronic, it’s fixed now), wheelchair, food stamps, unemployed, disability and possibly rape, depending on your definition of rape. Also; dead child, drug addict spouse (and severe schizophrenic spouse), not PTSD, but I’ve been shot at enough in various war zones that most doctors think I should have it.

    And yet, it all just rolls off and I have always thought of myself as living life on the easiest setting. If we could figure out why and then engineer everyone to be just as happy as me, Scott would be out of a job.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      If the hedonic set point theory is correct, your happiness might be genetic.

    • Vanzetti says:

      0_o

      Ever considered writing a book about your life? Something like “Pollyanna 2: Electric Boogaloo”.

      • Nasdm says:

        You have a choice. You either get anxious, worry and say life is miserable. Or you keep on limping on, look on the bright side and keep on living your life trying to accomplish your goals.

        Because why afflict yourself with these worries? You work with what you have.

        • Soumynona says:

          I’m all for appreciating what you have and changing your attitude towards life for increased well-being, but it’s not easy, it’s not a matter of making a choice and “just doing it” and this sort of talk sounds kind of smug.

          • pneumatik says:

            I think you and Nasdm are both committing some amount of typical mind fallacy here. For people like Richard, it is that easy. Which isn’t to say that people like Richard don’t have to do any work to deal with their problems, but it’s work that they’re willing and able to do, and after doing it they still feel good. For other people it’s virtually impossible to do that work, or to feel good while thinking about their problems. But for the people like Richard it’s hard to come up with better advice other than, “Just get up, do the work, and concentrate on the positive aspects of your life.”

            Apologies to Richard for using him as my canonical example. I don’t mean to speak for him.

          • EveMatteo says:

            “I think you and Nasdm are both committing some amount of typical mind fallacy here. For people like Richard, it is that easy. ”

            When I was younger, I was told over and over again “just let it go”. I’d do something that I thought was just letting it go, but it would be shown a bit later that I hadn’t let it go at all. A couple years ago, I finally was able to “just let it go”. And there really is no other way to describe it. You don’t bury it. You don’t push it away. You just… let it go.

            So, I think “just do it” is a skill like any others. Some people are practically born knowing how to do it. Most people have to work a bit to learn how. Some people have to work really hard to learn how. And a small percentage will be unable to learn how.

        • bbartlog says:

          Don’t be so sure that everyone has a choice in the matter. Or indeed anyone …

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Oh, I think people generally have some choice in how they feel about things, even if it often takes a lot of persistence to do so. That sort of thing is basically what ancient Stoicism was all about, and a lot of them had lives that, looking in on the outside, ought to have been pretty awful (e.g., Epictetus was a slave and was crippled from his childhood).

    • Mammon says:

      I’ve experienced something similar to this since I’ve started taking Wellbutrin. Every day that I take my medication, I come home at the end of the day pleasantly surprised by how well the day went.

      • anon1 says:

        Likewise. (Well, my life is objectively super easy, but aside from that.) The best description I’ve come up with is that it’s like being slightly drunk all the time (minus the poor coordination). I hope to god I never have to be sober again.

      • Cadie says:

        I’ve just gotten fairly stable on a medication cocktail and it’s almost perplexing to me, how smoothly things go relative to a few months ago. I mean, I still have some major problems (financial etc.) and my mornings feel pretty bad, but once I take my meds and lay down waiting for half an hour I’m functional and my mood improves to “okay.” Which is a gigantic improvement over “terrible.” I’ve never felt like this longer than a day or two since I was around 6-7 years old, so it’s exciting but I’m a little afraid to believe it’s going to last.

    • Sastan says:

      You’re not alone! I wouldn’t call myself happy, but the term I’ve always used is “contented pessimist”. The world is a shitty place, and I’m ok with it.

      And I get, very much, that there is a sliding scale of ability to deal with various problems, and no, it’s not all genetic, but I think there’s probably something there. I have a brother who any life setback sends into a tailspin of depression, self-destructive behavior and withdrawal that can take years to get out of. We have the same basic genes, the same upbringing. If anything, I’ve had a bit more trauma than he has had.

      The best way I can describe it is that bad things that happen to me don’t usually stick around as traumatic memories. Some people can’t forget them, obsess about them. Maybe I just dissociate well.

      None of this has been without effort, but it has never seemed impossible. I read the Stoics when I was young, and it made an impression. Simplicity, contentedness, purpose.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        I am generally speaking a contented pessimist. (I love that phrase.)

        However, I find that the one thing that will inevitably drive me to raving outrage and then bleak depression is dealing with people who are overly optimistic in the sense that they think that some significant social problem has a simple solution and who are willing, nay demanding, to completely reorganize society to implement it. If the rest of the world were contented pessimists who were satisfied to keep grinding away and just try to make tomorrow a little better than today, I’d be much more content (and considerably less pessimistic.)

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      I know exactly what you mean. I always think about how happy I am and wonder how I got so lucky. It seems like I have an awesome life and nothing bad ever happens to me.

      Then if I think really hard I remember that one time I developed a chronic medical condition that required major surgery. And how while I was in the hospital I got a bunch of infections. And (temporary, luckily) pancreatitis. And how I was unemployed for a bunch of years, and underemployed for a bunch more. And my abusive drug-addict brother.

      It takes effort to remember all those bad things. I’d totally forgotten about the pancreatitis until I started writing the above paragraph. I feel bad when those bad things are in the process of happening to me, but then I get distracted and revert to my normal happy self. In the hospital I was unhappy while they were pumping a few cups of puss out of my butt, but as soon as they were done I wheeled my way back to my room and had a delightful time watching that stupid “Highlander” cartoon from the Nineties.

      I think the main thing that works for me is distraction. I’m really happy if I stop thinking about the sad things in my life, and I can usually distract myself fairly easily. The only time I’ve ever been continuously miserable was when my ability to distract myself shut down for a few weeks, and it took me a while to get it working again.

      Some people call this “escapism.” I call it “Using valuable cognitive resources efficiently by directing them to eudaemonia production instead of unproductive problem analysis.”

    • Dragoncat says:

      Yes, I wish we could bottle what you have because at the moment, my life is very easy and yet I feel stressed, overwhelmed, and yes, like a miserable failure all the time. Is it genetic? Is it a lingering feeling from years of loneliness and rejection by family? Can I overcome this and just enjoy the good things that I obviously have? I’m not sure that I can.

  102. Hmm. I clicked on a few of these links (+1 for having them), and I think some of the statistics don’t check out.

    “About 7% of people are alcoholic”
    According to the definition of alcoholism on this website, anyone who has has drunk more than they were planning and had a subsequent hangover in the past year is an alcoholic (seriously). This organization is incentivized to inflate statistics for more money.

    “– About 10% of people were sexually molested as children, many of whom are still working through the trauma.”
    The 10% referred to (5% of boys and 20% of girls) was a) from self report studies, which often introduce large sample biases, and 2) they referred to ‘childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incidents’ which (I think?) is a superset of being sexually molested.

    • Dahlen says:

      Off-topic, but I clicked your username link completely expecting it to lead me to a page on the 2016 Democratic primaries. Sorry if you’ve gotten many such comments recently. 😛

    • Earthly Knight says:

      It’s unclear to me what qualifies as “child molestation”, in particular as concerns (1) the age of the perpetrator, (2) the age of the victim, (3) whether there must be a pattern of abuse, and (4) whether any degree of unwanted sexual contact is sufficient. I gave the figures from a CDC study in my first comment, above, which found that roughly 7% of high school students reported having been the victim of forcible unwanted sexual intercourse. The study’s sampling method seems above board, and they even had decent response rates– 78% of schools and 86% of students within participating schools. So 10% for all types of childhood sexual abuse is ballpark, maybe on the low side.

      • Tibor says:

        I watched a japanese anime film “My neighbour Totoro” recently. It is actually a film for kids (what I found interesting about it was that there was absolutely zero conflict and the film still worked remarkably well, but I digress). There is a family, or more precisely a father with two daughters (the mother is in a hospital) who move into a new house. In one scene, they all (the father and the daughters) go to a bath together, everyone naked (it is quite a big bath but anyway). The girls are something like 10 and 5 years old. I found that scene interesting because if this would be completely unacceptable in a western film and is kinda weird from the westerner’s point of view (e.g. mine) but on the other hand there is really nothing bad about it, it is just that you would associate something like that with a possible sexual child abuse. But it could be that the western society, some countries more than others I guess, is hypersensitive to this nowadays. Hence I would be a bit suspicious of the reported child abuse. The problem with that term is that it is quite broadly and vaguely defined.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          1. The study I cited in an earlier comment, from which comes the 7% figure, asks specifically about forced sexual intercourse, which is nice because it takes all ambiguity out of the definition.

          2. My Neighbor Totoro is the work of Hayao Miyazaki, most of whose films are nominally children’s movies, but who is the world’s greatest animation director. I highly, highly recommend Princess Mononoke.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            My Neighbor Totoro is the work of Hayao Miyazaki, most of whose films are nominally children’s movies, but who is the world’s greatest animation director.

            My nigga.

            I highly, highly recommend Princess Mononoke.

            I prefer Laputa: Castle in the Sky, myself, but most people do seem to like Princess Mononoke more.

          • Tibor says:

            1. Ok, but first, high school means ages 15-18/19 in the US, right? Those are not children anymore, not even the 15year olds are…I dunno how it is in the US, but in most countries in Europe 15 is the age when you can legally have sex with anyone, also, only slightly related, 16 is the age when, in Germany, you can legally drink beer and wine. Also it is not clear by whom they were forced to have sex. I would believe that some 7% of high-schoolers might date complete jerks who do something like that, high-schoolers are not known for their good judgement. But I would be surprised if most of these abusers were not high-schoolers themselves. So, this is not terribly relevant to the number of people who were sexually abused as children.

            2.I really like the work of Shinichirō Watanabe (I don’t know if I like Cowboy Bebop more than Samurai Champloo or the other way around), but yeah, Miyazaki’s films are good, my favourite from him is Spirited Away actually (although I saw Princess Mononoke some 5 years ago so I don’t remember it all that well).

          • Earthly Knight says:

            1. High school children in the US are between 14-19. The age of consent here varies by state; about half put it at 16, the rest are split between 17 and 18.

            2. Most of the rapes occurred by the time they were 14 years old– the study reports that 6% of freshman (9% F, 3.5% M) had been forced to have sex.

            3. It’s certainly the case that many of the rapes will have been committed by peers and slightly-older children rather than adults. I’m still inclined to label this childhood sexual abuse, though, and even if we go the other way on the nomenclature, what we’re really interested in is the long-term psychological effects, and it’s hard to believe that being raped by a peer causes significantly less trauma than being raped by an adult.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Tibor:

            In the US many/most states have age of consent at 18, but statutory rape laws frequently require a difference of 2 or even 4 years, I believe.

            But, here is I think the issue. America almost can’t talk about sex in a coherent fashion. I call it the Puritan mindset.

            People are interchanging references to “sex with a minor”, “rape (non-statutory) of a minor” and “sex with a pre-pubescent child”. These are very different things, but they tend to get lumped together (IMO).

          • Tibor says:

            HeelBearCub: That was my impression from the, to me, completely insane verdict of that high-school teacher who slept with two boys from her class who were 16 or something. I think she was sentenced to something like 20 years of prison…I guess they should have sacked her, because a high-school teacher simply should not have affairs with students but that is a work-related incident whereas otherwise nothing really happened. In Europe, or at least continental Europe (I vaguely remember some weird things along the same lines in the UK, but I am not entirely sure) there would be no court at all (unless some of the students accused her of abuse or blackmail or something…which did not happen). Then again, it is just a single court case, so more or less an anecdote (although the possibility of such a verdict does tell you something about the legal system in the country).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Tibor:
            I think there are real problems with older individuals dating/having relationships with teenagers, especially before those teens are living somewhat independently. For a variety of reasons, but number one is that young people are not fully mentally and emotionally developed. Manipulation and coercion seem like very real dangers with greatly divergent ages.

            Add on that the teacher is in a position of power and criminal charges, in the general case, seem justified to me.

            But, I can’t help thinking that if we took sex to be as serious, commonplace and necessary as driving, the US would be better for it. I despair of seeing that mindset anytime soon.

          • Timothy Coish says:

            Princess Monokoke got turned off by me not even 1 hour in. Gave the movie every chance.

          • “but number one is that young people are not fully mentally and emotionally developed.”

            Old people too.

          • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

            Even if older people having sex with teenagers has a dangerous potential for manipulation and abuse,
            1) manipulation and abuse is not the same thing as rape.
            2) even if most such relationships are manipulative, making them all illegal is basically a kind of pre-crime, which brings with it all these annoying selective enforcement issues.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Ariel Ben Yuda:
            Again, I think the problems are both exacerbated and, in some cases, caused by the Puritan mindset.

            But mostly what you are highlighting is Type 1 vs. Type 2 trade offs, which really does very little to show which side we should err on.

          • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

            @HeelBearCab

            Most correlates of an abusive relationships are not crimes. Just doing something suspicious is not a crime. I don’t see why this specific case is special.

            Currently, abuse is criminally punished very lightly compared to crimes of similar consequence. This is for a good reason – cases of abuse have a tendency of being very ambiguous, with a high chance of punishing a non-abuser.

            We don’t want to make doing something that just looks-like-an-abusive-relationship make you a registered sex offender.

          • Tibor says:

            @HeelBearCub: I actually think that the main reason a teacher should not have a relationship with a student is favouritism. If abuse or blackmail (have sex with me or you will fail this class) are an issue, the student can accuse the teacher of those and sue him/her, or notify the principal of the school about it. But if there are no problems in that relationship, nobody is going to complain and it is a conflict of interest when one partner is supposed to grade the other one. This is why I think the teacher should be sacked, but otherwise it is just a relationship between someone who is older and someone who is younger. Unless you think that any such relationship should be illegal and prosecuted (maybe to a certain age of the younger partner), you should not make an exception in this case either. Also, a manipulative relationship is something unfortunate but definitely not illegal and thank god for that. Not all bad things, let alone potentially bad things should be made illegal.

          • @Tibor:

            The problems you mention shouldn’t exist for a relationship between a teacher and a past student who is not going to be a future student.

            The place where this is a more serious issue is in college, where the ages do not raise any legal issue and a serious long term relationship might make sense. Forbidding such relationships eliminates a potentially attractive opportunity for mate search, or at least restricts it to those willing to either break the rules or keep the relationship non-sexual until the student graduates.

            On the other hand, without such rules you have to worry about conflict of interest, as mentioned. Judging by a quick online search, Harvard has a blanket rule against faculty dating undergraduates, Northwestern has restrictions designed to deal with the conflict of interest problem. I don’t know about other schools.

        • dust bunny says:

          “In one scene, they all (the father and the daughters) go to a bath together, everyone naked (it is quite a big bath but anyway). The girls are something like 10 and 5 years old. I found that scene interesting because if this would be completely unacceptable in a western film and is kinda weird from the westerner’s point of view (e.g. mine)”

          As a continental European, I resent the implication that western = anglo.

          • Tibor says:

            Plus 1 point for the the film reference 🙂

            I am from continental Europe as well but I cannot imagine this not at least causing a lot of fuss in continental European films too. But maybe there could be some differences among countries that I am unaware of. I come from the Czech republic and I am currently doing my PhD in Germany. I would say that in both countries, the attitude towards this is probably more relaxed than in England, let alone the US, but still (at least judging by that film) not as relaxed as in Japan and that a scene where a father takes a bath naked with his daughters would cause some ruckus at least.

    • “According to the definition of alcoholism on this website, anyone who has has drunk more than they were planning and had a subsequent hangover in the past year is an alcoholic (seriously)”

      Wow..I literally come form a nation of alcoholics!

  103. Max says:

    Donating is not the answer. Treat root causes not the symptoms

    This is by the way the big problem of modern medicine – aside of emergency medicine is largely aimed at palliative, symptomatic care, drug pushing and supporting itself.

    Nutrition and sanitation did not come from medicine. Antibiotic and vaccinations were significant achievements, but the rest – not at all(more like waste of resources)

    • Peter Scott says:

      This might be relevant to the discussion, and is in any case a good read:

      https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/09/22/beware-systemic-change/

    • Vanzetti says:

      >Donating is not the answer. Treat root causes not the symptoms

      This sentiment is usually just an excuse for not donating.

      You don’t need an excuse. If you don’t want to donate, don’t.

      And now tell us, oh great sage, how to treat the root causes.

      • Befriend people. Especially lonely ones.

        Homeless people and old people need people to talk to, too.

      • Max says:

        >This sentiment is usually just an excuse for not donating.

        And donating is just an excuse for not doing anything else.

        >And now tell us, oh great sage, how to treat the root causes.
        So you can dismiss it/attack me and feel nice about yourself?

        • suntzuanime says:

          Donating and doing anything else are both just excuses to jockey for status like anything else. If you want a reason to think things are terrible on this Christmas Eve, that’s a pretty good one.

          • Frog Do says:

            A better one is that giving is an attempt to gain virtue-as-determined-by-introspection, using other people as props, in a Ultilitarian Narcissist alignment check. Don’t even need other people to compete against, just your own creeping dread.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Frog Do: I guess that means “you’re just being a good person because you don’t want to feel like you’re a bad person,” but that doesn’t sound too terrible?

            I think if you actually act as a good person would act, it’s fine if the ultimate motivation for that is vanity.

    • Emile says:

      Donating is not the answer. Treat root causes not the symptoms

      Then donate to organizations that seem they’ll improve the root causes. Duh.

      • Eph says:

        Can you name one?

        • pneumatik says:

          Paying social workers, maybe? Don’t they do some of what you’re talking about?

          • pneumatik says:

            In my relatively limited experience with social workers they seem focused on connecting people with services that support them, and to the degree possible helping people understand what they need to do to deal with whatever problems are facing them. It’s not exactly hiring a friend, but it sounds similar to what’s being discussed in this sub-thread.

          • DensityDuck says:

            So they’re much like the minders I described in my earlier post, albeit on a sharply limited scale.

        • Emile says:

          Can you name one?

          I’m not the one going around telling people “Treat root causes not the symptoms”. Max seems to claim great insight about root causes, but that shouldn’t be an excuse not to donate, on the contrary – that means he can identify *even more effective* charities.

          Though if I had to name one, I’d say the “Deworm the World Initiative” is about as close to attacking a root cause as you can get.

          • Eph says:

            I don’t mean to be rude, but I doubt it. I asked you specifically because you sounded confident that there is an easy pick.

            I have never in my life heard of a charity that had a realistic chance of addressing the root causes of human misery.

            I could imagine deworming is helping some people at reasonable cost, but that’s more like treating a symptom of poverty. The root causes of poverty are bad governance and irresponsible reproductive behavior, but neither are fixable with existing evaluated charities, AFAIK.

          • Linch says:

            At the risk of saying the obvious, there’s no one root cause of global poverty (and indeed, of most systematic problems). In addition, as Scott’s many medical posts will attest to, it is not always clear that the initial cause of a problem is always inimically linked with the solution.

            I know I’m stating the obvious here, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said.

    • LRS says:

      Many who donate to treat symptoms do so because the evidence that their donations can effectively treat symptoms is strong, while the evidence that anything they do can effectively treat root causes is weak.

      Giving $3,000 to the Against Malaria Foundation will, on expectation, save one human life. Giving $3,000 to any root-cause-directed effort has a substantial likelihood of accomplishing nothing or even being counterproductive, since root causes tend to be hotly disputed. If the root cause is political, there are probably people contributing to the other side of it and canceling out your donation; if the root cause is basic research, it’s highly likely whatever basic research you’re supporting will lead to actual nothing, as most basic research does.

      Treating the symptoms is not ideal, but it may be the least bad of many bad options.

      • DensityDuck says:

        Indeed, I’m pretty sure Mark Zuckerberg figured he was going after root causes. And sure, “well it wasn’t his fault”, “he didn’t manage the money”, “entrenched interests”, but the fact remains that he pissed away a hundred million dollars. If he’d simply picked a hundred random families and given each of them a million dollars it would have done more good for more people!

  104. Dan Simon says:

    There’s another angle to your false-consensus argument: you’re assuming that all of the people enduring your list of immiserating conditions are in fact miserable, just because those conditions would make *you* miserable. In truth, just as there are millions of people with none of these problems who are still miserable, there are also millions who have one or more of them and yet wake up every day thankful to be alive. (For some of them, for example, the beliefs inspiring the young-earth creationism you decry may be one source of their joy and gratitude.) And I’d expect you to see disproportionately few such people in the course of your medical practice, further reinforcing your assumption that people with these problems are uniformly miserable.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      He’s not claiming young-earth creationists tend to be miserable, he’s just using young-earth creationists as another example of a group that, like miserable people, tends to be filtered out from his social circles despite being on the whole common.

      • Ada says:

        The commenter above wasn’t saying YEC makes you miserable, he was snarking that Scott has a rather limited/biased perspective that discounts, say, the comfort of fervent religious beliefs a la YEC

    • Svejk says:

      This is a good point. In some cases, it seems that misery, or its absence, is not the result of any particular combination of experiences or qualities, but a quality in itself. I’m not certain that depression alone captures this phenomenon.

      • LCL says:

        This is important to get out there, and particularly for people prone to depression. The paradigm most people have of depression is that it’s a problem to be solved, often via a root cause to be addressed. You tell people you feel depressed (or even just sad) and the first question is going to be “why?”

        But in fact it can be liberating to realize that it’s just a thing that happens to you, and not some kind of failure-to-address-underlying-causes. You sometimes feel depressed, and now is one of those times, and later you’ll stop feeling that way.

      • CatCube says:

        I’m rereading “Nothing to Envy” by Barbara Demick, which is based on interviews with defectors from North Korea, centrally about the famine in the mid-’90s. However, there’s an interesting dichotomy between two of the subjects (note that this is my exegesis, not something the author pointed out).

        One woman was a True Believer, and was happy in North Korea; she even made an effort to not criticize the regime during the famine (despite her husband starving to death). Her daughter hated the government, and was unhappy and at loose ends.

        The daughter defected, then tricked her mother into going into China to help her out. The daughter wasn’t there, though; she was in South Korea and had paid one of the smugglers to giver her mother the best treatment possible for a few weeks (things like having white rice available every day, etc), until her mother decided that she wasn’t going back to North Korea and followed her daughter to the South.

        The epilogue was interesting. The mother, who was a communist true believer was happy and content in South Korea, as she had been mostly happy and content in North Korea. The daughter was disaffected and at loose ends–though she wasn’t starving and was grudgingly happier than she was in North Korea. Some people will blossom where they’re planted, and some really won’t every be happy.

        • Dragoncat says:

          Perhaps the mother simply had a lower IQ. “Ignorance is bliss.”

          • Marc Whipple says:

            “You are so blissfully free of the ravages of intelligence.”

          • CatCube says:

            From the description of the mother, it’s not likely that she was any stupider than her daughter, nor does any description in the book strike me as her being less than average intelligence; she’s probably more, as she seems to have landed on her feet in South Korea, where many North Korean defectors lose all of the defection money the South Korean government gives them in short order. This includes her daughter, though much of her defection money went to the coyotes she was paying to bring her mother across.

            I’m still partway through re-reading the book, and had forgotten quite a few details before my previous post. She had lost her mother-in-law and her son in addition to her husband. The husband stuck in my mind because the story of his last days was more memorable. Also, after her husband died, she basically gave up until her daughters found her wandering, delirious, and got some more food for her.

    • moridinamael says:

      You an be both miserable and thankful to be alive. Helping with the misery is still good.

      • Dan Simon says:

        I would rephrase your point (as I understand it) as, “being happy doesn’t in any way imply lack of material misfortune”. And yes, I’m all in favor of charitable giving (and quite comfortable with democratically enacted government policies) to help relieve others’ material misfortune, irrespective of their emotional state. My main point was to warn against portraying the materially unfortunate (somewhat condescendingly) as a huge, undifferentiated mass of hopeless, helpless misery.

  105. eqdw says:

    > People in Group X need to realize they have it really good

    Man, the people in Group X really do have it good, though. I mean, they know a seek-er-et, and it is sooooooo good to hear it

    You want to know what it shwas? Alright, I’ll tell you what it shwas.

  106. DensityDuck says:

    One of the things that occurs to me, about your stories, is that these people need minders. Not like a probation officer or a social worker, but like an actual 24-7 live-in “time to wash your socks, time to pay your bills, let’s write down a list of what we need at the store, time for the appointment with social services, I’ll drive the car downtown”.

    This is something that a lot of these modern miserable Americans seem to need, because society does a remarkably poor job of teaching people how to be functional self-directing adults–and dealing with the ones who can’t or don’t know how. Our local rag recently ran a sadpiece about an old woman kicked out of a trailer park that had sold out to a condo developer. My impression, the article’s presentation notwithstanding, was that she didn’t seem to have mental disorders so much as she was simply bewildered–like, having no idea at all that the reason her water got cut off was that she hadn’t paid the bills.

    Society was constructed on the assumption that anyone older than 18 is married, and one partner makes all the decisions.

    • Alraune says:

      Society was constructed on the assumption that anyone older than 18 is married, and one partner makes all the decisions.

      Assortative mating disagrees. Though I would accept “society was constructed on the assumption that anyone older than 18 is married, and either one partner is a full-time household manager or they have servants.”

    • Julie K says:

      It would be more accurate to say that society was constructed on the assumption that everyone was part of a household where someone made the decisions. If you couldn’t get married, you might have been “the maiden aunt” or “the poor relation.” If you didn’t have relatives who could take you in, you might have ended up in a convent/monastery. Obviously this meant less freedom, but it did take care of people who didn’t know how to be “functional self-directing adults.”

    • Error says:

      I think this is correct in principle, but I’m also wondering if there are more people in the world who need minders than there are people who aren’t made miserable by having to *be* minders.

      (not entirely an academic question; I’m currently getting gradually dragged into minder-ship for Reasons and I do not like it)

      • Jeffrey Soreff says:

        I think this is correct in principle, but I’m also wondering if there are more people in the world who need minders than there are people who aren’t made miserable by having to *be* minders.

        (not entirely an academic question; I’m currently getting gradually dragged into minder-ship for Reasons and I do not like it)

        Yup, this is a problem – particularly if it indeed takes a 105 IQ to be a minder, and each minder can only mind one mindee…

        This being the 21st century, I wonder if some of the minder tasks can be automated. Yeah, I know – commonsense reasoning has been a weak point of AI for a long time – but by the same token, the success of Watson/DeepQA in a broad domain, and the success of Google’s self-driving cars were positive surprises in what tasks could be automated.

        Now, admittedly, above and beyond getting something to work on a useful subset of minder tasks, there is the additional hazard that the program might have what amount to embedded choices that are not in the interests of the mindee (like Mark Atwood’s to-my-mind-horrible

        Said “minder” would not care very much for your personal preference or outcome, they cared about the outcome of their, ah, “domain”. A wise one such would put you to work and would store up your surplus for your nieces and nephews to eat later.

        ). Maybe open-source could uncover such abuses?

    • Sarah says:

      I once met the abusive, mentally ill mother of a friend of mine. From stories I’d been told, she was obviously a bad person. But seeing her in action, what I saw was someone who was just *very confused* by the practicalities of daily life, and would get frustrated and lose her temper. And … I could kind of see myself in that. Not the abuse, but the confusion about stuff that “people are supposed to know.” It only takes a little bit of cognitive difficulty or learning disability or something to have trouble with “normal” adult functioning.

      • Eph says:

        You raise good points, but I disagree with the time horizon.

        Not everybody is better off with a longer time horizon, e.g. I don’t want kids and certainly no grandkids, and there’s a high likelihood that I’ll be dead in 20 years. If “minders” mistook my rational short time horizion for irrationality – by forcing me to save for my retirement or eating healthy food – I would be made worse off.

        • Eph says:

          Yes, Mark, you talk about ordinary slavery and parasitism. “Our” politicians do enough of that already.

          No philosophical reason to prefer this over the flaws of libertarianism or the Enlightenment experiment, as you call it.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          @Eph: You don’t see a difference between a patriarch redistributing your surplus to your kinsmen and a politician selling your surplus to buy votes from whatever demographic is selling them cheapest?

        • LCL says:

          The complicating factor is that people are very bad at predicting their future preferences, especially as far out as 20 years. Depending on your reasons for planning to be dead and childless in 20 years, there’s a fair chance that you’re simply wrong about your future self’s preferences.

          A reasonable minder would have a strong prior that your future preferences will end up being for things that we know people generally find meaningful: health, family, social relationships, satisfying work, financial security. Overcoming that prior would require evidence that your expectation of unusual future preferences is reasonable.

      • johnnycoconut says:

        Cthulu swims toward mass bureaucracy. Or something

      • alexp says:

        Sarah,

        I’m having some trouble what you mean by “confused by the practicalities of daily life”

        Are you capable of giving any concrete examples without identifying information, or at least made up scenarios similar to actual scenarios you encountered?

        • Sarah says:

          Her car was dented and full to the brim with trash.
          She had no idea where important papers were located.
          The process of packing up a house was confusing to her and she was more hindrance than help.

          (I actually share some of these difficulties — can’t drive, am terrible at doing my own taxes, get confused by spatial/mechanical tasks like operating a coffeemaker. If I weren’t lucky enough to have a good education and skills highly valued by the market, my life could very easily have turned out to be ruled by my dysfunctions.)

    • StephenMeansMe says:

      There’s a book called “Crache” by Mark Budz in which every baby gets a cortical stack with an embedded A.I. minder… they’re not fully general A.I., just something like a Siri/Google Now/Cortana with the computing power of 15-20 years in the future and also all data about you since the moment of your birth. I wonder how much the lives of the “people who need minders” would improve with such an innovation.

      It seems like an important cognitive deviation is “poor alignment of personal priorities with societal/environmental demands,” which could be very deeply ingrained (that is, hard to teach away even given infinite money in the school system) but easily backdoored by just such patriarchal measures as Mark Atwood hints at. That’s… annoying.

      • StephenMeansMe says:

        Hrm. I mean more of a backdoor around the hard task of training one’s brain. In other words, some people can learn “life skills,” while almost everyone would thrive with a “minder.”

        Certainly some people can learn “life skills,” since contemporary society is sufficiently different than any plausible ancestral environment. And certainly it can’t be minders all the way up, there has to be some sub-population with sufficient… whatever… to act independently.

        How does one determine that evolved behavior is *optimal*, though, rather than just satisficing? Or what evidence is there that “cognitive infrastructure” differs in that way (not just IQ, like the whole qualitative package of “performs at < -1sd for most social action") reliably? (Or do you not claim it's population-level, just that sometimes a person has some sort of genetic disposition preventing them from performing near or above the mean socially?)

      • dust bunny says:

        It upsets me greatly that you present patriarchy as a serious and even preferable alternative to what we currently have, without addressing how most patriarchs throughout history have not been benevolent or competent, and they’ve generally not had enough attention to spare to the individual needs of those they are making decisions for. Nothing is currently keeping people from being as patriarchal as they wish; the benefits of that social model are still available to everyone who wants them. That most people don’t choose it, and that those who do (FLDS) are famous for the callousness, selfishness and abusiveness of their patriarchs, requires some sort of explanation if you’re trying to make the case that patriarchy is better for the wellbeing of the weakest than is individualism.

        (Note: it’s individualism rather than feminism that dismantled patriarchy in the sense you mean it, since patriarchy as institutionalized obligatory gender roles survived the transition to nuclear family structure and urban lifestyle very much unharmed. Gender equality is still theoretically compatible with authoritarian extended family structures, as long as the patriarch is equally often a matriarch. Feminists appear to me at least to be generally very pro-extended family and strong social support networks. “It takes a village to raise a child” etc.)

        I find myself wondering what you think a good outcome for those who need minding would be, or what the terminal value you want for them is, since obviously it is not for them to get to live the kind of lives they want to, or to have their interests looked out for. Try as I might to be fair and charitable, and I understand I am probably failing at it, the only thing I can come up with is that you don’t really consider their perspective at all, but are rather looking for a solution that moves their suffering out of your sight and makes it someone else’s responsibility. If there is order, and those people occupy their proper place in the scheme of things, living pre-approved lifestyles, it doesn’t matter to you how happy they are about it.

        • Anonymous says:

          >most patriarchs throughout history have not been benevolent or competent

          Source?

          >Nothing is currently keeping people from being as patriarchal as they wish; the benefits of that social model are still available to everyone who wants them.

          If you live in the Middle East, or Japan, or even China, I could tentatively and charitably agree.

          If you live in the west, chances are the legal system is stacked against anyone who isn’t super rich being able to implement their own patriarchy. If children were property of the father, if a woman who divorced her husband were entitled to nothing at all, if there weren’t a state pension scheme, if marital rape weren’t a thing, if disciplining children and wives were legal, etc, etc, then you’d have a point. In the real world, you very much can’t be as patriarchal as you wish, because people in blue will show up to remove you from society for a time, perhaps indefinitely.

          Paging Dr. Friedman on how legally subversive one needs to be to run a patriarchy in a contemporary western state.

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t think your argument along the lines “people can opt out if they want, the observation that they don’t is evidence that the state alternative is better” is very persuasive. You can opt out in the sense of not using government provisions that are offered to you, but you can’t opt out in the sense of not paying for them.

          It’s roughly the same reasoning that leads people to conclude that if the government didn’t provide, say, schooling, the outcome would be that only rich people would be able to educate their kids, based on the observation that private schools as they currently exist are expensive and cater exclusively to the rich. This is a mistake – the existence of state schools, i.e. budget price schools people have to pay for whether they want to or not, totally precludes the possibility of budget price private schools. Unless the education you expect your child to get from a private school will be so much better than they would get from a state school that it’s worth paying twice, you aren’t going to do so. So the only private schools that will exist will be high-quality, high-price ones, catering to the rich.

          Same applies to healthcare and possibly to husbands. But also to your example of private ‘patriarchal institutions’ versus state equivalents.

        • DensityDuck says:

          I feel compelled to point out that I in no way intended my post to be interpreted as an expression of support for patriarchal despotism, either at the familial or the societal level.

        • dust bunny says:

          @ anonymous
          I feel like you’re responding to my post as a standalone, removed from the context of the other posts made here. I’m not interested in opening a more general discussion on patriarchy. That would derail the discussion I am interested in. If your questions are sincere requests for clarification, I will address them. On first reading, though, they seem more like an invitation into a derailing debate.

          @ other anonymous
          “I don’t think your argument along the lines “people can opt out if they want, the observation that they don’t is evidence that the state alternative is better” is very persuasive.”

          I’m not making that argument. I’m saying it is something that needs somehow to be accounted for, if you’re going to make the case that patriarchy is better for the people it places under the guardianship of others than individualism and social democratic welfare states.

          @ duck
          I didn’t read your posts as such. Not really Mark Atwood’s either, although he does seem at least somewhat sympathetic to the idea.

        • “So the only private schools that will exist will be high-quality, high-price ones, catering to the rich.”

          Not quite. There will also be ones offering a product enough different, as judged by parents, to be worth paying for. The obvious examples would be religious schools for parents who disapprove of what their children would be taught in the public schools. That would include parochial schools, Nation of Islam schools, … . But there would also be schools based on a substantially different educational theory, such as Sudbury Valley School (unschooling).

          What you would not expect to see would be private schools selling schooling that is a reasonably close substitute for what the public schools produce, even if it is a little better and costs a little less to produce.

          For anyone interested in the history of inexpensive schooling for the masses in a private system, I recommend E.G. West, Education and the Industrial Revolution. The modern equivalent exists (illegally) on a large scale in India at present.

        • Anonymous says:

          @dust bunny

          I would genuinely like to see your source as to the competence and benevolence of patriarchs. My learnings indicate that, quite the opposite, they were on average quite competent and acted in the interest of their charges.

        • Eph says:

          >If children were property of the father

          Just for the record, I’d sooner condone a system that sterilizes all humanity. Just because something has a historic precendent does not mean we have to condone it even slightly.

        • Anonymous says:

          Just for the record, I’d sooner condone a system that sterilizes all humanity.

          For the record, I would condone… just about anything in preference of sterilizing all of humanity.

          Just because something has a historic precendent does not mean we have to condone it even slightly.

          I don’t condone it because it is historical precedent. I condone it because it is plausible that it serves to align incentives for our collective benefit. The historical precedent merely serves to illustrate that you can have that and not have your system collapse immediately, contrary to never-tried-before proposals.

        • Eph says:

          >I condone it because it is plausible that it serves to align incentives for our collective benefit.

          Except for the slave children, of course, who will suffer severely. Also you probably underestimate the impact on “our collective benefit”, and I bet you have a pretty evil definition of “benefit”.

          I can’t say I’m surprised by the readiness to use violence and enslavement to maximize suffering, but I’m still dumbfounded how many sell it as moral.

          One more piece of evidence that human extinction might be a real improvement of this universe after all.

        • Anonymous says:

          Except for the slave children, of course, who will suffer severely.

          What kind of evil father must you have had to believe this?

          Also you probably underestimate the impact on “our collective benefit”, and I bet you have a pretty evil definition of “benefit”.

          Among the benefits I see in that system:
          – parents properly repaid for the expense of bringing their children up,
          – sustainability in the incentive for said children to have their own children and reap the benefits themselves,
          – no quarrel between the government and parents regarding the ownership of the children, since the matter of settled.

          This kind of arrangement was in use in Imperial China for millennia, and in the Roman Empire for centuries. Whatever you can say about it, it is not demonstrably unstable.

          I can’t say I’m surprised by the readiness to use violence and enslavement to maximize suffering, but I’m still dumbfounded how many sell it as moral.

          No, you.

          One more piece of evidence that human extinction might be a real improvement of this universe after all.

          wat

        • Eph says:

          Regarding the incentives to have more children, there is more than one solution and literal child slavery is probably the ethically most repugnant one. Especially without any kind of exit option for the child.

          If indeed we need such an extra incentive.

        • Anonymous says:

          Regarding the incentives to have more children, there is more than one solution and literal child slavery is probably the ethically most repugnant one.

          Really? Of all the solutions one can come up with, this is what you would peg as “the ethically most repugnant one”? Can you really not imagine morally worse, but plausibly working, scenarios?

          If indeed we need such an extra incentive.

          If by “we” you mean “western people”, then yes, we damn well need one. Everything we have tried so far has failed. The problem may correct itself with the inheritors of our civilization being primarily descendants of those who were resistant against whatever effect that is causing the depressed fertility, but the price may be that those people may be unable to run our civilization anymore, due to dysgenic effects of our best and brightest not giving a damn about posterity. Or more fertile migrants might take over one day and start running their own idea of civilization, different from ours.

        • Eph says:

          Anonymous, your chains of thought contain way too many assumptions that are not nearly as certain as you may think.

          Every authoritarian in history thought they had the greater good on their side, that their violence is the exact optimal and most moral solution. IMO the probability of that is near zero, and even if it were true, you would need a repugnant system of terminal values.

        • dust bunny says:

          @ anonymous
          Fine.

          The post I was responding to was made by a person who agrees with me that a weak majority of people in general are barely competent to run their own lives. It is necessarily harder to competently run the lives of several people than just one, and to adequately understand the needs of others than one’s own. So, a randomly selected person put in a position of power over others is likely not competent to hold that power. Patriarchs are not selected randomly, but they are selected on the basis of attributes that only correlate with competence very weakly, if at all. A patriarch’s education teaches him to not listen to those on whose behalf they make decisions, or even to take them seriously. And there is absolutely nothing that would exempt patriarchs from the principal-agent-problem.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        Everybody keeps taking the word that was originally being discussed as “patriarch.” I took it as “patron.”

        Historically, being a patron had rights as well as responsibilities, and obligations that went both ways. (Not that it wasn’t vastly preferable to be a patron as opposed to a ward.) If your ward did something antisocial, you were accountable. This encouraged, at more than one level, a less toxic relationship than the bad sort implied by referring to the FDLS. When people talk about why the Enlightenment may turn out to be a net social failure, this is a major factor. We are creating legions of what are, in a sense, feral children. Somebody set food out for them, so they didn’t starve, but they aren’t really socialized in that they don’t understand consequences.

      • PhoenixRite says:

        I imagine it would be like Navi from the Zelda series. A voice constantly shouting “Hey! Listen!” and then you hit the snooze button rather than deal with a painful truth or stop procrastinating.

    • JDG1980 says:

      In my darker thougths, I suspect that one of the hopes of some of the sillier transhumanists is that hopefully such people can be “upgraded” into being able to take care of themselves

      You really think genetic engineering to improve IQ is a pie-in-the-sky concept? It’s beyond current technology, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it happen in the next half-century. It certainly is likely to happen a lot sooner than strong AI.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ JDG1980
        “You really think genetic engineering to improve IQ is a pie-in-the-sky concept?”

        Alternatively … for the immediate object-level problem, the forms to fill out etc are more and more often online and lower-IQ-friendly: big touch-screen icons, etc. They have a ways to go, but this is a known technology with fewer unknown side effects.

        • Jeffrey Soreff says:

          Alternatively … for the immediate object-level problem, the forms to fill out etc are more and more often online and lower-IQ-friendly: big touch-screen icons, etc.

          Yes, that would work – if the objective were to ensure that those eligible for assistance got it. My suspicion, (writing from the USA), is that the intent of the paperwork is often to add roadblocks and underhandedly cut assistance.

        • CatCube says:

          @Jeffrey Soreff

          …the intent of the paperwork is often to add roadblocks and underhandedly cut assistance.

          I doubt that’s the case. When you see a bureaucracy doing something stupid, you’re usually seeing the seams between two conflicting sets of rules.

          The paperwork probably keeps getting more onerous to prove that the bureaucrats aren’t siphoning off money–often, as you’ve observed, the paperwork and rules often end up wasting more money than they save. In our office we joke that the government spends $80 to save $8.

        • Jeffrey Soreff says:

          @CatCube

          The paperwork probably keeps getting more onerous to prove that the bureaucrats aren’t siphoning off money–often, as you’ve observed, the paperwork and rules often end up wasting more money than they save. In our office we joke that the government spends $80 to save $8.

          Fair enough. Now that you mention it, the most grotesque examples I’ve read of have been from private health insurers. Presumably they do it in cases where they make a net profit from it, rather than losing money on it.

        • CatCube says:

          @Jeffrey Soreff

          …they do it in cases where they make a net profit from it, rather than losing money on it.

          It’s probable. Don’t forget, though, that the reason it’s better to have private firms do everything we can isn’t that they aren’t dysfunctional, it’s that if they don’t fix their dysfunction they’ll eventually go out of business. GM did things a lot more fucked up than this for a long time, but would be a thing of the past if not for the USG bailing them out. They still hung on for decades with horrible infighting between units, though.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          @Jeffrey Soreff:

          Almost. The objective is to make sure that the right people get assistance. As TLP is fond of saying, “If you have a driveway, this probably isn’t for you.”

      • bbartlog says:

        It’s at the bleeding edge of current technology. We have identified a few alleles of small effect, that could be edited in vitro with CRISPR/esCAS or similar. It’s just that right now the achievable gains are small compared to the complications and risk of failure.

      • IVF children have cognitive deficits through age 10 that don’t disappear. I’m not optimistic.

    • Marc Whipple says:

      Fritz Leiber’s The Creature from the Cleveland Depths, sometimes called The Lone Wolf, is about an attempt to upgrade people with external brains/minders of the sort you describe, with much less technical ability than we as a society now possess. You might find it interesting.

  107. Fuck Holidays says:

    This is part of why I get enraged whenever somebody on Tumblr says “People in Group X need to realize they have it really good”, or “You’re a Group X member, so stop pretending like you have real problems.” The town where I practice psychiatry is mostly white and mostly wealthy. That doesn’t save it. And whenever some online thinkpiece writer laughs about how good people in Group X have it and how hilarious it is that they sometimes complain about their lives, it never fails that I have just gotten home from treating a member of Group X who attempted suicide.

    I’m white, male, heterosexual, and upper-middle class. I also have crippling anxiety. PTSD from shitty things in my childhood. Fear of, and incompetence in, most normal social situations. Very few friends. I live 2000 miles away from any family. I cry myself to sleep about once every week or two on average. I started (but, thank god, never got close to finishing) four suicide notes in 2015.

    As a member of all those targetted demographics, every single day I get to read another person who talks about how I, both personally and collectively, am responsible for everything that’s wrong with society. I get to read about how good I have it. Many of the people I interact with, at work, in social situations, or just out in public, skew politically left, read these articles and blog posts, and excitedly share them on social media. Or just share them over the lunch table at work.

    At this point, the complete lack of anything approaching empathy from the people claiming the moral high ground is a significant factor in my regularly trying to give up on life. And really, it’s people like you, Scott, people who understand, people who care. Sometimes, knowing that people like you are out there is the only thing that helps me keep going.

    Happy holidays, Scott. Thank you for being one of the good guys

    • Echo says:

      I was going to post a sarcastic “ho ho ho, Merry Christmas” at the bottom, but saw this on the way down. Thanks for teaching me the spirit of the holiday, man.

    • caryatis says:

      Hey man, I’m sorry. Maybe you would be happier with more reasonable friends & websites?

    • *hugs* if you want them. Good luck.

    • I am sorry to hear that. I hope you find what you need to get things turned around and find an “upward-trending” course in life.

    • Anonymous says:

      From someone else who similarly has a bunch of hardish-to-categorize problems that aren’t specific and obvious enough to show up on the Tumblrites’ radar – I’m sorry to hear that. Hope things get better for you. Happy Christmas.

    • Dragoncat says:

      @Fuck Holidays, I wish I knew you in person because we sound so similar!

      I also have shyness and social anxiety and I’ve lived in very liberal cities for the past decade and never made friends because people say the vilest things out loud about conservatives never expecting to actually be seated near one. It’s been literally years of this (so I will probably end up like Eleanor Rigby). Snark seems to be the only language they speak and empathy is out the window.

      Wishing you the best and a good 2016.

  108. Screwtape says:

    …jeez Scott, if you’re sick of people saying “Merry Christmas” you really didn’t have to retaliate like *this.*

    (I’m joking. Or trying to make a joke anyway. Who was it who said that laughter is our best defense against an uncaring universe?)

  109. Leo says:

    Had you show pictures of cute orphans trembling from malaria and young mothers huddling in houses without a metal roof, your conclusion would have been appropriate. Instead you describe problems that are really hard to solve even with infinite money to throw at them, and finish with calls to solve easier ones.

  110. Jacobian says:

    A tiny bit positive spin on this is that a lot of the misery causing things on Scott’s list wouldn’t necessarily be worse in developing countries. People in Africa have to deal with shit like malaria and being hungry, but I don’t think that chronic pain, depression, incarceration, child abuse and most of all loneliness should be more prevalent there. Despite these American statistics, we in the US still have a general feeling that most people’s lives are OK. I’m guessing it means that other people’s lives will be at least as happy once they have some food and bed nets.

    How would you run an efficient charity targeting personal misery in the US? A CBT channel on TV?

    • Trevor says:

      That would actually be pretty cool.

    • zolstein says:

      I’m with you except on the chronic pain; as I understand it, a leading cause of chronic pain is “a lifetime of stressful physical labor,” which I would fully expect to see more of in “less-developed” countries.

    • pneumatik says:

      In some non-western cultures child abuse is essentially institutionalized. Sometimes it’s girls being married young and forced to have sex with their husbands. Other times it’s young boys being abused; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacha_bazi

    • ydirbut says:

      I used to live in Ghana for the Peace Corps (granted, Ghana is pretty well off by third world terms), but I wouldn’t say the people there are much unhappier than they are here.

  111. Alex Zavoluk says:

    If accurate, the numbers in this post would make me wonder how humans, let alone other life forms, survived this long. If wealthy, white, young towns in the United States (and not even in states like Mississippi) can have that many problems, then the average American should have had several of these problems just a few decades ago, not to even touch on centuries past. The entire population would have been crippled with medical, financial, or other issues!

    Although, if you believe and extrapolate from Coming Apart (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coming_Apart_(book)), the population most at risk for these problems (poor, less-educated people) may have actually gotten worse in these areas, such as increased unemployment and weaker community support.

    • E. Harding says:

      Those who couldn’t handle Third World Problems way back in the day didn’t survive.

    • Seth says:

      The entire population would have been crippled with medical, financial, or other issues!

      YES. If you want a quick indicator, look at children per childbearing-age woman. In the developed world, it’s around “2”. Centuries past, it needed to be several – because there was a good chance a large portion of the kids were going to DIE before reaching reproductive age (and each childbirth was another significant probability for the mother to die). Let’s see, off the top of my head – smallpox, cholera, measles, polio, all were major factors. Plus any inflections were potentially life-threatening (no antibiotics). That’s just part of the story. Having no Social Security, no national health care, no disability, no labor safety regulations (in short, Libertarian utopia), meant anyone who was old, sick, injured, etc was going to suffering much more than with even a begrudged minimal social safety net. There was no Good Old Days.

      • Alex Zavoluk says:

        “That’s just part of the story. Having no Social Security, no national health care, no disability, no labor safety regulations (in short, Libertarian utopia), meant anyone who was old, sick, injured, etc was going to suffering much more than with even a begrudged minimal social safety net”

        I’m not sure older societies were wealthy enough (or had the technology) for most of those things. Throughout the Industrial Period, private charity provided quite a lot, and was eventually replaced by (arguably less effective) government programs.

        • Gunther says:

          Is there any evidence private charity was particularly effective during the industrial revolution period?

          I mean, from my reading on the Effective Altruism movement, one of the major complaints they have about standard charities is how ineffective they are. You’re claiming that not only were industrial revolution period charities actually effective, they were better than the modern welfare state. That’s a pretty big claim.

          • Anonymous says:

            You might have missed the first sentence the person you’re replying to wrote. A comparison between the modern welfare state, and charity a century and a half ago, is entirely unreasonable. The correct comparison is between a welfare state and no welfare state for a given level of societal wealth.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            When the government decides to do X, one cost of doing so is that you lose all the social and economic infrastructure that used to solve the same problem some other way. Then after a generation or two goes by without that infrastructure it become hard to picture how it could have worked at all.

            There used to be “friendly societies”. If you belong to some ethnic group or immigrant group or religion or profession, there’d be one or more organizations people from your group(s) join for mutual support including old-age/disability/sickness support and insurance – much like what government does except that the association was voluntary.

            There were also organizations that cut across social groups – things like Rotary and the Lions Club. You know how when you enter a small town there’s a sign like this? That sign used to MATTER a lot more because those groups were how you plugged into the local helping-one-another industry.

            Nowadays there’s not much left of that kind of organization, at least not for the nonreligious. Alcoholics Anonymous sort of counts and Rotary is still around. Um, there’s a decent book The Tragedy of American Compassion whose thesis was that our modern caring-industrial complex is making things worse compared to earlier ways of solving the same problems.

          • This is something which makes me crazy about the “refugee crisis”.

            It used to be that when poor people immigrated to the US, they did a lot of helping each other, and it worked out well.

            Now, we have the concept of refugees who are supposed to be passively dependent on governments and other organizations. People can be imprisoned for decades for no crime– just for being refugees.

            I don’t have the background in being nasty to adequately express what I think of policies which forbid refugees to work.

          • bartlebyshop says:

            @ Nancy

            At least in Canada, which is trying to take 10,000 Syrian refugees by New Years (we’ll see if it happens!), refugees are sponsored for their first year in Canada. This can be done by the government or private organizations – Lifeline Syria – Cape Breton is an example. The sponsorship is about $20-30,000 and is meant to cover living expenses so the family/person can get on their feet. They get a loan from the government to cover transport costs which they must pay back (this is controversial as you can see from the link). The goal of the Canadian policy, I guess, is to get people settled and incentivize them to start work.

            In Lebanon, Syrian refugees can’t work, and UOttawa has started a new program to pay their living expenses and also teach classes to them. It seems to me like a lot of money they want to spend, and the program is about community mobilization, which seems good, but I wonder if they wouldn’t also like a program in nursing or something.

          • Private equivalents of Rotary and Lions still exist, in addition to those. When we moved from Chicago to San Jose, we had help unloading our rented