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OT39: Appian Thread

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

1. Comment of the week is this discussion on the calendar and the solstices, although everyone eventually agreed it was on the wrong track.

2. A while back, everyone donated some money for Multiheaded to be able to get a Canadian visa and escape Russia. Canada refused to grant such a visa and this plan has fallen through. If anybody else has any ideas for how a transgender person might get to a country that tolerates transgender people, please mention them in the comments so Multi can find them.

3. The first chapter of my book Unsong is now online here. New chapters every Sunday, new interludes some Wednesday, subscribe on right hand column of that site if you’re interested.

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1,568 Responses to OT39: Appian Thread

  1. Ilu says:

    I’m a Brazilian being accused of a crime I didn’t comit and although court proceedings haven’t started yet I’m reasonably sure I’ll be convicted. There are many things going against me and I can see why they’d think I did it. The severity of the crime is such that even if I am somehow absolved, my name and face will probably make their way to the press and I’ll be shunned.

    I’ve never felt this bad in my whole life, I am desperate and have no idea what to do. I have started considering some drastic options lately, things which I don’t want to do but I see no other way around it. If anyone is reading this I have urgent need of guidance. Please, help.

    • Cord Shirt says:

      (First version seems to have been caught in the spam trap, so, trying again.)

      I don’t have any info about the Brazilian legal system, but for the psychological aspects, check out /Mobbed/ by Janice Harper. It’s a memoir and analysis–she’s a cultural anthropologist–of when she was driven out of her job by a false accusation. Her accusers sent the USA’s FBI after her.

      Here is an article and excerpts and the article has a link to the book.

      This book has some great tips for staying balanced. For example: Whenever you see that friend who didn’t support you or that false accuser, imagine them as a funny fictional character or object. Not a powerful character like a wicked witch; a funny character like Baby Huey or a potted plant. 😉

      Also consider the English proverb: “Act in haste, repent at leisure.” Both the above authors say the same thing: This kind of stressful situation encourages hasty actions that only make things worse. I can’t advise you on what your legal system is likely to do, but don’t do something desperate just because of the stress you’re under.

      I originally mentioned another author too, but I think that’s what got this caught in the spam trap, so had to edit out the reference to him. I’ll just repeat what he and Harper both say: Find a private method of stress relief so your emotions don’t overwhelm you (Harper suggests expanding on one of your current hobbies).

      Remind yourself who you really are. Your own conscience knows the truth even if no one else does. (Read Harper’s book. I was only mobbed, so I can’t claim to have been under as much stress as you are–but I wish I’d had it then. It would have been extremely helpful.)

      Take care of yourself.

  2. In the wake of the impressive success of SpaceX’s reuasable stage on a Falcon 9, Elon Musk claimed that in the long term, this tech could see costs of access to space decrease by a ‘factor over a hundred’. Even a factor of 5 would be something to get insanely excited about, but one hundred seems like it might be wildly out to me, and I was wondering what others who follow this stuff more closely might think. The things that make me a little doubtful are:

    * The articles I find mention $200,000 for fuel as if it’s the only cost aside from building the rocket. I’d imagine there would be large amounts of money sunk into logisitcal labour, transportation, safety etc etc.
    * The reusable component is just the first stage. This is obviously awesome because its a large part of the vehicle, but my uninformed impression is that other stages wouldn’t be easy to reuse in the same way.
    * Refurbishment after a launch still would cost something… I’m guessing the cost wouldn’t be trivial
    * Even reusable rockets wont last forever – if you got 50 launches this would push up the ‘factor of a hundred’ reduction quite a bit.

    I don’t want to take away anything from Elon or the crew at SpaceX for the great job they’re doing. And I’d imagine even a factor of two or three would be enough to do great things for space exploration efforts, including massively changing the economics of the whole affair. But this number seemed odd to me. I’m curious to know what people who follow this topic closely think?

    (Also on reddit.)

    • HeelBearCub says:

      @citizensearth:
      See here for a long discussion thread.

    • John Schilling says:

      I believe that a mature, optimized reusable space transportation system could achieve cost-to-LEO reductions of two orders of magnitude from the current state of the art, with costs roughly evenly divided between fuel, hardware, and labor. Note for comparative purposes that carrying a kilogram of payload to LEO requires about as much energy as carrying a kilogram of payload from London to Sydney nonstop, and in my professional opinion there is nothing fundamental to the space-launch version that makes it intrinsically more expensive than the air-transport version. But note also that it took several generations of airliner development before we could offer London-to-Sydney nonstop at reasonable prices.

      I do not believe that the SpaceX Falcon series of rockets will ever see more than one order of magnitude cost reductions from the state of the art, and even that will require upper-stage recovery that SpaceX has put on the indefinite back burner. SpaceX, to make their business case close before Musk’s fortune and his co-investors’ patience ran out, had to optimize for a minimum-cost expendable launch vehicle to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (roughly, London to Los Angeles the long way around), and you can’t optimize for two different things simultaneously. They are stuck with trying to add reusability to a suboptimal RLV architecture.

      Blue Origin may be on the right track here, but they are secretive enough that it is hard to be sure. It helps that Jeff Bezos has about ten times Elon Musk’s fortune to play with, and so doesn’t need immediate profitability.

      • Thanks for the post. It’s exciting to think we might be headed in this direction.

        How/where are you getting the London-to-Sydney thing? It seems to me this could be a shakey comparison, because we don’t have to accelerate an airliner to 28,000km/h, nor provide thrust outside the atmosphere. I think difference is evidenced by the fact that >95% (?) of airliner mass/volume is not taken up by its propulsion and fuel. This strikes me as being more fundamental than just an innefficient design.

        The geosynch vs LEO thing is interesting. I actually briefly tried to find information regarding cost and energy for travel to Mars (is it the more/less than geosynch or LEO * 2), but failed to turn up anything useful. I figure the time you’re willing to spend travelling would have a big influence on the energy requirements, but I haven’t done the physics/math to check.

        • bean says:

          LEO-Mars is somewhat less than Earth-LEO (which is similar to Earth-Saturn). Better figures will be given in terms of either delta-V or C3 (an odd unit, but one that does show up for some reason). Delta-V will be somewhat more useful, as you can get delta-V numbers for earth-LEO (~9 km/s) and a lot of various interplanetary transfers. Atomic Rockets is a good place to start.
          About London-Sydney, it’s just barely doable with modern aircraft, and it isn’t actually done. The 777-200LR can theoretically make the flight, but the longest flight anybody has made in scheduled service was Singapore 21, about 10% shorter. The ‘Kangaroo route’ is quite popular, but there’s always a stop somewhere. It used to be Singapore or Bangkok. These days it’s often Dubai or Abu Dhabi. But nobody flies it non-stop.
          Also, the airliner does not have to carry its own oxidizer. The effective specific energy of jet fuel is approximately six times that of liquid rocket fuel. That makes a huge difference. For a London-Sydney run, you’d need nearly 50% of the airliner’s takeoff weight to be fuel. But that’s a lot better than the 95% of launch vehicles.

        • John Schilling says:

          , because we don’t have to accelerate an airliner to 28,000km/h, nor provide thrust outside the atmosphere.

          We also don’t need to deal with drag outside the atmosphere. Almost all of the energy cost of an airline flight is overcoming drag. For a fully-loaded, fully-fueled 747-800 flying London to Sydney, assuming a mission-averaged lift-to-drag ratio of 15:1, I get roughly four trillion Newton-meters of work, or four trillion joules of energy, on drag alone. Maximum payload is 50,000 kg, so that’s eighty megajoules of energy per kilogram of payload delivered.

          With space launch, drag is almost insignificant and acceleration is everything. An Ariane 5G can lift 16,000 kg of payload to the ISS orbit, along with 2,700 kg of upper-stage hardware. At 7,665 m/s orbital velocity, that’s 550 billion joules of kinetic energy, plus another 70 billion joules of gravitational potential energy. Doing the math, forty megajoules of energy per kilogram of payload delivered.

          But the airliner is about 50% efficient in converting the chemical energy of its fuel to work, and the rocket only 25% (rocket engines are better than 90% efficient, but much of that is spent carrying fuel partway to the destination before burning it). So, in terms of raw energy input, it’s 160 megajoules per kilogram of payload delivered, to ISS or Sydney, your choice.

          As for rockets being 95% “propulsion and fuel”, most of that isn’t actually fuel but oxygen. Liquid oxygen is cheap, about fifty cents per gallon if you buy in bulk. Sheet metal, even aerospace-grade sheet metal, isn’t terribly expensive either.

          Engines are another matter. But if you look at a jet engine, about 90% of the mass is in the elaborate machinery necessary to grab “free” oxygen from the surrounding atmosphere (along with the nitrogen you don’t need but can’t avoid) and compress it to a useful density. Which is why the engines make up 5% of the takeoff weight of a 747 but only 2% of the takeoff weight of a rocket, even though the rocket has to ascend vertically with a >1G raw acceleration and the airliner can make do with a quarter that figure.

          It takes about 0.5 kg of expensive engine to deliver 1 kg of payload to Sydney and/or LEO.

          Beyond LEO, things get even more complicated and I’m not going to get into that in this post. Except for rule #1: You really want to stop in LEO and transfer to a different, deep-space-optimized ship for that. Insisting on blasting off from Cape Canaveral on a great pillar of fire and going directly to GEO, the Moon, or Mars, is rather like trying to take a Mississippi riverboat from St. Louis to London because New Orleans is a smelly, boring swamp and besides you’re in a hurry.

          • Thanks that’s a great post lots for me to think about there! It’s an awesome field almost makes me wish I went into physics/engineering or something instead of what I do now.

          • bean says:

            @John Schilling
            I decided to check your airplane numbers, and running them (using numbers on the actual fuel burn) for a 777-200LR, I got 150 MJ/kg of payload. So we’re in agreement within the margin of error, except that you used a plane which doesn’t exist. I hate to nitpick (OK, not really), but the 747-8 (not 800) has a maximum range of 8000 nm (which is why it’s -8, not -500), not the 9000+ you’d need to fly that route. I suppose you could take off with full fuel at less than MTOW to get the extra range, but that’s a bit wasteful.

            @Citizensearth
            It’s an awesome field almost makes me wish I went into physics/engineering or something instead of what I do now.
            I wouldn’t recommend aerospace engineering to anyone who doesn’t really enjoy it. There’s a big difference between popular books and what you end up doing in class.

          • John Schilling says:

            Mea culpa on the 747-8 vs -800, I keep using the old Boeing numbering scheme. But 8000 nm is the maximum range of a -8 at max payload; I used full fuel and reduced payload.

            If you load a 747-8 with full fuel and full payload, you wind up roughly 50 tonnes over maximum gross weight. And that’s true of just about every passenger aircraft ever built; if there’s an FAA-standard 85 kg passenger in every seat and proportionate luggage in the baggage area, you can’t fill the tanks and (legally) fly – manufacturers always oversize the tanks to allow operational flexibility.

          • bean says:

            If you load a 747-8 with full fuel and full payload, you wind up roughly 50 tonnes over maximum gross weight.
            Are you sure that the 8000 nm range is done with max payload (airplane at max zero-fuel weight)? I don’t think it is, although I haven’t been able to find hard figures for the payload used for the design range of the passenger version. The freighter version, with a payload of 390 klb, has a design range of 4,475 nm at 970 klb MTOW. If we assume that it is pretty much up against ZFW (actually, MLW), it’s doing that on 213 klb of fuel. Scaling this through the range equation would suggest that this means a passenger version taking off at 970 klb and doing a flight of 8000 nm would be landing at 623 klb, well under the maximum zero-fuel weight of 651 klb. Obviously, I’m ignoring some factors, but I doubt it’s enough to add the 65 klb I’d need to get to max landing weight. (Max fuel capacity is 422 klb. I estimated using 347 klb. Units are pounds because it’s easier to use the values in the book.)
            In conclusion, I suspect that ‘full payload’ for the 8000 nm flight is ‘full typical revenue service load’, not ‘as much weight as we can stuff into the thing’. I’m no longer certain you’d have to reduce the weight below MTOW to make 9000 nm, but I’m also not certain you wouldn’t be on very low payload indeed. If nothing else, the fact that they made the tank in the horizontal stabilizer standard (and it gets used first) makes me suspect it’s part of the 8000 nm profile.

  3. Linch says:

    Since “cigarettes” were mentioned earlier, do people have advice on a long-lasting, drop-resistant e-cigarette that I could buy for someone? Preferably something that’s not too expensive and easy for a person of average IQ to use.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      I’ve had success with the Kanger Evod Starter Kit, available here for $30 (for some reason, it’s $50 from the manufacturer). It comes with two tanks and two batteries, which will help with dropping, and is generally pretty idiot-proof.

    • keranih says:

      I’m honestly not sure how “average IQ” my brother is – on occasion he notices how brilliant *I* am, and other days a box of rocks on a good slope would give him a run for his money.

      He recommends the $50 Teslia starter kit – it survived falling off a car roof at 40 mph.

      Do be aware that finding a good tasting fluid brand/model can be a bit of a trial.

      (The most significant issue seems to be the problem with going off and leaving the dang thing in random places. A person truly trying to quit smoking tobacco should have two. I suspect that losing the ecig more than twice in one day could be an field-expedient method of diagnosing ADHD, but Not My Field.)

  4. Yushatak says:

    @Leit

    Don’t put words in my mouth. I mean what I said, I doubt a study at the scale necessary with confounders controlled properly will emerge anytime soon saying how these factors do or do not influence attraction, regardless of the outcome. Maybe I’m wrong and there will be such a study – if so, I will accept the data. I may want certain results but that doesn’t mean I ignore evidence.

  5. Norman says:

    According to a recent study involving 10 universities around the world, men generally find the figure of women with a BMI about 17-20 the most attractive. This corresponds to skinny 19 year olds or average 13 year olds.

    http://egomoral.com/thinner-females-are-more-attractive/

    Here’s an example:

    http://ilarge.lisimg.com/image/8353532/1118full-jordyn-jones.jpg

  6. nonymous says:

    Was anyone else troubled the first time they saw a “Nerd Rope” on sale in the candy aisle?

  7. anon says:

    In the annals of nominative determinism, Billabong CEO David Leiasure quits to surf more.

  8. Troy says:

    Anyone have any thoughts on recent economics research purporting to show that scarcity impedes cognitive functioning, the implication being that part of the correlation between poverty and bad decisions is from the former causing the latter? See, e.g., http://www.amazon.com/Scarcity-Having-Little-Means-Much-ebook/dp/B00BMKOO6S and http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6149/976.abstract.

    My gut reaction to this is that it’s too politically convenient, and so is probably dubious. But I haven’t looked into the studies much, and when I’ve heard them summarized in presentations etc. the researchers sound like they’re avoiding the most obvious potential problems with their studies.

  9. Wrong Species says:

    I’m still doing this book discussion group to anyone interested. I just was a little confused because the change from weekly open threads to biweekly. Anyways the book is still “The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter” by Joseph Henrich. It’s really good and I think it provides a welcome addition to the nature/nurture debate.

  10. Echo says:

    Paul Graham writes essay on income inequality. The blue response boils down to (sorry, “is literally”) “SHUT UP, SHITLORD”.
    Surprised this hasn’t been discussed here yet.

    • science says:

      Probably in part because if you want to exhaustively discuss a Paul Graham essay there’s a good place for that. Likewise from time to time I see an SSC post over there but never comment because I’d rather do so here.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      I’m sorry, but all my american news consumption is centered around Trump’s chances of becoming president.

    • Iceman says:

      For those who haven’t read it yet: the essay in question. Echo’s description of the response to it is pretty accurate, which is disappointing since it makes some interesting arguments. People should read the entire eassy, but here’s one quote from near the center which will probably be of interest to some local political tribes which I’ll leave unnamed:

      Louis Brandeis said “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” That sounds plausible. But if I have to choose between ignoring him and ignoring an exponential curve that has been operating for thousands of years, I’ll bet on the curve. Ignoring any trend that has been operating for thousands of years is dangerous. But exponential growth especially tends to bite you.

  11. Blue Orange says:

    Here’s an avenue that I *haven’t* seen anyone mention (or that, even if useless itself, might give someone else an idea that would turn out to be useful): if you can’t get asylum for being transgendered, perhaps you could for being gay?

    I know they’re completely different things, but if you have proof of being persecuted for something that could also be construed as ‘gay’, that might be enough to get you through somewhere (and out of Russia)–gay people are more accepted than transgendered people, at least at this present time in the USA. I wouldn’t feel too guilty–you need to get out of there.

    • anonymous says:

      The issue isn’t winning an asylum claim–I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it’s doable. The issue is that you can only make an asylum claim when you are in the country you are seeking asylum from and she apparently is having trouble getting to Canada or the US.

      There’s a refugee process that allows you to apply aboard but at least for the US program is mostly limited to people living in UN recognized refugee camps.

      • Tibor says:

        Is it that hard to get a tourist visa to Canada or the US from Russia? Or to Schengen?

        @multihead: By the way, maybe another country suggestion (but probably not a good one because of economic reasons…or rather it depends on how much money you currently have – see below):

        During a trip to East Asia, we also visited the Philippines and we booked a hotel at this one beach which then turned out to be the local gay and transvestite beach. It was not the season so there was not much to do there in the evening except for that one travesti show so we went there to see it. It was my impression in that country in general that the Filipino men really often do look much more feminine than men from other countries for some reason, but some of the performers must have been transsexuals as well (or women, most of the time you can tell but some of those performers either were women, which would not make sense at a travesti/transsexual show or were transsexuals with either great plastic surgeons which is unlikely in the Philippines, or already looked so feminine as men that one could not tell they ever were men). In any case, the Philippines seemed like a place where transsexuals are almost an everyday thing (funny, given that the country is also strongly Catholic), and getting a visa there should be really easy since hardly anybody wants to immigrate. The downside is that the country is dirt poor…Russia is no Switzerland but this would still be quite a big difference. I guess that parts of Manila are passable, but the rest of the country is really poor. I have not been to India or sub-Saharan Africa but I have not seen any place poorer than the Philippines with my own eyes. On the other hand, I’ve met Europeans there who live there and make a good living. The thing is that most things are very cheap in the Philippines for Europeans (even for Russians I think). A house costs next to nothing, food costs maybe a quarter of what you’d pay in Germany (as long as you are willing to eat where locals do, tourist places are much more expensive), you don’t need to pay for the heating because it is warm there all the time. Depending on which part of Russia you’re from it might even be quite close to home (when you go back to visit the family or something). The people make next to nothing but if you already come there with money and maybe find a job in the tourist industry it may work out pretty well. The official language is English, so no extra language to learn either.

        I have to say I would not want to live there because of the sleazy European and Chinese sex tourists (I don’t have anything against prostitution per se and understand that both those guys and the girls are better off by it but I don’t have to see it myself), widespread poverty (this is worse in some parts of Manila than in the countryside actually) and most importantly everyone seeing you as a walking wallet and trying to rip you off (although this probably changes if you are not a tourist anymore…also some other friends who visited the place had a different experience, so maybe we were just unlucky). Then again, it is quite a pretty tropical country and as far as tolerance to transsexuals I guess you can hardly get more of it than there. Maybe go there for a holiday first to see it for yourself if you think my suggestion is not complete rubbish…

        • John Schilling says:

          Did you notice the part at the very beginning of this post where Multiheaded tried to get a tourist visa to Canada and failed?

          Yes, it is “that hard” if your actual purpose in asking for a tourist visa is to move in and settle down. Because getting a tourist visa from a country whose standard of living / level of oppression is significantly worse than e.g. Canada, requires getting past an official who is a trained professional expert at figuring out who is lying about just wanting to tour around for a bit, and the would-be immigrant is most likely an amateur at selling that lie. Now, especially for Canada, I’d expect there is a fair chance that one would succeed on the basis of the relevant official knowing what you are trying to do and thinking it would be a good thing for all if you got away with it, but that’s not a sure thing and it didn’t work out in this case.

          • Blue Orange says:

            Someone suggested Argentina (not so rich), or perhaps Uruguay, its more-liberal neighbor? Doesn’t Uruguay have gay marriage and legal pot? Didn’t the famously-liberal president offer to take the Guantanamo prisoners in? Multiheaded might have a window of opportunity here.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Travel from Russia to Argentina requires no visa for stays shorter than 91 days.

          • Tibor says:

            John: Actually, I did not read the whole thread… but I dunno, I see Russian tourists everywhere all the time (in the EU), so I assumed getting a tourist visa cannot be that hard for Russians. Maybe you need to prove you have a job in Russia or something?

            Actually, I have no idea about how the visas are granted, the only time in needed one was in Shenzhen (southern China, a special economic zone, north of Hong Kong) where one just has to stand in a line, fill in some papers and pay a fee and it all takes about an hour…and this is totalitarian China (although outside of the special economic zones it is more difficult) so I thought that getting a tourist visa should be easy for anybody anywhere (maybe save for North Korea and perhaps a few more totalitarian regimes somewhere). I suppose I was wrong 🙂

            @Whatever Happened to Anonymous: Looks like Argentina is a better option than the Philippines then. Except for having to learn Spanish but Spanish is really easy if you speak English, even with the weird Argentinian accent :))

          • multiheaded says:

            Actually, I have no idea about how the visas are granted, the only time in needed one was in Shenzhen (southern China, a special economic zone, north of Hong Kong) where one just has to stand in a line, fill in some papers and pay a fee and it all takes about an hour…and this is totalitarian China (although outside of the special economic zones it is more difficult) so I thought that getting a tourist visa should be easy for anybody anywhere (maybe save for North Korea and perhaps a few more totalitarian regimes somewhere). I suppose I was wrong

            The higher the immigrant demand, the more scrutiny and hostility, duh. It’s also relatively easy to get a Russian visa. But travelling from a poor country to a first-world one is the worst.

            Anyways yes, Argentina is currently looking like my top long-term option.

          • Tibor says:

            @multiheaded: I guess. But I would not have guessed that a citizen of Russia, which is economically (at least measured by GDP purchasing power parity per capita) about on the level of Greece or Poland would have so much trouble getting a tourist visa. Maybe it has more to do with not so warm relationships between Russia and NATO+EU countries nowadays?

          • anonymous says:

            At least with respect to the US: politics and animus might have some impact on the margin, but by far the main issue is likelihood of overstaying the visa. Statistics are collected and pressure comes from the top on embassies and consulates that do a bad job. Some middle income countries probably have it tougher than some of the poorest countries.

            FWIW, Poland is not a visa waiver country and I’ve heard anecdotally that it can be very difficult to get a tourist visa to the US for young Poles.

          • Tibor says:

            @anonymous: Really? I thought that no Schengen countries were required to get tourist visas to the US any more. I remember that it was a big deal in the news some 6-8 years back when Czechs were no longer required to have tourist visas when visiting the US and I’ve always thought that this was extended to all of Schengen.

            I am surprised that illegal Polish immigration to the US is still a major thing. All their Schengen neighbours are richer than them and they can work there legally without any visas or anything. Germany and Sweden are almost as rich as the US. Both Germany and Sweden are at 80% of the US in terms of GDP PPP per capita and you can get anywhere in Poland from there in a few hours by train or a car. Since you will not likely get a good job if you go to the US illegally, it only makes sense if someone really really wants to live in the United States, despite all the trouble.

            EDIT: I consulted it with the Internets and they say that it was extended to most of what was then Schengen (Romania and Bulgaria were not in Schengen back then) with exactly one exception – Poland. Strange.

        • Blue Orange says:

          Don’t Indonesia and Thailand have more-or-less indigenous MTF traditions?

          • Tibor says:

            What is MTF?

          • Zykrom says:

            Male-to-feamle.

          • Tibor says:

            @Zyrkom: You mean like some kind of crossdressing or something?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Tibor:

            You know multiheaded is transgender, right? “Male-to-female” is a used to indicate someone who is sexually male but identifies as female in terms of gender. As opposed to “female-to-male”, someone who is sexually female but identifies as male.

          • Tibor says:

            @Vox: Right, but what does that mean when you are talking about indigenous traditions? Prior to hormone treatments and plastic surgery there are not many ways for someone who is biologically a man to be more like a woman.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Tibor:

            Oh, I see. I didn’t know what you were confused about.

            Anyway, you’re not totally correct. There’s always been castration and emasculation. Indeed, eunuchs have often been regarded as a kind of “third sex”.

            The hijras in India and Pakistan are a traditional part of society, albeit a traditional part of the underclass of society. People choose to become hijras, and according to Wikipedia they traditionally and usually still do undergo nirwaan or emasculation (the removal of the penis, scrotum, and testicles). They dress and act like women, using feminine language. However, they are regarded as a “third sex”.

            There’s also the kathoeys or “ladyboys” of Thailand, who are also traditional. I’m really not aware if castration is typical for them, but I wouldn’t be surprised. They are usually considered female, sometimes referred to by a term that means “female of the second kind”.

            There’s also atypical people like the famous Chevalier d’Eon (who is commonly known to this day in France), 1728-1810. D’Eon was born and raised as a man but had an androgynous appearance and became a secret agent for France, dressing up as a woman to spy on Empress Elizabeth of Russia as her maid of honor. Then d’Eon left Russia and became a (male) captain of dragoons for France, leading to the awarding of the title Chevalier (knight).

            D’Eon was appointed as intermin ambassador to England but fell out of favor when the new ambassador was appointed and after claiming that the new ambassador tried to drug him, d’Eon went rogue and blackmailed the king of France into giving him a large pension by threatening to reveal French plans to invade England.

            Eventually, d’Eon was able to return to France. But in London there had been rumors and an actual betting pool that he was really a woman. A few years later, d’Eon claimed to have been born as a woman but raised as a man by his/her father so that he/she could inherit. D’Eon therefore asked for the right to be known as and live as a woman.

            The king granted this request if d’Eon would dress “properly” as a woman, and she lived out the rest of her life as the Chevalière (female knight) d’Eon. But when she died, they examined her body (everyone wanted to know) and found “that the Chevalier had “‘male organs in every respect perfectly formed’, while at the same time displaying feminine characteristics such as rounded limbs and ‘breast remarkably full’.”

            Long digression, but I always thought the Chevalier d’Eon was an interesting person. I guess I had been vaguely familiar with the name somehow, but I first looked up the reference and the story due to the Chevalier’s mention in the song “Sans Contrefaçon”. The singer, Mylène Farmer, is not actually transgender, but the song contains such themes. Excerpts:

            Sans contrefaçon / without counterfeit
            Je suis un garçon / I am a boy
            […]
            Je suis Chevalier d’Eon / I am the Chevalier d’Eon

          • Tibor says:

            @Vox: Thanks, both the story and the Hijras are interesting and surprising, especially their existence and government recognition in the muslim Pakistan.

  12. Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

    I suspect that much of the disagreement surrounding Intelligence Explosion is because of its Löbean nature: Yudkowsky assumes that AGI is easy to create via cleverness. If that it true, it means that the so-created AGI, which is supposedly clever, can also create a (more powerful) AGI up to a maximal level of cleverness.

    It is typical software development experience that developing a buggy/limited first version of a product takes much less effort than developing the project to “completion” – and if it does not have significant computational bottlenecks (for example, if the AI can run on a botnet computer with about-human-level intelligence), a buggy/limited AGI might be able to take the effort to bug-fix itself.

    On the other hand, if creating an AGI requires lots of slow intellectual effort, then we may have an Hansonian slow takeoff with a shared AI-human effort for a significant amount of time.

    I am quite sure that if an AGI can get intelligent enough it can probably be a huge risk to humanity – at that level, it may be less a lone eccentric genius and more a hyper-competent perfectly-motivated million-person conspiracy – that does sound very likely to be able to easily take over the world, right?

    • John Schilling says:

      Another issue that tends to get overlooked is the physical substrate of AI. There seems to be an uncritical perception that the necessary computing power to instantiate at least a weakly-superhuman AI either is already found in the sort of computers you’d find in a typical university AI lab or soon will be, that the only thing missing is some clever bit of software engineering that we have somehow missed in the past fifty years of AI research. That once the necessary “spark” or “seed” is belatedly created the AI will be able to finish optimizing and upgrading itself at the speed of software.

      And then, with its presumed uber-hacking skills, suborn all the world’s other computers if it is so inclined.

      In reality, we seem to be a long way to having the hardware necessary to instantiate even a single human-level AI in real time, and I’m pretty sure we will run out of excuses to pretend that Moore’s Law still holds long before we have enough computronium anywhere to support your hypothetical perfect-million-man-conspiracy AI. And if the emergent AI’s path to superintelligence requires ordering a hundred billion dollars of highly customized silicon from not-yet-fully-AI foundries, that’s going to both slow things down and provide a big hint as to what is going on.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        The problem, of course, is that no one really knows how much computational power is required to run “human-level intelligence”. Probably, the human brain is not very efficiently laid out because evolution doesn’t work that way. There is a lot of path dependency.

        We can make one motorcycle, smaller than a horse, with the power of hundreds of horses. Or course, horses do a lot of other things, but those are superfluous. In the same way the human brain is useful for many other things besides intelligence, but the AI won’t need that.

        But given that we’re not that far away from being able to reach the lower end of the wild guesses of the computational power of the human brain, computational power doesn’t seem like the limiting factor.

        And really, I don’t see why computational speed is so important at all. Maybe the AI thinks ten times more slowly than humans. It could still be as or more intelligent.

        • William Newman says:

          “the level of cleverness which has eluded us for the past fifty years”

          How many of the lesser advances — in e.g. face recognition or autonomous navigation — can, in the wisdom of hindsight, be expected to run on wimpy old computers?

          It seems to me that most of the progress in learning and in planning-ish computations has followed fairly closely upon increases in computer power, not with a fifty year lag but more like 5-10 years. What proportion of algorithmic breakthroughs would have been practically interesting on 20-year-old hardware? To pick on one described by a book on my shelf, the kernel machine approaches (SVM, etc.) to handwriting recognition were not developed at a single simple precise date, but “early 1990s” seems like a fair summary. Would there have been practical interest in using those algorithms on 1975 computer hardware?

          (This pattern holds to some extent with other algorithms and architectures, too. E.g., even at DOD procurement budgets, public key crypto and packet switching probably weren’t very practically interesting in 1950.)

          And the timescale of evolution sorta suggests that learning probably isn’t all that architecturally complicated, likely no more architecturally complicated than stuff we’ve already gotten computers to do. General learning seems to be very computationally expensive to *do* in a brain, but not absurdly difficult to *specify* in a genome. It is hard to be sure from the spotty fossil record, but it seems plausible that it took more generations in a much larger population to go from brains which could control wriggling up onto land to brains that could do bipedal locomotion than it did to go from brains that could do facial recognition to brains that could figure out _Principia Mathematica_.

        • John Schilling says:

          And really, I don’t see why computational speed is so important at all. Maybe the AI thinks ten times more slowly than humans. It could still be as or more intelligent.

          Per the original poster, we are discussing “Intelligence Explosion”. Speed is important to most traditional definitions of “explosion”, and the sloth-AI that will get around to conquering the world, destroying the world, and/or creating the post-scarcity world, a few thousand years after we’ve managed to do it our own meaty selves, isn’t terribly interesting in this context.

        • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

          Sure – most of the recent progress in AI (and computing in general) was due to increased computational power and available datasets – many times, even running slightly-modified versions of old algorithms! A possible explanation is that the current set of AI algorithms are not that hard to discover, but consider that this is how a problem that is not properly solved looks like – before algebra was discovered people were coming with many variants of geometrical techniques to solve each algebraic problem, but algebra made solving them all equally trivial.

          Also, we don’t really know how much computational power brains have, and this is made worse because they are very architecturally different from computers – and there is no real reason one of these should be more suited to AGI than the other.

    • Calo Cola says:

      That’s a very reasonable proposition, that an AI can be created out of cleverness, and after a moderate amount of experience in CS and an interest in mathematics and physics I consider that the obvious conclusion. More or less the entire point of theoretical computer science, and point of sub-fields of computer engineering is to think of clever ways to reduce the time of algorithms, or solve the same problem by different means. And there are plenty of examples of that. Quantum computing is a bit of a popular meme, I guess due to the word quantum, but there’s plenty of commonly used algorithms with reduced running time based on clever already existing hardware manipulations. Or aka, I’m not sure that we even *need* a computing paradigm shift…but that starts involving wordplay.

      With that, the Hard Takeoff (after a given level of intelligence) is the obvious solution.

      • John Schilling says:

        And nobody in the past fifty years of very clever people very deliberately trying to create an AI, has been clever enough?

        What’s your confidence that the level of cleverness which has eluded us for the past fifty years will somehow emerge in the next fifty, or hundred, or five hundred, and what is the basis for that confidence?

        • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

          Cleverness has the annoying tendency of striking only when it wants to. In addition, it is possible that it requires a few more ideas that are not known (or just not widespread) yet, but might be simple to understand once known.

          Of course, AI could also be like airplanes or CPUs, and require a huge amount of distributed knowledge to work with – that would seem to lead to a slow Hansonian takeoff, but prototype software development does not seem to behave very much in that way. Or AI could require huge supercomputers, which is basically the same.

        • Calo Cola says:

          Well, this is the age of assortative mating, the dawn of the super-babies, and those refined “algorithmic learning techniques”
          Assortative mating (which is now even global with international grad-school acceptance!) implies that its very possible, and in fact probable, that the smartest person of all time is a youth today, or born not far from now. Add in algorithmic learning that instantly recommends weakpoints, and does so intelligently, and the person can reach a very effective crystilized knowledge base at an early age. A return of mathematical progress to the young, is one way to put it.
          http://lesswrong.com/lw/4gi/age_fluid_intelligence_and_intelligent_posts/ ***
          A token suggestion for this is noticing how young new grandmasters are in chess, which has corresponded with computer programs that are hard to beat.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess_prodigy#List_of_youngest_grandmasters

          ***
          That figure by the way, explains just *why* so many CS/Engineering fields have age discrimination, in light of experience. At a bit above age 50, the IQ 150 rarity (aka around A average at MIT) are now competing with recent college grads 15x in number who are willing to work for half the pay, after standard deviation calculations. And the 160 tier, or very high intellect tier, is now outnumbered 40 to 1 for top-positions.

          • Calo Cola says:

            Wait. That chart has been verified elsewhere for cognitive traits that are difficult to train.

            By age 80, the median person has close to a 70 IQ raw fluid intelligence (That is the threshold for a diagnosis of severe mental deficits) Individuals once around the 90 level(which a quarter of the population is naturally below) are now at 60, which is a score considered profoundly mentally retarded.That, with greatly diminished reaction times. Don’t both of those in conjunction *strongly* imply that there really, really should be more regular driver competency tests for the elderly?

    • It seems very likely a serious AI effort will be aligned with the interests and aspirations of a particular institution or group of people, unless it is some kind of open source project like that OpenAI thing recently discussed (better/worse… unsure). In which case it will have a large institutional support, and the organisational would be subsumed to its own goals slowly over time, possibly without a formal decision to do so. This seems to be particularly likely if there was competition between multiple such instituitions. They must make their version stronger at all costs or lose the fight to be “ahead”. Sounds quite Molochian :-/

      Somewhat related:
      If we knew about all the ways an Intelligence Explosion could go wrong, would we be able to avoid it?

      I should say as a caveat I’m not especially convinced that an intelligence explosion is a plausble scenario, but it seems reasonable to at least consider it, because it probably helps thought about softer AI scenarios anyway.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t think current Yudkowsky thinks AI will be “easy”. But it sounds like you’re talking about amount of time, and if AI works like a lot of other computer programs – eg thousands of times faster than humans – even an AI without super-high raw intelligence will still be able to create new AIs in a very little objective time just through the power of hard work and high clock speed.

  13. sweeneyrod says:

    The Labour party is falling apart!

    After espousing a “new kind of politics”, Supreme Leader Corbyn has sacked Shadow Minister for Europe Pat McFadden for this microaggression:

    “Can I ask the prime minister to reject the view that sees terrorist acts as always being a response or a reaction to what we in the West do? Does he agree with me that such an approach risks infantilising the terrorists and treating them as children when the truth is they are adults entirely responsible for what they do. No one forces them to kill innocent people in Paris or Beirut and unless we are clear about that we will fail even to be able to understand the threat we face let alone confront it and ultimately overcome it.”

    (See here for more of his horrendous comments, including saying “he did not agree with Corbyn on everything”)

    This has sparked the resignation of 3 more shadow ministers (from their positions, not the party). Luckily, Corbyn chose not to call the bluff of the 14 further who threatened to resign if Hilary Benn was removed – instead, he has merely been muzzled.

    Corbyn has only been in power four months, and already appears to be doing a good job at destroying the party from the inside.
    The next general election will certainly be interesting – I’m hoping for a mass exodus from Labour to the Lib Dems.

    • Salem says:

      I agree this is a fascinating development.

      McFadden wasn’t sacked for the precise words he said, though. It was because he opposes what the Stop The War Coalition stand for. Stop The War, on the other hand, consider themselves to be the true Labour Party, and have the (internal) election results they think prove it. It’s existential – see the tweets of Corbyn supporting MPs e.g. Paul Flynn this morning – and so the “deniers” have to be purged. The only thing that saved Benn was his surname.

      In truth, of course, there is no true heart of the Labour Party. Like every political party, it’s always been a coalition, and it has to be a coalition to attract enough support to win elections. What makes this so weird to me is the Maoists’ outright denial of this obvious reality. Pat McFadden, who’s been a loyal Labour member for over three decades, has at least as much right to consider himself “truly” Labour as the most disloyal MP of any party over that same period.

      Like you, I wish Corbyn and McDonnell well in their attempts to turn the Labour Party into the Tooting Popular Front.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        Did you mean to link the Wikiquote article on Jeane Kirkpatrick? I don’t see what she has to do with the Stop the War Coalition.

        She’s obviously not a supporter, and she’s famous for not always supporting democratization. She basically said authoritarianism is bad but better than totalitarianism, therefore the U.S. should ally with authoritarian regimes and not try to spread democracy to them when that risks their collapse into communism.

        Whereas recent neoconservatism is famous for wanting the U.S. to spread democracy far and wide.

        The Kirkpatrick-style line that Saddam was better than what Iraq has now is the main line of criticism by the left of the War in Iraq.

        • Salem says:

          Yes, I meant to link to Mrs Kirkpatrick’s wikiquote, which contains several excerpts from her most famous speech, in which she so perfectly described the politics of the Stop The War Coalition:

          When [American] Marines, sent to Lebanon on a multinational peacekeeping mission with the consent of the United States Congress, were murdered in their sleep, the “blame America first crowd” didn’t blame the terrorists who murdered the Marines, they blamed the United States. But then, they always blame America first.

          And indeed, hours after the Paris attacks, the Stop The War Coalition blamed the attack, not on the terrorists who carried it out, but US foreign policy. (The article has since been deleted but you can still read it here).

          Naturally, McFadden condemned this, and pointed out that “terrorists are entirely responsible for their action, that no-one forces anyone to kill innocent people in Paris, to blow up the London Underground, to behead innocent aid workers.” This is the mainstream Labour position, but it’s anathema to Stop The War, and the long-time head of Stop The War is now running the show. So McFadden got fired for “disloyalty.”

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      So, how do you guys like this Cameron guy? Because it seems you’ll be stuck with him for a while.

      • Salem says:

        Cameron has said that he will not contest the next election. If we are going to be stuck (or blessed!) with anyone for a long while, it will be Osborne or The Boris.

        • Deiseach says:

          Do you think anyone would vote for a Tory Party with Osborne as the leader? At least with Boris, there would be a guaranteed series of sex scandals for the public amusement and I know he’s a lot, lot cleverer than his “dumb blond” public performance but I have no idea how he would tackle the problems facing the country.

          (I have no idea how any of our own parties for the next election are going to tackle the problems facing Ireland, in fact, never mind next door).

          • Salem says:

            You’re right that Boris is no buffoon – he got elected, and re-elected, and has maintained his popularity, in a London that is far more hostile to the Conservatives than the rest of the country, and has done a very good job as mayor. But Osborne has a tight grip on the Cabinet and the party mechanisms, and I would make him favourite to be the next leader. He will probably try and make sure May gets #2 selection among the MPs, so Boris’ rank-and-file popularity can’t come to bear. But a lot will depend on the EU referendum.

            As for whether people would vote Tory with Osborne as leader? I agree with your implicit suggestion that Boris is a more likely vote-winner. But Osborne has worked hard to change his image (and physique!) these past couple of years, in a way that might not be apparent to foreigners. If the choice is Osborne or Corbyn, it will be a Tory landslide, but it’s far from certain that either will be leader.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Osborne isn’t very popular personally, but if it’s a choice between him and a far-left ideologue who openly expresses sympathy for terrorists, I reckon a lot of people would hold their noses and vote Tory.

          • Deiseach says:

            What might hurt Osborne is being Chancellor of the Exchequer. Do people feel like they’ve been hit in their paypackets? If they do, they’re likely to blame the man who sets the national budget. If they don’t, they may be happy to vote for him as next Prime Minister.

            If, as has been pointed out, he gets to be the next leader of the Conservative Party. I think there will be a lot of internal backstabbing, horse trading, and the general ructions you get when power is being handed over. Does Cameron support Osborne as successor, or is he going to stand aloof from the fray? I’m going on impressions picked up from the papers, and I haven’t been following this at all closely: is it true that Cameron doesn’t much like Boris, and so he’d back Osborne rather than see Boris get the leadership?

      • JBeshir says:

        There’s a good chance it’ll be someone else after the next election; Labour lost two general elections in a row before Corbyn was elected party leader, so Cameron will have been in power for ten years at the next election. It’s generally expected that he’ll turn things over to a successor at some point shortly beforehand, although by no means certain.

        The main thing people are missing about these events is that the moderate wing of the Labour party speaks a good line about the importance of pragmatism, but they’ve been horribly bad at executing it for a good while now.

        (Substance of your point is right, though; next election it seems pretty likely that it’ll be Conservatives who win. The bet exchanges have poor liquidity, only about £10k matched so soon on the biggest, but https://www.betfair.com/exchange/politics/event?id=27456523 gives maybe 70% chance of being biggest party, slightly over 50% chance of an outright majority again.)

      • Mark says:

        He is a PR man.
        Probably a nice chap, but an absolute disaster as a prime minister – Libya, immigration, stagnant growth, worsening public services, increased taxes, lost the vote to bomb Syria, EU renegotiation (lol) – I don’t think he has had *any* successes. Even by his own (probably moronic) lights he has failed – did the old switcheroo when austerity was caving the economy, and, now, this time magicking up some (imaginary) billions to avoid additional unpopular tax rises/ spending cuts. Falling public debt? Hmmmm… we’ll see. Even winning a majority has put him in the doo-doo in that he now has to try and fulfill the mad promises he made during the campaign.
        Also, the election campaign was absolutely dire – essentially he won because someone took a picture of the other guy eating a bacon sandwich.

        The good point is that the country seems sufficiently robust that it doesn’t seem to really matter how idiotic the government is (as long as you aren’t sick, poor, or married to a foreigner) it kind of keeps ticking along, and you can just turn off the TV and try to forget that politics exists.
        I don’t know… perhaps there is something to be said for having a vaguely incompetent government.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          It seems to work for the Belgians, too; they were locked in negotiations over just what coalition ought to be formed for a period of time lasting more than a year, and I don’t see it being a smoking ruin just yet. It’s almost as if the head of any given state isn’t nearly as important to its prosperity as his many thousands of subordinates in the civil service, law enforcement and general governing process are.

          • Mark says:

            Yeah… maybe… I hate to come over all patriotic, but I think its probably to do with the culture, the people, the way people conduct themselves – to the extent that the government functions well, I think it is because it exists as part of that broader culture. British people are basically honest and considerate, and it takes quite a lot to mess that up.

            (I wonder if I am alone in feeling that the general social mood/condition has improved immensely over the past twenty years? It might just be due to the gentrification of the area that I live in.)

  14. Ialdabaoth says:

    Point of not-quite-idle curiosity:

    For those of you (including our illustrious hegemon) who have dabbled in the occult, what did you try? And what experiences did you have as a result?

    • Had a girlfriend that was a practicing Wiccan some years ago, and sat in on some of her ceremonies. (Not sure if that counts as dabbling, or occult.)

      Most of the time, I was completely unmoved. Some times, I was…I need one of those long, complicated German compound words, I think. There needs to be a word to describe “The experience of being aware exactly of how a given set of artificial factors is inducing an emotional state in you, while also experiencing that emotional state, and the follow-up annoyance.”

      Extending from that, and from other events that have triggered this feeling in me (mass events, the two Catholic services I’ve been to), and noting that these or close analogues seem to be a thing that many rationalists are into, I do wonder if the occult is something that rationalists might want to check out.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        “The experience of being aware exactly of how a given set of artificial factors is inducing an emotional state in you, while also experiencing that emotional state, and the follow-up annoyance.”

        Liminality?

        • I don’t think so. The ritual stuff was, at its best, affecting of my emotional state to some degree, but I never felt changed by it.

          Again, to draw the comparison to the the Catholic masses I’d been to, I was concurrently thinking “This is pretty nice.” along with “The architecture, acoustics, and communal movements and vocalizations have been carefully selected to produce that feeling of niceness.”, and not really approving.

          I dunno. I enjoy caroling, but didn’t enjoy choir or group singing. I think that I might have interest in group bonding rituals that are explicit and honest about what they are trying to do, but not in ones which are trying to underhandedly hack my mental state. So, for me, the occult is not helpful.

          Also, I should note: my assumption here is that you are looking at the occult as a way to socialize with people and…make use of your own internal placebo effect, again for the lack of an appropriate word. I did not find the occult useful in this case for me, but I did see how it could be helpful for others.

          I did not find anything, in by experiences, to suggest that, at least in the domain of modern Wicca, there are any serious truths to be learned outside of what you already know, nor effects produced outside of the aforementioned placebo.

          And I don’t want to knock that, but I don’t want to oversell it, either. Also, I’m not an expert, since I did just sit in, only read a few books, and (hah, got the exact phrasing this time!) never really put my soul into it the way she did.

          • Ialdabaoth says:

            Well, examples of things I’ve been looking into:

            – Are there plausible points of overlap between IFS therapy and Goetia?

            – to what extent do trance states *actually* provide higher affordances for cognitive-behavioral changes?

            – what components of ritual are most crucial for inducing trance states, and what components are most fudgeable?

  15. Deiseach says:

    Oh dear. I saw an infographic on Tumblr about the Fermi Paradox, quoting Nick Bostrom, and I thought of one particular phrase “Well, that can’t be correct, this must be a sloppy paraphrase of what he originally said”. Googled it and no, he really did say (emphasis mine):

    A technologically mature “posthuman” civilization would have enormous computing power. Based on this empirical fact, the simulation argument shows that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero; (2) The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero; (3) The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.

    Kindly indicate to me how the above can be an “empirical fact”, given that “empirical” as I understand it means “based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic”.

    I mean, if Professor Bostrom is in contact with an actual technologically mature, post-human civilisation with enormous computing power, and so he can say from direct observation and experience that it is an “empirical fact” about what such a civilisation would possess, I think everyone would be interested to meet them so can he provide us with an introduction to them? Or is he himself from such a civilisation and is conducting field research amongst the primitives, in which case he should be more careful about letting his cover slip.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      “Empirical” here just means “concerning a state of the world”, as opposed to being a piece of a priori reasoning like the other premises in the argument. This is a little loose, but fairly common.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        Yes, in this context he means that extrapolation from currently observed trends supports the idea that a more advanced society will have more computing power.

        • Deiseach says:

          Then why not say “extrapolation from current trends”? I’m sorry, I think this is trying to have your cake and eat it. It slips past very easily; from a proposition about what this theoretical “technologically mature post-human civilisation” would be like or what it would possess to a pronouncement that not alone is the supposition a fact, it is an empirical fact.

          That means that ordinary idiots like myself find ourselves subliminally convinced “it must be true if it’s empirical fact, not mere theorising or speculation” because of the effect of words and their meanings (and words do have an effect, why else the demand for “treating other people with respect” when it comes to preferred terms?).

          Honestly, if a religious apologist tried the same thing, they would be hauled over the coals for it by the same rational logicians who are asked to swallow what is being said here by Bostrom. I’m not saying he’s wrong and I’m certainly not trying to use the kind of “reasoning” that says “The Theory of Evolution is only a theory, it’s not proven fact”, but I am saying that this is a three-card trick kind of argument, where the reputation of SCIENCE! as being empirical, based on observation and testing of concrete phenomena of the apprehensible physical world, is then used to bolster an argument that presumes what it sets out to prove, and where “empirical” no longer means “by direct observation and/or experience” but “a conjecture where, in order to get the conclusion I wish to use, I assume a chain of events to happen in such a way that the outcome is the one I desire (to warn against), and then maintain that those events and that conclusion is proven, concrete, tangible, palpable fact”.

          I’m quite happy to accept that a technologically etc. civilisation would be very likely to possess immense computational power. But until we either develop to that level ourselves or encounter such a civilisation, we cannot say that that is a fact instead of a supposition, conjecture, or most likely scenario.

          As to what such a civilisation would do with that computing power, again we have no idea. They might invent or create self-improving God AI, they might choose to sit around in sunny glades making daisy chains while the orangutan-level intellect robots do all the work, we don’t know either way.

          We certainly cannot claim it to be empirical fact, unless you want to use “empirical” to mean “I had a dream about it, and a dream is a state, and I am a physical being, so a dream is a physical state, so it’s real”.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Deiseach, in my opinion you misunderstand why he uses the word “empirical” there.

            He doesn’t mean “this is empirical so it couldn’t be wrong”.

            He means just the opposite: “this is empirical so it might be wrong, therefore this argument is not a priori and absolute; it depends on certain projections which might be misguided.”

            This is in contrast to something like the doomsday argument, which is supposed to be an a priori argument that the human race is soon going to be destroyed.

            Note that I don’t really agree with his argument. I also think the variables are far too uncertain.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Vox:

            That just makes the word “empirical” fairly superfluous in the sentence.

            @Deiseach:
            I think what he is saying is not much more or less than “post-human societies by definition have enormous computing power”. If you take that as his meaning, and assume something about what he means by “enormous”, points 1, 2 and 3 follow.

            I think the problems with Bostrom’s argument are most in the definition he is using. In other words, I think his argument fails at point 1. But I don’t think he and I share the same estimates of probabilities for what might cause failure at point 1.

            I think he tends to lean on “we snuff ourselves out before post-human”, whereas I think that the most likely reason for failure at point-1 is that the post-human society he envisions isn’t possible within the realm of physics. As a small example, the speed of light is a limitation on information transfer, and that means that harnessing the power of a solar system or galaxy into one coordinated entity is not really possible in the way he seems to talk about it (as far as I understand. I am no expert on Bostrom’s arguments).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ HeelBearCub:

            He uses it to mean “not a priori”. I don’t see how that’s redundant.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Vox:
            Do you think the meaning of the words he wrote is materially different from the following:

            “Given that a technologically mature “posthuman” civilization would have enormous computing power, the simulation argument shows that at least one of the following propositions is true:”

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ HeelBearCub:

            Yes, there is a difference. “Given” implies it’s just a random assumption, perhaps for the sake of argument alone.

            “Empirical” means he thinks it’s true and could in principle be (perhaps weakly) argued for on the basis of evidence we have now.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Vox:

            If some future society did not have vast computing power, would it be post-human, in Bostrom’s formulation? If so, then his points 1, 2, and 3 aren’t sufficient. For all practical purposes his argument just assumes this as a fact. He doesn’t try and prove it in any way.

            As an example, if all humans die off due to some cataclysm, that isn’t a “post-human society” even if we leave behind similarly sentient robots.

          • Deiseach says:

            Vox Imperatoris, I understand the distinction you’re making, but I’d very much like Professor Bostrom to explain how we can know for a definite, observable, experiential fact something that may take five hundred years to happen (or fifty, if you’re very optimistic about rates of progress) – either we become the post-human civilisation or we run into one – and how that is not an assumption, an extrapolation or a guess.

            If he wants to argue “Given such a civilisation, these propositions follow” that’s fine, but playing around with the sense in which “fact” is understood, and qualifying it with “empirical”, is playing fast and loose.

            And if he wants to make a distinction between “a priori” arguments and the arguments he is making, what the dickens is wrong with “a posteriori”? He can say that empirical evidence of increasing computational power in the real world we inhabit over the past whatsit years leads him to believe a posteriori that this rate of progress will continue and will be the (or one of the) hallmark(s) of a mature, post-human civilisation.

            It’s an empirical fact that this minute I am sitting in a chair typing this. It is not an empirical fact that in five years’ time our new God AI will have rejuvenation technology so I will be restored to the form of a twenty-five year old.

            I’d be happy enough if he dropped the “empirical” and left it at “based on this fact”. But given that the “empirical fact” quoted leads to “there’s a damn good chance we are all probably living in a computer simulation”, then by his own argument my dreams are just as real as anything that happens in the “real world” (given that it’s all a simulation) and so seaweed monsters are an empirical fact because I dreamt about a seaweed monster once.

            I’d also be willing to spit on my fist and argue that he is actually arguing a priori (from pure reason) rather than on empirical grounds, given that we are not yet a mature etc. civilisation as he describes and we have not encountered one as yet. It’s speculation on his part up till the moment somebody does indeed create an AI that everyone agrees is an AI. As I said, we don’t know that it necessarily follows such a civilisation would be the gleaming chrome future of AIs, simulated-worlds running on computers, and brain uploads; they could equally turn their world(s) into rural paradises where everyone looks like they’re walking around wearing primitive clothing and living in country cottages and in actual fact it’s highly advanced (there’s been at least one Star Trek episode and one Stargate episode on this very theme and I’m sure plenty of short stories also).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Deiseach:

            In my opinion, a priori / a posteriori is pretty much a false distinction. If a priori reasoning is reasoning about concepts, well, concepts are abstractions from experience. There is no such thing as “pure reason”. Some reasoning is just more directly connected to experience than other instances.

            I’m just trying to interpret things the best I can as far as what Bostrom is getting at.

            Fundamentally, I’m not sure why you think he is saying “this argument is stronger because it’s empirical”. I think he is saying the opposite: “this argument is weaker because it’s empirical”. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but that’s how it reads to me.

            If he could show that people were living in an simulation based on an analysis of ordinary concepts alone, that would be quite something and iron-clad. But he can’t do that. He has to throw in an empirical projection that could easily be false.

            Moreover, “empirical” partly means “it’s not my job as a philosophy professor to know if this is wrong”. He does present some arguments for the proposition, which are extrapolations from scientific data he has acquired from some non-philosophers. That’s section three of his paper.

            What makes this empirical vs. a priori is that, if that data is wrong, the argument fails.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Also, it’s interesting to note that Bostom relies on functionalism, substrate-independence, and the idea that a simulation of a brain would itself be conscious.

            But these aren’t really necessary to the argument. If you are a non-functionalist or even a dualist who would say a computer program could not be conscious, it still ought to be possible for a future civilization to build zillions of artificial brains (if it’s possible for an artificial brain to be associated with a mind) or even biological brains in vats (which ought to satisfy even religious dualists). How do you know you’re not one?

            The same type of reasons they would do this: observe primitive behavior to advance science, etc. still apply.

            Moreover, the brain-in-the-vat argument, as Chalmers argues, is not a skeptical argument. If you are in the Matrix, it is not the case that everything you think you know is wrong. You’re just missing a little context: that there is a “substratum” that underlies and explains our world.

            I think this is more interesting than Bostrom’s version, since I don’t find functionalism/simulationism plausible at all.

            Edit: now that I think about it, the main problem with the simulation argument in any form is that if we’re in a simulation, we would have no basis whatsoever to speculate about what form the reality underlying it would take (at least at this time). So no empirical facts about this reality could apply to the substratum-reality.

            It’s like Kant’s noumenal world.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Vox:
            “now that I think about it, the main problem with the simulation argument in any form is that if we’re in a simulation, we would have no basis whatsoever to speculate about what form the reality underlying it would take (at least at this time).”

            Indeed, and Bostrom’s argument actually presents an even bigger problem. Remember, his argument is that these hypothetical consciences should be the result of ancestor simulation. So, the assumption he makes about the computing power of “post-humanity” is that it is so exceedingly powerful that it can model us so exactly that the simulation experiences consciousness as we do, and interacts with a “real” seeming world and other virtual minds…

            and that there are so many of these minds that they dwarf actually living minds such that we must certainly be in a simulation.

            So, it isn’t just lots of artificial minds. It’s artificial minds that are having experiences so similar to the ones we are having right now that we should go ahead and assume we are the simulation. The experience has to be almost identical to a real one, because it is being used for ancestor simulation.

            There are a great deal of assumptions in that statement about computing power.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ HeelBearCub:

            Indeed, and Bostrom’s actually presents an even bigger problem. Remember, his argument is that these hypothetical consciences should be the result of ancestor simulation. So, the assumption he makes about the computing power of “post-humanity” is that it is so exceedingly powerful that it can model us so exactly that the simulation experiences consciousness as we do, and interacts with a “real” seeming world and other virtual minds…

            No, that’s not the bigger problem.

            The problem is: if the simulation argument is true, you’ve never had a “real” experience. So how do you know what a “real” experience would be like to compare it? Obviously, you couldn’t.

            So the problem isn’t that it’s implausible the “real world” has enough computing power to do all this. The problem is that you don’t have the faintest clue what the “real world” is like. We could be in the 10,000th level down of simulations running simulations.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Vox:
            But the purpose of the real world in creating the simulations was to model themselves and their experiences.

            Presume that we are the real world for a moment. Suppose we want to create actual conscious simulations that will let us recreate Einstein’s work. Do you see the issue?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ HeelBearCub:

            Yes, if we were the real world, that’s (possibly) what we would want to do.

            But if we were not the real world, their motives for simulating us would be unknowable and inscrutable. Beings like us might want to simulate beings like themselves. But it doesn’t follow that beings completely unlike ourselves would want to simulate beings like themselves.

            Either we are the real world or we aren’t. If we are, well, we’re not a simulation. If we aren’t, who knows what the purposes of our being simulated are?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Vox:
            It’s Bostrom’s argument. He is proposing the motive.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ HeelBearCub:

            I’m confused. Obviously, I know it’s his argument. I thought you were explicating his argument by saying why we ought to expect a simulation to be like the real world: since if we were the real world, we would make a simulation like the real world. And I’m responding that this is a bad argument.

            If that was not your point, what was it?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Vox:
            That Bostrom’s argument (for why we should think we are in a simulation) requires not just simulated brains, but also fidelity of experience to the real world. This puts additional assumptions into the definition of “post-human”.

            You need enough “power” to simulate the real world with fidelity, far quicker than realtime, and do it for millions of copies of all 7 billion of us (plus everything we interact with and observe).

            This creates some real problems for his argument, I think.

          • Deiseach says:

            What makes this empirical vs. a priori is that, if that data is wrong, the argument fails.

            And that’s the core of my unhappiness with this use of “empirical fact” – he has no data to base any of this upon, so it’s a bit much to say that “Based on this empirical fact, X Y and Z follow”.

            Sure, he can use the increase in computational power and complexity to date to construct grounds for an argument. But going beyond what we have so far achieved means he has no real-time, physical data to work on or with; he’s making assumptions and extrapolations about (a) rate of increase in both power and complexity will continue (b) to levels that enable AI or something like it (c) which will be the hallmark of a post-human civilisation (d) which naturally will be technologically mature (and that isn’t even defined; what constitutes maturity for a technology? AI alone? What about FTL or something else that civilisation has not yet achieved – is that not further maturation of the technology?)

            And if we have all that, then it’s very likely that such a civilisation would create simulations of consciousnesses in a virtual world in order to do research or recreate historical events (ancestor simulation) to see why things turned out as they did or for amusement or whatever.

            Which may be so (I think there is a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek about “we should consider we’re all NPC characters in a computer simulation”, and I don’t mind that), but the part that gets my goat is saying that what remains to be demonstrated as something that is really actual in the current universe (some civilisation or civilisations out there who are at that stage) or to be achieved by us (that is, if we’re not just game characters) is “an empirical fact” which, in common language, would be taken to mean “real thing apprehensible to test and experience in a material form”.

            And that is where the confusion happens between what you claim Bostrom is saying (being empirical, it is more likely to be wrong) and what people in general (such as my Tumblr infographic maker) would understand him to be saying (being empirical makes it more likely to be right).

            It’s like someone saying “Belief in miracles is irrational. Suppose you have an infection and you pray for it to be cured. That’s not likely to happen. But I can demonstrate, as an empirical fact, that antibiotics kill bacteria and by prescribing you this medicine you will be cured.” That is how people generally understand claims of empiricism to be phrased: that they can be backed up by evidence and proof in concrete, material terms and not merely as ideas or abstract logical reasoning.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Deiseach:

            And that’s the core of my unhappiness with this use of “empirical fact” – he has no data to base any of this upon, so it’s a bit much to say that “Based on this empirical fact, X Y and Z follow”.

            Sure, he can use the increase in computational power and complexity to date to construct grounds for an argument. But going beyond what we have so far achieved means he has no real-time, physical data to work on or with; he’s making assumptions and extrapolations about (a) rate of increase in both power and complexity will continue (b) to levels that enable AI or something like it (c) which will be the hallmark of a post-human civilisation (d) which naturally will be technologically mature (and that isn’t even defined; what constitutes maturity for a technology? AI alone? What about FTL or something else that civilisation has not yet achieved – is that not further maturation of the technology?)

            I’ve already said why I think his argument fails even if the facts he claims are granted. So I won’t get into that.

            But you seem, to slightly alter one of Scott’s expressions, to be engaged in “selective demands for logical positivism” here. “Empirical”, at least as it’s used in philosophy, is not limited to that which is directly in front of your eyes. An argument is empirical when it is based on facts, facts that require investigation of the natural world. An argument which extrapolates from facts is still based on facts if the facts have to hold for the argument to hold.

            Personally, I think that all concepts are based on facts, so I think everything is empirical. But an a priori argument is supposed to be one merely based on an analysis of concepts.

            Nevertheless, I think a certain distinction can be salvaged, if a priori vs. empirical is interpreted as a matter of degree. That which is relatively “armchair” and based on an analysis of basic concepts obvious with only a little experience is relatively “a priori”. That which is based on sensory evidence less and less obvious to everyone (such as the findings of experimental science) is relatively “empirical”.

            For instance, “All bachelors are unmarried. This man is a bachelor. Therefore, this man is unmarried.” This is relatively a priori. You don’t even have to know what “bachelor” and “unmarried” means to endorse this. You only have to know the law of identity, which I believe is an empirical fact—but it’s an empirical fact implicit in everything, so it’s very obvious.

            On the other hand, if you want to conclude that this man is a bachelor, therefore he is probably under fifty, you have to know something about our society. It’s relatively empirical.

            It’s like someone saying “Belief in miracles is irrational. Suppose you have an infection and you pray for it to be cured. That’s not likely to happen. But I can demonstrate, as an empirical fact, that antibiotics kill bacteria and by prescribing you this medicine you will be cured.” That is how people generally understand claims of empiricism to be phrased: that they can be backed up by evidence and proof in concrete, material terms and not merely as ideas or abstract logical reasoning.

            Yes, this attitude is real. It’s basically logical positivism, which says that a priori reasoning says nothing about reality, and only sensory evidence (not even reasoning which abstracts from sensory evidence) is a means of knowledge.

            It’s no longer a popular idea in philosophy, but it does remain prevalent in popular atheism. I apologize.

            The kernel of truth in it, however, is that long and complex deductive arguments—while a perfectly good means to knowledge if valid—are very difficult to verify. It’s hard to say if someone has made a mistake in a fifty-step deductive argument for the existence of God based on the analysis of the concept of “existence”.

            Even though that concept (“existence”) is obvious, it’s quite likely that in the fifty steps, the guy has accidentally smuggled something in there. And this is not limited to religious people. Michael Huemer accuses Ayn Rand of smuggling in some implicit premises in her essay “The Objectivist Ethics”; and depending on how you interpret her, this seems to be correct.

            So if you have a fifty-step deductive argument that God exists but don’t seem to find any miracles, you might want to check your argument more carefully.

            The evidence or lack thereof for miracles is empirical, and that means the evidence limited to those who have gone out and looked for them (and those who rationally trust their authority). Yet this still may be a sounder method of investigation than the fifty-step deductive argument which analyzes evidence available to everyone. As strange as it seems, people are really bad at those but relatively good at gathering lots of empirical data.

            In any case, Bostrom is not a logical positivist and is not claiming “You stupid theists: the truth of simulationism is right in front of your eyes but you refuse to see!” So it’s not really fair to selectively demand he be a logical positivist. Even though his argument is actually not that good.

            What “empirical” does in his argument is give people an “out” by accepting his logic and denying the premise. An a priori argument doesn’t let people do this, since it moves from concepts that are (allegedly) innate or at least really obvious.

            If you use the concept of “existence” to prove God (in fifty steps otherwise), the other guy can’t deny existence. He has to accept God or find a problem with the argument.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        That being said, it is a mite amusing when the “empirical premise” in an argument is something like “everything that exists is part of a single wave moving about in n-dimensional configuration space.” You saw that, did you? Unaided, or through a microscope?

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, if we’re changing the primary meaning of “empirical”, then please let’s make that clear. Because it’s very confusing when party A is using a word which means what they want it to mean, and party B is interpreting that word in its former sense.

        And nobody ever again gets to laugh at religion on empirical grounds of non-factualism, right? Since empirical no longer means “direct observation or experience”, simply “extrapolation” or “a state, which includes mental and emotional states as well as physical material states”.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Seems to me that he’s doing to “empirical” what everybody else does to “literally.”

  16. Anthony says:

    Normally, I find the lefties over at Crooked Timber to be tedious, though I used to read them a lot (maybe it just takes a couple of years before they start repeating themselves?). However, this post should be interesting to anyone teaching at college level, and many at high school level: Get your students to know each other and make them write for each other

    About 6 years ago I started requiring students in my smaller class to post several memos a semester online. I’ve scaled it up lately: they have to write a memo on the reading every week and respond to someone else’s memo. (The deadline for the memos is always 30-40 hours before class, and the deadline for the comments is the moment class starts). I have recently started requiring this in my larger classes too. The benefits for me are huge: first, everyone has done the reading, and second, I know what they do, and do not, understand, so am in a much better position to organize class time more effectively.

    • Deiseach says:

      That would have been all the circles of Hell for me. I would have needed the “everybody introduce yourself” every week because I am useless at names (faces I remember but can’t attach names to them and no, the common mnemonics tricks don’t work for me).

      But having to say something personal about yourself? (I wouldn’t have had the confidence at eighteen to say “No, I would rather not, because it’s none of anybody’s business” to The Authority Figure so I would have ending up lying and inventing something to satisfy the ‘tell us about yourself’ bit, which defeats the purpose of the exercise, e.g. “Oooh I love fluffy kitties and puppies!” “Yes, thank you, next please!”) Being shoved into making friends with others in the class, whether I wished to or not? It’s all very well to “draw the reticent into discussion” but there’s a reason some of us are reticent and it’s that we don’t want to discuss things in groups (if we have something to say, we’ll say it), and forcing people together so they’ll talk about things outside the class doesn’t sound appealing. People with poor social skills will still not “make friends” and as an added bonus they’ll fall behind in the work since if progress is made by discussing the material with your ‘study group’ and they’re not invited to join such a clump, especially if it’s structured as “these are friends you made in class” rather than a formal study group, then they’re at a disadvantage.

      All of which is to say that perhaps introverts should not consider third-level education, at least at traditional institutions 🙂

      • rubberduck says:

        Fellow introvert bad at remembering people and making friends here. Although I can only speak for myself, I find that while I’ll flounder and burn if you throw me at a friendly stranger (or group of them) and expect me to socialize, I do completely fine with discussing things and being open if there’s a clearly defined topic to discuss, as would be the case if the class is limited to the course content.

        In any case, it doesn’t sound like the professor is trying to force everyone into friendship or study groups, just into class discussion (facilitated by the memos), and the article didn’t make it sound as though socializing in-person outside of class was an outright requirement. If students are socially awkward to the point that they can’t handle a class discussion, then they a) shouldn’t be in this class to begin with, and b) probably need to learn to be comfortable discussing things as a group anyway, I’m having trouble thinking of a career where group discussion can be avoided.

        I had a class that tried something somewhat similar, and I found it helpful, as did everyone I talked to who was with me in the class. I don’t think the professor is expecting too much of the more reticent students.

        • Deiseach says:

          But why do people think “Now we’ll go round the circle and everyone introduce themselves and tell us a bit about yourself” is any good? Has it ever broken down barriers and made everyone feel like they’re all pulling together to make Morgensen’s Sprockets the Number One leader in the field of global sprocketeering? It’s this kind of fake intimacy, instant relationships, forced bonhomie HR nonsense I hate, because it’s all about harnessing human instincts of herd behaviour and gregariousness in the service of raising productivity and making the business more profitable. It’s got nothing to do with “let’s all be friends” and everything to do with “we need social lubrication to prevent costly inter-personal friction the same way we need to oil our machinery, and for the same reason: keep churning out product”.

          I’m fine with “Hello, my name is Bob Bobson” and leave it at that. I don’t want to know about your ceramic unicorn collection or how many states of the union you visited.

          As for what the professor is trying to achieve, he says:

          The idea behind getting them to know each other’s names is to induce them to spend more time talking to one another outside of class. The hunch is that if they are talking with people they are taking class with, there is a chance that they will talk about what’s going on in class. In my case, because my classes are so intrinsically interesting, and talking about them is fun, the chance is reasonably high.

          So, my advice to professors is: Make your students get to know each other, and tell them why they are doing it, and tell them to discuss the content outside of class (something which many students genuinely seem to need – and appreciate – being told is a good idea). And make them write regular, and frequent, online memos – and read them yourself.

          My advice for students: 1) recruit suitable friends to take your classes with you; 2) make friends in the classes that interest you and talk to them about class.

          So he does want discussion groups outside of formal class, whether you call them “study groups” or not, and for the reason that this will help ensure they do the reading, discuss the course content, and work out positions and arguments.

          If you’re one of the unlucky ones who don’t easily make friends, or who can contribute in a classroom setting where there’s a formal structure but have trouble in informal groups (such as the gang of pals all heading off to the coffee shop to discuss what went on in class and have arguments and debates), and you’re trailing along like a lost puppy after them, or find yourself on the fringe of such groups trying to get included, you will lose out because you’ll fall behind on the work being done in these discussions.

          You won’t have any provocative insights, you’ll be raising questions that “Oh but Dan and Laura and Steve dealt with that already on Wednesday, oh yeah, you weren’t with us when we all met up in Laura’s room” and you will feel isolated in the very place you thought you would be able to participate.

          He obviously thinks that having friends who (a) decided to take the class with you (b) you met them in the class and became friends is so good a thing, he’s encouraging students to do so and setting up means of getting small groups to know one another.

          And that’s great for the extroverts, but some few introverts probably slip through the meshes of the selection nets and manage to get into university, and this kind of “Now class, I want you all to be instant friends who sit around and have deep meaningful discussions about the course work!” is not going to be easy for everyone.

          The example he gives of the little group that inspired him is pretty much one of people living in one another’s ears, to be frank:

          R&M live together; G, who is also in the class, lives with them. They have a 4th roommate, MA.

          And MA is getting roped in to attend his class. This is all very cosy, but pity the person who doesn’t have a little clique of classmates-cum-friends to do the work with!

  17. Cop Party says:

    Here is a blog entry about the blacklivesmatter hashtag movement thingy and its implications for racial integration. I think this is an important and unique insight:

    https://welldotdotdot.wordpress.com/2016/01/05/racial-integration/

  18. Mark says:

    I love slatestarcodex open threads, but I’m also really busy at the moment, and have no self control. What should I say to get banned for a period of exactly four months?

    • Anonymous says:

      Insult Bryan Caplan twice.

      • Mark says:

        I really dislike the blog of Noah Smith. I dislike Noah Smith. The blog is called noahpinion and that is slightly irritating. I dislike his ideas, I dislike his attitude, and I dislike his face.

        Bryan Caplan is a man who favors open borders. I don’t favor open borders. I’m a liberal economic optimizing man. I don’t want to go to Somalia. It’s easier to exploit workers when you don’t have to look at them and they can’t smash your windows. I therefore fail to see the advantage to allowing immigration. Bryan Caplan must either be very, very foolish, or evil.
        And he is both.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      That’s the beauty of the reign of terror, you never know whose head our Glorious Leader Scott, hallowed be his name, will call for next.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        Scott Alexander (PBUH) is G-d.

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        I dread the day that I open SSC to find an article titled “Confusion Instead of Comments” denouncing me for formalism, and everyone starts wondering out loud how long it will be until I disappear.

    • Mark says:

      こちのサイトの皆さん
      議論する時、余り分からない言語で話したほうがいいと思う。
      その理由:
      1。外国語で話すのが ムズッ(!)ので 話している内容が大切じゃないとすぐ「ギブアップ」。 どうでもいい話は無くなる。
      2.私は英語で話す時、自分が何を言っているとちゃんと考えていない。まあまあ綺麗な英語が使えるけど、意味に余り関心がない。いわゆる「style over substance]
      3.もう ギブアップ

      • Sam says:

        This is cultural appropriation of the worst kind!

        • Mark says:

          And you, sir, are also guilty of cultural appropriation.

          Appropriating the culture of humans, when you are, in fact, a decaying turd upon a stick.

          • keranih says:

            I suspect something akin to the previously mentioned rejection of fraudulent visa application is in play – the powers that be may have detected ulterior motives below the overt appearance of (im)propriety, and have thus declined to take the requested actions.

            As with multihead, my sympathies – sucks to be you. Consider researching alternative means to your ultimate ends.

          • Nero tol Scaeva says:

            BANNED!!!!!!!!!!!

      • multiheaded says:

        4. 殺殺殺殺殺殺殺

  19. zensunni couch-potato says:

    Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic eloquently points out how tribal biases stop left and right from finding common ground in Oregon and beyond. (He cites I can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup, providing further evidence that in the near future we are all going to be complaining that we read Scott before it was cool.)

    Yet I can’t help but wonder if the argument that we should put aside Red-Blue tribal biases and find common ground is insufficiently pessimistic. What if the tribal divides are all there ever were, with the ideological issues being peripheral to very old, very much ethno-regional divides ?

    • stillnotking says:

      The problem with cynicism is that we can look at the scoreboard; things really are better now than they were for most of our ancestors, and they are better in precisely the ways that liberalism (broadly, but still ideologically, defined) expected and wanted them to be better. This fact is hard to reconcile with the most pessimistic takes on human nature, particularly the ever-popular “identity is everything” take.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think wanting things to change, rather than expecting them to do so, is what made the most difference.

        Sitting back, saying “Well, people are naturally nice at bottom, things are better now than they used to be, so just let nature take its course and things will keep on getting better” isn’t much help; saying “This is not right or not good enough, things need to change, we need to explain why it’s not right and why it needs to change, and we need to do something about it” is what works.

        Why was slavery legally abolished in Great Britain before the USA? Was the USA not as ‘advanced’ or ‘nice’ as Britain? I think the work of anti-slavery activists is what made the difference; there were certainly those who argued that let time take its course, slavery would naturally wither away, people would stop owning slaves and relying on slave labour as human nature improved and progress meant you didn’t need slave labour – and that just didn’t happen.

        I’m not saying you always need a civil war to change things, but merely relying on time because people just naturally get nicer isn’t enough.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Deiseach:
          Aren’t you sort of ignoring the disparate economic interests in the slave trade between the US and the UK?

          Edit: I do agree that activism matters and is necessary. But I don’t think activism is sufficient and, for any given scenario, differences in activism aren’t actually likely to be the main driver in different outcomes.

          I also think that activism is dependent on the basic “niceness of people at the bottom” so I’m not sure that the necessity of activism really invalidates that argument either.

          • Deiseach says:

            You’re making the point for me, HeelBearCub.

            It wasn’t simply natural niceness, it was external economic forces. There’s no reason to think Americans were not as nice or progressive or civilised as their British counterparts of the time, but if slavery meant money, then slavery would be permitted as long as it made economic sense.

            The reluctance to interfere with the rights of private property was possibly as much behind “let it die out naturally rather than impose laws banning it” as anything else, and I think that regardless of whether or not people would eventually come to abhor slavery as not befitting a civilised nation, you would need some imposition of laws rather than waiting for everyone to voluntarily liberate their slaves or not purchase new ones when their old ones died.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Deiseach:
            Well, I agree with your central point, I think.

            But I was disagreeing with this: ” I think the work of anti-slavery activists is what made the difference;”

            I don’t think more or better work by abolitionists in the US would have caused slavery in the U.S. to end before the UK.

        • Mary says:

          “Why was slavery legally abolished in Great Britain before the USA?”

          Because the slavery on which the UK was economically dependent was in the US. Hence our war led to your Cotton Famine.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The odd shortage of cotton notwithstanding, Britain was not in any sense economically dependent on US slavery, during the 1860s or any other decade. Hence why neither any of the Anglo-American wars nor the defeat of the Confederacy caused a British economic collapse.

          • nonymous says:

            Imagine “Thing” from the Addams Family, (modified with a Senor Wences lipstick mouth and a contentious personality), periodically emerging from its box to blurt out a resentment-charged inaccuracy before quickly retreating back into its gloom.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Imagine “Thing” from the Addams Family, (modified with a Senor Wences lipstick mouth and a contentious personality)

            I move that before “true, kind, necessary” we insert “comprehensible”.

        • multiheaded says:

          Why was slavery legally abolished in Great Britain before the USA?

          Because they had the luck to abolish it just before the cotton boom launched by the adoption of the cotton gin in the 1830s.

          The cotton famine was widely feared at the time, but in reality Britain quickly found new sources of cotton to replace Confederate imports (and instituted some public works programs to support laid-off textile workers).

          • The original Mr. X says:

            “The cotton gin” can’t be the answer, because when it came in Britain had already abolished slavery and America hadn’t, i.e., Britain had already got there first.

          • multiheaded says:

            It does not by itself answer why Britain abolished slavery in the early 19th century, but it was the direct cause of the reinvigorated antebellum slave economy in the US South.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Slavery in Great Britain was never formally abolished. It was subject to conflicting judicial decisions, none of which claimed to be changing anything; and they didn’t matter much because there wasn’t much slavery. Slavery in the Empire was abolished in the 1834 (and the slave trade in 1807). This step was much easier than in America because, as Mary says, it wasn’t that big a portion of the Empire. Also, the owners didn’t generally have a vote. Third, the British emancipation compensated the owners. I don’t think compensation was ever seriously proposed in America, although it would have been a lot cheaper than the War. (Not that the South would have agreed to compensated empancipation, anyhow.) In fact, the post-war abolition of slavery in Kentucky didn’t include compensation.

          I’m not sure what Multiheaded is saying. If American abolitionists could have created a viable anti-slavery party in 1830, they would have. Maybe the point is that the idea that slavery would wither away was more plausible in 1830 than in 1860?

          In 1830, there was generally still slavery in the North. The children of slaves were emancipated, but the institution did not end until the older generation died off. Maybe this is a model for “withering,” but it is about house slaves, not agricultural slaves. It is easy to imagine agricultural slavery withering away if (if!) it were outcompeted, but house slaves were a status symbol. It is hard to imagine southerners ceasing to care about this status symbol, just because people in Britain and the North had done so. But maybe it was tied to agricultural slavery and would have gone away in turn.

          (Sorry if this is a double-post.)

          • Deiseach says:

            No, this is good. I don’t think there would have been a natural withering-away simply by letting time go by because people were getting nicer.

            I think there were external impetuses, some from changing economic and political conditions, some from developing humanitarian impulses and religious motives (the Non-Conformist conscience).

            I also think that developing humanitarianism needed a conscious and willed effort of change, not merely going with the tide of progress working gradually on human nature to soften and raise it.

          • multiheaded says:

            Maybe the point is that the idea that slavery would wither away was more plausible in 1830 than in 1860?

            Yes, this was my point here.

      • Psmith says:

        “This fact is hard to reconcile with the most pessimistic takes on human nature, particularly the ever-popular “identity is everything” take.”

        Could you elaborate on this a little more? I don’t see how it militates against a picture like JayMan’s where social pathologies and political conflicts are fundamentally genetic.

        • stillnotking says:

          I take the “strong” identity claim to be “there’s no ‘there’ there”, IOW politics is only about tribal differentiation, and political arguments are fundamentally empty signaling, like an accent. That can’t be the case if politics has actually changed the world.

          • Psmith says:

            Huh. I guess that still doesn’t seem like a reasonable inference to me. Something can be a local custom while still having a concrete impact on the world; think of ritual cannibalism in New Guinea and the spread of kuru, for instance. Politics changing the world is compatible with, for instance, people mostly inheriting their political opinions.

      • zensunni couch-potato says:

        I think that the claim, “things really are better now than they were for most of our ancestors” is entirely compatible with the claim, “political divides are driven largely by identity.” What am I missing?

        Though I would add that although in a place like America tribalism indeed does not get that bad (for any number of reasons), in other places tribalism can be quite destructive.

    • Odoacer says:

      Is that Scott’s most linked-to post?

  20. Anonymous says:

    So, Vox Day apparently got banned from Goodreads after 36 hours’ membership, on grounds of being Vox Day (no reason given).

    I do wonder how he’ll fuck up GR for this insult.

    • anonymous says:

      Goodreads is owned by Amazon. They aren’t a few hundred SFF fans or a twiter subculture. Vox Day is a schoolyard bully, not someone to be taken seriously in the real world.

      • Deiseach says:

        So it’s okay to ban someone merely because you don’t like them, even if they haven’t done anything (yet).

        Fine, that’s the same logic as Donald Trump and ban all Muslims, you do realise?

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          The point isn’t that it’s right, the point is that there’s probably not a lot VD can do about it.

        • anonymous says:

          I didn’t comment on whether or not it was okay that goodreads banned VD, just that I wasn’t worried about his “retribution”.

          That said: 1) I doubt that they banned him just because they don’t like him. 2) In any event, I have no problem with a private website banning someone they don’t like without waiting for them to do something specific. Freedom of association and all that. If I had a website I would certainly ban Vox Day, Jim, et. al. Just as I would never sit down to have a meal with such loathsome characters so to I wouldn’t want to do so virtually.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Wait a second, you’re not the same anon!

          • anonymous says:

            Typo in the email address maybe? I donno.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Most likely cause is a difference in the initial capitalization of the email address. If you are on a smart phone or tablet, this is frequently done for you, whereas it is not on a standard desktop or laptop.

          • Deiseach says:

            As pointed out above, Goodreads is owned by Amazon. That means that whatever it is, it is not a private site. Flip’s sake, the idea that “You like this book as recommended by six other readers? Head on over to purchase it at Amazon!” is behind why they bought it.

            I don’t know much about Vox Day and don’t like what I do hear, but I also think you have to let a dog have one bite. If he started trouble, then sure, kick him off. But if he’s entitled to be on the site, and didn’t do anything yet to be a bannable offence, then throwing him off for “we don’t like him” means anyone can be kicked off, and the next time it might be someone whose politics/opinions you do like.

            So unless you’re going to argue “Only the people whose opinions we don’t like should be banned”, you leave yourself with no defence against anyone being banned or kicked off for no reason.

            Defence of free speech means defending the people you don’t like as much as those you do like.

            Though this is probably a storm in a teacup, and Amazon’s rating system is much too easy to rig anyway (there’s nothing stopping Author of Book or E-book from getting friends and relatives to spam a ton of five-star reviews, not to mention getting a fan campaign to do the same, and then it can turn into warring campaigns between those who like Author and those who despise Author. I… may or may not have been involved in one of those.)

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Deiseach:

            There most certainly is: Amazon’s monitoring systems, which are getting better all the time. They are more and more active in dealing with self-review and instigated reviews.

            They apparently still don’t care about reviews that aren’t reviews but personal attacks on the author’s politics, but as for the stuff in the first paragraph, they are working tirelessly to reduce it.

          • anonymous says:

            @Deiseach:

            By public I meant not government. Maybe that’s an Americanism?

          • keranih says:

            By public I meant not government. Maybe that’s an Americanism?

            I’m not following. I think there’s a confusion of terms.

            While GR is not a government-owned space, and hence not subject to US constitutionally-mandated support for free expression (*) it does have both its own internal codes of conduct, which include some degree of support for the right of everyone to express their own points of view (**) as well as some degree of operating as a “public open space” which (IANAL) has, in some cases, resulted in legal responsibilities for freedom of speech. (***)

            In any way, “public” in the USA tends to be used to mean “government owned” and private to mean “citizen owned”. I know that the UK uses those words differently and it always confuses me.

            (*) Please to note that this doesn’t mean a right to free speech exists on US government virtual spaces, such as those operated by the DOD.

            (**) a cultural value, not a legal one

            (***) a very tenuous responsibility, because the right of a private property owner to do as they want trumps free speech, generally

          • Deiseach says:

            Ah, right. I was taking it as “public” (anyone can join in and it’s run by an organisation) versus “private” (as here, which is Scott’s blog and he makes the rules and brings down the guillotine blade on the necks of whom he will).

            I wasn’t thinking of it as “government” versus “non-government”.

        • James Picone says:

          It’s not like GoodReads sells wedding cakes, after all!

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Fine, that’s the same logic as Donald Trump and ban all Muslims, you do realise?

          I can’t resist sharing my favourite quip about that:

          Donald Trump wants to ban Muslims. But if we have learned anything from Prohibition, people will just make Muslims in their bathtubs.

          • Agronomous says:

            I don’t think that’s possible. But you can make a Catholic in your kitchen sink, if you’re Catholic and have an unbaptized baby handy.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/560412.Vox_Day

      It’s still there as of the time of the this comment.

      • Anonymous says:

        That’s an author page, not a user page.

        Vox Day isn’t a Goodreads Author (yet), but he does have a blog, so here are some recent posts imported from his feed.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        That’s his author page. To delete it is to assert that he does not write books. Where it says that he “isn’t a Goodreads Author (yet)” I think it means that he does not control it, but that, in theory, he could. Presumably he is banned from taking that control, but it isn’t worth much since they syndicate his blog; the real ban is from the ordinary use of the site as a reader – reviewing other people’s books.

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          Interesting, I agree it would have been shocking if they removed his books or banned that page.

      • anonymous says:

        A couple of clicks off that site you get to an article where VD defends Amazon’s decision back in 2011 not to allow authors to review books in their own generes. Maybe this is somehow related?

  21. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So when Luke Skywalker pulled off his hood in the new Star Wars, did anyone else think the Resistance had found Slavoj Zizek?

  22. Timothy Coish says:

    I’d like to take a minute and thank the Immigration Services of Canada, my home and native land, for not allowing MultiHeaded entry into the country. Not just because MultiHeaded is one of the most irritating people on this board, an avowed communist, and in no significant danger anyway.

    I’m impressed that they managed to tell that MultiHeaded was attempting immigration fraud. I’m not saying it was Mission:Impossible, the “heist” was pretty half-baked (buying a ticket to a random hockey game. Really?), but I’m impressed nevertheless. On top of that, to actually prevent him/her from entering the country after diagnosing the immigration fraud indicates a healthy attitude towards illegal immigration, which isn’t a huge problem in Canada anyway.

    Lots of people would love to emigrate to Canada, including many who don’t publicly plan on breaking our immigration laws to get here.

    • Negligent Discharge says:

      Neither true, kind nor necessary. Reported.

      • Anonymous says:

        Which part isn’t true?

      • Ghan says:

        It is true. Multi was always trouble with his appalling comments here and was pretty much banned for quite a period of time. A very unpleasant person.

        He doesn’t seem to think beyond himself at all in regard to his emigration. What does he have to offer to Canada or any other country? Mental illness and communist agitating? Why would we want that?

        • Anonymous says:

          If you dislike Multiheaded and/or think they are a net drain on the host country, attempting to send them towards a country you also dislike and/or want destroyed may be a consistent solution.

        • multiheaded says:

          I have experience as a gardener. Which means, among other things, that a workers’ collective could hire me to look after the flowers on the grave of Capitalism. After we bury it.

          I could also… make the Russkie Communist villains in your fiction more authentic, translate lesser-known items of vintage Soviet propaganda, and so on.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            And now I have an opinion.

          • Jiro says:

            As a joke, that seems pretty ambiguous. Are you joking that people think of you as a Communist or are you claiming to actually be a Communist and joking about that?

        • multiheaded says:

          P.S.: I hope you folks become less awful people at some point, so that you could look back on this moment and feel intensely ashamed at your response.

          Oh, and rest assured, if any of you haters need help escaping something like a viciously hostile environment, I would cease this banter at once and do what little I can to assist you. I’m serious, I do think your life and sanity and human dignity have worth – even considering that you are vicious heartless fuckheads.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I’m really sorry about your situation, and I think several commenters here have been inexcusably awful to you.

            I don’t agree with your political views, but I do hope you find a way to make it to a reasonably tolerant country. If there is anything I can do to help, please let me know. If you can make your way to the U.S. at all, I even have a spare bedroom you could stay in.

            If you were serious about it and I knew you better, I’d even consider the “fake marriage” option. Unfortunately, from my experience, the INS are pretty draconian in making sure every marriage is a “real marriage for love” in order to qualify for immigration. I’ve scanned Spanish Hallmark cards and filed reams of phone logs to help one couple prove it at a job I had once.

            Can it really be that difficult to get a tourist visa to Finland or Sweden? I studied abroad in Russia just recently, and I went on a three-day trip to Finland and Sweden with a Russian tour agency. It was very inexpensive (less than $100 for the whole thing, meals excluded), and though I didn’t have to get a visa, everyone else on the tour bus with me did, and they were a diverse group of people who seemed to be of moderate means. Like I said, I didn’t need a visa, but I bought a ticket on a Wednesday for a trip starting on a Friday.

            I don’t know the law of those countries and don’t know if you stand a realistic chance of being granted asylum, but you might consider it. And if you think living there illegally would be preferable to living legally in Russia, I certainly won’t hold it against you.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Based on what I hear from my friends who still visit that benighted land, Swedish prison might actually be nicer to live in than anywhere in Russia, so maybe Vox Imperatoris has a point…

          • multiheaded says:

            A visa for a legit tour with a tour agency does sound somewhat realistic… but if I do need to make a reasonably hasty escape, it will most likely be to Argentina, as has been proposed above?? Looks like that would be legally more clear/less risk of deportation, easier to learn the language, and easier to subsist on donations if absolutely needed?

            (Learning Finnish… brrr.)

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ multiheaded

          Is the GoFundMe or whatever still going? Url?

          You can role-model sanity, we need it.

          • multiheaded says:

            It’s technically still up. I should probably update it.
            https://www.gofundme.com/klsiw0

            (Moving funds is, however, non-trivial and requires the cooperation of a person in the US, so that should be done in one go and when absolutely neeeded.)

            and thanks for the entirely unearned compliment, friend! : D

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Forget true. It clearly was neither kind nor necessary to kick somebody when they’re down. Mocking someone who has just been denied refugee status after trying to leave a regime that is trying to imprison you clearly qualifies. Wanting people to suffer because they have bad politics is pretty much the antithesis of what this blog stands for. Timothy and Ghan banned indefinitely

        • Hemid says:

          You’re a fundamentally bad human being.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            False. Unnecessary. Unkind.

            But gr8 b8 m8.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Nu-uh

            It’s true, in the sense that Scott is indeed a terrible person within a whole bunch of moral frameworks (most notably, religious fundamentalism and veganism). It’s kind in that, despite calling Scott a bad human being, it contains no slurs and doesn’t call for bad things to happen to him. And it’s necessary because reasons.

            So there.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            I see someone’s not a fan of this whole “reign of terror” concept.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Being smugly self-aware about your bad choices doesn’t make them not bad choices.

        • Deiseach says:

          You don’t think it’s a slur to call someone a fundamentally bad person? I’d consider it a slur if someone said it about me; at the least, I wouldn’t take it as a compliment and it’s rather hard to read it as a neutral statement of fact (unless you provide evidence that said person is fundamentally bad).

          Anyway, reign of terror is my favourite part! 🙂

        • multiheaded says:

          Thank you, Scott! I was not really emotionally hurt due to my utter lack of respect for people who would act like that… but I appreciate the gesture.

    • Technically Not Anonymous says:

      A transwoman in Russia is certainly in significant danger.

  23. Albatross says:

    Can we wirehead AI?

    https://youtu.be/kHseZYsrYYg

    • Sonata Green says:

      Most likely, some AI can be wireheaded and some can’t. The immune AI will tend to outcompete the susceptible AI, so the overall effect is to make it harder to write AI that does what we want while not helping much at stopping AI that does things we don’t want.

    • Anonymous says:

      AI wireheads *itself*.

  24. xav says:

    How soon until we pass the point where even the most strident head-in-the-sand normie liberal is able to deny what’s going on? Try as they might, the internet makes it impossible for the western governments and media to completely suppress this information, and yes, if you are unaware, they are in fact trying.

    https://archive.is/fP1bo

    Any thoughts from the rationalist community? Michael Vassar once said that a true bayesian could have prevented the holocaust. I posit to all you effective altruists out there that preventing a global religious war is the absolute best use of your time, resources, money, and thought right now.

    • Max says:

      Michael Vassar said that? Did he specify how?

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      What does Michael Vassar know?

    • NN says:

      Please explain to me how, exactly, this incident is related to a coming “global religious war.” I mean, it isn’t crazy to worry about that nowadays, what with the recent Saudi-Iran tensions and the continuing crises in Syria and Yemen, but I fail to see any possible connection between a riot involving what seem to be common criminals and any sort of global war.

      • Cop Party says:

        How about this:

        In your opinion, how likely is it that violent radical Islamists in the Middle East are knowlngly/deliberately using the “refugee crisis” as a Trojan horse in which to send significant numbers of agents into the West either to 1) commit murderous acts against Westerners directly; 2) soft-colonize the West, starting with “no-go zones” where Sharia law is dominant and potentially building up to Muslim movements to take over Western governments; and/or 3) have kids who will employ their Western resources, educations, and social connections in the fight against the West?

        0 = this is impossible

        1 = this is already happening

        My guess is somewhere between .55 and .85, and I believe the West as it is now would be totally impotent to combat such a plot.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          The question is not properly framed.

          I find it quite probable that they have at least one agent / fellow traveler among the refugees.

          But I find it completely implausible that the effect of this will be significant, let alone bring about the Downfall of the West.

          I think the cowardice of the “conservatives” who want to draw up the lifelines and hunker down in “fortress America” is despicable. As is the blindness of the “liberals” who aren’t prepared actually to prosecute the war against Islamism.

          Timothy Sandefur says it best:

          Of course we should let in the refugees from the east. America is a refuge. If she is not Mother of Exiles, she is nothing.

          We benefit tremendously from allowing in the wretched refuse. Wretched refuse have built our nation in her beauty, have enriched our nation’s culture, have covered themselves in glory defending our freedoms. And in every case, there were good reasons to bar the door. Imagine if Italians had been turned away because some fraction of them were in the Cosa Nostra. It was true; Italian immigration did bring with it the problem of the mafia. But America has managed to deal with that problem. It’s not a fun problem; it would be nice if there were no mafia. But the benefits were worth the cost. America grows and changes or she dies.

          Islamic immigration does bring with it unique problems. This is an extraordinarily dangerous religious movement that encourages insularity; is riddled with bigotry, superstition, and violence. As this excellent article makes clear, it would be suicidal to allow a wave of Islamic immigration without making efforts to integrate that population; to acculturate it to freedom; to police it and put a stop to such practices as the abuse of women, the lust for violence, the hostility to civilization. The Golden Door should be open–but people must be expected to behave themselves once inside. We cannot allow “no go zones” to appear in the United States.

          Of course, there are likely to be some infiltrators among the refugees who will commit acts of violence. That’s what happens in a war. Americans–or, rather, their political leaders–have persuaded themselves that we aren’t at war. But it is nonetheless a fact. Are Americans able and willing to take that risk? I would hope so.

          For one thing, we need the intel from those who do come in good faith. These people are likely to be far more effective agents of counterterrorism in the United States than are native-born Americans, because they’re already members of that community. They know the language and the people. They might be good recruits to fight ISIS abroad, too. America has often benefitted from victims of tyranny who came here to fight their former oppressors. And, again, we are the land of opportunity, freedom, and promise. Either we mean that, or we don’t. If we stop meaning it–if we mean to pull up the ladder and let the victims of tyranny drown–then we are no longer worthy to prevail. We will have at last betrayed ourselves, and proven ourselves no better than the ancient world with its storied pomp.

          I for one am not afraid. “I believe this…the strongest Government on earth,” said Thomas Jefferson. “I believe it the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern.” I share that confidence in Americans’ love of their Constitution and of their freedom. Obviously there are some fools out there, particularly on college campuses, but by and large, Americans are more than willing to defend themselves against the onslaught of Islamic fascism, and make good on the commitment of–among many others–the passengers of Flight 93. In fact, Americans have already proven repeatedly that they are up to that task. Remember what happened to the Shoe Bomber? The passengers beat the shit out of him. A bunch of Syrian immigrants in Houston would be on their best behavior. Even if the refugees do include some spies, nothing can defeat us in this war but ourselves. That’s not a sound bite. It’s a fact.

          I understand the fear. We have no confidence that our liberal fellow citizens actually want to win this war; since almost the morning of September 12th, they’ve proven themselves unwilling. But that, too, is always part of any war. And we cannot allow our neighbors’ cravenness to sap our own resolve.

          Obviously we should take whatever steps we can to protect ourselves, to screen out people not actually coming here to pursue a life in safety and freedom. Obviously any screening process is likely to fail at least once. But fear is not a strategy. We have two options: we build a wall between us and the world, or we win this war. I favor the latter. There is no way evil wins this conflict unless we let it. And we let it by slamming the Golden Door shut, pretending we are not at war, and fearing our fellow citizens instead of resolving to fight evil side-by-side.

          Update: In answer to several Facebook comments, I will repeat: We should allow them in, even knowing that there will certainly be at least one serious terrorist attack as a direct result. This is a war. Safety cannot be our highest priority; victory must be. Americans will certainly prevail if ISIS tries to send spies among the refugees. If we can’t win in such a confrontation, then we are already too feeble to deserve success. I don’t think we are that fragile. Let the evil come: that will only make it easier to destroy. In the interim, we must do what we can to shelter our fellow human beings. How can the nation that saved the refuseniks do any less? In war, you don’t leave others behind; you give hem shelter–and then you enlist them.

          • My Alt says:

            Except it’s not about a handful of “spies” or terrorists here. Read the article: this is a case of hundreds, possibly thousands, of so-called refugees behaving like conquerors sacking a city. We saw this play out in Britain, most notably in Rotherham, and before that in France and before that in Sweden.

            The problem is not that a few of the refugees will be bad apples. It is that they, as a group, represent an invading hostile force.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ My Alt:

            First of all, it’s a sensationalized article by a source with an obvious agenda. I would appreciate a better source. This is just based on my experience with Steve-Sailer-type accounts of completely fictitious “illegal immigrant crime wave” stories in the U.S.

            But even taking it at face value, we are talking about a small minority of the immigrants. And it mainly reflects a failure of policing. If they catch any bastards raping and stealing, I say deport them back to ISIS. That ought to be sufficient discouragement.

            Moreover, much more severe and extensive riots occurred as a result of Catholic immigration to the U.S., out of fear that Catholics wanted to impose religious law and the rule of the Pope. Some of them no doubt did want to. Catholicism, especially before the Second Vatican Council, was completely opposed to the values America is founded on. But it would have been very wrong to ban Catholic immigration on those grounds.

            Chinese immigration actually was banned for similar reasons. There was a faction of rabid racists and restrictionists, and they caused enough trouble that the moderates (like Grover Cleveland, who reluctantly signed the Chinese Exclusion Act) gave in for the sake of a “peace” achieved by appeasing the initiators of the violence. I think that was an act of cowardice.

            Another major part of the problem with Germany, Britain, and France is multiculturalism and postmodernism, which finds no firm basis upon which to criticize Islamist savagery and provides no vision for people to assimilate to. But that’s a failure of the West itself to live up to the Enlightenment values it created. And excluding foreigners is not the way to bring them back. The problem is, if you criticize multiculturalism, you get accused of being a racist restrictionist—because unfortunately being “against multiculturalism” is the motte to the bailey of “keep Britain white and Christian”.

            If 20 million Muslims wanted to move to Estonia, they’d have a problem. But if the great countries of Europe can’t deal with a few refugees—if it can’t offer them a compelling vision of a better, happier, more civilized, more rational life—they are too weak and decayed to be worth protecting.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Vox: We are never too weak and decayed to be worth protecting. Weak, decadent hipsters like the ones the Islamic State brutally murdered in France are our brothers and sisters. They deserve a paternalistic government to protect them, as they have a Father who forgives them (they know not what they do).

            The problem is that, by identifying as the tribe that votes for the Party that rams multiculturalism down their country’s throat for ulterior movies, they have the illusion of political power. They want to stick it to their parents’s “racist” generation. But it’s all an illusion, and the illusion should be taken away from them so they can live their day to day lives in a safe and fun way while the culture stays safe and traditional around them.

          • blacktrance says:

            I think the cowardice of the “conservatives” who want to draw up the lifelines and hunker down in “fortress America” is despicable. As is the blindness of the “liberals” who aren’t prepared actually to prosecute the war against Islamism.

            By “war”, do you mean culture war or literal war?
            As far as the former goes, I support whatever is effective at abolishing belief in Islam (though it may not necessarily look like a culture war), as long as it doesn’t replace it with something similarly bad. But non-defensive military war against Islamism is unjustified on libertarian grounds.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ blacktrance:

            I mean, in general, the struggle against Islamism both through military means and otherwise. And I think that ought to include war against the dictatorial regimes that spread and back it around the world, most notably Iran and Saudi Arabia (and the Islamic State, if you count it as a real state).

            On the other hand, I am very sympathetic to the argument that given the way any such war is likely to be waged in the current political climate, we’re better off doing nothing at this time than getting into a half-assed and half-baked war like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

            But—if it is a real threat we need to do something about, and I think it is—we really ought to be confronting the Islamism abroad, not surrendering to it at home by restricting the liberties of Americans. Including the liberty to hire, sell homes to, and associate with foreigners.

          • blacktrance says:

            Vox Imperatoris:
            If merely supporting violent organizations is a sufficient justification for war, that would also imply that it would be justified to attack the United States.
            Also, there is a great deal of injustice in war, most notably collateral damage, and a war against countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran would likely induce them to conscript innocent people and send them to fight the US military, in effect putting us in a position where we have to kill innocent slaves. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should never go to war, but that it takes a lot to justify it. If we have to kill innocent people to literally defend ourselves, then we grit our teeth and do it, while seeking to minimize the loss of life. But we’re not in that position in relation to Saudi Arabia or Iran, so we shouldn’t do it even if we were politically more competent.

          • NN says:

            By “war”, do you mean culture war or literal war?
            As far as the former goes, I support whatever is effective at abolishing belief in Islam (though it may not necessarily look like a culture war), as long as it doesn’t replace it with something similarly bad. But non-defensive military war against Islamism is unjustified on libertarian grounds.

            I’ve become skeptical of the idea that getting rid of religion would fix anything ever since I read about the officially atheist Chinese government’s push for abstinence-only sex education.

            You might respond, “maybe getting Muslims to apostatize wouldn’t fix every cultural problem, but surely we’d at least get rid of any possible support for groups like ISIS,” except…

            There is no significant correlation between support for ISIS and religiosity: Favorable views of ISIS are equally prevalent among respondents who are “very religious” and those who are “not religious,” and also equally prevalent among opponents and supporters of separation of religion and state.

            http://www.vox.com/2015/12/23/10653840/poll-arab-world

            When it comes to terrorism in general, at least in America non-religious people actually display much greater support than Muslims. And Timothy McVeigh was a self-described agnostic so yes, non-religious terrorists have killed people in America.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @NN:
            I agree that religion is mostly bent to culture and not vice-versa. Getting rid of religion by waving a wand wouldn’t get rid of the culture from which it springs, but going through a real world process that succeeds in substantial deconversion probably does result in cultural change, in my opinion.

        • You want to explain how they can achieve 2 or 3 but have barely achieved any significant degree of success at murdering people so far?

          • DHW says:

            Well, it’s already effectively banned to draw Mohammed in any Western nation: no, technically you won’t be arrested, but when the vigilantes come for you the government will shrug and most of the intelligentsia will be openly stating that you deserved what you got. So there’s that.

        • The first version strikes me as very unlikely, given how easy it is to get people into developed countries at least for a while if only in the guise of tourists. I believe the current cost for a stolen western passport is around a thousand dollars.

          I suppose the second and third are possible, but I expect the islamists are putting most of their energies into projects with more immediate payoff.

          • John Schilling says:

            As I have repeatedly told you before, a stolen western passport does not suffice to actually get people into developed countries any more, unless you are willing to settle for the prisons of developed countries. The stolen western passports you can buy for a few thousand dollars are for getting into “developing” countries(*), or for moving about within developed countries where you still need some sort of ID to do so much as rent a hotel room. If you try to use one to get into a first-world country, you generally get as far as the customs station at the border where a discrete warning tells the inspector that you have a passport on the Interpol “stolen passport” list and probably another that your fingerprints don’t match the biometric data associated with the passport.

            Which is not to say that stolen passports are entirely useless to terrorists. They can be used to e.g. get into Mexico and maybe hire a coyote to sneak one over the US border. But stolen passports are not so useful as to render parallel channels like “pretend to be a refugee” entirely useless. Particularly in Europe, where there’s a large population of weakly-screened refugees to blend into. I doubt it is a major problem in the United States.

            *Or those otherwise-developed nations which still have 20th-century border security infrastructure, if you have the expertise to keep track of such things and if you’re willing to settle for one of those nations while there still are a few left. The United States isn’t one of them, and I don’t know if there are any on the periphery of the Schengen area.

          • John Schilling says:

            Good to know, and probably part of the reason there’s talk of a reduced Schengen core in north-central Europe. And Greece is geographically isolated from the rest of Schengen-land, but for someone who can afford airline tickets (and hundred-euro bribes and who doesn’t otherwise seem undesirable), it’s a way in to Western Europe.

            Unfortunately Greece doesn’t border Russia, or it would be an obvious thing for Multiheaded to try. Russia to Greece by air would be somewhat harder and riskier.

        • Calo Cola says:

          1.I doubt that, but I can’t quite articulate just why. Perhaps the ease of entering the nation other ways. What I find more worrisome is the idea of taking in hundreds of thousands of possibly uneducated refugees with questionable capabilities to contribute to the country after an attempted integration, which may or may not succeed.

          2.I flat out don’t believe anything like that in this nation could happen to a significant level, though maybe the news could spin something. The closest, and its not very close, thing I know of in this country are indian reservations. Also, in this day of education, most of the most intellectually capable people tend to not be so dogmatic, regardless of their birth country/philosophy. Its not a fear.
          3. I expect moderate secularization to largely take hold over by generation three. But on that note, most ISIS sympathizers born in the US, tend to be somewhat socially unconnected, “mis-fits”, without large resources bases.

          I think there’s reason for the nation to be more selective about what immigrants the nation wants. There’s a great deal of inherent unknowns when accepting refugees. But I don’t think you want to make a blanket statement of “Keep the Muslims out”.

          • Tibor says:

            I think the best solution is to let anyone come in, give them zero welfare. That can be achieved either by eliminating state welfare altogether or by limiting it to people who have lived in the country for X years and had an income. This is actually the current Czech law (the latter, EDIT: Except that you still need to get a Schengen visa, so it is not “let anyone come in”) but it does not include people designated as refugees.

            There one would have to make clear rules granting a very limited refuge in specific and well-researched cases, maximum absolute number of refugees for a limited amount of time, giving them shelter and means of survival and some basic medicare but nothing else. Also, it would be necessary to make sure people in the third world know that those are the conditions and that they cannot hope for anything better if they come as refugees. A lot of the current problems in Germany are caused by the government doing the exact opposite, there was even an advert by the government with a smiling lady in an empty immigration office and a guy who comes there, gets promptly processed and everything is fine. People have smartphones in Africa today, they see this and then they see the photos from their friends who already went to Europe who pose in front of a BMW and tell them that it is their car because their are too ashamed to tell them that not all is paved in gold and that they did not get their own house upon arrival. Then you constantly hear these “refugees” complaining about living in a peaceful country in clean houses with electricity, running hot water, food prepared for them every day and free language courses…”I expected Europe to be better” is what they often say. But the fault of the government which does not clearly send out the message that nothing better can be expected (and that it takes people who clearly are not war refugees because war refugees do not complain about such things).

            I don’t think there is a problem with immigration per se and I think it is a big mistake that most people nowadays (both the proponents and opponents) put immigration and asylum together. Welfare immigration has a simple solution which I mentioned above. Asylum is more complicated. Of course, a simple solution is to say “our country does not provide asylum to anyone, if you want to come, do it as everyone else”. Most people would not like that solution though, so it is necessary to talk about what the asylum right should entail exactly and how many people in total can be granted an asylum in the country (and also financially supporting refugee camps in countries closer to the one(s) refugees come from should be considered as an alternative). And most importantly, this should be treated separately from immigration, because if anyone wants to actually immigrate to a country, he should do it under the same rules as anyone else. And of course, there is always space for private charity helping whomever.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            …limiting it to people who have lived in the country for X years and had an income.

            This is not possible in America unless Federal law is changed, and depending on what limits you try to impose it may not be possible without amending the Constitution, which means that it is for all intents and purposes impossible.

            Not that it’s not a rational suggestion and possibly of great use elsewhere, but it is one we could not implement here.

            …war refugees do not complain about such things.

            [Citation needed.]

          • Tibor says:

            Marc:
            Well, I don’t know US laws very well, but would it be unconstitutional to grant welfare to US citizens only and only grant citizenship after X years of living in the country self-sustained?

            War refugees – it is natural that when you have to leave your country you want to go somewhere where the conditions are the best. But when someone is disappointed by these conditions it suggests that he would have rather stayed at home had he known how things really were and I cannot imagine someone preferring a warzone over a place like I described.

            By the way what do you (all of you) think about this?

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IcoHMACke0

            It is a German satire programme, this time about the Syrian war an stuff. I think it is only moderately funny but actually quite spot on.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Tibor:

            The answer to both your initial questions is “No.” However, that change would need to be made at the Federal level. States can’t do it. Also, our birthright citizenship provision makes it possible to get around at least part of the block.

            WRT war refugees: I agree in principle, but I have read many anecdotal accounts of Syrian refugees complaining about conditions they find. “Go back to Syria, if you don’t like it here” is viewed as not a very rational thing to say to them. Not to mention racist.

          • NN says:

            war refugees do not complain about such things

            I actually was a refugee (from a natural disaster instead of a war, but I think it was close enough) for 5 months when I was a teenager, staying first in an actual refugee camp for 3 days, then at a relative’s house in another state for the rest of the time. During that time, I heard a number of similar complaints from family members and other refugees. It turns out that people have wants and needs beyond just those necessary for their basic survival, and this doesn’t change if they are forced to flee their homes.

          • Tibor says:

            @Marc: How is “Go back home if you don’t like it here” racist? If someone offers something for free (housing, food, medicare, even education and an amount of pocket money which is on par with the average wage of some Balkan countries…which is also why about 40% of the asylum seekers in Germany come from the Balkans) and I complain, how is it racist to tell me to go back if I don’t like it?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Tibor:

            Rejecting or even criticizing someone of a protected class, even if done for non-discriminatory reasons, is seen as inherently evil by a certain mindset.

          • The Anonymouse says:

            If someone offers something for free [ . . . ] and I complain, how is it racist to tell me to go back if I don’t like it?

            Because “you’re a racist” is the content-free all-purpose insult du jour.1

            Which, of course, does a disservice to both sides, because one is needlessly slurred and the other devalues a term that has legitimate use labeling actual racists.

            1 As far as immanentizing that eschaton, refer back to the discussion of the Oberlin “cafeteria food is racist!” goat rodeo.

          • Tibor says:

            @Marc: And capitalism is considered as inherently evil by people of a certain mindset. I am not sure how relevant it is to the discussion. What I said is that I doubt that someone is an actual war refugee if he complains about pretty nice conditions he is given in Germany, says that he “imagined Europe otherwise” and suggest that if we send a clear message to the countries of origin that this is the best they can hope for in Europe (or rather in Germany…and it is also not clear for how long) that would significantly reduce the influx of asylum seekers, reducing the problem by a lot (not entirely though, the Albanians know exactly what they get and that they don’t even have a chance to be granted asylum but they still get the benefits while their request is being processed and that is way better than being unemployed in Albania from which it is actually quite easy to travel to Germany).

            Thinking about it a bit, I guess one could imagine someone fleeing the war in Syria to a refugee camp in Lebanon, being dissatisfied with the conditions there and scraping up money for the smugglers (and risking life) to get to Germany which, as far as he is informed, is paved by gold and everyone gets a car and a house for free only to realize when he comes that while the conditions indeed are better than in Lebanon, it is just a nicer version of the refugee camp over there, so not really something worth the money and the dangerous trip. I also don’t really blame such a guy or even someone who only comes for benefits and is at no particular danger at home, it is the fault of European governments, German in particular and especially that of Angela Merkel. But it is an insane policy from any possible angle, making basically everyone worse off (except for the Albanians and other people from the Balkans, I guess). What I am saying is that unless there will be a political will to clearly state what asylum entails and what are the boundaries of it, these sorts of problems will only get worse. I am not really afraid of “islamisation of Europe” in any meaningful sense (although ghettos and “no-go” zones are a real problem). But I am quite afraid that this might eventually lead to strict restrictions to the free movement of labour and immigration in general in Europe, just because people are unwilling or unable to differentiate between immigration and asylum. What is frustrating is that almost nobody makes that distinction and while they don’t it is impossible to reach a meaningful consensus.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Tibor:

            I don’t think we have any significant disagreement on the points you raise. I was not referring to what *I* believe, only what I have observed in others. You’re right, they’re not being very rational. At least, not in my opinion.

          • anonymous says:

            Bringing it up looks like some combination of concern trolling and deploying a weak man.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @anonymous:

            If you are referring to my mentioning accusations of racism, it was a response to Tibor’s implication that he didn’t understand why people wouldn’t tell war refugees not to be ungrateful. If you think I’m weak-manning, then you do. I respectfully disagree. I have heard people, unironically, say that pretty much any criticism of the Syrian refugees could only be motivated by xenophobia/racism/etc. Maybe they were weakpersons, but I am not representing their statements weakly.

          • Tibor says:

            @Marc: Oh, ok. Now, I can follow the whole thing 🙂 My bad.

        • NN says:

          So you’re suggesting that ISIS managed to sneak hundreds of agents into Germany, and all these agents could think to do on New Year’s Eve, when every major city in the country was full of vulnerable crowds, was to screw around in a train station, shooting fireworks at people and assaulting random women? Even if none of them could acquire guns or bombs in time, that many people could have easily inflicted massive carnage using knives. Seriously, stop and think about how ridiculous this idea is.

          As for 2 and 3, as a general rule, terrorists don’t think that far ahead. This is without bringing up the fact that groups like Al-Qaeda and especially ISIS hate political Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, or the fact that ISIS has gone to great lengths to attempt to prevent Muslims from fleeing its territory.

          Finally, do you have any actual evidence that the people involved in the events at the Cologne train station are, in fact, Muslim (you may have noticed that an awful lot of Christians have been fleeing Iraq and Syria lately), or if they are that their religious identification had anything to do with this? The reports we’ve seen so far certainly don’t mention these men ever mentioning religion.

          This event certainly raises concerns about managing incoming refugees, but suggesting that it was the planned result of the schemes of “violent radical Islamists” is a Protocol of the Elders of Ziyon level conspiracy theory.

          • Cop Party says:

            I didn’t say that #1 is what happened in the train station in Germany. I was posing that scenario more generally. It seems plausible to me. Also, if you’re a young Islamic guy with an illegal machine gun, you might not have the nerve to go to a REALLY crowded place like a stadium or Times Square on NYE, but you still want to take out a few kafirs so you can get your 72 virgins or whatever, so a train station with a few unsuspecting travelers might be perfect.

            I think some terrorists don’t think ahead, while others do. 9/11 took a lot of thinking ahead to pull off, for example. ISIS’s organization took some planning too.

            Protocols of Zion is flawed because it’s looking at a set of facts (Jews tend to rise to the top of political, financial, and media fields) but then completely inventing an underlying explanation despite an obvious one being right there (high Jewish average IQ and a cultural taste for intellectualism and critical thinking).

            What I’m positing here about Islamists is based on a pattern that’s already been documented, and statements that have already been made (ISIS has claimed credit for many recent terrorist acts in the West, for example). Note that my confidence in any of this stuff being true STILL isn’t a full 1, I only say that I think it’s more likely true than not (0.55-0.85). That’s actually pretty moderate, considering some of the stuff that’s been going on in recent years.

          • NN says:

            Oh, I agree that ISIS has been and still is attempting to smuggle agents into the West to commit terrorist attacks (though through what means they are attempting to do so is still an open question). I just don’t see how an incident involving a bunch of hooligans running amok in a train station is at all related to that issue.

            And #2 and #3 are still paranoid nonsense that is completely ridiculous in light of what violent radical Islamists are actually like. For example, ISIS would never work to “build up Muslim movements to take over Western governments,” because ISIS believes that running for office in a democracy is an act of apostasy, and thus a beheading worthy offense. They also consider voting a sin, though I don’t think they consider it worthy of excommunication. This position has already made it impossible for ISIS to ally with a number of less extreme Islamist Syrian rebel groups, so it demonstrably is not something that they are willing to compromise for reasons of pragmatism.

            Which isn’t to say that European governments aren’t having all sorts of issues with integrating large immigrant populations. Those issues just aren’t the intentional result of any sort of planned conspiracy by anyone.

          • Cop Party says:

            OK, so how certain are you–on that same scale from 0 to 1–that your assertion

            Those issues just aren’t the intentional result of any sort of planned conspiracy by anyone.

            isn’t wishful thinking?

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @Cop Party,

            The same objection about wishful thinking applies to literally everything anyone might believe ever (i.e. it is pointless except in cases where someone is really likely to be thinking wishfully, which this isn’t). How likely, on a scale from 0 to 1, is it that your belief that ISIS weren’t deliberately created by the US government is wishful thinking?

    • Vladimir Slepnev says:

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s a religious war exactly. It’s more of a war between “honor” cultures that say it’s proper to kill for an insult, and “gentle” cultures that say it’s better to ignore insults or go to court. Thankfully, right now “gentle” cultures have a tech advantage. Unfortunately, many people in “gentle” cultures are easily seduced by “honor” ideas. Both the left and right wing have factions that support “honor” and factions that oppose it. My vote is always against “honor” cultures, because I’ve seen them up close.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Wow, what an interesting and thought-provoking comment. Seriously, this is the level of political comment I see when passing through thestudentroom forum, where a typical political argument runs “Islamic countries aren’t bad – look at how high the average income of Qatar and UAE is!”.

      Do you have any evidence for your assertion that governments are trying to suppress this information? It seems unlikely, considering that it is being reported in the New York Times. Why did you feel the need to archive the Breitbart link, when the original is perfectly accessible (I suspect it wasn’t because you don’t want to support Breitbart through their advertising)?

    • John Schilling says:

      All I see in this overhyped telling, assuming the basic facts are accurate, is a cluster of recent male immigrants from a culture where opportunistically copping a feel is considered acceptable behavior(*) running into a cluster of party girls from a culture where such is so far beyond the pale that women no longer take care to defend against it, and saying “They’ll let us get away with this? I wonder what else we can get away with, before this rare and pleasant opportunity slips away?”. That’s a problem, and it’s a problem that will recur until European governments and cultures take steps to deal with it. But trying to spin it as the spearhead of an Islamic invasion that will bring down Western civilization and replace it with Eurabia, is just absurd. Basically, why should I care?

      (*) And where women consequently take care never to offer the opportunity, thus if one does she “must be a slut”, etc.

      • JBeshir says:

        I think this summary sounds pretty accurate.

        I do think the critique that some stuff is under-discussed is fair; I agree that educating and explaining one version or another of Western European culture to new arrivals who have less good ideas of how to treat women, where to draw the line between loyalty to family and adherence to civic duty, etc, is a useful concern, as is keeping an eye that there aren’t clusters dense enough that incentives to adopt Western European culture fail to penetrate.

        On the other hand it is probably better, in policy terms, to be ignoring it than to be basing policy on dramatic exaggeration of the state of the world; a government that does nothing is better than a government which makes policy on the basis of absurd claims that entire cities have become “no go areas”, and is ruled by panic that unless Something Drastic Is Done Now To Those People Who Aren’t Us, and all moral qualms are set aside, civilisation will end. In case of failure of public debate, defaulting to inaction is relatively safe.

        What I’d like would be for there to be more kind, thoughtful consideration of it all which comes from a place of genuine humanitarian concern for all people, but this stuff barely exists in public. I do think that there’s some of it which is kept quiet to avoid lending force to the stuff above, but gets a sympathetic ear in private, but that’s just based on my own bubble, which seems to not be as bad as a lot of other people say theirs is.

        My suspicion is that it will keep on being dealt with poorly and without public debate, but social incentives will favour a gradual reduction in issues over time and assimilation, simply because having more people in society like you is really useful and humans respond to incentives pretty consistently.

        And if that doesn’t happen then I’d expect that it’d get paid attention to when it actually becomes a noticeable problem for more people, but it’d probably happen by more people switching to the “wild overreaction” position rather than a shift to thoughtfulness, and if mainstream political parties trying to retain wide support don’t keep it tamped down it could get quite ugly. I’d hope to be wrong about that.

        • My Alt says:

          What would you consider a “noticeable problem” then? Apparently Swedish rape rates and British pedophile gangs don’t count, nor the French having to close their nude beaches or German women being attacked en masse in the streets. What would it actually take?

          Besides, if you two are right and the problem is that Muslim immigrants are behaving this way because they feel that they can attack women without consequence then ignoring them is the absolute worst thing that you could do. It proves that they were correct in their estimation and will only further encourage them. The logical response is to have swift sure punishment doled out as soon as such incidents occur, not to wait until it becomes such a severe problem that it can’t be ignored any longer.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            He’s not saying the problems should be ignored.

            He’s saying that, given the alternatives of “do nothing” and “immigrants raus!”, the former is preferable.

            Ideally, things like the British pedophile gangs should be attacked by better, more targeted policing. But as bad as things like that are, the consequences of hysterical overreaction to it will be worse. For one thing, the vast majority of child sexual abuse that gets perpetrated by Muslim men is on Muslim girls, who would have been worse off if they had been excluded and kept in their countries of origin.

            The same goes for “no-go zones”. It’s certainly a terrible phenomenon, but the main victims are Muslims themselves. It’s like “the ghetto” in the U.S.: the existence of it is bad for the black people who live in it, but it has little effect on the white people who just don’t go there. Or in Brazil, it doesn’t bother those living in gated communities to have favelas close by.

            Most of the “they’s after our white wimminz” stories are exaggerated and the product of hysteria. I’m not saying that Muslims never attack white women, and maybe they even attack white women at a higher rate than white men attack white women. (That’s actually probably not true, though: for example, blacks in the U.S. commit crime in general at a higher rate but victimize whites at a lower rate than other whites). But they are not presenting any kind of existential threat to Western civilization or to the white population.

          • JBeshir says:

            A noticeable problem, for the purposes of the above, is one such that people feel individually threatened by it, and so are individually incentivised to eliminate that threat. People are selfish like that.

            I’m not sure exactly what causes that. I’d expect large shifts in overall rates which were well attributed to the cultural problems to do it, and some things short of that to do it. The attack in the streets is probably a couple of orders of magnitude before it’s the kind of “en masse” that people (who aren’t politically inclined to agree with you already) consider “en masse”, and accomplish that.

            I think Rotherham *was* the kind of thing which, if it proved to be as sustained and well spread as some blogs allege, would shift attitudes, and probably did a fair chunk on its own, but the further allegations haven’t been substantiated.

            It was mitigated somewhat by sitting on a background of the Jimmy Savile effect and allegations of coverups of epophilia within political circles; the fact that culture has bad clusters elsewhere too makes for less of an implied difference, and the presence of more general efforts against this stuff (mostly getting rid of the people who think 15 year old are ‘basically mature’ and were inclined to treat it as a minor crime at all levels of decision-making) took focus away.

            I don’t know much about the Swedish rape rate stuff; I would suspect that if it’s a big gap, then either people don’t believe it, or it hasn’t been clearly tied to culture as opposed to poverty, income, etc. I suspect that it’d need to become obvious enough for people to notice, or the case would need to be made in a manner that was persuasive.

            There are lots of things a government can do worse than ignoring a problem, for any problem. Actions by government have effects way beyond what ‘message’ they send/what cause they signal is more important, even if people don’t tend to pay attention to that. I’m not in the “government interventions always go wrong” camp, but I don’t believe they can do no wrong, either.

            Note that this is just for a specific, motivated targeted intervention; naturally regular old law enforcement is there, doing its thing, and even operating according to some internal targeting process. Just a culture blind one. In the street attacks, arrests were made, and consequences demonstrated in immediate fashion, so I don’t know that they were proved correct to think they could get away with it just because we didn’t, I unno, start throwing large numbers of different people out of Europe.

          • Jiro says:

            blacks in the U.S. commit crime in general at a higher rate but victimize whites at a lower rate than other whites

            But blacks also often live in majority black areas. To correctly compute such figures you’d want to compute whether blacks attack whites disproportionately to the ratio of black and white targets available to them, not disproportionately to the ratio of blacks and whites in the whole country.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Jiro:

            Am I incorrect in understanding that Muslims in Europe tend to live in mainly-Muslim areas? I thought that was the whole point of the outrage about “third world communities in our country!”

            I don’t see why the ratio of “targets available to them” is so important. If black criminals prefer white victims but can’t get them, your chances of being attacked as a white person are still less.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            No, no you wouldn’t want to do that. You really wouldn’t.

          • JBeshir says:

            Too late to edit, but I’ve been reading some more about the situation and I retract the part of my earlier post about arrests being made and consequences demonstrated in response to the assaults in Germany, on the basis that the police response was apparently really shoddy.

            That shoddiness seems to have now propelled it into mainstream news (e.g. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35241818) and caused some pretty explicit statements in support of more proactive efforts, a few statements about acknowledging background, and groups agitating for Things To Be Better which aren’t calling ethnicities subhuman as they do it, which gives me some hope that I’m wrong about people mostly shifting to the opposite extreme rather than actually moving to be sensible, although I remain pretty concerned.

          • John Schilling says:

            Apparently Swedish rape rates and British pedophile gangs don’t count

            I’m not aware of any relevant British pedophile gangs; if you mean the Rotherham bunch, those weren’t pedophiles. And they were a problem of a different scale and arguably different kind, making them much more threatening. The immigrant community in Rotherham went beyond ” I wonder what else we can get away with, before this rare and pleasant opportunity slips away?” to “OK, we can get away with anything and they’ll let us keep doing it, as long as we stick to the white-trash(*) schoolgirl demographic”. And then began integrating it into their local fusion culture for the long haul.

            That did have the potential for creating substantial no-go zones, or worse no-escape zones. But, being a noticeable problem, it was noticed, and stopped, and in a way that makes it unlikely that the next Rotherham would go so far without being noticed.

            * “White Trash” would be the American term, not sure about the appropriate Britishism.

          • Urstoff says:

            Chav?

    • Alphaceph says:

      > How soon until we pass the point where even the most strident head-in-the-sand normie liberal is able to deny what’s going on?

      That point will never come, because there’s always another excuse.

      It’s like asking “when will science progress to the point that even the most strident head-in-the-sand creationist will admit that earth is not 6000 years old”

      You can’t reason a person out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.

    • I think global war is an exaggeration, but I despair (as a centre/centre-left person) that the left won’t harden up on this issue, and the right will use it cynically to shove a rightist agenda down our throat. We need to take a harder stance, but the centre can’t seem to muster a sensible surgical approach. 🙁

      • Agronomous says:

        Yes, the greatest threat from foreign groups blowing people up, shooting people domestically, burning people alive, raping them, and enslaving them is that it might help the domestic outgroup gain power.

        It takes a solid centrist such as yourself to perceive this.

        • That isn’t remotely what I said, but I’m sure you’ll win political points for your team by saying so.

          In a domestic policy discussion, the risk that the extreme right, which has a historical death toll of millions, could come to power is significant even in the face of the sort of horrendous crimes you’re talking about. I’m not saying the right are Nazi’s or anything, but if things totally destabilise often the extremists do the best in the chaos. Your group criticises the left for being blind to the threats of the extreme left – don’t undermine that by doing the exact same on your side of politics.

          From:
          http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/01/world/europe/german-village-of-102-braces-for-750-asylum-seekers.html

          “One of the few people, in fact, who seem enthusiastic about the plan for Sumte is Holger Niemann, 32, an admirer of Hitler and the lone neo-Nazi on the elected district council. He rejoices at the opportunities the migrant crisis has offered.

          “It is bad for the people, but politically it is good for me,” Mr. Niemann said of the plan, which would leave the German villagers outnumbered by migrants by more than seven to one.”

          By the way I’m arguing for sensible action on this issue which I’m acknowledging as important, but because I reject a right-wing agenda, you appear to be unwilling to accept my view as reasonable on this topic. How can there be across-the-floor action if that’s the level of cooperation the West achieves?

        • Cord Shirt says:

          I’d say one great threat is for one political side to capture the issue (as has happened with abortion, AGW, and gun rights), leading to it being used only to score political points instead of ever being usefully addressed.

  25. Mark says:

    The hard problem of meritocracy:
    As machinery, technology, and systems of organisation improve, the knowledge and experience of the worker becomes less important as a factor of production. There must be a stage where, if the best people are sufficiently rewarded, competition to *be* the best will use more resources than are gained by having the best people in the job.

    • keranih says:

      Isn’t this just another variation on the problem of detecting errors? (Similar to tests with low predictive values.) At some point, looking for faults is more expensive than just dealing with them when they occur.

      • Mark says:

        I don’t think so… If there are sufficient incentives available for being meritorious, and if merit can be gained through work/study/training, aren’t we always going to be locked into a zero sum competition no matter how good our test is?

    • Max says:

      * DUH* You start improving people! Progress is endless.

    • In a meritocracy, people would be paid closer to their productivity (by my definition of the word). People would improve their ability until the pay increase isn’t enough to cover education/training costs and time. Presumably that would be efficient. How do people getting better hurt others who aren’t getting better?

      Now with some sort of signalling people might end up in a endless toil to *seem* the best without actually becoming better.

      • Mark says:

        If people don’t know who will receive the pay increase ahead of time, they will tend to over-train. We might both train for a position only up to the level at which such training makes sense economically (if we get the job), but if only one of us gets the job, one of us is still over-trained.
        If we discount the amount of training we do based upon our probability of getting the job – and if training improves our ability to do the job – the person who discounts the least actually ends up getting employed. The system rewards irrational confidence and provides incentives for over-training.

        • There isn’t one job. What is more likely if people are overtrained is that one person trains extra hard spending thousands of dollars and then gets paid a hundred dollars more than the person who didn’t train super hard because their productivity didn’t go up by thousands of dollars (net present value).

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      http://braythwayt.com/2013/04/01/quote-metritocracy-unquote.html

      Workers don’t have to be the best. They just have to pass a minimum threshold of competence.

      Cf. “You say you’re an experienced accountant. But did you win the Putnam?”

      • Mark says:

        I don’t think that matters as long as there is competition for “jobs” – the right to perform certain roles – and ability to perform jobs determines who gets them.

        It isn’t at all certain that a random distribution of jobs would be worse, depending upon how much effort was expended in the competition to gain jobs, and how much increased ability led to increased value.

    • Dinwar says:

      The issue with this question seems to be that of scale. “The best” is always contextual–there is no universal best. It appears that there’s already a mechanism for addressing the problem you propose: in areas where automation can reduce the importance of knowledge and experience of the employees, once you get to the point where competition to be the best in those fields uses more resources than are gained by having the best people in the job, the job stops existing. Ideally only the best keep the job, and the rest find work elsewhere. More commonly, those with connections kep the jobs (featherbedding) while those without lost their jobs, with merit playing a poor second fiddle to influence. Think John Henry, or the Erie Canal, or the like. For featherbedding practices, I believe stevedores and railroads provide examples, but my memory may be faulty here.

      This doesn’t reduce the importance of knowledge and experience overall, however, as in every case so far human input has been necessary to build and maintain the things that replace human labor. I can’t speak to AI (not my area), but at least in the past that seems to be what happened. The culture ends up migrating from an emphasis on grunt labor to an emphasis on skilled labor, then to non-labor tasks. You can see that migration in World of Warcraft servers, within the limits of that game.

      Then there are areas where knowledge and experience can’t be automated. It’s hard to automate a geologist. You can automate some of the processes (see the Mars rovers), but in the end someone needs to make evaluations and draw conclusions. Plus, you’ve got to pick where to sample, for which Type 1 logic is the best tool (see the lecture “Straw Vulcan” on YouTube).

    • Against – as the costs approach parity with the rewards, people will become disinterested and go do other stuff or find non-knowledge ways to make a crust, or just be unemployed. Competition will not be universal because costs are different for people with different learning abilities (already most people can not become brain surgeons for this reason). Also, new job opportunities created by technology etc might not neccessarily always require knowledge as the only human input. Judgement, morals, charisma (eww) might become more important factors. Also, pay for jobs should theoretically go up allowing for higher learning costs.

      For – “Knowledge economy”. IT jobs require a LOT more ongoing training/research than blacksmithing – is the curve getting too steep? At some point AI systems are going to get better at least some knowledge-processing tasks (already are in some cases).

      IDK. Seems like there is more factors to consider than that, but its not totally wrong either?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Citizenseaearth:
        I don’t know about IT jobs vs. blacksmithing.

        As a computer programmer, once you have mastered the fundamentals, everything else is application plus a little Google.

        I’m not necessarily challenging your statement, so much as providing a different view on it. In the days where blacksmithing was “every day” and not a form of art, I think blacksmiths were really limited by what they had been taught. If they had Google and YouTube, maybe this would have changed, but I’m not sure we can say that with confidence. Shoeing a horse is still a skill with little penetration. Almost no one who rides shoes their own horses.

        • Fair point. To counter-balance I think programmers are constantly having to learn new libraries, languages etc., but I think you are right to suggest external tools ease upskilling a lot.

  26. ulucs says:

    A question that stuck in my head after reading Scott’s review of Red Plenty:

    Assume you are running a communist country. In a situation where each agent (or citizen) is trying to maximize their personal gain, how would you run the job distribution process in order to maximize total utility?

    In a scenario with free national goods and paid exported good for citizens, my first idea was to divide the means of production to parts where each parts can be likened to today’s monopolistic companies. We could then allow free association for citizens, which would (optimistically) end up in each person doing the best job for themselves. After that, distribute the company’s profits with a suitable weight function and we’re done. The money they earn are to be used for import products, as all of the national goods are free of charge.

    Some things I don’t like about my idea: we still have companies (which doesn’t feel very communist), there is no process of decision for potential workplace conflicts, and we rely on the dreaded invisible hand.

    • Marc Whipple says:

      Those aren’t called “companies,” they’re called “communes” or “soviets.”

      And – I don’t say this to be rude, but simply direct – your answer to “how do you maximize total utility in a communist country” seems to be “make it as un-communist as you can get away with.”

      To your credit, this is exactly the answer arrived at by every successful communist country.

      • ulucs says:

        I do not know much world history, so I’d really appreciate if you posted the countries. I’d love to read about them.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          He is probably referring to China (as well as Vietnam) who have essentially dumped communism.

          • Yugoslavia was probably the first example of the pattern. They didn’t go all the way to reinventing capitalism under the banner of socialism, but they made a good start.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            China is of course the best and largest example, but Vietnam is another good one. Basically, any country that started out in the Warsaw Pact/Soviet Bloc and retained “Communism” whilst dumping the actual mechanisms of communism has improved the quality of life for its citizens, and in more or less direct relation to how much it dumped.

          • Tibor says:

            These were also the kind of measures that were proposed in the 60s in Czechoslovakia and shortly implemented in 1968 before the Russian tanks came to reclaim their satellite and the so called “normalization” begun. Basically, those measures consisted of mimicking capitalism with companies using internal prices for which they would buy and sell to each other based on demand and supply and other mechanisms that would have improved the functionality of the system. However, they were deemed reactionary during the normalization and everything went back to the Soviet model introduced 20 years before…with a minor exception of a few “experimental” companies which (surprise surprise) prospered much more than the rest of the economy.

        • Anthony says:

          East Germany
          Czechoslovakia
          Hungary
          Poland
          Yugoslavia
          Romania
          Bulgaria
          Albania
          Latvia
          Lithuania
          Estonia
          Mongolia
          China
          Vietnam

          Of course, in many of the above cases, ” as un-communist as you can get away with” was “more capitalist than West Germany”.

          I leave off Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus for having botched the job.
          I leave off North Korea and Cuba for having not tried.
          I leave off Laos and Cambodia because I don’t really know.

          • Tibor says:

            Huh? East Germany more capitalist than West Germany? Or what cases did you have in mind exactly? Also, I am not sure how Mongolia was a success, even if I set the low bar of “being relatively well-off compared to other communist countries”. Also note that not all communist countries started at the same level. Czechoslovakia and East Germany were much more developed when they started being communist (although German infrastructure was pretty much destroyed by the war) than all of the other countries you mention. The fact that they continued being more developed than the rest of the Eastern Bloc was due to their past high development not due to better policies. Yugoslavia probably had the best economic policies as far as communist countries went and also the most capitalist ones…which was possible only because they were not a Russian puppet state, unlike all other European communist countries during most of their communist history (Poland in the 1980s is the only other exception I guess). In that light, it makes very little sense to say that Russians botched the communism whereas Germans or Poles did not – both were, for the most part just Russian satellites and while the policies were not exactly the same and non-soviet communist countries in Europe were usually a bit freer than the USSR, all the important things were the same and when a country diverted too much from the soviet model, they were stopped (the only exceptions were the relatively hard to reach by land Yugoslavia and too big to fight China which then had its own sphere of influence).

            Generally, when judging different government systems and policies between countries, it is important to compare the difference between the state of things before the policy and after it, not the absolute wealth which is a result of at least several decades of history.

          • Anthony says:

            Tibor – my reply was for ulucs’ question to list those countries which were communist, and which have become more economically successful by “mak[ing] it as un-communist as you can get away with.”

            East Germany is, of course, not noticeably more capitalist than West Germany, but others on that list are. Mongolia isn’t terribly successful, but it’s doing better now than under communism. Etc.

            How (economically) successful each country was under communism isn’t the point, it’s how much more successful they are after having transitioned away from communism.

          • Tibor says:

            Anthony: I think that the “as un-communist as you can get away with” means as un-communist while still staying within what can meaningfully be called communist. Otherwise the “as you can get away with” is redundant.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Tibor:

            Very close. I would only change “meaningfully be called” to “be rationalized as.” In China, they have a wonderful phrase: “Socialism with Chinese characteristics.” That’s the sort of fig leaf they have to maintain. Anything short of it, the less communism the better off everybody is.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I believe that the official historical solution is, “indoctrinate agents so that they value the common good far above their own”. The unofficial Less Wrong solution is, “create a godlike AI that will solve all of our problems by Deus Ex Machina“.

    • If there’s a shortage, how do you know where to distribute the scarce goods? How do you plan production and avoid a glut in a production chain with hundreds of pieces? How do you prevent selfish parties from taking more goods than they need? Why would anyone choose a job with unpleasant work even if there is a large need for what it supplies? In market economies you elegantly do all this with a price mechanism. Of course, there’s some serious perverse outcomes to contend with, such as negative externalities and monopolistic tendancies, but if you deal with them with sensible, cautious government action and a mixed economy, you can at least start to get the best of both worlds.

      You can rely more on good behaviour at a community level, so if you’re really set on equality of outcome (why not go for a compassionate meritocracy instead), I guess you can always go for a left-wing cooperative (which seem to perform reasonably in and contribute effectively to a market economy). On the other hand, most sensible modern left wing positions don’t rely on a centrally planned economy – as others have pointed out even places like China appear to have partly abandoned that path.

  27. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Is anyone interested in discussing the utility of and issues surrounding classical/”great books” education? That is, the all-required curriculum of Greco-Roman Classics, logic, math, science, etc. that was replaced by the course catalog model in the early 20th century. As I said to David Friedman in the previous thread just before this one opened:

    While I am generally in favor of “great books” education, the specialized curriculum for MDs is already so long and challenging. I’ve read Wealth of Nations and Origin of Species and found the logical arguments persuasive, but when I need to see a doctor I only care about his ability to apply logic and evidence to making me well. If he’s a creationist who thinks international trade just steals surplus value from the poorer country’s laborers, oh well.

    • Marc Whipple says:

      Actually I see both of those as potential general tests – people who fail may be either a) stupid or b) good at deluding themselves. While only the former directly impacts how likely they are to do a good job doctoring, the latter is still indirectly probative.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The thing is, I don’t think being a creationist or naive socialist is a medical doctor’s or engineer’s fault if they were never required to study Adam Smith or Darwin, which is what happens in the modern university model. Only biology majors have to study Darwin, and often not in a way where you have to evaluate the logic and evidence in Origin of Species. The fault is with the institution for replacing the all-required liberal arts courses.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      In America, MDs pursue an ordinary, aimless BA before medical school. If you want to change the BA, it makes just as much sense to apply it to them as to anyone else. Whether MDs should get a BA, as in America, or not, as everywhere else, is a separate question from what a BA should be. Similarly, the question of whether BA students should have a bunch of general requirements (in America) or specialize (elsewhere) is separate from the question of what should constitute the common requirements.

      American MDs are required to devote about a year’s worth of their electives or gen ed courses to a pre-med curriculum. It’s not a great books curriculum, but it’s probably in the direction of what someone who wants to standardize science requirements would choose.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Thank you, those are the issues I’d like to disentangle.

        Does anyone on SSC actually support the modern “Chinese menu” general education requirements? If not, do you believe undergrads should be pure specialists, or should everyone study the Western canon in addition to their specialization?
        What are the trade-offs for highly educated professions of high social utility like MDs? Do we need them to merely be experts at applying logic and evidence to their important work, or gentle(wo)men who are well-educated in general?

        • brad says:

          I’d strongly prefer the British model, where a broad education is expected to be provided in secondary education and tertiary education is for specialization. You probably couldn’t shave four years off a ready to practice schedule, as some of the undergraduate courses are foundational, but should at least be able to cut 2-2.5 years off.

          Some medical specialties don’t allow people to become fully independent professionals until their mid-thirties. I think something is lost to the profession when there are no genuinely young bloods trying to shake things up. Not to mention the enormous opportunity costs to the people themselves, and the increase in prices to patients from artificial barriers to entry.

          If doctors want to be broadly educated beyond the high school level, which to be clear I think should be somewhat different–at least at the high end, that ought to be a choice they peruse as a personal interest.

          While the length of time argument isn’t as strong, I think bachelor of laws (i.e. an undergraduate degree) should return as the legal degree.

          • We have a similar system for the most part here in Australia, but in my experience (myself as central example) as a high schooler we’re generally too lame-brained to really absorb some of the important lessons that the classical or civic style education can provide. Though this is decreasingly the case, in teritiary there is at least some sense of seriousness and actual interest in the topics of study, so it seems like there is more hope of some of the important civic stuff actually sticking.

        • John Schilling says:

          I work in engineering, not medicine, but I definitely don’t want to see my new coworkers becoming very narrowly trained technical specialists. If nothing else, I have to read the stuff they write, and four years of Nothing But Stem and One Technical Writing Class, doesn’t cut it. The good news is, we get plenty of people who do have a good general education beneath the STEM-specific skills, so the universities must be doing something right and so I suppose I generally agree with what you call the “Chinese Menu” approach.

          Ideally, though, I’d like the basics of the Revised Western Canon to be something most people test out of if they’ve had a first-rate high school education or take a few remedial classes in if needed. I appreciate the value of having a wide variety of follow-on general-education courses available instead of just More Western Canon, but I think there should be a bit more rigor and more constraints than the current too-easily-gameable standard. And I’d like a better balance of fairly rigorous intro-level liberal arts/humanities, fine arts, and STEM classes in the “Chinese Menu”.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          As a UK citizen, I prefer our model of high specialisation (~10 subjects 14-16, ~4 subjects 16-18, 1 (or rarely 2) subjects at university) in general to what I perceive as the current America method.

          Although I think I would have enjoyed and done well with a broader method, I know many people who certainly wouldn’t have. It seems pointless to make someone who is good at maths or chemistry study English if they hate it. As a STEM student, I can always read great books in my own time and get about as much out of them as I would have done in studying them. The opposite isn’t true, but I don’t think there are too many English students who would enjoy studying maths for its own sake. I think I would also have been incredibly bored by the maths in a broader curriculum, if the content was dumbed down enough so everyone could do it.

          I do think English in secondary school should be inclined more towards great books, or even just good ones. Mandatory study of the KJV, 3 or so Shakespeare plays etc. gives the understanding needed to appreciate other literature.

          I also think that the American method of forcing medics to do another degree before they can study medicine is stupid.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          This British model sounds like it’s on to something. How much study of the Western canon do you think could be pushed down to the secondary level?

          The Bible (Authorized Version for the Anglosphere), Homer, Virgil, Ovid, the Greek dramatists, Shakespeare, Faust, Dante, Don Quixote… (this seems the easy part)
          Western history: Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon & Arrian (or Diodorus Siculus?), Livy (or Polybius?), Appian, Tacitus, Gibbon…
          Logic?
          Philosophy primary sources?
          As far as science, I can see a lot of value in having to read Darwin (at least Origin) for yourself, as well as Aristotelian physics and the major scientists in the whole heliocentrism controversy that led to modern physics. We have too many creationists and Neil DeGrasse Tysons out there, perhaps because science education doesn’t involve following the logical arguments of great scientists.

          • brad says:

            In large part it depends on whether or not you want the works to be read in the original. If translations are okay, you can put a dozen classics into the high school curriculum, at least at the advanced track, without *too* much trouble. It’ll still require some serious trade-offs but it can be done without gutting entire existing subjects.

            If the proposal is to go back to every well educated person being expect to be able to at a minimum read and write in Latin and Ancient Greek that’s going to take an enormous amount of rearranging and dropping material. Not to mention the problem of finding sufficient numbers of instructors.

        • John Beshir says:

          As a graduate of the British system, I quite strongly believe that “add more years of it” is a poor response to “general education isn’t working well enough”.

          It doesn’t seem to result in people who are noticeably more cultured or better at dealing with life in meaningful ways, it’s obscenely expensive in human life and money, and it relies on more or less forcing people into it, because few would voluntarily opt to pay the extra money and extra year of their life for it. I don’t think much of the breadth of character in your co-workers comes from them having been forced to take more English literature lessons.

          Moving compulsory education to end at 18 (rather than 16) has been proposed in the UK, but mostly it seems to be that people like to imagine in their head that the new classes will be nothing like the existing classes, the new ones will be perfect shining examples of practical and detailed and advanced knowledge delivered at a brisk pace now the earlier base is there. And, well, we know that isn’t what happens from running education to 18.

          When you’re getting up to university, you also have all the concerns which come from deliberately pushing “common cultural touchstone education” or “common life skills” into the metaphorical tulips; it makes it harder yet for people to avoid buying them, and it emphasises an already existing cultural divide, even if you weaken degrees and subsidise to the point 90% of people are getting them.

        • Held in Escrow says:

          I think having to take a wide range of subjects is great, to get people a decent founding in a variety of topics so they don’t get hoodwinked as easily. Sadly even when you have to take a math, science, and English course they’re all math, science, and English for mouth breathers so the effect is lost.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          I’m really not too big a fan of this “Western canon” / “Great Books” stuff.

          Not because I’m a postmodernist who is Concerned that these are all written by Straight White Men. That’s just a stupid objection.

          No, the main problem is that students are not sufficiently exposed to the connections among ideas and the historical progression of ideas. The history of ideas is a dialectic, if you understand that term in a non-Hegelian way, simply to mean that it’s a conversation. Just getting a grab bag of random works by Aristotle, Plato, Shakespeare, Bacon, and whoever else to study in depth is not very useful in this regard.

          For one thing, it is completely unnecessary and mostly counterproductive for a student at the middle school, high school, and even lowerclassman college level to study primary sources. The person who had a great idea first is almost never the person who said it best. Moreover, you don’t see the arguments against their position and the counterarguments and refinements, etc. because they didn’t exist at the time of writing.

          Primary sources, especially in philosophy, are also very difficult to understand—and not in a good way. Aristotle is the greatest example. It’s not really his fault (all the works he wrote for a popular audience have been lost), but his writing is terrible and nigh-incomprehensible in parts. One theory is that what we have are the equivalent of lecture notes: highly compressed and possibly not even written by the man himself. People study certain passages in Aristotle all their lives and can’t agree on what they mean (cf. “active intellect”).

          It’s also (effectively) impossible both to read a large enough number of primary sources to get a full picture of an author’s thoughts, and also study a large enough number of authors to get a full sense of the progression of a field. It really can’t be done in most fields, and even if it could be done, it won’t be done.

          Primary sources are certainly appropriate if a student develops a particular interest in a certain author, but the main thing is to have an idea of who said what and why. For example, take philosophy. The start of it was: how do we explain a) change and b) multiplicity? Thales said everything is water because (modern scholars presume) water was the substance which seemed to be able to take on the most forms yet remain the same thing. Heraclitus said the “world-stuff” was change itself: everything changes in every respect, so nothing can said to be anything in particular. Parmenides attacked this as contradictory and formulated the first version of the law of identity: what is, is and what is not, is not; he held change to be impossible and an illusion. Plato’s theory of forms was intended to accommodate both by giving one unchanging world of forms to Parmenides to explain identity and one world of flux to Heraclitus to explain change. And Aristotle refined Plato’s theory and unified reality by moving the forms into objects.

          You will not learn any of this (or anything useful, really) if you just read The Republic or something without context. Woo, myth of the cave! Okay, class, let’s move on to some other random book.

          With literature, the “Western canon” has even less to recommend it. I’m not denying that Shakespeare’s plays and Victor Hugo’s novels are worth reading. But then so are the Chinese classics, the Indian classics, the Arab classics, the Russian classics, and so on. And honestly, it sucks reading books you don’t want to read. You’ll get much more out of Harry Potter or Foundation than out of the Bible if you don’t want to read the Bible and just go through it mechanically. Literature is primarily a form of entertainment, and when it presents necessary ideas, they can be conveyed much more clearly and briefly in prose.

          As for the alleged benefits of being able to understand allusions, you just pick those up naturally by reading anything of substance. At best, students might benefit from a “greatest hits” of quotes and short passages from the Bible, Shakespeare, etc. all with proper context. And if that encourages them to read more deeply, great.

          Overall, I think students can learn much more from good secondary sources that condense and link together all the important ideas and thinkers in fields like philosophy, economics, psychology, historiography, and so on. It’s not a bad idea for every field to be taught as “history of”.

          More on what students should learn specifically, shortly.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I think the subjects that ought to be taught in school, at least until the time students specialize toward technical knowledge related toward their careers are:

            a) Philosophy
            b) Economics
            c) Psychology
            d) History
            e) Natural Science

            Philosophy is the most important subject. But it is usually not taught at all except maybe in college for one or two courses (and even then only required at a few schools). Philosophy includes: a) metaphysics: what is the nature of reality?, b) epistemology: how does one obtain knowledge?, c) ethics: what should one do?, d) politics: how ought society be organized?

            Every single one of these subfields is essential to one’s functioning in the world, and in society as a responsible citizen. But most people don’t think about it and just absorb a philosophy by cultural osmosis. Or, at best, get a very rudimentary philosophy from sermons in church.

            If you don’t have a grasp of epistemology, for instance, (which can be gotten implicitly through studying other things), you cannot know anything. You can have opinions, but you won’t know if they are justified. Therefore, it is crucial in regard to actually learning anything else. Yudkowsky’s Sequences (though they could certainly be refined and narrowed down) are a good example of applied epistemology.

            And it’s hardly necessary even to mention the importance to every person of understanding the basic nature of the world and his role in it.

            Economics is almost as important. You cannot understand modern, division-of-labor, capitalist society without understanding economics. Therefore, you cannot understand your place in society without understanding economics. I think it’s one reason why many people feel “alienated” in their work. And its importance to one’s role as a citizen is obvious.

            Psychology is the science of understanding your mind and your self. It is also therefore essential to functioning well and overcoming obstacles in life. As much as I sympathize with Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Nathaniel Branden (who, of course, also was an Objectivist despite his split with her) argues persuasively that ignorance of psychology caused major problems for her and her followers. For instance, the belief that emotions will magically and automatically fall in line with one’s values—leading to repression of them when this does not happen.

            History is essential not only because it explains how and why our civilization arose from its ancestors (file under: understand your place in the world), but it also shows comprehensively the effects of bad ideas and bad policies in the world. For instance, if you have no idea about the religious wars of Europe, you will not understand why freedom of conscience is so important. If you do not have any idea about the horrors of Communism, you will not understand the importance of economic freedom.

            Natural science (physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, geology) is also essential to understanding the world and one’s place in it. Just as importantly, it serves as the best illustration of how the progress and increase of knowledge is possible.

            Ideally, in every subject, students should understand how the field progressed from the first rudimentary ideas to the current state. Where there is less controversy, they ought to be led right up from first principles to the correct theory.

            In a field like philosophy, this will not work in any uniform way. But I think the best way is nevertheless to present each thinker as a response to the previous ones, to tightly connect their ideas as an ongoing debate, and even to present a certain viewpoint as true (provided the others aren’t distorted) in order to critique each one in a more focused way and to make sure the students have the impression that at least someone has a coherent take on philosophy as a whole. I think it’s better for an author to be open about his prejudices than to bias things surreptitiously. Despite my disagreements with him on many issues, I think Leonard Peikoff’s History of Philosophy lectures are a fantastic example of a good philosophy course.

          • blacktrance says:

            I second almost everything in the higher-level comment, but I have one minor quibble: while rigorous (and even informal) arguments are better presented in non-fiction (I assume that’s what you meant by “prose”), there are certain points that are easier to make in literature, particularly when it comes to virtue ethics. It is one thing to list virtues and describe their applications, but their meaning, application, and consequences of not applying them are often easier to depict in a didactic yet quasi-realistic story. For example, it’s clearer what having the Objectivist virtues of “rationality, integrity, honesty, justice, independence, productiveness, and pride”[1] entails after having read the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged than from just reading that list and some short descriptions, because one often projects one’s own understanding and impressions onto them and thus may not really grok what’s being pointed at.

            [1]SEP

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Subjects that I don’t think are as valuable:

            a) Mathematics

            Yes, students need to learn arithmetic, and that does involve brute memorization for things like the multiplication table. But honestly, I don’t think most people really need or get anything actually useful out of even algebra and geometry beyond “can you basically understand what a graph is conveying?”

            You need mathematics to do natural science or economics. But you do not actually need it to learn them. Almost no one learns enough mathematics to be able to follow the equations in a technical economics paper, anyway. And if the writer is good, he will explain in plain English what the calculations symbolize. What the man on the street needs to know is whether what he hears someone say is totally contrary to economic principle or not. If it really is an issue of fine-grained quantities, leave it to the experts.

            We like to talk about “learning by doing”, but you just can’t “do” real science in school. You need to “learn by learning” first. And you just plain don’t need to know any math whatsoever to understand the progression of ideas in physics, chemistry, or anything like that. You can accept on rationally-grounded authority that calculus is not a massive fraud and still get the basic picture of how and why Newton forumulated the laws of motion as he did.

            The really valuable part of mathematics—knowing how to prove things logically and tell the difference between a valid and invalid argument—can be taught in philosophy.

            Of course, mathematics shouldn’t be discouraged, but it should be an elective class.

            NB: I did take calculus through the equivalent of the basic undergraduate core-requirement level (and got a “5” on the AP Calculus AB exam). I did not really like it, and I have never once used it for anything, including reading scientific papers, because if they have calculus it’s far more advanced or else just superfluous.

            b) Literature

            Literature is a very valuable thing (it can be very inspirational and can shape one’s worldview), but I don’t think “literature classes” accomplish much at all of any value to students. Just make students read some books on their own and offer it as an elective.

            “Critical reading” skills are important, but that should be built into every other subject. Literature isn’t even a good way to develop this, anyway.

            c) Foreign Language

            Completely useless if it is not taught by serious, intensive immersion. You just don’t learn a foreign language at all in the average school or college foreign language class.

            And in America, it doesn’t really benefit you to learn a foreign language. You get to appear slightly more cultured. That’s it. If it’s that important, you could just lie about it and no one will call you on it if you pick a language besides Spanish or French.

            I studied Latin, and I did like it, and it did probably give me a little better grasp of grammar and an expanded vocabulary. But I have never read anything on my own in Latin, and I don’t think I am missing out. If I tried to read anything of value in Latin, I would be more likely to misunderstand it than to have a better understanding than what the translator provides.

            I also studied Russian, and while I did also enjoy that, it is useless. I listen to some Russian music, and it is nice to be able to understand it, but I liked it beforehand too.

            d) “Writing”

            This should be taught in connection to every other subject. Writing clearly is mainly a function of understanding clearly. Matters of style can be addressed pretty easily and are picked up naturally through lots of writing.

            As an aside, I personally really like improving my penmanship, but it is obviously totally useless.

            e) “Art” and “Music”

            I actually do think learning how to draw and paint, etc. is valuable for many people. But it should be totally elective, and more importantly students should actually be taught the correct techniques for drawing things. Before they use their “creativity”, they need actually to be taught the fundamentals of perspective, etc. In my experience, this doesn’t really happen.

            The same goes for music. The thing I really wish I had gotten was a better understanding of the basic technical structure of music. Even now, I listen to a song and don’t really have the concepts for understanding how it fits together.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ blacktrance:

            It is one thing to list virtues and describe their applications, but their meaning, application, and consequences of not applying them are often easier to depict in a didactic yet quasi-realistic story. For example, it’s clearer what having the Objectivist virtues of “rationality, integrity, honesty, justice, independence, productiveness, and pride”[1] entails after having read the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged than from just reading that list and some short descriptions, because one often projects one’s own understanding and impressions onto them and thus may not really grok what’s being pointed at.

            This is absolutely true about literature, and I certainly got a lot of value from reading Ayn Rand’s novels. She is right that literature can “concretize” abstract concepts.

            What I guess I was trying to say is that if students are not engaged with the literary work in question, they will not really get this benefit. The characters won’t stick with them, and they are likely even to misunderstand them. Reading literature is such a personal experience that assigning everyone the same book and making them discuss it has little value in my experience.

            Also, since characterization in a novel is so much more complex and detailed than a philosophical theory, there is the potential for the author unintentionally and subconsciously to introduce messages which he himself may not agree with.

            This is what I really like about Nathaniel Branden’s essay I linked above. He shows how, in many respects, Ayn Rand’s novels (despite being great) present contradictory and harmful messages.

            For instance, Ayn Rand explicitly held that emotions and reason ought to be in harmony, and that one should not repress emotions. But if, as he says: “you show someone being heroic by ruthlessly setting feelings aside, and if you show someone being rotten and depraved by, in effect, diving headlong into his feelings and emotions, and if that is one of your dominant methods of characterization, repeated again and again, then it doesn’t matter what you profess, in abstract philosophy, about the relationship of reason and emotion. You have taught people: repress, repress, repress.

            In regard to “encouraging moralizing”:

            Even if what people are doing is wrong, even if errors of morality are involved, even if what people are doing is irrational, you do not lead people to virtue by contempt. You do not make people better by telling them they are despicable. It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work when religion tries it and it doesn’t work when objectivism tries it.

            If someone has done something so horrendous that you want to tell him or her that the action is despicable, go ahead. If you want to tell someone he is a rotten son-of-a-bitch, go ahead. If you want to call someone a scoundrel, go ahead. I don’t deny that there are times when that is a thoroughly appropriate response. What I do deny is that it is an effective strategy for inspiring moral change or improvement.

            In the objectivist frame of reference there is the assumption, made explicit in John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged, and dramatized throughout the novel in any number of ways, that the most natural, reasonable, appropriate response to immoral or wrong behavior is contempt and moral condemnation. Psychologists know that that response tends to increase the probability that that kind of behavior will be repeated. This is an example of what I mean by the difference between a vision of desirable behavior and the development of an appropriate psychological technology that would inspire people to practice it.

            And of course it’s infamous that Ayn Rand explicitly supported the virtue of benevolence, but very rarely showed or emphasized instances of mutual aid and generosity (outside of romantic relationships). As he says:

            There are too many immature, narcissistic individuals whose thinking stops at the point of hearing that they have no obligation to sacrifice themselves to others. True enough, they don’t. Is there nothing else to be said on the subject of help to others? I think there is and I think so precisely on the basis of the objectivist standard of ethics: man’s/woman’s life and well-being.

            […]

            “Have I ever said that charity and help to others is wrong or undesirable?,” Rand might demand. No, she hasn’t; neither has she spoken very much about their value, beyond declaring that they are not the essence of life — and of course they are not the essence of life. They are a part of life, however, and sometimes an important part of life, and it is misleading to allow for people to believe otherwise.

            This paragraph really sums up the pitfalls of induction-from-literature:

            It’s often been observed that the Bible says many contradictory things and so if anyone tries to argue that the Bible holds a particular position, it’s very easy for someone who disagrees to quote conflicting evidence. It’s been said that you can prove almost anything by quoting the Bible. The situation with Ayn Rand is not entirely different. Right now someone could quote passages from The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged that would clearly conflict with and contradict what I am saying about the messages contained in those works. They would not be wrong, given that the works contain contradictory messages. Nathaniel Branden of 1960 could quote lots of passages to dispute at least some of the points I am making here. He did, too. That doesn’t change the fact that if you really study what the story is saying, if you pay attention to what the actions of the characters are saying, and if you pay attention to the characterizations, you will find abundant evidence to support my observation that the work encourages emotional repression and self-disowning.

            This last point is what I meant about expressing ideas more “clearly” in prose. You don’t accidentally say things you don’t mean.

          • I’m not sure how to do this, but I’d very much like to see some method of applying what’s learned in school to the student’s current decisions.

            I’m inclined to think that some fraction of what’s wrong with the world is people spending crucial developmental years in simulationland–not even simulationland, really– it’s more like maybe this will be useful some day, but we’ll not sure how.

          • @Nancy:

            On students applying what they learn … .

            My view of how to learn to program is to have a program you want to write. You look at the manual to figure out how to write it, reading additional bits as needed. It’s not elegant, but it means you actually want to learn what you are studying and get immediate feedback.

            The children of my present marriage were unschooled, largely home unschooled. One of them liked D&D and similar games, so was curious about how to figure out the probability of getting various dice rolls. We discovered that the author and illustrator of How to Lie With Statistics, which both children had read and enjoyed, had also written How to Take a Chance, an introduction to probability theory. We got a copy, and had a fairly young child who, with no compulsion, had learned how to calculate the probability of rolling less than six with two D-6’s.

      • keranih says:

        In America, MDs pursue an ordinary, aimless BA before medical school. If you want to change the BA, it makes just as much sense to apply it to them as to anyone else.

        A number of them get a BS, rather than a BA.

        And while I can see the point that MD’s (and society) aren’t particularly served by forcing a pre-med school degree, “MDs get a degree before med school” isn’t what we’re doing.

        What we’re doing is selecting our MD candidates from those who have demonstrated enough academic ability to get a lesser degree (generally in a related field.) And we’re not exactly running short of those.

    • Urstoff says:

      I don’t know about the basis of education, but I do find the cultural literacy approach to the Great Books appealing, as it’s nice to have cultural lodestones and shared cultural knowledge that can be used to communicate.

      Of course, even then I doubt the utility. We all know the story of Sisyphus or Pandora without having read Homer, Hesiod, or Ovid. Cultural knowledge can be gained through use rather than reading the source material.

      • hlynkacg says:

        I get what your saying, and you may even be right but I can’t help but suspect that a lot of our current issues with political polarization, social justice, immigration etc… are a result of people failing to “read history backwards”.

        I get the feeling that kids today* have jumped straight to post-modernism without ever learning about modernism, or whatthe rest of what the “enlightenment era” was all about. After all who gives a shit about what a bunch of old dead white guys had to say about science, economics, or philosophy. We’re way to young and clever to fall into those sort of traps.

        *by kids I mean those who are now graduating college (shakes walking stick, and demands you get off his lawn)

      • Quite a large fraction of my younger son’s (considerable) cultural knowledge comes from the TV Tropes site.

        Leaving him time for his own projects, such as memorizing “The Ballad of the White Horse.”

    • keranih says:

      I think that a common core of “great books” is useful for the same reason that a common language is – it eases communication and reduces error in transmitting and explaining information.

      There is the same downside, too, I think – a rigid definition of what the ‘common core’ of books-to-be-read would be as harmful as the French language purists, and would make the common canon increasingly irrelevant. Additionally, innovation in the arts and sciences alike has frequently come from people “outside” the approved core, in part because they had not been trained to see the up-to-then-unsolvable problem in the same way as everyone else who had failed to solve the problem.

      (As a note: a great deal of science progress comes not from astonishing leaps but from the level grinding refinement that follows. Approved-core-minded people do better at level grinding than the great-leap people.)

      There is a line that must be straddled between retaining common ground and seeking out strange new worlds. Or words.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Yes, there are trade-offs. However, some texts act as keys that unlock lots of others. As sweeneyrod said, “Mandatory study of the KJV, 3 or so Shakespeare plays etc. gives the understanding needed to appreciate other literature.” Ovid is another one in that category.

        Not thinking of good examples for science or philosophy right now.

        • Reading lots of interesting stuff strikes me as a good idea, but I don’t see that particular works such as Ovid are more important than many others, and you can’t read everything.

          If I think about books that contributed a good deal to my education, they would include LOTR, Casanova’s Memoirs, Mohammed’s People, several primary sources in economics (Smith, Ricardo, Marshall). Kipling’s complete poetry. Kim. GKC.

          • alaska3636 says:

            I agree. I think there is error in stressing a particularly contemporary literature if only because it has not withstood the test of time; however, a range of literature is probably the best course. Even better would be to bring the focus back to writing in school which is all but forgotten. It is not enough to know good ideas but to be able to recognize them and express them as well.

    • Calo Cola says:

      Oh absolutely.

      I don’t agree with the prospect one often seens in literature classes, where there’s a de-facto “Everything made after 1900 can’t count as a classic” , I think there should be an understandable emphasis on more modern influential big books.

      As someone who has done engineering, I get the (I believe justified…well, more then justified. More or less the point *of* getting a specific major, but I digress) impression that its very easy to come out of there with a very very good understanding of a small portion of technology(and as most instutitions don’t follow the Hardcore Harvey Mudd approach, perhaps a *very* small portion of the tech world) , while coming out of there knowing very little about the general world.

      My own favorite personal style is cutting to the chase and removing as much fluff from the educational process as possible…for fields where that is possible. I think that’s much more possible in engineering then in general sociology/economics/history/psychology, the prior of which I view as inherently amenable to algorithmic learning techniques which assess ones cognitive traits, and recommend fact after fact and then formula after formula, and bump up the difficulty. Or kiindof like a blended gmat/khan academy. Engineering is *so* susceptible to that, that i’m almost amazed the current educational system hasn’t been done away with since the mid 90’s.

      For the rest of academia, and modern thought, I don’t think its that simple. For instance, a simple modern fact-based summary of the works of Freud lead to the impression that the guy was an idiot, and every well-educated intellectual at the beginning of the century was also an idiot. “Oral stage of develoment, dream-theory analysis, yada yada” Its one thing to know that A-B-C happened in the French Revolution, and another to read 5 biographys of the time period in conjunction with some knowledge of group psychology. Or, with just engineering, one could walk away with an eventual PHD actually *believing* there is something about the anarchistic youth of today, when that was true long ago. Or, perhaps there’s an educational reason that top specialized engineers tend to be more dogmatic then top graduates in more generalistic fields.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Scott, (or if there are other psychiatrists around here):

    What do you think of the use of actuarial decision methods in psychiatry? Some have charged that actuarial methods almost always outperform psychiatrist’s subjective clinical decisions. More extreme commenters charge that the lack of use of them borders on malpractice due to hubris. I’m curious to hear your, or another psychiatrist’s (/in training) view.

    For example: http://www.tue-tm.org/snijders/papers_on_prediction/Grove_Meehl_1996.pdf

  29. Mark says:

    If each additional binary digit (as written) allows us to represent twice the number of concepts, why is the fundamental unit of information called a bit? I think they should rename the “bit” the “bidi” – binary distinction.
    Hmmmm… maybe “bion”?

    • Nero tol Scaeva says:

      “why is the fundamental unit of information called a bit”

      Programmers were hungry.

    • PSJ says:

      Because “bit” is already short for “binary digit” https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/bit#Etymology

      • Mark says:

        Well… exactly.
        If a number is a piece of information, then an additional binary digit enables you to express twice the amount of information (because information provided by the position of the digits means that one more digit allows us to express twice as many numbers).

        It doesn’t make sense to call the fundamental unit of information a binary digit, if the addition of binary digits leads to exponential growth in the ability to express information.

        It might make sense for the fundamental unit of information to be binary, in the sense that a distinction between two things is the lowest level of meaningful difference (and therefore meaningful information) but it doesn’t make sense to call this a “digit” – that’s just confusing.

        • smocc says:

          I think I see what you’re getting at. The number system where each additional digit allows you to represent one more number is called “unary”, so perhaps “unit”?

          But I think there’s an important sense in which a single bit — with both values — is the fundamental unit of information. That is that the absence of signal is signal in itself, and signal doesn’t mean anything unless it’s compared to no signal. If you are always silent or always emitting a low drone I can’t tell if you are not communicating or not; I only get information when you change state. Hence, the basic unit of information needs two states.

          (IANAInformationTheorist)

          • Mark says:

            Bion is the way to go.

            Edit – maybe we should stick with “shannon”.

            “If a message is made of a sequence of bits, with all possible bit strings equally likely, the message’s information content expressed in shannons is equal to the number of bits in the sequence.[2] For this and historical reasons, a shannon is more commonly known as a bit, despite that “bit” is also used as a unit of data”

            Seems to me that a *number* written using binary digits isn’t a sequence of separate digits each providing a piece of information – it is one number.

            It would be a bit like saying “the word “number” provides 6 “letters” of information” – this is only true if each of those letters is a message in and of itself – and this isn’t how letters are normally used. The word “number” provides one piece of information and six letters (in an alphabet of 26) can provide 300 million distinct words (pieces of information).

          • smocc says:

            In summary, “bits” is a logarithmic measure of information, like “bels” are a logarithmic unit of power. Only there isn’t a standard linear measure of information like there is a linear unit of power (“watts”). Is that what we’re saying here?

          • Mark says:

            From what I gather, the information content of three entirely separate binary digits is 3 bits.
            But I don’t think that the information content of a number (for example 100 = 4) expressed using three binary digits is necessarily 3 bits.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            [IANA information theorist]

            I think you’re conflating the signifier with the signified.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entropy_(information_theory)

            I don’t think Information means “number of possible states”. I think Information means “number of digits in the message”. If you want “number of possible states”, I think that’s Outcomes. The number of states a single digit can represent is the Radix.

            E.g. a 3 digit binary number like Binary(100) has 8 outcomes. But the number of digits (AKA units of entropy/information) is 3. Because log2(8) = 3 and 2^3 = 8. The Binary system has a radix of 2.

            The word “number” has 6 letters, and therefore 6 units of information. Since the english alphabet has a radix of 26 letters (lets ignore special characters), 6-letters can represent 26^6 particular words (outcomes) such as “canine” or “lawyer”.

            If each additional binary digit (as written) allows us to represent twice the number of concepts, why is the fundamental unit of information called a bit? I think they should rename the “bit” the “bidi” – binary distinction.

            Each additional bit allows us to represent twice the outcomes. Each additional bit represents +1 unit of information. Which obeys the logarithmic product identity.

          • Aegeus says:

            You’re overthinking this. “3 bits of information” means “Enough information to transmit any number that fits into 3 bits.” Which, with a little work, translates to “Any set of messages that can be mapped to a number that fits in 3 bits.”

            As for why computer scientists use “bits” rather than “messages”? Because computers work in binary, so you normally add or remove information a bit at a time, rather than a message at a time. It’s rare to be in a situation where you have enough information to transmit exactly 27 different messages, instead of 16 or 32 or 64.

          • Mark says:

            @fullmeta_rationalist
            I suppose that 1 and 0 actually convey no information unless you have a means to comprehend a distinction between the two… we always have to assume a capacity to make a distinction – otherwise information has no meaning what-so-ever.
            I don’t think that information means the number of possible states. I think that the information provided by any given message depends upon our capacity to use that information (a capacity that is actually fundamental to information ( not just some frivolous addition) ).
            There is good reason to think that if we have the capacity to distinguish between only two states (assuming rather than ignoring our capacity for information interpretation) we have hit the lowest possible level at which anything can have any meaning.
            OK… I get that.
            But if we assume the capacity to distinguish between numbers based upon some positional system, already present in our minds ( and we require such an assumption for any system of messaging) uh… the number of symbols within a binary numerical system are different to like… the *information* we get.
            I mean… I’m certainly not trying to say that the geniuses of information theory have got it wrong – I’m just saying that the terminology is highly confusing – because you have a system of writing which has nothing much to do with the fundamentals of information, and you have a theory about the fundamentals of information – *and they are called the same thing!*

          • Mark says:

            @Aegeus
            ” “3 bits of information” means “Enough information to transmit any number that fits into 3 bits.” Which, with a little work, translates to “Any set of messages that can be mapped to a number that fits in 3 bits.” ”
            I’m sorry if I am being dense… but if 8 different messages can be transmitted using 3 binary digits (in a positional system) how can the binary digit be a fundamental unit of information – except where the same word is being used to mean two different things?
            I can absolutely understand that the fundamental unit of information in computer science (or anything else) is binary — i just don’t think it is a binary ***digit***…

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            I don’t think you want Information Theory. I think what you want is Semiotics.

            Semiotics (the study of signs) is a branch of philosophy and linguistics. It recognizes a referent, a signifier, and a signified. The referent is the literal object. The signifier is the text/speech/image used to describe an object. The signified is the concept elicited in the mind. In the context of binary code. The data is a property of the referent, the code is the signifier, and the knowledge gained is the signified.

            Information is a property of the code, not the knowledge or the data. A bit is a unit of information, like how a foot (or a meter) is a unit of length. Each word (or number) is a signifier, which is composed of several atomic glyphs. Each glyph serves as a unit of information.

            If you want a unit of knowledge, it’s called an outcome. If you want a unit of data, that’s what all the other units of measurement are for (like watts and kilograms).

        • PSJ says:

          Ok, now I’m confused. How then is “binary distinction” better? A bit is just the amount of information needed to make one more independent binary distinction.

          • Mark says:

            Because I think “binary digit” is strongly associated with a method of writing numbers.
            It is a bit like calling a “newton” a “kilogram”.

          • Luke Somers says:

            … that would make sense in 1/9.8 Earth gravity

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            Binary should be strongly associated with base-2 number systems. Just like how the Imperial System and Metric System use different units of length, binary and ternary use different units of information (the tit? Lel). Ternary is actually more efficient in terms of radix economy. But… you know… computers. Therefore, computer scientists pretend that everything is measured in bits, like how real scientists pretend everything is measured in metric units. E.g “Dog” has roughly 14 bits, because “log2(26^3) = 14.101…”.

          • James Picone says:

            @FullMeta_Rationalist:
            Trit.

    • one extra bit doesn’t allow you to represent twice the concepts. It allows you twice the states. You have information about math and about physics each of a certain size. You can’t just add one bit and store all of that. You need to have twice as many bits to store all of that information.

      You rarely talk about the number of states.

      • Mark says:

        “one extra bit doesn’t allow you to represent twice the concepts. It allows you twice the states.”
        If each state can be used to represent a different number, why wouldn’t an extra digit (with positional notation) allow us to represent twice as many concepts?
        00 – red; 01- blue; 10 – green; 11 – orange.
        000 – red; 001 – blue; 010 – green; 100 – orange; 011 – red2; 101 – blue2; 110 – green2; 111 – orange2.

        I suspect that the interaction between the digits, their position when the combination is viewed as a whole also conveys additional information, meaning that multiple digits can provide more information than the sum of their parts.

        I think perhaps, maybe the unclear (for me) part is that while a message consists of information, it also represents it? You can’t really say anything about the information represented by a word by analyzing the information needed to transmit the message.

        • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

          Decoding involves code and a key. Numbers are the code. Positional Notation is part of the key, which is in our heads.

          • Mark says:

            Yeah… that makes sense.
            But I still think that it’s a confusing convention to name the unit of information after something that can represent a number (implicitly involving the already transmitted knowledge) which is (in this capacity) a completely separate concept.

    • smocc says:

      I recommend reading up on the information theoretic definition of self-information and the Shannon entropy.

      The fundamental — but not obvious! — idea is that the information content of a set of one string from a set doesn’t depend on how many distinct values you can represent with the set, but instead how confident one can be that the string isn’t just noise. This “surprisal” then depends in some way on the probability of the particular string being selected. If you want the “self-information” of signals to be additive and positive the only natural choice is -log(P(X)) where P(X) is the probability of the particular string.

      So the natural units for information are logarithmic.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks to everyone for the responses!

      I’ll try to do a bit of reading around the subject!

  30. Deiseach says:

    Science news: four new elements added to periodic table!

  31. onyomi says:

    Can somebody who understands chemistry tell me which, if any, environmental toxins I should or should not care about avoiding? I’m a little OCD, and I periodically get worried that I’m subtly poisoning myself by microwaving plastic, etc. I also do tend to buy the “organic” produce at the supermarket when it’s reasonable, though that’s also about taste. I inconsistently wash my fruit in a vinegar solution to remove pesticides. I switched from nonstick coating to cast iron when I read the nonstick coating could get into your system, but then I read that too much iron from fortified foods and iron cookware also can cause problems… etc. etc.

    On the one hand, a lot of this stuff seems like quackery. On the other, it is plausible to me that, for example, people are having puberty earlier now, having lower testosterone and sperm counts, etc. and other things which might indicate a more gradual buildup in our systems of say, endocrine disruptors, or what have you. And, of course, if one goes down this road it never ends: do cell phones increase your risk of brain tumors, etc.?

    In most cases, I just don’t have the knowledge to evaluate what is or isn’t worth actually worrying about. Anyway, is there like a credible list of what to care about and what not to care about? Or a method of figuring it out? I find googling studies to be rather ineffective because they usually just say something like “study found [very small quantity] of [chemicals the effects of which I don’t understand] leaked into water at 100 c, which is below established safety limits, but long-term health effects are unknown.” In other words, they tend to boil down to “yeah, you are getting a really, really tiny amount of poison when you do this and we think that may be okay, but we’re not sure.”

    Should I care, for example, if part of my electric kettle I use to make tea is made of some sort of supposedly heat-resistant plastic? Note that I drink a lot of tea.

    • Urstoff says:

      I just assume that any concern about “toxins” that aren’t lead or asbestos are complete nonsense.

    • rubberduck says:

      I’m studying chemistry, but I have not taken any courses on biochem or toxicology yet so I cannot speak as to specific risks. Personally, I wash my (conventional) produce, don’t worry at all about microwaves/cell phones, am sometimes iffy about warming up plastics, and don’t care about my testosterone or sperm count. Then again, none of this is stuff I have researched in any depth so if someone wants to correct me they are welcome.

      However, I think it’s important to keep in mind your base risk of whatever tumor or disease you are worried about, absent of any chemicals that may or may not aggravate it. To take brain tumors, for example: According to the wiki, they account for less than 2% of all cancers and affect globally about 250,000 people a year (in other words 0.003% of the world’s population). Obviously, that is a poor calculation of your actual risk, since a) the world’s population is difficult to track, b) the incidence is probably skewed towards developed countries, where people live to be old enough to get cancer and the technology exists to detect it, and c) your individual risk probably varies a lot based on genetics or whatever other risk factors there are. (I know very little about cancer and am not qualified to talk about it.)

      My point is, for many things people worry about they have a very low probability regardless of chemicals in the food supply. Even if we assumed that something has the dramatic effect of making you 5x more susceptible to some cancer (at which point I hope the government would ban it), if your risk is changing from 0.01% to 0.05% then your chances of developing the disease are still incredibly low whether you consume the chemicals or not. So I would not lose too much sleep over this, unless you think that because of family history or something else you’re particularly vulnerable.

    • ediguls says:

      Studying something similar to chemistry, took a toxicology class. The baseline is that most poisons you can’t avoid; you should be most wary of accumulating substances with a long-term effect such as lead.

      Most “organic” stuff is pretty much okay since it can be degraded, except for mineral oil, benzene, diesel and similar derivatives. Don’t linger around petrol stations, inhale their vapours as little as possible. People tend to underestimate the danger of this, whereas they overestimate dangers from other toxins. Plastic is okay for the most part, don’t breathe the smoke though (really, don’t breathe *anything* other than air, your lungs are not made for that! I had an “everything is connected” moment when I learned about how dangerous smoke from wood fires is a few years ago).

      Be careful around heavy metals, make sure to avoid their organic compounds. Lead is the most prevalent and was famously used as an additive to benzene in the form of tetraethyl lead (an organic lead compound). You might also encounter cadmium and mercury.

      Most of the other stuff is pretty meh, especially for a chemist. There were organic accumulating poisons from like pesticides and stuff, but they’re rather closely monitored nowadays. You can’t avoid getting exposed to them anyways. Do you commute? Consume items of food? Breathe air inside a city? Near a coal power plant? The list is endless, but each individual effect is negligible.

      As a general trend, people overestimate the immediate effects and underestimate long-term issues, as always.

    • Cannon Hackett says:

      I’m a chemical engineering undergrad, although I haven’t studied biochemistry much.

      Arsenic in rice seems like it could be a big problem but is very below the radar for most people. Good example of the principle that just because something is natural does not mean that it is safe or healthy. Rice plants are exceptionally good at absorbing arsenic naturally in soil, regardless of whether or not they’re organic. I think the problem persists to at least a moderate degree regardless of where the rice is grown. Brown rice has more arsenic per serving than white rice.

      Good article:
      http://discovermagazine.com/2013/oct/13-food-at-risk

  32. There are people who are violent because they’re mentally ill, and this is being ignored on the left.

    In the comments, I brought up a theory I’ve run across that mass/spree killers (those who aren’t part of an organization) have recently gone off their SSRIs or had their SSRI prescription changed. I don’t find the theory extremely plausible, but I thought I’d check here.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think it’s both undeniable that there is a link between mental illness and violence, and that it’s much less than most people would believe and doesn’t work the way most people expect it to.

      I know a lot of schizophrenics whom I trust not to be violent as much as I trust anybody; the link between schizophrenia and violence is complicated and imho in certain people who aren’t predisposed to be violent practically nonexistent. I worry that nobody’s sophisticated enough to talk about a violence-mental-illness link in any terms finer than diagnostic categories, and that’s nowhere near good enough.

      On the other hand, a lot of the people who might be predisposed toward violence anyway, mental illness shears away at their buffer and causes them to be much moreso. A lot of men with what I would vaguely call anxiety disorders, or sort of bipolar disorder in remission that still has them keyed up, seem to have violence issues. But this looks a lot more like otherwise violent people being a little bit more prone, not like crazy people attacking you out of the blue. I have a lot of patients with a history of violence toward friends and relatives whom I nevertheless feel 100% safe being alone in a room with.

      Note that I’m talking about the normal outpatient population here; there are some institutionalized people with different issues who are institutionalized for good reasons, but they’re a tiny tiny fraction of the psychiatric population.

      • alaska3636 says:

        There is a strong subset on the web that closely correlates the teenage white shooter with a change or removal from SSRIs. Google “SSRI mass killing”. I will leave it to others to verify the evidence if there is any. It seems that anyone who has had a negative thought could be written a prescription for SSRIs and their effects on appear to be magnified for some people over others, including a strongly disassociative effect. I have personally had an absolute nightmare of an experience after trying a half of one after going through some tough times after my brother died unexpectedly. There also appears to be a strong financial motive behind pushing the “cure de’jour”. I have found a curious lack of media exposure regarding this matter, however it could be nonsense, my personal experience aside.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I have years of experience on SSRIs. Neither a doctor switching them around to find the optimal one (Citalopram), nor going off made me a violent person, let alone a murderer. Granted I was prescribed it for anxiety, so maybe sudden disorientation of someone’s chemical mechanism for coping with depression makes him a murderer, but I’m skeptical.

      • Anon.. says:

        I don’t have a lot of experience with SSRIs, but I was also prescribed them once for anxiety. However, after a difference of opinion with a psychiatrist I had to ramp myself down from Paxil before my script ran out. The first two steps down in dosage, after several hours I went into a state where any passing thought that angered me was immediately followed by me physically lashing out at whatever was nearest. I realised I was probably a danger to my family in that state, so I stayed out, and spent the night both times randomly vandalising nearby objects as I walked around for 4 or 5 hours. Considering that I’m normally non-violent enough that I struggled to defend myself when I used to get bullied as a child, the state I was in terrified me.

        • Anonymous says:

          (regular poster here, posting anonymously)

          I have a similar experience. Three different times in my life, I have been prescribed and taken SSRIs. Two of those times, coming off of I became a cold-blooded slow-burning-rage jaw-clenched… something. Once it wasn’t even the coming off of, it was just being on it.

          People just enraged me. In the specific, and in general. I worked out detailed plans to to kill people fast, to kill them slowly, and to kill them by the hundreds and by the tens of thousands.

          In HPMOR, how Harry went all “cold, mechanical, you are annoying, you should die” after being exposed to the Dementors…. yeah, that was me.

          And no, I did not tell my doctors about it. The most I would say is “I feel kinda irritable and like to be alone” when asked how I felt. I’m not stupid.

          I dealt with it by staying physically away from people, lifting heavy and working out hard, beating on a lot of trees with a staff, and bluntly, self medicating with MDMA, until the cold raging hate passed.

          I’m terrified of SSRIs, I’m fearful of what they are doing to society, and I’m fearful to what’s going to happen when someone really smart and a bit controlled actually implements one of those “kill people by the tens of thousands” plans.

  33. The original Mr. X says:

    C. S. Lewis on sexual licence and the “right to happiness”:

    Clare, in fact, is doing what the whole western world seems to me to have been doing for the last 40-odd years. When I was a youngster, all the progressive people were saying, “Why all this prudery? Let us treat sex just as we treat all our other impulses.” I was simple-minded enough to believe they meant what they said. I have since discovered that they meant exactly the opposite. They meant that sex was to be treated as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilized people. All the others, we admit, have to be bridled. Absolute obedience to your instinct for self-preservation is what we call cowardice; to your acquisitive impulse, avarice. Even sleep must be resisted if you’re a sentry. But every unkindness and breach of faith seems to be condoned provided that the object aimed at is “four bare legs in a bed.”

    […]

    Our sexual impulses are thus being put in a position of preposterous privilege. The sexual motive is taken to condone all sorts of behavior which, if it had any other end in view, would be condemned as merciless, treacherous and unjust.

    Now though I see no good reason for giving sex this privilege, I think I see a strong cause. It is this.

    It is part of the nature of a strong erotic passion—as distinct from a transient fit of appetite—that makes more towering promises than any other emotion. No doubt all our desires makes promises, but not so impressively. To be in love involves the almost irresistible conviction that one will go on being in love until one dies, and that possession of the beloved will confer, not merely frequent ecstasies, but settled, fruitful, deep-rooted, lifelong happiness. Hence all seems to be at stake. If we miss this chance we shall have lived in vain. At the very thought of such a doom we sink into fathomless depths of self-pity.

    Unfortunately these promises are found often to be quite untrue. Every experienced adult knows this to be so as regards all erotic passions (except the one he himself is feeling at the moment). We discount the world-without-end pretensions of our friends’ amours easily enough. We know that such things sometimes last—and sometimes don’t. And when they do last, this is not because they promised at the outset to do so. When two people achieve lasting happiness, this is not solely because they are great lovers but because they are also—I must put it crudely—good people; controlled, loyal, fair-minded, mutually adaptable people.

    If we establish a “right to (sexual) happiness” which supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we do so not because of what our passion shows itself to be in experience but because of what it professes to be while we are in the grip of it. Hence, while the bad behavior is real and works miseries and degradations, the happiness which was the object of the behavior turns out again and again to be illusory. Everyone (except Mr. A. and Mrs. B.) knows that Mr. A. in a year or so may have the same reason for deserting his new wife as for deserting his old. He will feel again that all is at stake. He will see himself again as the great lover, and his pity for himself will exclude all pity for the woman.

    […]

    Secondly, though the “right to happiness” is chiefly claimed for the sexual impulse, it seems to be impossible that the matter should stay there. The fatal principle, once allowed in that department, must sooner or later seep through our whole lives. We thus advance toward a state of society in which not only each man but every impulse in each man claims carte blanche. And then, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will—one dare not even add “unfortunately”—be swept away.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1985/issue7/733.html

    • Anatoly says:

      But every unkindness and breach of faith seems to be condoned provided that the object aimed at is “four bare legs in a bed.”

      Is that really true in modern society? Cheating is not looked at as morally neutral or positive. I assume that Lewis is talking about someone leaving their spouse for another; and that well may be an example of “unkindness and breach of faith” according to him, but certainly not *every* unkindness and breach of faith are condoned.

      The sexual motive is taken to condone all sorts of behavior which, if it had any other end in view, would be condemned as merciless, treacherous and unjust.

      Again, is that true? What would be an analogous situation (to a spouse breaking off marriage in the name of sexual happiness) with “another end in view”? Say someone has been in business with a partner for many years, but decided that their partner is just not ambitious or skillful enough, and so sells their share of the business and founds a new enterprise with a new partner. Would that be considered by the society “merciless, treacherous and unjust”?

      • Anonymous says:

        Say someone has been in business with a partner for many years, but decided that their partner is just not ambitious or skillful enough, and so sells their share of the business and founds a new enterprise with a new partner. Would that be considered by the society “merciless, treacherous and unjust”?

        If that agreement was made explicitly to be lifetime? Yes. So far as I know, the wedding vows are still “until death do us part” or similar. It’s no excuse that the government doesn’t enforce that agreement. (Would be different if said marriage was explicitly non-lifetime, as business agreements tend to be.)

        • stillnotking says:

          But marriage is not seen as a lifelong involuntary commitment in the modern West, whatever wedding vows say. The proper analogy would be if business contracts included a traditional clause about eternal partnership, which no one took seriously anymore, and would be laughed out of court if invoked as the basis of a suit.

          The Lewis essay is just a long-winded way of saying “Your sexual mores look weird and destructive to me.” It’s like a Trobriand Islander insisting that real marriage has to involve lots of yams, and anything else is a fraud.

          • Jaskologist says:

            But marriage is not seen as a lifelong involuntary commitment in the modern West, whatever wedding vows say.

            Apparently you missed the great controversy when Scott said pretty much the same thing (“that [monogamy stuff] was all legal boilerplate“). A lot of people disagreed that vows are meaningless. Some of them were even blue tribe!

          • stillnotking says:

            Not really the same situation; infidelity and divorce are different things. Most moderns would agree that married people are obligated not to cheat on their spouses, but wouldn’t agree that married people are obligated to stay married no matter what.

          • Jiro says:

            “Marriage is not seen as a lifelong involuntary commitment” means that the marriage can be ended. Scott thinks that monogamy is just boilerplate even before the marriage has ended. There’s a difference from “you are permitted to get a divorce and then have sex with someone else” and “you are permitted to have sex with someone else at any time”.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Lewis’ example was precisely about infidelity. This infidelity then also led to divorce(s), but if you’re attacking the essay for saying “your sexual mores look weird and destructive to me” then you are defending infidelity.

            Or perhaps, defending infidelity as long as it leads to divorce, which seems like it would serve to illustrate his point.

          • stillnotking says:

            Divorcing your spouse out of a stated belief that you’d be happier married to someone else may have been indistinguishable from infidelity in Lewis’ mind, but it is distinguishable in mine. Infidelity is dishonest; divorce may be ungrateful, petty, or selfish, but it is not dishonest, as long as neither party had the honest expectation of an unbreakable lifetime commitment. We can safely assume that anyone who gets married in America or Britain of 2016 has no such expectation.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Brad: Many people who get married in 2016, possibly most, expect that the marriage will not be broken for reasons of differential unilateral happiness. The most recent of my close friends to marry, neither of them devoutly religious, almost found it a dealbreaker that he considered divorce to be even theoretically acceptable under any circumstances. How many actual recently-married people have you talked to about this, and across how broad a social spectrum?

          • Paul Torek says:

            Huh, I’m confused. I think (A) my wife and I are both obligated to keep our vow to stay together, but (B) neither of us has the right to hold the other to it. Nor does anyone else. I think I need to revise my understanding of the reciprocal relationship between rights and obligations, because neither of the particular judgments (A) or (B) will budge.

        • Deiseach says:

          But marriage is not seen as a lifelong involuntary commitment in the modern West, whatever wedding vows say.

          That is since then, and we’ve done a lot of development of divorce law in the meantime e.g. redefining marriage in popular thought as no longer a life-time commitment and divorce being a necessary evil which only applies in extreme cases and should be rare to marriage being about personal fulfilment, ‘no fault’ divorce, arrangements re: property division and maintenance payments, etc. after divorce.

          It’s not so much a business partner model that Lewis would be thinking of, as one involving other personal relationships: someone, for example, who made promises upon which you depended and then never kept them or broke them. You believed that person, you did things in the expectation that promise would be kept, and they let you down.

          We’d be disappointed in a friend or family member who caused us inconvenience and even personal hurt (and indeed possibly lost us money, or other trouble because the commitment we thought was sure never was performed). In that case, an apology would be expected from the person who broke the promise, some realisation that they had caused hurt.

          But we are expected to accept, and not just accept, to glorify, promise-breaking in the name of “this person appeals to me sexually”; you can be divorced against your will and someone refusing to give or accept a divorce is seen as the ‘bad guy’ – why try to hang on to your ex-spouse, why not let them go to be happy?

          Most moderns would agree that married people are obligated not to cheat on their spouses

          At the same time, if X and Y have an affair that breaks up the marriage of X and Z, and X and Y go on to marry, it would be seen as in very poor taste (to say the least) to object to the second marriage on the grounds that it was the fruits of adultery. So we don’t accept cheating – unless it’s on the grounds of Twu Wuv leading to marriage.

          • stillnotking says:

            A man who destroys his marriage by philandering will not be considered a sympathetic figure, even today. OTOH, “We’ve grown apart” and other such claims that Lewis would have regarded as mere rationalizations (at best) are now considered acceptable grounds for ending a marriage.

            There’s a definite prescriptive-descriptive gap here. Marriage is a different institution today than when Lewis was writing. Is it a better or a worse one? Depends whom you ask. Certainly the widespread social evils Lewis foresaw have not come to pass, despite our astronomical divorce rate. If our civilization has “died at heart”, there’s precious little evidence of it.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I am afraid that I am less optimistic about those “widespread social evils” not coming to pass than you are.

            Just in my own lifetime I’ve seen what seems like a precipitous drop in public respect for classical liberal values like “rule of law” and free inquiry.

            Camp of the Saints was supposed to be some poorly written racist clap-trap not something you watch on CNN.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Camp of the Saints was supposed to be some poorly written racist clap-trap not something you watch on CNN.

            I’d never heard of Camp of the Saints until it had become something you watch on CNN and I started looking for the conservative take on the story. Something that racist being that prescient creeped me out.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Arguably a major point of The Camp of the Saints is that what the modern Westerner calls racism is more often than not culturalism. It is certainly racist in that it implies that certain races tend to have less successful cultures, but the book is not about a clash of races as much as a clash of cultures. It is not The Turner Diaries or Mein Kampf.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ hlynkacg:

            I guess I’d have to know how old you are in order to know whether I agree with you that there has been a “precipitous drop” in respect for “rule of law” and “free inquiry”.

            If you’re fairly young, I would have to disagree. What’s going on now with college campuses (I assume that’s what you’re referring to) is nothing compared to when the New Left radicals were literally staging takeovers of universities and holding people hostage. And the same kind of crap as now was going on in the 90s with postmodernism.

            But if you look at the big picture, things have definitely improved since the nadir of classical liberalism in the mid-20th century. We’ve effectively abolished the draft, abolished Jim Crow, eliminated widespread price controls and greatly lowered barriers to international trade, eliminated Communism as a major threat to the world (!), significantly lowered immigration barriers, achieved equal rights for women, pretty much abolished legal moralism, are on the way toward stopping the War on Drugs, etc.

            If you look at the legal climate, Constitutional protection of individual rights (including economic rights!) is, in my opinion, at its highest level since the Lochner era ended with the nosedive in the 30s. Look at the work of organizations like the Pacific Legal Foundation and the Institute for Justice.

            Sure, things are far from perfect or fully consistent in a classical liberal direction. But straight white men have more liberty than they’ve had at least since 1933—and everyone else is doing comparatively better.

            And what have we really got to fear? Yes, the government may continue to meddle more in healthcare and education, and maybe we’ll get some harmful “carbon tax”. But overall, things look pretty good for liberty to me.

            Compare the 1950s or 1960s when they were talking about nationalizing the steel industry, nationalizing the coal industry, when people were really afraid the Khrushchev would lead state socialism to outproduce and “bury” capitalism, where nuclear war was a daily fear, where homosexuality was the target of vice squads, where you could get sent to die in Korea or Vietnam, where forced sterilization was being proposed to prevent the “population bomb”, where blacks and other minorities were being experimented on without their consent, etc., etc.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Marc Whipple: Arguably a major point of The Camp of the Saints is that what the modern Westerner calls racism is more often than not culturalism. It is certainly racist in that it implies that certain races tend to have less successful cultures, but the book is not about a clash of races as much as a clash of cultures. It is not The Turner Diaries or Mein Kampf.

            Yes, that’s arguably true. It’s confusing because it seems like he’s “really” talking about culturalsm, or (in hindsight) Islam in particular, but it’s literally an army of Negroes from India gaming our guilt and secular piety.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Is that really true in modern society? Cheating is not looked at as morally neutral or positive.

        If the Adam and Steve thread was any indication, the Overton window may already be shifting in that direction (though, to be fair, Scott’s position did receive some pushback in the comments).

    • Jiro says:

      Now reread all of that, considering that Lewis considered homosexuality to be immoral, and figure out which of it is actually true about gays (hint: probably not a lot).

      • Deiseach says:

        Lewis wasn’t actually that bothered about/by homosexuality and did propose a version of the two-marriage model, though agreed, he did think ‘gay marriage’ wouldn’t be permissable:

        Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is quite the different question — how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christian and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.

        Letter from C. S. Lewis regarding homosexuality, quoted in Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy, pp. 146-148, in response to a question about a couple of Christian students of Vanauken who were homosexual and had come to him for advice:

        I have seen less than you but more than I wanted of this terrible problem. I will discuss your letter with those whom I think wise in Christ. This is only an interim report. First, to map out the boundaries within which all discussion must go on, I take it for certain that the physical satisfaction of homosexual desires is sin. This leaves the homo. no worse off than any normal person who is, for whatever reason, prevented from marrying. Second, our speculations on the cause of the abnormality are not what matters and we must be content with ignorance. The disciples were not told why (in terms of efficient cause) the man was born blind (Jn. IX 1-3): only the final cause, that the works of God shd. be made manifest in him. This suggests that in homosexuality, as in every other tribulation, those works can be made manifest: i.e. that every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, wh. will ‘turn the necessity to glorious gain.’ Of course, the first step must be to accept any privations wh., if so disabled, we can’t lawfully get. The homo. has to accept sexual abstinence just as the poor man has to forego otherwise lawful pleasures because he wd. be unjust to his wife and children if he took them. That is merely a negative condition. What shd. the positive life of the homo. be? I wish I had a letter wh. a pious male homo., now dead, once wrote to me–but of course it was the sort of letter one takes care to destroy. He believed that his necessity could be turned to spiritual gain: that there were certain kinds of sympathy and understanding, a certain social role which mere men and mere women cd. not give. But it is all horribly vague and long ago. Perhaps any homo. who humbly accepts his cross and puts himself under Divine guidance will, however, be shown the way. I am sure that any attempt to evade it (e.g. by mock or quasi-marriage with a member of one’s own sex even if this does not lead to any carnal act) is the wrong way. Jealousy (this another homo. admitted to me) is far more rampant and deadly among them than among us. And I don’t think little concessions like wearing the clothes of the other sex in private is the right line, either. It is the duties, burdens, the characteristic virtues of the other sex, I suspect, which the patient must try to cultivate. I have mentioned humility because male homos. (I don’t know about women) are rather apt, the moment they find you don’t treat them with horror and contempt, to rush to the opposite pole and start implying that they are somehow superior to the normal type. I wish I could be more definite. All I have really said is that, like all other tribulations, it must be offered to God and His guidance how to use it must be sought.

        • Jiro says:

          Those quotes show that he thinks of homosexuals who want gay sex to be in a similar position to married people who want extramarital sex. They’re not evil just for having impulses, but it would be wrong for them to actually act on those impulses. So it seems that his reasoning that “our sexual impulses are thus being put in a position of preposterous privilege” would apply to them.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Yes, and just look at what happened with gay marriage. “If you don’t validate our twu wuv by baking a cake for our marriage, you’re an evil hater and I’m going to have you dragged before the courts and sued into oblivion.”

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The original Mr. X:

            Just curious: do you think we should validate the irrational whims of “left-handed” people, or should we make them write with their right hands like everyone else?

            I mean, really: left-handed “desks” in classrooms?! What is the world coming to? Everyone knows a “desk” is made for writing with the right hand (no matter what the Supreme Court says).

            And don’t get me started on the allegedly “near-sighted” people who insist on being pampered with unnatural artificial lenses. They ought to be happy with the eyes God gave them. If they’re unhappy because they get Cs (because they “can’t read the chalkboard”), well, life’s about more than selfish happiness. There’s also duty, and living in accordance with human nature.

            On a more serious note, if all you are objecting to is the right even of bigots to freedom of association, then I agree. If you don’t want to bake a cake for a white bride and a black groom—it’s your bakery. And it’s everyone else’s right to boycott it.

          • “do you think we should validate the irrational whims of “left-handed” people, or should we make them write with their right hands like everyone else?”

            And you regard a private bakery being unwilling to bake a cake for a same sex marriage as the same sort of thing as compelling left handers to write with their right hand? No distinction in your moral intuition between leaving people—left handers and bakers— free to do as they choose and compelling them to do as someone else chooses?

            In a free society, I am free to act on my own irrational whims as long as they don’t actively injure people. I am not free to compel other people to act on my irrational whims, or even my rational whims.

            Is it just that you are trying to live up to your posting name?

          • Jaskologist says:

            @ Vox

            Given that the actual, facts-on-the-ground situation is people being fined over $130,000 for not baking said cakes, the rest of your examples are very strongly missing the point. It doesn’t rescue the tone of your comment to mention at the end that you totally agree in theory when you’ve spend the rest of it furiously signalling how crazy you think that outgroup is. Doubly so when you follow it up with an irrelevant aside about boycotts.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            And you regard a private bakery being unwilling to bake a cake for a same sex marriage as the same sort of thing as compelling left handers to write with their right hand? No distinction in your moral intuition between leaving people—left handers and bakers— free to do as they choose and compelling them to do as someone else chooses?

            In a free society, I am free to act on my own irrational whims as long as they don’t actively injure people. I am not free to compel other people to act on my irrational whims, or even my rational whims.

            I thought my last paragraph should have made this clear. I apologize if it did not. I entirely agree with you on the point that no one should be forced to bake any cake for any reason.

            What I was objecting to was The original Mr. X‘s implication that homosexuality is a baseless emotional prejudice that rationally shouldn’t be catered to. That it is “twu wuv”, i.e. a delusional pretense of true love, that people should man up and disregard. Thus, the bakers who refuse to bake such a cake are the only sane men in a room full of lunatics.

            With the right-handed / left-handed thing, I wasn’t trying to make it an issue of government schools forcing students to do things one way. But surely you would agree that, despite the fact that private schools are well within their rights to “force” children to write with their right hands (and indeed, certain religious schools are infamous for doing this in the past), this is irrational? They ought to accommodate left-handed students.

            The fact that you have the right to do something does not exempt you from ostracism and condemnation. Indeed, as the power of the state shrinks in this regard, the power of ostracism and moral suasion has to grow. Otherwise, everything would be socially permitted which the state did not forbid—and that would be a fairly intolerable moral rule in any halfway libertarian society.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Jaskologist:

            I direct you to the response I typed to David Friedman.

            I think you are “missing the point” of The original Mr. X‘s post. What was the flow of the conversation, in which I was participating?

            Jiro said: “So it seems that [Lewis’s] reasoning that “our sexual impulses are thus being put in a position of preposterous privilege” would apply to [gays].”

            The original Mr. X said: “Yes, and just look at what happened with gay marriage. “If you don’t validate our twu wuv by baking a cake for our marriage, you’re an evil hater and I’m going to have you dragged before the courts and sued into oblivion.”

            I was responding to the part in bold, not the part about the courts. The thing about the courts is just a form of motte-and-bailey argument. The motte is that people should have the right to bake or refuse to bake whatever cakes they please. The bailey—which he was definitely occupying— is that religious people are justified in refusing to bake cakes for homosexual couples.

            Motte: they have the right.

            Bailey: they are right.

            I guess it shows that this sort of argument works well to draw in even third parties on your side, even if an opponent makes it clear that he is only attacking the bailey and explicitly excludes the motte. Nevertheless, he attacks the bailey and people ask indignantly how he can dare to attack the motte.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            What I was objecting to was The original Mr. X‘s implication that homosexuality is a baseless emotional prejudice that rationally shouldn’t be catered to.

            Homosexuality itself? No.

            The idea that not getting a cake from your first-choice bakery is going to ruin your life, and that leaving bakers free to turn away customers is going to set us on the slippery slope to “separate but equal” facilities for gays and straights? That’s completely stupid, and most definitely should not be catered to.

            Although speaking of “our sexual impulses being put in a position of preposterous privilege”, I don’t think that, say, an optician who only sold glasses to long-sighted people would promote this sort of hysterical over-reaction.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            No mottes or baileys here, just pointing out the way large segments of society seem to demand active support for their sex lives in a way that doesn’t seem to happen with anything else.

            One could also bring up the HHS mandate. Nobody supposes that if your boss doesn’t give you a free car or pay for your holiday he’s part of some “war on motorists” or “war on holiday-makers”, but apparently workers all have a fundamental human right to subsidised condoms, and any employer who doesn’t pony up is part of some vast misogynistic conspiracy.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The original Mr. X:

            The idea that not getting a cake from your first-choice bakery is going to ruin your life, and that leaving bakers free to turn away customers is going to set us on the slippery slope to “separate but equal” facilities for gays and straights? That’s completely stupid, and most definitely should not be catered to.

            I do think it is somewhat preposterous to suppose that in the current cultural climate, gays face a real threat of becoming “separate-but-equal”. In the past, that certainly did exist (no hotel would rent to Oscar Wilde during and after his trial), but precisely because the cultural climate has changed enough to consider making discrimination against homosexuals an offense, such discrimination is no longer a very serious problem.

            But on the other hand, what are the odds of Armenians suddenly being considered “separate-but-equal” in this country? Yet, if you refuse to bake a cake for an Armenian, that is a crime. In the minds of many people, bigotry is bigotry, and it ought to be against the law for a “public” establishment (i.e. one that serves the general public) to engage in discrimination based on any kind of innate identity. See Heart of Atlanta.

            I disagree with this, as I have explained. But on the other hand, I think the majority of people who support the right of bakers to refuse to sell to gays would not support their right to refuse to sell to blacks or Armenians. I think their actual position is not one of “allow discrimination, right or wrong” but “allow discrimination only if it’s right, and of course against gays it is”.

            Although speaking of “our sexual impulses being put in a position of preposterous privilege”, I don’t think that, say, an optician who only sold glasses to long-sighted people would promote this sort of hysterical over-reaction.

            Presumably, the optician does not have a moralized hatred toward near-sighted people. If he did, people would condemn him (or laugh at him, more likely).

            And it would be against the law for him to discriminate against a disability without a bona fide reason. (Such reasons can include, e.g. wanting to hire only black actors to portray slaves in a period film.)

            No mottes or baileys here, just pointing out the way large segments of society seem to demand active support for their sex lives in a way that doesn’t seem to happen with anything else.

            No, I believe they feel similarly about the currently “protected categories” of: race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, pregnancy, citizenship, familial status (i.e. unwed motherhood), disability status, veteran status, and even (though this one surprised me) genetic information. It is illegal for any public establishment to discriminate against anyone for any of those reasons.

            And just watch Gattaca for how the average person feels about discrimination on the basis of genetics, even when it would be efficient.

            One could also bring up the HHS mandate. Nobody supposes that if your boss doesn’t give you a free car or pay for your holiday he’s part of some “war on motorists” or “war on holiday-makers”, but apparently workers all have a fundamental human right to subsidised condoms, and any employer who doesn’t pony up is part of some vast misogynistic conspiracy.

            The Catholic Church does not oppose socialized medicine or government-mandated employer-sponsored benefits like unemployment benefits or health insurance in general.

            They oppose paying for condoms because they adhere to a ludicrous religious dogma. This same religion has long been closely linked to the view that men are superior to women, that wives ought to obey their husbands, that only men are fit for the highest positions of religious leadership, that woman was created from a part of man, etc. Moreover, their opponents (correctly) see that the stamping out of contraceptives—which that religion would like to accomplish if it could get away with it—would be more harmful to women than to men.

            What the Catholic Church wants is that in general employers have no right to not to be compelled to provide healthcare, but to have a special exemption for religious convictions.

            What the leftists say is that religious and secular objections (such as cost, burden, etc.) to employer provision of healthcare should be treated on the same level. I also say they ought to be treated on the same level. Where we differ is that I say we have a right to liberty which includes both freedom of religion and freedom of trade and contract. The leftists say we don’t really have either. And the Catholic Church says we have freedom of religion but not freedom of trade.

            Part of this is the distortion (originating with progressives but now popular with certain conservatives) of the Bill of Rights which ignores the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments, in order to support the idea that the Constitution only seriously protects certain defined rights which are named explicitly (e.g. freedom of religion), but not those which are implicit (e.g. privacy, freedom of association, freedom of contract).

          • The original Mr. X says:

            What the leftists say is that religious and secular objections (such as cost, burden, etc.) to employer provision of healthcare should be treated on the same level. I also say they ought to be treated on the same level. Where we differ is that I say we have a right to liberty which includes both freedom of religion and freedom of trade and contract. The leftists say we don’t really have either. And the Catholic Church says we have freedom of religion but not freedom of trade.

            Wait, what? Employers were perfectly free to subsidise their workers’ contraceptives if they so chose. How does changing the situation to one where they’re forced to do so promote “freedom of trade and contract”?

            Also, since when is this a Catholic vs. secular thing? The Hobby Lobby owners weren’t Catholics, after all.

            You see, this is part of what I was talking about. Whenever the subject turns to matters involving the pelvis, you get this sloppy, manichaean, everything-not-compulsory-is-forbidden type of thinking.

          • DrBeat says:

            You have the right to not patronize a business.

            Ginning up other people into going out of their way to cause harm to the business and causing the legal system to force the business to accommodate you, because of the lies you told about the business’s refusal to give you something actually being a malicious attack on you… that’s less defensible.

            Everything about desks and lenses you wrote was totally irrelevant, and you know it. He is clearly and explicitly referring to a specific event, you go off on a tear about other things that don’t make sense, and then at the end add “well if you are only talking about [The thing you were obviously talking about] then I agree with you”. Come on.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The original Mr. X:

            Wait, what? Employers were perfectly free to subsidise their workers’ contraceptives if they so chose. How does changing the situation to one where they’re forced to do so promote “freedom of trade and contract”?

            …?

            I have no idea how you could have read my post and come away with the conclusion that I support employers’ being forced to provide birth control. But in case it isn’t clear, I do not support employers’ being forced to provide birth control.

            But what I say is that Obamacare (and the whole rest of the federal regulatory establishment on healthcare) is unconstitutional because it is a violation of employers’ (and employees’, through the individual mandate) rights. But if it is not unconstitutional, you don’t get a special religious exemption to it. Freedom of religion is not, properly, more or less strongly protected than any other right.

            Also, since when is this a Catholic vs. secular thing? The Hobby Lobby owners weren’t Catholics, after all.

            You were talking about condoms, which relates to the Catholic Church’s objection to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate. I attended Georgetown, and this was a big controversy there, but I believe it made it the national news. There was the whole controversy with Rush Limbaugh and Sandra Fluke.

            The Hobby Lobby case was related but separate and about Plan B, which the non-Catholic owners consider an abortifacient.

            @ DrBeat:

            He was “clearly and explicitly referring to a specific event” in the context of condemning homosexuality as an irrational whim which society ought not cater to.

            We happen to agree on one peripheral issue—that bakers should not be sued for refusing to bake a cake—but for completely different reasons. I because I think even bigots should be tolerated. He because he thinks they are right.

            But this issue was not the topic of discussion. The topic of discussion was whether the acceptance of homosexuality represents putting “sexual impulses” into a position of “preposterous privilege”. The cake issue was his example of how the acceptance of homosexuality is infantilizing society.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I have no idea how you could have read my post and come away with the conclusion that I support employers’ being forced to provide birth control. But in case it isn’t clear, I do not support employers’ being forced to provide birth control.

            Oh, I’m sorry, I thought that when you said “the Catholic Church is opposed to freedom of trade” you were referring to its opposition to the HHS mandate. My bad.

            But what I say is that Obamacare (and the whole rest of the federal regulatory establishment on healthcare) is unconstitutional because it is a violation of employers’ (and employees’, through the individual mandate) rights. But if it is not unconstitutional, you don’t get a special religious exemption to it. Freedom of religion is not, properly, more or less strongly protected than any other right.

            Actually I think there’s quite a bit of precedent in American law for giving people conscientious exemptions from things. E.g., there’s nothing unconstitutional about conscription during times of war, but if you’re a Quaker you do get a special exemption because of your religious beliefs.

            He was “clearly and explicitly referring to a specific event” in the context of condemning homosexuality as an irrational whim which society ought not cater to.

            I was in fact referring to the current trend of prosecuting people for not catering (arranging flowers, etc.) for gay wedding ceremonies, as everybody but you seems to have recognised.

          • Going back to the beginning of this, I don’t think “If you don’t validate our twu wuv by baking a cake for our marriage, you’re an evil hater and I’m going to have you dragged before the courts and sued into oblivion” implies that homosexual love is somehow worse than heterosexual love. The context, after all, was Lewis’ objection to the idea that sexual desire had a special claim to being satisfied.

            If the bakery had refused to bake a cake because the owners knew the (heterosexual) couple, thought their marriage would be a disaster and wanted nothing to do with it, nobody could have made a discrimination case–but “if you don’t validate our twu wuv” would have been just as relevant.

          • Anonymous says:

            I was in fact referring to the current trend of prosecuting people for not catering (arranging flowers, etc.) for gay wedding ceremonies, as everybody but you seems to have recognised.

            What trend? Has even a single person been indicted?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            Going back to the beginning of this, I don’t think “If you don’t validate our twu wuv by baking a cake for our marriage, you’re an evil hater and I’m going to have you dragged before the courts and sued into oblivion” implies that homosexual love is somehow worse than heterosexual love. The context, after all, was Lewis’ objection to the idea that sexual desire had a special claim to being satisfied.

            I suppose you’re right there. Marriage and sex aren’t really supposed to be about erotic love, but rather about procreation and duty to God and family.

            Which is the reason homosexuality and gay marriage are condemned: they fundamentally separate the “natural unity” of sex and reproduction.

            Now, the most consistent Catholics are just as opposed to masturbation and oral sex (which is, of course, a form of sodomy) as to gay sex. But those aren’t winning moves to emphasize in this day and age. And being opposed to homosexual relationships is on the same track to de-emphasis.

            If Pope Francis (who chose his namesake very appropriately) gets his way, they’ll go back to being opposed more to “greed” and “acquisitiveness”, “gluttony” and “excess”, man’s pridefulness in exploiting Mother Earth, and the alleged exploitation of workers by employers unwilling to pay a “living wage”. The Catholic Church is, after all, the original source of “social justice” teaching.

            If the bakery had refused to bake a cake because the owners knew the (heterosexual) couple, thought their marriage would be a disaster and wanted nothing to do with it, nobody could have made a discrimination case–but “if you don’t validate our twu wuv” would have been just as relevant.

            But in this case, they are correct in their judgement that this “twu wuv” is not worthy of validation. (Unless they knew each other very well, though, most people would say they’re not in an appropriate position to judge this and should bake the cake anyway. But that’s beside the point)

            If it were true that all gay marriages were disastrous, the judgment would be appropriate in that case, too.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @Vox:

            It’s weird, you’ve expressed agreement with my actual point, but you still feel the need to keep going on these long screeds about the Catholic Church. What, are you really that worried that somebody will mistake you for a member of the hated outgroup?

          • Anonymous says:

            >oral sex (which is, of course, a form of sodomy)

            Haven’t heard that one before. I suppose it does fit into the “sticking the implement in the wrong hole” box and the “strictly non-reproductive sexual practice” box, though.

            >But those aren’t winning moves to emphasize in this day and age.

            Which is exactly what is wrong.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            >oral sex (which is, of course, a form of sodomy)

            Yes. This is true under the legal definition of sodomy. Theoretically you could have been prosecuted under sodomy laws for getting a BJ from your wife or giving one to your husband.

            The fact that this was ruled unconstitutional in various ways at various times for heterosexual couples is one reason why its application to homosexuals eventually was declared unconstitutional. Many of the laws invalidated by Lawrence v. Texas applied to heterosexual conduct.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @HeelBearCub

            Yes. This is true under the legal definition of sodomy. Theoretically you could have been prosecuted under sodomy laws for getting a BJ from your wife or giving one to your husband.

            Not just theoretically.
            In Virginia

            The extent to which private sexual relations can be regulated was documented by the 1976 case of Lovisi et ux. v. Slayton et al.84 A married couple, Aldo and Margaret Lovisi, went to prison for consensual sodomy between themselves and between Mrs. Lovisi and another man.

            from
            http://www.glapn.org/sodomylaws/sensibilities/virginia.htm

    • Jeffrey Soreff says:

      It is part of the nature of a strong erotic passion—as distinct from a transient fit of appetite—that makes more towering promises than any other emotion. No doubt all our desires makes promises, but not so impressively. To be in love involves the almost irresistible conviction that one will go on being in love until one dies, and that possession of the beloved will confer, not merely frequent ecstasies, but settled, fruitful, deep-rooted, lifelong happiness.

      I’m not sure whether C.S.Lewis is an outlier, whether I am, or whether we are just sampling opposite ends of a population distribution, but this is nothing like my experience. My experience is that sexuality is a substantial, but hardly overwhelming, chunk of the pleasures of life – say 10% of the enjoyment of a typical week. The advice that Lewis hears and views as hypocritical, “Why all this prudery? Let us treat sex just as we treat all our other impulses.”, seems to me both sensible, realistic, and, at least from my end of the distribution, honest.

      Now, there are sensible precautions and practicalities needed for enjoying any impulse, but I don’t find those needed for sex to be particularly onerous. To pick one component and one comparison: I’ve found birth control easier than girth control… I also, personally, don’t tend to find the grass greener on the other side of the fence…

  34. Ben Smith says:

    Multiheaded, I know it is easier to get a visa for New Zealand than it is for the US (I don’t know how NZ compares to Canada). And according to this article, if you haven’t had gender reassignment surgery, it might be easier than trying European countries?

    http://www.advocate.com/politics/transgender/2014/09/03/watch-trans-refugee-finally-finds-safety-new-zealand

    • Mika says:

      I happen to hail from Finland and can say that this part of the article is factually wrong: “but was consistently rejected because of regulations that required her to have undergone gender-confirming surgery before being legally recognized as a woman.” Finland does not require gender-confirming surgery to legally recognize someone as woman. What is required under current legislation however is being sterile, which is most commonly achieved through hormone therapy at least with male-to-female trans persons.

    • multiheaded says:

      Noted, thanks. (Seems enormously more difficult and expensive and unlikely than Argentina, tho…)

    • Bugmaster says:

      What about some Scandinavian country, like Sweden ? From what I’ve heard, they’re all uber-progressive; this has obvious downsides, but might be an upside for trans immigrants. On the other hand, they’ve been cracking down on immigration recently, so maybe not…

  35. philh says:

    Note that this is not endorsed by Scott.

    Parts of LessWrong London have been feeling like the association with LW no longer really captures what we’re about. Several of us have pretty much stopped reading the site. So we’re doing an experimental rebrand as a diaspora meetup group.

    The diaspora includes, but is not limited to: LessWrong, SlateStarCodex, parts of the Effective Altruism movement, the bit of tumblr that brands itself ‘rationalist tumblrsphere’.

    If you feel like you want to hang out with the sort of people who are involved with those things: welcome! You are invited. You do not need to think you are clever enough, or interesting enough, or similar enough to the rest of us, to attend. You are invited.

    This meetup will be social discussion in a pub, with no set topic. If there’s a topic you want to talk about, feel free to bring it.

    The pub is the Shakespeare’s Head in Holborn. There will be some way to identify us.

    People start showing up around two, and there are almost always people around until after six, but feel free to come and go at whatever time.

    Event on facebook. (Should be visible even if you don’t have facebook.)

    • Anonymous says:

      Just you wait til L. Ron Yudkowsky hears of this sedition! Treason! Apostasy! You’ll end up with an ice pick in your head, just you wait!

  36. anon says:

    http://pastebin.com/WWe7uvtf

    Despite obviously being bait, this list has been making the rounds on Rationalist Tumblr™ and causing quite a stir (and now here I am, reposting it).

    How high can you score, SSC readers?

    I’ve got a meager 4 points, as The Man All About Space-Based Franchises, The “I’m Working On…” Guy, The No-Bed Guy and The Man with An Active Reddit Account

    • Anonymous says:

      Approximately zero.

      (I don’t count my shirts. It is possible that the number is exactly 6, but I doubt it. Regardless, six shirts I could live with – who needs more?)

      (On reflection, I am certain I have fewer buttoned shirts than six, and don’t use more than six T-shirts even if I may have more than that. I’m not quite sure what the point of having more shirts than you use.)

    • multiheaded says:

      Would get 6 or 7, were I male enough for the author to care about.

      (She’s most likely salty as fuck about all the men she did fuck but couldn’t stay with, so… hehe, she comes across as kinda pathetic, oh, and needs her bigotry to feel superior. First time I’ve seen libertarians insulted as “emotional children” rather than “beep boop logic bots”…)

    • Nadja says:

      So, I’m a woman, but I can’t resist taking a good test when I see one, so I just changed *guy* to *gal* and answered the questions.

      Ted talks… Um, not these specific speakers, but I do love Ted talks. What is this person’s problem?

      I find Ayn Rand highly entertaining and describe myself as a libertarian. Check.

      Gal with no gal friends. Not exactly accurate. But, but, I do feel that women who write/talk/think like the author is the reason I don’t feel very comfortable around many American women.

      No bed. Check.

      Active reddit account. Wait, why is that a problem?

      What’s wrong with reading Richard Dawkins? I have recently noticed two unrelated posts on my Facebook feed hating on Dawkins, both from people who don’t strike me as very religious. Is this some sort of a trend?

      6 shirts. Check in spirit. 6 shirts is enough. American women own too many darn clothes. *Investing in yourself* style-wise is not about quantity but about fit and quality. Again, what is wrong with this person?

      Mentioning high school. Yeah, occasionally. Again, nothing wrong with that.

      This test is absolutely awful.

      • Anonymous says:

        >Active reddit account. Wait, why is that a problem?

        Presumably – low status signal.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        Dawkins was fine when he was anti-Christian, but it turns out he’s consistent and that means he’s anti-Muslim and so now he’s a badthinker.

        Although in her defense he’s also kind of a giant tool.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Consistency is the heresy of leftist minds. See also Ayaan Hirsi Ali coming to the Netherlands from a super-poor country that practices FGM, embracing the Enlightenment narrative she learned at university, and being shunned as right-wing for saying “crush the infamy” to Islam.

          • anon says:

            Why is everyone assuming she’s a leftist? Granted SJWs hate male feminists almost as much as redpillers do so that could go either way, but the part about how the only thing a man should be working on is his car reads like a cartoon caricature of the red tribe.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ anon:

            Let’s see:

            a) Talking aggressively about people you will or won’t “fuck” takes you squarely out of the “religious conservative” camp.

            b) This could leave you in the “libertarian” camp, but she rules that one out.

            c) The “finance guy” section is heavily anti-capitalist, anti-“consumerist”, anti-“suburbia”, and that’s heavily associated with leftism.

            d) Most varieties of “reaction” are ruled out by the general tone of “female empowerment” and—more to the point—aggressively offensive “bitchiness” that permeates the piece.

            I suppose she could be some kind of Mussolini-like or Peronist fascist. But my best guess is some variety of leftist. (If, indeed, fascism is not a form of leftism.)

            But hey, she could be Mussolini’s granddaughter!

          • anon says:

            I wasn’t aware gold digging was considered a form of opposition to capitalism

            Did I miss Marx talking about it in one of his letters to Engels?

          • Anthony says:

            I wasn’t aware gold digging was considered a form of opposition to capitalism

            Did I miss Marx talking about it in one of his letters to Engels?

            It’s “to each according to their neeeeeeeeeeds”.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Marc Whipple:

          I’m an atheist.

          I thought Dawkins was pretty much a tool when I read “The God Delusion” shortly after it’s release. Maybe it is that British argumentative style though…

          Basically, Dawkins spends the prequel talking about how he is trying to speak to and convince theists, but then precedes to essentially mock anyone who believes as stupid and deluded. I didn’t get it at all.

          • The Selfish Gene, on the other hand, is my favorite example of the kind of book that teaches the author’s field in a way sufficiently entertaining so that people will read it for fun–and, so far as I could tell, teaches it honestly. It’s a model I’ve tried to follow.

        • Anthony says:

          he’s also kind of a giant tool.

          Aside from the problems NN highlights below, Dawkins is kind of anti-everything-except-his-own-genius, which gets pretty annoying once he’s done talking about something that you’re against, too.

      • In addition to being an aggressive atheist, Dawkins criticized Steven Jay Gould, whose specialty was attacking evolutionary biology arguments whose conclusions he didn’t like. Gould was both a prominent popular science author and a left winger, so being a fan of his might be a reason to dislike Dawkins.

        One of the few things Krugman wrote that I reacted positively to was his comparison of Gould to Galbraith.

        • Tibor says:

          That is a plus point for Dawkins, but even though the only book I’ve read from him is The Selfish Gene, one could see even from that book that his atheist writing is probably not very interesting (there are some 20-odd pages of writing about atheism rather than evolutionary biology in the book and they all struck me as much below the otherwise great level of the book…and I am myself an atheist or agnostic, depending on the exact definition).

          • nil says:

            Strong agreement. I’m an atheist, but I can’t really reconcile the guy who wrote Selfish Gene and Ancestor’s Tale–well-written books that I enjoyed greatly–with the guy making cheap shots on Twitter

          • Tibor says:

            nil: Well, I like to say that if Mao were an amazing novelist or Hitler were a brilliant painter, their other deeds would not have changed the quality of that work. A great novel is not enough to forgive being the worst mass murderer in history but a great book on evolutionary biology is enough to forgive some dull atheist rants.

      • NN says:

        In regards to Dawkins, I find that he is very good when talking about his field of expertise, and is generally an entertaining writer, but I find that he and most other “aggressive atheists” have the same problem: they praise the power of science and reason to discover how the world works, then go on to present completely unscientific assumptions about how religion works as fact. None of them seem to have realized that, while the truth value of any religion can be debated philosophically, the effects of religion on human behavior and vice versa is an empirical question that can and is studied by sociologists, anthropologists, etc. So you end up with the classic problem of very intelligent scientists making wildly unsupported statements about subjects that are outside their field of expertise.

        Take, for example, this passage from the God Delusion: “Suicide bombers do what they do because they really believe what they were taught in their religious schools; that duty to God exceeds all other priorities, and that martyrdom in his service will be rewarded in the gardens of Paradise. And they were taught that lesson not necessarily by extremist fanatics but by decent, gentle, mainstream religious instructors, who lined them up in their madrasahs, sitting in rows, rhythmically nodding their innocent little heads up and down while they learned every word of the holy book like demented parrots.”

        First, anyone with any training in psychology would find this to be a laughable explanation of how childhood learning works. Second, and more importantly, actual researchers in this field have found that receiving a formal Islamic religious education (from a school that isn’t run by the Taliban) makes a person less likely to support terrorism. Dawkins just pulled this idea out of his butt and presented it to the reader as if he knew that it was true. That sort of conduct isn’t very becoming for a scientist.

        This may not be the reason why people on your Facebook feed dislike Dawkins (most of the recent criticism seems to come from him disagreeing with the consensus of the SJ crowd), but it is my biggest problem with him and his work.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Speaking of scientific conduct, Dawkins has gone on record saying that literally nothing would convince him that God exists:

          https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/4-dawkins-admits-nothing-can-persuade-him-god-exists/

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          @ The original Mr. X:

          I believe you (and that guy) are misunderstanding Dawkins.

          I think he means is that no empirical observation, such as of a booming voice from the heavens, would convince him. Given that he holds all the philosophical arguments for God’s existence to be incredibly flimsy, and given all the massive self-contradictions and insoluble dilemmas posed by God’s existence. If he’s right on those philosophical points, it would be more likely that aliens were playing tricks or that he was insane than that God actually did exist as the cause of the booming voice in the heavens,

          But if he woke up one day and suddenly thought: “Wow, this ontological argument is really good stuff!” then he would surely change his opinion. However, he just can’t think of anything that would possibly convince him that the ontological argument proves the existence of God. And that’s no anti-empirical bias: what could possibly convince you that 2 + 2 = 5? It seems clear that, unless you change the meaning of some of the terms, it just can’t. If the ontological argument is invalid, it is invalid no matter what empirical conditions obtain.

          If you’re right and Dawkins really wouldn’t believe in God even if he were rationally convinced of (alleged) proofs of his existence, I agree that this would be an irrational and wrong view. But basic application of the principle of charity leads me to think this is not really what he’s saying.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Dawkins is a big proponent of Science (TM) as the be-all and end-all of human knowledge, has criticised philosophy and theology for not being empirical enough, and says that the existence of God is a scientific question. I don’t think you get to say all that, and then go “No, actually, empirical evidence against my position isn’t relevant, because philosophy.”

          • Jiro says:

            There is no inconsistency between saying that 1) we generally need to be more empiric, and 2) not everything can be handled empirically.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            There is an inconsistency between, on the one hand, saying that empiricism is the only way we can know things, and that the existence of God is an empirical question; and, on the other, saying that empirical evidence against your position doesn’t count because you’ve got it all philosophically worked out.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The original Mr. X:

            Things like philosophy and mathematics are not (properly) anti-empirical.

            2 + 2 = 4 because of the law of identity and the meanings of the concepts “two”, “four”, “addition”, and “equality” which are arrived at by abstraction from sense experience. Nevertheless, it is a necessary truth.

            What you are doing is assuming “empirical” = “contingent”, and therefore if you can establish something on the basis of empirical observation, you must be able to conceive of an opposite empirical observation which disproves it. But this is not true. Some things are just necessarily true.

            In order to know 2 + 2 = 4, you have to engage in observation. But once you know it, it is clear that no additional observation could disprove it.

            If the ontological or cosmological arguments are valid, they are necessarily true. That is, if they are true, God just has to exist. But if they are invalid (as Dawkins surely believes), they are false whether or not God exists and therefore do not serve as reasons to believe in him. It is conceivable that God exists, but there is still no rational basis for believing in him. Except that would run against the idea that God is benevolent.

            The same goes for arguments that God does not exist. For instance, the problem of evil, the problem of combining free will with God’s foreknowledge, etc. If these arguments are valid, God necessarily does not exist. The truth of these arguments would have to be determined empirically. But if they are necessary truths, there is no way the universe could be such that they were not true—and therefore no additional empirical observation could disprove them.

            Now, it is true that some “New Atheists” disparage philosophy and interpret empiricism in a crudely positivistic way. To the extent they do that, they are misguided. But I sympathize because 95% of the time, it’s because they’ve heard one line of bullshit too many from philosophy.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Dawkins has said that the existence or otherwise of God is a scientific matter, and that the good thing about scientists is that their theories are always provisional and open to correction based on new evidence. Now he’s saying that there’s no new evidence that could make him change his mind. So either Richard Dawkins is a really bad scientist, or the existence of God isn’t actually a scientific matter, and new atheist claims to the contrary are naught but false advertising.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The original Mr. X:

            Dawkins has said that the existence or otherwise of God is a scientific matter, and that the good thing about scientists is that their theories are always provisional and open to correction based on new evidence. Now he’s saying that there’s no new evidence that could make him change his mind. So either Richard Dawkins is a really bad scientist, or the existence of God isn’t actually a scientific matter, and new atheist claims to the contrary are naught but false advertising.

            Scientists surely rely on mathematics to formulate their theories. Does that mean they are being unscientific and dogmatic when they say that they can’t think of any observation which would convince them 2 + 2 = 5?

            I regard 2 + 2 = 4 as “provisional” in the sense that if I did see something that convinced me I was mistaken in holding it, I would change my mind. But I just can’t think of anything that would, since to me it seems an absolutely necessary truth confirmed all the time by experience. 3159 + 4896 = 8055 is also an absolutely necessary truth, but I regard it as very provisional, since it is quite possible I just typed in a digit wrong on my calculator.

            There is a difference between not thinking you could be wrong and holding that if your previous conclusions were justified, no new information could disprove them. That is how arguments for the existence of God are supposed to work: you go up to Dawkins and tell him that he did the equivalent of typing in a digit wrong in his calculator. Now in real life, you’ll never convince someone that old and that committed that he was completely wrong about everything (people aren’t that rational, and actual science doesn’t advance that way either), but you can hope to convince third parties.

            As for whether the existence of God is a “scientific” matter, that depends on how narrowly you interpret science. In the broadest sense, the existence of God certainly is a scientific matter. But is it a matter of the “special sciences” like physics or biology? Obviously not, though of course they can explain many things that God was thought to explain. And of course sciences like psychology and sociology can explain why people believe in God.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            IIRC, Dawkins’ examples of what would count as evidence for God included prayer studies showing that people always get what they pray for and video footage showing the resurrection of Jesus — in other words, empirical evidence. Why do you think he’d say that empirical evidence would count as evidence for God’s existence, if he actually thinks it’s irrelevant? And, if he’s got these knock-down philosophical proofs that render empirical evidence a non-issue, why doesn’t he base his case on those, instead of the God-of-the-gaps reasoning he normally employs?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The original Mr. X:

            IIRC, Dawkins’ examples of what would count as evidence for God included prayer studies showing that people always get what they pray for and video footage showing the resurrection of Jesus — in other words, empirical evidence. Why do you think he’d say that empirical evidence would count as evidence for God’s existence, if he actually thinks it’s irrelevant? And, if he’s got these knock-down philosophical proofs that render empirical evidence a non-issue, why doesn’t he base his case on those, instead of the God-of-the-gaps reasoning he normally employs?

            For one thing, Richard Dawkins is not a philosopher, and he does not discuss the existence of God in an academic context. He is a biologist who has observed that religious belief has had bad effects on his field, and he’s an ordinary guy who has observed religious belief having bad effects in the broader world. And he speaks his mind about it to the public.

            I don’t know about Dawkins, but in my experience many atheists are motivated by concerns like the problem or evil or the related problem of how a benevolent God could make the truth of his existence so hard to establish. As I have said mockingly before, “God is like the CIA: he doesn’t do anything that is not plausibly deniable”.

            (In an opposite way, I think many religious believers are motivated by moral concerns (including myself in the past, although I was a deist and never a Christian). The argument is something like: if God did not exist, morality would have no objective validity. But morality clearly does have objective validity. Therefore, God exists. That’s a perfectly valid argument: if the premises are true, the conclusion follows.)

            If people always got what they prayed for, or if he had video evidence of the Resurrection, this couldn’t prove that God exists given the truth of arguments that he does not, but it would certainly cause us to question those arguments more carefully. (In the same way, if you add up numbers and your rocket explodes, you’ll want to double-check your figures.) For one, it would take away the problem of God’s existence being so obscure to so many people. If the Archangel Gabriel took over as Pope and started smiting unbelievers, well, we’d certainly know something special was going on with the Catholic Church.

            Now, we still might say the prayers and the video evidence and the archangel are more plausibly explained by meddling aliens. For one, we have every reason to believe that aliens really do exist, so we wouldn’t alter our previous conclusions as radically. Though we would have to explain how and why they have hidden from humans for so long.

            Why wouldn’t one want to say it was God behind these things? Again, one can simply look at all the evil things in the world which could easily be fixed by a benevolent God, and come to the conclusion that there isn’t one. But there’s no reason to expect meddling aliens to be benevolent, so it fits better.

            In the real world, not only do we have all those types of problems, but it’s just so obvious that Judaism is the exact kind of thing you would expect a bunch of desert savages to invent. And Christianity is a natural adaptation of it, an offshoot designed to de-emphasize its more repugnant aspects and make it amenable to Roman culture. That is, even if God didn’t exist, even an honest Christian should still expect Christianity—or something very like it—to exist.

            It doesn’t seem any more special than Islam or Greco-Roman paganism or Zoroastrianism or Buddhism. For instance, Zoroastrianism explains the existence of evil in the world much better than Christianity: there is good and evil in the world because it is at war between a good god and an evil god. Not to mention that they’re all worse than deism, which has all the benefit of the “beautiful logical arguments” and none of the drawbacks of “savage primitivism which he have to accept or rationalize away”.

            Video evidence of the Resurrection would evidentially favor Christianity because it would mean we could throw out all the other religions and consider any argument in favor of the truth of God or religion in general as favoring Christianity in particular.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            In one of the runs of the Supergirl comic (quite some time ago) the overall story arc was about a conflict between different aspects of a Deity. At one point, a character who claimed to be God (who inhabited the body of a 12-year-old-boy) was talking to Supergirl and didn’t seem to care whether she believed his claim or not. When questioned, he pointed out that in a universe with powerful superbeings, there was nothing he could do which would prove he was God as opposed to the New Uberhero of the Week. (He did say that he didn’t care if she believed he was God as long as she listened to what he was trying to tell her.)

            ETA: At one point, he did prove to her that he wasn’t just a crazy kid by smacking her with his bat. She flew several miles: he was waiting for her when she landed. She wasn’t mad (she sorta had it coming) and observed, “I can take a lot, but I felt that.”

            He responded, “You felt what I wanted you to feel. If I’d really hit you, you wouldn’t be feeling anything at all.”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            For one thing, Richard Dawkins is not a philosopher, and he does not discuss the existence of God in an academic context. He is a biologist who has observed that religious belief has had bad effects on his field, and he’s an ordinary guy who has observed religious belief having bad effects in the broader world. And he speaks his mind about it to the public.

            Dawkins has spent far more time and effort in recent years criticising religion than doing actual science. “He’s just a biologist who happens to say a few things about religion” isn’t really a plausible characterisation any more.

            Plus, so what? If Dawkins thinks that empirical evidence is moot because of some knock-down philosophical argument against the existence of God, he should give us this argument, not rely on (allegedly) irrelevant empirical arguments. I’ve still got no idea what motive he’d have for not giving the strongest arguments for his position.

            Why wouldn’t one want to say it was God behind these things? Again, one can simply look at all the evil things in the world which could easily be fixed by a benevolent God, and come to the conclusion that there isn’t one.

            So what sort of evil things could “easily” be fixed, without either (a) resulting in an even worse evil, or (b) giving up some outweighing compensatory good?

            In the real world, not only do we have all those types of problems, but it’s just so obvious that Judaism is the exact kind of thing you would expect a bunch of desert savages to invent.

            So why is it that there are so few religions like Judaism — monotheistic, exclusive, holy books, and the like? History suggests that “exact kind of thing you would expect a bunch of desert savages to invent” is in fact a kind of vague polytheism.

            And Christianity is a natural adaptation of it, an offshoot designed to de-emphasize its more repugnant aspects and make it amenable to Roman culture.

            Lol yeah, they made it so amenable that most of the early apostles ended up getting murdered.

            For instance, Zoroastrianism explains the existence of evil in the world much better than Christianity: there is good and evil in the world because it is at war between a good god and an evil god.

            The idea of two coequal Gods is incoherent, so no.

            Not to mention that they’re all worse than deism, which has all the benefit of the “beautiful logical arguments” and none of the drawbacks of “savage primitivism which he have to accept or rationalize away”.

            I’ve yet to see a deist give a good argument for rejecting the idea of revelations a priori. Mostly it seems to rest on some sort of unexamined intuition that “Of course God wouldn’t do that because [mumble, mumble].”

          • Marc Whipple says:

            So what sort of evil things could “easily” be fixed, without either (a) resulting in an even worse evil, or (b) giving up some outweighing compensatory good?

            Chronic sinusitus. Or, for that matter, kidney stones. At least, the fact that they are painful. It serves no useful purpose for them to be painful: in fact, it’s actively detrimental that they are painful because the best way to treat them, absent modern medicine, is to drink more water, and when you’re in so much pain you’re nauseous, the last thing you’re going to do of your own accord is drink a lot of water.

            Or did you mean “willful acts of evil?” Want a good one? Provide human females with some powerful natural defense against rape. I’m talking “If you penetrate her without consent, her genitals produce a powerful contact neurotoxin,” sort of thing.

            The idea of two coequal Gods is incoherent, so no.

            No, it is not. The idea of two equally omnipotent gods is irrational, but if you say two gods are coequal, then by definition they cannot be omnipotent. (They could be omnipotent against everything else in the universe, just not completely omnipotent.) If you want a fictional example. consider Kwll and Rhynn. 🙂

            Well, actually, that isn’t even true. If God can’t make a rock so heavy He can’t lift it, there’s no reason He couldn’t make a God so powerful it could affect Him. Omnipotence leads to paradox even singularly: I’m not sure why it gets any worse if more than one entity has it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The original Mr. X:

            You don’t appear to be talking about the triple-omni God that a) the problem of evil applies to, and b) Christians claim to worship.

            Edit: I think someone just deleted their post.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Edit: I think someone just deleted their post.

            Well, it certainly wasn’t me. I’ll try and put it up again.

            (Incidentally, has anybody else had their posts mysteriously vanish?)

            @Marc Whipple:

            Chronic sinusitus. Or, for that matter, kidney stones. At least, the fact that they are painful. It serves no useful purpose for them to be painful: in fact, it’s actively detrimental that they are painful because the best way to treat them, absent modern medicine, is to drink more water, and when you’re in so much pain you’re nauseous, the last thing you’re going to do of your own accord is drink a lot of water.

            So what are you saying God should do, miraculously intervene every time somebody gets a kidney stone? Set up the laws of nature such that getting kidney stones is impossible?

            Or did you mean “willful acts of evil?” Want a good one? Provide human females with some powerful natural defense against rape. I’m talking “If you penetrate her without consent, her genitals produce a powerful contact neurotoxin,” sort of thing.

            So how would that work? In particular, how would the genitals know whether or not the brain is consenting?

            No, it is not. The idea of two equally omnipotent gods is irrational, but if you say two gods are coequal, then by definition they cannot be omnipotent.

            No, because God is of necessity pure act, and anything that could differentiate two or more Gods would have to be some kind of potency. Hence there can only be one.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            You don’t appear to be talking about the triple-omni God that a) the problem of evil applies to, and b) Christian’s claim to worship.

            I don’t think I’ve said anything that hasn’t been standard in Christian theology for the past two thousand years.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            So what are you saying God should do, miraculously intervene every time somebody gets a kidney stone? Set up the laws of nature such that getting kidney stones is impossible?

            That second one would be relatively easy, but he doesn’t even have to do that. Instead of a pain response – which is counterproductive – wire the brain for an enhanced thirst response.

            So how would that work? In particular, how would the genitals know whether or not the brain is consenting?

            I dunno. I’m not a neurobiologist. Nor do I think that’s necessarily The Answer. However, I don’t think for a moment that some kind of reasonably potent natural defense to that specific act is something a God which can invent a poisonous egg-laying beaver-duck couldn’t come up with.

            …God is of necessity pure act, and anything that could differentiate two or more Gods would have to be some kind of potency. Hence there can only be one.

            Saying it doesn’t make it so. I respectfully decline to stipulate that your definition is correct or that the logic it produces is irrefutable.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The original Mr. X:
            “Set up the laws of nature such that getting kidney stones is impossible?”

            The Omnipotent god can do this, but chooses not to, for some reason. Apologetics try to explicate why this is so, but they don’t claim God can’t do it, which seems to be thrust of your comment.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            HBC:

            The Omnipotent god can do this, but chooses not to, for some reason.

            The omnipotent God can set up the laws of nature such that nobody gets kidney stones, but neither you nor I nor anybody else on this thread knows if doing so would require accepting a greater evil or sacrificing a greater good. Hence why the strong problem of evil is generally considered a non-starter among philosophers of religion.

            Saying it doesn’t make it so. I respectfully decline to stipulate that your definition is correct or that the logic it produces is irrefutable.

            Then maybe you’d like to disprove it.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            The burden of proof lies upon the person making the claim. You claim that it is required that God be a singular entity. I simply claim that I see no reason why this is required – in other words, my only claim is that I do not believe your claim is justified. My burden of proof lies, and is met, in saying, “I do not believe your claim is justified.” 🙂

            Over to you.

            (Incidentally, I do not dispute that if I accept your definition of God, which includes the concept of actus purus, God is required to be a singular entity. If you like. consider my specific objection to be that I see no reason why your definition of God is required or even preferred.)

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Well, that’s easy: God is the first cause of the universe, if he had any potency there’d have to be something else actualising that, so God wouldn’t be the first cause.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The original Mr. X:

            Dawkins has spent far more time and effort in recent years criticising religion than doing actual science. “He’s just a biologist who happens to say a few things about religion” isn’t really a plausible characterisation any more.

            Plus, so what? If Dawkins thinks that empirical evidence is moot because of some knock-down philosophical argument against the existence of God, he should give us this argument, not rely on (allegedly) irrelevant empirical arguments. I’ve still got no idea what motive he’d have for not giving the strongest arguments for his position.

            I am no expert on Richard Dawkins. I haven’t even read any of his books. I am familiar with his ideas through some articles by him, and through secondary sources.

            But Dawkins built his career on being an evolutionary biologist. That was how he got famous. In the process, he spent a whole lot of time arguing against bullshit spread by creationists, and he came to see religion as a very negative force in science and in the world at large. That made him angry, and he wanted to write a book about it.

            For a long time, though, publishers had told him that it wasn’t a good idea to write a book openly attacking religion: too much negative reaction. Of course, since the 1700s it’s been acceptable (in the right circles) to be an atheist, so long as you didn’t say it too explicitly or too loudly. People used euphemisms like having “French principles” (an amusing term I read last week in a story from the 1870s written by J. Sheridan Le Fanu). But coming right out and saying God doesn’t exist was Not Done and Not a Good Career Move.

            I don’t know where you live, but it’s still like this is many parts of the U.S. and the rest of the world. I’m from Alabama, and my father (who is not religious) urged me to simply remove the “Religious Beliefs” section of my Facebook profile instead of saying “Atheist”. And I think it was good advice: there are employers out there who will just not hire you if you are an atheist. This is not even to mention that, for most of the 20th century, atheism was the creed of The Enemy: the Godless Communist. To use Leonard Peikoff’s joking example of the fallacy of affirming the consequent: “All communists are atheists. You are an atheist. Therefore, you are a communist.”

            But finally Dawkins wrote The God Delusion, which made him an “atheist superstar”. The argument for God which (as I understand) Dawkins mainly argues against there is the argument from design. This is definitely not the best argument for God, but it seems to be the most popular among the public. In essence: “Wow, the universe is so orderly and complex! How could you explain it, if not by the fact that it was made by a perfect being? Therefore, God exists.”

            Dawkins pretty much says: “Ah, but you can explain how the universe works purely by natural laws. Therefore, God is a superfluous and unnecessary hypothesis.”

            This does not satisfy the theologians, who have better arguments. Dawkins is not really arguing against the theologians, though. He is arguing against the kind of nonsense that leads people to support creationism. Remember that he is an evolutionary biologist!

            However, that is not even the most important part of the book or what Dawkins is most known for. He is really more of a missionary for atheism, or rather someone who seeks to make it more socially acceptable. And I have never heard of any missionaries who go around giving complex theological arguments for God. They talk about how bad paganism and irreligion is, and about all the benefits you get by trusting in Jesus as your savior.

            As Wikipedia says:

            Dawkins writes that The God Delusion contains four “consciousness-raising” messages:

            1. Atheists can be happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.
            2. Natural selection and similar scientific theories are superior to a “God hypothesis”—the illusion of intelligent design—in explaining the living world and the cosmos.
            3. Children should not be labelled by their parents’ religion. Terms like “Catholic child” or “Muslim child” should make people cringe.
            4. Atheists should be proud, not apologetic, because atheism is evidence of a healthy, independent mind.

            It’s at best “weak-manning” to go after Dawkins for not having full knowledge of every technicality of every argument for God, complete with a full response to each. That’s not what he’s trained in or interested in. That’s not what he does. The main point of his message is: atheism is good and something to be proud of, not ashamed of! Be open about your atheism! Don’t hide it! Don’t raise your children in religion if you yourself don’t believe just so that they will “fit in”!

            As to what you could read, the idea that one can prove the existence of God has been discredited in philosophy since around the late 18th century, by religious and non-religious philosophers alike. It’s pretty much a dead issue now because they all agree on this. Even Platinga says you can’t prove it. Now, the fact that this is a dominant opinion in philosophy doesn’t prove anything, but there are plenty of authors to investigate, starting with Immanuel Kant.

            So what sort of evil things could “easily” be fixed, without either (a) resulting in an even worse evil, or (b) giving up some outweighing compensatory good?

            Well, the free will argument is the usual one given to justify all the evil in the world. In general, I find it totally unconvincing in every respect.

            Most obviously, it doesn’t apply at all to “natural evil”, i.e. bad things which are not consciously chosen. So: volcanoes destroying innocent Italian villagers, or little children being striken with brain cancer. People used to say those things were deserved punishments from God. But hardly anyone believes that anymore because it’s too savage.

            But even voluntary evil seems completely unjustifiable for God to allow. At the very least, he ought not to let evil people harm others. Why does the unlimited goodness of free will mean that it’s a “greater good” for God to let rapists rape? Does the existence of the police violate free will? Obviously not. Free will is a metaphysical issue, not a political issue. If you put a man in prison, you take away his political freedom—his freedom of action—but not his freedom of will.

            If it’s okay for the police to stop rapists in the act, then it ought to be okay for God to send angels down to stop every rapist as he’s grabbing his victim. It makes no sense whatsoever to say this would contradict free will. Moreover, God has the unique advantage of being able to “watch the watchers” and stop corruption in government. Imagine how good it would be if all governments were perfectly just, and every evil politician or dictator was sent to jail.

            But most importantly, why is free will even a good thing in the first place, even in regard to being able to harm yourself and merit hell by sinning? Free will is a fact about how people are; it’s neither good nor bad. It would be very bad if, as in Calvinism, people were determined to sin and could not do otherwise. But it would be very good if people could not do otherwise than to act perfectly virtuously all the time.

            And it’s simply completely monstrous to expect finite, limited beings in only forty, fifty, or ninety years to determine their eternal fate. People can fuck up and do great evil with the free will that they do have as a natural fact. But not even Stalin levels of evil can possibly merit an infinite punishment. The idea of hell is simply childish: a child (or a savage) can’t think of what comes after ten thousand and just says “infinity!” without comprehending its true extent.

            So why is it that there are so few religions like Judaism — monotheistic, exclusive, holy books, and the like? History suggests that “exact kind of thing you would expect a bunch of desert savages to invent” is in fact a kind of vague polytheism.

            In fact, early Judaism was vaguely polytheistic! This is simply a historical fact. They believed other gods existed, but that theirs was better.

            Judaism is also not the only example of monotheism independently developing in history.

            Moreover, maybe polytheism was more common because polytheism is a much more plausible and reasonable view than monotheism. The universe seems very clearly not to be ruled by a single omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being who orders everything according to his own Plan.

            The Greco-Roman view of many warring gods, each of which embody a limited, natural element of the world, is much more in line with the facts. Why does Athens sometimes win and sometimes lose? Because sometimes Athena gets the upper hand, sometimes she loses, and sometimes she just gets pissed off. Why do bad things happen to good people? Because Zeus is kind of an asshole, and he isn’t the absolute ruler of the cosmos anyway.

            Finally, Islam is much more consistently monotheistic in rejecting this “Trinity” bullshit and saying quite firmly that God is One and only One. During the Crusades, the Muslim word for Christian was “polytheist”.

            Lol yeah, they made it so amenable that most of the early apostles ended up getting murdered.

            Because they obviously posed a great threat to the status quo and in fact had enormous success in converting Greeks and Romans, starting with Saul of Tarsus—who was a Jew but a Roman citizen, and who converted Christianity from a Jewish sect to a universal religion.

            Christianity, of course, had competition in the form of several very similar mystery cults like Mithraism. But it won out due to a combination of luck and certain advantages, such as allowing women into the Church, forbidding people from following Christianity and other religions at the same time, and engaging in a lot of social service toward the poor.

            Their success was not entirely dissimilar to how communism beat traditionalism in Russia and China (complete with banning and persecuting everyone else once they got in charge). Which success certainly doesn’t prove that communism was true or beneficial: only that it had a well-crafted message.

            The idea of two coequal Gods is incoherent, so no.

            It’s not at all coherent. Two equal infinite and unlimited gods is incoherent, but that’s not what it holds. It holds that the gods are in a struggle because neither has the power to destroy the other (right now, at least), but that eventually the good god will win the struggle.

            But even one infinite and unlimited god is incoherent, at least as Christianity conceives it. First of all, as Aristotle demonstrated, the existence of an actual infinite is a contradiction of the law of identity (because it’s a quantity without any definite nature). Moreover, Spinoza validly argued for pantheism on the grounds that if God has infinite and not limited in every way, then you can never say of anything that it is “not God”. To say that God is not something is to limit God. God is good, but God is also evil, and he is you and me and this keyboard and everything else. God is everything that is, and he has an infinite number of attributes and an infinite amount of every attribute.

            Of course, that concept of God had Spinoza excommunicated from the Jewish community (and of course, would have been excommunicated also if he had been born a Christian). And though Leibniz largely followed Spinoza, he never answered this argument—because he was not the kind of guy to go up against the Church.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Even if I grant that – which I do not, but for the sake of the argument – I do not see any reason why after the moment of initial creation God could not have split himself into any arbitrary number of parts.

            Under your definition, the “sum” of those parts is actually God, since they would presumably retain the potentiality of rejoining and becoming a singular God again and if I am correct in my understanding of your particular approach nothing with potentiality can be God. However, again, that means I have to accept your definition and I see no reason why I have to do so. If I do, then it’s tautological that God is singular, but that doesn’t really tell us anything other than that your definition of God includes a singularity requirement. If I were to tell you that my definition of God includes a “cannot abide black licorice and only created it to give an example of absolute evil,” I suspect you’d be unimpressed with my assertion of a required attribute of God.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The original Mr. X

            [My original post was too large. This is Part 2.]

            I’ve yet to see a deist give a good argument for rejecting the idea of revelations a priori. Mostly it seems to rest on some sort of unexamined intuition that “Of course God wouldn’t do that because [mumble, mumble].”

            Deists don’t reject revelations “a priori”. They just think the people who get the revelations are justified in believing them, but for everyone else, there’s Mastercard. If you get a revelation, all I have is your hearsay.

            Now, if you’ve got some miracles to show me, that’s another story. But it’s very curious how the magnitude of miracles has decreased in exact proportion to the quality of the historical record. In Old Testament times, God was flooding the whole world (in a way that 19th century archaeology completely disproved). In New Testament times, he restricted himself to bringing back a couple of dead guys and turning water into wine (not much above David Copperfield). These days, he allegedly cures cancer in ways that aren’t even possible to detect by the most detailed statistical analysis.

            Also, Christianity completely dismisses the alleged miracles of every other religion. The recent “Hindu milk miracle”—where statues all over India started drinking milk—is much better confirmed than anything in the Bible. There’s even supposed to be some tapes of it. But they don’t believe that one.

            Nor have I met a Christian who agreed with Muslims that the Koran itself is a miracle: so beautiful and well-written that it could not possibly have been produced by a being other than God.

            As Thomas Paine said in his The Age of Reason (which is a great and hilarious book attacking the stupidity of Christianity—and for which Paine suffered greatly in his time):

            Every national church or religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God, communicated to certain individuals. The Jews have their Moses; the Christians their Jesus Christ, their apostles and saints; and the Turks their Mahomet; as if the way to God was not open to every man alike.

            Each of those churches shows certain books, which they call revelation, or the Word of God. The Jews say that their Word of God was given by God to Moses face to face; the Christians say, that their Word of God came by divine inspiration; and the Turks say, that their Word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from heaven. Each of those churches accuses the other of unbelief; and, for my own part, I disbelieve them all.

            As it is necessary to affix right ideas to words, I will, before I proceed further into the subject, offer some observations on the word revelation. Revelation when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man.

            No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and, consequently, they are not obliged to believe it.

            It is a contradiction in terms and ideas to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication. After this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner, for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            [This is the end of the quote from Paine, the third and final part of my post.]

            When Moses told the children of Israel that he received the two tables of the commandments from the hand of God, they were not obliged to believe him, because they had no other authority for it than his telling them so; and I have no other authority for it than some historian telling me so, the commandments carrying no internal evidence of divinity with them. They contain some good moral precepts such as any man qualified to be a lawgiver or a legislator could produce himself, without having recourse to supernatural intervention. [Paine in a footnote: “It is, however, necessary to except the declamation which says that God visits the sins of the fathers upon the children. This is contrary to every principle of moral justice.”]

            When I am told that the Koran was written in Heaven, and brought to Mahomet by an angel, the account comes to near the same kind of hearsay evidence and second hand authority as the former. I did not see the angel myself, and therefore I have a right not to believe it.

            When also I am told that a woman, called the Virgin Mary, said, or gave out, that she was with child without any cohabitation with a man, and that her betrothed husband, Joseph, said that an angel told him so, I have a right to believe them or not: such a circumstance required a much stronger evidence than their bare word for it: but we have not even this; for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves. It is only reported by others that they said so. It is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not choose to rest my belief upon such evidence.

            It is, however, not difficult to account for the credit that was given to the story of Jesus Christ being the Son of God. He was born when the heathen mythology had still some fashion and repute in the world, and that mythology had prepared the people for the belief of such a story. Almost all the extraordinary men that lived under the heathen mythology were reputed to be the sons of some of their gods. It was not a new thing at that time to believe a man to have been celestially begotten; the intercourse of gods with women was then a matter of familiar opinion. Their Jupiter, according to their accounts, had cohabited with hundreds; the story therefore had nothing in it either new, wonderful, or obscene; it was conformable to the opinions that then prevailed among the people called Gentiles, or mythologists, and it was those people only that believed it. The Jews, who had kept strictly to the belief of one God, and no more, and who had always rejected the heathen mythology, never credited the story.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The original Mr. X:

            Your omnipotent God isn’t very potent.

            The idea that painful kidney stones or fly larvae whose life cycle depends on eating the eyeball rendering people blind is required to prevent even greater evil makes sense for a god who is somehow constrained. For one who has no constraints? This is a logical impossibility.

            And the problem of evil is taken seriously? First time I’ve heard that. Theological scholars certainly take it seriously.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Vox:

            This does not satisfy the theologians, who have better arguments. Dawkins is not really arguing against the theologians, though. He is arguing against the kind of nonsense that leads people to support creationism. Remember that he is an evolutionary biologist!

            Dawkins disagrees with you:

            “This is as good a moment as any to forestall an inevitable retort to the book, on that would otherwise – as sure as night follows day – turn up in a review: ‘The God that Dawkins doesn’t believe in is a God that I don’t believe in either. I don’t believe in an old man in the sky with a long white beard.’ That old man is an irrelevant distraction and his beard is as tedious as it is long. Indeed the distraction is worse than irrelevant. Its very silliness is designed to distract attention from the fact that what the speaker really believes is not a whole lot less silly. I know you don’t believe in an old bearded man sitting on a cloud, so let’s not waste any more time on that. I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.

            Also, your interpretation doesn’t help your defence of Dawkins. For him to be justified in rejecting any evidence for God’s existence out of hand, he’d have to have shown that God’s existence is logically impossible. “The appearance of design in the universe doesn’t actually point to God existing” doesn’t do this, and hence doesn’t justify his pre-emptive rejection of counter-evidence.

            As to what you could read, the idea that one can prove the existence of God has been discredited in philosophy since around the late 18th century, by religious and non-religious philosophers alike. It’s pretty much a dead issue now because they all agree on this. Even Platinga says you can’t prove it. Now, the fact that this is a dominant opinion in philosophy doesn’t prove anything, but there are plenty of authors to investigate, starting with Immanuel Kant.

            Oh, I guess I must have imagined reading all those modern philosophy books and articles saying that one can in fact prove the existence of God. Perhaps it was just an alien trickster culture playing a practical joke on me.

            But most importantly, why is free will even a good thing in the first place, even in regard to being able to harm yourself and merit hell by sinning? Free will is a fact about how people are; it’s neither good nor bad. It would be very bad if, as in Calvinism, people were determined to sin and could not do otherwise. But it would be very good if people could not do otherwise than to act perfectly virtuously all the time.

            What would it even mean to talk of virtue absent free will? We don’t say that a medicine is acting virtuously in curing disease.

            And it’s simply completely monstrous to expect finite, limited beings in only forty, fifty, or ninety years to determine their eternal fate. People can fuck up and do great evil with the free will that they do have as a natural fact. But not even Stalin levels of evil can possibly merit aninfinite punishment. The idea of hell is simply childish: a child (or a savage) can’t think of what comes after ten thousand and just says “infinity!” without comprehending its true extent.

            It seems childish to you because you have a childish understanding of it. Eternity isn’t just “a really, really long period of time”, and Hell isn’t a big naughty step where you get sent for breaking an arbitrary set of rules. Hell is the natural consequence of rejecting God’s love; or do you think that God should force his love on others, like a kind of spiritual rapist?

            In fact, early Judaism was vaguely polytheistic! This is simply a historical fact. They believed other gods existed, but that theirs was better.

            And then they didn’t. What’s your point?

            Judaism is also not the only example of monotheism independently developing in history.

            Again, so? To disprove the thesis that “it’s just so obvious that Judaism is the exact kind of thing you would expect a bunch of desert savages to invent,” one doesn’t have to prove that Judaism is unique, just that Judaism-type religions are rare. Which, as a matter of fact, they are.

            Moreover, maybe polytheism was more common because polytheism is a much more plausible and reasonable view than monotheism. The universe seems very clearly not to be ruled by a single omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being who orders everything according to his own Plan.

            So I guess that’s why all the ancient philosophers tended to converge on some sort of monotheism, then?

            Finally, Islam is much more consistently monotheistic in rejecting this “Trinity” bullshit and saying quite firmly that God is One and only One. During the Crusades, the Muslim word for Christian was “polytheist”.”

            I’d be interested to hear what qualifications you have to make such a sweeping dismissal.

            Because they obviously posed a great threat to the status quo and in fact had enormous success in converting Greeks and Romans, starting with Saul of Tarsus—who was a Jew but a Roman citizen, and who converted Christianity from a Jewish sect to a universal religion.

            So on the one hand, Christianity is obviously an adaptation of Judaism to make it fit in with Roman society; on the other hand, Christianity is such a threat to Roman society that Roman society apparently feels the need to make several concerted efforts to stamp it out.

            But even one infinite and unlimited god is incoherent, at least as Christianity conceives it. First of all, as Aristotle demonstrated, the existence of an actual infinite is a contradiction of the law of identity (because it’s a quantity without any definite nature). Moreover, Spinoza validly argued for pantheism on the grounds that if God has infinite and not limited in every way, then you can never say of anything that it is “not God”. To say that God is not something is to limit God. God is good, but God is also evil, and he is you and me and this keyboard and everything else. God is everything that is, and he has an infinite number of attributes and an infinite amount of every attribute.

            Both your examples seem to rest on a confusion between the way in which God is said to be infinite and the way in which some physical thing might be infinite.

            Deists don’t reject revelations “a priori”. They just think the people whoget the revelations are justified in believing them, but for everyone else, there’s Mastercard. If you get a revelation, all I have is your hearsay.

            Yes, and reports of revelations can be investigated with the usual historical methods.

            Though, let us not mistakenly suppose that all God has to do is pull a few miracles and suddenly everybody will be converted. People can always come up with ways to explain away the evidence.

            Zola attached himself to an 18-year-old girl named Marie Lemarchand who was afflicted with three seemingly incurable diseases: an advanced stage of lupus, pulmonary tuberculosis, and leg ulcerations the size of an adult’s hand. Zola describes the girl’s face on the way to Lourdes as being eaten away by the lupus: “The whole was a frightful distorted mass of matter and oozing blood.” The girl went into the baths and emerged completely cured. One of the doctors present wrote, “On her return from the baths I at once followed her to the hospital. I recognized her well although her face was entirely changed.” The doctors who examined her could also find nothing wrong with her lungs, both of which had been infected with tuberculosis, causing the patient to cough and spit blood. Sixteen years later, she was still in perfect health and the cure was designated as official.
            Zola was there when she came out of the baths. He had said, “I only want to see a cut finger dipped in water and come out healed.” The President of the Medical Bureau, Dr. Boissarie, was standing beside him. “Ah, Monsieur Zola, behold the case of your dreams!” “I don’t want to look at her,” replied Zola. “To me she is still ugly.” And he walked away.
            Zola subsequently witnessed a second cure at Lourdes, that of a Mlle. Lebranchu, who was suffering from the final stages of tuberculosis. He told Dr. Boissarie, “Were I to see all the sick at Lourdes cured, I would not believe in a miracle.” He put the second cure in his novel Lourdes (1894), but depicted the woman as relapsing into her former condition on her way home, the implication being that the cure was neither permanent nor supernatural, but rather a case of autosuggestion in an hysterical religious atmosphere.
            But Zola, who remained in communication with the woman long after her recovery, was perfectly aware that there had been no relapse. When Dr. Boissarie questioned him as to the honesty of his account, pointing out that Zola had said that he had come to Lourdes to make an impartial investigation, Zola replied that he was an artist and could do whatever he liked with his material.

            http://www.crisismagazine.com/1989/belief-and-unbelief-i-emile-zola-at-lourdes

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Marc:

            Even if I grant that – which I do not, but for the sake of the argument – I do not see any reason why after the moment of initial creation God could not have split himself into any arbitrary number of parts.

            That would require God to change, and hence to be in potency.

            However, again, that means I have to accept your definition and I see no reason why I have to do so. If I do, then it’s tautological that God is singular, but that doesn’t really tell us anything other than that your definition of God includes a singularity requirement. If I were to tell you that my definition of God includes a “cannot abide black licorice and only created it to give an example of absolute evil,” I suspect you’d be unimpressed with my assertion of a required attribute of God.

            God is commonly defined, inter alia, as the creator of the universe, and from this it follows that he must be pure act.

            HBC:

            And the problem of evil is taken seriously? First time I’ve heard that. Theological scholars certainly take it seriously.

            (Some) theological scholars take the weak problem of evil (“The level of evil we see makes it unlikely that God exists”) seriously. The strong problem of evil (“The existence of evil is logically incompatible with the existence of God”) generally isn’t taken seriously anymore.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Mr. X:

            Does God experience time? I can tell how to respond to you better if I know what your answer to that question is.

            To put my question in more context: Can future-God communicate with past-God? (This is not necessarily a yes-or-no question, I understand that, and if your answer is neither yes or no it will still provide me with useful understanding of your position.)

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The original Mr. X:

            Also, your interpretation doesn’t help your defence of Dawkins. For him to be justified in rejecting any evidence for God’s existence out of hand, he’d have to have shown that God’s existence is logically impossible. “The appearance of design in the universe doesn’t actually point to God existing” doesn’t do this, and hence doesn’t justify his pre-emptive rejection of counter-evidence.

            He is not an expert on “anti-apologetics”. He does not speak as an expert on “anti-apologetics”.

            As I said repeatedly, he mainly speaks as an advocate for atheism being a reasonable view that shouldn’t be shunned by society. In doing so, he refutes some common arguments which are the basis for most people’s belief in God. That suffices to show that atheism is at least more reasonable than the kind of Christianity the majority of people believe in.

            He has probably not deeply investigated the scholastic arguments for the existence of God. He sees no reason to. One doesn’t have time to examine all the bullshit out there in the world. How deeply have you examined Buddhism or Taoism? Even if you have examined them, I’m sure I can point to numerous religions that you haven’t.

            Oh, I guess I must have imagined reading all those modern philosophy books and articles saying that one can in fact prove the existence of God. Perhaps it was just an alien trickster culture playing a practical joke on me.

            Fringe philosophers like Edward Feser (or whoever) do not count as representatives of the modern philosophical consensus. You can find someone to argue for any view in any field.

            Now, I myself often disagree with the modern philosophical consensus. I’m not saying you ought to take it on authority. I’m saying there’s plenty of people out there to read who will more thoroughly overturn every element of Catholic Scholasticism than Richard Dawkins. The cosmological argument, etc. is based on bad philosophical premises and wild assumptions like the matter/potentiality/individuality vs. form/actuality/universality split. Go to Descartes and continue from there.

            What would it even mean to talk of virtue absent free will? We don’t say that a medicine is acting virtuously in curing disease.

            I don’t know. For one thing, free will is completely incompatible with Christianity on multiple grounds. That it conflicts with God’s omniscience and Plan is the most obvious one.

            The doctrine of original sin also contradicts free will, at least if one does not accept the heresy of Pelagianism. Original sin says people can’t avoid sinning yet deserve hell for sinning.

            The idea that heaven is a “supererogatory” benefit that humanity doesn’t “really deserve”—so God can take it away without doing an injustice—is clever but stupid. In the real world with limitations, yes, a rich man has no obligation to help out random poor people who haven’t done anything to deserve it. But if he could—at no cost to himself—completely alleviate poverty forever but refused, he would be evil and actively malicious.

            Moreover, the Greeks did not connect virtue to free will at all. That is a modern development (one which I think is good). To the Greeks, virtue meant “excellence of function”. They would speak of a virtuous tree or a virtuous horse. I’m less certain about inanimate objects (they may have differed on this), but even there I don’t see why effective medicine is not virtuous medicine in that sense.

            It seems childish to you because you have a childish understanding of it. Eternity isn’t just “a really, really long period of time”, and Hell isn’t a big naughty step where you get sent for breaking an arbitrary set of rules. Hell is the natural consequence of rejecting God’s love; or do you think that God should force his love on others, like a kind of spiritual rapist?

            “Hell is the natural consequence of rejecting God’s love” is the motte. “Hell is the pit of fire” is the bailey. Go read the Church Fathers and see if you find anyone giving a C.S. Lewis type line about how hell is just separation from God. They are very clear that hell is a place where God actively tortures sinners.

            But that’s less important. The main point is “Yes, absolutely!” God should force his love upon others. With a rapist a) love has nothing to do with it, he’s forcing sex upon others, b) he is not a perfect being, and c) he can’t make the other person love him.

            God could just make everyone love God, automatically. If God really existed, you’d be a fucking idiot to want to go to hell. No one could rationally choose that if he really understood the consequences. It’s only the incomprehension of or disbelief in hell that leads people to reject God. Deliberately choosing hell would be insane, and you ought to be kept out of it for your own good. After all, we don’t let children (or even adults) choose to shoot themselves with a gun; and if God existed, we would all be children compared to him.

            And the badness of hell is really irrelevant to whether God is good. If Joseph Stalin were the omnipotent cosmic dictator of the universe and could inflict a eternal punishment on me, I would do what he says. I would rather die than slavishly serve Stalin all my life. But I would rather serve Stalin all my life than go to hell, no matter what he wanted me to do.

            If the Christian God actually existed and perpetrated the atrocities of the Bible, I would regard him as a much more evil dictator than Stalin. But I would still do what he says. And since he can read my thoughts, I would even try to love him. Luckily, he doesn’t exist.

            Again, so? To disprove the thesis that “it’s just so obvious that Judaism is the exact kind of thing you would expect a bunch of desert savages to invent,” one doesn’t have to prove that Judaism is unique, just that Judaism-type religions are rare. Which, as a matter of fact, they are.

            This is beside my point. I didn’t mean that “monotheism” is what you’d expect desert savages to invent. Maybe the Jews were clever on that one. Who cares?

            My actual point was that the morality of Judaism is barbaric and primitive, and the God it worships is indistinguishable from a Bronze Age despot. Which makes sense because he’s “just like a king, but king of the whole universe!”

            So I guess that’s why all the ancient philosophers tended to converge on some sort of monotheism, then?

            Suspiciously, one that is nothing like the Christian God. In the case of Aristotle, the Prime Mover is completely impotent and oblivious of the world. He “causes” motion essentially by inspiration but not through action or personal creativity and did not create the universe. Arguably, Aristotle also believed that there were really 47 to 55 Prime Movers (to account for all the planetary motions).

            Why did Greek philosophy tend to converge on monotheism? Because the basis of philosophy and science is trying to find a smaller number of things that explain the world, rather than giving in to irreducible complexity. The problem is that the Christian God (unlike the Aristotlelian God) is a a bad explanation because it imbues him with superfluous elements like having a personality and loving humanity, which are inconsistent with the facts we observe in the world.

            Of course, polytheism is primitive because it doesn’t get the unified principles behind things. But it’s not contradictory to the facts they understood at the time. And the polytheistic gods of Greece moreover have a limited, definite nature and obey causal laws—which they understood in a primitive way as Fate being more powerful than the gods.

            I’d be interested to hear what qualifications you have to make such a sweeping dismissal.

            Dismissal of what? The Trinity? I was merely arguing that the Muslims are more consistently monotheistic; I certainly don’t endorse their position.

            But sure, I reject the Trinity because it’s a logical absurdity. This was one of the crucial debates in early Christianity. You basically had a split between the more pro-reason and the more pro-faith sides (on many other issues as well), and on the matter of the Trinity they consistently rejected every natural and rational interpretation of how three could be one. They proclaimed the official view that it is a Mystery incomprehensible to man.

            So on the one hand, Christianity is obviously an adaptation of Judaism to make it fit in with Roman society; on the other hand, Christianity is such a threat to Roman society that Roman society apparently feels the need to make several concerted efforts to stamp it out.

            These do not conflict with each other. I don’t know why you think they do.

            Judaism did not endanger Roman society (outside of Palestine rebelling) because it did not appeal to and did not seek to convert Romans. Christianity was dangerous to the Roman status quo because it was a movement designed to and very successful at converting Romans.

            It’s quite like how Marxism is a secularized version of Christianity, which made it more appealing to the Chinese, which made it more dangerous to China than Christianity.

            Both your examples seem to rest on a confusion between the way in which God is said to be infinite and the way in which some physical thing might be infinite.

            Only because no one ever explains just how God is supposed to be infinite.

            Anyway, for Spinoza it’s not physical at all. You say that you are not God. But you are therefore limiting God. To define something and to explain the nature of it is to limit it; to say what it is is to say what it is not. To say A is A is to say A is not non-A.

            Yes, and reports of revelations can be investigated with the usual historical methods.

            Yes, and the result of any reasonable and unprejudiced sort of analysis of all the things like the world flooding or the Jews being liberated from Egypt en masse is that they didn’t happen.

            I’m not saying the Bible has no elements of truth. I believe that someone resembling the Biblical Jesus existed. I also believe that something resembling the Trojan War happened. But I believe he was the son of God about as much as I believe that the Trojan War was instigated by the Judgment of Paris.

            That a man existed or that a war happened is an ordinary claim requiring ordinary evidence.

            That the man was the son of God (and also God at the same time, naturally) or that the war was caused by the intervention of gods is an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence.

            Though, let us not mistakenly suppose that all God has to do is pull a few miracles and suddenly everybody will be converted. People can always come up with ways to explain away the evidence.

            Yes, because the miracles are very low-quality. These days it’s always something like curing a disease we don’t really understand. In other words, it’s always something plausibly deniable. Like when the CIA kills somebody and makes it look like an accident.

            How come God doesn’t turn people into pillars of salt anymore? Again, that wouldn’t automatically make me believe in the Christian God over aliens or something. But it would definitely convince me that some unnatural shit was going on.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @Vox:

            You’re flip-flopping all over the place now.

            Does Dawkins have some airtight logical disproof of God, or is he just saying that we don’t need to assume God to explain the universe? If the former, why has he never given this disproof, instead of relying on much weaker balance-of-probabilities arguments? If the latter, how could his dogmatic refusal to consider any new evidence possibly be justified?

            Plus, you keep claiming that Dawkins was only taking aim at the unsophisticated layman’s conception of God, but Dawkins himself specifically said that that isn’t the case. Let’s look at the quote again:

            “This is as good a moment as any to forestall an inevitable retort to the book, on that would otherwise – as sure as night follows day – turn up in a review: ‘The God that Dawkins doesn’t believe in is a God that I don’t believe in either. I don’t believe in an old man in the sky with a long white beard.’ That old man is an irrelevant distraction and his beard is as tedious as it is long. Indeed the distraction is worse than irrelevant. Its very silliness is designed to distract attention from the fact that what the speaker really believes is not a whole lot less silly. I know you don’t believe in an old bearded man sitting on a cloud, so let’s not waste any more time on that. I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.

            I’m not sure why you keep trying to mount this defence, when it’s quite clearly contradicted by Dawkins’ own explicit words.

            How deeply have you examined Buddhism or Taoism? Even if you have examined them, I’m sure I can point to numerous religions that you haven’t.

            I’ve never written any books on “The Buddhism Delusion”, nor gone on record saying that nothing could possibly count as evidence for Taoism. If I did, I’d make darn sure to read up on these religions before I started spouting off about them.

            Now, I myself often disagree with the modern philosophical consensus. I’m not saying you ought to take it on authority. I’m saying there’s plenty of people out there to read who will more thoroughly overturn every element of Catholic Scholasticism than Richard Dawkins. The cosmological argument, etc. is based on bad philosophical premises and wild assumptions like the matter/potentiality/individuality vs. form/actuality/universality split. Go to Descartes and continue from there.
            I know enough about philosophy (Catholic scholastic and otherwise) to know that mater vs. form and act vs. potency aren’t “wild assumptions”, so you’ll forgive me if I take the rest of your characterisation with a grain of salt.

            I don’t know. For one thing, free will is completely incompatible with Christianity on multiple grounds. That it conflicts with God’s omniscience and Plan is the most obvious one.
            It’s only “incompatible” if you assume that God is inside of time, which plenty of theologians don’t.

            Honestly, this isn’t some recondite and abstruse matter. C. S. pigging Lewis deals with your objection.

            God could just make everyone love God, automatically.

            In what meaningful sense would that be “love”?

            Suspiciously, one that is nothing like the Christian God. In the case of Aristotle, the Prime Mover is completely impotent and oblivious of the world. He “causes” motion essentially by inspiration but not through action or personal creativity and did not create the universe. Arguably, Aristotle also believed that there were really 47 to 55 Prime Movers (to account for all the planetary motions).

            You’re moving the goalposts. You said that polytheism is better than monotheism, not that one brand of monotheism is better than another brand of monotheism.

            Plus, if you want a God of the Philosophers that looks a lot like the Christian God, check out the Neo-Platonists. Their God was even triune and everything.

            These do not conflict with each other. I don’t know why you think they do.

            Well, for one thing, if they were willing to change their religion to make it acceptable to the Romans, you’d think that they’d, y’know, change their religion to make it acceptable to the Romans. Not change it a bit, then suddenly get really dogmatic and choose death over tossing a bit of incense in a fire.

            That the man was the son of God (and also God at the same time, naturally) or that the war was caused by the intervention of gods is an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence.

            What do you mean by “an extraordinary claim” and “extraordinary evidence”?

            Yes, because the miracles are very low-quality. These days it’s always something like curing a disease we don’t really understand. In other words, it’s always something plausibly deniable. Like when the CIA kills somebody and makes it look like an accident.

            Suddenly curing a woman with suppurating sores all over her face hardly sounds like “low-quality” to me. Plus, even if God did turn somebody into salt, you can bet people would demand more. Heck even the Second Coming wouldn’t be enough for Dawkins.

          • jeorgun says:

            Re: Hell. It’s ironic to be quoting “trite anti-Christian propaganda” in favor of the religious side, but I do think Neil’s attitude in Hell is the Absence of God is a very realistic one:

            It meant permanent exile from God, no more and no less… …of course, everyone knew that Heaven was incomparably superior, but to Neil it had always seemed too remote to consider, like wealth or fame or glamour. For people like him, Hell was where you went when you died, and he saw no point in restructuring his life in hopes of avoiding that. And since God hadn’t previously played a role in Neil’s life, he wasn’t afraid of being exiled from God.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The original Mr. X:

            Does Dawkins have some airtight logical disproof of God, or is he just saying that we don’t need to assume God to explain the universe? If the former, why has he never given this disproof, instead of relying on much weaker balance-of-probabilities arguments? If the latter, how could his dogmatic refusal to consider any new evidence possibly be justified?

            I never said Dawkins claims to have an airtight logical disproof of God. You are reading that into my comment. (I said only that there exist some atheist arguments against God.)

            As far as I know, Dawkins doesn’t claim this because it’s unnecessary. He claims only to disbelieve the alleged “airtight logical proofs” of God. And the existence of God is such an extraordinary claim that the only evidence that would convince him is such a proof—seeing as how even if every event depicted in the Bible were true, aliens would be a better explanation. But Dawkins can’t think of anything which would convince him that such an “airtight logical proof” was true.

            That’s my understanding of what he would say, in any case. On the other hand, maybe he really is (as you suggest) a dogmatic idiot who rejects God for no reason. But then it’s just “weak-manning” to attack him because you’re attacking the stupid argument instead of much stronger argument another atheist could take.

            Moreover, you’re equivocating between “won’t consider the evidence in front of him” and “won’t continually seek out more bullshit to wade through”. If you refuse to believe something even when it’s proved to you rationally, that’s dogmatism. If you refuse to look deeper into a field from which you’ve heard nothing but nonsense and obscurantism, that’s quite understandable.

            You keep going back to this quote where he says he’s not only attacking the “bearded old man”. Sure, he rejects religion in all forms. He’s seen nothing but bad from it and doesn’t care to look further into it in the faint hope that under all the shit there will be a diamond.

            But he does not claim to be an expert on “anti-apologetics”, as I said. He just doesn’t. He is much more intent on promoting atheism as acceptable in society.

            If he did claim to be such an expert, that would be stupid. I don’t think he does. But if he does, then you can validly say, “Ah, Dawkins, you are correct to reject the religious beliefs of 99% of Christians. But 1% of them really have good arguments for their beliefs. Until you look at the experts’ arguments more deeply, you can’t claim to have conclusively refuted every single argument for God.” And Dawkins would have to respond to that and retract his claim of being an expert.

            I’ve never written any books on “The Buddhism Delusion”, nor gone on record saying that nothing could possibly count as evidence for Taoism. If I did, I’d make darn sure to read up on these religions before I started spouting off about them.

            The assertion that Christianity is true is equivalent to the assertion that Buddhism and Taoism are false. In fact, that they are widespread delusions. You are asserting that Christianity is true. But you haven’t looked into all the arguments for the positions that contradict it.

            Of course, it would be impossible to do so. I think there’s not much reason for you to read centuries of Buddhist scholarship. And no one who ever wrote a book arguing for Christianity ever looked into the full writings of every other religion—it can’t be done.

            Neither do I think that Dawkins is under any obligation to read centuries of Christian apologetics in order to write a book attacking one more religion than any Christian author attacks when he defends Christianity. He would only have to do that if he claimed to be an expert on every religion, but only an idiot would do that. He doesn’t have to study Christianity in depth to assert that God is a delusion any more than he has to study Sikhism, which he rejects just as equally.

            I know enough about philosophy (Catholic scholastic and otherwise) to know that mater vs. form and act vs. potency aren’t “wild assumptions”, so you’ll forgive me if I take the rest of your characterisation with a grain of salt.

            The matter/potentiality/individuality – form/actuality/universality split is at best very controversial in philosophy. The belief that it is some obvious fact is completely discredited.

            Scholasticism and that sort of naive Aristotelianism is a fringe position in philosophy. Objectivism is also a fringe position in philosophy, despite the fact that I agree with most of it. The fact that there are tenured Objectivist philosophers at reputable universities does not change this.

            I therefore do not expect people to agree—without argument—with idiosyncratic metaphysical presumptions made by Objectivism.

            My main point, though, was that if you want to attack atheism, you’d do better to attack e.g. the modern rejection of universal teleology, than to attack Dawkins. Dawkins is not an academic, and he is not an expert on philosophy. Atheism seems obvious to Dawkins because of the philosophic premises he implicitly holds, which he has picked up by cultural osmosis.

            It’s only “incompatible” if you assume that God is inside of time, which plenty of theologians don’t.

            Honestly, this isn’t some recondite and abstruse matter. C. S. pigging Lewis deals with your objection.

            I’ve read C.S. Lewis. He deals with it poorly.

            It is irrelevant to the argument whether God is within time. You’re screwed either way. If God is in time, it’s obvious that his foreknowledge rules out free will.

            If God is not in time, the situation is actually even worse. The only way God can exist outside of time is if eternalism (AKA four-dimensionalism) is true. That is, time (as Augustine argued) is not a real process of change but a subjective aspect of experience. Not only the present exists, but the past and future also exist. That’s why God can see them all at once. God can see the future you because the future you is just as real as the present you.

            But if this is true, it is completely “set in stone” what you will do in the future. There is a fact of the matter about what you will do in the future, and therefore you cannot do otherwise.

            Aristotle knew about this problem. It’s called the “sea battle” problem, or the problem of future contingents. The problem is: tomorrow, either there will or will not be a sea battle. If there will be one, is it not true now and eternally that there will be a sea battle tomorrow? But if that’s the case, we don’t have free will.

            Aristotle’s conclusion was that propositions about future contingents were neither true nor false. But if he’s right, God could not know future contingents.

            This was very big in scholastic philosophy. It’s why people like Aquinas (not even to mention Augustine) did not really believe in free will. They were compatibilists, i.e. those who simply redefine “free will” to be compatible with complete determinism and predestination. There were those who disagreed: Pelagius (not a scholastic, of course) did, as well as the excellent but obscure Peter John Olivi. But they did not have a solution to the problem of how God knows future contingents because there isn’t one.

            In what meaningful sense would that be “love”?

            Who cares? It would be love in the sense that dogs “love” their masters.

            Besides, what’s so good about freely choosing to love someone, anyway? It’s not “inherently good” that as humans we love people who freely choose to love us; it’s just that we do have free will and therefore love to see it in others.

            Why does God want people to love him, anyway? Aristotle argued much more consistently that a perfect being wouldn’t want or need anything.

            You’re moving the goalposts. You said that polytheism is better than monotheism, not that one brand of monotheism is better than another brand of monotheism.

            Plus, if you want a God of the Philosophers that looks a lot like the Christian God, check out the Neo-Platonists. Their God was even triune and everything.

            I’m not moving any goalposts. You attack irrelevant parts of my argument and try to make it about trivial minutiae, then I redirect to my main point.

            But I very clearly was attacking the kind of monotheism that believes the universe is “ruled by a single omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being who orders everything according to his own Plan.” This is not at all Aristotelian monotheism.

            As for neo-Platonism, sure: neo-Platonism was the final decay and collapse of Greek philosophy, and it was just as awful and mystical (but more pseudo-intellectual) as Christianity. Besides, that’s where the Church Fathers stole most of Christian metaphysics from, anyway. It wasn’t until Aquinas that they started ripping off Aristotle (which was a very beneficial development, by the way).

            I don’t hold it against Aquinas for being Catholic (or inheriting some bad ideas from Aristotle). He was a great thinker for his time and made much progress against the rampant mysticism of Platonist Christianity. I hold it against the people today who still are followers of Aquinas!

            Well, for one thing, if they were willing to change their religion to make it acceptable to the Romans, you’d think that they’d, y’know, change their religion to make it acceptable to the Romans. Not change it a bit, then suddenly get really dogmatic and choose death over tossing a bit of incense in a fire.

            As I said, refusal to worship other gods was one of the main reasons for Christianity’s success. Not only is it good marketing: “Wow, look how dedicated these people are that they are willing to die for their faith! They must be really certain of it!”

            But also, you don’t drive out the competition by being interchangeable. Business does this all the time. That’s why when Columbia released 45 RPM records, they made the hole in the middle bigger than on 33s: so you cannot play them on the same jukebox. That encourages people to make the jump to going full-45 and locks them into the system.

            If you convert to Christianity and have to forsake your pagan friends and their gods, you’re now locked in to Christianity and its social support network, and you can’t leave.

            What do you mean by “an extraordinary claim” and “extraordinary evidence”?

            That some rabble-rousing street preacher existed is a very plausible claim. I have many examples of such people at hand. That he was the son of God is not: every other person (of thousands) who claimed to be the son of a god was not.

            I believe Jesus existed because I think he was basically in the same category as David Koresh.

            Suddenly curing a woman with suppurating sores all over her face hardly sounds like “low-quality” to me. Plus, even if God did turn somebody into salt, you can bet people would demand more. Heck even the Second Coming wouldn’t be enough for Dawkins.

            The problem is that sudden cures of mysterious medical conditions happen all the time to Christians and non-Christians alike. Moreover, millions more Christians pray to God to cure their diseases, but he doesn’t. (“God Answers Prayers of Paralyzed Little Boy”)

            Francis Bacon (back in the days when to criticize Christianity, you had to pretend to be criticizing paganism) famously told the story of a man who went to the temple of Poseidon. The priest told him: “Look at all the icons here! Every single one was commissioned by a sailor who was saved from drowning because he prayed to Poseidon.” But the man replied: “Yes, but where are the icons of them that drowned displayed?”

            @ jeorgun:

            Yes, and such a view would be literally the most short-sighted and irrational view you could have. If there’s ever a case for paternalism, it’s here.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @Vox:

            That’s my understanding of what he would say, in any case. On the other hand, maybe he really is (as you suggest) a dogmatic idiot who rejects God for no reason. But then it’s just “weak-manning” to attack him because you’re attacking the stupid argument instead of much stronger argument another atheist could take.

            The discussion was about Richard Dawkins, not atheism in general. How on earth is it “weak-manning” to attack an argument Richard Dawkins made in a thread about Richard Dawkins and his arguments?

            Plus, let’s look at what you said upthread:

            I think he means is that no empirical observation, such as of a booming voice from the heavens, would convince him. Given that he holds all the philosophical arguments for God’s existence to be incredibly flimsy, and given all the massive self-contradictions and insoluble dilemmas posed by God’s existence. If he’s right on those philosophical points, it would be more likely that aliens were playing tricks or that he was insane than that God actually did exist as the cause of the booming voice in the heavens,

            So, “massive self-contradictions and insoluble dilemmas posed by God’s existence”. A tad stronger than just “there’s no positive evidence”. And, since you used it as a justification for Richard Dawkins rejecting empirical evidence – not some generic atheist, Richard Dawkins specifically – it again puts you in a dilemma: either Richard Dawkins knows some argument proving that the notion of God is self-contradictory, in which case it’s hard to see why he’s never used it; or he doesn’t, in which case his a priori rejection of contradictory evidence is unjustified.

            You keep going back to this quote where he says he’s not only attacking the “bearded old man”.

            I keep going back to it because it completely contradicts your assertion that Dawkins is only aiming at the fundie creationist-type God. I’m not sure why you’re so set on defending Dawkins, a man whose works you’ve apparently never read, but if the only way you can defend him is by ignoring his clear and explicit statements of intent, maybe he’s not worth defending.

            The matter/potentiality/individuality – form/actuality/universality split is at best very controversial in philosophy. The belief that it is some obvious fact is completely discredited.

            “Not some obvious fact” =/= “a wild assumption”. Most scientific theories aren’t obvious, but it doesn’t follow that evolution or gravity are just wild assumptions and we shouldn’t base any arguments off them.

            That some rabble-rousing street preacher existed is a very plausible claim. I have many examples of such people at hand. That he was the son of God is not: every other person (of thousands) who claimed to be the son of a god was not.

            I asked about extraordinariness, not plausibility.

            The problem is that sudden cures of mysterious medical conditions happen all the time to Christians and non-Christians alike. Moreover, millions more Christians pray to God to cure their diseases, but he doesn’t. (“God Answers Prayers of Paralyzed Little Boy”)
            Francis Bacon (back in the days when to criticize Christianity, you had to pretend to be criticizing paganism) famously told the story of a man who went to the temple of Poseidon. The priest told him: “Look at all the icons here! Every single one was commissioned by a sailor who was saved from drowning because he prayed to Poseidon.” But the man replied: “Yes, but where are the icons of them that drowned displayed?”

            Why should I expect you to recognise a miracle if/when you see one? You said above that “even if every event depicted in the Bible were true, aliens would be a better explanation”, so why should I trust you not to just come up with a load of false negatives?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The original Mr. X:

            So, “massive self-contradictions and insoluble dilemmas posed by God’s existence”. A tad stronger than just “there’s no positive evidence”. And, since you used it as a justification for Richard Dawkins rejecting empirical evidence – not some generic atheist, Richard Dawkins specifically – it again puts you in a dilemma: either Richard Dawkins knows some argument proving that the notion of God is self-contradictory, in which case it’s hard to see why he’s never used it; or he doesn’t, in which case his a priori rejection of contradictory evidence is unjustified.

            I’m quite sure Dawkins has heard of arguments like the problem of evil, and I think he very likely agrees with them, even if he’s not an expert.

            He does not (or did not) feel qualified to present such an argument in his book, but apparently he does believe some such argument. You are not attacking his book; you are attacking statements he made off-the-cuff in an interview, where people are entitled to say things they aren’t prepared to defend in print.

            In his book, he felt satisfied with saying it’s a matter of evidence and God’s existence is extraordinarily unlikely.

            I keep going back to it because it completely contradicts your assertion that Dawkins is only aiming at the fundie creationist-type God. I’m not sure why you’re so set on defending Dawkins, a man whose works you’ve apparently never read, but if the only way you can defend him is by ignoring his clear and explicit statements of intent, maybe he’s not worth defending.

            Do you understand the difference between “he’s aiming only at the fundie God” and “he’s mainly concerned with attacking the fundie God”?

            He dislikes and rejects all religion. But he thinks the unsophisticated version is more prevalent and more dangerous, and that’s mainly what he argues against. It’s on the basis of the unsophisticated kind that atheists were made for centuries to hide their beliefs or face social ostracism. He takes umbrage at that.

            I’m defending him because I sympathize with where he’s coming from and don’t think he should be demonized as some kind of hack. That is the mentality that gets “open advocacy of atheism” characterized as the province of “fedora-wearing edgelords”. I don’t appreciate that.

            I haven’t read his stuff because I don’t need to be told that atheism is a reasonable view you oughtn’t be ashamed to hold. But many people do, and Dawkins et al. are very valuable for them.

            “Not some obvious fact” =/= “a wild assumption”. Most scientific theories aren’t obvious, but it doesn’t follow that evolution or gravity are just wild assumptions and we shouldn’t base any arguments off them.

            In my opinion—and in the opinion of the majority of philosophers—it is a wild assumption. But you in this thread have expected people to be familiar with it and accept it—presenting no arguments for it—which suggests you think it is an obvious fact.

            If it’s not an obvious fact, you have to argue for it. You can’t just say clearly God is all actuality and expect people just to buy it.

            I asked about extraordinariness, not plausibility.

            It’s implausible because it’s extraordinary.

            What do I mean by “extraordinary”? Well, as a miracle it violates natural law, human biology, etc. There are no other confirmed cases. It would cause me to have rethink a very large number of settled conclusions which I believe are valid and which were based on evidence. That kind of thing.

            What are you looking for here? Do you really not understand that there is a tougher burden of proof to show someone was the son of a god than to show he existed but was conceived in the natural way?

            Why should I expect you to recognise a miracle if/when you see one? You said above that “even if every event depicted in the Bible were true, aliens would be a better explanation”, so why should I trust you not to just come up with a load of false negatives?

            Do you really not understand how “magically curing cancer” is not a convincing miracle—given that it happens to many people who do not pray to saints—or you just being obstinate?

            If everyone in ISIS turned to salt, and a message appeared in the sky saying “I am the LORD thy God”, and an angelic being with wings became Pope, I would definitely turn all my attention to investigating Christianity. Trust me.

            (On the other hand, someone 50,000 years from now would have no cause to believe it. You can’t just reveal everything once.)

            But if the arguments about the incompatibility of free will and Christianity, about the problem of evil, and so on still seemed convincing to me—and none of these miracles would change that fact—I would still be more inclined to go with “aliens”. Given the fact that a really loving God wouldn’t create a world like this and do the kind of thing he supposedly did in the Bible (for instance), aliens would be a better explanation.

            If you wanted to change my mind on that, you would have to respond to the philosophical arguments—like the problem of future contingents which you ignored.

            On the other hand, obliterating ISIS would be a good start toward making this the best of all possible worlds, so in such a world I would have a little more confidence in God’s benevolence. Not much, though.

            Your type of attitude is contradicted by the Bible itself. Plenty of people in the Bible (e.g. Doubting Thomas) doubt God until he comes down and does some really amazing miracle to change their minds. He even did a freaking controlled experiment against the priests of Ba’al. If it was good enough for Thomas, who didn’t believe in the Resurrection after ten of his friends told him it happened, it’s good enough for me, too. Let Jesus come and visit me; we’ll have a little philosophical chat.

          • Jiro says:

            The idea that Hell is just absence from God doesn’t make sense considering the things that get you sent to Hell. People such as gays, atheists, Muslims (if Hell is Christian) and people who use contraception (if Hell is Catholic) get sent to Hell because they “don’t want to be in the presence of God”. But they haven’t actually said that–rather, the religious believer says “anyone who does one of those things obviously doesn’t want to be in the presence of God. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t say it–they don’t. See? It’s their own fault, they rejected God, not the other way around!” The believer makes no room for honest disagreement–if you’re an atheist, you “don’t want to be in the presence of God”–it isn’t possible for someone to be an atheist who doesn’t believe God exists, but doesn’t mind being in his presence if he does.

            Does it *really* make any sense to say that someone “doesn’t want to be in the presence of God” if they examined the ontological argument and found it logically invalid? Or if they were unfortunate enough to be raised as the wrong religion and didn’t convert before they died?

          • Zykrom says:

            I don’t think most Christian denominations outside cartoon land actually think people go to hell for using contraception or something really minor like that. At the very least, you can get out if you repent.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’m defending him because I sympathize with where he’s coming from and don’t think he should be demonized as some kind of hack. That is the mentality that gets “open advocacy of atheism” characterized as the province of “fedora-wearing edgelords”. I don’t appreciate that.

            I haven’t read his stuff because I don’t need to be told that atheism is a reasonable view you oughtn’t be ashamed to hold. But many people do, and Dawkins et al. are very valuable for them.

            The reason he gets “demonised as a hack” is that he is a hack, and a dishonest one to boot; see, for example, NN’s post above: https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/01/03/ot39-appian-thread/#comment-297153

            Now, if you want to defend this hack because he’s on your side and you think his truthiness leads to good outcomes, that’s your prerogative. Personally I come to SSC to get away from that sort of arguments-as-soldiers thinking, but each to their own, I suppose.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Does it *really* make any sense to say that someone “doesn’t want to be in the presence of God” if they examined the ontological argument and found it logically invalid? Or if they were unfortunate enough to be raised as the wrong religion and didn’t convert before they died?

            No, which is why Christians don’t in general say that.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Well, I don’t appreciate this kind of bullshit nitpicking where people take one line out of a non-academic book and call someone a dishonest hack for it being wrong on some minor point.

            Especially when the clear intent of his statement was “terrorists blow people up in no small part because they’re Muslim”—no doubt true—but the author chose to express it more poetically. Meaning that he’s not even wrong at all, even “technically”.

            Look at this paragraph again:

            “Suicide bombers do what they do because they really believe what they were taught in their religious schools; that duty to God exceeds all other priorities, and that martyrdom in his service will be rewarded in the gardens of Paradise. And they were taught that lesson not necessarily by extremist fanatics but by decent, gentle, mainstream religious instructors, who lined them up in their madrasahs, sitting in rows, rhythmically nodding their innocent little heads up and down while they learned every word of the holy book like demented parrots.”

            Does any reasonable person take this this to be a literal description of how he thinks madrasahs work? They nod their little heads up and down at every word? But Dawkins is a big dumb idiot because that’s a “laughable explanation of how childhood learning works?

            I guess someone ought to call Scott Alexander a hack because coordination problems are not caused by a Carthaginian god.

            Muslim children are taught that duty to God exceeds all other priorities. They are taught that martyrdom will be rewarded. They are expected to memorize the Koran. And this is all mainstream.

            Whether this makes them “demented parrots” is a question of poetic license.

            Moreover, the finding that a formal, non-extremist Islamic education is associated with a lesser propensity toward terrorism is not incompatible with anything Dawkins asserts there. Maybe it’s a demographic confounder. Maybe formal Islamic education leads people to see how Islam is too stupid to take completely seriously. If religion is false, it’s not too crazy to expect that the more you know about, the more of its bad elements you will rationalize away.

            And the fact that suicide bombers kill people because they believe in Islam is not incompatible with the possibility that others who believe in Islam will not kill people.

            If you don’t support arguments-as-soldiers, perhaps you shouldn’t call people “hacks” because they disagree with you, even if they don’t express every opinion in the linguistic format of the driest legal review article.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Zykrom:
            How familiar are you with the various sects of conservative protestant religion in the US and what they teach?

            For instance, abortion is believed to be murder, and many consider certain forms of contraception to be abortion (notwithstanding medical evidence to the contrary). Are you familiar with the concept of a “hell house”, which some Christian churches put on before Halloween? These show all manner of things that merit going to hell.

            Plus, in most Protestant Christian sects, you go to hell for merely existing. Only “by the grace of God” do you gain entry into heaven. So, to some extent, there is no action that doesn’t merit us going to hell.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Unlike you, I have actually read TGD, and the rest of the book is exactly like the portion NN quoted.

            Nevertheless, I’m sure that you, a person who’s never actually read Dawkins’ work, have a better grasp on what he’s actually saying than all the other posters here who have read him and find his anti-theistic screeds tedious and sloppy.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Does it *really* make any sense to say that someone “doesn’t want to be in the presence of God” if they examined the ontological argument and found it logically invalid? Or if they were unfortunate enough to be raised as the wrong religion and didn’t convert before they died?

            No, which is why Christians don’t in general say that.

            What they do say entails it.

            Yes, they pay lip service to the idea that there are honest people outside the Church who have never heard of or been exposed to the Gospel. But this clearly doesn’t apply to most atheists in the Western world.

            And since they say “no salvation outside the Church”, it’s really hard to see how this happens even for the virtuous heathens. Bailey: “no one gets to heaven except by being a visible part of the Church”. Motte: “well, I mean being somehow metaphorically part of the Church even though you don’t believe in God or anything”.

            Most seriously, it also sets up another paradox: the problem of evangelism. Either your odds of being saved are a) better if you hear about the Gospel than if you don’t, b) better if you are ignorant of the Gospel, or c) the same either way.

            In the case of a), God is unjust because he’s more likely to send people to hell just because of something that is no fault of their own. With b), evangelism is actively harmful and should be opposed at all costs. And with c), evangelism is just irrelevant.

            Thus the famous line about the eskimo and the priest:

            Eskimo: “If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?” Priest: “No, not if you did not know.” Eskimo: “Then why did you tell me?”

          • Zykrom says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I was raised as a conservative protestant. The idea is that you don’t get condemned for any particular sin, you get condemned for failing to repent. So a lot of things are bad, but it doesn’t really make sense to say you “go to hell for” them, because anyone who will repent and embrace Jesus will be forgiven anyway, and anyone who doesn’t will not no matter what else they do.

            @ Vox Imperatoris

            The troll answer the the evangelism thing would be that even if evangelism isn’t good for the recipient, you still have to do it. Kind of like those chain letters that curse you if you don’t forward them to your friends.

          • NN says:

            @Vox Imperatoris: Unlike Mr. X, I wouldn’t go so far as to call Mr. Dawkins a “dishonest hack,” because I find that his writing is quite good when he writes about his areas of expertise. But there is simply no defending the quoted statement. No matter how much you appeal to “he was only expressing things poetically,” Dawkins claimed that madrasahs, even moderate ones, at the very least make people more likely to become suicide bombers. And this is plainly, factually incorrect.

            Moreover, the finding that a formal, non-extremist Islamic education is associated with a lesser propensity toward terrorism is not incompatible with anything Dawkins asserts there.

            It isn’t incompatible with the fact that he explicitly and specifically states that “suicide bombers do what they do because they really believe what they were taught in their religious schools?” If he just wanted to claim that there was a general association between Islam and terrorism, then why even bring up madrasahs at all? Why specifically mention “decent, gentle, mainstream religious instructors?”

            Maybe it’s a demographic confounder. Maybe formal Islamic education leads people to see how Islam is too stupid to take completely seriously. If religion is false, it’s not too crazy to expect that the more you know about, the more of its bad elements you will rationalize away.

            Ask yourself honestly: would you be coming up with ad-hoc hypotheses to explain away the data if studies had found that madrasah attendance had a positive association with support for terrorism?

            And the fact that suicide bombers kill people because they believe in Islam is not incompatible with the possibility that others who believe in Islam will not kill people.

            When you say “suicide bombers,” do you include the Hindu suicide bombers employed by the Tamil Tigers, the Orthodox Christian suicide bombers employed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the WWII Japanese kamikaze pilots, the Chinese soldiers who joined “Dare to Die Corps” during various wars in the first half of the 20th century, and the anarchist suicide bomber who assassinated Alexander II of Russia? How about Joseph Stack and Samuel Byck?

            I haven’t read his stuff because I don’t need to be told that atheism is a reasonable view you oughtn’t be ashamed to hold. But many people do, and Dawkins et al. are very valuable for them.

            I have heard that Dawkins and other “angry atheists” have helped a number of atheists, particularly those from religious backgrounds, come to terms with their identities. That’s certainly a good thing. But I think those people would be better served if Dawkins spent more time expressing why atheism is a reasonable view that you oughtn’t be ashamed to hold and spent less time on armchair speculations about the real-world sociological effects of religion, a subject where he is clearly out of his depth.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Zykrom:
            “So a lot of things are bad, but it doesn’t really make sense to say you “go to hell for” them, because anyone who will repent and embrace Jesus will be forgiven anyway, and anyone who doesn’t will not no matter what else they do.”

            I don’t think is actually helping the case that you don’t go to hell for minor offenses, whatever they are.

            In other words, protesting that no one holds the view that you go to hell for using contraception (while maintaining that it is a sin akin to murder) and that you are going to hell anyway unless you repent of that sin and all others … well that is sort of a distinction without a difference, isn’t it?

          • Zykrom says:

            If you get sent to hell for literally anything up to and including existing, it doesn’t make sense to say people are getting sent to hell for any particular sin. “salvation through grace, not works” ect.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Zykrom:
            Here is your original quote.

            “I don’t think most Christian denominations outside cartoon land actually think people go to hell for using contraception or something really minor like that. At the very least, you can get out if you repent.”

            It’s not cartoon land where some evangelical Christians regard contraception as abortion as, therefore, murder.

            And you go to hell for literally everything, no matter how minor.

            I mean, I understand what you are saying. If the only way to go to heaven is through Christ, then how can we really condemn any particular sin? It’s a non-starter. God will judge, not man.

            But I think your original statement really downplays how strict some faiths are. Why do you think that Jehovah’s Witnesses will let their children die rather than receive a blood transfusion? Repenting of sin isn’t a get out of jail free card. It doesn’t change the gravity of sin. Some adherents take their faith extremely seriously and really do think that specific actions, even one’s we would consider “minor” put their eternal soul at risk.

          • Zykrom says:

            Fair enough.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ NN:

            Dawkins claimed that madrasahs, even moderate ones, make people more likely to become suicide bombers. And this is plainly, factually incorrect.

            To me it sounds like he said consistent belief in Islam, a religion taught in madrasahs, makes people more likely to become suicide bombers.

            If madrasahs do what they are supposed to do: make people take Islam really seriously, they’re bad. If they don’t: they’re contrary to their own purpose.

            It isn’t incompatible with the fact that he explicitly and specifically states that “suicide bombers do what they do because they really believe what they were taught in their religious schools?” If he just wanted to claim that there was a general association between Islam and terrorism, then why even bring up madrasahs at all? Why specifically mention “decent, gentle, mainstream religious instructors?”

            Presumably because the moderates enable the extremists. If the moderates did not sufficiently prepare the culture—directly or indirectly—there would be no audience for the extremists. The moderates say that the Koran is the word of God, but “ignore the parts about killing unbelievers”. The extremists tell people to take it all seriously.

            Though it’s certainly possible that if you get indoctrinated by the moderates long enough, they’ll teach you how to rationalize away all the arguments for fundamentalism. It seems to be a recurring theme in religion that the more educated and sophisticated people get, the less their beliefs resemble the book they’re allegedly based on.

            Ask yourself honestly: would you be coming up with ad-hoc hypotheses to explain away the data if studies had found that madrasah attendance had a positive association with support for terrorism?

            No, probably not.

            I believe that Islam is false. Therefore, I believe it’s got to be harmful in some way. That’s because I think operating on the basis of the truth, as a general rule, is valuable.

            When you say “suicide bombers,” do you include the Hindu suicide bombers employed by the Tamil Tigers, the Orthodox Christian suicide bombers employed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the WWII Japanese kamikaze pilots, the Chinese soldiers who joined “Dare to Die Corps” during various wars in the first half of the 20th century, and the anarchist suicide bomber who assassinated Alexander II of Russia? How about Joseph Stack and Samuel Byck?

            There are many insane ideologies that lead to suicide bombing. Islam is one of them. (Nor is suicide bombing inherently wrong, for that matter. I’m much more sympathetic to Joseph Stack than to ISIS, even though I don’t think his action was effective in combating the IRS.)

            I’m not saying you have to be a Muslim to be a suicide bomber. I’m saying it’s the most dangerous such cause in the world today. If Islam magically vanished, there would be fewer suicide bombings. Yes, to a large extent people would find other reasons to kill each other—but I don’t think the substitution rate on destructive ideologies is 100%.

            I have heard that Dawkins and other “angry atheists” have helped a number of atheists, particularly those from religious backgrounds, come to terms with their identities. That’s certainly a good thing. But I think those people would be better served if Dawkins spent more time expressing why atheism is a reasonable view that you oughtn’t be ashamed to hold and spent less time on armchair speculations about the real-world sociological effects of religion, a subject where he is clearly out of his depth.

            Fair enough. And your objections are reasonable, overall.

            But there’s different kinds of books out there, at different levels of “epistemic status” (as Scott says).

            For instance, take Ludwig von Mises’s Liberalism, a defense of classical liberalism mainly from the perspective of economics. There are parts of the book that are more rigorously argued. But then there are parts where he does things like suggest (with lots of reliance on Freud) psychological reasons leading people to oppose capitalism. A tamer excerpt:

            In the life of the neurotic the “saving lie” has a double function. It not only consoles him for past failure, but holds out the prospect of future success. In the case of social failure, which alone concerns us here, the consolation consists in the belief that one’s inability to attain the lofty goals to which one has aspired is not to be ascribed to one’s own inadequacy, but to the defectiveness of the social order. The malcontent expects from the overthrow of the latter the success that the existing system has withheld from him. Consequently, it is entirely futile to try to make clear to him that the utopia he dreams of is not feasible and that the only foundation possible for a society organized on the principle of the division of labor is private ownership of the means of production. The neurotic clings to his “saving lie,” and when he must make the choice of renouncing either it or logic, he prefers to sacrifice logic. For life would be unbearable for him without the consolation that he finds in the idea of socialism. It tells him that not he himself, but the world, is at fault for having caused his failure; and this conviction raises his depressed self-confidence and liberates him from a tormenting feeling of inferiority.

            Just as the devout Christian could more easily endure the misfortune that befell him on earth because he hoped for a continuation of personal existence in another, better world, where those who on earth had been first would be last and the last would be first; so, for modern man, socialism has become an elixir against earthly adversity. But whereas the belief in immortality, in a recompense in the hereafter, and in resurrection formed an incentive to virtuous conduct in this life, the effect of the socialist promise is quite different. It imposes no other duty than that of giving political support to the party of socialism; but at the same time it raises expectations and demands.

            This being the character of the socialist dream, it is understandable that every one of the partisans of socialism expects from it precisely what has so far been denied to him. Socialist authors promise not only wealth for all, but also happiness in love for everybody, the full physical and spiritual development of each individual, the unfolding of great artistic and scientific talents in all men, etc. Only recently Trotsky stated in one of his writings that in the socialist society “the average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise.” 1 The socialist paradise will be the kingdom of perfection, populated by completely happy supermen. All socialist literature is full of such nonsense. But it is just this nonsense that wins it the most supporters.

            Now, he doesn’t prove any of this. He’s sort of talking out his ass. But it’s fun to read and not completely implausible. The book is more interesting for having things like that in it, even if some of his hypotheses are not true. And that’s what you have to regard them as: suggestions he thinks are likely, not proven facts.

            Of course, this kind of thing, or the paragraph from Dawkins you quoted, would certainly not be acceptable in a modern academic journal article. There, you’ve got to cite everything controversial, and you can’t overstate anything.

            But a little overstatement and punditry aren’t so bad in a book written for a popular audience. Sometimes you want to hear an author speak his mind freely and not have to cower before he says anything controversial, loading everything with “perhaps” and “it may be”. That’s part of what Dawkins et al. stand for: being able to say bad things about religion—even if it’s overstated—without having ten thousand angry letters come in demanding you retract your statements or be taken off the air.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ HeelBearCub:

            Exactly. It doesn’t necessarily make sense why you should be so terrified of sinning under Christianity—especially in the popular versions that make belief in Christ practically a get-out-of-jail-free card. But people still are anyway, and it makes them quite stressed much of the time.

            One of my great aunts was terrified that her husband had gone to hell because he sometimes “took the lord’s name in vain”. I mean, really worried about this in the manner you would expect if you took hell seriously.

            Another wouldn’t eat any of my grandmother’s fruitcake cookies because they were baked with a small amount of rum. She really thought that this could lead to hell.

            The best case I can make for it is: you should be terrified of sinning, even if you trust in God, because sin leads you away from God. Therefore, you can’t just eat one little fruitcake cookie or say “Jesus Christ!” when you stub your toe, because that leads you on the path to becoming a Confirmed Infidel.

            Yes, you could always commit all the sins you want and repent on your deathbed, but if you try that, you will become so callous that by the time you’re dying you won’t even care to repent. And maybe you’ll die in a car accident and not get the chance to repent. (Though why exactly God is more merciful to people who die slowly, I don’t know.)

            @ Zykrom:

            That is the troll answer to the paradox of evangelism.

            Evangelical religion, in my opinion, has much in common with the chain letter. The only question in my mind is why it took so long for one to really take off. Judaism, for instance, doesn’t really have the concept of heaven and hell, and there is no mission to convert everybody.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Vox:

            I am probably more on your side in arguments about God than not. When it comes Dawkins, however, and his arguments about God, I really think you need to actually read what he has written.

            The reason I say this is that he states unequivocally in “The God Delusion” that he is trying to talk to theists and convince them that they should not be. And then he precedes to call theists idiots and infants and heap other insults on those who believe. As an atheist myself, he made me less sympathetic to atheism, not more.

            Now, that’s all a conversation about tone more than substance. And certainly there are those who will be persuaded that if Dawkins can openly mock theists that it is safe to come out of the atheist closet. Perhaps his approach is necessary for some, but I chose not to praise him for it.

            If one wants to approach the Christian tradition with a critical eye, far better to read Bart Ehrman who calmly takes apart the bible piece by piece, with the knowledge of one who is a Biblical scholar and once was a biblical literalist.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ HeelBearCub:

            It’s not that I haven’t read anything by Dawkins. I just haven’t read a whole book. And in writing this thread, I did look at several reviews and summaries of The God Delusion—the way I usually investigate books, since I do not have time to read the majority of books I hear about.

            But because of this, I’ll put The God Delusion on my list and let you know if I was terribly mistaken about him. The Selfish Gene is already on my list.

            Sure, though, I agree that Richard Dawkins is far from the most sophisticated presenter of atheism. For one, I have read some of his arguments for why atheism doesn’t undermine objective morality, and they’re pretty bad. As I recall, he tends to conflate the issue of explaining why in general people would have to be be moral in any functioning society, with why people should be moral on an individual level.

            And there are many areas of philosophy where I disagree with him.

            I just think there is some merit in the approach (pioneered by Thomas Paine two centuries earlier) of metaphorically slapping people in the face and saying: “Your religion is stupid!”

            A lot of the time, you get bogged down in tiny details and lose sight of the fact that we’re talking about just an absurdly primitive mythology that was grafted onto a Greco-Roman philosophical tradition that gives it a much greater sense of grandeur than it deserves. That’s what’s fun about reading deists: they point out, as atheists often fail to do, that none of the grand philosophical arguments provide one iota of support to Christianity in particular.

          • “During the Crusades, the Muslim word for Christian was “polytheist”.””

            I believe the term is usually translated “splitter.” And they also referred to them as “Nazarenes.”

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            I really can’t remember the original source I heard that from (it wasn’t some kind of anti-Islamic screed; it was some kind of reputable book on the history of the Crusades from the Muslim point of view). What is the term you’re thinking of that is translated as “splitter”?

            A brief search turns up something related to what I’m thinking of on Wikipedia:

            Medieval Muslim (as well as Jewish) philosophers identified belief in the Trinity with the heresy of shirk, in Arabic, (or shituf in Hebrew), meaning “associationism”, in limiting the infinity of God by associating his divinity with physical existence.[16]

            In a theological context one commits shirk by associating some lesser being with Allah. This sin is committed if one imagines that there is a partner with Allah whom it is suitable to worship. It is stated in the Quran: “Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him, but He forgives anything else, to whom He pleases, to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin most heinous indeed” (Qur’an 4:48). Many Islamic theologians[who?] extend the sense of worship to include praying to some other being to intercede with Allah on one’s behalf, rather than taking one’s case to God Himself. The limits of the concept of worship are quite elastic and theologians often describe excessive veneration of some artifact here on earth as shirk.

            I know I read somewhere that this—or something related to it—was a common term of abuse among Muslims for the Christians during the Crusades. (I was a little unclear earlier: I’m sure they also had a more diplomatic and official term.) I don’t know where I read it, though, and maybe it’s not true.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Also, I finally tracked down the Francis Bacon passage I summarized. It’s in the Novum Organum and is the first (or one of the first) discussions of confirmation bias:

            The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate. And therefore it was a good answer that was made by one who, when they showed him hanging in a temple a picture of those who had paid their vows as having escaped shipwreck, and would have him say whether he did not now acknowledge the power of the gods — “Aye,” asked he again, “but where are they painted that were drowned after their vows?” And such is the way of all superstition, whether in astrology, dreams, omens, divine judgments, or the like; wherein men, having a delight in such vanities, mark the events where they are fulfilled, but where they fail, though this happen much oftener, neglect and pass them by. But with far more subtlety does this mischief insinuate itself into philosophy and the sciences; in which the first conclusion colors and brings into conformity with itself all that come after, though far sounder and better. Besides, independently of that delight and vanity which I have described, it is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human intellect to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives; whereas it ought properly to hold itself indifferently disposed toward both alike. Indeed, in the establishment of any true axiom, the negative instance is the more forcible of the two.

            Bacon got the story from Cicero, who told it of Diagoras the Atheist:

            It may be urged that sometimes the good come to good ends. Yes, and upon these we seize, and attribute them without any reason to the immortal gods. But when Diagoras, he who is called ἄθεος, having come to Samothrace, was asked by one of his friends whether he who thought that the gods were careless of human affairs, did not perceive from so many painted tablets how many there were whose vows had enabled them to escape the fury of the storm, and to make their way safe into port, “That is so,” he replied, “because there are no pictures anywhere of those who have been shipwrecked and have perished in the sea”. Once also when he was on a voyage, and the passengers, alarmed and terrified by adverse storms, said to him that they deserved to fare as they did for having taken him on board the same ship, he pointed out to them several other ships struggling in the same course, and asked whether they believed that those also had a Diagoras on board. The truth is that it makes no difference, with regard to good or evil fortune, of what character one is, or how one has lived. We are told that the gods do not notice everything, and that kings do not do so either, but what is the resemblance? For a king is greatly to blame if he passes things over knowingly, whereas God is without even the excuse of ignorance.

          • Jiro says:

            I don’t think most Christian denominations outside cartoon land actually think people go to hell for using contraception or something really minor like that. At the very least, you can get out if you repent.

            But repentance also implies sincerely admitting that you were wrong. I suspect most users of contraception don’t actually believe it’s wrong, and therefore would be unable to repent of it.

            As for the idea that it doesn’t actually send you to Hell, I’d point out

            1) Contraception, according to religions that ban it, kills a person. That seems like an awfully severe crime to *not* send you to Hell.

            2) If it doesn’t send you to Hell, what does it do? Is there some level of effect intermediate between “nothing” and “sends you to Hell” that can apply? (I would suspect that the intermediate effect is “is a sign of moral turpitude so increases by some small percentage your chance of going to Hell”; increasing your chance by a small percentage is as objectionable as increasing it a large percentage).

            3) The whole idea I’m questioning is that it’s people’s own fault that they are in Hell because they “chose to avoid God” so they “voluntarily went to Hell themselves” rather than God sending them there against their will. If, in fact, people using contraception are refusing to listen to God (who is telling them not to do that), it would seem to fall squarely under this conception of Hell.

          • Jiro says:

            No, which is why Christians don’t in general say that.

            “Hell is the absence of God” is typically used to say that it is wrong to blame God for sending people to Hell, because if you go to Hell, that is because you voluntarily chose to be separated from God. But “voluntarily” choosing to be separated from God doesn’t work like informed consent; you don’t have to knowingly recognize that God exists and is good and specifically decide to avoid him anyway in order for it to be “voluntary”. Rather, all you have to do to be considered as “voluntarily” avoiding God is to be an unrepentant sinner; sinning is *inherently* avoiding God, and so all sin is a form of “voluntarily” choosing to avoid God and go to Hell.

            Logically, that means if you’re gay or use contraception, and God doesn’t like it, then that is a form of voluntarily sending yourself to Hell. It is true, of course, that most Christians don’t think about the logical consequences of their beliefs.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            But a little overstatement and punditry aren’t so bad in a book written for a popular audience.

            A little bit of rhetorical overstatement is one thing. But with TGD, the entire book is like that. Not to mention the way it keeps skipping around from topic to topic in a way not entirely suggestive of serious thought. “Anselm came up with this thing called the ontological argument, but that’s silly. Here’s what it would sound like if a kid came up with it. Douglas Adams once said something witty on the topic. I once came up with a joke about the ontological argument, but I forget the details now. Here are some parody arguments I found on an atheist website.” The work reads more like a transcription of some psychological free association test than the final draft of a book.

            Though it’s certainly possible that if you get indoctrinated by the moderates long enough, they’ll teach you how to rationalize away all the arguments for fundamentalism.

            So, when the Koran (Bible, etc.) seems to say something silly, we should all interpret this completely literally and anybody who does otherwise is just rationalising, whereas when Dawkins seems to say something silly, he’s obviously being “poetic”, and any claims otherwise are just “bullshit nitpicking” and taking things out of context.

            Seems like a bit of a double-standard is in play here.

            Exactly. It doesn’t necessarily make sense why you should be so terrified of sinning under Christianity—especially in the popular versions that make belief in Christ practically a get-out-of-jail-free card. But people still are anyway, and it makes them quite stressed much of the time.

            Given that religiosity is positively correlated with good mental health, the evidence is against you on this one, personal anecdotes about your great-aunts notwithstanding.

          • Troy says:

            @Jiro:

            1) Contraception, according to religions that ban it, kills a person. That seems like an awfully severe crime to *not* send you to Hell.

            No one thinks that contraception in general kills a person. Some Catholics have concerns that various forms of hormonal contraceptives like the Pill very occasionally act as an abortifacient. But no one thinks that, say, condoms kill people. Catholic teaching is that marriage and intercourse have two meanings/purposes/dimensions: unitive and procreative. Contraceptives are wrong (on this thinking) because they impede the procreative purpose of intercourse.

          • Troy says:

            Also, on the whole hell debate: you can be a Christian, and I think an orthodox one, and hold that hell is not necessarily final. On this view, God never closes off the possibility of redemption, and so people can get out of hell. Most of the moral objections to hell go away if this conception of it is correct.

          • Jiro says:

            Most of the moral objections to hell go away if this conception of it is correct.

            In this case, my objection is that “Hell is just the absence of God” is an excuse to say “it’s your own choice to go to Hell”, using definitions of “your own choice” that are not limited to what we would consider choices in any other context.

            Instead of “God punishes you for sinning, by sending you to Hell”, it’s “sinning means you have voluntarily chosen to be separated from God because you find his orders repugnant. Hell is separation from God, so you go to Hell and it’s by your own choice.” Replace “sinning” with any specific type of sin you care to name, including contraception and practicing homosexuality.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Exactly. And really, the more fundamental point is that if hell is this place of enormous suffering (or even enormous comparative deprivation vis-a-vis heaven) it is completely irrational to choose it. If people can choose to deform their characters so much that heaven would be a torture for them, why does God allow them to do that?

            “Respect for free choices” is a good trait in humans because we are not omniscient, perfect beings. I don’t know why God should respect my free choices, any more than my mother should have when I was three.

            If hell is limited and finite, most of the problems with it go away. But even if it lasts one second, it still doesn’t make sense why God didn’t make people such that they didn’t go to it at all.

            Moreover, the idea that hell is not an eternal punishment is not completely unbiblical. But that just goes to show another point: that the Bible is vague, self-contradictory, has no objective meaning, and is completely unsuitable as a source of revealed knowledge even if you knew otherwise that Christianity were true. At least the Catholic Church recognizes this and says God granted them the power to interpret it with final authority; the problem is how you know they’re right about having the authority.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Indeed, one of the trickiest parts of Pascal’s Wager is selecting the right bookie.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The original Mr. X:

            So, when the Koran (Bible, etc.) seems to say something silly, we should all interpret this completely literally and anybody who does otherwise is just rationalising, whereas when Dawkins seems to say something silly, he’s obviously being “poetic”, and any claims otherwise are just “bullshit nitpicking” and taking things out of context.

            Richard Dawkins may sometimes be a little arrogant, but I don’t think he claims to be infallible and to speak with the voice of God.

            There is this straw man that always comes up with Biblical “literalism”. No educated person believes the Bible is “literally” true in every word. There are obvious metaphors and poetic lines. I regard the sun “standing still” in the sky as a perfectly reasonable turn of phrase, for instance. But I agree that atheists often misguidedly attack Biblical metaphors.

            But there are plenty of people who claim the Bible is inerrant. That’s not a fundamentalist position. Yet the Bible obviously does contain many self-contradictions and factual errors which are not metaphors. For instance, in some of the Gospels, Jesus visits one person first and then another, while in another Gospel, it’s the other way around. Is that “metaphorical”? Is it metaphorical that grasshoppers have four legs?

            Those are excusable errors that I wouldn’t nitpick coming from a human. But when the words are inspired by God…

            On the other hand, if you don’t believe the Bible is inerrant, you can’t know what’s true and what’s false. (Or what is a fable: is Noah’s Ark just supposed to be a cool story, or are we supposed to believe it was real? The text suggests it was real.) Unless you have a direct line to God like the Pope allegedly does when he puts on his special ex cathedra hat.

            Given that religiosity is positively correlated with good mental health, the evidence is against you on this one, personal anecdotes about your great-aunts notwithstanding.

            Correlation doesn’t prove causation.

            Church is a very fun social club for many people, where you can make friends and even find spouses. I don’t find it implausible that atheists feel alienated from society in many less cosmopolitan places and are unhappy because of that. And if everyone else tells you you’re likely to go to hell, you’re going to doubt yourself, even you don’t believe it.

            Not to mention, if there’s one thing I can agree with Karl Marx on, it’s that religion is the opiate of the masses. If you have nothing to look forward to but more drudgery—let alone that your situation will decline—you would be miserable. Religion holds out the false hope of supernatural bliss.

            This is not all bad, and I wouldn’t hold it against plantation slaves for being religious. However, it also had very bad social effects: namely, it keeps the slaves complacent. I mean, this was a good effect from the perspective of the conservatives of the time, but if the slaves had known that there was no heaven, they may have been more likely to die on their feet than live on their knees.

            Of course, religion can also inspire courage. But it’s like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get it to fight for.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Vox:

            Richard Dawkins may sometimes be a little arrogant, but I don’t think he claims to be infallible and to speak with the voice of God.

            Your claim was that Dawkins *wasn’t* wrong in the passage under discussion, because he was just speaking “poetically”. Are you now saying that he was in fact wrong? If not, what does the fact that he might theoretically be wrong elsewhere have to do with anything?

            For instance, in some of the Gospels, Jesus visits one person first and then another, while in another Gospel, it’s the other way around. Is that “metaphorical”?

            No, it’s because ancient biographies were generally arranged thematically, rather than chronologically. Which, incidentally, is why none of the earliest anti-Christian writers brought this “error” up: unlike modern sceptics, they were familiar with ancient generic conventions, and didn’t presuppose literalism as the default reading.

            Is it metaphorical that grasshoppers have four legs?

            At a guess, I’d say that the phrase translated “on all fours” doesn’t literally mean “walking on four legs”. I couldn’t say for sure, though, because I don’t speak Biblical Hebrew, and neither do you.

            Correlation doesn’t prove causation.

            So I guess we can’t say that your great-aunts’ over-scrupulosity was caused by their being religious, then.

          • Troy says:

            @Jiro:

            In this case, my objection is that “Hell is just the absence of God” is an excuse to say “it’s your own choice to go to Hell”, using definitions of “your own choice” that are not limited to what we would consider choices in any other context.

            Instead of “God punishes you for sinning, by sending you to Hell”, it’s “sinning means you have voluntarily chosen to be separated from God because you find his orders repugnant. Hell is separation from God, so you go to Hell and it’s by your own choice.” Replace “sinning” with any specific type of sin you care to name, including contraception and practicing homosexuality.

            It seems to me that there are two possible objections in the neighborhood here. One is that God shouldn’t be sending people to hell for these particular actions — e.g., contraception and homosexuality — because they are not really wrong. I’m going to set that aside.

            Another objection is that God should not send people to hell for actions that really are wrong (what Christians call sins). In response, I would say that the “hell is the absence of God” idea doesn’t just express the idea that sinning is a voluntary choice, or that one is choosing to be separate from God. It also expresses the idea that God cannot be united to a still sinful person, and that that lack of union with God is precisely what the “punishment” of hell is. It’s not like heaven is extrinsic fun stuff and hell is extrinsic bad stuff and God is sending you to one place depending on what you do. Rather, it’s part of the very nature of sin to separate us from God.

            @Vox:

            And really, the more fundamental point is that if hell is this place of enormous suffering (or even enormous comparative deprivation vis-a-vis heaven) it is completely irrational to choose it. If people can choose to deform their characters so much that heaven would be a torture for them, why does God allow them to do that?

            This can be seen as an objection to my above response: perhaps given that someone is sinful, they can’t be reconciled with God, but why doesn’t God make them virtuous by snapping his fingers, or if he can’t do that why did he create beings like us in the first place?

            The standard answer to both these questions is that making free moral choices is valuable. I share the concern that if some people never get out of hell, there’s little value in respecting their choices. John Hick, in Evil and the God of Love, suggests that freely formed virtue is more valuable than virtue imparted by fiat. If that’s right it explains why God doesn’t just snap his fingers and perfect us, but it doesn’t explain why he would create people who never get out of hell, since they never acquire freely formed virtue. Hick was, accordingly, a universalist — he thought no one spent eternity in hell. (After writing that book he gave up on orthodox Christianity altogether and became a pluralist. But I think one can be a universalist and an orthodox Christian, and I think Hick was one when he wrote Evil and the God of Love.)

            Moreover, the idea that hell is not an eternal punishment is notcompletely unbiblical. But that just goes to show another point: that the Bible is vague, self-contradictory, has no objective meaning, and is completely unsuitable as a source of revealed knowledge even if you knew otherwise that Christianity were true.

            That the Bible is sometimes difficult to interpret simply makes it like any other text ever. It says nothing, or very little, about how reliable it is.

            It is true that if you accept that we need to use judgment, careful scholarship, etc. in interpreting the Bible, then we cannot achieve the kind of certainty fundamentalists seek that we’ve got it right. But that we cannot achieve certainty that God is telling us X does not mean we cannot achieve a high degree of probability that God is telling us X.

            On the other hand, if you don’t believe the Bible is inerrant, you can’t know what’s true and what’s false.

            I don’t believe the Bible is inerrant, and I don’t think I do know with certainty what in the Bible is true. But I think I can have reasonable beliefs with varying degrees of probability about what is true, just like I do in every other area of life.

          • Jiro says:

            I don’t think “it’s part of the very nature of sin to separate us from God” is a very meaningful statement. I can’t even understand that except as a statement about what things happen under what circumstances; “it’s part of the nature of X for it to result in Y” communicates nothing to me beyond “if X happens, then Y happens”.

            You appear to have described an arbitrary set of things (sins) and stated that an arbitrary thing happens when you do them. Why couldn’t I equally say that doing calculus on Tuesday separates me from God? Perhaps God has the “non-Tuesday-calculus-users” nature.

          • Troy says:

            I don’t think “it’s part of the very nature of sin to separate us from God” is a very meaningful statement. I can’t even understand that except as a statement about what things happen under what circumstances; “it’s part of the nature of X for it to result in Y” communicates nothing to me beyond “if X happens, then Y happens”.

            Talk of ‘natures’ can be cached out in terms of a number of different metaphysics. It is incompatible with a very austere empiricism, but most metaphysicians today recognize distinctions that can capture the basic idea — for example, the distinction between necessary and contingent properties of an object. Suppose you’re in a society that gives you voting rights if you have at least 4 apples. Then it’s true that, if you have 4 apples, you have voting rights. It’s also true that, if you have 4 apples, you have more than 3 apples. The latter claim, however, is necessarily true, whereas the former is contingently true, depending as it does on societal norms. Having the apples only contingently gives you voting rights.

            The claim that God and sin are by their nature separate is (very roughly) the claim that their being separate is more like the latter case than the former.

          • One suggestion … . People in this subthread who have not read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis should probably do so. It’s an attempt to dramatize his view of the nature of heaven, hell, damnation and salvation.

    • Urstoff says:

      Two: libertarian (although not of the Ayn Rand stripe) and six-shirts guy (actually, just several shirts of the exact same shirt: a heather-gray t-shirt; for work, I just rotate the same five polo shirts). I’m thankful I’m already happily married, but I would doubt that the emotionally stunted people that take this list seriously are large in number.

      Also, I don’t understand why this list is framed in terms of “don’t fuck X” vs. “don’t date X”. Framing it in terms of the former makes the author seem even more shallow (if that’s possible).

      • dust bunny says:

        “Don’t date” and “don’t fuck” are different standards. “Don’t fuck” is harder, and is to be read as “do not date, and do not have casual sex with”. There are plenty of women for whom “don’t date” is too trivially easy to bother making into a resolution, but who would benefit from changing their casual sex habits so that they experience less regret.

        The list is supposed to be funny; the intended audience is not supposed to take it seriously.

        • Mark says:

          It is harder to not have sex with people than to not have dinner with them.
          It is easier for me to not go to dinner with unappealing men than to not have sex with them *and* not go to dinner with them.
          OK then…
          Though I do agree that it is completely idiotic that anyone is actually considering this piece of writing, which is really, really stupid.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Is that supposed to be an easy question? Both seem super inconvenient, for different reasons (unless you mean exclusively going out for dinner).

    • Technically Not Anonymous says:

      I’m the Man with An Active Reddit Account, but about half the comments I make on that site are making fun of sexually reproducing worker ants so I’m not sure I fit her mental stereotype of a redditor. (Then again, people like her tend to lump together anyone who isn’t 100% pro-SJ, so who knows.) But I probably fit her profile of the Man Who Reads Richard Dawkins because I think trying to understand reality is a good thing.

      • anon says:

        Making fun of gators gets you mentally close enough to “male feminist” for people like her that that’s at least another box checked

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Zero.

      I am married, but presumably that’s not a disqualifier, since it is not mentioned.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I was very disappointed that I’m evidently still fuckable according to this.

      More seriously, these sorts of comic lists are always great but this one felt a bit short and incomplete. This genre works best when it’s over-the-top silly, with contradictory clauses or Seinfeldian nitpicking. You get the feeling that this is an actual list of guys she’s been with rather than a humorous rant.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        The author was the person writing “In Lists” and “Out Lists” for the middle school newspaper.

    • hlynkacg says:

      I’ve got 5.

      Manly literature guy. TED talk guy, “I’m Working on…” guy, active Reddit account, and only 8 shirts (not counting work clothes) .

      • Urstoff says:

        Are “bro-lit” like DFW and Franzen your favorite (let’s ignore the fact that both authors are huge and popular among those besides literary-inclined men; Franzen was an Oprah’s book club pick, after all)?

        I’d probably think a person who said their favorite authors were Hemingway, DFW, and Franzen was a poseur that doesn’t read much (and certainly didn’t read all of Infinite Jest) rather than some sort of slavish reader of man-literature (whatever that is). Not that they couldn’t legitimately be someone’s favorite; just that their popularity is greater than their actual readership.

        • hlynkacg says:

          I haven’t read anything by Franzen (to my knowledge) but I have read and enjoyed Infinite Jest along with much of DFW’s non-fiction. I habor soft spots for Hemingway and Fitzgerald but prefer Graham Greene.

          If pressed to choose a singular “favorite author” it would probably be Kipling or Orwell though it would be a “near thing” with quite a bit of competition, and caveats depending on the specific Genre and type of work being discussed.

          Additional contenders (in no particular order) might be…
          Anthony Burgess, WB Yeats, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Cormack McCarthy, Robert Heinlein, and Ray Bradbury.

          …and that’s assuming that we’re restricting ourselves to the last century or so of stuff written in English.

        • Urstoff says:

          That all sounds quite manly to me. I hope you weren’t hoping to have a chance with the author of the list.

    • blacktrance says:

      Six or seven points. On one hand, the list shows its author to be a highly unpleasant person. On the other hand, at least she’s open about it, so people would know to stay away.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Can’t help but sneer at how entry-level some of the dealbreakers on her list are. Libertarian? Bitch I’m a n-e-o-r-e-a-c-t-i-o-n-a-r-y

      • Anonymous says:

        Reminds me of the party game: “I’m So Right-Wing That…” 🙂

      • ivvenalis says:

        I only gave myself a 2.5 (Manly White Books, SPACE, half a point because while I don’t care about TED/Gladwell/Lesser Hitchens I would definitely be condescending about her worldview, beginning with the idea that I should spend money at Olive Garden) but I emitted a sinister chuckle while counting a zero for several of the other categories.

      • anonymous says:

        I’d say you have no chance, but given that the the dashes movement, like the daesh movment, encourage its adherents to rape people, the poor woman may not have a choice.

      • anon says:

        That’s just a meme version of libertarianism

    • TheNybbler says:

      Two lousy points. (Libertarian and Reddit account). And I’m the feminist bogeyman (cishet white male… certified nerd and working in tech, no less), you’d think I could do better.

      And if the writer thinks the hoverboard is a high-cost fad, she hasn’t seen the bills for actual expensive hobbies.

  37. multiheaded says:

    Accounting for the crowdfunding I got and my finances:
    ~$2500 received in February 2015 after transfer fees,
    – ~$650 wasted on plane tickets,
    – ~$300 on other travel-plans-related expenses (fees, etc)
    + ~$200 personal savings added after all expenses
    – ~$50 misc. expenses
    = ~$1700 currently available

    I’ll try and add to that emergency fund, should I have the need/opportunity to leave on short notice.

    Also, I am starting low-dosage DIY HRT – for now, mainly to see how it makes me feel, I’ll decide what next before it becomes visible/undeniable. I can currently afford that with personal earnings.

    Thank you, all!

    • Mika says:

      Did you ever consider just hopping over the border to Finland? Lots and lots of Russians live and work here, and while we’re perhaps not the most advanced society re: LGTBI*Q…. etc. rights I bet we’re lightyears ahead of the old soviet states.

      • multiheaded says:

        Did you ever consider how slim my chances to get a goddamn Schengen visa would be?

        (see above, everything about me screams “immigrant”)

        • Mika says:

          Considering we have about 30.000 people who have Russian citizenship and we also get loads and loads of tourists every year, getting a visa to at least visit Finland cannot be that hard, and even moving here should’t be out of the question – if you can provide for yourself (ie. get a job here). Some eastern cities have quite large Russian speaking minorities and they can even get elected to city council etc. even if they’re not citizens. I doubt any country is eager to welcome new social welfare ‘customers’ though.

          • multiheaded says:

            That’s some awfully backhanded encouragement right there… (or at least that’s the way it feels to me)

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Until quite recently there were several European countries which gave every indication they were eager to accept new “social welfare customers.” And many of them (as well as the US) have large and vocal minorities who still are.

            Incidentally, is there anyone else here who a) has read Tom Kratman’s book Caliphate and b) is willing to admit it? Just curious.

          • Tibor says:

            Marc Whipple and Multihead: Well, first, this is for people who ask for asylum only and currently basically shrinked down to Germany (Sweden had a similar approach but gave it up about a month ago simply because the state simply could not accommodate more asylum seekers any more) and it is not clear how long that will last. Secondly, this policy is not very well defined (Germany does not even have an immigration law although there is a big debate about it) and I suspect that getting an asylum from Russia (even with something that could be maybe put into the category “politically oppressed”) is going to be much harder than if you come from north Africa or the middle east without any documents on you. Given that this whole thing is entirely based on current politics, it might also change in a month (it more or less depends entirely on Merkel and on how strong her bargaining position in German politics is).

            If you discard the asylum as an option, I guess that getting a visa is more difficult, it might even be more difficult today due to all the asylum mess (the officials in Schengen countries might be more likely not to grant visas because of that). At the end of the day, it largely depends on what your qualifications are. With good qualifications (i.e. if you know something that is in demand), you will have an open door anywhere, even Switzerland (where even EU nationals need visas). If not, it will be harder. Very good knowledge of English and Russian might be enough to get you a teaching job at a language school in many European countries though, I guess. If you find someone willing to give you a job, I imagine that getting a working visa should not be a big problem.

            Alternatively, you can get a student’s visa with which you can also work a bit and go on from there. Obviously, it means studying something too. But obtaining a student’s visa should be quite easy.

      • multiheaded says:

        “just hopping over the border”… I know you mean well, but pfffft.

        • Anonymous says:

          What do you seek outside of your homeland, exactly?

          • Slow Learner says:

            A society where she can be safely living as a woman, presumably with a decent general standard of living and job prospects.
            Even if I didn’t remember multi’s story from previous mentions here and elsewhere, that much is easily garnered from the OP and elsewhere in this thread.

          • xls says:

            Why do you need to question people just because they are immigrants or want to be that? Are you that sheltered in the people you have dealt with that you can’t understand, or even give the benefit of the doubt??

          • Cop Party says:

            @xls:

            I was born in a house made of sand in the middle east. I’ve lived on 3 different continents, and all over the United States (my current home). I grew up hungry and poor, with lots of family issues, and I’ve lived in nasty ghettos. I’ve lived in tiny flyover towns and in New York City and LA. I’ve changed careers as an adult and I’m in an interracial marriage.

            I tell you this so you understand, I’ve met a LOT of different types of people, and I am by any reasonable definition NOT sheltered.

            I think Anonymous’s question is completely legitimate; I was wondering the same thing: What is multiheaded seeking outside his or her homeland?

            (Russia’s standard of living is about average, maybe higher, and Russia is world-class in many niche areas like the arts and academics, not to mention chess, sports, and computer programming.)

            xls, I also think you ought to check your own assumptions when reading people’s questions.

          • multiheaded says:

            Walking outside, interacting with people, working without having to obsessively conceal things in a way that’s very hurtful to perform? Not biting my tongue all the time lest I speak of myself in the wrong gender? Being legally recognized as my gender without painful and invasive treatment, including nonconsensual surgery? Occasionally meeting other people like me who are socially integrated and not merely surviving in tiny, fairly toxic, beseiged camps where you have to fit in because there’s no alternative? Generally less fear and anxiety?

          • Anonymous says:

            @Multiheaded

            Are you sure that USA is the right place for you, then? It sounds more like you want Scandinavia. Particularly Sweden.

          • multiheaded says:

            @Anonymous: are you sure you understand just how immensely favourably what I read of queer people living in the US compares with the situation here?

            tl;dr imagine everywhere in the US is Alabama (and the federal government also acts in an Alabama way)

          • John Schilling says:

            I thought it was pretty clear that what Multiheaded wanted was Canada. But there are many parts of the United States that I think are sufficiently Canada-like for her tastes, certainly parts where he/she can walk outside without being assaulted if his/her masquerade slips, and I think pretty much everywhere in the United States would be free from nonconsensual gender-assignment surgery.

            And for the people who really care about such things, there are many parts of the United States where one more unrepentant communist would do no harm.

          • Cop Party says:

            Is the hypothesis, then, that there are NO parts of Russia that are sufficiently Canada-like and that ALL parts of Russia are Alabama-like?

            I find that hypothesis implausible, though I admit I’ve never been to Russia. A DuckDuckGo search for “transgender life in Russia” showed a bunch of articles with headlines about trans people not being allowed to drive but then one from Reuters reporting that this wasn’t true. A gay adoption website says that life is hard for LGBT people in Russia but getting better. A trans person went to Russia and wrote an article saying things for LGBT people there are bad, but essentially not much worse than anywhere else, and also mentioned the existence of LGBT communities. (This doesn’t surprise me; Russia’s a HUGE place; of course there are LGBT communities.)

            My impression of Russia’s LGBT attitude was that you could do what you want behind closed doors but in public you’re expected to “act normal”. I don’t really see a problem with that personally, I think we all have to contort ourselves in public to make a large society work smoothly. I certainly have, but I think it’s a noble goal.

            The US is probably far more Canada-like overall than Russia is, but if a Canada-like life can be had somewhere in Russia, even to a lesser degree, wouldn’t that be way easier than moving across the world, and worth the trade-off of staying in one’s home country? (Look up the effects of social isolation, like the kind you get by moving to a new country by yourself; might be worse than the effects of being trans in Russia, but I don’t know for sure.)

            Anyway, just my 2 cents based on this particular avenue of the discussion. I hope multiheaded is able to live a safe and happy life wherever he/she ends up.

          • multiheaded says:

            @CP

            You sure are making a lot of assumptions based on absolutely zero information.

            here’s a couple articles, anyway

            http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/10/moscow-transgender-community-russia

            http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/12/the-transgender-woman-who-may-never-see-her-son-again

            re: “not being allowed to drive” – it’s essentially yet another selectively enforced sodomy law type deal; sure, one isn’t likely to get hit with it just trying to get a driver’s license, unless a local official had a bad day, is especially bigoted, or under orders to hinder people who are Making A Fuss and being a Disturbance. In which case you’re fucked.

            “This doesn’t surprise me; Russia’s a HUGE place; of course there are LGBT communities.”… Nothing about your comment is very helpful at all.

          • Cop Party says:

            @multiheaded:

            You sure are making a lot of assumptions

            Which assumptions??

            based on absolutely zero information.

            Didn’t I just do an internet search and wade through pages of results and thoughtfully judge which results were relevant and then open those and read them and then summarize them and link to them so you could judge whether my summaries were accurate?

            Didn’t I then go on to offer another trade-off to think about, with YOUR psychological well-being in the foreground? Didn’t I send you well wishes? All just to be told

            Nothing about your comment is very helpful at all.

            So let me get this straight: you solicit help from a whole enormously active online forum. When I, a person on that forum, take time out of my day to learn more about your situation and offer advice centered around maximizing your well-being (remember, I’m a TOTAL STRANGER thinking about the well-being of someone I will never meet, whose politics I apparently disagree with to an incredible degree, in exchange for absolutely nothing), you basically tell me that my efforts are shit. Doesn’t exactly build empathy.

            So let’s get down to my frank advice, based on what I now know, because I don’t want to interact with you after this:

            1st choice: Either Russia has LGBT communities or it doesn’t. If it does, then go find those and be happy there, where you’re likely to fit in. If it doesn’t, then find the next best thing. (Does Russia have any hippie college towns? Artsy districts of major cities? Etc. Go down the list.)

            2nd choice: Think realistically about what up and moving to another country all by yourself, during the years when you’re most in need of deep social connections, means in terms of your mental health and physical safety. Maybe do that BEFORE investing a lot of time, money, effort, and legal risk.

            I once again sincerely wish you well.

    • Justin says:

      I have a trans friend in the UK who may be able to help you out a bit or get in touch with people with similar experiences. I live in Germany myself and have no first-hand knowledge on how it is here with asylum, but I read it’s possible, but you may have to have a convincing story. It’s easy to get by though without German language skills in bigger cities. Send me a mail to justin (at) hugme.info if you’re interested.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Are you still seeking donations?

  38. Thecommexokid says:

    Really appreciate the checkboxes to subscribe to replies and/or entire comment threads on Unsong. Could we get that on SSC too?

    Edit: The irony being that I probably won’t notice if you reply to this.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      That wasn’t intentional and I’m going to have to figure out how Unsong did it.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        It’s a wp plugin. You used to have it on SSC.

      • Deiseach says:

        You must anticipate unexpected effects when you’re messing around with the Names of God, Scott 🙂

      • Thecommexokid says:

        I have since come to realize that those checkboxes don’t do what I thought they did. I had misread one of them as allowing me to subscribe specifically to replies to the comment I had just written, but my only two options are actually “Subscribe to blog posts” and “Subscribe to all comments on this post,” neither of which is as useful since there were already ways to approximate those things.

  39. Furrfu says:

    Multiheaded, you should come to Argentina. We have very liberal immigration law and we are relatively liberal on trans issues.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_requirements_for_Russian_citizens says Russians can go to 102 countries or territories without applying for a visa first. Argentina is one of them. We are a fairly well developed country with universal health care and near universal literacy, although neither is up to Russian standards; but we are well ahead of the US or Canada in LGBTQ issues. The current (2012) Gender Identity Law provides for the right of every person to choose their gender and change their name to fit it, and both public and private health care systems are legally obliged to cover gender reassignment surgery. We’ve had same-sex marriage statutorily legal nationwide since 2010, and it’s supported by the majority of the population, following a 2009 Supreme Court ruling in 2009 holding that the previous limitation on the genders of partners was unconstitutional. We’ve had same-sex civil unions in the capital since 2002.

    The situation is far from perfect: there is rampant discrimination against trans women in the workplace and in society, and many trans women work as prostitutes, a situation in which they are at risk of violence.

    With regard to our development level, our life expectancy at birth is 76 years, better than Russia’s 71 but worse than Canada’s 81; our under-5 mortality rate is 12.5 per 100,000 per year, worse than Russia’s 9.6 and much worse than Canada’s 4.9; and our homicide rate is 5.5 per 100,000 per year, half Russia’s 9.2 but more than three times Canada’s 1.6.

    The immigration situation, while also not perfect, is far better than in countries like the US and Canada. The Argentine Constitution explains that the Argentine Republic is established for “us, our posterity, and all the men of the world who wish to inhabit the soil of Argentina”, and guarantees the right to citizenship to anyone who has lived here for three years. However, in practice there is a lot of red tape: you basically need to get a job in order to get a residency visa, which is kind of rough right now because we’re in the middle of a recession. (This is why I’m an illegal alien here.) Also we just elected a new president, so political turmoil is beginning. But you could worry about that after you get here; it’s not like the US where you have to go back to your own country to apply for a work visa or where they imprison you if you request asylum. Deportations from Argentina do happen, but they are rare, and they usually happen after the deported person has been arrested for a crime that they appear to be guilty of.

    I have several trans friends here, and none of them have told me about being subject to violence in the few years I’ve known them, but some have had conflicts with their birth families. None are working in prostitution. But that’s probably because they’re mostly from middle-class families.

    You would have to learn Spanish, because speaking only English and Russian will strand you with the US, British, Australian, and Russian expat communities, and the first three of those are composed entirely of insane people. Except for the spies. I don’t know about the fourth.

    Cost of living is medium. I’m paying US$3000 per year for my one-bedroom downtown apartment and US$40 a month for home ADSL, and much cheaper plans are available. I just got a largish dinner of takeout baked chicken and salad for US$3.50.

    • multiheaded says:

      Interesting, thanks!

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        Fuck off, we’re full.

        But really, if you’re actually considering coming to Argentina (we’ve housed nazis, we surely can handle a few dirty commies), replace every mention in the previous post from “Argentina” to “Buenos Aires”. It’s a pretty centralized country, and there’s a huge cultural and lifestyle difference between the capital and the rest of the country (Less so in a few big-ish cities).

        • Furrfu says:

          I was fairly careful in my post to distinguish the things that pertained to Buenos Aires from the things that pertain to Argentina as a whole. Many of them are averages including both Buenos Aires and the rest of the country. The things from my personal experience are mostly from Buenos Aires.

    • “us, our posterity, and all the men of the world who wish to inhabit the soil of Argentina”

      That’s lovely. It reminds me of my favorite line on immigration:

      “Welcome, welcome, immigrante. To my country welcome home.”

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      >This is why I’m an illegal alien here.

      From where?

    • Agronomous says:

      …the US, British, Australian, and Russian expat communities, and the first thr