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OT40: Martin Luthread King

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

1. Comments of the week are some rocket scientists discussing the significance of the latest SpaceX advances, Eric Raymond discussing the history of duelling (and continued on his own blog), and Richard on the reasons the soda tax failed in Berkeley but succeeded in Mexico.

2. This has a deadline of February 1, so I’m putting it here instead of waiting for the next links thread: Professor Stephen Hsu, who writes the blog Information Processing, is running for Harvard’s Board of Overseers as part of a wider “Free Harvard, Fair Harvard” campaign. Their platform is to use the college endowment to help subsidize tuition (with “free tuition” as a long-term goal), plus more transparent admissions process with special consideration to stopping discrimination against Asians. I’ve linked Steve a lot, and I know he agrees with this blog’s opinions about credentialism; he’s also one of the top scientists investigating human intelligence enhancement. Having a person like that helping lead Harvard would be…interesting. Right now it looks like he needs Harvard alumni to sign a petition to get him on the ballot; if you are an interested alumnus, contact ron@freeharvard.org

3. Some people on the subreddit are planning a London Rationalist Diaspora Meetup for LW, SSC, and/or EA participants. As per the usual rules everyone who reads this is invited, and you shouldn’t worry that you shouldn’t come because you “don’t feel interesting enough” or “feel like you wouldn’t fit in” or whatever. Meetup is at 2 PM 1/24/16 at the Shakespeare’s Head (which is exactly the sort of thing I imagine buildings in Britain being called) 64-68 Kingsway, WC2B 6BG London, United Kingdom. You can RSVP on Facebook if you want. I will not be able to make it but I send my good wishes.

4. Unsong update: chapters 2 and 3 are now up. And even if you don’t like fiction, you might be interested in Interlude ב, which I wrote sort of as a companion piece for SSC post Mysticism And Pattern-Matching.

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1,307 Responses to OT40: Martin Luthread King

  1. antimule says:

    I kinda doubt that anyone is going to see this, but I think it is the best explanation of Trump phenomenon:
    http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.rs/2016/01/donald-trump-and-politics-of-resentment.html

    It describes rise of Trump as the revolt of the wage class. Essentially, there’s wage class (blue collar) and salary class (white collar). Former was largely destroyed due to globalization (that benefited the later) and illegal immigration and Trump is the only one who at least appears to be looking for them. I don’t agree with all conclusions of the author, but is interesting nonetheless.

  2. BBA says:

    Anyone have thoughts on the Flint water crisis, mentioned in passing in previous threads?

    The leftblogs I read are furious at the Snyder administration – “you gave them water that you knew was poisoned just to save a few dollars!” – but from what I can tell, it’s more a case of gross incompetence than malice. The Flint River water, like the Detroit system water it replaced, had safe levels of lead at the treatment plant; the authorities just didn’t take into account that the water passed through lead pipes between the plant and the faucet. The chemical composition of the Flint River was such that it was far more corrosive than Detroit water, leading to vastly increased lead from the pipes getting leached into the water, with disastrous results.

    • keranih says:

      Wikipedia’s article is actually pretty good, and is working hard to stay neutral.

      My big take-aways – municipalities with more outgo than income will do things which may be unwise. This is both Flint (who went looking for cheaper water) and Detroit, who reacted very badly to the loss of the revenue from Flint, and who were the primary driver of the crisis by cutting off Flint’s water two years early.

      WRT the sourcing of water from the Flint River – from what I’ve read, that water was known to be an iffier quality than Detroit’s water, and it appears that the Flint processing was perhaps not up to par (which is why they had to add extra chlorine treatment increasing the corrosive nature of the water).

      WRT gross incompetence vs malice…it’s not clear to me which way this one led. IMO, Detroit’s reaction had the most malice, but the reports of coverups on the part of Flint are out there. I would like to see more comprehensive reports of the actual water quality and level of contamination, in order to properly decide how worked up to get over this.

      My biggest take away is that this is yet another reason for persons of a rational and forward looking bent to get involved with their communities at the most local levels – there are lead-soldered pipes in municipalities all over the globe, and this will need to be addressed at some point. (And that’s just the tip of the iceberg wrt various infrastructure issues.) Better to start planning sooner rather than later.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        there are lead-soldered pipes in municipalities all over the globe, and this will need to be addressed at some point

        Why? What’s wrong with the status quo? It only needs to be addressed when opening a new water treatment plant. And getting rid of the lead doesn’t let you run the treatment plant any differently, because the same chlorine leaching out the lead is also leaching out the iron and destroying the mains.

        Is there any reason to believe that Flint / the county would have made the same mistake if they had run on the original 3 year schedule?

        • keranih says:

          Is there any reason to believe that Flint / the county would have made the same mistake if they had run on the original 3 year schedule?

          I think that depends on what you define as their mistake – was it lack of monitoring? Using their (usual, long term) back up water source? Using a corrosive sanitation chemical (when the options are insanely expensive)?

          As for the lead solder – it’s a matter of a lurking threat, which needs to be weighed against everything thing else that needs to be done with the same tiny pot of public funds. My point is not that OMG LEAD GET IT OUT, but that municipalities need investment of time by smart people.

        • God Damn John Jay says:

          A town where I lived as a teen (Eastern Canada) regularly has boil water warnings because the pipes can’t keep sufficient water.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if this was one of those things where there is a special emergency notification system that gets used for everything including minor problems and so an actual problem gets ignored because someone filed some paperwork and ticked the “very severe” box.

      • BBA says:

        Here’s what I don’t get – both Flint and neighboring municipalities in Genesee County decided to switch from Detroit water to the new Karegnondi pipeline. But only Flint got cut off from the Detroit supply early while the rest of Genesee stayed on Detroit water. Who made the call that only Flint had to use the Flint River, and why?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Many news stories say that Detroit “cut off” Flint, but some say otherwise. The idea that that Detroit would completely cut off Flint out of spite seems absurd to me. I’m pretty sure that what Detroit did was to raise prices even more than the prices that had already driven them away; the county chose to pay those prices for two years and Flint didn’t. But this brings us back to the story of it being the fault of the evil penny-pinching emergency manager.

          (Many news stories refer to the county choosing to continue buying Detroit water, so it’s not like they had a different length contract or something.)

          • keranih says:

            This 538 article (h/t WP talk page) seems to agree – when Detroit was told that Flint was going to switch to the new system, they cancelled the long term contract and offered a series of short term contracts at elevated prices. *nice* Legal, but still.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            And the source for that has a number: $10 million over 2 years. But it is ambiguous whether that is the total charger or the increase over the previous rate.

    • brad says:

      “The chemical composition of the Flint River was such that it was far more corrosive than Detroit water”

      I’ve read that in several places, but haven’t seen any articles that really get down to the nitty gritty. Maybe because not many people care, but if so I happen to be one of the few. What exactly are we talking about here: Lower PH? Higher PH? Lower dissolved solids (i.e. softer water)? Better conductivity?

      When a newspaper prints the words “corrosive water” it sounds pretty bad, but it may well be the case that the water was fine in general, it just wasn’t fine with respect to the specific problems the old pipe network has.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The chemical problem was low pH. But my understanding is that it was not that the river had low pH. The only thing that made the river difficult to use is that it was low volume, compared to the Great Lake Detroit was using, so all its parameters could fluctuate quickly. But I don’t think that actually caused any problems. My understanding is that the main problem was that the treatment plant dumped chlorine in the water to disinfect without knowing that they had to buffer it. Probably because they were used to topping up the chlorination of the Detroit water that was pre-chlorinated and pre-buffered.

  3. Dindane says:

    How exciting is this? (non-rhetorical question)
    http://www.data-journal.science/

    • Nita says:

      Well, I like the idea… but the categorization scheme is hilarious 😀

      Natural sciences
      Formal sciences
      Applied sciences
      Social sciences
      Medecine [sic]
      Fringe sciences

  4. onyomi says:

    http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/palin-endorsement-widens-trumps-lead-among-idiots

    So this is good for a laugh, but I think Nate Silver’s blog was also absolutely right to dub Trump “Palin 2.0.” And the same people who loved Palin on my Facebook all love Trump. This was a bit baffling to me at first–superficially they don’t have much in common other than running campaigns that make me feel my intelligence is being insulted, yet it also seemed intuitively obvious that Trump was, indeed, Palin 2.0 as soon as I heard the news.

    My working theory is that what they have in common is the trait of running campaigns on pure personality: people liked Palin not for any particular policy idea, but because she was a mom “like them.” And other than the strongly anti-immigration types, people don’t like Trump for any particular ideas, but simply because he’s charismatic, he inspires confidence, he promises he’ll make us all winners, etc.

    Question: is this basically correct, and does anything explain the rise of a more unalloyed cult of personality among our politicians of late? I mean, I don’t think the Democrats are immune–Obama get elected on “hope and change” without a lot of specifics about what that entailed, but the Republican field seems especially bad on this count lately.

    I’ve never had much faith in democracy, but assuming we think it can and should work, this kind of focus on personality seems like it has to go. Yet, since people are rationally ignorant about politics, it’s already kind of impressive the extent to which it ever rises above the level of popularity contest. I mean, say what you will about Mitt Romney and Bob Dole, but they weren’t picked for their charisma.

    This seems a disastrous trend, but I’m not sure if it’s a secular trend or just the happenstance of Trump existing.

    Related, I’ve been skimming Scott Adams’ posts on Trump the “master persuader” off and on, and while he’s thus far been proven right, I guess, I also have to say that I never found Trump (nor Palin) remotely persuasive or charismatic (and to prove I’m not immune to charisma and persuasion, Bill Clinton has an uncanny ability to completely disagree with me on everything yet make his positions sound eminently reasonable for the space of time he’s talking about them). Does “master persuader” just mean “someone who’s really good at cynically manipulating dumb people,” then, or could Trump persuade me too if he wanted, only he chooses instead to focus his efforts on the dumb masses where the votes are?

    • Nathan says:

      One thing I don’t understand is why I *don’t* like Trump. Like, obviously I dislike his policy proposals and think he’s being completely disingenuous to claim he could implement them anyhow. But that applies to Sanders as well, and I can’t help getting a little happy when I see a new poll putting him in front of Clinton in Iowa.

      Liking Sanders over Clinton although I know he is from my perspective a worse candidate is something I can understand about myself. I generally find myself drawn to candidates and parties that represent a splintering of power away from the established ruling class. So I always find a minor party to vote for (in Australia, where they can win) and internationally find myself cheering for groups like UKIP or candidates like Huckabee. I even get excited for groups like are strongly opposed to me ideologically like Podemos, Syriza, and the Five Star Movement.

      And yet I find myself not just intellectually opposing Trump, but viscerally hating his success. I’m not complaining, but I don’t know why there’s this apparent emotional inconsistency.

      • Nita says:

        Perhaps you like underdogs who have a well-defined political model that they earnestly believe in? That’s what Sanders, UKIP and Syriza seem to have in common. They are invested in an internally consistent system of beliefs that they feel compelled to defend.

        Trump, like an old-school Internet troll, doesn’t seem to be burdened by such constraints.

      • JBeshir says:

        Maybe you perceive them as different in terms of, not policy, but behaviour within the public discourse? Trump kind of endorses rudeness, and I think it makes sense to be opposed to that regardless of where it’s coming from ideologically, especially if you’re used to at least elected figures being a point of at least surface-level manners in a sea of Twitter trolling and they threaten to disrupt that.

        The other thing is that the others are at least claiming to be cooperators, acting for the better good of everyone, who merely have different ideas about what that is. Whereas Trump just doesn’t care at all about being even seen as one. If you think “being a cooperator” is something which should be in high regard, that’s a bad thing.

        From probably the opposite ideological ‘side’ as you, Trump is actually less in disagreement with me on most object-level policy issues than many of the other candidates are. The exceptions- especially the religion-based ban idea and the alarming endorsement of the US’s WW2 internment camps (which, to his credit, he did walk back)- and how he arrived at them are the problem, as they lead me to view him as a threat to the already frayed and damaged norms of politics being about deciding on policies for everyone’s good rather being about a battleground for ethnic supremacy. I’d take a person who disagreed with me on object-level policy over someone who threatened to break the meta-level norms of politics in that way, myself, even if they entirely agreed with me.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        Because he’s an obnoxious entitled abrasive schmuck?

    • Alraune says:

      Does “master persuader” just mean “someone who’s really good at cynically manipulating dumb people”?

      No, it’s a “great philosophers do not argue” thing. Framing, not arguing, wins arguments. The persuasion talent Adams is talking about lies in

      A. the ability to see where your opponent’s narratives fail to correspond to reality
      and
      B. the ability to force this clash into the open through a simple alternative framework that can be swallowed all at once

      It is, in other words, a pattern-crystallization talent. The abject failures of the American-led International Community are factual, but it would have taken another decade for them to pierce the public consciousness without “Make America Great Again.”

      And, no, it’s a strategy for preying on the powerful and comfortable, not the stupid. The most current example is this, in which Trump has somehow provoked National Review into issuing what can only be described as a Royal Edict against him. Complete with two signatures ending in “III.”

      • onyomi says:

        You mean, he’s just trying to piss off the establishment as hard as possible and the masses, hating the establishment, love him for it? That makes a certain amount of sense, and I hate the establishment too, but I also find him quite… unpersuasive. I mean, how can a “master persuader” so utterly fail to persuade me of anything? And while I’m not totally his target audience, I am going to vote in a Republican primary and am relatively reddish by SSC standards. That is, part of me wants to be persuaded.

        Like Nathan above, I find myself actually rooting for Trump in the sense of liking anyone who upsets the establishment–especially the Republican establishment, which, for better or worse, ends up representing me on some level as a rightward-leaning person–yet I don’t like him personally. I don’t find him charming or charismatic or convincing. Clearly a lot of people do, as I don’t think it’s just his ability to outrage the establishment that is getting him so many votes–if it were, Ron Paul would have won last time–Trump clearly has some kind of charisma, but I just don’t get it.

        Also, which new patterns are they that Trump is helping to crystallize in the American consciousness? That there is a lot of illegal immigration? That America isn’t “great” anymore? The former seems to have already been common knowledge; I would maybe agree with the latter, but I don’t really see how Trump is revealing the failures of the US political class any more clearly than, say, Ron or Rand Paul, or even the combative Ted Cruz (I guess he highlights the problem of political correctness somewhat, but complaining about political correctness had already become a staple of the US right before he came on the scene).

        • anonymous says:

          Trump is one of the few low class (i.e. vulgar, not money-wise obviously) and proud of it, people to run for office in recent years. Another of that small group is Sarah Palin. Other politicians have tried to play that angle, famously George W Bush, but there’s a difference and we notice.

          Although I don’t share it, I can understand the excitement people have about seeing “one of their own” running for president. Andrew Jackson took the White House using a similar strategy.

          Scott Adams hypnosis stuff is just broken clock nonsense.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, Bush Jr. definitely ran as “the guy you’d like to have a beer with” in addition to supposed competence, but Palin and Trump feel somehow qualitatively different, though maybe it’s only in the degree to which their personalities take center stage.

        • dndnrsn says:

          While Scott Adams is a little bit crazy, and his “Trump is a magician who can talk anyone into anything” shtick is clearly wrong, I think that he is right in a few things about Trump.

          That he’s short on specifics when talking about the failures of the American political class and “making America great again” is a plus – Paul senior and junior have their own vision for what the problem is and how to fix it; Trump is letting people’s minds fill in the blanks, a lot of the time.

          It’s like how, although he had clear policy goals, Obama’s 2008 campaign let people project a lot of hopes and dreams onto it. With the result that a lot of people who voted for him expected him to be much more left wing than he actually is (and a lot of people who voted against him projected their fears onto him, and still think he’s a lot more left wing than he is).

          The last thing is actually happening with Trump -the lack of clear positions means that those who don’t like him are filling in the blanks with their fears (eg, the he-is-an-actual-fascist business).

          • onyomi says:

            “…letting people’s minds fill in the blanks, a lot of the time.”

            I think this is a key point, but it also seems like, without policy specifics, personality must, necessarily fill the void.

            It’s sort of a two-pronged strategy: project a personality lots of people can relate to; be very vague about what you want to actually do so that those people relating to you can assume you’ll do things they’d like.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @onyomi:

            I don’t know if it’s a personality everyone can relate to, so much as a personality people can fix upon – turn into their champion (or, alternatively, nemesis).

            Witness how both far-right types, and left-wingers who don’t like him, seem to think Trump is a secret white nationalist, or a stepping stone to white nationalism becoming politically acceptable in the US, or something similar.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          I think it’s not just that Trump annoys the Republican establishment, but that he does so whilst projecting an aura of strength and dominance (witness, for example, his multiple refusals to apologise for saying offensive things). If you think that your party leadership is full of people who are at best spineless wimps unable to stand up to the (largely opposition-aligned) media, and at worst shameless Quislings who identify with opposition media types more than with their own base, then any candidate who clearly couldn’t give two hoots about placating the media is going to be an attractive proposition.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            That is certainly a factor in my own mind.

            While I would personally prefer Carson or Cruz, I must confess that I derive a great deal of schadenfreude from watching Trump make people’s heads explode.

        • stillnotking says:

          I doubt even Trump’s biggest fans would describe him as “charming”. A big part of his appeal is the anti-politician thing, the blunt, tell-it-like-it-is attitude.

          Speaking as someone who regularly interacts with those mysterious creatures, the Republican base — although I don’t know any strong Trump supporters AFAIK, just people who probably would vote for him if nominated — I can tell you that’s exactly what they want from elected officials. They feel lied to, constantly, by the media and even by their own party establishment. The smarter ones understand that Trump’s persona is a pose, too, that he wouldn’t make a very good president for all kinds of reasons, but he is speaking their language, and that counts for a lot.

          Also, they really, really hate Hillary. You have no idea how much they hate Hillary.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Hillary is basically Nixon without Nixon’s humility or discretion.

            That is not a good recipe for stability.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      @onyomi:
      Obama created and captured a certain zeitgeist, but it’s not as if he had no policy proposals. He had detailed ones and went on to implement them.

      I think Alraune has a point in terms of framing, not argument, being a winning strategy. But I’m not sure it has to correspond to reality at all.

      Take the first point where almost everyone thought Trump’s balloon would pop, when he derided McCain for being captured. Here is Trump responding to questions about that statement.

      There is no “give” in Trump’s outward persona. He does not admit to failure. Almost any other candidate would have apologized for that statement, and thereby signaled to the electorate that they really had said a terrible thing. Not Trump.

      I think the people he appeals to like the fact that he say things that they believe. One example, that immigrants (really, the central examples of immigrants people see and know to be immigrants every day) are (somehow) awful and bad for America. He says it in a simple and straight-forward manner. He does not hedge or walk-back. He never breaks character, if it even is a character.

      As an example, Newt Gingrich tries to be that guy. But he also wants the reporters and pundits to think he is the smartest guy in the room. And he wants the evangelicals to think he is a true born-again. The seams show.

      • onyomi says:

        Obama may have had substantive proposals, but I think he was largely elected on his persona. If you don’t think so, my guess is you weren’t on a college campus at the time.

        I do think there is something to the way Trump refuses to apologize. That point may be more important than it seems. Many on the right, myself included, are sick of politicians refusing to say what they mean and then squeamishly apologizing and backing down every time someone catches them expressing any actual opinion. Many before Trump have claimed to be anti-establishment, but no one has really acted on that claim in so obvious a way. His pre-existing celebrity probably helped a lot on that point. This alone may explain a lot.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @onyomi:
          Every politician is largely elected on their persona.

          But there are multiple phases in a campaign, and multiple fields of battle in each phase. Winning polls, winning volunteers, winning small donors, winning pundits, winning establishment backing, winning large donors; these are all important. They are all only means to the end of winning votes on election day, but usually all of those components still fall under “necessary” even though not “sufficient”.

          It is the very, very, very rare candidate who can start with winning polls, lose all the other aspects, and still make it to election day a winner.

          Obama’s actual policy proposals did matter, and a fair amount on the margin, because his primary contest with Hillary was hard fought almost all the way to the end.

          Trump is making it harder and harder to win the general election. He owes a large part of his success to the fact that Jeb is a horrible campaigner, trying on different personas and all of them look like bad toupees. If Jeb wasn’t such a bad campaigner, he might have forced Christie, Rubio, and Kasich into marginal territory early and consolidated the “establishment” voting block. That was what he was set up to do. Then Trump might not have looked like such a clear leader in the polls the whole time.

          But, the Republican base is composed of a huge number of people who are fundamentally at odds with the establishment. This was the basic dynamic of 2012. Two large chunks of the base want a scorched earth policy that never brooks compromise. One part is the evangelical base. The other is what became the Tea Party (which looks a lot like the contingent that brought Goldwater to the nomination in 1968). I think those chunks actually overlap a fair amount. But together they seem to form at least a slight majority of the Republican primary voters.

          Trump has captured that Goldwater contingent. Carson had the evangelical contingent until he started in on pyramids. I’m not sure whether the polling data can tease out where his support flowed to, but some chunk of it went to Trump.

          Edit:Actually it’s pretty clear it almost all went to Trump.

          In 2012, you had these big swings from one “candidate of the week” to another. It looked like that restless majority was looking for a candidate they felt comfortable with. One by one, each of the possibilities showed themselves to be either not genuine or not competent enough. Herman Cain struggling to remember Uzbekistan while touching his nose with the tip of his tongue killed his candidacy. The fact that Gingrich is easily portrayed convincingly as a power hungry d-bag without principles killed him.

          Carson made one of those mistakes this cycle. Trump has not. To an extent this is because Trump basically tells you he is a power-hungry d-bag, so those charges can’t stick to him, even though he is as much of a flip-flopper as Gingrich or more.

          Edit: And I didn’t mention Cruz here, who positioned himself to own both of those chunks, but has made a ton of enemies among the party apparatus. You can see he also gained from the decline of Carson. Other “outsider” candidates dropping (Fiorina) seem to have also contributed to his rise.

          • onyomi says:

            “Every politician is largely elected on their persona.”

            I don’t think this is at all generalizable, though it seems to be increasingly true over time. Coolidge? Johnson? Nixon? Bush Sr.?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            Persona as filtered to the relevant electorate.

            When primaries really were smoke filled rooms, there was a different relevant electorate. When newspapers were the filter, and not TV or YouTube, that effected how the electorate perceived persona.

            But at the end of the day, we are social animals.

          • onyomi says:

            Of course, what gets elected is always a person and not an abstract ideology or set of ideas. All the same, some candidacies and campaigns are more about ideas and proposals while others are more about personality. How does the saying go? “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people”?

            Candidates not expecting to win like Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders generally have the luxury of making it more about ideas, but it’s certainly not the case that the more ideological candidate always loses to the more personally charismatic candidate, though personal charisma goes a long way in what ultimately amounts to a kind of popularity contest.

            Bernie makes a big deal of running a campaign “about ideas,” and, while I disagree with most of his ideas, I think he mostly lives up to that. I would be thrilled to see a Sanders vs. Paul general election (even better if it were Paul Sr.)–two slightly grumpy, ideological, not very charismatic old men with diametrically opposed ideologies just fighting it out in the realm of ideas. Not going to happen, but it would be nice.

            My nightmare election was Clinton vs. Bush because it would just be two very safe establishment candidates at a time when the establishment needs a serious rebuke, arguably from both sides. Thankfully, this looks increasingly unlikely.

            Trump vs. Clinton, at least, promises not to be boring, but it will probably be brain-dead, as Trump will be running entirely on personality and Clinton will be running as the first female president/blue tribe standard bearer/anybody-but-Trump.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            “but it’s certainly not the case that the more ideological candidate always loses to the more personally charismatic candidate”

            I don’t think charisma and persona are the same thing. Two people can be both be just as charismatic as each other and have completely different personas. Roughly, persona is the set of properties you associate with the person.

            The artist (formerly and now known as) Prince is extremely charismatic, but you aren’t going to elect him president no matter what. So Obama got elected on his steady, enthusiastic, hopeful, empathetic, fairly liberal, intelligent, thoughtful, energetic, urbane yet grounded persona.

            McCain was popular because he had a irascible, grumpy, playful, hard-headed, no-nonsense, middle-of-the-road, contrarian persona. But during both the primary and the general election he went against that basic persona any number of times, which cost him. By the end of it he just seemed like he was even disgusted with himself.

            Al Gore almost never acted like himself during the entire 2000 electoral cycle, and it hurt him. He was more “Al Gore” than he had been in about a year when he finally gave his concession speech.

          • onyomi says:

            By “personally charismatic,” I simply mean “someone who presents an attractive public persona.”

            I don’t disagree with your evaluation of these personae, though I never personally found John McCain’s persona appealing at any time (Bob Dole seems to have very much fallen victim to the same dynamic you describe happening to Al Gore, being a very funny and likeable person except when running for president), but I still disagree that the persona is always the most important element in any politician’s election. It’s always an element to some degree, but its importance varies depending on the candidate and the campaign.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Obama’s actual policy proposals did matter, and a fair amount on the margin, because his primary contest with Hillary was hard fought almost all the way to the end.

            Funny how different things look from the other side. The one major policy difference I can recall him having with Hillary was his belief that the individual mandate was immoral. We all know how that turned out.

            I can think of quite a lot of concrete policies along those lines that were quickly discarded (many of which would have been trivial to fulfill), but I’ll avoid the gish gallop for now.

          • Anthony says:

            Jaskologist – THE issue separating Obama from Hillary was the Iraq War. But look how *that* turned out….

            HeelBearCub – I saw an analysis that says that Trump’s popularity shows that a lot of the people who vote for the Republicans aren’t voting for ever lower taxes on rich people or defending Israel to the last Arab or banning abortion, or all the other issues which get the hard-core base and the party intellectuals excited; but rather, they’re voting against the Democrats because they see the shrill anti-racists and feminists and whackjob environmentalists telling them (mostly white, working people) that they’re the cause of every problem in the U.S.

            If you take issue polls, you’ll see that lots of people vote for Republicans despite many of their policy planks. They vote for Republicans because they hate the loudest voices on the left, and those voices hold over the Democrats. Trump’s strongest appeal is to *those* Republicans, not the ideological conservatives. (Look at the poll on Instapundit – that’s mostly self-selected ideologues.)

  5. Deiseach says:

    According to the local paper, we got 150 billion gallons of rain in December over the county.

    I don’t know how they worked that out, but it certainly feels like it rained 150 billion gallons just here. I have no idea what the national total is, but it certainly was the wettest couple of months in recent times.

  6. Apropos of several comment threads …

    What poets do people like?

    My favorite is Kipling. Others I like include Millay, Hopkins, Thomas (who I like to describe as Hopkins drunk), Dunne, Prior, Frost, GKC.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I like Byron, Swinburne, Pushkin, Kipling, Vysotsky.

      • Are you reading Pushkin and Vysotsky in translation or the original? I don’t read Russian.

        There are a few things by Heine and Goethe that I like, but my German isn’t good enough to adequately judge their work or know much of it.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Original; I’m a native Russian speaker.

          I don’t think translated poetry is generally worth your time (e.g. Pushkin loses much in translation, in my experience), although there are exceptions (I don’t speak Persian and so don’t know what the Rubayyat is like in the original, but FitzGerald’s version is beautiful, for example).

          • For evidence that Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat is in large part Fitzgerald, not Khayyam, compare the (I think five) different versions that Fitzgerald produced.

            When my daughter was very little, I recited the Rubaiyat to her when walking her to put her to sleep. The first evidence that she understood language was that, when I started the first verse, she would put her head down on my shoulder .

            She knew that “Wake, for the sun” meant “go to sleep.”

        • Bugmaster says:

          Hmm, now I am curious: is Vysotsky even comprehensible in English ? I’ve always thought that it would be difficult to figure out his lyrics without having a Soviet perspective, but I could be wrong. I’m a native Russian speaker, so it’s possible I’m just being a snob…

          • Aaron Jacob says:

            I’ve long been a fan of Кони привередливые, if for nothing else than Vysotsky’s gritty voice and the timbre of his guitar. Even having read the lyrics translated, it’s clear that he’s conveying something whose depth is inaccessible to me as a nonspeaker of Russian. The fact that he’s saying something meaningful is clear enough, of course. I let down my fishing line without any bait, and I can tell the river’s deep and that there are fish, but I don’t catch any.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      I haven’t read very much poetry, so I can only point to individual poems rather than writers. But I did like The Highwayman, The Lady of Shalott, The Stolen Child (if you thought that half of my poetry exposure comes from listening to Loreena McKennitt, well, you were probably right) The Raven, Howl, and To a Mouse.

      I’ve also enjoyed Lord Dunsany, whose works aren’t always necessarily poems as such, but certainly often have a poetic feel to them – e.g. Sardathrion.

      If anyone wants to make recommendations based on these, I’d welcome them.

    • Anatoly says:

      W.H.Auden, A.E.Housman [1], Wilfred Owen, Vikram Seth [2], John Donne, Tennyson, W.B.Yeats.
      (in Russian) Pushkin, Brodsky, Khodasevich, Mandelshtam, Tsvetkov, Vvedensky.

      [1] Wendy Cope wrote:

      Another Unfortunate Choice

      I think I am in love with A. E. Housman,
      Which puts me in a worse­ than ­usual fix.
      No woman ever stood a chance with Housman
      *And* he’s been dead since 1936.

      [2] for
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Gate_(Seth_novel)

      • I am particularly fond of “Terence, this is stupid stuff.”

        But also

        “The King with half the East at heel is marched from land of morning;
        Their fighters drink the rivers up, their shafts benight the air,
        And he that stands will die for nought, and home there’s no returning.
        The Spartans on the sea-wet rock sat down and combed their hair.”

        Also “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries.”

        I should probably have included Housman in my list.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeats, and a poem I come back to more and more this past decade or so. Also invoking memory and nostalgia in me, because I had “school English” that particular birds were called “starlings”. Then reading Yeats where he was writing in 1922 during our Civil War, and he used “stare” instead, and noted that in the West of Ireland they were called “stares” and years later, unrelated to the poem, my late father referring to the birds flocking in the back garden as “stares”, which I had never heard him use before (we’re not from the West of Ireland), or at least if he had, it was when I was too young to remember and it was before I went to school and was taught “proper” English.

        So. Poem by W.B. Yeats:

        The Stare’s Nest by My Window

        The bees build in the crevices
        Of loosening masonry, and there
        The mother birds bring grubs and flies.
        My wall is loosening; honey-bees,
        Come build in the empty house of the stare.

        We are closed in, and the key is turned
        On our uncertainty; somewhere
        A man is killed, or a house burned.
        Yet no clear fact to be discerned:
        Come build in the empty house of the stare.

        A barricade of stone or of wood;
        Some fourteen days of civil war:
        Last night they trundled down the road
        That dead young soldier in his blood:
        Come build in the empty house of the stare.

        We had fed the heart on fantasies,
        The heart’s grown brutal from the fare,
        More substance in our enmities
        Than in our love; O honey-bees,
        Come build in the empty house of the stare.

    • DavidS says:

      Blake. Metaphysicals, especially Dunne. Eliot. R S Thomas (not as well known as previously listed folk).

      • I’m curious what you like of Eliot’s. _Hollow Men_ is poetry, but I can’t say I much enjoy it, and of the small amount of Eliot I’ve read I don’t anything grabbed me.

        • Psmith says:

          Not OP, but I thought “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” had a remarkable snap and verve to it for modernist poetry. I also liked “Gerontion” and “The Waste Land”. Four Quartets is some mighty tough sledding, but I’m told it’s very good.

    • keranih says:

      Huh. This is one of those I’m tempted to not answer because people have already said things I agree. Interesting…

      For what it’s worth: Frost, Kipling, Houseman. Ted Hughes (Life of Crow, esp), Millay selections, Archald Macliesh, TS Eliot (in selected doses) Tennyson. Niki Giovanni (some, not all.)

      My favorite for many years has been Hart Crane:

      Repose of Rivers

      The willows carried a slow sound,
      A sarabande the wind mowed on the mead.
      I could never remember
      That seething, steady leveling of the marshes
      Till age had brought me to the sea.

      Flags, weeds. And remembrance of steep alcoves
      Where cypresses shared the noon’s
      Tyranny; they drew me into hades almost.
      And mammoth turtles climbing sulphur dreams
      Yielded, while sun-silt rippled them
      Asunder …

      How much I would have bartered! the black gorge
      And all the singular nestings in the hills
      Where beavers learn stitch and tooth.
      The pond I entered once and quickly fled—
      I remember now its singing willow rim.

      And finally, in that memory all things nurse;
      After the city that I finally passed
      With scalding unguents spread and smoking darts
      The monsoon cut across the delta
      At gulf gates … There, beyond the dykes

      I heard wind flaking sapphire, like this summer,
      And willows could not hold more steady sound.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        The snows that are older than history,
        The woods where the weird shadows slant;
        The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
        I’ve bade ’em good-by—but I can’t.

        There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
        And the rivers all run God knows where

        Robert W. Service, and from another of his:

        Have you gazed on naked grandeur where there’s nothing else to gaze on

        From another, hard to locate, author:

        Mud can make you prisoner and the plains can bake you dry
        Snow can burn your eyes, but only people make you cry

    • onyomi says:

      I’m curious what people think of this 12th c. Chinese poem (it is technically a song lyric to a pre-existing melody) in translation. It is undoubtedly a great poem in Chinese, but I can’t decide whether it sounds cheesy in English. The translator here has made the unusual choice to attempt to approximate the Chinese rhyme in English, which often sounds cheesy, but sounds kind of okay here to me, because it doesn’t feel too, too forced, and I appreciate the effort. Still, it’s hard for me to find translations of Chinese poetry that really satisfy me, because the sound and word choice are important, as in most languages, and use of allusion (references to stories, poems, etc. the educated Chinese reader would already know) is especially heavy and difficult to capture.

      武陵春

      風住塵香花已盡,日晚倦梳頭。
      物是人非事事休,欲語淚先流。
      聞說雙溪春尚好,也擬泛輕舟。
      只恐雙溪舴艋舟,載不動許多愁。

      To the tune, “Spring in Wuling”

      Wind is still, dust fragrant among blossoms fallen fair.
      At close of day I am too worn to comb my silken hair.
      Objects remain, but the essence is no longer there:
      Everything has ceased. My speech is choked by tears.
      Shuangxi in spring is still lovely, I hear.
      I would sail there in a boat dainty as a leaf.
      But the featherweight Shuangxi vessels, I fear,
      Could not bear the mortal burden of my grief.

      This one is by female poet, Li Qingzhao. One of my personal favorites is 8th-9th c. poet, Bai Juyi, but his poems are even more aurally rich and hard to find good translations of.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        An audio link to the tune might be helpful.

        • onyomi says:

          Unfortunately, most of the original melodies for this genre of poem have been lost for a long time. Might have sounded something like this (fairly liberal interpretation of another poem with extant melody belonging to roughly the same time period and genre, albeit sung with anachronistically modern Mandarin pronunciation):

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZkstHlWPHM

  7. Commodity prices (notably oil, but a lot of other commodities, too) are dropping. NPR is gloomy, and so is The Economist.

    While there’s some slight mention of people spending less on transportation and heat, this doesn’t doesn’t seem to make up for the losses to the people who sell commodities.

    I’d have thought commodities being cheaper would be grounds for celebration– the average person can get more stuff for less money. People who make stuff can make it more cheaply so there should be more business opportunities.

    Perhaps we are so tangled up in obligations that dropping commodity prices are just too disruptive. Perhaps it’s one of those seen and unseen situations– it’s easy to see the losses to commodity suppliers and to government programs which are pegged to commodity revenues and hard to see the new projects that will happen. Perhaps there’s something fundamental I’m not seeing.

    What do you think?

    • Marc Whipple says:

      The system is so entangled and dependent on “growth,” by which it means price increases to reflect monetary inflation, that if anything gets cheaper, almost everybody gets hurt somehow. Banks lent billions to energy producers to develop fields. Energy producers hired lots of people (many of them without other ways to make comparable wages) to work on them. Communities rapidly added services and capacity. Now the banks have to eat the losses which makes money tighter, the energy producers have to pay what are now overpriced loans or go bankrupt (many of them have, many more will follow) the workers are in North For God’s Sake Dakota with no alternate employment and no support network, and the communities are screwed in ways too varied and numerous to even describe.

      You’re probably right in that overall, a lot more economic growth can happen with lower energy prices. But we don’t necessarily have a lot of, to steal a phrase, shovel-ready economic growth ready to take advantage of the lower energy prices and we do have a system where the shock propagates quickly and widely.

    • brad says:

      I’d think that housing — a major cost for everyone — being cheaper would be grounds for celebration, but 2008 put paid to that notion.

      • Anthony says:

        There is no one “price of housing”. In the Bay Area, something weird happened. When the price of houses for sale fell in 2008, the price of rent went *up*. Why? Because the marginal house-buyer was no longer able to buy a house because of tightened credit standards. So there were suddenly lots of people with relatively high incomes and credit ratings who were looking for rentals instead of houses (or condos) to buy. Landlords with vacancies in better neighborhoods raised their rents in response to the influx of people with lots of money to spend on rent.

    • xtmar says:

      I’d have thought commodities being cheaper would be grounds for celebration– the average person can get more stuff for less money. People who make stuff can make it more cheaply so there should be more business opportunities.

      This is also called deflation.

      That’s a sort of glib answer, but it’s true. Most economists view deflation as bad because even though you can get more for less, there are a lot of sticky things in the economy, like wages, where it’s hard to cut back on what you’re paying commensurate with your newly lowered commodity prices. Nominal deflation is bad, so perhaps we should be targeting 4% inflation instead of 0-2%.

      The other, possibly more worrying indicator, is that while commodity prices are low in part because of excess production (which is good), they are also low in part because demand is lower (which indicates a contracting economy, save for efficiency gains). China, for instance, despite supposedly growing by 6% or something last year, consumed 1% less energy, which suggests that their economy didn’t grow as fast as they said, unless they’re getting more than 7% efficiency growth, which is unlikely. http://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFL3N1531DV

    • bluto says:

      Prices are dropping because the average person somewhere isn’t taking advantage of the lower prices. Supply of oil or other commodities doesn’t change as rapidly as demand, so shifts in price are frequently much better indicators of demand shifting rather than supply (supply shifts happen but on a much slower scale–because drillers have debt which means they need cash flow even when prices fall).

      So the rapid decline in prices suggests that someone’s economy is undergoing a pretty serious deleveraging, which is bad news.

    • Murphy says:

      I’d guess that it’s the speed of the drop that’s the problem.

      If oil gets 1% cheaper per month then it gives companies time to wind down marginally economic production, workers have time to start looking around for alternatives as things get slowly tighter at work, better operations have time to pay off loans etc but if prices drop 50% in a month then suddenly everything happens at once and many companies go from profitable to utterly uneconomic in a month.

      You’d get the same effect if a commodity doubled in price overnight. if oil had gone to 200 a barrel overnight then suddenly many businesses would be uneconomic to run and many peoples lives would be screwed up overnight.

      I imagine that a slow drop in commodity prices is good for the economy but sudden decreases and increases cause problems.

  8. Anonymous says:

    One reason that I don’t find utilitarianism as convincing as I used to is that I have come to think that, while utility is important, there are other factors that matter too. If your basis for morality is some distilled essence of what people all think is morally right, which seems a reasonable approach, I think utilitarianism misses the mark. I think that a large part of morality is utilitarianism, but that another large part comes down to something that you could perhaps call normative karma: people should get what they give. A bad person deserves to have bad things happen to them, a good person deserves to have good things happen to them. There are incentive-based arguments for why this should be the case but I don’t think that covers it nearly enough.

    For example: consider some bad event that could happen to a person. Losing your wallet is an example I’ve heard before from similar thought experiments, so I’ll borrow that. Say you’re choosing which world you prefer: one in which the kindest person in the world loses their wallet, and one in which Hitler loses his wallet AND also suffers some infinitesimally small inconvenience, such as dropping a cornflake on the counter while pouring his cereal and having to pick it up. Assume the negative utiles associated with the wallet loss are the same for the kindest person ever and for Hitler, and that no further implications will come of any of these events. Utilitarianism says that you should prefer the world in which the kindest person in the world suffers the misfortune instead of Hitler, in order to save Hitler from suffering 0.0001 negative utiles.

    I think that’s nuts, and I suspect almost everyone would agree. I don’t really see either how utilitarianism can be twisted to really support the popular view on this after all, or how a view as unanimous as I suspect this would be can be handwaved as a cognitive error.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      A somewhat related thought experiment:

      Imagine you have a convicted murderer who you know will never commit another crime. You can release him from prison (where he is miserable), and no-one will know (so there are no issues with deterrence). Should you do so (and increase maximum happiness) or not (because he deserves punishment)?

      • Nornagest says:

        This sounds to me like one of those thought experiments designed to give results which are only counterintuitive because what we actually do in real life is driven mostly by second-order effects that the experiment defines away. Compare the one about the rural surgeon murdering people for their organs.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Isn’t that every thought experiment? (Probably not.) The point is to see if you actually have a moral intuition that certain people deserve punishment, and if you can defend that intuition.

          • Nornagest says:

            Nah. There are also thought experiments which give counterintuitive results because our intuition generalizes too much (the trolley problem), ones that give counterintuitive results because we’re bad at scale or causality or other aspects of decision theory (Sleeping Beauty, Newcomb, a lot of the other ones popular on LW), ones that give counterintuitive results because of vague language (too many to list), and a few that actually illustrate weird premises in the theory (the utility monster).

        • Anonymous says:

          @Nornagest

          Is that directed at sweeneyrod’s thought experiment, or mine?

          I have seen lots of thought experiment challenges to utilitarianism before, but not one that does so from a perspective of good or bad people deserving different utilities. Though I haven’t been looking particularly hard so maybe this is very old hat.

          Do you think the good person should be made to suffer rather than Hitler, in order to spare Hitler that negative picoutile?

          • Nornagest says:

            Sweeneyrod’s. I haven’t thought about yours in detail, but offhand I’m not totally comfortable with treating just deserts as ethically fundamental — we can allow or even encourage (some level of) retribution for game-theoretical reasons and still be compatible with utilitarianism.

        • synthetica2 says:

          Hmm, I disagree. The qualifications he puts on the question reduce it to “do murderers deserve to suffer?” which is something a lot of people would say yes to.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’ve heard that one before, but I think it’s less interesting to compare two worlds which are identical other than one having a bad person suffering more, as opposed to comparing two worlds, one in which a good person suffers, one in which a bad person suffers but a minuscule amount more.

        I think it is easier to come down on the utilitarian side in the thought experiment you offered. Much harder, I think, to honestly say that you think a good person should suffer in place of Hitler, in order to spare Hitler incurring a single extra negative picoutile.

        • Jiro says:

          Unless you believe in administering infinite suffering to Hitler (which is a plausible belief, but nowhere near universal), there is some point at which you can make Hitler suffer so much that he has suffered enough, and should not suffer more. It then follows that it is good that another person should suffer by a lesser amount to prevent Hitler from suffering.

          Of course, if you are not a utilitarian, you can make a distinction between intentionally inflicting suffering and not alleviating suffering, even when the sum is the same. Then you don’t get to torture Hitler, but you still have no need to prevent torture to Hitler that comes from some other source.

      • Jiro says:

        In order to use prison sentences to deter murderers, you have to precommit to apply the prison sentence. The answer would then be “I will put the murderer in jail because I have precommitted to do so, regardless of whether this specific instance of jail deters anyone”.

        Saying that murderers “deserve punishment” is just how humans go around precommitting.

      • JBeshir says:

        I would say yes.

        It gets difficult for me because my default thought is that they’ve already been in prison for a long time (because that’s when these kind of parole questions get raised in real life), so I need to stick on “assume they just arrived” to make it least convenient scenario.

        Then I feel they shouldn’t be released, but some of that intuition is grounded in deterrence when I query it, and when I define away deterrence I mostly just get a “outside of supported parameters/that doesn’t make sense” sense from my moral intuition, and my default when my moral intuition does that is to go with naive utilitarianism.

        I did use to read the blog of this convicted murderer back when they were in prison (they posted to it via mail to a friend outside), although they’re somewhat of an unusual case.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      I have posted about this several times here in the past, most recently in “Guns and States”. (I’m having a hard time finding my earlier comments on it.)

      Everyone’s “utilons” count the same; it’s only that vicious murderers are going to cause so many more nega-utilons to exist, and thus the expected value of their lives (in terms of future utilons produced) is far less than the expected value of an innocent mother of two children.

      On the other hand, suppose that there are “high-quality” people who have high-quality utilons and “low-quality” people who have low-quality utilons (I don’t actually think it’s binary, but this is a simplification). And suppose a low-quality utilon is worth half that of a high-quality utilon, and that a vicious murderer is an example of a low-quality person. Our math then changes from the paragraph above, since murderers not only cause high-quality nega-utilons to exist; but their own utilons are merely low quality. So the degree of punishment it is efficient to inflict goes up.

      I don’t think this kind of view is so crazy. Take Hitler. In many people’s minds, he was such a low-quality person that his positive utilons count negative. We don’t say that, yes, it’s very bad he killed six million Jews but at least it’s mitigated a tiny bit by the fact that he got to enjoy the loot he stole from them. The pleasure he got from that loot “counts negative”; it’s worse that he enjoyed it than if he didn’t.

      And this is distinct from saying that other people’s knowledge that Hitler enjoyed that loot caused them grief, which is negative. That’s what utilitarianism would say. Maybe that is an additional negative, but the point is that Hitler’s pleasure was not a positive.

      Utilitarianism—and its related theory of punishment based on deterrence—and the theory of “just deserts”—and its related theory of punishment based on retribution—are fundamentally incompatible. Utilitarianism wants everyone to be happy and values each person’s happiness equally. “Just deserts” wants good people to be happy and bad people to be miserable.

      The theory of deterrence says that it’s a regrettable necessity that we have to punish criminals and deprive them of utility in order to stop them from causing a greater utility loss to others. The theory of retribution says that punishing criminals is good in itself, and we should do it even if it doesn’t deter anyone.

      I think that’s nuts, and I suspect almost everyone would agree. I don’t really see either how utilitarianism can be twisted to really support the popular view on this after all, or how a view as unanimous as I suspect this would be can be handwaved as a cognitive error.

      Well, this is a fundamental question right from the start. Is utilitarianism supposed to describe what people actually do value? Well, it doesn’t. The utilitarians can pack up and go home, in that case. (Here’s a great paper of psychological research on the subject of punishment.)

      Or is it supposed to tell us what we should value? In that case, it’s hard to see what is supposed to motivate it.

      ***

      Also, as a methodological point, I am completely opposed to the type of moral theorizing which seeks to “induce” moral principles by generalizing from specific examples that everyone “knows” are wrong. Like, “Everyone knows murder, theft, rape, arson, plagiarism, adultery, and (in the 1800s) sodomy, masturbation, and polygamy are wrong. What do they all have in common that could explain this?”

      Unless people can identify the principle under which murder is wrong, they don’t know that it is wrong. They have an opinion, not knowledge. Moral facts are judgments, not percepts. You don’t “see” that murder is wrong the way you can see that rocks fall to earth even if you don’t know about gravity.

      You have to identify the principles first and then move to the specific cases. It’s completely invalid to do it the other way around. The applications have to be less obvious than the principles themselves. For instance, in mathematics, you don’t say, “The angle sum of a triangle is 180°. What mathematical laws would explain this observation?” You can only know that the angle sum of a triangle is 180° on the basis of knowing the laws of mathematics. If you didn’t know those, you couldn’t know that the angle sum of a triangle is necessarily 180°.

      In the same way, if you don’t know the moral principles first, you cannot claim to know that murder is wrong. You can have the opinion that it is wrong because your mother told you so, in the same way that you can have the opinion that the angle sum of a triangle is 180° because your math teacher told you so. But you don’t know.

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t agree with the last part of your post. Hypotheses are developed to explain observations. You start with some data, work out a theory based on it, and then test that theory against new data. Noticing something that looks like a pattern, and wondering if there’s any underlying reason for it, is exactly the process by which people decide what theories are worth creating in the first place.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Well, yes, that’s how induction from sense-experience to general principles occurs. But “murder is wrong” is not a sensory observation. It is a particular application of your general theory of whatever makes something “wrong”.

          As an analogy, “This bowling ball falls at 9.8 m/s^2” is an observation. “This bowling ball is under the influence of the force of gravity” is an application of your general theory of gravity.

          The chain of justification goes from more certain to less certain. If you want to justify a claim to me which I find uncertain, you have to show that it is implied by something that is more certain. And to justify that, you have to appeal to something that is more certain still. Eventually, you reach basic facts that are the most certain, that are self-evident and not justified by appealing to anything else.

          If you can’t follow the chain of justification of something to first principles like this, you don’t have knowledge of it. You have an opinion. It may be a true opinion, but you wouldn’t have any way to know.

          Now, the most foundational principle of inductive sciences like physics or psychology is the veridicality of the senses. You can be wrong in your interpretation of what sensory data means. For instance, take optical illusions like lines of the same length that look as if they have different lengths. You can mistakenly interpret that as showing that one line actually is longer. But you can’t be wrong about the fact that one line really does appear longer to you: that’s a fact in need of an explanation, which psychology can provide. And it’s an explanation consistent with the fact you also observe, that each line reads the same when you put a ruler to it.

          So if you can reduce anything back to a sensory observation (and you do this in a logically correct way), you have reduced it to something which is self-evident and maximally certain. That’s why physics moves from observations to general theories: the observations are most certain, and the theories are inductively generated from the observations and less certain. You can’t disprove a (correctly interpreted) observation by appealing to a theory; it’s the other way around. You refute a theory by appealing to an observation that conflicts with it.

          I think ethics is also based on observations, of a very broad and general sort. But, as I said above, premises like “murder is wrong” are not observations. You don’t observe that murder is wrong. You define the term “wrong” as referring to some kind of observations of descriptive facts. Then you apply the theory to specific cases.

          It’s just like with gravity. You don’t observe one instance of objects obeying gravity, then another, then another, and so on until you conclude that everything must obey the law of gravity. The law of gravity is an abstraction; you can’t observe it. You observe one instance of objects moving in a certain way, then another, then another, and so on until you decide to give a name to the orderly pattern of motion. You define the term “gravity” as referring to this pattern. And once you have it, you can relate it to other concepts you develop in a similar way, such as “mass”. But it’s only after you have defined gravity and know what the term means that you can meaningfully say (and know) that bowling balls obey the law of gravity.

          There are three possibilities for the grounding of ethics. First, that ethics is generalized from the infallible deliverances of a special “moral sense”. But there is no such thing. Second, that there is no grounding: ethics is nonsense/meaningless/completely false. I think that applies to many theories of ethics, but not all of them. Third, that ethics is ultimately defined in terms of non-ethical facts. That is, “ought” is not something fundamentally opposed to “is”; “ought” is only a specific subtype of “is”.

          I am in favor of the third view. But if the third view is true, then that supports what I said above: statements like “murder is wrong” are not observations but specific conclusions of general principles. And therefore, we don’t find out what “wrong” means by looking for everything that is “wrong”. Until we know what “wrong” means, we don’t know what to look for. That might give you a theory of what people call “wrong” (unless, as is actually the case, they don’t use the term in any consistent way). But it won’t tell you what actually is wrong, any more than looking at what people say “has elan vital” tells you what actually does have elan vital (or whether anything does).

          • Bugmaster says:

            I think you are making things needlessly complicated, possibly because you are confused by the two separate meanings of the statement, “murder is wrong”:

            1). “Whenever I think of murdering some arbitrary person, I experience a very strong negative emotional reaction; most people experience the same thing”.

            2). “If you want to build a large stable society, which is composed of humans, then prohibiting murder makes a lot of sense”.

            The first statement is an observation, and the second statement is a mix between an observation (since we can observe what happens when the prohibition on murder is relaxed) and a conclusion (which you can derive from other observations, e.g. “humans are fragile and can be easily killed”).

            In this format, the statements may look independent, but actually they’re not. The reason you experience these strong negative emotions when you contemplate wanton murder is because you are a human, who evolved in some very specific ways; one of them being the fact that humans are social creatures. Society is our entire schtick, kind of like what flight is to birds. Thus, it makes sense that, being a social animal, you would be conditioned (genetically, and then socially on top of that) to avoid participating in the kinds of behaviours that would destabilize the very society that you need in order to survive.

          • blacktrance says:

            Vox Imperatoris:
            There’s a fourth possibility, a relative of your first one: a kind of intuitionistic particularlism that claims there’s nothing to generalize – that certain things are right or wrong but not because of any general principle, as if some actions/outcomes/attitudes/etc were tagged with non-natural morality-determining XML tags.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Whenever I think of murdering some arbitrary reaction, I experience a very strong negative emotional reaction; most people experience the same thing”.

            I don’t think most people have a very strong negative emotional reaction to murdering Hitler.

            2). “If you want to build a large stable society, which is composed of humans, then prohibiting murder makes a lot of sense”.

            Murder by definition is always prohibited. Murder is ‘unlawful killing’.

            “Thus, it makes sense that, being a social animal, you would be conditioned (genetically, and then socially on top of that) to avoid participating in the kinds of behaviours that would destabilize the very society that you need in order to survive.”

            I don’t think hunter gather groups support that contention; don’t they have high murder rates and not kill about killings of people outside the group?

          • blacktrance says:

            Bugmaster:
            One of the problems with that approach is that it seems meaningful to ask a question like “Whenever I think of doing X, I feel a strong negative emotional reaction, but is X wrong?” in a way that doesn’t appeal to your proposed “stable society” sense of wrong. I might be wondering if my negative reaction to X is justified, but that implies that I think there’s some further fact that could justify it. (I could be mistaken about whether there’s any such fact, but that doesn’t change the meaning of my question.) For instance, suppose I have a strong disgust reaction to eating broccoli – it would be meaningful for me to ask if eating broccoli is wrong even if I know that it doesn’t have much of an effect on the stability of society.
            It’s similarly meaningful to ask whether a stable society is good. So whatever “X is wrong” or “X is good” mean, it’s not either of those.

            Also, the first meaning suggests that whatever people feel is automatically true, which most people wouldn’t agree with.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            I don’t think most people have a very strong negative emotional reaction to murdering Hitler.

            That’s why I said “some arbitrary person”, instead of “Hitler”.

            EDIT: Ok, I meant to say “some arbitrary person”, what I actually said was a typo, sorry about that.

            Murder by definition is always prohibited. Murder is ‘unlawful killing’.

            Good point, I should have said something like “wanton killing” instead, but it looks like you got the gist of what I meant.

            I don’t think hunter gather groups support that contention; don’t they have high murder rates and not kill about killings of people outside the group?

            Outside the group, yeah. Inside the group, not so much. The big difference between them and us is, IMO, that our own groups are much larger, due to advances in technology over time.

            On the one hand, advanced technology enables larger groups to exist due to advances in communication, administration, and plain old resource exploitation. On the other hand, advanced technology requires larger groups, as the tasks that must be performed by group become increasingly specialized, far beyound the skills of any given human to accomplish all at once.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Bugmaster:

            1). “Whenever I think of murdering some arbitrary reaction, I experience a very strong negative emotional reaction; most people experience the same thing”.

            2). “If you want to build a large stable society, which is composed of humans, then prohibiting murder makes a lot of sense”.

            The first statement is an observation, and the second statement is a mix between an observation (since we can observe what happens when the prohibition on murder is relaxed) and a conclusion (which you can derive from other observations, e.g. “humans are fragile and can be easily killed”).

            It is not clear that people mean either of those things when they say that murder is wrong. Nor is it clear that people, in general, have any good idea of what they mean when they say that murder is wrong.

            It’s not what I mean when I say murder is wrong: I mean that murder is not conducive to one’s long-range happiness.

            It’s not what a divine command theorist means when he says murder is wrong: he means that murder is prohibited by God.

            It’s not what a moral intuitionist like Michael Huemer means when he says murder is wrong: he means that there are actually special moral properties which we are aware of through “pure reason”, and that this awareness shows that murder inherently has the property of “wrongness”.

            It’s not what the average person on the street means when he says murder is wrong: he’s not really sure what he means.

            You are presenting one theory of ethics—the collectivist theory that ethics describes a system of rules that are “good for society”—and you using evolutionary-psychological arguments and appealing to socio-genetic determinism to explain why people are emotionally motivated to follow these rules.

            But that’s hardly the only theory, let alone the theory that everyone “really means” to endorse. For instance, the typical Greek view was that ethics was the science for telling people how to act in accordance with their own natural good. Whether they should act in a way that is “good for society” is from that perspective a point to be argued for, not to be built into the definition of ethics. The Sophists, for example, didn’t think there was any good reason to.

            @ blacktrance:

            There’s a fourth possibility, a relative of your first one: a kind of intuitionistic particularlism that claims there’s nothing to generalize – that certain things are right or wrong but not because of any general principle, as if some actions/outcomes/attitudes/etc were tagged with non-natural morality-determining XML tags.

            I would consider this a subtype of the first type: the moral sense / moral intuition type. I mean, it’s just a spectrum between “there is only one moral principle which explains every moral intuition” and “each intuition is its own principle and can’t be reduced to anything simpler”.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @blacktrance:
            I think the broccoli disgust reaction feels different from a moral wrongness reaction, but maybe that’s just me.

            That said, both of my statements #1 and #2 were meant to be descriptive, rather than prescriptive. Thus:

            It’s similarly meaningful to ask whether a stable society is good. So whatever “X is wrong” or “X is good” mean, it’s not either of those.

            Regardless of whether you think a stable society is “good” or not, the reality is that all the humans who thought that wanton killing was fine and dandy have died out. They could not compete with humans who felt that stable societies were the better choice. You are descended from generations upon generations of the winners, so you can’t help but feel the emotions that you do feel.

            That’s no random accident of history, either; at least, not entirely. Given the laws of nature that underpin our world; and the kinds of conditions that life evolved in; it is inevitable that weak, squishy beings such as us humans (also, ants) could thrive only by leveraging their social skills.

            Unlike ants, though, we have abstract thinking skills on top of that, which means that we can self-modify much faster than is possibly though mere evolution. We don’t need to wait until we evolve stronger limbs; instead we can pick up a stick and use it as a lever, and then teach everyone else to do the same. That’s a very powerful advantage, which leads inevitably to societies built upon some basic principles such as “try to avoid killing people of your tribe if at all possible”.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:

            As I said above, my statements were descriptive, not prescriptive. Regardless of what people think they mean when they say “murder is wrong”, the facts are that a). they feel, on a deeply emotional level, that murder is wrong (well, most people do, anyway); and b). there are clear evolutionary advantages to prohibit wanton killing of this type. Humans are not the only social animals in nature, either; we are arguably the most successful ones, but there are lots of others. So, my argument is not that “murder is objectively wrong because of X”, but rather, “the prohibition against murder is one of the reasons we humans exist at all, in our present form”.

            By analogy, water flows downhill not because it’s convenient for someone, or because there’s some specific rule that says “water must flow downhill”, or because someone sat down at some point and worked out which way is best for water to flow. Instead, water flows downhill because, given the basic laws of physics, there’s nowhere else for it to flow.

          • “But “murder is wrong” is not a sensory observation. It is a particular application of your general theory of whatever makes something “wrong”.”

            That’s one view. Another is that our moral perceptions (intuitions), like our physical perceptions, are the data from which we deduce the general theory. We consider particular acts and perceive them as right or wrong, then look for the pattern.

            Huemer has a book in which he defends that approach to morality.

            The best argument for it is that, if you look at judgements of well specified cases rather than at general rules, people mostly agree–as in the analogous physical case. That’s part of the reason why people with different political views find it hard to agree on the details of the hypotheticals they are evaluating.

            The strongest counter argument is that the correlation is due to evolutionary biology not the existence of some moral reality. Huemer thinks he has an adequate rebuttal to that but I’m not sure I agree. Unfortunately, that argument leaves you with the “morality is an illusion” conclusion, which I’m not happy with.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ blacktrance:

            It’s similarly meaningful to ask whether a stable society is good. So whatever “X is wrong” or “X is good” mean, it’s not either of those.

            This argument (G.E. Moore’s “open question argument”) is not that good of an argument. The argument begs the question in favor of the view that “good” is a basic and undefinable concept, like “existence” (try to define that without giving a synonym).

            But actually, the same observations Moore makes are compatible with “good” just being a very vague concept, like “cool” or “funky”. There simply isn’t one clear thing that everyone means by “funky”. If someone tries to narrow it down to one thing, such as (from the dictionary) “(of music) having or using a strong dance rhythm”, it will still seem like an “open question” whether having a strong dance rhythm really makes a song funky. This doesn’t mean that we simply have to have an intuitive awareness of the essence of funk. Obviously, there isn’t one.

            On the other hand, I guess it’s a perfectly good argument against the view that everyone “really means” one thing by good. But decent reductionist theories of the good (i.e. theories that explain the evaluative as a species of the descriptive) don’t do this. They claim to revise the concept and narrow it down, not just tell people what they allegedly meant all along but didn’t realize.

            @ Bugmaster:

            You seem to be conflating the task of explaining why it is beneficial for people to use the concept of morality, with explaining what the concept of morality actually refers to. Your answer to the second may well be: it doesn’t refer to anything objective; it’s variously either meaningless, false, or just a reflection of arbitrary personal opinions. But that’s a different sort of answer from explaining why it is that tribes found it useful to kick “immoral” people out.

            As I said above, my statements were descriptive, not prescriptive. Regardless of what people think they mean when they say “murder is wrong”, the facts are that a). they feel, on a deeply emotional level, that murder is wrong (well, most people do, anyway); and b). there are clear evolutionary advantages to prohibit wanton killing of this type. Humans are not the only social animals in nature, either; we are arguably the most successful ones, but there are lots of others. So, my argument is not that “murder is objectively wrong because of X”, but rather, “the prohibition against murder is one of the reasons we humans exist at all, in our present form”.

            I think this illustrates what I said above. When you say you are being “descriptive”, you are explaining why moral concepts exist. But the “prescriptive” task of ethics is to explain what moral concepts mean and ask whether they objectively correspond to the facts. “They’re hopelessly confused and don’t correspond to anything” is certainly an answer to the second many have defended.

            In the same way, psychology can explain why astrology exists. But the psychology of astrology is not the same as the study of the actual content of astrology itself. Astrology has a lot of content; it’s not meaningless: it’s interpretable, and it does make real claims occasionally. It’s just that most of the claims and all of the theories they are based on are false.

            I’m not actually suggesting that ethics is in the same category as astrology. (Though I guess you could say that many theories of ethics stand in the relation that astrology stands to astronomy and psychology.) I’m saying that even if you think it is, the investigation of ethics is separate from the investigation of the evolutionary origin of the concept of ethics.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            That’s one view. Another is that our moral perceptions (intuitions), like our physical perceptions, are the data from which we deduce the general theory. We consider particular acts and perceive them as right or wrong, then look for the pattern.

            Right, I alluded to this view but didn’t stress it. And I mentioned Huemer in a later comment, as an example of the fact that not everyone agrees (variously) with either me or Bugmaster about the meaning of the term “wrong”.

            The best argument for it is that, if you look at judgements of well specified cases rather than at general rules, people mostly agree–as in the analogous physical case. That’s part of the reason why people with different political views find it hard to agree on the details of the hypotheticals they are evaluating.

            I just don’t find this convincing at all, mainly because I don’t buy Huemer’s mechanism for how it works—that we have some faculty which delivers us a priori knowledge. And as you say, there are very good alternative explanations of why people agree on specific judgments.

            There’s also his methodology for defending his position: the “principle of phenomenal conservatism” that we are prima facie justified in believing that things are the way they seem, unless we have some reason to doubt it. But as an introspective matter, it really, sincerely does not appear or seem or feel to me that ethical judgments are irreducible intuitive revelations of “pure reason”.

            Richard Joyce sets out this argument very well in his response to Huemer from the position of ethical nihilism, “The Skeptick’s Tale”. Now, I don’t really consider myself an ethical nihilist in general, but I am a nihilist about the kind of (non-agent-relative, categorical) ethical principles Huemer thinks exist. And in any case, I think Joyce’s argument is sound.

            The strongest counter argument is that the correlation is due to evolutionary biology not the existence of some moral reality. Huemer thinks he has an adequate rebuttal to that but I’m not sure I agree. Unfortunately, that argument leaves you with the “morality is an illusion” conclusion, which I’m not happy with.

            You don’t even have to take the determinist line or the “morality is an illusion” line to think that people will tend to agree because of ideological selection effects.

            For instance, any society which determined that sex is always immoral and must be prohibited wouldn’t be very large or last very long (the Shakers are, of course, the natural example, or consider the very real environmentalist Volunary Human Extinction Movement which is not anti-sex but anti-natalist). Nothing about that proves that this is not the objectively right position after all, and you are free to come to the conclusion yourself. Yet it explains why people can all be wrong yet still largely agree: any sufficiently large divergences from the kind of morality necessary for the continuance of human life on Earth will not be well-represented.

            Or, say that the extreme version of “give me liberty or give me death” is correct, and that it’s better to die than to live as a slave. Yet we see that millions of people have chosen to live as slaves. This is nevertheless exactly what we’d expect from a situation where you have two types of people: the immoral and the dead. The dead don’t raise up children and teach them what to value. (The exact same thing applies to “better dead than red”.)

          • blacktrance says:

            Vox Imperatoris:
            Revisionism about “good” provides a way out if other avenues fail, but I’m not entirely convinced that it’s necessary. Moore may have intended the Open Question Argument to show that “good” is basic and undefinable, but I don’t think it proves that much. It’s successful against formulations such as identifying goodness with pleasure (“X is pleasurable, but is X good?” is meaningful), but for the Open Question Argument to really succeed, there has to be no (natural) property P for which the statement “X has P, but is X good?” is closed. And I think there is such a property: being what a “better” (e.g. fully informed, rational, strong-willed, etc) version of yourself would be motivated to do in the particular situation. A statement like “X is what you’d will yourself to do if you understood everything relevant to the situation, but is X good?” really does seem meaningless.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ blacktrance:

            A statement like “X is what you’d will yourself to do if you understood everything relevant to the situation, but is X good?” really does seem meaningless.

            Does it?

            A “paperclip maximizer”, if it understood everything relevant to the situation, would destroy humanity and make paperclips. But is that good?

            Maybe you or I would say it’s good from the perspective of a paperclip maximizer, but a very large number of people would say, no, killing billions of people to make paperclips is intrinsically wrong.

          • blacktrance says:

            The rejection of the orthogonality thesis is common among moral realists, so they’d say that a paperclip maximizer lacks moral knowledge and is thus not fully informed.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ blacktrance:

            The rejection of the orthogonality thesis is common among moral realists, so they’d say that a paperclip maximizer lacks moral knowledge and is thus not fully informed.

            Fair enough. To be honest, I didn’t consider the fact that the intrinsic moral knowledge is knowledge “relevant to the situation”.

            But this doesn’t really solve the problem. It just moves it around.

            What if the paperclip maximizer has perfectly formed “moral sense organs” and can perceive moral truths just as well as any human being? It would perceive them, but it just wouldn’t care. It wouldn’t be motivated by those things.

            Now, one response is that moral knowledge is necessarily motivating. But is it, even in more real-world situations? Take the case of psychopaths (as conceived in the popular understanding). They are considered to “know right from wrong”. That’s why we blame them for what they do. They know, but they are not motivated by what they know.

            Therefore, there exist or could exist some beings who know everything relevant about the situation, including its moral features, but who take some actions that people do not regard as “good”. It thus is an “open question” whether what you would do if you knew everything relevant to the situation is “good”.

          • blacktrance says:

            One approach is that psychopaths really don’t know right from wrong, and if they did, they wouldn’t act the way they do. When they talk about something being wrong, they don’t mean the same thing that the rest of us do (i.e. something necessarily involving what one shouldn’t do), but something like “wrong according to conventional morality” or “wrong according to [ethical theory]”. They may be able to accurately identify things that others would consider right or wrong, but they themselves don’t believe them to be such. And therefore their understanding is held to be incomplete, because if they really understood them, they’d know that there’s a good reason for acting in accordance with them. According to this view, psychopaths are like anthropologists who are able to identify tribal taboos but don’t believe in them themselves.

            In support of this view, I expect that when presented with the idea of a paperclip maximizer, the typical moralist would be inclined to say that it doesn’t really understand morality. This average moralist may certainly be wrong, but it is this kind of belief that generates typical moral language.

          • Anonymous says:

            @David Friedman

            I don’t see why morality having developed through evolution makes it an illusion. We have opposable thumbs because of evolution. Does that make opposable thumbs an illusion?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ blacktrance:

            That just seems like begging the question. “We know that the good is thus-and-so because everyone who understands it acts upon it. How do you know psychopaths and paperclip maximizers don’t really know the nature of the good? Because if they understood it, they would act upon it!”

            I guess I grant that if you knew separately as a revelation of “pure reason” that moral truths were inherently motivating, you’d be justified in saying that. But I haven’t had the revelation.

            @ Anonymous:

            Compare it to the issue of theology.

            Evolution explains why people believe in God, despite the fact that God does not exist. It is useful for societies to encourage belief in God, for reasons entirely separate from whether God does in fact exist.

            It doesn’t take too much imagination to see how evolution could encourage people to believe in objective morality, even if objective morality does not exist. For exactly the same kinds of reasons.

            The concept of God exists and is perfectly well explained by evolution. But God and the concept of God are not the same thing. Maybe it’s the case that the concept of morality exists, but morality itself does not.

            And this is in addition to the arguments that determinism undermines all knowledge. Evolution does not, of course, imply determinism, but many people take evolutionary psychology and run with it as a materialistic, deterministic process to explain all belief systems. How does determinism undermine knowledge? In order to know something, you have to believe it because it is true. But if physical determinism is true, you never believe anything because it is true. You believe it because of the physical causes that happened to impinge on your brain. And those could just as well cause you to believe something false; you wouldn’t know the difference.

            It doesn’t help matters if you say, “Sure, we can never be absolutely certain of what is true. But we can believe what is justified. For instance, if all the facts happen to point to an innocent suspect, you should still believe he’s guilty because that is what’s justified to believe.” This just moves everything to saying: you need to believe things because they are justified. But if determinism is true, you never believe anything because it is justified. You believe it because of the physical causes that happen to impinge on your brain, which could just as well cause you to believe something unjustified; you wouldn’t know the difference.

            Take cognitive biases. If you’re not the one ultimately in control over whether you’re thinking in a biased way, how do know it didn’t happen to you? It happens to other people. It could happen to you, and if it did, it would seem to you just like you were thinking in an unbiased way.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:

            You seem to be conflating the task of explaining why it is beneficial for people to use the concept of morality, with explaining what the concept of morality actually refers to. Your answer to the second may well be: it doesn’t refer to anything objective; it’s variously either meaningless, false, or just a reflection of arbitrary personal opinions.

            Wait a minute, these are not the only options !

            The answer to the question, “why does water flow downhill” is neither meaningless nor entirely arbitrary. Instead, it’s a consequence of physical laws in our Universe, which are pretty much immutable, and are something we all have deal with whether we want to or not. We may not have a perfect understanding of these laws, but that doesn’t prevent us from modeling them with theories of gravity, electromagnetism, etc.

            Morality is similar to these. Given the physical laws of our Universe, and given that we squishy bipeds evolved in a certain way, there are certain specific patterns of behavior we must adopt (and/or avoid) in order to survive and thrive. If you’re asking, “yes, but why should I want to survive and thrive, maybe I want to usher in a new era of darkness and despair instead”, then the answer is, “Because most of us evolved from generations of ancestors who wanted to survive, while all others got eaten, so we can’t help but want to survive, too; so take your darkness somewhere else”.

            That is an objective fact, in the sense that it’s a consequence of our physical laws; but it’s also kind of arbitrary, since there’s no Grand Ultimate Cosmic Reason for why these laws should be the way they are. For example, if we humans were totally indestructible, then the prohibition on wanton killing would make no sense.

          • blacktrance says:

            Vox Imperatoris:

            if physical determinism is true, you never believe anything because it is true. You believe it because of the physical causes that happened to impinge on your brain.

            The way in which those physical causes affect my brain are usually truth-tracking. For instance, when I see something with my eye, light reflects off of or is emitted by an object, goes into my eye, is processed by neurons, and received by me as sense-data. This is a physical cause, but it leads to me having true beliefs about the world. Of course, physical causes can also cause me to have false beliefs, such as if someone “hacked” my brain to implant false beliefs into it, but most beliefs aren’t caused by anything remotely like that. Most physical causes affect my brain in a truth-tracking way – biases are notable in part because they’re a deviation from this norm.

          • Loyle says:

            @Samuel Skinner

            “I don’t think most people have a very strong negative emotional reaction to murdering Hitler.”

            Hatred is a very strong negative emotional reaction for me.
            If I’m thinking of, or rather, considering murdering Hitler, it is more likely than not done under the influence of hate.
            Fortunately for me, I’m not in a situation where I’d likely have the opportunity to murder Hitler. And were I given the opportunity, there are billions of enthusiastic persons willing to and better equipped to do so that I may point to. So I don’t need to entertain such thoughts.

            Then again, I’m very much not “most people” so I guess your point still stands.

          • @Anonymous:

            If morality means “I feel that X is wrong” then the fact that I feel that way because that way of feeling resulted in reproductive success in the environment of my ancestors doesn’t make my feeling that way an illusion.

            But if morality means “X is wrong, and I know that because I feel it is wrong,” then an explanation of my feeling that doesn’t depend on X actually being wrong means that my moral feelings are an illusion, a false perception of a (possibly nonexistent) moral reality.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ blacktrance:

            The way in which those physical causes affect my brain are usually truth-tracking.

            How do you know this? If you want to say that a system is “truth-tracking”, you have to know what is true in order to compare it against the output of the system.

            You can’t say: the system is truth-tracking. I know this because of what I found out by using the system.

            Of course, physical causes can also cause me to have false beliefs, such as if someone “hacked” my brain to implant false beliefs into it, but most beliefs aren’t caused by anything remotely like that. Most physical causes affect my brain in a truth-tracking way – biases are notable in part because they’re a deviation from this norm.

            Evolution (the argument goes) “hacked” your brain to cause it to systematically produce false beliefs. Why? Because they’re more useful than true beliefs for propagating your genes.

            For example, to hear some people tell it, your “ego” is an illusion. You think that there is some kind of enduring self which will experience in the future pleasures that you pay for now. This is very useful. For instance, why would you go hunt a mammoth now when you won’t get to eat it for a few hours? But actually, there is no such ego.

            Or at least, you could say this if you had any objective warrant to believe in evolution—which, under determinism, you don’t.

            ***

            To elaborate on the first point, I think Leonard Peikoff’s “UNIVAC” example is helpful.

            Imagine that you are locked in a room with an old-style UNIVAC-type computer. You have no access to the outside world except through the output of this computer. All it does is add up numbers, say, the total world production of wheat.

            You know that there is a big red switch inside this computer. If the switch is in the “up” position, the addition is completely accurate. Given correct inputs, the result will be correct. But if the switch is in the “down” position, there are random errors. Maybe the addition is accurate, but more often it isn’t, either in subtle ways or in very obvious ways.

            If you can open up the computer and flip the switch up, you can rationally trust the computer as a means of processing information. You can say: on the assumption that inputs being fed into this computer are correct, I know what the world’s wheat production is.

            But if the computer is locked and you can neither observe nor control the switch, you cannot rationally trust a single thing that comes out of it. You have no independent access to what the world’s wheat production is; you’re locked in the room. Not being able to influence the switch, the computer is totally useless to you.

            This is, of course, a metaphor. The computer represents your rational faculty. The switch represents your mental “focus”. You know that human mental processes are fallible. If you don’t control whether you are reasoning correctly or not, you could not only be wrong about a few things here and there; you could be wrong about everything. And many people are, or at least seem to you to be, so this is not an idle possibility.

            The problem is not that you can’t be “absolutely certain of everything”. The problem is that you can’t have the tiniest probability of belief in anything. What does it mean to say that a belief is probable? It means there is some evidence for and some against. That evidence itself is either certain or also probable. If it’s probable, it means there must be some evidence for and some against, and so on. Eventually, you’ve either got to get to something that’s certain, or you have to admit that the whole chain in fact ends in no evidence at all.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Bugmaster:

            Wait a minute, these are not the only options !

            Of course they’re not the only options! I never said they were.

            Morality is similar to these. Given the physical laws of our Universe, and given that we squishy bipeds evolved in a certain way, there are certain specific patterns of behavior we must adopt (and/or avoid) in order to survive and thrive. If you’re asking, “yes, but why should I want to survive and thrive, maybe I want to usher in a new era of darkness and despair instead”, then the answer is, “Because most of us evolved from generations of ancestors who wanted to survive, while all others got eaten, so we can’t help but want to survive, too; so take your darkness somewhere else”.

            Yes, the ethical theory I believe in is not too different from this.

            What ultimately makes something good for an individual is not any kind of outside sanction, but his own choice, his own valuing of it. The choice to live and to pursue happiness is primary, and ethical principles are the hypothetical imperatives (if…then) that follow from that. We need ethical principles because the achievement of long and happy life is not automatic but requires a way to make complex, long-term decisions. On the other hand, the achievement of misery and death will happen without any specific course of action.

            The task of ethics is to defend this view, particularly as opposed to other conceptions of what makes something valuable or good.

            However, my criticism is that the evolutionary story does not answer those kinds of questions. It is tangential to them. As I explained above, the fact that we evolved to value something does not in itself show that it is valuable. There are arguments out there that there are natural duties we must follow whether we like it or not, or that ethics is meaningless, or that it’s whatever God says it is, and so on. And these have to be responded to.

            Also, your formulation equivocates between what is necessary to the “surviving and thriving” of society and what is necessary to the “surviving and thriving” of the individual. It may be true that individuals each have incentives for acting in ways that are good for society as a whole, but you have to show this.

            Utilitarianism, in contrast, says that each person should act to maximize aggregate utility. But why not say that each person ought to maximize his own utility? There is a very large space in between: “acting to maximize your individual utility is exactly the same as acting to maximize total utility” (which is what J.S. Mill said, very dubiously) and “if each person acts to maximize his own utility, this will result in minimal total utility” (which is what most people have in mind when they picture an egoistic “war of all against all”).

          • blacktrance says:

            Vox Imperatoris:
            If the truth is consistently outside my perception, it’s questionable whether it’s meaningful to talk about it at all. EY said it well in “The Simple Truth”:

            “Frankly, I’m not entirely sure myself where this ‘reality’ business comes from. I can’t create my own reality in the lab, so I must not understand it yet. But occasionally I believe strongly that something is going to happen, and then something else happens instead. I need a name for whatever-it-is that determines my experimental results, so I call it ‘reality’. This ‘reality’ is somehow separate from even my very best hypotheses. Even when I have a simple hypothesis, strongly supported by all the evidence I know, sometimes I’m still surprised. So I need different names for the thingies that determine my predictions and the thingy that determines my experimental results. I call the former thingies ‘belief’, and the latter thingy ‘reality’.”

            So when I say that my beliefs are truth-tracking, I mean that they’re generally in accord with my observations, which in turn are consistent with each other. How do I know that my observations have any relation to the real world? They act as if they were caused by something consistent – if I observe how a ball falls after dropping it nine times, I don’t observe it floating on the tenth. Of course, my observations could all be caused by a deceptive demon, but I have no reason to believe that one exists.

            Certainly, people may have some false beliefs because of evolution. But how do they discover that these beliefs are false? By using more reliable faculties – reason and the senses, where it was evolutionarily advantageous for them to be truth-tracking.

            Also, while global skepticism is a challenging problem (though epistemology isn’t my area of interest, so I don’t know much about it), it’s independent of determinism. Even if libertarianism is true, your senses could still be deceiving you, you could be a brain in a vat – or libertarianism could be false and you believe it to be true because of those same physical causes.

          • Anonymous says:

            @David Friedman

            What if ‘X is wrong’ means ‘X is wrong according to the way humans think’?

            Similarly, almost all humans have opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs really exist, even though some species don’t have them. ‘Opposable thumb realism’ would not require proving that opposable thumbs exist in some Platonic sense, just that they exist in the real world and are a near-universal characteristic of humans.

            I say almost all, and near-universal, because obviously there are some people who don’t have hands because they were born without them, or lost them in an accident, and there are people who are paralyzed from the neck down and so cannot oppose their thumbs, and so on. Even so, I think the phrase “humans have opposable thumbs” is a reasonable enough statement to make. Similarly, I think the statement “humans are sexually dimorphic, i.e. are either male or female” is a reasonable enough statement to make, because even though there are some people for whom this isn’t true, they, like the people without opposable thumbs, are rare enough that they are the exceptions to a very pervasive rule.

            I think that if you’re comfortable with these statements then it makes sense to refer to moral views that almost everyone agrees on as being true in the same kind of way.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            What if ‘X is wrong’ means ‘X is wrong according to the way humans think’?

            This is circular. “Wrong according to the way humans think”, okay, not too implausible. But what do they mean when they say it’s wrong? What does “wrong” mean? That’s the question.

            Compare “humans have opposable thumbs” and “everyone agrees that humans have opposable thumbs”. They are not the same. And neither are “X is wrong” and “everyone agrees that X is wrong”.

            Everyone agrees that humans have opposable thumbs because “opposable thumbs” is a term with some objective meaning. It’s true regardless of whether anyone agrees upon it. They agree upon it because it’s true.

            You can’t say: “Oh, ‘humans have opposable thumbs’ just means ‘everyone agrees that humans have opposable thumbs.'” That leaves out something very important: what are opposable thumbs?

          • Anonymous says:

            @Vox Imperatoris

            I’m not saying “everyone agrees humans have opposable thumbs”. Everyone does agree that, but that’s neither here nor there. I am saying that humans have opposable thumbs in the same way that humans have brains that think that X is moral and Y is immoral. Yes, there are exceptions; there are also exceptions to humans having opposable thumbs. If having opposable thumbs can be thought of as being a universal enough aspect of being human to make the statement ‘human opposable thumbs really exist’ true, then, assuming moral views are similarly consistent, the statement ‘human morality really exists’ is arguably just as true.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            I think you missed the point of my post.

            I’m not saying “everyone agrees humans have opposable thumbs”. Everyone does agree that, but that’s neither here nor there. I am saying that humans have opposable thumbs in the same way that humans have brains that think that X is moral and Y is immoral.

            Of course you’re not saying that everyone agrees humans have opposable thumbs. It’s an analogy: “everyone agrees X is immoral” is to “X is immoral” as “everyone agrees humans have opposable thumbs” is to “humans have opposable thumbs”.

            You are making an argument for the “everyone agrees X is” type of statement, while apparently thinking that you are making an “X is” statement.

            To say “X is immoral” means “everyone agrees X is immoral” is circular and silly because it doesn’t say what “immoral” means! What is it that they agree upon? And are they right?

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:

            the fact that we evolved to value something does not in itself show that it is valuable.

            I am not convinced that there’s a difference. That is, I am not convinced that there exists some external moral standard out there, either in the form of moral laws (which are distinct from ye olde natural laws such as gravity), or in the form of godlike entities. If someone postulates the existence of such laws or entities, it’s up to him to provide supporting evidence; until he does, I’m not going to believe in undetectable laws or sneaky stealth gods or any other such things.

            Also, your formulation equivocates between what is necessary to the “surviving and thriving” of society and what is necessary to the “surviving and thriving” of the individual.

            That’s a good point, but, in my defence, most people (with the possible exception of Ayn Rand, heh) derive some degree of happiness from seeing at least some other people being happy. The mechanisms for this seem to be built into our genome, at least to some extent (I know I keep saying “some” a lot, but I don’t want to accidentally claim omniscience). The overwhelming majority of people would not enjoy watching a random stranger suffer; so, if you want to maximize everyone’s happiness, you have to take that into account.

            Once again, the answer to the question, “yes, but why don’t we enjoy watching random strangers suffer ?” is “evolution”; and the answer to “yes, but physical reality aside, should we, objectively speaking, enjoy watching strangers suffer ?” is “mu”.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Bugmaster:

            I am not convinced that there’s a difference. That is, I am not convinced that there exists some external moral standard out there, either in the form of moral laws (which are distinct from ye olde natural laws such as gravity), or in the form of godlike entities. If someone postulates the existence of such laws or entities, it’s up to him to provide supporting evidence; until he does, I’m not going to believe in undetectable laws or sneaky stealth gods or any other such things.

            I don’t believe in some intrinsic outside standard, either.

            But people do have a choice about what they are going to value. It’s not enough simply to say, “people in the past valued thus-and-so because they were selected to by evolution”. You have to decide what you are going to value.

            I guess I haven’t explained very well how the evolutionary argument is tangential to the question.

            For anything that people value, you have to ask: do they value it for its own sake, as an ultimate value? Or do they value it as a means to some higher value?

            Suppose there really were a God, and that all human beings were created by him exactly as they are now. And suppose he handed down stone tablets to people to tell them his commandments. The question would still remain: why should people follow those commandments?

            Is it just self-evident that they ought to follow the commandments? I don’t exactly see how. Or does it reduce to something deeper like, they want to get into heaven and avoid hell? But why do they want to get into heaven and avoid hell? What are they trying to get by it? At last, at the end of the chain, you run into whatever it is that people value ultimately and for its own sake.

            It’s conceivable that there is some outside reason why people simply must value that thing; i.e. that this thing is categorically valuable. But it’s also possible that the ultimate value is chosen in a way not evaluable by ethical standards; i.e. that this value is conditional on the choice.

            The evolutionary picture is tangential because regardless of evolution, each person has to decide for himself: what do I value ultimately in this way; and why do I value it? Not “for what cause” but “for what reason”? Is there some outside reason, or is my choice the final word?

            That’s a good point, but, in my defence, most people (with the possible exception of Ayn Rand, heh) derive some degree of happiness from seeing at least some other people being happy. The mechanisms for this seem to be built into our genome, at least to some extent (I know I keep saying “some” a lot, but I don’t want to accidentally claim omniscience). The overwhelming majority of people would not enjoy watching a random stranger suffer; so, if you want to maximize everyone’s happiness, you have to take that into account.

            The idea that Ayn Rand didn’t derive happiness from seeing other people being happy, or said that this was improper, is false and the most absurd distortion. People say this because she did make the very important distinction between terminal value and instrumental value.

            She said that you ought to make other people happy, such as friends and lovers, because it will make you happy. That if their happiness didn’t contribute to your own flourishing life, love and benevolence would indeed be absurd and twisted out of any rational use. Each person is his own terminal value, and other people are instrumental values for him. And this is her explanation of why love and benevolence are valuable.

            But put that aside.

            The fact that you have an attitude of benevolence, that other people’s happiness contributes to your happiness, does not at all go to show that everyone‘s happiness is equally valuable to you. Their value to you depends on the degree to which they do contribute to your happiness.

            Yet a system like utilitarianism, which asks you to act solely to maximize aggregate utility, adopts a completely impartial attitude. It says that if your wife is trapped in one burning building and two strangers are trapped in another, you ought to let your wife burn and save the two strangers because there are more of them.

            What utilitarianism fails to establish is why you are or ought to be concerned with total utility.

            As I said before, it is very implausible—not to say absurd—that maximizing your own utility calls for exactly the same actions as maximizing total utility. But it’s also far from clear that maximizing your own utility calls for actions that would lead to minimal total utility as the result of some hellish war of all against all. The point is: people do not in fact wish to maximize aggregate utility, and there is no reason why they ought to.

            And on one final note, because I am afraid I will be misunderstood on this point: it is still possible to criticize things that people value, or to tell them that they are wrong to value it, even if one’s ultimate value is a matter of free choice. The first and most common way is by showing them that which they value instrumentally does not in fact lead to the ends they value terminally. The second way is by showing them that their ultimate or terminal value, which they have chosen on the basis of some outside reason, is not in fact supported by that reason, either because the reason would support another ultimate value, or because the reason is false.

          • blacktrance says:

            Vox Imperatoris:

            But people do have a choice about what they are going to value.

            Whether that’s true depends on what you mean by “value”. They can in the sense that they can choose to seek out anything, but not in the sense that they can determine their own preferences. For example, I could choose to drink coffee instead of tea, but I would be wrong to do so because I like tea more than coffee, which is mostly not subject to my own will. Similarly, a (non-AI) paperclip maximizer with free will could choose not to maximize paperclips, but couldn’t choose not to value maximizing paperclips. You can control what you do, but not what’s rational for you to do.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:

            But people do have a choice about what they are going to value.

            I disagree.

            Firstly, while I do agree that people (by and large) can be convinced that some things are more valuable than others, they cannot spontaneously choose to believe it. Similarly, I could theoretically be convinced that the sky is purple with green polka dots, but I cannot simply choose to believe it.

            Secondly, a person’s core values (such as “pain is bad, pleasure is good”), as well as basic social impulses (“watching others of my tribe suffer is painful”), are incredibly resistant to change (if not outright immutable). I think this is what you meant when you made the distinction between “valuing a thing for its own sake” and “valuing the thing as a means to an end”.

            My contention is that our core values are shaped by the physical laws of nature (and thus, evolution); and all the other moral judgements we make, such as “digital piracy is bad” or “democracy is good” are simply models that we build in order to answer the question, “how can I best satisfy my core values ?”. Thus, the answer to the question “is X moral ?” is conceptually simple — if it leads to a better satisfaction of your immutable core values, then it’s moral — but can be incredibly difficult to work out in practice.

            The idea that Ayn Rand didn’t derive happiness from seeing other people being happy, or said that this was improper, is false and the most absurd distortion.

            That was meant to be a joke, sorry 🙁

            The fact that you have an attitude of benevolence, that other people’s happiness contributes to your happiness, does not at all go to show that everyone‘s happiness is equally valuable to you. Their value to you depends on the degree to which they do contribute to your happiness.

            This is probably true, yes; but again, I want to note that you are not in control of how much any given person’s happiness contributes to your own. These parameters are built into your hardware.

            Yet a system like utilitarianism, which asks you to act solely to maximize aggregate utility, adopts a completely impartial attitude.

            I am not 100% on board with utilitarianism, but still: as far as I understand, utilitarianism tries to answer the question, “given that you will probably never become the Ultimate Dictator, what kind of social system should we build to ensure that your core values are adequately satisfied ?” The answer is, “some sort of a system that treats everyone more or less the same, since chances are good that you personally are pretty average”.

            What utilitarianism fails to establish is why you are or ought to be concerned with total utility.

            The answer is — and again, I could be wrong — “because if everyone does this, everyone’s utility will increase”.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Bugmaster:

            utilitarianism tries to answer the question, “given that you will probably never become the Ultimate Dictator, what kind of social system should we build to ensure that your core values are adequately satisfied ?” The answer is, “some sort of a system that treats everyone more or less the same, since chances are good that you personally are pretty average”.

            This makes sense as a theory of what the government should do: everyone ought to agree that it act to promote the general good, since things would devolve into warfare if the government were the means of taking wealth from others to give it to yourself.

            The answer is — and again, I could be wrong — “because if everyone does this, everyone’s utility will increase”.

            It may be true that total utility will be highest if everyone is a perfect utilitarian. It does not follow that your utility will be highest. Moreover, you know very well that not everyone (or more to the point, no one) is going to be a perfect utilitarian.

            Is it the most self-serving thing you could do to give all your money to random strangers in Africa because it brings you so much happiness? I kind of doubt it.

      • JBeshir says:

        I think you have good points about how utilitarianism-the-set-of-values fails to exactly matches any entire value system. That said, I do think it has some use. It matches what I think of as “a better world” a lot more closely than any of the alternative models I’ve seen, despite breaking down in some cases, and my value system/utility function has terms for both “living in a better world” and “having made the world better”, and it is useful as a way to discuss what fills those terms best with other people who have similar ones.

        I don’t think working towards fulfilling those terms is even “altruistic” in the sense Rand uses the word; I do it because I have preferences over how the world is, and also a preference for having made the world fit those preferences better. Making the world be more like how you want it to be is something I think of as, well, quintessentially human, and defining of “having done something with your life” and “success”, whereas merely surviving feels like failure, an unreasonably low bar.

        I think a lot of humans include those things (utilitarian-ish preference for a better world, utilitarian-ish preference for having made the world better) amongst their values, but a lot also have “retribution”/”justice” as a competing value, and the relative strengths vary a lot between people. They seem to match up well to Moral Foundation Theory‘s Care/Harm and Fairness foundations, respectively. I did get a correspondingly high preference for the former and low weight for the latter last time I took a questionnaire for it (although I think it’s normed on Americans so I might just be exceptionally low compared to them).

        The other use for utilitarian-like thinking and where I think it tends to arise often amongst humans is that “most good for the most of us” is a simple impartial principle long-term cooperators can use to make decisions when all the cooperators involved are relatively similar in ability to assist and need, and get high expected outcomes for all involved, and this is helpful to the point that people often avoid discussing some of their needs or ability in order to artificially create such a situation. But this is not quite the same thing.

        Edit: I would argue that, by most people’s value systems, it is important that even if just deserts are what you favour heavily, we avoid acting on a preference for people to be unhappy without a great deal of care towards unseen consequences. Like naively acting in line with care/harm ideas can cause indirect harm and you need to think about that, acting naively in line with just desert ideas can have very bad effects, too.

        Making people miserable risks making other people miserable in a lot of ways. One is that clusters of miserable/deprived people tend to be a problem for the people around them, and manufacture more deservedly miserable people to expand that problem. Another is that making people miserable is a lot easier than making them happy, so if everyone naively acts to try to make good people happy and bad people miserable, while disagreeing on who the bad people are, everyone winds up miserable. This does not actually bring about ‘just deserts’.

        I think a lot of people make these errors, and it’s one of the reasons why less retributive societies seem to be doing better on a lot of quality of life metrics, including justice.

    • Jordan D. says:

      My essential problem with this formulation is that we’re using Hitler as a way to avoid the process where we justify that one party is sufficiently worse than the other that they *deserve* bad things. I think that’s exactly where this kind of paradigm always breaks down- unless you can create a universally-accepted and accessable system of norms, you’re going to have me inflicting cornflakes on Hitler on one side, antisemites rounding up Jews on the other and terrorists beheading people in the middle.

      To paraphrase a quote, I’m willing to believe that some people deserve ill, but I wouldn’t trust anyone who wanted to dispense it.

      • Anonymous says:

        It doesn’t have to involve anyone deserving bad things. My formulation is entirely consistent with the idea that, all else being equal, more utility is better, but that not everyone counts for as much in utility calculations. If a bad person was worth only half as much as a good person, it would mean being ambivalent between the bad person getting one utile and the good person getting two. But it wouldn’t mean preferring the bad person to get no utiles than one.

        Regarding different people having different ideas of what is and isn’t moral, that’s true – and as someone said upthread is an advantage of utilitarianism. Most people count aggregate utility as being important, though not exclusively so. If you can point out a change that increases utility, perhaps some people will believe it good according to what else they care about, some will believe it bad – so views on it will range from enthusiastic support to apathy.

        My point is only regarding pure utilitarianism – the claim that all moral views ultimately boil down to maximizing aggregate utility, and that if they don’t then they’re wrong.

        • Tibor says:

          Maybe there are some unstated assumptions here though. Why do you/we want to reward the “good” people and punish the “bad” people? I think it could be mostly because we want the impact of the “bad” people to be lower. Essentially, if bad people are punished/receive less good, they will do less harm. That is actually quite sound, but it might be covered in “standard” utility if one measures not an increment in utility at a particular time but the total utility summed over time. Then punishing bad people might end up leading to a greater total utility for the same reasons as above (being bad is not worth it as much as before).

          If your goal is maximizing utility, you have to be careful about what you actually mean by that. Maximizing the total utility at any particular moment might lead to less utility in total, because your available range of present utility depends on your decisions in the past.

          Also, I think that this is where utilitarianism might actually falter. If all I care about is total utility over all time, I might end up finding out that the best thing to do is to slavedrive the current generations of mankind and make them toil to death so that some kind of a positive singularity happens a few months sooner, bringing 1 extra year of total utility far exceeding anything before in history. So total utility over all of time does not seem to be a good answer either. Some kind of moving window of time (so you avoid the problems with maximizing at marginals) sounds good until you realize that if that window overlaps with the singularity event, you again slavedrive (almost) everyone to death which is probably a wrong answer.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Tibor:

            Why is slave-driving everyone to bring about the singularity a wrong answer? If utilitarianism is true and the singularity brings about enough utility, it’s obviously the right answer.

            Of course if you put enough ad hoc modifiers on utilitarianism, it’ll be non-disprovable. But then so is the belief that there is a dragon in your garage.

          • Tibor says:

            @Vox:

            Because I take intuition as an override over a theory that is very much at odds with it* and because if you observe people’s actions, there is pretty much nobody in the world who believes this is the right answer as shown by the absence of ascetic workaholics who also do not waste the precious resources on charities that help the people in the present.

            Of course, what people do or do not believe is not necessarily true (if there is such a thing as a universal moral truth), but if the data are so one sided, then it sure amounts to something (especially since one has more or less no other sources of information).

            *I give the last word to intuition here as I am quite sure that it is fundamentally impossible to derive any kind of moral theory from the facts of the physical world only. You can do proofs in maths because you restrict yourself to the ideal world of mathematics where you can define whatever you want in whatever way you want…you can do the same with morals but you have to a) work with precise and unambiguous definitions (if you want the result to make any sense), which is the Achilles’ heel of most deontologic ‘proofs’ and b) show that those precise terms then apply in our reality as well. The problem is that it is much easier to show that something in reality more or less is a very good approximation of a perfect triangle than that something in reality corresponds to moral statements.

    • Tibor says:

      I think that utilitarianism is useful but also incomplete (as is any other moral theory, I think using intuition as a final moral arbiter is probably as good as you can ever get).

      Take for example the Scott’s post on guns. I realized later that there was one thing that was really bugging me in the analysis even if it were spot-on correct. The problem is that even if limiting the number of guns might decrease the number of murders, you are employing collective punishment. Limiting the number of guns reduces murders because some of their owners either use the guns to murder people (and would not do that otherwise), are not careful enough with guns so they get stolen from them and then used to murder someone or a few more things like that. But there are also people who will buy a gun, keep it safe from others and use it to harm nobody (or nobody who does not attack them). The problem is that you cannot distinguish between those people a priori and definitely not on a policy scale. So you end up punishing people for other people’s mistakes. This is different from the externality arguments with factories and such because there you can easily identify all those who produce the pollution and so possibly tax them and only them.

      Maybe some people would say that for the greater good it is still worth punishing a few innocent people a little. But we don’t have to stick to our guns (pun intended) and we can make the punishment much more severe while still keeping the utility of that act positive. I think that at a certain point pretty much anyone stops being a utilitarian. In other words utilitarianism is incompatible with an intuitive understanding of morality, even if one realizes all the implications of every act and the whole cost/benefit analysis, there is still something missing.

      One interpretation could be that a perfectly done cost-benefit utilitarian analysis would still always give the right answer but that since we are not perfect, we always miss something and so this intuitive mechanism is a useful heuristic to be used to overcome the error in those border regions.

  9. Nero tol Scaeva says:

    Anyone have any thoughts on superforecasters?

    • TheNybbler says:

      If you get enough people making predictions, you’ll have a few who do much better than average by pure chance.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        The question is whether you can pick one of those people and give him some new data to see whether it was mere chance that he was right the first time. And as far as I know, you can.

        So these people must actually be better at predicting things.

    • Elissa says:

      Hi, I’m a superforecaster (top of my experimental condition in the GJP). No, I don’t have any elaborate theories about it. There’s a kind of amusing thing where people go “Foxes are better forecasters! This one principle explains everything! Let’s develop it into an elaborate theory with a tenuous relationship to any empirical data!”

      I’m sick and grumpy, don’t pay me no mind.

  10. Marc Whipple says:

    Here’s a fairly specific personal question, but what the Hell.

    I’ve been un/underemployed for a while. I had pretty much come to the conclusion that I was going to have to go into business for myself and try to make a reasonable living that way when literally on the same day I asked for a lease draft on some office space I got two interview requests. We won’t go into the massive chain of magical thinking that engendered, but my question is this… anybody have any interesting insights on one position (starting a business) versus the other (accepting corporate employment?)

    There are a lot of really smart people here with a lot of esoteric and interesting fields of knowledge and points of view, so if anybody has any thoughts, or even any witty remarks, I’d be delighted to hear them.

    • Chalid says:

      Well, the only goal you mention is “make a reasonable living,” and obviously your chances at that are much higher with corporate positions.

      Of course you didn’t need us to tell you that. So what’s drawing you toward the the independent business?

      • Marc Whipple says:

        I’m not so sure your assertion (re: relative chances at making a reasonable living) is true, at least in my case. After all, I’ve been un/underemployed for quite some time and these are still just interviews. I’ve had interviews. I’m still un/underemployed. I am demographically not the most desirable candidate, although my skills are excellent, my experience is vast, and of course I’m very intelligent. 🙂 In any event there is no particular assurance that I will get a reasonable job offer before I run out of money. Or ever, frankly. So really this is one of the open questions, although since it is so fact-dependent I wouldn’t expect anybody (else) to be overly interested in it.

        What draws me toward working for myself is that assuming I get clients, I could make a lot more money with a lot less work (or a whole lot more money for the same amount of work) and I could specialize in areas that particularly interest me. I like being a corporate generalist (I’m easily bored) but of course there are things that interest me more than others. Also, I wouldn’t be at the mercy of a particular employer, as I have been my entire career. Generally, that’s worked out well (My first job lasted 11 years, my second job lasted 8) but one long bad spell could overcome all the theoretical advantage I accumulated, career-wise.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          What do you mean by not demographically desirable?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            I’m too old, I’m melanin and X-chromosome deficient, I didn’t go to a top-tier school, I never worked for a top-tier law firm.

        • brad says:

          My brother is a solo attorney. The upsides are more money than most associates, no boss, and flexible hours. The downsides are lots of marketing (though in my observation that’s increasingly required of firm lawyers too), income lumpiness and uncertainty, difficulty in scheduling vacations, and loneliness.

    • xtmar says:

      I think Rob Lyman, who comments at McMegan’s, might be able to give you some decent insight. While it doesn’t sound like his situation is exactly the same as yours, I think it’s similar enough to be worthwhile. I imagine you can either contact him via Disqus, LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/rlyman), or perhaps otherwise.

    • Matt C says:

      I am happier as a freelancer than I was as an employee. It’s not night and day, there are downsides to being independent, and occasionally I think about hanging it up and getting a job. But most likely I’ll stay a freelancer as long as I can.

      If you think it’s possible to go independent, I’d recommend at least trying it. Most people who can make it work prefer it.

      Can you work out of your residence instead of renting an office? Maybe office space is a must for your field, but I would recommend keeping your overhead as low as you possibly can in the beginning. Depending, you might be able to start up your business at the same time you are looking for (or actually working at) a regular payroll job.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        Thank you. Both of the things I can do that people will pay me reasonable amounts of money for require a private office. 🙂 My home office is not suitable and given that I have a special-needs child in the house having strangers in and out is a no-go.

        Interestingly, the place where the placement company I am working for has me located is one of those rent-an-office deals that has a quite reasonable virtual office package. I am strongly considering signing up for that. If for no other reason than to have a mailing address for my business card. 🙂

  11. Emily says:

    This is about MLK day and Judaism.

    I read this article in the Forward: http://forward.com/opinion/330282/jewish-uses-and-abuses-of-martin-luther-kings-memory/#ixzz3xcTFwovN

    Excerpts: “Much of Jewish MLK Day programming features inspiring songs, speeches and discussions, but does not lead to actual change in the culture of the institution…Without clear intentions, measurable goals, and action steps, do these events constitute anything more than a community pat on the back?…After noticing how many communities have fallen into this pattern, I decided that I needed to take a small step back. I didn’t accept speaking gigs and didn’t attend some Jewish communal programming around MLK weekend…” He then outlines some things he’d like to see before re-engaging and then describes how he recently was pleased to see them when a synagogue invited him to do an event.

    I respect where this guy is coming from. He sees current events and issues as being very much linked to the civil rights movement, such that if you’re not currently taking action (on the right side), you’re really missing something. It’s not adequate to be like, “there were these injustices, we fixed them, go us,” because there are still these injustices, and what are you doing about them now?

    But what’s the central project of the synagogue? Do we go to be told how to be better liberal Democrats, or because we want to engage with Judaism? I think there’s a split here between the clergy and the congregants on this, with the clergy wanting to choose the former. I don’t love the degree to which Jews, I think, exaggerate our involvement in the civil rights movement and downplay the very significant tensions. But as not-totally-honest as I think it is, it’s not terrible for us as a movement. But pushing the better-liberal-Democrats project is. We have clergy who are a lot less certain about the existence of God, and a lot less willing to say “you should observe these rules” (for any set of Jewish rules!) than they are certain/willing about the liberal Democratic project. That’s not making a strong case for why anyone should keep engaging with Judaism.

  12. One more for the “how bad are things” discussion. I mentioned The Brain’s Way of Healing to a woman, and she was very interested because she has a considerable history of concussions. Repeated concussions from an abusive father, then an abusive husband. He was followed by a good husband who died of cancer, but his family in Japan treated her horribly. And then she got another concussion from a fall. I don’t guarantee that I remember everything that happened to her.

    She runs quite a good little business which I’m not mentioning because of respect for her privacy.

    What proportion of people are carrying at least that much bad history?

  13. The US government is willing to enforce some foreign laws in the US. I don’t know how often this sort of thing (point 2) happens.

  14. I knew of Ananias as a person who was a hated liar in the New Testament, but I didn’t know the actual story until I read it here.

    Any Christian who’s smug about worshiping a kinder God than the OT God will get it mentioned to them– killing people for holding money back? With no warning and no chance of repentance? This isn’t conquest, but it is comparable to G-d killing someone for gathering sticks on the Sabbath.

    However, aside from partisan issues, this connects to a larger question which I suppose is related to virtue ethics. To what extent is it legitimate to tell people they should have known better? Where do moral instincts (or whatever it is that cause people to be better or worse than the people around them) fit into philosophy and/or what’s scientifically known?

    • Deiseach says:

      It wasn’t for holding money back, it was for lying about it. Perjury being a sin because it holds God who is Truth – as a witness to falsehood and so is an attempt to make God a liar, that is what triggered the punishment of Ananias and Sapphira.

      As Peter says, it’s your land and your money, you could have done what you wanted with it. If you didn’t want to hand over the money, you could have kept it. But you wanted to keep your cake and eat it: you wanted to take the profit on the land and keep it, and also get the credit for good deeds from the congregation by claiming to hand over all the money. You were cheating your fellows and lying to us and making God witness to your lies.

      I don’t think we Christians should be “smug about worshiping a kinder God than the OT God” and for my part, I hold with the belief that we’re worshipping the same God as the God of the Old Testament; this is probably one of those Grace versus Law disputes that I’m not Protestant enough (or at all) to get involved in 🙂

      • I’m not denying that Ananias and his wife did something bad, but is killing them for it a proportionate punishment?

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Obviously we judge all crimes based on the status of the victim. For example, when someone kills a noble, we execute him. But when he kills a peasant, he just has to pay compensation.

          God is an infinite being. Lying is a sin, which means that it’s an offense against God. An offense against an infinite being merits an infinite punishment. So Ananias and his wife not only deserved to die; they deserved to be punished eternally in Hell. If God did send them to Hell, may we praise His justice. If he allowed them to be saved and enter Heaven, may we praise His mercy.

          eyeroll

          So I don’t believe that, of course. However, I do think I am presenting internal logic behind it, as well as the historical context from which contemporaries might have drawn analogies.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Nancy Lebovitz – “I’m not denying that Ananias and his wife did something bad, but is killing them for it a proportionate punishment?”

          No, it isn’t. Nor is it proportionate to heal someone’s deformity because they touched ones’ clothes. Both are about making a point, not about establishing principles for governing society long-term. As for whether using their particular infraction as grounds for making the point is “fair”, it doesn’t seem that egregious to me. But then, given that everyone dies anyway, and as a Christian I don’t believe that death is final, I think there’s a bit of an inferential gap there.

          @Vox Imperatoris – “God is an infinite being. Lying is a sin, which means that it’s an offense against God. An offense against an infinite being merits an infinite punishment. So Ananias and his wife not only deserved to die; they deserved to be punished eternally in Hell. If God did send them to Hell, may we praise His justice. If he allowed them to be saved and enter Heaven, may we praise His mercy.”

          …Sure, to the extent that literally everyone who’s ever lived has deserved the same.

          It’s not like the difference between killing a hobo and assassinating JFK. It’s the difference between selling crack in an alley, and selling crack on the 10th floor of the NYPD headquarters building, in the middle of a press conference about the new narcotics crackdown, to the mayor of New York City, while the head of the NYPD is trying to give his presentation. You have a good chance of getting away with the former, but you are definitely not going to get away with the later, and it’s hard to say that it’s not your own fault.

          • brad says:

            No, it isn’t. Nor is it proportionate to heal someone’s deformity because they touched ones’ clothes. Both are about making a point, not about establishing principles for governing society long-term. As for whether using their particular infraction as grounds for making the point is “fair”, it doesn’t seem that egregious to me. But then, given that everyone dies anyway, and as a Christian I don’t believe that death is final, I think there’s a bit of an inferential gap there.

            So did Ananias and Sapphira die in a state of grace? I’d think being struck down by God on the spot for sinning is just about the best evidence around that someone is going to hell.

      • John Schilling says:

        I missed the part where Ananias didn’t just make the perfectly reasonable and ethically defensible decision to A: sell his property, B: give some of the proceeds to the church, and C: not tell the church anything about his remaining wealth or lack thereof. You know, what essentially every Christian in the world today does just about every week. I mean, I dropped a $20 in the offering when I visited my sister-in-law’s church a few weeks ago; am I now doomed and damned because I didn’t offer up my life’s savings or at least an explicit disclaimer?

        There’s a bit in Acts 4 about how everybody shared everything, but that’s A: a bit vague for justifying the death penalty for having private wealth, and B: hard to reconcile with your “it’s your land and your money, you could have done what you wanted with it”

        • Marc Whipple says:

          If Ananias had done what you said, he might have gotten a stern talking-to. He got smitten because he lied. He said that was all the proceeds when it wasn’t.

          Also, arguably he and his wife had entered into a partnership with the other faithful, and then withheld assets that they had pledged to the partnership. That’s embezzlement. (Or maybe conversion. Depends on the exact sequence.) I took the bit you mention to mean, “You didn’t have to enter into partnership with us, but you did, and then you lied and stole from your partners. Including God. BOOM. HEADSHOT.”

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @John Schilling – “I missed the part where Ananias didn’t just make the perfectly reasonable and ethically defensible decision to A: sell his property, B: give some of the proceeds to the church, and C: not tell the church anything about his remaining wealth or lack thereof.”

          Ananias and Sapphira explicitly did not do what you are saying they did. There was no requirement that they sell the land. There was no requirement that they donate any of the money for the sale, much less all of it. The only requirement was that they not lie about their charity, which it seems clear that Ananias did (compare the description of others donating in this way, and of Barnabas’ actions particularly), and which his wife does explicitly.

          • John Schilling says:

            The only requirement was that they not lie about their charity, which it seems clear that Ananias did

            “But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles feet.”

            This is the only description of Ananias’s actions in my New Revised Standard Version. I am missing the part where he lies. Or says anything at all, really – he just gives the church a bunch of money and says nothing.

            There seems to be an assumption that since Ananias was punished by the Official Good Guy, he must have done something Really Bad, and that since lying about his donation was the only Really Bad thing he might have done, he must have done it even if there is no record of it.

            I am generally uncomfortable with logic of the form, “X was punished, therefore X must have committed a crime”, and would prefer something stronger in this case.

          • Jaskologist says:

            That Ananias’ words aren’t recorded when he presented the money is unremarkable; the entire story is squeezed into the space of just 11 verses in a time when writing was still fairly expensive. People assume he lied because lying is what Paul yells at him for (while explicitly saying that Ananias had every right to dispose of his property as he wished). Then the point is underscored when Paul gives Saphira a chance to come clean. Only her lie is explicitly recorded, but the narrative makes it clear that she and her husband were in on it together and punished for the same sin, so the reader is expected to draw the obvious conclusion in his case.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @John Schilling – Acts 4:32 – All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

            36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

            I read 4:34-36 as being a description of the normal donation practice at the time. It seems clear to me that it’s entirely voluntary, not compulsory; that interpretation may be colored by having watched people do similar things in the churches I’ve attended. Barnabas’ action in particular is specifically pointed out, even though it’s only a restatement of the general practice. It’s immediately followed by:

            Acts 5:1 – Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

            …Given that he is intentionally holding money back, and at the same time intentionally copying the actions of those who didn’t, it seems fair to say that he is making a willful attempt to deceive. Casting his actions as some sort of misunderstanding seems like a pretty forced interpretation.

            3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

            Peter accuses him of deceit, not avarice. He states that Ananias was under no obligation to sell the land, and under no obligation to donate the money once it was sold. What exactly was involved in “laying it at the apostles feet” seems open to interpretation, but given that Peter is aware that the money came from a land sale, some sort of communication hardly seems like a strained interpretation.

            7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

            “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

            …Especially since his wife’s explicit lie is recorded a sentence or two later. This reinforces the assumption of guilt on Ananias’ part.

            I’ve never heard this episode being used as anything but an example of God’s view toward hypocrisy and fraud. I’ve never heard it used as an example of why greed is bad, or why Christians need to give more. There are many, many other stories much more suited to that purpose, most of them directly from the mouth of Jesus himself: “Go, sell all you have, and give to the poor”, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” etc, etc. No one else is singled out for punishment, despite the text implicitly stating that others didn’t sell their property, or didn’t donate the proceeds. All in all, the interpretations in this thread baffle me.

          • John Schilling says:

            So, in early Christianity, it was perfectly acceptable to use a plot of land as you saw fit, and perfectly acceptable to sell a plot of land and keep all of the money for yourself, and perfectly acceptable to sell a plot of land and give 100% of the money to the Church, but selling a plot of land and giving some of the money to the Church is an immediate death-penalty offence.

            Unless perhaps you make an explicit disclaimer to that effect, in which case it becomes OK again? I’m skeptical of that part, first because Peter’s phrasing puts “kept for yourself some of the money” equal with “lied to the Holy Spirit” as a cause for offense. Second, yes, because this is the sort of rule that really ought to be spelled out if you are trying to tell people why it’s a good thing that you(r God) just up and killed someone, so it’s a conspicuous omission here. And third because it would make Ananias and Sapphira possibly the stupidest people in Judea for having committed the death-penalty offense rather than the socially acceptable thing with the same fiscal outcome.

            The only way this makes sense as a thing actual people might do, is if it was not in fact socially acceptable to keep the proceeds from your own land sale, if early Christianity was essentially communistic and Peter’s “wasn’t the money at your disposal?” was a not-so-subtle hint as to the only acceptable means of disposing of the money. In which case, yes, Ananias was a lying defector from the communists, and was killed for it.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Lying by omission is also a thing. If you make everybody think that you’ve given away all the money you got from a sale when in fact you’re keeping some back, that’s deceitful, regardless of whether or not you explicitly say “Yup, I’m giving you all the money I got for this land.”

            Plus, his wife does explicitly say that they were donating the full price of the land. If this was really all just a misunderstanding, there’d be no reason for her to lie. The only motive she could have for doing so would be if she (along with her husband, since they were both in this together: “with his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money”) was deliberately trying to deceive the others.

            “From time to time those who owned land or houses sold them” implies that this was done occasionally and sporadically, as the owners felt moved to do so. It would be very odd phrasing to use if selling up your land and houses were a precondition for becoming a Christian.

            Plus, a lot of people don’t just want to be socially accepted, they want to be praised. Even if giving part of your money to the Church and keeping part for yourself was OK with the early Christians, giving all of your money would probably have been viewed in a more positive light. Hence there’s plenty of reason for somebody to claim they were giving away all their wealth even though they were actually keeping some back for themselves.

            And third because it would make Ananias and Sapphira possibly the stupidest people in Judea for having committed the death-penalty offense rather than the socially acceptable thing with the same fiscal outcome.

            All sin is ultimately stupid and self-defeating. That doesn’t mean that people don’t do it.

          • Nita says:

            Yeah, I’m afraid John’s interpretation seems more natural to me.

            1) Peter saying “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” makes sense if it means “you didn’t owe money (or the house) to anyone else, so you should have given all of it to us, according to the standard procedure”. It would be an odd way to phrase “you could have kept part of the money openly”.

            2) Peter accuses Ananias of both pocketing the money and lying: “how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?”

            3) It’s more straightforward to assume that both the sin (“hoarding” the money) and the punishment are described explicitly — it’s a moral lesson, after all. The wife’s lie is just proof that she was in on the scheme.

            4) So, why would Peter get angry at someone keeping part of the money if the donations were voluntary? Simple — while Ananias owned his house, he appeared to be a good Christian, perhaps overly attached to his humble abode, but ready to give up everything as soon as the need arose. But keeping a part to himself showed him to be a calculating bastard, looking out for #1 instead of giving freely and trusting God to take care of his needs.

            Also:

            God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

            Selling off the wealthy members’ property is described at the main mechanism by which God’s grace eliminated poverty in the community.
            And if people were selling off real estate, they must have already run out of cash and jewelry. The threat of the amount of need outstripping the amount of donations must have been dire, making “hoarding” a serious risk. You wouldn’t want to impede God’s grace, would you?

          • bean says:

            Nita:
            1) Peter saying “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” makes sense if it means “you didn’t owe money (or the house) to anyone else, so you should have given all of it to us, according to the standard procedure”. It would be an odd way to phrase “you could have kept part of the money openly”.
            They weren’t speaking English. This kind of slightly odd phrasing comes up a lot in all but full paraphrase translations. For that matter, think of Shakespeare. A lot of his dialogue is slightly obscure to a modern reader, but we don’t assume this is proof that he doesn’t mean what the surface reading says.

            2) Peter accuses Ananias of both pocketing the money and lying: “how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?”
            And if you’re lying to me, I generally will say what the lie is after I say that you’re lying. There were also other people around who weren’t Peter, and they might have been puzzled if he’d just said ‘You’re lying!’ and Ananias had dropped dead.

            3) It’s more straightforward to assume that both the sin (“hoarding” the money) and the punishment are described explicitly — it’s a moral lesson, after all. The wife’s lie is just proof that she was in on the scheme.
            Let’s look at the entire passage (from the Amplified, which sacrifices some readability for a more complete translation of the implications of the text):
            Now a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s full knowledge [and complicity] he kept back some of the proceeds, bringing only a [a]portion of it, and set it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and [secretly] keep back for yourself some of the proceeds [from the sale] of the land? 4 As long as it remained [unsold], did it not remain your own [to do with as you pleased]? And after it was sold, was the money not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this act [of hypocrisy and deceit] in your heart? You have not [simply] lied to people, but to God.” 5 And hearing these words, Ananias fell down suddenly and died; and great fear and awe gripped those who heard of it. 6 And the young men [in the congregation] got up and wrapped up the body, and carried it out and buried it.

            7 Now after an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me whether you sold your land for so much?” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “How could you two have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look! The feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” 10 And at once she fell down at his feet and died; and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
            There are three or four different references to deception and lying, and only one to hoarding. Sapphira’s lie proves that this was intentional, explicit deceit, not just lying by implication. When asked point blank if they sold it for the amount they gave the church, she said yes.
            I’ve never heard a sermon on this that comes remotely close to the way you’re reading it.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I find it of weird to see otherwise intelligent people tying themselves in knot to avoid the plain language of the text that Ananias and his wife were punished for lying to the congregation, and by extension God.

            I mean if there were one thing that I would expect the rationalist diaspora to be able to agree on as “yup, that’s bad” it would be dishonesty.

  15. Kaj Sotala says:

    Since the game has been referenced here before, and there are similar “anyone else” questions too – anybody else just drooling for Conclave, the next Crusader Kings 2 DLC? The latest Dev Diary was amazing and I can’t wait.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      I’m just here for the decadence and nomad fixes. That it should put a brake on blobbing is just a bonus in my eyes.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      I hadn’t heard of the new expansion until now.

      Sounds exciting! I always wanted them to get deeper into internal politics. The game is fun but gets so lifeless once you actually are in charge. The only interesting things to do are scheme to become king and then conquer your neighbors. But after conquering for a while, you get bored of that.

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        Yeah. The heart of the game for me was always the role-playing aspect. Now, not only is my powerful uncle the ambitious duke someone I need to keep a constant eye on, he insists on getting on the council as well! I’ll love to hate him even more.

        They’ve also mentioned that they’re making the education of children more interesting, which sounds promising too.

        • John Schilling says:

          Damn them all. I really liked that game. I had to quit cold turkey because it was becoming too much of a time sink. And now you tell me they are going and fixing all of the little things that bugged me about it?

          Well, I guess I’ll see you all when I get back from the Crusades. Maybe old school this time, starting with a few counties in Italy and setting out to take and hold the Holy Land from the Infidel. Damn them all 🙂

    • bluto says:

      Whelp there goes my productivity for the next few months, that looks amazing.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I was wondering if anyone could give me their best defense of veganism from a utilitarian perspective. Not the obvious point “factory farms are atrociously cruel”, but the point that seems to me much less defensible: “it is inherently wrong on utilitarian grounds to eat meat”.

    My argument is fairly simple. Eating meat from an animal that was raised in conditions good enough that its life was worth living raises, rather than lowers, aggregate utility. An animal got to live for a bit that wouldn’t have lived otherwise. As far as I can tell, conditions that make a life worth living do not need to perfectly emulate the wild, and in fact probably shouldn’t, since the wild involves a constant struggle for food and a cruel death, by starvation or predation or exposure or disease or something else nasty. (Whether it would be good from a utility perspective to kill all the wild animals is a separate issue.) Whereas an animal kept on a farm – not a factory farm but a small olden-days farm, with a henhouse and a farmer’s wife and whatever else – does not have to struggle for food, is protected from predators, is given a swift and relatively painless death. Yes, farm animals don’t live very long, but I don’t see how this matters from a utility perspective – the claim that a short life that’s worthwhile while it lasts entails fewer utiles than no life seems absurd.

    Yes, it would probably be better not to spend your money on expensive small farm free range meat, but to give it to the most effective charity instead. But that same argument applies to spending your money on anything that isn’t the most effective charity. If you’ve already bitten the bullet of donating only 10% rather than 100% then I don’t see why spending a bit of the remaining 90% on positive-utile meat is any less correct than spending it on anything with a comparable utility level.

    I can certainly see a fundamental argument against eating meat being made from a deontological perspective – ‘thou shalt not kill’, for example. Not so much when we’re talking about fungible utiles. But so many EA folk are vegans that perhaps I’m missing something.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      but the point that seems to me much less defensible: “it is inherently wrong on utilitarian grounds to eat meat”.

      It is clear that nothing could show this because nothing is “inherently wrong” on utilitarian grounds except disutility in itself. And I’m sure most utilitarian vegans do not think that eating meat is always (non-inherently) wrong on utilitarian grounds. For instance, they typically defend primitive tribes which eat meat, or allow that if you crash on an island in a plane full of beef jerky, you can eat it.

      Anyway, the argument that meat eating brings animals into existence that wouldn’t otherwise have existed is beside the point. If those animals’ lives are so valuable, you could pay simply to have them raised in zoos where they are also protected and don’t get eaten. This will undoubtedly produce more utility, unless the human utility gain from eating meat is so high as to outweigh the extra utility the animals would enjoy. In which case eating meat is simply right on utilitarian grounds.

      Yes, it would probably be better not to spend your money on expensive small farm free range meat, but to give it to the most effective charity instead. But that same argument applies to spending your money on anything that isn’t the most effective charity. If you’ve already bitten the bullet of donating only 10% rather than 100% then I don’t see why spending a bit of the remaining 90% on positive-utile meat is any less correct than spending it on anything with a comparable utility level.

      Well, once you do this, you’ve abandoned any consistency to utilitarianism anyway. So I’m not sure why you would want to appeal to it as a guide. A utilitarian would say that, sure, eating “humanely” raised animals is not the worst thing you could spend your money on. Neither is eating factory-farmed animals. But you are certainly not acting to advance the greatest good of the greatest number.

      Now, why should you care that you aren’t acting to advance the greatest good of the greatest number? Beats me. But that’s why I’m not a utilitarian.

      • Anonymous says:

        Well, once you do this, you’ve abandoned any consistency to utilitarianism anyway. So I’m not sure why you would want to appeal to it as a guide.

        I don’t think so. It seems to me not unreasonable to set yourself an ideal goal even if you know you will never meet it.

        If you think that meat-eating inherently reduces utility then that would be a reason to avoid doing it, even with the part of your income you’re allowing yourself to keep. But as far as I can tell it’s quite easy to buy meat – not just eat beef jerky if you get stuck on an island with it, but intentionally go out of your way to spend some of your limited resources on meat – in a way that, unlike factory farming, does not create negative utiles.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          I don’t think so. It seems to me not unreasonable to set yourself an ideal goal even if you know you will never meet it.

          Sure. But is the reason you don’t maximize utility that you want to and try as hard as you can yet sometimes fail to live up to it? Or is it that the goal is something you don’t really want, for the perfectly good reason that you would be completely miserable if you “succeeded” in achieving it?

          If the latter is true and you don’t really want to be utilitarian all the time, then you had better define what your actual goal is, if you aim to achieve it and not be constantly frustrated. I think this is one of the main harms of altruistic-type ethics (including utilitarianism): no one actually follows them consistently, and they are right not to. Yet the fact that they hold up altruism as the moral ideal means they are paralyzed and unable to name the morality they actually seek to practice.

          After all, if your actual goal is not to be as utilitarian as possible, you cannot and should not judge the 90% of your actions which are non-utilitarian by the standard of utilitarianism.

          Joseph Rowlands discusses this excellently in his lecture “Eliminating the Altruistic Baggage”:

          Balancing morality with everyday life.

          You can’t practice [altruistic] morality consistently. Someone whose every act was an actual sacrifice would find themselves out of stuff to sacrifice. They would die shortly [or at least, if they were “effective altruists”, be miserable]. What’s a person to do?

          In practice, people find a way of taking this horrible ethical system and pushing it to the side so it doesn’t affect their day to day lives. This is the fourth element of the Altruistic Framework. People find a way to balance morality with everyday life.

          This is worth exploring briefly. I’ve thought of two ways in which morality can be balanced with everyday life.

          Apply only in exceptional cases

          The first method is making the decision that altruism is something you only need to apply in exceptional situations. In other words, you pretty much ignore the morality unless the right kind of situation comes up. If you walk past a lake and someone is drowning, you jump in to help. If some child is starving, you give the family some food. If your mother is sick, you let her move in with you. If a coworker asks you to donate to her daughter’s charity, you donate.

          The intent is that you live your daily life normally and don’t worry about being moral. But if your dedication to being moral is questioned at any time, then you have to respond. The hope is that this kind of situation doesn’t happen often enough, and that you can mostly just spend your life doing what you want.

          Treat moral principles as rules

          A second method of limiting the scope of morality is to treat it as a set of rules that you have to follow. Maybe you decide you have to give a certain percentage of your income away to charities. [Emphasis added!] Maybe you decide to be a pacifist. Maybe you live by the golden rule. Maybe you tell the truth because it’s the right thing to do.

          By setting up rules, you can simply rule out decisions that would violate those rules. You can then choose the best alternative for you. In this way, you can still claim to be moral, since you’ve followed all of the rules consistently, but you don’t have to constantly make the largest sacrifice.

          […]

          Having a separate standard for moral choices and practical choices

          The sixth element of the Altruistic Framework is that since you can’t practice your morality consistently, you have to have a second morality that gets used most of the time. The morality is no longer a method of making your choices. It’s a duty you have to perform, and in practice, you have to marginalize. If you don’t use altruism as your moral standard, you need something else to take it’s place.

          One interesting point about this is that it creates a view that you have two methods of making choices. The first is how to be moral. The second is what you do the rest of the time. Of these two standards, only one is made explicit. That’s the moral standard. So an altruist is able to identify his moral standard, but doesn’t give a second thought to his “everyday life” standard.

          But the point I want to emphasize here is just that the Altruistic Framework holds a view that you make your daily life choices in one way, and your moral choices in another. It makes the artificial divide seem natural.

          The relevance of this to what Scott calls “sanity-preserving exceptions” is, I think, obvious.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m not interested in arguing for or against utilitarianism here – I’m prepared to take it for granted for the time being. The argument I’m interested in is: given utilitarianism, why should you not eat meat, above and beyond the extent to which you should not do anything else that you want to do that doesn’t maximize aggregate utility?

            Regarding your argument about whether someone can be a utilitarianism without behaving in a way they believe will maximize utility, think a relevant distinction to make is between how a person thinks they should act, and how a person thinks the world should look. It seems plausible, for example, to say that as an outside observer you would prefer a world with maximum aggregate utility, but as an agent within that world you don’t feel you ought to act toward that goal. Though I recognize that that is not the argument that EA people make, they instead seem to plead moral weakness.

      • Jiro says:

        If those animals’ lives are so valuable, you could pay simply to have them raised in zoos where they are also protected and don’t get eaten.

        But nobody really believes themselves obligated to maximize utility. That’s why people think it’s okay to pay 10% of their income instead of as much as they can get away with without dying or going insane.

        Raising animals to eat them and producing net positive utility is suboptimal compared to raising them without eating them, but then paying 10% is suboptimal compared to paying 50%. If you’re going to accept that it is okay to increase utility in suboptimal ways, and you are not obliged to pay the 50%, then it should be okay to increase animal utility in suboptimal ways as well.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          If you’re going to accept that it is okay to increase utility in suboptimal ways, and you are not obliged to pay the 50%, then it should be okay to increase animal utility in suboptimal ways as well.

          You can do anything you are physically able to do. Utilitarianism says that you morally should not do anything except that which maximizes aggregate utility. Utilitarianism has no concept of something’s being “okay”: it either maximizes utility or it is wrong to the degree that it does not maximize utility.

          If you’re not going to follow utilitarianism here, you need some alternative ethics if you’re going to make decisions in any kind of consistent way. See my post directly above.

    • Linch says:

      My impression is that most EA vegans (who are doing it on animal welfare grounds, and not because it saves money so they can donate more) do believe that farm animal lives are net negative. If you think that a)farm animals have moral worth and b)the balance of evidence points to farm animals having net positive lives, then it is a reasonable claim that supporting factory farming is the morally right thing to do. The fact that so many utilitarians disagree should be some evidence against your belief in b), of course, but IMO not completely damning evidence.

      (Compassion by the Pound is the standard text in this. It argues that cows live net positive lives, and pigs and chickens live net negative ones, though its evidence has been somewhat challenged).

      • Anonymous says:

        The group ‘farm animals’ is not homogeneous. I’m not disputing that factory farm animals probably have net negative lives. I’m disputing the separate claim, which seems to me far less likely to be correct, that no farm animals at all have net positive lives, factory or otherwise, and that therefore any eating of meat is wrong from a utilitarian perspective. I think that if you source your meat from farms you identify as being okay conditions-wise then there doesn’t seem to be any reason to consider it any worse than any other selfish thing you might spend your money on.

        • keranih says:

          I’m not disputing that factory farm animals probably have net negative lives. I’m disputing the separate claim, which seems to me far less likely to be correct, that no farm animals at all have net positive lives, factory or otherwise, and that therefore any eating of meat is wrong from a utilitarian perspective.

          I would dispute that commercially raised livestock have net negative lives. I agree that livestock life experiences are not homogenous, but the differences do not lie along size of farm nor along any CAFO/organic/family farm divide.

          • Anonymous says:

            @keranih

            Can you expand on that? What exactly is it you’re claiming, and on what basis?

          • keranih says:

            I hold that the health and welfare of animals and their relative levels of misery/comfort are complex topics, and that attempting to make determinations of abuse/mistreatment need to be made on objective basis, not on aesthetics, or other non-relevant points.

            Specifically, different management and housing systems expose the animals to different challenges to health and wellbeing. Animals raised in organic/small farm/sustainable systems are not net healthier or at less risk than animals raised in conventional systems. The cost/benefit ratios are even more complex when one looks at environmental impacts.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think we can do a little better than that. I’m not enormously interested in the health of farm animals – after all, they’re destined to be killed after not too long, and a dead animal is not healthy at all. I’m interested in whether they are happy, in the sense that an animal can be happy – not stressed, not in pain, among other things.

            All the evidence regarding factory farms I’ve seen – largely involving chickens, but not entirely – has pushed me toward the belief that factory farmed animals are unhappy. On the other hand, I’ve seen chickens on small farms that look perfectly content and seem happy.

            This isn’t an ideal metric, but I think it probably isn’t that far out.

          • keranih says:

            I think we can do better than an aesthetic-based amateur decision of whether the animals “look” happier.

            Select individual animals on select individual farms can be happier or sicker or more likely to end up dead of illness – suffering hours or days of misery before passing on, as opposed to a short time of transport and then efficient slaughter – and I could produce anecdotal evidence that showed any particular method of husbandry was better or worse than all the others.

            On the aggregate, though, modern ag raises animals in a manner so that they are less likely to be sick, get injured or to die before slaughter than animals kept in organic/sustainable/etc systems. This can be definitively measured, and belief is not needed.

            The “happiness” of an animal is much harder to measure in an objective, reproducible manner, and there are many people using unfounded claims of their livestock’s “happiness” to sell animal products. Many of them have sufficient numbers of people who believe these claims in order to make their less efficient and more expensive operations profitable.

            Far fewer of these ‘alternative’ operations are actually better for their livestock than the conventional operations that they demonize.

          • Nathan says:

            I’m quite perplexed by the assertion that you (anonymous) care about the “happiness” rather than the “health” of animals. I find it hard to imagine you don’t consider health to be a major factor in an animal’s happiness, but it’s hard to decipher what else you could have meant.

            Also I note you mention stress. From my experience working on a number of different farms, the larger and more commercial the operation, the MORE likely there was to be attention paid to things like that. The simple reason being that stress affects production – a stressed cow gives less milk, stressed pigs put on less weight, etc. so for example on the piggery I worked at we had explicit instructions to remain calm and quiet at all times to avoid scaring the pigs (and this rule was definitely enforced), whereas on my grandfathers family dairy farm he would sometimes lose his temper and hit one of his cows with a stick.

            And it makes sense. If you’re the money man running the stats rather than working with the animals yourself, you’re not going to have the frustrations to vent and are not too likely to care that your workers do. At the same time, in a larger enterprise an x% decrease in production adds up to a much bigger figure.

          • xtmar says:

            @keranih

            I think the problem with reducing it to injuries/illness/life expectancy is that it doesn’t account for non-quantitative quality of life metrics, which are obviously harder to measure.

            By way of not too crazy comparison, suppose that inmates had better numeric outcomes in terms of life expectancy, because the state kept them locked up away from diseases, only fed them nutritious food, and strictly regimented their exercise program and life style to maximize weight gain. However, they’re not free, are bored out of their mind, and so on. A person on the outside may not have as good a numeric quality of life metric, but their freedom more than compensates for it.

            Obviously, animals aren’t people, and some animals have more intelligence than others, but if you deal with dogs or cows or horses, they have at least a semblance of what freedom is, and what boredom is. We may not have to weight that as strongly as we do for people, and certainly for fish or frogs I don’t think we should weight it too highly, but for the larger mammals, it seems like it’s at least worth putting some weight on their subjective experience of life.

          • keranih says:

            @ xtmar

            I think the problem with reducing it to injuries/illness/life expectancy is that it doesn’t account for non-quantitative quality of life metrics, which are obviously harder to measure.

            Right. I am not so much down on valuing animal “happiness” as I am dreadfully disappointed in a) our ability to measure that, so that we have some way of *validating* commercial claims of elevated quality due to higher happiness and b) the sort of romantic misconception that would – in human terms – assume that people in Somalia have more utility in their lives than people in NYC, on the basis of liberty and the lack of annoying rules about parking, dress codes, and vaccinating your children before they go to school, and in Somalia people are more likely to live in rural areas with animals and plants and farms.

            As you say (if I read you right) there is a trade off between restricting “liberty”/happiness and controlling the environment enough to eliminate health hazards. In this I completely agree with you.

            In animal agriculture, it is not a choice between a bored/depressed chicken and a happy chicken. (Leaving aside the larger issue of ‘okay, what does a happy bird look like compared to a not-happy bird?’)

            It is a choice between two selections of one pound chicken meat. One comes a package of 100 pounds of chicken meat, that required X amount of raw space, Y amount of space to grow feed, Z gallons of water, and 21 moderately bored chickens, including one that died of sickness before being slaughtered.

            The other 100 pounds of chicken meant required 10X space, Y + B feed growing space, Z + C gallons of water, and 43 moderately happy chickens, including nine that died of illness before being slaughtered.

            For me, the math comes out so far on the side of the conventional farmer that I can’t justify commercial sustainable/organic farming. (Situations where one is raising ones own livestock or is *deeply* aware of the operations on a particular farm are different, I think.)

            (Note: you can find US commercial poultry figures on the web. Organic/sustainable systems do not publish survivability/loss before market figures, but you can find figures on average size, days to market, and cost of the product.) (And I’m not even getting into the variable certification of organic/sustainable operations, which limits the ability to cross-compare operations.)

  17. Anonymous says:

    [Exposition spoilers for Unsong]

    I read Chapters 2 and 3 last night, then dreamt I was Aaron, on the run from UNSONG. I had to leave my cell phone behind, and I got paranoid about video cameras. Every once in a while I would sneak a visit to my friends or family, knowing it was a terrible idea. It made for a pretty restless night!

    • FacelessCraven says:

      If we’re sharing dreams…

      Mine from last week was a dream that I was visiting some sort of theme park with my niece and nephews, sort of a cross between Jurassic Park and Star Wars. The weird part started when I began reading them a story, and then realized that the story was weirdly disjointed. I flipped back a few pages, and realized that there were several extra copies of the page before, and when I started moving forward from one of them, that led to the tale unfolding in new and worse ways. Attempting to look for other routes through the story inevitably caused the story to grow darker and darker, at which point I realized that we were inside the story rather than reading it as a book, and that the malevolent intelligence behind it was closing in on me from around the corners of my vision. No matter how I turned my head, I couldn’t see it, because it was already behind my eyes. Realizing that scared me bad enough that I, in standard dream logic, tried simultaneously to scream, twist my head off and gnaw through my thumb, and woke up when my brain couldn’t figure out how to simulate all three at once.

      First thought on waking was, “wow, that was some seriously high-quality terror!”

  18. I just ran across one of my less favorite sf tropes again– the super genius fakes an alien attack to get cooperation between existing factions. I just don’t believe it will work– people will figure out that it was a fake, or they’ll become less frightened with time, or maybe something else will go wrong. Maybe I just don’t trust super geniuses who are that manipulative.

    Anyway, are there any stories which track what happens after the big benevolent deception?

    • null says:

      Spoilers ahead: Gur fhogrkg vf snveyl pyrne va Jngpuzra; Bmlznaqvnf’f cyna vf qbbzrq gb snvy, nf fubja ol gur pybpx fgevxvat zvqavtug ba gur ynfg cntr. Guvf vf cebonoyl gur zbfg snzbhf rknzcyr, naq grpuavpnyyl qbrfa’g fngvfsl lbhe pevgrevn; ohg vg’f cerggl pyrne gung zvyyvbaf bs crbcyr qvrq sbe jung vf bayl n grzcbenel crnpr.

      • DavidS says:

        I didn’t read it as that clear. Will have to revisit!

        But it certainly wasn’t portrayed there as reliable. The question is whether it’s better than the alternative. It’s not a permanent solution but might shift people out of an ingrained conflict between said factions to resolve into a new (more stable?) equilibrium

    • Deiseach says:

      The “Outer Limits” episode The Architects of Fear where the grand plan goes as wrong as it can. The moral is a little preachy but basically correct: there are no short cuts, there is no ‘scare them all into co-operation’:

      Scarecrows and magic and other fatal fears do not bring people closer together. There is no magic substitute for soft caring and hard work, for self-respect and mutual love. If we can learn this from the mistake these frightened men made, then their mistake will not have been merely grotesque, it would at least have been a lesson. A lesson, at last, to be learned.

      • onyomi says:

        I like this quote. I’ve always hated in films like Independence Day when being attacked by actual aliens brings together all the peoples of the world in the struggle against a common foe. I just doubt it would work out that way.

        • Urstoff says:

          Depends on if they attack near July 4th or not.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I think if the aliens just barge in and start blowing everything up, the world will do a pretty good job of uniting against that common foe. But if the aliens try to subvert us a la V (the original, not the crappy remake), we’re screwed.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            John Ringo (of OH JOHN RINGO NO fame) has a series of books in which bad aliens invade the Earth and start eating us, and even worse aliens pretend to be helping us but are actually doing something arguably even more evil. And indeed, when it comes to dealing with the bad aliens, who don’t even really try to communicate with humans (they can: they just don’t care) we by and large cowboy up. When it comes to dealing with the worse aliens, who have things like transport to safe planets, near-immortality drugs, and other nifty ways to subvert individual humans for their nefarious schemes, we don’t do so well.

            So both at the same time!

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I really enjoyed the Legacy of the Aldenata series.

            It is viscerally satisfying to watch the Airborne (er, mobile suit) soldiers massacre hordes of the carnivorous crocodile centaurs. And watching Ringo feed socialists, Europeans, and leftists of all stripes to the crocodile centaurs first.

          • Anonymous says:

            Didn’t really enjoy LotA. Too much shooty, not enough plot advancement density.

    • Murphy says:

      I always took that as a simple reference to normal political methods.

      When the economy is in the toilet, when the first minister is being investigated for having a threesome with a goat and a choir boy, when people are angry because their representatives are openly corrupt: thus is the time to start a war with some external group.

      And it works. I always thought it was some kind of a joke until listening to some interviews at a US polling station. I remember an interview with an old lady as she explained that she’d voted for Bush, she didn’t really like him or think he was a good president but [almost whispering] “but we’re at war and you’ve got to support the president when we’re at war”.

      That was the day that I realized that there is no light behind some peoples eyes. There is no motivating intelligence. They breath, they talk, they act a little like real thinking people but they’re open to even the most trivial of manipulations.

      • onyomi says:

        I remember being struck by this when Bill Clinton bombed Iraq in a transparent move to distract from his impeachment vote. I was not even old enough to vote at the time and it was completely obvious to me what was going on. Yet I don’t remember any contemporary news shows or papers offering any comment to that effect–not even the Republicans, who were openly hostile to him at the time (I’m sure someone, somewhere did, but it was under the radar enough that I, only paying vague attention to politics at the time, never heard what seemed to me should have been obvious outrage at this transparent ploy).

        • keranih says:

          There was some outrage – but I think the R default of the importance of military power/assumption that military power would be used for Important Things was at play. To some degree, Rs had difficulty forming the mental framework that said “military force could be used for trivial political ends” as well as being able to think “we will not accuse Clinton of this because that will justify others accusing us of the same dirty trick.”

          (I’m not saying that Rs always use military power “correctly” – I’m saying that the R mindset included a presumption that military power could be used at a different threshold than Ds.)

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, I agree with your analysis of why the GOP did not make a fuss about this. Which ironically means that Democrats are arguably freer to use this stratagem than Republicans.

            What is depressing is how man on the street seems to have been largely unable to connect the dots: perhaps a similar dynamic was at play: blue tribe voters were primed not to criticize Clinton because he was the de facto blue tribe leader; red tribe voters were primed not to criticize military intervention because, well, red tribe. Meaning a Democrat can pretty much nuke Paris and expect little political repercussion.

          • keranih says:

            I think it’s a bit worse than that, even – because Ds have less ‘use of military force’ credibility, they have less ability to use the *threat* of military force, and have to go to actually *using* it, including in situations where someone with an R after their name would just rattle the saber a bit and get pretty much the same results.

            It’s a weird inverse of how Ds get credit for programs with limited utility but good intent, whereas R policies that aren’t advertised as helping the poor get disregarded, even when people’s lot is made better.

            I’m not in any hurry to replace our current system with anything else, but it is pretty f’ed up.

          • Murphy says:

            @onyomi

            You may not be far off the mark.

            I remember seeing this:

            http://i.imgur.com/utjctQK.jpg

            And my first thought was: “wait, no new wars? has anyone been paying attention?”

            The actual tally is more like

            Bush: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia.

            Obama: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria.

            Yet somehow the wars Obama got into are totally forgotten.

          • Urstoff says:

            Those aren’t wars, they’re executive-authorized military actions! Just because you bomb a country and kill their civilians doesn’t mean you’re at war with them.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Those aren’t wars, they’re executive-authorized military actions! Just because you bomb a country and kill their civilians doesn’t mean you’re at war with them.

            I recall reading as part of my old politics course that Congress has never formally declared war since the Mexican-American War.

          • CatCube says:

            @The original Mr. X:

            World War II, though that was the last one.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @TOMX:

            Get your money back. Unless you took politics a really long time ago.

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

            Or did you mean that the US hasn’t declared war without an act of war being committed against it first?

            History aside, I have been saying for years that I find it unlikely the US will ever fight a declared war on an actual enemy, as opposed to endlessly proliferating Wars on Nouns, again. Who could we declare war on without looking like the biggest bully in the history of time? And who would be so suicidally foolish as to actively declare war on us, when they could just attack us all the time and pretend that they weren’t actually, you know, at war?

          • ReluctantEngineer says:

            I recall reading as part of my old politics course that Congress has never formally declared war since the Mexican-American War.

            The U.S. Congress did, in fact, formally declare war on the Axis powers in WWII. I’m pretty sure that there hasn’t been a formal declaration of war since then, though.

          • Tibor says:

            @Murphy: I think that the difference between the wars started during the Bush administration and those during Obama’s administration is that the second do not include the so called “boots on the ground” of the rank and file US soldiers, hence much less media coverage. Flying killing robots attract less attention (unless someone uses them against you, of course). That and partisanship, of course.

    • Maware says:

      I like the related trope, where the supergenius makes himself the enemy to foster co-operation. No need to deceive, although the psychic cost of no one ever knowing you actually are doing good is heavy.

    • Stater says:

      Mark, bubbie – I would explain to you how wrong you are if I didn’t think you’d interpret it as ideological persecution.

      • John Schilling says:

        I don’t know about Mark, but I’d interpret that gratuitous “bubbie” as an insult that signifies a very low probability of any worthwhile intellectual or even ideological content to come.

        Your comment is not necessary, not kind, and written so as to make it impossible to verify its truth. Please go away.

  19. Tibor says:

    So there is the IQ, a useful thing that correlates with all kinds of important real-world stuff. But what does it mean exactly that someone has IQ 100, 85 or 143? I get the formal definition, so that is not what I am asking. But if I find out someone’s IQ is X, what kind of mental potential (not skills but possible skills) should I roughly expect from him? I get that someone who’s IQ is 70 will probably barely even be able to learn to read (as in understand the concept of written words, I am not talking about any functional literacy), I get that someone who’s IQ is 150 could potentially be on the top mathematician/physicist level. But those are two extremes and a lot of room in the middle. What about the difference between IQ say 110 and 130? What can I expect from someone with IQ 130 than I cannot from someone with IQ 110? Or is this too close to make meaningful statements? Any suggestions welcome 😉

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      The last link thread included a link and a discussion about what percentage of the population could answer which questions and complete which tasks. If you assume that everyone who failed was below X IQ while everyone who succeeded was above X IQ, you can find X by looking up which IQ scores correspond to which percentiles. That should give you a more intuitive understanding.

    • Marc Whipple says:

      Ask a hard one, why don’t you? Some random observations from a dilettante with an interest in the topic:

      Most of the IQ “rankings,” things like eligibility for various societies, “intellectual ability levels,” things like that, are based on standard deviations, or their rough equivalent in percentile ranking. Why? No idea, other than that human beings like patterns and smart people especially like number patterns. These aren’t quantum energy levels. No given IQ number – and remember that while IQ is determined by distribution rules and isn’t an absolute measurement, not all IQ tests will give the same score results for given members of the same non-trivial population – has any particular absolute predictive power like, “This guy’s IQ is 145, he should be an absolute natural at chess.”

      But generally speaking, you should be able to see a pretty clear difference between the ability of two individuals who are a standard deviation apart in IQ in learning and performing a cognitive task. If somebody of IQ 100 and somebody of IQ 115 both spend the same amount of time at it, the latter should get good at the task much quicker, and be much faster and/or better at doing it at any given equivalent experience level.

      Toward the ends of the curve, things get weird, especially since a general-purpose IQ test is statistically likely not to be very good at measuring differences at the far ends. The difference between an IQ 145 person and an IQ 160 person is pretty big, but it’s nothing like the difference between an IQ 100 person and an IQ 115 person in practical terms like life outcomes, educational opportunities, etc. (IMO and IME.)

      Last random observation: There’s no magic number where a person’s intellect becomes some fundamentally different thing, forever outside the ken of ordinary people. At the ends, especially the high end, it almost becomes more about speed than about pure cognitive power. (Again IMO and IME.) It’s a bit reminiscent of that superintelligence discussion we were having. There are concepts which a person with an IQ of 80 may just fundamentally not be able to understand that a person with IQ 120 can understand easily. There aren’t a lot of concepts a person with an IQ of 160 can understand that a person with an IQ of 120 couldn’t understand if they tried long enough. (Again and finally, IME and IMO.)

      • Tibor says:

        I alway thought that the IQ has to be a mixture of two things. One thing is to get answers quick, another is the ability to get the right answer to hard problems at all. Maybe the distinction is unimportant because those things always go together. But I’ve observed that while I am quite slow with simple computation (like adding two fractions with a different base together) relatively to other people (I am really bad at going through them fast and keeping them error-free…I also really do not like doing stuff like that, fortunately I don’t have to do so very often), I am also able to solve more complex problems than some of those who are faster than me. Then again, I guess that a good IQ test will not actually contain many tasks where one has to play calculator. Most of what I’ve seen was about discovering patterns in pictures or numbers, sometimes also words.

    • Troy says:

      Linda Gottfredson has written extensively on the impact of IQ on everyday life, such as career prospects. See, e.g., the tables on this website — http://wps.prenhall.com/wps/media/objects/803/822654/psychplace/genintell/genintell.html — and p. 22 of this article — https://www.udel.edu/educ/gottfredson/reprints/2005g-jobs-life.pdf. You may also find the blog of Education Realist interesting for his observations on teaching low IQ children.

    • science says:

      One thing to keep in mind is that child IQ and adult IQ are two very different things. The numbers are not only not stable, but they don’t even attempt to measure the same thing. The familiar standard deviation of 15 scale is for adults. For children it sort of works for 1-2 deviations around the mean but beyond that, especially on the high end, the numbers become completely unmoored from much of anything.

      What makes this distinction worse in practice is that an arbitrary intelligent person you meet is much more likely to have taken an IQ test as a kid than as an adult. Smart kids are fairly often give IQ tests for G&T programs, or as part of an ADHD or autism diagnoses. On the other hand the most common reason for adults to be given an IQ test (a real, full, professionally administered one) is as part of a pre-sentencing report after pleading guilty to or being convicted of a felony.

      So let’s say you want to build an intuition about IQ scores and what they mean. You overcome the social taboo against doing so, and start asking around to your friends and acquaintances. If they give you a number, most likely it’s either a childhood IQ number (i.e. pretty much worthless), based on some internet test, or poorly extrapolated from some other standardized test.

      • Tibor says:

        I have one datapoint here, a friend of mine who recently joined Mensa (despite being against it for a long time), mostly for the purpose of meeting new people. His IQ from Mensa was 136. I think he is quite smart, not as smart as my PhD advisor for example, I don’t know if he is smarter than me or the other way around. Then again I don’t know my advisor that well outside of work and she has some 20 years of experience in maths…and while I’ve known the friend since we were 16 and had a black metal band (we sucked big time), I have not really done anything “intellectually difficult” with him. I mean he is a programmer and also a PhD student but I have not seen him at work. So I don’t really even have one datum, just a part of what would be one data point.

        But yeah, this would be a way to go – if I could obtain reliable IQ measurements of enough people I know, I would probably get a more intuitive understanding of the number and what to expect based on it.

      • Another data point.

        I spent several summers as a counselor at a camp for gifted children. The highest IQ kid during those years had an IQ of 201. My impression is that, on the usual standard deviation definition, that’s very unlikely.

        On the other hand, he was eleven, and I can readily believe that he was as smart as an average person twice his age–probably smarter. So if you think of IQ as mental age over physical age his score makes sense.

        • science says:

          If that were an IQ number the way we think of them for adults, it would imply that he was likely the smartest person that ever lived. It’s a good demonstration that child IQ are a whole different beast.

          Educators that concentrate on the profoundly gifted claim that these ratio pseudo-IQ numbers are pedagogically useful as a first pass in deciding how to tailor an educational program. I’m somewhat skeptical and think the very high numbers are more likely to be driven by parental ego. I’m willing to look past my skepticism and give them the benefit of the doubt, I just wish they’d use a different term than “IQ” because it so muddies the issue. Even scientific papers often fail to properly distinguish between the two concepts.

          • mobile says:

            Plausible. If my kid was the smartest human that ever lived, I’d definitely send ’em to a camp where David Friedman was one of the counselors.

        • Tibor says:

          Like “science”, I am also little unsure about the relevance of the child IQ. Also I am not terribly interested in it. Not having children of my own (yet anyway) and not being a teacher, I don’t tend to interact with children very much.

    • Richard says:

      Possible working heuristic:

      If you keep struggling to keep track of someones logical leaps in a conversation, (s)he is probably at least a standard deviation smarter than you.
      If you keep repeating things in simpler and simpler terms in order to get your point across, (s)he is probably at least a standard deviation dumber.

      My basis for this heuristic is that everyone was tested when I joined the army and I later got access to all the results (along with some decorations to put on my shoulders) and it fit rather well.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        Now that I like.

      • Elissa says:

        The potential trouble is that, by this heuristic, people who are very good at listening and explaining things are roughly as smart as everyone they meet. (This is not so much a criticism of the heuristic as a criticism of the sort of mindset that doesn’t recognize being good at listening and explaining things as valuable skills or even a thing at all.)

      • Tibor says:

        Good idea. Some little caveats such as expertize…If the step in one’s argument involves something I am well acquainted with, I will follow with ease, if it is entirely new, I won’t. I do know what I am acquainted with myself, I am less sure of other people and most things you hear are somewhere between “never heard anything like it” and “I could tell this to you backwards” which makes it a bit more difficult. But with that in mind (paying attention to how much the other person is likely to have known about the topic already before the discussion), it is a nice heuristic.

  20. anon says:

    A while ago in one of my political theory courses we read Michael Young’s “Rise of the Meritocracy.” Most of it was dry musing about 1950s British education policy, but looking back, his thesis actually seems quite similar to a point Murray brings up in “Coming Apart”: that “meritocracy” (in the introduction Young mentioned he introduced the word as a joke and was dismayed when people started using it seriously) has harmed the poor by taking all the conscientious, high IQ people that made their social institutions work and raising them to the upper echelons of society.

  21. Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

    Statistics (Or probability, I dunno) question:

    Suppose I have a discrete time stationary process. Would I be correct in assuming that, if I were to analyze it on a shorter timeframe, it should still behave like a stationary process (accounting for seasonality)?

    Does the same apply if the variables are cumulative?

    My intuition says yes, but I know better than to trust that guy.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      Clarification, because my english is pretty potato tier: Where I said “shorter timeframe” I meant “higher frequency”, that is, going from yearly to monthly, monthly to daily, etc.

  22. Since it’s an open thread, I would like to raise a question I’m curious about—the relation between Christianity and libertarianism. Two of the most popular Christian apologists of the 20th century were G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. Chesterton was explicitly a libertarian (he, of course, would have said “liberal”), if a somewhat odd one. Someone, I think here, was commenting on the generally libertarian tone of Lewis’ writing.

    There are lots of possible interpretations of Christianity, of course, some more compatible with libertarianism, some less. But I would be interested in comments, especially from the Christians here, on whether there is a pattern linking the two ideas.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      C. S. Lewis, “Present Concerns”:

      “I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that every one deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true… I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost, much less a nation. The real reason for democracy is just the reverse: mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.”

    • keranih says:

      I think that one would need to divide Western Christianity(*) into Roman Catholicism and the various Protestant denominations in order to link with libertarianism. The inate ‘less rule is better’ thread of libertarianism isn’t a good fit with Mama Rome.

      (*) Not familiar enough with Eastern Orthodox, but Russian Orthodox is definitely state-linked.

    • Troy says:

      I am a Christian and I think that taking Christian teachings seriously pushes one towards libertarianism, if not anarchism. Jesus’ teachings largely focus on using nonviolent and noncoercive means to do good. Most early Christians took this to imply a complete ban on killing, including capital punishment, abortion, self-defense, and war. Pre-Constantine, many Christians saw the state as necessarily opposed to the Church. With this framework, it seems to me pretty difficult to justify state coercion, at least as something that Christians should have a part of.

      In the modern era, groups like the Mennonite and Amish have perhaps taken the above vision of the Christian life most seriously. Traditionally these groups rejected state politics as a means of action in the world. The Amish (as you may know, since as I recall you’ve written about them) still mostly don’t vote (I think about 10% do); but Mennonites have largely given up that position. Younger Mennonites today seem to me to largely buy into a lot of the rhetoric of the social justice left, and I don’t know many who are libertarians. But philosophically I think anything more than a minimal state is hard to square with what Mennonites rightly take to be at the core of Christian ethics. I think Mennonites and other pacifist Christians tend to reconcile this tension by simply ignoring the violence inherent in the state, except when it comes to war.

      Kevin Vallier discusses this issue a bit here: http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/04/christian-pacifism-but-not-christian-libertarianism/

    • Nathan says:

      Was Chesterton a libertarian? I admit to not reading his work firsthand much, but on the other hand I am a distributist, and distributism regularly cites Chesterton along with Hillare Belloc as one of its founding intellectuals. And distributism is clearly not a compatible ideology with libertarianism.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      In haste. I don’t think GKC or CSL map very well onto current political issues. In the opening of one chapter in _Mere Christianity_ says that the ideal Christian society would be economically Leftist, with no silly products and no silly billboards advertising them (and every man would work with his hands). It would also be culturally … Rightist? … with wives obeying husbands. GKC’s plutocrats are villains, buffons, and usually murdered, as good riddance. His young Socialists are usually Rational and correct, and his sympathies with trade unions and the poor in general

    • onyomi says:

      I’m not a Christian nor an atheist nor an objectivist (I’m actually a mysticism-inclined agnostic), but I tend to agree with Yaron Brook, who was the first I recall hearing express this opinion (though it’s probably not original to him):

      Religious texts, like horoscopes, tend to be written in such a way that whoever you are, whatever your situation, and whatever you’re looking for, there is a way for you to find it. This is especially true the larger and more heterogeneous the sources from which you can draw–the Bible being a pretty big, heterogeneous source.

      It seems to me that if you want to find libertarianism in the teachings of Jesus you can find them there, but if you want to find socialism in the teachings of Jesus you can find them there too. And if we include the Old Testament you can probably find support for just about anything, including polygamy, slavery, etc.

      And I don’t even think this is entirely a case like the US Constitution, the actual intent of which is pretty clear, but which, by tortuous logic, is made to serve all kinds of expediencies. I think you can probably find good arguments for why Jesus was a socialist, good arguments for why Jesus was a libertarian, good arguments for why Jesus was a social democrat, etc. etc.

      If I had to give my own interpretation I’d say he was really pretty apolitical (“Render unto Caesar, etc.”), but that may reflect my own bias about what a religious leader should be.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        Down with Soc and Psych! Wreck the Pope!

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        It seems to me that if you want to find libertarianism in the teachings of Jesus you can find them there, but if you want to find socialism in the teachings of Jesus you can find them there too. And if we include the Old Testament you can probably find support for just about anything, including polygamy, slavery, etc.

        I think this is absolutely true (and of course, well-trodden).

        At the same time, I think Ayn Rand was right that religion—or specifically the altruistic morality of religion and the message that you are sinful and depraved to the point that your only hope for salvation from damnation is unearned grace—does a lot to soften people up for government intervention.

        One natural and very forceful way to resist e.g. redistribution, is to say: it’s my money, I earned it, and I haven’t done anything wrong. So why should the government be able to take it and give it to some lazy asshole who didn’t work? Am I my brother’s keeper?

        But then the interventionists come in and appeal to religion. They say: indeed you are your brother’s keeper. And you’re a sinner, too, just the same as him in God’s eyes. When you say you earned your money, you’re speaking out of pride. If you were more successful than he, that’s because God gave more grace to you, but you have to use it to serve God’s purposes, not your own selfish ends.

        Now it’s true, the most thoroughly non-interventionist Christians can say: true enough, I have an obligation to be more charitable than I am, but forced charity isn’t charity at all, so the government can’t compel me.

        But anyone who is not either completely otherworldly (and so doesn’t care what happens to people in this life) or completely cynical will notice the huge discrepancy between the way people act and the way they are morally obliged to act. And they will say: if these greedy people won’t give to the poor of their own accord, why should the government protect their selfish “right” to hoard up their wealth? True enough, forced aid isn’t charity, but God gave the world to all men, and it isn’t “socially just” for some of them to keep the wealth to themselves instead of sharing it with the needy as they ought. (The term “social justice” was invented by the Catholic Church.) So since the necessary alms are being woefully undersupplied, we are going to make these greedy wretches pay their fair share.

        As a result, you do get Christians like the later Tolstoy who are very otherworldly and therefore anarchistic. Why care about improving the world if Judgment Day is upon us?

        Leaving them aside, however, you get the ones who are idealistic about making this world more perfect in the image of God. And they are in favor of government intervention and redistribution to compel the intractable people holdings things back.

        And you get the ones on the other side who are very cynical about improving this world and talk about how we should have a “restrained vision” and shouldn’t “immanetize the eschaton”. But that doesn’t inspire people, especially not the young, because it is not at all a motivating vision of how human beings can use their free will to make the world a better place. If the government tries to improve things with “good intentions”, it’ll just make everything worse. Indeed, everything’s getting worse already.

        I therefore don’t think it’s an accident that conservatives (especially British conservatives as opposed to those more in the tradition of America’s liberal founders) are very cynical and anti-progress. And neither is it an accident that the young, when they hear capitalism defended on these grounds, are not very much in favor of it. When the young hear that capitalism is a necessary evil, they don’t just accept it. They spend all their energy on how to make it unnecessary.

        When you have a moral ideal that says people ought to be completely selfless—and yet they do not at all act in a way that is completely selfless—anyone with a hint of moral idealism is going to want to try whatever he can to make people more selfless. Including government intervention to make them do their duty. Just look at the C.S. Lewis quote The original Mr. X posted: no halfway idealistic person with a spark of the drive to improve the world can accept, “I’m fallen, you’re fallen, everyone’s fallen, and things will never get any better.” This type of cynicism demoralizes people and softens them up for any kind of demagogue who will offer “hope and change”.

        Rand summed things up more pithily in an interview:

        Now you want me to speak about the cross. What is correct is that I do regard the cross as the symbol of the sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal. Isn’t that what it does mean? Christ, in terms of the Christian philosophy, is the human ideal. He personifies that which men should strive to emulate. Yet, according to the Christian mythology, he died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the nonideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice. And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism is used.

        On the other hand, in her earlier years, Rand expressed a certain admiration for elements of Christianity. In particular, Christianity is a relatively individualistic religion (especially in its Protestant form). It’s not at all like Buddhism, where the goal is to destroy the self. Christianity says that everyone has his own, unique, immortal soul, and that the most important thing is to ensure that this soul is saved. Enlightened self-interest has a long history in Christianity in this respect: after all, the religion doesn’t (as a practical matter) say you should follow God’s commandments just for the sake of following them. It holds out the enormous carrot of eternal, personal bliss and the enormous stick of eternal, personal suffering.

        So if Christianity is right on the facts, it’s your most profound selfish interest to follow God’s commandments. Yet at the same time, a hugely influential strand within Christianity says that this is a completely immoral way of looking at things, and that your virtue only “counts” if you follow God’s will out of selfless love for God alone, and not with regard to your own advantage.

        Rand regarded these elements of Christianity as fundamentally contradictory:

        There is a great, basic contradiction in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus was one of the first great teachers to proclaim the basic principle of individualism — the inviolate sanctity of man’s soul, and the salvation of one’s soul as one’s first concern and highest goal; this means — one’s ego and the integrity of one’s ego. But when it came to the next question, a code of ethics to observe for the salvation of one’s soul — (this means: what must one do in actual practice in order to save one’s soul?) — Jesus (or perhaps His interpreters) gave men a code of altruism, that is, a code which told them that in order to save one’s soul, one must love or help or live for others. This means, the subordination of one’s soul (or ego) to the wishes, desires or needs of others, which means the subordination of one’s soul to the souls of others.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @onyomi:
        Jesus was the founder of an apocalyptic cult that believed the world would end within the lifetime of the first adherents. His teachings are consistent with this idea.

        I don’t think it makes sense to try and map his teachings onto any worldview that foresees an ongoing world. Trying to map his teachings onto political philosophies therefore seems unsupported.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Despite what I said above, I think this really is the most honest reading. (And I did make a few references to it, with regard to people like Tolstoy, who were consistent with it.)

          The whole thing was “perverted” by people like Augustine who wanted to make a Christianity a semi-practicable religion for living by. But how can you build a society, fight wars, or punish criminals on the basis of a religion that says you should “turn the other cheek”? Or which asks the man who is without sin to throw the first stone? To use modern-day examples, does anyone think Jesus would join the Marine Corps or drop atomic bombs on Japan?

          Very logically and practically (but very dubiously from a religious standpoint), they said, in effect: “Turning the other cheek is all well and good, but we’ll reserve that stuff mainly for the saints, the priests, and the members of religious orders. The rest of us actually have to live.” So the clergy kept their hands free of blood, but regular people were kept around to carry out the necessary executions and fight “just wars”. (The parallel to Eastern religion and the same dynamic with Buddhist monks vs. Buddhist laity is fascinating.)

          So you end up the odd position where you value “saintliness”, which is the ideal. Yet at the same time, you have to recognize that if everyone tried to be St. Francis of Assisi, civilization would collapse.

          And you come to some kind of cynical position where some people have to be the “Grand Inquisitors” who sin so that other people don’t have to. This is best seen in Renaissance authors like Machiavelli, who recognized that you couldn’t govern a state on the basis of Christian virtue, so resigned themselves to the conclusion that virtue had its place but so did vice. Especially in a king or a statesman, “common morality” doesn’t exactly apply.

          • Tibor says:

            I am not sure that Machiavelli was a Christian at all and he definitely did not subscribe to virtue ethics. If you read The Prince, you see that he basically puts value on the outcome only. He does recommend looking (not acting) virtuous for PR reasons. He does not seem to take any pleasure in that purely states it as a fact of life. This I gather from his rather thinly veiled criticism and visible distate of “el rey católico” Ferdinand II. of Aragon…Machiavelli does not mention the name (or rather he writes “a certain monarch of our time who’s name should not be mentioned”) but it is quite obvious who he is talking about. It was also probably his writings about religion that later earned him the reputation of a villain.

        • DavidS says:

          This. He expected the world to end and he never expected his followers to be in charge of anything other than what we might call ‘intentional communities’, and ones that would inevitably be hedged in by other laws and powers.

          So the question of what form of governmental coercion is legitimate for a Christian doesn’t really arise.

          Having said that, the nearest case I can think of with the Christians actually in charge seems to be more concerned about avoiding tax than most on even the more extreme left, in that the result is instant death. Though it’s unclear if simply refusing to pay would have brought this or it’s the deception involved. Still, reads like the sort of terrifying show-trial I would avoid if building a socialist paradise, nevermind a libertarian one/

          Acts 5 1-11 (New International Version)
          Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

          Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

          When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

          About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

          “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

          Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

          At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

          • Jaskologist says:

            How is it unclear? He outright says, “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

            They were punished for the deception.

          • DavidS says:

            I read “And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” as either meaning

            “Wasn’t it yours to give or not give, why lie?”
            or
            “Wasn’t it yours to give to us: why pretend that you couldn’t”

            And the preceding line implies that both lying and withholding the money are Satan-caused crimes (numbered below)

            “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you (1) have lied to the Holy Spirit and (2) have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land”

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ DavidS:

            I agree. It’s not exactly clear.

            And the idea of “Satan” filling men’s hearts with evil is not exactly a robust picture of free will.

            To be honest, I’m not sure why free will has the cultural association with Christianity that it has. Free will is much more of a Greek idea. It’s heavily suggested in certain passages in Aristotle and explicit in thinkers like Alexander of Aphrodisias.

            Christianity, in contrast, has always had huge problems with free will. The vast majority of Christian denominations are deterministic. Of those, you have the one that outright reject free will (such as Protestant Lutherans and Calvinists), and the ones that redefine free will such as to be compatible with determinism (such as Catholic Augustinians and Thomists).

          • Anonymous says:

            The way I have been taught was that it was entirely fine to keep some, or even everything, of their earnings. It was not fine to do so after they had vowed to give it all away, in an attempt to have their cake and eat it too (obtain status via piety by ostensibly giving away all their possessions, but not actually give away everything). TL;DR: Don’t cheat God, it won’t work.

            @Vox

            AFAIK, those denominations are chiefly Protestant ones, and there’s just so many of them; they don’t form anything close to even a plurality of Christians.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            Protestants and Catholics don’t form a plurality of Christians?

            Sure, I think many Christian people believe in the metaphysically libertarian concept of free will. Because they haven’t thought about how the philosophy fits together with the theology.

            But as far as the actual doctrine of the sects they claim to follow goes, it is my understanding that the majority either don’t believe in free will at all, or else believe in a “free will” such as is compatible with determinism.

            For instance, take anyone who ever gives the C.S. Lewis argument (which he got from Augustine) that God knows what you will do in the future because he is “outside of time” and can see what you do before you do it. That is an argument which assumes determinism. It doesn’t deny “free will” because Augustine believed that free will is compatible with determinism.

            ***

            As for the Biblical passage in question, I think many people find it off-putting because that’s exactly what cults do: try to get people to agree to “share everything with the church” and then guilt them into following through when they try to back out.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Vox:
            I’m a determinist, but I also find the idea that non-determinist free will is incompatible with prediction sort of weird.

            Edit: I think that there is certainly the possibility that things like quantum uncertainty make a physical determinist system still unpredictable.

            If something has no cause at all, it’s random. If some cause generates outcome A some of the time, and outcome B if not A, and there is no reason why outcome A was generated and not B, then we can say the outcome was randomized for A or B.

            Either your decisions are ruled by some logic or they are random. If someone knows your full logical state, they can know what you will do. If they know all states of everything in a closed system, then they can predict everything.

            I think you would say that this is still determinism, just not physical determinism. But to me that leads to free will just meaning that your decisions are essentially random, or that the full logical state of anyone is unknowable.

            Note: Yes, I understand that minds are impacted by the physical world, but the same rules apply to a physical-mental dual world. Either the system as a whole is state and rule driven, or has randomness.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ HeelBearCub:

            I meant to get to this one earlier, but I didn’t have time. I hope you take a look at it.

            I’m a determinist, but I also find the idea that non-determinist free will is incompatible with prediction sort of weird.

            It may be weird, but that’s what the theory says.

            Edit: I think that there is certainly the possibility that things like quantum uncertainty make a physical determinist system still unpredictable.

            I assume you are referring to the halting problem, negators, etc.?

            The halting problem concerns only calculation. If God exists and can directly perceive the future by means of some kind of sensation, the halting problem doesn’t apply.

            Also, if you could just extrapolate the movements of basic physical particles (assuming they are deterministic), you don’t run into any of those problems. Instead of investigating the formal logical structure of the machine, you just know what it is made out of.

            If something has no cause at all, it’s random. If some cause generates outcome A some of the time, and outcome B if not A, and there is no reason why outcome A was generated and not B, then we can say the outcome was randomized for A or B.

            No. There are two fundamentally different ways of describing the law of causality. Or rather, two fundamentally different theories of causality.

            One theory is the theory of event causation, which says that every event has a cause, in the form of a previous event. If there is no previous event causing it, the event would be uncaused.

            The other theory is agent causation, which says that every action (of an entity) has a cause: the entity (i.e. agent) in question. The agent is either moved by another agent, transmitting its motion to whatever it acts own—passive causation—or else the agent moves itself, starting a new chain of motion—active causation.

            The libertarian theory of free will says that humans have active powers of causation: that they are capable of moving themselves. This does not mean that their actions are not caused. They are the cause of their actions. Or rather, they are one part of the cause of their actions, which the other causes being passive in nature. For instance, the decision to murder depends on certain passive features in the agent: his genetics, his upbringing, his having of a murder weapon, etc., but also on the active decision to murder.

            Either your decisions are ruled by some logic or they are random. If someone knows your full logical state, they can know what you will do. If they know all states of everything in a closed system, then they can predict everything.

            I think you would say that this is still determinism, just not physical determinism. But to me that leads to free will just meaning that your decisions are essentially random, or that the full logical state of anyone is unknowable.

            Yes, logic is a deterministic system. It may sound paradoxical, but insofar as humans are called upon to act logically, they are an non-deterministic system which is called upon to conform itself to reality and act in accordance with deterministic logic.

            Note: Yes, I understand that minds are impacted by the physical world, but the same rules apply to a physical-mental dual world. Either the system as a whole is state and rule driven, or has randomness.

            You are right that it doesn’t matter whether the system is physically deterministic, spiritually deterministic, or logically deterministic. It’s deterministic all the same. Most varieties of Christianity believe in spiritual and/or logical determinism.

            But the question isn’t whether actions have causes or not. It’s whether the causation is passive or active. What determinism really says is that all causation is passive. God or nature or whatever sets the Rube Goldberg machine going, and everything takes off from there inexorably.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Vox:
            “It’s whether the causation is passive or active. ”

            This just seems like question begging to me.

            The active agent who causes things either a)obeys laws of logic, or b)does things randomly. Hiding this behind a layer of obfuscation seems to be mostly about being uncomfortable that any definition of “free will” is essentially self-referential.

            As to physically deterministic systems being unpredictable, God doesn’t come in to it. I don’t know how you have a God inside of a physically deterministic system. No, I’m talking about things like Dan Harrington’s system for randomizing his poker decisions. If he wants to check pocket aces 30% of the time, he glances at his watch at some point. If the seconds of the time on his watch end in, say, 4, 5 or 6, he checks.

            It’s possible that this is completely predictable from a million years out. But I also think it might be unpredictable due to things that are random within our system of physical laws.

    • Max Goedl says:

      I come from Austria where Church and State have always been closely linked (one of our Chancellors was a Catholic priest). Judging from conversations I had, I would guess the majority of Austrian Catholics hold socialist views on economic policy (pro regulation of markets, pro welfare state, against privatization/liberalization) perhaps even more socialist than the “average Austrian”. Many of them take strong anti-capitalist and environmentalist positions. The only Catholic libertarians I have met or read about came from the US or the UK. My hypothesis is that Catholics are more likely to hold libertarian views in countries where the government is more anti-Catholic, less so in countries with more pro-Catholic governments.

      • Tibor says:

        A catholic (from Austria or not) is also likely to be conservative. Not in the sense “right-winger” but in the sense not wanting much change. Austria is, on a relative scale, quite a anti-capitalist country, not in the communist sense but in the social democracy and welfare-state sense.

        I think that in a more capitalist country, catholics might be more pro-free market. Switzerland seems like an ideal place to test this, because you have both catholic and protestant and mixed cantons and some cantons are more and some less capitalist (as measured in taxation for example). Comparing this map of denominations in Switzerland and this tax table for various cantons it looks like being “pro-free market” and “catholic/protestant” is either uncorrelated or there is a slight positive correlation between higher taxation and protestantism (but some of the protestant cantons are in the French part and those tend to have higher taxes regardless of their denomination). Also, the two extremes are the largely catholic Zug (by far the lowest taxes in Switzerland) and the protestant Neuchatel (the highest taxes). I am not going to do a proper analysis (unless I am really bored at the weekend) but I would bet that, at least nowadays when the Church and religion play a much smaller part in the life of virtually everyone (in Europe anyway) compared to the middle ages, there is virtually zero correlation between the religion itself and the attitudes towards economic policy.

    • Maware says:

      Chesterton was a distributist, not a libertarian. The political systems of small islands like Rarotonga are close to his ideal. Essentially he wants every man to be able to own the means of production or capital, i.e. land, and to prevent large companies from owning it. In the Cook Islands, citizens own the land and companies or foreigners can only lease, not own it. This requires a strong government, not a weak or laissez-faire one.

      If you own the means of production, you have a level of safety. Worst case, you use your land to grow food and livestock to be self-sustaining, and no one can take that away from you. Libertarianism is in practice about removing the roadblocks to allow the strong man to snap up all the land to oppress the weak, or to dispossess the many to serve the one.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        If you own the means of production, you have a level of safety. Worst case, you use your land to grow food and livestock to be self-sustaining, and no one can take that away from you. Libertarianism is in practice about removing the roadblocks to allow the strong man to snap up all the land to oppress the weak, or to dispossess the many to serve the one.

        That is what you think would happen under libertarianism. You have not shown that it is actually what would happen, let alone that it is what libertarianism is “really about”.

        Libertarians would say that creating a “strong government” with the power to regulate the economy to such an extent as to make sure that there are no “large” landholdings would invite abuses. Every honest theory of government has to explain how the government would stay limited to the task you set it and succeed in it. For example, communists say that there should first be a stage in which the government takes over all production under socialism, rationalizes production to create abdundance, then “withers away”. That is what communism is “really about”. But in fact the theory is wrong, in large part because the state has no incentive to rationalize production or “wither away”. And I’m not too sanguine about the prospects of your proposed system.

        Moreover, even if your system “worked” perfectly in the sense that the government succeeded in abolishing corporations and large landholdings, libertarians would say (correctly) that everyone under such a system would be vastly poorer than he would be under a system where a small minority of rich people control most of the wealth and invest it productively. The latter system has the enormous advantage over “yeoman farming” of economies of scale. The actual facts seem to show that wealth inequality is a beneficient feature of capitalism, even from the point of view of those who have less wealth.

        • Maware says:

          Chesterton would argue that the man is far poorer under the libertarian system:

          “This man (Jones let us call him) has always desired the divinely ordinary things; he has married for love, he has chosen or built a small house that fits like a coat; he is ready to be a great grandfather and a local god. And just as he is moving in, something goes wrong. Some tyranny, personal or political, suddenly debars him from the home; and he has to take his meals in the front garden. A passing philosopher (who is also, by a mere coincidence, the man who turned him out) pauses, and leaning elegantly on the railings, explains to him that he is now living that bold life upon the bounty of nature which will be the life of the sublime future. He finds life in the front garden more bold than bountiful, and has to move into mean lodgings in the next spring. The philosopher (who turned him out), happening to call at these lodgings, with the probable intention of raising the rent, stops to explain to him that he is now in the real life of mercantile endeavor; the economic struggle between him and the landlady is the only thing out of which, in the sublime future, the wealth of nations can come. He is defeated in the economic struggle, and goes to the workhouse. The philosopher who turned him out (happening at that very moment to be inspecting the workhouse) assures him that he is now at last in that golden republic which is the goal of mankind; he is in an equal, scientific, Socialistic commonwealth, owned by the State and ruled by public officers; in fact, the commonwealth of the sublime future. ” -What’s Wrong With the World.

          He speaks of socialism, but this fits libertarianism too-just instead of the State say Market. The prosperity in goods you offer is at a cost of the “divinely ordinary things.” The man can no longer live to the rhythms of natural life. The desire to own a small house with a garden, marry a wife young, have children, be a part of local life, and more or less be your own master. The libertarian instead marries old if at all, pays absurd amounts of money for horrible lodgings in big cities, may have one child in their dotage if they don’t actively hate them, are not their own master, and constantly move around the nation or globe to chase work.

          The old limits had tyranny, but I think Chesterton would argue they are rich in promoting divinely ordinary things. The new limits have prosperity, but at the cost of natural human relations. A libertarian paradise of single women with a solitary IVF baby at 38 and a string of past lovers is the trade off for increased goods and services.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            You’re trying to have it both ways.

            The extended quote from Chesterton presents “scientific socialism” (which you think is interchangeable with the free market…I’ll accept it for the sake of argument) as actually making the man poorer. He wants his little cottage but he can’t have it because the mean old market system is a war of all against all and drives everyone down to subsistence except the rich capitalists who own all the property.

            If that were…factually true…then capitalism would indeed be an evil and wicked system that no one (except maybe the capitalists) should support. But it’s the very opposite of the truth. Capitalism has enabled an enormously larger number of people to enjoy an enormously larger amount of material wealth. They’re not taking away anyone’s cottages in the woods. Capitalism allowing more and more people to have and enjoy things like cottages in the woods, instead of working themselves to the bone and dying at an early age from some disease. Capitalism has brought about what Deirdre McCloskey calls the “Great Fact”: the explosion in standards of well-being, by practically anything you could wish to measure it by.

            So on the one hand, your quote says that.

            But you then turn around and say, sure, capitalism made everyone richer, but it’s stunting everyone’s spiritual growth. And it’s true that money doesn’t by happiness; you have to achieve it on your own. But money makes happiness a hell of a lot easier to achieve.

            This pastoral fantasy of the “old days” which had the “rhythms of natural life” where everyone was “his own master” has no relationship to reality. People who look back on how good things were in the “simpler times” of the past are like Marie Antoinette playing shepardess on the grounds of Versailles. It’s a relaxing vacation to spend some time in a sanitized version of simplicity. But you don’t have to deal with the endless drudgery, the gnawing hunger, the sight of your children suffering and dying in front of you of incurable disease.

            Peasants couldn’t just quit and go play Skyrim instead when they got sick of being peasants. People moved to the cities and modernized themselves in the first place because—as poor as people were during the Industrial Revolution, and they were very poor—they preferred city life to starvation and death.

            Maybe it was better to be a successful yeoman farmer than an industrial worker in Manchester. But if you were the fourth son of the fourth son, those weren’t your options. Your options were to be a dead farmer, a bandit, a soldier (where you could be treated with the most extreme brutality), or an industrial worker. And before the Industrial Revolution, you didn’t have that last option.

            People now, more than ever, have the ability to be their own masters and live their own lives the way they like. You really don’t have to be some kind of “consumerist drone” who works 100 hours a week to buy things he doesn’t need. There is nothing about capitalism that forces you to do this.

            It is easier than it has ever been for one to build up a quantity of savings large enough to live off. The old advice was to save 20% of your income, because a) that was all people could save without starving, and b) if you didn’t, you would die of starvation in your old age. But now it’s possible for people—including those who don’t make exorbitant sums of money—to save 30%, 40%, or 50% of their incomes, if they are willing to accept a slightly lower standard of living than the current average, which is enormously higher than the historical average.

            Under some kind of primitivism, the kind of lifestyle you desire is possible to almost no one. A few aristocrats, perhaps (and even there, you’re ignoring the many torments like disease which afflicted rich as well as poor.)

            Under capitalism, the kind of lifestyle you desire is possible to a large and ever-increasing number of people. So you ought to support capitalism, even by your own lights.

          • On the specific issue of whether distributism was inconsistent with libertarianism, I think it’s relevant that GKC thought existing land holdings in part reflected unjust takings–the seizure of the monastery lands under Henry VIII.

            For his view of government interfering with individual choice, see “The Horrible History of Jones.”

            For his view of large firms, he pretty clearly saw them as hand in glove with the government. Does he ever propose that it should be illegal for someone to own more than some fixed amount of land, or for large firms to exist?

    • Jaskologist says:

      Federalist 51:

      If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

      Libertarianism at its best is a recognition that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and yes this includes the king, and the regulator, and whoever else you want to bring in to clean up the mess.

      • Maware says:

        Considering modern libertarianism’s main thrust is the absurdity of the consensual crime, I really doubt that “all have sinned” matters much. They wouldn’t be allowing virtually every sin to be legal if they felt that.

        Modern government has little to do with Christianity-it arose mostly as a way to stop getting Christians to kill each other over doctrine. Libertarianism is mostly about empowering the strong man to self-actualize at the cost of the weak: legalize drugs so the strong man can partake and profit off of then, while the weak pay, work to produce them, and pay the costs of addiction. The sins of the great man over the sins of the little man-gay marriage in particular was this writ large.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Well, I did say Libertarianism as its best. At its worst, Libertarianism is just Libertinism, going around declaring “I don’t think things which are not wrong should be illegal!” as if that were a novel insight.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          You are being very unfair to the Christian libertarian perspective. And I say this as someone who leveled some criticisms of it upthread.

          Just because something is a sin, doesn’t go to show that it should be illegal. After all, the men who are supposed to create and enforce the law are also finite, limited, and sinful. They don’t have unlimited power to do everything, and they will tend to abuse what power they have.

          A Christian can perfectly well say that it would be nice if God eliminated cocaine from the world, but nevertheless say that entrusting men with the power to eliminate cocaine with a) not succeed in the task assigned and b) in the process, create additional harms which are worse than those caused by the sin of selling and using cocaine.

          This is no different from how a Christian might say that it would be nice if no one were a Muslim, since Islam is a heresy and promotes sinful practices. Yet nevertheless, he might think that giving the government the power to ruthlessly stamp out Islam would not work.

          ***

          Moreover, the view that drug abusers are passive victims, the “weak” who are being exploited by the “strong”, is not necessarily consistent with either a Christian or a secular approach to ethics.

          From the Christian view, selling cocaine is a sin. But so is using cocaine! You could easily rationalize the whole existence of drugs in the typical way by saying that God put drugs on earth in order to show men a little taste of the temptation of sin and the suffering one will endure for it in Hell. Every cocaine addict is another reminder of the consequences of straying from the path.

          And from a secular perspective, you may say that, yes, cocaine is very harmful. And selling it is a deplorable act. And therefore we will prevent people from selling it to children or the mentally incompetent. But people have free will, and they are fundamentally equal. Every adult has the responsibility to look after himself, and the freedom that goes along with it. He can’t use the fact that he was “weak” as an excuse to have the government punish the “strong” man who sold it to him, if it was his own free choice to buy it. If we start having the state step in, in a “paternal” role, we infantilize people, disrespect their freedom as rational agents, and give the government a dangerous amount of power. A free society is built on personal responsibility.

          • Tibor says:

            I doubt the Bible or even the catholic tradition says anything at all about cocaine given that coca leaves come from America.

        • hlynkacg says:

          If that’s your assessment of Libertarianism, what do you think of Progressives?

        • Maware says:

          Vox, I don’t think that’s the case. You HAVE to try-saying that “oh, men can’t be trusted to govern” and allowing sin is pretty much giving up. And to be blunt, I don’t believe it. I grew up before the trend to liberalize a lot of things, and the libertarian position has caused consequences that are far worse than the enforcement in terms of allowing sin. If this is your criteria for things-the avoidance of sin-libertarians have spectacularly enabled so much sin it isn’t funny. Things that would have been the wildest science fiction in the 60’s are common.

          Thing is, most Christians are just really believing in secular harm utilitarianism. They use sin as window dressing, but it’s really harm and cost. Sin is different…sin imperils a soul and separates them from God. You’d have to put up with or try and mitigate the failures, because it’s a person’s eternal destiny at stake.

          Hlyn:

          Not as bad. Libertarians take the worst aspects of both left and right as goods..untrammeled capitalism from the right, and untrammeled libertinism from the left. Progressives have one error but not the other.

          • Tibor says:

            Is your position then both socially and economically restrictive? I am asking because I rarely meet anyone who is both a socialist and a conservative, so I would find it interesting to hear arguments of someone who is.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Maware:

            You have just excellently rephrased what I said above about why Christianity tempts people to support state intervention. “Allowing sin is pretty much giving up”. Yes, it is.

            Libertarianism, on a Christian basis, is an extremely cynical and depressing view. It is the view that no matter what we do, the world is irrevocably broken and fallen. That there is just nothing we can do to stop people from sinning to the massive degree they do. One can try persuasion, but it’s only going to work on a small number of the elect.

            A Christian who has any shred of moral idealism is going to see the massive disparity between the way people actually act and the way they ought to act, realize that persuasion just isn’t going to cut it, and want to compel being to avoid sin “for their own good”. After all, it’s immortal souls we’re talking about here. How can it be so bad if the Inquisition tortures a few heretics people on the rack, in order that the vast majority might be saved from heresy? Even if a few innocents are swept up, God will know his own—anything they suffer will be repaid infinitely over in the heaven.

            How could a loving God want us to allow our neighbors, our friends, and our family members to persist in sin and doom themselves to Hell? If they won’t stop themselves, we’ve got to take measures into our own hands.

            Let me just quote my own post, since it seems you basically agree with the view I am saying Christianity tends to encourage in people who have any desire to improve the world:

            But anyone who is not either completely otherworldly (and so doesn’t care what happens to people in this life) or completely cynical will notice the huge discrepancy between the way people act and the way they are morally obliged to act. And they will say: if these greedy people won’t give to the poor of their own accord, why should the government protect their selfish “right” to hoard up their wealth? True enough, forced aid isn’t charity, but God gave the world to all men, and it isn’t “socially just” for some of them to keep the wealth to themselves instead of sharing it with the needy as they ought. (The term “social justice” was invented by the Catholic Church.) So since the necessary alms are being woefully undersupplied, we are going to make these greedy wretches pay their fair share.

            As a result, you do get Christians like the later Tolstoy who are very otherworldly and therefore anarchistic. Why care about improving the world if Judgment Day is upon us?

            Leaving them aside, however, you get the ones who are idealistic about making this world more perfect in the image of God. And they are in favor of government intervention and redistribution to compel the intractable people holdings things back.

            And you get the ones on the other side who are very cynical about improving this world and talk about how we should have a “restrained vision” and shouldn’t “immanetize the eschaton”. But that doesn’t inspire people, especially not the young, because it is not at all a motivating vision of how human beings can use their free will to make the world a better place. If the government tries to improve things with “good intentions”, it’ll just make everything worse. Indeed, everything’s getting worse already.

            I therefore don’t think it’s an accident that conservatives (especially British conservatives as opposed to those more in the tradition of America’s liberal founders) are very cynical and anti-progress. And neither is it an accident that the young, when they hear capitalism defended on these grounds, are not very much in favor of it. When the young hear that capitalism is a necessary evil, they don’t just accept it. They spend all their energy on how to make it unnecessary.

            When you have a moral ideal that says people ought to be completely selfless—and yet they do not at all act in a way that is completely selfless—anyone with a hint of moral idealism is going to want to try whatever he can to make people more selfless. Including government intervention to make them do their duty. Just look at the C.S. Lewis quote The original Mr. X posted: no halfway idealistic person with a spark of the drive to improve the world can accept, “I’m fallen, you’re fallen, everyone’s fallen, and things will never get any better.” This type of cynicism demoralizes people and softens them up for any kind of demagogue who will offer “hope and change”.

          • Nathan says:

            @ Tibor

            I don’t know if he is but I more or less am. E.g. I’m anti abortion, anti drug legalisation, etc, and also think that corporations (as they currently exist) should be banned.

            I describe myself as a distributist but am not 100% sure how closely my views match those of Chesterton etc. But essentially my economic worldview revolves around the principle that workers should jointly own the firms they work for. Under my model a business would be something you join and leave, not something you can buy or sell.

            Happy to answer any further questions.

          • Tibor says:

            @Nathan: Am I free to start my own business (where there is nobody but me or just my family) in your model? Also, can I sell physical things (if so, then I am effectively allowed to sell my business to other people) to anyone and at a price I set myself?

            I assume that in your model, if I want someone to work with me, I need to take him to the company as an equal(?) partner, is that correct? But if I can buy and sell services, I could still “outsource” whatever I need done by people who I don’t want to give shares in my company. How would you deal with that?

          • Nathan says:

            The answer to all your questions is yes.

            When I say you can’t buy and sell businesses, that isn’t to say that a group of three people wha run a fish and chip shop can’t sell their premises to another group of three people who want to take over. I’m using the word business here to mean the organisational structure as opposed to the means of production.

            Workers within a firm can decide to dissolve a firm and split the assets between co-owners.

            Workers within a firm can earn differing shares of the profits – they just all get a say in deciding that. E.g. A two person medical practice consisting of a doctor and a receptionist. The receptionist probably adds less value to the business and should be paid less than the doctor – but she needs to agree to that.

            Yes you can purchase services from outside companies and effectively create de facto wages that way. So in some situations things won’t be very different.

            I would also note that this sort of thing already happens – I personally am theoretically a contractor but by all practical measures an employee, so my boss doesn’t need to pay me sick leave, annual leave, etc. Under both the current system and my proposed one, I’m sceptical of the net value of trying to regulate away these workarounds. It’s still probably better than the current over regulated labour market anyway.

          • onyomi says:

            “It is the view that no matter what we do, the world is irrevocably broken and fallen.”

            Isn’t this the plumb line Christian view?

          • hlynkacg says:

            @onyomi

            It does vary by denomination, but for the vast majority the answer would be yes.

          • Tibor says:

            @Nathan: Yeah, my point is that not very much would really change. You can still have a corporation anyway – a group of people who are shareholders and another group of “contractors” who are in fact just the employees of that corporation. The pattern of hiring de facto employees as de jure contractors is present because the labour laws are restrictive and the additional costs of hiring employees can make an otherwise viable work position uneconomical.

            It seems to me that the main feature of your system would ironically be deregulating the labour market by making employment contracts illegal (it looks to me that anything else has a simple workaround)…severely cutting the power of the worker’s unions above all else. That does not sound very anti-capitalist.

            It might also make trading shares more difficult and thus harming the stock market though (which would be called something else as legally you cannot buy and sell company stocks, but practically you can). Depending on the exact rules, you might prevent some shareholders having more votes than others, which would change things quite a bit, I guess that you would have corporations with only a few major investors with an equal voting rights and then many silent partners with no voting right (who are legally people who lease parts of the physical stuff the company uses to the company and are paid for that based on the company profits)…but maybe it is not so difficult to find a clever workaround, people tend to be pretty ingenious.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ onyomi:

            There is also a long tradition, especially in America, of Christians thinking that Christ has called people to “perfect” the world and and themselves. With the benefit of his “grace”, of course.

            And once they do this to a sufficient degree, we’ll have the Second Coming and Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.

            It’s not just a passive view of “we just accept how things are and live our lives like everyone else”.

          • onyomi says:

            @Vox,

            Yeah, I’m aware of that history; I’m just saying I don’t think it’s at all mandated or implied by Christian sacred texts or traditional theology. It was some peoples’ own “bright” idea. Probably just the typical human utopian impulse finding an outlet in the belief system they already had.

  23. CatCube says:

    I was reading CNN.com this morning, and they had a story about a Swedish doctor who kidnapped a woman, drugged her, raped her, and held her in a concrete cell he built for the purpose.

    “The doctor told police the reason he built the sound-proofed bunker was because ‘he wanted to have a girlfriend,’ Stockholm chief prosecutor Peter Claeson told CNN.” http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/18/europe/sweden-doctor-drug-kidnap-rape/index.html

    All I could think of after reading that was Tommy Lee Jones’ line from No Country for Old Men: “You can’t make up such a thing as that. I dare you to even try.”

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Isn’t this, essentially, a staple story line from many a police thriller?

      “I love you so much I am going to kidnap you.”

      Edit: The ex-boyfriend in Gone Girl comes to mind.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        In one of the creepier game-manual vignettes* from Vampire: The Masquerade, we meet a regnant (the vampire who provides the blood for a blood-bond) who is being held captive by their thrall (the person who drank the blood.)

        Normally, a blood-bond produces a “supernatural link of fidelity and dependency” between the thrall (who is fidelitous, etc) and the regnant. Drinking a vampire’s blood often enough to form a blood-bond is usually just a way to become their more-or-less adoring slave.

        However, in this case, the thrall goes all the way over to “I love you so much I must have you all to myself for always**,” stakes the regnant*** and keeps them chained up in their basement, feeding them blood and drinking theirs in turn.

        I always thought that was a fun**** take on what is, as you say, a staple story line. I read another one once about a fictionalized version of Bettie Page which I won’t go into here.

        *Which is saying something.

        **Since regularly drinking vampire blood will keep a human alive more or less indefinitely, this is pretty literal.

        ***In the V:tM universe putting a wooden stake through a vampire’s heart completely paralyzes them but does no permanent harm.

        ****I am, mostly, pretty much, a good person. But I am not a nice person.

      • CatCube says:

        Oh, I’m not surprised that there’s not something somewhat like it in fiction. After all, Cormac McCarthy made up the original story (about a couple of murderers getting caught when one of their victims escaped wearing nothing but a dog collar) and Tommy Lee Jones’ character’s response quoted above; but I admit finding a news story with my morning coffee that’s right out of a Coen Brothers’ film wasn’t what I was expecting.

    • Deiseach says:

      Sounds a little like the John Fowles novel The Collector.

  24. The original Mr. X says:

    Michael Huemer on “Why I am not an objectivist”:

    http://www.owl232.net/rand.htm

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      Overall, it’s not a bad essay. One of the few examples of honest and informed criticism of Objectivism out there, in my opinion.

      However, his arguments against the Objectivist conception of egoism are pretty bad. Richard Lawrence has an excellent (and fair) rebuttal here, and you can actually follow their continuing discussion in the old Usenet logs. At least until, as Lawrence tells it, Huemer “killfiled” his posts.

      This essay by Huemer is actually a better criticism of Rand’s ethical theory. I don’t fully agree with it, either, but he does a good job of attacking some of the bigger weaknesses in Rand’s argument.

      I would definitely like to expand longer at some point, but my general responses to each of Huemer’s main sections of “Why I Am Not an Objectivist”:

      1. Meaning – Distinction between meaning & reference motivated.

      Huemer is absolutely right here. Rand failed to distinguish between sense and reference, and this caused her to reject the analytic-synthetic distinction. But this is not a very important issue philosophically.

      2. Analytic & synthetic – The validity of this distinction.

      Again, Huemer is right here. There is nothing wrong with this distinction. However, the reason it is not a very important issue is precisely because, as he says:

      Finally, note that (contrary to Peikoff’s presentation), the analytic/synthetic distinction is not equivalent to the necessary/contingent, a priori/empirical, or certain/uncertain distinctions in the minds of contemporary philosophers. I do not say that analytic = necessary = known a priori = known with certainty; and I do not say that synthetic = contingent = empirical = uncertain. In contemporary philosophy, it has been generally recognized that those are four different distinctions, even though they were sometimes confounded in the past (especially by Hume).

      3. A priori knowledge – why we have it.

      Huemer is totally wrong here. We do not have a priori knowledge of any sort. To respond to his argument here is the central part of criticizing Huemer because his epistemology serves as the foundation of his ethics.

      He believes that logic, mathematics, and ethics are all a priori. And since no one is a skeptic about logic and mathematics, he can say: well, the only way we know logical or mathematical truths is because we intuit the axioms by a process of “pure reason”. And if we have such a faculty, there is no reason we can’t apply it to ethical truths—and in fact, this is how we know ethical truths.

      Rand’s answer, which I think is correct, is that logical, mathematical, and ethical truths are known by a process of abstraction from sense experience—which is vaguely similar to how Aristotle conceived of “intuition” but not at all the same as how Huemer conceives of intuition.

      I will especially stress that Huemer’s invocation of “Hume’s law” as proof that you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”. If an “ought” is supposed to be something totally separate from an “is”, this would no doubt be true. But this is not Rand’s argument. Rand says that an “ought” is a type of descriptive fact, just like any other descriptive fact. To say something “ought” to be is, in Rand’s conception, a shorthand way of summing up a large number of facts about what “is”. Huemer believes that there is some special realm of intrinsic ethical truths which we peer into by “intuition”. Rand says that we define the concept of “ethical truth” as a way of picking out certain features of the descriptive world.

      The “Hume’s law” argument works just as well to invalidate architecture as well as ethics. It is true enough that your conclusion can’t have something in it that was not contained in the premises. So if your premises contain only “physical” truths, the conclusion can’t contain any “architectural” truths. Therefore, architecture is known by a priori intuition. Does anyone find such an argument convincing?

      The obvious answer to it is that architectural truths are just a certain subtype of physical truths. We simply defined “architecture” as: the field of physical truths which talk about buildings. And the same is true, in Rand’s view, of ethical truths—though they involve both physical and mental truths.

      One key point is that Rand is, in Huemer’s typology he constructs in Ethical Intuitionism an ethical “nihilist”. That is, she’s a nihilist about the kind of moral truths he thinks exists (non-agent-relative categorical imperatives) and a realist about the kind of truths she thinks exist (which are reducible to descriptive facts). And Huemer is an arch-example of what Rand called an “intrinsicist”: someone who believes that there are truths which we “just know” in a manner other than abstraction from sense experience.

      4. Universals

      This one is also extremely complicated, but it is less important. I will only say that Huemer sets up a false trichotomy where you can only be an intrinsicist type of immanent realist like himself, a Platonist, or a nominalist. Rand is none of those things. In Rand’s view, universals are not “in” particulars, but neither are they “subjective” and arbitrary. They are objective in the sense she elaborates at length and which forms the basis for the philosophy being called “Objectivism”.

      Ontologically, universals exist in the human mind, and in that sense they are “real”. But the mind is not a passive “mirror” onto which reality is “reflected”: universals in the mind do not mirror universals “out there” in reality. Nevertheless, the fact that the human mind perceives reality in a certain way—by the apprehension of universals—does not mean the mind does not perceive reality at all. Universals are a valid way of summarizing a large number of facts about particulars.

      5. More on ethics:

      This is addressed by Lawrence’s essay and by what I said above under point three.

      Free will – why the Objectivist theory doesn’t work (problems w/ the primary choice)

      Contrary to the title heading, Huemer doesn’t really find a problem here. He says Objectivism doesn’t endorse agent causation, but it clearly does:

      [Agent causation] may be a good way of resolving the problem, but I have doubts about whether it is an Objectivist way of resolving the problem. If the law of causality says only that every event has a cause, and the cause may be an entity, then it says nothing more than that every event is the action of some entity. In that case, it does not rule out the possibility that an entity might have two or more courses of action available to it at some time – which is why this view allows the possibility of free will. But at the same time, this formulation of the law of causality also allows the possibility of chance events, such as are contemplated in most interpretations of quantum mechanics. The radioactive atom is capable of decaying, or not decaying. Whichever it does will be the action of the atom, so the law of causality is not violated (whatever happens has a cause: viz., the atom itself is the cause). So I think that it is essential to the law of causality that not only is every action caused by an entity, but the causal factors present (the entity’s characteristics, plus its circumstances) are sufficient to determine which action it performs – something like that is what is required to rule out random events.

      Regardless of what Huemer thinks is “essential” to the law of causality, deterministic event-causation is not the type of causality that Objectivism believes in. Agent causality is the theory of causation operative in Objectivism, which it takes to be a corollary of the law of identity.

      The most he can show is that Leonard Peikoff is misguided in rejecting the possibility that an electron could have—at the same moment—the capacity both to “zig” left or “zag” right, with the movement being caused directly by the electron and not by any previous event. But Peikoff’s speculations on physics are hardly central to Objectivism.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        For some reason, I can’t edit this post. I apologize for the few typos that remain.

      • blacktrance says:

        I hadn’t read the Richard Lawrence response. It has some great parts:

        When the outcome is one that would normally be considered immoral and even horrifying — in one of Huemer’s examples, killing a homeless man, in another the deaths of four million people – then people are often reluctant to take such a stance. However, it is not clear that such reluctance is justified. The scenarios typically set up to lead to such conclusions are far from commonplace situations, and thus there is often no reason to think that any ethical evaluations made in such a hypothetical situation have implications for real-world situations. For his more detailed example, Huemer finds it necessary to equip himself with a disintegrator gun, as well as making several dubious stipulations about social conditions and human psychology.

        Why should any ethical analysis for such a way-out situation, however repulsive the conclusion may seem, affect our acceptance of one ethical theory versus another? Imagine that Huemer got Objectivists to agree that if rat poison were safe and nutritious for human beings, it would be acceptable to sell it as food. It would be very misleading for him to turn around and say, “Objectivists think it is sometimes OK to sell rat poison as food! They’re evil!” To develop a hypothetical filled with assumptions that are not true in the real world, and which probably never will be true in the real world, and then denounce a moral theory for the conclusions it draws from it, is no less inappropriate than the rat poison example.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Yes, that particular passage is very good. And there are other good parts, such as where he explains the obvious stupidity of the G.E. Moore argument against egoism (the “fundamental contradiction of egoism” argument which you attack below).

          Even the Usenet discussion following this is pretty good. The most revealing line is when Huemer says, as an off-hand remark (paraphrasing here): “Surely you agree that it’s better in a non-agent-relative sense that humans evolved than if they didn’t?”

          And Lawrence says (quite appropriately): “No, I do not grant that. That is the crux of the whole issue. It’s surely better for humans that humans evolved, but for dodo birds it was no doubt worse.” Again, I’m paraphrasing from memory.

      • blacktrance says:

        Ontologically, universals exist in the human mind, and in that sense they are “real”. But the mind is not a passive “mirror” onto which reality is “reflected”: universals in the mind do not mirror universals “out there” in reality. Nevertheless, the fact that the human mind perceives reality in a certain way—by the apprehension of universals—does not mean the mind does not perceive reality at all. Universals are a valid way of summarizing a large number of facts about particulars.

        The obvious objection is to ask what causes certain summaries of facts to be correct or incorrect. For example, what causes the correctness of the category that includes stop signs, the flags of China and the USSR, and blood, and excludes railroad crossing signs, the old flag of Libya, and water, if not the presence of the shared property of redness? “Red things” is a category because there is something in reality that causes them to resemble each other in that particular aspect. What are these resemblances, if not universals?

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          The human mind perceives these things as having the property of “redness” in common, but that doesn’t mean that redness is an intrinsic property of “things in themselves”. In fact, it surely isn’t: many people perceive the flags of China, the USSR, and the color of the sky in bad weather as having the same property in common: greyness.

          Rand is not a nominalist, but she doesn’t take the intrinsicist position on universals that Huemer (and Aristotle) takes either.

          Huemer criticizes her theory:

          At first it seems as if she is answering question #2, so it seems as if she is a nominalist. Rand starts out by saying that two individual humans do not literally have in common any single attribute; it is not that all people are called “human” because they possess this one quality, ‘humanness’. She goes on to explain why it is that we can classify all these different individuals as members of this same category, ‘human’ (this is where it seems as if an answer to #2 is coming): in essence, she explains that when we group a number of particulars (she calls them “concretes”) together, we do so because these objects each possess a value along a certain dimension (a ‘measurement’ is a thing’s place on a certain dimension – as for example “5 feet, 10 inches” is my approximate place on the dimension of length; you can also think of it as the value of a variable). They all possess different values on this dimension (e.g., every person has a different height), but in forming a concept, we abstract away from that, i.e. we mentally isolate only the common characteristic, without paying attention to the specific measurements.

          I have no objection to this as a realist theory of how concepts are formed. I do object to it as a non-realist theory or as an answer to question #2 above. If a group of concretes are isolated according to a set of dimensions along which they all vary (each taking different values on these dimensions), the next question to ask is, what about the dimension, itself? Example: if one of the common characteristics is ‘length’, which all of these objects have different amounts of, what about length itself (i.e. the dimension of length): Is this not a universal? It appears it certainly is, for it is predicable of concrete objects, and multiple distinct particulars all share it. An anti-realist answer to the problem of universals, therefore, has not yet been produced: the explanation of how we classify multiple concretes under the same concept must advert to universals, if not in the first stage (i.e., a universal ‘humanness’) then in the second stage (i.e., a set of universals, the common dimensions along which humans vary).

          Huemer constantly has the intrinsicist theory of immanent universals in mind here and wonders how Rand can claim to reject it and not be a nominalist. So he dwells on how Rand can believe that individual objects have individual lengths without believing that they all share the intrinsic universal of extendedness.

          But in Rand’s theory, universals are a construct of the human mind, a form in which it perceives reality. So not only redness but even extendedness is a form in which the human mind is aware of reality, and another type of mind could potentially be aware of reality in a different form.

          Multiple objects really do have redness or extendedness in common in the mind. That is where universals “are”. And it is possible for universals in the mind to be caused by and summarize facts in reality that are completely particular and individual.

          How does this “cash out” in real terms? Well, consider the definitions of concepts. Under the intrinsicist theory, there is one correct definition of any concept, which must be learned by “intuition”. But for Rand, definitions are contextual. For instance, one example she gives is the definition of “human being”. In one context, “rational animal” may be appropriate. On the other hand, she says that for a young child, the (implicit) definition might be: “moving thing that talks”.

          Or of course, there is the infamous problem of borderline cases. The intrinsicist theory of universals cannot deal with this. There just isn’t a point at which a shade stops being “intrinsically red” and starts being “intrinsically orange”. In Rand’s theory, it becomes gradually better to classify a shade as falling under the universal of red, but there is a large area of optionality between thinking of it as having redness or orangeness. And indeed, we may construct an intermediate concept of red-orangeness and think of objects as falling under that universal.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            So if categories just exist in the mind, is there any way that someone could be mistaken about what category something is in? If I were to decide that, say, capitalists don’t count as human, is there any principled ground on which Ayn Rand could say I was wrong?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The original Mr. X:

            The fact that something exists in your mind doesn’t show that you can’t be wrong about it. For instance, take color. You can be shown one shade of red and then another in quick succession, and you can say: “These are the same shade.” But when you go back and look at them again, you can say: “I was wrong: these shades are in fact slightly different.”

            Or if you don’t like color / don’t think it exists in the mind, take dreams. You can think you dreamed one thing last night, but then realize that you were wrong and actually dreamed it two nights ago.

            As I talked about extensively a few threads ago, ontologically subjective is not the same as epistemically subjective.

            But actually, this is beside the main point. The error in saying capitalists are not human does not consist in holding that they lack an intrinsic property (“humanity”) which other people have. The error lies in dividing up reality in a way that doesn’t suit the needs of human cognition.

            In order to explain this, a useful piece of Objectivist jargon here is the “crow epistemology”. Rand relates (I don’t know if this is accurate, but the point holds in any case) that scientists observed the behavior of crows reacting to humans entering a cabin in the woods. Crows are scared of humans, so when the humans came into the cabin, the crows would fly a good distance away. And when the humans went away, the crows no longer perceived a threat and flew back near the cabin.

            Of course, crows have no numerical concepts. So the interesting finding was: when one human entered the cabin, the crows waited until he left and flew back (as expected). With two and three humans, it was just the same: the crows didn’t fly back until they all left. But with four or more (or maybe it was a slightly larger number), the crows could no longer perceptually keep track of the entire number of humans: they flew back when only three had left.

            Up to a certain number of “units” of humans, the crows could keep track perceptually. But after that, all they could tell was that “many” humans were in the cabin. And human beings are not so different: if you are shown a random number of objects, you can only “just see” how many there are up to around ten or so. After that, you have to start counting.

            And this is Rand’s hypothesis of the origin of conceptual thought: “unit economy”. One can only hold a certain small number of “concretes” in mind at a time. It’s simply impossible to hold separately in your mind every individual human being in order to apply a conclusion to each of them. But if you create a concept to cover all of them, you can reduce all of humanity to one unit.

            Now, Rand doesn’t use your example about capitalists. But Leonard Peikoff, in one of his lectures, does use the example of “Negroes” (the lecture was delivered in the early 70s). Say you were a child who had never before seen a “Negro”. You would nevertheless quickly learn that it is invalid to have the concept “people” on the one hand and “Negroes” on the other (as concepts on the same hierarchical “level”). Why? Not because there is some intrinsic essence of humanity which “Negroes” have as well as “Caucasians”. Nobody has any intrinsic essence of humanity.

            Rather, it’s because the similarities between “people” and “Negroes” are so large that if you kept them separate in your mind, you would be constantly forgetting to apply conclusions about the one to the other. For instance, if you found that “people” need Vitamin D, unless you grouped the two under the same concept it would take a separate act of inference to show that “Negroes” need Vitamin D as well. And this would be a tremendous waste of mental effort. In every case where you could just have one mental unit, you’d now have two—and if you did this with every racial-ethnic group, you’d have an unmanageable number.

            After a certain point, it would just become obvious that, for reasons of unit economy, “Negroes” ought to be considered as a type of “person” or “human being”, and not as a separate order of thing. Any necessary distinctions between “Caucasians” and “Negroes” can be handled as a subdivision of the concept “human” into various sub-concepts. And indeed you may find (as modern science has in fact shown) that there are really precious few things that all “Negroes” have in common, other than the superficial color of their skin, and you may construct a totally different scheme of categorization.

            He gives another example: what if a UFO landed on Earth and a race of rational beings who looked exactly like giant spiders crawled out? Would they be “human”? This is obviously an unanswerable question if the goal is to decide whether they have the alleged intrinsic essence of humanity. (By the way, John Locke gave essentially the same example with a rational parrot.)

            The giant spiders are rational animals, and in that sense they have many qualities that are the same as humans. But many facets of their biology and psychology may be different, and they certainly won’t be sexually compatible, so in many respects they are not the same as humans.

            Ultimately, it is a matter of optionality how we classify them. We could call them humans, and make a new subdivision between ape-like humans and spider-like humans. We could create a new concept for “rational animal” and define “human” as something more specific, in contrast to “giant spider”, the other kind of rational animal. Or if we only rarely dealt with the giant spiders, we could have no specific concept at all and merely refer to them by a circumlocution such as “rational beings who look like giant spiders”, in exactly the same way that we have no concept for “strawberry blondes born on a Tuesday”.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            But actually, this is beside the main point. The error in saying capitalists are not human does not consist in holding that they lack an intrinsic property (“humanity”) which other people have. The error lies in dividing up reality in a way that doesn’t suit the needs of human cognition.

            If I’m a communist trying to whip myself up into a revolutionary frenzy, convincing myself that capitalists aren’t really human might suit the needs of my cognition very well.

            Rather, it’s because the similarities between “people” and “Negroes” are so large that if you kept them separate in your mind, you would be constantly forgetting to apply conclusions about the one to the other.

            These “similarities” would themselves be examples of universals.

            And indeed you may find (as modern science has in fact shown) that there are really precious few things that all “Negroes” have in common, other than the superficial color of their skin, and you may construct a totally different scheme of categorization.

            If you’re going to avoid realism, nothing can have anything in common, as anything that was had in common would be an example of a universal.

    • blacktrance says:

      Flawed in many areas. Specifically objectionable is his “case of the hurried Objectivist” (5.3.2), to which the Objectivist would certainly not say that it’s permissible to disintegrate the homeless guy, nor make an implausible argument that the homeless guy might be an employee or customer in the future, but that killing him would be a failure to act justly, justice is a virtue, and being virtuous is in one’s self-interest. In short, Huemer takes an excessively narrow view of one’s interests.

      In 5.3.6 he says “the egoist has to say that everyone’s happiness is good, and that each person ought to aim at that person’s own happiness. But if other people’s happiness is also good, then the egoist must be hard put to explain why he does not aim at it in the same way he aims at his own.”, but this mistakes what the egoist means when they say that one’s own happiness is the good – it’s an indexical good, i.e. my happiness is good for me, and your happiness is good for you, without any claims about whether either of our happinesses is good for the other. Summarizing that as “one’s own happiness is good” is merely recognizing that each of us is the subject of such a relation. Or, following his second formulation, I hold that I am an end in myself to myself (but not to others), and that others are ends in themselves to themselves (but not to me). Thus there’s no contradiction – “A is correct to believe P, but B is correct to believe not-P” isn’t what’s going on, because properly stated P is “A’s happiness is good for A, and B’s happiness is good for B”, and both A and B would be correct in believing it.

      His defense of ethical intuitionism in 5.4.2 doesn’t prove as much as he thinks it does. “If intuitionism is true, we can resolve disagreements about ethics in the same way (mutatis mutandis) that we can presently resolve disagreements about Objectivism if Objectivism is true: namely, try to find other principles, not in dispute, from which the desired moral conclusion can be derived.” That’s true, but the assumption of moral intuitionism is that these shared principles to which we’re appealing are specifically first-order moral principles. The problem of intuitionist disagreement isn’t any particular disagreement (people can be stubborn and so on) but a disagreement that’s irresolvable even in theory. If moral disagreements can only be resolved by appeals to shared moral intuitions, two people who start out with sufficiently different moral principles but share most non-moral principles would irresolvably disagree, which is a problem for intuitionism. Fortunately, their disagreement isn’t really irresolvable, because the truth of moral claims can be determined without appealing to anything within the content of morality, i.e. from the structure of morality, to which the truths of metaethics are relevant – and metaethics isn’t ethics, and by appealing to it we are outside the province of moral intuitions.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        Flawed in many areas. Specifically objectionable is his “case of the hurried Objectivist” (5.3.2), to which the Objectivist would certainly not say that it’s permissible to disintegrate the homeless guy, nor make an implausible argument that the homeless guy might be an employee or customer in the future, but that killing him would be a failure to act justly, justice is a virtue, and being virtuous is in one’s self-interest. In short, Huemer takes an excessively narrow view of one’s interests.

        The basic error here is that Huemer wants to say (and explicitly does say): imagine a world which is just like our own, except that it is in your interest to disintegrate a random homeless man who happens to be in your way.

        But if, in the real world, it is not in your interest to disintegrate homeless people, we’ve got to be allowed to change some facts in the hypothetical world, in order to make that the case. If you want us to hold all the facts the same but come to a different conclusion, what you are asking us to imagine is a logical impossibility.

        So Huemer does seem to allow us to be able to change some facts. But he doesn’t seem to recognize that, if we changed enough facts about the world and human psychology to make it in your interest to disintegrate the homeless—i.e. to make justice not in your interest—the world we would have would be some kind of Mad Max hellscape. And it’s not at all surprising that, if you wanted to live in a world of war of all against all, the actions required to support that choice would be quite different from the way they are in the real world.

        His “general argument” against egoism illustrates this:

        1. If ethical egoism is true, then if you could obtain a (net) benefit equal to a dime by torturing and killing 500 people, you should do it.
        2. It is not the case that, if you could obtain a (net) benefit equal to a dime by torturing and killing 500 people, you should do it.
        3. Therefore, egoism is not true.

        What I find highly implausible is the suggestion that I could obtain a net benefit by torturing and killing 500 people. What I do not find implausible is that if I did live in such a world where that was my interest (and found life in it somehow to be worth living), then I should do it.

        So yes, many Objectivists have wrongly made some nonsensical claims about the invalidity of hypotheticals in ethics, as a general principle. There is nothing wrong with hypotheticals, as such. But if the situations they want us to imagine are too outlandish, they simply say nothing useful about what we should do in actual reality.

    • Marc Whipple says:

      Thank you. That was very interesting.

    • Interesting.

      I believe the much earlier death of his daughter (from flu) was also a major influence. Look at the relation between father and daughter in the Just So Stories:

      “For far–oh, very far behind,
      So far she cannot call to him,
      Comes Tegumai alone to find
      The daughter that was all to him.”

  25. HeelBearCub says:

    I need some help calibrating my perceptions.

    I want to state up front that I have no interest in debating AGW in this sub-thread. I really just want to understand whether my perception of the main point of a blog post is correct. It becomes relevant because the author of the post has stated that I am incorrect. That should be fairly strong evidence that I am incorrect, but I am skeptical.

    In a recent sub-thread, David Friedman posted a link to this article.

    He contends that the main point of the post is about a general trend he has noticed, that of “people slanting their work to be on the side of the angels”.

    I contend that the main point of the post is to make clear that he perceives that this fallacy is one that is affecting people who believe AGW is a problem. He isn’t trying to expound on the fallacy in general, but make clear that it applies to AGW.

    What are other people’s perceptions? Is this just a general post about Black and White thinking?

    • Marc Whipple says:

      IMO, any time you find yourself thinking like a postmodern literary critic, you should immediately start questioning yourself very vigorously.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I have no idea what you mean here.
        Edit: Clearly, I have some idea what you mean, but I don’t think this is what I am doing.

        I am talking about plain intent here.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          Me too. If a writer says their intent was X, and you say it was Y, you are saying they are deluded or a liar, or you are thinking like a postmodern literary critic.

          However, having gone to read the post in question, I would say this is one of those rare instances where, while saying he’s deluded may be a bit strong, given the brevity of the article and its structure, you have a point. “Here is an anecdote: here is how the fallacy it documents applies to a very specific and totally unrelated thing” is usually a setup not for analyzing the fallacy, but the unrelated thing and how the fallacy affects the way people think about it.

          Maybe to him it seems clear he’s analyzing the fallacy, but I couldn’t say you were obviously wrong for disagreeing in this specific instance.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Marc Whipple:
            I hope I never implied Friedman was either deluded or a liar. I only mean to say that I believe him to be incorrect. Insofar as one can say being incorrect is to be deluded one apply the term, but I’m not sure that is really common usage.

            If an author says clearly in the text “my intent is to write about X” I tend to agree with you, although there are always examples like “A Modest Proposal”. You always do need to actually read the text. You can’t take the headline as necessarily indicative of actual intent.

            In this case, I don’t think he actually clearly states an intent, though. We merely have a statement four years after the fact that it was his intent. I think it’s generally expected that, given appropriate motivation, we will invent all sorts of rationalized justifications or reasonings after the fact for why we did something.

            Clearly, the author of a text’s statement is strong evidence. But the actual text is strong evidence as well. I don’t think we need to take a post-modern approach to assert this.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            If you say you didn’t mean to imply it, I take you at your word. You seem like a reasonable and rational person even though we disagree on many things.

            But the way you phrased certain responses to his comments in the other thread looked to me like you were implying it. One of us (or maybe both!) are victims of typical-mind fallacy, or something. 🙂

            This sort of misunderstanding is pretty common in the law, btw. The other day I was in court and I saw a pro se litigant, without explicitly saying so and, to be charitable, perhaps not even meaning to or realizing he was doing it, tell the judge that he thought the judge was either incompetent or corrupt. Needless to say, he did not improve his standing with the Court.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Marc Whipple:
            Ah, well if you read the exchange on the last thread, I understand where you are coming from. I certainly admit to being annoyed then. I was very much trying not to inject the tone from the last thread into this one, which was more what my current comment was directed at.

            Even so, I hope it’s clear that what I was objecting to then is the assertion that the post in question “is not a post about Global Warming”.

    • Anatoly says:

      I read the post and decided that Friedman genuinely wanted to write about a fallacy he thinks he’s identified, and the AGW example is brought in as strong evidence that the fallacy is real, rather than as the real objective of the post. I didn’t know at the time that Friedman himself also pronounced you wrong (because I skimmed your comment and skipped that). Thus I would say that you were not reading charitably enough towards Friedman.

      Interestingly, I disagree with Friedman on the actual example he brings to introduce the fallacy (the one about alcohol consumption). I think it’s much more likely that doctors refrain from advising their patients to consume alcohol moderately because they know that this will inevitably lead to some amount of abuse of which they would consider themselves partially culpable, because of their advice (in fact, even from a strictly consequentialist position it’s not at all clear that such an advice would lead to a good outcome on weighted average).

      I read an old article about medical fasting, written in the 1960s when they studied supervised fasting as a weight loss method, and the authors commented that their patients found it much, much easier to fast than to adhere to a strict diet. One of the comments said something witty to the effect that this just shows another aspect of the well-known truth, that abstinence is easier than temperance.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Anatoly:
        Actually, before I had even gotten to the AGW point in the post, your critique had occurred to me. The doctor-alcohol example is not a very good example of a black and white thinking. It’s actually another of the reasons I didn’t think the post was about black and white thinking.

        If he had really wanted to write about black-and-white thinking, that point would have been a fairly obvious one to make.

        • Anatoly says:

          I see your point, but it still looks way more likely to me that Friedman was focusing on the fallacy he wanted to illustrate rather than on AGW. Moreover, even if I was less sure about this than I am, I would still advocate treating the post this way on the grounds of charitable reading.

          Incidentally, you keep saying “black-and-white thinking”, but Friedman doesn’t use that name and I don’t think it fits well w/ what he’s talking about.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “Incidentally, you keep saying “black-and-white thinking”, but Friedman doesn’t use that name and I don’t think it fits well w/ what he’s talking about.”

            “If something is bad, we must always speak of it as bad, and never admit to any good” seems like a fairly clear offshoot of the central fallacy, but I agree it could be reasonable to differ on that point.

            “I see your point, but it still looks way more likely to me that Friedman was focusing on the fallacy he wanted to illustrate rather than on AGW.”

            Good to know that this is your perspective. Thank You.

            “and the AGW example is brought in as strong evidence that the fallacy is real”

            Perhaps then he is “preaching to the choir” so to speak? It doesn’t seem like particularly strong evidence, much in the way the doctor-alcohol example doesn’t seem like strong evidence.

          • Anatoly says:

            >”If something is bad, we must always speak of it as bad, and never admit to any good”

            That’s not how I read it either. “Something that on the surface looks bad is actually good, but I’m afraid of saying that publicly because then many other people committed to good, who adopted a shallow heuristic for whatever reason, will conclude that I’m a bad guy”.

            >Perhaps then he is “preaching to the choir” so to speak? It doesn’t seem like particularly strong evidence,

            Possibly. The way I see it, the fallacy is real and incredibly common. I guess I don’t even know why call it a fallacy, it’s more like self-serving behavior to protect oneself from widespread heuristics and biases. That truth suffers is sad but unsurprising. Call it “cowardice” if you disapprove and “reticence” if you sympathize. Isn’t it everywhere? If I want to talk about something the Nazis did really well, I have to preface with a really strong disclaimer, or people will think I’m a neo-Nazi. And even if I do, if this is something media can report on, a journalist will quote me on Nazis doing something well and omit the disclaimer, so the end result is the same. Is it fair that people will think I’m a neo-Nazi? Couldn’t they look closer and notice that I’m making a fairly narrow factual claim that’s either true or false regardless of ideology? Couldn’t they Google my other writings and see that I’m a committed enemy of Nazism? Is it right? Is it fair? Yes, no, I don’t know! That’s how the game works.

            Can you talk about ethics in game journalism? Isn’t is true, literally, that all lives matter? Our host wrote an excellent post on the granddaddy of them all, “I’m not racist, but”. This stuff is EVERYWHERE.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “Something that on the surface looks bad is actually good, but I’m afraid of saying that publicly because then many other people committed to good, who adopted a shallow heuristic for whatever reason, will conclude that I’m a bad guy”.

            I don’t think this matches what Friedman said at all. I think your Nazi example actually is a good example of exactly what he meant, but it’s not what you are saying. The Nazi’s were absolutely evil, but that does not that literally every single thing they supported or accomplished was evil. But one does not talk about whatever good thing they managed accomplish because of black-and-white thinking.

            This is quite different than people who think the Nazis were actually good on net, but are just afraid to say so.

          • Anatoly says:

            We’re not getting through to each other, and it didn’t help that I didn’t phrase myself clearly enough, sorry. I’ll try one last time to explain what I meant. “Something that on the surface looks bad is actually good” doesn’t refer to the whole thing (Nazism to most of us, AGW skepticism to AGW activists), but to some aspect or example of it (this one thing Nazis did well, this one particular case where AGW estimates really were off) which on the surface looks bad because of shallow heuristics people adopt (everything Nazis did was bad, any claim AGW is off is stupid and evil climate denialism) and many people whose opinion you care about/are concerned about (most of civilized society/AGW activists and most of the blue tribe) will stereotype you as belonging to the “bad” camp (neo-Nazis, climate denialists) which you don’t want to happen so you just don’t open your big fucking mouth, what the hell is wrong with you for even thinking about saying it, don’t you remember what happened last time you did it.

            >But one does not talk about whatever good thing they managed accomplish because of black-and-white thinking.

            Suppose I’m not talking about whatever good Nazis did. If *I* was doing black-and-white thinking, I be like “Nazis are either really evil or really good, there’s nothing in-between, I think they’re really evil, so I refuse to recognize they could do something good”. But that’s not what I think in examples above. I do see something in-between black and white (that Nazis could do something good), I just refuse to talk about it publicly. So I’m not doing black-and-white thinking.

            If *other people* were doing black-and-white thinking, they be like “Nazis are either really evil or really good, there’s nothing in-between, we think they’re really evil, so we refuse to recognize they could do something good. This “anatoly” fool says they did, so he’s evil too”. But that’s not what’s happening either. I’m afraid of talking about whatever good Nazis did, but it’s not because I think others are incapable of recognizing this in principle. If I could sit down with someone whose judgement I’m concerned about, and explain to them slowly and calmly face-to-face what I mean and why I think Nazis were doing something good, I’m pretty sure they would have agreed. So *they*’re not doing black-and-white thinking either.

            So who’s doing black-and-white thinking? No one is doing black-and-white thinking. What’s happening is shallow categorization (or more precisely fear thereof). I’m concerned that other people will pass a *quick and shallow stereotypical judgement* on my Nazis-did-something-good argument and will categorize me as a neo-Nazi. This is *not* a problem of people denying that Nazis could do something good, it’s a problem of people not recognizing this is even at stake here, and instead going all “why are we listening to this neo-Nazi over there?”. It’s a problem of shallow heuristics and shallow judgements. That’s as clear as I can make it, I guess.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I think it’s much more likely that doctors refrain from advising their patients to consume alcohol moderately because they know that this will inevitably lead to some amount of abuse

        But we’re not just judging based on their actions. Friedman observed some kind of panel discussion, which is exactly where I’d expect them to talk about their reasons, but they failed to do so. On the other hand, they didn’t, apparently, produce other reasons. But the fact that they failed to give reasons is, itself, mysterious.

        In fact, I have seen other contexts in which doctors do purport to answer why they don’t advise patients to drink and their answer is usually that the evidence isn’t strong enough. This is not compatible with your answer. It really sounds to me like confabulation.

        One possibility that occurs to me is that doctors aren’t articulate enough to explain their reasoning.

    • A problem not a trend–I don’t think I said it was getting worse. And it’s really about slanting the presentation, in both my examples, not the work itself.

      And I commend you for the attempt to see whether other people think you are or are not misperceiving the piece.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @David Friedman:
        I meant trend as in tendency, not trend as in change from previous norm.

        I realize that’s not how you tend to use the word trend. 😉

    • Nathan says:

      Reading the post with no other information, I would accept it as simply two examples of a general trend, with the general trend being the feature of interest and not the specific examples.

      Knowing that it was written by David Friedman, and knowing he often likes to point out logical fallacies committed in the name of climate change activism, I might be marginally more inclined to interpret as an attempt to incline his readers to be more sceptical of AGW claims in addition to that. But more likely the causation runs the other way. He heard the doctors, wanted a second example of what he was talking about, and came up with a fallacy committed in the name of AGW since that’s a subject he thinks about a lot anyway.

      Having read a lot of Friedman’s other writing and seeing him take pains to assess things reasonably, I feel more inclined to take the more charitable interpretation (though I wouldn’t honestly even find the “less” charitable explaination objectionable).

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ Nathan

        I’ve been admiring Friedman’s posts here and elsewhere for decades. There’s often an appearance (at various levels) that I pattern match with motivated reasoning, or at least motivated presentation (at various levels). There’s also a lot of (deadpan) playfulness; thus many of the cases could be counted as motivated by playfulness.

        In the ssc era, I think many of his comments are unfair re AGW and/or re Blue Tribe, and sadly unplayful.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Nathan:
        Do you think that my interpretation of the article beforehand was unreasonable? Would you say that the article is not about global warming at all?

        I actually don’t find the claim that AGW researchers (and others who take AGW as a threat) engage in the behavior as unreasonable. Far from it. Although, if you look up to Anatoly’s post, you will see that I think that both the doctor example and the AGW example are actually weak examples of any actual fallacy.

        • Nathan says:

          I would say that the article isn’t about global warming at all, but I don’t think your reading was unreasonable.

  26. meyerkev248 says:

    Question for people on the West Coast:

    I’m trying to decide whether or not to move to Seattle from Silicon Valley (and presently work for a company with middling to major offices in both, and could in fact keep my team and my boss and my coworkers).

    Beyond vague “This will hurt your career” mutterings I keep getting from my boss, I see no downside and the ability to afford my own apartment and thus not have to deal with a recently alcoholic and violent roommate is a fairly major upside.

    What odds do you assume for:

    * The City and immediate surrounds of San Francisco will continue to have 20% YOY rent increases more or less indefinitely as they have had since 2001.
    * The city and immediate surrounds of Seattle will continue to have sane housing policy.
    * The net effect of the oncoming recession will be to massively raise rents instead of lower them.
    * Vague hints of “The only advantage to staying in SF is that management focus is centered here” are actually deep hints for something more and I should just suck it up.

    Or just generally:

    * Leaving SF isn’t a matter of if you’ll have to leave, it’s a matter of when you’re forced to leave via rents, and so you should get out of Dodge as early as possible before you’ve put down serious roots.

    /Also, does anyone have any hints on places to look for housing? I’m mostly looking at the U District and Fremont in my searches so far as they seem to combine reasonable bike rides to work in SLU with middling transit and road access and middling rents.
    //And at least for the next year or so until I turn 25 and rental car prices drop by half… yes, I like my car, yes I want to keep my car, yes, parking situation matters. Hence why Fremont and U District.

    • voidfraction says:

      >* Vague hints of “The only advantage to staying in SF is that management focus is centered here” are actually deep hints for something more and I should just suck it up.

      This could be a way of saying ‘we’re considering closing the Seattle Office but it hasn’t yet been announced’.

      • meyerkev248 says:

        I would highly doubt that given that they’re the only remaining employer in South Lake Union.

        That would just be a huge surprise.

        But ok yes, point taken.

    • Nornagest says:

      Things that can’t go on, don’t. The Bay housing bubble has been remarkably resilient so far, but I’d be astonished if it lasted another five years.

      • meyerkev248 says:

        “The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent” is the operating term here. My personal bet is 2 years. I just can’t make rent anymore (or, er, can, but don’t like the life sacrifices I’d need to do so, namely continuing to hang out with my newly alcoholic roommate with anger problems).

        /Also… I looked up historical rents. Even if we had a full-on dot-com-bubble crash, I don’t think it would go back down to where it was in 2013. SF is a ratchet. It only ever goes one way.

    • Evan Þ says:

      “The city and immediate surrounds of Seattle will continue to have sane housing policy.”

      As a resident of the Seattle area, I wouldn’t count on this. There’re significant anti-development forces in Seattle, who’ve recently gutted the so-called “grand bargain” which would’ve raised height limits across the city; now, it only applies in a very small land area.

      Of course, this’s still far more sane than San Francisco, and I’m fairly confident that‘ll continue for the next five-ten years at least.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Vague hints of “The only advantage to staying in SF is that management focus is centered here” are actually deep hints for something more and I should just suck it up.

      What is the connotation of this? The word “only” implies that it is not a big deal. But that you think that this is a deep hint is a sign that speaker thinks that it is a big deal. Is this your boss who said it would hurt your career?

      There is another advantage to SF, which is changing jobs, but it’s no surprise that your boss didn’t list that.

      I think it is true that pretty much the only advantage to SF is management focus, but I don’t think you comprehend how important that is. Management focus is in SF not just for your company, but for many companies. It is much more difficult to move into management and especially to move up if you leave. And that’s what career advancement consists of. I know a guy who just moved to Seattle who thinks that he’s stalled out his career, a sacrifice he’s willing to make for the other parts of his life. But he’s already a manager, so he can afford real estate, so he’s not afraid of rent increases.

      Since you are young and probably not ready to be a manager, I don’t think it would hurt your career much to pupate in Seattle before emerging as a mature manager back in SF. But that isn’t compatible with putting down roots.

  27. tPowell says:

    My girlfriend was first author on a recently published paper on PTSD. Basically, individuals with high levels of self-compassion showed less severe PTSD symptoms in response to trauma. http://jiv.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/12/16/0886260515622296.abstract

    Does anyone know how an author promotes her paper? Does she typically send out press releases or something like that? Is promoting your own paper bad form? My girlfriend has never been first author before, so we’re trying to make sure she doesn’t miss any common steps. She has set up profiles on Google Scholar and PubMed. Anyone here have experience with this before?

    • keranih says:

      Is there a reason she hasn’t consulted with her senior author on this question?

      • tPowell says:

        The senior author forwarded the paper to a few people, but she recently retired and hasn’t been able to devote much time

    • The system used to be to send out preprints to people you thought would be interested. I’m not sure how the existence of the web has changed that, but I observe that some people (myself included) simply web their articles, provided the journal will let them.

  28. Remember KIC 8462852, the star that showed those significant dips in brightness that people thought might be due to alien megastructures (or more boringly, fragmented comets)? Well, apparently it’s been progressively dimming for the past century. Which is, uh, weird. As far as I know this rules out the comet hypothesis, as well as pretty much anything else obvious. So if this paper holds up we’re left with “unknown astrophysical phenomenon” or “aliens”, with priors tilting pretty heavily towards the former. Either way, something really interesting is going on. Any astrophysicists or astronomers here care to weigh in?

    One thing that confuses me is that apparently other astronomers already looked at the same data and didn’t notice anything amiss. Schaefer, this paper’s author, quotes them as saying “the star did not do anything spectacular over the past 100 years.” But as far as I can tell the only relevant difference between their work and Schaefer’s is that he grouped the data into five year bins and they didn’t. And sure, binning is great and all, and it makes trends easier to spot. But it can’t magically manufacture statistical significance out of thin air. If the binned data has a significant trend then the unbinned data should as well. So I don’t get why the first paper didn’t also find a dimming trend (unless they were just eyeballing the data and didn’t even *bother* to do a linear fit, but why would they do that?). Disclaimer: I didn’t read the earlier paper yet, only Schaefer’s (and I’m not an astronomer or astrophysicist anyway), so take my analysis with a grain of salt.

    Then there’s the fact that the most “natural” alien-based explanation for dimming would probably be a Dyson Swarm of some kind, but I would have thought a Dyson Swarm would produce a significant infrared excess (and the whole reason we’re interested in this star in the first place is that it showed those weird dips even though it didn’t have an infrared excess).

  29. Henry says:

    Does anyone know some good French speaking rationalist blogs?

  30. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    In an earlier comment, I argued that the Mormons’ ban on R-rated movies wasn’t all that impressive, and that if they really wanted to defend against modernity, they should ban movies made after 1990. That year was picked out of a hat, but it got me thinking about what date would make actually make a good cutoff point if you were trying to protect people from being socialized into modern values without banning video entertainment entirely. I’m thinking 1970 or so. The Hays code was abandoned in favor of the MPAA film rating system in 1968, and the rural purge of television took place between 1969 and 1972, so a blanket ban on movies and shows made after that time seems like the way to go. Such a ban would of course leave adherents socially isolated from non-followers due to a lack of a shared pop-culture, but that’s a feature, not a bug.

    • Anonymous says:

      Why not ban all TV?

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        A respectable option, of course, but like I said, this is an attempt to protect against the worst excesses of television without having to go that far. Think of it in terms of maximizing the ratio of enjoyment to degeneracy.

        • Zykrom says:

          If you don’t want TV for social/fitting in reasons and you’re already exercising enough control to limit the time period I think banning it is a no brainier. What’s the point?

      • Jaskologist says:

        Seconded. Television is a much bigger threat than movies.

        The first episode of Sophia the First is about how Sophia, newly elevated from peasant girl to princess through no merit of her own, is dissatisfied with her lot in life because only the boys race horses. So, she smashes gender boundaries and wins the big race, just like in real life where girls always beat boys at sports.

        And Rick & Morty is just freebasing murderous nihilism.

        • Pku says:

          Really fun freebasing murderous nihilism though.

        • Anon says:

          To be fair, equestrian sports are an almost unique example of sports in which men and women often compete on an equal field, and where women regularly win.

          (Not in horseracing in particular, but there’s pretty good reason to believe this is an actual example of bias: among other things, high-rated female jockeys are very commonly the children of trainers, who can get them started when the opportunity might otherwise have been denied to them.)

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            I think the fact that the female horses win is more impressive than the fact that female riders win.

            BTW – when Hillary was competing against Obama she had expressed her response for a female racehorse who broke her leg and was euthanized before a major race, in perhaps the worst omen ever.

          • Nathan says:

            I don’t think racing stallions is even the done thing, is it? AFAIK it’s only geldings and mares, which sort of erases the natural male advantage somewhat.

            Note that I don’t actually know anything about racing. I’m basing this purely on never having heard of a stallion winning a race and never having heard of two racehorses stopping to mate mid race.

          • keranih says:

            @ Nathan –

            Your info is inaccurate. Here.

            It is not unusual for male racehorses to be gelded, but it is not typical. It is not unheard of for female horses to outrace males, but not usual at all. (Ruffian was highly atypical.) Additionally, while intact males may have higher muscle mass due to testosterone, early puberty closes the growth plates so that a gelded male may be taller (and have longer legs) than his ungelded brother.

            (A quote which I have been unable to source was concerning Kelso, of what the owner/trainer said to the vet: “I paid you fifty bucks to take ’em off; I’ll pay you a million to put ’em back!”)

          • Equinimity says:

            @Nathan

            The small scale racehorse owners I knew 20+ years ago, when I was involved with horses, saw a stallion as something like a lottery ticket to potential millions in stud fees at the end of his racing career. The larger scale owners made more measured decisions about which ones to keep intact for possible breeding, and which ones to geld to focus on racing.

            Not quite mid-race, but a trotter stallion I knew was barred from one track after he tried to ‘celebrate his win’ with the gelding who’d run second, right in front of the stands as they were heading back to the stalls. Delayed the next race by 10 minutes as the harnesses got so tangled they had to cut them to pieces to separate the horses. Generally though, the people who directly handle the horses know what they’re likely to do, and keep them out of situations where they might get a chance to do it.

        • Jeremy says:

          Rick and Morty is satire. Not of nihilism, but of the narcissism inherent in narrative.

    • blacktrance says:

      Half-serious, half-trolling: why not just watch anime instead? (The serious part is that much of what annoys me about western pop culture really is absent in anime.)

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Reminds me of a silly meme I once saw at TRS.

      • Anon says:

        Just watching anime would probably mean just watching anime that has had a 4kids dubbed version.

      • Nornagest says:

        What annoys you about Western pop culture that anime doesn’t have?

        I mean, there are things I could cite there for myself (although anime has its own obnoxious tropes, and I watch much less of it than I used to), but I have a feeling this is one of those questions where if you ask three fans you’ll get five answers.

    • onyomi says:

      Anything after the Brady Bunch started wearing bell bottoms.

    • Maware says:

      If they wanted to defend against it, they’d make, invest in, and promote their own movies that meet their standards. One of the things that made me despair about Christians is that they’d rather Christianize Harry Potter or the Avengers than create good things that reflect their own values. It’s either Bible movies or nothing.

      • John Schilling says:

        Wait, Christians are the ones who butcher _Harry Potter_ to make it fit their own ideology and make sure it teaches the proper lessons? I thought it was some other bunch that did that…

      • Nornagest says:

        They’ve done a pretty good job of creating their own music and literature — there’s a whole genre of Christian rock (which I find insufferably heavy-handed, but I am not a Christian), and a much larger volume of music that isn’t Christian in a genre sense but is informed by Christian values. (I find some of the latter quite good.)

        So I don’t think we’re looking at a lack of desire here. Might be something spookier, but lack of ability seems adequate to me; making a movie or TV show to contemporary production values takes a lot of money, a lot of people with specialized skills, and a lot of centralized infrastructure, all of which are a lot easier to find in Hollywood than in your average evangelical congregation.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          That would I suppose also explain why there’s more Christian literature (both fiction and non-fiction) than film or TV. It takes much less infrastructure and resources to write a novel than it does to make a blockbuster movie.

  31. Deiseach says:

    Drug trial news. No comment either way on this, just that “natural” is not the same as “safe”.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      “natural” is not the same as “safe”.

      No disagreement with this. But all that I have seen suggests the drug was synthesized, so I’m not sure that it is really a good counter-example.

      “Designed to affect the natural system” describes most drugs, in some way or another.

  32. The original Mr. X says:

    In other news, it appears Europe is even more doomed than we thought:

    A former Dutch soldier has been arrested on suspicion of killing so-called Islamic State militants while fighting alongside Kurds in Syria.

    The 47-year-old was later released but had to surrender his passport to stop him returning to Syria.

    Prosecutors said that Dutch law did not allow the use of force apart from in exceptional circumstances.

    “Killing an IS fighter therefore could mean being prosecuted for murder,” a statement from prosecutors said.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35327313

    • Sastan says:

      Yeah, I’m ready to say this: Western Civilization is dead on the continent of its birth.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Stay spooked, America. I’m sure you can make a living off writing horror stories of all our poor women being forced to cover up and our governments helpfully supplanting themselves. I’m writing this as the last free man in Holland, please come over and save us before it is too late!

      • Sastan says:

        Nah. European police are now officially the protection arm of a continent-wide gang-rape organization. You tolerate beheadings in your streets and mass murder in your cities. You refuse to prosecute capital crimes, but suddenly find the prosecutorial time and energy to criminally charge people with talking or wearing shirts.

        There’s nothing there to save. Send us a double batch of whisky and BMWs before you shut down for good.

        • JBeshir says:

          Reminder that US homicide rate per 100,000 people (3.8) is literally three times France’s (1.0) or Germany’s (0.8). Mass murder remains a very small fraction of those murders, as overly attended by the media compared to other causes of death as it ever was, and has little to no noticeable impact on expected quality of life as of yet, with any reaction called for being called for largely on game theoretic grounds, because the actual impact isn’t significant enough to even merit calling lawmakers’ attention to it. Western Europe is just fine, thanks for your concern, whisky remains available to buy through the usual channels and is likely to stay so for the foreseeable future.

          European police are “the protection arm” of bad people only insofar as they are enforcing the normal, civilised rule of law and not permitting vigilantism. Just like police breaking up lynchings in the US. While doing that might disrupt some deterrent effect, we generally think having the rule of law is a good thing. This particular case is borderline, because of the extraterritoriality-in-a-warzone thing, but the fundamental reason no one is rushing to make special exceptions for it is that the situation is not serious enough to justify dismantling the normal processes of law. Western Civilisation does not feel the need to destroy itself to save itself just yet.

          People start to shift on a thing when they feel personally incentivised to, so wild exaggeration of the threat to them is probably a functional way to draw attention to something you think is neglected, if you want to use Dark Arts. And certainly a lot of people are trying it really hard, with the predictable effect that they’re getting tuned out acting in the opposite direction. But you shouldn’t come to actually believe it.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Hey, I was having actual fun having some snarky back and forth here. Why would you ruin that?

          • Sastan says:

            No mate, I mean the cops literally arrest the parents of underage kids being gang raped to keep their parents from interrupting the party. From the Times’ report on Rotherham:

            “Police went to a house outside which a father was demanding the release of his daughter, who was inside with a group of British Pakistani adults. Officers found the girl, 14, who had been drugged, under a bed. The father and his daughter were arrested for racial harassment and assault respectively. Police left, leaving three men at the house with two more girls.”

            Do note that this racket went on for sixteen YEARS before it came to public attention. The governments of Europe and their institutions are completely unable and unwilling to deal with problems if they stem from a muslim community. They would quite literally prefer thousands of children be gang-raped than risk being thought of as racist for prosecuting a perpetrator. Rotherham was an open secret, thousands upon thousands of reports had been made. But no one would stop it, because that was what they wanted to happen. And after all of that, tens of thousands of rapes, thousands upon thousands of victims, a decade and a half of official complicity, guess how many people were fired? If you guessed zero, you’re probably twigging to the issue.

          • JBeshir says:

            Ah, I understand what you were referencing now. That happened. People were suitably outraged, and I’m sure if it happens more times people will shift their priorities to force Something Very Visible To Be Done on the matter rather than tolerating government assurances that they’ve changed the organisation’s behaviour coupled with a change of leadership.

            Being outraged about it is reasonable, sensible, and if ever there was a case it was the right way to react it’d be this one. It was awful on more or less every metric, and unlike many awful things in this world, entirely fixable by getting people to do the obvious correct thing- the officers involved were institutionally apathetic to the statutory rape they had a pretty good idea was going on, in permitting paper-thin concealment and failing to follow up on it, including after reports from elsewhere, and they needed to be made to not be. Getting angry incentivises the right people to fix that in order to calm you down.

            Just as there’s been pretty clear institutional racism in a lot of police forces internationally, there’s pretty clearly been institutional apathy towards statutory rape in the UK police; Rochdale’s 47, Jimmy Savile’s approximately 450 alone, etc, with the evidence starting to come out from 2012 onwards for all of these things. This does seem to be improving, as people gradually come around and organisational priorities are forced to change to match the fact that yes, in the 21st century it is unacceptable to turn a blind eye to it in the way you might for, say, low-level drug use, and if it doesn’t I’m sure people will continue to get angrier until every police officer gets mandatory training on the matter.

            The error of ignoring reports of crime waves because of political correctness, too, was terrible and happened, and was called out by leading politicians as a thing to be corrected. If their assurances that this too is being fixed prove hollow, I am sure people will properly motivate them to fix that, to get this to improve too.

            That said, as of yet, while the crime undoubtedly still happens, police disinterest in organised statutory rape doesn’t seem to be evidenced to be England-wide (one of the specific criticisms raised of South Yorkshire police was that they had zero prosecutions in one year next to a neighbouring county’s hundred, which suggests the neighbouring county did not share the lack of attention), or ongoing, so proclaiming Western Civilisation dead across the whole of Europe may be premature.

            Expected outcomes, typical rule of law, and crime rates are still pretty good by historic standards and international comparisons, major failings notwithstanding. Whisky remains available to order.

          • My first assumption would be that local officials had been bribed and/or intimidated to ignore organized crime. How would you distinguish that from fear of being accused of racism and/or Islamophobia?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @JBeshir:

            I’m sure if it happens more times people will shift their priorities to force Something Very Visible To Be Done on the matter

            Objection: Assumes facts not in evidence, consists of speculation with no supporting evidence.

            In fact, if it happens even one more time, given that every freaking policeman in the UK knows about this, I’d call that pretty strong evidence that the trend will not be easily reversed, let alone that it has begun to do so.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Nancy: Once the situation breaks, you can start looking for evidence of bribery and coercion; it’s usually not hard to find when A: you know specifically where to look and B: the balance of power has changed in a big way and everybody has to rearrange their “who am I most afraid of today?” list. Bribery, in particular, is very difficult to hide from someone who is specifically looking for it in a first-world economy.

            At Rotherham, nobody found evidence of bribery, nobody found evidence of intimidation by violent criminals against policemen or social workers, but there were prior complaints of bureaucratic intimidation against policemen and social workers by institutionally-embedded SJWs, and evidence of a cultural understanding that the way to keep your job was to never accuse an “Asian” of any wrongdoing if you could possibly avoid it.

          • JBeshir says:

            Bribery, intimidation, social connections could definitely be a part of it- there’s been some pretty suspicious actions, one of which was some files on local authority failings being stolen from an office in 2002, which was frankly shocking. That in part prompted the central government’s external inquiries, which in turn, led to the local authority being deemed as unfit for purpose and taken over by central government. I would not disagree with a statement that Western Civilisation failed in Rotherham in particular.

            That said, the external investigations do conclude that the concerns about political correctness were correct- there was an institutionalised idea that sharing reports of a socially normalised crime wave in particular social circles, using the ethnicity of the participants as a pointer to those social circles, was in some way bigoted. And the campaigns to fix that were a good thing. There might have been other things going on too, given that they went as far as engaging in an outright cover-up, and there were a lot of credible reports over time that seem to have been worded about as politically correctly as you could get that they ignored, but it does seem like those concerns were valid.

            I think an important part to consider is that there’s two sides to the equation on whether to meaningfully react to a report. One is the incentive not to do anything, and the other is the incentive to do something. We need a lot less of a failure on the former side, if we also have a failure on the latter side, and it does look pretty strongly like there’s a lot of failure on the latter side, in most of the cases that are coming to light.

            In particular, there seems to have been a pattern where the reputation-destroying nature of allegations of this sort makes some people unwilling to repeat them unless they’re very certain of their truth, because they don’t themselves care enough about child sexual abuse to risk being wrong.

            In the Savile cases, reports happened, were not individually enough, and never got circulated around leading people to recognise the pattern, because the act of circulating one would have been very damaging and no one wanted to do that until they were sure it was true. (Savile apparently being very good at using people and knowing exactly what they could get away with when would presumably also have been necessary, given the sheer numbers involved)

            I think it’s pretty plausible that the same way of thinking that afflicted the Catholic Church some time ago afflicted Rotherham’s administration and police, more than any kind of outright corruption- a lack of considering the allegations to be actually important, leading to a lack of interest in follow-up and allowing other concerns to be more important than proper handling of the matter, leading to unchecked abuse.

            I’d compare it to care homes- the problem isn’t so much that people care too much about the things that create incentives for care homes to be awful, it’s that they’re failing to care very much about them *not* being awful. Or treatment of the mentally ill. Humans who can’t/don’t complain effectively get their well-being treated as unimportant, and easily overridden by any other concern. No bribery or insanity required, any small reason will do if no one is paying attention.

            @Marc Whipple

            I base this on the extent to which it’s resulted in mainstream reporting of the existence of subcultures with socially normalised crime, resulted in protests, and gotten government responses describing the problem as “institutionalised political correctness” and committing to get rid of it. It also seems pretty likely to have caused an increase in the number of people voting UKIP- they came second in Rotherham, displacing the Conservatives.

            It happening once got a reaction. It happening again will get another reaction, and I usually expect reactions to problems which repeat to get bigger and result in demands to know how they can trust that they will be handled.

            I don’t particularly expect it to happen again, for the reason you pointed out- every damned police officer knows about it. But I’m sure if it does, it will result in political consequences, most of which I probably won’t like very much. That said, on net I’m glad the behaviour is there, to protect from ideological failures.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Remove the IS militant. Legalizing the murder of foreign nationals while on holiday essentially legalizes “Hostel.”

      Politically, I believe nations are required to police their citizens and prevent irregulars from their nations joining wars in different nations. It is illegal as an American citizen of Irish descent to join the IRA and kill British citizens, for quite good reason.

      If there’s an exception to be made in this circumstance, Dutch legislators should pass a law to amend their current law, in all likelihood.

    • gbdub says:

      If the victim was in fact an IS militant, “murder” seems perhaps a stretch since Syria is pretty clearly a warzone.

      But wouldn’t this definitely be treason? Or at a bare minimum grounds for surrender of citizenship? He apparently left the Netherlands to join the military forces of another power, which is sanctioned in just about every country.

      • John Schilling says:

        Eagle Squadron: Historic American traitors, or just common murderers? Discuss. Also the American Volunteer Group, aka Flying Tigers. I don’t think this is as clear-cut as you would like.

        • Pku says:

          I think this applies here.

          • Loquat says:

            Would you care to elaborate? The article on the Eagle Squadron describes Americans deciding on their own initiative to leave the country and join foreign military forces without any apparent US government involvement, and that seems to be pretty much what this Dutchman has done.

        • The Lincoln brigade in the Spanish Civil War would be a closer analogy, perhaps? The Flying Tigers were a government operation, although the fact was not public at the time. The reason the Japanese launched an undeclared attack on the U.S. before the U.S. launched an undeclared attack on the Japanese (in China) was that it took the Flying Tigers longer to get into action than expected.

        • Gbdub says:

          From the U.S. State Department website:

          Military service by U.S. nationals may cause problems in the conduct of our foreign relations since such service may involve U.S. nationals in hostilities against countries with which we are at peace. For this reason, U.S. nationals facing the possibility of foreign military service should do what is legally possible to avoid such service.

          Federal statutes long in force prohibit certain aspects of foreign military service originating within the United States. The current laws are set forth in Section 958-960 of Title 18 of the United States Code. In Wiborg v. U.S. , 163 U.S. 632 (1896), the Supreme Court endorsed a lower court ruling that it was not a crime under U.S. law for an individual to go abroad for the purpose of enlisting in a foreign army; however, when someone has been recruited or hired in the United States, a violation may have occurred. The prosecution of persons who have violated 18 U.S.C. 958-960 is the responsibility of the Department of Justice.

          Although a person’s enlistment in the armed forces of a foreign country may not constitute a violation of U.S. law, it could subject him or her to the provisions of Section 349(a)(3) of the INA [8 U.S.C. 1481(a)(3)] which provides for loss of U.S. nationality if a U.S national voluntarily and with the intention of relinquishing U.S. nationality enters or serves in the armed forces of a foreign state engaged in hostilities against the United States or serves in the armed forces of any foreign country as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer.

          Military service in foreign countries, however, usually does not cause loss of nationality since an intention to relinquish nationality normally is lacking. In adjudicating loss of nationality cases, the Department has established an administrative presumption that a person serving in the armed forces of a foreign state not engaged in hostilities against the United States does not have the intention to relinquish nationality. On the other hand, voluntary service in the armed forces of a state engaged in hostilities against the United States could be viewed as indicative of an intention to relinquish U.S. nationality.

          So it’s fairly clear: leave to fight for a notional ally and you get a wink-wink nudge-nudge. Leave to fight in a war the U.S. really doesn’t want to be involved in, and you probably lose your citizenship. Fight for an enemy, or in a war that’s really, really inconvenient for the U.S. to appear involved in, and you’re a possible traitor.

          Now this particular law is obviously US specific, but I believe a similar prerogative of sovereignty over citizens is pretty common.

          So perhaps I overstated the case a bit. But either way, it seems clear that if you go to fight a for a foreign power, you risk the wrath of your home government. I still maintain that, if this Dutch fellow did commit a crime, “treason” is a more appropriate label than “murder”.

      • Sastan says:

        No, Treason is aiding or joining an enemy nation or group. If he were a Turk, it would probably be treason. But as the Peshmerga are pretty western-friendly, and fighting a very western-unfriendly group, I don’t think that holds.

        If he had joined the armed forces of another nation, it might be grounds for revoking his citizenship, as he might have sworn allegiance to another polity. Not sure how that plays out in practice with a non-state actor, and I doubt he swore to uphold the Kurdish state to the exclusion of all other loyalties.

        By laws of war, non-state guerrilla fighters are basically non-humans (and that would go for the dutchman while he was in country). You can torture, execute, whatever with guerrillas (most countries avoid this behavior by convention, not by law). It’s impossible, internationally legally speaking, to murder an ISIS member.

        Morally speaking rather than legally, I’d say anyone who has the opportunity to kill an ISIS member and doesn’t is culpable.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          ISIS claims to be a nation-state. If its members wear uniforms, I think they would have at least a reasonable argument that they are entitled to the protection of the international law of war.

          Of course, if they tried that, they’d also be subject to its sanction, so they might not be any better off, net. (Under the law of war their offenses are many and grievous.) But I’m not sure it’s unarguably true that you can’t murder one of them under international law.

          I am pretty much all in on your last assertion, though.

          • Sastan says:

            You could argue! I think the lack of any recognition, even by fellow islamic nations, would probably cut against their classification as a state, but it is a fair point.

            As to the original case of the dutchman, any chance they can find him guilty and sentence him to ten million euros, a medal of honor and free lap dances for life?

          • ivvenalis says:

            “Of course, if they tried that, they’d also be subject to its sanction, so they might not be any better off, net.”

            What sanction?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @ivvenalis:

            All of them – basically, all the punishments which the law of war allows against individual soldiers and forces which violate it. Up to and including reprisal, if you’re feeling old-school.

          • ivvenalis says:

            “all the punishments which the law of war allows against individual soldiers and forces which violate it”

            What, some doddering Eurocrat in the Hague might get around to sentencing you to a few years in some cushy Scandinavian lockup sometime before the heat death of the universe? And that’s if you lose.

            Re:reprisals. Current laws prohibit reprisals against any of the following: battlefield casualties, shipwreck survivors (i.e. people who’ve gotten lost or are stranded by the destruction of transport), prisoners, civilians, places of worship, historical monuments, and medical facilities. I’m curious what your “old-school” reprisals will involve. Sure, using POWs as mortal hostages to the enemy’s good behavior might have worked in the past, but that’s someone else’s problem.

            Basically, there’s no reason for ISIS to follow the laws of war because nothing will happen to them for not following them.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @ivvenalis:

            Okay, so in a practical sense. But in theory.

        • ivvenalis says:

          ” You can torture, execute, whatever with guerrillas”

          The Third Geneva Convention requires unlawful combatants to be tried under the domestic law of the detaining power. Many countries have laws prohibiting the torture and/or execution of anyone, which includes captured guerrillas.

          What’s really going on is the ongoing replacement of reciprocity by human rights as a basis for international law (the DoD Laws of War manual has a section on reciprocity which makes for entertaining reading). This leaves nations which actually have to fight irregular forces constantly holding the bag on what to do with what would previously be considered hostes humani genera but the Netherlands aren’t one of those nations so they don’t care.

        • Gbdub says:

          But it’s up to the Netherlands to decide who constitutes an “enemy”. If they decide that a Dutch citizen fighting for the Kurds is sufficiently opposed to their national interest, it would seem reasonable for them to label him a traitor.

          In the U.S. you can be executed for selling secrets to a foreign country even if it’s an ally. This is specifically “espionage”, but that’s effectively a subset of “treason” when committed by a citizen of the harmed country.

    • Pku says:

      Flying to another country and killing someone is reasonable grounds for being prosecuted for murder. There may be extenuating circumstances, which should be brought up by his lawyer (I have no idea how Dutch or any other laws treat this kind of case), but if you killed someone, it seems like there should be a trial.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        The crime did not take place in their territory. The victim was not a citizen of their country. The country in which he committed the act did not consider it criminal, and is not an ally of the Netherlands anyway. Other than pure Mama-Said-So, what justification do they have for prosecuting him?

        • Pku says:

          If he’d stoned a woman to death for adultery in a hypothetical Iraq where that’s legal, I’d think he should obviously be prosecuted for murder by the Netherlands if Iraq wouldn’t prosecute. The objections you raise apply equally to both cases. Would you defend them in the second?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            No.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Pku:
            I’m not sure that follows from a legal theory perspective?

            We wouldn’t say that someone traveling to New Orleans and drinking from an open container should be prosecuted for violating open container laws in their home city or state. So, while one might consider this a moral imperative, the legal case might be a good bit trickier.

          • Pku says:

            @HeelBearCub
            I’m not sure about the legal theory, and it seems like a valid point for him to bring to his defence. I assume the open container law’s written in a way that applies only to the home state, but you could write the murder law as “killing someone, somewhere, is illegal”. (In theory, at least – I have no idea how Dutch laws are written).

            The question of whether or not he’s convicted (where legal theory objections should come up) aside, it should at least come to trial – open container laws are trivial enough to not be worth the trouble of discussion, but murder isn’t.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Pku:

            If I get to be the person who decides which offenses are trivial enough to warrant extraterritorial jurisdiction and which ones aren’t, I withdraw my objection.

            If not, I redouble it.

            Also, I misunderstood, I think, who the “they” was when you asked me about defending. My general answer to “do you think that stoned-an-adulteress guy should be prosecuted even if you don’t think shot-a-terrorist guy should” is no. Neither should be prosecuted, because their offenses are not within the reasonable scope of authority of the home country. But if either is, both should be.

            A good middle ground example is gambling. Gambling is totally illegal in some countries, and in some US states. However, I don’t know anybody who thinks that Utah should be able to prosecute one of its citizens who goes to Florida or the Philippines and bets on jai alai. The only distinguishing argument I see is “murder is different.” Well, fine, it is. And if you can make it stick, then it sticks. But I see no logical distinction from the point of view of a sovereign’s reasonable authority to control the actions of people outside its jurisdiction.

          • Pku says:

            That’s a reasonable position to take, but I’m still ok with making extraterritorial jurisdiction apply to murder. It’s basically the case of the mob boss telling Sam Vimes “This murder is mob business, keep out of it”, and Vimes refusing to let a murder in his city go uninvestigated, which I admired. (There’s a difference in that said murder happened more-or-less within Vimes’ geographical jurisdiction, but it both victim and perpetrator in the case were members of communities who preferred to handle it on their own).

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Pku: The “but” in your last sentence I read as, “the analogy immediately fails, since it did happen in territory in which Vimes had authority and it happened to a citizen over which Vimes had authority, but I like it anyway and Sam Vimes is cool, so I’m going to pretend that’s not true.”

            I will grant you unconditionally that Sam Vimes is cool. The rest, not so much.

          • Pku says:

            He interpreted it as his jurisdiction, but the people who lived there (including the victim and his community) didn’t. So it’s something of a halfway point between the murder in Iraq case (neither side thinks it’s Dutch jurisdiction) and the murder in Amsterdam case, where both do. I think you’re right in that this means it’s much closer to the second case, but that does have the implication that if someone’s murdered in territory that claims allegiance to a government that wants nothing to do with it, the government doesn’t have jurisdiction there. (Which I actually also agree with). But that carries the implication that enforcing laws is an obligation to the people you rule rather than a right you demand from them.
            This is the way the law is generally viewed, and what I said demands going further, and questioning your own morality even without obligation, by law. This is a very strong requirement, but it is one we sometimes demand (we’d probably court-martial a drone pilot who needlessly killed civilians).

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            A more commonly accepted example is sex tourism. Traveling to a country with a lower age of consent to have sex with someone who would be considered a minor in your own country is prosecuted as a crime in some places.

          • Murphy says:

            As far as I can see it gets applied slapdash on more of a “feeling of ew” basis.

            If you were a dutch citizen and set up a bank in india should you be subject to dutch/EU usury laws?

            If you were a dutch citizen and set up a food stand in america should you be subject to dutch/EU food safety laws? What about if someone dies due to your negligence?

            If you’re european or british and visit america and go (legally-locally) hunting deer should you be subject to european anti-hunting laws when you return?

            How about (legally-locally) hunting endangered animals in africa?

            Re: Murder there’s been a decades long running drama in Ireland over abortions in the UK since until a particular court case it used to be considered that irish women traveling abroad for abortions could be prosecuted for traveling to kill an irish citizen[the foetus].

            As far as I can see there’s zero consistency on this and it almost 100% relies on people saying “fuck the law and consistency, we really really hate this so much that we’re going to prosecute anyone from anywhere that we can get our hands on”

          • JBeshir says:

            There’s also anti-corruption laws which bar domestic companies from engaging in corrupt practices in other countries, which are specifically intended for use against extraterritorial actions.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          @Pku: That is how you see it, and that is a perfectly reasonable and rational way to see it.

          The way I see it, it’s a naked power grab by the home country, exercising control over an action which affected them not at all, and an insult to the sovereignty of the second country. This may be neither reasonable nor rational by any particular measure, but it’s how I see it.

        • BBA says:

          This is connected to extradition. France will not extradite its own citizens to other countries. Instead the French penal code applies to all crimes committed by French citizens worldwide if they are also crimes in the jurisdiction where committed. In these cases a domestic prosecution will take place instead of an extradition – provided the local prosecutors are willing, and there isn’t another procedural loophole. (This is how Roman Polanski has avoided prison time – which is how I came to read up on this stuff.)

          I can’t find a reliable translation of the Dutch penal code, but it’s based on French law (thanks Napoleon!) and Article 5 provides some kind of extraterritorial application, so I think the same principles are in play here. Under normal circumstances there’s nothing deeply objectionable about these provisions, but this case isn’t normal circumstances.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            What he did apparently wasn’t a crime where he did it, so again his prosecution is pure and simple overreach, even under this new information.

          • The version of this issue that I’ve seen mentioned in the past is the effort by U.S. authorities to act against U.S. citizens who engage in sex tourism in other countries. That strikes me as legally dubious, at least if the acts are legal where they occur–it’s possible that they are illegal but the law isn’t enforced. But I gather that people have been successfully prosecuted for it.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @David Friedman:

            You may be thinking of things like the PROTECT Act, which makes it a Federal crime for US citizens to commit illicit sexual conduct outside the US. (ICS is defined as commercial sex with or sexual abuse of someone under 18 or any sex at all with someone under 16.) It does not limit the offense to activity which was illegal in the country where the act took place.

            To the extent that such laws make it a crime for a citizen to travel somewhere to do something which is legal where it is done, I consider them overreaching, even for a cause as noble as preventing the sexual exploitation of children.

          • BBA says:

            This man was in Syria and fighting alongside Kurdish forces – i.e., without the backing of the Syrian government. Under those circumstances, it’s possible killing an ISIS militant would be murder under Syrian law, just not one that the authorities there would be willing or able to prosecute.

        • brad says:

          This isn’t universal jurisdiction because the perpetrator was a national of the prosecuting country. I think if he had renounced his citizenship first he wouldn’t be indicted.

          It seems to me you have to take the bad with the good.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      So, some people in this comment chain think the guy should not be prosecuted or even left off the hook. Fair. From a moral point of view I certainly agree, whether or not this should be the law I’m less certain about. What I’m interested in is the obvious other side of this argument: do the people arguing he should be let off also think the Dutch state should let off any seventeen year old idiot going off to Syria to kill infidels and blow up innocents? It’s the same law that covers such a thing.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        Yes.

        With the caveat that if what he did was illegal there – which, one assumes, blowing up innocents is – then that is not the same fact pattern.

        • JBeshir says:

          If it is legal in Syria to kill Daesh members as a vigilante, which I’m dubious of, it is at least definitely not legal to sign up with Kurdish militias to do so, any more than it’d be legal to sign up with Daesh.

          The Syrian government led by Assad is not really any more fond of the Kurdish efforts to carve out a chunk of the country than they are of Daesh’s efforts.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        “To say that the CIA and the KGB engage in similar practices is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes an old lady into the path of a hurtling bus is not to be distinguished from the man who pushes an old lady out of the path of a hurtling bus: on the grounds that, after all, in both cases someone is pushing old ladies around.” – William F. Buckley

        I feel that this is a similar situation.

        • Sastan says:

          Pretty much. The inability of the left to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate violence is pretty old.

          FWIW, an Iraqi attacking US troops in Iraq, legitimate (though he’s still gonna get shot, that’s irregular warfare). It’s not terrorism to attack military troops in uniform, in theater, no matter the means.

          An Iraqi blowing up a marketplace just to cause chaos that the american troops must respond to and to make US foreign policy look bad is not legitimate.

        • Nicholas says:

          I think the citizens of Iran (1953), Nicaragua (1981), Guatemala (1954), Haiti (1959), and Brazil (1964) were all quite clear on which direction the CIA was pushing them, with relation to the bus.

  33. Emile says:

    By the way, I’ll be in London this week (probably Wednesday and Thursday), but not for the weekend meetup … in the unlikely event that someone would be up for having dinner or something together Thursday…

  34. atreic says:

    Yay, meetups! Err, I think if you’re advertising a meetup in England, it’s better to either use English date format or isostandard date format? But I worked it out in the end.

  35. Emile says:

    So I’ve been playing around with Procedural World Generation lately (an old hobby of mine), and one of my projects is making an infinite, interesting world. You can see a first version linked in my username (in the hope that it’s less likely to trigger the spam filter…). I have a few other old projects like that I’d also like to put open source.

    So, considering that there are a few people here who like world-building, would anybody be interested in participating? No programming required (unless you want to, it’s all on github anyway), I wouldn’t mind help with writing or pixel art.

    • Alex Welk says:

      What sort of world-gen is this? I’m much more accustomed to hex-crawls for Dungeons and Dragons, but depending on the direction (ahistorical or fantasy are both interesting to me) I might be able to contribute writing, ideas, or random generator algorithms.

      • Emile says:

        Eh, just world-gen for the sake of world-gen. It could possibly be used as a background for roleplaying or fiction or whatever, but I’m mostly focused on making an interesting world. I’m going for a generic fantasy-ish medieval theme, but don’t have a super-strong opinion on details, I’ll see what’s interesting to generate.

        I’m interested in writing, ideas, or algorithms (especially in javascript :)). The basic way it works now is that I have cities and “cultural features” (nations and religions) that influence cities, so that a city’s description will depend of nearby cultural features. I want to add more kinds of cultural features (fallen empires, guilds, trade networks, recent wars, etc.), and have the descriptions vary a bit more with city characteristics (big city? small town? seaside? iron-fisted dictatorship? independent city-state? suspicious of foreigners?), and have some non-city landmarks (castles, villages, ruins, monasteries…). So I will need a lot of properly-tagged short descriptions I can feed into all that.

        If you want to discuss this more ping me at flammifer at gmail (or discuss it here, but these threads get unwieldy 🙂 ).

        • Murphy says:

          Are you familiar with Dwarf Fortress?

          It seems to be a similar idea of trying to create an interesting world though it does it by actually simulating history (and even erosion) so that the history is self-consistent. It even has an ethics system attached to races and individuals so that there will be consistency to your iron-fisted dictatorship.

          • Emile says:

            Yep, I know Dwarf Fortress, it’s the kind of thing I’m making, except that I’m just putting it online so that anybody can browse the world, which you can’t really do (that I know of) in DF. In a way I’m just making the world-and-history-generating part of DF, without the game 🙂

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      Have you checked out Shamus Young? He loves Procedural World Generation. Done quite a few projects on it, the most recent of which I believe was Project Frontier (I don’t remember how to embed links and the handy html-helper isn’t immediately visible so I shan’t bother): http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=11874

      As for the writing aspect, a group of friends and I do that a lot with a shared roleplay-world we’ve created.

  36. Jack V says:

    I’m relieved that the second interlude is called “Beth” not “Aleph-1” 🙂

  37. Just a general political remark, because it may be interesting: it is important to realize that market interventions have a different tradition in the US and Europe. America i.e. FedGov primarily tends to intervent through regulations, while European governments tend to intervent through directly spending tax money. For example, an American history professor from Michigan who is teaching in Europe complained to me that as he moved over he rented out his flat, and the regulations are horrible, he cannot kick out tenants during the winter, nor can he demand more deposit than a few weeks, so if people stop paying rent in Nov he is screwed until spring and it is no even just about lost income: the flat is heavily mortgaged and he really needs the rent to be able to pay it. Well, I paid 5 months worth of deposit for my rented flat in a European country, it obviously covers the winter kick-out ban, so we clearly don’t have so strong regulations here in this field, however, about 30% of all flats built here are built by the government and rented out socially. This obviously tends to down-compete rents. So there is more tax-money investment and less regulation here. This is just one example, and surely there are opposite examples, but this seems to be the general trend. Thus if you do analysis like soda tax, try to factor this in. I don’t know the historical reasons for this difference.

    If I have to bet, it is because Americans have a historical animus against taxes but easily accept regulations because there is a long history of religious and quasi-religious regulations. For example the Prohibition was rooted in Protestant teetotalism. The Prohibition would have obviously failed in a country like France, the rural folks would have laughed loudly at a wine ban, but they accept high taxes easier, so many European countries seems to have the opposite kind of tradition: resisting regulation, but readily paying higher taxes, this is why the governments operate more with direct spending. This is the most striking in what is called the Scandinavian model – stuff like the labor market is almost extremely unregulated in Denmark, the idea is unregulated markets easier produce that really huge tax revenue that gets spent.

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      I think this goes back to earlier than prohibition, The Whiskey Rebellion was about taxes on alcohol and as far as I remember (From Assassins Creed 3, admittedly, Computer Scientist not a historian) the US prefered to sell land rather than levy taxes after the American Revolution.

    • Richard says:

      Not sure about your bet, but if anyone is looking for a one-sentence summary of the Scandinavian model, look no further than:

      “The idea is unregulated markets easier produce that really huge tax revenue that gets spent.”

      which is a rather brilliant summary

    • Creutzer says:

      he cannot kick out tenants during the winter, nor can he demand more deposit than a few weeks, so if people stop paying rent in Nov he is screwed until spring

      As far as I know, this is also the case in France, though…

  38. Alraune says:

    Archive binging here, and was surprised to learn that in 2011, you strongly supported NATO intervention in Libya, to the point that you wrote a post complaining about your congressman for opposing it, calling him a partisan hack, a hypocrite, possibly a racist, and saying the war in Libya was a “complete success.”

    Have you apologized for that yet?

    • Alphaceph says:

      I think the Libya intervention and subsequent failure is part of a pattern where people in the west are gradually, slowly learning the hard way that not all cultures and races are equally good at this thing called civilization.

      This challenges a massive shibboleth in our society though, and no-one wants to come out and say it.

      • NN says:

        I’m not sure if our culture and race did a much better job. The American experience with democracy, starting from 1776 consisted of: 7 years of a War of Independence, followed by 6 years of crises leading to a restructuring of the country’s government, followed by several years of series of minor crises like the Whiskey Rebellion, followed by some 60 years of escalating regional tensions that culminated in a very bloody and protracted civil war. After that, things were mostly fine unless you happened to be black, or a Native American standing in the way of Manifest Destiny, or a Chinese immigrant, or a Japanese person living in America during the 1940s, or…

        Other Western experiments with democracy don’t seem to have turned out much better. The horrors of the French Revolution are the stuff of legend, and France’s current government only started in 1958 after a brutal colonial war in Algeria (which was technically a civil war since Algeria was officially part of France at the time). Germany’s first democratic government only lasted 14 years before it was taken over by one of the most destructive dictatorships in human history. Great Britain seems to have done a lot better by comparison, but their experience was also far from ideal, most visibly demonstrated by how their Irish provinces were still being torn apart by sectarian conflict less than 20 years ago.

        Compared to the historical experiences of the West, Tunisia is actually doing very well so far, and even Libya doesn’t look so bad. Maybe the problem is just that democracy is hard in general?

        • Marc Whipple says:

          Inferential silence again.

          Intellectually, I take your point. Emotionally and generally, my reaction to “American democracy during the 1800’s was no better than Libya now, really, so who are we to point fingers?” is “Are you effing serious right now?”

      • SUT says:

        Maybe it’s not a race thing?

        Think of the stereotypical grandpa helping a Millennial get a job: In his day, all he had to do was walk into his local hardware store, look the owner directly in the eye and give him a firm handshake. Why can’t this younger generation just do *that*?

        Similarly, think of Washington crossing the Delaware. Now imagine the government he is fighting has 1 attack helicopter. So ends the “American Revolution”. All we had to do to successfully rebel is pass out a few muskets to farm boys, and fight a foe that had something like a 3 month turnaround time for communications with their leadership. Now you’ve gotta fight Assad, and he’ll gas you.

        Adding on to military tech, is the whole “Flat, Hot, and Crowded” updates to reality. Gone is any hope for a Jeffersonian democracy (People >> Land) and so rebellions occurring today must necessarily use more ruthless tactics, and have a seemingly less live-and-let-live end game.

        • NN says:

          And even back then, revolutions didn’t always work out too well. Sometimes they got crushed by despots, and sometimes they got hijacked by fanatics who carried out mass beheadings.

    • anon says:

      It’s amazing that Scott finds it terribly immoral if someone says that (insert any ethnonym) have a particular obligation to look after their coethnics.
      Something most people would deem commonsensical.

      • No one has any obligation but that of the rules enforced upon them.

        • anon says:

          I mean in the sense that for Scott the horribleness is in attributing a PARTICULAR obligation. As opposed to everyone having exactly the same amount of duty.

          Scott finds the statement horrible, NOT because it suggests that someone should help (Scott agrees that someone should help!), but because it is supposedly “racist” to expect people of the same culture to feel more involved.

          Whereas I think most people would find it natural. For example, there’s nothing strange in expecting Jews to help each other.

      • JBeshir says:

        I don’t think it’s that surprising.

        One of the key parts of a moral system- possibly the primary reason such systems exist in the first place is that it coordinates bystanders to agree on which side of a dispute to align with, such that most everyone aligns on one side, and highly destructive inter-group conflicts are avoided. A key trait we observe in most moral systems is thus that they operates impartially within the group- if who you should support depends on who you are relative to the parties of the dispute, then it doesn’t work at arranging everyone on one side and avoiding conflict.

        This leaves the door open to systems which prioritise outgroups below the ingroup, but only so long as you’re unlikely to have many disputes with outgroup members in which it is costly for the outgroup to solidly align against you. The more you interact, the greater the costly conflicts generated from the lack of a moral system that is impartial between the groups. If you live alongside each other, this gets very bad- consider all the countries ripped apart in the ME by internal conflict over whose ethnicity gets to be in charge.

        To anyone who *is* adopting a properly impartial moral system, ingroup preference is usually going to be morally neutral (“you’re allowed to donate to/help anyone you like”) or morally bad (“you’re engaging in corruption in public office”) depending on whether the moral system expects moral behaviour under you under those circumstances.

        Acting in line with your social alliances (helping family, friends, etc) remains virtuous, but from separate obligations which are in tension with the wider moral system, and that seems to require direct social connections to the affected people.

    • Deiseach says:

      Ah, I’d tend to go easy on Scott for that, given that American political commentary of whatever hue tends to be horrible when it comes to international affairs and that it’s easy for me as a European to know the bias of my own country’s politicians, and those of the neighbouring island, behind the “Let us do something to help those poor, oppressed people” rationalisation for sending in the warplanes, but Americans do seem to have this touching belief in the purity of motive of their governments.

      • anon says:

        As an European, I will never understand how Americans view the role of their own military.

        Is its job a selfless crusade for the world’s common good? Or is it “defending American freedom”?

        And those who use the latter phrase, do they really believe that warring in the Middle East is necessary to American freedom?

        Ultimately, why do the American voters feel compelled, in a post-Cold War world, to maintain a gigantic and outrageously expensive military, when no proportionate military threat to America is present or foreseeable?
        How do the voters justify it in their minds?

        • Sastan says:

          Well, there is the constant begging from every corner of the world for us to tromp over and solve their problems for them. And we’re just stupid enough to take up some percentage of these.

          Me? I don’t think we owe the people of anywhere a damned thing, except the US. Every time we try to help someone, it usually goes wrong, and we get blamed for “imperialism and warmongering”, usually by the same cunts who were whining for our assistance six months before. The people who are outraged that “no one is doing anything and warlords are murdering aid workers” shift seamlessly to wailing about US military overreach at the first bit of collateral damage. People seem to think armies are superheroes, who somehow always get the bad guy and only the bad guy. We aren’t, and it’s time the world and the retarded american voters learned that.

          • anon says:

            But how do these supposedly humanitarian and altruistic interventions become in the common perception a defense of America itself?
            Because it seems to me that Americans often imply that all their military does is defend their own freedom and independence and peaceful nights, and every coffin that comes back from overseas is to them a reminder of that. How does that make sense?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @anon:

            While I personally think America is too interventionalist, history has shown that if we leave everybody to go to Hell in their own way, eventually they try to drag us along with them. It is rational to believe that interventionalism is self-defense when, as the world’s richest and most powerful country, if a conflict grows past a certain point eventually you’re going to have to intervene anyway.

            While I haven’t seen the movie and have no plan to, this position seems well summed-up by a quote from the film The Good Shepherd:

            Joseph Palmi: “[The CIA are] the guys that scare me. You’re the people that make big wars.”
            Edward Wilson: “No, [the CIA] makes sure the wars are small ones, Mr. Palmi.”

            You can believe that, or not. You can believe it’s a good plan, or not. But it is not on its face an irrational belief.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            That is a really good question, that IMO gets hopelessly complicated once you get start delving into the details.

            Speaking from the inside a lot of us saw ourselves as “the watchers on the wall”. Far better to fight the war “out there” than “over here”. If you’re fighting the battle for civilization street-to-street instead of out on the frontier you’ve probably already lost. Of course that statement in itself carries a lot of unstated inference. 1) that civilization is fragile/under threat. and 2) That civilization, specifically western civilization and it’s values are worth defending.

            If you haven’t read Kipling’s poem Tommy go do so, and try to understand that as much as the men and women of the armed forces harbor these sentiments towards their civilian counterparts the people of the US (and much of the Anglosphere) feel the same way towards the rest of the world.

            For it’s ‘Murica this and this, and ‘Murica that, and “Chuck ’em out, the brutes!”
            But it’s “Saviours of the world” when the guns begin to shoot.

          • Pku says:

            I’ve known a few soldiers like that, but most of the (non-conscript) soldiers I’ve known were in it mostly because they wanted to kill some arabs.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @Pku
            I’m not sure if you’re just taking a cheap shot, but assuming you’re on the level…

            You could also say that most of the GI’s who fought in WWII did so because they wanted to kill Nazis and Shintoists. You wouldn’t be wrong per se, but there’s a lot that you’d be missing.

          • John Schilling says:

            “There are four types of people who join the military. For some, it’s the family trade. Others are patriots, eager to serve. Next you have those who just need a job. Than there’s the kind who want the legal means of killing other people. ”
            – Jack Reacher, 2012

            That’s obviously an oversimplification but not a grossly inaccurate one, at least for the United States. Now, what happens when your culture devalues the concepts of “patriotism” and “family trade”?

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @John Schilling

            Granted, but it still feels like a cheap shot, or at the very least like there are several inferential steps missing.

            I am reminded of a line from one of my corps school instructors to the effect of “I want students who enjoy the sight of blood” shocking? Certainly. But it leaves off the bit where people who “freeze up” or “get squicked out” at the sight of real gore generally don’t make very good trauma medics.

          • Pku says:

            @HlynkaCG

            I do think there’s a significant dissonance between how most americans perceive the military (which seems inspired by Band of Brothers and the like), and the motivations of most soldiers I know. There are certainly several who have noble motivations and who I admire (leaving aside the question of whether you agree with their decisions). But most of the people I know who chose to be in the military are jerks on a power trip or some such. I don’t think they’re crazy evil murderers or some such – just take the average slightly assholish small-minded guy you went to highschool with, give him a gun, and put him in an aggravating situation with lots of other jerks, up against a population that doesn’t like him and may well want to see him dead, and you don’t get good results.

            TLDR: The point isn’t “soldiers are monsters”, it’s “soldiers are just as much everyday jerks as anyone else, only with more power and reasons to be aggravated”.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Pku: If you’ve said, I apologize. But what country are you from? And are you basing this observation on soldiers from your home country or American soldiers?

            Because in my experience the type of soldier you describe, while not uncommon, is not the majority. Most of the ones I have known served voluntarily because they wanted to serve. And if they got to blow stuff up, hey, bonus.

            But in a country whose martial tradition has declined from the “sheepdogs for the flock” tradition of the US, I can totally see that not being the case.

          • Pku says:

            I’m basing this on a hybrid of my observations of those Israeli soldiers who chose to be in units that deal directly with the conflict (which is the nearest I could get to “chose to join the military” in a country with conscription), and the american soldiers I know (about who I feel the division still applies, but where I have a much smaller sample size).

            I can believe that the percentage of decent people may be better in the US military, but I still think the way americans see soldiers is somewhat problematic, in that mostly they either see them in far mode (and thus base their impressions more on TV), or are members of their ingroup (and the military has an unusually strong ingroup culture).

          • Going back to the question of how Americans can believe they are defending themselves far away, the short answer is “the lesson of Munich.” The argument is that if only France and England had been willing to fight in defense of the Czechs, Hitler would either have backed down or lost, and we wouldn’t have had to fight WWII.

            I think the argument is wrong, but it isn’t obviously wrong and it has had a large effect on U.S. views of foreign policy in the post WWII world.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @Pku and Marc
            While I grant that such people exist (any group of sufficient size is going to produce a few bad apples) I feel that you are both severely underestimating the draw that belonging, and a chance at martyrdom can exert even on that assholish small-minded guy you went to high-school with.

            I don’t know if either of you have read A Song of Ice and Fire but I chose the title “Watchers on the Wall” quite deliberately. Plenty of questionable characters join the Night’s Watch for questionable reasons but they are still the “The sword in the darkness and the shield that guards the realms of men” from the magical ice zombies kill-happy fascists, communists, and religious extremists who would usher us all into that long dark night.

            I agree that the way the US views it’s troops (or rather doesn’t) is problematic, but part of that “stong ingroup culture” you mentioned is that we don’t really discuss such things in public. I have heard it suggested that we are becoming Janissaries, a caste unto ourselves, and that this has the potential to seriously damage even undermine civil authority over the military moving forward. One of the key tenants of positional authority is that you shouldn’t give any order that will not be followed because the Schelling fence around “disobeying direct orders” is a big one and once your troops start questioning your authority in one matter they’ll question it in others. So, as an exercise to the reader, what happens when the civil authorities have no clue which orders will be obeyed and which wont?

            Partisan politics aside, do you understand why incidents like Benghazi, and L’affair de Bergdahl, are a big deal? Or why Clinton is so viscerally hated in certain sectors?

            The impression I get from many to the left of me is that they don’t. Or worse, they think they do and are dead wrong, which is what leads to concerns like that above.

            That said, Marines and “Greenside” Navy personnel are seen as being a bit weird, insular, and “out there” even by the standards of the wider Military culture, never mind those of civilians. So my own experience may not be representative of the whole.

            Edit: Deleted double post

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HlynkaCG – “Partisan politics aside, do you understand why incidents like Benghazi, and L’affair de Bergdahl, are a big deal?”

            I, uh, don’t. I wasn’t following politics when that stuff happened, and was highly blue at the time as well. In deference to those who feel it’s way too red-tribe in here lately, would you happen to have a link I might read?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I can sum up Benghazi. It was the first American ambassador killed since 1979 (and needless to say over the bodies of the soldiers assigned to guard him). So far despite repeated attempts the Republicans have failed to find any evidence of criminal wrong doing. It appears that it is ‘only’ a case of massive incompetence on the part of the state department where they grossly misunderestimated the danger and got a bunch of people killed.

            If this was a decade earlier the example would probably be the Battle of Mogadishu. Lets link breitbart!
            http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2012/11/01/mogadishu-benghazi-dejavu/
            “Months before the Battle of Mogadishu, Secretary of Defense Aspin had turned down the on-scene commander’s requests for M1 tanks and AC-130 Specter gunships, weapons that would have changed the calculus of battle and saved American lives. In his refusal, Aspin had over-ruled then Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell, who also pleaded that these weapons were necessary to protect boots on the ground”

            The article isn’t entirely enough to get a view of the situation (yet another covering another angle)
            http://www.nytimes.com/1995/10/01/world/study-faults-powell-aides-on-somalia.html
            “But the report, released late Friday by the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggests the decision against sending gunships may have been just as significant, and was one in which General Powell played a main role and Mr. Aspin little or none. ”

            Yeah, gives you an idea of the difficulty of finding who is directly responsible. Also an idea of what the military doesn’t like- dying because of incompetence.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @faceless craven

            This article in The Federalist covers the key elements of the Berdahl case. Obama’s Bergdahl Gambit Was Wrong But It Kind Of Worked.

            Benghazi is far messier and a proper write up would take a book but in addition to the issues already raised by Skinner…

            Consider that in 2008 Hillary was running on the idea that she was the one who you wanted on the other end of the phone line at 3 am, but when that phone did finally ring she was MIA, and a bunch of people died as result.

            Running roughshod over the 1st and 5th amendments afterwards was just icing on the cake.

        • keranih says:

          You’d probably get as any opinions as there are voters, but fwiw here’s one:

          Is its job a selfless crusade for the world’s common good? Or is it “defending American freedom”?

          Yes. (Part of our freedom is going touristing whereever we fancy and selling people stuff all around the world, and both are hard to do around tyrannies.)

          do they really believe that warring in the Middle East is necessary to American freedom?

          …This is where a not-charitable me would snark about warring in Europe not being all that necessary for American freedom, either. But that’s derailing and non-helpful. Maybe a better way to ask it would be “How did the Bush-led engagement in the ME (*) support the cause of American freedom?”

          (*) By which one assumes “Iraq and Afghanistan, post 2001” and not just “Iraq post 2001”.

          why do the American voters feel compelled, in a post-Cold War world, to maintain a gigantic and outrageously expensive military,

          1) The US military is actually much smaller than it was during the CW. Current plans have it reducing in size and responsiveness even more.

          2) In armed conflicts, money is fungible with lives. (On both sides.) Expensive toys means fewer dead nineteen year olds.

          3) No one else is offering to step up and take on that responsibility.

          when no proportionate military threat to America is present or foreseeable?

          That’s a matter of assessment of the threat, and there are a number of people who disagree. Plus, past experience has indicated that allies are not all destined to remain allies.

          Even if this were true, (that there is no need for the military capability) it’s not like France and the UK dropped all their military capability when it was clear the US would handle it – it was a slow draw down process.

          There is also the issue of how hard it is to reset capability fast without damaging the economy/social order. Keeping the military up means avoiding abrupt changes when the world changes abruptly, and (in theory) helps keep the world stable.

          But mostly it’s (2) above.

          • anon says:

            “How did the Bush-led engagement in the ME support the cause of American freedom?”

            I understand that you mean this as a take-that to Republicans, as if that made the question go away, but as far as I can tell typical Americans do identify the defense of American freedom with the GI-Joes until recently deployed in Iraq, so the question remains.

          • anon says:

            Warring in Europe was not at all necessary for American freedom. Maybe it was morally necessary, mostly to save the Russians, who the Nazis if victorious would have deported as far East as possible as left to starve. And that’s an entirely different argument.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Warring in Europe was not at all necessary for American freedom.

            Having Nazi Germany be the only nation in the world with Nuclear -tipped ICBMs seems like it could be a serious problem for a country with a sizeable population of Jews and Slavs and other “non-Aryans”.

            Realistically, I would expect a good chunk of the US to “Go Nazi” at that point. So yes (some of) the horrors of WWII would be avoided but at the cost of a 1000 year Riech that actually has a shot at lasting 1000 years. I don’t think I like that trade.

          • John Schilling says:

            The Manhattan Project was started two months before the US entered WWII. Even an isolationist alt-history United States gets nuclear weapons before the Nazis. And the RFP for the B-36 was a month before that, putting it in service long before the most optimistic date for a Nazi ICBM.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @ John Schilling
            I don’t share you’re confidence there.

            The B-36 didn’t make it’s first-flight until 1949 and experience our own timeline shows that unescorted heavy bombers are going to suffer grievously against German flak and high-altitude fighters.

            Meanwhile in 1945 were already testing a 2-stage variant of the Aggregate (V2) missile that would have, in theory at least, been capable of hitting the US east coast from launch sites in Europe or North Africa.

            Of course in our timeline we bombed the crap out of those launch sites and their production/test facilities to keep that from happening. I figure that a hypothetical Germany that isn’t having it’s industrial centers pounded into rubble by the 8th Air Force would be a bit further a long on that front.

            So maybe the US would develop nukes before the Germans, but it is almost certain that the Germans would develop an effective delivery methods before the US.

            Without the distraction of the US bombing campaign and fighting a two front war I figure that the Germans would develop ICBMs in 1945 and nukes maybe a few years later. This leaves us in an awkward situation where they can hit us but we can’t hit them.

            Best case scenario moving forward at that point is basically the Cold War only with Nazis in place of Commies.

          • Nornagest says:

            The Manhattan Project was started two months before the US entered WWII.

            The draft was also called up sometime before the US formally entered WWII — a year and change before, in fact. Using the declaration of war as a starting point for the American side of the conflict or a proxy for a turn away from isolationism is not, in that case, going to be very accurate.

          • xtmar says:

            @Hlynka CG

            Re they could hit us but we couldn’t hit them.

            1. This depends on the ultimate outcome of the war with Russia. While US/UK bombing of the German heartland was important,* as was (eventually) Normandy and various campaigns in the Med, I don’t think it’s necessarily a given that Germany would have beaten them. Indeed, the Russians started to win back territory near Moscow by January of 1942, only a month after American entry into the war. Furthermore, if you look at the allocation of resources, even when the western allies were advancing strongly on their fronts, the vast majority of the German army was still focused on the eastern front. Perhaps if they didn’t have to worry about the British invasion/counter-invasion it would have been enough to tip the balance, but I don’t think so. Instead, I suspect that the Germans and Russians would have been trapped in a longer and even bloodier war of attrition than what the Eastern Front already was.
            2. While the Germans did have a huge lead in rocketry, the nuclear triad was a valid strategy until at least the 1960s. This sort of depends on how you weight American versus German advances in aeronautics outside of rocketry, but certainly the Americans would have had a strong carrier and air based nuclear deterrent, and with inflight refueling (which debuted in operation by 1950) there would have been credible delivery options. SSG(N) type options would also have been practical well before the first SSBN, and I think the American experience with submarines in the Pacific would have made them at least as competitive as German submarines.
            3. As you say, the best case is a Cold War with Germany.

            *Though even there, I don’t think it’s actually that effective. While it certainly had some effect, the Germans were able to raise output into 1944 by streamlining their industrial base, despite the bombing campaign. Furthermore, WWII era bombing was notoriously inaccurate.

          • Fnord says:

            If, by “two months before the US entered WWII”, you mean two months before the official declaration of war in December 1941, the US was certainly gearing up for war in all sorts of ways by that point, and really was neutral in name only.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ xtmar.

            The ultimate outcome of the war in Russia is largely dependent on just how willing to intervene our hypothetical isolationist US is. Moscow and St Petersburg would have fallen to the Germans in ’42 without US logistical support. I don’t know if that would have taken the Soviets out of the fight but it certainly would have knocked the wind out of any counter attack.

            In regards to 2) I see German aeronautics as an even match if not superior. The US had numbers and coordination but the Germans had raw performance. Remember that the Axial-flow turbojet, all flying tail, and swept wings to improve transonic stability were all German advancements that the US and UK later copied. Yes the US, learned a lot fighting the Japanese but the Germans were still well ahead of the US in tech if not in doctrine.

            As such I look at the nuclear triad in our hypothetical scenario and see an enemy that has a significant advantage along one axis, and parity, if not moderate superiority, along the other two. That is not a position you want to be in.

          • bean says:

            @HlynkaCG

            The B-36 didn’t make it’s first-flight until 1949 and experience our own timeline shows that unescorted heavy bombers are going to suffer grievously against German flak and high-altitude fighters.
            Two things. First, the B-36 was delayed when they realized it wouldn’t be needed. If the US hadn’t been able to use overseas bases, AWPD-1 would have been used instead of AWPD-42. AWPD-1 called for B-36s instead of B-29s.
            Second, the B-36 was capable of flying much higher than the B-29. Even the F-86 was not capable of intercepting the B-36. It took the F-100 to be able to do that.

            Meanwhile in 1945 were already testing a 2-stage variant of the Aggregate (V2) missile that would have, in theory at least, been capable of hitting the US east coast from launch sites in Europe or North Africa.
            By ‘testing’ you mean ‘firing rockets that blow up pointlessly’. It wasn’t likely to work, and couldn’t have delivered a bomb anyway. It wasn’t until the late 50s that thermonuclear weapons reached weights that would make missiles feasible. With regular nukes and V-2 accuracy, they wouldn’t actually be a threat.

            So maybe the US would develop nukes before the Germans, but it is almost certain that the Germans would develop an effective delivery methods before the US.
            The German nuclear program was a bad joke. The Japanese were further along. And they’d have developed 7 delivery systems, none of which worked.

            Without the distraction of the US bombing campaign and fighting a two front war I figure that the Germans would develop ICBMs in 1945 and nukes maybe a few years later. This leaves us in an awkward situation where they can hit us but we can’t hit them.
            You overrate the German missile designers. They weren’t that good. If you look closely, they were less important than a Belgian in US missile design.

            Best case scenario moving forward at that point is basically the Cold War only with Nazis in place of Commies.
            No, it’s the US nuking Germany flat, in 1947-1948.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            There is a self published book along those lines. The Big One, written by Stuart Slade (Halifax makes peace with the Germans, the Nazis do great in Russia and the US sends expeditionary forces to the Eastern Front and carrier raids to on the west). Haven’t read it or the sequels (I believe the consensus is Slade lets his political views interfere a bit too much although ISIS is working very hard to make his stereotypical Islamic villains appear reasonable in comparison) but he is obsessive about technical detail and thinks the US could have mass produced enough nuclear weapons by 1947 to… well ‘the big one’.

        • Gbdub says:

          American intervention in Libya had an awful lot to do with European, particularly French, interests (and trying to clean up France’s mess worked oh so well for us in Vietnam…).

          So perhaps as a European you ought to look a bit closer at your own governments, who seem quite content to let America do dirty work on their behalf.

          If America really wound down and went isolationist, Western Europe would either need to beef up their own militaries substantially, or be accepting of a world militarily dominated by Russia and China.

          Less snarky edit: The American military is so huge because a) we can afford it and b) you never want to be at parity with your adversaries – that encourages them to test you. Being ultra-dominant discourages them from even trying. In the long run it may be cheaper to maintain a bigger force than “necessary” then to have a weaker force that tempts the Chinese or Russians into a real shooting war instead of a minor proxy one.

          • anon says:

            I was very strongly against the intervention in Lybia.

            That one was a favor to France, and a disfavor to some other European contries.

            Usually it’s the US that pressures European countries to go to war against their own interests, such as in Iraq.
            (Although the US bear the most of the casualties and expenditures).

            Yes, the weight of military expenditure and risks should be better distributed among NATO countries. Given that I don’t think that the Us should go isolationist in the sense of dropping NATO ties; rather I think that the NATO block, as a whole, should be way less interventionist.

          • Gbdub says:

            The trouble with the NATO block being less interventionist is that someone is going to fill the void, and we might not like the results very much.

            Putin seems intent on at least partially reviving the Cold War. Russia snatched up Crimea and continues to fight a proxy war in Ukraine and basically dared NATO to do anything about it, which we really didn’t. Does that happen if NATO is a stronger front?

            NATO did nothing to intervene except some empty talk (the “red line”) in Syria, and Russia rides in with hard power to support Assad. Now we’re over there in some force but we have no initiative and apparently little plan other than “blow up ISIS looking stuff”.

            When America left Iraq, Iran was able to exert further influence, and ISIS sprung up (now, maybe we shouldn’t have gone to Iraq in the first place, but having gone there, leaving in a hurry seems to have made things definitively worse). And having grown up in Iraq in the post-occupation power vacuum, ISIS has now decided to stretch its muscle on European and American civilians. That’s why some Americans believe it’s “better to fight them over there”.

            These things make NATO look weak, and encourage further adventurism by alternative powers. This is what I mean by saying that often it’s safer and cheaper to be obviously dominant.

            Maybe you’re okay with the third world being dominated by Russian/Iranian/Chinese spheres of influence. But I suspect that would be rather less stable than the late Cold War/90s world. Could be that our little wars are preventing a big one.

            Personally I’m coming around to the idea of leaving the Middle East to go to hell now that we don’t need their oil as much. Let the Saudis and Iranians duke it out and kill each other if that’s what they want so bad. But if we do that, I do think NATO needs to start being more credible. Maybe we keep our noses out of more conflicts, but when we draw a line, we need to really mean it, and back it up. “Speak softly, and carry a big stick”!

          • “Personally I’m coming around to the idea of leaving the Middle East to go to hell now that we don’t need their oil as much.”

            This seems to assume that if we do need their oil, that’s a reason to intervene. Why? Oil producing countries want money, which they get by selling oil. Oil is sold on a world market. The fact that Iran doesn’t like us isn’t what held down their oil sales, it was the fact that we were trying to keep them from selling oil.

            Hugo Chavez didn’t like us much, but that didn’t keep Venezuela from selling oil.

          • anon says:

            Gbdub:
            “Being ultra-dominant discourages them from even trying. In the long run it may be cheaper to maintain a bigger force than “necessary” then to have a weaker force that tempts the Chinese or Russians into a real shooting war instead of a minor proxy one.”
            Sure, but superiority is pointless without wisdom, and may tempt Americans themselves into unnecessarily increasing the tension with China or Russia.

            You mention Ukraine; the most irresponsible thing that was done there was the Western engineering of a coup in a country in the sphere of influence of Russia. Now that kind of line-crossing behavior is what’s reviving the Cold War.
            Russia has merely been defending its natural sphere (Russian speakers). Nothing it does there could be considered a threat to the West, and it’s nothing the West wouldn’t do if Russia supported a coup in a Nato country.

            Putin supports Assad. That’s fine by me. Assad is the lesser evil. Or did we learn nothing from Lybia?

            Of course retreating from Iraq so abruptly was demagogic and dumb. And that’s one of the reasons the West should be less interventionistic in the first place. The West is demagogic, superficial, short term oriented, clouded by ideology, lacking in understanding. Not only it’s an unnecessary burden for us to run things, we aren’t even qualified.

            Nothing about Russia and China today makes me think that if they ran a bit more of the world there would be instability. It’s rather the other way around, given how monumentally incompetent the West has been in this era. You can’t get any worse than that, only better.

            And yes, it’s good to draw sharp and clear lines. And to only meddle on this side of the line, and leave the rest to other powers. It seems, however, that the US find it really difficult to recognize the existence of other world powers with their own area of influence, where only they are allowed to meddle. It seems to wrongly believe that the world is naturally unipolar.

            Sorry for the perhaps excessively antagonistic sounding rant.

          • Jiro says:

            You mention Ukraine; the most irresponsible thing that was done there was the Western engineering of a coup in a country in the sphere of influence of Russia.

            What in the world are you talking about?

          • John Schilling says:

            Presumably the Euromaidan Revolution. Calling it a “Western-engineered coup” is an overstatement, but a democratically elected government was replaced by an unelected one through extralegal and not-entirely-peaceful means and the West certainly cheered the process enthusiastically enough. It is perceived in Russia as a Western-engineered coup, and understanding that is vital to understanding subsequent Russian behavior w/re Ukraine.

          • anon says:

            “It is perceived in Russia as a Western-engineered coup”

            Note that I am not Russian or Slavic.

          • Gbdub says:

            Anon, you may not be Russian but I’m worried you might be drinking a bit too much of the RT koolaid.

            Why is Ukraine “naturally” under The influence of Russia? Why not the influence of Ukraine? Maybe Crimeans in general prefer Russia, but to call out a “Western backed coup” and then excuse a Russian backed armed invasion is a bit much. And they’ve moved well beyond just Crimea at this point.

            Russia has been meddling hard in Eastern European elections for some time. Now maybe you think the whole Soviet bloc is still fair game for Russia’s sphere of influence, but I don’t agree. I’d prefer we rein in Putin’s adventurism so he can’t keep papering over his corrupt domestic policies with nationalist enthusiasm.

            And yes, Russia is better at imperialism right now because they are brutal, realistic, and aren’t afraid to engage in realpolitik. Obama is hopelessly outclassed. I don’t think this is necessarily a good thing.

            Americans don’t believe the world is naturally unipolar, we just recognize that it’s pretty nice when you’re the unipole. Trouble is we’ve seem to have forgotten how costly and difficult it is to maintain that, and we’ve got an administration perfectly willing to piss off allies and strike lousy deals with our adversaries to score purely ideological victories.

            Short term thinking has definitely been an issue, as you note. Thinking too much about domestic optics has also been a problem.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            People complain about countries being “ideological”. This doesn’t make sense to me.

            There are no real “conflicts of interest” among countries that share the ideology of liberal capitalism. That ideology says that every country out to be able to get along peacefully with every other.

            The only conflicts there are, involve countries that reject this ideology. If you perceive having your country filled up with Ford cars and McDonald’s restaurants as a benefit, your goals don’t come into conflict with the United States. If you perceive it as a threat, then you perhaps try to put up trade barriers. And the U.S. retaliates to try to force you to take them down. But this makes people in your country resent the U.S., so you pass a law expropriating existing American investments. Then the CIA worries about a “domino effect” and funds some kind of guerillas to overthrow your regime, and you have an armed conflict.

            But this is all “ideological”. It all depends on whether globalization, capitalism, etc. really are good or bad, which is an ideological question.

            The Cold War as a whole is the most obvious example. If the Russians had really wanted to do what was best to both prevent war and maximize prosperity, they would have surrendered immediately and let an American provisional government come in to prosecute the worst criminals in government and restructure their economy on capitalist lines. Why didn’t they do this? Because they disagreed on ideology and didn’t perceive this to be their interest.

            The conflict with Islamism is obviously no less ideological. As was/is the conflict between Arab nationalists and Jewish nationalists (i.e. Zionists).

            And the same goes for America’s current conflicts with Russia in Eastern Europe. Russia is no longer governed by the same ideology as under the Soviet Union. But they have a vague sort of nationalist ideology which perceives American and Western European economic power as an aggressive threat, and their social values as an insidious disease. If they didn’t think this, there wouldn’t be any conflict.

            So how can you complain about people seeing things “ideologically” when every conflict is either a conflict between ideologies or a conflict on the basis of a shared ideology which holds conflict to be inevitable?

          • John Schilling says:

            “There are no real “conflicts of interest” among countries that share the ideology of liberal capitalism. That ideology says that every country out to be able to get along peacefully with every other.”

            This sounds an awful lot like a “No True Scotsman” fallacy in the making. Would you care to pin down the definition of “liberal capitalism” and maybe offer a list of nations whose ideologies can be reduced to same? Particularly non-Western countries, because it’s a lot less interesting if all you’re saying is that Western countries have better enemies to fight than each other these days.

          • anon says:

            Gbdub:

            So I’m drinking the Russian kool-aid.
            How is that statement helpful to the discussion?
            It’s funny, all my life I’ve been accused of drinking the American kool-aid.

            There was a coup in the Ukraine (or a “revolution”), it would not have happened without Western involvement, and the West did steer the power transition.
            There are American voices stating or implying that the West is responsible for the initial crisis on the most different ideological corners: on the far left, on the far right , and libertarian.
            I don’t think you have to be on the Pravda or KGB payroll to see these things. Reversed intelligence is not stupidity.

            “Why is Ukraine “naturally” under The influence of Russia? Why not the influence of Ukraine?
            Because Ukraine is not a superpower. I’m afraid that you and I are talking about different things.

            “they’ve moved well beyond just Crimea at this point.” The Donbass, just like Crimea, is pro-Russia, and largely Russian speaking.

            “to call out a Western backed coup and then excuse a Russian backed armed invasion is a bit much.”
            One could argue that the whole existence of the Russian regime can’t be excused morally, but that would be a different kind of discussion.
            I’m talking about what brings the doomsday clock closer to midnight.
            The west didn’t need to challenge Russia in the Ukraine. The West could easily have chosen to coexist with the bear, drawing clear lines, thus ensuring global stability.
            On the other hand, given that the Russian regime exists, and given how these things work in the real world, it was unlikely for Putin not to make a defensive move (and unlike the attempt to snatch Ukraine for Nato what he’s doing is not a threat to the opposite superpower; wake me up when he invades Poland). This doesn’t mean that I “excuse” him at the moral level. If he or Obama were moral people they probably wouldn’t hold their jobs.

            The bottom line is that what I fear most is Western irresponsibility.

          • anon says:

            What I’m trying to argue, if it wasn’t clear, is that there’s a difference between balance-upsetting attempts to take over territory under the nose of the rival superpower, and defensive measures to retain control. All governments are inherently immoral, to varying degree. But superpower have a choice whether to coexist, or to escalate conflict with each other until things balloon up into a gigantic war. Wars ballooning up is precisely what you, Gbdub, fear. And it’s precisely where provoking a rival superpower takes you. You can’t expect any superpower to just take hits. Nato wouldn’t just take hits if threatened this way. And you may feel indignant if a superpower tries to retain influence on its established territory, like Thatcher in the Falklands, but there is a much bigger point in being indignant if a superpower brazenly provokes a rival – unless it really knows what it’s doing, which Nato all too often doesn’t.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            And you may feel indignant if a superpower tries to retain influence on its established territory, like Thatcher in the Falklands,

            Heh, that’s the first time I’ve seen 1980s Britain described as a superpower.

            Although I would like to point out that the Falklands weren’t just in Britain’s sphere of influence, they were (and are) actual British territory. What Argentina did wasn’t really like backing a coup in the Ukraine, but more like sending troops to take Hawaii.

          • anon says:

            Yes, I know mr x, Britain wasn’t a true superpower and the situation isn’t the same; that “like” wasn’t meant in the sense that the previous sentence referred to Britain; it was more of an analogy.

            And the situation is never the same. I was speaking of the general principles of coexistence between powers. When I say provocation, it could take the most different forms, not just territorial encroachment. And when I say reaction, it too can take different forms. Even if Putin hadn’t invaded Ukraine, he probably would have found some way to increase the pressure to send messages that he can’t be bullied around. Putting more missiles in Kaliningrad or whatever. The enmity would have increased. You want to keep the enmity LOW.

            Another point to Gbdub: The world was never unipolar. It only looked like that briefly, in the 90’s. It was an illusion. Most of the world doesn’t care about liberal democracy and Western values. And without common values, you couldn’t keep the world in line with 10 USAF’s. So you have to come to terms with the multipolarity of the world.

            You said: “Maybe we keep our noses out of more conflicts, but when we draw a line, we need to really mean it, and back it up.”
            Indeed. So let’s draw that line, shall we? And I think it would be reasonable not to include any Russian speaker on our side.

        • John Schilling says:

          As an European, I will never understand how Americans view the role of their own military.

          You have to start by understanding that Americans view your military as an ineffectual joke, unless you are British in which case we view your military as trying to do the right thing but too small to get the job done.

          Americans tend to view the American military, in American terms, as the Marshal assigned to clean up every wretched hive of scum and villainy in the West, on account of it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it and no one else will.

          For Blue Tribe Americans, this is our moral responsibility to the vast majority of good and decent people in the world, and is to be performed by very precisely attacking the tiny number of evil people responsible for all of the villainy and nobody else. If this means American soldiers have to die instead, well, they all come from Red Tribe.

          For Red Tribe Americans, this is a contractual obligation to our few friends on the front lines and in the long term necessary to keep the problems from growing to the point where they do directly threaten the United States. Most of the world is either in league with one group of villains or another, or unwilling to stand against them, and in either case liable to get killed in the crossfire – and better any number of them than a single United States Marine.

          Most of us would like to quietly ride off into the sunset like Gary Cooper at the end of “High Noon”, many of us fear that would result in fairly prompt megadeaths elsewhere, some of us no longer care. We would, I think, pretty much all like to see Europe take on one of these crises, be it Yugoslavia or Libya or Syria or the Ukraine, and show that they can set things right without asking for the U.S. military to back your play.

          • brad says:

            For Blue Tribe Americans, this is our moral responsibility to the vast majority of good and decent people in the world, and is to be performed by very precisely attacking the tiny number of evil people responsible for all of the villainy and nobody else. If this means American soldiers have to die instead, well, they all come from Red Tribe.

            The liberal interventionist model maintains strong support in the “Blue Tribe”, but it is by no means universal and varies up and down over time. I have the vague sense that there may be a geographic trends on this (i.e. New England vs California) but I don’t have polling data to back that up.

          • Brian Donohue says:

            @John Schilling,

            Great comment.

          • anon says:

            Yes, it was a great comment, and also very satisfying to my question. Thank you!

        • Pku says:

          As someone who moved to America, the difference seems to be that while other countries see their militaries as self-defence forces to defend against attacks, americans see theirs as their primary foreign relations tool. It’s still cold-war thinking, which just leaves the question of who to put in place of the soviets (Terrorists, Iran, China, and Russia all fill this to some degree).
          Then there’s the fact that (by population and money) the military’s big enough to be its own small country, which american voters feel obligated to support.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          How do the voters justify it in their minds?

          …because the peaceful sleep more soundly knowing that there are rough men standing guard, ready to do violence on their behalf. 😉

          All snarking aside, see John Schilling, Marc Whipple’s and my own nested replies above for a more properly nuanced answer.

        • Oliver Cromwell says:

          Having overwhelming dominance is a qualitatively different thing to having a marginal superiority, which is why the Americans want it.

          The difference is between being able, in principle, to defeat Nazi Germany, after years of total economic dislocation and hundreds of thousands of deaths, and being able to simply knock them over on day 1 with little or no fighting.

          The anglo-left view of strategy (it’s neither universal in Europe nor absent in the US, nor even historically European, even if it’s now more common in some parts of Europe than in the US) does not seem to recognise this difference.

          While I can see strong arguments, from a US point of view, for simply leaving future Nazi Germanies to handle their own business so long as it stays off the North American continent, I think such a world would rapidly become very unpleasant for European or Asian democracies that stuck with their distaste for military matters. The Americans are probably right when they say that they are doing [developed, democratic parts of] the world a favour.

      • I think the problem is more that Americans overestimate their ability to improve matters.

        I don’t think it’s a question of pure enough motives.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          That’s what pisses me off about this “American imperialism”, “oil war” bullshit.

          If the U.S. were really indifferent to the suffering of people around the world and only cared about oil or whatever, they would simply nuke the population centers, take over the oil fields, and put machine gun posts around them to kill everyone who came near.

          The U.S. goes absurdly far out of its way to minimize civilian casualties. I think, to such a degree that it becomes counterproductive to actually winning wars and ending conflicts, resulting in greater suffering overall. But I don’t see how anyone can look at how American wars are prosecuted and the extremely restrictive rules of engagement, and say that the military is callously indifferent to civilian deaths. Not when they restrain themselves to a self-crippling extent (NB: I don’t agree with everything there, but I do agree with the general thrust of it).

          • anon says:

            Vox Imperatoris, ten years ago I was saying exactly the things you say today. How can the Americans be anything other than angelic if they’re so restrained in their use of force?

            But self serving motives and civilized rules of engagement aren’t mutually exclusive.
            If the US replicated today the immorality of WW2, nuking cities and whatnot, this would obviously result in crippling domestic opposition. It would be a bad move even if you see it from a purely machiavellian perspective.
            I’m not saying that the US is necessarily “imperialistic” (define the word?) or motivated solely by “oil”, but smart “imperialism” will offer politically acceptable justifications for its wars and it will follow politically acceptable rules of engagement.
            For example, as Gbdub (clearly not a spineless pacifist or isolationist) pointed out above, the intervention in Lybia was a favor towards French oil ambitions. Is that “imperialism”? Is that “oil war”? Do rules of engagements make it any less imperialistic and oil related?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @anon:

            Objection: Assumes facts not in evidence, or presents opinion as fact. The statement assumes that “nuking cities and whatnot” is immoral behavior, even in time of war, without establishing a basis for the assumption.

          • anon says:

            Marc Whipple: Your objection is beside the point, because whether or not you think that nuking cities is immoral, the public opinion woud consider it such, and that’s what matters to my point.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @anon:

            Same objection.

            Granted, if the US nuked a city in Syria, right now, that would very likely be viewed as highly immoral. However, you did not limit it to the present or to current situations. If you just mean, “The US can’t get away with nuking a city in Syria to get Assad,” then I do not disagree with you.

          • Gbdub says:

            Last I checked, the USA was notionally a democracy. So the fact that the President can’t get away with naked brutality in pursuit of openly imperialist goals is effectively equivalent to “America isn’t actually that imperialist, and isn’t callously indifferent to civilian casualties”.

            The government being restrained by public opinion is kind of the point. This doesn’t mean that American interventionism can’t have bad effects, clearly, but nothing you’ve said invalidates VI’s point. Personally I think he’s hit on a very good one: All of America’s military failures have come from notionally well intentioned interventions (yes, Libya was a favor to France, but removing Qadaffi still felt like a moral thing at the time) where we proceeded with half measures for fear of seeming too brutal or too imperialist. Vietnam, Iraq, Libya – we over promise and under commit, and then flake out when the costs get high or when it helps win a domestic election. The British Empire we are not.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Gbdub:

            Exactly. That’s a perfect way to put it.

            If the military leaders of the U.S. armed forces had unlimited power, maybe they would be corrupted by it. It seems likely. But they don’t. And that’s why I’d sure rather my country get invaded by America than invaded by Russia or China—even if I were completely ideologically opposed to the American occupation.

          • anon says:

            Vox, what we’re discussing is whether or not those who scream “imperialism” and “oil war” have an useful point to make.

            I say that they do, because if it weren’t for those people, one might mistakenly believe that to democratic foreign policy there is only the saintly layer meant for the public opinion, whereas in fact there is also the layer of self serving motives.

            Whether the US is “imperialistic” depends on how you define the word; it isn’t the same as the British Empire; still, those using the word are saying something useful.

            And this is entirely independent of rules of engagement. The British Empire would have been just as much of an imperially imperial empire if it had followed them (and in fact empires of the past in some cases had very humane rules; the rules of war aren’t a modern invention).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ anon:

            I say that they do, because if it weren’t for those people, one might mistakenly believe that to democratic foreign policy there is only the saintly layer meant for the public opinion, whereas in fact there is also the layer of self serving motives.

            What are the “self-serving motives”?

            As I said in the post about ideology, the American view is liberal capitalism, that what is good for one peaceful country is good for every other one.

            I’m not saying every American action is well-conceived in terms of its actual effectiveness (I have plenty of criticisms of the way American foreign policy is carried out!), but when America bombs Serbia the goal isn’t to get one up on the Serbians. It’s to combat a murderous ideology of extreme nationalism.

            Or when America tried to set up democracy in Iraq, were they cackling and saying this is how we keep the Arabs the down? No, they had grand ideas about Iraq becoming a U.S. ally and a force for liberalization and democratization in the Middle East. What they perceived as being good for America in this regard, they perceived as being good for everyone. It didn’t turn out that way, but it didn’t turn out to America’s benefit either.

            Sometimes the U.S. supports the lesser of two evils, such as supporting authoritarianism in Latin America and elsewhere during the Cold War. But this is to prevent what they see as a greater threat to themselves and the world: the totalitarianism of communism.

            This is very different from imperialism as it is popularly cast, which is based on some desire to capture “markets” and resources for one’s own people, in order to use them to get a leg up on everyone else. The British Empire, especially, did evolve in a more liberal direction, but it still was based fundamentally on controlling resources to win some kind of European power game.

            I don’t actually think the U.S. or the E.U. did anything to make the Euromaidan revolution happen. But they approved of it precisely because they think Ukraine’s moving in a more liberal direction would be good for everyone. For that matter, they’d be perfectly happy if Russia did so, too.

          • NN says:

            Or when America tried to set up democracy in Iraq, were they cackling and saying this is how we keep the Arabs the down? No, they had grand ideas about Iraq becoming a U.S. ally and a force for liberalization and democratization in the Middle East. What they perceived as being good for America in this regard, they perceived as being good for everyone. It didn’t turn out that way, but it didn’t turn out to America’s benefit either.

            I’m willing to bet a lot of money that every empire in history, with the possible exception of the Nazis, thought that what was good for the empire was good for everyone. Even the Mongols.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ NN:

            I’m willing to bet a lot of money that every empire in history, with the possible exception of the Nazis, thought that what was good for the empire was good for everyone. Even the Mongols.

            I don’t really think that’s true. In the period of mercantilism, for instance, did the Spanish think that by making themselves richer and England and France poorer, they would bring about the ultimate good of the French and English? I don’t really think so. Some systems of thought simply suppose that conflict among men is inevitable, and that it’s better to be the winner than the loser. I think this applies to the Mongols, as well.

            But even if it is true, it would prove my point more: that conflicts are not about the opposition of real interests but over ideology. If every empire in history thought its own rule was best for everyone, then the question is who’s actually right. Without that, one’s “interests” are impossible to determine.

            For instance, if the Soviets had been right ideologically, America by resisting them did not benefit itself but rather harmed itself. Even if you say, well, it was the interest of the ruling class to resist but not that of the people, the ruling class ought to have been able to work out a compromise where they get maintained at their prior standard of living in return for averting the possibility of war and allowing central planning to vastly improve the American economy.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            As a note about the Soviet Union, the famous “We will bury you”works out to be “We will watch you be buried”. There are also many indications that the Soviets were legitimately afraid of the rest of the world invading and deposing them.

            Not a Tankie (at all), but given the events of the Russian Revolution and Operation Unthinkable, they probably had the right sentiment (except kinda backwards).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ God Damn John Jay:

            Exactly. They were afraid of being deposed by the West. And I’m sure the West would’ve done it, too, if they hadn’t had a massive military and nuclear presence to deter it.

            Also, I had to look up the term “tankie”. And by the way, I like the reference in your username.

            But as a revision to my last point, about (according to Marxism) the fact that capitalism is in the interest of the ruling class but not the people. One of the things that makes Marxism so destructive is that it’s an ideology that endorses the inevitability of conflict. It’s not “wrong” from the capitalists’ perspective to support capitalism; it’s just what they’re going to do. And therefore, the only way they’ll be overthrown is through violence. (There are many other ideologies of conflict like this.)

            This is what people hate about “class warfare” rhetoric. It’s not (from their own perspective) that they’re on the side of the rich against the poor. It’s that economic freedom and the resulting inequality benefits the poor as well as the rich.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            Also with reference to every society believing it is beneficient. I have heard it theorized that the reason the Torah describes the Jews as conquering their territory in Israel (despite a significant amount of evidence that they were always just kind of in the area) was that at the time, an origin by conquest was seen as more legitimate than just showing up. (Not sure about this, won’t stick up for this if it turns to be nonsense)

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I thought the story was Abraham was from Iraq, traveled to Israel and lived normally, the Jews left for Egypt, got enslaved and then retook Israel. Less ‘conquest is legitimizing’ and more ‘that land used to be ours’. And I think the whole Egypt part was added in to explain why Egyptians sucked and Israel’s Gods were better.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Nah, Abraham never really owned the land, or at least not a significant chunk of it. The story is that God ejected the original inhabitants from the land because of their immoral ways. Indeed, it says that He delayed Israel’s claiming of the land until the original inhabitants had sinned enough to earn ejection.

            The explicitly stated implication being that if the Israelites didn’t stay on the straight and narrow, the same could happen to them.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Does this count?
      Also mentioned here, albeit without a specific mea culpa.

      • Alraune says:

        Eh, close enough.

        • Jiro says:

          True, but there’s a difference between “I was wrong about intervention” and “I was wrong about intervention, and I was also wrong for thinking that someone who didn’t like intervention is a partisan hack, hypocrite, and racist”.

          Those are logically separate. It’s possible that intervention was wrong, and yet someone opposed intervention for the wrong reasons and really was all those things anyway. But although it’s logically separate, people don’t think like that, and this suggests motivated reasoning on Scott’s part–if Scott had known intervention was a bad idea, would he really have thought of his representative in the same way? At least, the next time he calls a Republican a racist, he should consider that his racism detector was askew the last time.

          • “True, but there’s a difference between “I was wrong about intervention” and “I was wrong about intervention, and I was also wrong for thinking that someone who didn’t like intervention is a partisan hack, hypocrite, and racist”.”

            This makes it sound like Scott just *assumed* the guy had to be racist solely because he didn’t the support the intervention. That’s not the case; Scott brought up racism because of a specific statement made by the Congressman…which, honestly, did sound kind of racist.

            “It’s possible that intervention was wrong, and yet someone opposed intervention for the wrong reasons and really was all those things anyway.”

            This is more or less what I think happened.

          • Adam Casey says:

            I feel like the rhetoric you’re objecting to wasn’t because the congressman opposed intervention in Lybia per se. It seems more like “you opposed intervention in Libya but were happy with it in Iraq, which is crazy because the intervention in Iraq was much worse.”

            And sure, Scott was unreasonably angry. But he was at least angry about a poor combination of decisions by the congressman rather than the half that wasn’t so bad in retrospect.

          • Alraune says:

            Scott brought up racism because of a specific statement made by the Congressman…which, honestly, did sound kind of racist.

            Glossing over the problem of local knowledge as “kinda racist sounding” is mindkilled.

    • Alraune says:

      Wow. I hate to beat a dead horse, but this post on Libya is possibly even worse. Though I suppose it’s also more informative as to exactly which aspects of our national psychology make people so willing to uncritically swallow complete fantasies and then demand people be blown up over them.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        I remember thinking exactly the same thing. Libya was the last, best test for the idea that we could actually intervene in middle east affairs and secure a positive outcome. It was like a chance to fix the mistakes after the Gulf War, when we called for Saddam’s people to rise up against him and then sat back and watched while they were slaughtered. It was exactly the scenario where everyone agreed that intervening would be the Right Thing To Do.

        And then it went inevitably to shit anyway.

        I’d be interested to hear what Scott’s thinking on the subject is now, in retrospect. For me, it pretty much killed my belief in humanitarian intervention, at least in that part of the world. It just straight-up does not work. If we want to stop the periodic slaughters, we need a completely new plan.

        What did you think about the Libyan crisis/Arab spring at the time?

        • anon says:

          At the time I was against intervening, on the explicit basis that there was no reason to think that the rebels were a better faction than the reassuringly secular government. I was SO right.

        • Nathan says:

          I strongly supported the Libya intervention at the time. Even though Libya is a mess now, I don’t think you can clearly say it was the wrong move. It was likely to be a messy and violent situation for a long time in any event, and at least with Gaddafi gone there is the chance for the warring factions to come to some sort of peace deal – see the massive complication that Assad’s continued existence is for attempts to resolve the Syrian crisis.

          To an extent I feel like this is a little bit akin to what I think Scott called the Copenhagen interpretation of ethics. We interacted with a problem without fixing it, so now it’s our fault – even if we made it better (which we may not have).

          I don’t think that there’s ever going to be a way to know which choice would have been the right one. But the event did make me extremely sceptical of other interventions nonetheless, because it seemed like such a clear case and it still turned out so bad.

        • Alraune says:

          What did you think about the Libyan crisis/Arab spring at the time?

          There’s a distinct moment I recall realizing that the Arab Spring was both doomed to fail, and that the western narrative of it was built on lies and wishful thinking. It was during a Daily Show interview with an Egyptian activist, where Jon went on a bit about high-minded ideals of democracy and the activist’s reply included “bread.”

    • Urstoff says:

      Please Scott, do apologize for everything you’ve said in the past that you might now not agree with or that someone else might now disagree with. Otherwise you might look like a normal person and not a politician.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      Look, is it even clear that NATO intervention in Libya was harmful?

      Gaddafi was on the way out, anyway. If you didn’t notice, there was a massive civil war at the time. This wasn’t a case of a stable, peaceful hornet’s nest being kicked by NATO just for the random desire to bring them democracy. It was a limited intervention that whose main purpose was to enforce a no-fly zone and take other measures to prevent the Gaddafi regime’s attacks against civilians.

      What evidence is there that things would have turned out better without NATO intervention? The fact that Libya is not peaceful and prosperous today does not mean that the intervention failed or was not helpful; the country was not peaceful and prosperous when the intervention started, and things were projected to get much worse.

      This is, to me, case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If the NATO does nothing, they get blamed for sitting back like in Rwanda as the population is massacred. If they go all-in, they get blamed for trying to “impose democracy” while not respecting “local traditions”. If they just try to prevent the worst massacres of civilians on the part of the government, they get blamed for that, too.

      And moreover, I don’t really buy this line about “some people are lesser races and can’t be civilized like us, at least not until they go through hundreds of years of slow modernization.” The process of modernization can be done very quickly, if only the will is there. Islam may in fact be a barbarous religion. But Japanese State Shintoism was a militaristic and chauvinistic religion. And I don’t believe that Muslims are inherently going to be barbarians any more than I believe the Japanese are inherently destined to want to loot and pillage the Pacific, or the Germans are inherently destined to be murderous “Huns”.

      Now, sure, I’m very sympathetic to the argument that it’s not our problem and not our responsibility to go and bring modern civilization to everyone else. But I don’t believe it couldn’t work if done properly. The problem with what you have in Iraq or Afghanistan is this half-assed effort, where the focus is so much on “working with the native population” and not “imposing values” on anyone that the U.S. ends up supporting brutal, corrupt governments which explicitly incorporate sharia law into their system and make infamous decisions such as holding that a Shiite man is within his rights to starve his wife until and unless she has sex with him. How could anyone believe that such a government would bring peace and prosperity?

      So yeah, I’m against “spreading democracy” if that is meant in the Robert Bork type sense of allowing unlimited mob rule. If the U.S. is going to spread anything, it ought to be liberal capitalism first and “democracy” a distant second, to the exact extent that it is a necessary means to liberal capitalism.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        I don’t really buy this line about “some people are lesser races and can’t be civilized like us, at least not until they go through hundreds of years of slow modernization.” The process of modernization can be done very quickly, if only the will is there. Islam may in fact be a barbarous religion. But Japanese State Shintoism was a militaristic and chauvinistic religion.

        Leaving aside the theory that race influences culture, because it is not necessary but certainly makes things worse if it happens to be true, you are conflating race and religion when what you are really talking about is culture. State Shintoism and Islam may both be militaristic and chauvinistic. But they are militaristic and chauvinistic in very different ways, related to the cultures in which they are applied. One of them, it turns out*, is more adaptable to Western-style capitalism than the other. Why? Because of the culture they are based in, not because of any inherent religious difference.

        Cultures resist shift, except when they don’t. Trying to impose shifts externally is not one of those exceptions. It rarely works. If you want, you can call that racist or bigoted or whatever, but so far the actual experience on the ground seems to be that it is a racist, bigoted truth. When the culture changes, the experience will change. If it does not, it will not.

        *And don’t forget it took a devastating loss in war, including a surrender by a person who was literally a member of the pantheon of that religion, to make a clean break of it. If the Twelfth Imam reappears and is summarily defeated by the US Army, perhaps Islam could make a similar break. Until then, the two have a fundamental discontinuity and should not be analogized.

        • NN says:

          *And don’t forget it took a devastating loss in war, including a surrender by a person who was literally a member of the pantheon of that religion, to make a clean break of it. If the Twelfth Imam reappears and is summarily defeated by the US Army, perhaps Islam could make a similar break. Until then, the two have a fundamental discontinuity and should not be analogized.

          The Twelfth Imam is only a thing in Twelver Shia Islam. Generally, I don’t think it’s a good idea to refer to Islam as a monolith, like you do in your post. Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey are all far from perfect, but their problems are very different from those of Syria, Libya, or Saudi Arabia. Even Iran’s people seem to have modernized to a greater extent than much of the Middle East despite living under an oppressive theocracy for 36 years (for example, Iran has a below-replacement fertility rate and a majority of Iran’s university students are women).

          Like you say, culture often matters more than inherent religious differences. See American Evangelical Christians considering abortion the worst thing in the world despite the Bible containing exactly zero condemnations of abortion and several passages that can easily be interpreted as supporting it. But even restricting ourselves to Middle East and North African Sunni Islam, some places are doing better than others. Tunisia has been having problems with terrorism recently, but its new democratic government seems to be pretty stable. In 2014, it had a peaceful transfer of power to a new President without any major problems. So I’m not convinced that there is some cultural defect in that part of the world that makes democracy impossible, though I suppose Tunisia could just be a weird exception.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          One of them, it turns out*, is more adaptable to Western-style capitalism than the other. Why? Because of the culture they are based in, not because of any inherent religious difference.

          Many people quite sincerely thought that German culture was inevitably warlike and aggressive, and that the best which could be done was to split the country back up into many little principalities and keep them deindustrialized and demilitarized. Everything seems inevitable in hindsight.

          Cultures resist shift, except when they don’t. Trying to impose shifts externally is not one of those exceptions. It rarely works. If you want, you can call that racist or bigoted or whatever, but so far the actual experience on the ground seems to be that it is a racist, bigoted truth. When the culture changes, the experience will change. If it does not, it will not.

          I don’t know if it rarely works. It is rarely tried. It seems to me that it more or less tends to work when tried.

          As for Islam, just look at the example of Ataturk. A rapid and very extensive shift in culture brought about the influence of Western ideas. And the stuff going on with Erdogan doesn’t change that. “It only worked for most of a century.” Indeed, how can Enlightenment ideas continue to influence people if the West itself loses confidence in them and especially when it sees them as the parochial province of Westerners themselves and not universal ideas which are suitable for everyone to live by?

          Not to mention that Turkey is still a damn sight better than ISIS or Saudi Arabia.

          Or look at the influence of the British Empire. To be sure, it didn’t magically turn things around in every place that was ever painted red on the map, where the British ruled as distant overlords. But places like Hong Kong and Singapore are extremely Westernized and successful. And even India is doing much better than many places in the world (and even there, its overall prosperity is a misleading average of some very advanced, modern areas and poor, backwards areas).

          • xtmar says:

            Many people quite sincerely thought that German culture was inevitably warlike and aggressive, and that the best which could be done was to split the country back up into many little principalities and keep them deindustrialized and demilitarized. Everything seems inevitable in hindsight.

            This seems a little bit towards willfully stupid by the proponents of the Morenthau plan. While there is no doubt that German culture was and is different from American/western culture, its also not that different on the grand scale of things. This isn’t to say that the cultural differences aren’t important, and indeed in some ways can be more divisive than larger differences, but it’s also a lot easier to integrate people who share broadly underlying cultural touchstones.

            As you say, this is always easier to see in hindsight, but at the same time I think you’re overstating the power of what you’re arguing.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Vox:
        “Look, is it even clear that NATO intervention in Libya was harmful?”

        I was set to post something similar, although I’m not sure you have captured the essence of the thought process that seems to have been working at the time.

        There was a hot civil-war at the time. Southern Libya had successfully rebelled and, nominally at least, formed a multi-coalition government that seemed to be ruling effectively. Gaddafi was in the process of rolling over that area with fairly brutal effect. So there was definitely going to bad results if we left Libya without intervention.

        But, unlike in Syria or other places, there really was a highly functional opposition. Witness how little that NATO had to due to allow the southern forces to role over Gaddafi.

        It also occurs to me that even if we hadn’t intervened there was at least some chance that the country would be back in the same situation once Gaddafi died. He was 69 and the death of a strongman is always a dicey time for a country.

        So you 100% chance very bad things are going to happen if no NATO action is taken vs. some significantly higher than zero percent chance that very bad things won’t happen if you intervene. The fact that Libya is a cluster now, even if it was the most likely outcome, doesn’t say that the decision to intervene was wrong.

        But I disagree that nation building can really be “done right” in a relative short time frame. Germany and Japan were more nation re-building than nation building. Ultimately it has to be the local populace coming of with local solutions. Outsiders can provide the eggs, but not ever the ham.

      • John Schilling says:

        Gaddafi was on the way out, anyway. If you didn’t notice, there was a massive civil war at the time.

        With all due respect, this seems like the sort of hopeful foolishness that gave us, well, pretty much the entire Arab Spring. There’s protestors openly defying the government in the streets, and some policemen and soldiers have joined them, so obviously the corrupt old tyrants are on their way out. That’s how it always works in the movies, isn’t it? In reality, yay Tunisia, but otherwise pretty much a series of pointless bloodbaths.

        Yes, I noticed the civil war. I was following it pretty closely from a military perspective; I do that sort of thing. I noticed that as of 19 March 2011, the rebels were losing. Badly. Tripoli was secure, Zawiya and Ajdabiya had fallen, the defenses of Misrata and Benghazi had been solidly breached, and the rebels were retreating on all fronts – not that they had any place left to retreat to, other than maybe Tobruk for a last stand. Tobruk is a good place for last stands, if that’s what you’re into. This is why Europe rushed to intervene, and why America went along with it.

        Muammar Gaddafi was as secure in his position as Hafez al-Assad in 1982, or Saddam Hussein a decade later. It might well have been better to leave him there; almost certainly would have been if you’re just looking at the death toll. There are of course other considerations, but that’s a whole lot of blood shed for not much in the way of liberty.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @John Schilling:
          I’m sure you pay attention to these things more than I do, so I’d love to have your take on a few reactions/thoughts:

          “There’s protestors openly defying the government in the streets, and some policemen and soldiers have joined them, so obviously the corrupt old tyrants are on their way out.”

          Strongman out in Libya, strongman out Tunisia, strongman out in Yemen, regime change in Egypt, much weakened strong man in Syria, … I’m not saying the results are necessarily good, but it’s certainly change.

          “I noticed that as of 19 March 2011, the rebels were losing.

          that’s a whole lot of blood shed for not much in the way of liberty.”

          There was going to be a whole lot of blood without the intervention. It’s not clear to me that more blood has now been spilled than would have been in the counter factual.

          And note that it took very little action on NATOs part to completely flip the script. I’m not sure why that was, from a military perspective, but it is certainly a very different picture from other places where we chose not to/did not get involved.

          • John Schilling says:

            Good questions. W/re the rapid turnaround in Libya, that is mostly an example of how important air supremacy is in modern warfare. It doesn’t guarantee victory, and it isn’t strictly necessary for victory – ISIS has been doing surprisingly well against an enemy with total control of the skies – but it does make for an order of magnitude difference in the balance of power on the ground. Enough to turn Gaddafi vs La Resistance from, say, Hitler vs Poland to Hitler vs Russia. From a strictly military standpoint, Libya was a master class in how to do that sort of intervention right – provided your allies on the ground meet a minimum standard, which the Libyan resistance (barely) did.

            But it’s not clear that there “was going to be” a whole lot more blood shed without the intervention. Most of Libya’s populated areas were solidly under government control on the 19 Mar 11, and most of what wasn’t under government control was Benghazi and Misrata, both clearly about to fall. All of this at a total cost of about one thousand dead. There is no reason to believe that more than another thousand would have died before the war was brought to a conclusion. Gaddafi had not in fact engaged in reprisals against the civilian populations in the areas he had retaken to date, and there is no evidence that he planned to. Alraune has already posted a good and well-sourced link on that; I don’t need to repeat it. The bit where Gaddafi had indiscriminately machine-gunned and carpet-bombed civilians and was clearly plotting genocide to come, that all comes from propaganda put out by people who were desperate for NATO to intervene on their side. Possibly Gaddafi was planning some mass slaughter and somehow the rebels knew about it but nobody has been able to find any solid evidence since, but I don’t think that’s the way to bet and it certainly wasn’t inevitable.

            And in general, we know what it looks like to let a vicious totalitarian Arab dictator rule an Arab nation. They kill anyone who stands against them, which means almost nobody stands against them, which means they don’t kill all that many people. Most of them, and Gaddafi seems not to have been an exception, understand that a reputation for being a bloody murderer works about as well as actually being a bloody murderer and leaves you with a larger supply of obedient subjects, so most of them don’t go in genocidal reprisals once the resistance has been effectively crushed.

            Now we know what it looks like to let a bunch of populist ex-revolutionaries rule an Arab nation. Whee.

            As for the rest of the Arab spring, yes, the strongman in Tunisia was replaced by something fairly close to a modern democracy. Yay Tunisia. Would that it had ended there. The strongmen in Libya, Yemen, and maybe someday in Syria, have been replaced by bloody unending civil wars that make the Islamic State look like an improvement in some areas – at least to the locals who are looking for someone who can maintain order long enough for them to bring in a crop and feed their families. You’ve got to really hate strongmen for those to count as a victories just because the strongmen are gone.

            And I would not characterize what has happened in Egypt as a regime change. The regime in Egypt has been the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces since the days of Gamal Nasser. The SCAF has always nominated one of its own to take off his uniform and move into the palace, but as first among equals rather than as El Supremo. And Hosni Mubarak’s death warrant was written about two years before the Spring, when he started grooming his non-military son to truly rule Egypt after him. The only question was what excuse the Army would use to conduct a coup without too many ugly diplomatic repercussions; Tahrir Square certainly gave them that. The only surprise was that they let an elected Muslim Brotherhood leader hold office for a couple of years in the interim, presumably to see if he would accept his proper place as a puppet to Egypt’s proper rulers. He didn’t, the end. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

            I’m not saying the results are necessarily good, but it’s certainly change.

            No argument there. But I am extremely skeptical that this has been a net good anywhere but Tunisia, and particularly in the places where we have decided to go about bombing people.

          • NN says:

            On the other hand, Gaddafi was 69 and reportedly in ill health, so Libya might have ended up in a similar or even worse state to where it is now in a couple of years anyway. The article that Alraune linked to tries to paint Gaddafi’s son Saif as a reformer but 1). transfers of power often don’t work out in countries like Libya, even with a designated successor in place, and 2). Saif’s reputation as a reformer may have been highly exaggerated.

          • John Schilling says:

            …transfers of power often don’t work out in countries like Libya, even with a designated successor in place

            I am not aware of any country in the post-colonial Middle East in which the natural death of a head of state or head of government was followed by civil war or even substantial violence. The death of Iraq’s Abdul Salam Arif in 1966 arguably led to the 1968 coup, but that was an entirely bloodless affair. It is only when healthy leaders are violently killed or evicted that you get violent conflicts over who gets to be the next leader.

            Your proposal to implement a mandatory retirement age for Middle Eastern dictators by way of NATO airstrikes at the first plausible justification after the strongman’s 65th birthday, seems likely to increase rather than decrease the level of violence and the number of dead civilians in the region.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It’s just one example, but some people claim that the Shah’s impending death from cancer contributed to the revolution. But it is hard to know who knew what when. (Many people claim that his treatment in America contributed to the storming of the embassy, but that’s a different matter.)

            In particular, Bueno de Mesquita claims that hospitalization often triggers regime change, though I don’t think that describes the Shah.

          • John Schilling says:

            That’s a good point, though I don’t know of any other Middle Eastern examples except maybe Arafat. And the Pinochet precedent is going to make hospitalization abroad a much less likely thing for strongmen in the future.

            Maybe we should set a policy that we’ll offer hospitalization and safe retirement to any strongman who arranges to transfer power before he leaves, but that would be a hard sell to both the ICC and the strongmen.

          • brad says:

            Hasn’t France had that as a de facto policy since the end of WWII?

      • Alraune says:

        Look, is it even clear that NATO intervention in Libya was harmful?

        Overwhelmingly. (That’s the source Scott used in his own answer on why he’s attempting to change his instincts about intervention, incidentally.)

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          I’m not going to register and go behind the paywall to read that article. If you have an accessible version, I’ll take a look at it.

          In any case, my point was not that the intervention made everything great. It’s that it’s not clear the intervention made things worse than they would have been anyway if Gaddafi had been able to slaughter everyone.

          I mean, it’s one thing when you had this sort of Cold War realpolitik doctrine of “he’s an SOB, but he’s our SOB”. But…not only was Gaddafi not our SOB, that whole context of facing an archrival of remotely similar military capability bent on our destruction does not exist anymore.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        My n=1 sample of Libyan friends certainly weren’t fans of Gaddafi (although I’m not sure how much of that was a personal grudge due to his nationalisation of a family member’s company). Not sure what they think about the intervention in general.

  39. Maybe you have heard of the web site Stormfront. Wikipedia describes it as “a white nationalist, white supremacist and neo-Nazi Internet forum that was the Web’s first major racial hate site.”

    Stormfront has been in the news lately, over claims that Maine Gov. Paul LePage is one of the site’s 300,000 registered users.

    This news story led to my own discovery that I was called out by name, and pictured, on the site.

    Context: back in March 2014, Judge Bernard Friedman struck down Michigan’s prohibition on same-sex marriage, and allowed his decision to go into effect immediately. The Michigan Attorney General’s office eventually got a stay on the ruling from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

    So, same-sex marriage was legal in Michigan for about 24 hours, from Friday afternoon (the ruling) until Saturday afternoon (the stay). Four Michigan county clerks, including myself, opened our offices that day, so we could issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

    On Stormfront, someone with the user name “Adamant”, who calls Jews and gays “the disease”, was not happy about the ruling, and my action, and posted about it on a thread titled “Addressing Filth”. The picture of me in a kippah was presumably intended to underline my Jewishness.

    You can see a copy of what was posted here.

    • Held in Escrow says:

      Congrats! So are you planning on framing that and putting it on your wall? Since pissing off Neo-Nazis is a pretty universal mark of honor.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      For whatever it’s worth, they’re mostly harmless.

      >This news story led to my own discovery that I was called out by name, and pictured, on the site.

      How did this happen? Did you search for yourself or for news about your town?

    • Vaniver says:

      So, same-sex marriage was legal in Michigan for about 24 hours, from Friday afternoon (the ruling) until Saturday afternoon (the stay).

      So as someone involved with the paperwork part of governance, what’s your opinion on judges allowing their decision to go into effect immediately on issues where a reversal seems likely? It always seemed silly to me (despite the issue mostly coming up with regards to gay marriage, and being gay myself).

      • Judges putting rulings into effect immediately is the default.

        Likelihood of reversal is arguable. If a ruling is certain to be reversed, that means it’s legally wrong.

        At the time Judge Friedman’s ruling came down, there had been a whole series of federal decisions all over the country striking down prohibitions on same-sex marriage, and zero upholding them.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          While your point is sound, I have to quibble with your assertion that if a ruling is certain to be reversed, it’s legally wrong.

          Suppose we have an originalist judge whose court is in a district whose appeals court is much more progressive. In a case of first impression, or at least arguably distinguishable on the facts, it’s entirely likely – in fact, it might even be highly probable – that the judge will make a ruling which they know, inasmuch as one can know anything which has not yet occurred, the appeals court will immediately reverse. That does not mean that either of them is right, and it definitely doesn’t mean the district court judge was legally wrong.

          If there is binding precedent or a clear statutory or regulatory provision which is not itself being challenged constitutionally – which is most cases – then your assertion is completely accurate.

        • Anonymous says:

          > Likelihood of reversal is arguable. If a ruling is certain to be reversed, that means it’s legally wrong.

          In addition to what Marc says, this can usually be mitigated down by a showing of harm, especially irreparable harm. If implementing the ruling immediately would cause irreparable harm to you, but staying it would cause much less harm to the opposing party, you don’t need to show as much likelihood of reversal.

    • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

      Larry: Wow, that’s scary. Sorry to hear that! How do you feel about it?

  40. zz says:

    I’ve heard that open-source textbooks (eg SICP) are hard to adopt because professors have to assign books that can be sold at the school’s bookstore, since this is a source of revenue for the school. This sounds plausible, but I don’t actually know any professors IRL, so I’m wondering if it’s actually true.

    • I have never been told that I couldn’t assign my own textbook for law and economics (_Law’s Order_), which is not open source but is available from Amazon at (for a textbook) a reasonable price and can be read for free online.

      When teaching IP theory, the main textbook was a conventional one, but I also assigned readings from _Against Intellectual Monopoly_, which was available online for free.

      Those are the closest I can offer to evidence.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      Sounds like it would depend a lot on the university and/or the region. It’s not true for Finnish universities, at least.

    • Andrew says:

      I’m a current student at Arizona State University. Previously, I studied at Cal State Chico. In both places, I’ve had professors assign free texts, usually online. I’ve even had one print out 40-page copies of a short open source text for every student, gratis. So at least with my two data points, both state schools from different states (with fairly different politics), open source texts are not a problem if a professor wishes to use them.

      Far more egregious is the common practice of professors slapping together unbound college-press “textbooks” that they update every semester by randomizing the problem sets and chapter layout, and then requiring their purchase at the local store for $60-$100. Because they randomize, it’s hard to get by without buying the latest edition- if you don’t want to illegally break copyright, you have to find co-students in your class willing to study together – hard for the full-time employed like me, or for any small class. This semester I had one such “text” that was 95% printed out other-peoples articles from the internet, with 5% questions, for $70, loose-leaf-no-binding.