NꙮW WITH MꙮRE MULTIꙮCULAR ꙮ

OT42: Thread Anniversary

This is the third anniversary of this blog. I want to take this opportunity to thank people who I otherwise haven’t gotten around to thanking:

1. Website/app design company Trike Apps, especially Matt Fallshaw and Catherine Truscott, for hosting the site. They’ve done an amazing job and I strongly recommend them for anyone else launching a website.

2. Michael Keenan, for handling CSS and the layout – anything good about it is to his credit; any problems with it are because of all the finicky demands I place on him. Mason Hartman also gave helpful advice. Michael and Trike also did the technical setup for Unsong, so if you like that there’s another reason to thank them.

3. Bakkot, Alice Monday, and Rory O’Kane for doing a lot of the other technical work, including the green line around new comments and the comment reporting function.

4. Our sponsors, currently Beeminder, MealSquares, and Apptimize.

5. All of the really interesting people who have read and engaged with this blog. I especially want to thank all of the famous, Internet famous, and Internet journalism famous people who have praised me and linked to me, mainly because I have been terrible at reciprocating or even letting you know how much I appreciate your support, or even doing the basic things like not yelling at you and saying you are the Devil when I disagree with you about something. I am suitably humbled to have such important people reading me, I do appreciate your support, and I don’t really believe you’re the Devil, unless you work for Gawker in which I’m agnostic on the issue.

6. Everyone who’s helped build the community. Special thanks to Bakkot (again), Vulture, coderman9, heterodox_jedi, PM_ME_UR_OBSIDIAN, and tailcalled for their work on the subreddit, to drethelin for the IRC channel, and to various people who arranged various meetups.

7. No doubt many more people whom I have forgotten about and I’m sorry.

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678 Responses to OT42: Thread Anniversary

  1. STL says:

    Although your site is accessible through HTTPS, there are mixed content warnings on the main page.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Here are a few offenders, possibly all: 2x fonts.googleapis.com, some but not all amazon-adsystem.com. (These should be changed to https. One is currently //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com, which is fine, but it would be better to add https: before the //)

  2. Douglas Knight says:

    Scott, how about you turn off comments on old threads?

    You turned them off once because of spam, and I think that there is still a fair amount of spam accumulating on them. You turned them back on just because you wanted people to comment on a particular post. That may no longer apply. And even if it does apply, you could create a “page” for people to comment on, rather than a dated “post.”

  3. S. Franc says:

    Thank you Scott for all of the work you’ve put into this blog. I think it’s fair to say you’ve enriched a lot of our lives; you’ve enriched mine – and not just because you introduced me to Beeminder. Here’s to many happy returns.

    • Tracy W says:

      Thank you from me too, and happy blog birthday. Would you like a Lightening McQueen cake? I can do a Lightning McQueen cake.

    • Dirdle says:

      Another thanks to everyone who’s helped push this place into existence. To Scott and all the others – thank you. You’ve created something special. Happy birthday, SSC!

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I too owe Scott for the Beeminder intro. I’m a lot better at the banjo and the sitar by now than I would be without it forcing me to put in a little practice most days (that’s not to say I’m good at either yet, but…)

      Now I just need to figure out how to use it to help me stop haunting the comment threads at SSC and actually get more productive stuff done 😛

      Also, hot damn, this thing has been my go-to place on the internet for long enough that it is a surprise to have it pointed out that it is that young. I think the first post I read here was the one about electronic cigarettes from March 2013, so it turns out I’ve actually been following for most of its existence, giving me, I suppose, a very very limited amount of highly specific hipster cred 🙂

      Surely time by now to consider a nice paper-form book of the best essays?

    • TheAltarSublime says:

      +100

    • Pku says:

      From me too. You’ve helped me feel less lonely, in a whole bunch of different ways. Plus, you write fun stories.

  4. Bakkot says:

    Now’s probably a good time to mention some features of the comment system which are often overlooked.

    • You can hide a comment and its children using the ‘hide’ link at the bottom of every comment.
    • The box in the upper right expands to a list of new comments. Clicking on an item will bring you to it.
    • Speaking of the box in the upper right, you can change the date in it to change which comments are marked as new. This is especially useful if you accidentally reload or something.
    • New comments have the text “~ new ~” (without the spaces) added, so you can C-f that text to easily move between them.
    • Child comments have a link to their parent comment next to the “Hide” link mentioned above. This is particularly useful if you’re deep within a subthread and wish to exit it: just keep clicking that link until you get to the top comment in the thread, then hide it.

    If people have issues, feel free to mention them here or on GitHub.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Do you have any idea why people don’t notice these things? Do you think that the hide button might be more discoverable if it were in the upper right? At least, more discoverable to people who have used reddit or lesswrong?

      (One reason people fail to discover them is that they aren’t running js or cookies, but I don’t think that’s typical.)

      • Careless says:

        The hide button is right next to reply, which people don’t seem to have a problem finding

        edit: and if they do have a problem finding the reply button, we’re probably better off with them not commenting

      • Bakkot says:

        Mainly, they don’t know to look for them. I’d bet you couldn’t name all of the functions available in the menus of the application you’re currently using, either. It’s a hard problem in UI design.

        The hide/parent links especially don’t jump out, being mixed in with UI elements people are accustomed to being present. I do think that the hide button would be more discoverable in the upper-right, and I’ve actually written the code to put it there LW-style. (I didn’t originally because it’s more obtrusive / more clutter.) But I don’t want to confuse people who are used to its current position by removing the existing one, and I don’t want to have two buttons that do the same thing. I’m open to being persuaded on this one.

        • Outis says:

          “Hide” should be renamed. The current name suggests that it actually hides the post (makes it disappear completely), which seems like a destructive action that you would only want to do on spam and the like, and not a navigation aid. There are sites where “hide” works that way. And if the post is truly hidden, how do you get it back? It doesn’t make you want to experiment.

          Instead, you should call it “collapse”, which is what it does.

          The parent link should say “Parent”, not “↑” – if nothing else, to have a larger click target. And have a bit more room between the buttons.

          • Muga Sofer says:

            “-” or “[-]” would also work well for the hide button, if you’re worried about space/clutter.

          • Alex Welk says:

            Or “Minimize”, something all app users should be familiar with. It also sync’s well with Muga Sofer’s “-” suggestion.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            “Hide” should be called “Hide Thread” or “Collapse Thread.” (I favor the latter.) This makes clear it affects the entire thread and not just that post.

            The parent link should not say “Parent.” It should say “Top of Thread” or “First Post In Thread” or just “Original Post” or “Top.” Arguably it’s not as true here as in many other places but many people do not understand the term “parent” when it is used regarding discussion threads.

    • Thank you very much for the features you’ve added.

      I think the problem with the “hide” button is that it’s unclear– hide what?

      I tentatively recommend a Site Features link, at the top of the blog or possibly better at the top of the LEAVE A REPLY windows. You still can’t count on people seeing it, but at least when people get told to look at the link, they’ll have a chance of learning about more features.

      A minor mystery: changing the date/time in the upper right window doesn’t work the first time. On the first try, I get 0 comments since the very recent past, but if I keep pasting in the date/time of the last comment I read and refreshing the page, I get it to work.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ bakkot
      Speaking of the box in the upper right, you can change the date in it to change which comments are marked as new. This is especially useful if you accidentally reload or something.

      When I add a comment, the page automatically reloads. Changing the date back is a bit of a pain (tho much easier with the new date format, thanks), and so is right-clicking on Reply to open a new tab to put the comment in.

      Great job overall, much appreciated.

    • Fj says:

      By the way, it would be nice if those links were a bit more widely separated. It’s hard to precisely tap on the teensy up arrow on mobile.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      • Speaking of the box in the upper right, you can change the date in it to change which comments are marked as new. This is especially useful if you accidentally reload or something.

      This is the only decent way to follow threads here. I didn’t even try until I realized how this feature works (which is not that obvious).

      Unless you’ve read all the recent comments before replying, you have to change the date back every time after you post in order to see them.

      • Outis says:

        Bakkot, please make the “mark as read” feature manual. i.e. don’t update the saved date automatically, but let us click a button to do that. Or log the last few visit dates (you can put that in local storage), so we can click the date and jump back easily. Having to type the date in is terrible.

        Also, make the list of new posts follow thread order, not date order. When I read the first new posts, I keep reading the new replies until there are no more green borders. Then I want to move to the next batch of new posts. But with the posts in date order, it makes me jump back and forth on the page into parts I have already read.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Please!

        • Bakkot says:

          Manual mark-as-read would be a significantly worse user experience for most people I’ve talked to / me. Too easy to forget, and also requires an additional action every time you load the page. I might be able to add a list of previous load times in an unobtrusive way, though.

          And I may be able to avoid resetting when replying, at least. Give me a minute. (Edit: done. Might take a while to kick in. Let me know if things break.)

          To navigate new posts in thread order, C-f “~ new ~” without the spaces. There isn’t otherwise a way to see things in date order, so I’m leaving the list as it is.

          @Vox, which part are you seconding?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Both. But if you can make it not reset when you reply, even better!

            Also, if you could make it so that when you delete your comment, it doesn’t delete the replies to your comment, that would be nice…as just happened when you deleted this comment to change your username.

          • Bakkot says:

            Replies don’t exactly get deleted… they just get put at the bottom of the thread. (As indeed your previous comment now is.) Which is even more confusing.

            Unfortunately, I can’t do anything about that one. Everything I’m doing is entirely client-side.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Well, that explains that.

            As I suggested in another comment, would it be possible to make the reply button work like imageboards, where it creates a link to the parent post? I don’t exactly like 4chan, but that’s a pretty good feature when there’s a lack of threading.

            That way, you could still have a reply button on all posts without indenting or actually threading it right under.

            Edit: oh, and clickable markup tags! Please! That’s much more important, really.

          • Bakkot says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:

            Eh… I think I could make it so that comments which lack a reply link would get one which which actually just replies to the parent comment and pre-populates the textbox with a link to the comment being replied to, a la this comment, yes. Not sure if that would be confusing.

            Also, let me know if the “threshold for new comments does not reset when replying” thing works. It seems to for me.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Bakkot:

            Eh… I think I could make it so that comments which lack a reply link would get one which which actually just replies to the parent comment and pre-populates the textbox with a link to the comment being replied to, a la this comment, yes. Not sure if that would be confusing.

            That would be fine, as long as the links don’t reload the page. When I clicked your link, it reloaded the page for me.

            Also, let me know if the “threshold for new comments does not reset when replying” thing works. It seems to for me.

            We’ll see. Edit: it does work.

            Great!

          • anonymous says:

            It seems to have broken something. Refreshing no longer updates the comments since date. Also, I’d like to put a vote in favor of no breaking changes. I’ve gotten used to how things work. Enhancements like the up arrow are great though.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ anonymous:

            It’s been a bit buggy while he’s been fiddling with things. But I’m sure it won’t be broken.

          • Bakkot says:

            @anonymous:

            The bit about refreshing didn’t occur to me. It was only refreshing pages which you got to by replying or opening a comment in a new tab which were the issue, but that’s even worse because it’s inconsistent. Hopefully fixed now.

            I try to avoid breaking changes, but sometimes an existing feature can be improved only by changing its behavior. Enough people complained about replying causing them to lose their place that it’s worth correcting the existing behavior, I think, even if this means people relying on the current behavior have to adjust.

          • Outis says:

            Bakkot:

            To navigate new posts in thread order, C-f “~ new ~” without the spaces. There isn’t otherwise a way to see things in date order, so I’m leaving the list as it is.

            Is there even a need to see things in date order?
            Anyway, please don’t make me type ~new~, it’s hacky and horrible. And I have RSI. At least have a “go to next new message” link at the bottom of the message, so I can just click it.

            Also, please take a look at my other post here – I forgot to name you there, so you might have missed it, Bakkot.

          • Bakkot says:

            @Outis:

            I saw your post. I agree that “Collapse” would have been a better name, but UI changes are high-cost; it’s overhead for everyone who’s gotten used to looking for “Hide”, as I think most regular readers now have. Might change; I’m debating it.

            The existing solution is a little hacky, but it seems to work for most people (as long as people have the sense not to type that string out in comments…), and usually only requires typing the first two characters. It’s also nice in that, unlike almost any other solution, once you’ve started you can just keep hitting one button (enter) repeatedly to move through the new comments, no mouse or further typing required. Surely selecting the relevant text and hitting C-c/f/v is not much harder than repeatedly locating and clicking something at the bottom of every comment.

            I personally get use out of being able to navigate a list of comments with authors and timestamps in date order, yes.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            People haven’t gotten use to “looking for Hide.” People don’t look for text, but remember geometry. Changing the text will cause a little hiccup but hardly any difficulty.

            (I don’t like “collapse” and don’t believe the claims behind it.)

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Douglas Knight
            People haven’t gotten use to “looking for Hide.” People don’t look for text, but remember geometry.

            Raises hand. Yep, at this moment the lower left corner looks like this:

            ____ ____ ↑

            But no problem using it.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Outis

            It doesn’t need the ew~.

    • xtmar says:

      Is it possible to enable deeper replies? Currently, when you reach four replies deep, you can no longer reply directly to a comment, but can only reply to the last third deep comment. While I’m sure this has some advantages, it would be helpful when engaging in a back and forth with someone if you could reply directly to them. I don’t think it would be helpful to have the actual boxes get any narrower, to prevent
      t
      y
      p
      in
      g

      r
      e
      p
      li
      e
      s

      like that, if they could be logically linked, that would be nice.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        How would you imagine they be linked, then?

        • xtmar says:

          In terms of threading. For simplicity, say that A and B are having a conversation, and C wants to say something, where B0 is the last comment that can be replied to:
          B0
          A1
          B1
          A2
          B2
          A3
          B3
          etc

          If C wants to say something related to comment A1, but can only reply to B0, then his comment will go at the end, under B3, when it would be more useful if it went
          B0
          A1
          B1
          C1
          B2
          etc

          Or at least that’s my take on it. Obviously, they shouldn’t overly indent, but it would help with threading, I think.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I see how this works with indenting (as we’re doing right now). But if you did it without indenting, it would be all mixed up.

            I don’t mind the threading too much as it is. Basically, you avoid both the “infinite threading tunnel” of reddit, and the old-fashioned message board style. You still get isolated conversations, but you can read all the posts in those conversations without moving into a new window.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Plus-1 for what Vox said. Not that we do that around here, but it seems important when discussing potential interface changes.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Now that I think about it, it would be nice if you could easily link other posts (gasp) 4chan-style. Where when you click “reply”, a tag is automatically added to your post to allow people to hover-zoom to the parent without scrolling away.

            Also, I would really enjoy a basic set of clickable markup tags included above the reply box. I really get tired of typing [blockquote][/blockquote] or [i][/i].

      • arbitrary_greay says:

        You can still directly reply, the “Reply” link is just not displayed.
        Open the comment you want to reply to in a new tab, via the date link under the commenter name. There’s a comment number at the end of the url.

        Open a new tab via clicking any reply link to any comment. Notice another comment number at the end of the url. Replace that with the number of the comment you wish to reply to, and voila!

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Uh, what does this actually do? What’s the point?

          • Arbitrary_greay says:

            It’s to directly reply to someone, so that your response is right below who you’re replying to, (for conversations deeeeeep in thread) instead of at the end of the responses to the third thread comment, which would be the case for only using the “Reply” links.

            For example, if the discussion splits along two branches after the third comment, and you want to only reply to one branch, you’d want to reply directly to the end of the branch, not to the third comment, which would punt you down to as if you were starting a third branch, or commenting on the other branch.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        If you want this, you have to try and move conversation over to the subreddit.

        This, of course has it’s own problems. (Viewing a nested reply becomes an exercise in clicking down the rabbit hole). I think there is a basic interface problem here that can’t really be “solved”.

        Edit: @arbitrary_greay: The easy way to reply is simply to click the up-arrow and reply from the parent comment.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Unless I’m just nuts, you made one other change recently which I am very happy about: leaving a reply no longer changes the comment date.

      I used to keep a little log of key phrases in comments I wanted to reply to, but waited until I had read every single comment on the entire page before actually going back and replying to any, because I knew it would lose the information of what comments after that point were new to me. (I guess this was before the cleanup you did to make it easier to reliably enter a different date.) Now I can blithely shoot my mouth off with total equanimity.

      I suppose this might be a side effect of some other more general fix, but if so I like it.

      It might also be a side effect of some new bug, and will go away when you fix that bug. 🙂 If so, oh well.

    • Chalid says:

      Thank you very much for your work on the site. After I learned to navigate it, I grew to like the comments here quite a lot.

      Is there a good way to search the archives for a comment by a particular user?

      If not, would this be something you could see adding? I realize this isn’t as trivial as the other requests might be.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        Iirc, someone had a way to use Google’s ‘site:’ function to search for a string anywhere in ssc.com’s archives, including the comments.

        • Chalid says:

          Sure, I can google “site:slatestarcodex.com houseboatonstyx Moloch” but that just gets me places where you have commented on a page where somebody (not necessarily you) wrote “Moloch.”

          I don’t know of a way to search for places where you, specifically, mentioned Moloch in your comment.

  5. nope says:

    Natalists and antinatalists, bring forth your arguments. Are kids a good investment?

    First of all, some conditions:
    -We’re talking about potential future parents *in this community*, many of whom have high intelligence, valuable skills, high income, and charitable dispositions.
    -We’re also talking about a timespan between now and, say, 10 years from now. This is important, because reproductive technology will likely improve enough in that time to have a small amount of control over genetic dispositions of offspring for those with the financial resources required. This could include traits like mental illness risk, intelligence, sportiness, etc.

    From a “contribution to the human race” perspective, at what point does creating children tip from negative to positive, or positive to negative, considering the opportunity costs (financial and temporal) associated with child rearing?

    Possible variables of import:
    -Likely levels of intelligence, special skills, altruism, other things relevant to humanity in the prospective children
    -Prospective parents’ incomes, and the time requirements of their careers, as well as their careers’ impact on the world

    As an example, consider two smart/talented people who aren’t great contributors to any particular endeavor, relative to their ability. There may be a net benefit to them having children, as their children are likely to be smart/talented, and are unlikely to use an excess of financial and time resources that would have instead gone to some worthy cause.

    On the other hand, consider two similarly smart/talented people who have dedicated their lives to, say, cancer research, or helping the poor, or some other uncontroversially good effort; or two very wealthy people who are especially altruistic and donate the majority of their wealth to good causes. For these people, children would result in a diversion of both money and time away from *definitely* good things, for merely the *hope* of good things to come if the children are similarly useful. At what point is that “hope” good enough?

    (Also, this is purely academic and not a moral judgement on anyone who does or doesn’t want to have children. Just a fun thought experiment.)

    • meyerkev248 says:

      So neither of the above, but…

      The subtle problem is going to be bouncing between Malthusianism and a sustainable Eldercare state.

      On the low end, you get Africa where um… look, the far-right people are not necessarily WRONG on this one, I’m really not sure how we’re going to feed 4 Billion Africans, and even if we solve that, I’m quite certain that most of the per-capita gains are going to disappear into the maw of an extra 3 Billion African mouths.

      On the other end:
      * Children are expensive
      * Young adults make no money and so are a no-op.
      * Middle-aged people contribute enormous amounts
      * At which point they get old, and Medicare costs HOW MUCH!! (While paying a small fraction of the taxes they were paying 20 years ago)

      So what you want is to figure out a “kids/person/generation” where you won’t drown the earth in bodies, but at the same time, you won’t be taxing the kids/grandkids into poverty to keep Grandma barely out of it.

      /Especially if yes, as mentioned, we can sort of solve the Idiocracy problem to the extent that it exists, and that there are large sums of low (and not-so-low) income people who will never break even in terms of lifetime taxes/benefits.
      //And in practice, this would explain why we’re having so many problems. We set up the 1960’s and onward welfare state as the Baby Boomers were moving into no-op and $$KA-CHING$$ territory, and now they’re moving into expensive territory.

      • nope says:

        Oh, I’m taking for granted the idea that the majority of humans on this planet should not be having as many children as they currently are. I don’t think that’s a solvable problem in the near-term future, as I don’t really see any feasible libertarian paternalistic ways of expanding birth control usage past the point it currently exists. Mainly I’m trying to figure out which smart people should feel guilty that they’re contributing to dysgenics.

        Partially for selfish reasons.

        But Malthusianism and the eldercare problem aren’t coincident; the former remains a problem of the developing world, and the latter is restricted to the developed world. I don’t really think there’s a general solution to the human population problem, because it’s not *one* problem.

        • meyerkev248 says:

          Well, the Africa problem is what happens when you have 4+ kids/woman (Or technically, more than 2, but you can potentially win that Red Queen’s Race at 3 in a way that you can’t at 6).

          And based on what’s happening in the developed world, I’m just not convinced that replacement is enough to cover the eldercare state at something close to current taxation levels.

          In other words, there might NOT be a happy middle ground, and they might all be one problem. Or at least 2 contiguous ones.

          And that scares me.

          Edit: I haven’t exactly looked into it, so if someone wants to say that yes, a 1.8 kid eldercare state works for values of, I’ll buy it. But it’s pretty obvious that 1.4 doesn’t.

          I’m also not convinced we know how to target replacement in a sane way given that all we have is third-world countries at 6, First-world ones at 1.4, and a bunch of people in transition.

        • Alex says:

          Why should we think dysgenics is a problem at this point? On what time frame? Also, why think that even third-world births are net negative, given projections that birth rates will drop sharply in the 21st century? I also have a vague feeling that third-world incomes will rise faster than first-world ones

          • nope says:

            Populations in the developed world are almost uniformly sub-fertility, and the correlation between fertility and intelligence in these countries is fairly negative, for women in particular. Dysgenics will be a problem, but dysgenics doesn’t even need to take place for there to be a major problem in the coming decades with a population that isn’t intelligent enough to fill the jobs that aren’t rendered obsolete by technology. If we aren’t careful, we are going to end up with a large, permanent underclass of people shut out of the job market by the genetic lottery.

          • Viliam says:

            If we aren’t careful, we are going to end up with a large, permanent underclass of people shut out of the job market by the genetic lottery.

            Aren’t we there already? (Depending on how large is “large”.)

            There is always a lack of programmers, and many unemployed people who mostly have no chance to become programmers.

            But even the traditional working-class jobs often require skills that many people doing these jobs don’t have. Even skills such as “if all you do is put three layers of something on the floor, you should remember correctly the order of those layers”.

            (This was recently a problem with my balcony; the guys who did it forgot that the correct order is “concrete, isolation, tiles” and did “isolation, concrete, tiles” instead. So after each rain the concrete drank all the water like a sponge, and then the walls were wet even months after the last rain. Other guys had to break and remove everything, and put it back in the correct order. Except that now the floor of the balcony is slightly sloping towards the house, when it should be slightly sloping away from the house, so now all the rain water goes to the wall and flows on the balcony of the neighbor below me. So I will have to hire someone to fix it once again. And I’m like: WTF happened with the “division of labor”, if I as a programmer now have to know more about balcony building than the people who do it all their lives. Half of my colleagues do their home repairs themselves in their free time, because of problems like this.)

          • Jiro says:

            There is always a lack of programmers, and many unemployed people who mostly have no chance to become programmers.

            Since when is there an actual lack of programmers, rather than a lack of programmers willing to work at the wages offered?

          • gwern says:

            Dysgenics is not a problem. The exact nature and size of the effects is still under debate (Woodley used to argue that it was a build-up of de novo mutations due to the paternal age effect, but the Swedish population studies wound up not supporting a paternal age effect on IQ although they did on some other things IIRC), but it’s now moot in the age of CRISPR. Based on the latest research, CRISPR is now embryo-editing grade or if it is not now, will be within a year or two at the latest, so it can be immediately applied to all IVF procedures, ensuring there will always be the capability for at least a few elites, and you can expand to the rest of the population with injections to do somatic & germ-line edits. (Think something like what the BioViva CEO did to herself, or how the upcoming human CRISPR studies are planned to go.) Even if you don’t get anywhere close to 100% coverage in one generation, you still offset any dysgenics and it’ll accumulate.

          • Outis says:

            This was recently a problem with my balcony; the guys who did it forgot that the correct order is “concrete, isolation, tiles” and did “isolation, concrete, tiles” instead.

            Do you think this comes down to stupidity or simple lack of work ethics?
            My experience with construction workers (and the experience of everyone else I know) is that you have to supervise their work closely, otherwise they’ll make a huge mess, and steal your stuff to boot (tools, garden furniture, plants, whatever).

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @gwern:

            No offense meant, but saying “dysgenics is not a problem because we can edit genes” is only slightly less unhelpful than saying, “overpopulation is not a problem, because we have atomic weapons.”

            Are we going to fix everybody’s genes, whether they want us to or not?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Outis:

            Both, but I think stupidity is more important.

            About ten years back we had to get a new furnace for the house we then occupied (it failed, naturally, on the coldest day for forty years.) After it was installed it would not come on. I had been (as discreetly as possible) watching the apprentice who was assigned to install the thermostat, and was 99% sure it would not come on because he had not stripped the control wires correctly. I (as discreetly as possible) pointed this out to the journeyman who was doing the actual furnace stuff, and he quickly corrected the problem This point of failure had not occurred to him, by the way.

            About three years ago we had to buy a new air-conditioner for our current house. That night we discovered the air conditioning would not shut off because they had shorted the call-for-cooling wire. They came and fixed it. It turned out that in making the repair, the wiring was installed such that every time the blower came on, the air conditioning compressor also came on whether the thermostat was calling for heat or cooling.

            I just fixed it myself at that point.

            These were all certified HVAC technicians, working for a reputable company with proper licensure, bonding, and good customer service reviews. Yet three out of three times they failed to install four color-coded wires properly. The technicians, in every case, were polite, well-mannered, and seemed to want to do a good job. They just couldn’t. Three anecdotes does not a study make, but I think this sort of thing is much more significant than poor work ethics, especially when you can actually watch the work being done. If you’re not around, then sure, I can see people just being lazy. But apparently not being lazy still doesn’t get your house to the proper temperature.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Marc Whipple:

            No offense meant, but saying “dysgenics is not a problem because we can edit genes” is only slightly less unhelpful than saying, “overpopulation is not a problem, because we have atomic weapons.”

            Are we going to fix everybody’s genes, whether they want us to or not?

            The usual “dysgenics” argument is: civilization is doomed unless we do something now to stop the tide of degeneration.

            What gwern is saying is that the improvements allowed by those who make use of genetic enhancement will far outweigh the “decay” caused by those who don’t make use of it.

            As he said in his post:

            Even if you don’t get anywhere close to 100% coverage in one generation, you still offset any dysgenics and it’ll accumulate.

            That means: we don’t have to police who can breed with whom. Sure the ones who don’t make use of it will be at a competitive disadvantage. That is not the problem. The problem it solves is that their “bad breeding” does not drag down the rest of the human race.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:

            Fair enough, but that still requires the assumption that enough people will choose genetic correction, and be fertile enough, to overcome all the people who can’t or won’t use it. I don’t see any obvious reason to assume that this is/will be true.

          • Viliam says:

            Since when is there an actual lack of programmers, rather than a lack of programmers willing to work at the wages offered?

            I agree that there are many companies complaining about lack of programmers, but their actual problem is that they don’t offer decent salaries. The question is, if they would start offering more, whether more people would come into programming, or they would simply steal employees from each other (don’t get me wrong; as a programmer I would totally encourage this).

            Where I live, programmers are among the highest paid professions (which more or less means that everyone is paid poorly). For most people, this is still not enough motivation to learn programming.

          • “Where I live, programmers are among the highest paid professions (which more or less means that everyone is paid poorly).”

            That seems to imply some absolute standard of how much people ought to get paid. If so, where does it come from?

            Is it relevant that the average real wage, world wide, is about ten times what it was through most of history–twenty to thirty times in the developed world?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            That seems to imply some absolute standard of how much people ought to get paid. If so, where does it come from?

            Is it relevant that the average real wage, world wide, is about ten times what it was through most of history–twenty to thirty times in the developed world?

            The wages of people around you affect your cost of living. This is particularly noticeable with things like rent and credentialed education, which can basically increase without limits as people bid ever-increasing fractions of their real wages until they are not much better off than the historical poor. But we’ve had this argument already, so I’ll just link to my old comment and leave it at that.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Nope
          I don’t really see any feasible libertarian paternalistic ways of expanding birth control usage past the point it currently exists.

          There are still plenty of obstacles to birth control usage even by women who already want it. Restrictive laws and regulations (not just about real abortifacients); side effects; and money (especially in Third World countries). Remove these obstacles, then see what, if any, further need for expansion may remain.

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t think that’s a solvable problem in the near-term future, as I don’t really see any feasible libertarian paternalistic ways of expanding birth control usage past the point it currently exists.

          Well… is instituting western-style education past age 12 for girls “libertarian paternalistic”?

        • Apologetic Right Leaner says:

          Straightforward solution to apparently not demographically transitioning African fertility is to expand access to birth control methods–this is one of the top recommended causes of the Copenhagen Consensus. I’m slightly worried that expanding family planning services in Africa would be dysgenic (similar to how developed world family planning is dysgenic in that educated women have fewer children than uneducated women), but I’m leaning towards it being a more promising cause than malaria nets if one takes the long view and values global peace and stability. Givewell used to recommend a charity that did this (among other stuff). I’m not sure why they stopped recommending it.

          It feels like something the left can get behind as well… if giving women in the developed world control over their bodies is a good thing, why not give the same to women in the developing world? (Did I say it right? I’m not very good at this leftism thing.)

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Apologetic Right Leaner
            It feels like something the left can get behind as well… if giving women in the developed world control over their bodies is a good thing, why not give the same to women in the developing world? (Did I say it right? I’m not very good at this leftism thing.)

            See, that didn’t hurt at all. 😉

        • Muga Sofer says:

          >I’m taking for granted the idea that the majority of humans on this planet should not be having as many children as they currently are.

          Why do you disagree with the UN, which says that world population will peak at levels below those we could already support with current resources? Or this a “for the sake of argument” thing.

          • Anonymous says:

            He might not be disagreeing. He might just be considering a Malthusian peak to be undesirable. Or perhaps suggesting that those who currently breed the most are not desirable humans to have.

          • Muga Sofer says:

            Oh, good point, I always forget the dysgenics thing.

        • Alex Welk says:

          The standard an-cap/libertarian idea is that population booms of lower intelligence people/abusive cycles of violence/poverty traps are subsidized by government at the cost of middle/upper class taxes, increasing the former’s reproductive rates while limiting latter’s.
          Some an-caps even go so far as to say the government consciously pursues or at least tolerates abuse/low intelligence/poverty traps for the dependency they inspire.
          I’m looking to have kids in the next few years, so my vote is that if you are smart, intend to breastfeed/have your partner breastfeed, and build up your child’s reasoning/empathy by never abusing them, definitely have kids. We need more smart and empathetic people. People in general are net-positive producers, especially as we enter fully into the age of information/ideas.

        • xtmar says:

          , I’m taking for granted the idea that the majority of humans on this planet should not be having as many children as they currently are. I don’t think that’s a solvable problem in the near-term future, as I don’t really see any feasible libertarian paternalistic ways of expanding birth control usage past the point it currently exists.

          I think you should be more skeptical of these assumptions than you apparently are, for a few reasons.

          First, fertility is largely declining, and is expected to continue to do so in the future, to the point where world population will start to decline in about a century. Most of this is due to rising living standards, but there are also cultural factors at work, and the same sort of changes we’ve seen elsewhere. This may not be near-term enough for you, but it’s broadly indicative to falling birth rates, and those should peak out in the next few decades.

          The second thing is your assumption is that a smaller or static population would desirable. I think this is questionable on two levels. First, most societies in the world have some assumption of a growing population baked into a lot of their programs and outlooks. With minimal or negative population growth, that becomes a lot harder to sustain, as you have a lot of oldsters fighting over scraps, rather than a vibrant and dynamic economy. The social strife involved in such problems, while perhaps not likely to be violent, is in some ways more insidious than an actual war, because you have the non-productive elderly taking an increasingly larger share of the prime aged worker’s output.

          The second reason is that people and their connections drive innovation and improvements in social welfare. While there are a lot of marginal improvements that can be made by normal people, the sort of ground breaking innovation that really changes lives requires lots of unique people in relatively close proximity. A shrinking population hurts us on two fronts, because it reduces the number of potential innovators available, and it also requires them to spend more time and energy on keeping the elderly happy, rather than creating new things. There are also more subtle shifts in social outlook and innovation, as older societies are usually more risk averse and less innovative.

          More succinctly, I don’t think that turning the world into an aging version of Japan is a good thing for anyone. It may not be terrible, but I don’t think it would be a good outcome.

      • Alex says:

        Why think we can’t feed four billion Africans? What I’m more curious about is whether their incomes HDI will ever rise to, say, China-like levels.

      • Muga Sofer says:

        >The subtle problem is going to be bouncing between Malthusianism and a sustainable Eldercare state.

        >So what you want is to figure out a “kids/person/generation” where you won’t drown the earth in bodies, but at the same time, you won’t be taxing the kids/grandkids into poverty to keep Grandma barely out of it.

        There’s no level of exponential growth that wont run into Malthusian limits, given linear resources. That’s the whole point of Malthus.

        And the kids/person of a demographically stable society is pretty clearly >1, barring Singularity.

        So what to do?

        Well, Malthus was wrong. Utterly, ludicrously wrong. Resources don’t actually grow linearly; if anything, they grow with a faster exponent than population does. So there’s your solution.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Muga Sofer
          Resources don’t actually grow linearly; if anything, they grow with a faster exponent than population does.

          I suppose you might apply that to lebensraum, if you can build Ringworld soon enough.

        • John Schilling says:

          Well, Malthus was wrong. Utterly, ludicrously wrong. Resources don’t actually grow linearly; if anything, they grow with a faster exponent than population does. So there’s your solution.

          For how long? Even a one percent growth rate in population will result in the conversion of all baryonic matter within our present light-cone to human flesh in approximately six thousand years; if resources are growing faster than population, we will live in a universe of nothing but consumer goods, sooner still.

          If the human race, or even just human civilization, has a future as long as its past, long-term average growth rates will be approximately zero. Whether that is accomplished by making the short-term growth rate zero, or by some more dynamic process, remains to be seen.

        • Alternatively, Ricardo’s version of the iron law proved more relevant than Malthus’ version.

          Malthus didn’t predict population catastrophe, which is how he is often represented. He predicted that the standard of living of the mass of the population could never go up by a lot, because if it did the cost of rearing children would become insignificant, population would then expand exponentially because people enjoy sex, and that exponential expansion would drive real incomes back down.

          One possible error was not allowing for the effect of contraception—I haven’t read enough Malthus to know if he considered that sinful or just didn’t adequately take account of it. Condoms already existed in his time, and interruptus has been used for thousands of years.

          But Ricardo pointed out that how high the equilibrium level of wages was would depend on the tastes of the working class–how rich they had to be before the cost of bringing up a child became low enough not to deter the production of children. Hence his comment that the friends of mankind should hope the workers developed luxurious tastes.

          And they did. Current world per capita income is about ten times what it was through most of history, twenty or thirty times in the developed world. Yet there are still lots of people who, by current standards, are viewed as poor, even very poor.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yet there are still lots of people who, by current standards, are viewed as poor, even very poor.

            Isn’t that because the anti-poverty organizations redefined it, so that they could keep existing and fighting poverty?

          • Anthony says:

            “It is convenient to have a short phrase to describe this state of affairs in which prosperity produces childlessness, and I shall characterize it by saying that the prospect of owning a motor-car is a sufficient bribe to sterilize most people.”

            Charles Galton Darwin, The Next Million Years

      • “I’m really not sure how we’re going to feed 4 Billion Africans”

        Why not think that four billion Africans could do some large fraction of feeding themselves? Is it plausible that food-producing tech will improve?

        • Anonymous says:

          Africa’s big problem isn’t tech, but rather management. They can and did feed themselves in the colonial era, in addition to being a net food supplier.

        • bbartlog says:

          The immediate reason to think it will be a problem is because it’s already a problem that has grown over the past twenty years. Some African countries (Egypt for example) import forty percent of their calories. On the other hand, I’ve seen video footage of them harvesting wheat with a sickle (not even a scythe!) in modern times, so there is no doubt lots of room for improvement.

          • Nornagest says:

            When people talk about Africa in this context, they’re usually talking about sub-Saharan Africa. North African countries like Egypt have their own problems, and many of them have shown political instability over the last few years, but they’re culturally and economically closer to the Middle East than to anything south of the Sahara.

            Egypt isn’t a particularly rich country, but it’s got a reasonably well-developed economy that includes plenty of exports. From eyeballing the economy section of its Wikipedia article I expect it’s buying that food with money from natural gas or fertilizer or tourism, which is not really a problem.

          • Anthony says:

            Relying on tourism money is a problem if you can’t guarantee stability.

    • Jiro says:

      Utilitarianism doesn’t deal well with questions of adding extra people, and produces different answers depending on the type of utilitarianism. You really need to state what type of utilitarianism you’re using (if any) before anyone can answer this.

      There’s also a question of what you’re comparing the child to. If you’re comparing spending money on the child to spending money on malaria nets in Africa, then malaria nets comes ahead, providing you accept EA premises (I don’t and I consider this a flaw in EA). If you only think in terms of contributions to society made by average Westerners (paying taxes, doing things that produce enough utility for others that you are paid a salary, adding to humanity’s knowledge, etc.) the answer may be different.

      • nope says:

        I’m really not a utilitarian, but that’s not too important. I’m interested in people running the dilemma through their own moral systems and coming up with their own results according to those systems, rather than just doing my thinking for me 😉

      • J says:

        My answer to the repugnant conclusion and population ethics is to consider lives as metaphorical cells in a larger organism. So whether there should be more or less reproduction depends on how healthy the larger organism is and how well it’s behaving in the environment. Lots of miserable lives/cells makes for an obese patient, while not enough lives/cells, even if they’re happy, makes for a scrawny organism that’s more likely to get squished.

        Applying that to OP’s question, then, consider your local neighborhood and decide whether having kids will make for a happier/healthier/more robust neighborhood, as well as whether it’ll lead to more or less health for mankind as a whole. (Obviously that’s not very specific, but I’m just talking about my philosophical underpinnings apropos Jiro’s comment)

        • Alex says:

          How do you measure how healthy the “organism” is?

          • J says:

            Thriving symbiotically in its environment, likely to have a long life, individual cells are healthy overall.

          • Alex says:

            What are the attributes of a society that qualify it as “thriving”?

          • J says:

            For example, I’d say a thriving society gets along well with its environment (isn’t driving other species to extinction, poisoning the water, causing mass deforestation), achieves its goals (could be artistic, exploration, scientific, technological), and has organs that function effectively (law, commerce, medicine, defense, land management).

        • Jiro says:

          Saying ‘see how well society does” just amounts to taking an existing version of utilitarianism and labelling it something else. You need to determine how well off society is–and “how well off is society?” is pretty much the same thing as “what is the utility of the population?”. If you figure out how well off society is by taking the status of the average person, you get average utilitarianism .

          “Lots of miserable people is bad, but not enough people is also bad” is just equivalent to a variable value version of utilitarianism, which has known problems just like all the other forms.

          • J says:

            My objection to the stuff I read about the repugnant conclusion on the Stanford encyclopedia is that the utility metrics were all focused on individuals. That fails in the same way as if I were to try to assess my own health using only the number and health of my individual cells. Healthy big people aren’t fundamentally better than healthy small people even though they have more cells. Thus my framing which aims at treating society as an organism with its own purpose rather than a mere summation of individual utilities. A nice side effect of that world view is that I worry a lot less about my own pain and death; I’m here to serve the whole, not just my own immediate pleasure.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Utilitarianism is fundamentally individualistic; “see how well society does” could easily be non-utilitarian consequentialism, depending on your measure of “how well society does”.

          • It’s worth thinking about the distinction between maximizing average utility and maximizing total utility. The former is what a lot of people imagine, but it’s pretty easy to see that it’s implausible, since it implies that, however high the average is, you improve the world by painlessly killing off anyone less happy than average, provided you can do so without affecting other people.

            The latter also has problems. I tried to work through these issues in an old article, but I don’t believe it is on the web:

            “What Does Optimum Population Mean?” Research in Population Economics, Vol. III (1981), Eds. Simon and Lindert.

          • Noah says:

            What about, maximizing the average utility of all people who have ever lived, even if they are now dead, and assigning the dead a utility of 0? This prevents us from killing people (unless they have negative utility), but it makes it possibly acceptable to not have children.

            Are there any obvious problems with this form of utilitarianism? I couldn’t think of any within 5 minutes.

          • DES3264 says:

            @Noah This recovers a weaker form of the repugnant conclusion, which many people will still find repugnant: Anyone who can reasonably expect their children to be better off than the historical average is obliged to have children. (For example, anyone living in the first world.)

          • @Noah:

            Consider two alternative worlds. In world A, average utility is 1000, in world B 2000. Consider someone in either world considering whether to have a child whose utility will be 1500.

            By your criterion, in world A the answer is yes, in world B no. But we can imagine identical lives for the potential children in the two worlds, and can imagine that neither child has any effect on anyone else. How can it be right to say that a life coming into existence is a good or bad thing depending on the status of other people with whom that life never interacts?

            @DES3264:

            You have to allow for the effect of that person on other people’s utility as well as his own.

        • Alex Welk says:

          This metaphor of society to multi-celled organism maps really well to my views as an an-cap, which would use this metaphor to point out that government is a cancer in the strictest sense. It wants/needs resources to survive but it has gone past the normal growth limiters and continues to take resources for more growth even where doing so displaces cells and harms the whole organism. Probably not your intention, but thank you for the metaphor nonetheless.

          • Nita says:

            No, government is the brain — ridiculously expensive, but also pretty useful for large-scale, long-term coordination. Cancer would be a radical anarchist commune, rapidly growing due to a high fertility rate 🙂

          • Alex Welk says:

            Alright, let’s agree to disagree and call it brain cancer =D.

            Still has useful parts (that as an an-cap I think we could do better other ways, but I digress), but the whole is growing out of control and not doing the things it was supposed to and is now increasingly causing seizures and strokes every decade or so?

    • honestlymellowstarlight says:

      Hmm, vaguely serious reply, will mostly deal with what I think of as practical reasons. Natalist, bwahaha.

      The idea of “dedication” here seems pretty poorly defined. People aren’t game characters, you can’t allocate points the way you want to. Raising children is not nearly as intensive, especially if you are smart and/or wealthy, Bryan Caplan has a book on this elaborating further (a rare case of him making a practical point, the crazy-man). So raising children is not really as high cost as you’d think, especially if you can set up a community that can allocate labor locally and efficiently. So making babies is a low-cost side activity with potentially huge benefits.

      I would argue the idea of “contribution to the human race” is ill defined and not really a solid frame for planning anything other than internet arguments, most utilitarian math is not really measuring what you would think it’s measuring, but this is getting into Problems with Utilitarianism territory.

      • Alex says:

        Contribution to humanity may not be easy to define, but how about contributions to scientific progress as a proxy?

        • honestlymellowstarlight says:

          I would still say ill-defined, but this gets into my issues with utilitarianism as a whole, briefly, that “throwing math” at something doesn’t really make it more rigourous. What is “a contribution to scientific progress”, mathematically speaking? It’s all rather vague.

          Ignoring that for now, it’s still important to have more kids. Communities survive by reproduction or conversion, and furthermore I doubt anyone can really predict the future of reproductive technology that accurately.

          • Alex says:

            How about the expected number of research papers with citation counts in the top 1% that your kid will publish? Or do you just not like scientific progress as a proxy for human progress?

          • honestlymellowstarlight says:

            You still haven’t said what scientific progress is, really. And then, are highly-cited research papers driving scientific progress? If so, are they the main driver?

            (I think both “scientific progress” and “human progress” are more applause lights than anything else.)

          • Jiro says:

            If you’re going to use “number of research papers” as a criterion and nothing else, you end up concluding that we should create more scientists no matter how badly other people get hurt. If you’re going to balance off number of research papers against people who are hurt, then you’re no longer just counting the papers; it’s quite possible that your child has a positive chance of producing research papers but would overall harm more people just by existing and consuming resources.

            If you’re thinking “well, I have to accept in the abstract that we can’t prioritize research papers over everything else, but it’s not like my child is going to torture someone in order to write the papers”, you’re making an unjustified assumption–your child may, by existing, create many dust specks which are cumulatively worse than torturing someone.

          • Alex says:

            It would have to be net number of research papers, so if they hurt other people and those folks could not produce any papers because they were hurt, then that would be bad.

            Of course, research papers are only one part of what I think matters. Sure there are some boundaries we should not cross. We should not kidnap people from third world countries (where they are unlikely to do any research themselves) and torture them in scientific experiments. But I think, in general, science is a pretty good proxy for the kind of place I’d like to live in. Do you think so?

          • Jiro says:

            We should not kidnap people from third world countries (where they are unlikely to do any research themselves) and torture them in scientific experiments. But I think, in general, science is a pretty good proxy for the kind of place I’d like to live in. Do you think so?

            I tried to cover the torture example already. But in more detail: If you try to say “we shouldn’t torture to increase the number of papers, but we should do everything possible short of torture”, you’re going to have a threshold where you can do an unlimited amount of bad activity X to get more papers as long as X falls beneath the threshold, and where you prefer an unlimited amount of X than a tiny bit of something slightly worse. What you really want to do is to have a threshold for the total amount of harm, rather than the harmfulness of the type of activity–but if you do that, that just becomes a normal tradeoff and it’s possible to say that a large number of tiny harms outweigh the benefit from more research papers.

          • Alex says:

            @honestlymellowstarlight So you think humanity is no better than it was 50,000 years ago?

            @Jiro In practice, to maximize scientific progress I think you need to maximize something like GDP per capita or human development index, although obviously to some extent population matters also, as do other factors. If you cause a big harm, probably those things are going to drop.

          • honestlymellowstarlight says:

            Just cause I’m not clapping doesn’t mean I’m not happy, bro.

          • Number of research papers is a very poor proxy for scientific progress. We currently have a system, publish or perish, where there is a strong incentive for many people to get articles published whether or not they have anything to say. I don’t think that is a good thing.

          • Alex says:

            Number of research papers period seems like a poor proxy. Number of top 1% most cited papers is better and was used by the article I linked to above. Maybe it’s still a bad proxy, but why? It seems like if lots of folks cite your work, your work is useful. What would better measure (contributions to) progress?

          • Creutzer says:

            I’m not sure what you mean by “top 1% most cited research papers” that isn’t simply a function of the total number of research papers…

    • Chris H says:

      So, going by the USDA average spending, per child cost is about $10,000 per child. This doesn’t seem to be discounted for potential non-rival or only partially rival goods from having multiple kids (housing and transportation for instance can be largely non-rival and hand-me-downs can save on the clothing section). By the same token, they also don’t include college costs, which most potential parents who regularly read this blog should probably take as a given that their kids will go to college. We can thus start with this as a baseline. so we’re talking about $170,000 cost overall. Given a 80 year life span, we’re talking producing an average $2,125 a year benefit to the world to break even given the cost. Even if your kids end up starving artists they should be able to be a winning investment globally without breaking a sweat, even assuming that their only benefit to the world is captured by their salary.

      Of course they will also be consumer of some good with negative externalities, particularly their carbon footprint. Assuming the EPA’s high end (95 percentile) of the social cost of carbon in 2050 ($212 per ton) and the current average per capita emission for the US (19.3 tons), that’s another ~$4,100 a year they’ll need to produce to break even. So let’s assume there are other, negative externalities about equal to their pessimistic carbon footprint, they’ll need to produce around $10,000 a year over the course of their lifetime. Assuming they only work 40 years and produce nothing from investments later in life or positive externalities, that implies they need to make an average of $20,000 a year during their working life to break even. Given that it’s likely the kids will be college graduates in the United States they’ll likely blow that away by a huge margin. Encourage them towards careers with high positive externalities and they’ll do even better. Now, more kids do gradually lower the overall educational attainment of the group, though even kids with associates or high school diplomas can beat that $20,000 a year mark overall, so eventually they’ll likely start becoming net liabilities to the world, but probably you or your spouse will get sick of having more kids on a personal level before that swamps the net win for the world for having kids in a developed country.

      Now to be fair, I haven’t included the potential gains from investing the money you spent on the kids instead, but since I’ve also ignored non-salary positive externalities, used rather pessimistic climate change estimates, and the average US income for people with just some college and no degree is ~$28,000 a year (average the male and female numbers, males are a lot easier to justify on pure salary considerations) I think it’s overall a pretty suggestive case that people high intelligence enough to read this blog should expect having kids beyond pure replacement would be a rather large net win for the world.

      Sources:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_raising_a_child
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions_per_capita
      http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/EPAactivities/economics/scc.html
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Educational_attainment_in_the_United_States#Income

      • Alex says:

        Do you think other equal negative externalities is actually a reasonable assumption?

      • Jiro says:

        Actually, the money spent on the kids doesn’t directly count (unless you’re going along the lines of “if I spend it on kids I can’t spend it on EA”). If money is spent on your kids, that money is spent on something, and there’s a person at the other end of the transaction receiving just as much money as you spend. Society overall doesn’t gain or lose, since the loss from one person spending the money is the same as the gain from the other person receiving it.

        You need to count deadweight losses, spending on consumables, etc. which is much trickier.

        • Chris H says:

          The money spent on the kids could also count simply if you were going to invest it, then you’d also have to take into account the expected return on investment (as I mention).

          But why are we counting “good for the world” as EA charities only? I’d say that EA charitable spend is potentially the maximal good for the world per dollar but it’s not the only good. Consumption is also good insofar as the consumer feels benefited for having made the purchase (which is not always true but errors on over and under valuing purchases seem likely to cancel out based on my personal experience, which may not be generalizable so feel free to make an argument against that), and the chain of producers feel benefited for having sold the good rather than not having done so (over and under estimates again possibly cancelling out except in cases of obvious coercion such as slavery).

          And again, all of my analysis so far has ignored potential upsides from providing goods not covered by monetary transactions (ranging from small things like forming good friendships with others to potentially huge things like spreading great intellectual advances while either not getting paid or only getting paid a tiny fraction of how much the idea is worth). It’s also worth noting I deliberately went really high on the CO2 cost estimates.

          I’m sure there are things I’m missing, but putting numbers on an issue like this at least gives a rough idea of size of the problem we’re talking about. I think we’d gain more from this discussion by trying to formalize how big of costs and benefits we’d expect through numbers even with the risk of anchoring bias, just because doing so limits the tendency to say “there’s a benefit/cost to having kids therefore having kids is a good/bad idea!”

        • ” since the loss from one person spending the money is the same as the gain from the other person receiving it.”

          Arguably the gain is much larger. Children, as any parent knows, are the real world version of the utility monster of philosophy—they feel more intensely than adults do. Consider how much pleasure a five year old can get from a toy that costs only a few dollars.

          To make the point more generally, my spending a dollar on my child isn’t a dollar lost by one person and a dollar gained by another. It is some amount of utility gained by the child and, arguably, some amount of utility gained by the parent who, being altruistic towards his children (they have him by the genes) takes pleasure in their pleasure.

          For details see Gary Becker’s work on altruism.

    • Alex says:

      We already have the technology to do that with IVF and choosing the right donor. But eugenics is, from the perspective of society, a second-order concern compared with just having more kids, because whoever your parents (or grandparents) are, regression to the mean wins eventually. Eugenics in the long run is a losing battle, but trying to just increase the population is not.

      More kids is good for society

      Becoming a Mormon (or for that matter, Muslim) will increase your expected number of grandkids, but I have doubts about whether you should become a Mormon. I’m worried that they may have a more familialist or intolerant culture, and this may lead to the decay of national-scale secular institutions. Does anyone familiar with Mormonism want to comment?

      You can also go abroad and have a large family in a third-world country for cheap, and due to high fertility rates, have a larger number of grandkids, but whether those offspring will do as much good for the world as fewer grandkids in a first-world country I don’t know. It depends on long-term trends in global income inequality.

      If you think the chance of a total nuclear war is high, make sure you don’t raise your family in the city where they might be incinerated

      I suspect that overall, the smarter and more successful you are, the less reason to have kids things being equal because you can contribute to society in other ways by building businesses, doing research, improving institutions, and so forth, and your kids will likely not be as smart as you.

      For simple country boys like myself, you should have more kids than is usual today-I am hoping to have at least four-but more important than the number is the culture and place where you raise them. What you get “credit” for is not the number of kids, but the number who contribute to progress

      • “because whoever your parents (or grandparents) are, regression to the mean wins eventually.”

        Regression to the mean eventually eliminates the effect of the non-genetic causes of the parents’ high intelligence or other presumably desirable characteristics. It doesn’t eliminate the effect of the genetic causes.

        Consider the obvious example of animal breeding. Greyhounds bred with greyhounds don’t regress back to some sort of generic dog breed.

        • Muga Sofer says:

          But Greyhounds bred with the general population do; eugenics is useless unless state- or planet-wide.

          • gwern says:

            Greyhounds bred with the general population of dogs will increase the greyhoundedness of the general population, in the same way that when redheads breed with people with other colored hair, the red-hair genes don’t disappear into the void – redheadedness just starts popping up in random places when two carriers have kids. If you put a fixed population of greyhounds under consistent selection pressure and keep introducing greyhounds into the general population, without some sort of counter-selection or other fitness penalty, it’ll drag the general population towards greyhoundedness.

          • Alex says:

            @Muga Sofer Yup

            @gwern Theoretically yes. On the other hand, if it had significant effects in practice, you might expect to see human evolution over the past 10,000 years as smarter people rose to positions of leadership and greater fertility-but recent evolution (in most respects) does not seem to be a widely accepted hypothesis. In modern times, fertility and success are also negatively correlated, so it’s not really clear whether a few people deciding to have smart kids is enough to overcome (slow) dysgenics.

            Having smarter kids is a good way to, well, have smarter kids-whether it would help much with a permanently smarter society I doubt.

          • gwern says:

            On the other hand, if it had significant effects in practice, you might expect to see human evolution over the past 10,000 years as smarter people rose to positions of leadership and greater fertility-but recent evolution (in most respects) does not seem to be a widely accepted hypothesis.

            If there is no pressure for intelligence, then why have intelligence levels been maintained at a reasonably constant level? As it comes with clear metabolic costs, it should be selected against, or drift alone should have driven many alleles to extinction/fixation (and then there’s the argument from between-group differences: because it looks like many groups have avoided outbreeding to a remarkable extent, with amazing levels of endogamy in groups like Indian castes or the Ashkenazi, Chuck notes http://humanvarieties.org/2016/02/04/the-evolutionary-default-hypothesis-and-negative-hbd/ that based on genetic drift alone we should see large differences). But we don’t see much of any difference looking back, and there are claims of eugenic pressures historically, as one would naively expect would be the case for intelligence, like Clark’s work on the English & Chinese.

            In modern times, fertility and success are also negatively correlated, so it’s not really clear whether a few people deciding to have smart kids is enough to overcome (slow) dysgenics.

            Well, it’s a clear quantitative claim, so if you don’t find it clear, you can run the equations to see what would happen. Offhand, I think it would go something like the breeder’s equation + relative reproducing population size, so a decrease of X in the main population would be offset by a gain of 2*x in a population half the size, 3*xz in a third the size, and so on; since the dysgenic estimates look like 2 IQ points a generation?, you could imagine a 1/2th sized population, under +4 (or 0.26SD) points a generation which would require 0.26 = 0.8 * s ~> s=0.325, which if we were implementing the eugenics using truncation selection would be equivalent to not letting anyone below IQ 105 reproduce (so only 38% of the population). Far from impossible levels when you consider how reproduction rates in polygyny societies or the historical reproductive success rates of men inferred from genetics.

          • Alex says:

            Maybe. I think there are two cases-either dysgenic trends exist nationally or they don’t. If they don’t, whatever eugenic modification you make could stick around in the gene pool indefinitely, so you do wind up benefiting society by having smarter kids as charity. But if there is dysgenics, then absent some unprecedented national policy like forbidding the dull to reproduce, then any individual acts of charity will-eventually-be washed out as we move slowly & inexorably toward some equilibrium-maybe Idiocracy? (Assuming no CRISPR or other technological escape hatch) is this right?

          • gwern says:

            Alex: ignoring any sort of direct genetics intervention, yeah, you could phrase it that way for a personal choice of having kids or sperm/egg donation. I would not see it as too important a distinction since the long-term gains are going to be crushed by discounting anyway: no plausible discount rate cares about events much past 100 years. So you don’t need to consider effects out more than 3-4 generations. Do the two scenarios differ much over 3-4 generations? I don’t think they do; if anything, it seems to me that in the dysgenics case, the returns to greater intelligence will increase as they become relatively rarer and more scarce and one of the ever-fewer people able to understand cutting-edge STEM topics.

    • nydwracu says:

      Intellectual advocacy of planned dysgenics is a self-limiting problem, but I’d still prefer for y’all not to fuck up the world for my eventual descendants.

    • As it happens, I wrote a piece for the Population Council forty-some years ago that attempted to answer the question of whether an additional child made the rest of the world better or worse off. My conclusion was that I couldn’t tell–there were positive and negative effects and they were sufficiently uncertain, in part for the sort of reasons you mention, that I couldn’t sign the sum. That does not sound like a very interesting result–except that it was at a time when almost everyone else writing on the subject (with the notable exception of Julian Simon) was confident that the sum was negative and large.

      http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Laissez-Faire_In_Popn/L_F_in_Population.html

      Looking at it on the micro scale, from my own experience, having children has been a large net benefit. Among other things, my wife and I now have two roommates who are just the sort of people we like having around–harder if you don’t build them yourself.

      The process from the beginning to here was net positive most of the time. And I expect both of those (and the son of my first marriage, who doesn’t live with us but is close and brings my grandchildren over for dinner about once a week) will, each in a different way, make the world a better place.

      That’s my experience, but I don’t know if it would be someone else’s. The scariest issue, for me, is whether you get along with your kids. I got along with mine and with my parents, and my wife got along with her parents as well. That might mean we all did something right.

      It also might mean we were lucky. I gather from what my children tell me about their friends that quite a lot of people don’t get along with their parents—not only don’t end up as close and affectionate friends but end up with quite a lot unpleasant hostility. Being tied closely for about eighteen years and less closely for the rest of your life to someone who doesn’t much like you is a pretty frightening thought.

      • Nadja says:

        What do you think it is about the way you brought up your kids that helped you build such good relationships with them? Also, looking at the parents of the other kids, those who are not as close with their parents, what do you think might have gone wrong there?

        • I don’t have the data for the parents of the other kids, since all I have is what their kids have told my kids.

          I think there are two possible views of children—pets who can talk, and small humans who don’t yet know very much. I prefer the second, and tried to bring up my children accordingly, treating them as moral peers insofar as that was practical. That included letting them make choices that didn’t impose costs on others so far as practical. For a simple example, if one of them did not like what we were having for dinner, he could have something else, provided he could find something that was no trouble for us and nutritionally adequate (yogurt, for a real world example). They were unschooled.

          On the other hand, my elder son was brought up mostly by his mother and her second husband, although he spent summers with us once old enough, and he turned out fine too, although I don’t think they followed a similar pattern.

          So I don’t know if we did things right or were just lucky.

    • Alex says:

      At what point is that “hope” good enough?

      I like your way of framing things, and yes, it would be good to pin this down more. Roughly speaking, the contributions your kids would make to the world with their income should be more than the income you give up by paying attention to your kids.

      • You seem to be assuming that children are a net cost to the parents. In my experience, they are not.

        I’m also not sure what “the contributions your kids would make to the world with their income” means. If my kid earns $40,000/year and spends $40,000/year, his net contribution to other people is close to zero–a little positive or negative depending on externalities from how he produces and consumes. Do you count as a contribution to the world the enjoyment my kid gets from living his life?

        • Jon Gunnarsson says:

          What about consumer and producer surplus? Surely that should make the contribution solidly positive for most people who have a stable job.

      • Alex says:

        By a net cost, do you mean literally that kids require more dollars invested than they give back to the parents? Or do you mean the parents derive satisfaction from the child that is worth as much money as parents spend? If the latter, sounds very plausible, but society does not benefit because the parent feels satisfied. For society it’s better that the parent is not satisfied and is busily producing externalities for society.

        Yes you are right, I should have said the externalities, not the income. It’s the externalities that matter to me-the contribution to the overall health of society. I do not agree with Caplan that bringing folks into the world is good just because they would like to be alive later. But the externalities seem likely to be positive.

    • Anonymous says:

      Having kids (and more than just 1-2) is simple prudence in the current demographic climate. It may well happen that elderly pensions will get abolished, or at least seriously cut, so you’d better have a backup plan for what to do when your retired income drops below your needs, and a few non-wastrel kids (always a chance that some will grow up bad) not letting you just die helps greatly with that. Children-as-a-pension-scheme is entirely doable, provided you raise any of them remotely right.

      As others have noted in this subthread, raising kids isn’t quite as expensive as the popular opinion dictates, and the kids’ IQ is only barely affected once you provide an “okay” environment for them to grow up in (complete pathology would retard them, having a team of trainers and nannies would probably help a bit, but as long as they don’t starve and aren’t kept in the basement all day, they’ll probably be fine).

      • Anonymous says:

        For some reason, trying to edit this post after I’ve edited a newer one leads to the edit box loading the text of the earlier edit. Bug?

      • I am natalist, but this is a particularly bad argument – you get a better pension by investing the money you would spend on kids and you have no assurance they will give a damn about you. Kids today aren’t an investment, they used to be, but today aren’t.

        • Anonymous says:

          I am not suggesting to forgo regular investment. The kids are in addition to that.

          Further, I disagree about comparing the two so straightforwardly – unless you plan to tax your descendants in monetary terms (which I know nobody that does). It’s hard to compare getting X dollars per month with someone that visits, brings you food, deals with insane bureaucrats that your failing mind can’t handle, and hauls you to the doctor when you have a stroke.

          (I’ll also note that kids-as-retirement are still a good idea for poor, low-IQ people, even if it’s outside of the scope of this subthread. These people can’t handle investing money, but they can handle reproducing.)

        • anon says:

          Kids are expensive, therefore they are are alternative to regular investment.

          The total cost of raising a kid from birth to adulthood, inlcuding increased rent, college tuition, and child care and/or less income due to having to raise the kid, is enormous. Hundreds of thousands dollars, maybe half a million for a single kid, maybe more?
          If you stay childless and put aside all that money, it becomes a nest egg which, over time, will greatly increase due to compound interests. For every kid you don’t have, you could have a million in your old age.

          Yes, you can put a price tag on having someone who visits regularly – it’s called home care and you pay for it.

          Furthermore, if you don’t have kids, you will have more time to cultivate your networks of friends, which will help you out in your old age.
          Some cynical people may even say that the sheer possession of money makes it easier to have helpful friends or a younger spouse who will help you out.

          On the other hand, children frequently neglect their parents.
          For all these reasons, I very much doubt that having kids is the best way to protect your own retirement.
          This is not to say you shouldn’t have them.

          • Anonymous says:

            >Kids are expensive

            No, they are approximately as expensive as you want to make them.

            >therefore they are are alternative to regular investment.

            Only in the sense that what you spend on them, you can’t spend on something else.

            >The total cost of raising a kid from birth to adulthood, inlcuding increased rent, college tuition, and child care and/or less income due to having to raise the kid, is enormous. Hundreds of thousands dollars, maybe half a million for a single kid, maybe more?

            Only if you insist on treating them like a very expensive pet, rather than a human being who can, and should, start being a contributor to the household as soon as possible. Also, not every place in the developed world has insane education costs.

            >If you stay childless and put aside all that money, it becomes a nest egg which, over time, will greatly increase due to compound interests. For every kid you don’t have, you could have a million in your old age.

            While true, this has the obvious disadvantage of not spreading your obviously financially capable genes. It is also very much not a strategy for everyone to engage in, because then that generation would be the last.

            >Yes, you can put a price tag on having someone who visits regularly – it’s called home care and you pay for it.

            I highly doubt it’s the same, for the same overall cost. I’m told such care is extremely expensive.

            >Furthermore, if you don’t have kids, you will have more time to cultivate your networks of friends, which will help you out in your old age.

            Friends who will stick around when your mind starts failing? When your prime occupation will be shouting at demons that aren’t there?

            >Some cynical people may even say that the sheer possession of money makes it easier to have helpful friends or a younger spouse who will help you out.

            Helpful friends who want in on the testament, hm? 😉

            (This is rather assholish to one’s spouse, too, not providing them with descendants.)

            >On the other hand, children frequently neglect their parents.

            That’s why you have many of them, to guard against 100% becoming ingrates.

            >For all these reasons, I very much doubt that having kids is the best way to protect your own retirement.

            It is A way to do so. You should not put all your eggs in one basket, of course.

          • Children provide a potential hedge against risks that accumulated wealth may not protect against, and wealth provides a hedge against risks that children may not protect against.

            Most of us have grown up in an unusually safe and secure world. There are possible futures in which that changes, property rights become insecure, and the existence of a human being who cares very much about your welfare becomes important.

          • Randy M says:

            It is kinda difficult not to minimally care for your children; you are programmed to care for them and find the sight of them pleasing, and they are perfectly capable of making their interests known (aka, crying when hungry, etc.). So, people without the willpower to save sufficiently for themselves will most likely find a way to nonetheless care for their children in an adequate way.
            Or put another way, most people with kids would probably be taking vacations or eating out more rather than saving all that extra income. If they are the type to have done the saving, they are probably able to do so with children as well.
            Though that may not apply to any given reader of this blog, it actually might given the number of complaints about akrasia and such.

          • Alex says:

            @David Friedman That is a nice way to look at it.

          • anon says:

            @ anonymous

            My answers:

            >No, they are approximately as expensive as you want to make them.
            > Only if you insist on treating them like a very expensive pet, rather than a human being who can, and should, start being a contributor to the household as soon as possible.

            I strongly disagree with that argument. It’s very mistaken.
            The problem is that in this day and age, EVERYTHING is only as expensive as you want to make it. Midlife is only as expensive as you want to make it. Even retirement and senility are only as expensive as you want to make it (you could move to the third world).
            The mistake lies in comparing a lavish childless lifestyle with a frugal childrearing lifestyle, and concluding that they are equally expensive.

            You have to compare lavish with lavish and frugal with frugal.

            Whether your lifestyle is frugal or lavish, kids put a big multiplier on your expenses. There’s no escaping it. The only way you can maintain the illusion that kids aren’t much increasing your expenses is if you compensate by going more frugal than you would otherwise.
            I’ll try to clarify this with an example. Let’s say that you live with your spouse in a rented 1000 square feet home. You decide to make 4 children and continue to live in the same home. You may think your children cost you nothing in housing, because you make them fit in your home, right? Except that before, you lived in 500 square feet per person, and now, you are all cramped in 166 square feet per person. This shows that you can live in 166 square feet. So if you hadn’t had the kids, you and your spouse would be able to move to a 333 square feet open space style home, and then you’d be saving tons of money in rent and utilities, money that would go into savings. So there’s no way around it – your 4 kids represent the most of your rent and utilities.
            Similarly, maybe you think that 4 kids cost you nothing in food because you spend as much in food as the childless couple next door, except that the only way this is possible is if you’re feeding your family rice and beans while your neighbours eat at restaurants. So, if you’re willing to eat rice and beans, you would have been able to eat rice and beans WITHOUT the kids, and then you’d be spending in groceries less than half what you spend now, and you’d have extra money for your investments.
            And so on and so forth… this applies to every kind of expense. Your 4 kids -a hypothetical number of course- those 4 kids are a huge part of your expenses across the board. There’s no way around it. You can mask it by going frugal, but they’re still a huge part of your expenses, probably the majority, thus, if we keep your position along the frugality-lavishness spectrum fixed, those kids are still preventing you from putting the majority of what you currently spend, into savings.

            ➢ Also, not every place in the developed world has insane education costs.

            I know since I live in one of those places, but most readers here are Americans and in the grip of the expensive US education system. For your advice to be useful they’d have to be willing to relocate, and that’s yet another sacrifice you can put a price tag on – if they were childless and tuition weren’t a factor, they’d be free to choose the place where they make the most money.

            ➢ While true, this has the obvious disadvantage of not spreading your obviously financially capable genes.
            ➢ It is also very much not a strategy for everyone to engage in, because then that generation would be the last.

            Well those are entirely different arguments from “let’s have kids so we’ll be comfortable in old age”.

            >I highly doubt it’s the same, for the same overall cost. I’m told such care is extremely expensive.

            First, it’s just like the cost of higher education – it isn’t the same everywhere. I live in Italy and our version of home care (“badanti”) is much more affordable.
            The worst case scenario is that you need a nursing home, and I hear that there are ones in Thailand with a reputation of high quality and which cost one third of what a nursing home costs in the US. Then again if you happen to be in the US, you should probably consider Mexico. I hear that the value for money with either a round the clock nurse in your home or a place in a nursing home is much better over there.
            Second, raising multiple children is also extremely expensive, and doesn’t look so good if you consider the compound interests.

            >Friends who will stick around when your mind starts failing? When your prime occupation will be shouting at demons that aren’t there?

            Yes.
            A close friend of mine went crazy. Fortunately my friend still had parents, but if it had been necessary, I would have helped a lot.
            It’s possible to cultivate friends who become just like adopted siblings.
            I know a very sweet trio of middle aged single women who live together like adopted siblings. They will certainly support each other as they grow old.
            Furthermore, your friend may very well be your actual siblings, or your cousins.

            But maybe my viewpoint is atypical because my personality type makes it natural for me to cultivate deep friendships, within and without the extended family.

            If all else fails, I can see the cynical option – to exchange promises of inheritance for loyalty. I admit it sounds chilling. Then again it isn’t exactly heartwarming if one makes kids only so they help out later.

            ➢ (This is rather assholish to one’s spouse, too, not providing them with descendants.)
            The way I see it, you’re giving your spouse the wonderful gift of a carefree, childfree life. Of course if you believe this, I assume you’ll marry someone like-minded.

          • Anonymous says:

            The mistake lies in comparing a lavish childless lifestyle with a frugal childrearing lifestyle, and concluding that they are equally expensive.

            I wasn’t. I just see very little point to living a frugal childless lifestyle, unless you’re just deferring your luxury to old age… but then, some people become monks and nuns, so I guess it’s not totally out there. My point is that you can reduce your expenses a whole lot without cutting your luxury all that much, and spend that money on savings, kids, etc.

            Whether your lifestyle is frugal or lavish, kids put a big multiplier on your expenses.

            If by “big” you mean something on the order of +50% (stacking, not multiplying) of your own costs for every kid. Kids eat less, and by the time they eat as much as you do, they should damn well be contributing to upkeep, keeping final costs down. Economies of scale help here, too.

            Transportation? You may think kids cost you nothing since your car has seats for them, but the thing is, those with a frugal propension hardly need cars at all IF they have no kids.

            You hardly need cars if you have kids. Public transport is usually half rate, or even free, for kids. Or just buy each a bicycle.

            Your 4 kids -a hypothetical number of course- those 4 kids are a huge part of your expenses across the board.

            Sure. If you have that many, they might even double a couple’s expenses!

            I know since I live in one of those places, but most readers here are Americans and in the grip of the expensive US education system. For your advice to be useful they’d have to be willing to relocate, and that’s yet another sacrifice you can put a price tag on – if they were childless and tuition weren’t a factor, they’d be free to choose the place where they make the most money.

            Americans also have the option of homeschooling, and telling their kids that they’ll have to work for their own tuition, if they wish to get tertiary education.

            Well those are entirely different arguments from “let’s have kids so we’ll be comfortable in old age”.

            The OP wanted arguments/advice. Advice that leads to destruction if enough people adopt it, is not good advice.

            In addition, my argument was for a hedge, as David Friedman mentioned above. Not so much “comfortable” as “not dying in a gutter because your investments were confiscated/became worthless sometime in the next 50 years and nobody gives a shit about you”.

            Second, raising multiple children is also extremely expensive

            No, it’s not. Especially not in the west, where there’s typically a myriad various financial and service aids to parents. Various third worlders who immigrate to Europe have gigantic families while living on welfare, and the kids never look starving, dressed in rags, dirty, sickly, or anything else that could indicate that they are struggling with needs.

            You may object that spending twice what you do is “extremely expensive”, but I disagree.

            and doesn’t look so good if you consider the compound interests.

            You have a lot more faith in the legal-financial system than I do. My grandparents have so far lived under four different regimes (a very low number compared to some regions in Europe, even), using five different currencies, some of which were largely worthless even when they were in use. I’m highly skeptical that the current geopolitical situation will survive another fifty years. In situations of instability, a support network, like an extended family, is worth more than gold.

            Furthermore, your friend may very well be your actual siblings, or your cousins.

            True. I would like to re-stress that I consider childlessness to be a defective (as opposed to cooperative) behaviour. Those cousins and siblings wouldn’t be there if nobody took the effort to make them.

            If all else fails, there’s always the cynical option – to exchange promises of inheritance with loyalty. I admit it sounds chilling. Then again it isn’t exactly heartwarming if one makes kids only so they help out later.

            Yes, *if* that is the only reason you do so. It was not my intent to suggest that it should be your only reason, but the OP wanted arguments why one should. The “because I want to have some” and biological ones seemed too obvious to even mention.

            The way I see it, you’re giving your spouse the wonderful gift of a carefree, childfree life. Of course if you believe this, I assume you’ll marry someone like-minded.

            You have a point there.

          • anon says:

            I think that the argument i made isn’t very clear unless I put it this way – if you choose to live the lavish childraising lifestyle, you can fairly compare the cost of raising kids that way with the lavish senior care solution. If you choose the frugal child raising ways, logically you should compare that with a more frugal solution for your retirement, such as moving to Mexico (for an American).

            Either way the conclusion is, the cost of raising kids is comparable, and I think superior, to the cost of the wastefulness-equivalent mercenary solution for your old age, therefore kids aren’t that much needed and the argument that you must have them to protect your old age is weak.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think that the argument i made isn’t very clear unless I put it this way – if you choose to live the lavish childraising lifestyle, you can fairly compare the cost of raising kids that way with the lavish senior care solution. If you choose the frugal child raising ways, logically you should compare that with a more frugal solution for your retirement, such as moving to Mexico (for an American).

            Fair enough. I’m content to assert here that a choice exists, and if you want kids, you don’t have to bankrupt yourself to have them – the choice being between luxury now and planning for the future in this particular way.

            Either way the conclusion is, the cost of raising kids is comparable, and I think superior, to the cost of the wastefulness-equivalent mercenary solution for your old age, therefore kids aren’t that much needed and the argument that you must have them to protect your old age is weak.

            That is only possibly true if you pick the lavish raising option. Your returns (able-bodied, able-minded kids) don’t drop nearly as quickly with reduction of your investment – hell, one might make a case that raising your kids frugally will *improve* their quality.

          • anon says:

            Regarding the point by Anonymous:

            “While true, this has the obvious disadvantage of not spreading your obviously financially capable genes. It is also very much not a strategy for everyone to engage in, because then that generation would be the last.”
            “Advice that leads to destruction if enough people adopt it, is not good advice.”

            I didn’t mean that everyone should abstain from having children.
            I was merely refuting one particular reason to make them. Obviously there are other reason people may want kids.
            Since there are enough people eager to have them that humanity is not in danger of extinction, the need to continue the species is not a good reason for a particular, non-eager couple to have kids. Human extinction only becomes a risk if the number of people procreating falls extreeeeemely low. It’s too remote a risk to be a concern.

          • anon says:

            “That is only possibly true if you pick the lavish raising option.”

            Either I’m missing something here, or I must have done a poor and confusing job making my points.

          • Anonymous says:

            Either I’m missing something here, or I must have done a poor and confusing job making my points.

            Unless I’m mistaken, you are arguing about the *quality* of the investment in children, compared to an investment in securities, rather than the stronger (and false) claim that children are not an investment at all. After all, even a sub-optimal but positive investment is better than no investment at all.

            I’m arguing that a lavish raising is a poor investment indeed, since pampering kids won’t likely improve their quality, rather the opposite, and drop your returns on the investment. Whereas a frugal raising will not likely significantly diminish the physical and mental capabilities of the offspring, and may give them a better character than they would have had if pampered, in addition to costing less.

          • anon says:

            > Unless I’m mistaken, you are arguing about the *quality* of the investment in children

            No, that is not what I meant at all.

            I completely agree with you, Anonymous, that children raised by cheapskates grow up just as fine as those raised by spendthrift parents. In fact, they grow up better! We’re on the same page on that one.

            I meant something very different, I’ll try and put it in another way to make it clear.
            Let’s say that there are two kind of people. The first kind feel that in their life, it’s completely unacceptable to settle for anything less than middle class spending patterns. They’d feel uncomfortable cutting corners. They’d start feeling that they and their family “deserve better”, that they are missing out, that they are losing their “dignity”; they would feel ashamed of themselves.

            Then there is the other kind of person, the kind with a spartan inclination, the people who understand that consumption doesn’t equal happiness or dignity, and in deciding whether they are living well they look at the actual degree of joy in their life.

            Everybody falls somewhere between those two points.

            If you are providing advice to the type 1, then you can’t just say “kids are only as expensive as you want to make them”. Type 1 feels ashamed to cut corners; they’d feel they are being terrible parents.
            So, in evaluating the issue for Type 1, you’ll have to consider the cost of the inevitable lavish middle-class upbringing of their kids. You’ll then compare those costs, with the cost of a lavish middle-class retirement.

            Type 2, on the other hand, is not so small minded. Type 2 is willing to raise kids frugally. However, Type 2, precisely because they are Type 2, also need a lot less money for a comfortable old age. They are willing to consider unorthodox solutions, such as retiring in Mexico, which Type 1 would feel ashamed to consider.

            In evaluating the issue for Type 2, you’ll have to compare the cost of a frugal upbringing of their kids, with the funds necessary for a frugal retirement.

            That’s what I meant when I said that you must compare lavish to lavish and frugal to frugal.

            My conclusion is that either way, the cost of raising kids is comparable to the cost of protecting your own retirement, therefore the particular natalist argument that you need to have kids to protect your own retirement isn’t very strong.

            I can see the objections you can raise to this, such as that human connections can’t be replaced by money.
            I’d like to say a lot more about this but I don’t know if I have the time today.

          • Anonymous says:

            @anon

            OK, that makes sense, although it is a quite deterministic way to view the matter. Could a type 1 person be convinced to adopt a type 2 outlook?

          • anon says:

            Of course, he could, and then he becomes a type 2 and my point still stands.

            Like I said, a person with a type 2 outlook needs less money for their old age.

            Either way, the effort it takes to raise children is at least equivalent to the effort it takes to secure your old age without having children.

            And we would also have to consider the cost of childrearing in terms of time (you mentiond homeschooling), freedom, and energy, not just the cost in money.
            Those resources, too, could be employed to make your old age more secure.
            For example by befriending people and creating a safety network of mutual support.
            Or by working more to make more money for your nest egg.
            Or simply by sleeping and exercising more and avoiding stress, so you age gracefully.

          • brad says:

            “Of course he could” makes it sounds a lot easier and more common than it is. In general when two people marry with very different ideas about spending money they end up fighting all the time and ultimately divorced, not gradually moving towards a compromise position in the middle.

            In fact, if two people are considering dating and one has revolving credit card debt and the other doesn’t they should probably just save themselves heartache and forgot it.

    • Well, I am not of your community (charitable dispositions are just signalling in my book, and I may be somewhat intelligent but my ambition is mediocre, petit-bourgeois), but here are my 2 cents.

      If your idea is individuals and the human species (not race) and nothing else, probably not. There are enough humans and it is not clear if it is going to be individually satisfying. If you are firmly attached to some group in between, like a family, kin, bloodline, family name, nation or ethnicity or even a whole civilization, yes. “Laying back and thinking of England” is not just about sex, it is part of what takes a parent through many hard nights. An extra push.

      Don’t swallow the sanctimonius lie that it is about people liking kids. I love our kid because she is ours, and also I kind of project into her what kind of adult she will be, but kids QUIA kids, as being kids, are usually fscking annoying and not too likable. So it is like, I constantly have to forgive our kid that she is a kid, **her kidness is a bug not a feature**, because there is far more annoying tantrum behavior at 2 years old than cute nice likeable behavior. This is probably genetic, I am not a particularly easy or nice person and my wife too has a certain history of smashing alarm clocks against the wall too.

      So the individual rewards as so far low although when we get it (“Wow! She uttered a sentence!”) it is extremely rewarding: just rare. We can hope to get more rewards in the longer run: for example not being utterly bored at 60 or 70 because we will have something do as retired, not just counting the days still death, but rather babysit our grandkids. Besides we really don’t have much else to do with our lives. **This is probably one of the best individualistic reasons: if you can invent a cure for cancer do it, but if you just work a boring job and count days still retirement (not necessarily lack of IQ, can be just lack of ambition), have kids or else what is your life about?**

      Having said all that, individualistic reasons are not clear if they overcome the trouble. But if you want to continue a certain subgroup of the human species you belong that, that adds to it nicely.

      • ““Laying back and thinking of England” is not just about sex”

        Nor was it.

        As best I can tell, there is no evidence that Queen Victoria ever advised that as a response to sex, and no evidence that she did not enjoy sex—her devotion to her husband at least suggests the opposite. The closest anyone has found to support for the story is a letter to a friend on the subject not of sex but of childbirth, where it makes a lot more sense.

        • Evan Þ says:

          “her devotion to her husband at least suggests the opposite”

          And her large number of children, and her horrified response to a doctor who advised her that further pregnancies might put her life at risk…

          (IIRC, she had one more baby after that, which she survived – and then her husband died.)

        • Randy M says:

          ehh….. Actually that’s pretty bad advice, but “squat and think of England” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

      • Randy M says:

        Is your only child 2?
        It gets better. Although I found 3 tends to be bad, or rather, the problem time was more like 2.5-3.5.

      • Alex says:

        > If your idea is individuals and the human species (not race) and nothing else, probably not.

        Probably yes. See Caplan.

    • Well, I am not of your community (charitable dispositions are virtue-signalling in my book, and I may be somewhat intelligent but my ambition is mediocre, petit-bourgeois), but here are my 2 cents.

      If your idea is individuals and the human species (not race) and nothing else, probably not. There are enough humans and it is not clear if it is going to be individually satisfying. If you are firmly attached to some group in between, like a family, kin, bloodline, family name, nation or ethnicity or even a whole civilization, yes. “Laying back and thinking of England” is not just about sex, it is part of what takes a parent through many hard nights. An extra push.

      Don’t swallow the sanctimonius lie that it is about people liking kids. I love our kid because she is ours, and also I kind of project into her what kind of adult she will be, but kids QUIA kids, as being kids, are usually fscking annoying and not too likable. So it is like, I constantly have to forgive our kid that she is a kid, **her kidness is a bug not a feature**, because there is far more annoying tantrum behavior at 2 years old than cute nice likeable behavior. This is probably genetic, I am not a particularly easy or nice person and my wife too has a certain history of smashing alarm clocks against the wall too.

      So the individual rewards as so far low although when we get it (“Wow! She uttered a sentence!”) it is extremely rewarding: just rare. We can hope to get more rewards in the longer run: for example not being utterly bored at 60 or 70 because we will have something do as retired, not just counting the days still death, but rather babysit our grandkids. Besides we really don’t have much else to do with our lives. **This is probably one of the best individualistic reasons: if you can invent a cure for cancer do it, but if you just work a boring job and count days still retirement (not necessarily lack of IQ, can be just lack of ambition), have kids or else what is your life about?**

      Having said all that, individualistic reasons are not clear if they overcome the trouble. But if you want to continue a certain subgroup of the human species you belong that, that adds to it nicely.

    • Be less altruistic about this. Do you like yourself? Do you think there should be more people with your genes, values, and culture in the world? Then you should have kids.

      Having your own kids is by far the best way to propagate your genes; you can get some non-zero return from helping your siblings have more kids, but it’s unlikely that you can come out ahead on that. (You need to somehow contribute to the creation of four nieces/nephews in order to get the genetic payload of one child.) Intergenerational transmission of values and culture is slightly lossier, but not as lossy as you might think, and it’s still better than most of the other value-and-culture transmission mechanisms that you might take as an alternative.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ Mai La Dreapta
        Do you like yourself? Do you think there should be more people with your genes, values, and culture in the world?

        My values and culture, yes. But genes I’m not so sure are that important. And I doubt that someone’s genes sent out randomly through a sperm bank would carry his values and culture with them.

        As to the indirect affect of one’s own kids being a captive audience for being effectively taught one’s own v and c … I’m not too sure of that either. One’s own in-house kids see both your good sides and your bad sides, and the more they love you, the more they may attribute your flaws to your v and c rather than to your personal essence. Thus kids further away from one’s own flaws may be easier to influence.

        ETA – Speaking of nieces and nephews, they might be the best prospects for propogating v and c. Close enough that they can love you from birth and have a lot of exposure to you so that you can model and teach in detail … but far enough away that you can hide your flaws from them better than parents can. Especially if the lack of in-house kids of your own leaves you a lot of time and resources for being Super Good Grown-up to the nieces and nephews.

        • Alex says:

          Raising kids in a religion, or not in one, spreads values. Choosing which country in which to raise your kids does also.

      • Anonymous says:

        Do you like yourself? Do you think there should be more people with your genes, values, and culture in the world?

        Just let me at that cloning machine.

      • Berna says:

        I’d add: are you happy most of the time? Do you think there’s a 50+% chance your children will be, too?

      • Brad says:

        Be less altruistic about this. Do you like yourself? Do you think there should be more people with your genes, values, and culture in the world? Then you should have kids.

        How is that less altruistic? Caring at all what happens after you are dead is at least very akin to altruism no matter how you try to phase it as a form of selfishness. You aren’t you genes, values, or culture and won’t be flourishing at all after you are dead.

        Not that there’s anything wrong with altruism.

      • anon says:

        > You need to somehow contribute to the creation of four nieces/nephews in order to get the genetic payload of one child.

        I’m confused by this — should it be two nieces/nephews?

        Because you share 50% of your DNA with a child, and 25% with a niece/nephew.

        https://customercare.23andme.com/hc/en-us/articles/202907170-Average-percent-DNA-shared-between-relatives

    • onyomi says:

      People, on average, contribute more than they take away. See Julian Simon.

      • Linch says:

        That’s far from a sufficiently strong answer. Opportunity costs are huge, particularly for many members of this community.

        • onyomi says:

          Oh, that may not be a good enough reason for any individual person to choose parenthood as the best decision for his or her individual life. I’m just saying, don’t not have kids “because the world has too many people already” (a surprisingly common sentiment).

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ onyomi
            Don’t have kids because “the world has too many people already” (a surprisingly common sentiment).

            Is brief good sense for everyone resource-wise, if one additional USian will use as much resource as ten additional Third Worldians.

          • onyomi says:

            One additional person produces, on average, more resources than he/she uses up. 1st worlders consume more, but they also produce more.

            “But resources are finite!” you might say.

            But Simon persuasively argues that’s the wrong way to think about it. Not only can new invention and ingenuity turn previously useless things (oil, for example) into precious resources, but new ways of extracting them continually defy predictions of “peak oil,” etc. etc.

          • What does “use resources” mean?

            One American both produces and consumes considerably more than one random person in the Third World. It doesn’t follow that he on net makes others poorer.

            To take the limiting case, do you think people in the Third World would be better off if the developed countries didn’t exist?

            We have something close to an experiment on that. Under Mao, China had very little, although not zero, economic interaction with the rest of the world. After his death, that was one of the things that changed. From his death to 2010, the real per capita income of China increased about twenty fold. Obviously opening up wasn’t the only thing that changed, but it was one of the major things.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ onyomi
            One additional person produces, on average, more resources than he/she uses up.

            I’ve heard ‘People are a resource; the more people the more problems they can solve.’ Or, ‘One Mouth, Two Hands’.

            I’m afraid that line of argument is glib and unsound, for more reasons than I have time to go into. For one thing, it conflates ‘gallons of X as presently available in a presently-usable form at reasonable cost’ with ‘some resource that some future person may discover’. (Ie, it conflates eggs on hand with eggs that some future rooster may figure out how to produce, given enough roosters.)

            Which would mean, we’ll get plenty plenty convenient solar power as soon as we throw enough solar engineers at the problem. (Hm…)

          • onyomi says:

            “For one thing, it conflates ‘gallons of X as presently available in a presently-usable form at reasonable cost’ with ‘some resource that some future person may discover’.”

            You’re not really dealing with the meat of Simon’s argument here. And that meat is about a broad, consistent historical trend: more people, more resources, more wealth per person.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ onyomi
            a broad, consistent historical trend: more people, more resources, more wealth per person

            Oh. So that’s why SS Africa and India (One Mouth Two Hands) have got more wealth per person than we do.

          • That’s why India, and probably sub Saharan Africa as well, has more wealth per person than it did fifty years ago. Simon didn’t claim that population was the only determinant of wealth, only that increasing population was on net good, not bad.

          • keranih says:

            why SS Africa has more wealth

            You’re ignoring the confounders. Look at the variation in wealth in states in the USA, or between nations of SSA. (Or between states in India.)

    • The Anonymouse says:

      Kids are pretty neat. You should have some. (I suspect that since SSC skews young and professional, most of us don’t have kids, but I do, so here’s some perspective from that side.)

      If you like yourself and are a generally happy person, you will probably be a good parent. If you hate your life completely, having a kid won’t change that, and you should probably work on yourself first. Don’t have a kid to save a relationship or lock someone down; that shit doesn’t work.

      No, they don’t give you a manual on how to be a parent. Luckily, it isn’t that hard. Keep your kid warm and fed, spend time with them, talk to them a lot, and they’ll probably be okay. Bonus points if you can manage to stick with the kid’s other parent. Remember that people far less educated than you raised kids in caves and lean-tos for millennia, yet they were successful enough for you to be here now.

      Kids generally cost what you want them to cost. Just like with grown-ups nowadays, most “necessities,” aren’t. It takes a good number of years before kids realize that they’re poor, and if you raise them with a sense of gratitude, by the time they realize they’re poor they won’t care. Remember, you aren’t paying for the food and apartment of some random adult; if you’ve already got a residence and a food/transportation budget, adding a kid really isn’t that much. Every time I see those estimates of how much it costs to raise a child I get the same reaction as when I hear the estimates that the average wedding costs $42,000 or whatever: huh? what are you crazy people doing that I’m not?

      If you’re worried about adding to the earth’s burden, well, you’ll have to work out your feelings about that for yourself. The resources are going to get used; it’s merely a question of who you want them used by: a kid who will grow up with your culture and values, or a kid who likely does not. I would rather the world’s next kid be enculturated into my western liberal values rather than not. Moreover, if you’re reading SSC, it’s very likely your kid will create far more value for the world than, say, the marginal kid growing up in Uzbekistan or the DR Congo.

      Kids are not a replacement for retirement savings, but they help. Raise your kids to be cooperators rather than defectors. The extended Anonymice family has a strong intentional culture of “Anonymice don’t put Anonymice into homes.” I’ve watched my parents’ generation do what they can to keep their parents with dignity and independence; I’m prepared to take in my folks’ generation for the same reason; I raise my kids to be prepared to do the same for their elders. It works.

      Don’t wait too long to have kids. I know our culture tells us to wait and wait and wait, not to have kids until you’re “financially stable” (something you generally only recognize in retrospect, anyway). It’s really sad watching folks in their late thirties+ desperately trying to conceive because they didn’t want to change their preferred consumption priorities earlier on. See above, kids don’t cost that much. I don’t know too many adults who wish their parents had waited longer to have them; I do know many people who wish they’d had more years of their parents being alive. That ten years you wait to “get established” or become “financially stable” or “get tenure” or “make partner” is ten years your kid won’t have living parents.

      Most annoyingly, parenthood is something you don’t really understand until you’ve done it. (Yes, I recognize that “you can’t have an opinion unless you’ve done it” is probably the Worst Argument in the World. But I will accept it when it comes from a) a combat vet, or b) a parent.) My first was unplanned, and I was quite young (by Western standards), and it changed how I had planned to progress my life. Having kids can be a constant low-level annoyance, punctuated with times of the most sublime joy. But if I could go back and change anything, it would be to have had more kids back then, rather than fewer or none.

      • Good advice.

        My wife and I alternated who put which kid to bed. The process generally took about half an hour of talking, reciting poetry, telling stories, singing (by my wife–I’m tone mute, but I know a lot of poetry).

        • Carinthium says:

          That sounds a rather odd opinion. From what I’ve heard, whilst having children can greatly increase “life satisfaction” (measured by how somebody feels when they look back on their life), but is very bad for “happiness” (measured on a pure pleasure v.s. pain basis from moment to moment).

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            whilst having children can greatly increase “life satisfaction” (measured by how somebody feels when they look back on their life), but is very bad for “happiness” (measured on a pure pleasure v.s. pain basis from moment to moment).

            An important distinction! But I wonder how such information can be reliably collected. Who, looking back on their life, is going to judge and admit that their children reduced their life satisfaction? Admitting that on a particular day a child brought more pain than pleasure might be easier … but what survey actually collects and records that daily?

          • @ Carinthium:

            Could be true on average, for all I know. I don’t think it was true for either me or my wife.

          • Carinthium says:

            I’ll look that up, but although I apologize for it it was a while ago and I honestly can’t remember.

    • no one special says:

      I guess I was a natalist, as I have children. I recommend against it.

      Not that I don’t love my children; I love them very much. But raising children is hard. No, harder than that. Harder than that.

      Suppose you have a partner, and you love each other very much. How much time do you spend communicating that to your partner. Now cut that to one-tenth. Can you hold up your relationship with your partner on one-tenth the love? If not, don’t have kids.

      If you’re here, I assume you are a first-world type, and probably one with enough skill to hold an upper-middle-class job. So the largest open threat to your children is having your marriage fall apart. And children are a huge stress on a relationship, because now you have to work for the children and not each other. Is your relationship significantly stronger than the marginal relationship? (Everyone thinks theirs is, even after they take into account that everyone thinks theirs is.)

      There’s a fair bet that having kids will be the hardest thing that you ever do, in terms of the stress you are putting on your relationship. And you have no idea if you will hold up or not. An outside view prior says you have a 50/50 shot here. Which means, half the time you will be choosing to bring children in to a broken home. And that’s basically the worst thing you can do to tour children, (unless you have a history of violence.)

      The risk is high that you’ll be creating people doomed to suffer. Please don’t.

      • Urstoff says:

        “And children are a huge stress on a relationship, because now you have to work for the children and not each other.”

        I think that perspective, though widely shared, is hugely mistaken. Children are robust. They won’t suffer if you ignore them from time to time to focus on your spouse. Indeed, for the sake of your children, you should often make time for your spouse and put your relationship with them above that with your children. A good relationship requires dedication, work (especially when you don’t feel like it), and lots of open communication. You shouldn’t sacrifice that just because you have a child, and I’m not sure why you’d need to.

        • Randy M says:

          Also, I think some perspectives could see the children strengthening the relationship. If you are married and both working without kids, you are basically together because you enjoy each other’s company. If you have children, then you share a mission, you are partners in a venture that neither of you could do as well apart as together.
          It’s more stress, and pressure, but a momentary feeling of “I’m not in love right now” can be countered by remembering that “Nevertheless, this is my partner in raising these children, so let’s get a good night’s sleep and maybe rekindle some eros once the baby stops puking.”

          I’m not saying “Have a baby, it will fix your relationship,” but rather, having a common purpose can draw you together emotionally.

          • xtmar says:

            Extreme experiences are powerful crucibles.

          • anonymous says:

            This strikes me as somewhere between wishful thinking and maliciously spreading misinformation. Of course it is possible, a lot of things are possible. But if you look at the statistics a child is a danger event for a marriage. Even if it is a second or subsequent child. Getting divorced makes you miserable, all the more so when you have children with the person you are divorced from. The very real risk of ruining your marriage ought not to be swept under the rug.

          • Evan Þ says:

            “But if you look at the statistics a child is a danger event for a marriage.”

            What statistics? Could you give us a link?

          • Randy M says:

            This strikes me as somewhere between wishful thinking and maliciously spreading misinformation”

            Wow, really? Even with all the hedging? I guess you are really adverse to anyone’s thought experiments or speaking from their own experience.

            Can you cite the particular statistics you are using? “Many couples have gotten divorced after having children” is not incompatible with “Many couples find raising a family brought them closer.”

        • Marc Whipple says:

          That assumes that children are robust. Some are, some aren’t. They are certainly more robust than people who call the cops when they see a ten-year-old playing by themselves in a park seem to think, but they are not all hardy little pioneers, either.

          At the far end of the curve we have special needs children. The stress of raising a special needs child on a relationship is so immense that the divorce rate is possibly up to twice as high as between parents of typical children. It’s hard to “make time” and “put your relationship first” in such cases.

      • Randy M says:

        Was there a particular age (of the children) when you started feeling these strains acutely?

        • no one special says:

          Birth. Basically, my spouse was a high-maintenance type, and when they weren’t getting the attention they wanted, things got very bad.

          By the time the children were old enough to be more self-managing, we were divorced.

          Oh, and from your other comment: “If you have children, then you share a mission, you are partners in a venture that neither of you could do as well apart as together.”

          This is exactly where the issue fell. I believed this, but my partner, clearly, did not.

          • Randy M says:

            Okay, thanks. Underlines the importance of being on the same page up front, in as much as it is possible. Best of luck to you in any case.

          • no one special says:

            The scary part is, we discussed it ahead of time, and made sure we were on the same page. But either they though this was just as pro-forma as Scott thinks marriage vows requiring fidelity are, or they were totally willing to pull out once it became inconvenient.

            (Thanks for the well wishes.)

      • Evan Þ says:

        “And you have no idea if you will hold up or not. An outside view prior says you have a 50/50 shot here.”

        Either you’re using the naïve “either it will fail or it won’t…” non-probability, or you’re misinterpreting from the divorce rate being half the marriage rate: frequent divorcees are overrepresented, so the actual risk is lower.

        Plus, specific qualities of you and your fiancé such as education level, religion, etc. might lower or raise your specific divorce risk.

        • no one special says:

          The latter. I was not able to find more carefully divided rates that seemed useful. (I’ve seen 1st/2nd/3rd breakdowns, but they only drop the 1st marriage divorce rate to 40%, which is still pretty bad, and the later ones go way up.)

          Obviously, anyone can calculate their own likelihood of divorce, based on their own data. I believe, however, that the most important factor is how the relationship hold up under stress. So, quit your jobs and join the Peace Corps for a year with your spouse, and see how you hold up, I guess?

          There does not seem to be a good indicator for divorce risk that can be easily tested. (Well, age of first cohabitation is strongly linked. “Sorry, We can’t have kids, we moved in together too early.”)

      • Anonymous says:

        Divorce rate is quite a bit lower for couples with children than for couples without, actually.

    • Gall says:

      I think EA/rational types should have more kids. Do we really want to be a footnote in some history textbook like the Shakers?

      • Anonymous says:

        Be the change you want in the world! 🙂

      • Chalid says:

        A footnote would be a rather large step up from where we are now, actually.

        • Gall says:

          Wikipedia says Shakers topped out at 6000: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakers

          LW survey got ~1500 responses
          https://www.facebook.com/yudkowsky – ~7K followers
          typical SSC comment thread gets ~1000 comments
          EA FB group has ~9K users in it

          And those are just a few parts of this map.

          Yes, population has grown since the days of the Shakers, but the rationalist community punches above its weight due to high average IQ (~138 per LW survey), so I think this effect likely cancels out. (World population in 1840 was maybe 1bil, now 7bil, so grew by a factor of about 7. IQ 138 corresponds to the 1 in 114 level. 114 is bigger than 7.)

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Agreed. The future belongs to those that show up. At the rate things are going, rationalists are not going to show up.

        • anonymous says:

          You won’t be “showing up” either.

          Part of becoming an adult is to come to grips with your own mortality. Might want to get working on that.

    • Kevin C. says:

      I would like to say in this thread that it seems that many here, particularly the pronatalists, seem to have certain assumptions with regards to the socioeconomic status and financial means of the SSC audience, as if there weren’t any readers who are, say, single, with ~150 IQ, but due to disability are living on SSI and other forms of assistance and subsidy. Just a note.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        If you’re poor and single you shouldn’t be having kids anyway. Even ignoring any moral questions the stats are pretty clear that kids from single-parent households, particularly single mothers, have atrocious outcomes and low incomes really don’t help.

        Even the most “every sperm is sacred” strawman position is going to acknowledge that many people shouldn’t be having children for other reasons. There are exceptions to every rule.

        • Randy M says:

          And just because there are obvious exceptions doesn’t mean they have to explicitly be called out every time they are remotely relevant.

          • Kevin C. says:

            Perhaps, but I still can’t help but detect wafting from this thread a certain classist assumption that “of course, all us SSC readers are at least (upper) middle class with stable employment, and, since we’re above average in intelligence, there are no SSC readers who are poor, let alone government assistance (whose recipients are exclusively two-digit-IQ types)”.

  6. Going anon for this one. says:

    So…

    I had a bad roommate. Like bad to the point where I was barricading myself in my room at night, and by the end was breaking down in panic attacks at the sight of him or entering the kitchen and was carrying around a knife just in case (which resulted in him calling the cops on me, with admitted reason. Namely that panic attacks on the living room floor are scary as hell, especially when the person having them is curled up against the wall carrying a knife hyperventilating).

    So after the first 5150 hold when I checked myself into the hospital with a BP of 180/100, I moved out. And when I moved out, he took a bunch of my stuff, including a very nice kitchen knife that was a gift from Grandma.

    And when I went to the cops to try to get THEM to get my stuff back for me (after he failed to reply for a week) or at least get them to call him and have him lie and say he had no idea what they were talking about, I had another panic attack in the police lobby and they checked me in on another 5150 hold.

    Is there any way to get my stuff back? Like legally? Or even as mentioned, get him to say “Fuck you, I have no idea where your stuff is”. Because I was honestly driving for that.

    /And just to be clear:
    * I’m out.
    * Never ever getting roomies again ever.
    * Anybody who has an idea what I should tell my (new, calling for an appointment on Monday) shrink is also appreciated.

    • Elizabeth says:

      If I were in your situation, I’d expect the panic attacks to continue any time I tried to engage with this guy or my stuff that he had; I would decide to either cut my losses and go about healing re. him, or I would take deliberate action to get my panic attacks under control (exposure therapy not involving the actual guy but involving thinking about him / medication / etc etc) before trying the cops again, or getting a friend to intervene, or what have you. I still *probably* wouldn’t try to confront him directly unless I legit couldn’t think of another way and the stuff was important. (I say “legit” because in this sort of situation, I subconsciously find excuses to engage with people that trigger me this bad.)

      Ask shrink about EMDR. If you *want* to consider with them what underlying problems in your life led you to such a crap roommate situation, go for it; if you don’t, set firm and clear boundaries that the topic isn’t within the scope of what you want from therapy.

      • Going anon for this one. says:

        It’s my Grandma’s knife. So yes, it’s important.

        But ok, it’s gone (or at least, you’ll need a kitchen knife prior to getting it back), find a new good carving knife.

        /And OT, anyone got good carving knife recommendations?

        • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

          > And OT, anyone got good carving knife recommendations?

          It depends on your definition of “good” and your budget. That said, metallurgy really is a thing and as far as I can tell the better knives actually do have better steel. At least to a point, after which you’re just paying for furniture grade woodwork. Whether the better justifies the price is something to answer yourself.

          But once you are settled on your price range, as a general rule, you probably couldn’t go wrong with any of the reputable German or Japanese (or possibly local) makers, either stamped or forged. The distinctions are mostly preference.

          Japanese knives tend to be harder which can hold a slightly finer bevel (which *roughly* translates to sharpness), but that finer bevel makes them slightly more sensitive to edge damage like chipping and the harder steel makes them slightly harder to sharpen.

          Forged knives are drop forged by hand, whereas stamped knives are machine stamped out of sheet metal. Forged knives are considered (advertised as?) more durable and are definitely more expensive, but stamped knives might be more consistent in quality. I’m less clear on the benefit trade off here.

          Check you local listings. A decent specialty store will have a selection of knives they will let you fondle. They may even have stuff for you to cut with them. Unless you have really strong metallurgical preferences, pick whatever feels best in your hand.

          • Our preference is Chicago Cutlery. They are relatively inexpensive, as good knives go. Probably don’t stay sharp as long as some of the expensive European knives, but on the other hand are not difficult to sharpen.

        • keranih says:

          I agree with those who suggest that washing your hands of the whole affair and being done is probably the best.

          Having said that – the knife’s from your grandmother. I’d want it back.

          Do you have any friends who are on good terms with the roommate? Do you know of any friends of the roommate? If either exists, please consider approaching that third party and asking if they would contact the roommate on your behalf. Friend would contact the roommate, explain that they are there on your behalf, perhaps hand over a *brief* (note 1) written note, ask for the knife, and then depart, either with or without the knife.

          I would go this far, and then stop. One friend, one visit, done.

          (Note 1: Note to read (roughly) : Hello, roommate. I know we parted on bad terms – for what it’s worth, I’m sorry it went this bad and I wish it had gone better. When I left, I know I left some stuff there. I’d like to get it back/out of your hair. Most particularly, I’d like to get back my carving knife that my Grandmother gave me. (Grannie is up in years, and the knife was a special gift from her to me.) Would it be possible for Bob to take away any of my stuff that is to hand? Particularly, if he could get the knife back, I’d really appreciate it.

          If there is some small thing I could do for you (long distance, of course) to repay this, let me know.

          Thanks, and again, I’m sorry it turned out so badly. Hope you go on to do good things.

          The point being to say that you’d like the knife back, that you’re not going to make a huge deal of it, and then to drop it there after.

    • Flimpy says:

      Sounds like you both had a bad roommate.

      • Going anon for this one. says:

        Pretty much yes.

        So I was continuously stressed out by work (I quit my first position and transferred out after the 2nd ulcer), the fact the the entire apartment smelled like pot all the time, and the part where I couldn’t call the cops because I was hoping to get an SF-86 and general “The system has never worked in my favor because it has procedures that I don’t understand, and I’m really not sure how to say ‘My roommate scares the fuck out of me and I’m worried something will eventually go bad'”. I also worked nights.

        So I was anti-social at best.

        HE would come home stressed and angry, having in at least one case come home to avoid being arrested for getting in a fight.

        Which twigged a bunch of my long-running buttons, made me more anti-social and stuck in my room…

        /And of course, about 1 time in 3 we had any contact for the last 2 years, he got angry, I basically stopped talking to him except for bills.
        //Even sportsball. I’d be streaming it in my room with a locked and barricaded door, he’d be watching it on the TV.

        • caryatis says:

          You have recent arrests and psychiatric holds and you’re applying for a security clearance? Good luck man.

        • God Damn John Jay says:

          Also, not your biggest problem, but ulcers are not (always?) caused by stress. I would have thought the commenters here would notice that.

    • Wilj says:

      I’m sorry you had to go through that — sounds awful — but all this kinda makes me think the other guy might be going around posting about the roommate who would refuse to speak while carrying around a menacing knife at the ready…

      Why do you want him to lie? Just for closure, so you know it’s gone?

      It’s a real scumbag move on his part, but unfortunately I think there’s not much legal recourse at this point. I’m not a lawyer, but I was in a similar position once (stolen bike). I’d just try asking very nicely, even if it grates: “hey man, that knife means a lot to me, I’ll buy you another like it if you give it back.”

      You could try to get the police to search for the knife on the property (even without a search warrant, as in my case, they can ask “hey we want to come look around” and hope he doesn’t realize he can say no), but in my experience they’re chronically understaffed and just don’t care too much about stuff like this (and he could just refuse or hide it — they won’t tear the place apart). I think they were willing to ask in my case because I said I knew right where the bike was and provided easy ID of it with some pics, and it’s fairly hard to hide, but the guy refused to let us in and they told me I should just write it off.

      For panic attacks, consider Xanax as an emergency medicine. It’s NOT to be used every day, and do NOT use it if you’re likely to get addicted, but it’s the most effective short-term solution if there are just some things you have to get through.

      • Anon Again says:

        Agreed, bad roommate, culminating in the knife incident.

        But yes, bad roommate.

        /And yes, for closure.
        //And I know for fact he stole some stuff, because I saw it in his bedroom, and now he’s not responding to my “Hey, did you find my stuff?” emails.

    • Anonymous says:

      Lbhe teningne orgenlf lbh. Lbh fubhyq punatr lbhe qnza rznvy nf jryy nf lbhe avpxanzr.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      You should probably change the e-mail adress you’re posting with if you want to be anonymous.

      In any case, I hope things turn out alright for you.

    • brad says:

      Is there any way to get my stuff back? Like legally?

      File a lawsuit in (possibly in small claims) court for replevin. Then, after you get a judgment file it with the local sheriff’s office whose responsibility it then becomes to seize the item. (The names may be different in your state but that’s the basic idea.)

    • CatCube says:

      Looking from the outside, I think your wisest course of action is to write the knife off.

      Whoever was right or wrong, the guy has a paper trail of calling the police and getting you committed. You followed that up by going to the police to go talk to him and getting picked up again. If this guy really wants to be a dick, he can make you look very bad in an official context. You’ve been put on a psychological hold twice, and you keep bugging the guy to try to get a weapon back. If you continue to try to make contact, this is probably not going to end well for you.

      That being said, you ultimately have to decide the value of the knife. I’m basing my advice on writing it off on the fact that, even if the most expensive carving knife in the world, it doesn’t make financial sense to risk getting (further) hemmed up by the law to get it back. It doesn’t include the emotional attachment you have to it, and you’ll have to decide if that makes up for it. (And emotional value is value! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.) If you want to continue, I like Wilj’s advice to offer to purchase him a similar one in exchange.

    • Nornagest says:

      You may want to submit anonymous posts under another email as well as another username, in the future. Email address is what your Gravatar is based on, and it’s, uh, kind of distinctive.

  7. Nevin says:

    I have a question for those familiar with Solomonoff Induction. I have what seems to me to be a case where Solomonoff’s method for assigning probabilities gets the wrong result, and I am wondering whether I am understanding the method correctly and whether this problem has been discussed by others.

    As I understand it (both from Solomonoff’s 1967 paper and from Rathmanner and Hutter’s recent paper on Solomonoff induction, “A Philosophical Treatise of Universal Induction”), Solomonoff, like Carnap in his Logical Foundations of Probability, is trying to assign probabilities to complete descriptions of the world, which Solomonoff represents as the output of a universal Turing machine. Solomonoff’s key idea is to base the probability of a description on how concisely it can be stated. So, for example, the output 00000 is more probable than the output 00101, because the former can be concisely described as “five 0s” and the latter can only be described by writing the whole string of digits out. Solomonoff formalizes this idea of how concisely a description can be stated as the length of the shortest input which outputs that description on our Turing machine. This turns out (as I understand) to be equivalent to the Kolmogorov complexity of the description.

    So here’s my case. Imagine we have a universe consisting solely of two variables: the weighting of a coin, and the outcome of four tosses of that coin. (Assume also that it is part of our background that these tosses are random.) Now we learn that the coin is fair: it is not weighted towards either heads or tails. We then wonder about the probability of different precise outcomes for the ten tosses of the coin.

    Solomonoff induction will represent the total state of this universe as a string of symbols in the alphabet of our Turing machine, which for simplicity’s sake let us suppose is binary. In the case at hand, our Turing machine output would presumably represent heads as a 0 and tails as a 1, or vice-versa. Let’s suppose it does the former. I don’t know how it would represent the knowledge that the coin is fair, but presumably this will be a string of 0s and 1s on our output preceding the 0s and 1s representing the coin tosses.

    As I have described the case, it seems intuitively obvious that the probability of any particular outcome, such as HHTHT, conditional on our information is equal to the probability of any other particular outcome, such as HHHHH, on that information. However, it appears to me that Solomonoff induction cannot deliver that result. Let {five-1, five-2, …} represent every possible string of 0s and 1s five digits long. Then there is no finite string of 0s and 1s such that that string, followed by five-i, has the same Kolmogorov complexity as that string, followed by five-j, for all i and j. That is, some descriptions of our universe (consistent with our background information) will have lower Kolmogorov complexity than others, and so will be assigned higher probability. For most finite strings representing our background information, a string of five like 00000 will be more probable than the string 00101. In other words, we will assign a higher probability to tossing heads five times in a row than to a more “random” looking sequence of heads and tails, because the latter sequence cannot be described as concisely. But this is wrong, because we know that the coin is fair.

    tldr: Solomonoff induction implies that the probability that a fair coin lands HHHHH is higher than the probability that it lands HHTHT. But this is wrong.

    This case is so straightforward that I wonder if I’m just missing something, and there’s an obvious way to make Solomonoff induction deliver the correct result in this case. If that’s so hopefully some folks here can set me straight.

    • Ishaan says:

      As I understand it, parsimony / occam’s razor / solomonoff’s induction is a formalization of human intuitions, not a statement about mathematics. You use it to choose good models for describing the real world, NOT for describing the outcomes of a given stochastic model. (In principle, at least?)

      In specific, HHHHH is more parsimonious than HHTHT because a universe with only “H” is simpler than a universe with both “H” or “T” chosen at random.

      But if you are *given* a universe where “H” and “T” are chosen at random, then there’s no reason to favor any particular sequence.

      An illustration: if you *did* get “HHHHHHHHHH”, your first instinct would be “huh, my model of the universe as a coin looks off. It hasn’t been falsified, but another simpler(!) more parsimonious(!) model where you just get “H” all the time fits the data too”

      So you see, parsimony is for choosing the model, not for predicting the outcome of the model. To expect it to predict the outcome of a coin is a misuse of it – it’s more for guessing whether the coin exists at all. There exists no justification for why the simpler(!) model is “better” except it’s intuitive and seems to work well in practice, but at least with tools like Solomonoff induction / Kolmogorov complexity we can quantify the intuition of “simpler”.

      • Nevin says:

        As I understand it, parsimony / occam’s razor / solomonoff’s induction is a formalization of human intuitions, not a statement about mathematics.

        Yes, and I’m arguing that Solomonoff induction fails to conform to intuition in this particular case.

        You use it to choose good models for describing the real world, NOT for describing the outcomes of a given stochastic model.

        This is why I stipulated that the only variables in our toy universe are the weighting of the coin and the outcomes of the coin flip. Together these constitute a model of the world in the scenario. My problem is that, as far as I can tell, the world-model which includes HHHHH has lower Kolmogorov complexity than the one with HHTHT, even given that another part of that world-model contains the information that the coin is fair. Hence, Solomonoff induction wrongly gives a higher probability to the world-model with HHHHH than the one with HHTHT.

        Note that I’m not objecting to using Kolmogorov complexity to formalize the idea of simplicity, or to the idea that under some circumstances simplicity so measured makes a difference to probabilities. I’m objecting to the particular way in which Solomonoff induction uses Kolmogorov complexities to determine probabilities, which — if I understand it correctly — seems to me to lead to the wrong result in this case.

        • Wilj says:

          I believe the problem is that in your scenario, Solomonoff induction is not being used to choose between models that describe the data, but rather to consider a model that is contrary to the observed/known facts of your toy universe. You don’t need S.I. to predict an outcome of a process that you have fully defined elsewhere — in that case, that definition will tell you the likelihoods. So you have “given that we know the H/T distribution will be random, what do we expect to see?” — well, you’ve already answered it in defining your model: any sequence is as likely as any other, because the process was stipulated to be random.

          In other words, a contradiction is built in: we sneakily switch to a situation where the coin isn’t known to be fair and we can apply S.I., then turn around and say “wait a sec, but we knew the coin was fair!” Since we’re not choosing between “fair coin” and “mysterious process”, but asking “what do we expect from a fair coin?”; posed this way, S.I. gives the correct answer.

          “Describes the data” is a requirement for a model when using Solomonoff induction — it can’t be used to reason away what we already know or have observed, as I’m sure you are aware. In your scenario, “we know the coin is fair” is data that eliminates any reason to prefer one sequence to another re: coin flips.

          If instead we’re considering something like “which one of these universes as a whole is more likely to form from the aether given that coin-universes form in a way that doesn’t prefer H/T strings”… hmm. Is it meaningfully different? One universe is the simpler, but I think we fall prey to the same problem as above — either universe-formation itself is defined as “fair” re: coin histories, as above, or they must have “run” the coin process that we defined as fair, meaning we know no universe can actually be preferred.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            I didn’t feel like reading every node of the thread tree. But i feel like wilj has the right idea. I just wanted to add that in my own mind, solomonoff induction is a formalization of p-values.

            The scenario that solomonoff induction was designed for was “Huh. I flipped a coin 1,000,000 times and it came up heads every single time. Is it fair? Is it baised?”

            Well it’s possible that the coin is fair (null hypothesis). But it’s also possible that gullible is written on the ceiling. The more likely explanation is that both sides of the coin are heads (or at least, this coin is biased af).”

            But if God himself thunders “I pinky-promise the coin is actually fair” then that defeats the purpose of solomonoff induction.

            If you do ever find yourself in a situation in which a veritably-fair coin lands heads 1,000,000 times consecutively, God is a troll and you live in an uncaring universe. This is why Eliezer once said “you can do everything right and still lose”.

      • Nevin says:

        I wonder if we are using ‘model’ in different senses.

        When I say that Solomonoff induction aims to give us a “complete description of the world,” or a “world-model,” what I have in mind, were I to write it out in a natural language, would basically be a large conjunction the conjuncts of which would tell us a value for every variable in our world. In this case this would be, e.g., [The coin is weighted equally]&[The first toss lands heads]&[The second toss lands heads]&[The third toss lands tails]&[The fourth toss lands heads]&[The fifth toss lands tails]. (In reality, of course, there are a lot more variables than just the weighting of a coin and the outcomes of five tosses that will go into a world-model. But it doesn’t appear to me that adding that complexity in will alter the case in an important way.)

        You appear to have in mind something more like the underlying laws governing the universe: in this case, the weighting of the coin. That’s a perfectly respectable use of the word ‘model,’ but if Solomonoff induction only gives us the probabilities of models in this sense, then it’s not fully general, because we’re also interested in the probabilities of outcomes in the world. In this specific case the models in question directly impose such probabilities, but many models won’t do that, and in those cases we would then be left without a formal method for determining probabilities, which is what Solomonoff induction was supposed to deliver us.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Normally Solomonoff induction starts with a standard prior and learns as it encounters the world, ie, reads bits of output. You say “we learn” in some outside the world sense. What does that mean? Indeed, Solomonoff induction has no notion of coins, only Turing machines. (Often one takes random Turing machines, which have a special input tape that is assumed to be uniformly random.) One interpretation is that your “learning” is choosing a prior concentrated 100% on a single Turing machine which copies the input random bits to the output. Once your prior is 100% on a single hypothesis, it’s not exactly “induction,” but everything works.

      You can represent hypotheses like “all the output bits are independent flips of the same weighted coin, with uniform prior over weight” in Solomonoff induction, but why would you?

      • Nevin says:

        You say “we learn” in some outside the world sense. What does that mean?

        If you like you can imagine that we learn the coin is fair through meticulously weighing it or through some other means of direct observation. I don’t know how to translate this into something that a machine could read, but if there isn’t a way to so translate it then Solomonoff induction seems to lose interest as a guide to assigning probabilities conditional on evidence that we human beings have.

        Indeed, Solomonoff induction has no notion of coins, only Turing machines.

        I think this is part of the difficulty that I have with the method, in that I cannot see how it can take into account semantic knowledge, like the knowledge that an unbiased coin is not more likely to land one way rather than another way.

        (Often one takes random Turing machines, which have a special input tape that is assumed to be uniformly random.) One interpretation is that your “learning” is choosing a prior concentrated 100% on a single Turing machine which copies the input random bits to the output.

        I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean here (partly my fault, no doubt; I don’t have a background in computer science and my understanding of Turing machines is mostly limited to what’s in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the subject).

    • electrace says:

      /Disclaimer: I’m not very confident on this/

      “So here’s my case. Imagine we have a universe consisting solely of two variables: the weighting of a coin, and the outcome of four tosses of that coin.”

      Assume order is irrelevant. In that case, any 5 flips of the coin can be described with exactly 4 digits. HHHHH would be 5001 (5 heads, 0 tails). HTTHH would be 3021 (3 heads, 2 Tails).

      Note that with the first example, 5001, designating 0 tails is in fact necessary in order to convey that there are exactly 5 flips. You could similarly have (0 = heads, 1=number of flips) and transmit the same information in the same number of digits. In this case, it would be 5051 (the number of tails can be derived from the number of flips minus the number of heads).

      So, when order is irrelevant, your problem disappears. All sequences can be expressed with 4 digits.
      ________________________________________________________________________
      Now assume order is relevant. In that case, the heads of the first flip and the heads of the second flip can’t be treated as the same digit. Because order is relevant, HTTTT is different than THTTT.

      You have to have some way to show that difference.

      When order is relevant, you can’t communicate HHHHH without 2 pieces of information for each flip.

      The first is it’s position, the second is the result. There are a couple reasons this isn’t intuitive.

      1) When we think of this universe, (or at least, I), think of a hand out in the middle of space, flipping a coin 5 times, one after the other. The problem? I’ve added time to this universe by saying “one after the other.” And naturally, my brain associates the first H (or the first T) with the one that occurred first in ‘time,’ or, the one that is first in the sequence of ‘HHHHH’. However, time isn’t part of this universe. These are five flips happening in the abyss, and if order matters, you have to assign a position to each result

      2) Our brains naturally ignore position in cases such as HHHHH, because it doesn’t matter where the first H goes, and the last H goes, it’ll all get filled out in the end. This can however be made more intuitive with a slightly different example. Consider coins with faces as follows (Heads/Tails), (Up/Down), (Left/Right), East/West),(Back/Forth). So, HHHHH gets rewritten as HULEB, which is the same as LUHBE and HUBLE.

      Now try HHHHL: That turns into HULEF or FELUH or LEFUH. Even when the order of the letters is mixed up, it still signifies HHHHL, and not HHHLH or HHLHH.

      Then what are we back to? Here, the order is encoded within the letters themselves, rather than their position in the sequence. We’re back to when order doesn’t matter, where we’ve already figured out that your problem disappears. Here, it’s much more intuitive to see that any string of 5 letters is equally probable as another

      In order to convert this back to a string of 1s and 0s, you’d have to convey two things.

      1) The string of letters, in any order you want (all of which are equally probable)

      2) Assign each coin result to a specific digit position (ex: the Left/Right coin result gets to be first, the Up/Down coin result is second…), all of which would take an equal amount of information to transmit.

      In summary, the problem that we have when order matters is that we inherently assign position in the case of a mix of Heads and Tails (thereby adding complexity), but ignore position when dealing with all Heads (or ignore position between a string of 3 heads, etc). When order matters, H/T can’t be directly turned into 0/1

      So… I think this is correct, but it definitely could be wrong.

      • Nevin says:

        When we think of this universe, (or at least, I), think of a hand out in the middle of space, flipping a coin 5 times, one after the other. The problem? I’ve added time to this universe by saying “one after the other.” … However, time isn’t part of this universe.

        Yeah, a universe consisting only of the variables I mentioned is presumably impossible. My presumption is that this idealization doesn’t take away anything that would change the problem. But you’re right that I was presuming that our flips were ordered in some way.

        If we’re considering a case where order does matter, then my impression was that this order was already built into the order in which we write out our 0s and 1s. If this is not the case, and we have to use something like your procedure, wouldn’t that make Solomonoff unable to assign higher probabilities to simpler strings of heads and tails for a coin we didn’t know was fair?

    • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

      Nevin: Awesome question, glad to find people interested in this stuff. I think the first response to your question was the best one. Nevertheless here is mine, which I think complements it:

      I don’t think Solomonoff Induction is supposed to work with indeterministic systems. If it does, I don’t think it is supposed to represent the outcome of indeterministic processes at all; it would just represent the deterministic causes, not the effects.

      More important point though: Even if you are right that SI conflicts with our intuitions about this possible case, it remains to be seen whether or not SI conflicts with our intuitions about our actual situation. For example, real-world coin flips are not purely random, but rather are the result of zillions of molecules interacting according to the laws of physics. It is these base-level interactions that would be described by Solomonoff Induction. What about quantum indeterminacy? I don’t know, but I hear the Schrodinger Equation evolves deterministically; if the MWI is true then there is no true indeterminacy.

      • Nevin says:

        I don’t think Solomonoff Induction is supposed to work with indeterministic systems. If it does, I don’t think it is supposed to represent the outcome of indeterministic processes at all; it would just represent the deterministic causes, not the effects.

        Thanks Daniel. I think you’re right about Solomonoff’s original paper, but Rathmanner and Hutter argue that it can be extended to the indeterministic case (http://world.std.com/~rjs/tributes/rathmannerhutter.pdf), although I don’t entirely follow their discussion.

        That said, I’m not sure that indeterminism is an essential part of my example. For example, I think that if all the information I have is that the urn in front of me has 1 black and 1 white ball and that I am going to draw the left-most ball out of the urn, the probability that I draw the black ball out is 1/2. Given such principle of indifference-style judgments, I think I could set up a similar case involving an urn containing 1 black and 1 white ball that was sampled from with replacement. In other words, I think what’s important for the example is our lack of information about the system, not the system truly being indeterministic.

    • Vitor says:

      You need to think what happens to your toy example asymptotically (as the number of coin tosses goes to infinity). More than half the strings of length n have kolmogorov complexity of n-1 or greater*, so if the universe is truly generated at random, a compact turing machine generating this configuration probably doesn’t exist, and after some time unsuccessfully searching for it you can allow yourself to conclude that the universe is random. Keep in mind that K-complexity is uncomputable so you will never be truly convinced of your answer.

      Solomonoff Induction only makes sense if you assume, as an axiom, that there is order in the universe. We believe that gravity will still be there tomorrow, but this is ultimately based only on our sense of aestethics, and the whole edifice of science is built upon that. Perhaps gravity will vanish tomorrow and god will laugh at us for thinking that we had discovered a universal, immutable law.

      * This generalizes to 75% chance of complexity n-2 or greater, 99.9% chance of complexity n-10 or greater, etc.

      • Adam Casey says:

        >and after some time unsuccessfully searching for it you can allow yourself to conclude that the universe is random.

        Solomonoff per se can’t even do this. Ignore the setup and just suppose I’m predicting an infinite series of binary digits. I get to the 3^^^3rd digit of super high entropy* and have eliminated all simple turing machines. Which machine is the most likely at this point?

        The simplest machine that explains this will be “first print these 3^^^3 digits, then print 0 forever”. So this hasn’t actually got out of the problem. Solomonoff can only learn that specific predictions don’t work, it can’t learn that prediction per se doesn’t work.

        *Suppose for simplicity that these digits have 3^^^3 bits of entropy and ignore my wildly flailing arms.

        • Vitor says:

          If the best machine you could find that predicts the data has greater length than the data, I think that’s reason enough to call the data random (in practice).

          • Adam Casey says:

            Oh yeah, I mean, it’s the information theoretic definition of random. Only that’s not a turing machine, so it’s not in the space of things Solomonoff can conclude.

      • Nevin says:

        More than half the strings of length n have kolmogorov complexity of n-1 or greater*, so if the universe is truly generated at random, a compact turing machine generating this configuration probably doesn’t exist, and after some time unsuccessfully searching for it you can allow yourself to conclude that the universe is random.

        If I’m following you correctly this is taking our information to simply be the outcomes of the coin tosses, and the process by which the outcomes are being determined as an unknown factor we are trying to determine. My example is one in which the process is known and is part of the information itself; I don’t see how Solomonoff can represent the conjunction of that information and one set of coin tosses and rightly get the result that that conjunction is equally probable to the conjunction of that information with all other sets of coin tosses (of the same length).

        • Vitor says:

          Sorry, now I read your original post in more detail.

          It seems to me you’re applying Solomonoff on the wrong meta-level. If you apply Solomonoff on the problem as you stated it, it will attempt to find the simplest explanation for the pair of facts “there is a fair coin” (however that is encoded), and “the first 5 tosses are HHTHT”.

          Note that the first fact only exists as data (syntactic, not semantic), so as you feed the system more data of subsequent coin tosses it will eliminate more and more models and will probably end up in precisely the scenario I mentioned, where the best model found by the induction has length basically equal to the data itself.

          • Nevin says:

            If you apply Solomonoff on the problem as you stated it, it will attempt to find the simplest explanation for the pair of facts “there is a fair coin” (however that is encoded), and “the first 5 tosses are HHTHT”.

            This seems to me to be basically what’s going on too.

            If this means that I’ve applied Solomonoff on the wrong level, then Solomonoff’s system starts to look a lot less universal than it was supposed to. For my problem arises, basically, because there’s an explanatory connection between two different parts of our information (the weighting of the coin and the outcomes of the coin tosses). But in real life observations there are almost always explanatory connections between some of the different observations we make. To take a different kind of toy example, if I am sampling from an urn without replacement, there’s a causal relationship between the outcomes of earlier draws and the outcomes of later draws, because the earlier draws change the content of the urn. If Solomonoff induction can’t represent this it seems like a more limited system than many of its proponents are representing it as.

          • Vitor says:

            That’s basically right. Solomonoff induction will make a good guess about the source code of a program when only given a prefix of its output, but only under a very special bayesian prior, namely that the program is chosen at random among all programs such that each program of length n has probability 2^-n. This prior is basically Occam’s Razor. If you know a non-trivial fact about the thing you’re modeling, you can do much better.

            Now, to be fair, in your coin example (let’s say Pr[H]=.6 and Pr[T]=.4) Solomonoff induction will actually find the correct model (namely a random but biased coin), because for a random string of coin tosses with less than 1 bit of entropy per bit, the shortest program creating that sequence will (with high probability) be an optimally compressed version of the data, which must include an accurate model of the source of randomness. Google arithmetic coding for details. The same holds with the urn, but in both cases only when the amount of data goes to infinity, because the overhead of including the model becomes negligible.

            The reason people celebrate Solomonoff Induction is because of its universality, not its efficiency. You can use it to teach a computer to play chess without ever explicitly giving it the rules of the game (let alone heuristics such as bishop = 3 pawns), by only giving access to an oracle that tells you whether or not moves are legal, and whether or not they cause one side to win.

    • Adam Casey says:

      So this isn’t quite Solomonoff. That system starts by assuming all possible configurations of the universe are caused by deterministic laws, weighting by complexity of those laws, and then eliminating them one by one as they are disproven.

      The ultimate thing it deals in is full descriptions of the universe. “A fair coin” isn’t actually a complete universe, it’s a probability relationship between many different universes. So it doesn’t really exists in this system.

      The statement “the coin is fair” looks very simple, but it’s actually a hugely complicated in terms of the complete universe it predicts. As far as compact statements of the universe go the very very worst candidate is “there’s no pattern at all, the exact sequence is…”. So Solomonoff will try every possible pattern or law before it accepts such a rule.

      • Nevin says:

        So this isn’t quite Solomonoff. That system starts by assuming all possible configurations of the universe are caused by deterministic laws, weighting by complexity of those laws, and then eliminating them one by one as they are disproven.

        The ultimate thing it deals in is full descriptions of the universe. “A fair coin” isn’t actually a complete universe, it’s a probability relationship between many different universes. So it doesn’t really exists in this system.

        When you say that a fair coin is a “probability relationship between many different universes,” are you thinking of physical probabilities as something like frequencies within different universes?

        Daniel Kokotajlo makes a similar point to your first point above. As I observed in response to his post, Rathmanner and Hutter at least want to extend Solomonoff to indeterministic cases (http://world.std.com/~rjs/tributes/rathmannerhutter.pdf). But, more importantly, I don’t think my example needs to assume indeterminism. If the language of ‘fair coin’ is problematic, I think that I can give a structurally similar example involving drawing balls from an urn with 1 black and 1 white ball with replacement, taking care that our information is symmetrical between black and white for each draw. In other words, I think what’s doing the work in the example is our lack of information about the system, not the system truly being indeterministic.

        Also, I worry more generally about trying to separate out some statements as “meta-statements” instead of “object-statements” in the way I think you’re suggesting. I can wonder about the probability of not only [the coin is fair] and [the coin lands heads], but also [the coin is fair]&[the coin lands heads]: in other words, I can wonder about the probability of logical combinations of meta-level and object-level statements. Any adequate logic of probabilistic reasoning has to be able to allow for that.

    • Nevin says:

      I’m going to try to restate my worry in light of the comments above. Here it is as a simple formal argument, where the strings of Hs and Ts represent five tosses of a coin which lands either heads or tails:

      (1) The binary representation of [This coin is fair]&HHHHH will have lower Kolmogorov complexity than the binary representation of [This coin is fair]&HHTHT.

      (2) If the binary representation of [This coin is fair]&HHHHH has lower Kolmogorov complexity than the binary representation of [This coin is fair]&HHTHT, then Solomonoff induction will assign a higher probability to [This coin is fair]&HHHHH than [This coin is fair]&HHTHT.

      (3) Therefore, Solomonoff induction will assign a higher probability to [This coin is fair]&HHHHH than [This coin is fair]&HHTHT. [from (1) and (2)]

      (3) is a bad consequence because it follows from P([This coin is fair]&HHHHH) > P[This coin is fair]&HHTHT) that P(HHHHH | [This coin is fair]) > P(HHTHT | [This coin is fair]), which is obviously false. Accordingly, I think most of the people who have commented want to deny (3), that is, they don’t think this is a consequence of Solomonoff’s system. So the question then is: which of my two premises is false, and why?

      • Nita says:

        If you want to get mathematical results, you have to start with mathematical definitions. What definition of “Solomonoff induction” are you using?

        The LW wiki loosely describes it as “an inference system that will learn to correctly predict any computable sequence with only the absolute minimum amount of data”.

        Is a truly random sequence of coin toss outcomes computable? I don’t think so. So, if the wiki’s casual description correctly captures the general idea, Solomonoff’s induction is not applicable to your model, in principle. The system cannot take “the coin is fair” as input because that would contradict its core assumption.

        • Nevin says:

          I’m using the definition in Solomonoff’s “A Formal Theory of Inductive Inference” and Rathmanner and Hutter’s “A Philosophical Treatise of Universal Induction.”

          You’re right that my case trades on a random sequence of coin tosses being uncomputable. This is why there’s no way to represent the knowledge that the coin is fair as a finite string of 0s and 1s before the strings representing the coin tosses that makes the latter strings come out as equally probable.

          If this does mean that I’ve contradicted the core assumption of the theory, then it seems to me that that assumption is pretty problematic.

      • [Actually, I reject premise (1), but only because I think five coinflips is too little to affect the Kolmogorov complexity. For the rest of my comment I am imagining an analogous situation but with 1000 coinflips.]

        When you say “[This coin is fair]&XXXXX”, is that a proposition with “&” as conjunction or a configuration of the universe with “&” as concatenation?

        If the former: That’s not how Solomonoff inductions rates propositions. Kolmogorov complexity only measures the probability of configurations, probabilities of propositions are calculated by summing the configurations that satisfy the proposition. I reject premise (2).

        If the latter: Then “[This coin is fair]” must correspond to a universe which has within it compelling evidence that the bits can be modeled as a fair coinflip. In that case, I accept claims (1)-(3) and deny that there’s a paradox. Whatever the in-universe explanation is which tells us the coinflips are unpredictable, it’s overturned if we actually find a pattern in the coinflips, leading to the conclusion in spite of “[This coin is fair]”, the coin is not actually fair. If you want to argue back against this point I suggest you elaborate on why we should think that the coin is fair in this universe.

        Also, keep in mind that Bayesianism does not have a concept of “probability of probability” since probability is not an objective property, so strictly speaking it doesn’t make sense to ask “what is the chance that the coin is fair.”

        • Nevin says:

          When you say “[This coin is fair]&XXXXX”, is that a proposition with “&” as conjunction or a configuration of the universe with “&” as concatenation?

          I meant it as the “&” of a conjunction. “[This coin is fair]&XXXXX” is a proposition.

          If the former: That’s not how Solomonoff inductions rates propositions. Kolmogorov complexity only measures the probability of configurations, probabilities of propositions are calculated by summing the configurations that satisfy the proposition. I reject premise (2).

          What do you mean by configuration? What you say here seems to suggest you mean the elementary members of the sample space over which our probability distribution is defined. But I meant for my propositions to play that role: that’s why I said in my initial post that the only variables in our universe are the weighting of the coin and the outcome of the tosses. As such, “[This coin is fair]&XXXXX” is a maximally specific description of our universe. So either it is a configuration itself or (if we want to distinguish propositions from configurations for some reason) then it is satisfied by only one configuration.

          If the latter: Then “[This coin is fair]” must correspond to a universe which has within it compelling evidence that the bits can be modeled as a fair coinflip. In that case, I accept claims (1)-(3) and deny that there’s a paradox. Whatever the in-universe explanation is which tells us the coinflips are unpredictable, it’s overturned if we actually find a pattern in the coinflips, leading to the conclusion in spite of “[This coin is fair]”, the coin is not actually fair. If you want to argue back against this point I suggest you elaborate on why we should think that the coin is fair in this universe.

          Okay, I wondered if someone would make this move. Basically I think this denies that we could conclusively learn that the coin is fair. It’s hard to know how to respond to this because it’s hard to say what we can conclusively learn in general. It’s not obvious that we can even conclusively learn the outcome of coin flips; perhaps the only empirical propositions which we can learn with certainty are facts about our own mental lives (e.g., how things seem to us). It seems to me preferable to have a theory of probability which can assign probabilities to any proposition, whether or not we can actually conclusively learn that the proposition (or one of its conjuncts) is true. Then we don’t have to answer difficult philosophical questions about knowledge and perception to reason about the values of probabilities.

          That said, let’s suppose that we granted your point, and tried to model the situation as our merely getting very strong evidence that the coin is fair. If this evidence simply consists of past coin flips, then I can see how Solomonoff’s system easily accommodates this. It’s not clear to me how it would accommodate it if our evidence consisted of, say, careful weighing of the coin. However, that’s partly because I don’t understand how we’re supposed to translate our observations into binary except in the very simple kind of case where the possible observations are {Heads, Tails}, rather than the apparently open-ended space of observations which are possible in real life.

  8. Sniffnoy says:

    I’ve noticed that people tend to throw around the word “impossible” in political discussions a lot but they often seem to mean different things by it. I thought I’d compile a list of “levels” of impossibility that people might mean (even though they aren’t necessarily actually linearly ordered; also, in some cases there’s not much distinction between certain ones). Note, as usual, 0 is not a probability, etc; these aren’t actually about how low the probability of something is, but rather about just what it is you are claiming has a low probability, or why you are claiming it.

    Level 0. Instantaneously inconsistent. The given description contains or logically implies a contradiction. It rules out all possible states at some point in time, in any universe. People often claim this one when they really mean level 2 or level 3.

    Level 1. Instantaneously impossible (contingently). In the actual universe we live in, the given description is instantaneously impossible; it rules out all possible states at some point in time. This one… I’m not sure this one really comes up in political discussions, I can only really think of physical examples.

    Level 2. Non-equilibrium. The described system fails to propagate itself forward in time; or, if a system extended in time is described, it contains an inconsistency. This is one that people often actually mean when they say something is “impossible”.

    Level 3. Unstable equilibrium or possible non-equilibrium. The described system is not resilient to noise; it will not propagate itself forward in time unless exceptional conditions hold continually. This is another one that people often really mean when they say something is “impossible”.

    Level 4. Unachievable. The described system is unreachable from our present state — it may make sense on its own, it may not be inconsistent with the way the world evolves in time, but it’s inconsistent with the initial conditions that hold in the real world. Yet another one that people often mean when they say “impossible”.

    Level 5. Not “stably achievable”. The only path from the current state to the described state is not resilient to noise and requires exceptional conditions to hold, possibly for an extended period of time. We might also want to require that in addition that the failure modes of such a path leave us worse off than we were before or somehow prevent the same path from being used again (so that you can’t just try over and over for free).

    Are there any I’m missing?

    (Note: cross-posted from my own blog.)

    • blacktrance says:

      I get the impression that when people say something is “good but impossible” or “idealistic”, they mean Level 4 or 5, and when they just say “impossible” they mean Level 2.

    • Level 6, actually used by most real humans: I wouldn’t like the cost or side-effects of having X, and maybe you neither.

      E.g. efficient (recreational) drug control is totally possible, in Singapore they do it by executing people for small quantities. In a larger / non-island country, add a Big Brother surveillance state, with sniffer drones all over and huge cash rewards for ratting people out. Totally doable, just probably not worth the cost / side-effects.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Ooh, yes, that’s a whole class of examples I wasn’t even thinking of. (Honestly, this was mostly inspired by when people go saying things like, “Well, ‘true Communism’ is impossible” or “Well, anarcho-capitalism is impossible“.)

    • Murphy says:

      Lets see if I’ve got these right from the descriptions by trying to pick examples.

      Level 0: example, “x is omnipotent” without disclaimers in all possible universes this logically implies a contradiction.

      Level 1: “X is a perpetual motion machine.” breaks the known rules of our universe

      Level 2: “I’m gonna launch into orbit using this bottle rocket” doesn’t technically break physical laws but relies on a crazy-unlikely set of events to align perfectly.

      Level 3: “This political theory relies only on everyone being altruists/having perfect information, now lets just start a system of government going which relies on it….” would work if some set of physically-possible but unlikely criteria held true.

      Level 4: “Lasting peace in the middle east!” Physically possible, maybe even easy if we’d started a few millennia ago but incredibly unlikely now given history and nature of problems.

      Level5: “We can fix the medical/medical insurance industrial complex in the US! All we have to do is….” physically possible but many powerful people have an incentive to screw up what you’re doing and they have more resources and power than you.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        That’s not what I was going for with level 2/level 3. Level 2 means “OK, yes, you could set up the system that way, but, due to its own dynamics, it is not going to stay within the range that counts as ‘the system’ for very long.” E.g.: You describe a political system that where key features rely on everyone having approximately equal wealth, but the dynamics of the system are such that they will lead to a concentration of wealth, breaking the rest of the system along with it. Level 3 is the same thing but with noise allowed.

        Basically 0 vs 2/3 — or as FMR puts it below, something like impossible to imagine vs. impossible to maintain — is maybe the main distinction I’m going for. Because often people will not distinguish betwen “X is contradictory” and “X fails to maintain itself”.

        As for your own examples — bottle rocket to the moon I think doesn’t fall anywhere in what I described, which is maybe a deficiency. Your level 3 example could be multiple things; seems like basically what you’re pointing out is that people can make really bad assumptions. Really bad assumptions can basically go anywhere in this, this scheme is basically perpendicular to that. But that might also be something worth explicitly pointing out — sometimes people just mean “you’re making really bad assumptions”. But I think pinpointing just what these bad assumptions screw up is also good.

        • The way I sometimes put some of this is that one ought to argue in terms of institutions, not outcomes. It’s a mistake to say “I want a society that does X” without thinking about whether the institutions you propose to produce X actually will do so, and what other effects they will have.

          An obvious example is the minimum wage. It’s tempting to say “I want a society where poor people get paid more, so it should be illegal to pay less than $X/hour.” But that ignores the critical question–whether the law means that poor people get paid more or don’t get paid at all because they aren’t worth $X/hour to any employer.

          Carrying the argument a step further, you might say “I want a society where the government has the power to set a minimum wage–then the minimum wage will get raised when doing that helps the poor and not when it hurts them.”

          Then you discover that a minimum wage law was supported, during the Progressive era, as a way of pricing blacks and immigrants out of the market, thus keeping them from competing for jobs with white Anglo-Saxon men. And it occurs to you that “it will get raised when doing that helps the poor” isn’t something you can specify about the system, it’s a characteristic you have to figure out whether the system will have.

          • “The way I sometimes put some of this is that one ought to argue in terms of institutions, not outcomes. It’s a mistake to say “I want a society that does X” without thinking about whether the institutions you propose to produce X actually will do so, and what other effects they will have”

            There’s a flipside to that argument, which applies to.: anarchism and libertarianism: how does an absence of institutions lead to any particular results?

            ” But that ignores the critical question–whether the law means that poor people get paid more or don’t get paid at all because they aren’t worth $X/hour to any employer.”

            Well, empirical evidence doesn’t strongly support the negative outcomes, And a lot depends on levels.

            “Then you discover that a minimum wage law was supported, during the Progressive era, as a way of pricing blacks and immigrants out of the market”

            In the US.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ TheAncientGeek:

            There’s a flipside to that argument, which applies to.: anarchism and libertarianism: how does an absence of institutions lead to any particular results?

            David Friedman’s whole shtick is consequentialist libertarianism. He thinks he can show on the evidence that it is better than any alternative. Not that it is perfect or the best imaginable system.

            You may disagree with him. Hell, I’m certainly not sure that anarcho-capitalism would work at all. But he’s really honest about the fact that he may be wrong, and that the question is to be decided by evidence.

            He has been viciously attacked by the Murray Rothbard type of libertarian for this.

          • “There’s a flipside to that argument, which applies to.: anarchism and libertarianism: how does an absence of institutions lead to any particular results?”

            Yes. Two of the questions I discuss at some length, especially in the current (third) edition of _Machinery of Freedom_, are what laws a market for law would produce and under what circumstances the whole system would or would not be stable.

            I don’t think it makes sense to describe either anarchism or libertarianism as an absence of institutions, but rather as an absence of particular sorts of institutions—in the case of anarchy, an absence of the state.

          • @VI

            “David Friedman’s whole shtick is consequentialist libertarianism. He thinks he can show on the evidence that it is better than any alternative. Not that it is perfect or the best imaginable system.”

            I don’t see how that’s relevant. The thing is that there is more than one political philosophy based on tearing everything down — primitive socialism, for instance — and they predict different outcomes.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ TheAncientGeek:

            And Friedman argues that they are wrong about the outcomes they predict. What’s your point?

          • “The thing is that there is more than one political philosophy based on tearing everything down — primitive socialism, for instance”

            I can’t tell whether you are implying that libertarianism is one such political philosophy. If so, you are mistaken. Libertarians argue for reducing or eliminating one institution, the state, not all institutions.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      I think level 3 is often called meta-stability.

      ———————————————

      In my own mind, I have this rule. I don’t know how to describe it well, but it’s kinda like “all verbs are transitive”. When I hear a sentence with an intransitive verb, I mentally concatenate an object to make it transitive. E.g. “5 pm doesn’t work” translates to “5 pm doesn’t work for me“. If I don’t know how to resolve it (and if the pedantry is necessary), I’ll ask “5 pm doesn’t work for whom?”

      In this instance, my mind is asking “X is impossible to what — implement? maintain? imagine? design? control? etc.” A discussion of the the limiting reagent would naturally follow. I remember an anecdote about a boss who said something like “I never say anything is ‘impossible’. When a subordinate asks me whether he or she can perform [action X], I tell them ‘iff [list of conditions Y] are met’.”

      (Yes, I’m aware “impossible” is an adjective and not a verb. Maybe the rule is closer to “all sentences must have a tangible object. I dunno; I do this reflexively.)

  9. Daniel says:

    In the post before the last one the cognitive reflection test was brought up, in the context that superforecasters are not necessarily the highest IQ people in the lot, instead they were reasonably high IQ AND they did well on tests like that one.

    I may be missing something obvious, but do IQ tests not measure the cognitive reflection thing already? If there was a test which scored superforecaster types higher than a MENSAish dude who was highly biased and not aware of it (like, say, a negative stereotype of a rationalist..), should that not be considered a better test of intelligence than the one that returns the opposite result, because that’s the kind of intelligence which leads to actually succeeding at this prediction task? Or is there a good reason for the IQ tests being the way they are now?

    • nope says:

      There are semantic problems with the use of the word “intelligence”, because yeah, lots of people have used it in lots of different ways casually, and “intelligent” and “rational” are often conflated. But IQ approximates g, and intelligence in that sense is a distinct construct from rationality (although they do correlate moderately). Psychometrics is interested primarily in the mental property of intelligence, rather than the “intelligence” or “adaptability” of certain behaviors or outcomes.

  10. Joe says:

    Hey Scott thanks for such a great blog. I really learn a lot and its really fascinating to peek into a world (secular, techie,polyamoris, utilitarian) that I would never be exposed to here in my small town. Excited for another 3 years of mind expanding material from you.

  11. d says:

    Your blog has been really important to me in my political progress. Thank you for your dedication and hard work.

  12. Outis says:

    Speaking of websites: I’d like to start one, but I cannot have my real name associated with it. I would like to be able to post about sensitive political and social matters, and because I live in the Bay Area and do not hold perfectly orthodox Blue Tribe views, I am seriously concerned about getting doxxed and subsequently harassed or fired.

    So, is there any way to register a domain anonymously? All I’ve found are “domain by proxy” companies, but I have no idea how resistant to doxxing they are.

    • Anon says:

      It is normal for domain registrars to allow you to withhold your name from the public. As long as you can trust the registrar not to reveal your name – which can happen through politics or incompetence, but I am not aware of any domain registrar revealing someone’s information for any non-criminal cause nor of any major confidentiality breaches of any major registrar – you shouldn’t need to do anything special.

      • Outis says:

        Apparently a C&D is enough: http://blog.does-not-exist.org/2003/04/15/more-on-domains-by-proxy/

        Also, you need your name in WHOIS to prove ownership. I can accept the risk of having the domain end up owned by a third-party, but only if I get true anonymity in exchange.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          If you buy the anonymizer service from your domain provider, WHOIS will reflect whatever they put in to reflect that, not your real name. They will have a correlating database somewhere so that they can provide LEO or people with a subpoena the “real” owner’s identity, but they’d have that anyway since you have to pay somehow. (Unless you use the strategy outlined below by anonymous.)

    • anonymous says:

      First I don’t really love your framing. It contains a bit of an unfair sideswipe IMO.

      That said, you can put as little or as much effort into this as you like. But something like this gets you 80-90% of the way there:

      — Buy some prepaid gift cards with cash
      — Take a laptop to a public wifi
      — Use tor (with browser bundle)
      — Sign up for a throwaway email using fake information
      — Register at one of the less well known / hungrier domain registrars using your throwaway email and prepaid gift cards. Use their domain privacy service as a second layer of defense.
      — Ditto for blog account or web hosting company
      — Only ever post, pay, etc. using same procedures
      — Don’t link to your anonymous website from your real account. Ever. Nor from pseduo-anonymous accounts that aren’t similarly walled off.
      — For fucks sake don’t put pithy quotes or taglines on your website or in your posts that you have used elsewhere. Don’t talk about your alma mater’s football team. Don’t talk about specific things that happened at your workplace. Don’t mention the rare disease your sister has.
      — The last point is probably more important than all the rest.

      (this may or may not be double posted, if so sorry)

      • Marc Whipple says:

        This is as close to foolproof as any non-techie is going to get.

        I would emphasize, however, not only the last point but the seventh one. All it takes is ONE autofilled reply info box, one I-forgot-who-I-was-logged-in-as, and boom, there’s a link between the identities which may be impossible to break. Ideally, you’d have a separate computer for the anonymous account and never, EVER, no matter how urgent it seems, post to the anon account with any other computer or to any OTHER account with the anon computer. EVER.

        If that’s not logistically or economically feasible, set up a separate browser and only use it for the anon account. Close it when not actively posting to/monitoring the anon account. Don’t even check the anon site with your regular browser. Use only webmail for the anon site, and set it up only in the anon browser. Do not, under any circumstances, set up the anon mail account in your regular email app.

  13. BBA says:

    In the previous thread, during the discussion of federalism, somebody said that Canadian provinces were more autonomous and powerful than U.S. states. This isn’t really true – it’s just that the Canadian constitution has a different definition of federal powers, so the provinces have more autonomy in some respects and less in others.

    For instance, each US state has its own penal code, in addition to federal crimes enforced nationwide. In Canada, only the federal government may pass criminal laws, and any provincial law purporting to create a new crime or abolish an existing one is invalid. Furthermore, the federal government appoints judges to most provincial courts, and in several provinces the federal RCMP is the primary police force.

    On the other hand, education is an exclusively provincial domain, and the federal government has no role at all. There isn’t even a federal department of education.

    I’m not saying any of this is “good” or “bad”, it’s just different. Every country’s constitution is influenced in some way by its defining political issues – slavery in the US, the status of the Quebecois in Canada – and the distribution of powers will reflect this. But don’t try to convince me that federalism is inherently good, or a federal state will always be freer than a unitary state: the United Arab Emirates is a federation, New Zealand is unitary, and there is simply no way that anyone has more freedom in Dubai than in Auckland. (Well, other than the emir, I suppose.)

    • It is frequently forgotten how some European countries are federal too – Germany as the most obvious example but even small Austria too. However, as per your examples, there is no state level criminal code and education is centralized at least on the level of expected outcomes like exams to take.

      In fact, one could argue that Austria’s federalism is the worst of both worlds. Every small state, like Burgenland with 288K people has expenses like sustaining their own legislature, state assembly in this case 36 seats, even when they hardly have any legislative power at all. Vienna, which is somewhat uniquely a federal state on its own, has 100 seats. So one can suspect here it is mostly about giving jobs to well connected buddies, they don’t have much of a job. They do bullshit like regulating hunting zones.

      Anyway, federalism can be a useless thing just wasting money on make-believe jobs, and interestingly old world countries often have this strange impression that pissing away money to organized crime or crony interest groups is worse on the local than central level. This is why Putin is popular for centralizing spending, the mafia was living off the local level spending. I don’t really understand why. I think one reason can be that nobody follows local politics. Everybody reads about the big show of did the central gov steal or not steal, but local is not noticed because local newspapers are boring.

      • ” Vienna, which is somewhat uniquely a federal state on its own,”

        It’s hard to beat Belgium for complicated layers of government. Brussels has a city capital and is also the capital of the bilingual linguistic region and also houses the governments of the Francophone and Flemish linguistic regions, and then you can throw in NATO and the EU..

  14. Carinthium says:

    Speculation question. I was wondering why none of the Republican candidates have even considered trying to take on the power of the Supreme Court. Right now after their gay marriage ruling the Court will have lost a lot of popularity, and a candidate who outright said that they would fire as many civil servants as they had to in order to start publically defying the ruling and worked with conservative States to allow them to defy the ruling might be able to win the resulting battle.

    It’s not even without historical precedent given how past Presidents have treated the Court, nor without consitutitional precedent given the dubiousness of the initial ruling giving the Supreme Court power of interpretation. The Supreme Court might try to rule that the candidate who did this was somehow ineligible to run, but this would have it’s own problems.

    It doesn’t take a genius to realise that the real power of the President has been eroded. If people who want to become President want status and power so much (and everything in Rationalist tradition says people like status and power), then why don’t they try to take actual power rather than a pathetic pretence?

    This could be either (a) A gambit to get elected by out-radicalising all other candidates or (b) A genuine attempt to become President and not be an incompetent sack of crap.

    • meyerkev248 says:

      Because every time President Rubio/Cruz/Trump does something, President Clinton/Sanders gets to do it TOO. And by the time you get to that level, you’ve been playing the game for several decades and understand the rules. (Even Trump’s been sitting there on the outside).

      Both sides have treasured Supreme Court rulings, and a Conservative governor who won Roe, but lost Heller AND lost the entire concept of the Supreme Court being the end-all-be-all of “The law stops here” has at best suffered a strategic defeat for a tactical victory.

    • Um, I dunno. Wouldn’t that kind of risk setting off a literal civil war?

      Possibly relevant.

    • It doesn’t seem to me that the real power of the president *has* been eroded! The Presidency is certain much stronger now than it has been for most of history.

      I’m also not sure what you mean by ‘take on’ the power of the Supreme Court – if you mean get into a confrontation with them now, the answer is ‘because that’s stupid and they will lose’, especially given that they’re not actually president yet. If you mean promise to do so as President, that doesn’t seem like an obviously vote-winning strategy to me, and in fact I’m pretty sure it would do the opposite
      SC appointments were addressed in one or two of the Republican debates, specifically wrt Roe v Wade.

      • Wilj says:

        I too think few people would like the idea of trying to control or usurp the power of the SC, and arguments would certainly be made that it’s dangerous, unconstitutional, un-American, etc by opponents; and I can’t think of any SC decisions that today’s public hates more than it likes, as a whole or at least enough to propel a candidate into power that wouldn’t have otherwise been — would promising to try to overturn gay marriage secure a Republican nomination for someone polling poorly already? I’m kind of doubting it, although perhaps I underestimate conservative sentiment (and single-issue voters) against it.

        I think U.S. political power lies more in lucrative deals than anywhere else, but I might be too cynical.

        • Well, ‘promising to overturn’ is quite a bit less radical than what OP proposed – there have been promises made related to overturning SC decisions made on both sides of the aisle (Sander’s on CU ‘The first thing any SC nominee of mine will do is overturn Citizen’s United’ or something, and [I think] Cruz and Rubio on Roe in two of the debates.)

          • Nornagest says:

            I was about to say I’m skeptical, but then I realized that I don’t actually know anything about the legalities of this issue. Can any of the lawyers here comment on how legally sketchy Citizens United actually is, and on how much trouble Sanders would have in finding a credible nominee who can make that pledge?

            (I think I can safely say that Supreme Court nominations have historically turned out to be a crapshoot at the best of times.)

          • CU is fairly solid, but that’s not to say he couldn’t find a nominee. Normally, I’d say they wouldn’t be plausibly-confirmable (credible, maybe) with the sort of Congress I expect (e.g, one like what we have now).

          • brad says:

            To a first cut you can look at the breakdown of the votes. CU was 5-4. Three of those justices are still on the bench and the fourth was replaced by the lawyer who argued the case on behalf of the government (Kagan). So I don’t think it’d be too far fetched to find a nominee that would want overturn it given the chance.

            That said, I wouldn’t expect any nominee of any president to pledge to rule a certain way. It would be very unethical to do so by the standards of the field.

    • onyomi says:

      I would say that the real power of the presidency has only been eroded relative to its FDR peak–i. e. that time America flirted pretty seriously with fascism.

      • Adam Casey says:

        It’s not even obvious that that’s true. It looks like the president is less powerful, but that’s a function of him not controlling congress as FDR did. All that’s happened is most of these powers are exercised via agencies rather than congress, so we don’t see the president’s hand.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          FDR controlled the agencies he created. Recent presidents inherit agencies with existing agendas. For an extreme but very clear example, one of Reagan’s campaign promises was to abolish the Department of Education. While I’m sure he had some influence on them, I don’t think you should attribute their actions to him.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      nor without consitutitional precedent given the dubiousness of the initial ruling giving the Supreme Court power of interpretation

      The ruling that the Supreme Court has the power of judicial review (as first exercised in Marbury v. Madison) was not dubious at all. The Constitution does not say in so many words, “the Supreme Court shall have the power of judicial review”, but this is because it was regarded as obvious by both sides of the ratification debate.

      It’s implied by making the Constitution the “supreme law of the land” (and by detailing what Congress is entitled to legislate on). If judges couldn’t strike down acts passed in violation of the Constitution, it would have no legal effect.

      Also, it’s not strictly accurate to say that the Supreme Court has the power of judicial review, if you mean that only they have it. Any court can rule a law unconstitutional, and that’s how the process happens: they do so, and the appellate court either overturns that decision or upholds it. Eventually, it either makes its way to the Supreme Court, or else the Court declines to rule. Though it is generally felt to be their duty to consider a case when the Circuit Courts of Appeal are in conflict about whether something is unconstitutional.

      • Adam Casey says:

        Indeed. The problem is never the power of judicial review. The problem is judges using that power using really crappy jurisprudence.

        And yes, republicans talk about that all the time. They all say they’ll only nominate SCOTUS judges who give the correct answer on Roe v Wade. And of course democrats say the same. But with a different “correct answer”.

        • Carinthium says:

          If the Founding Fathers thought that way then they clearly made a mistake. I do have the advantage of hindsight admittedly, but I can’t see a single one of the Founding Fathers not regretting that particular power when they see how far from their ideals the modern world is.

          The lesson I learn from it is that if you want to make a Constitution that sticks to the spirit of your ideals, do not allow a judicial review power.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            This is just weird. I don’t think you understand what judicial review does. It is the power to strike down laws because they are unconstitutional.

            If there were no power of judicial review, then Congress could pass whatever laws it wanted and that would be the law the courts would have to enforce. The Constitution would really be meaningless in that case.

          • brad says:

            I largely agree Vox, but that said the English judiciary did a pretty decent job in the face of a formal doctrine of absolute King-in-Parliament supremacy.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ brad:

            I am aware of the broad outlines of the development of the English judiciary (including the development of absolute Parliamentary sovereignty, which early American jurisprudence explicitly defined itself against), but I am nowhere near as familiar with the specifics as I am of the American ones. So I can’t comment much on how they wiggled around Parliamentary sovereignty.

            One figure I am more familiar with is Edward Coke, who argued that the King is not above the law of Parliament, and nor is the law of Parliament above “common right and reason”.

            Anyway, the unlimited Parliamentary sovereignty approach is the ultimate in “living constitutionalism”: the constitution is whatever the current generation decides it is, period. Ultimately, you’re right that there’s not a vast amount of difference between the American and British system. The difference has to be mainly at the margins, simply because the Supreme Court can never be entirely isolated from public opinion, which is the ultimate determinant of what the government is going to do.

          • Carinthium says:

            You’re simply assuming that the alternatives are existing systems. I’m saying that there should be an enforcement mechanism for the Constitution, but that judges cannot be trusted with the enforcement power.

            I assumed it was implied you don’t trust the politicians either.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Carinthium:

            Who should be trusted with the enforcement power? The military, like in Turkey?

            I’m curious as to what you think here.

        • Carinthium says:

          This is a tricky question, and in my ideal world I’d simply persuade “the world” (metaphorically speaking, more specifically the elite opinion that actually decides these things) that there is a problem and to start trying to find some more complicated legal system to look for a solution.

          This doesn’t mean that I’ve got nothing though. It’s easy to see how to rig a Constitution around just a single goal if you get to start from scratch. For instance:
          -If you want a system guaranteed to protect State’s Rights, have judicial appointments be a miniature ‘election’ amongst only the Governors of the separate States, then have the same rules we do about not removing judges.

          -If you want a system based around popular sovereignty, the United Kingdom and Swiss models are both improvements on the United States. If you want to go even further, include either direct democracy and majority vote allowing a Constitutional amendment, or barring that the power of Congressmen/Parliamentarians to so easily get a Constitutional referendum every election that statistically speaking there are likely to be about five or so every time, including explicitly designing a rule such that a referendum could specifically, for instance, be “Overturn Roe v.s Wade” (though it’s changing the constitution so the answer is the other way rather than a retroactive change), and there would be a series of rules for interpreting what that meant.

          -If you want to stop the growth of executive power, have a different electoral system for Congress/Parliament from the Presidency/Prime Ministership (a good start by the United States, but not enough), combine it with a rule that no money can be spent except as authorized in a Congressional/Parliamentary budget, and a rule that any particular institution (such as a Department, or even something like the CIA or FBI) can only exist for as long as Congress/Parliament permits it and can be abolished despite the Executive by an Act of such. Then keep impeachment rules as the U.S already has them, so Congress/Parliament can tell the nominal boss to abolish the relevant annoying bureaucracy or be impeached.

          —————-

          Doing several things at once is harder. The United States is in a bind, but if I were a serious opinion-maker there I would try to grow awareness of the problem, persuade people it is one, then try to get a “rollback” bit by bit. This would only be to grow in political strength culminating in Constitutional amendments, however.

          If worst comes to worst, I would consider it at least a consolation prize to make constitutional amendments which, effectively, spell out in words the de facto power structure minus the power of the Courts, then created new safeguards to guard the new Constitution. Not having the arbitrary changes due to culture and the courts over time would be better than what the U.S has.

        • Carinthium says:

          EDIT: Don’t know what happened there.

          anonymous- Your point? Are you saying that the United States constitution does all this already and has failed or something?

          • anonymous says:

            Not all of it, but several of the things you say it should do it already does. Like science2 says you have awfully strong opinions about a topic you appear to not be all that knowledgeable about.

    • John Schilling says:

      and a candidate who outright said that they would fire as many civil servants as they had to in order to start publically defying the ruling and worked with conservative States to allow them to defy the ruling might be able to win the resulting battle

      It isn’t clear that the President has the power to do that. Not authority, power.

      President calls a civil servant and says, “Disobey that court order”. Isn’t the right move for the civil servant to say(*), “That would be contempt of court, which is a crime that gets me thrown in jail and ends my career. Disobeying your unlawful order isn’t. No”?

      President (Trump, presumably) says “You’re Fired!”. Isn’t the right move for the civil servant to say(*), “You don’t actually have the authority to do that. I have a nice career here that will extend long after you are gone so long as I don’t do anything stupid like quitting prematurely. I’ll be at my desk tomorrow morning like usual”?

      President calls another civil servant and says “Cut off Civil Servant #1’s paycheck”. Isn’t the right move for this civil servant to say (* again), “That would be fraud if it doesn’t go through proper channels, which would get me thrown in jail and end a career that will extend long after you’re gone, etc, so not until the right paperwork reaches me”?

      President tries to go through proper channels, finds that it takes months of dedicated higher-level civil servant effort to fire one lower-level civil servant, and he is one high-level civil servant with four years in office and the enmity of every other civil servant in the bureaucracy. And the judges are backing them at every obstructionist move.

      At which point even Senators and Representatives from the President’s own party start to notice that he is openly defying black-letter law, two hundred years of precedent, and the United States Constitution, to emasculate the Judiciary and all of the Executive Branch outside the White House. So he’s probably not going to have need of legislators of any party except as impotent yes-men, which isn’t what they signed up for but now the only alternative is likely to be impeachment.

      The first rule of command is to never give an order that won’t be obeyed. Particularly if you are trying to command bureaucrats, who are simultaneously as obedient as cats and as stubborn as mules.

      * With a great deal of expert weasel-wording to make it look like they aren’t directly disobeying while never committing to actually obey in finite time, but I’m translating to the bluntly factual version for clarity.

      • “With a great deal of expert weasel-wording to make it look like they aren’t directly disobeying while never committing to actually obey in finite time, ”

        One of my long time hobbies is the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group that does historical recreation from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It’s divided into kingdoms; I’m currently in the West Kingdom. As someone there put it:

        “The King’s word is law. But if the King tells you to dig a hole in the middle of the list field, it may take you four months to find a shovel.”

        In the West, four months is the length of a reign.

        • Carinthium says:

          Okay then. Translation- the President is an impotent sack of shit. I haven’t really studied American politics, so I simply presumed that he could at least fire civil servants.

          For reference the politics I’m used to studying is from Victoria, Australia, and there sacking an uncooperative Permanent Secretary even is not that difficult. The states are usually fairly impotent, but that’s for different reasons.

          • It makes sense that the PM can fire a Permanent Secretary; generally speaking, management positions don’t get the same sort of employment protection that lower-level positions may have.

            But I’d be surprised if the Australian PM can fire arbitrary lower-level civil servants. Are you certain of that?

      • Carinthium says:

        Surely the President at least has the legal power to fire civil servants for disobeying direct commands though?

        Also- I’m pretty sure the Supreme Court has emasculated the United States Constitution already. So-called “Constitutional Law” is a kind of precedent law built upon obvious lies.

        • science2 says:

          I haven’t really studied American politics,

          Also- I’m pretty sure the Supreme Court has emasculated the United States Constitution already. So-called “Constitutional Law” is a kind of precedent law built upon obvious lies.

          Perhaps you shouldn’t express great confidence in subjects that you haven’t really studied.

          • honestlymellowstarlight says:

            Provoking replies is a great way to learn, in their defense.

          • Carinthium says:

            The Constitution is a matter of common sense.

            1- Very very clearly by modern meanings the words do not fit with the interpretations given.
            2- When I learned some American history they confirmed that the Constitution wasn’t really followed in the ways the Founders intended.
            3- There could be the argument that the Constitution’s words had different meanings back then, but if this were so people would make it a lot more obvious. Plus there is no way this could justify Roe v.s Wade or the recent gay marriage ruling.
            4- “Living Constitution” theory, which speaks for itself.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Carinthium I find the arguments made by the majority in Obergefell to be very common sense. (The dissenting arguments, not so much.) I have to wonder what you find not-common-sensical about equal protection under the law.

            (Also: What would a U.S. government look like if it were run the way the Founders intended? They didn’t have political parties, for example.)

          • Carinthium says:

            If Obergefell were trying to make a practical argument for a legislative change, then I would find their case to be reasonable enough I could deal with it as such. But they’re not- they’re arguing constitutional law. If you’re an intentionalist then “equal protection of the law” clearly doesn’t mean homosexual marriage.

            Yes the Court appeals to precedents which reinforce Obergefell, but these precedents are silly and contrary to common sense interpretation of the Constitution themselves.

            Finally, I’d like to point out that the Court is basing it’s entire decision on the implicit idea that same sex couples can’t help how they are. This is true for some yes, but at the very least significant numbers of those who end up in homosexual relationships can help it.

            EDIT: I’m talking common sense not about what’s good policy, but common sense in terms of what the Constitution does and does not dictate.

          • Anonymous says:

            If you’re an intentionalist then “equal protection of the law” clearly doesn’t mean homosexual marriage.

            There’s a lot to unpack there, and I’m not quite sure what you mean. Is your argument that, since the authors of the constitution couldn’t conceive of same-sex marriage, then they could not have intended for the constitution to protect same-sex couples?

            (I’m not sure what precedents you’re referring to?)

          • Carinthium says:

            Partially it’s that fact, and partially it’s based on what we know of the psychology of people at the time. It is entirely implausible that anybody from the time of the Fourteenth Amendment would support anything that they thought would lead to such a result, and very very unlikely that we only just discover the true meaning of their words in modern times when it is so foreign to their culture.

            The only way the Court can go about it is to claim that it is the logical extension of an idea that the writers intended but which they did not see the consequences of, despite the fact that the writers of any part of the Constitution would never have written it if they had honestly feared it would lead to legalizing homosexual marriage because that idea was so repugnant for most of American history.

            The precedents I refer to are the myriad of Supreme Court rulings that the Obergefell ruling cites.

          • Anonymous says:

            Why should we be forced to take into account how the the people of the 18th* century would hypothetically feel, when discussing a 21st century case? (I guess this makes me not-an-intentionalist.)

            I’d say they weren’t necessarily considering same-sex marriage (and that’s fine) but there’s also no basis for applying equal protection to only some issue, and not others. (For one, where would you draw the line?)

            *OK, 19th if we’re talking about the 14th amendment.

          • Anonymous says:

            BTW @Carinthium, you had started out by saying that the Constitution is a matter of common sense. Given that you and I have 180-degree divergent views on the matter, views which each of us would characterize as “common sense,” do you still agree with that statement, in its unmodified form?

          • Carinthium says:

            The way I see it, either you actually follow the Constitution or the document isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. If the Constitution is merely an excuse for judges to make whatever decisions they like, then the United States is not a democracy and the rule of law is impotent.

            If you follow the Constitution, the plausible routes are an intentionalist interpretation or a literalist interpretation. You can go literalist, but that has it’s own problems.

            On equal protection of the law, most people would not want to follow that argument to it’s bitter conclusion because it would lead to legal incestous and polyamarous marriages. Paedophilia is a difficult point because of the inherent philosophical issues in drawing a coherent line of who can and cannot legitimately consent. This is a case if you’re not willing to bite the bullet on those but to be fair for all I know you might and there’s nothing logically wrong with that.

            But even if you are, the fundamental problem is that the whole idea that it is “equal protection” is based on the psychological premise that some people cannot help but be same-sex attracted. For those for whom same-sex attraction is a choice it makes no sense at all. Maybe for some homosexuals this works, but nowhere near all.

          • Anonymous says:

            Suffice it to say that I don’t agree with your most recent comment (any part of it, really), and leave it at that. Interesting, though.

          • I think a better case for Carinthium’s argument is the interpretation of the Interstate Commerce Clause that found the New Deal farm program to be constitutional. That depended on arguing that someone growing crops to be consumed on his own farm was substantially engaged in interstate commerce, and so his doing so could be regulated under the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce.

            A literalist might make the argument the court made, but I don’t see how an intentionalist could, since by that standard very nearly everything Congress might want to legislate about is justified under the Interstate Commerce Clause, and part of the point of the Constitution was to limit what Congress was entitled to legislate about.

          • Carinthium says:

            Anonymous- I don’t understand what you could find wrong with my argument. Please explain?

            David Friedman- We seem to be coming at this from fundamentally different philosophical perspectives. My perspective doesn’t care about pragmatic consequences, but merely what the most logical way to interpret statements (in this case statements of law) is.

            You seem to be arguing pragmatic consequences here, and I can’t agree with you on that.

            EDIT: Actually maybe I misunderstood you, but since my argument was “saying gay marriage must be legalized under the Constitution is crap”, I concentrated on that.

            If you’re trying to say that that’s a case for the Supreme Court’s views being utter bunk I agree with it. But I’m not sure.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @Carinthium I find the arguments made by the majority in Obergefell to be very common sense. (The dissenting arguments, not so much.) I have to wonder what you find not-common-sensical about equal protection under the law.

            Equal protection only applies to things that are actually equal; it would be absurd to suggest, based on the equal protection clause, that the government ought to treat criminals and law-abiding citizens the same. Likewise, it’s absurd to suggest that the people who drafted the clause would have regarded same-sex relationships as the same as marriage.

            Of course, you can adopt a kind of death-of-the-author theory, and say that the intentions of the people who actually wrote the Constitution are irrelevant. In that case, though, it’s difficult to see what point there actually is in having a legally-binding Constitution, given that there’s no longer any principled limit as to what exactly the Supreme Court can read into it.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The original Mr. X:

            Of course, you can adopt a kind of death-of-the-author theory, and say that the intentions of the people who actually wrote the Constitution are irrelevant. In that case, though, it’s difficult to see what point there actually is in having a legally-binding Constitution, given that there’s no longer any principled limit as to what exactly the Supreme Court can read into it.

            The problem with this is that it assumes the meaning of the Constitution is determined by the authors’ subjective intentions. No, it is determined by the objective meaning of what they wrote, as viewed through a correct theory of the nature and purpose of government.

            If the Constitution says you cannot be deprived of liberty without due process of law, the meaning of that depends on what actually is due process of law. Not what the Framers thought constituted due process of law.

            Or with equal protection, it protects those who actually are equal, not whom the Framers thought were equal.

            Or when it prohibits excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments, it’s not what the Framers thought were “excessive” or “cruel”. It’s what actually is excessive or cruel.

            That doesn’t mean the Supreme Court has the legitimate authority to subjectively interpret the Constitution to mean whatever they want. No, they have the responsibility to try to figure out what the objective meaning is and enact that. What “original intent” does is merely ask the Court to go by the subjective intentions of the Framers. But that’s no more objective than just letting the Court make it up as they go along, as the “living consitutionalists” want.

            Roderick Long’s comments on Lysander Spooner (who argued for the unconstitutionality of slavery, before the 13th Amendment) are illustrative of the nature of this false dichotomy and the correct alternative:

            I believe there is more to Spooner’s theory of legal interpretation than the “original public meaning” approach to which Randy assimilates it. The “original public meaning” approach, as I see it, is essentially in agreement with its rivals (original-intent on the one hand and living-constitution on the other) in taking the decisive question to be: whose semantic intentions are to determine the meaning of contested terms and phrases in a constitution (or in any law for that matter)? Oversimplifying somewhat, the original-intent approach says “those of the framers” (or perhaps of the ratifiers); the living-constitution approach says “those represented by society’s understanding today”; and the original-public-meaning approach says “those represented by society’s understanding at the time of adoption.”

            Spooner, by contrast, does not think that anyone’s semantic intentions all by themselves are sufficient to establish the meaning of a legal provision. Consider how he handles the Constitution’s notorious fugitive-slave clause, which provides that a person “held to service or labor in one State” and “escaping into another” must be “delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.” One of Spooner’s principal moves here is to focus on the meaning of the term “due.” Since, he argues, by natural justice all persons are free and equal, it follows that one person’s labor cannot be “due” to another except as a result of of free consent and contract; inasmuch as “the ‘service or labor,’ that is exacted of a slave” is not “such as can be ‘claimed,’ consistently with natural right, as being ‘due’ from him to his master,” the fugitive-slave clause cannot authorize anyone’s forcible return except in the case of those who have freely contracted to perform some service and then broken the contract (which was not the case with the slaves).[45]

            Here Spooner is assuming that the correct interpretation of a contested normative term like “due” must invoke the correct moral account of which things are due from one person to another (and similar treatment of normative legal terms can be found throughout his book) – not the framers’ account, not the prevailing social understanding in 1789, not the prevailing social understanding today, but the correct account.

            In short, Spooner is implicitly relying on a realist theory of reference, according to which what a term means is determined not by semantic intentions alone but by semantic intentions in conjunction with the way the world really is, whether or not it is known or believed to be that way by those using the term. Spooner thus partly anticipates the groundbreaking approach to reference developed in the 1970s by such philosophers as Hilary Putnam and Saul Kripke,[46] according to which facts about reality can play a role in determining what we mean when we speak, even if we are unaware of those facts. And if one takes there to be objective facts about morality and justice (as Spooner of course does), then facts about, e.g., what is really “due” from one person to another will play a role in determining what the word “due” in the fugitive-slave clause means, even if no one at the time had been aware of those facts about justice.

          • Anonymous says:

            The trouble with that is (among other things*) that the Supreme Court, much like juries, answer to nobody if they make the wrong verdict.

            (*Such as the Constitution dealing with hilariously subjective things like “equality” when applied to human beings.)

          • Nita says:

            Both literalism and original-intent invite the same problem as they do in religions with holy texts — when knowledge or circumstances change, you get stuck in an untenable position (e.g., having to kill apostates or support slavery in the 21st century).

          • Anonymous says:

            >when knowledge or circumstances change

            Or when social mores mutate, regardless of facts or concrete circumstances.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            The trouble with that is (among other things*) that the Supreme Court, much like juries, answer to nobody if they make the wrong verdict.

            Well, the buck has got to stop somewhere, hasn’t it? If it doesn’t stop with the Supreme Court, who at least have to study constitutional law for years and defend their decisions with reasoned arguments, the alternative is that it stops with Congress or the President, who would have unlimited power to do whatever they want without any constitutional checks.

            I mean, yes, it is possible that the Supreme Court will get things wrong. They often do. I would prefer that God come down himself and enforce the Constitution. But since that’s not an option, I prefer the Supreme Court to Congress.

            (*Such as the Constitution dealing with hilariously subjective things like “equality” when applied to human beings.)

            If you mean that it is impossible to determine what “equality” means just from the text of the Constitution alone, I agree. That is the problem of “textualism”, which is picked apart in Tara Smith’s excellent article on the subject.

            As Timothy Sandefur explains in his excellent book The Conscience of the Constitution, it is impossible to interpret something like the Ninth Amendment, which talks about rights not listed in the Constitution, without an implicit theory of the nature of rights and government. And he argues that the proper theory—and the one relied upon by the Framers—is the Lockean-Madisonian theory.

            But if that’s true, then the proper question for judges when someone alleges a law to have violated his rights is: under the proper theory of government, does this action violate individual rights? Not: did James Madison think it would violate rights, but does it really?

            If you think the answer is “subjective” in that there is no answer, then it doesn’t matter either way because any perspective is just as “valid” as another. If, on the other hand, you simply mean that the question is difficult and that the Court may often get things wrong, I agree. But there is no alternative.

            If they decide to merely turn James Madison into Mohammed and strike down every law that conflicts with something he chose to write about and allow everything else, there are two problems: a) this also is a “subjective” decision by the judges, that doing so is the correct approach, b) James Madison was not Mohammed, so it is possible that he was wrong on some issues, and c) James Madison wouldn’t have wanted people to do this; it wasn’t his “original intent”.

          • Jaskologist says:

            you get stuck in an untenable position

            Having to pass a new law or amend the constitution is hardly untenable. We even have built-in processes for doing it.

            It’s only untenable when you want to force a change on society that society doesn’t want. Which is a common enough thing, but at that point, maybe it’s time to stop pretending we believe in Democracy and just admit that we think Moldbug was right all along.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Jaskologist:

            The system seems to be to working entirely in accord with democratic republicanism. “The people” may not agree with every decision of the Supreme Court, but they like the institution as a whole compared to the alternative of not having it. If they don’t like it, they can pass a constitutional amendment.

            This country was not founded on the principle of unlimited mob rule. It was founded on the idea that no one has the natural right to rule another, that legitimacy of government comes from its being favored by the people overall, but that elites are better are at actually running the thing, so the people delegate their right to rule to those elites—conditionally and with a lot of restrictions.

            There are problems with this theory (e.g. this “delegation” is not actually voluntary), but the way the system works now is not inconsistent with it.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Carinthium, I apologize that I don’t have time for a more detailed reply, but I basically take Vox Imperatoris’ position on original intent (except maybe I’d go further and say that original intent does not take into account the possibility that an amendment’s authors could have been deliberately nonspecific

          • Carinthium says:

            Vox Imperatoris’s argument is admittedly smarter than I expected. The problem is that it has several implicit premises.
            1- A repudiation of nominalism
            2- A belief in a theory of natural justice

            In summary, I dispute both of these. Non-nominalist theories fall apart because any term, in any language, shows itself to have ambiguities when subjected to a sufficient rigorous thought experiment (my favorite would be Derek Parfit regarding “self”, but for any given word it’s easy to make one up on the spot).

            My view on morality nowadays is basically a Sentimentalist one about most things, except that when a theory is internally incoherent or has a sufficient logical or philosophical problem within it, it is objectively Wrong because it doesn’t make rational sense. Against proponents of natural justice, I challenge them to demonstrate it’s existence at all.

            In this particular case, I consider it beyond dispute that any Supreme Court decision on the meaning of the Constitution purports to objectively solve the question of what the Constitution means, as implied in their language. This is a premise some might contest admittedly, but it’s ridiculous for them to do so.

            An advocate of a Living Constitution theory purports one thing, and even draws legitimacy from doing so, then turns around and says they are lying. Why should we listen to them any more than a vigilante?

            An advocate of a theory such as yours appeals to a theory of natural justice. Since the theory of natural justice has no basis (I assume you’re going to contest this so I’ll prove my point by showing how bad any arguments for natural justice really are), they are obviously wrong.

            ——————————

            Other contentions:
            -The solution is to try and come up with a new constitutional enforcement mechanism of some sort, on the basis that the Courts can’t be trusted to get the Constitution right, nor can politicians. This is admittedly very difficult, but since the alternative is having a constitution in name only it’s the task of any sane constitution maker.

            -Barrack Obama’s regime is proof nowadays that the Presidency is impotent. Not just about Obergefell (and to be fair even if Barrack Obama had the realistic capacity to fight it I doubt he would), but about all the promises the bureaucracy stopped him from carrying out.

            If the elected positions are that impotent, democracy is clearly dead.

            -Following Nita’s position would logically lead to not bothering with a Constitution. Any Constitution which adjusted in the ways Nita would appear to want would be a Constitution in name only.

          • “I would prefer that God come down himself and enforce the Constitution.”

            There is a story in the Talmud that implies the opposite. God intervenes in a dispute among sages on the side of the minority position—three miracles followed by a literal voice from heaven.

            The response of the leader of the majority faction: “It is not in Heaven.”

            Which I interpret as “Butt out. Determining the law is our job now.”

            http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2010/07/furnace-of-akhnai-story-and-puzzle.html

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            An advocate of a theory such as yours appeals to a theory of natural justice. Since the theory of natural justice has no basis (I assume you’re going to contest this so I’ll prove my point by showing how bad any arguments for natural justice really are), they are obviously wrong.

            If you don’t believe in natural justice, what are you complaining about? Whatever the Supreme Court does or doesn’t do, it’s not wrong. You don’t like it. They do. They have more power, so they get their way. According to you, there’s nothing unjust about the strong ruling the weak.

            Obviously, the Constitution itself is written on the premise that there are such things as natural rights. Otherwise, something like the Ninth Amendment would be totally meaningless. I don’t see how you can faithfully enforce it on a basis of denying them. It’s like trying to enforce canon law on the premise that God does not exist.

            Anyway, the argument for natural justice / natural rights is a long and complicated one, but it’s essentially “based on human nature, the way individuals ought to treat one another / leave one another free to act if they want a happy and prosperous society”.

          • BBA says:

            Oh, don’t give me ancestor worship original intent. Half of the Founding Fathers thought the Sedition Act of 1798 (which made it a crime to criticize the government) was constitutional, which absolutely nobody does today. The other half thought the Bank of the United States wasn’t constitutional; now there almost 200 years of precedent affirming that it was.

            In my view Wickard and the modern regulatory state it enables are a natural consequence of McCulloch, and overturning McCulloch would bring about an utter catastrophe to dwarf the crisis of 2008. True, it would give us a government on much more intellectually coherent grounds, but I don’t think that’s worth blowing up the world economy.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ BBA:

            While the idea of a national bank is unconstitutional, it hardly leads to the modern regulatory state as a “natural consequence”. There are a lot of other steps left out.

          • BBA says:

            Perhaps I should be clearer. Wickard relies on the same logic as McCulloch – the application of the Necessary and Proper Clause to the Commerce Clause. Chartering a bank is a much greater step than ordering some farmer on what to do with his wheat. I submit that one must either find both to be constitutional or neither.

          • onyomi says:

            “200 years of precedent affirming that it was”

            So there’s a proud tradition of cleverly interpreting documents to justify what you wanted to do in the first place and that makes it okay? I mean, I understand precedent is important in law (see e. g. English Common Law), but if that’s what really matters then why have the document at all? I think it was largely to fool people into thinking they would be governed by something more concrete than precedent once they ceded their authority to the new government.

            Also, the fact that the founding fathers believed in bad stuff doesn’t mean it’s okay to use crazy interpretations of the founding document to do things it never allowed. It’s not about believing the Constitution is sacred or the founders infallible, but about believing in the rule of law, not the rule of men, as well as the understanding of the contract that could reasonably be expected of the signatories.

            The whole point of the Constitution is that it sets the limits of the type of governmental power the states were agreeing to be held to. Creative “interpretation” of a plain language document to “discover” new powers is abuse of power, plain and simple.

            The only question is why anyone thought a piece of paper would cause the government to limit its own power. The federal government is supposed to be limited by a document the interpretation of which is left up to… a branch of the federal government. There’s no reason it should. It’s like, you sign a contract with me and my brother gets to interpret the meaning of the contract. If you object to his interpretation, by the way, I will take whatever you owe me by force.

            The idea of the balance of powers, at least as currently conceived, is fundamentally flawed. There is no reason the Supreme Court would limit the powers of the Congress or the President. Quite the opposite, all three branches have every incentive to cooperate to arrogate more and power to themselves.

          • Carinthium says:

            Oh crap. Lost my last version of a response. Will come back a bit later to try again.

          • Jiro says:

            Half of the Founding Fathers thought the Sedition Act of 1798 (which made it a crime to criticize the government) was constitutional, which absolutely nobody does today. The other half thought the Bank of the United States wasn’t constitutional; now there almost 200 years of precedent affirming that it was.

            There’s a difference between not agreeing on anything and not agreeing on everything. Sure, there were some cases where they didn’t have a specific original meaning in mind, and the half of them who is on the wrong side of history “got it wrong”. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other issues where they (or their coherent extrapolated volition) all agreed on what the Constitution means.

        • John Schilling says:

          Surely the President at least has the legal power to fire civil servants for disobeying direct commands though?

          If the direct command is lawful, yes. And if the civil servant writes a memo saying “I refuse to obey your lawful direct command”, he’s gone the next day.

          Hence the footnote about weasel-wording. Any real civil servant will instead write a memo saying “Interim progress report on my obedience to your command of three fortnights ago: Pursuant to federal statute 3.141592654, I have submitted an application to the department of mumbo-jumbo for a permit to proceed with the necessary jiggery-pokery in their domain, and approval is expected forthwith. Department counsel is still considering the legality of subsection 7.D of your command. I am in the meantime occupied with an intensive survey of the resources available for the rapid commencement of jiggery-pokery as soon as the necessary permit has been obtained”.

          Except ten times more obscure and a hundred times longer. Establishing that this is obstructionism and cause for termination, will generally require a month or more of dedicated effort by a senior civil servant; the president doesn’t have time for that, and his subordinates don’t have the inclination. Issuing an order that would explicitly prohibit such obstructionism would require saying something like “…and violate federal statute 3.141592654 if you have to, I want this done today”, which would be explicitly unlawful.

          The President does not have the practical power to fire civil servants, even for overt disobedience, other than cabinet secretaries who basically agree up front to resign on request. This does not mean that the President is impotent. It does mean that his power is constrained by the collective tolerance of the bureaucracy – POTUS can do almost anything the bureaucracy will tolerate, and almost nothing that it cannot. And at the margins of “almost”, he can shift the bureaucracy’s zone of tolerance a bit for the next president.

          • Carinthium says:

            I would have countered this with.
            A- Making fighting this obstructionism THE top priority. If everything else goes off the agenda in favor of fighting bureaucratic battles, they are a lot easier to fight. If a President got elected with a specific promise and used rhetoric about how Barrack Obama was made impotent by bureaucracy and that this was a fight for democracy against bureaucracy, that could work.
            B- Margaret Thatcher was able to get around bureaucracy. I don’t know what she did, but that implies there is at least a way to do it.
            C- It’s not certain, but it’s possible depending on the situation a President could get Acts of Congress specifically to help him out. Yes he needs drafters most of the time, but most Presidents could draft a very crude piece of legislation that simply helped fire some civil servants.

            I don’t see why any sane President doesn’t try to fight this stuff. Being constrained by bureaucracy is clearly contrary to American ideology by any interpretation, and restricts their power greatly.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t know much about how the British bureaucracy works, but I do know that the British PM has a lot more positive power over the British government than the US President has over the American. The other side of that is that a British government has to bat a thousand — if it fails to implement any major policy, that’s liable to be interpreted as a failure of confidence in the government. Whereas an American administration can throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks, and some of it is more-or-less expected to fail; I don’t remember a single administration that managed to implement all of its policy goals.

            Generally speaking, the American system of government is designed to have more internal brakes than the Westminster system. This makes it slower but less fragile, and I’m honestly not sure if “slow” goes in the minus column.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t see why any sane President doesn’t try to fight this stuff. Being constrained by bureaucracy is clearly contrary to American ideology by any interpretation, and restricts their power greatly.

            Restricting executive power is hardly contrary to American ideology. Restricting executive power the original American ideology, and we haven’t given up on it yet.

            And sane presidents don’t fight this stuff because they know they can’t win. There’s a Chestertonian rampart with moat and fieldworks in their path, heavy artillery en barbette and the glacis mined and enfiladed, the bulk of the American political establishment manning the walls under banners reading “Death to Patronage“.

            Seriously, there’s a reason we set it up this way, and if you want to change it you’ll need to convince us that you understand why we did that.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nornagest:

            The weird thing to me is how similar the systems are in practice, despite being totally different in construction. It makes me moderate my views about the effectiveness of constitutional checks, that’s for sure.

            Of course, the Constitution is more than words on a page: it’s a codification of shared national ideas. And in that sense, the unwritten “British constitution” is very similar.

          • BBA says:

            “I don’t remember a single administration that managed to implement all of its policy goals.”

            There hasn’t been one since James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump.

          • anon says:

            Although John Schilling’s arguments are not without merit, I think there is a valid counterargument that the bureaucracy’s relative immunity from executive supervision is in fact extremely pernicious. In particular, almost every government agency — but especially the intelligence agencies — routinely disobey both the spirit and letter of the Freedom of Information Act, as well as the executive orders governing classified information. These are basically perfect examples how the will of the people (who, after all, elected the legislators and presidents who made these rules specifically to constrain the bureaucracies in question) is subverted by the system.

          • Carinthium says:

            Restricting executive power in favor of Congress or of the States would be proper American ideology. Restricting executive power in favor of giving power to bureaucrats is clearly contrary to American ideology.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think there is a valid counterargument that the bureaucracy’s relative immunity from executive supervision is in fact extremely pernicious.

            Oh, I quite agree. When the people who actually implement the government’s policies don’t have to obey orders and can’t be fired, that almost guarantees catastrophically bad government hiding behind a Potemkin-village façade of competence. And when the people who actually implement the government’s policies have to do what they are told and will be fired if the boss isn’t satisfied, we know from experience that this also guarantees catastrophically bad government with a bit of camouflage.

            Have I mentioned lately that I am a libertarian?

        • Carinthium says:

          Naturally I like what oyonomi is saying for the most part. Strangely enough, my position is that some kind of altered balance of power is the best plan we have so far for a general Constitution, based on a mixture of trying to give inherently antagonistic groups a share of power (this includes that these are the kinds of groups unlikely to have the same cultural influences on them) and ensuring that for each clause of the Constitution that needs defending there is an interest group with a stake in defending it. Some sort of far more complicated idea for judicial appointments would also be useful. But that’s only tentative unless a better idea exists.

          As for natural justice, I spelled this out:
          “My view on morality nowadays is basically a Sentimentalist one about most things, except that when a theory is internally incoherent or has a sufficient logical or philosophical problem within it, it is objectively Wrong because it doesn’t make rational sense. Against proponents of natural justice, I challenge them to demonstrate it’s existence at all.”

          It is beyond dispute that the Supreme Court purports to gain legitimacy by knowing the true meaning of the Constitution. It is also beyond dispute, as Supreme Court judges have adopted the highly implausible Living Constitution theory, that this is a load of utter rubbish. This is the internal contradiction I’m talking about it.

          Nothing about my theory implies that others have to care, but not only do I care but there are reasons why others should. Since what the Supreme Court says the Constitution is is in practice constantly evolving, law is in practice at the mercy of those in power. Rule of law is a myth, and because rule of law is a myth we can’t trust our own governments.

          I live in Australia, but the United States is a much more high profile target and easier to get people to pay attention to.

          EDIT: Finally of course, Supreme Court power is 100% based in the myth of legitimacy they have created. Bust open the idea that the Supreme Court are trustworthy to interpret the Constitution in the eyes of the common people, and bit by bit the politicians will start having the courage to work against it. (Assuming of course the popular consensus covers a large enough percentage)

          • BBA says:

            In general, I find arguments between libertarians and non-libertarians to be like arguing over the truth of the parallel postulate. Euclidean geometry is consistent, so is non-Euclidean geometry, but there’s no way to get from one to the other because the basic assumptions are incompatible. (And who deserves the credit? And who deserves the blame? Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky is his name!)

            I have nothing further to add on this particular topic.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ BBA
            In general, I find arguments between libertarians and non-libertarians to be like arguing over the truth of the parallel postulate. Euclidean geometry is consistent, so is non-Euclidean geometry, but there’s no way to get from one to the other because the basic assumptions are incompatible.

            Applying this to SJW-style thinking, could partly explain why SJW-style freaks me out. If they would announce which Enlightment values they’re rejecting (and pre-E, such as logic and consistancy), and why, and point to some higher paradigm that could at least help sort out the differences…. I think there’s something like that in geometry, where plane and spherical etc systems can be compared and worked with.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          Surely the President at least has the legal power to fire civil servants for disobeying direct commands though?

          No, he does not. He cannot fire a career civil servant for insubordination without due process. Nor can anyone else. You can lose your job for insubordination, dereliction, or abandonment, but no one person can just say, “You are insubordinate, derelict, and/or have abandoned your position. You’re fired.” to a career civil servant and make it stick. (ETA: Absent something at the level John Schilling describes where the CSS helpfully documents their actual malfeasance, and doesn’t complain that it was taken out of context.)

          Many upper level bureaucrats serve “at the pleasure of the President.” Those he can fire, or at least fail to re-appoint. An interesting example is the head of the Federal Reserve, even though the FR is a truly bizarre private/public… thing… even by government standards. The President can’t fire the head of the FR, but when their term is up, the then-sitting president is not obliged to re-appoint them.

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      Because the Republican candidates don’t want to challenge that ruling, which finally gets them past one of their losing battles foisted upon them by their constituents. With that ruling, gay rights can stop mattering politically.

      • Carinthium says:

        Interesting. I’d actually be curious to hear more about this- why would you say the Republican candidates would be fighting a losing battle? Say the gay marriage ruling hadn’t happened because the Supreme Court hadn’t gotten a case that could create such a precedent for a while- why would this be bad for the Republicans?

        • I think his argument is that Republican opposition to gay marriage costs them votes—most obviously the votes of Gays—but they are forced to maintain it by the internal politics of the party.

    • Anonymous says:

      Right now after their gay marriage ruling the Court will have lost a lot of popularity

      Have they, though? For every person who thinks they decided wrongly, how many think they decided rightly? (I’d guess 1:1, but this isn’t an issue I’ve been paying attention to.)

      • Nornagest says:

        1:1 sounds about right. But maybe more importantly, I think the American right’s actually staking more of its hopes on the judiciary right now than the American left is; the left had that one high-profile ruling, but the right has a ruling just as important in Heller, and future challenges to Roe and Obamacare (neither of which are very plausible IMO, but hope springs eternal).

        (Left-leaning observers like to point to Citizens United, but that’s more of an establishment victory than a partisan one.)

        • Carinthium says:

          Historically speaking, how America is run in practice is clearly trending leftward on social issues (and I think “socially left-wing” is used in a coherent manner even if “left-wing” is questionable). Hoping the Court will suddenly change it’s mind when most of the academics eligible for the Court would come from university culture is hopeless.

          • Anonymous says:

            Thankfully.

            But why is marriage equality the hill you’re choosing to die on? I’m curious.

          • Carinthium says:

            For what it’s worth, if it’s purely a question of public policy I like gay marriage. I just hate hate hate Courts making such wildly implausible constitutional interpretations.

            As things stand, the Republican Party is losing badly. I would have fought this battle on Roe v.s Wade back in the day- it’s just that this is the only hill that will be left for a while. The most likely road for all existing Republican social principles is oblivion (remember that most moral systems in history that were later overthrown went down not with a bang but with a whimper), so it’s more important right now to make a stand at all.

            (EDIT: To clarify, my favorite position would be to abolish legal marriage altogether, and I don’t know why no State Governor has tried in the wake of recent events.

            That being said, assuming marriage must exist it does become a symbolic battle, even if it is a silly one.)

          • Deiseach says:

            To clarify, my favorite position would be to abolish legal marriage altogether, and I don’t know why no State Governor has tried in the wake of recent events.

            Which would work great if all the people who said “Our private arrangements are no business of the government or anyone else but the two/six/twenty-nine persons involved” stuck to it but no, they go running to the law courts when the dream is over and suddenly it is vitally important to have it enforced that I get the china poodles not you, you bastard bitch!

            So it’s easier to keep the system of broadly worked-out rules that everyone more or less knows, rather than have to re-invent the wheel every time a family law dispute goes to court – and having ‘the rules’ different depending what state you shacked up in, e.g. that if you are on the outs with your lesbian lover in Tennessee, you can go to court and get her name taken off the kids’ birth certificates while in Ohio, the judge’s decision was if the name goes on at birth, it stays on.

          • Carinthium says:

            Isn’t there a series of rules about de facto relationships anyway? I might not like them (I tend to be in favor of explicit contracts regarding relationships), but what’s to stop them from being used?

  15. Lowtuff says:

    The pretty, uh, contentious attitude around much of the rationalist community does make me fairly wary of a lot of the stuff you churn out, but overall I really do enjoy reading the output. Scott’s work in particular has given me really interesting new perspectives on several issues and such self aware writing it a joy to read. Keep it up!

  16. Zakharov says:

    Is “cooperate iff they will cooperate iff you will cooperate” a correct decision procedure for the one-shot prisoner’s dilemma?

    • Anonymous says:

      For one-shots, I would have said “always defect”.

      • Zakharov says:

        Most of the time there’s no difference; my formulation applies to cases where the opponent can predict your actions, e.g. reading your mind / source code.

        • DavidS says:

          This feels like cheating (or presuming Timeless Decision theory?)

          The presumption under Prisoner’s Dilemma is that the decisions are independent. Not sure if referring to mind/source code reading is that different to a situation in which prisoners posted in their responses and one guy could read the others mail. The whole point of the Prisoner’s Dilemma is that the two people can’t coordintae. If they can coordinate then yes, obviously agreeing cooperate-cooperate is better than defect-defect.

          • Nornagest says:

            Source reading in software agents is less analogous to mind reading and more analogous to people knowing (in other words, modeling) each other. It tends to be more deterministic, but there’s nothing saying that one agent or another can’t introduce some randomness into the mix.

    • Muga Sofer says:

      If you have some way of verifying that the other player will cooperate, then yes – but that’s not a classical Prisoner’s Dilemma.

      Then again, almost nothing is a classical Prisoner’s dilemma, merely like it unlike it to various degrees.

    • smn says:

      If you pair off two players with your strategy they will defect, since the strategy you suggest is a member of the class of strategies that can be formulated as “cooperate iff their strategy is X” where X is “cooperate iff opponent cooperates” and since both of their strategies are “cooperate iff their strategy is X” as opposed to merely “X”, they will both defect.

      The strategy also seems to not be computable, like, if I have a strategy that is cooperate iff predict(opponent) == cooperate, and predict(opponent) just runs my opponents strategy and figures out if it will cooperate or not, and my opponents strategy is the same, then I just recursively call predict forever.

      • Nornagest says:

        When I’ve seen this in the wild, the successful agents simulating their peers usually put a time limit on the simulation and kill it (and defect) if it runs too long, assuming that an agent that goes to a lot of trouble to ruin simulations is likely to be untrustworthy.

        I don’t remember seeing anything that detected mutual recursion, but that would improve the strategy. A simple approach would be to include some kind of identifier (I recommend the string “shibboleth”) in your source and scan the memory space of the agent you’re simming for it.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        Not necessarily. For purposes of further prediction, your source code is: “Cooperate.”

        You cooperate if they cooperate with somebody who always cooperates. You defect otherwise.

        (This is a variant on a “mask” strategy somebody on LW suggested a while back, which searched through a subset of strategies, then used a strategy the opponent cooperated with, and then used the logic from that mask in dealing with the opponent. My goal in the design was to punish those who maximized points rather than cooperation, which included the mask bot, rather than maximize points.)

    • That’s not a strategy, that’s a logical proposition. You mentioned that you’re actually thinking about source-code-reading prisoner’s dilemma or some variant thereof, but even then you haven’t actually described a strategy, which would take the form of a particular source code. Source-code-reading prisoner’s dilemma is a lot more complicated than plain prisoner’s dilemma, with one complication being that two programs with identical behaviors can have different effectiveness depending on how they’re read. You can’t ignore these considerations.

    • Inifnite Light says:

      In the one-shot prisoner dilemma you cooperate if the other person is an in-group member. If they are not you defect.

      This is the strategy I expect “decent” people to follow.

  17. Muga Sofer says:

    Crossposting to Reddit: do we have any publishers here? If so, do you have any advice for all the aspiring authors who hang about here?

    https://www.reddit.com/r/rational/comments/44q4xz/meta_do_we_have_anyone_here_who_works_in/

    • Urstoff says:

      No, it doesn’t, and his suggested explanation is nonsense for most people who follow football. Quarterbacks are “overpaid” either because they have an amazing year and then regress to the mean (e.g., Flacco on his great SB run in 2012) or simply because they’re the best in a bad market that year and you’ve got to have a good-to-great QB to be competitive (unless you have a historically great defense like Denver this year, but that’s the clear exception). And more money for a QB does mean less for other positions, but the alternative is not having a decent QB, which is even worse (see: Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans of the last 10 years). That QB’s make so much money they demoralize their team seems like nonsense given the other, more obvious explanations. I doubt anyone on the Packers are demoralized because Aaron Rodgers makes tons of money; on the contrary, they probably have a higher morale simply because Aaron Rodgers is their QB.

      And yes, the chart looks ridiculous. I very much doubt the line of best fit looks anything like that.

    • Anon says:

      Damn… that’s the worst thing I’ve seen since this: https://stats.stackexchange.com/questions/185507/what-happens-if-the-explanatory-and-response-variables-are-sorted-independently

      Basically the writer just drew a curve over a set of data. Taking a second order polynomial regression would look nothing like what is shown. That is “connect the first and last points to make a linear regression” level of statistical illiteracy.

  18. Akiyama says:

    I don’t know if people outside the UK can listen to radio programmes on the BBC iPlayer, but this week’s Start the Week might of some interest to people here:

    On Start the Week Andrew Marr talks to Jane McGonigal, a designer of alternate reality games, about her latest innovation SuperBetter. Designed to aid her recovery from a brain injury and subsequent depression, the game reportedly gives people a sense of control over their own health. Harnessing the mind in the fight against chronic illnesses is the subject of Jo Marchant’s book, Cure, which looks at the latest research into the science of mind over body. Rational thought and magic went hand in hand in the Renaissance period and the philosopher AC Grayling looks back at the life of John Dee – mathematician, alchemist and the Queen’s conjurer. The actor Simon McBurney tests the limits of perception and human consciousness as he recreates what it feels like to be lost in the remote part of the Brazilian rainforest.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06zqn0v

    • kaninchen says:

      It varies from channel to channel. Since becoming an expat I’ve had no difficulty accessing Radio 4, and was able to listen to Radio 3 live for the Last Night of the Proms, but have been completely unable to access podcasts and iPlayer for Radio 3. Fortunately Start the Week is on Radio 4, so is accessible. (At least, this is the case where I live, it might be different in other countries).

  19. http://www.meltingasphalt.com/social-status-down-the-rabbit-hole/

    DAE get bothered that Kevin presents dominance status as something only gained by intimidating others against their will, cracking whips, and generally an evil thing? I think very often it is genuine respect or devotion to a leader or alpha or something similar. The reason it bothers me so much is that it seems it is the general misunderstanding that in the last 300 years led to various kinds of liberalisms and leftisms, namely the assumption that dominance is inherently repressive and that is inherently bad, because human dignity etc. In other words, this binary view that something is either given freely or it is take by crushing your view. But there are stuff in between. There are things not freely given, but still don’t mind much when taken. Most dominance is obviously not up to some public vote or clearly asked consent, yet people consent by complying and often end up being really comfotable with it. This is why movies like The Last Samurai are so important. They show a hierarchy that is not consensual and yet people are really glad to comply with it and don’t feel repressed by it. In short, this is a classic Enlightenment mistake. I think what it is ultimately about that from the Enlightenment era to today, there are intellectuals who are simply too proud to accept any inequal position. This is why they assume everything not given by free consent is taken by whip-cracking. But the issue is most people are not so proud. They often worship the very same strength that could be used to repress them, hence it becomes rarely necessary.

    The opposite, that prestige status is always freely given from below… that too is often not so. There is often elites deciding who is gonna be cool and average people just follow that. Did your plumber decide or vote on that Stephen Hawking is going to be seen as a high prestige physicist? I think not. Who decided it? Other physicists and journos. I.e. elites.

    • Nita says:

      DAE get bothered that Kevin presents dominance status as something only gained by intimidating others against their will, cracking whips, and generally an evil thing?

      In this analysis, “dominance” is not used in its ordinary language sense. They took normal human feelings like respect and artificially split them into a fear-based and a fear-free component. Thus, their “dominance” is always based on intimidating others, by definition.

      Of course, finding examples of pure “dominance” and “prestige” in real life is not so easy, especially since they tend to transform into each other (thorough the admiration of strength that you mentioned, but also, e.g., the fear of shunning or harassment by a popular person’s supporters).

      • But if Kevin’s model is actually similar to the sociobiological model that was studied for decades, is supported by empirical evidence, and is easily measurable by the fact that both prestige and dominance gains release testosterone (see Kemper, 1990 and so on) then dominance could something as simple as winning a judo match or teaching people to sail boats.

        • Nita says:

          dominance could something as simple as winning a judo match

          You win a judo match => onlookers are less likely to challenge you to a fight at the bar later — that’s “dominance” (in the artificial, strict sense).

          You win a judo match => onlookers are more likely to invite you to go bowling later — that’s “prestige” (or “eminence”, in Kemper’s terms).

          or teaching people to sail boats

          That seems like pure prestige/eminence — unless you mean that the teaching is enhanced by the students being afraid of crossing the teacher.

          From the inside it works like this: dominance is what makes you want to avoid the higher-status person, prestige is what makes you want to be near them.

          A pure dominance situation would be something like walking into your prison cell for the first time and figuring out who’s dangerous.

          A pure prestige situation would be browsing the web and figuring out who’s interesting. E.g., in the OP, Scott wrote:

          I especially want to thank all of the famous, Internet famous, and Internet journalism famous people who have praised me and linked to me

          That’s a status interaction of the “prestige” (not “dominance”) type.

          • Hm, if we see these two overlapping a lot, it can be an acceptable model. For example I used to think in the past titles of nobility like king or count were about dominance (military leadership, at the essence) and saints like St. Francis had prestige. But if we see kinghood and aristocracy as also something strongly prestige-laden and the established church especially mixed in between – that popes are supposed to be kinda like St. Francis but in practice more like emperors – it could make sense.

            The problem is, I have a handy theory, I still think it is correct, but now it is harder to find the vocabulary for it. Namely that the Enlightenment / modernity / liberalism thing was all about moving from dominance status to prestige status. It was like stop reverring kings and listen to the Voltaires instead. I think it is largely correct as a mini-model but wording it as less emphasis on dominance-as-prestige and more emphasis as prestige-as-dominance would not really cut it…

          • Nita says:

            Perhaps we can still rescue some of your theory — and also elucidate some core disagreements.

            First off, Homo sapiens is a social species. The need to have good allies has always been with us — and with it, prestige. However, in different societies, different things are in demand, so prestige is distributed in different ways.

            So, your complaint is that liberal, Enlightenment-inspired societies have been assigning prestige incorrectly, failing to base it on dominance as they properly should. But why? Are personally intimidating individuals valuable allies in the modern world? Are they more likely to be good leaders?

            Several centuries ago, the warrior class did (at least nominally) provide a valuable service to the surrounding population. These days, most liberal countries have a professional military willing to provide similar services at a much lesser cost (i.e., less political power, no owning the people who produce their food). Why would you want to bring back the old way?

            Areas where individual dominance-type status is of paramount importance still exist — badly policed neighbourhoods, territories controlled by organized crime, even some schools — but they tend to be regarded as problem spots, not as positive examples, by liberals and conservatives alike.

          • @Nita

            Good, we are getting close. Here is part of why. Orwell wrote that warfare is the only thing that kept governments attached to actual reality, not consensus reality. I am no advocating warfare, but but for example the reason I really enjoy military sci-fi like Pournelle is not the violence aspect of it mostly, but because of how down-to-earth rationally the officers behave. They have very high stakes and cannot afford any pretense. Skin in the game.

            Intellectuals in the political sense are the opposite. They don’t even have as much sense of responsibility as democratic politicians and that is not saying much. They can come up with any bullshit and nobody can hold them accountable for it. They can afford to freely signal the smartest-sounding and holiest-sounding stuff, get prestige for it, and not taken to account for the consequences: people don’t even associate consequences with them, it is just “well we had this fad that Stalinism is cool, not anymore since we read The Gulag Archipelago”, well, WHO generated that fad? No skin in the game.

            Read Einstein on Socialism. http://monthlyreview.org/2009/05/01/why-socialism it is embarrassingly bad, amateurish, apparently he did not even bother to read (serious) left-wing economists. Yet his immense physics prestige carried over. IMHO it was an irresponsible use of it.

            An alternative to warrior aristocrats is private-property managers. This is at least close to dominance status and skin in the game.

            So professionalizing warfare and transititioning away from a warrior-aristocracy is not in itself a problem. The problem is that ruling classes tend to be warriors or priests, and in intellectualdom we see the crazy holiness-signalling of secular priests. I mean back then Church too had similar left-wingishness problems, I know it sounds ridiculous, but for example when the Church banned enslaving Christians it led to peasant soldiers being massacred in medieval battles because they had no economic value for the captors, nobody would ransom them. A smart warrior aristocrat would have foreseen this and rather made an exception like for POWs 10 years of servitude is OK or something similar, just to give an incentive to keep the poor schmucks alive. A property manager too. Priests are too holy for this and modern leftish intellectuals are similar.

            My point is too much prestige for Voltaires. Not too little prestige for generals (dux -> duke) per se, although it seems it is a zero sum game between the two.

            I know anti-intellectualism sounds weird on this blog. My point is when intellectualism is not grounded into getting important real world stuff done correctly with skin in the game, it becomes a destructive signalling feedback loop.

          • Nita says:

            I don’t know where you’re getting this idea that intellectuals rule the world. They can write and talk all day long, but no one cares until it becomes relevant to their personal interests.

            E.g., Stalin didn’t come to power because Russian workers and peasants accidentally read too much Marx. They were struggling with the burden of Russia’s involvement in WWI, and so were willing to support whoever promised to end it. Perhaps the emperor didn’t have enough “skin in the game” after all, if he didn’t assess the risk correctly.

            Read Einstein on Socialism.

            Done. It’s not that bad, certainly no worse than the average SSC comment. He even points out one of the major problems with the system he’s proposing:

            how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

            — and recommends discussion instead of revolution. We could use more intellectuals like that!

            An alternative to warrior aristocrats is private-property managers.

            We do have elites of that sort. And they do have more power than “intellectuals” — in fact, they can usually afford to employ a bunch of them to publish and defend whatever ideas they find agreeable. So, what’s the problem? Is it that some intellectuals not employed by major capital owners still exist, e.g., in universities and on the web?

          • Stalin was the extremely rare case of anti-intellectualism from the left, but Lenin and Bukharin were intellectuals. But this is not what I mean, not direct rule, but the indirect influence Marx’s dead hand had on the world.

            > in fact, they can usually afford to employ a bunch of them to publish and defend whatever ideas they find agreeable. So, what’s the problem? Is it that some intellectuals not employed by major capital owners still exist, e.g., in universities and on the web?

            Please don’t, you are a smarter than this. To give you random examples, two things I worry most about is third-world immigration into western countries, driven by anti-racist signalling and falling white birth-rates driven by anti-sexism so we cannot push back demographically. Scary similar situation to the end of Rome, unable to stop the barbarians at the limes because there is no demographic push from the inside. And who is responsible for this? Intellectuals of the university type.

            And not the ones who were hired by big capital to try to defend tobacco or something like that. That is just basic simple money deal, nothing sinister about it, they just don’t care if people kill themselves slowly for their profits, an aristocratic state would occasionally kick the merchants in the ass when they get too bold and pull shit like this, and that is it. Manageable problem. But progressive intellectualdom undermined everything relevant to the West’s prosperty, safety, reproduction and power, and thus the very basis of global civilization as such. Look no further than decolonialism, prosperous places turned into smoking ruins with barbarians trying to loot from each other what little is left. Either another civ, like China takes over or basically there is a new dark age, and worse than the previous ones because the high-IQ genetics will be largely gone.

          • onyomi says:

            “progressive intellectualdom undermined everything relevant to the West’s prosperty, safety, reproduction and power, and thus the very basis of global civilization as such.”

            This sounds hyperbolic, but I think it’s basically right.

          • Nita says:

            Lenin and Bukharin were intellectuals

            Right, and they couldn’t have done anything substantial without the support of the people — who, as I said, were sick of the war and looking for solutions. If Russia’s noble rulers hadn’t managed their country so atrociously, even the most beautiful communist speeches would have had zero effect.

            But progressive intellectualdom undermined everything relevant to the West’s prosperty, safety, reproduction and power, and thus the very basis of global civilization as such.

            Uh, shouldn’t we have seen a reduction of the West’s prosperity as a result of this alleged intellectual catastrophe? I’m seeing little kids with smartphones, EU countries paying fines for producing too much food, middle-class Americans taking up large-scale charity as a hobby…

            Heck, even the Soviet Union, that flagship of Marx’s dead hand, underwent significant growth in living standards!

            falling white birth-rates driven by anti-sexism so we cannot push back demographically

            So, what policies exactly would you enact, if you could ignore or suppress anti-sexism?

          • Nita says:

            @ onyomi

            I thought you were a libertarian? In other words, an ardent supporter of the liberal cancer of the Enlightenment that TheDividualist has been bemoaning?

          • Anonymous says:

            >If Russia’s noble rulers hadn’t managed their country so atrociously, even the most beautiful communist speeches would have had zero effect.

            They managed it extremely well compared to the Communists.

          • Nita says:

            @ Anonymous

            That is both debatable and irrelevant. What’s relevant is that the workers found the situation so intolerable that they were willing to risk everything for a chance of a better outcome. So, it’s not a matter of “intellectuals” turning a traditionalist utopia into a civil war with the power of words alone.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Yes, which will make Russia a worthy stop in our time travel tour, a bit after murdering Hitler and just before stopping Ferdinand’s murder.

          • @Nita

            Your point about current prosperity is valid, please focus more on safety. I think prosperity is propped up by so much tech that may be the last one to fall apart, but it will.

            I don’t think I can write a political program in a comment and not even sure that laws and stuff are responsible for our problems or they are just downstream from culture. Just one example, did sexual behavior become more hedonistic because no-fault divorce or already more hedonistic mores, culture demanded no-fault divorce? I was never able to figure this one out and of course there is also technological determinism like contraception. This is why I am not an out and out social conservative: why even fight gay marriage – probably the real problem is that even emerged as a plausible idea, but rear-guard fights are pointless.

            But there is the third option that cultures and mores are about imitating high status people. This sound roughly plausible. So you don’t hopelessly try to chase human behavior with laws, you just set up your system so that your preferred role models are on top and thus get imitated. Suppose people imitate movie stars and music stars. Suppose I don’t like that. Whom do the stars imitate? Are they completely autonomous? While I think nobody is, seriously Julia Roberts and Matt Damon sound about like the least likely candidates for being autonomous. So where do they take their fashions from? I think our three candidates are intellectualdom and priests, capitalists and back in old time warriors-aristocrats, because just who else? Brain / communication / holiness, property / money, and violence, what other things could be powerful?

            I consider capitalism kind of neutral. They just don’t care. They are equally willing to sell you any kind of cultural product you want, from the most liberal to the most conservative. I think they don’t really have a firm culture because they thrive on adaptation – to anything.

            So we have two left. Priests-intellectuals or warriors-aristocrats. If I had a time machine I would somehow try to reduce the influence of intellectualdom and increase the influence of warrior-aristocrats and perhaps this could be hacked by laws. While this is a centuries old thing, it looks like from my European angle that the biggest push was still after 1945 and from America – remember how even Yugoslavia was a monarchy before WW2! – I’d probably try to go back to 1600-something and set up aristocratic haciendas up in New England. But it would not work, wrong climate, lack of labor.

            Oh well. It isn’t solvable even in theory. There was, maybe, “historic necessity”. It is possible that there is no plausible other course. But still does not mean it ends well. There is no Providence.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nita:

            I thought you were a libertarian? In other words, an ardent supporter of the liberal cancer of the Enlightenment that TheDividualist has been bemoaning?

            Yes, I find it odd that onyomi agrees with TheDividualist here.

            But I’ve already written a series of long comments about how much I disagree with the latter, so you might want to look at that.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nita:

            You’re also exactly right about Lenin. I studied abroad in Russia, and the man is still admired to this day for having the the courage and absence of national pride to sign the humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and get Russia out of that terrible war.

            The actual history of the Russian revolution was: first, there was a February Revolution that replaced the autocracy of the czar with a liberal government. But this government angered the people with its insistence on remaining in WWI to the bitter end.

            So, then later there was the October Revolution—really a coup by the Bolsheviks, who were part of the biggest trade union—where they stormed the Winter Palace and arrested the liberal leadership. Now, the Bolsheviks and their policy of communism were certainly not universally loved—that’s why there was a long civil war—but one of the main things that drew people to Lenin was that he got Russia out of the war.

            And of course, he did so in large part so that he could make sure the Bolsheviks would win that war. Which is perhaps something the liberal February Government should have thought about.

            And what turned people against the White Army was three things: first, the realization that they wanted to bring back the czar, not any form of “liberalism”; second, the completely ineffectual invasion by the victorious powers of WWI to restore the Provisional Government, which gave Lenin all the propaganda he needed to portray the his opposition as treasonous; and third, the extreme corruption, amorality, and lack of concern for the people displayed by the White forces.

            Ayn Rand has an excellent article called “The Lessons of Vietnam” in which she compares her own experience in the Russian Civil War to the situation in Vietnam. I wish I could find the whole thing online (part of it is here), but here is an excerpt:

            I was in my early teens during the Russian civil war. I lived in a small town that changed hands many times. (See We the Living: that part of the story is autobiographical.) When it was occupied by the White Army, I almost longed for the return of the Red Army, and vice versa. There was not much difference between them in practice, but there was in theory. The Red Army stood for totalitarian dictatorship and rule by terror. The White Army stood for nothing, repeat: nothing. In answer to the monstrous evil they were fighting, the Whites found nothing better to proclaim than the dustiest, smelliest bromides of the time: we must fight, they said, for Holy Mother Russia, for faith and tradition.

            […]

            In a passive, indifferent way, the majority of the Russian people behind the White Army: they were not for the Whites, but merely against the Reds; they feared the Reds’ atrocities. I knew that the Reds’ deepest atrocity was intellectual, that the thing which had to be fought—and defeated—was their ideas. But no one answered them. The country’s passivity turned to hopeless lethargy as people gave up. The Reds had an incentive, the promise of nationwide looting; they had the leadership and the semi-discipline of a criminal gang; they had an allegedly intellectual program and an allegedly moral justification. The Whites had icons. The Reds won.

          • onyomi says:

            “I thought you were a libertarian? In other words, an ardent supporter of the liberal cancer of the Enlightenment that TheDividualist has been bemoaning?”

            He said “progressive intellectualdom,” not “the enlightenment.” Those two things are very different in my mind, even if the former may claim to be of a lineage, or even synonymous with, the latter.

          • @Vox Imperatoris

            > The White Army stood for nothing, repeat: nothing. In answer to the monstrous evil they were fighting, the Whites found nothing better to proclaim than the dustiest, smelliest bromides of the time: we must fight, they said, for Holy Mother Russia, for faith and tradition.

            And yet exactly the same propaganda worked for Franco in Spain in a very similar situation. Faith, tradition, nationalism reduces to identity and that is actually a pretty powerful motivating force. This wasn’t stupid – that is mostly the only way how to motivate the common folk against the left. Call them godless. Worked for Reagan, too. You cannot sell capitalism and tech progress to illiterate peasants. Nor even ethics: they aren’t opposed to looting, the important thing for them is just who loots whom. I wonder why Rand didn’t see that.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I wonder why Rand didn’t see that.

            I’d guess it’s some sort of typical mind fallacy: Ayn Rand didn’t care about those things, therefore nobody else will.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ TheDividualist:

            Well, the White Army tried that. As did the forces of South Vietnam.

            And guess what? It didn’t work.

            It didn’t work because people could see that the nationalist, traditionalist “white” ideology was intellectual bankrupt, and anyone with an ounce of idealism—but not enough intelligence to see the false dichotomy—was driven to the other side.

            Now, yes, there were cases, such as Franco’s case, where the “White” forces had more thorough control of the military and were simply able to put down the Red forces through sheer brutality. But even there, I think you are underestimating the extent to which even Franco’s Falangism had a socialist, progressive message that he used to motivate people.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            For one, while Franco was nominally a “monarchist”, the true reactionary-traditionalist forces that supported him were decidedly on the backseat of the coalition. He didn’t even restore the monarchy until after his death, preferring to rule himself as “regent-for-life”.

    • onyomi says:

      I was watching a movie set in Hong Kong–one of the most capitalist and British places on Earth–and noticed how hierarchical everything seemed, for lack of a better word. And this is coming from someone who has lived in Japan. Most notably, there was not only a lot of behavior we might term “sycophantic,” but also a lot of pomp and circumstance attendant on high status people. For an example of what I’m talking about: check out the dress and concerns of Hong Kong lawyers:

      http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2013/05/02/in-hong-kong-lawyers-want-to-wear-wigs-like-englishmen/

      And what struck me when considering all this is that getting special privileges and getting to wear a funny costume makes being a barrister seem more “special” and, therefore, arguably desirable (maybe not to people who have grown up with the strong egalitarian ethic which is now the norm in the US and Western Europe, but I think on some deeper human level). To some extent, we’ve replaced this with crazy levels of remuneration for top executives and CEOs, who hang out in flannel shirts and jeans and live in modest Palo Alto homes, but I think that’s ultimately not the same.

      And what I’m getting at, of course, is that by getting rid of the trappings of hierarchy and success, the motivation to climb the ladder is reduced, and so therefore the motivation to do the work necessary to climb the ladder, etc. Maybe this is just some obvious right-wing talking point, but my point, I guess, is that the trappings matter more than we may think.

      • You don’t have to go as far as HK (not far from Japan, far from “The West”) to see this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_London_Corporation#The_High_Officers_and_other_officials
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:2011_Lord_Mayor_emerging_from_Royal_Courts_of_Justice_2011.jpg

        But it is an obvious right-wing talking point. It is about different ways to gain and signal status. Funny robes represent status given from above, participation in a hierarchical system of power that descends from the state and while it has a lot of prestige-status as well, the dominance-status message is obvious. Those ornamental sword and mace in a sophisticated and abstract way, do mean a threat of force. But it does not work that well because while modern states are powerful, they don’t like looking dominant and ultimately they don’t have much prestige anymore, people don’t respect them, most people I know think they all are crooks, left, right, center. This is because other classes became more important or powerful than the state. Then there is signalling status by money like driving a Ferrari, and then there signalling education or holiness status by saying smart and caring sounding things. These all are different ladders.

        I don’t think putting funny robes on CEOs and paying them less would work these days. The issue is nobody seriously respects that robe anyway, it has no real dominance anymore and clearly no prestige. It is true that back in 1950 or so when CEO pay was lower but they got ridiculous privileges like separate toilets it worked, but only because it tied into an existing system of class-power that got much weakened today.

        If you mean people get generally demotivated if they cannot pursue status, yes: https://dividuals.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/re-the-best-lack-all-conviction/

        For the record America certainly looks egalitarian at least in the sense that billionaires are expected to be “normal guys” and not put on airs, but I am not so sure about Western Europe. Look at the efforts Italians put into wearing fashionable designer clothes to show they are not of the common rabble. I think many European countries went from a half-aristocratic capitalism to a half-socialistic capitalism with no pure capitalism in between and it shows. And the UK class system still lives on in accents for example. Oh, income of course gets redistributed. But status? Not so much. But status – official status, like UK aristocracy – gets ridiculed and disrespected. Still it did not result in egalitarianism but in different status moves.

      • CatCube says:

        People will cling to even small status symbols. When the US Army was working through a big uniform revision (going to the new Army Service Uniform) there were a lot of simplifications proposed. Two of them were to remove Engineer buttons (special buttons worn only by Corps of Engineers officers) and shined boots with the formal uniform for paratroopers.

        Both groups fought like rabid weasels to keep these little distinctions–including me, as an engineer. This is despite the fact that these come out of the pocket of the officers themselves (Engineer buttons are like $30, and you very rarely wear the formal uniform.) People get emotionally attached to what they perceive as status symbols.

        • But there is also the confounding factor that they are also ingroup symbols, group identity, esprit de corps and all that. And the two are related: there is individual status, there is ingroup loyalty/identity, and then there is GROUP STATUS like my group is cooler than yours, which is the two COMBINED.

          This – group identity and individual status combined into group status – is probably one of the most powerful social forces ever. http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1261&context=fss_papers

          Militaries are very, very good at this. Every arm of the service, every division or whatever often has songs and whatnots telling people they are the best, basically. (In some countries this even works like that even in tertiary education, there is such a thing as Physicists March, like “the tip of our pencil / discovers new worlds” etc.) And officers usually understand that healthy level of group competition is useful all the way down the hierarchy – you want to have a good platoon, make them think – after they got good enough – they are the best in the company and have a pride to protect and so on.

    • Dahlen says:

      I can’t fathom any sane moral system that does not accept the very basic idea that domination is evil. Once that goes out of the window, you invite in all sorts of awfulness.

      Protip: the fact that you need to construe the lower rungs as being, in the end, fundamentally okay with their own subjugation demonstrates that not even you yourself are psychologically prepared to internalize the pro-domination mentality.

      But it’s understandable, you guys are just nerding about it.

      • honestlymellowstarlight says:

        Dismissing the humanity of anyone who disagrees with you.

        Psychoanalysising other people instead of engaging with them.

        Further dismissal through accusations of lower status.

        (oh, Master, whip me again! lololololol)

        • Dahlen says:

          Listing entirely formal reasons for disliking someone’s argument, as opposed to substantive reasons. Plus a side dish of gratuitous trolling. I <3 meta

          Let's make a bad decision and engage with this criticism. I really should just leave you alone, but you know, you just said I refuse to engage with arguments, so I'm trying to listen to you and conform.

          1. Saying "that way lies a bad moral system" is not the same as dismissing someone's humanity. I don't have to agree with your morality in order to accept you as human. Also, maaaaybe this is about the substantive issue of the moral valence of domination rather than about the formal issue of what position you take on the substantive issue. Maybe I can, in fact, stomach people disagreeing with me in the abstract, but the content of the actual disagreement at hand, like if it’s about a Big Important Issue such as the foundations of our respective moralities, influences my change in attitude towards you. Characterizing this as overreaction to mere disagreement is very misleading.

          2. You know, there’s a time and place for psychoanalyzing as well, this seemed to be it… Advocacy for some types of systems over others is inextricably tied in with the psychological proclivities of the advocate. This is not a value judgment.

          3. Stop reading “low-status” every time someone says “nerd”. I wasn’t thinking about status at all, that was not why I used that word. “Nerding about it” was meant to be understood as “theorizing about it from a distance” and contrasted with “actually being the sort of person who could implement an honest-to-God domination hierarchy with them on top”, which in my book is quite a lot worse than theorizing. This was me mellowing down, admitting that the other guy is better (according to me) than the system he’s defending.

          4. “oh, Master, whip me again! lololololol” has no place in what was supposed to be a rational debate about the basics of a good moral system, and if this is the level we’re stooping to nowadays, forgive me if I judge this place to be a shithole, independently of the direction Scott is trying to steer it into, and in the future I’m even more reluctant than this to engage with arguments like you wanted me to i.e. write effortposts that are going to be flamed hard anyway. You want me to GTFO this website and let you discuss amongst yourselves, well then, have at it.

          • honestlymellowstarlight says:

            Well, if I was trolling, the point is to get you to respond, not go away.

            1. was phrased very incorrectly, of course you can disagree with other humans. What I should have written was “there are a vast number of human beings who disagree with you, saying they are all insane is pointless posturing”.

            2. Anyone using “Protip” deserves to be viciously mocked for being a condescending asshole, not really sorry about that one. I know I’m a dick, it’s everyone else who should look in the mirror, see. Same with psychoanalyzing people you already don’t really understand.

            3. Stop saying “nerd”, then, nerd. You don’t get to dictate intent, especially on the internet. If you want what you say to be interpreted correctly in a “rational debate” (in the comments of someone’s blog), say exactly what you mean or this will keep happening.

            4. I know you didn’t mean to say BDSM and all related kinks are fundamentally immoral, but you pretty much did. Also not sorry for drawing attention to it.

          • Jiro says:

            I know you didn’t mean to say BDSM and all related kinks are fundamentally immoral, but you pretty much did. Also not sorry for drawing attention to it.

            You are being uncharitable.

            Saying that domination is evil should be interpreted in context; it means *actual* domination. Yes, BDSM has something called “domination”. It also has something called “slavery”–do you also go complaining about “slavery is evil” on similar grounds?

          • honestlymellowstarlight says:

            Yes, actually, I do, when people say anyone who thinks “slavery is always bad and everyone who thinks differently is completely insane, here let me psychoanalyse you, but it’s okay, you’re just a dope”. I am that kind of asshole.

            There needs to be a follow-up post to “Beware Isolated Demands for Rigor” titled “Beware Isolated Demands for Charity”, it would be hilarious.

          • Jiro says:

            I asked if you oppose “slavery is evil” on those grounds, not if you opposed it based on some other grounds.

            You oppose “domination is evil” because you think it could mean that BDSM-type “domination” is evil. Do you oppose “slavery is evil” because it could mean that BDSM-type “slavery” is evil?

          • honestlymellowstarlight says:

            Yes, I take the strong stance of “word describing human behavior = Evil And Insane” being a Bad Position, especially “word describing human behavior” has multiple meanings in different contexts.

      • hlynkacg says:

        @Dahlen

        The counter argument that immediately comes to mind is that episode of Star Trek TNG where a little girl’s not-as-imaginary-as-we-thought friend comes to the conclusion that all of the adults on the Enterprise are cruel uncaring monsters who deserve to die for they way they oppress and dominate children.

        Not all domination is evil, nor is it necessarily entered into unwillingly. The “burden of command” is called that for a reason.

        @honestlymellowstarlight
        Do you have anything constructive to add, or are you just going to persist in these zero effort sideswipes?

        • Dahlen says:

          The fact that an evil can be sometimes necessary is why morality is not a solved problem; this is something I can live with, and still get to call a thing evil or not for most instances of it. As a general ethical principle, it seems to me that it’s at least pointing in the right direction, making you more morally knowledgeable than its negation.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            I’m not convinced it actually is “evil” though. At the very least there is a sizable portion of the population that seems to genuinely prefer clearly defined hierarchies even if they don’t expect to be the one at the top and it seems a bit extreme to summarily dismiss them all as intrinsically insane/immoral.

        • honestlymellowstarlight says:

          I object, my sideswipes are at least minimally constructed. See my reply above.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Minimally being the operative term. I nominally agree with your premises and even I find your attitude grating.

            If you’re gonna troll at least try to be witty rather than a half-wit.

          • honestlymellowstarlight says:

            I think a simple “try harder” would have been more cutting, brevity and all that.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Try harder then.

      • >I can’t fathom any sane moral system that does not accept the very basic idea that domination is evil. Once that goes out of the window, you invite in all sorts of awfulness.

        Because if you accept that, history goes out the window. One of my axioms is that I am not going to think e.g. the Middle Ages / feudalism was evil or stupid. Arguments that it was useful back then and not today would be acceptable, arguments that it was always bad are not.

        Seriously any ideology and philosophy that would imply our ancestors were evil/stupid instead of saying they mostly just coped as well as they could is seriously suspect.

        And calling some guy “your dread majesty” is mostly dominance status. Hence, at least in certain circumstances OK.

        >Protip: the fact that you need to construe the lower rungs as being, in the end, fundamentally okay with their own subjugation demonstrates that not even you yourself are psychologically prepared to internalize the pro-domination mentality.

        I don’t understand your point… I would be okay with being subjugated, the lowest level probably not (honestly, I am smarter than that role, would be inefficient, better put the halfwits into the lowest rungs) but as long as there are people under me I am okay with people over me.

        I mean, modern militaries are essentially dominant and “feudal”. Being a boot camp trainee nobody sucks, but does it suck to be a proud corporal? Lieutenant?

        So I don’t understand what should I internalize. I love the movie The Last Samurai. I would totally serve a daimyo / the emperor, just not in the lowest ranks. Is that internalized subjugation enough?

        Most people through history were subjugated. Why assume they were not okay with it?

        As I don’t want to spam too many comments, let me also reflect to something downthread: why equate evil with subjugation? Let’s define for now evil as doing harm. Does subjugation necessarily harm one? Why? It is only so if you really believe in this all Kantian Enlightenment autonomy stuff. But even the Existentialist, let alone a proper understanding of biology, reveals human nature is heteronomous: https://darwinianreactionary.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/the-shakers-deathwish-values-and-autonomy/

        Another argument could be that subjugation necessarily means sacrificing your own interests for that of the ruler. This would be a better argument, but not watertight. It would be only true if people always act rationally in their own best interests which is not so. A good example is children. One modern myth is drawing a clear distinction between children and adults, in order to be able to both raise kids in a sensible way and yet maintain the myth of autonomous adults. This distinction is highly suspect, because it is not even clear what kind of inputs the brain needs for proper adult development and how many people get those inputs, I would say at best that if all the circumstances are rights brains have a chance, nothing more, at becoming adults at 18.

        And you see having to sacrifice some interest to others does not make them evil.

        • Dahlen says:

          History can go out of the window for all I care. The judgment of moral righteousness isn’t constrained by some need to absolve or shield a particular epoch, or even a majority of them, from an overall negative evaluation. I mean, Christianity has spread just fine, and particularly during your Dung Ages, while teaching the doctrine that all humans are sinful.* Ethics isn’t graded on a curve, so the moral average (in a descriptive sense) does not have to be equal to or higher than the “passing grade” of decency. If that sounds like sanctimony, well, I’m willing to bite that bullet. The choice to take the medieval era (or similar) as a moral reference point seems to me to indicate little else aside from your own bias. It doesn’t hold water as a steadfast guiding principle, it just states that whatever used to exist, was good; whatever these people were doing, they had to be doing it right, because they have been doing it for so long. Flawless logic? Not so. One can come up with a variety of explanations for why things used to be as they were, which completely sidestep the righteousness (or lack thereof) of that state of affairs.

          In particular, starting from the absolutely revelatory fact that power is powerful, you can arrive at an explanation for why human history has been full of dominance hierarchies from the fact that the leaders wanted it to be, and were in a great position to enforce that desire on people who might not have been on board with the idea. Everybody else had to adapt to this world of their creation. Selfishness plus application of sufficient force does not make for a persuasive moral argument. If anything, life among other people generally teaches us that these two things are quite immoral, on their own and in combination. So even if domination were immoral rather than moral (which is my thesis here), it would succeed, it would perpetuate itself even despite not having the moral upper hand. Not because it should, but because it can. If we lived in a world where moral arguments against domination convinced no leader ever, if liberalism were incapable of taking hold of people’s consciences, if people were unable to take power without craving power and its most tyrannical uses and abuses, then, by dint of power consolidating itself, the world might still be rife with oppressive dominance hierarchies, to an extent resembling the past.

          (* = Christianity even recognized the quest for higher status, in all of its forms, as sinful; it’s only that it prescribed the quest for lower status (turning the other cheek) as a counterpoint to that tendency, as opposed to the more modern approach of resisting domination and refraining from dominating, yourself. A fact which played wonderfully into the interests of the higher echelons, since it was easier and more comfortable for them to reign over a meek populace for whom not opposing resistance to the secular powers increased their chances of getting into heaven.)

          When in doubt, question motives.

          I don’t understand your point… I would be okay with being subjugated, the lowest level probably not (honestly, I am smarter than that role, would be inefficient, better put the halfwits into the lowest rungs) but as long as there are people under me I am okay with people over me.[…]

          So I don’t understand what should I internalize. I love the movie The Last Samurai. I would totally serve a daimyo / the emperor, just not in the lowest ranks. Is that internalized subjugation enough?

          Most people through history were subjugated. Why assume they were not okay with it?

          The everyday reality of domination is nowhere close to a BDSM-like optimization of temperaments for each other. The fact that you want it to be, or hope that it is, is a sign that you wouldn’t be okay with what you’re espousing if you knew that reality intimately. Nobody gives a shit whether the subjugated party is okay with it. The mentality that entitles one to act on his desire for domination is one of disregard for the needs, rights, and dignity of the dominated. That’s what it means. It’s more like predation than like symbiosis. You don’t ask nicely, you don’t wait to be given; you just take. You don’t hand out feedback forms on whether the inferior had a good time being dominated. The mentality is that the interests of the superior matter while the interests, often the needs and rights, of the inferior don’t. The only benefit accruing to the inferior is as much as it takes to 1) ensure their survival and thus the continuation of the relationship, at a minimum; 2) maintain the characteristics that the superior seeks out of the inferior (good health, fitness to work, morale, a quiet and unobtrusive demeanour, attractiveness, loyalty etc.). Sure, you can pride yourself on being a gentle master, on not being sadistic or tyrannical, on being loved rather than feared and loathed by your subjects, but then again that’s entirely up to you, that’s why the relationship is unequal. The default is not giving a shit. If you find yourself willing not to care whether you’re being oppressive or not, then congratulations, Molag Bal is waiting to ordain you.

          The assumption that most people in history were not okay with their subjugation is very reasonable given that we know what humans tend to need. Some left accounts of what they were experiencing (indeed, that’s the Pandora’s box that cannot be closed, all the narratives from oppressed people that you can’t just throw down the memory hole, not all of them). Some were too busy digging ditches, kissing hemlines, or getting raped in order to leave written accounts. (Let us remember that part of subjugating someone is not letting their voice be heard.) Some stood quiet and endured it as part of everyday life. Some developed some sort of cultural Stockholm Syndrome in order to cope, like Christianity, submissiveness, or an overactive, doglike desire to please. Some eased the shame of humiliation by superiors through even harder oppression of inferiors. You did have a point in there. People have a remarkable capacity for coping with shitty situations, and they can turn a hierarchical system to their partial advantage.

          But that still doesn’t make it right, doesn’t make it better than the alternative.

          As our esteemed Yudkowsky says in his autobiography, it’s a negative-sum game:

          Very long ago, in summer camp of either kindergarten or first grade, I remember refusing to play a game. In this game, boys would line up, stand with their legs apart, and the boy at the end of the line would crawl through the line. As the crawler passed, each boy would give him a spank. Then the crawler wound up at the front of the line, the second-to-last boy was now last, and the game repeated. And, believe it or not, this game from “The Marquis de Sade’s Monster Fun Book” was sanctioned by the camp counselors (who were, big surprise, older boys). When I refused to play, they told me to sit in a corner.

          Later in life, up until the age of fourteen or so, I cherished this memory proudly. It was a banner symbolizing my refusal to play negative-sum games; my refusal to take joy in someone else’s pain, or play the sick social game where the reward of being hurt is the chance to hurt others. It was a part of my self-image, my identity.

          (Of course, in the meantime he wizened up and got into BDSM, in a role where he didn’t have to play the “s” part, as he admitted to disliking in the next paragraph. Make of that what you will.)

          I, too, can partake of media that romanticizes traditional dominance hierarchies. No logical argument towards a position such as yours is as convincing as Sabaton’s Carolus Rex or some fantasy RPG where the nobles are, indeed, noble. (“Ain’t nobody high an’ mighty in these halls, exceptin’ the Jarl. And don’t you forget that!” — some humble servant in Dragonsreach, in Skyrim. Really hit the point home.) But I enjoy the respective media for its duration, take a break from it, shake the myth out of my head, and remember that in real life the spirit of the aforementioned Molag Bal infuses all such situations.

          Let’s define for now evil as doing harm.

          Or let’s not. For a blog that talks about Haidt’s 5 or 6 moral foundations all the time, it’s at least a little weird to see this trick pulled here. Care/harm is by far not the only dimension. Heck, in the moral system elaborated by me there are as many as 10 pillars of evil, and that is without getting into the valuations designated as corrupt or merely bad. Morality is complex, and human dignity absolutely is a thing.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Your argument, like all false consciousness arguments, is ultimately unfalsifiable. If the dominated say nothing, it’s because they were maliciously silenced. If they speak out in favor of their condition, it’s a “cultural Stockholm syndrome” and you can safely ignore them. So of course it looks like everyone agrees with you, when you explicitly remove all dissenting voices.

            More likely than either your or Dividualist’s positions, at least based on what we know about human nature, is this: people are pretty much just as happy under any system, so long as it’s stable and predictable. People today have ‘Ostalgie’ for communism, which was far and away the most brutally repressive regime in human history, because they knew what to expect and could get along under that system. It’s only ever a small portion who are truly discontented with their lot: even popular revolutions rarely have more than a fifth of the population supporting them.

            You can argue that equality is more stable, or that it improves people’s lives in ways that aren’t reflected in happiness, or anything else really. But trying to paint the “dung ages” or any other period as unrelenting misery is ridiculous in the face of the accounts those people left behind.

          • Anonymous says:

            Indeed.

            It would follow, then, that systemic change in general is a negative occurrence (from the viewpoint of contentedness of the population), possibly counterbalanced by the change being for long-term greater stability and predictability. This is somewhat similar to the Mandate of Heaven – whoever is in charge, is in charge, don’t rock the boat, even if they came to be in charge due to rocking the boat.

          • Nita says:

            People today have ‘Ostalgie’ for communism, which was far and away the most brutally repressive regime in human history

            The people who feel ‘Ostalgie’ in the strict sense weren’t under the regime during its most brutal period.

            As for the others… Vox Imp quoted this foreword to a Soviet music collection in the other thread:

            Cheerful and optimistic by its nature, the Soviet music was spreading a cult of friendship, collectivism, mutual assistance and respect to the working people. [..] This site only serves as a reminder of a past epoch, of a country, which independently and heroically attempted to build a “bright future”.

            That’s what they miss — sure, the stability, but also the absence of in-your-face dominance by the ruling elite, the officially sanctioned hope that we can all respect each other and get along. Not Stalin’s purges.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nita:

            I want to emphasize that I think that point of view is at least as seriously misguided as the nostalgia some people in the American South had/have for “Gone with the Wind” times.

          • Nita says:

            @ Vox Imperatoris

            The subthread has gone something like this —

            Dividualist: Hey, most people don’t mind being subjugated by warlords, so let’s bring back feudalism!
            Dahlen: The fact that people put up with a situation they were powerless to change doesn’t mean the situation was morally acceptable.
            Dealgood: No, what people like is not freedom or subjugation, but stability. E.g., many ex-soviets don’t hate communism.
            Me: Sure, but the image of the USSR they remember so fondly is the opposite of the Warlord Domination Land proposed upthread.

            Not advocating communism here, just pointing out that people like being motivated by positive emotions, not naked threats.

            I know a few people whose family members were jailed or sent to Siberia back in the Soviet times. Most of them do hate communism.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nita:

            Oh, I agree completely.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @Nita,

            Fair enough, although the Soviet Union hardly invented propaganda.

            Actual feudal societies had their own version of idealism, such as “Pray for all; Fight for all; Work for all,” rather than relying purely on naked power. The various White movements relied on the same sort of nostalgia for Czars and Kings that modern communist parties tap into.

            But it’s a very good point: explicitly framing it as domination is a good way to turn people off from a system. Dividualistan would not have a popular king if it didn’t cobble together an actual ideology / religion to support it.

          • Dahlen says:

            @ Dr. Dealgood:

            My whole point was that the soul of man under feudalism gives no indication at all of anything, because there was pressure on these people to output about the same attitudes towards their condition, which makes it impossible to separate genuine acceptance from forceful silencing. Threat of force is kind of a big confounder. Therefore it doesn’t count.

            Either the thesis is correct, in which case the airtight consistency of the argument comes as no surprise at all, or the thesis is not correct, and the argument is disingenuous circular sophistry. Either way, the apparently voluntary participation in the old system of the population categories designated as inferior tells us nothing about whether the thesis is correct. In other words, to go back to our foundational LessWrongianism, it does not count as Bayesian evidence for the thesis, because the world looks the same whether or not these people were actually suffering. So we should look at other factors for deciding the moral valence of domination, such as the motivations of the perpetrators, the occasional rebellions, the quality of life enjoyed by the subjugated classes, the general consensus on whether the change away from that state of affairs constituted moral progress, and, why not, our own conscience.

            Also, the Dung Ages reference was tongue-in-cheek, I know enough about those times to not envision them as an utter dystopia. Then again, neither would I take them as a model of statecraft.

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s pressure to conform everywhere, under every system. Sometimes that pressure implies an explicit threat of force and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s worth noting that feudalism is historically defined more by the weakness of central authority than by its strength.

            Most of our stereotypes about kings and lords and such belong more to the post-feudal era of autocratic states.

        • Nornagest says:

          And calling some guy “your dread majesty” is mostly dominance status.

          “Dread” is one of those words that’s gotten its meaning shuffled around a lot over the last few centuries. In this context it means something closer to “awe-inspiring” than “fearsome”.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I haven’t read Simler and I don’t know what he’s talking about, but a lot of people who use the dominance/prestige distinction say that dominance is what animals have and prestige is something else.

      Dominance works by inspiring fear and other “avoidance” instincts, so that low-status people try to steer clear of dominant individuals

      But that is completely untrue of, say, baboon dominance hierarchies.

    • ” I think very often it is genuine respect or devotion to a leader or alpha or something similar.”

      For some value of “genuine”. If you under the thumb of the kind of domineering leader that no one likes, and you are being treated as a loyal subordinate, not an enemy to be eliminated you will probably feel good about it. People are wired up like that to feel “genuine” loyalty. The Stockholm effect is an extreme example.

      But the thing is that there is another sense of “genuine” respect, where respect is granted in recognition of leadership and problem-solving skills that add value for everybody..competence in short. We respect the competent, but you can’t reverse the logic and say that just because someone is respected, they are competent, that they deserve the respect by their objective achievements. Leaders who are incompetent at everything except remaining in charge are able to stimulate the production of brain chemicals that make people feel “genuine” respect, for an entirely subjective definition of “genuine”.

      Competence is not dominance or prestige.

      Objective competence is what counts, but it is also hard to recognise through instinctual, system 1 mechanisms. Humans have evolved to accept two substitutes for actual, dominant alpha-style behaviour, and self-sacrificing, “nice” prestige-dtyle behaviour. But you can learn to recognise competence through system 2 mechanisms. Lesson 1: don’t trust your instincts.

      tl’dr: Heinlein is the Dividualist done right.

  20. Deiseach says:

    Happy Birthday, many happy returns, and continued success!

  21. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    SSC SF Story of the Week #8
    This week we are discussing “By the Waters of Babylon” by Stephen Vincent Benet.
    Next time we will discuss “Just Another Day in Utopia” by Stuart Armstrong.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      When we read this story in a high school class, I was shocked to learn that it was written in 1937, since the apocalypse seems to me like a dead ringer for nuclear armageddon. I guess firebombing and chemical warfare were scary enough for the people of that era, though.

      Some people may want to challenge the story’s classification as science fiction, but “By the Waters of Babyon” was included in The Pocket Book of Science Fiction, and that’s good enough for me.

      • Basium says:

        I always figured that the author intended it to be a plague or bioweapon, from the way priesthood and purification work.

      • LHN says:

        In high school I got into an argument with the rest of the class by making that point. They were convinced that it must have been a nuclear war and pretty immune to the point that this was eight years before Hiroshima.

        To be fair, “atomic” weapons and WMDs of various flavors had been poking around SF. But I was pretty sure that an author working outside the genre wouldn’t invoke those without explanation to a mainstream audience, if he were aware of it at all.

        For comparison, the movie “Things to Come”, released the previous year, reduced humanity to a postapocalyptic state with what looks to be slightly improved WWI tech, notably poison gas.

        (And then reestablished civilization the same way, with technocratic men in black dropping the “gas of peace” to knock target areas unconscious before sending in occupation forces.)

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ LHN
          They were convinced that it must have been a nuclear war and pretty immune to the point that this was eight years before Hiroshima.

          Would eight years be quite long enough? The Manhattan Project took several years after being founded, and rumours of such a super-bomb preceded its founding.

          Excellent point about the mustard gas, though.

          dropping the “gas of peace” to knock target areas unconscious before sending in occupation forces.

          I’ve often thought we should do that, using nitrous oxide. Better send it by long-range missile, though.

          • Nornagest says:

            Trouble with the nitrous is — well, there are a couple of problems, but one is that it’s got quite a short half-life. Unless you can get troops there in a couple of minutes, everyone in the affected area will long since have woken up and recovered from their high.

            And you’d need a lot of nitrous.

          • ivvenalis says:

            I’d imagine it would be hard get enough nitrous oxide at sufficient concentration over a wide area. The ideal for trying to get acute effects off of chemical weapons is that one breath should be enough to do it. This is especially true for soldiers equipped with chemical alarms and protective gear, since you can easily hold your breath long enough to don your gear once the alarm goes off or a chemical attack is otherwise suspected.

            You want something that incapacitates rapidly with a relatively small dose. Maybe with contact effects. LSD showed promise, I believe. The Russians infamously used some sort of “incapacitating” opioid agent in 2002, but that was in a confined space and a lot of people who inhaled the stuff ended up being permanently incapacitated one way or the other.

          • John Schilling says:

            LSD showed promise, I believe.

            Right, because if I want to pacify a region I’m going to dose all the frightened, violently-inclined, gun-toting people in sight with a potent hallucinogen.

            There is no such thing as a “knock-out gas” that isn’t also a deadly poison under approximately the same conditions – which is why anesthesiologists get the pay the do and face the malpractice premiums they do. The Nord-Ost incident is about as good as it gets in that department, and that one killed 15% of the hostages. Better medical preparations would have helped some, but not enough. Doing it in an open area would probably have made it worse; you still need to ensure a high concentration everywhere to accomplish the mission, but with winds and no containment you have less control of the difference between “high” and “too high”.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Reminds me of the comic Spiders, where president Gore deploys an aerosol version of Ecstasy as a chemical weapon in Afghanistan.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            John Schilling:

            Right, because if I want to pacify a region I’m going to dose all the frightened, violently-inclined, gun-toting people in sight with a potent hallucinogen.

            You have seen the famous ‘soldiers on LSD’ footage?

            If your hallucinogen is able to make people completely incompetent at actually fighting back, I wouldn’t worry too much about them being frightened / violently inclined (or rather, I’d sooner face a frightened, violently inclined and on LSD enemy than a frightened, violently inclined and sober one). Plus it’s a lot less toxic than most other drugs, such that if you get a massive overdose you’ll probably have a really unpleasant experience, but are very unlikely to die.

            I believe that there are significant practical problems involved in actually trying to use LSD as a chemical weapon, basically because it’s such a fragile molecule that environmental conditions will likely degrade it to uselessness by the time a dose actually gets to the people you’re wafting it at, but if you could solve those issues, I think it would be an improvement on our current options.

          • John Schilling says:

            You have seen the famous ‘soldiers on LSD’ footage?

            What were those soldiers afraid of?

            What mission were they actually trying to accomplish? Really trying to accomplish, in the sense that they would be punished for failure?

            I’ve seen lots of non-lethal weapons test where the actual mission is “stay here and tell us what it feels like”, and none of them are worth a damn. Not even if they include some make-work task that everybody knows doesn’t really matter. Roll on the ground screaming, seemingly incapacitated, tell people how much it hurt, and mission accomplished.

            The tests that matter a little bit are the ones where there is e.g. a hundred-dollar bill on the table, and you can keep it if you can pick it up in spite of the guy sitting behind the table with the can of pepper spray. But those tests turn out to be very expensive to run, because, well, mission accomplished.

            And for the test that really matters, maybe put the test subjects in a burning room and have an examiner with a can of pepper spray blocking the exit. That test you basically can’t run, but given the differential results of the type-1 and type-2 tests, I’m guessing that type-3 will also turn out a lot of “mission accomplished” results. And lethally-trampled examiners, but hey, Science!

            Yes, if you can precisely dose only one side of a battle with LSD, the degradation of their skills may result in a victory for the other side. But that’s not pacification, that’s an asymmetric bloodbath. Me, I’m all for asymmetric bloodbaths when someone else takes up arms against my tribe, but I don’t think that’s what the proponents of the “gas of peace” thing were going for.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I guess the closest test you could get past an ethics committee would be a paintball game where one side was dosed up, with something substantial at stake for whichever team wins.

            I’d be open to the possibility that, when the stakes are down, even otherwise-tripping-balls soldiers can sometimes hold it together to repel an enemy. But I’d be surprised if they could typically put up enough of a fight that using a powerful psychedelic as an incapacitant (if we could get past the delivery problems) wouldn’t be an improvement, in terms of lives lost / danger to occupying forces, over what we’ve currently got.

          • John Schilling says:

            But I’d be surprised if they could typically put up enough of a fight that using a powerful psychedelic as an incapacitant (if we could get past the delivery problems) wouldn’t be an improvement, in terms of lives lost / danger to occupying forces, over what we’ve currently got.

            If they can’t manage to surrender because they e.g. see the attacking force as Demons from Hell or Red Lectroids from the Eighth Dimension or whatnot, but can still shoot a gun well enough to be a menace at close range, the total death toll could climb catastrophically even though (assuming permissive rules of engagement) the occupying force would be in little danger.

            That seems like a quite plausible failure mode for dosing soldiers expecting a fight with potent hallucinogens.

      • bean says:

        To a large extent, the development of nuclear weapons closed a gap between what people thought air power could do, and what it actually could do. “The bomber will always get through” of the 30s wasn’t true, but it wasn’t totally false, either. The problem was that people had ludicrously overestimated both the accuracy and the effectiveness of bombing, so while some bombers got through, they didn’t destroy everything like people thought they would.
        Poison gas is an interesting case study. Both sides had it, but neither used it. And there was a lot of thought put into protecting civilian populations from gas, as well as military forces.

        • ivvenalis says:

          Nobody seems to know what air power can do, ever. Before WW2, lots of people were really convinced that what we today refer to as carpet bombing would literally annihilate civilizations, and it didn’t. Reading Dereliction of Duty, it seemed that by the 60s, lots of smart people were convinced that aircraft flew out, destroyed their target, and returned to base. In reality, this was impossible–nobody was really able to destroy discrete targets, especially in the face of air-defense networks. But it seemed intuitively correct.

          Nowadays, it actually is possible to consistently hit what you’re aiming at thanks to precision-guided munitions. Which is why the Church of Targeting is all the rage–figuring out what to aim at. You may have noticed that it’s less than 100% effective at obliterating all resistance though.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        I hadn’t read this before, but at first I thought it was dreadfully tired – the twist was obvious from the first couple lines of the story, the Dead Places seemed like dead ringers for irradiated cities, the gods’ roads old interstates, etc. Just another post-apocalyptic story like we’ve been getting since Wells’ War in the Air. I guessed that it was written in the late ’40s, maybe early ’50s.

        Then I discovered that it was written before the advent of nuclear weapons, before the Interstate, etc. My estimation went up, but I still don’t think it aged well. All of its ideas have been redone too many times since. :/

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Tolkien complained that his One Ring came long before The Bomb. Hadn’t the actual remains of Roman roads in Britain, already expanded to a trope, regardless of what had become of their lost builders?

      • ivvenalis says:

        Last and First Men features multiple apocalypses, mostly via chemical or biological weapons. A Chinaman invents a weapon of ultimate power, but it clearly isn’t anything like a nuclear explosive. At any rate, interesting to observe that concerns about superweapons predate nukes.

        Slan, written but not published before Hiroshima, has “atomic weapons”, but I recall they required a particle accelerator to initiate.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ jaimeastorga2000
        Some people may want to challenge the story’s classification as science fiction, but “By the Waters of Babyon” was included in The Pocket Book of Science Fiction, and that’s good enough for me.

        I’d put The Pocket Book of X (from that era) as a negative, meaning it was targeted at readers who weren’t ready for the real stuff.

        But on its internal merits, I think the story could qualify as SF (especially if a non-woo rationale were provided for the big dream/vision, such as a cache of old photographs).

        The beats support a reading of techy curiousity about what is really going on here; the clues are thrown out in good order and at a good pace relative to each other and to the adventure filling (though the wording throughout is slow for our tastes).

    • John Schilling says:

      The implied backstory reminded me very much of Wells’ “The War in the Air” from 1908, and he of course revisits the same themes in the early sections of “The Shape of Things to Come” in 1933. And yes, the perception that aerial bombardment would result in the collapse of civilization within the target nations was common in that era, with or without chemical and biological weapons as an assist.

      Wells had the IMO superior insight that if aerial bombardment makes civilization impossible, the natural end state is a sort of semi-barbarism where the largest and most advanced city-states can barely make a few airplanes to old designs. Every few years two neighboring city-states with minimal air forces will get to feuding and knock each other back a couple notches, lather rinse repeat. “Things to Come” shows an eventual aerial superpower emerging to restore order, “War in the Air” alludes to a later reconstruction but shows only the semi-barbarism.

      The complete collapse to a neo-Neolithic, I find implausible and am generally unwilling to extend my suspension of disbelief that far. “Waters of Babylon” managed it, by not asking me to suspend it too long and by being both plausible and optimistic within that conceit. As I had not encountered it before, thanks for the link.

  22. Chalid says:

    It’s common here to see comments along the lines of “Red Tribe understands Blue Tribe better than the reverse.” The justification usually tends to be some sort of handwave at the media being Blue.

    The definitions of the Tribes are extremely fuzzy. What scope of “Blue Tribe” and “Red Tribe” do people believe this for?

    Is there empirical evidence for the claim?

    • onyomi says:

      I wonder if it isn’t more about the sort of red tribe member one is likely to encounter on SSC: my parents vote Republican and I am a libertarian with reddish-conservative sympathies, but my cultural background is very “gentry” and the vast majority of my friends and coworkers, especially fellow academics, are very blue. Also, while there are right-wing echo chambers on the internet and left-wing echo chambers on the internet, my experience, at least with my social circle, is that places like Facebook and Twitter are very much dominated by left-wing opinion (though, again, this is surely, to some extent, a result of the people who are likely to be my Facebook friends).

      Therefore, I am accustomed to being vastly outnumbered in any political debate, online or IRL. This is probably not true of Southern labor class red tribe members, who may go to a church where nearly everyone votes Republican. But these people are also much less likely to post on SSC, and maybe even to post on online forums at all. And certainly they are much less likely to be Facebook friends or Twitter followed by the median SSC poster.

      Hence, the type of red tribe person who is likely to post here is also more likely to be the kind who, like myself, is accustomed to being surrounded by blues, and who, therefore, knows the blue arguments better than the blues around him know the red arguments.

      I guess there must be some people for whom the reverse is true: philosophically they sympathize strongly with liberal politics but they just happen to have been born in and/or gone into a career and/or moved to an area in which they are surrounded by red tribe members. But I feel like this reverse case is less common.

      The reason being is that while this may be a gentry bias of mine, I think there are probably more people with labor roots who aspire to gentry status than the reverse. If you are born in a very religious small town but feel strongly inclined toward blue tribe political philosophy and culture, you may be able to effectively “break into” that culture by going to college, mixing with the blues there, and then moving to a major city, which are, by and large, bluer than red. To do the reverse requires you actively choosing not to go to college (since your gentry family will assume you will and pressure you to go), or at least avoiding the dominant cultural milieu while there, and then moving to a more rural region, where employment opportunities are less plentiful, quite possibly to take a lower-paying, more tedious job than you’re qualified for. Sure, there’s Office Space, but the ending of that movie is so funny precisely because it’s so rare.

      So I still think that SSC is actually quite balanced in terms of number of red/conservative and blue/liberal-leaning posters–better than anywhere else I’ve ever encountered, really–but blue tribe posters are more accustomed to being in the majority of any online community they use, and the type of red tribe poster who is likely to post here is used to being outnumbered.

      • Nita says:

        So I still think that SSC is actually quite balanced in terms of number of red/conservative and blue/liberal-leaning posters

        I feel like we have relatively many libertarians and neo-traditionalists here, a lot of sort of boring centrist liberals, a handful of miscellaneous unorthodox types, but hardly any radical leftists, social justice folks or old-school conservatives.

        So, our reds are more colourful than our blues, and “typical” (more predictable) reds are underrepresented.

        (Splitting off a good chunk of unorthodox blues into “the Grey Tribe” might also be a factor.)

        • onyomi says:

          I think that seems about right–the “typical” reds are precisely the type of person I’m saying is not very likely to post here, or on any online forum, for that matter.

          As for why we don’t get as many radical left-wing types, I’m tempted to just say “because radical leftism is largely discredited,” though that I know that’s a bit glib and unsatisfying. It would be interesting to have more serious feminists/social justice people and/or Noam Chomsky socialist-anarchist types; I’m not sure what one could do to attract them. Maybe review more books by people like Habermas? But that, of course, would require poor Scott having to read such things…

          • onyomi says:

            Thinking about it more, though I may be engaging in a kind of stereotyping, I feel like the political views of SSC commenters correlates pretty tightly with the political views I’d expect of a group of people with non-political interests of the sort frequently discussed here: AI, statistics, etc. Basically kind of the political leanings of your average CS department–a lot of mainstream blues, but fewer than in most other academic areas, with the remainder, which would, in say, a sociology department, be made up of more radical blues, instead being made up greys and reddish libertarians.

          • anonymous says:

            Scott is pretty charitable all-in-all to the social justice left. Maybe not 100% but look at his defense of microaggressions for example.

            The comment section on the other hand is just brutal. It is full of unreflective nastiness and straw-manning about them. You’d have to be a serious glutton for punishment to what to engage regularly here if that’s where you were coming from.

          • Urstoff says:

            If SSC is what you consider a “brutal comment section” to the Social Justice Left, then you probably have a pretty low threshold. That seems to be a topic where many people are less charitable than they otherwise would be, but “brutal” is hardly how I’d describe it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Urstoff:
            Perhaps the inference is that it is brutal in comparison to Scott’s charity?

            I’m not sure that actually follows either, but it has a certain truthiness to it.

          • Dahlen says:

            It would be interesting to have more serious feminists/social justice people and/or Noam Chomsky socialist-anarchist types; I’m not sure what one could do to attract them.

            Maybe it would help if you people stopped jumping on them every time they revealed themselves as such. You can have a place where it’s acceptable and even orthodox to complain about how awful leftists are, or you can have said leftists hanging around, but you can’t have both.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I don’t know how it is today, but back in the mid 2000s there were plenty of mainstream Republicans on the internet – very big on the Iraq war, used the word “LIEberal” in earnest, etc.

            The commenters here seem to be a mixture of fairly mainstream, moderate left wingers, and right wingers who are either far right of the “newer” kind (that is, Computer Programmers For Monarchy and so on instead of guys with tattoos that are illegal in Germany and so on) or libertarians (not that there’s no overlap, but for some reason I don’t think of the archetypal libertarian as being in the same group as the Death Eaters or whatever).

            I find myself wondering if there’s a reverse version somewhere, where the commenters are mostly mainstream Republicans and far leftists.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Dahlen:
            There is, I don’t know, a kind of circularity to it, though.

            When someone who is fairly far to the left comes in here, it’s frequently in a “guns blazing” style. This engenders a fair amount of push-back, which is to be expected. And then said left-leaner tends to exit, which should be expected.

            But, the fewer left-leaners hang around, the more common “comfortable” right-leaning expression becomes. By comfortable I mean engaging in the kind of expression one wouldn’t engage in if one didn’t think they were among friends. That in turn leads left-leaners to read the place as not comfortable for left-leaners, which engenders those that do come in to come in “guns-blazing”.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            The description of going in “guns blazing” on some kind of commando raid into the SSC comment section sounds a lot more exciting and entertaining than it is in practice.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Vox:
            Are we going to start dinging people for inappropriate war metaphors, now? How very blue-tribe of you. 😉

          • Seth says:

            Once doesn’t have to be radical left-wing to be put off by arguing with libertarians and conservatives. I would say that the serious “feminists/social justice people” and more left-leaning types *tend* not to find it appealing to go over the fundamentals with opponents, in blog comments. That requires a certain evangelizing mindset, which I think can be seen as common in e.g. Programmers For Monarchy and the identity-politics left.

            It’s all basically a subset of the problem of how to attract people who have interesting things to say, rather than who like to argue (not entirely a disjoint set, but there’s some tension between those aspects).

          • Chalid says:

            SJ seems treated worse here than any other group. The conversation ranges from “SJ is a uniquely awful movement that literally wants all white people dead” on the one hand, to “eh, it’s not *that* bad” on the other.

            It’s not “brutal” by internet standards, but it perhaps is by SSC standards.

          • onyomi says:

            “The conversation ranges from “SJ is a uniquely awful movement that literally wants all white people dead” on the one hand, to “eh, it’s not *that* bad” on the other.”

            Is it not possible that that is the range of reasonable responses to SJ? Not saying it is, but in all this talk of which philosophies are treated more charitably, it seems to sometimes get lost that some philosophies may actually be wrong; or, at least, more wrong than other, competing philosophies.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Chalid:
            There is a reason for that, and it’s because Scott has signaled that SJ is his outgroup. Repeatedly. And it’s pretty much the only one.

            I don’t even think that should be in any way a novel or controversial statement, but I have a feeling I might have my head handed to me.

            Edit: @onyomi, wouldn’t it strike you as odd that somehow SJ would be the unique topic that merited this treatment?

          • onyomi says:

            Oh, it may very well be one of Scott’s personal betes noires due to his own experience (and SJ’s overrepresentation on the internet); I’m not saying it’s uniquely, especially wrong among philosophies Scott might single out for criticism, I’m just saying that we shouldn’t also assume that a totally middle of the road stance is the most correct when dealing with any particular philosophy, movement, theory, school of thought, etc. No one would call Scott out for more often mentioning fascism in a negative light than a positive light, for example.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            dndnrsn:

            Computer Programmers For Monarchy

            While our host’s decision to taboo the Ideology Whose Name Shall Be Eaten By The Spam Filter has been a near-total failure in terms of getting people to actually ‘replace the symbol with the substance’, it has generated a cluster of delightful euphemisms 🙂

          • Jiro says:

            It’s never going to be successful in getting people to replace the symbol with the substance, because in too many cases where people want to use the term, the symbol and the substance match up. There are actually many times when you want to refer to what the symbol means.

            It’s as if Scott were to ban the use of the term “computer”, saying “well, tell me if you mean a machine with an AMD processor, a machine with an Nvidia graphics card, Linux or Windows, networked or not”. Nobody’s going to do that–they’re just going to say “electronic brain” or some such because most of the time they want to mention a computer, whether the video card is made by Nvidia is irrelevant, but the similarity to other computers is relevant.

          • keranih says:

            @ seth – the “serious” SJ types I’ve encountered (by which I mean the ones actually intent on changing the world) have been adept at explaining their principles over and over again, to the ignorant and the skeptical alike.

            The ones who have little foundation behind their platitudes and snark, not so much. (This is not a failing limited to SJWs – many of us fail to substantively support our opinions. Getting past that is, imo, more or less the point of rationality.)

            Having said that, and being well aware of feeling generally hostile to SJWs…having different povs keeps the place from being an echo chamber. Having said that – how much of the far left is SJW? All? Most? Some?

            I am not aware of a disinclination of the SSC commentariant to mock or bash the right (esp the far right). What am I missing?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I would say that the serious “feminists/social justice people” and more left-leaning types *tend* not to find it appealing to go over the fundamentals with opponents, in blog comments. That requires a certain evangelizing mindset, which I think can be seen as common in e.g. Programmers For Monarchy and the identity-politics left.

            My experience on this matter is similar to Mark Atwood’s: SJWs are frequently quite ready to tell you that you’re racist/misogynist/a privileged shitlord, but when you question their premises and ask them to back their statements up they generally get frustrated and either storm off or just start rolling their eyes and saying “But it’s all so OBVIOUS!” So, they do have an evangelising mindset, but they lack the patience to evangelise successfully.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            Well, there isn’t any heat to the mentions of fascism (not real fascism) around here. SJ seems fairly unique here in how acceptable it is to demean as a group anyone who espouses SJ ideas.

            “SJWs are fascists who hate red tribe, are currently dominant in Western thought and use fear and terror to subjugate those who do not bow to their rule” is far more acceptable to say than (in far milder terms, I might add) “Ron Paul supporters tend to be racists and it is OK to make a Bayesian inference about the likelihood of them being racists”.

            And yes, I chose that second example because it would have specific meaning to you.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @HeelBearCub: (also, would people be amenable to starting a new thread? This is pretty unwieldy)

            (also sorry in advance for all the scare quotes but I’m not sure how else to mark that I don’t personally use “SJW” in earnest)

            I think you are right. The general atmosphere around here is generally pretty hostile to “social justice” types, regardless of whether or not they are nasty or nice – whether someone is a stereotypical “social justice warrior”, or not. Any ideas why?

            One reason is probably that the commenters here are mostly in a left-wing context – call them “blue tribe”, or whatever. The weapons at the disposal of “social justice” types (“warrior” or not) are more effective against targets the nearer they are: in my personal life, the people I know who have actually said “social justice warrior” in a negative sense are themselves people involved in social justice activism, who have all the right beliefs, who belong to oppressed identity groups – but who phrase something in a way that can be misinterpreted, or just run afoul of somebody personally and the weapons that get used in that personal conflict are of the “this person is problematic” variety.

            So it’s not just “they as a group are out to get my group” – I know two people who share most identity descriptors, both involved in activism, but one is a fairly easygoing person and the other is what TiA thinks all left-wing activists are like. The former is actually kind of scared of the latter, after a falling-out over very little of substance.

            In contrast, Scott has described having cordial interactions with an actual Nazi. Nazis generally are not fond of people like Scott, given that Scott is Jewish. But in the modern world today, actual Nazis are probably not the primary threat to Jews. Scott himself has made the point that if far-right types attacked him in the classic “internet mob” way, he’d probably have a lot of people on his side.

            So, I mean, the fear is there. I think that’s a big part of it. If the bulk of commenters here were mainstream right-wingers who lived in right-leaning places, had right-leaning social circles and bosses, etc, I think there would actually be less vitriol.

            It’s a pity, because it is a perspective that is missing here and is a lot better than it sometimes gets strawmanned to.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Eh, the antipathy to aggression against social justice types isn’t surprising when you realize that what people want out of a comments section or forum is pretty much at cross purposes. SSC is a place where you can make most any argument you want so long as you back it up and don’t go gibbering hellbeast in your arguments. Social justice types tend to prefer a set of shared axioms about what conversations are okay that is much more limiting but also less likely to be massively offensive such that they bring forth emotion instead of reasoned debate.

            There’s plenty of room on the internet for both. I think that SSC could be more welcoming and less wagon circlely against any SJs that come here but I understand many of the posters have been burnt before and thus it’s reflexive.

          • onyomi says:

            I would agree that statistically speaking, the average Ron Paul supporter, and to a much greater extent, the average Donald Trump supporter, is more likely to be racist than the average US citizen chosen at random. And if someone put it like that, I wouldn’t object. Problem is just that it tends to be a short leap from the above to “libertarians are racists!”

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Held in Escrow:

            There are, however, plenty of other groups where discussion leans far more towards “shared axioms and things you can’t say” than “say what you want but back it up”. They don’t get nearly as much vitriol here.

          • John Schilling says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            “SJWs are fascists who hate red tribe, are currently dominant in Western thought and use fear and terror to subjugate those who do not bow to their rule” is far more acceptable to say than (in far milder terms, I might add) “Ron Paul supporters tend to be racists and it is OK to make a Bayesian inference about the likelihood of them being racists”.

            I wish you would have added those milder terms. And then subtracted the original. Both “fascist” and “racist” are now mostly mindkilling tribal insults, and should not be acceptable here unless used with great care and clarity regarding what is being referenced.

            And when I check the last ten open threads, I find zero (0) examples of any variant of “fascist” being applied to social justice warriors, social justice generally, or to feminists or feminism. I’m certain it has happened sometime, but it seems to be rare and I don’t think it is considered acceptable. I did, as you know full well, find one person using “racist” in reference to Ron Paul supporters and/or libertarians. Not any milder term, just “racist”, targeted at a specific group of people that probably has representatives here. And being accepted as doing so, with no more than polite rebuttal to the factual claim that I could see. On a positive note, it was just you, I didn’t see anyone else doing the same.

            If you’re looking for the group where it is unacceptable to call SJWs “fascist” but saying that libertarians tend to be “racist” will pass unchallenged, I’m pretty sure you are in the wrong place. If you are going to claim that it is OK for you to do this on account of all the right-wingers calling SJWs “fascist” and being accepted for it, then you are wrong on the facts because those people are generally taking care to use milder terms.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            “On a positive note, it was just you, I didn’t see anyone else doing the same.”

            I was responding to a quote that onyomi provided and agreed with. This seems not at all fair.

            “If you’re looking for the group where it is unacceptable to call SJWs “fascist” but saying that libertarians tend to be “racist” will pass unchallenged, I’m pretty sure you are in the wrong place.”

            On what grounds do you think this is what I am looking for? Have I indicated so in some way? If I have, I retract anything I have said that could fairly lead to this conclusion, and I reject any such interpretation of ambiguous I have made.

            No, rather I am asking for people provide nuance and detail in their statements in general, and to reject any blanket statements that obfuscate rather than clarify. To strive for kindness, necessity and truth (all three) in hopes of hitting two.

            Yes, yes, HeelBearCub is not the arbiter of such things. I am well aware. And I also know I am not the best model of such things. But I do try.

          • John Schilling says:

            Onyomi cited “racist” as a thing other people were saying about Paul supporters and/or libertarians, and supported the sentiment but not necessarily the language. You took the language as your own, even after others had started steering the discussion away from that.

            I consider this to have been a minor and unintentional offense, not worth objecting to, which is why neither I nor anyone else objected to it at the time and instead the more substantive debate continued. It would have been better if you had toned it down a notch, but no harm, no foul.

            What I do object to, is you now falsely and hypocritically claiming, first, that it is unacceptable to say that Ron Paul supporters tend to be racists when you were in fact accepted as saying that, and second, that it is acceptable here to say that “SJWs are fascists” when essentially nobody here says that. You are grossly exaggerating both SSC’s intolerance to SJW (we don’t like them, but we are more polite about it than you give credit) and its unwillingness to accept criticism of various sorts of libertarians (a certain FAQ comes to mind), in order to lay a false claim of political bias.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            Here is the relevant part of the quote: “The “Ron Paul Revolution” leavened its libertarianism with a pony keg of crazy. Birthers, 9/11 Truthers, a wide assortment of conspiracy theorists …, and naked racists rivaled the number of reasonably sober libertarian-ish voter”

            And here is what onyomi said:
            “Even as a huge Ron Paul fan, I have to admit this is the case.”

            How is that not agreeing with the quote?

            I was surprised that onyomi would agree with the idea that greater than 50% of Paul’s support came from racists, Birthers and Truthers. This is different than saying libertarians are racists, and I clarified that later on. I do think Paul specifically courted the groups who ended up supporting him, and I tried to point to evidence of such by citing not racists, but conspiracy theorists.

            But I think we both agree it’s very rare to see a discussion at SSC of whether or why actual racists back libertarians, let alone someone saying that all libertarians actually are motivated by racism (which, I want to make clear, is not my position.)

            It would seem the point of contention is actually how acceptable making derogatory statements about SJWs here. Yes?

      • Chalid says:

        Well, I think “reddish SSC people tend to understand blues more than bluish SSC members understand reds” may be true, but it’s not a very useful lesson for me outside of SSC.

        I don’t think different levels of mixing doesn’t really get you to be able to make statements about the Tribes as a whole. (I’m not sure I even believe in the different levels of mixing but let’s grant the premise.) If Red people tend to go live in Blue areas, but Blue people tend not to go live in Red areas, then clearly the small number of Reds who live in Blue areas will understand Blue pretty well compared to the average Red. But they also will have a small impact on the Blues around them, improving their understanding of Reds. Meanwhile the vast majority of Reds who stay in insular red areas and never encounter a Blue in their lives will have a really bad understanding of Blues, compared to the typical Blue who’s at least encountered a couple Reds here and there.

        • Anonymous says:

          Well, I think “reddish SSC people tend to understand blues more than bluish SSC members understand reds” may be true

          You think this is true? That’s interesting, because I’ve found just the opposite. In so many cases, I see conservatives confidently stating their opponents’ stance on an issue and getting it completely wrong.

          • honestlymellowstarlight says:

            You usually remember the anecdotes that provide you ammunition in arguments, which is why it’s important to get statistical sex instead of paying attention to outrage porn.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Reddish SSC commentators tend towards negative understandings of most blueish people. The amount of time I’ve seen supposedly authoritative statements about what liberals believe with the same level of validity that Bundy’s “Let me tell you about the Negro” still has not ceased to astonish me.

          • honestlymellowstarlight says:

            Yeah, I believe that you believe that (I even, in fact, simply believe that), but it’s all in the use of the word “tend”.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Held in Escrow: Yes, EXACTLY.

          • Chalid says:

            No, I think it “may” be true for the reasons onyomi laid out, that a typical SSC conservative lives in a blue area. (Though it’s kind of debatable whether SSC conservatives are red – this depends on how you define the tribal boundaries.)

            Certainly there are some people whose understanding of “Blue” is horrendous but the converse is also likely true. On the other hand, I think Blues aren’t as comfortable as Reds here now, so they’re maybe more cautious about throwing out less-informed ideas about the tribes than reds are? This is just speculation of course.

            Anyway, I was more interested in the larger tribal comparison.

          • “I see conservatives confidently stating their opponents’ stance on an issue and getting it completely wrong.”

            Obviously I don’t know what examples you are thinking of. Is it possible that what is being stated is not what the opponent’s stance is but what it should be in terms of the opponent’s stated principles–a reductio ad absurdum argument?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            You think this is true? That’s interesting, because I’ve found just the opposite. In so many cases, I see conservatives confidently stating their opponents’ stance on an issue and getting it completely wrong.

            “Better” can mean less bad, though. If conservatives are wrong about liberals’ views 75% of the time, and liberals about conservatives’ 95%, that would still count as conservatives being better at this sort of thing.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Maybe some conservative commentators are trying to reduce liberal ideas down to their basic principles. I just know that on SSC they’re extraordinarily bad at it.

          • Anonymous says:

            @The original Mr. X, in that case we should see the reverse case occurring more often. Do we? I haven’t seen any conservative make this claim, but it is possible.

            @David Friedman, I don’t think its reductio ad absurdum for the most part. Usually, when I come across an instance of it the thread has already sort of moved on and I don’t bother commenting on it. (Part of me thinks, if they’re modeling me this badly, what’s even the point?)

            OH LOOK I’ve found an example, sort of:

            It feels like something the left can get behind as well… if giving women in the developed world control over their bodies is a good thing, why not give the same to women in the developing world?

            Note, I don’t disagree with this guy or object to his tone or anything, but: This isn’t actually something “the left” needs to be convinced of.

        • onyomi says:

          I didn’t know such things existed, yet I am absolutely not surprised. In some ways, SSC fulfills this function for me. I cannot talk about politics with most of my friends and colleagues, so I talk about it under a pseudonym with other mostly pseudonymous people on the internet.

        • Chalid says:

          I’ve lived in Boston and NYC and in both places I had coworkers and friends that were obviously conservative, e.g. putting anti-Obama cartoons on public display in their workspace.

          One of the annoyances of my previous job was that a small group of people sitting near me would have loud obnoxious conversations about conservative politics, in earshot of dozens of people.

          So I wonder if the people you’re talking about in these social gatherings you describe are “ordinary” conservatives with something resembling median Republican beliefs, or some version with more unusual beliefs?

          I mean, I get why a typical conservative might want to join a social group just to meet a large number of people with the same beliefs, but the secrecy you describe seems overboard to me. It’s not like conservatives are actually rare even in liberal cities – e.g. ~20% of NYC voted for Romney.

        • “It’s not like conservatives are actually rare even in liberal cities – e.g. ~20% of NYC voted for Romney.”

          For evidence from a long time ago …

          In 1964, the Harvard Crimson reported that 16% of Harvard students supported Golddwater—it turned out that the figure was really 20%, since they had made a mistake in adding up their numbers. I was very much surprised. I would have said that there were about a dozen Goldwater supporters on campus and I knew all of them.

          If you liked arguing with people who were confident that your views were not merely wrong but indefensible, you wore a Goldwater button. If you didn’t, you presumably shared your views with friends who had similar views but kept a low public profile.

      • @onyomi:

        I’ve spent my life in the academic world, and there it’s clear that people on the right, broadly defined, are much more familiar with arguments of the center and left than the other way around. My favorite story along these lines, which I may have told here before:

        In 1964, when Goldwater ran for president, I was an undergraduate at Harvard. I got into a conversation with a friendly stranger, probably because I was wearing a Goldwater button. He wanted to know how I could possibly support Goldwater.

        We went through a bunch of different issues, in each case with me offering the arguments for Goldwater’s position. In each case, it was clear that he had never heard the argument before and had no immediate rebuttal.

        At the end he asked me, with a not wanting to offend tone, whether perhaps I was taking all of these positions as a joke. Pretty clearly, that was the intellectual equivalent of “what’s a nice girl like you doing in a house like this?” How could I be smart enough to make such superficially plausible arguments for conclusions he knew were wrong and stupid enough to believe them?

        • Chalid says:

          I don’t think anyone would dispute that (the small subset of) conservatives that inhabit liberal spaces like academia would probably understand liberals better than the typical liberal would understand conservatives. The converse claim about liberals in conservative spaces almost certainly holds as well.

          • Probably. What would be examples? The military, perhaps?

          • Arbitrary_greay says:

            The primary example would be any members of Red Tribe outgroups, that grew up in a Red Tribe household.

            And then they move away from said household to Blue Tribe territory as soon as they can, and then their understanding erodes over time.

          • keranih says:

            @ David –

            The military’s not conservative enough. Officer corps’ only about 60% conservative (15% liberal, 25% true apolitical/pox on both your houses) and has a strong legal/social prohibition on promoting political povs.

            (Military-associated civilians tend to be more balanced, and enlisted are generally pretty evenly split.)

            Academia’s closer to 85-95% liberal with a strong history of getting involved in political causes. I don’t know where one would go to get that kind of conservative consistency.

            @ arbitrary greay –

            What RT outgroups are you thinking of?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ keranih:

            Presumably the “RT outgroups” are gays, transgender, even atheists who grew up in really dogmatic families.

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            @keranih:

            Just consider the cliche of people going home for the holidays and having to tolerate their relatives espousing embarrassing/offensive outgroup beliefs. I’d say the traditional configuration for that narrative is the Blue that grew up in a Red household.
            It doesn’t even have to be an actual “enemy” demographic member, like Vox Imperatoris’s examples. Just simply a Blue a la Scott’s original description of the tribe. Someone who supports gun control coming from a family that proudly participates in hunting season every year. Someone who finds sportsball dull, but Daddy was a star quarterback in high school. Someone who loves John Stewart and Rachel Maddow, but grew up getting carpooled to school with Sean Hannity and Focus on the Family as the radio regulars. People with a loathing for Country and Contemporary Christian music out of experience.
            (These are not examples of me.)

          • onyomi says:

            This is apparently a common enough experience that the DNC created a website to help people deal:

            http://www.yourrepublicanuncle.com/

          • keranih says:

            @ AG

            the cliche of people going home for the holidays and having to tolerate their relatives espousing embarrassing/offensive outgroup beliefs.

            But dude, that’s everyone. That’s not red/blue, or tribal, “outgroups” that’s omg horrible square ‘rents/omg kids these days. I swear, everyone from Cicero to Montezuma and King Tut’s grannie has had this to deal with.

            This is really not what I think of when people talk about tribe and outgroup. Maybe I’m not understanding the concepts well.

          • Arbitrary_greay says:

            @keranih:
            Yes, it is everyone. Family reunions are rife with tribal politics. “omg horrible square ‘rents/omg kids these days” discourse is “millenials/boomers ruined everything,” except the family bit making things extra personal because there are overt power dynamics in play that aren’t so codified online. That’s what makes that one particular relative who belongs to the outgroup that much more irritating to listen to omg fucking holidays, for example. It’s people being forced to deal with other tribes because family outweighs the usual avoidance priority.

            There are Red Tribe kids who grew up in Blue Tribe households, too. But the key part of the cliche is generally that the relative is not politically correct enough, which codes it as a Blue Tribe kid vs. not-Blue Tribe relative.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ arbitrary_greay
            Just consider the cliche of people going home for the holidays and having to tolerate their relatives espousing embarrassing/offensive outgroup beliefs. I’d say the traditional configuration for that narrative is the Blue that grew up in a Red household.
            It doesn’t even have to be an actual “enemy” demographic member, like Vox Imperatoris’s examples. Just simply a Blue a la Scott’s original description of the tribe. Someone who supports gun control coming from a family that proudly participates in hunting season every year. Someone who finds sportsball dull, but Daddy was a star quarterback in high school. Someone who loves John Stewart and Rachel Maddow, but grew up getting carpooled to school with Sean Hannity and Focus on the Family as the radio regulars. People with a loathing for Country and Contemporary Christian music out of experience.
            (These are not examples of me.)

            Tis of me, kind of.

            @ onyomi
            This is apparently a common enough experience that the DNC created a website to help people deal:
            http://www.yourrepublicanuncle.com/

            Apparently yourdemocraticnephew.com is available. If anyone wants to help Uncle when his plane is grounded in the Bay Area….

    • onyomi says:

      Re. the definitions of the tribes: in the recent thread on class, one of the authors discussed asserted a two-fold coalition with the poor and the gentry uniting largely to support the Democratic Party in the US, and the labor and elites largely to support the Republican Party in the US.

      To some extent, I think people, myself included, have started to use “blue tribe” and “red tribe” just to mean “those sorts of people who mainly support the Democrats” and “those sorts of people who mainly support the Republicans,” but it also seems biased toward meaning basically “the gentry” and “the labor class” as defined in that post. We don’t so much talk about the poor on welfare being “blue tribe,” nor do we call Wall Street Bankers “red tribe” around here, I don’t think. And, of course, this also fails to take into account regional differences: do Northern, traditionally unionized labor class members who always vote Democrat and whose parents have always voted Democrat not count as “blue tribe.”

      I wonder if the more salient aspect of “blue” and “red” isn’t actually coastal/urban vs. non-coastal/Southern/rural. Obviously any big city is going to have its poor, its laborers, its doctors and lawyers, and its elites, but the cultural aspect–which is I think what the “tribes” talk is ultimately aimed at capturing–seems to correlate more strongly with the above than with any “class.”

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        The Labor of the North is largely Democrat, and the Gentry is largely Republican; the Labor of the South is largely Republican, and the Gentry is largely Democrat. (My lazy test of this hypothesis was checking the birthplaces of presidents; indeed, modern Presidents come from the North if they’re Republicans, and from the South if they’re Democrats, with a couple of exceptions such as Obama).

        Red Tribe is, loosely, more British in influence, valuing politeness/ manners and respect for the way things are. Blue Tribe is, loosely, more varied in influence, but I think predominantly derives from Irish culture.

        It’s a mistake to think that Democrats and Republicans are the same party across the nation, a conclusion easily-reached if one only looks to national politics. Both represent the Labor classes of their local regions.

        • brad says:

          The Labor of the North is largely Democrat, and the Gentry is largely Republican;

          This seems way off to me. In NYC proper the only real Republican stronghold is Staten Island, which is the most working class of all the boros. Bay Ridge, Brooklyn is relatively Republican and that area is well known for being heavy with fireman, policeman, and the like. All the areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn filed with doctors, lawyers, artists, professors, media people, etc, are deeply democratic.

          Things do become a little more interesting when you look at Long Island and Westchester, but even there the upper middle class areas tend to be bluish-purple, the lower middle / working class areas redish, the poorest areas deep blue, and the very wealthiest areas redish-purple.

          To someone familiar with the economic geography of the area these maps contradict what you are saying: http://www.moonshadowmobile.com/2014/09/data-density-maps-registered-voters/

          Now it may well be that things are different in Boston or rural Maine or something. But if greater NYC is the exception to the North rule, it’s a pretty huge exception–about a third of the overall population.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            I largely base this on the states I’ve lived in, which did not include New York, which I cannot comment on. I suspect New York will be an outlier in any case, since it’s an attractor for certain personality types, but will take your evidence into consideration.

    • I think it is based on the idea that people often become RT by defecting from even the smarter kinds of BT, but the other way around people become BT often just via from defecting from the dumber kind of RT. Defecting from sophisticated RT groups to BT is rare.

      To use a clumsy example, people can become BT by realizing their fundie parents, “conservative Christians” in that specific American sense where it mostly conserves Puritanism, were wrong. So they go BT and start believing instead of god in individual autonomy, freedom, equality, and making everybody happy by giving them what they want. Suppose it does not work well. It looks like people are not in reality equal, it looks like freedom and autonomy leads to fucking up, and it seem the ego and pride can be too big in people who don’t worship something above them. Suppose they defect back to RT by realizing things like religions are socially useful, and precisely because they are often repressive and oppose critical thinking and all that, they may think they repress what needs to be repressed like the ego and prideful delusions of autonomy, and opposes criticism of those things, that while not literally true, are not socially useful to get criticized, like objective order to reality. This does not make them theists again but they now respect religious people again and are conservative and RT. From this angle, just what could make them defect back again to BT? I am seriously curious about this question.

      Not all RT are good at the pol-Turning, just those who defected from the better BT and know their former selves. But are there even any BT who defected from the better RT? Of course it depends on how you define better RT. Since I don’t want to play a dishonest game and answer to any proposals “oh that is not good RT” I’ll define it in advance:

      – good RT is when you may find religion or nationalism useful but you personally hardly have any faith in them, it is just good programming for the masses, but you have no idealism whatsoever

      – good RT is when you don’t tell people the world is already just and fair: you accept it will never be. Like you don’t tell people capitalism is great because it rewards the virtuous and the poor are just lazy. You tell people while it happens to be true that most of the poor are stupid, ultimately capitalism never promised to reward anyone non-lazy. Often it works, sometimes it doesn’t. You don’t defend it by it being fair. You defend it by nothing else working better: humans suck, not systems.

      Now, have you seen anyone who defected (back) to BT from this?

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        The kind of relativist, instrumentally-traditionalist cynicism you are describing is not what Scott meant or means by “red tribe”. For one, he meant it more as a cultural descriptor, and what you are calling “good RT” does not fit into that. And in terms of intellectual outlook, it is the people who really sincerely do believe that their traditional values are correct, not that everyone else’s are “just as good”.

        • anonymous says:

          TheDividualist knows as much about US culture as I know about Kyrgyzstani culture, but only one of us knows how much we don’t know.

          • US culture is global culture, at the very least as media consumption goes which is arguably one of the the most important factors. Everyday stuff can be different, but even that appears on blogs.

            I mean, even, take a guy – NOT me – whose values would be truly incompatible with US culture. Like a jihadi, a religious fanatic. And add a childhood of Spider-Man comics, Doom videogame, NCIS and Mel Gibson movies. You would end up with something weirdly totally-alien-yet-familiar and this is precisely what we see in the current conflict around e.g. Syria.

          • keranih says:

            @ TheDividualist –

            US culture is global culture, at the very least as media consumption goes which is arguably one of the the most important factors.

            I disagree with this on multiple levels. Firstly, there is not a singular global culture, if there was it would not be equal to the US culture, and thirdly media consumption is of far less impact than people who live and breath on-line think.

            Assuming that the familiar bits of the Syrian conflict spring from mass media/pop culture instead of being from more inate human commonalities is, imo, a major mistake.

          • John Schilling says:

            US culture is global culture, at the very least as media consumption goes which is arguably one of the the most important factors.

            This explains much. The culture that the US exports to the world via the media is not the culture actually practiced in the United States.

      • Apologetic Right Leaner says:

        “Now, have you seen anyone who defected (back) to BT from this?”

        Paul Krugman?

        • onyomi says:

          I don’t think moving left as a thinker at all necessarily implies that Krugman changed cultural tribes. In fact, considering the class which he finds himself near the head of (the gentry, academia), a leftward movement in thought is really a reconciliation between himself and his tribe. He probably feels more comfortable now.

      • dust bunny says:

        Reporting in.

        I’m a SJW and the leftiest lefty. My family is conservative, racist, sexist, nationalist, religious, and they believe poor people are poor because of various character flaws and moral failings, on both sides. Your definition, while probably not very close to how I would have expressed it at the time, completely matches the way I actually saw the world at a previous point in my life. The transition has been gradual and sometimes I’ve taken several steps back, but it’s complete now and I really don’t see myself going back ever.

        I still very much don’t fit in with the people who are supposedly my tribe. That’s probably why I hang out in places like this despite being really worn out by it. I can only feel like I’m a real Blue (or real anything) when I’m being constantly reminded of how not Red and not Gray I am.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      >It’s common here to see comments along the lines of “Red Tribe understands Blue Tribe better than the reverse.”

      It’s important to take framing in count. While “better” is technically correct, I think “Slightly less awful” would be more accurate.

      • Chalid says:

        Too true.

      • HlynkaCG says:

        Was going to say something similar.

      • The Frannest says:

        I think far-left and far-right are different kinds of evil.

        The far left paints everything to the right of them as the exact same kind of wrongbad: basically anyone who disagrees with them on something like an economical policy is automatically a sexist racist homophobe and all of them deserve the same exact retaliation. This is ineffective, because callout culture does not work, and this only makes people more like what they are accused of being. So that increases total suffering.

        The far right appropriately guesses what opinions liberal people have, but the caveat is that they (as per my theory that the right is defined through opposition to the left rather than on its own) consider said liberal opinions to be wrongbad even when they are relatively uncontroversial otherwise. Just yesterday I had an argument where I defended free higher education and I got a reply that struck me as an indicator of an insurmountable gap between our ways of thinking: “If college degrees were free, then everyone would get a college degree”. It was intended as a warning, but I couldn’t comprehend how that wouldn’t be paradise.

        In simpler words: if blues have to guess the reds’ answer to “your reaction to your white daughter dating a black man?” they would answer “negative” and be wrong because only 17% reds think that. If reds do the same, they answer “positive” and be right because 99% blues think that. Except reds think that on the whole this is bad because blues want to promote miscenegation and dilute the white race with black blood.

        Also, this is anecdotal, but reds tend to rephrase their views to kinda sound less radical.

        “on a scale of 0 to 5 how racist are you”

        “0, i’m not racist, i’m just calling a spade a spade, negroes just aren’t people like me and you are”

        • Anonymous says:

          “If college degrees were free, then everyone would get a college degree”. It was intended as a warning, but I couldn’t comprehend how that wouldn’t be paradise.

          If everyone had a college degree, then college degrees would be worthless as an indicator of competence, because everybody had them. Nobody who wishes to select a candidate for a job asks “are they human?” because that’s implicitly assumed on grounds that a negligible amount of non-human applicants even exist. If college degrees are hard to come by, they are a proxy for general competence (there’s more than one way to be competent – maybe you’re smart, maybe exceptionally hard-working, maybe you have very useful political connections, maybe your parents are filthy rich which implies that you have good genes, etc, etc.).

          Consider also that European states often have “free” (meaning everyone pays a little bit) university education, and they’re hardly paradises.

          Does this clear up the argument?

          • The Frannest says:

            >If everyone had a college degree, then college degrees would be worthless as an indicator of competence

            How about using competence as an indicator of competence instead? People must go to college to get educated. If everyone goes to college, then everyone is educated, a country that is 100% educated is full of smart and efficient people.

            Not to mention the fact that you need to actually finish college, thus the ability to finish college is an indicator for competence. Funny how you completely discount all the other factors that impact why some people can go to college in America and others can’t: the system is built to prevent vertical mobility whenever possible.
            >European states often have “free”

            Ahh, the libertarian quote marks.

            Yes, we understand what taxes mean. Yes, they are free, because free means NO ADDITIONALLY INCURRED COST THAT WOULD MAKE GOING TO COLLEGE IMPOSSIBLE BECAUSE YOU CANNOT AFFORD IT

            I’m going to blow your fucking mind right now: In Europe, generally, if you’re good at studying, YOU get PAID.

            > university education, and they’re hardly paradises.

            Not everyone in Europe has university education, and, sure, Europe is a hell of a lot better to live in than America, primarily because we don’t get shot for being not the correct race and when we get sick we pay $0 for medical treatment.

          • My Alt says:

            How about using competence as an indicator of competence instead?

            Some places do, personally I would like to see more of it. It’s frustrating to see e.g. technicians with more experience and talent (not to mention papers) than your typical postdoc get held back due to three missing letters. Looking at past experience plus whatever psychometric and skills testing the company can legally do would probably be much better than just checking for degrees.

            That said, no one would waste their time with college in that world. You can get your fundamentals just as well, if not better, by reading Wikipedia and Trends in X reviews as from an undergraduate course. And if anything, “lab courses” decrease your proficiency with basic techniques. A two year internship would give you a much better education than a bachelor’s degree.

            And that’s the problem with your theory. College doesn’t make you any smarter or harder working or even particularly skilled. It’s all about collecting letters, which means that giving it to everyone destroys the one semi-useful purpose it has.

          • Anonymous says:

            How about using competence as an indicator of competence instead?

            Sure. Have the hiring company give you an IQ (or could-well-be-an-IQ) test… except that’s illegal in the USA (except for the military).

            People must go to college to get educated.

            No. Where did you get that outrageously silly idea?

            If everyone goes to college, then everyone is educated, a country that is 100% educated is full of smart and efficient people.

            No. Where did you get that outrageously silly idea?

            Not to mention the fact that you need to actually finish college, thus the ability to finish college is an indicator for competence.

            Yes, and?

            Funny how you completely discount all the other factors that impact why some people can go to college in America and others can’t: the system is built to prevent vertical mobility whenever possible.

            USA does have a rather silly system, but I understand that there exist affordable institutions of tertiary learning there nonetheless. Per Clark’s research on mobility (see ‘The Son Also Rises’), on average, those with the ability to rise in status, will rise in status, regardless of the system they happen to live in.

            Yes, we understand what taxes mean.

            No, I don’t think you do.

            Yes, they are free, because free means NO ADDITIONALLY INCURRED COST THAT WOULD MAKE GOING TO COLLEGE IMPOSSIBLE BECAUSE YOU CANNOT AFFORD IT

            No. I would settle for ‘subsidized’, if “libertarian” quote marks trigger you so hard. Also, no, they are not completely free, because someone has to pay for them, eventually. One’s parents pay for them in increased taxes, and when one begin to work, one will also pay this in taxation.

            I’m going to blow your fucking mind right now: In Europe, generally, if you’re good at studying, YOU get PAID.

            Don’t teach a father to make children.

            Not everyone in Europe has university education, and, sure, Europe is a hell of a lot better to live in than America, primarily because we don’t get shot for being not the correct race and when we get sick we pay $0 for medical treatment.

            1) You don’t get shot in USA for being the wrong race, you get shot for being a (suspected) criminal, and because the American police tend to shoot people at the drop of a hat in general. Investigate, for example, how Chinese police can get into non-lethal brawls with citizens, they don’t immediately take out guns and let God sort them out.

            2) As above, you do, actually, pay for medical treatment. Every month when you get a paycheck. The overall cost is often lower than in the USA, because the USA has ridiculous incentive structures to make the price high, but if you actually want a decent, timely treatment, private, for-pay clinics are still your best bet.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            How about using competence as an indicator of competence instead?

            Sure, just as soon as someone comes up with a way for an overworked HR manager to determine which of 500 applicants is the most competent.

            If everyone goes to college, then everyone is educated, a country that is 100% educated is full of smart and efficient people.

            Or alternatively, college education as a whole would be dumbed down to make it possible for everybody to pass.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Frannest:

            Not to mention the fact that you need to actually finish college, thus the ability to finish college is an indicator for competence.

            In a world where college is free and universal, the ability to finish college is an indicator that the people actually paying for college, i.e. the government, find it easier to call up college administrators and say “We gave you all that money because we want results, and the results we want are millions of registered voters thanking us for easing their kids’ way into the middle-class job market, not wasting four years of time for nothing. Make it so”, than it is to say to millions of educated voters, “OK, so after four more years of wasted time, your kids are still ignorant uncredentialled losers destined for a working-class future; I guess that’s because they weren’t all that smart in the first place, but that’s on you, we’ve done our part”.

            We’ve seen this happen. Our high schools used to provide a solid education, and a credential that says “this person is educated and competent”, to most but not all Americans. Now they provide four years of warehousing and a credential that nobody pays attention to, and if anyone gets an education in those four years it is because their parents either handled that themselves or paid $50,000 or more to get them into one of the few good schools. And now if you want the “certified competent person” credential, you have to spend another four years on otherwise-pointless quasi-education even if all you are looking for is a job a competent high school graduate could do.

            And now we are marching down the path to making public four-year colleges, once great and socially uplifting institutions, into the same pointless waste.

            “If college degrees were free, then everyone would get a college degree” is a warning, because THE ONLY CREDENTIAL THAT MATTERS IS THE ONE NOT EVERYONE HAS. And any credential that everyone has to have or be locked out of the economy, is a pure waste of effort. We don’t want people wasting four years on that, and we don’t want colleges and universities that could provide useful educations turned instead into mass credentialling checkpoints with a four-year waiting period.

            Also, every other assertion of fact in your post is false, but I think rebutting this one will sufficie.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Free college in Europe is also much more limited in terms of who gets to go. The way it works in America is that the rich and upper middle classes pay the sticker price which effectively subsidizes the education of poorer students.

            College also mainly functions as a signaling mechanism; I am smart enough to go to college therefore you will be able to teach me your trade. If everyone goes to college then we’re really just cutting 4 years off our lives and thousands of dollars out of taxpayer funds.

            So we can either start saying “No Mr. and Mrs. Jones, your kid isn’t allowed to go to free college because they’re not in the top 10%” or we can say “you can go to college but if your parents make a decent income you’ll want to take out some student loans which are basically the best investment you could ever make.”

          • Anonymous says:

            @John Schilling

            In a world where college is free and universal, the ability to finish college is an indicator that the people actually paying for college, i.e. the government, find it easier to call up college administrators and say “We gave you all that money because we want results, and the results we want are millions of registered voters thanking us for easing their kids’ way into the middle-class job market, not wasting four years of time for nothing. Make it so”, than it is to say to millions of educated voters, “OK, so after four more years of wasted time, your kids are still ignorant uncredentialled losers destined for a working-class future; I guess that’s because they weren’t all that smart in the first place, but that’s on you, we’ve done our part”.

            I have trouble parsing that. On face value, you appear to be blasting for-pay colleges, but later in your post, you show your argument is against public ones…? Could you rephrase?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Anonymous:

            I can’t speak for Mr. Schilling, but my take on the matter is that in the context of that particular issue, it doesn’t make any difference if the college is “for pay” or “public,” especially since in the full free-college-for-all scenario all colleges would be public. Who pays the piper calls the tune: the tune Uncle Sugar will call is “bow to your partner, give everybody a degree.” Exactly as they have done to high schools already.

            @Frannest:

            Europe is a hell of a lot better to live in than America

            [Citation needed.]

          • Anonymous says:

            Oh, in that sense. OK.

            To steelman TF’s claim about Europe, I would say that there are countries in Europe that are overall better places to live than the USA. Not so much if you treat the continent like a homogenous entity, which it isn’t. Likewise, I expect there are excellent places to live in the USA, better than many places in Europe.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Anonymous:

            In which case the argument reduces to “some places are nicer to live in than others for some people.” With this assertion I have not the slightest quibble.

          • John Schilling says:

            I have trouble parsing that. On face value, you appear to be blasting for-pay colleges, but later in your post, you show your argument is against public ones…? Could you rephrase?

            What does “for-pay colleges” even mean in a where college is free and universal?

            I was speaking specifically about colleges in that hypothetical world, and implicitly assuming that people find the services provided by colleges (for-pay or public) in the present world to be valuable.

            The valuable services provided by most four-year colleges and universities at present are I believe:

            1 – What should have been a high school education but now often isn’t
            2 – Higher education including but not limited to professional job training.
            3 – Acculturation into the Churchian “Gentry” social classes even for people from labor (or worse) backgrounds
            4 – A document verifying that the holder is reasonably intelligent, knowledgeable, hard-working, and can probably get along with gentry.

            I assert that, if a democratic government institutes a program intended to provide a free college education to everyone or almost everyone, most colleges and universities will face irresistible political pressure to water down their requirements and curricula to the point where 2, 3, and 4 above are no longer effectively provided. In that world, not having a college degree would carry a substantial social and economic stigma, and the millions of parents with children who would not or should not graduate from any respectable college at present will all write their congressmen and demand that those mean elitists running the schools that their tax dollars are paying for must make sure that Junior gets a diploma (and with no secret black marks).

            I also assert that, when this happens, the market will appropriately devalue college degrees. All of the jobs that are now open to anyone with a four-year degree in a vaguely appropriate major will then require something beyond that – and since part of what is required is a demonstrated ability for hard work, it can’t be something trivial like passing a test. This will carry over into the social sphere as well; “I wouldn’t date anyone without a college degree” will see similar escalation even if the actual credentials sought in that market are different.

            And in the end, everybody has to put in four extra years of pointless effort to get exactly where they used to be after graduating from a decent high school. The taxpayers will have to pay everybody to, basically, party for four years. And we’ll have to build new institutions to perform the vital functions presently performed by colleges and universities.

            And again, this describes colleges in a hypothetic future, if a democratic government institutes a program intended to provide a free college education to everyone or almost everyone. Not colleges here and now, or in other less extreme possible futures.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ John Schilling:

            I’m not arguing for free public education (or public education of any sort), but this has already been tried in many countries, and the results have not been as dire as you are predicting.

            Unless you mean sooner or later it will happen, which is not too much of a prediction.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m not arguing for free public education (or public education of any sort), but this has already been tried in many countries, and the results have not been as dire as you are predicting.

            According to one of my professors, there recently occurred a downward shift in tertiary education in my country. Masters became on the level of bachelors, bachelors is as high school, etc. I’m not sure what caused this, because studies were fully subsidized during communist times, yet they managed to remain extremely elitist and demanding of students. Could it be the non-democratic government aspect?

          • John Schilling says:

            @Vox:

            You seem to have missed the part where I specifically and repeatedly emphasized, if a democratic government institutes a program intended to provide a free college education to everyone or almost everyone.

            and that this stemmed from a debate over the allegedly paradisiacal nature of, If college degrees were free, then everyone would get a college degree.

            Because there are certainly not many countries where the government, or anyone else, provides free college education to even half of the population. This, contrary to your assertion, has not been tried.

            Providing a free college-preparatory high school education to everyone has been tried, it is the norm in the United States, and it has already failed in approximately the way I described. If you want your children to get a decent college-prep high school education in the United States, you are going to have to pay at least $50K extra for the privilege. Nations which split their high school populations early into college-prep and vocational tracks seem to be doing much better in both categories, and are perhaps not coincidentally the ones which tend to offer free-ish college educations to the minority of students selected for that track.

          • Sivaas says:

            John:

            Do you have a particular country in mind when talking about the separation into vocational and college-prep students? I’m in the middle of a discussion with some friends about the proper approach to college tuition (initially kindled by your original high school comment) and Germany came up as an example to follow, but I can’t find a good description of Germany’s college system, all my searches just turn up a bunch of stuff about how great it is US students are going to Germany to study.

            In particular, I’m curious about how such a system accurately determines who’s in what track. Standardized testing? Does that lead to issues in just teaching to the test?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ John Schilling:

            I am confused. Are you talking about compulsory tertiary education?

            I agree that this would probably lead to standards being watered down. (Though not necessarily: students can be funneled into different “tracks”.)

            But when I hear “free college education for everyone” I interpret that to mean “free college education for everyone who wants it”. Not: you have to do it whether you like it or not. And that already exists in, for example, Denmark.

            And what I was taking The Frannest to be calling “paradise” was a situation where everyone is offered free college and everyone takes up the offer.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Vox: I have said nothing about whether or not college education would be legally compulsory in such a scenario, because I don’t think it much matters. Whatever the path from here to there, if almost everybody gets a college degree, there will be a severe social and economic stigma to not having a college degree. At that point college becomes de facto mandatory through social, economic, and parental pressure. Rather like high school in the United States, where it is legal to drop out at 16 but actually doing so is tantamount to having “Underclass” tattooed on your forehead.

            And at that point, yes, the same pressures that have absolutely every parent send their children to college will have them voting for the politicians who make sure that college is something their kids can graduate from even if they turn out to be lazy idiots.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ John Schilling:

            Then perhaps the first thing you need to consider is, in the absence of compulsion, whether almost everyone getting a college degree (even if they’re free) is a likely scenario. If it’s not, then criticize that link in the argument.

            It may be a dumb idea not to get a high school diploma, but 1 in 10 people still fail to do so. And that’s when half the work is compulsory.

            Second, even if everyone does get a college degree, it doesn’t mean they become worthless. High school is mostly-socially-compulsory, but that doesn’t mean a diploma from Phillips Exeter Academy means nothing. Even on a lower level of elite status, parents quite often pressure local school districts to make their children more competitive! Parents send their children to private schools, paying their own money, in order to get a leg up. They seek to make things tougher, not easier. And when their children are mentally challenged, they seek special education that will actually educate them.

            If the public demands some means of letting Johnny get a college degree, one response is to create colleges of varying quality and focus. Then a college degree as such means nothing, but it’s all about where you got it from.

          • John Schilling says:

            If we create a world in which an Ivy or Oxbridge education has the same value it always did but a degree from [State] college or U means as little as a high school diploma does now, I do not think that this will be the “paradise” that Frannest was seeking.

            It will also be a loss to society, in that state colleges and universities even now tend to provide rather more than that, and will be hard to replace or restore if they are degraded.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ John Schilling:

            I agree with you insofar as free college would not be a “paradise” but rather an enormous waste of money.

            However, I don’t see why even existing state universities would necessarily be degraded. That could happen. But you can already do things like, say, get an honors degree vs. a non-honors degree. Which is a fairly big distinction at large state schools.

            You can probably get into most state schools even you’re mentally retarded. But there’s still grades and various advanced programs to distinguish things.

        • “If everyone had a college degree, then college degrees would be worthless as an indicator of competence, because everybody had them”

          Then people would be judged by the class of their degree, the institution they attended, higher degrees and so on. We are already seeing this happening with ~50% graduation rates. (And free tertiary education isn’t at all the same thing as universal tertiary education. You can offer free education to the select few who pass an entrance requirement. Scholarships are an extreme case).

    • Jaskologist says:

      Yes. Haidt tested it, assuming we map blue:liberal and red:conservative. There is one caveat: conservatives are not the outliers in understanding others, liberals are the outliers in failing to understand others. Moderates were able to fake other views the same as conservatives.

      I tend to think that the explanation really is just a matter of the media/academia being liberal; I don’t think it’s something inherent in the ideologies that produces these results. Liberals are able to avoid dissenting views to an extent that others can’t.

      We tested how well liberals and conservatives could understand each other. We asked more than two thousand Americans to fill out the Moral Foundations Questionnaire. One third of the time they were asked to fill it out normally, answering as themselves. One third of the time they were asked to fill it out as they think a “typical liberal” would respond. One third of the time they were asked to fill it out as a “typical conservative” would respond. This design allowed us to examine the stereotypes that each side held about the other. More important, it allowed us to assess how accurate they were. Who was best able to pretend to be the other? The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal”.

      • Nita says:

        Liberals are able to avoid dissenting views to an extent that others can’t.

        But isn’t the mainstream media largely moderate? It’s certainly not anti-capitalist or anything like that. If everyone is consuming the same amount of mainstream stuff, “very liberal” folks should encounter more dissent with their views than moderates, not the other way around.

        • Jiro says:

          A “dissenting view” is a view actively different from your own–someone who says nothing is not expressing a dissenting view. So if the media is leftist on some subjects and neutral on others, the media may be “moderate” but a leftist who depends on it is still avoiding dissenting views.

      • Chalid says:

        I guess that looks like weak evidence. The actual paper:

        http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0050092

        on a quick skim a big problem is that Haidt’s sample consists of people who chose to visit ProjectImplicit.org, which is (crudely) a racism test. Interest in race and racism seems like a large potential confounder.

    • anonymous says:

      It’s common here to see comments along the lines of “Red Tribe understands Blue Tribe better than the reverse.”

      Given all the Fox News articles or image macros I see on my unfilted facebook feed that throw around absurd claims about what “leftists” think, I’m inclined to think it is wrong or at least unproven. My sense is that it comes from the fact that liked lapsed catholics ex-blue grays are hyperaware and hypercritical of their former home team.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Your Facebook feed is not a valid sample.

        • anonymous says:

          Where can I find a valid sample of “red tribe” and “blue tribe” people?

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            You have to build them from scratch, using an AI to emulate them based on archetypes.

            Anything else is too full of confounders.

          • Nornagest says:

            Where can I find a valid sample of “red tribe” and “blue tribe” people?

            It’s actually quite difficult to do that. More trouble than it’s probably worth, unless you work in marketing or social research or some other field where your success depends directly on your ability to model strangers’ motivations.

            But social media is probably worse than useless. The Facebook Skinner box directly rewards controversy and misinterpretation, so of course most of what you’re going to see is loud, dumb, and controversial.

      • Psmith says:

        Yeah, I think this is basically accurate. Tough to make statements about overall numbers, but there are plenty of unreflective Red Tribe members memeing about their counterparts on the off-topic sections of The High Road or Pirate4x4.

    • SSC's Resident Devil's Advocate says:

      Given how many anti-SJers think “[dominant group] is privileged” means “all members of [dominant group] have life easy and should feel bad for being member of [dominant group]”, I wouldn’t say conservatives are much better than liberals at modeling the other’s beliefs.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’d say that’s a bit of a straw man in the first place, but even if we grant it, opposition to SJ is not necessarily coming from a conservative place. Especially in spaces like this one.

      • Jiro says:

        “It means X” and “it means X in practice” are different things.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Confounder: A lot of SJ online posts are indeed implicitly using it with that meaning and would not make sense when read any other way.

      • NN says:

        I don’t know if we’re allowed to use the term for that sort of statement anymore, so I’ll just link back to Scott’s old essay on this.

      • The Frannest says:

        The actual argument is technically that oppression is systemic, meaning that any suffering by the oppressed is experienced as part of a group and is the rule, while any suffering by the oppressor is experienced at an individual and is the exception. This is completely uncontroversial and approved in social justice circles, compare: how can you say [white people] ever suffer from [racism], that’s comparing one [white person being called a disgusting mayo-slobbering cracker] to [chattel slavery].

        But of course in practice you can see people writing BACK TO BACK “oppressor group doesn’t mean all oppressors have it good” and “stop writing these whiny posts about comforting men, their entire life is comfort” and no one raises an eyebrow.

        That’s exactly a motte-and-bailey, and it’s because of exactly this motte and bailey that many people who are not conservatives flock against social justice.

  23. Berna says:

    Many happy returns!

  24. Deiseach says:

    Considering that tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday, a story about pancakes and eye surgery.

    I think this is my favourite bit:

    The study compared 14 different types of pancakes and was published in the magazine Mathematics Today.

  25. Just three years, Scott? Looked more. Apparently the Internet is speeding up, in a certain way. This blog already feels like the old pubs in Oxford where the students go to argue with each other over similar stuff, feels like it existed since forever.

  26. Arbitrary_greay says:

    Anyone interested in discussing anime film Expelled from Paradise? (available on Netflix)
    It’s pretty much the closest I expect we’ll ever get to an adaptation of Cory Doctorow’s post-Singularity fiction. Closer to hard scifi than soft, in that world-building and exploration of the implications thereof are prioritized more than traditional plot or character arcs.

    Spoilers follow

    And, of course, what will it take to bypass paper-clipping to “That would be a rash decision. My continued existence cannot justify the act of attacking or damaging [the human population.]”
    Was it the thousands of years of evolution? (Any damaging behaviors during that interim restricted by lack of resources/capability?) Or were there strong enough Asimov-esque restrictions imposed from the beginning?
    Given the discovery of aesthetic pleasure in music, the film seems to lean towards the latter.

    There’s some subtext in the TV show Person of Interest, as well, that indicates that the “nice” ASI may be as such because it was forced to observe humanity without directly acting on it for eleven years.

    On the post-Singularity side, how’s about the hierarchical structures imposed? There apparently aren’t enough physical resources to contain sufficient computation memory for 98% of the human population, such that non-useful members are just left in cold storage. Does quantum computing render that speculation moot?
    Is the utility standard used by DEVA just standard YA dystopian nonsense? My cynical guess is that the top governing tier and their families don’t have much restriction, and that the use structure only applies to maintenance workers, with an excess of maintenance workers such that the competition is not necessarily beneficial to them. Nonetheless, Angela’s “must keep working to be the best” doesn’t necessarily apply in the context of a capitalism metaphor, as the advantage of competition is growth, and the DEVA competition system is zero-sum. They don’t seem to be aiming to keep increasing their memory capacity, unless that’s just a world-building detail not mentioned in the film. Dingo’s initial payment is mineral deposit information, so they could still be negotiating with meatspace humans to mine for and process materials into chips.

    • Error says:

      I may pick this up based on the description in your first paragraph. You may want to ROT-13 spoilers, by the way.

  27. Rayner Lucas says:

    Thanks for all the thought-provoking, informative, and occasionally downright hilarious stuff you’ve posted over the last three years. Long may this blog continue!

    On a related note, I recited your Rime of the Ancient Mariner 2 to a circle of fifteen or so insomniacs at the 28th Annual UK Filk Convention. It provoked roars of laughter and a demand for links to your site, so I think you may have gained a few fans.

  28. FeepingCreature says:

    I have a hypothesis, but I’m not sure if it’s true. I’m looking to gather evidence or examples of this happening, especially in online debates.

    I suspect there’s a phenomenon that goes like this.

    1. A vocal group “X” accuses another group “Y” of, say, racism.

    2. There is some evidence for this, of course; for any sufficiently large group, there are some bad apples.

    3. The accusation of racism is picked up by large parts of X; they only have a stereotypical view of Y and they want to believe it. Dissenters are shouted down.

    4. Y makes a half-hearted defense against racism; they know from the inside they’re not racists, so the accusation does not seem worthy of being taken seriously.

    5. All the racists flock to Y and speak in their defense. (This is just pragmatic.) Y are now incentivized, on average, to support racists in turn.

    6. This is taken by X as evidence that they were right all along. Repeat.

    7. The accusation is now true; it has self-catalyzed.

    I suspect this to mostly happen around us-vs-them binary issues, which naturally favor the formation of two big alliances.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I’m confused. Why are the racists defending Y from partially-but-not-mostly-true charges of racism, especially when Y are saying they’re not racists?

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        Say you want to build a wall with Mexico (and make the Mexican government pay for it). 😉

        And say you want this because you’re racist and just plain hate Mexicans. Well, that’s not a socially acceptable reason. So if you want that wall, you’d better defend the people who are making sincere arguments that this is not racist at all but actually, I don’t know, better in the long run for both countries because it incentivizes the Mexican government to solve their own problems.

        • FeepingCreature says:

          Well, I thought the racists would flock to Y because they were just told that Y are racists, so they think they’re natural allies.

          But I think your explanation fits better.

          Plus, strategically, once the accusation is made Y don’t have as much to gain from not allying with the racists. It creates a gradient, and forces Y to either ally with racists or fight a two-front war.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Has Trump really done the “must defend self against accusations of racism” thing? It seems like he’s mostly just ignored people calling him a racist, told them to fuck off, or whatever. It’s probably part of the reason that he’s teflon compared to the average Republican candidate, in that regard.

          Additionally, the racists who are backing Trump aren’t defending him against charges of racism – they’re writing articles cautioning each other of being too optimistic about what he represents. There are people on the left (and the right, too) saying he’s a racist fascist – the racist fascists are not saying “no he’s not”, rather, they’re sighing and saying he’s not enough of either of those things for their tastes.