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OT45: Opal Thread

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

1. I’m going to be running a psychiatry journal club at my clinic in a few weeks. Any suggestions for interesting or surprising recent (in the last year or two) psychiatry-related journal articles I might present?

2. Comments of the week are Anonymous on Ubers and taxis, and Zaxlebaxes and Telmid on sealioning. This was originally brought up in the subreddit as similar to my Against Interminable Arguments post, but I agree with both commenters that they’re very different. I am saying “people should be careful about saying controversial things in inflammatory ways”, but the sealioning essay seems more like “Given that I have said a controversial thing in an inflammatory way, people should not respond and set the record straight”. I feel the same way about the “randos in my Twitter mentions” complaint – too often it seems to take the form of A saying “Hey world, you should know that all Bulgarians are stupid and unemployed”, B coming in and saying “I’m a Bulgarian and find that offensive, here are statistics showing that Bulgarian test scores and employment rates are above average”, and A saying “Gross! Randos in my mentions!”

3. A few years ago I reviewed A Future For Socialism and mentioned that the book’s suggestion of redistributing corporate profits as a basic income wasn’t enough – it would only provide about $6000 per person. This was true of the book’s method, which only redistributed the profits of publicly-traded companies. But Tumblr user fadingphilosophymiracle points out that private companies have lots of profits too, and that redistributing those as well could produce a basic income of $12,000/person, which sounds a lot more impressive. I’ve edited the post to include the recalculation. (maybe not? see here)

4. I’m going to be in the Bay in mid-April. David Friedman usually offers to host a meetup at his house, and I’ll probably take advantage of that, but still looking for a good location in the East Bay/Berkeley area. A good location would be one that could fit 50+ people and have room for everybody to talk. Last time we tried an Indian restaurant and it was a little awkward. Any better ideas?

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1,555 Responses to OT45: Opal Thread

  1. Paolo Giarrusso says:

    Hi all, I wonder if any of you have followed the current shitstorm on Moldbug and have insight. Please let me know if I’m violating any ban, even though I’m trying to be careful (I’ve been lurking for a while).

    Basically, a programming conference accepted a talk by Moldbug, and decided to keep having it even after he was alleged to be a racist and advocating slavery: http://degoes.net/articles/lambdaconf-inclusion
    Most boycotted the conference, but some are worrying about the “censorship”, and sharing some of Scott’s fears.

    I already (mistakenly?) asked about this on Twitter (and tried to *not* get noticed and catching Scott in the shitstorm by avoiding links and hashtags). https://twitter.com/Blaisorblade/status/713148081185943554

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Link posts function as open threads, so now that a links post has appeared more recently than this open thread, you should go there if you want to be heard. Moreover, the topic has already been broached there.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Link posts function as open threads

        No they don’t. Link posts are supposed to be for discussing the links Scott posts. Some people use them as open threads, but some people use every thread like an open thread.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Yes, some people use every post as an open thread. But more than 10x as many people use link posts that way. Regardless of what Scott wants, which he has never said, they function as open threads, hence my choice of words.

          Fuck disclaimers and fuck you.

  2. Elo says:

    http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/nfk/lesswrong_2016_survey/

    I published the lesswrong survey. On reviewing what I have done and talking to people about why Scott is not involved it occurs to me that it might be my fault for not trying hard enough to reach out and get in touch with you. So this comment is to do a few things:

    1. Sorry for not trying harder to contact you (post asking for submissions, offering to help, email and lw pm)
    2. If you get this message would you like to collaborate on the results?
    3. For anyone here who wants to do the survey, please do.

  3. CIClouseau says:

    I regret that my first comment on SSC is a link to tickld.com, but life is unfair sometimes. Anyway, it seemed to me that Scott and some of the regulars might find this list amusing:
    http://www.tickld.com/x/sm/20-phd-students-dumb-down-their-thesis-just-for-us

    Pertinent examples:

    3. Nanoparticles are weird and I accidentally made a bomb and electrocuted myself.
    -M33

    5. When I get rid of this gene, it messes the brain up. A lot.
    – NeuroscienceNerd

    9. Inpatients with schizophrenia are happier and socialize more in the context of a music listening group. It was obvious before we began the project and we learned nothing.
    – Wouldyestap

  4. bryn says:

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/catferguson/addiction-marketplace

    Have you guys seen this stuff? Has Scott written about this outrage? buying/selling addicts in hellhole Florida

  5. Ergoemos says:

    I know this is way too far down in the weeds for much luck of a response, but does anyone have any recommended psychiatrists in the Oklahoma City/Dallas area? I have a family member that will be going to a someone soon, but I’d like to have a recommend rather than just rely on who they might be referred to by the hospital.

  6. BBA says:

    A question for my fellow anime dorks: has anyone else watched/read WataMote?

    I’m curious as to how much it affects your enjoyment of it if you share or used to share Tomoko’s (comically exaggerated) social dysfunctions. For me, it’s usually funny but sometimes it hits a little too close to home.

    • anonymous user says:

      I read the majority of the manga a while back. The frank depiction of the protagonist’s obsession with sex, anxiety over not losing her virginity etc would have been a little creepy, except I remember feeling exactly the same way when I was that age.

    • lvlln says:

      I’ve watched the anime and find it very easy to relate to. I don’t think I’ve ever felt there was anything that hit too close to home, though, in the sense that I felt discomfort. This, despite the fact that I found the way a lot of her issues were expressed was right-on. What I found very interesting was seeing this from the perspective of an adolescent girl, having only experienced them as an adolescent boy (and post-adolescent man, for that matter). Perhaps that extra gap is what’s contributing to my not feeling discomfort from things hitting so close to home. Or perhaps I’m just in denial about the extent to which I suffer from such issues. I’m not sure what to make of it.

      In any case, I found it a fun show which presented someone suffering social anxiety in a way that I could understand and empathize with. It reminded me somewhat of Welcome to the NHK in that aspect, though I thought Welcome to the NHK did a better job going deeper into those themes and exploring them further.

      • BBA says:

        I watched the anime, have seen bits from the manga here and there but haven’t read it all the way through.

        The author of the manga is a man, so I think he may just be translating his own experiences to a female lead. It has to be a girl because moe sells, right?

        NHK takes itself more seriously, and I find it far bleaker, even though Satou comes off as a more competent and sympathetic figure than Tomoko. The ending, especially, with its endorsement of conformism as the only way to avoid endless despair… it just feels sad to me. Maybe it plays differently in Japan where conformism is practically the state religion.

        • lvlln says:

          That’s interesting that the author is a man who chose to tell that story on a female character. Perhaps that’s why I find the character’s trials and tribulations so easy to relate to. Then again, I know at least one woman who feels similarly about Tomoko, so perhaps he’s just doing a good job touching on issues of social anxiety in general, regardless of gender.

          Tomoko isn’t really the image of a “moe” anime girl, though. She looks almost purposefully designed to look off in some way, if not necessarily unattractive. This sort of faux-unattractiveness, of course, could be considered its own moe factor, and perhaps that really was the intention.

          I’m not sure I’d agree that Satou is more sympathetic. He’s more competent, but he’s also an adult at the start of the series, one who’s a NEET leaching off his parents’ money. I can sympathize with his psychological plight, but it’s hard to get behind the way he treats his parents. Tomoko, on the other hand, is a girl who just entered high school. And as misguided as her attempts usually are, she does often take initiative to try to improve her situation even without someone forcing her to. I’m not saying Satou is UNsympathetic, but I do think it’s easier to root for Tomoko than for Satou.

          I think that’s part of what I like more about Welcome to the NHK. It’s utterly cynical, the good guy is kind of a jerk in some important ways, and there is no real happy end for him, just incremental progress in the right direction which could be reversed at any moment. Just like in real life.

  7. MJS says:

    RE:Journal club
    Coughlan, Tony, and Leigh-Anne Perryman. “Learning from the innovative open practices of three international health projects: IACAPAP, VCPH and Physiopedia.” Open Praxis 7.2 (2015): 173-189. http://dx.doi.org/10.5944/openpraxis.7.2.188 ” … maps quite well with the OPAL matrix”

    For the week of April 1, one of the articles from British Medical Journal’s December issue, such as the Fear Factor?
    http://www.bmj.com/archive/online/2015/12-14

  8. John Schilling says:

    What surprises me of the US is the popularity of bycicles relative to scooters, at least judging (very superficially, I admit) from the Internet. Bycicles have more drawbacks than scooters, and are only slightly cheaper in absolute terms (compared to what the expenses for a car would be).

    Bicycles don’t compare with cars, any more than they compare with airliners. The proper comparison is the relative mobility vs. cost of bicycles and feet.

    Outside of a few very dense urban areas, almost everybody in the United States who owns a bicycle also owns(*) a car. Almost nobody uses that car if they are e.g. going to visit neighbors a few houses down the block. A bicycle costs slightly more than a good pair of boots, and increases by an order of magnitude the area you can travel without having to deal with any sort of motor vehicle. A scooter is rather more expensive, and over modest distances it allows your motor-vehicle experience to involve less frustration with traffic and parking but more fear of death or great bodily injury. A scooter but no car would be a net cost savings, but it would limit your convenient travel range to a small fraction of a major American city rather than the whole thing.

    *or lives in a household that owns

    • Dahlen says:

      First world problems. I’d love to be able to get to places by bike, but I can’t park it anywhere and leave it unattended for 5 minutes without it most probably getting stolen. (Yes, I know about security chains. Our thieves know them even better, i.e. how to break one.)

      • Anonymous says:

        Can confirm. Hell, the existence of widespread bike lanes is a pretty first world thing.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        What lock you use matters a lot. This works (at least some models) this doesn’t (a cheap pair of bolt cutters gets through it easily).

        • Dahlen says:

          Sometimes they let you have the frame and steal the wheels…

        • Pku says:

          There are wheel locks that you can’t open without keys. Not unbreakable, but I haven’t had my wheels stolen since I got them (for comparison, I had my wheels stolen two or three times in the similar time period before I had them).

        • sweeneyrod says:

          You could possibly take the front wheel off, and put a lock through both wheels and the frame. Or just get two locks.

        • Nornagest says:

          Sometimes they let you have the frame and steal the wheels…

          Once, when I was in college, the local bike thieves left the frame and the wheels and stole my handlebars. Cost me two hundred dollars to replace, because it turns out they don’t sell just the hand parts of the shifters or the brakes.

          A month later the whole bike was stolen.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          I live in the country with the world’s highest bicycle ownership rate, and reading this makes me wonder if safety isn’t also an issue for people trying to own bicycles. In here bicycle stalls are common, and stealing from those will not end well for most people; if bicycles are uncommon enough for stalls not to be around, stealing them becomes much easier.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Where I live is pretty bike-friendly by most standards, I gather, and they’re common enough that public bike posts are common. Bike theft is really common, and it seems pretty much expected that it will happen. Buying a really nice bike is far more foolish than buying a really nice car – it will get stolen.

  9. I’m reading The Art of Not Being Governed by James C. Scott (the Seeing Like a State guy), and I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in how humans build societies, the limits of government, southeast Asia, and especially to anyone who’s interested in world-building. And to Jack Vance fans.

    It’s specifically to a region JCScott calls Zomia– highlands and mountains which run from India to China. It’s a region about the size of Europe, has about 80 to 100 million people, and is the last large more or less ungoverned region on earth.

    JCScott says that it’s not a matter of people who never developed centralized government, it’s people by those who don’t want to live under government. It’s a little more complicated than that, since people in what he calls splinter zones will join or leave governments depending on which seems better to them. “Splinter zones” because there are small grouping of many cultures.

    Anyway, the reason I’m bringing it up now is that the right of exit might be more a matter of terrain than rules. The right answer might be tech which makes people harder to govern (unfortunately, anything involving techtonics (a typo I’m not correcting) would be both slow and irresponsible), not rules imposed from the top.

    It’s tempting for me to post a summary of everything I’ve read so far, but the book is showing its own self-determination by hiding in the house somewhere.

    • Frog Do says:

      I know the “geography implies size of state” is a strong counterargument to Patchwork state systems, which is why so many of the early Moldbug-descended thought focused on multiethnic European imperial states, which is why some form of Archipelago system is probably necessary, unfortunately.

  10. Troy says:

    On AlphaGo: Suppose that in his fifth game, Lee Sedol had played white, and that, in an effort to troll AlphaGo, he tried to get the program to play exactly the same game they played in the fourth game (which he won). Would this work? Would AlphaGo respond the same way to all the same moves? Or do we not know?

    • The nature of Go makes this unlikely: opening sequences are a lot more open than in Chess so that deliberatedly reproducing the opening of a specific previous game is effectively impossible unless both players are collaborating toward this end.

      It’s unclear what AlphaGo would do, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume the program includes possibilities of randomised choice in the event of closely weighed opportunities.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I believe one of the techniques the AI uses is Monte Carlo tree search, so that would naturally inject some non-determinism (unless it was using the same seed every time for no good reason I guess maybe?)

      • Skef says:

        I know that Linux (and I believe the other common OSes are better at this now) include an entropy buffer that collects “randomness” from sources like the fine-timing of network interrupts, and parcels it out (appropriately processed) from /dev/random. Most decent libraries that generate random numbers will make at least some use of that. It almost certainly won’t collect fast enough to make the whole Monte Carlo search truly random, but it will be plenty enough to make it non-deterministic.

        • John Schilling says:

          If AlphaGo incorporates random numbers at all, even a crappy pseudorandom number generator will prevent this exploit so long as the seed isn’t reset for each run.

          It isn’t obvious that AlphaGo uses any random number generator at all, as opposed to being perfectly deterministic. Many powerful search and optimization algorithms are perfectly deterministic.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Monte Carlo isn’t, though.

          • Skef says:

            They’ve been quite explicit that the high-level architecture is a neural network that produces an estimate of the “value” of a given board for a player, a network that suggests moves, and a Monte Carlo tree search that makes use of both in a semi-directed search of possible move chains.

          • John Schilling says:

            I hadn’t seen the Monte Carlo part spelled out, thanks. Neural networks can be absolutely deterministic, though each retraining would have the effect of introducing something akin to randomness.

  11. Matt says:

    With Hillary running for POTUS, I’ve been thinking: is the whole spouse thing a huge loophole to term limits?

    I mean, first of all, supposedly two people become one when they get married. So when you elect Bill Clinton President, you’re really electing Billary. Obviously, then, electing Hillary gets you Billary as well. I mean, I understand that that’s not the literal truth of the matter, but obviously one’s spouse has a great deal of influence.

    I have to think that when the founding fathers came up with term limits, they failed to close the spouse loophole only because they didn’t conceive of female representatives. Shouldn’t this be revisited?

    • Psmith says:

      See also: Lurleen Wallace, Miriam Ferguson.

    • null says:

      What do you mean by ‘the founding fathers came up with term limits’?

    • JBeshir says:

      The US founding fathers didn’t incorporate term limits; they were in the Articles of Confederation, but left out of the US Constitution. They had an informal two-term convention, but term limits as a matter of law were only introduced via the 22nd amendment in 1951.

      (I should admit that the only part of this I actually remembered offhand was that they were not originally in it, and were added at some point in the 20th century. The rest I looked up.)

      I think by this time they were probably able to conceive of female representatives. This loophole also exists without needing them, via dropping to Vice President (legal, AIUI) and making a trusted lieutenant the President part of the ticket. Putin did something similar in Russia, dropping from President to Prime Minister between 2008 and 2012, before returning to the Presidency, to avoid being restricted by Russian term limits.

      • Aegeus says:

        A two-term president can’t drop down to VP, because the VP needs to be eligible to be President (Twelfth Amendment).

        EDIT: Although Wikipedia says “Others contend that the Twelfth Amendment concerns qualification for service, while the Twenty-second Amendment concerns qualifications for election, and thus a former two-term president is still eligible to serve as vice president.”

        I wouldn’t bet on that in court, though.

        • brad says:

          If you read the 22nd amendment it only says that no person may be elected to the office of the President more than twice. Meanwhile the 12th amendment says no person constitutionally ineligble to the office of President shall be eligible to the office of Vice President.

          Suppose an ex-President were elected to the House of Representatives and selected as Speaker of the House (I don’t think anyone claims this is unconstitutional) . If the President and Vice President were killed would the 22nd amendment bar him from taking office? If not, than is he really constitutionally ineligible from the standpoint of the 12th amendment?

        • JBeshir says:

          I didn’t know this- certainly it seems to be at the least legally questionable.

          You could probably move into a Chief of Staff role or something, but formally being Vice President on the ticket would probably have enough legal questionability to it to not be a good plan, and it’s plausible that having less formal status than that would be too tenuous to avoid simply losing power to your Medvedev.

    • Anonymous says:

      Most def. It’s even worse in countries (like my own) in which there’s a limit to successive terms, but not total, since the ruling couple can alternate indefinitely.

      It hasn’t happened yet, because one of them usually dies, but it’s not great.

    • Ano says:

      The Founding Fathers did not come up with term limits, they were only implemented after FDR was President for four terms.

    • Peter says:

      There’s some religious stuff about two people becoming one, but legally, members of married couples are their own people with their own rights to property independently, vote independently, etc. I was googling around for cases of married couples in Parliaments, Senates etc. and there was even a case of a married couple in India where the two spouses were members of different parties!

      The term limits thing only became official comparatively recently anyway; in 1947 – and even then, the 22nd Amendment was drafted so as not to apply to the sitting president (Truman) at the time the amendment was proposed. According to Wikipedia, Washington himself didn’t intend his decision to retire after two terms to set a precedent; the idea was more Jefferson’s. Also: Jefferson sayeth “if some termination to the services of the chief Magistrate be not fixed by the Constitution, or supplied by practice, his office, nominally four years, will in fact become for life.” This doesn’t apply in cases of married couples; if you really wanted to stretch things you could call it a four-term limit but that’s still not life. Yes, technicallly someone could marry and divorce a succession of Presidents, but maybe that’s a bridge to cross when people come to it.

      Incidentally, apparently Hillary had the considered idea of picking Bill as her VP but was told it would be unconstitutional. Also it would have looked far too much like the Putin And Medvedev Show for my tastes.

      Of course, you could say, “go away you interfering Brit, who are you to be offering constitutional advice to Americans?” to the above, and I wouldn’t have a good response to that.

      • “There’s some religious stuff about two people becoming one”

        Also Anglo-American common law, at least in the 18th century and I think for a fair while thereafter:

        “In law, husband and wife are one person, and that person is the husband.” (Blackstone, possibly not verbatim)

        Not entirely a disadvantage for the wife. If husband and wife jointly committed a crime, only the husband was liable, since the wife obviously had had to obey him.

        • Peter says:

          For a fair while after: it seems according to Wikipedia that Married Women’s Property acts sprung up in the US in 1839 and in the UK in 1870 – alas, the UK can’t be ahead of the curve on everything it seems.

          There was a case of an echo of the criminal liability thing a few years back in the UK: Chris Huhne (a politician) got caught speeding – presumably by a camera – and he and his wife (Vicky Pryce) conspired to claim that she was the one who was driving at the time, and to take the penalty points. Years later they got divorced, and she mentioned that this had happened – they both got tried for perverting the course of justice. She tried using a defense of “marital coercion” – unsuccessfully.

          Apparently said defense had been dormant in practise for a long time, but the Huhne and Pryce case prompted people to actually get around to legislating to get rid of it.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      I don’t see the rationale behind Terms Limits to begin with. If We The People want to elect FDR a fifth time, then by-golly let’s put him in office again. Term Limits just enable the POTUS to go apeshit during their last term. If this bug is actually a feature, I’m missing it.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        The problem is authoritarianism, cult of personality, dictatorship. It’s not right when a single person has been the leader for 16 or 20 years, with adults having grown up knowing no one other than the Fearless Leader.

        Under FDR, the outlook didn’t look so hot to many people. That’s why they decided: we’ll let this one slide, but never again.

        Look at the track record of other countries. Look at Russia with Putin circumventing term limits.

        Also, presidents don’t really “go apeshit” during their last term.

        • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

          By “go apeshit”, I’m referring to the phenomenon where presidents do things “they wouldn’t normally do” during their last months in office in order to improve the valence of their historical legacy. Unnecessarily-hyperbolic diction, I’ll admit.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I was aware that you were exaggerating for rhetorical effect, but they don’t really do things in their last months that are particularly out-of-character.

            Bill Clinton pardoned a lot of people, I guess? That’s pretty minor.

          • stillnotking says:

            I think there’s some value in enabling presidents to care less about politics in their second terms. It’s a pretty minor effect overall — they still have to think about their legacy and the fortunes of their party — but it gives some space for controversial pardons and the like, which I see as a net positive.

          • Jiro says:

            It also gave us Obama wanting guns to be banned for people on the no-fly list.

      • null says:

        Incumbents have a very big advantage most of the time. Term limits are seen as a way to get around this, and also to change up who’s in government to try and decrease corruption or something.

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s a “protect people from themselves” kind of thing, you may not agree with it, either from a values perspective (“Democracy is Awesome”) or a practical one (“It’s not that big a deal, and really, if you look at what we have now, wouldn’t you prefer Obama again to any of the clowns that are running?”), but the intent is pretty clear: To prevent prospective charismatic leaders from perpetuating themselves indefinitely.

      • onyomi says:

        I was going to point out the obvious preference voters (who, by and large, are rationally ignorant of politics and who therefore fail to educate themselves on the issues at stake in an election, especially as offered by a new candidate) show for incumbents as an indication that they are likely to choose consistency over quality, but now I’m thinking that may not necessarily mean they are wrong.

        Beyond just preferring incumbents, I think history shows that voters usually prefer a mediocre consistency to trying anything new. Especially if one views the government, as I and many libertarians do, as largely a force which the private sector must work around, the worst government, ironically, may not be one which maintains a consistently, predictably bad policy regime, but one which constantly changes. Arguably the most destructive aspect of even the worst regimes like the USSR, Maoist China and the DPRK is the constant trying out of new schemes each time the old ones fail and black and grey markets start filling in the cracks.

        Though I think he’s been better than his predecessor in a few ways (not saying much), I’m not sad about the idea of seeing Obama go; in fact, I’m kind of excited to see something different, if potentially crazy happen, and the idea of Obama being able to run for a third term seems superficially awful to me.

        But thinking about it from what I think is the more genuinely libertarian perspective, in which politics really shouldn’t play a big role in daily life and should be boring and predictable, it is not at all clear to me that term limits are, in fact, a good thing, though I do think they may tend to limit executive power in a useful way.

        (I guess the test of that is how much disruption FDR, the only 3.5-term president and also, imo, one of the most obvious demagogue-approaching-dictator figures in US history, really caused in his later terms; of course there was WWII, which probably(?) most hypothetical other US presidents would have gotten us involved in anyway, but other than that, he did most of his crazy domestic stuff in his first term… the more contemporary test is, I think, a thought experiment in which the very charismatic and well-liked Bill Clinton never left office. Would the US be better today if Clinton had never left office? Doesn’t seem entirely implausible; in fact, I’d judge it as more likely than not).

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ onyomi
          Would the US be better today if Clinton had never left office? Doesn’t seem entirely implausible; in fact, I’d judge it as more likely than not).

          Yep. That’s why I’m voting for Billary’s third term.

  12. Deiseach says:

    Was it something I said, Elon? You make one little criticism that you don’t think the guy is the Second Coming of the Technological Saviour, and he refuses to sell to your home country 🙂

    The firm’s definite “no” to selling its cars directly into the Irish market has mellowed slightly. For now, if you want a Tesla in Ireland you will have to buy it in the UK, in sterling, import it privately and pay the appropriate VAT and VRT.

    Tesla still has no plans to open up shop here, but the fact it has brought over its UK demo fleet is a positive sign.

    So for now we Paddies will just have to keep on going with our polluting old petrol and diesel cars, buses, lorries, vans and trucks!

  13. Anti-Semitism being so very much less in the US than in Europe strikes me as a remarkable achievement of reducing both personal and institutional bigotry. Any thoughts about how it happened, and whether there are lessons for getting more decency for other groups? Any other comparable historical improvements?

    I was tempted to post about this in an SJ venue, and I want credit for not trolling. Also, I’m very grateful to Scott and the commenting community for there being a place where this can be discussed.

    • Deiseach says:

      Quick, ignorant, in no way based on anything other than off the top of my head:

      (a) The USA is located in a continent of its own. There is a lot more space. Europe/Middle East was older, crowded together, and with a lot more history of bad blood.

      (b) The Jews were just one more immigrant group. They certainly could be discriminated against, but the nativist parties were also busy discriminating against Catholics, the Irish, non-“white” immigrants like Italians (dagoes!), Spanish and Portuguese (spics!), Eastern Europeans, former and current slaves, Native Americans, etc. So Jews were not one convenient easy target, they were one more element being assimilated into the melting pot.

      (c) A lot of immigrant Jews were from Eastern Europe and looked white (I know there’s been discussion about “Jews are not white” by social justice types; one instance I’ve seen was a Tumblr poster who was as milk bottle white in complexion as I am and has blue eyes and light brown hair. To be fair, they’re very young and going through a lot of identity crisis, so their Jewish Middle-European immigrant heritage was just one more part of the “I am not part of the mainstream, I am one of the oppressed minority groups and just because I can pass for white doesn’t mean I have privilege” ammunition they were using in their arguments). My opinion on that is “Of course Jews are white (the Semitic peoples are in the Caucasian grouping), but if you mean White as in WASP, then no, they were outside what was considered the mainstream of social and political influence. Though so were other groups and, like those, Jews have broken through to attain that (first Catholic president, then first black president, now maybe first Jewish president?)”

      So they dressed funny, had a weird accent and didn’t talk the English so good? Just like the Poles, Czechs, Swedes, etc. etc. etc. in the other national ethnic neighbourhoods.

      (d) Conscious effort, particularly post-Second World War, to reduce anti-Semitism by various parties both Jewish and non-Jewish.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        the Semitic peoples are in the Caucasian grouping

        Let me take this opportunity to say: I never cease to be amused that “Caucasian” is used as a synonym for “white”, in the Western world — given the origin of the term:

        “Caucasian variety—I have taken the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus, both because its neighborhood, and especially its southern slope, produces the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgian; and because all physiological reasons converge to this, that in that region, if anywhere, it seems we ought with the greatest probability to place the autochthones (original members) of mankind.”

        “By the early nineteenth century, Circassians were associated with theories of racial hierarchy, which elevated the Caucasus region as the source of the purest examples of the “white race”, which was named the Caucasian race after the area by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. Blumenbach theorised that the Circassians were the closest to God’s original model of humanity, and thus “the purest and most beautiful whites were the Circassians”.”

        (The irony is that, in the non-English-speaking world, people from the Caucasus are most emphatically not considered to be “white”.)

        • Protagoras says:

          One or two centuries ago, “aryan” and “indo-european” were virtually indistinguishable, and “caucasian” seems to have evolved to be the replacement for “aryan.” And it has become standard to think of “caucasian” as being about race and “indo-european” as being about language, while a century or two ago people rarely bothered with such distinctions between language, race and culture (they were generally assumed to go together for the most part). All of them refer to the language, culture, and people descended from the proto-indo-europeans who invaded and took over large parts of Europe and northern India in ancient times, and which were presumed to have therefore originated somewhere in between (and the caucasus region is in between). Almost everyone realized that this very broad group included people who weren’t all that white; I believe the usual racist theory was that the earliest proto-indo-europeans were very white, and their descendants in India (and those who remained in the caucasus) did more mixing with other populations than those who moved to Europe. Which is nonsense, but not exactly the same nonsense that you propose.

          • Nita says:

            Well, it seems that when Blumenbach (who popularized the “Caucasian” term) wrote “the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgian”, he was referring to the actual Georgians of his time, not the theorized proto-Georgians.

            On the other hand, Wikipedia says that he was really non-racist, even anti-racist, for his time.

            And yes, some modern Russians see Caucasians, including Georgians, as “dark” and shady.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            As the dates given in Said’s link makes clear, Caucasian has been around for just as long as Aryan. It was not a synonym, but a much broader term encompassing not just speakers of Indo-European languages, but speakers of Semitic and Hamitic languages and, I think, all Indians, including Dravidians and the hypothetical pre-Aryan inhabitants of India (although I can’t find an old source that clearly addresses this, one way or another).

            And that is what it continued to mean in US government usage up until the 80s, at which point Indians were declared to be Asian.

            It is true that people nervous about the word White (not the word Aryan) have adopted Caucasian as an official- and clinical-sounding word. But most whites have never given any thought to the question of whether they should consider Arabs to be White.

          • Psmith says:

            “Georgians are almost always depicted as stupid, greedy, hot-blooded, or sexually addicted, and in some cases, all four at the same time. A very loud and theatrical Georgian accent, including grammatical errors considered typical of Georgians, and occasional Georgian words are considered funny to imitate in Russian and often becomes a joke in itself.”
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_jokes#Georgians

          • ChetC3 says:

            The other part of this is that “christian” used to be virtually synonymous with “white”.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Douglas Knight:

            It is true that people nervous about the word White (not the word Aryan) have adopted Caucasian as an official- and clinical-sounding word. But most whites have never given any thought to the question of whether they should consider Arabs to be White.

            Quite. Although I have had experiences where some (white) Americans consider me to be white, until they learn my name (I go by a more Western-sounding sort-of-nickname in some social contexts). I’m not sure what to make of that, honestly.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            @ChetC3

            There were significant Christian populations in Ethiopia and under Muslim rule in the middle east in northern Africa (Disputes in early Christendom led to North African religious leaders having diminished authority, but they were still there). Similarly there was enough Christians in the Mongol Empire that at least two notable Khans (Ghenghis and Hulagu) had Nestorian wives, while Hulagu’s mother was also a Nestorian.

            There are also the legends of Saint Thomas spreading Christianity as far as India. I am not sure how far and how deeply it took hold.

          • ChetC3 says:

            There were significant Christian populations in Ethiopia and under Muslim rule in the middle east in northern Africa (Disputes in early Christendom led to North African religious leaders having diminished authority, but they were still there). Similarly there was enough Christians in the Mongol Empire that at least two notable Khans (Ghenghis and Hulagu) had Nestorian wives, while Hulagu’s mother was also a Nestorian

            Sure, but I was referring to the tendency of Europeans of the time to use the terms as if they were synonyms.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            @ChetC3 Not a historian (History Enthusiast), but that sounds unlikely to me. During the Roman period the empires influence was skewed eastward and they would have know the residents of N. Africa and the Levant were Christians. Following the breakup of the empire there were struggles with the pagan Germanic tribes. Additionally Roland the (largely apochryphal) Paladin was stated to have been raised a Muslim and converted. Similarly a large portion of military conflict was in the Baltic crusades against Slavs and Finns. Finally there was knowledge that Ghenghis Khan was at least sympathetic to Christianity and the French attempted an alliance with him. It really did seem as though Religion overwhelmingly dominated ethnic concerns.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            http://imperialglobalexeter.com/2016/01/06/conquerors-how-portugal-seized-the-indian-ocean-and-forged-the-first-global-empire/

            Mentions how the Portugese originally thought the Indians were Christians (Khrisna!) and brought along clergy to correct their religious errors. So yeah, race was massively trumped by religion which was trumped by “the foreigners are plotting against us!”

      • arbitrary_greay says:

        Based on the Tumblrs I’ve visited with an axe to grind about the topic, Deiseach’s point c) plays a large role.

        They point to the whitewashing/erasure of Jewishness (such as the widespread use of “Judeo-Christian” descriptor) as the US’s form of anti-Semitic microaggression, as well as the sedative used to have Americans not really care about the anti-Semitism happening internationally.
        In America, their concerns have a similarity to the distress Asian Americans have over their cultural invisibility, the level to which their stuff is culturally appropriated, etc. The root of which is that those cultures have been deemed “harmless” by the majority. They’re honorary whites, and in the case of many Jews, subsumed into the white identity.

        One of the aims of those Tumblrs is to reclaim Jewish identity as a separate thing from being seen as a part of the oppressive white majority. Passing is no longer considered a gift. (How that will impact anti-Semitism in the US, I have no idea. But as it is Tumblr, they’re speaking to an international audience, as well.)

        • brad says:

          I believe you that this exists on tumblr, but I’m Jewish, live in the most Jewish city in America, know lots and lots of Jews, and I’ve never heard anyone claim not to be white because they were Jewish. Not even Sephardic Jews. Sometimes you’ll hear that Jews didn’t use to be considered white (ditto Irish) but that’s a different thing.

          I have seen, and gotten a little annoyed by, a similar phenomenon among those of clearly Spanish (not mestizo) decent going on and on about being a minority.

          In terms of people’s attitudes towards “cultural appropriation” it’s a mixed bag, but by and large I think people are amused and a little flattered when they hear yiddish from an unlikely source, for example.

        • Anonymous says:

          Much like brad, I though the “white passing” thing was a meme made up by /pol/. My experience with jewish people is similar, but I live in a country were people play up their whiteness, rather than the other way around.

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            @brad, anon
            Yes, I made the comment to point out that even SJ Tumblr has noticed how much Jews tend to be subsumed into white America. Anti-semitism in America is down because they’re not sufficiently alienated from the majority anymore. Not a target worth noticing to target.

            The other stuff was just leakage of my frustrations with the rhetoric I was reading on those blogs. From the “lack of overt anti-semitism is good” standpoint, passing is good.
            From other standpoints, (“erasure is a form of anti-semitism”) the cultural diversity is lost (coopted by the oppressive PTB) by passing, and is thus bad.

            For example, some anti-semitism was religiously motivated. But once “Judeo-Christian” defused that by grouping them as allies, that lane of attack substantially decreased. But now there are some frustrated with the way they see “Judeo-Christian” as just another form of Jewish erasure, reinforcing Christian dominance.

        • trogg says:

          Any reason why you dont link to an example?

    • Jaskologist says:

      Evangelicals believe that God loves the Jews. Therefore, they love the Jews, too.

      The re-establishment of Israel probably played a role there in reviving this bit of theology, since it was a fulfillment of prophecy and served as a reminder that God is not done with the Jewish nation.

    • TheAltar says:

      There could be an element involved of the out-groups that get picked on in the United States are often being associated with being poor and regarded as lacking competence (which is then linked to laziness and some sort of associated immorality). I don’t know much about Anti-Semitism, but the generalizations I’ve heard about Jewish people were never attached to being poor or lacking competence. It’s usually the exact opposite. Perhaps America just likes hating different things?

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Modern anti-Semitism is often of the “Jews steal our money and run the world” kind, but in early 20th century USA most Jews were poor immigrants and hence were stereotyped as lazy, criminal etc. (and also as being skilled at basketball).

    • Frog Do says:

      There’s a historic African-American position that Jews consciously stoked racial conflict between white and black to distract from Anglo vs Jew, for a pessimistic take.

    • BBA says:

      In most of the world national identity is tied up with ethnicity, religion, etc., in a way that it really isn’t in the US. After three generations in America, my family is clearly American; my ancestors spent countless generations before then in Russia and Poland, but never became Russian or Polish because they were Jews. Antisemitism fades away if Jews aren’t seen as foreigners but as your countrymen.

      More cynically, and I’m not sure how much I believe this: Jews were allowed to become white because we weren’t black. It happened before with Irish and Italian immigrants, it’s happening again with Asians and it’s likely to happen with Hispanics.

    • Sarah says:

      My best guess is that it’s about WWII.

      During the period of high immigration Deiseach mentions (the early 20th century), there was plenty of anti-Semitism in the US, as evidenced by university quotas, Father Coughlin, name changes, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1939/01/i-married-a-jew/306262/, etc.

      My guess is that, after having won the war, and decisively established that Hitler was the Most Evil Person, anti-Semitism was something the US associated with murderous dictators. (Then again, I’m not sure why this wouldn’t equally apply to the UK; it just empirically doesn’t. English people will still call something “Jewish” if it’s a lousy deal. They have Christian school prayer by default. It really *is* different there.)

      I also think the decline of US anti-Semitism was gradual.

      By the 60’s or so, being anti-Semitic was considered inappropriate among liberals, but you’ll still see anti-Semitic comments e.g. from Southern segregationists against Jewish Freedom Riders.

      By 1990, US anti-Semitism was *not a thing* to the point that “In a 2006 editorial, Gideon Rachman (The Economist, the Financial Times) recalled interviewing Duke’s 1990 campaign manager, who said, “The Jews just aren’t a big issue in Louisiana. We keep telling David, stick to attacking the blacks. There’s no point in going after the Jews, you just piss them off and nobody here cares about them anyway.”[62]

      But we still had soft anti-Jewish admissions discrimination at my alma mater of Princeton, well into the 90’s. (They required photos back then, and the admissions dean personally approved all applications, and was reputed to pick pretty girls and avoid Jews.)

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Here is a time series of Jewish representation at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

      • I have a notion that part of what happened (possibly related to revulsion at the Holocaust) is that American Protestants decided to distinguish themselves from Catholics by being more pro-Jewish– with Judaism being seen as more like early Christianity instead of having a bunch of Catholic stuff mixed in.

        The other route (more common in Europe?) is for Protestants to distinguish themselves from Catholics by being more anti-Semitic.

        However, this is guesswork about the motivations of a lot of people from a somewhat different sub-culture, so I’m not sure I’m right.

  14. Given the high incidence of divorce it would seem wise to have a prenuptial agreement to simply its resolution. Anyone have any ideas for a simple effective prenup or want to comment on their effectiveness. Seems harder that at first glance.

    • Publius Varinius says:

      Prenups are not very effective for simplifying the divorce process. For example, prenups are summarily deemed unenforcable if there are any children affected by the divorce proceedings.

      Another thing: due to the court’s ability to declare unconscionability, prenups are not effective for protecting assets either. The prenup is likely to be voided as soon as there is any significant disagreement on who should get what.

      Things are a lot worse in the UK, and marginally better in civil law countries. Recommended reading:
      http://www.theguardian.com/law/radmacher-divorce-case

      — If you want legal advice, go ask your lawyer. I am not your lawyer.

    • Mary says:

      Well, they appear to be very effective in causing divorce. I’ve heard of lawyers advocating for them that admit that, every time, the pre-nup was needed.

      (I have heard of one where it wasn’t. But then, it was the marriage of an elderly widow and widower who were arranging that after their deaths, their substantial assets would go to their own children.)

      • Anonymous says:

        Any particular reason for this direction of causality? I would expect that it’s the reverse, that high divorce risk causes prenups. If divorce risk were small, or if divorce law were sane, I expect the prevalence of prenuptial agreements would be low.

        • Mary says:

          Because the rate of divorce is not actually that high. Even the 50% figure you see touted, which is very bad statistics, would expect some success.

          Also, it’s easy to see that if you are already considering divorce while still engaged, you have, if not one foot out the door, already have your eye on it.

          • Nornagest says:

            “Trust, but verify.” Or any one of several aphorisms along those lines.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nornagest:

            That saying is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

            If you have to verify what someone says, it means you don’t trust him to be telling the truth.

            Of course, the actual meaning is something like: trust people to some extent but not completely.

          • Nita says:

            @ Vox Imperatoris

            It’s a saying with a purpose, not a logical proposition with a truth value. The purpose is to avoid the tension inherent in talking about trust.

            — Don’t you trust me?
            — Oh, I do! I totally do. But you know what they say, haha.

            Also, the original is far better because it rhymes. It makes you smile, which dissolves the tension 🙂

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nita:

            Of course. I don’t disagree with anything you said, and I recognize the purpose and humor of the saying. Doverai, no proverai.

            I’m just pointing out that the real meaning is: don’t actually trust people 100%.

          • J Mann says:

            @Vox

            I think you could interepret “trust, but verify” to mean “verify even when you do trust, so that verification isn’t offensive.”

            For example, I always cut the cards, even when I do trust the person dealing, so that I don’t have to start cutting when I’m suspicious, and I always put on my seat belt in the rear seat so that I don’t embarrass the driver by suddenly putting on the belt mid-drive if I notice a close call.

            Of course, that doesn’t work very well for marriages: “I ask all my fiances to sign a pre-nup so that I don’t embarrass the ones who I don’t trust!” (I guess the lawyer could say that she requires all of her clients to discuss one for that reason, if she typically represented the richer party.)

    • Deiseach says:

      I think that if one party has sufficient amount of assets that a pre-nup makes sense, should a divorce ever happen it will be in the interest of the second party to try and get that set aside and get a bigger share than the initial agreement.

      Nobody is really going to fight over “I demand a bigger share of the five hundred quid in your post office savings account”, but if we’re talking hundred of millions in shares, property, Swiss bank accounts etc? Well worth going to go to court and try to get a bigger slice of the pie!

      So I don’t think pre-nups really do you any good, unless there are a roughly equal amount of assets on both sides and it is confined to “if we split up we both take what we brought into the marriage with us”.

      • Anonymous says:

        Is there any way to use a prenup to decrease divorce risk, you think? As opposed to mitigating the damage.

        • Mary says:

          I doubt it. Any such provisions would doubtlessly be deemed unconscionable.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Prenuptial agreements are not as unenforceable as the popular stereotype suggests. It varies by state, but they can be pretty powerful.

            You’re right that there is nevertheless something inescapably fishy about them. I couldn’t see myself personally making one.

          • Anonymous says:

            We have a lot of armchair experts that don’t know what they are talking about on here. You can tell immediately because nowhere in their posts do you see the phrase “it depends on the state.”

          • Anonymous says:

            You must be feeling kind of silly right now.

          • Anonymous says:

            Not really. Though the timing was unfortunate, it still applies to Mary and Publius.

          • Mary says:

            Are there any states in which the divorce court judge would not throw out such clauses as unconscionable?

            Remember we are not discussing pre-nups in general but ones written to decrease divorce risk.

            For the clause “it depends on the state” to be correct, it would have to, in fact, depend on the state.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yes. There are plenty of states where a filer penalty would be upheld at least under some circumstances. Ditto for infidelity clauses and a range of other clauses. Unconscionabilty is a high bar in most jurisdictions and tends to require both procedural and substantive unfairness.

        • Deiseach says:

          s there any way to use a prenup to decrease divorce risk, you think?

          As in “if we divorce within five years, you only get X amount of assets”, you mean? I’m too lazy to Google it right now, but I have a hazy notion there were cases like that (or at least one) and it didn’t work.

          I could be imagining that, though.

  15. anonymous user says:

    As a result of a Department of Justice investigation, it’s now mandatory for students at my University to undergo ‘bystander intervention training’ for the purpose of preventing sexual assault. Training to teach safe drinking behaviors, rudiments of self defense, etc was proposed, but ultimately dismissed because it was a form of ‘victim blaming.’

    Since the Rationalist community is a crowdsourced search engine, I thought I’d ask here if there are any good studies or papers on the actual effectiveness of either of these types of intervention

    • Odoacer says:

      Slightly off topic: When I was younger and dumber I found it very difficult to know when to step in in a potential sexual assault situation and when to not. I thought that way because I was against sexual assault/rape*/men taking advantage of women, but I was also beholden to the idea that it was wrong as a man to be so sexist/patriarchal/misogynistic to assume to know what was best for a woman. Maybe she wants to just get drunk and go home with a stranger/acquaintance. Who am I to judge her? I thought, from reading a lot of online feminist works, that I should never stop a woman from doing something she chooses to do. Sure, if she called for help or was actively being raped/violently groped or is passed out completely, then yes I should help her but in any other situation, I shouldn’t involve myself, because I don’t know her state of mind and will. I no longer think that way.

      *I still am that part.

      • Nita says:

        A young friend of mine once had a little too much vodka at a party. (Inexperienced drinkers often don’t know how much they can have safely.) They did not pass out, but they did have to be practically carried home. And prior to losing control of their limbs, they gradually lost control of their speech and actions. (Most of it happened when they had already stopped drinking.)

        Were we wrong to keep an eye on them and make sure they got home safely? After all, who are we to interfere with a man’s freedom? (None of us were related to him or sleeping with him.)

        • John Schilling says:

          His being a man meant you were not at risk of being accused of rape when you carted him off to places unknown; that is part of the down side Mark was talking about.

          Also, it sounds like you didn’t so much stop him from doing something stupid as watch over him until he stopped doing much of anything and then carry him home. That’s safer, but much more labor-intensive.

    • Adam says:

      Only place I could think to look is the US military if they’ve published anything. They’ve been pushing this basic thing for maybe six years or so, getting soldiers to look for signs that someone is vulnerable to sexual assault and stepping in, though geared to groups of actual friends, not intervening by guessing at what strangers are up to. If assault rates have actually gone down, I’d expect that to be publicized, but of course there are all kinds of confounders that make it nearly impossible to draw a solid conclusion about what actually caused it. It’s been a huge push, though. I believe at one point the Secretary of the Army said it was more important to reduce assault rates than it was to win in Afghanistan (which sounds ridiculous on the surface, but charitably, he means it’s important to maintain long-term public trust in the military as an institution of basic integrity).

  16. Mika says:

    As someone who works in the field of mental health I would be very interested in your take on this book https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/cargo-cult-psychology/

  17. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Here in [Left Coast City], I’ve noticed that since some time last year, all the party invitations I’m getting from leftist casual friends specify “no alcohol allowed.” Has anyone else noticed a new wave of dry progressives? It seems a logical consequence of their passion for promiscuity combined with the feminist doctrine that women can’t consent after ingesting alcohol, yet it’s something I’d never seen until recently.

    • Nornagest says:

      Left Coast, never seen it. Maybe you just have weird friends.

      ETA: Wait, no, I have seen it, but only for parties where unaccompanied children are expected to be present — which I don’t think is what you’re talking about?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Nope. I’m talking about parties where everyone is 18+ and it’s understood that casual sex may happen (but never actually does, unless people are being super-discreet).

    • Adam says:

      Yeah, never seen that either. Of course, I live in Texas, but I do still go back and visit LA every now and again. Hollywood may be a hotbed of ridiculous political views, but it sure as shit isn’t full of people I would ever call “dry.”

    • onyomi says:

      That sounds awful. I think you need to ostracize these friends to prevent contagion.

    • anon says:

      Prohibition was originally (sort of) a creature of the left

    • Dahlen says:

      Leftists specifically? Not rationalists? Because I’d sort of understand why someone who’s big on life optimization and being healthy and making good choices and not killing precious brain cells would want to avoid an alcohol habit, but that’s not the closest descriptor for “leftists”…

      Dunno, maybe it loosens their tongue and politically incorrect jokes slip by.

      Question, what’s their attitude on smoking, esp. of weed?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        No, definitely not rationalists. I have no face-to-face rationalist friends, unless you count a loved one who’s a raging Leibniz fan. 🙂
        This is a circle I’ve fallen in with through shared interests that could be apolitical, but it turns out nothing ever is. Think urban nerds in their 20s or early 30s who generally have a bachelors.

    • BBA says:

      I wonder if there’s a recovering alcoholic in your extended social circle, and the parties are going dry out of respect.

    • Zorgon says:

      May be unconnected, but I’ve noticed that the University-age people I spend time with have become increasingly teetotal over the last 10 years. At the moment most society meetings are dry despite being held in a pub, with a couple of notable and (dis)honourable exceptions.

  18. null says:

    Observation about Scott’s banning the word commonly used to refer to monarchists around here: instead of Taboo, we got Whack-a-Mole.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’ll call it Whack-A-Mole when more than one mole gets whacked.

      That said, it clearly didn’t do what Scott wanted it to do. I think this is mostly because Scott wanted something unrealistic: he wanted us to stop talking about Death Eaters and start talking about monarchists or traditionalists or the far right, but by and large the banned words weren’t being used to talk about monarchists or traditionalists or (aside from a few mindkilled or confused people) the far right, they were being used to talk about the weird little online movement that has a lot of membership overlap with SSC. So everyone just moved to euphemisms instead.

      He may have had a point about the emotional loading, but people are pretty good at transferring emotional loading between phrases.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        As an traditionalist who thinks Yarvin is an obscure godless racist wannabe technocrat, I support Scott’s thinking as you expressed it.

        • if there were 25 hours in a day i'd work 'em all says:

          Yarvin is a troll above all things, and must be read in this knowledge.

      • Peter says:

        I think there might be some beneficial effect; before the taboo, people here seemed more keen on ascribing all sorts of views to the malign influence of You Know Who, or suggesting that such-and-such a view is an Original-Red-Pill-Guy-Goes-Whoah-Ary view or whatever; a sort of vague but big dark miasma hanging over the whole of culture maybe, a heresy to be tracked down vigourously and rooted out pointed out semi-politely because this is SSC after all. This seems to be happening less these days, people seem to be using the euphemisms to talk about the actual group of people that includes Yarvin, Land et al.

        OK, it’s a very vague impression.

      • arbitrary_greay says:

        Content quality of threads that mention the movement has certainly improved since the ban. They actually discuss ideas and results and efficacy! (Even when discussing within the context of culture wars!) Much more educational and interesting, as someone who doesn’t have much skin in the game.

        Giant tedious definition-war threads have switched to endless red/blue/grey categorization instead.

        (And I think the term itself does do it. Leftist articles about the movement are completely useless, because they tend to engage with it in storytelling terms, focused on the people involved as characters, instead of as a shorthand for ideas. It’s the same frustrating dismissal that gets all Rationality dismissed as Cult of Yudkowsky, instead of talking about the various concepts underneath the umbrella of the term. They may have interest value as historical/cultural examinations of the figures discussed, but they’re so, so useless as a means to discuss what parts of the ideology are truth/bunk, and what we can do with those truths/mitigate damages of the bunk. Because those don’t make for a good story, which the Capital Letter Name evokes. Basically, what Peter says above.)

        • ChetC3 says:

          Leftist articles about the movement are completely useless, because they tend to engage with it in storytelling terms, focused on the people involved as characters, instead of as a shorthand for ideas.

          What ideas? Most of what I’ve seen from them has been either standard criticisms of the status-quo or well-worn right-wing tropes about the liberal media and marxist professors. The only part that seems new is the twee jargon.

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            Even if that is the case, you wouldn’t know it from reading aforementioned articles. Not even the obvious “Feminism solves this!”

            Granted, this is mostly because most leftists have never heard of the movement, which means aforementioned articles are written by people who aren’t exactly your standard leftist. And they tend to have more idiosyncratic non-discussion-based writing styles.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      The fact that Scott has not rescinded the taboo despite the complete and obvious failure of his policy is making me suspect that something else is going on. My current theory is that Scott’s real purpose is to improve his optics by reducing the association between his blog and Death Eaters. Banning the term affects Google searches and Ctrl+F searches, which impedes third parties from casually looking for out of context quotes but allows regulars to continue discussing novo-regressivism with creative euphemisms.

      • onyomi says:

        Maybe he literally just doesn’t want his blog coming up when people google the term.

      • Nornagest says:

        You’re probably right.

      • Theo Jones says:

        More than people associating his name with that movement, or misbehavior from regular readers, I think his worry is that this issue is magnetic to terrible people.

        About a month ago there was a Darkactionment enlightenary type who singled out a offhand comment made in a SSC thread by Scott, and amplified it as wide as possible with an explicitly stated goal of provoking trouble between Scott and others.

        And then there are the people on the other side who take any attempt to understand or discuss the Darkactionment enlightenary viewpoint as equivalent to agreement with it. Agreement that deserves personal consequences.

        And then there have been incidents where people have deep-trawled comments here to look for juicy culture war stuff to amplify.

        Scott rightfully wants to keep clear of those types.

        • anonymous says:

          “About a month ago there was a Darkactionment enlightenary type who singled out a offhand comment made in a SSC thread by Scott, and amplified it as wide as possible with an explicitly stated goal of provoking trouble between Scott and others.

          Scott rightfully wants to keep clear of those types.”

          Oh, you mean the comment where Scott basically admits that the worldview that shall not be named is right but then chooses to draw no conclusions from that fact?

          Scott wants to keep his communist tumblr friends. He’s much more honest on tumblr than he is here.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          What, you mean Spandrell’s “Picking Sides”? I think you’re taking a rhetorical framing device too seriously.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        You only think that the failure is obvious because you read the comments. Scott doesn’t.

        If it were for the reason you suggest, why wouldn’t he say so? He gave that reason on another occasion.

    • anon says:

      Well, I personally think it’s a really stupid rule, so I’ve been doing my best to obey the letter while flouting the spirit as obviously as possible

    • J Mann says:

      My main suggestion would be adding the taboo to the commenting policy, so that sporadic readers can figure out what is tabooed.

      I honestly thought Gamergate was tabooed, not the political theory associated with Mencius Moldbug, so thanks for the link!

      • Nornagest says:

        Well, you’re not exactly wrong. There was some concern a while back that mentioning l’affaire du reproductively viable worker ants would cause the people prosecuting one side or another of that fight to show up via Google searches and start causing trouble, as had been known to happen. But the controversy seems to have died down to a dull roar, so I doubt that’s worth worrying about anymore.

        I still use euphemisms in the rare cases where I have a reason to talk about it, but only because they’re more fun to type.

      • Jiro says:

        Gamergate isn’t actually tabooed, but people do often refer to the ants or some other euphemism to prevent it from coming up in web searches.

        • EyeballFrog says:

          Oh, I thought it actually was banned because of people talking about ants. Given that Gamergate is pretty much past its acute phase and has fully transitioned to its chronic phase, it seems relatively safe to talk about.

          • EyeballFrog says:

            Just to clarify, by “talk about” I mean “refer to by name instead of euphemism”. I’m not suggesting we have an actual conversation about it here.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Rationalist Taboo doesn’t work, but it ESPECIALLY doesn’t work when it’s forced on people. Scott’s not an idiot, he should be able to see this. My suspicion is similar to jaime’s: the purpose of the ban was not to improve discourse but to help keep us from embarrassing him in front of his tumblr commie friends.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Scott Alexander doesn’t know what he’s doing; he knows exactly what he’s doing!

      • Anonymous says:

        I get that impression too, but then, so what? It’s not like he’s actually banning the discussion and he’s gotten a lot better about givin warnings rather than autobanning people recently.

        It seems like a lot of people (both left and right) assume Scott is some sort of closet Reactionary/Conservative. But maybe he is, in fact, a liberal that likes liberal things and wants to be friends with other liberals (for whatever reason).

        • suntzuanime says:

          Well, if this theory is accurate, he is being dishonest both towards us and towards his commie tumblr friends. I know you do not care much for intellectual honesty, but many people do.

        • null says:

          He’s a liberal, but he tends to accept the conservatives’ framing of reality a lot more than most liberals.

        • anonymous says:

          It’s the oldest story in the book. Liberal hits thirty. Decides he wants to strike it rich.

          “Usually, as I say, there is nothing but industrialists, businessmen and speculators concealed behind all these masks.”

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            This anon is trying as hard as he can to get the handle banned.

          • BBA says:

            Funny, last year I hit 30 and struck it rich, and I think I’m more liberal now than I was as a naive student living off my parents.

            Probably it’s that I was surrounded by liberals then, I’m surrounded by conservatives now, and I’m just naturally contrarian.

      • anon says:

        Weird that people bring up his ‘tumblr commie friends’ right after he just blocked a bunch of tumblr commies and is currently engaged in multiple arguments about why he thinks communism is awful

        • TD says:

          People sufficiently far-right think social liberalism = communism (or more charitably; it’s a joke).

          • Frog Do says:

            No, these were mostly actual communists, or at least LARPing as them.

            (Not that LARPing is a useful term at all, since the difference is irrelavent.)

  19. Vox Imperatoris says:

    Great article that I’m surprised to see in the New Republic.

    The gist: looking at income inequality is stupid; we should look at spending inequality. Also, net marginal tax rates on the rich are really high, ~68%.

    Our system’s plethora of taxes and benefits—designed with a multitude of income and asset tests and with little regard to how they work as a whole—have left many households facing high to super high net marginal tax rates. These rates measure what a household gets to spend (in present value) over its remaining lifetime in exchange for earning more money now.

    For example, a typical 40-49 year-old in any of the bottom three quintiles (poor to middle class) of our resource distribution will only get to spend about 60 cents of every dollar he or she earns. For the richest 1 percent in that age group, it’s just 32 cents.

    We often hear critics of the tax system, such as billionaire Warren Buffett, suggest that the rich pay very little on average or at the margin in taxes. This reflects their omission of a long list of current and future taxes plus their failure to focus on lifetime spending.

  20. onyomi says:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/03/11/forget-what-the-right-says-academia-isnt-so-bad-for-conservative-professors/?postshare=7071457872803631&tid=ss_fb

    Summary: academia’s not so bad for conservatives! So long as they’re the right kind of conservative (hint, Silicon Valley-ish Grey Tribe, not Trump supporter), hide their conservative beliefs until they get tenure, and avoid departments and subfields like sociology, literature, and modern American history… imagine replacing the word “conservative” with “feminist” or “Muslim” and see how it sounds.

    Does make a good point, however, that eliminating tenure, which seems like something conservative commentators hostile to academia are more apt to argue for, might only make it even worse.

    • anon says:

      I personally think the case against tenure is pretty strong regardless of what eliminating it would do to the ideological composition of universities

      • onyomi says:

        What are the strong arguments in favor of eliminating tenure? Keep in mind that you will have raise professors’ pay or make due with inferior/fewer professors to compensate for taking away one of the major forms of compensation currently offered (high job security).

        • anonymous says:

          Strange to hear you sound like a union official. Yet, I know you’re libertarian when it comes to other people’s jobs.

          • Anonymous says:

            There’s nothing un-libertarian about unions.

          • onyomi says:

            Wow, this legion of anonymous is so awful. I hope Scott does something to crack down on this soon, though I also hope that doesn’t mean completely eliminating the ability to post anonymously.

            Also, yes, 1, there’s nothing inherently un-libertarian about unions, and 2, what I described was just basic economics. There’s nothing uniquely “union” about it.

          • Anonymous says:

            It does feel like a couple people decided to abuse the collective the moment it was founded.

        • brad says:

          If you have an enormous number of applicants per position, then you’d better make sure that a) the position has a very high or non-existence skill ceiling and b) you are very confident in your the efficacy of your selection procedures. If not, you should probably offer less compensation to cut down on the number of applicants.

          (Just thinking out loud here, I haven’t worked though to make sure it’s ironclad.)

          • onyomi says:

            By its nature, being a professor has an unlimited skill ceiling. You can always be a more effective teacher and/or produce more/better research.

            That said, I do think there is a bad mismatch right now between the number of people seeking to become professors and the number of available positions. This is made particularly unconscionable by the same programs which take on a lot of grad students rarely creating any new positions.

            As to how exactly the mismatch could be remedied there are a number of ways conceivable, though I don’t know which, if any, are practical.

            For my personal benefit and intellectual gratification, I’d just like to see more college money going into hiring new professors and less into hiring administrators and building fancy buildings/turning colleges into spas/summer camps for young adults. (In an extreme example of bad government programs not even providing the perks one might expect, even as government-subsidized student loans have skyrocketed, universities have somehow managed to hire fewer professors than in the past).

            In terms of society, I think too many people already go to college due to the signalling function, so we probably need fewer colleges and fewer grad students and fewer professors–unless we can shift the role of professor more toward that of researcher, though that would also require a shifting of societal values (I wish our society put a higher premium on interesting criticism of Asian literature, for example, but I can’t necessarily say it’s wrong not to, either).

          • brad says:

            I agree that professors have an unlimited skill ceiling, though I’m not sure about pure teachers. That was in there for completeness sake, as there are other jobs with people lining up to apply that don’t have particularly high skill ceilings (e.g. jobs in the public transit agency in my city). On the other hand, I’m far from certain that hiring in academia is a particularly efficient sorting mechanism.

            I also agree that we as a society are producing way way too many undergraduate-man-years but that in most fields either about right or not enough researcher-years. If I were king of the world, there would be a high school track that produced a broad liberal arts education, college would be mostly limited to pre-professors, and professional or other vocational training — law, medicine , and so on — programs would start immediately after college. Jobs that didn’t require specific, non-on-the-job training (i.e. most of them) would be applied to right out of high school. Subsidized research would be a completely separate issue with no requirement or expectation that those who are good at teaching are also those good at it or vice-versa.

            Finally, in response to the back and forth above with anonymous, I don’t think you post too much.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I just want to say that my initial reaction is totally the opposite: we’ve got way too many people producing useless papers and not enough good teachers.

          • onyomi says:

            @Brad, the idea about only teaching the very broad humanities thing to people who are on, esssentially, a pre-professor track seems a reasonable comprimise. Though research and teaching work synergistically (that is, one gets good research ideas teaching and it would also be a waste if would-be researchers had no opportunity of learning from the best researchers, who would, inevitably, be the ones who got the “research only” jobs), there is a big difference between training grad students and teaching undergrads who genuinely expect to use the information in their future and teaching people who are just there to fulfill a requirement, check a box, etc. so they can get back to the networking that is the real purpose of college for them.

        • anon says:

          The market is saturated with enough PhDs looking for academic jobs that you could eliminate tenure without reducing the quality or quantity of professors

          • onyomi says:

            No. Even if only say, the top 20% of tenure-seekers succeed right now, that doesn’t mean you could take 40% of a pool half as large and get the same result. Because the top 20% of a given pool will consist, on average, of stronger applicants (as judged by academia’s own standards, at least) than the top 40% of a pool half as large.

            This is evidenced by the (to me) infuriating fact that many senior professors currently making decisions about whom to hire for junior positions never could have gotten hired today with the qualifications they had when they got hired. Because the larger, more qualified applicant pool means you have to be stronger to get an equally good job. But you can’t make the job less desirable and fill the same number of jobs with equally qualified people, ceteris paribus.

          • anonymous says:

            ” Even if only say, the top 20% of tenure-seekers succeed right now,”

            What makes you think that the successful tenure-seekers are in the top 20% of the field?

            Academia mostly seems to select for dishonesty and progressivism.

          • null says:

            I was under the impression that STEM academia was still part of academia, unless of course we got kicked out and no one told us.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Obviously, math professors are selected for dishonesty and progressivism. /s

          • anonymous says:

            Let’s all play motte and bailey – that’s a fun game!

            You know damned well that we’re not discussing STEM and math professors.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s not clear to me that the discussion re: job supply doesn’t apply to STEM. At least, I’ve heard that STEM academia is oversupplied relative to tenure-track positions.

            And for that matter, there isn’t necessarily going to be a tight correlation between career success and quality of work in STEM academia, either. Progressivism wouldn’t matter as much, but talent for bullshit, ability to navigate bureaucracy, sensitivity to academic fashion, and compliance with unspoken standards all would.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Oversupply isn’t as bad in STEM because STEM doctorates are more useful for getting jobs in industry than humanities doctorates.

          • onyomi says:

            In the original comment I included the caveat:

            “(as judged by academia’s own standards, at least)”

            If it is true that the criterion for who gets tenure is the problem then that’s an entirely different problem which wouldn’t be solved by eliminating tenure. The irony is that most of the people advocating eliminating tenure tend to be kind of right-wing, but it isn’t left-wing ideas that currently need the protection of tenure to be expressed.

            Personally, being in the humanities myself, and just based on personal observation, the bigger problem is not dishonesty and progressivism being unduly rewarded, but femaleness, non-whiteness, and charisma being unduly rewarded. But those are all unduly rewarded in most fields in the US today.

            I wonder if the people in favor of quotas etc. to balance out the number of women and minorities in positions of authority would be as strongly in favor of such measures if they knew this was how it always works out: the old, white men who grew up with the actual privilege and who enjoyed actual advantages when starting up their career keep their jobs. Young white men who never had special advantages are not given a chance because the company needs to show how well-balanced it is.

            Of course, I’m sure many who think in terms of group power dynamics would be okay with even this, but I think we need to remember when we try to empower certain groups at the expense of others, we usually aren’t actually disempowering the individuals we think we are, but rather the least powerful members of the group deemed to be too powerful.

        • Mary says:

          the strong argument against tenure is that offering job security means that the job tends to attract those more interested that most in job security. This, in practice, discourages intellectual freedom.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            What? I’m not sure what you think the mechanism is there.

            Why are the people interested most in job security opposed to intellectual freedom? It seems like the people who are most willing to conform their opinions to whatever is demanded by the authorities ought to be least concerned about job security and simultaneously least likely to care about intellectual freedom.

            On the other hand, the conservative argument against tenure is that the university donors are more likely to be conservative than potential professors, so you make sure not to hire any liberal professors—but if one turns out to be a secret liberal promoting it in the classroom, you can fire him.

            For instance, there’s Francisco Marroquin University in Guatemala, which is explicitly founded with a pro-capitalist, pro-market position:

            More striking still is the UFM standard on academic freedom. Its faculty handbook recognizes the right of professors to teach “that which is contrary to [UFM’s] philosophy or its policies, as long as it is done elsewhere and under someone else’s auspices.” (My emphasis.) Thus Francisco Marroquín University openly upholds and enforces the right to decide the faculty and content for all of its courses in view of what it holds to be “true, false, useful or irrelevant.”

            Perhaps the most striking academic standard of all, though, is the UFM requirement that every student, whether of medicine, dentistry, law, education, theology, etc., take and pass courses on the economics and philosophies of Mises and Hayek, reading Spanish editions of such works as Human Action and The Road to Serfdom.

          • onyomi says:

            “you make sure not to hire any liberal professors—but if one turns out to be a secret liberal promoting it in the classroom, you can fire him.”

            These donors need to up their game, because if that’s their idea, they’re already failing miserably at the level where they could have an effect right now.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ onyomi:

            The idea is that they are doing a bad job of it because tenure is protecting liberal professors. Get rid of tenure, solve the problem.

            Even in the case of government universities, the population as a whole is more conservative than the professors. So conservatives say (or at least have often said in the past): get rid of tenure. We’re paying for this education; we shouldn’t have to pay for leftists to indoctrinate our kids and lead them to atheism and communism!

          • onyomi says:

            I’m saying that even within the current system, if they wanted more conservative professors, donors could get that by pressuring universities not to hire openly left-wing candidates for tenure-track jobs (this would eliminate a LOT of candidates as it stands right now), or at least ear-marking their donations for the hiring of non-left-wing professors. It’s not as if all these professors come out as secret liberals once they get tenure. They usually make their liberal preferences well known well in advance of getting tenure, even as grad students, when many of them quite publicly advocate for liberal causes.

            The people who have to stay “in the closet” till they get tenure are the conservatives/libertarians/right wing/red tribe sympathizers.

            Of course, tenured liberal professors are currently making a lot of the initial hiring decisions, so to really overturn the system you’d have to not only get rid of tenure but then fire most of the most senior people, effectively decimating the academy as it currently exists. But that would be a far more radical change than even just eliminating tenure and I don’t think there’s appetite for it (nor would I support it, even disliking the extreme liberal dominance of academia as I do).

            In the meantime, these conservative donors who claim to be concerned about the excessively left-wing culture of academia could be endowing departments and professorships for the study of conservative ideas if they really cared about them so much. But, frankly, I don’t see much of that at all. They’re far more interested in having their name on a library or gym.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ onyomi:

            I mean, you’re right. I don’t know how people who want to eliminate tenure think it would really work, apart from founding new universities / getting rid of all the faculty.

            But there are a significant number of wealthy conservative/libertarian donors who give money to universities to start/maintain capitalism-friendly departments.

            Like, the whole economics department at George Mason. Or you have Objectivist professor Stephen Hicks, who is head of the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship at Rockford College in Illinois. Or Tara Smith, who is BB&T Chair for the Study of Objectivism at UT Austin. That last one I know is funded by John Allison (who used to be CEO of BB&T).

            Jason Brennan is a libertarian philosopher at Georgetown who’s not in the philosophy department but rather in the business school, technically in business ethics even though he doesn’t really write anything about business ethics in particular. I don’t know who gives money for that, but I suspect it’s not George Soros.

          • onyomi says:

            I think you’re kind of proving my point that there’s a lot conservative donors could and, to some extent (though not a very great extent, in the scheme of things), are already doing without eliminating tenure. Nor is it clear that eliminating tenure would bring about the changes they’d want.

            Therefore, I think focusing on tenure is something of a red herring for donors who want to see academia become less liberal-dominated/more conservative-friendly. Donating money designated for hiring conservative professors is much more likely to be effective than campaigning to reduce the job security of old liberal professors or the desirability of the profession.

            (Actually, that might have the reverse effect–the more undesirable you make the job, the more you’ll attract only the true believers who feel a sense of belonging in the overwhelmingly liberal academic community and who don’t want to treat it as just one of many possible career choices–an attitude I associate more with the few Red Tribe-ish academics).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ onyomi:

            I do not disagree with you.

          • Mary says:

            “Why are the people interested most in job security opposed to intellectual freedom? ”

            It’s that if they are that afraid of losing their job, they aren’t going risk themselves in other ways too, thus making their “intellectual freedom” a nullity.

            “It seems like the people who are most willing to conform their opinions to whatever is demanded by the authorities ought to be least concerned about job security”

            Why? They obviously would be MOST concerned, because they are afraid of consequences.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Mary:

            …are you saying it’s irrational to be afraid of losing your job for being a conservative (or whatever)?

            I guess I’m not looking at this the same way as you. We’ve got three groups of people:

            a) People who have no strong opinions and will go with the flow. They have no reason to be concerned with academic freedom.

            b) People who have strong opinions but are indifferent to being fired. They have no reason to be concerned with academic freedom because they don’t care about the consequences of losing it.

            c) People who have strong opinions but who do not wish to be fired for them. They have reason to value academic freedom if they have it, it means they can be open about their beliefs and do the kind of research they want. If they don’t have it, maybe they hide their beliefs to fit in, but they are much less satisfied.

            You seem to be saying that groups a) and c) are the same. I don’t think so.

            It’s that if they are that afraid of losing their job, they aren’t going risk themselves in other ways too, thus making their “intellectual freedom” a nullity.

            This is weird. Academic freedom isn’t about having to risk your career to express your opinions; it’s just the opposite.

            What kind of country do you think is going to have more protections for private property rights: a country of people who are afraid of losing their property to government expropriation, or a country of people who are indifferent to the prospect?

          • Mary says:

            “…are you saying it’s irrational to be afraid of losing your job for being a conservative (or whatever)?”

            The number of jobs in this country that have protection against losing your job on just those grounds is so small as to be rounding error.

            If the fear is so rational, why don’t more people demand the protection?

          • onyomi says:

            “If the fear is so rational, why don’t more people demand the protection?”

            The academy is a much more ideologically-charged space than most occupations because you’re dealing in ideas. Firstly, professors are much, much more politically conscious than average. On top of that, there is an idea that your coworkers’ heterodox political views could result in actual books on the subject which might influence actual policy (which they really might), to say nothing of poisoning young minds.

            What’s more academia can be a small world and functioning within it, especially at the junior level, can depend on the good will of a lot of people. Even if 9 of the 10 professors you need to help you get a job, review your book, review your tenure case, etc. don’t care that you’re an open conservative, it may only take 1 to torpedo you. Plus, judgment of performance in humanities is a lot more subjective, so there is a fear that those judging you may let their opinion of your political views subtly influence them even if they don’t intend it.

            Contrast this with a blue tribe person working on a construction site: he might get into some arguments with coworkers if he chooses to broadcast his views, but unless his supervisor happens to be unusually partisan, he’s not going to lose his job over it. For the most part, so long as he just does the job well (a fact which is objectively verifiable), that’s all people care about.

            Though with the way everything is getting more and more politically polarized recently (stats about more people caring if their son or daughter married someone of opposite political affiliation), it might be a growing concern.

    • anonymous says:

      Do you think your position as a tenured academic is relevant? Job protection for you but no one else?

      • onyomi says:

        Wow, this legion of anonymous commentors (or one very prolific commentor?) with all the same gravatar is super annoying.

        Job security is just one of many possible ways employers can compensate employees: good health benefits, paid vacation, flexible scheduling, nice working conditions, etc. etc.

        In any given field, stronger job security is a perk any given employer could choose to offer to employees who were willing to accept less of some other perk, such as salary. In most fields, people are not willing to work for a lot less than they could otherwise make just for the promise of job security, so this kind of deal doesn’t get struck so often (though historically, a lot of government jobs worked this way). But for academia it makes sense because it has the added benefit of encouraging intellectual freedom, so most institutions have chosen to structure the incentives this way.

        One could eliminate tenure, but that would make the job less desirable. Therefore you’d have to be willing to accept fewer professors, lower quality professors, and/or professors who are more highly compensated in some other way, such as salary.

        • Anonymous says:

          >Wow, this legion of anonymous commentors (or one very prolific commentor?) with all the same gravatar is super annoying.

          Why?

          • Theo Jones says:

            Well, at least one anon in the open thread has been doing personal attacks on other posters and general shitposting (see the anon versus onyomi exchange upthread).

          • Anonymous says:

            Perhaps Scott should appoint a trusted moderator to deal with such breaches of the peace, if he is unwilling to deal with it himself.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Don’t waste your time Theo, they’re obviously a troll.

          • Zorgon says:

            Yeah. This sudden surge occurring just after someone mentioned the existence of a common anon account suggests someone has been hoping for a way to troll other commenters with relative impunity for a while.

          • onyomi says:

            “someone has been hoping for a way to troll other commenters with relative impunity for a while.”

            Yeah, it’s a bit surprising and disappointing. Based on the style and tenor, I’d guess Autonomous Rex.

          • Nornagest says:

            As annoying as I’ve been finding the anon, I think it’s best if we don’t give out accusations for a while.

          • anonymous says:

            Throat-slitting fantasy? REFRAME AS SPECULATION
            Enslaving the suicidal? REFRAME AS FANTASY
            Defending Genocide? REFRAME AS HYPOTHETICAL

            Anonymously teasing Onoyoko and Suzieanime?

            Group meeting, gang!!!

          • Anonymous says:

            Or rather, reframing:

            >>Hypotheticals, speculation and fantasies
            >A-OK
            >> Being an asshole to the real people you’re discussing with
            >Not Cool

            There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

    • 1. I did not hide my political views, was (I suppose) the proper kind of “conservative” (libertarian), did get tenure at a university that combines two ideologies both of which I disagree with—Catholicism and soft leftism.

      2. It’s worth noting that changing legal rules sharply revised the tenure contract. The old deal was tenure until sixty-five. That then got interpreted as age discrimination, converting it to lifetime tenure.

  21. null says:

    Is it just me, or is popular culture cashing in on existing franchises more?

  22. Ninmesara says:

    For the journal club: proton pump inhibitors might cause dementia. The paper is surprisingly compelling.

    • Murphy says:

      That’s a little worrying…..

      • Ninmesara says:

        Dementia is probably only a possible side-effect when you take them for a long time (years), which according to most guidelines is much longer than most people need. At the same time, the effect was only studied in patients above 75 years old, so we don’t really know the effect of the use in childhood and adulthood. Even with these caveats, it is in fact a little worrying, especially because many people are taking proton pum inhibitors without indication.

        • Murphy says:

          My SO has been prescribed them for ~10 years due to bad stomach problems. The alternative is crippling pain.

  23. TD says:

    Could someone explain how comparative advantage allows humans to still have jobs even when there are “robots” that can do everything (crucially; building/fixing other “robots”).

    I understand how comparative advantage suggests that (generally) free trade between nation-states is beneficial, but I don’t understand how it should prevent technological unemployment in an economy. Someone mentioned this last time as a response, and I’ve been trying to figure it out. Can someone enlighten me?

    This is also related to the basic income issue, because if technological unemployment does become a thing, then one will become necessary to avoid a violent revolution/genocide (fortunately a basic income should become easier to pay after automation has brought the cost of everything down).

    • suntzuanime says:

      It doesn’t.

      Comparative advantage as it’s usually thought of is between market actors, and robots as they’re usually thought of are capital, not market actors. There could be comparative advantage between robot owners and robot non-owners, which you could think of as “if you’re willing to work for low enough wages it will be cheaper to pay you than to buy an expensive robot to do your job”. But there are a bunch of problems with this that show up when those expensive robots get cheap enough; you can run up against minimum wage laws, transaction costs, and the hard floor on wages due to the survival needs of the worker.

      • NN says:

        If almost everything is automated, wouldn’t that bring down the costs of the survival needs of the worker?

        • Deiseach says:

          For a start, it’s unlikely that things like rent will go down (you can argue that utility prices will go down because companies are running on cheap robot labour, food prices go down because now we have huge industrialised farms running on robot labour owned by corporations, etc. but I would not hold my breath on that one).

          If you are living in a city (because that is where the work is), you will be stuck for rent. It’s unlikely a landlord will decrease rents because if you can’t pay, someone else will. Or they can sell the property to a developer. Or it can be used as an investment/money-laundering scheme.

          If you can’t afford that, you live in the cheapest possible housing. If you can’t even afford to have a shared room with six other people in a one-bedroom flat in an urban centre, you move to the country. But if you have absolutely no income, then you are going to be reliant on social housing (let me take a moment here to laugh hollowly about the social housing problem in Ireland, which would be ten times worse under displaced robot labourconditions) or some other provision.

          The assumption seems to be that robot economy will only affect manual and low-skills labour. What happens when it is doctors, lawyers and the like getting replaced? Oh that will never happen, you will always need experienced lawyers to fight court cases? Maybe in court, but drawing up contracts – even tricky ones? As robots (and we’re talking all kinds of computerised systems under that label) get more sophisticated, more and more white-collar and skilled professions will come under their purview.

          The economic maxim is we can’t all make a living by taking in one another’s washing, and I also doubt we can make a living by the easy solution of having seven billion programmers.

          • Re: Rent and population

            In the United States, the fastest growing states are North Dakota, Texas, North Carolina, etc. In no small part because these areas offer cheaper real estate than Chicago, San Francisco, and New York City.

            Robots can solve rent easily: build more housing. Same as humans now. The relevant problem in these cities is regulation. There are technological hurdles to overcome as well, but robots can overcome most of those (since we’re assuming robots are hyper-intelligent, near-perfect machinery).

            But, yeah, you can’t overcome legal burdens, unless you tell the robots to remove the City Council, which results in the City Council deploying their army of hyper-intelligent, near-perfect robots.

          • NN says:

            The assumption seems to be that robot economy will only affect manual and low-skills labour. What happens when it is doctors, lawyers and the like getting replaced? Oh that will never happen, you will always need experienced lawyers to fight court cases? Maybe in court, but drawing up contracts – even tricky ones?

            If Better Call Saul is at all accurate, pretty much all sectors of law require significant amounts of social labor. Since you brought up them up, drawing up contracts requires you to determine what each party to the contract wants, and negotiate the best way to meet both of their needs while staying within legal requirements. Yes, you could theoretically do some of this through a computer, but considering how many people justifiably hate dealing with customer service teleprompters, I think it’s quite likely that many people would pay a premium to be able to tell a human being about their wants and needs.

            Criminal defense in particular seems pretty much completely immune to automation to me, because no criminal in his/her right mind would admit guilt to a computer owned by law enforcement.

            There are aspects of the legal profession that are easily automatable, a prominent one being “discovery,” or searching through piles of legal documents for relevant information. However, the data indicates that automatic discovery software has if anything led to an increase in the number of paralegal and lawyer jobs, likely because automating parts of the process has allowed firms to handle more and larger discovery requests, and maybe even take on more cases.

            The economic impact of automation and technology in general is complicated. You can’t just assume that everyone will keep doing the same things that they were doing before, except with robots instead of human employees.

          • Murphy says:

            I think the story Manna touched on this before it went for a visit to the crappy-eutopia.

            The building we exited was another one of the terrafoam projects. Terrafoam was a super-low-cost building material, and all of the welfare dorms were made out of it. They took a clay-like mud, aerated it into a thick foam, formed it into large panels and fired it like a brick with a mobile furnace. It was cheap and it allowed them to erect large buildings quickly. The robots had put up the building next to ours in a week.

            The government had finally figured out that giving choices to people on welfare was not such a great idea, and it was also expensive. Instead of giving people a welfare check, they started putting welfare recipients directly into government housing and serving them meals in a cafeteria. If the government could drive the cost of that housing and food down, it minimized the amount of money they had to spend per welfare recipient.

            As the robots took over in the workplace, the number of welfare recipients grew rapidly. Manna replaced tens of millions of minimum wage workers with robots, and terrafoam housing became the warehouse of choice for them. Terrafoam buildings were not pretty, but they were incredibly inexpensive to build and were designed for maximum occupancy. They clustered the buildings on trash land well away from urban centers so no one had to look at them. It was a lot like an old-style college dorm. Each person got a 5 foot by 10 foot room with a bed and a TV — the world’s best pacifier. During the day the bed was a couch and people sat on the bedspread, which also served as a sheet and the blanket. At night the bed was a bed. When I arrived they had just started putting in bunk beds to double the number of people in each building. Burt was not excited to see me when I arrived — he had had a private room for 10 years, and my arrival was the end of that. At least he was polite about it.

            At the end of the very long hallway of rooms there was the communal bathroom. This was my least favorite part of the terrafoam experience. The bathroom consisted of a bunch of sinks, a bunch of shower stalls, a bunch of toilets. Given the location of our room, it was about a 200 foot walk down to the bathroom. When you had to go at night, it almost seemed easier to wet the bed and let the robots deal with it in the morning. By the time you walked all the way down and back, you were completely awake.

            There were no windows anywhere in the building. It was a cost-cutting measure, but it also helped to make every room identical. The ceiling height was 7 feet throughout, so it felt very small all the time. LED lights everywhere — our room was absolutely identical to every other room in the building and had a single, bare two-foot LED panel bolted to the ceiling. There was the same panel every ten feet in the hallways. Absolutely everything in the entire building was brown. Brown walls, brown bedspreads, brown ceilings, brown floors. Even the bathroom and every fixture in it was completely brown.

            Downstairs there was the cafeteria staffed by robots. The robots were not bad — the food was acceptable. They also kept the bathrooms, hallways and rooms spotless. Every day at 7AM, 12 PM and 6 PM the breakfast, lunch and dinner meal shifts began. There were six 15-minute shifts per meal to save on cafeteria space. Burt and I had the third shift. You sat down, food was served, you ate, you talked for 5 minutes while you drank your “coffee” and you left so the next shift could come in. With 24,000 people coming in per shift, there was no time for standing in a cafeteria-style line. Everyone had an assigned seat, and an army of robots served you right at your table.

            Because no one had a window, they could really pack people into these buildings. Each terrafoam dorm building had a four-acre foot print. It was a perfect 417 foot by 417 foot by 417 foot solid brown cube. Each cube originally held exactly 76,800 people. Doubling this to 153,600 people in each building was unthinkable, but they were doing it anyway. On the other hand, you had to marvel at the efficiency. At that density, they could house every welfare recipient in the entire country in less than 1,500 of these buildings. By spacing the buildings 100 feet apart, they could house 200,000,000 people in a space of less than 20 square miles if they had wanted to. At that density, they could put everyone in the country without a job into a space less than five miles square in size, put a fence around it and forget about us. If they accidentally dropped a nuclear bomb or two on us, we would all be gone and they wouldn’t have to worry about us anymore.

            Was it prison? Yes. But there were no walls. The food was good. The robots were as nice and respectful as they could be. You could walk outside wherever and whenever you wanted to. But there was an invisible edge. When you walked too far away from your building and approached that edge, two robots would approach you. I had tried it many times.

            “Time to turn around Jacob Lewis105. There is construction in the next zone and, for your safety, we cannot allow you to proceed.” There were a hundred reasons the robots gave for making you turn around. Construction, blasting, contamination, flash flooding, train derailments, possible thunder storms, animal migrations and so on. They could be quite creative in their reasons. It was all part of their politeness. If you turned around you were fine. If you made any move in any direction other than the one suggested, you were immediately injected and woke up back in your room. I had only tried it twice.

            http://marshallbrain.com/manna4.htm

    • onyomi says:

      Well, if robots can do literally everything, then everything is free because infinitely abundant and no one needs to work. Much more likely, there will always be some things humans can do better or cheaper than robots (even assuming the robots can fix, maintain, and even improve themselves), especially service industry stuff. So if robots can do 99% of the work necessary to produce all the goods and services we currently enjoy then everything would be 99% cheaper.

      It might be very hard to find a 40-hour a week job under such circumstances, but if everything is 99% cheaper you only need to work half an hour a week to afford everything you now enjoy and probably more.

      Moreover, human wants are practically infinite, meaning that even if we had robots providing all the goods and services we currently enjoy, there would still be room for creative people to invent new goods and services you didn’t even know you wanted yet.

      If we can deal with the transition from 90% of everyone being employed in farming 200 years ago to 1% being employed in farming today, we can deal with robots.

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, if robots can do literally everything, then everything is free because infinitely abundant and no one needs to work.

        This reminds me of the starry-eyed visions of nuclear power plants which would produce “electricity too cheap to meter! practically free power!” I always wondered how it was meant to pay for itself – nobody ever mentioned things like flat fees or how it would be economic to run a power plant that didn’t charge on metered rates and what charges it would run on instead.

        Robots produce so much stuff it’s being given away for free – and how do the manufacturers pay for the raw materials they are consuming? The energy to run the production? The costs of the robots themselves? Make a profit?

        We’re talking about a major restructuring of the economy in a fashion nobody has contemplated apart from the experiments in Communist nations, which didn’t work out so great in the long run.

        In our world as currently constituted, people who get goods for free are not living on the pig’s back, they are recipients of charity from (usually but not always) church ministries (like soup kitchens or the St Vincent de Paul). Does Apple run on a platform of “we can make our goods so cheaply using Chinese sub-contractors we are practically giving them away?” or do they rather charge full-whack? A business is in business to make profit; if they don’t charge for the goods, they have to make the money somewhere along the line.

        If we can deal with the transition from 90% of everyone being employed in farming 200 years ago to 1% being employed in farming today, we can deal with robots.

        Displaced farm labourers moved into cities and worked in factories.

        Displaced urban factory workers move – where? do what?

        They’re not all going to turn into artisan café owners, micro-brewers, indie songwriters and teledildonics content creators.

        • NN says:

          Empirically, displaced urban factory workers move into service industries. Since 1970, the share of US employment provided by the Goods Producing sector of the economy has decreased from 30% to 13%, while the share provided by the Service sector has increased from 64% to 84%. Based on the data that I’ve seen, I think that the decrease in manufacturing jobs in the US in recent decades is far more due to China than to automation, but the principle is the same.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            It’s more complicated than that, owing to the fact that specialization has meant a lot of “manufacturing” work is now classified as “services”. Think about a manufacturing plant keeping janitors on-staff, versus outsourcing the job to a services company.

            Last I checked was about a decade ago, but I encountered convincing statistics that the decline in manufacturing was greatly overstated.

        • You’re making analogies to current economic conditions. But, as you said, if robots can actually do all the work, we’ve entered a totally new version of economics.

          If robots are cheap enough to do everything, then both labor and capital cease to be limiting factors, and the limiting factors become Earth’s natural bounty. Most likely the raw materials to make the robots.
          At that point robots become prohibitively expensive.
          But then you can make a living writing AI for the robots or AI for the Internet or whatever.

          There is no static economy where robots have all the jobs and there is a large group of displaced people with no access to robots.

          • Mary says:

            “Most likely the raw materials to make the robots.”

            Asteroids.

            Life support is much simplified when you send robots to mine them, and also many rare elements are rare only because they sunk into the earth’s core when the earth formed. (This is how they figured out it was an asteroid that killed the dinosaurs; the layer of mud was amazingly rich in lithium.)

        • Murphy says:

          I think the idea is that beyond a certain point, if you have machines which make machines which make machines which can make X…. then at some point X becomes more expensive to account for than to simply provide at a flat rate.

          The “too cheap to meter” literally meant that putting meters in would be more expensive than just providing it all-you-can-eat style.

          Software and some information has already passed that point for some things.

          It costs money to run all the servers to provide downloads of linux ISO’s and wikipedia but little enough that donations can handle it.

          It still takes inputs like computer hardware but the degree of automation allows the services to just be provided to everyone.

          If you’d asked the publishers of Encyclopædia Britannica 50 years ago whether it would be possible to make an Encyclopedia 100 times the size of theirs accessible to everyone for free they’d have called you nuts.

        • onyomi says:

          “Robots produce so much stuff it’s being given away for free – and how do the manufacturers pay for the raw materials they are consuming? The energy to run the production? The costs of the robots themselves?”

          Part of the assumption of “robots produce literally everything” is that robots are even producing the raw materials for making robots.

          I doubt we’ll get to that point any time soon; in the meantime, though there would be a lot fewer jobs in auto manufacture and cab driving, there would be a lot more jobs in making and repairing robots, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a very difficult job. It’s a parody, of course, but recall the “Jetsons” future in which George’s only job is to stand around and push a button periodically.

          “turn into artisan café owners, micro-brewers, indie songwriters”

          This is hilarious, but I think what you’re suggesting is that eventually the only jobs which need doing by humans will require a level of intelligence and/or artistic creativity which many humans don’t have; therefore, everyone not smart enough to be a robot programmer or indie songwriter will be unemployed.

          I don’t think this is so for at least two reasons:

          As the average work week was something like 60 hours long in the 19th c., so I predict the average work week will become 30, 20, 10… hours long in the robot future. It will be hard for Joe Sixpack to find a 40-hour a week job, but he won’t need one because most things will be super cheap because they are made by self-repairing robots.

          Think no one will make stuff at the price point for Joe “I work five hours a week giving rich people foot rubs” Sixpack? Of course they will. Like Wal Mart is more profitable today than Rols Royce, so using robots to produce stuff at a price the great mass of the population can afford will be the biggest profit opportunity.

          I predict in such a future that anything made or provided by people will have a high social signaling value, as, to some extent, it already does. Maybe all the people currently working at McDonalds can’t become micro-brewers, but they can work at a micro-brewery selling “artisanal, hand-crafted, made-with-love” beer to richer people.

          As hand-made, tailored clothes used to be the only option but then became a luxury when factory-made clothes became an option (at which time, incidentally, poor people finally became able to afford more than one or two pairs of clothes), so, too, will robot-made become the increasingly default option for most things, even as individualized, hand-made, human-provided goods and services become more valuable.

          And as for where people can move: I actually predict urbanization to slow down and even reverse somewhat in the next few centuries. Many of the advantages of city life are increasingly irrelevant with Netflix, Amazon Prime, self-driving cars… Everything comes to you now, so why live in a cramped apartment to be close to all the cool stuff. More robots, it seems to me, would only tend to accelerate this trend.

          What’s more, as everybody starts working 10 hours a week because robots are doing everything, they probably will start having more children again, if only because they’re bored. People with more children would also tend to prefer the big house in the country to the cramped apartment in the city, especially when robots deliver much of the cool stuff the city has to offer.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Exactly.

            I don’t have the time or patience to fight this fight again right now, but I just wanted to thank you for saying everything that I would say.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I agree with most of what you say but I think you have the urbanization factor backwards. If people are content to binge watch netflix over going outside, that means they need less space in general. They will probably also prefer to live out their fantasies than to take on the hard work of raising a kid. And assuming that Virtual Reality is going to be the entirety of leisure time(a reasonable assumption I believe), the most important aspect will be having a good connection, something that cities will better provide than the country.

          • NN says:

            I doubt we’ll get to that point any time soon; in the meantime, though there would be a lot fewer jobs in auto manufacture and cab driving, there would be a lot more jobs in making and repairing robots, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a very difficult job.

            (emphasis added)

            I said it before and I’ll say it again. If virtually all planes still have pilots* even though we’ve had the technology necessary to create pilotless planes for decades and virtually all trains still have drivers** even though we’ve had the technology to create driverless trains for more than 50 years, then there is no way in hell that people are going to let cars and trucks drive themselves on streets that kids play in anytime soon, if ever. This is leaving aside the fact that so far completely self-driving cars have turned out to be more accident prone, at least when driving on city streets, than human drivers, largely because they have a harder time reacting to the mistakes of other human drivers.

            Maybe we’ll eventually get completely autonomous cars and trucks when someone invests the money to create walled off highways that neither human driven cars or human pedestrians are allowed to enter, Until then it’s going to be like what happened in air travel: increasingly advanced “driver assistance” features that cut down on accidents and maybe eventually autopilot that is restricted to highways, but they are going to require a sober and awake human who is capable of hitting the manual override and taking over to be at the wheel at all times. If anything, this might lead to an increase in the number of cab and truck driver jobs due to the lowered skill requirements and diminished risk and by extension lower pay and insurance rates.

            The fact that so many people just assume that self-driving cars will eliminate cab and truck driver jobs without ever asking the (to me) extremely obvious questions of, “does automation technology capable of eliminating human operators already exist in similar fields, if so has this actually resulted in the widespread elimination of human operators in that field, and if not why not?” is emblematic of a lot of the problems with the automation debate.

            Incidentally, this indicates another potential source of low-skill jobs in a hypothetical post-automation future: monitoring robots that could potentially hurt people or damage something important in the event of a glitch. Simply having someone there with the responsibility to take over in an emergency gives the company someone that they can blame in the event that something goes wrong. Until robots are given citizenship rights, that’s a service that only flesh and blood humans will be able to provide.

            * Apart from civilian drones that are too small to do serious damage if they crash into anything and military drones that are already expected to cause large amounts of “collateral damage.”
            ** Apart from some elevated and subway trains that 1) aren’t fully automated, since they still have manual override brake buttons that staff inside can use in an emergency, and 2) have rules preventing members of the general public from walking on or driving across their tracks, meaning that if someone gets hits by one of these trains it is 100% their own fault.

            And as for where people can move: I actually predict urbanization to slow down and even reverse somewhat in the next few centuries. Many of the advantages of city life are increasingly irrelevant with Netflix, Amazon Prime, self-driving cars… Everything comes to you now, so why live in a cramped apartment to be close to all the cool stuff. More robots, it seems to me, would only tend to accelerate this trend.

            What’s more, as everybody starts working 10 hours a week because robots are doing everything, they probably will start having more children again, if only because they’re bored. People with more children would also tend to prefer the big house in the country to the cramped apartment in the city, especially when robots deliver much of the cool stuff the city has to offer.

            I have my doubts about this. First, it seems like most though not all of the new jobs that spring up to replace the automated jobs will require the employees to be around a lot of other people. Not everything can be done online. Second, cities offer attractions that Netflix can’t replace. A lot of people do really like physically hanging out with their friends, going to fancy/trendy restaurants, going to see plays and stand-up comics, etc. Also going to see movies in theaters, because it’s going to be a long, long time before the average person can afford to build a home theater system that offers a viewing experience remotely comparable to a commercial movie theater.

            I haven’t studied the issue in depth, but it seems like people who already have jobs that are done completely online like camgirls and internet reviewers/celebrities don’t tend to move out to the countryside that often even though they could do so without disrupting their work at all.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ NN:

            I feel like this is a distraction from the main point.

            If truck driving jobs could and should be eliminated, but aren’t because of stupid political reasons, well, that’s a contingent fact that could change. It doesn’t do much good to answer the people saying the elimination of these jobs would be a disaster by saying that you think public policy is probably going to be too stupid to allow it.

            After all, they can just go find another line of work that really is going to be automated and make the same point.

            ***

            There’s also lots of reasons why the situation of airplanes is different from the situation of cars. Very few people experience the “annoyance” of having to fly a plane, but almost everyone experiences the annoyance of having to drive a car. And most people who fly planes experience it as a money-making job (or as recreation), while most people who drive cars experience it as a money-sucking hassle. While at just the same time, the question for the airline customers is a few dollars off the ticket versus the (perhaps-misplaced) peace-of-mind they get from knowing there’s a human pilot. The only people for whom human-flown planes are a major hassle are people who run airlines.

            Bottom line: there’s a whole lot bigger of a lobby for self-driving cars.

          • Deiseach says:

            everybody starts working 10 hours a week because robots are doing everything

            onyomi, I have seen this prediction back in the 70s (one of the advantages of being a bit older than the general run of you young’uns in your 20s/30s: a lot of the new stuff is really a re-tread).

            By now, the far-flung future days of the early 21st century, everyone was supposed to be working two-day weeks for the same or even more wages as the old five and six day weeks, have robots in the homes doing the tedious labour, and all of us have expanded into creative ways of using our bounteous leisure time.

            Did that happen? As clerical work became automated with typewriters and then word-processors, did clerical workers do their day’s work in four hours in the morning and then head home to enjoy the rest of the day plus the weekend?

            Did things like weekend opening hours for shopping increase, so that people in service industries who formerly had weekends off, or if they worked weekends got compensated with double-time, now work these as mandatory parts of their work week at the same rates? Did the demand for weekend opening of shops come about because ordinary workers had no free time to do things like shopping or banking during their work week?

            Did factories which automated have the same number of workers on the assembly lines, only now each man works a four hour shift, or did they reduce the number of workers so now you have three guys working eight or twelve hour shifts overseeing the fully automated manufacturing process?

            Is the drive to automation shifting a lot more of the routine onto the customer and consumer (online banking where you do the work of looking after your bank account at home; in-branch automated banking where you can only get a teller at certain hours or on certain days to deal with queries; chip-and-pin self-service machines at supermarkets; people pumping their own petrol at service stations, etc.)?

            As I said, I have seen and heard the predictions of “future automation and technological progress will make us all rich in both time and goods”, and while we certainly have more goodies now, do we have more time to enjoy them?

            Where are all the factory and call-centre workers working three hour days two days a week and earning the equivalent of full-day, full-week wages? Oh right: their jobs went to a call centre in India and a factory in China, because even with automation, labour and other costs are lower so it makes economic sense for the business to move the work there, not pay workers here.

          • Anonymous says:

            Good point. Although, you can totally attempt a minimalist existence with part-time work. A subsistence wage/salary is something like one-fifth to one-tenth of a median salary in the west.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Deiseach:

            Where are all the factory and call-centre workers working three hour days two days a week and earning the equivalent of full-day, full-week wages? Oh right: their jobs went to a call centre in India and a factory in China, because even with automation, labour and other costs are lower so it makes economic sense for the business to move the work there, not pay workers here.

            In addition to everything I said elsewhere, so what?

            So they’re moving jobs to China and India and the workers there are making more and working less / in better conditions. Do they not exist? Do they not count?

            If you obliterated them with nuclear missiles, the American/Irish worker would be worse off, not better. He would make a higher nominal wage but have a lot less to buy.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            So they’re moving jobs to China and India and the workers there are making more and working less / in better conditions. Do they not exist? Do they not count?

            Funny how the people who make the “muh shy knees” argument are never the ones whose job was stolen by cheap Chinese labor.

          • Anonymous says:

            The very notion of stealing a job is incoherent babble. Might as well talk about stealing a wife, but then again you probably don’t see anything wrong with that idea either.

            No one owes you shit. Try to be a less of an asshole and maybe people will voluntarily want to hire or sleep with you. You won’t have to force them. A radical idea, I know.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Screw you too, buddy.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            While the insult are fun and all, cheap Chinese labor is having the jobs ‘stolen’ by even cheaper labor in the third world. So if you want to stiff the people of Ghana, now is your chance!

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        So if robots can do 99% of the work necessary to produce all the goods and services we currently enjoy then everything would be 99% cheaper.

        Doesn’t follow; see Vladimir_M.

        If we can deal with the transition from 90% of everyone being employed in farming 200 years ago to 1% being employed in farming today, we can deal with robots.

        We actually did a pretty bad job of dealing with that; see Eliezer Yudkowsky.

        • NN says:

          I’m still reading through those links, but Eliezer’s first post seems to be overlooking something obvious:

          The forces restoring the poverty equilibrium are tremendous. Compared to hunter-gathering, agriculture can sustain 100 times as many people per unit area of land… and there were still poor people, indeed more of them. Then agricultural employment dropped from 95% to 2%, implying a rather large increase in productivity of each farmer… and there were still poor people.

          Farmers ended up just as poor, if not more so, than hunter-gatherers because populations increased until they hit a Malthusian equilibrium. Populations also massively increased during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. I’ve read some pretty convincing arguments that the main reason for increasing human prosperity in the developed world during the 20th century was the demographic transition putting an end to Malthusian cycles, not just technology making people more productive.

          This certainly isn’t the only factor at play, but overlooking it seems like a pretty big blind spot to me.

          • Nornagest says:

            Neolithic humans were dirt poor no matter what they did for a living, but as far as we can tell from skeletal evidence, pre-agricultural foragers were quite a bit healthier than early farmers: taller, less parasite load, greater adult lifespan.

            This causes problems for the Malthusian narrative, because its logic didn’t spring fully formed out of Thomas Malthus’ head once farming was invented; it should have applied to foragers just as well. There’s something else going on here.

        • onyomi says:

          Firstly, I don’t think working conditions are worse than they were 50 years ago. I think they’re better. And I’d much rather be a poor person now than 50 years ago.

          Also, it fails to take into account confounding factors: namely the government, which has a tendency to grow in proportion to the level society can accept (it’s like a really useless but mandatory Windows update that prevents your computer from ever running really fast even though it’s 100 times as powerful).

          And if people still aren’t happy it can be because 1. they used to be really unhappy and 2. happiness seems to have a strong tendency to rebound to a baseline level if things aren’t constantly getting better and 3. breakdown of a lot of traditional social institutions could be making us miserable… but we’re not as miserable as we would be if we had broken social institutions and no Angry Birds.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Firstly, I don’t think working conditions are worse than they were 50 years ago. I think they’re better. And I’d much rather be a poor person now than 50 years ago.

            Just as something I’ve observed: consider the relative number of “cushy” office jobs and the amount of time people can afford to spend not actually working hard…which I’m sure no one commenting on this site has taken advantage of.

            Eight hours in an office and eight hours busting your ass putting cars together may be the same number on the clock, but it isn’t the same amount of work in any other sense.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Firstly, I don’t think working conditions are worse than they were 50 years ago. I think they’re better.

            Vladimir_M argues that physical conditions (safety, temperature, etc…) are better, but that the status distribution is worse. How many people today consider everyone who hasn’t gone to college contemptible? How many people consider a modern entry-level fast-food worker to be a full adult ready to marry and raise a family? How many young workers today have to live with their parents?

            And I’d much rather be a poor person now than 50 years ago.

            Really? What would you expect your life to be like as poor person in 1966 that makes it worse than the life of a poor person in 2016?

            Also, it fails to take into account confounding factors: namely the government, which has a tendency to grow in proportion to the level society can accept (it’s like a really useless but mandatory Windows update that prevents your computer from ever running really fast even though it’s 100 times as powerful).

            Unless you think the government is going to stop growing, the bad future is the same; you are just shifting the blame around.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Just as something I’ve observed: consider the relative number of “cushy” office jobs and the amount of time people can afford to spend not actually working hard…which I’m sure no one commenting on this site has taken advantage of.

            Eight hours in an office and eight hours busting your ass putting cars together may be the same number on the clock, but it isn’t the same amount of work in any other sense.

            Show me where all these cushy office jobs are. In particular, show me the ones which a man can get with the same amount of intelligence, conscientiousness, and credentials it took to get an assembly line job several decades ago.

          • NN says:

            Show me where all these cushy office jobs are. In particular, show me the ones which a man can get with the same amount of intelligence, conscientiousness, and credentials it took to get an assembly line job several decades ago.

            I don’t think it takes much intelligence, conscientiousness, or credentials to get a job as a customer service representative. True, a lot of those jobs have been outsourced to India, but there are still plenty of companies willing to pay extra for a rep who lives in the same time zone as most of their customers and speaks English well.

            I’m sure that there are other examples, but this is the first one that came to mind.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Or office receptionist, security guard who sits at the front desk and watches who comes in, etc.

            “Office clerk, general” is the fourth-most-common job in America:

            General office clerks typically do the following:

            Answer and transfer telephone calls or take messages
            Sort and deliver incoming mail and send outgoing mail
            Schedule appointments and receive customers or visitors
            Provide general information to staff, clients, or the public
            Type, format, or edit routine memos or other reports
            Copy, file, and update paper and electronic documents
            Prepare and process bills and other office documents
            Collect information and perform data entry
            Rather than performing a single specialized task, general office clerks have responsibilities that often change daily with the current needs of the employer.

            Some clerks file documents or answer phones; others enter data into computers or perform other tasks using software applications. They also frequently use photocopiers, scanners, fax machines, and other office equipment.

            The specific duties assigned to clerks will depend on the type of office in which they work. For example, a general office clerk at a college or university processes application materials and answers questions from prospective students. A clerk at a hospital files and retrieves medical records.

            Personal anecdote time: my half-brother is literally mentally retarded as well as somewhat physically disabled (he had a stroke at birth), and he’s never had any trouble finding employment. Sure, he’s had family helping him get through school, but he supports himself.

            He’s always wanted to be a police officer, even though that’s unrealistic for him. But he really enjoys being a security guard, and that’s what he gets paid to do: just sort of ride around and look out to make sure places aren’t being broken into. Not exactly very demanding work.

            ***

            In particular, show me the ones which a man can get with the same amount of intelligence, conscientiousness, and credentials it took to get an assembly line job several decades ago.

            Also, a highly relevant fact is that it takes a whole lot less intelligence, conscientiousness, and/or parental wealth to get the same amount of credentials today than it did several decades ago.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          @ jamieastorga2000:

          Doesn’t follow; see Vladimir_M.

          Just because you keep saying / quoting people saying that everything in the economy is zero-sum, doesn’t make it true.

          Almost everything in the economy is positive-sum. Housing is most definitely positive-sum. Empty space is, for all intents and purposes, infinite. It is the most limitless of all resources. You could more plausibly argue that oxygen is zero-sum.

          The limiting factors on housing are the cost of the materials and labor to build it, the cost of transportation, technological limitations like how high you can build a tower without it falling over, and political restrictions on building height. Not quantity of empty space.

          As transportation technology and communications technology improve, the need to live in close proximity to your workplace and trading partners decreases, lowering the effective cost of housing. That’s literally the exact reason for the growth of the suburbs. And it’s how someone in India can give me technical support, or how someone in Indonesia can make my clothes.

          Maybe some people will be incredibly miserable about the fact that they can’t afford the rent in Hyper-Paris-One, and that they have to live in Neo-Dakota working ten hours a week selling handmade trinkets on the internet. If you want to argue that, argue that. But don’t argue absolute deprivation.

          Technological improvements make people more productive and make it easier to support “unproductive” people. Consider care for the elderly now vs. among the eskimos. Or your career prospects as a paraplegic now vs. in ancient Sparta.

          • Deiseach says:

            Maybe some people will be incredibly miserable about the fact that they can’t afford the rent in Hyper-Paris-One, and that they have to live in Neo-Dakota working ten hours a week selling handmade trinkets on the internet.

            Vox Imperatoris, when I was a child in the 70s, I got a potted-history book which coverered various topics.

            One of these was futurology and how people expected the future (these would be the dazzling days of the 2000s in the science-fictional 21st century) would be.

            One prediction was that since technology was advancing all the time and making work faster, cheaper and less labour-intensive, we’d all be working two days a week, have so much leisure and riches we’d try and find new ways to occupy ourselves, and everyone would be middle-class professionals and living the dream.

            Did it work out like that? Or did we get “lean in”, “crunch time”, working on weekends going from double-time overtime pay to being part of your mandatory regular hours, and getting up at six in the morning to be at work at eight where you stay till seven and that’s considered leaving early, and your benevolent corporate overlords will offer to pay for you to freeze your ova so you can have kids, just not now during your peak fertile years when you need to work without distractions to build your career and be the most productive for them that you can (when you’re old and your skills are outdated and the new generation have replaced you, then you can leave the firm and have babies)?

            The idea of the typewriter was that the hand-written work that would take a clerk all a working day to do could be done in a half day’s work. Did this mean that clerks only worked a half day every day for the same pay? Or did it rather mean that the work expanded, so that they worked the same hours for the same pay and did more? You tell me which happened, and how many of them worked only ten hours a week making trinkets to sell which was enough to support themselves!

            We are not “doing two days work for five/six days pay” by now, and we’ll never be; any employer expects productivity and full value, which is why you’re paid for what hours you put in – if the money for working two days is enough to live on in the robot economy, great, but I imagine we’ll see “if we only need a human for two days, buy a robot instead” to be the rule.

            Not everybody is creatively gifted and even a vastly reduced global population of six million hobby craftspeople is no more realistic as a way of making a living than “everyone can switch to being a programmer!” notions today is.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Deiseach:

            We are not “doing two days work for five/six days pay” by now, and we’ll never be; any employer expects productivity and full value, which is why you’re paid for what hours you put in – if the money for working two days is enough to live on in the robot economy, great, but I imagine we’ll see “if we only need a human for two days, buy a robot instead” to be the rule.

            It doesn’t matter what the employers want. I’m sure they’d like to have people work fourteen hour days, six days a week. And if the workers had no other option but starvation, they’d accept it.

            But that’s not how things work because wages, hours, and working conditions are determined by competition among employers for the limited supply of labor.

            Suppose you are moving to New York City, and you have to sell your car. If you had no other option, you would be willing to give it away for free, or even pay a tow company to haul it to the junkyard, getting basically a negative price. And any particular person looking to buy your car would like to get it for free or a negative price. Yet you do not have to give it away for free or for a negative price because there is competition among the people who would like to have your car. They big against one another and drive up the price.

            Exactly the same phenomenon was seen in the labor market as the result of the Industrial Revolution. It used to be that a person could barely purchase his subsistence with fourteen hours of labor, six days a week. That was because his productivity of labor was very low.

            But then factories started being created, which could produce great amounts of wealth with just a little bit of labor. Although the owners would have liked to get this labor for free or for the same low price, they faced a problem: they had to attract workers who could potentially be employed in other lines of work. Since this labor was more valuable to them than it was to less productive businesses, they were willing to bid more for the available labor.

            As other people built newer and better factories, they were willing and able to bid labor away from the first factories. Soon, even places like restaurants and taverns were having to pay more, even though productivity had not improved there at all, or else all their workers would be gone to other jobs.

            So instead of being able barely to purchase their subsistence, workers found themselves able to purchase four or five times their subsistence. At a certain point, workers decided that, rather than working fourteen hours a day, they would rather earn less and work only ten hours a day, since the extra leisure was more valuable to them than the extra money. Although employers would have preferred someone working fourteen hours to someone working ten hours for 70% of the pay (as is proportionate), they found that they could save money by offering to pay workers less than 70% for 70% of the work. Still a good tradeoff for the workers.

            And so on, in the same way, for working only eight hours a day, five days a week.

            This reduction in working hours certainly wasn’t because of laws forcing employers to cut working hours. If the person at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, barely able to purchase his subsistence at fourteen hours a day, had been forced to work only eight hours a day, he would have starved. It was only the improvement in productivity that allowed him to be able to afford to cut his hours.

            This is the same reason people are not cutting their hours and working ten hours a week today: they wouldn’t earn enough money to lead the kind of lifestyle they want to live.

            ***

            So what is the explanation for why the predictions for life in the year 2000 haven’t yet come to pass? Well, I can think of a few possible alternatives:

            a) The socialist answer: employers enjoy widespread monopoly and monopsony power, such that they are not paying competitive rates for employees and at the same time are able to keep all the profits to themselves. The solution is clear: pass a law mandating a ten-hour workweek. (After all, that’s the socialist answer to how we got the forty-hour workweek in the first place.) I don’t think that will work because I don’t think the diagnosis is correct: employers are not enjoying widespread monopoly and monopsony power.

            b) The traditionalist/environmentalist answer: we could be working ten hours a week, but people are caught up with buying things they don’t need and “keeping up with the Joneses.” Solution: mandate a ten-hour workweek.

            c) Government taxes, regulations, and restrictions on business and economic freedom are hampering productivity to such an extent that technology is barely able to keep up. Solution: lower taxes; deregulate.

            d) Government taxes, regulations, and restrictions are driving up the costs of certain vital industries like healthcare, education, and housing, so that despite increasing productivity, people’s wealth is being sucked into these gaping holes such that they have no choice but to keep working the same amount or harder to keep up. Solution: lower taxes; deregulate.

            I think that the answer is some combination of c) and d). On the other hand, b) is not totally off-base—very many people really could work a lot less and not die, see the “extreme early retirement” people—but I think the proposed “solution” is terrible because most people are actually benefiting from the work they do and not making an irrational choice to work harder than necessary.

            Not everybody is creatively gifted and even a vastly reduced global population of six million hobby craftspeople is no more realistic as a way of making a living than “everyone can switch to being a programmer!” notions today is.

            There is no need for everyone to be creatively gifted. So long as man’s desire for wealth exceeds his ability to produce it, there is always more potential demand for labor than there is supply. (And if ability does exceed desire, we’re already in the land of Cockaigne, so there’s no problem.)

            Maybe you can’t imagine what people would do with their time if 90% of current jobs were eliminated by technology. Well, neither could people imagine the kinds of things we’d get up to if 90% of people were no longer required to be farmers.

          • Nita says:

            @ Vox Imperatoris

            Could you add an approximate timeline to your development story?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nita:

            Here’s the first three graphs I could find:

            – The general “hockey stick” graph of income.

            Decline in working hours in US manufacturing

            Real wages in Britain

            The increase in productivity and wages really kicks in during the mid-1800s, creating an incredible rise in living standards. Working hours fall more or less continually until ~1970.

            Though see Don Boudreux on why the “stagnation” since the 70s, though to some extent real, is exaggerated.

          • Nita says:

            @ Vox Imperatoris

            So, at what point would you say the labor market got so good for the workers that they could freely reject jobs that were likely to result in permanent disability?

            You do know that the negotiation for higher wages and shorter working hours has sometimes involved violence on both sides, right? If “the pie” was growing at such an astonishing speed, why would anyone resort to violence?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nita:

            So, at what point would you say the labor market got so good for the workers that they could freely reject jobs that were likely to result in permanent disability?

            It’s a sliding scale. Some people today still choose jobs that are more dangerous than others and which will be less desirable in the future for that reason. But these jobs are less dangerous than they were in the past.

            I think there are people today who feel that, in order lead an acceptable lifestyle, they have to take on a job that involves significant extra potential for disability or death. You know, truck drivers, taxi drivers, convenience store clerks, etc.

            You do know that the negotiation for higher wages and shorter working hours has sometimes involved violence on both sides, right? If “the pie” was growing at such an astonishing speed, why would anyone resort to violence?

            Ignorance. Misinformation. Communist agitation.

            The same kinds of reasons people want to shut down “sweatshops” today.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            Confessions of a self-employed iPhone dev who works 3/7 instead of 24/7.

            This 21-hour work week may be a rare unicorn. But perhaps the fact that this unicorn exists at all is significant. I don’t think this would have been possible 100 years ago.

            Maybe hours-per-week fall asymptotically. I would love to hear David Friedman’s opinion regarding this comment tree.

          • Generally speaking, I think Vox is correct. Over the past couple of centuries, economic progress has resulted in hours worked trending down and incomes trending up. But it’s worth remembering that a change that is fast in historical terms is still pretty slow from viewpoint of a single life.

            To get some perspective on the overall size of the change, a few figures. Dierdre McCloskey estimates that the average real income of the world at present, including the poor parts, is about ten times what it was through most of history. For the developed world, it’s twenty to thirty times.

            According to a very interesting book by Coase and Wang, from Mao’s death to 2010, real income per capita in China increased twenty fold. That’s a situation where the change from extreme poverty to something approaching a modern economy got compressed into a much shorter time period.

            If many moderns preferred half the number of hours with half the pay, I expect that many employers would offer it–not all, but those employers in areas where output is roughly proportional to hours worked. The fact that not many people are working a twenty hour day strikes me as evidence that most prefer the money to the additional leisure.

            Deiseach points to various optimistic accounts of what things would be like by now. I think those accounts assumed a rate of economic growth considerably higher than occurred, and considerably higher than the average over the past century or two.

            On the other hand, Deiseach also describes the conditions of life she grew up in, which I am guessing are considerably harder than her current conditions.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            If many moderns preferred half the number of hours with half the pay, I expect that many employers would offer it–not all, but those employers in areas where output is roughly proportional to hours worked. The fact that not many people are working a twenty hour day strikes me as evidence that most prefer the money to the additional leisure.

            It’s reasonable to suppose that, due to fixed costs of employment, you would have to accept somewhat less than half the pay to work half the hours. Maybe not, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

            After all, we have overtime, which is the same concept.

            On the other hand, I myself have delivered sandwiches for 20 hours a week for the same wage as people doing it 40 hours a week. You just sign up for the number of hours you want; it’s flexible, which is a benefit people enjoy and potentially makes it a more attractive workplace.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Mark Atwood:

            Schilling is exactly right about the nature of these fixed costs. And many of them can’t be eliminated even if all government mandates were totally abolished.

            One potential alternative to get around this sort of problem would be to have a schedule of something like: six months on, six months off, where workers alternate working 40 hours a week for those six months. There would still be some productivity loss, but probably less than that of paying them both to work 20 hours a week simultaneously.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            Yeah, the diseconomies of overhead sounds about right. Reducing the +40 hour week sounds intractable. I suppose pushing for an earlier retirement is the next best option.

      • Chalid says:

        In the short to medium term, technology ought to make it cheaper to support a worker.

        In the extremely long term, biological humans have fixed maintenance costs and they won’t necessarily be able to create enough value to pay those costs. (e.g. extreme case – “should we use the solar energy incident on this 100 square meter plot to grow enough food to feed a single biological human, or should we use it to power a computer supporting a complete emulated city with 1e6 emulated humans, all of whom are absolutely more productive than the biological human?” Pretty sure the biological human gets outbid in this scenario.)

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      It doesn’t.

      There is no guarantee that the value you produce in your area of comparative advantage isn’t smaller than the costs of transaction, and even if it is there is still no guarantee that the surplus value is enough to pay for your living expenses.

      There is a reason horses aren’t around anymore.

      • TD says:

        @suntzuanime and jaimeastorga2000: “It doesn’t.”

        Yes, that’s what I thought (unless we’re all missing something). It seems a basic income guarantee will become necessary. I want to settle that question.

        I think the biggest problem is political. One problem I foresee is that (on first glance) the people who really don’t want a basic income tend to be market liberals, and the people who are really enthusiastic about the basic income tend to be market illiberals. This means that the people who are likely to get it into the books anywhere in the world are the same people who would bring a load of other crap with it and spoil it, whereas the people who don’t want it have the (generally, within some self-detonating limits) correct idea on how the economy should be structured.

        I’m also worried about the experiments that are going on to “test” basic income. If it can’t easily be paid for now, but it will become necessary when automation begins to really bite, then the experiments may be complete failures, souring people on the basic income until the only people who take it seriously are people very far on the left. The result being that when there is a colossal unemployment crisis, the only people willing to solve it would be people who bring a load of other unsavory ideas to the fore and generally throw out the baby with the bathwater, kill the goose they want to lay the golden egg etc. It’s a lot like how far-right nationalists have made gains in our time from the status quo rejecting certain necessary concepts of statehood due to their mere association with ethno-nationalism.

        • satanistgoblin says:

          Wouldn’t expanding length of unemployment benefits be enough?

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          I argue at length to fellow libertarians that basic income is the way to go.

          I disagree that in the future it will become necessary, but the structural incentives are so much better than what we have now that it’s almost certainly worth doing anyways, given a political environment in which no-welfare isn’t an option, and in which welfare inevitably becomes an incentive nightmare.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            But we’re not going to abolish the welfare state and replace it with basic income. If the movement gains enough influence, we’re going to get some kind of shitty distortion of basic income, plus welfare.

            Getting rid of welfare entirely may be unlikely, but it has the advantage that incremental progress is good, not bad.

      • Jiro says:

        Comparative advantage wouldn’t work even if there were no transaction costs or living expenses. The reason is that there isn’t an unlimited need for things. If robots have comparative advantage in one area and humans in another, all the robots will be put to use in the area where they have comparative advantage until that area is saturated and nobody needs any more robots for it. The remaining robots will be used in the area where the humans have comparative advantage. (unless the humans also have *absolute* advantage)

      • Anonymous says:

        Whelp, I didn’t expect to see such dank praxxes as ‘humans are horses’ show up on SSC. I thought it was restricted to the less savory parts of reddit that /r/badeconomics makes a living pointing out.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          How are humans not horses?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Even supposing humans to be in exactly the same position as horses, how many perfectly healthy horses were sent to the glue factories because of the invention of the automobile?

            I actually don’t know the answer to this, but I suspect it’s not a lot. There was no great horse massacre; they just got relegated to the areas where they had the greatest comparative advantage, while at the same time people stopped breeding as many of them.

            The expected value of breeding a horse and the expected value of a horse you already have are two different things.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            A slow genocide is still a genocide.

          • Adam says:

            Making fewer of something when it stops being useful isn’t genocide.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Isn’t this a pro-genocide comments section anyway? The black and white anonymous has assured me that it is.

          • onyomi says:

            “Making fewer of something when it stops being useful isn’t genocide.”

            Yeah, better to say obsolete. And, of course, humans are already become obsolete insofar as they are tools for accomplishing such tasks as mental calculation, welding, or whatever.

            But whether humans get to be the lazy artist bohemian overlords to the robots or the curious specimen of which the robots keep a few examples around for research purposes probably depends largely on how we design the robots.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Adam: No offense, but you’ve indicated upthread that you don’t want to have children, which makes you somewhat unusual. Can you imagine how someone who wants to pass on their name and genes feels about knowing that economic forces are going to end his line and drive his entire extended family to extinction?

            @onyomi: Are you talking about the intelligence explosion? Because otherwise I don’t think it’s going to matter much.

          • Anonymous says:

            You don’t get to redefine the English language no matter how much you care about the immortality of your line.

          • Psmith says:

            “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.” http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html

            (Prosecute Malala Yousafzai for genocide!)

            Of course, within the context of this discussion, intent (or “deliberate…calculation”) is presumably the sticking point. But if someone were to intentionally arrange matters such that people stopped reproducing, yep, that would be genocide.

          • suntzuanime says:

            The United Nations is a bad joke and their definition of genocide is one of the worst extant cases of motte-and-bailey.

          • TD says:

            @jaimeastorga2000

            I don’t think genocide version 2 that’s not violent or painful or even involves killing anyone is that bad though.

            I just want to make sure that people have enough to eat, drink, and a place to stay, so I want a basic income in the age of robots. If whatever the case, we get a decline in the population of humans, then I’m entirely okay with that, in fact I would find it to be a very positive thing from my perspective.

            As long as the population stops at a number that it is still interestingly high, without being as annoyingly obnoxiously high as today, according to my personal subjective preferences, then I’m 100% okay with that genocide (this sounds wrong).

            If the population declines to 1 million by 2300, then the price of property should plummet for one thing, and any robot basic income would result in more resources for each person. Also, as the population declines, the freedom of the remaining will increase as the number of people whose rights clash with yours decreases.

            Would be kind of amazing. Excuse me while I daydream about entire cities of the future, in which only a few hundred people live, supported by a public robot army, private robots, and shares in asteroid mining. Hell, a population of 1 million would be lower enough to give each person their own city-state. The beauty of an empty city all to yourself. That’s a glorious future.

            A future with an expanding human population is only a good one when we are expanding into space, and then each human can own a planet (“Don’t immanentize the (Mormon) Eschaton!”)

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @TD: That does sound pretty amazing, but I don’t expect me or one of my descendants to be among the people who get to enjoy a personal city as opposed to simply disappearing, so I am against it.

          • TD says:

            @jaimeastorga2000

            “That does sound pretty amazing, but I don’t expect me or one of my descendants to be among the people who get to enjoy a personal city as opposed to simply disappearing, so I am against it.”

            Against a natural decline in population? It’s already occurring (Japan is already worrying) causing a dangerous rise in the dependency ratio, and various population predictions for the global population even have Africa peak and decline by the end of the Century, so if anything, robot “slaves” should save us from the negative consequences of the human decline process, even if it accelerates that process.

            Now, purposeful violent genocide by elites who don’t want to supply a basic income guarantee? Yes, I oppose that, but so does almost everyone, including most elites who are already in favor of welfare programs.

          • Anonymous says:

            > How are humans not horses?

            Short answer.

            Longer answer: We have free will to choose between different productive options. Opportunity cost means nothing to a horse. Horses are more like hammers than humans.

            On a technical side, machines don’t have a way to set their own terminal goals. Yud’s robo-Satan notwithstanding, that’s up to us to do.

            For a purely economic answer, long-run labor equilibrium will always trend towards full employment, technological shocks will manifest with income not employment. Fuhrer Krugman has made this point a number of times, even if there is only a single skill for which labor demand exists in we would still trend towards full employment.

          • Adam says:

            Can you imagine how someone who wants to pass on their name and genes feels about knowing that economic forces are going to end his line and drive his entire extended family to extinction?

            Sure, I can imagine it. Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing you can do to prevent your name and genes from eventually disappearing from this universe. Whatever future we still have goes to the winners. If you don’t think you and yours are among the winners, sorry I guess?

          • Anonymous says:

            >>Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing you can do to prevent your name and genes from eventually disappearing from this universe.

            And some people don’t share your nihilism/defeatism. Just because victory seems hard to the point of impossibility, doesn’t mean you should give up.

            >>Whatever future we still have goes to the winners.

            Have you considered that one might prefer a different future, if the future you foresee (the near-extiction of mankind) is disagreeable? Instead of calmly accepting death – to resist? To accept any sacrifice necessary, including reducing ourselves to preindustrial savagery, if that what it takes to stop being obsolete?

            >>If you don’t think you and yours are among the winners, sorry I guess?

            Those who participate in the contest have at least a chance of winning, however small. So too those who think up ways to cheat, or otherwise take a third option. Not so those who fail to do either, accepting loss by walkover.

          • Jaskologist says:

            The beauty of an empty city all to yourself. That’s a glorious future.

            This does not sound appealing to me. I’m introverted, but I’m not a hermit.

            Plus, am I the only one here who loves green things? Give me woods over buildings any day.

          • Adam says:

            Have you considered that one might prefer a different future, if the future you foresee (the near-extiction of mankind) is disagreeable? Instead of calmly accepting death – to resist? To accept any sacrifice necessary, including reducing ourselves to preindustrial savagery, if that what it takes to stop being obsolete?

            What does it mean to have ‘considered’ it? I believe you and Jaime when you say you feel that way. The notion of preferring preindustrial savagery to widespread prosperity because the savages will look more like you seems absurd to me, but I can obviously tell that real people really do prefer that.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Adam:

            Exactly.

            It’s like “yeah, okay, I’ve considered reverting to savagery, but no, fuck you, I’m not going to let you bring that about.”

            Considered and rejected.

          • Nita says:

            To accept any sacrifice necessary, including reducing ourselves to preindustrial savagery, if that what it takes to stop being obsolete?

            That will guarantee the extinction of your genes when the Sun burns out.

          • John Schilling says:

            That will guarantee the extinction of your genes when the Sun burns out.

            It will likely result in the extinction of their genes long before that. The post-civilized order will be as violent as the preindustrial, which means occasionally genocidal. And the vast majority of humanity will hate no one more than those who brought about the downfall of civilization. If they don’t pursue that hatred to genocidal extremes, they will at least rebuild civilization on principles diametrically opposed to its destroyers, and the e.g. disaffected conservatives-turned-anarchists are not going to do well in the resulting communist dictatorship.

            If your plan is to even quietly survive the apocalypse, never mind thriving in the aftermath or rebuilding civilization in the image of your tribe, it is very very very fucking important that you make sure it is your enemies who are seen to destroy civilization.

          • Anonymous says:

            Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing you can do to prevent your name and genes from eventually disappearing from this universe.

            And some people don’t share your nihilism/defeatism. Just because victory seems hard to the point of impossibility, doesn’t mean you should give up.

            If the highly unlikely case there is a way to get around the heat death of the universe it is not going to be found by going full luddite. Your position isn’t even internally consistent.

            Have you considered that one might prefer a different future, if the future you foresee (the near-extiction of mankind) is disagreeable? Instead of calmly accepting death – to resist?

            And here we come to the crux of the matter. You and those like you haven’t taken the crucial step accepting your own mortality. You’ve also rejected the traditional comfort of believing in an afterlife. Instead you’ve taken a metaphor, i.e. the selfish gene, and reified it into a life philosophy that offers you immortality. But it isn’t immortality. Everything that makes you, you will still be dead and gone, just as the proto-bacteria that was your ancestors is in no meaningful way, shape, or form still alive.

            I guess whatever it takes to get you out of bed in the morning, but if I were susceptible to religious proselytizing somehow I think I’d go for immortality through eternal life in paradise over immortality though misunderstanding a metaphor.

        • anonymous says:

          SSC was the first place I read the words of fellow citizens rationalizing genocide.

          Because of Scott’s ban, this group of people, is almost seamlessly protected from any critique. No other group enjoys this freedom.

          It’s a very clever assist disguised as a proscription.

          • ChetC3 says:

            Can’t you see that genocide pales beside the moral and logical atrocity of making fun of someone?

          • Anonymous says:

            To be fair, you’re not comparing apples to apples. THe genocide is entirely hypothetical, while the making fun of is mostly for realsies.

          • suntzuanime says:

            If you want to be anonymous, I suggest picking your own fake email. My brain collapses everyone with the same gravatar into the same person and holds that person responsible for the worst things it’s said.

          • J Mann says:

            “No other group enjoys this freedom.”

            Scott’s ban on a certain political term seems to leave plenty of space to talk about that group using other terms. You can say “Moldbug and his cronies” and get all the same stuff done, right?

            Or are you referring to his general comment policy? I suppose if you want to be unkind to that group, you need to be fairly confident that your statements are true and necessary, but literally every other group enjoys that freedom.

          • Anonymous says:

            Oh no, we won’t get any respect from this site’s top shitposter. The horror!

          • Anonymous says:

            >If you want to be anonymous, I suggest picking your own fake email. My brain collapses everyone with the same gravatar into the same person and holds that person responsible for the worst things it’s said.

            I’m afraid I can’t do that, but if you tell me which are these “worst things” I can tell you whether there’s a single individual you should hate a lot or several people to divide your anger amongst.

          • anonymous says:

            I find it fitting that our most frequent and self-enamoured alt-right posters, Onyomi and Suntzuanime, are bucking against a little pushback.

          • null says:

            I am confused about some things.

            1. What is your definition of alt-right, and how do suntzuanime and onyomi fall into it?

            2. Yarvin-Landism and the alt-right are different but related movements, yet you seem to claim that they are the same.

            3. Related to 2, what does genocide have to do with Yarvin-Landism?

          • anonymous says:

            1. and 2. “Our civilized world is nothing but a great masquerade. You encounter knights, parsons, soldiers, doctors, lawyers, priests, philosophers and a thousand more: but they are not what they appear – they are merely masks… Usually, as I say, there is nothing but industrialists, businessmen and speculators concealed behind all these masks.”
            -Schopenhauer

            3. Of course, Im not allowed to link
            to the Yarvinland site but if you google “the dire problem and the virtual option” you should find the genocide scenario done up with utmost plausible deniability.

          • TD says:

            @null

            “Related to 2, what does genocide have to do with Yarvin-Landism?”

            I don’t know, but that’s because Land is inscrutable (but very fun to read). I read Land as essentially saying that we need a GeoTreeFaction economy so that we can accelerate AI development in order that the AI, which will be better than us, and therefore more morally valuable than us, does away with us. So, antihuman genocide, yes? Also, this is going to happen anyway, so all “progressives” can do is hold back the inevitable mwhahahahaaa!

            He reads like someone who accepts the Marxist proposition that capitalism is evil, but responds “Yes, and?”

          • null says:

            Your answer to 1 seems too broad, i.e. you could justify calling me an SJW under these terms. What specifically suggests that they are alt-right?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The anonymous horde:

            onyomi is not alt-right. onyomi is a pretty standard libertarian.

            suntzuanime is alt-right, if you include “novo-regressivism” under that category.

            And what’s wrong with industrialists, businessmen, and speculators?

          • suntzuanime says:

            I’m not an industrialist or a kulak or a http://pastebin.com/eLnjesSi or whatever. I’m just a loathsome troll. I have recently heard the term “Trumpenproletariat” used, and that’s probably a better identification of me than any of those lofty terms.

          • Anonymous says:

            “onyomi is a pretty standard libertarian.”

            If by standard you mean a person who compulsively and histrionically blames contemporary liberals for everything from communism to nazism to eugenics and jim crow. A very big “yes” to that.

            What unites libertarians, movement conservatives and monsters of the far right is their singular focus, to the near exclusion of any positive point of view at all, on the demonization of their common enemy for whom no amount of one-sided partisan blame and psychological projection can ever be enough; and their common target marked for destruction, our ailing democratic government.

            They find it difficult to endure any kind of criticism and enjoy staying on offense 100% of the time. Love discussing pie-in-the-sky gifts to poor like UBI, while in the present-day doing all they can to enrich the richest of the rich and spread the meme that the lucky ducky poor are already wealthier than Solomon with their color tvs and cell phones; so fuck em.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            What unites libertarians, movement conservatives and monsters of the far right is their singular focus, to the near exclusion of any positive point of view at all, on the demonization of their common enemy for whom no amount of one-sided partisan blame and psychological projection can ever be enough; and their common target marked for destruction, our ailing democratic government.

            Quoth the pot.

            “You know what I can’t stand about people who disagree with me? They lump together everyone who opposes the agenda they want to ram down everyone’s throat, blame them for all the world’s problems, and attribute sinister motives to them.

            These people are driven by nothing but greed, hatred, and lust for influence with the powers that be. Even when they disagree among themselves, they are united by their nihilistic drive to destroy all that’s good in the world. It’s the worst threat to our democracy, nay, our civilization.”

      • stillnotking says:

        Horses aren’t around anymore, but we have jobs no one would have dreamed of when horses were around. Mark Twain did not have a social media consultant.

        Let’s not forget that the economy consists of all the things people are willing to pay for. It’s probably true that our kids won’t be assembling cars, and our grandkids won’t be doing lots of things we regard as white-collar, but they’ll be doing something. Until robots are able to do literally everything anyone wants, by which time I assume they’ll be running the place.

        • Alliteration says:

          I can report that horses are still around as hobby and a few niche uses like ranching. However, horse are less popular.

      • Wrong Species says:

        The main difference between a horse and a human is that horses could never become humans. But it is conceivable that humans could merge with machines.

    • anonymous says:

      When robots are so advanced they can literally do everything we can do, they take over, and either kill us all, or do something like wireheading us or providing for us like pets.

      Seriously.

      And i bet that happens before a basic income is enacted.

      • onyomi says:

        Isn’t avoiding that the whole point of MIRI: to design AI in advance in such a way that even when robots and computers are more powerful than us, they’ll still treat us nicely and provide us with autonomy (assuming that is what we really want…)?

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          MIRI is specifically concerned with the intelligence explosion scenario. Friendly AI theory isn’t going to help if instead of one AI ascending to godhood overnight we just have a whole economy of computers, robots, uploads, and AIs. See The Hanson-Yudkowsky AI-Foom Debate.

        • anonymous says:

          As far as I can tell the point of MIRI is to make sure that the AI will be nice to us when it is in charge, in the same way that we are nice to pets. But it is inevitable that the AI gains power.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Basic income enacted where? When do you think robots will become as advanced as you describe?

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        The robots don’t take over unless they’re programmed to take over.

        Maybe they are programmed to take over (that’s “Unfriendly AI”), but maybe they are programmed to serve us (that’s “Friendly AI”). Just because they are much more powerful than us, doesn’t mean that they will regard themselves as having any independent purposes, rather than existing only to serve us.

        • anonymous says:

          As far as I can tell, even if they regard themselve as existing only to serve us, it is inevitable that they be one step ahead of us and manipulate us, which is in the end will be hardly distinguishable from them having power over us.

          Picture yourself the human caretaker of an animal sanctuary. This person may tell himself that he exists only to serve the animals, but in the end he is the one who has the power over the animals. He may consider the animals free, but the notion of self determination of the animals hardly makes sense when the understanding and power of the human being is so superior, he can’t even explain to the animals anything he does. The human being will decide the fate of the animals.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Okay, sure. What’s the problem?

            The whole idea is that they take “power” over us for our own good. The usual problem with giving people power over you for your own good is that they are corruptible and/or ignorant of what is good for you.

            Nevertheless, we do this all the time. Anarchists may disagree on the necessity, but as individuals we are theoretically supposed to agree to set the government above ourselves. This is—supposedly, but at least as far as the vast majority of people say—for the good of every one of us, since if we had no coordination, criminals would start robbing and killing people, but nobody would have the means on his own to stop them, and all the vigilantes would trip over one another’s toes, not agreeing on how the law is or how to enforce it.

            My voice is completely insignificant in determining the policy of the US government. There is not some kind of collective entity that sets the policy, of which I am only a splintered reflection. They have power over me whether I like it or not.

            To the extent that Friendly AI has power over “us”, it is only to the extent that a rational, just government of incorruptible people would rightfully have the same power.

          • anonymous says:

            It isn’t necessarily a problem, I’m just saying that at that point the AI will determine how we live, so all the talk concerning the basic income doesn’t apply.

      • anonymous says:

        Won’t there be a gap between “able to kill us all” and “able to take control” where we’ll need to be worrying about the human owners of these robots?

        I imagine that that group of owners will decide who among us lives and dies. And these moves will be rationalized as cost-saving measures that will also “put people out of their misery”.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Yeah, yeah, the evil robot-owning capitalists will exterminate all the “undesirables”.

          Except what this argument ignores is that technological improvements decrease the real cost of supporting people who can’t support themselves and also increase the amount of value people can provide, so that they can support themselves. There’s a much better case for the “ruling class”, I don’t know, killing all the old people now than there is for doing the same thing where wealth is ten times as abundant. In the same way, there’s a much worse case for doing it now than doing a hundred years ago.

          Maybe the robot-owning capitalists are just evil to the core and actively desire to kill poor people whenever they get the chance. But I get the feeling they don’t want to do that, especially when the “opportunity cost” of not instituting Nazi death camps becomes lower and lower.

          Look at all the money that people give to charity already. As the real cost of supporting people decreases, the amount needed to provide for all needy people becomes smaller and smaller.

          • Anonymous says:

            Not used to seeing you attack straw, Vox.

            “As the real cost of supporting people decreases, the amount needed to provide for all needy people becomes smaller and smaller.”

            No problem then. I guess.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            I don’t know what you consider the strawman position I’m attacking.

            No problem then. I guess.

            Yes, no problem.

            What are you trying to establish? Yes, if evil robot-owning capitalists take over all of society, seize absolute power, and decide to exterminate everyone despite not getting anything of significance out of it (if I grant for the sake of argument that they’d get anything at all), then everyone except them is screwed. I’m not saying that’s metaphysically impossible; I’m saying I think it won’t happen.

            And even if it were somehow fated to happen by the Molochian nature of the system, then having the government, I don’t know, ban robots or seize the means of production would not stop it.

          • trogg says:

            I knew it was the horror of regulation that was motivating you to shut down speculation.

  24. 27chaos says:

    This guy writes a blog on fraud in the olive oil industry and it’s totally awesome: http://www.truthinoliveoil.com/.

  25. Wrong Species says:

    So I find myself transported back to Ancient Rome and decide that I’m going to single-handedly kickstart the Industrial Revolution. How do I go about doing that?

    • Alraune says:

      Bringing back 1900s-era knowledge of metallurgy seems like the best bet. That’ll let you build steamships, and that’ll accelerate everything else.

      • Hlynkacg says:

        Heck give a competent Roman architect/civil engineer from the 1st century AD access to 1700s era math and metallurgy and I’m pretty sure they’d figure out the rest themselves.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Bring a copy of “Lest Darkness Fall”? Actually I don’t think that had enough technical detail to help.

      Better iron and steel; a prerequisite to this is coke from coal. Add in some form of welding and riveting, introduce the concept of the assembly line and interchangeable parts to make animal-drawn agricultural machinery, and you’ll be well on your way.

      • John Schilling says:

        The original Simon & Schuster “How Things Work” would I think be a better bet in that regard, possibly supplemented by a set of the Foxfire books.

        If you’re not allowed to bring books, what is it that you actually know well enough to teach that the Romans could practically use?

        • Alliteration says:

          The decimal number system could be of use to Romans by making calculations quicker.

          Also, if you know how to rig up a battery, telegraphs.

    • onyomi says:

      I imagine it would be so much harder than it seemed, even assuming you possess and can teach a great volume of technical knowledge. Because so many new technologies are useless or even meaningless outside of a larger technological context. May be apocryphal, but I read somewhere that some Ancient Greeks invented a kind of proto-steam engine. It was quickly forgotten, the story goes, because it had no practical use in that technological context.

      • Aegeus says:

        Hero’s engine did exist, as far as I know. Partly the problem was lack of a use case, but I’ve also read that the reason they didn’t see a use for it was that the metallurgy of the time wouldn’t let you get useful boiler pressures.

        Which I guess supports your point – there’s a whole network of technology that goes into the industrial revolution.

    • Montfort says:

      The problem isn’t just technological, you need the right economic and demographic conditions, too. You need strong demand for potentially industrially-produced goods, which requires an astounding surplus population both to supply the labor and the demand (and consumer goods are worse for this than, say, thousands of cannon and kms of railroad). At the same time, you also want to keep entrepreneurs from either getting stomped on by the Senate/Emperor or converted to more traditional gentry.

      What you’re looking for is a virtuous cycle of technology and production scale reducing prices which in turn helps expand the market to increase production scale and make new technology viable, etc. Obviously you can cheat a bit and give it a kickstart with metallurgical, mining, and financial/mathematical tech. Maritime stuff like more seaworthy ships, compasses, and sextants is on the list, too, but you’d have a devil of a time getting those made properly at anything resembling a reasonable cost.

      The biggest problem is that I don’t know where you’re getting dense energy from. Sardinia has some coal but the big Gaulish fields aren’t economically central enough, much less the stuff in Britannia or Germania. You can’t move enough economic weight there in a single lifetime, either. Romans did a lot with water-wheels, but that isn’t going to scale well enough. It’s like you need steam ships and railroads to get to the resources you need to build steam ships and railroads (in the quantity you need).

      China might be a better choice, but you still have to disrupt political control of the economy there (which may well spark massive unrest and rebellion, but military demand does work pretty well for industrialization).

    • Start by reading _Lest Darkness Fall_ by Sprague de Camp for ideas.

    • Deiseach says:

      How did they do it the first time round? This series might give you a clue 🙂

      • Wrong Species says:

        Those youtube videos are exactly the kind of thing I’m interested in. Thank you.

    • Anonymous says:

      Bring a whole wad of technical books written in Latin, or at least archaic Italian. Many copies each. That way, after you die, the process can continue without your help, and hopefully, the Romans might achieve industrial technology in like half the time it took us from their level.

      Provided that they don’t collapse under their own degeneracy, like they did historically. Technical progress might actually accelerate their downfall.

      (Good literature on the subject of Industrial Revolution is Gregory Clark’s “A Farewell To Alms”.)

      • NN says:

        Provided that they don’t collapse under their own degeneracy, like they did historically. Technical progress might actually accelerate their downfall.

        Only in the West. The Eastern Roman Empire, commonly known as the Byzantine Empire, kept going until it got conquered by the Ottomans in 1453.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The great lesson of science in antiquity is that books do not work.

        We know what happens when Romans read science books—you get Pliny and Seneca. At best you get Vitruvius and Varro.

        Maybe Roman engineering was done by Greek slave-engineers. Maybe they still understood the old Greek books and maybe you should bring Greek books. In the East, Hero seems to have gotten something out of the book of Ctesibius, despite a break of a couple centuries in the scientific culture. But after the Renaissance of the second century, the eastern empire, despite its great libraries steadily decline. Every generation understood less than the previous.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Considering the thesis of “A Farewell to Alms” is that a lot of bright people made small improvements which cumulatively led to the Industrial Revolution, I don’t think that would help much.

        • Anonymous says:

          Which is why I wrote what I did. I think being handed some technical answers could help them industrialize in 1000 years instead of 2000.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      I don’t think importing technology (e.g. the blueprints for a Boeing 747) would by itself help much. My armchair impression of history says the Industrial Revolution was mostly contingent on the Agricultural Revolution and the Renaissance.

      Sure, there exist foundational engineering technologies which certainly didn’t hurt. E.g. fossil fuels; electromagnetism; the Haber Process; the Bessemer Process; Mass Production; etc. But (for lack of a better analogy) I think of these more as catalysts than limiting reagents. I suspect the Industrial Revolution was ultimately a result of a shift in the economic and political climate which allowed for innovation in one’s spare time.

      If I could share only one technology with the Romans, it would be the Haber Process. Because I’d expect the ability to manufacture fertilizer to be the single easiest way to immediately improve their quality of life. And once their quality of life improves, I’d expect every else to cascade. (I.e. hunger is on the lowest rung on the Maslow Hierarchy. Transportation isn’t part of the Hierarchy period. Inventing automobiles won’t empower the Romans to innovate further.)

      • anonymous says:

        This – it starts with agricultural productivity and the way society is organized.

        Which is why ages ago I was disagreeing vehemently with someone who was arguing that it would be impossible to have an industrial civilization in a planet without fossil fuels. Industrial revolution didn’t absolutely need fossil fuels. Before there were railways, boats did the job just fine; look at how the Romans managed to transport food for one million citizens of the capital all the way from Egypt thanks to boats. Who needs fossil fuels? You need agricultural productivity and entrepeneurial freedom, and then you invent things. You could go from water wheels all the way to nuclear power. There’s more than one way to go from point A to point B.

        • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

          The correct response to the fossil fuel argument is

          S T E A M P U N K

          A professor of mine once mentioned a former student who explained why the black plague caused to atomic bomb. The reasoning was something like (Bubonic -> decimated population -> surplus of cloth rags -> books -> printing press -> Science -> Hiroshima). “We wouldn’t need to worry about a nuclear winter, if only the black plague hadn’t occurred!”. lmao.

          #necessary vs sufficient
          #do you even causal network

          • anonymous says:

            Perhaps you mean something like clockpunk. Steam requires fossil fuels.

          • John Schilling says:

            Steam engines can burn wood or other biofuels just fine. As can internal-combustion engines, for that matter. An early industrial society limited to renewable energy sources will not be as prosperous as one with cheap, abundant coal, but having even a few steam engines will offer an advantage over having none at all.

            In the “bootstrap an industrial revolution in Rome” scenario, I’d consider using my first steam engine to power a trading ship that can deliver out-of-season luxury goods against the wind. If necessary, a blockade runner equipped with shell guns and gatlings. Then make sure to hire every clever spy who wants to see how it all works and report back to his master.

          • anonymous says:

            If you are allowed to use things like machine guns, maybe the quickest way to modernize the world is to conquer it. Ethics aside.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            David Weber’s written like twelve books on that very subject.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            Re: machine guns

            Doubtful.

            As a case study, consider the Brits. First came the longbow. Next came the navy. They conquered the world. Then afterward they “modernized” their colonies by (for example): redrawing borders; outlawing the caste system; Christian missions; etc. How well do you think that worked out? Before you answer, consider: India; Iraq; Nigeria; Somalia; et al.

            Incidentally, the US military’s contemporary plan to modernize Afghanistan is going swimmingly. As is the Glorious Leader’s plan to modernize the decadent US.

            In all seriousness, the case studies we actually want to emulate probably include Japan, the Four Tigers, and idk maybe China. The question of the hour is, how does a feudal society like Japan become fully-industrialized within a few decades, especially after getting ham-blasted by the Little Boy and the Fat Man?

          • LHN says:

            A professor of mine once mentioned a former student who explained why the black plague caused to atomic bomb. The reasoning was something like (Bubonic -> decimated population -> surplus of cloth rags -> books -> printing press -> Science -> Hiroshima).

            That sounds an awful lot like James Burke’s “Connections” TV series from the 70s. Though he did touchstone->atomic bomb and Black Death->computers.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connections_(TV_series)

          • anonymous says:

            I don’t know, fullmeta, you raise good points, but the Romans had already displayed impressive organizational skills, which none of the nations conquered by the Brits possessed.

            Many of the European missionaries establishing ties with Japan and China in the 16th century expressed awe towards the sophistication of those cultures and the intelligence of the people. You don’t find any back then who treated any nation in Africa or the Middle East with the same respect. I suspect that countries like Japan and China had always greater potential compared to Africa, the Islamic world, or India.

            Russia was industrialized by brute government force.
            I’m not saying that it is the moral way to do it, mind you.
            And I certainly don’t recommend conquering any nation today with that in mind.

      • NN says:

        It seems to me that the easiest way for a time-displaced modern person to improve agricultural productivity in the Roman Empire would be to let them know about the existence of a vast “undiscovered” continent across the Western ocean, whose inhabitants have a bunch of very useful “new” crops that they would easily be willing to trade seeds of for iron tools and the like. Considering how far Thor Heyerdahl was able to get using hand-built rafts, I assume that Roman ships would be able to reach the Americas if they knew where to go.

        • anonymous says:

          Good point!

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          Eh, doubtful. Obviously we’re handwaving the problems of getting someone important to pay attention to you, an obvious madman, so let’s just focus on the practicalities.

          The main problem is just that shipbuilding technology was not advanced enough to reach the Americas much before Columbus, let alone actual seafaring and navigational skills. Vinland was settled via a very long and tenuous supply chain stretching across the cold islands of the Northern Atlantic – not at all an economically viable route.

          As for the Mid-Atlantic routes that were the arteries of the Spanish and Portugese empires, well, there’s no way Roman ships could have handled that crossing. Most ships were designed for the placid Mediterranean or short hops up and down the Atlantic coast (admittedly I am not especially familiar with Roman naval traffic outside the Med). Even in the Mediterranean, the vessels of antiquity were light, flimsily-built craft more often designed for speed instead of sturdiness, and accordingly many were lost even in that calm inland sea.

          Note also that the Romans had contact with China by both land and sea, and yet that civilization, despite its relative wealth and prosperity, was considered to be too distant to be a viable trading partner. Beyond a handful of minor embassies exchanged there was basically no intercourse between the two civilizations, and the Americas are an order of magnitude more difficult to reach, and much, much poorer.

          After the problem of construction (including building a proper hull and rigging the proper sails for a transoceanic crossing – not a trivial problem) you have to solve navigational difficulties. Being able to take advantage of wind and wave to get you to where you want to go is an immensely difficult task, one that we’ve largely forgotten since the advent of steam engines. But consider: Isn’t it odd that Africa was never fully explored by Europeans until the Age of Discovery? Why did no Roman or medieval expeditions make their way down the African coast and map the continent? The answer lies in the vagaries of the currents and wind patterns off the northwest coast of Africa – Cape Bojador was considered a deathtrap for mariners, beyond which there was no return. It wasn’t until 1434 that the Portuguese explorer Gil Eanes discovered a way to safely navigate the Cape. And that’s just Africa!

          So, to get to America, you’ll need charts of trade winds and ocean currents, such that the Romans can use their new-built caravels and carracks to safely cross the Mid-Atlantic and make landfall. You’ll need to know how to rig and handle sails, so you can teach the first crew of your IN Rebus to handle her. Then you’ve got to solve the problems of food storage and healthcare at sea, so the whole crew doesn’t starve to death or die of scurvy halfway there (remember, most ancient voyages rarely went out of sight of land). Then and ONLY then is large-scale commerce with the Western Hemisphere a viable proposition.

          In order to get the Romans to America, you need to bring with you at least a 14th-century knowledge of shipbuilding and rigging, navigation, shiphandling, and food preservation – at which point you’re already most of the way to an industrial revolution.

          • NN says:

            You sound like you know a lot about this sort of stuff, but I have to ask:

            If Roman ships were incapable of even theoretically crossing the Atlantic, how is is that Thor Heyerdahl was able to sail from Morocco to Barbados using far more primitive technology?

            I also want to clarify that I’m not talking about establishing large scale regular commerce between the hemispheres, just importing enough seeds to start growing corn and other New World crops in the Old World. That still might be a long shot, but again, I’d like to know what Thor Heyerdahl had that a hypothetical person with modern knowledge and the support of some experienced Roman sailors (like you said, I’m handwaving the issue of how to get people to take me seriously) wouldn’t have.

            Also, as a displaced modern person, it would be pretty easy to solve the scurvy problem: just tell people that eating limes and other fruit can prevent scurvy. Preserving them for a long sea voyage might be a problem (though how did the British handle that in the 19th century? I assume they didn’t have refrigerators back then?), but it would go a long way towards fixing it.

          • anonymous says:

            Food storage and scurvy are not real problems. Like every agrarian society ever, the Romans knew how to dry and preserve food.
            It only took Columbus five weeks to cross the Atlantic, which is obviously not enough to develop scurvy.
            Scurvy in the age of sail was a problem for military operations that required ships to remain at sea for a long time. You don’t get scurvy crossing the Atlantic.

            If the goal is merely to bring to the old world potatoes, maize, and quinine, you don’t need to establish commercial shipping. You just need to find the seeds, and bring them back, once. The Vinland route would have been enough.

          • LHN says:

            @NN You’ll want to make sure you go with knowledge of which citrus fruits are actually high in Vitamin C– or better, a testing protocol, since it seems likely that the specific breeds of citrus would be different. Otherwise, you’ll risk recapitulating the effective loss of the cure for scurvy by the British Navy in the second half of the 19th century.

            They started with lemons, which worked. But they later substituted limes that started with a quarter the Vitamin C and then lost a lot of that via storage and pumping through copper tubing, which breaks down the vitamin. (The effect was largely masked for the Navy by faster ships leading to shorter voyages, but the result was disastrous for some polar expeditions.) The issue wasn’t fully resolved till the 1930s.

            http://idlewords.com/2010/03/scott_and_scurvy.htm

          • anonymous says:

            I repeat that scurvy is not a problem here! You don’t risk scurvy for crossing the Atlantic! The british navy needed citrus because during the napoleonic wars it was a *military* advantage to be able to keep a ship at sea for many months. This is not an issue for transatlantic trading trips.

            Regarding shipbuilding, Roman ships were flimsy *because* they were designed for the Mediterranean. But the ancient also built enormous ships.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syracusia
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caligula's_Giant_Ship
            Apparently that one was 6 decks high!
            I can’t believe that they wouldn’t have been able to build ships able to withstand the ocean.

            The Romans did not have the compass, which would have been a real handicap. In the late middle ages the compass, knotted rope, trigonometric tables, and portolan charts, taken together formed a dead reckoning technique that allowed ships to determine where they were without having to watch the coast, so they were much more confident leaving the coastline.

            However if you can go back in time and talk to the ancient romans, maybe you can just teach them the compass and dead reckoning.

          • NN says:

            Apparently the Ancient Greeks wrote about lodestones in the 6th century BC, so it probably wouldn’t be too hard to find suitable materials for a compass in the Roman Empire.

          • “If the goal is merely to bring to the old world potatoes, maize, and quinine, you don’t need to establish commercial shipping. You just need to find the seeds, and bring them back, once. The Vinland route would have been enough.”

            The Vinland route gets you fairly far north in North America. Potatoes and Maize don’t get anywhere close to that until well after Roman times. So you have to come across the North Atlantic then make it all the way down the east coast to somewhere in Central or South America, then back.

          • NN says:

            “If the goal is merely to bring to the old world potatoes, maize, and quinine, you don’t need to establish commercial shipping. You just need to find the seeds, and bring them back, once. The Vinland route would have been enough.”

            The Vinland route gets you fairly far north in North America. Potatoes and Maize don’t get anywhere close to that until well after Roman times. So you have to come across the North Atlantic then make it all the way down the east coast to somewhere in Central or South America, then back.

            Right. It would be far more efficient to follow the same route as Columbus to the Caribbean and then from there travel to Central and South America. Maize was the staple of all pre-Columbian Mexican civilizations, and I think that the potato had reached Columbia by that point, so it should be possible to obtain those and other crops without reaching the Andes mountains (which would require sailing around to the West Coast of South America).

            Between the historical examples of very large ships built by the Greeks and Romans and the aforementioned Thor Heyerdahl, I’m pretty confident that Roman shipwrights and sailors would be able to mount such an expedition, especially if they were also given compasses and the knowledge of how to prevent scurvy. The latter may not be necessary if things go well, but it still help.

          • Protagoras says:

            I’ve got to say, I’m not sure I believe the reports on Syracusia (I guess Caligula’s ship was found, and so must have existed, but it’s described as a barge, and I’m guessing that if it ever floated, it probably never moved). Wooden ships for which we have definitely reliable records that were over 80 meters either proved disastrously unseaworthy, were heavily reinforced with iron or steel parts, or both. Of course, Syracusia is only supposed to have made one voyage, so I suppose it’s barely possible that they just got enormously lucky. But my money’s on it not actually having been quite that big after all.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Protagoras, the barge is believed to be an obelisk ship, for journeys to Egypt. Such ships obviously existed! Furthermore, the identification of the wreck with an obelisk ship is based on Pliny’s account of something that happened in his lifetime, albeit his childhood. Though maybe the height was added after it stopped moving.

          • anonymous says:

            Columbus also had the mariner’s astrolabe, which the Romans didn’t have.

            The argument that you need to know the winds before getting to America seems particularly weak. I’m not a sailor so what do I know, but you don’t know the winds of a place until you discover it. By that logic you could never get anywhere.

            I insist for the third time, that scurvy is no issue at all. Columbus didn’t have or need citrus fruit. Scurvy is not a problem for crossing the Atlantic!

            All in all I think that critics are exaggerating the difficulties.

            Regarding the existance of very large wooden ships:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_treasure_ship

          • anonymous says:

            Pedantic self-correction, I don’t know if he happened to have citrus aboard, but, he didn’t need it or know of its qualities.

            The Vinland route gets you far north, but I assume you can sail south along the American coast, no?

          • Protagoras says:

            From that wikipedia link about treasure ships, some (those who pay attention to the engineering issues) think the ships were 61-76 meters. And the only surviving archaeological evidence is a rudder that wouldn’t have been outsized for a ship of 60 meters or less. The evidence is pretty overwhelming that more than 80 meters just doesn’t work for wooden ships (unless they’re wood/iron composite ships, like the 19th century clippers; iron frames can extend the feasible length of wood-hulled ships to somewhat beyond 100 meters, but 140 meters is still a little hard to believe even if the Chinese were using iron frames, and there is no mention of them using iron).

          • anonymous says:

            Yes, the treasure ship size estimate is probably the usual Chinese propaganda bullshit, I’m ashamed I used to believe in it.

          • John Schilling says:

            Why are we talking about ginormous wooden ships anyway? Yes, everybody who was serious about wooden shipbuilding built something in the 80-100 meter range, sailed it a few times without sinking, and said “maybe we shouldn’t do that any more”. I have no trouble believing the Romans did likewise.

            The preferred vessel for early oceanic exploration was the twenty-meter caravel. I am fairly certain Roman shipwrights could have built one if someone had given them a decent set of drawings. I am also fairly certain I could reconstruct the basic design of a caravel from memory.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            @John:

            Yeah, size isn’t the issue – a 20m ship will serve much better than some hulking monster. The main difficulty is in knowing how to design a sail plan, and in building a ship sturdy enough to stand up to the Atlantic for months on end. The 15th century explorers solved the issue by adopting the lanteen sail for oceanic vessels (previously they’d been mostly square-rigged). That let the vessels lie much closer to the winds than before, which permitted much more maneuverability in sailing. The lanteen is what allowed the aforementioned Cape Bojador to be conquered, for example.

            @anonymous: You’re right about the scurvy – that wouldn’t actually be an issue, I think. We’re talking (relatively) short one-way voyages, with plenty of opportunity for landfall at either end, not the months-on-end patrolling and blockading of the 16th – 19th century navies I was taking as my model.

            The Vinland route just doesn’t seem plausible to me. The length and difficulties are immensely greater, since you need to sail virtually the entire length of North America to Panama. That’s a lot riskier than the direct route. Your vessel of exploration will be subject to accident, disease, or hostile action the whole way. Could you make it without mishap? Certainly. Is the middle passage risk-free? No, of course not. But the risks are a lot greater the longer the voyage is, and you’re proposing a MUCH longer voyage.

            Then you still need to find the maize and potatoes and whatnot and cart them back through all the difficulties to Europe, making sure your precious seed crops survive the voyage. It’s doable, but hardly easy. I think the best example of the difficulties is the fact that the Norse expeditions themselves never brought anything back from the New World, or established any sort of lasting connection between Scandinavia and North America. The route was too long, too difficult, and the returns too poor for it to be worthwhile.

            So, what would you need to bring the Romans to enable them to effectually exploit the Americas? Are we proposing that simply having the Americans’ crops would be enough to jump-start an industrial revolution? Well, I’m not convinced on that point, but it’s a much easier problem to solve than establishing large-scale commercial traffic between the two hemispheres would be (so, no trans-Atlantic Roman empire on the Portugese or Spanish models).

            We’ve still got shipbuilding. Heyerdahl’s first vessel broke up and foundered without reaching Barbados, so you need to carry back at least knowledge of his 2nd attempt (I’d still prefer an American clipper ship, or one of the heavy frigates if I felt like being a pirate king). Otherwise your great vessel of exploration sails out of Gibraltar and never comes back, and good luck convincing another band of lunatics to sign up with you. Then you’ve got to know enough about rigging a sail that your ship can sail BACK across the Atlantic, too – Heyerdahl made use of the Canary current on his second voyage, which you can’t ride back to Europe, so we’ll need to be able to take advantage of the Mid-Atlantic trades to get our vessel back.

            That’s where you’ll need navigational knowledge. Sailing a ship isn’t as easy as pointing it generally west and saying go. Ships are constantly at the mercy of wind and wave, and knowing how to take advantage of all that to get where you wanted to go was a science that required years of training. So, when I say you need knowledge of the winds, you need to know the general sea characteristics of the area you’re sailing in. Columbus didn’t know America existed, but he did have the records of decades of explorations through the Mid-Atlantic area that established prevailing winds and currents, knowledge he was able to use to head in generally the direction he wanted to go. Then, you’ll need to know how to manage a sailing vessel, since we’re jumping the Romans up some shipbuilding generations, so you can train your crew of plucky volunteers/conscripted slaves.

            Storing enough food for a several-week crossing is one of the lesser problems, but it still needs to be solved – space is limited on a sailing vessel, and so you need compact, preservable calories. Ship’s biscuit shouldn’t be TOO hard to make, and can probably be found via experimentation, but knowing off-hand how to make it would greatly simplify things.

            So, let me examine things. You’ve got a ship, the IN Rebus. She’s sturdy and can sail in just about any direction, regardless of wind. You have rough charts and know generally how to get where you’re going, your crew is confident in handling the vessel, and you’ve got enough food for the duration. Scurvy won’t be an issue, since this is a relatively short voyage. I /think/ you can stage a successful expedition to the New World now.

            Really, I’d want you to set up a school of navigation. Get your shipbuilding and navigational techniques diffused out into the world, and let the Romans set up large-scale commercial contacts with the New World. (There wouldn’t be a whole lot of trade, to be honest – there were no organized native states that I know of in Augustus’s time – but you can definitely get the food across and that’s all we’re after). The closer connectedness of the world would lead to a global society along the lines of the 16th and 17th century worlds far sooner than otherwise, which I can’t help but think would speed human progress.

    • Frog Do says:

      Surprised it’s taken this long for someone to answer “convincing arguments for IQ and practical eugenics policies”.

      • The Nybbler says:

        A convincing argument not to drink things from lead and uranium-glazed vessels might help. Or maybe not; if the lead-violence connection is real, it may be the lead which propelled the (strikingly violent) Romans to greatness in the first place.

        • Frog Do says:

          From what I recall the success of Roman violence was more to their organization than anything else, the northern barbarians were physically more impressive. Social technology is an important force multiplier.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          “half remembered”

          I think they waited for the pipes to be gunked up before using them (so lead poising that way isn’t an issue), but I heard some people added it as a sweetener to wine.

  26. Wrong Species says:

    To what extent can Moldbug be said to be the cause of Trumps rise? There is an obvious connection to be made between the two:

    Moldbug>”His followers”>the alternative right>Trump

    But does Moldbug’s ideas have any influence on the rise of the alternative right, or do they simply happen to be independent reactions to the status quo?

    • Theo Jones says:

      “To what extent can Moldbug be said to be the cause of Trumps rise? ”

      Very little. There are ideological overlaps. But outside of a handful of Internet communities where Moldbug types are unusually vocal, his ideas have very little influence. The number of supporters of such ideas, are in the grand scheme of U.S politics very small. The vast majority of people in the country would have no idea who Moldbug is. I’ve never met one of his supporters in off-line life.

      Its tempting to take weird Internet ideologies are representing something broader — but thats not how things work. It reminds me of how a lot of feminist bloggers seem to take redpillers and MRAs as their top idealogical opponents — despite the fact that such redpill and such are pretty small peanuts in the big scheme of things.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I’m not saying that Moldbug directly influences the average voter. I’m saying that there might be a connection between the two. Name recognition doesn’t equal influence.

        • Theo Jones says:

          1) Is there any indication that anyone particularly influential, powerful, or agenda setting pays attention to Moldbug? Not that I can see.
          2) Are there particular similarities between Trump and Moldbug in ideology which are strong enough to be a signature of cross influence? Not really. Trump is a fairly garden variety right-populist. There are some similar goals, but also quite a bit of differences.

        • Zaxlebaxes says:

          Are you hypothesizing that there is substantial overlap between the impulses that drive a huge number of people to Trump and the ones that have driven a small number of people to the Local Sect influenced by Moldbug’s ideas? I think that makes more sense than to say there is any substantial influence running from Moldbug and his followers to Trump’s followers.

          And how specific are we talking? Analysts are often fond of talking about how a certain huge thing like “economic difficulties” is a contributing factor to many different movements. Definitely, but that doesn’t give us much specific information. On the other hand, I doubt many of Trump’s supporters see it as an error to believe he has real cultural power because he would lose status from a bar fight with Rebecca Black, or have even considered the effects of such a match-up.

      • Adam says:

        I’ve never even heard the dude referenced outside of this specific blog and I’m almost certain nobody I know has ever heard of him. I also have no idea who his followers are, so who knows? Maybe they’re responsible for the rise of Trump. From what I can tell, the parsimonious explanation for Trump is the presidential election is a reality TV show to begin with and we finally got a candidate who is optimized for winning something like that.

      • BBA says:

        Thing I will regret writing:

        Is libertarianism one of these “weird Internet ideologies”? For all the detailed, animated discussion it generates online, it’s seen practically no electoral success.

        • null says:

          True, and also the arguments that libertarianism works in making a functioning society are abstract and often require functioning knowledge of economics and game theory; there are simple arguments against libertarianism which have embedded themselves in the public consciousness. (Also most of the public only knows about Ron Paul libertarianism.

        • Theo Jones says:

          I don’t think so. Although it depends on what you mean by “libertarian”. If you mean ancaps, or other hard-line variants of the ideology — then yes, libertariansim is rare in the real world. But if you mean “in the top right of the Nolan Chart” (ie. free-market oriented, and socially liberal, compared to the population as a whole), then libertarianism is a pretty common ideology.

          • BBA says:

            I meant harder-line libertarianism. Michael Bloomberg is certainly free-market oriented and socially liberal, and he’s nobody’s libertarian.

            It’s just kinda weird that libertarians are well-represented and loud across much of the internet, but here in reality the US Libertarian Party has only hit 1% of the Presidential vote once. True, the US system disfavors small parties more than the rest of the world does, but libertarian parties are even less successful outside the US.

            There are influential libertarian thinkers, and well-endowed research institutes like Cato, but they only take on advisory roles and an adviser is only influential as far as anyone will listen to them. Pinochet had lots of libertarian advisers but his regime jailed and executed political dissidents all the same.

            I will grant that there are far more libertarians than monarchists or the various other weird groups discussed. Perhaps it represents the limit of how big a weird internet phenomenon can get while having limited impact on the mainstream.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          Sort of. Libertarianism covers a big tent and parts of the tent are popular (decreased government intervention) and parts aren’t (anarcho-capitalism). It is honestly about a helpful a label as feminist- libertarian paternalism is a real ideological position.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Even if Milton Friedman was the only influential libertarian, that would be enough to answer your question.

        • JDG1980 says:

          Is libertarianism one of these “weird Internet ideologies”? For all the detailed, animated discussion it generates online, it’s seen practically no electoral success.

          There are politically active libertarian billionaires (most notably the Koch brothers – David Koch was the Libertarian Party VP candidate in 1980).This alone gives libertarian ideology a substantial amount of influence, since these billionaires have been willing to generously fund think tanks and PACs to propagate these ideas and elect candidates who (at least to some extent) share them.

          The fact that several prominent libertarians, such as Hayek and Friedman, won the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (often incorrectly referred to as the “Nobel Prize in Economics”) also helped libertarianism gain mindshare with certain parts of the public.

          To the best of my knowledge, there are (thankfully) no Moldbuggite billionaires in the United States. Nor has anyone popularized Moldbuggite ideology in the same way that people like Rand and Friedman did so with libertarianism. Thus, that set of ideas hasn’t been able to move the Overton Window the same way libertarianism has done over the past couple of decades.

          • stillnotking says:

            Moldbuggite ideology is extremely resistant to popularization, by design.

            If an anti-democracy movement ever does become popular in the West, it will no doubt draw inspiration from Moldbug, but it won’t be Moldbuggism, any more than Nazism was truly Nietzschean.

            Note that Trump is anything but anti-democratic. He and his followers are fervently pro-democracy. I don’t see a link there at all, other than both of them being on the broad ideological right — and even that’s arguable.

        • I’m a libertarian, and I have a theory that libertarianism doesn’t get political success because libertarianism is a political philosophy for people who don’t like doing politics.

    • Alraune says:

      To what extent can Moldbug be said to be the cause of Trump’s rise?

      To none. They (and the proposed intermediate step of ethnonationalists) all simply share the common cause of “the Cathedral” having sufficiently lost contact with reality and consequence that their behavior (particularly with respect to foreign and fiscal policy) appears psychotically delusional.

      Moldbug noticed the rot a bit earlier than most because of his civil service background, and dug back deep to find alternative philosophical frameworks for viewing society. EthNats are simply reverting to their instinctual loyalties after the globalist system lost theirs. Trump is an opportunist exploiting the personal unworthiness of his opponents.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I don’t think Trump’s following is “the alternative right”. It’s mostly traditional blue collar Republican groups who feel the GOP has abandoned them. I expect if he gets the nomination, he’ll also pull from traditional blue-collar Democratic groups who feel Hillary has no use for them, and win the presidency. The alt-right isn’t even on the radar for him.

      Both, I think, are reactions to the status quo.

    • NN says:

      To what extent can Moldbug be said to be the cause of Trumps rise?

      None. Trump was a household name long before Moldbug started writing about politics. I don’t know exactly how old Moldbug is, but it is quite possible that Trump was famous before Moldbug was even born. Trump’s recent success in politics is simply a result of him finding a political niche and exploiting it, with his name recognition and previous success (for a certain definition of the word “success”) in business giving him the ability to attempt such a thing without support from either the GOP or Democratic establishment. Given how willing Trump has been to flip flop on issues for whatever reason, and given how nobody has managed to use his record of inconsistency against him, it seems likely that Trump would have found some sort of political niche sooner or later.

    • onyomi says:

      Yeah, even if we took Moldbug as a synecdoche for the whole alt-right, I don’t really see it, except insofar as Trump, channeling disillusion with the establishment as he does, attracts a fair number of weirdos in the way all anti-establishment movements do (that is, I’m sure some alt-right people support Trump, but they didn’t create him).

      I think Trump is largely a populist revolt at both parties’ continued failure to take the immigration issue, which is a big issue to blue collar workers but not a big issue to elites of either party, seriously.

    • TD says:

      Trump’s rise is mostly to do with a certain kind of average Joe red triber who has probably never heard of Moldbug or the alt-right, but is pissed off at what he sees as a blue tribe status quo. The alt-right has an outsized internet presence because it engages in much trolling on twitter, and is genuinely the loudest and biggest meme factory in support of Trump. So, most voters for Trump aren’t alt-right, but the alt-right is the loudest and craziest voice in support of Trump.

      From that perspective, we can say that the alt-right has had an impact. Richard Wilson didn’t identify Trump supporters as “childless men who masturbate to anime” because he understands Trump support in general, but it does show that he spends too much time on twitter, which is where alt-righters congregate to harass opponents. The anonymous alt-right is fond of posting sarcastic anime girl faces which shows its chan influence.

      As for Moldbug and your question: the alt-right owes a lot more to /pol/ than it does him. Rio Knee Action Canary (DON’T SAY IT) ideas certainly had some influence but there are obvious diversion points; a lot of the alt-right is antisemitic and populist, whereas [that which must not be named] is “philosemitic”, elitist, and argues that progressivism is a protestant heresy, rather than da jooz being to blame for whatever it is. Another more moderate section of the alt-right which comprises its e-celebrity face (Ramzy Paul and so on), repudiate or soften antisemitism while espousing populist nationalism (so it’s important to distinguish the anonymous alt-right from public faces). The problem is that the alt-right is a big tent, it’s more a cultural underground than an ideology, and being an underground it cannot represent the average Trump supporter, but being an underground with a populist orientation neither can it truly be related to MoldLandianthatthingism.

      The line of the internet alt-right goes more:
      /pol/ > TRS > splits off into more moderate less antisemitic or even “philosemitic” forms developing a public face in the form of American Renaissance leading to the coining of the term by Richard Spencer (and tension with more traditional pol neonazis, and TRS which is kind of a middleground) >shilling for Trump on twitter and the comment sections of many sites across the net by /pol/ and TRS

      There’s an alternate stream into TRS from Moldbug which I think goes something like this:
      Moldbug > nationalists taking RKaC ideas > Land formalizing this as the “trike” > some streams into early TRS, but the /pol/ influence is stronger so the “The Cathedral” is converted into “The Synagogue”.

      The real issue with influence is that Nero Key Traction Fairies eschew political activism as demotist, so populists like Trump are anti Knee Low Klaxon Berry, philosophically speaking, so guys like Land see Trump as only being valuable in the sense of a destroyer to stress the system.

      The alt-right is more of a brother to “whatever we’re calling the elitist movement based on anti-demotism now” than a son, since both emerged in opposition to a perceived problem they diagnose differently.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Are you saying that the /pol/ alt-right types and through them TRS predate or feed into American Renaissance? Because I’m pretty sure that’s not the case: Jared Taylor founded American Renaissance back in 1990, according to Wikipedia. Is American Renaissance even alt-right? It seems like old fashioned white nationalism, rather than cyberpunk villains/pseudo-ironic Nazis jerking it to anime tiddies and hoarding rare Pepes/evopsych-loving He Man Women Haters (whether of the “get laid a lot” variety, or the “go and live in a log cabin with your bros and fight bears” variety).

        • Psycicle says:

          This would be a fabulous set of sentences to send back in time with no context.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I sometimes fantasize about sending printouts of SSC Open Threads back a few centuries without any context other than Omega/God/An Angel/Whatever certifying that they are genuine intellectual discussions from the 2010s. I wonder what the luminaries of ages past would make of them.

        • TD says:

          @dndnrsn

          I think I’m confusing AR for whatever conference thing Richard Spencer (guy who coined the term alt-right) and Jack Donovan, and Ramzy Paul go to that gave the movement some media presence.

          It could be that it’s just AR (I’ll check) but I only noticed it in the last 3 years because of the rising popularity of nationalism. Whatever the case, those e-celebs are a more moderate crowd than /pol/, though they’ve taken influence from it. Ramzy Paul, for example, argues that the Nazi Pepes on twitter are just shock value fun, and repudiates the “14/88” crowd. Meanwhile, same crowd calls him COINTELPRO JIDF etc.

          Very chaotic set of intertwining movements. Quite possibly there are lines of influence that lead to temporal paradoxes.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Wikipedia says that Spencer got the domain name in 2010, and took over the National Policy Institute in 2011.

            Is nationalism more popular? It’s very hard to say whether, what with the internet and all, something is more popular or just louder.

            Thinking about it briefly, the far right (maybe just the alt-right, but I’m not sure if I’m using a definition that makes sense, or my own weird categorization) is kind of the opposite of the far left: the far left tends to descend from a few thinkers and then fracture more and more (eg, from Marx, to eight different factions of university Trots who all hate each other), while the far right, being reactionary, seems to have all these different strands that pop up and then get weirdly mixed (eg, there’s a link between a gay guy whose whole deal is lifting heavy stuff and being SUPER MANLY on the one hand and guys whose entire purpose is learning Sith mind tricks to pick up women in bars).

      • onyomi says:

        “Nero Key Traction Fairies eschew political activism as demotist, so populists like Trump are anti Knee Low Klaxon Berry, philosophically speaking”

        And they say social science uses too much jargon!

    • Anonymous says:

      Can someone provide a coherent definition of alt-right that isn’t “people who disagree with leftists on the internet”?

      • Anonymous says:

        Non-mainstream right-wingers.

        • Anonymous says:

          Like gamergators?

          • EyeballFrog says:

            Not really. Gamergate was more what gets called grey tribe here, but that tends to include both left and right wingers. Demographic polls indicated the group skewed left overall, but there was a decent mixture of views.

      • stillnotking says:

        The definition varies by the speaker. The narrowest use is in reference to the Dark Enlightenment types and Neato Redaction Aeries (aka they who must not be named on this blog). The broadest encompasses any right-wing group that does not fit the standard movement-conservative mold: right-libertarians, neocons, anarcho-capitalists, etc.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Neoconservatives? They’ve been one of the dominant forces in the mainstream Republican party for a while now – hardly “alt-right”.

          • Frog Do says:

            It’s only been a couple decades. Alt-right at its’ most general probably refers to all the paleo-conservatives that lost that particular power struggle for “coherent ideology the Republican party could use to win elections”, but they used to be pretty establishment themselves, for a while.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Again going by Wikipedia: the first use of “alternative right” appears to be by a paleocon. There’s a couple uses in TakiMag in 2009 that link it to Paulites and Buchananites. Then, in 2010, Richard Spencer (a white nationalist) registers a website by the name. White nationalist tendencies seem pretty strong in the alt-right. And of course the meaning of terms changes.

            The question of whether libertarians are “alternative” is an interesting one – to some extent, they’re mainstream, in that there are people within the Republican party who call themselves libertarians and aren’t kicked out of the party or voted out of office, and it’s usually socially acceptable to say you’re a libertarian. In contrast, there’s no Republican congresspersons who call themselves white nationalists.

            However, you’ve got libertarians, and then you’ve got libertarians. Someone who wants more school vouchers, no public health care, legalize pot, etc is pretty mainstream. Someone who wants all roads private, all water plants private, private police, private military, and also legalize all drugs, etc – is not mainstream.

          • Frog Do says:

            Things exist before we have words for them, especially in politics, and double especially in modern democratic-republican politics. I mean, Paulites and Buchananites are classic paleo-cons.

            I’d argue the rise in white nationalism is probably related to the rise of identity politics in general as a common language of political expression, probably in response to globalism.

      • Tseeteli says:

        “People who disagree with leftists on the internet” seems like it unpacks into something reasonable.

        The Alt-Right is a subset of people who are interested in discussing political philosophy on the internet. In particular, they’re sub-community of people who want to iterate on ideas that are less appealing to liberals.

        The first split is “Philosophical” vs “Practical”.

        Traditionally, political discussions seemed to crystalize around some practical goal. “Elect Bernie Sanders!” or “Elect Ron Paul!” can lead to discussions about the candidates’ philosophies. But generally with an eye towards some achievable goal.

        In contrast, there are communities (like this one) that are more interested in ideas-for-ideas. “What if the government made decisions using prediction markets?” and “Could America benefit from having a king?” are both provocative questions that are appealing to a certain kind of person.

        The next split is about the specific topics that people find interesting.

        I’m an economist. I’m convinced of the merits of math-based-policy. So I like reading about how, exactly, someone would implement a prediction market.

        I’m loving the rationalist community because so many of the authors seem to share my notions of “interesting”. It’s kind of SIG: Techno-Futurist Proposals.

        In contrast, I’m not sold on the whole idea that the US should have a king. So, while I’m happy to talk about it at a high-level, I’m not going to be a great discussion partner for debates about how, precisely, America would pick it’s supreme leader.

        Community size seems to be a compromise. Too small and discussions die out. Too big and you lose specialization.

        Since there aren’t a TON of people on the Right, there seems to be a community that amounts to SIG: Authoritarian Stuff that Makes Liberals Uncomfortable. It might specialize when it grows.

        What’s cool is you can see how groups seem willing to reach out across these splits. SSC has it’s “Those Belonging to the Emperor!” link section for blogs that share the interest in philosophy, but differ on special-interest. It will also connect to things like Effective Altruism that share the special-interests but are more explicitly practical.

        • anonymous says:

          If there are alt-right sites that are not bogged down in an anti-liberal blamefest, it would help to have a name or a link. Perhaps I’ll check the front pages of the sites Scott links to after supper.

      • The Nybbler says:

        A remark I said I’d steal a few posts back, I’ll steal now, though not verbatim:

        The alt-right are like Christians who, having lost their faith in God, have decided to worship the Devil. That is, they are disillusioned leftists who have adopted a leftist parody of right-wing beliefs.

      • People who think the enlightenment was a mistake. I think that’s the closest I can come.

        • nyccine says:

          No, that’s the bad-word group. Plenty on the alt-right utterly loathe Moldbug and his followers, perhaps excepting Clarkhat and the former jokeocracy, who might not actually be one.

        • Frog Do says:

          Can’t have white nationalists without an idea of whiteness and an idea of nationalism, can’t have right-libertarians without Manchester liberalism, can’t have neofascists without fascists, and you can’t have the PUA’s without the sexual revolution.

      • blacktrance says:

        White (or ethnic) nationalist 4chan-style nerds.

      • bluto says:

        Right wing believers who are starting to use left wing/revolutionary tactics in an attempt to change society to be more like their beliefs.

  27. merzbot says:

    About “sealioning”: I feel like the author of that article and many of the commenters here (and in the reddit thread) aren’t talking about the same thing. The author is very explicitly talking about people arguing in bad faith and being willfully ignorant.

    Of course having bingo card-ish words like that is a Discourse Hazard, but as Scott points out in his post about interminable arguments, no one is obligated to have a thoughtful debate on your demand. Sealioning, as the article describes it, is just a particularly annoying variation of that behavior. And having catchy names like that for things isn’t that bad. If someone’s going to unfairly dismiss your arguments, they’ll do it whether they have a cute name for it or not.

    • Jiro says:

      The author claims he is talking about people arging in bad faith, but the comic is so far from that that he had to give a long correction explaining that he didn’t really say what he said. In the actual comic,

      1) The sealion is being personally attacked as a sealion. Being a sealion is a good analogy for being in a racial or social group and a poor analogy for having a bad opinion, even though the author tries to claim it means the latter. Responding to such an attack is self-defense, not arguing in bad faith.

      2) It is not claimed that the sealion did anything concretely bad. The guy just doesn’t like sealions. How can you possibly argue in “bad faith” or “willfully ignorant” with someone who just makes generalized negative statements about you? If someone says “ants are sexist” (or worse, ants are sexist and should be ostracized) and you’re in the ants, are you really arguing in bad faith when you demand evidence?

      3) Following someone into their house is clearly bad, but the cartoon is using that as an analogy for situations whose similarity to being in someone’s house is dubious. Furthermore, the comic implies that the sealion is out of line even before he enters anyone’s house.

  28. Mark says:

    If everyone in society already has the basics, how could explicitly guaranteeing those basics reduce the consumption of the rich, unless the policy reduces total production?

    The key question with a *basic* income is not how we’ll pay for it (we already pay everyone enough to have the basics), but how the guarantee will affect production (especially the production of luxuries).
    If you were so inclined, you could make the claim that it would be earn us more in util terms to have the rich (productive) people work a bit more to make up the slack for the (unproductive) poor working less. (Assuming that both rich and poor value their free time equally.)

  29. Mark says:

    The more I think about this comment (which I made a few threads back) the more I think I might be onto something:

    “I feel like materialists might actually have a tendency to anthropomorphise the universe, by claiming that our perspectives exist in some way beyond us (which is quite an embarrassing mistake when you claim not to believe in God.)”

    It is entirely reasonable to believe that our experiences are entirely determined by *something*, but to claim direct knowledge of that something, or (more egregiously), to claim that the thing that determines our experiences is *equivalent to* our experience, is a dogmatic/religious position.

    • Soumynona says:

      It kind of sounds like you’re conflating materialism with naive realism.

      • Mark says:

        I say that naive realism is more egregiously dogmatic, but that materialism, by making strong claims about the fundamental causes of our perceptions, is also, basically, a dogmatic position.

        (Edit: I think you’re right, actually, since I said “is” a religious position, rather than “are” religious positions.)

        • Urstoff says:

          You seem to be conflating epistemology with ontology. Materialism is an ontological thesis. Various theories of perception are epistemological. Plenty of representationalists (so, not naive realists) have been materialist as well.

          • Mark says:

            “Various theories of perception are epistemological.”

            Are they?
            It don’t think that a statement about the properties of things that *cause* perceptions (beyond our perceptions) can possibly be related to knowledge.
            Or perhaps all theories are, at root, epistemological claims.

        • Soumynona says:

          Materialism doesn’t require you to have unquestioning faith in it. A materialist can be willing to drop it as soon as a convincing reason presents itself (though I have trouble imagining how such a reason could look — hopefully, we’ll know it if we see it). Is that a dogmatic belief? Maybe some people treat it like dogma, but some people do X wrongly for any X, so why single out materialism?

          • Mark says:

            The reason why it is hard to imagine an argument or piece of evidence that would flatly contradict materialism is that materialism is not a position that is amenable to contradiction. Is my belief in Russell’s teapot any less dogmatic if I were theoretically willing to change my mind if evidence presented itself (though what form such evidence might take, no-one knows)?
            Surely a better measure of whether a belief is dogmatic is whether there is any evidence/reason supporting it in the first place.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Mark:

            Right.

            From an earlier thread:

            [T]here is no such thing as matter. There is only subjective mental experience! Where did you get this mad idea of an external physical world? It’s necessary to explain your experience?! Nonsense! Your mind produces the experience. You say you have a “brain” made of matter; well, I grant that but, you see, matter is merely another type of experience. It’s a category error. All your alleged “particles” and “algorithms” can be reduced back to mental sensations. They’re at best just a name for those sensations. We ought to be good reductionists: we don’t need to accept any idea of the “fundamental physical”. There is only one science: introspective psychology, and it studies the laws by which the mind produces regular patterns of sensations. Sometimes, those sensations are “material” in nature and follow “physical” laws, but clearly it all reduces back to introspective psychology—the queen of the sciences.

            That is exactly how your argument goes, but in reverse. The answer to it—the only answer to it—is: “But I’m directly aware of non-mental objects as well as mental objects! And the one can’t be reduced to the other!”

            But at least the theory of subjective idealism is much less stupid than reductive materialism. It’s not as obviously absurd to talk about how matter is a type of experience as it is to talk about how experience is a type of matter.

          • Randy M says:

            Strangely enough, this parody reminds me of reading about matter as quantum fields recently.

  30. anon says:

    Is the user assessing interest in the Harry Potter tabletop still around?

  31. Vox Imperatoris says:

    The title of this thread reminds me of how my stepmother’s name is April, but my grandmother kept calling her “Opal” at first. My grandmother was very mentally acute even in her 90s, but that’s such an old-lady name, like she was thinking of her friends from the 1920s.

    • The thread title also reminded me of a time, more than half a century ago in Chicago, when my parents considered buying an Opel automobile (the ones I saw at the time looked like this).

      I don’t know why the Opel was the only thing they considered, but apparently it was an Opel or nothing.

      Their ultimate decision was “nothing”: they decided to continue relying on public transit and taxicabs.

  32. Dan T. says:

    In an earlier posting you mentioned you were reading Worm… have you finished yet?

  33. too often it seems to take the form of A saying “Hey world, you should know that all Bulgarians are stupid and unemployed”, B coming in and saying “I’m a Bulgarian and find that offensive, here are statistics showing that Bulgarian test scores and employment rates are above average”, and A saying “Gross! Randos in my mentions!”

    The actual rap on actual Bulgarians, back in the early 1990s, had to do with malware.

    Communist Bulgaria tried to become the Silicon Valley of the Eastern Bloc. Thousands received technical training. In practice, though, Bulgaria’s tech output mostly involved making pirated Cyrillic versions of software published in the West.

    After Communism collapsed, Bulgaria had a whole lot of unemployed programmers, discontented with their lot, and experienced in things like getting into other people’s code to defeat security and copy protection.

    No wonder little tiny Bulgaria became, for several years, the world’s #1 source of computer viruses.

    In that era, Bulgaria and Bulgarians had a terrible reputation, which was awful for the job prospects of legitimate programmers of Bulgarian origin seeking employment in the West.

    See, e.g.,
    * Bulgarians Linked to Computer Virus
    * The Bulgarian Computer Virus Factory
    * Heart of Darkness… the hot zone that spawned the infamous Bulgarian computer viruses
    * Bulgarian ‘Dark Avenger’ Part of East-Bloc Legacy
    * Bulgarian Computer Virus Writer, Scourge in the West, Hero at Home.

  34. FullMeta_Rationalist says:

    Re: the other comments regarding SeaLioning.

    I suspect the definition of SeaLioning has undergone semantic drift. Like how the definition of Trolling used to strictly signify “deliberately and obliquely provoking invective on a forum” but has expanded to “anything which vaguely resembles jest”.

    Anecdote. I was playing a game recently. At one point, there was a guy in my queue lobby complaining about {idk something petty from a prior match} and said “it was literally the definition of trolling”. I said “that sounds more like griefing”. The guy responded “um, no. do you even know what trolling is?”

    #Kids these days
    #Wake me up when Eternal September ends

    • antimule says:

      > I suspect the definition of SeaLioning has undergone semantic drift. Like how the definition of Trolling used to strictly signify “deliberately and obliquely provoking invective on a forum” but has expanded to “anything which vaguely resembles jest”.

      And to some people Trolling simply means “suggesting anything that is outside of that group’s Overton Window”.

    • Tseeteli says:

      I think this is about right.

      The term could have been defined as something like, “Disagreeing in a polite but excessively repetitive way. Especially when part of a group of people who are doing the same.”

      I can see how that’s a thing. Especially on a platform like twitter where a conversation could go from 2 participants to 2000 participants just by having a single post reshared.

      But from there, I agree it seemed to dilute into “one person making arguments that have been addressed in the past,” to just “a person making arguments”

      • EyeballFrog says:

        So here’s what tends to be called sealioning

        Some person: Group X is full of witches.
        Hundreds of replies: What? No we’re not. *some other remark protesting innocence, calling for proof, or insulting back*
        That same person: Ugh, Group X is sealioning me. Look how they keep hounding me about this thing I said.

        Except that’s not what’s actually happening. What’s actually happening is that that person made a blanket negative statement about a group of hundreds of people. It’s not one person hounding them with hundreds of replies. It’s hundreds of people responding once. And since this statement was made in public, they get a stream of replies as new people discover it. This of course could have been avoided by not making blatant negative statements about large groups in a public forum, but we all know people on the internet don’t have that much self-control.

        It’s probably worth noting that this phrase got popularized during the whole ants thing (you know what I mean). Certain people would make extremely hateful statements about a group whose membership was in the thousands, then somehow get “shocked” when they received hundreds of angry replies.

        • Tseeteli says:

          I agree that your example seems pretty prototypical. It’s kind of a conversational DDOS.

          I think my objection to the original definition might come down to tense. (The drifted definitions are objectionable for all sorts of other reasons)

          The individual who’s protesting their innocence is being reasonable. Someone made a provocative statement in public. They responded once. That seems fair.

          At the same time, all of those reasonable protestations could be overwhelming. It could lock down a blog just as quickly as a flood of Reddit traffic.

          Phrasing the problem like, “I’m getting DDOSed / sea lioned” seems way more reasonable than, “You personally are DDOSing / sea lioning me!”.

        • JDG1980 says:

          Except that’s not what’s actually happening. What’s actually happening is that that person made a blanket negative statement about a group of hundreds of people. It’s not one person hounding them with hundreds of replies. It’s hundreds of people responding once. And since this statement was made in public, they get a stream of replies as new people discover it. This of course could have been avoided by not making blatant negative statements about large groups in a public forum, but we all know people on the internet don’t have that much self-control.

          I think that the bolded part above is the crux of the problem. Often, these people don’t realize that they are speaking “in public”. The nature of various social platforms (especially Twitter and Tumblr) encourages the false belief that they are privately speaking to a circle of friends. When someone outside that circle reads the statement and comments, it feels like an intrusion, even though this is in fact the manner in which the social networking site is designed to work.

          Note how the original comic dishonestly shifts the ground midway through the conversation – when the couple makes their anti-sealion statement, it happens in the public square, but when the sealion responds, the vista has magically changed to the couple’s private home.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          It’s hundreds of people responding once. And since this statement was made in public, they get a stream of replies as new people discover it.

          Depending on how the media is set up, each of those responders may not know how many other responders are saying the same thing.

  35. Julie K says:

    If a basic income replaced all other welfare programs and provided each adult with a fixed amount, would anything be done to help people who had children they couldn’t provide for?

    • Anonymous says:

      How little money are we talking about before we reach “they couldn’t provide for”? SFAICT $1000/month will allow a mother and few kids to eke out an existence in many places in the country without anyone starving or freezing to death. Even without access to food stamps, section 8, and the like — say illegal immigrants families for example.

      The elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about is healthcare. If it keeps eating ever larger portions of the economy nothing else much will be possible or matter.

      • Murphy says:

        It eats a lot of the economy in many developed countries, not just America because people care a lot about the things which come under the heading of healthcare and when it gets more effective at keeping people alive it doesn’t cut long term costs because they still get sick enough to die eventually.

        It’s not just moloch. Even in a well managed eutopia people would probably still want to spend a big chunk of the economy of making peoples lives healthier and longer.

        • Anonymous says:

          The current size of the healthcare sector is probably sustainable, though saying it’s not just America sweeps under the rug a huge amount of money in the gap between the US and everyone else. My real concern is the trend line. It can’t last forever, therefore it won’t last forever but I don’t see what is going to slow it down either.

          Anyway, my main point was that if UBI is going to be expected to be expected to replace medicare, medcaid, obamacare subsides, etc then not only will it need to be higher to start with, but growth will be a major issue. But on the other hand, if not, that it doesn’t really fulfill the promise of replacing the rest of the welfare state that is supposed to secure the cross ideological coalition for it.

    • JBeshir says:

      I think right now the eventual solution in some welfare states is probably that you’re deemed unable to care for them and they’re taken away from you, after inadequate living conditions are reported (so after a while of poor living), repeatedly if necessary. The government won’t either starve your children or sterilise you, so it relies on very few people wanting to maximise their number of children. Which seems to be a valid assumption.

      You could plausibly retain this approach, if you really had no better ideas, under a UBI.

      • stillnotking says:

        But that is a public expenditure in excess of the UBI, thus defeating its purpose (assuming its purpose was to replace other forms of welfare, as Julie K said).

        • JBeshir says:

          I don’t think most people count operating a foster care system as a “welfare programme” in the sense of those to be replaced by a basic income for adults.

          (Certainly I don’t think most people think all public expenditures are such welfare programmes. Police? Military? You’d get a kind of backwards minarchist state whose sole purpose was redistribution and had no law enforcement capability)

          If you did count it, though, then the answer would simply be that it’d be a bad idea to do an all welfare programmes -> basic income replacement, because orphans and children who need taking into care exist and the latter wouldn’t care for them.

          • stillnotking says:

            I meant public expenditure in the sense of direct individual benefits, currently known as entitlements. Police, military, road maintenance, etc. are a different category.

            This is not a trivial problem with the idea of UBI. The class of people who cannot take care of themselves (even with an adequate monthly stipend) is much larger than just photogenic orphans. It’s not a new problem — e.g. food stamps were designed explicitly to address it. I’m not sure how much of current entitlement spending the UBI would replace, and I don’t think anyone really knows.

          • brad says:

            The term entitlement has more to do with how the legislation is written than the fact that there is a direct individual beneficiary. Rather than there being a fixed dollar amount budgeted Congress passes a law that specifies a benefit which applicants are entitled to regardless of the total amount. Those applicants can be corporations or even state and local governments.

            To give a counterexample, Pell Grants are direct individual benefits but are made by annual appropriation and can only be granted while funding is available.

          • BBA says:

            What is and isn’t a welfare program is a matter of perspective. Although the WPA built a lot of buildings and roads and bridges and such, and its employees were paid real wages for doing real work, I’d consider it a welfare program because the point of it was to give money to unemployed people and all the stuff that got built was just a nice bonus.

          • JBeshir says:

            Foster care isn’t a direct, individual benefit to adults, certainly, so I think expecting it to be replaced by a basic income for adults is probably unrealistic. I think regarding it as a direct individual benefit even to the children is dubious, too, because all the expenses involved aren’t individualised- it is structurally similar to policing or a regulatory agency, where you’re paying to maintain an organisation which then does work for members of the public for free.

            I don’t think whether something is classified as an ‘entitlement’ by the US budget or not maps very well to whether something is a direct individual benefit. Maybe it does most of the time, though, I’ll admit to not having a great deal of familiarity with how the US does its classification.

            We can know that food stamps are replaceable, because welfare systems outside the US don’t all use them; the UK sticks with the economists’ favoured approach of “just give them money” and it works fine.

            There needs to be an emergency fallback for people who have literally no food or money- food banks are the usual- but that’s the case with stamps, too, because they’re about as easy to use stupidly or even lose as money is.

            There is a lack of clarity as to what will be replaced elsewhere, though, that’s true- healthcare being the biggest.

            Theoretically, this shouldn’t matter- you should be able to just drop the level of the BI for everything not included in it initially, and then argue later over whether to merge a thing in (and increase it correspondingly) or maintain a thing as separate. But in reality politics likely makes that very difficult.

        • Each of the children has their own UBI.

    • John Schilling says:

      Some basic income proposals encompass children and the elderly, and in the case of children pay the income to a trustee for the child’s care – which would usually be one or both of the child’s parents. Others grant the basic income only to working-age adults and maintain essentially the existing programs for ensuring children and the elderly are cared for. “Basic income” is not a single, well-defined concept,
      even if you precede it with “universal”.

      • Sastan says:

        True. But if you pay UBI for kids to the parents, isn’t that a massive incentive for population growth? And isn’t one of the problems we have now that people have kids they can’t raise because they are incentivized to do so? UBI passed first scrutiny, but once I got down to it, I never found a path that worked.

        • Pku says:

          What if you paid UBI for kids, but slightly less than what it actually takes to take care of a kid (like the futurama episode where bender adopts a bunch of kids)?

          • Sastan says:

            You think the sort of person who knocks out kids for money gives a damn about raising them correctly? You should ride along on my day job sometime. The projects have to provide free lunch to all the kids, because their parents kick them out of the house in the morning and don’t let them back in until after dark.

          • Pku says:

            Wow, that’s depressing. Like, there are lots of people who are neglectful or abusive towards their kids but are there actually people who have kids for money? Even without the ethical issues it just seems like there are much easier ways to scam welfare.

          • Sastan says:

            I actually don’t think it’s quite as mercenary as that, but it’s not far off. For poor, underclass teenage girls, a kid is a status boost, and a meal ticket out of your mom’s house. With a kid, you can get Section 8, WIC, TANF etc. And once they have the kid, or kids, they show little interest in raising them. Most of that is done by grandparents if at all. For many if not most of these mothers, the only interaction with their kids that they have in a normal day is when they wake up at seven or eight at night and put them in bed before heading to the club, and when they kick them out in the morning so they can sleep in peace.

            I wish this weren’t the case, but I tell you from what I see with my own eyes on a daily basis. It makes me a lot more sympathetic to the plight of the underclass to realize that they are on their seventh or eighth generation of this shit too. We have families in which no one in living memory has ever been raised or socialized at all. No wonder they’re a problem population.

        • John Schilling says:

          I agree that finding a workable path to UBI is unlikely, but I don’t think it is so thoroughly impossible as to not be worth discussing.

          If I were to make an educated guess, the path most likely to be politically acceptable and to be only tolerably corruptible would be for children to automatically be allocated the same UBI as everyone else (because setting any precedent for changing “everybody gets exactly $X” is the surest route to corruption), with some fraction of the UBI being paid to the legal guardian of the child and the rest held in trust until the child’s 18th birthday. “Some fraction” likely being a sliding scale based on age.

          Getting “some fraction” right is of course one of the parts where a nice theory is likely to run aground on the rocky shore of reality. But, like I say, maybe still worth talking about.

          • Sastan says:

            Oh, I’m all for discussing it, but as I said, there’s a few problems I just can’t see any polity on earth having the cold-heartedness to implement fully.

            1: There’s not enough money. Especially looking at health care costs for the truly jacked-up. Any UBI that could provide care for everyone would be far too expensive. And if the UBI can’t provide care for the most hard-up….

            2: The constant push to expand a safety net for really pathetic cases. This makes Problem 1 even worse. Are we really hard enough to say “sorry love, you had your UBI, if you can’t pay for chemo, tough!”?

            3: Dysgenic incentivization, which I just mentioned.

            4: Immigration. If you’re handing out ten thousand dollar checks (or anything, really), how exactly do you plan on keeping out all the people on earth from coming over to get some? Here again, immigration enforcement would have to be FAR more brutal than even the most hardcore Trump supporter supports today. Marriage fraud would be rampant. You’d have to repeal Law of the Soil.

            None of these are technically impossible, but I think in any democracy highly unlikely to happen at all, and impossible to maintain over the long term.

          • Deiseach says:

            children to automatically be allocated the same UBI as everyone else …with some fraction of the UBI being paid to the legal guardian of the child and the rest held in trust until the child’s 18th birthday.

            Does the USA not have anything like Children’s Allowance?

            What you’re talking about sounds a bit like using the UBI as a trust/savings fund for the kid so when they turn 18 they can use it to go to college – which would be nice, except:

            (a) there’s nothing to prevent them when they turn 18 – unless it’s legislated in – from taking the lump sum and blowing it on hookers and coke

            (b) a mass of money sitting in government bank accounts earning interest will be used to dip into to pay for other day-to-day expenses, so we’re back to “robbing Peter to pay Paul” (e.g. today’s UBI will be paid out of the money sitting in trust for the next decade and when we get to having to pay out the lump sum to your little Johnny when he turns 18 we take that out of the money for the next generation ad infinitum) – which will become another social welfare/social security timebomb (to use the not-at-all alarmist phrase about paying out pensions).

          • brad says:

            @Deiseach re: Children’s Allowance
            Not exactly. If you have income you get a lot of money in tax benefits per child, and some of those tax benefits are “refundable” meaning if they reduce your taxes below zero you get a check back.

            But if you have no income, we no longer have a unified cash welfare program. Which is not to say we don’t have any cash welfare programs, just nothing so straightforward as that. The main ones are SSI/SSDI and TANF. The latter is administered by the states and they have a fair amount of flexibility in how it works.

          • Pku says:

            Dysgenic incentivisation could be beaten by designer babies. Healthcare should probably be separate from UBI anyways, since that allows for better cold-hearted QALY calculations when deciding what to cover. And about immigration, it seems like most illegal immigrants right now are undocumented, which means they wouldn’t get UBI anyways. So these problems are nontrivial but probably not insurmountable.

          • Sastan says:

            @pku,

            I don’t think your solutions work all that well. Designer babies are fine (absent the moral argument) for the rich. The poor who will be incentivized to have more kids for the cash (if they get the UBI money) will not have the money nor the inclination to buy designer genes. And if they don’t get UBI for kids, they’re still irresponsible enough to have lots of them, making their poverty even worse.

            On healthcare, separating it from UBI, I’m not sure how that helps? Either people buy health care coverage with their UBI, in which case any UBI would have to be enough to cover health care, which is unlikely in the really unfortunate cases. Or you have single-payer health care in addition to UBI, in which case the costs are going to be even worse, siphoning cash from the UBI. Or you have to deny a lot of health care.

            On immigration, first off, the immigrants might not get UBI, but their kids do, unless you repeal law of the soil. And if you do that, you have a long term “second class” of noncitizen residents constantly pushing (rightfully so) for full privileges. Unsustainable in a democracy. And when they get citizenship rights and privileges, we’re right back to not being able to afford it, which we never could in the first place, and we’re the richest nation on earth.

          • ” And if you do that, you have a long term “second class” of noncitizen residents constantly pushing (rightfully so) for full privileges. Unsustainable in a democracy. ”

            You are, of course, describing the long term situation of history’s most famous democracy.

            On dysgenic effects, one point worth mentioning. There is a very low cost way of importing high quality genes into your gene pool. In a world where all the high status people have wonderful genes due to genetic manipulation, some of the high status men will have (probably nonmarital) sex with low status women who want to bear higher quality children.

          • Nornagest says:

            You are, of course, describing the long term situation of history’s most famous democracy.

            Yeah. But Athens and the other Greek city-states following its model had political systems so weird that basically the only thing they have in common with the modern US is that both call themselves democracies. There are plenty of non-democratic systems that resemble ours much more in terms of incentives and in terms of practical mechanics.

          • Sastan says:

            @ David Friedman,

            Yes, I recognize the parallel. I don’t think it would work in the modern world at all. We see it being done in places like the UAE, but these are lightly populated, monoreligious, monoracial oil states. Without massive extractive wealth, and the pure social cohesion to go with it, the plan falls apart. In a fragmented democratic society, there will always be a group looking to import more voters. Things degrade quickly once the tipping point is reached.

            As to your dysgenic solution, it is sort of the case now, but two things hinder it.

            1: Lower class women tend not to live, work or play anywhere near upper-class men.

            2: Lower class women tend to be far less attractive than what an upper-class man could get elsewhere.

            There are, of course, as many counterexamples (The Governator springs to mind). But more importantly, perhaps I worded my disagreement poorly. My concern with “dysgenics” is not the genetic nature of any of the individual kids, but in a structure which incentivises those least able to care for children to have the most. For poor kids to have the best chance at climbing out of poverty, they need the best possible upbringing and training. They aren’t going to get that from a single parent on UBI. There is, of course, a simple way to structure it in order to not incentivize this behavior, which would be to not give UBI to kids. If you want kids, it’s on your own dime. But this leads me back to my original criticism. Are we really that hard as a nation? I am. But I know virtually no one else is.

            And policy prescriptions built on a fallacious reading of human psychology are doomed to failure.

  36. anonymous says:

    “3. A few years ago I reviewed A Future For Socialism and mentioned that the book’s suggestion of redistributing corporate profits as a basic income wasn’t enough – it would only provide about $6000 per person.”

    Is 6k not enough to live on?

    I’m not American, but I heard that you can rent a room with utilities for 4000 yearly in many American cities (a room not a house). Surely you can eat on 1000 yearly, plus another 1000 for luxuries, while riding a bycicle.

    I know from reading frugality blogs that frugal people in the US eat on less than 3$ daily. It’s easy to do by buying dry grains and legumes.
    Maybe there’s no money for health care here, or for raising kids.

    • Anonymous says:

      Seems to me that for most people having kids is non-negotiable. I don’t have the urge so it’s a big fear of mine that one day I’ll wake up and Gnon will have taken control of my brain.

      • anonymous says:

        I just realized that the figure of 6k per person probably doesn’t apply to those with children, because the children represent more heads in the headcount. So, if you are a parent with 2 kids, you’ll probably get 18k.

    • John Schilling says:

      Also note that it’s only $6K per year if you are a complete wastrel and/or completely disabled, and in either case a loner to boot. Otherwise it is $6K per year plus whatever you can earn with whatever work you can get and feel motivated to do. That’s one of the huge advantages of a UBI over traditional welfare; it preserves the incentive to do productive work where any sort of means-tested program is likely to destroy it.

      You may want, for the sake of fairness, to supplement the UBI for people who genuinely can’t work to supplement it themselves, and you’ll probably need to do so for people who not only can’t work but come with expensive support requirements (e.g. most quadriplegics). So the UBI doesn’t completely replace the rest of the social safety net. And as I’ve noted elsewhere, it isn’t clear whether you include children in the UBI or cover them separately – I’d prefer the former, but some people disagree.

      • Sastan says:

        So on top of a completely unlikely expenditure on UBI, we have to maintain the safety net, with the attendant political pressure to increase it over time? Wasn’t this my criticism of UBI originally? That modern westerners aren’t hardcore enough to institute it strongly enough for the norms and incentives to work? We wind up with exactly what we have now, and welfare for everyone on top. The worst of all worlds.

    • Zippy says:

      I believe Scott’s point was that $6K, especially in comparison with the money that workers usually earn yearly, seems like too small of a sum to create a “workers’ paradise”.

  37. egoitis says:

    I don’t use Reddit anymore, but I own the /r/fallfromheaven subreddit. It has only 27 subscribers, but Derek Paxton aka Kael just posted there recently. Are there any regular Reddit users/FFH fans who would want to take ownership of the sub?

  38. onyomi says:

    If we assume Jonathan Haidt and Scott Adams are basically right and nearly everyone starts out with gut emotional decisions and then uses logic to justify them, what does this imply about the strategy or advisability of debate and/or persuading others to one’s cause? Also, what does this imply about our ability to trust our own intuitions, other than that we should probably read the Sequences again? Is it a “dark art” to try to appeal to people on a gut level instead of a logical level? Is logical discussion useful within the narrow confines of discussion among SSC types who value logic a lot more than most and try to subordinate their gut reactions to it? Or not even there, since even in such contexts instances of people changing their minds on fundamental assumptions are pretty rare? Also, are there any ways to reshape one’s own or someone else’s “gut” (as in, intuitions) without genetic engineering and/or time machines that allow you to change their early childhood?

    For example, I can think of cases where someone is strongly inclined to socialism, but who briefly flirts with an alternative–say, libertarianism–only to eventually find a way back to some new, more defensible version of socialism, which was what his heart told him was right all along. And I myself, am this way with respect to libertarianism–it seemed instantly and obviously right to me the first time I encountered it but I have since had periods of flirtation with or trying on of other philosophies, yet I always come back to libertarianism.

    Is libertarianism just in my DNA/early childhood and should I operate on the assumption that others have a similar relationship to socialism, nationalism, and other philosophies? And if so, is logical persuasion useless since, even in the rare case when I can convince them, for a time, of the logical superiority of libertariansim, their guts will eventually lead them home to socialism or whatever else?

    • Murphy says:

      Well, one of the implications is that influencing peoples gut feelings before they notice they’re being influenced and before the people are asked to commit, in words, to one side or the other is probably insanely overpowered.

      Fnords are real and many in the media are already using them to full effect. It’s just that instead of a secret word it’s carried by the “tone” of articles and TV shows.

      The libertarianism thing I think is a different issue. With that there’s discord between my preference for outcomes and my preference for methods. Ends vs means.

      Libertarianism does amazingly well when it comes to principled principles that lead from a small set of coherent starting positions.

      If it was a computer program it would be written in Haskell and would be a few beautifully elegant statements.

      Unfortunately the end game implies child brothels and no entity of social responsibility of last resort so anyone who can’t care for themselves is basically fucked unless they can beg effectively.

      Socialism is a mess in terms of core principles and starting positions. Instead it’s what you get when people look at the outcomes they want and cludge something together to get the answers they want.

      It it was a computer program it would be written in assembly by 200 different people and every time a tough edge case or bug came up someone adds a messy little patch.

      • Hlynkacg says:

        @ Murphy,

        I genuinely enjoyed that analogy.

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t really agree. I think the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is a pretty neat and elegant principle. And my understanding of libertarianism is fairly hacky – there are lots of questions, such as what things people should be able to own, what you should be able to do when someone violates your rights, what externalities should be acknowledged and what to do about them, that need to be answered, but whose answers are not obvious and can’t really be determined from first principles.

        • onyomi says:

          Yes, one of the most common critiques of libertarianism is that it is simplistic, utopian, overly concerned with consistency at the expense of practicality, etc. etc.

          On the libertarian view, this is not just wrong, it’s the exact opposite of the truth. From our perspective, trying to manage society and the economy from a few central offices in the state house is the utopian, oversimplified, blunt instrument.

          Letting all the individuals with the relevant knowledge work out all the messy details on a case-by-case-ish basis is actually much more practical and is, in fact, the source of all large-scale, complex social systems which function: not just economies, but even law (which is always based to some degree on common law and precedent) and natural languages (which are codified in dictionaries and grammar books but created, sustained, and evolved through the billions of communicative acts which occur each day).

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “From our perspective, trying to manage society and the economy from a few central offices in the state house is the utopian, oversimplified, blunt instrument. ”

            Isn’t that an empirical question? Aren’t there plenty of cases were oversimplified blunt instruments work?

          • JDG1980 says:

            On the libertarian view, this is not just wrong, it’s the exact opposite of the truth. From our perspective, trying to manage society and the economy from a few central offices in the state house is the utopian, oversimplified, blunt instrument.

            But this contrasts libertarianism with old-style, command-economy socialism, and that isn’t what most non-libertarians advocate. Rather, the real-world choice in the modern West is between greater and lesser degrees of government intervention within the context of a mostly-capitalist economy.

            What we have now is more or less what happens if you take capitalism and then implement special-case hacks and workarounds every time the big-picture results are ethically abhorrent to a majority of people. I think this is what Murphy was getting at.

          • Arbitrary_greay says:

            What we have now is more or less what happens if you take capitalism and then implement special-case hacks and workarounds every time the big-picture results are ethically abhorrent to a majority of people.

            And is the driver for Molochian local minimums.

          • onyomi says:

            “What we have now is more or less what happens if you take capitalism and then implement special-case hacks and workarounds every time the big-picture results are ethically abhorrent to a majority of people. I think this is what Murphy was getting at.”

            Put another way, almost everyone has now grudgingly recognized that free market capitalism works best; therefore, instead of letting their atavistic socialist gut reactions lead them to try to overturn it wholesale, utopian planners content themselves with tinkering with it up to a level where most people don’t notice how much worse off they’re being made (unless all or even most government laws exist only in cases when their nonexistence would clearly lead to morally abhorrent outcomes. This seems highly improbable to me; then again, imagine the horror if people were allowed to braid hair without a license).

          • @JDG1980
            Plus a great many cases where the general principle of the thing is the argument-soldier but the motivated activists and beneficiaries are special interest groups. /snark

            The most salient examples I can point to of a special-case hack for a perceived flaw in capitalism are Social Security or Medicare. These are built to care for the poor and elderly excluded by the capitalist system, so long as you ignore the state-imposed reasons for the problems of the poor and elderly. Social security is needed in part* to fix the savings-destroying bubble markets created by government’s low interest rate policies and constant 2% inflation target. Medicare is needed to cover gaps in poor person health care due to massively inflating medical costs** in part thanks to credentialism of what doctors/nurses are allowed to do + wasting tons of doctor time in filling out mandatory paperwork.

            That said, in the interest of changing my mind on things too: What sort of policies do you see as ways to fix edge-cases in capitalism? What does a non-anarchist consider worthy trade-offs and moral hazards of government as a fine-tuner?

            *No one wants to live with or support their grandparents like they used to all while being terrible at saving for retirement in general. Culture is to blame here too.
            **Of course, part of the ballooning cost is people living longer and having access to treatments that are as effective as they are expensive, so blame all around for that one, I guess =D.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “utopian planners content themselves with tinkering with it up to a level where most people don’t notice how much worse off they’re being made ”

            I’m currently leaving Saving Gotham and I’m not sure how banning restaurants from selling sodas over a certain size counts as “making people worse off”

            “What sort of policies do you see as ways to fix edge-cases in capitalism? ”

            You are familiar with the existence of tobacco companies?

          • @Samuel Skinner
            Just to make sure I understand your intent, you mean tobacco companies as an edge case in that the product they freely make and people freely buy is dangerous to those people’s health but is addictive so they cannot or find it much harder to stop using.

            As much as my instinctual impulse is to frantically search for a reason why it is government’s fault or exacerbated by government, I think you’ve got me in check on this one. The policy of taxing cigarette is generally effective in getting people to value less the nicotine stimulant in the form of cigarettes.

            On the other hand, don’t smokers have free will (or something functionally similar to human appearances) to be able to choose self-destructive things in the long run for pleasure in the short run? It is and was BS that cigarette giants colluded with the medical establishment to keep evidence of cigarette harms out of public view for so long, that sort of fraud is also condemned in ancap circles.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            That is true, but wasn’t the issue I was thinking of. Smoking companies have a strong incentive to tell people their product is safe. Unless you have an authority people listen to, complaints about smoking by scientists are going to run up against other scientists saying smoking is safe. In our world it took decades to get the companies to admit that cigarettes are bad for people.

            And yes, having the government be the tie breaker is sucky; regulatory capture is a major problem for dealing with health issue caused by obesity, salt… basically anything with money in it (the food pyramid being the most infamous). Unfortunately, there isn’t a way around it; any authority that people will listen to is going to be one interest parties will fight to control. Having it be the government appears to be marginally better than the alternatives, if only because the government attracts “people interested in the subject and helping others” and concentrates them in the place they can do the most damage (surrounded by a protective layer of punch-clock employees because the government also attracts those sort of individuals).

            As for free will, you can drive down the smoking rate and amount by individual smokers just by moving where tobacco is displayed in a store. Heck, advertisements informing people they can die from smoking are less effective than ones informing them they might be crippled, even though the latter is better (since crippled people can kill themselves but the dead don’t have the option to cripple themselves).

            When you start talking about libertarian paternalistic programs, it gets hard to talk about free will of individuals. Banning large size soda cups will result in people gaining less weight… despite the fact they can use refills or buy multiple sodas.

          • Punch-clock bureaucrats as the protective fat layer insulating the well-meaning government employees. If things actually work that way, that is fantastic (especially if intentional) org design! That way it takes significantly more bribing and capture for a single entity or coordinated group to seize the regulator by ‘bulking up’ the organization with people who want a stable job and are unlikely to take risks like accepting a bribe unless it is huge.

            That’s the problem with getting to libertopia isn’t it? We’ve got ideas for a stable society with multiple competing regulators and safety-certifies once we are already there, but we’ve got a chicken and egg situation of how do safety certifiers get started without a rep? I mean we’ve got UL, but they’ve got regulatory capture at this point with municipal codes requiring UL certified stuff.

            Thanks for the conversation, and I appreciate the points you’ve brought up here. I’ve got to keep working on exactly how this fence works and what its doing before I suggest newer and better fences to replace it.

    • Frog Do says:

      “If we assume Jonathan Haidt and Scott Adams are basically right and nearly everyone starts out with gut emotional decisions and then uses logic to justify them, what does this imply about the strategy or advisability of debate and/or persuading others to one’s cause?”
      It means these people are part of a small subset of people that enjoys discussing ideas in the abstract at an emotional level. Probably means these people can also be convinced of anything, which is from Scott’s epistemic learned helplessness essay.

      “Also, are there any ways to reshape one’s own or someone else’s “gut” (as in, intuitions) without genetic engineering and/or time machines that allow you to change their early childhood?”
      Practice, practice, practice. Fake it till you make it, etc. This was I think was supposed to be the original point of Overcoming Bias, Yudkowsky’s idea of a rationality dojo where people actually meet and talk IRL and stuff.

      • onyomi says:

        In the Yudkowsky Dojo, is the goal to reason without being influenced by gut feelings or to put the gut feelings somehow more in their proper place (not sure what that is), or…?

        Because if the first, doesn’t this run into the problem described by Ted Slingerland re. Chinese philosophy and the case of Phineas Gage: people with the ability to rationally analyze moral problems but no gut level instincts on such questions seem not to actually function well in society nor as moral reasoners?

        That is, if we consider Haidt’s comparison of gut reactions to the dog and rationality to its tail, are we trying to make a dog with a really strong tail? Or to get the tail and the dog to trade places? Or to render the dog as quiescent as possible? Or…?

        I think part of the intent of the dog-tail metaphor is that the tail, however strong, cannot truly lead the dog, nor, maybe, would we want it to?

        • Nornagest says:

          The goal is to make the right decisions. The implication of those half-million words on heuristics and biases is that the right decisions are best made with less gut involved, but we could reasonably disagree on what the proper balance is — one of the main take-aways from Kahneman is that decision-making isn’t free, and that fast and frugal heuristics can be optimal under time or energy constraints even when they’re less accurate.

          My own thirty-second pitch would be that gut feelings are reliable in proportion to how well we’re adapted — both personally and ancestrally — to the situation we find ourselves in. And that many aspects of modern life hew surprisingly close to caveman politics.

          • Frog Do says:

            I could be horribly misunderstanding Yudkowsky and the greater rationalist movement, of course, but I thought the point was getting better gut reactions, some of which involve interrupting your previous gut reactions in situations where you do have time to think about it.

          • Nornagest says:

            Eliezer does write about that in places (not to be Sequences Guy, but a good search term would be “five-second level”). I have my doubts about whether it can be effectively done in a domain-independent way — there are some concepts that pop up in a lot of places, like basic statistical literacy (this is half of what Eliezer’s talking about when his Bayes fetish comes up), but that is of course domain-dependent, it’s just a particularly common domain.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Well, at the limit, domain independence is just domain specificity to the general domain.

            (True hardcore domain independence is probably precluded by no-free-lunch stuff as usual anyway.)

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure, and I’m not saying that low-hanging fruit doesn’t exist for most people. I’m saying that it’s not as exciting or as generally applicable as you’d think from reading the Sequences or HPMOR. To rephrase:

            Q: Are there subjects or habits of thought that would make most people better off if they knew about them?

            A: Yes.

            Q: Will they give you superpowers?

            A: No.

            Q: Can you reliably lead people, by teaching them these things, to [voting Blue/donating to MIRI/going atheist/going theist/sacrificing a goat to Our Father Below/whatever weird things you’re convinced are rational]?

            A: Hell no.

        • Adam says:

          No, rationalists already value one future over another, which is the trait Phineas Gage was missing. The goal of the movement is to learn how to make decisions more likely to bring about the future they most value. Typically, this involves paying attention to evidence and using probabilistic reasoning when predicting the future, but it doesn’t involve suppressing your feelings about what the future should be.

          In reference to your own libertarianism, why are you a libertarian? Is it because you place terminal value on social structures that are provably in harmony with minimally defensible first principles? Or do you just think a world without nation-states would be a better world for most people by whatever standard they individually judge their lives to be good or bad? If it’s the former, attention to evidence and probabilistic reasoning will mean nothing to do and completely miss the point. If it’s the latter, then you should stay libertarian as long as the best available evidence and arguments actually suggest your prediction is correct.

          The trap, of course, is that historical evidence of policy outcomes is fraught with so many confounders that true believers can dismiss endless historical examples and cherry pick whatever favors what they already believe. At least if you’re being a good rationalist, though, you should try to identify the relative frequency of ‘place tried X and descended into chaos’ versus ‘place tried X and were basically fine,’ then if you come to some conclusion that is only plausible in the face of strong priors one way or the other, you at least know you’re reasoning from strong priors and can call upon yourself to justify them.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Related: As I remember it, Haidt (I really hope this is Haidt and not another author I read around the same time) explains people’s gut intuitions as being established largely based on what lets them feel good about themselves, and what brings them social status.

      Now, these aren’t always the same thing: imagine a religious community where it’s maintained that material prosperity is a reward for faithfulness and moral rectitude. A poorer person in that community who holds those views probably has some level of self-loathing because of them, but on the other hand, they hold the right views, which brings status. But imagine a majority of people in this community are poor – what led to them holding views that don’t fulfill both criteria?

      Also – and this is something I am definitely guilty of – it’s possible to look at people’s beliefs and go meta and think (or say) “ha ha, according to Jonathan Haidt their views are just what makes them feel good and gives social status and they only think they’re being rational, it sure is nice to be more enlightened than they are, look at them status signalling like mere beasts” … isn’t this just another view that allows feeling good about one’s self and (at least in some communities, such as this one) brings prestige? But this realization is just the same thing: is it signalling (or whatever you want to call it) all the way down?

      I hope this makes sense.

    • jimmy says:

      I have a somewhat similar background to Scott Adams, and I’ll give you my opaque-one-liner answers to your questions in the order you asked then try a brief response to the overall sentiment. If you want me to expand on something, just ask.

      *be emotionally relevant, meaningful, and salient
      *trust, but always *verify*
      *”dark arts”, as usually used, is by and large bullshit (which substantial caveats – the arts get very *very* dark). Complaining that your ideological opponent is “using dark arts” is just being a sore loser. If you want your win, *earn it*. Trying to use “dark arts” will hinder your progress, not help you “cheat the system”.
      *logic is important in changing minds to the extent which it connects emotionally, no more, no less. If your interlocutor feels bad about letting themselves be dumb enough to miss your point, it helps painful things connect. SSC is better than average at this, but by no means perfect.
      *no, you should not view your relationship with libertarianism as fixed in the past, and yes, you should operate on the assumption that others have a similar relationship to their political philosophies
      *logical persuasion *done right* is not useless and can change such things, but if you only manage to talk someone into a place they don’t know how to argue out of while missing the internal logic, don’t be surprised if they find a way to reject your conclusion.

      The way I prefer to relate to my own gut/emotions/system 1/whatever you call it is to treat it like an unintelligent yet perceptive and wise friend who has my best interests at heart and will listen when I’ve actually addressed his concerns. This means I very rarely have experiences like “I have an irrational fear of X” because that’s dismissive as fuck. Instead, that kind of thing tends to resolve in one way or another (“is that actually dangerous? huh, I guess not. i’m no longer afraid”/”I have a bad feeling about X and I don’t know where exactly it comes from, but I don’t trust X”/”X brings up a fear which I don’t know how to dismiss, but I’m pretty sure it’s safe so I’m going to proceed even with the fear and pay attention if it gets worse”/”oh shit, X actually *is* dangerous!”/etc).

      The point is that information is supposed to flow *both* ways. Yes, my verbal beliefs follow from my gut level intuitions. Yet my gut level intuitions also follow from my abstract reasoning – that’s the whole damn point of becoming a (post)hypnotist.

  39. gwern says:

    Any suggestions for interesting or surprising recent (in the last year or two) psychiatry-related journal articles I might present?

    For my money, the most surprising and interesting behavioral genetics of the past two years are the phenome papers showing pervasive genetic correlations of good traits:

    Krapohl et al 2015 http://www.hungrymindlab.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Krapohl-et-al-2015.pdf “Phenome-wide analysis of genome-wide polygenic scores”

    Hagenaars et al 2016 http://www.nature.com/mp/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/mp2015225a.html “Shared genetic aetiology between cognitive functions and physical and mental health in UK Biobank (N=112 151) and 24 GWAS consortia”

    Hill et al 2016 http://biorxiv.org/content/early/2016/03/09/043000 “Molecular genetic contributions to social deprivation and household income in UK Biobank (n=112,151)”

    • gwern says:

      I should mention that one reason Scott may find them interesting is that this sort of pervasive intercorrelation, like the genetic correlations of schizophrenia with depression, bipolar, and other psychiatric disorders, may well be part of the phenomenon he puzzles over in his past post https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/12/24/how-bad-are-things/ . Part of why you see such pits of suffering, where a lot of people are poor and sexually abused and depressed and schizophrenic etc, is because many of these causally lead to each other as outcomes but also because getting depressed is evidence for having genetic risk for depression which also predicts/causes additional schizophrenia risk and this also overlaps with intelligence genes so that’s also going to predict other problems, and so on.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        As far as I know a lot of people are backing away from the idea of mutational load; how else do we interpret:

        1. There being just straight out “bad genes” that make everything worse
        2. The same people having lots and lots of them, as opposed to all of them averaging out over the population?

        • Anonymous says:

          2. The same people having lots and lots of them, as opposed to all of them averaging out over the population?

          Lots and lots of the alleles, or lots and lots of the everything worse?

          If the latter: pleiotropy.

  40. monolith94 says:

    Hey Giant Squid, this is monolith94, you know, from the old times.
    I reached out to you on twitter but this is probably a better bet? In any case I was hoping you’d take some time to check out the book Valis. I would love to hear your thoughts on it, as it deals with therapy and psychology from a patient’s perspective. It’s very interesting and I can only imagine your reaction to certain passages of it.
    Another thing I’d love to hear about from you on your blog is more about ADD/ADHD. What is it? Given it’s nature as a spectrum condition, what is the best way to address it?

  41. Dahlen says:

    I know this might explode into its own subthread of 500 replies, but I was really curious:

    There are unusually many religious people on SSC compared to the typical rationalist space. How do you square this general rationalist tendency with a) supernaturalism (especially the epistemological impossibility of establishing supernatural causes of events, given imperfect knowledge of laws of nature and imperfect observation) and b) religious anthropocentrism (e.g. God created humans in His image, God can be said to be a He, God cares about your sex life, God likes and demands worship just like a human being with a need for status, the Objectively Correct way to live has a suspicious lot in common with what Levantine societies of Antiquity thought, etc.)?

    Because these are the two biggest (perhaps only) reasons I’m an atheist, and religion seems like something that’s pretty important to get right.

    I’ll just be sitting here reading the replies. Sorry if this sounds like a strawman, it’s the best I could do to illustrate some real features of religion that I have a problem with.

    • Rob says:

      Without getting too into the weeds, the historical evidence around Jesus particularly, and the early Christians in general, has always been more persuasive to me than the broader metaphysical route.

      On a tangentially related note, I wonder if the association might be traffic driven from Leah at Unequally Yoked? Then again, I started reading *her* while she was an atheist, so that may just drive the problem back a step.

      • Pete says:

        Could you clarify what historical evidence you find convincing? My understanding of the historical evidence leads me to believe that there is probably some truth to the idea that the Gospels were loosely based on historical events (although I don’t think the evidence is as conclusive as theologians seem to) but that there is no more evidence that anything supernatural happened than any other ancient (or modern) stories about supposed supernatural events.

        • Troy says:

          Pete: apologies for responding with a link, but I find the Reliability of the Gospels YouTube video lecture series here to make a strong, accessible case for the historicity of the Gospels: http://www.apologetics315.com/2012/11/audio-resources-by-tim-mcgrew.html

          In (very brief) sum: we have about six independent sources within the first 200 years of Christianity attributing the Gospels to their traditional authors (Matthew the disciple of Jesus, Mark the disciple of Peter, Luke the companion of Paul, and John the disciple of Jesus). We have no rival traditions of authorship. These authors were either eyewitnesses or spoke to eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, and were thus well-placed to tell us what he did.

          On matters of historical fact on which we can independently check up, the Gospel writers show themselves to be very accurate.

          The relationships between the Gospels (and the other New Testament books) are such as are unlikely to result by either chance, collusion, or gradual development of myth, but are likely to result by different sources reporting historical events.

          • Anonymous says:

            I looked at the notes there, but didn’t and won’t listen or watch anything.

            I didn’t see anything dealing with the question of the unlikelihood of the putative authors to able to write in Koine Greek or if we accept the Aramaic hypothesis, the lack of any hint of a surviving text in that language. Can you point me to anything in text on those issues?

          • Troy says:

            I do not know of any texts focused on those questions in particular, although I would wager that they are discussed by some New Testament scholars.

            Neither of the objections strike me as particularly forceful. The inference from “there is no surviving text of Matthew in Aramaic” to “Matthew was not written in Aramaic” is an argument from silence, which are not usually very strong in history. It’s in general not too surprising that we don’t have copies of various manuscripts; most ancient writings are lost to time. For example, Cicero tells us that Aristotle wrote dialogues, but none of them have survived to the present day. Nevertheless, few historians of philosophy doubt Cicero’s assertion.

            In fairness, we do have many more copies of New Testament manuscripts than most other ancient documents, but even so it’s not too hard to imagine the Gospel getting translated into Greek and then the original being lost, with the Greek version being the main one circulated.

            As for the Gospel writers not being able to write in Koine Greek, Matthew was a tax collector and Luke a physician, both educated positions. Perhaps the antecedent probability that Mark and John would be able to write in Koine Greek is lower. But it’s possible that they dictated to someone who wrote down their Gospels.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “On matters of historical fact on which we can independently check up, the Gospel writers show themselves to be very accurate.”

            That isn’t helpful. If you list things that happened and things that didn’t happen, we will be able to see the things that happened occurred. Using that to claim the things that didn’t happen also happened (because there is no source contradicting it) doesn’t work since we expect no one else to contradict it.

          • JDG1980 says:

            Neither of the objections strike me as particularly forceful. The inference from “there is no surviving text of Matthew in Aramaic” to “Matthew was not written in Aramaic” is an argument from silence, which are not usually very strong in history.

            Most modern biblical scholars believe that the Gospel of Matthew used the Gospel of Mark as one of its sources. (See two-source hypothesis for more details.) Assuming this consensus is correct, what we know as the Gospel of Matthew can’t have been written by Matthew in Hebrew, since there are too many overlaps with the Gospel of Mark which was written in Greek.

            There is quite a bit of material common to Matthew and Luke that isn’t found in Mark. Scholars generally assume this material came from a lost document (or perhaps oral tradition), which they refer to as “Q”. That leaves open the possibility that this “Q” source could have been Matthew’s original gospel in Hebrew, now lost.

          • Troy says:

            Most modern biblical scholars believe that the Gospel of Matthew used the Gospel of Mark as one of its sources. (See two-source hypothesis for more details.) Assuming this consensus is correct, what we know as the Gospel of Matthew can’t have been written by Matthew in Hebrew, since there are too many overlaps with the Gospel of Mark which was written in Greek.

            There is quite a bit of material common to Matthew and Luke that isn’t found in Mark. Scholars generally assume this material came from a lost document (or perhaps oral tradition), which they refer to as “Q”. That leaves open the possibility that this “Q” source could have been Matthew’s original gospel in Hebrew, now lost.

            I’m aware that most Biblical scholars think Matthew used Mark as a source, and that Matthew and Luke used Q. I think the arguments for these conclusions are generally poor. On the ordering of the Gospels: we don’t have as many ancient sources discussing the order of the Gospels as we do their authorship, but those we do all agree with the traditional order, except for Clement of Alexandria, who places Luke before Mark.

            I take this testimonial record as strong though defeasible evidence that the Gospels were written in their traditional order. And most of the modern arguments for Markan priority of which I’m aware are either weak (e.g., Mark is shorter) or question-begging against the historical reliability of the Gospels (e.g., Matthew must have been written after 70 AD because otherwise it would have contained a before-the-fact prophecy of the destruction of the Temple). So I think the evidence for the traditional view is stronger, at the end of the day.

            I am persuaded that the Synoptic Gospels used each other as sources: here I agree with modern scholars that the textual coincidences between the Synoptics would be too unlikely otherwise. I don’t think this contradicts traditional views of the Gospels; Luke explicitly tells us in the introduction to his Gospel that he used sources. But all this is compatible with Matthean priority: Matthew could have been written first, Mark could have relied on it, and Luke could have relied on Matthew and Mark. This also eliminates the need to hypothesize an ad hoc Q document to explain similarities between Matthew and Luke.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Anyway, since Troy doesn’t seem to care, I’ll elaborate for our other user.

            We have records from the Black Death. We are pretty sure the writers are who they say they were and are trying to accurately record things. However, when they provide numbers of deaths, historians don’t treat them as reliable. It seems odd since we have accounts of looking at the mass graves and presumably people could figure out the death toll by counting the total number of mass graves and multiply by the amount in them, but the numbers we have for several cities are larger than the estimated total population of the city (and people tended to flee cities during the Plague).

            You cannot use the fact that the individual in question lived in the time period as evidence that what they say is reliable. Evidence that points to “living in time period” does not change their level of reliability.

            And really, it goes downhill from there. Calibrating your acceptance level so only one example meets it (when there are multiple different criteria to judge by) is essentially p hacking. If your supernatural detector accepts the Gospels, but not the Miracle of the Sun, something is wrong with it.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Samuel Skinner:

            Don’t forget the Hindu milk miracle, far better attested than anything in the Bible.

            Is it really that hard to accept the implications of the idea that miracles get a loss less impressive the closer they get to any sort of outside verification?

          • Troy says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            You cannot use the fact that the individual in question lived in the time period as evidence that what they say is reliable.

            That a historian is trying to record history, lived close enough to that history to have knowledge of it, and is reliable on matters which we can independently check up on is obviously evidence that what they say about matters we can’t check up on is reliable. Assuming that what you say about the black death is right (I am not familiar with the scholarship in this area and so not qualified to comment), that example just shows that this evidence is not conclusive. I grant that point, but I never said otherwise.

            @Vox:

            Don’t forget the Hindu milk miracle, far better attested than anything in the Bible.

            And much easier to explain naturalistically than a person rising from the dead. You can recreate that kind of capillary motion in your kitchen.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Troy:

            It’s just as easy to explain the resurrection, even if the accounts aren’t completely mythological: somebody took the body out of the tomb.

            Hmm, on the one hand we have:

            a) Somebody took the body out of the tomb, even if it perhaps seems unlikely that they could get away with it.

            On the other hand, we have:

            b) No rational choice but to believe this was really the Son of God and also God in some weird way.

            The only way you’re going to think b) is if you’re already really strongly inclined to believe it.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Thomas Paine said it best:

            Each of those churches shows certain books, which they call revelation, or the Word of God. The Jews say that their Word of God was given by God to Moses face to face; the Christians say, that their Word of God came by divine inspiration; and the Turks say, that their Word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from heaven. Each of those churches accuses the other of unbelief; and, for my own part, I disbelieve them all.

            As it is necessary to affix right ideas to words, I will, before I proceed further into the subject, offer some observations on the word revelation. Revelation when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man.

            No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and, consequently, they are not obliged to believe it.

            It is a contradiction in terms and ideas to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication. After this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner, for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.

            When Moses told the children of Israel that he received the two tables of the commandments from the hand of God, they were not obliged to believe him, because they had no other authority for it than his telling them so; and I have no other authority for it than some historian telling me so, the commandments carrying no internal evidence of divinity with them. They contain some good moral precepts such as any man qualified to be a lawgiver or a legislator could produce himself, without having recourse to supernatural intervention. [Footnote: It is, however, necessary to except the declamation which says that God visits the sins of the fathers upon the children. This is contrary to every principle of moral justice.]

            When I am told that the Koran was written in Heaven, and brought to Mahomet by an angel, the account comes to near the same kind of hearsay evidence and second hand authority as the former. I did not see the angel myself, and therefore I have a right not to believe it.

            When also I am told that a woman, called the Virgin Mary, said, or gave out, that she was with child without any cohabitation with a man, and that her betrothed husband, Joseph, said that an angel told him so, I have a right to believe them or not: such a circumstance required a much stronger evidence than their bare word for it: but we have not even this; for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves. It is only reported by others that they said so. It is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not choose to rest my belief upon such evidence.

            It is, however, not difficult to account for the credit that was given to the story of Jesus Christ being the Son of God. He was born when the heathen mythology had still some fashion and repute in the world, and that mythology had prepared the people for the belief of such a story. Almost all the extraordinary men that lived under the heathen mythology were reputed to be the sons of some of their gods. It was not a new thing at that time to believe a man to have been celestially begotten; the intercourse of gods with women was then a matter of familiar opinion. Their Jupiter, according to their accounts, had cohabited with hundreds; the story therefore had nothing in it either new, wonderful, or obscene; it was conformable to the opinions that then prevailed among the people called Gentiles, or mythologists, and it was those people only that believed it. The Jews, who had kept strictly to the belief of one God, and no more, and who had always rejected the heathen mythology, never credited the story.

          • Troy says:

            It’s just as easy to explain the resurrection, even if the accounts aren’t completely mythological: somebody took the body out of the tomb.

            This is somewhat pedantic point, but you’re talking about explaining various evidences for the resurrection, not the resurrection itself. In this case the actual claimed miracle, I think we agree, is not naturalistically explicable. This contrasts with the Hindu milk miracle, in which there’s a perfectly good naturalistic explanation for the exact events described.

            Hmm, on the one hand we have:

            a) Somebody took the body out of the tomb, even if it perhaps seems unlikely that they could get away with it.

            On the other hand, we have:

            b) No rational choice but to believe this was really the Son of God and also God in some weird way.

            The only way you’re going to think b) is if you’re already really strongly inclined to believe it.

            It all depends on the data. Unless the prior you assign to the resurrection is 0, there should be some amount of evidence sufficient to convince you that it probably occurred. People can reasonably disagree both about the prior probability and the strength of the evidence, but there’s no a priori argument against a miracle ever being more probable than not on our evidence. We have to look at the data.

            I’m happy to grant that the prior probability of the resurrection is quite low, but I think that when we look at the cumulative evidence, including both the background evidence for the reliability of the Gospels above and particular evidences for the resurrection, which includes reports of not only the empty tomb but of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, the conversion of Paul, the events of Acts, and the martyrdom of several of Jesus’ disciples, the evidence for the resurrection is quite strong, strong enough to outweigh the low prior probability.

            Paine’s remarks don’t quite rise to the level of an a priori dismissal of any evidence we might bring forward, but they come close. He complains that our evidence for the virgin birth is “hearsay upon hearsay” because Mary and Joseph didn’t write about it themselves. The same could be said for almost all historical testimony, since most history is not autobiography. Historical evidence can be extremely strong for all that.

            As for the explanation of the story of Jesus being the Son of God, what Paine says might be plausible if he were right that the only people who believed the story were Gentiles and if the bare story of the virgin birth was all the evidence about the life of Jesus we had. But neither of these are the case. While most Jews did not become Christian, there were probably many Jewish Christians in the very early church especially. For instance, Acts 2 records 3000 Jews being baptized at Pentecost. And the testimonial evidence for the virgin birth is not the strongest evidence for Christianity; if the only record of Jesus’s life we had was the fragments of Matthew and Luke recording the virgin birth, then I would agree that it probably didn’t happen.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Troy:

            This is somewhat pedantic point, but you’re talking about explaining various evidences for the resurrection, not the resurrection itself. In this case the actual claimed miracle, I think we agree, is not naturalistically explicable. This contrasts with the Hindu milk miracle, in which there’s a perfectly good naturalistic explanation for the exact events described.

            There’s so naturalistic explanation of the fact that the statue drank the milk, either. What you’re arguing is that the statue didn’t really drink the milk, but that people were fooled into thinking so.

            And there’s other potential naturalistic explanations of the resurrection. Maybe Jesus wasn’t really dead. Maybe he switched himself with some lookalike who got crucified in his place.

            Hell, maybe he rose from the dead but it wasn’t God or anything, just some kind of freak biological event we don’t know enough about science to explain.

            Besides, when you combine it with all the other evidence of Hindu miracles and the long history of the caste system and the transcendent wisdom of the Upanishads, the evidence is clear.

            It all depends on the data. Unless the prior you assign to the resurrection is 0, there should be some amount of evidence sufficient to convince you that it probably occurred. People can reasonably disagree both about the prior probability and the strength of the evidence, but there’s no a priori argument against a miracle ever being more probable than not on our evidence. We have to look at the data.

            The probability of something happening which is against natural laws, and in particular something acting in a manner contrary to the kind of thing it is, i.e. a miracle, is 0.

            Now you may say, well, maybe I’m wrong about what the natural laws are. Maybe I’m wrong about the law of identity. But how am I supposed to formulate the probability of my being wrong about everything? If I’m wrong about everything, I’m wrong about what the probability is that I’m wrong. If the law of identity is not true, then anything could happen.

            But I’ll leave that aside on the presumption that you’re not asserting this to be a violation of natural laws.

            I’m happy to grant that the prior probability of the resurrection is quite low, but I think that when we look at the cumulative evidence, including both the background evidence for the reliability of the Gospels above and particular evidences for the resurrection, which includes reports of not only the empty tomb but of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, the conversion of Paul, the events of Acts, and the martyrdom of several of Jesus’ disciples, the evidence for the resurrection is quite strong, strong enough to outweigh the low prior probability.

            Give me a break. I’m sorry, but this is a joke.

            If you can say all this about Christianity but not admit that the beauty of the Quran proves its miraculous creation, or that its continued oral history of complete memorization proves its authenticity, or that the superior consistency of Islam and its rapid conquests—to say nothing of the superior willingness to fight and die for it by millions of people to this day—are not at least equally strong evidence of the truth of Islam, you are engaged in the most blatant case of motivated reasoning. And that’s just me off the top of my head, setting aside the legions of more detailed and convincing bullshit arguments an actual Muslim could give you.

            Here’s a little taste:

            Muhammad: Unlettered and Had No Teachers

            The fact that Muhammad could neither read nor write (Quran 29:48) is well known and uncontested by even his non-Muslim contemporaries and present day historians. He had no schooling or teacher of any kind. He had never been known to compose oral poetry or prose. The Quran, with its all-embracing laws and freedom from all inconsistencies, has its greatness acknowledged even by non-Muslim scholars.[1] Its contents treat social, economic, political and religious legislation, history, views of the universe, living things, thought, human transactions, war, peace, marriage, worship, business, and everything relating to life – with no contradicting principles. The Quran has never been edited or revised as it was never in need of any revision or correction. How were such vast subject areas expounded upon with such precision by a 7th century Arab with no formal education or even the ability to read what scant material there may have been in his environment on such topics? Where and when has history ever produced an illiterate author of such a scripture?

            Muhammad’s Known Integrity

            Muhammad’s sincerity, truthfulness and integrity were so well known that he was even nicknamed “Al-Ameen” (The Trustworthy) by his pre-Islamic community. Not a single lie is recorded against him, and many modern Western Orientalists have themselves admitted that contrary to any deliberate deception, that the Prophet had a profoundly sincere conviction that it was revealed to him by God Himself is undeniable.[2]

            If his integrity had been in question, and he was supposed to have been motivated by the desire for personal glory to produce the Quran, why then would he disclaim authorship and instead claim it was from God, especially when the pagan Meccans had conceded that no one could produce such a scripture (Quran 2:23-24, 17:88, etc.), but only marvel at it? His enemies even offered him kingship over Mecca and any riches he desired if only he would stop reciting. If it was true that he desired his personal glory and leadership, why would he decline the offer when it was presented to him and instead prefer a life of humility, simplicity, persecution, sanctions, and even hostile attack by those who felt threatened by the Message of One God?

            In addition, how reasonable is it to believe that unlettered Muhammad would author the Quran for personal benefit and then within the Quran correct and reprove himself? For example:

            “He frowned and turned away when the blind man came to him…” (Quran 80:1-2)

            And also,

            “…And you did fear men, though God is more deserving that you should fear Him” (Quran 33:37)

            There are other verse you may refer to, such as chapter18,verse 23-24, and others. Why would he embarrass himself when he could simply omit or favorably modify such verses in the Quran? They were certainly not to his advantage if his goals were power and prestige. The existence of such verses only proves that Muhammad was indeed a truthful and sincere Messenger of God!

            This is of exactly the same caliber as the stuff about Paul (or whatever other author, really). It’s just absurd that you say it isn’t.

            The conversion of Paul, the events of Acts, the martyrdom of disciples? This is supposed to be shocking? We have better evidence in the case of David freaking Koresh. Not to mention Jesus’s little brother who started the Taiping Rebellion.

            Paine’s remarks don’t quite rise to the level of an a priori dismissal of any evidence we might bring forward, but they come close. He complains that our evidence for the virgin birth is “hearsay upon hearsay” because Mary and Joseph didn’t write about it themselves. The same could be said for almost all historical testimony, since most history is not autobiography. Historical evidence can be extremely strong for all that.

            It’s nothing more than the old standby of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

            If some ancient historian relates some fact that sounds like a normal thing that actually happens, I’ll tentatively believe it. But if Herodotus relates some kind of bullshit story about the Amazons or people with goats’ feet, I don’t believe it.

            And while the claims made about, for instance, Aristotle are perfectly normal sorts of claims, I could easily believe that he wasn’t really from Stagira, or that he didn’t write all of his works, or even that he didn’t write any of them and was a historical myth. It would not take that much. Indeed, you might say it’s incredible that a single man was such a genius on so many subjects.

            If, 2000 years from now, we had no evidence at all for the fact that Hitler killed 6 million Jews except some anecdotal accounts from survivors of camps, the natural reaction would be “Lie! Exaggeration! History written by the victors, so typical of 20th-century primitives.” And rightly so, because it’s not a normal thing; it was rather a very extraordinarily terrible event.

            As for the explanation of the story of Jesus being the Son of God, what Paine says might be plausible if he were right that the only people who believed the story were Gentiles and if the bare story of the virgin birth was all the evidence about the life of Jesus we had. But neither of these are the case. While most Jews did not become Christian, there were probably many Jewish Christians in the very early church especially. For instance, Acts 2 records 3000 Jews being baptized at Pentecost.

            The bare story of the virgin birth is all the evidence we have for the virgin birth. Even if Jesus were actually the Son of God, maybe that part was a distortion. Maybe God sent down his Godly Member to have Godly Sex with her. Maybe Joseph had sex with her, but God waved his magic wand over the sperm and changed the DNA. Proving one part doesn’t prove everything else; adding more complications to the story makes it less likely.

            In any case, the point Paine is making—which is not the strongest point but more of a side note—does not rely on the assertion that no Jews converted to Christianity. Just that, as a group, they did not, while the pagans did.

          • @ Vox Imperatoris says:

            A question for Vox Imperatoris:

            Vox, I have long wondered, what is the meaning of your name? You don’t sound like a monarchist, and it looks like you aren’t a Christian either.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ The guy asking me about me username:

            Vox, I have long wondered, what is the meaning of your name? You don’t sound like a monarchist, and it looks like you aren’t a Christian either.

            If I’m perfectly honest, I’ve used this name for years and years before my political opinions were fully formed. So you’re sort of asking me about my inner psychological affinities.

            I guess it’s got something to with the fact that, while I am not a monarchist in real life, I’m sort of a monarchist “in spirit”. I see the appeal, you could say. I have some kind of positive affect toward the idea of a single person being the final authority, or of some kind of Peter the Great building a city by his own will.

            And while I don’t really believe in monarchy. I don’t really believe in democracy, either, in this idea that somehow the government embodies or ought to embody the “will of the people”. On forums with signatures, I had: “Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit. (And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.)” It’s a quote from the monk Alcuin to Charlemagne.

            I suppose I could point to this comment for how I feel about ideal monarchy.

            And in broader terms, you could say it has something to do with the idea of the will, which I am attached to. I think this is reflected in a good quote from the medieval thinker Peter John Olivi, who I linked something about last thread:

            So there is no doubt that we sense that we have within ourselves a certain power that is not so determined to act, when it is acting, and not to act, when it is not acting, that when it is acting it is not able not to do that, and when it is not acting it is not able to do that. And we like and value the sense of this power so much that it above all moves us to love dominion, freedom and full power. And because in some amazing way we sense this [sense] to be present to other human beings as it is to ourselves, we find ourselves able, in the combinations of attitudes set out above, to be conjoined with other human beings and not with beasts or non-rational things. This also is why we prefer every human being to beasts, not just intellectually, but also by a kind of internal and natural sense.

            Also, you can’t ignore the simple fact that I really like the sound of the word “vox”, but it’s a pretty common username, so I have to pick something more specific. 😉

            Sorry if that was more detail than you wanted, but that’s my answer for the future as well.

          • anonymous says:

            Thank you Vox.

          • Troy says:

            There’s so naturalistic explanation of the fact that the statue drank the milk, either. What you’re arguing is that the statue didn’t really drinkthe milk, but that people were fooled into thinking so.

            My thought was that we can separate out what was directly observed from a particular causal explanation of that observation (as implied by the verb ‘drank’), and that when we do so, what was directly observed in the Hindu milk miracle is naturalistically explicable. By contrast, what the disciples claim to have directly observed (their teacher being crucified, and then being alive a few days later) is not naturalistically explicable. Of course, we did not ourselves directly observe those things, and so our immediate evidence is testimonial, and then we’re back to the question of what best explains that.

            And there’s other potential naturalistic explanations of the resurrection. Maybe Jesus wasn’t really dead. Maybe he switched himself with some lookalike who got crucified in his place.

            We can always come up with skeptical possibilities that are consistent with the observations. This is the problem of underdetermination. I don’t claim that these aren’t epistemically possible, but I do claim that their posterior probabilities are negligibly small. No skeptical naturalistic hypothesis explains all the data nearly as well as the hypothesis that Jesus really was raised from the dead. The lookalike hypothesis, in addition to having no independent evidence for it, does not explain the empty tomb or the conversion of Paul. Then we have the resurrection appearances and the disciples’ willingness to go to their deaths in attestation to the resurrection: if the disciples are in on the trick the latter becomes less likely, if they’re not in on it it becomes less initially probable that Jesus could pull this trick off.

            The ‘not really dead’ theory looks even worse. Roman execution was not a slipshod affair. Condemned criminals were not taken down while still alive, and even if Jesus were somehow to survive, a broken, bloodied nearly-dead Jesus would not have made the impression on his followers that the resurrected Jesus did.

            Hell, maybe he rose from the dead but it wasn’t God or anything, just some kind of freak biological event we don’t know enough about science to explain.

            Sure, it’s possible, but it’s not the way to bet. This wasn’t some random dude coming up from the grave, this was someone who claimed to be a messenger from God and who had predicted his death and resurrection. There’s a clear theological framework within which Jesus’s resurrection can be explained.

            The probability of something happening which is against natural laws, and in particular something acting in a manner contrary to the kind of thing it is, i.e. a miracle, is 0.

            Well, it depends on what you mean by something happening against natural laws. I think there’s a perfectly good sense of ‘natural laws’ in which the laws governing a system tell us what happens to a system when it is left to itself. To say that a miracle occurred at a particular point is to say that the system was not left to itself at that point. This isn’t a violation of the natural laws because the laws just don’t tell us what happens in such a case. But it’s also not something that could have been predicted by those laws.

            Maybe if the universe is not all there is you want to say that there’s some set of super-natural laws governing the interaction between God and the universe. I don’t think the epistemic questions here are much affected by how we describe that case, so long as we’re agreed that it’s epistemically possible that God could interact with the universe.

            Now you may say, well, maybe I’m wrong about what the natural laws are. Maybe I’m wrong about the law of identity. But how am I supposed to formulate the probability of my being wrong about everything?

            I’m not asking you to consider the probability that you’re wrong about simple a priori truths. I’m happy to give those a probability of 1. But our evidence for the natural laws is empirical. We could be mistaken about them. But I’m not even asking you to consider that those laws are mistaken in my first sense above, i.e., as describing the operation of the universe when left to itself. I’m just asking you to consider the possibility that sometimes, they are not left to themselves. Surely the prior probability of this is not 0.

            If you can say all this about Christianity but not admit that the beauty of the Quran proves its miraculous creation, or that its continued oral history of complete memorization proves its authenticity, or that the superior consistency of Islam and its rapid conquests—to say nothing of the superior willingness to fight and die for it by millions of people to this day—are not at least equally strong evidence of the truth of Islam,you are engaged in the most blatant case of motivated reasoning.

            There are superficial similarities between Islam and Christianity: both religions spread quickly and were founded within recorded history by people who claimed to be sent from God. And, as you note, Muslims also offer arguments for their religion. But I think when you actually look at the evidences, they are not at all on a par.

            Islam did indeed spread widely over the Arab world — after Muhammad turned to the sword. There’s nothing remarkable about that. Before gaining political power in Medina, Muhammad probably had around 100 followers. This is impressive, but hardly inexplicable naturalistically. Muhammad was no doubt a skilled politician, and he came from an important family. Many of his early followers were in his extended family.

            As for Muslims being willing to fight and die for Islam, there is a difference between being willing to die for an ideology in which one was raised, which obviously many people are willing to do, and being willing to die in attestation to an empirically observable event which one claims to have witnessed, when this claim goes against the religious community in which one was raised. The former is about equally likely given the truth or falsehood of the ideology, the latter is much more likely given that one witnessed the event than otherwise.

            Again, that many people have memorized the Quran is completely unremarkable conditional on Islam’s being false: some Muslims are very invested in their religion and great feats of memory are possible through long training.

            As for the beauty of the Quran, this is a popular apologetic argument, but it is similarly wanting. That Muslims raised to believe in Islam would find the Quran beautiful is unremarkable. The claim that it the most beautiful work of art in history or some such might be impressive if it were true, but it’s clearly not true. I think it was Mike Licona who recounts a Christian in Indonesia challenging Muslims (ones who had not memorized the Quran, presumably) to tell him which passages he quoted were from the Bible and which were from the Quran. They couldn’t do it. There’s nothing that remarkable about religionists not knowing the details of their Scriptures, but if the Quran really were unparalleled in beauty you would think that it would be identifiable by that standard.

            The kind of evidence we have in the case of Christianity — testimony to miraculous events and to effects of miraculous events (e.g., the empty tomb) — are completely lacking in the case of Islam. The Quran itself says that Muhammad performed no “signs,” i.e., publicly observable miracles: the Quran itself is supposed to be miracle enough.

            I hope I don’t need to respond to all of the quoted passage in addition to the above, but the author is mistaken on several points, for example, the claim that the Quran has never been changed. Non-canonical versions of the Quran were destroyed by the caliph Uthman, and we don’t really know what changes there might have been before that point.

            It’s nothing more than the old standby of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

            I’m happy to grant this standby. But this is very different from claiming that we can never get sufficient evidence for an extraordinary claim. Miracles have a lower prior probability than most other claimed historical events, and thus the evidence required for us to conclude that they probably happened must be greater. But this does not imply that we can never get such evidence.

            The bare story of the virgin birth is all the evidence we have for the virgin birth. Even if Jesus were actually the Son of God, maybe that part was a distortion.

            You’re moving from evidence to proof here. I never claimed that Jesus being the Son of God entails that he was born of a virgin. Obviously it doesn’t. But just as obviously, the probability of the virgin birth is higher conditional on Jesus being the Son of God than conditional on Jesus not being the son of God. If Jesus really was the Son of God, then the claim that his birth and life were miraculous is not nearly as surprising as it would be otherwise.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Troy:

            Sure, it’s possible, but it’s not the way to bet. This wasn’t some random dude coming up from the grave, this was someone who claimed to be a messenger from God and who had predicted his death and resurrection. There’s a clear theological framework within which Jesus’s resurrection can be explained.

            Adding complications to the resurrection story make it less likely, not more. “Burdensome Details”, etc. Probability of feminist banker vs. feminist banker who hates her job.

            ***

            All I can say is, I completely disagree with you on the supposed strength of the evidence supplied by the Gospels and also on the prior probability of these miracles occurring.

            It’s really not strong evidence. This kind of shit (“unexplainable miraculous observation!”) happens all the time. You just know more details about this one because you have dedicated yourself to finding reasons to believe in it.

            But even if you had really, really strong evidence, I wouldn’t believe you. If you had the caliber of evidence that convinces me that WWII was a real event, I wouldn’t believe that some street preacher was the Son of God and rose from the dead. That’s really, really unbelievable.

            If you want to say that you don’t care about the evidence but this story just speaks to you on a spiritual/emotional level that you feel driven to believe it, fine. But don’t try to tell me that you’ve got rational cause to believe in this. I’m sorry to be rude, but you don’t.

            All I’m asking for is the same level of proof demanded by Doubting Thomas: if the stories are true, he knew the other damn apostles personally and didn’t believe them saying that Jesus had risen. So Jesus did what a reasonable divine being would do in this situation: he appeared in front of Thomas and let him feel the wounds. That is the appropriate level of proof one needs to credit the story of the Resurrection. I applaud the epistemic virtue of Thomas.

            I don’t even demand a personal intervention. I just want to see the clouds part and hear the voice of God booming from the heavens. I want to see Richard Dawkins struck down by a pillar of flame, with the word “blasphemer” burned into his forehead. I want to see angels come down and put a crown on the head of the Pope.

            These are not unreasonable demands of an omnipotent being who actually exists. The Biblical Israelites demanded a hell of a lot more on a regular basis in order to keep believing in God.

            Even then, I would have philosophic reservations against the existence of God, but I promise that I would go to Sunday School and read my Bible and Pocket Aquinas every day.

          • “Maybe he switched himself with some lookalike who got crucified in his place.”

            That is, I believe, the standard Islamic account.

            “Islam did indeed spread widely over the Arab world”

            A considerable understatement.

            The Arabs were bit players in the international politics of the day—the great powers were the Sassanids and the Byzantines. Within a century the Muslims annexed all of the Sassanid Empire and about half the Byzantine. It’s as if there was a new religion in Mexico c. 1960, and it conquered all of the US and half of the USSR.

            Ibn Khaldun offers a theory of political change in which there is a lot of inertia. He concedes that the early history of Islam appears to be a counterexample. His defense is that that was obviously a miracle, and scientific theories don’t have to account for miracles.

            A lovely way of explaining away contrary evidence.

          • Randy M says:

            Adding complications to the resurrection story make it less likely, not more.

            I don’t buy that this is more applicable to his explanation than yours.

            He is saying that the probability of a near death experience + a prophecy of resurrection is less likely than just a near death experience (or the one “natural” resurrection). Right.
            But, you counter argue that the probability of someone being a prophet and correctly predicting a true event is less than that event happening, which may be true, but not to the same extent as above, since they are not at all independent events, in fact they are nearly completely dependent (conceptually there could be a subset of gods that can’t predict the future, but can raise from the dead, and by happenstance predicted that event, but that’s a very small amount of possibility space.).

            You may not believe that he in fact predicted it, that any of it happened, but either one actually occurring should raise your prior about the other one out of the straight out impossible realm, whereas something being a “freak biological event” happening to someone who predicted it would happen is a lot more independent and thus a bigger hit to the credibility.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Randy M:

            Sure, they’re not independent events.

            Anyway, there’s plenty of other naturalistic interpretations of these events if we grant that they happened. For instance, there’s the “aliens messing with us” explanation, with holograms and laser beams.

            This not only fits well with things like the Fermi Paradox but also works much better than the Christian theory to explain all the evil in the world, and why we don’t see very impressive miracles these days.

          • Troy says:

            @Vox:

            Adding complications to the resurrection story make it less likely, not more. “Burdensome Details”, etc. Probability of feminist banker vs. feminist banker who hates her job.

            Suppose it’s part of our background knowledge K that Jesus claimed to be a messenger from God and said that he would be killed and raised from the dead. And let Messenger stand for the proposition that Jesus really was a messenger from God.

            Your point is that P(Resurrection&Messenger | K) < P(Resurrection | K). Sure. It's also the case that P(Resurrection&~Messenger | K) > P(Resurrection | Naturalism&K) because P(Resurrection | Messenger&Theism) is very high, and P(Messenger | Theism) is not too low.* Multiplying these terms together gives us a lower bound on P(Resurrection | Theism), which, by the Theorem of Total Probability, is equal to P(Messenger | Theism)P(Resurrection | Messenger) + P(~Messenger | Theism)P(Resurrection | ~Messenger).

            * Obviously we can’t give exact values here. But I don’t mean to suggest that this probability is, say, above .5. Maybe it’s on the order of, say, 1/1000. I take it that’s still many, many times higher than P(Resurrection | Naturalism&K), which is sufficient for it to be the case that P(Resurrection | Theism&K) >> P(Resurrection | Naturalism&K).

            This contrasts with a case in which there’s no plausible theological rationale or framework to explain a supposedly miraculous event, e.g., someone with no public ministry, no pretensions to a divine calling, and an unremarkable life being raised from the dead at some unremarkable time. The probability of this event E given Theism is much lower, and so even if it’s still more likely given Theism than Naturalism, the Bayes’ factor P(E | Theism&K) / P(E | Naturalism&K) will be much less top-heavy than in the Resurrection case.

            It’s really not strong evidence. This kind of shit (“unexplainable miraculous observation!”) happens all the time. You just know more details about this one because you have dedicated yourself to finding reasons to believe in it.

            If you want to say that you don’t care about the evidence but this story just speaks to you on a spiritual/emotional level that you feel driven to believe it, fine. But don’t try to tell me that you’ve got rational cause to believe in this. I’m sorry to be rude, but you don’t.

            I believe in Christianity because I take myself to have good evidence that it’s true. If I did not take myself to have such evidence, then I would not believe it. I have no desire to believe a lie. I have done my best to examine the historical evidences impartially just as I do my best to examine arguments for and against any views impartially. I have also read about many, although of course not all, miracle reports outside of the Bible and in my judgment most (including both most made by later Christians, and ones in other religions) do not have anything like the same evidences for them.

            But it’s pretty pointless for us to argue over whether one of us is engaging in motivated reasoning. I’d rather focus on the first-order evidences.

            I don’t even demand a personal intervention. I just want to see the clouds part and hear the voice of God booming from the heavens. I want to see Richard Dawkins struck down by a pillar of flame, with the word “blasphemer” burned into his forehead. I want to see angels come down and put a crown on the head of the Pope.

            It’s always possible to demand more evidence. Of course if we had such evidences the probability of Christian theism would be even higher. I think that the probability of Christian theism is already quite high without them.

            Perhaps you mean to suggest that the absence of such evidences is strong evidence against Christianity. (This is also suggested by your more recent comment about the lack of miracles today.) Then I disagree. In general, the probability of some miraculous intervention is very low, even given the truth of Christianity. According to Bayes’ Theorem, the posterior odds of Christianity given some evidence E, that is, the posterior probability of Christianity given E over the posterior probability of its negation given E, are equal to:

            P(Christianity | E&K) / P(~Christianity | E&K)
            = [P(Christianity | K) / P(~Christianity | K)] * [P(E | Christianity&K) / P(E | ~Christianity&K)]

            (K again stands for our background knowledge.) The last term is the Bayes’ factor, and is a good measure of the strength of the evidence E.

            Now let M-i be the proposition that miracle i occurs. In general, P(M-i | Christianity&K) is very low. M-i would still be strong evidence for Christianity, because P(M-i | ~Christianity&K) is many many times lower. However, ~M-i will not be strong evidence against Christianity, because P(~M-i | Christianity&K) will already be near 1. Hence the Bayes’ factor will be only very slightly bottom-heavy. For example, if M-1 has a probability of 1/1000 given Christianity and a probability of 1/10,000 given ~Christianity, then we have the following Bayes’ factors:

            P(M-1 | Christianity&K) / P(M-1 | ~Christianity&K)] = 1/1000 / 1/10,000 = 10/1

            P(M-1 | Christianity&K) / P(M-1 | ~Christianity&K)] = 999/1000 / 9999/10,000 = 9990 / 9999 =~ .999 / 1

            The former is such that M-1 would be moderate evidence for Christianity. Nevertheless, the latter, as you can see, is so close to 1 as to hardly impact the prior odds of Christianity at all.

            In a (perhaps not very pithy) phrase: absence of evidence is evidence of absence, but absence of strong evidence is usually not strong evidence of absence. Arguments from absence generally don’t give us strong evidence against a theory, and this case is no different.

            But even if you had really, really strong evidence, I wouldn’t believe you. If you had the caliber of evidence that convinces me that WWII was a real event, I wouldn’t believe that some street preacher was the Son of God and rose from the dead. That’s really, really unbelievable.

            I’m under no illusion that we’ll settle these disagreements here, but I am curious as to why you assign such a low prior to the resurrection. By the Theorem of Total Probability, the prior P(Resurrection | K) is at least as great as P(Theism | K)P(Resurrection | Theism&K). (Let Theism here stand for the classical conception of God — all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, etc.) Do you assign such a low prior to the resurrection because you think Theism is really, really unbelievable, or because you think that, conditional on Theism, the resurrection is still staggeringly unlikely?

          • Troy says:

            @David Friedman:

            “Maybe he switched himself with some lookalike who got crucified in his place.”

            That is, I believe, the standard Islamic account.

            Although this differs from a naturalistic explanation in that Muslims believe that it was God who deceived people into thinking that the man on the cross was Jesus.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Troy:

            Do you assign such a low prior to the resurrection because you think Theism is really, really unbelievable, or because you think that, conditional on Theism, the resurrection is still staggeringly unlikely?

            First of all, writing everything out in pseudo-mathematical form doesn’t, in my view, really help anything. It just makes it more complicated to talk about. I’m not going to dissect your tedious formulations; none of them are particularly significant to the main point, anyway.

            Anyway, in answer to your question, I think it’s incredibly unlikely that theism is true. Or rather, let’s say deism: the argument that there’s some kind of omnipotent being who’s the first cause and all that. Separately, I think that, even granting deism, it’s even more incredibly unlikely that any random revealed religion is true.

            I see very little reason to believe in the Thomas Paine type of God. I see even less to believe in the Christian God. Proving that God exists does almost none of the work toward establishing the truth of Christianity.

            Perhaps you mean to suggest that the absence of such evidences is strong evidence against Christianity. (This is also suggested by your more recent comment about the lack of miracles today.) Then I disagree. In general, the probability of some miraculous intervention is very low, even given the truth of Christianity.

            The lack of miracles today is strong evidence against Christianity, given the content of Christianity, which posits the existence of an omnipotent being who wants the best for mankind and desires to save them from eternal damnation.

            Given that the evidence for Christianity is extremely weak (as it is), a few grand miracles of this sort would do a great deal to enhance its credibility and lead more people to salvation. The fact that there are no such miracles is strong evidence that the being proposed by Christianity does not exist.

            It’s just a variation of the problem of evil.

            But it’s pretty pointless for us to argue over whether one of us is engaging in motivated reasoning. I’d rather focus on the first-order evidences.

            There is no way for me to systematize mathematically how ridiculously paltry the “first-order evidence” is here.

            I’m not saying that no one could potentially do it. I’m saying that that person isn’t me, and I think it would be an enormously pointless endeavor. There’s near-infinite room to play with the numbers to determine what you’re going to include as a similar false account.

            All I can do is talk about the outside view, about Muslims and Jews, and how this appears to me to be the most transparent form of motivated arguing imaginable.

            This is just not nearly the kind of evidence required for claims this extravagant! I’m not going to throw some kind of pseudo-mathematical incantation at you. But psychology wouldn’t be having a replication crisis if they were using your standards for p-values.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Troy:

            Look, let me step back a minute and tell you what I really find offensive about these types of religious arguments.

            Let me grant for the sake of argument that you have studied the evidence in an honest, even-handed manner and come to the conclusion that Christianity is highly probable. Fine, then you are justified in believing it.

            But I am also an intellectually honest person, and the evidence I have been exposed to appears for all the world to point to the idea that Christianity is so patently ridiculous that it’s not even worth looking at closely. Whatever the status of your arguments, you can’t deny that this is true concerning me—unless you just want to insist that, no, I am secretly being completely dishonest with myself. So I am not justified in believing in Christianity.

            However, in advocating the truth of Christianity, you are committed to the idea that God has revealed its truth to the people of the world and that they are morally obliged to believe it. That if they don’t, they can rightfully be punished by being cast into the lake of fire or whatever.

            I don’t care whether you want to downplay this or not say it too loudly, but your religion teaches it all the same. And it’s the most insulting kind of dogmatism there is, on the same level as the Spanish going on some hilltop in the New World, reading from the Bible, and expecting everyone to immediately bow down and worship it.

            For instance, just look at this statement by William Lane Craig:

            [W]hen a person refuses to come to Christ it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Spirit on his heart. No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God.

            Now, what kind of fundamental duplicitousness do we have when someone who presents himself as an debater in favor of Christianity says that no one could possibly disagree with him for an honest reason? Why debate it at all?

            The logical corollary of saying that you’re right is that everyone who disagrees with you is wrong. The corollary of saying that belief in Christianity is rationally justified is that disbelief is rationally unjustified. The corollary of saying that something has been made manifest is that anyone who disbelieves is willfully blind.

            ***

            You can say this only counts for people who have been “exposed to the Gospel”. But I’ve been “exposed to the Gospel”; I’ve picked it up and read a few chapters. It seemed like really boring nonsense, so I put it down. I don’t think I was acting dishonestly or in some manner that deserves condemnation.

            It’s like Scott’s essay “Universal Love, Said the Cactus Person“. Maybe if you study Buddhism for 30 years and meditate every day, you will achieve enlightenment and a mystic vision that makes it all worth it. But to an outsider, it seems like they’re deluded fools.

            They’ve got to throw me a bone, here. The Buddhist mystics have got to demonstrate to me, as a person who has not done the meditation, that the meditation is worth doing. Otherwise, I may be making a bad choice, but it’s not a rationally unjustified choice.

            ***

            Or look, if I want to say people should consider checking out Objectivism, I can’t tell them to go read Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and all of Ayn Rand’s nonfiction works, then decide. Not good enough. I have to pitch it to people who have not read those books and find what they have heard of Rand absolutely repulsive. Otherwise, they are perfectly justified from a rational perspective in ignoring it.

            If not, I’m like Leonard Peikoff saying that, since Objectivism is obvious, anyone who disagrees with it (he’ll charitably concede: anyone over the age of 25 or so) must be a dishonest, irrational person who evades reality—so why waste time arguing with them?

            But at least Peikoff has the grace to refrain from arguing that their souls will be damned to hell.

            ***

            To bring this back around, the fact is that regardless of how obvious the existence of God and the truth of Christianity is to you, it is so obscure and ridiculous to so many honest, well-meaning people, that this itself is evidence against Christianity.

            If a halfway benevolent God existed, he would make his existence obvious. It is not obvious. Modus tollens.

            You cannot refute this because even if you’re right that the Christian God does exist, the very fact that we’ve had to have such a laborious discussion proves that it is not obvious. If you have to argue that it’s obvious, it’s not obvious.

            Again, unless you want to hold—consistently with the repugnant view of the Bible—that: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”

            And that’s just the atheists, not to mention all the followers of all the other religions that deny the divinity of Jesus.

          • NN says:

            @Vox Imperatoris: I agree with most of what you said, but I feel the need to comment on your mentions of Buddhism.

            It’s like Scott’s essay “Universal Love, Said the Cactus Person“. Maybe if you study Buddhism for 30 years and meditate every day, you will achieve enlightenment and a mystic vision that makes it all worth it. But to an outsider, it seems like they’re deluded fools.

            They’ve got to throw me a bone, here. The Buddhist mystics have got to demonstrate to me, as a person who has not done the meditation, that the meditation is worth doing. Otherwise, I may be making a bad choice, but it’s not a rationally unjustified choice.

            I assume that this is describing Western New-Age influenced versions of Buddhism? Because it is worth pointing out that traditional forms of Buddhism had a very different perspective on meditation. Specifically, in traditional Buddhism meditation is pretty much only done by monks and never done by the laity, and its primary purpose is to eliminate all of the cravings that remain after someone has given up all sense-pleasures by adopting a monastic lifestyle.

            For example:

            In the Tapussa Sutta, a layman says to Gotama Buddha: “Yo, I heard you guys are into renunciation. That sounds like a total drag. Nobody wants that. Your religion is a non-starter.” And Gotama says, “Well, yeah, I have to admit, before I was enlightened, renunciation seemed like a good idea in theory—but super depressing when I thought about actually doing it. So I wondered why, and I realized I hadn’t yet convinced myself that sensual pleasure is always bad. Eventually, I decided it definitely does always suck, which is what made it possible for me to get the first jhana [level of meditation].” (It’s still the orthodox view that it is impossible to attain the first jhana if you have any sexual desire.)

            So if you want to practice Sutrayana, the first step is to generate revulsion. How?

            1. You meditate on all forms of suffering, and exaggerate them in your imagination.
            2. You condition your mind to feel disgust for pleasure by associating it with innately revolting substances.
            3. You use logical reasoning to conclude that pleasure is worthless and impossible.

            […]

            We are most attached to our bodies (the source of pleasure and continued existence) and most desire other people’s bodies (for sex). Patikulamanasikara meditation replaces this craving with disgust. It is only bodies’ surfaces that seem attractive. Mentally disassemble your body, or the body of someone you are hot for, to realize it is a skin-sack full of shit and piss and pus and blood, held together by stringy bits and wormy bits and blobby squishy bits, all inside a cage of bones. Visualize that body dying and decaying through several stages of putrefaction.

            Similarly, develop revulsion for food by mentally associating it with dog’s vomit. Apply this method to all other sensory desires.

            If you are of an intellectual bent, you may find your brain overpowering your stomach’s disgust. Brains produce devious, deceitful arguments like “I prefer sex with living people to rotting corpses” and “since I don’t butcher my spouse during sex, I don’t have to see his or her intestines.” As the antidote, contemplate Aryadeva’s extensive logical proofs that pleasure is physically impossible and a mere illusion, but that suffering genuinely exists.

            https://meaningness.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/renunciation-in-buddhism/

            Which is not to say that traditional Buddhism is necessarily more correct than Western New-Age Buddhism (though from what I’ve read it seems significantly more logically coherent), but there is more to it than just “meditate a lot and eventually you’ll reach enlightenment!”

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ NN:

            Yes, I’ve read many of Chapman’s essays, and while I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on Buddhism, I’m familiar with the distinction between monks and laity and the idea that meditation is only a small part of the renunciation.

            Anyway, this doesn’t improve the situation but rather makes it worse. At least the Westernized type of Buddhism seems somewhat pleasant, if silly. The real deal is just horrible: I sure don’t want to get involved in that!

            You’re saying in order to achieve enlightenment—which is kinda sorta the same thing as self-annihilation, which according to my belief system is achievable with a revolver—I have to not only do all this meditation but renounce everything?! No thanks.

            Maybe I’m the fool and they’re having all the fun—or at least all the ineffable wisdom—but the point is it doesn’t seem that way to me, as a person who has not renounced everything.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Vox mostly covered it but
            “and is reliable on matters which we can independently check up on is obviously evidence that what they say about matters we can’t check up on is reliable”

            That only works if the things we can check are randomly distributed. If they aren’t and the person writing that is aware or constrained by that, it breaks down.

            “Assuming that what you say about the black death is right”

            http://www.amazon.com/Great-Mortality-Intimate-History-Devastating/dp/0060006935/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1455681977&sr=1-1&keywords=the+great+mortality

            Decent book, but may be too popsciency.

          • Troy says:

            @Vox:

            First of all, writing everything out in pseudo-mathematical form doesn’t, in my view, really help anything.

            I take probability theory to simply be a formalization of good uncertain reasoning. We can often do good uncertain reasoning without explicitly employing probability theory. But probability theory helps focus disagreement and show us what we’re committed to in our plausibility judgments, just like deductive logic shows us what we’re committed to in our full beliefs. I employ it in this context because arguments about the evidence for Christianity tend to get bogged down in disagreements about the nature of good empirical inference, and it’s hard to address those disagreements without making the probabilistic form of reasoning we’re using explicit.

            Probability theory also helps make clear certain methodological upshots about uncertain reasoning, such as that arguments from absence tend to be very weak. Those upshots are worth heeding even when we don’t walk around explicitly updating probabilities in our head.

            The lack of miracles today is strong evidence against Christianity, given the content of Christianity, which posits the existence of an omnipotent being who wants the best for mankind and desires to save them from eternal damnation.

            Given that the evidence for Christianity is extremely weak (as it is), a few grand miracles of this sort would do a great deal to enhance its credibility and lead more people to salvation. The fact that there are no such miracles is strong evidence that the being proposed by Christianity does not exist.

            If it’s a premise of your argument that the evidence for Christianity is weak, then of course I don’t grant that premise. But anyway, I still maintain that if Christianity is true, the probability of God performing any particular miracle is very small. It follows (from my tedious formulations) that the lack of that miracle cannot be strong evidence against Christianity.

            I think this probability is small even in the absence of substantial background knowledge, but it’s certainly true after we observe several times where we thought God would intervene and he didn’t. These aren’t independent events.

            To bring this back around, the fact is that regardless of how obvious the existence of God and the truth of Christianity is to you, it is so obscure and ridiculous to so many honest, well-meaning people, that this itself is evidence against Christianity.

            If a halfway benevolent God existed, he would make his existence obvious. It is not obvious. Modus tollens.

            You cannot refute this because even if you’re right that the Christian God does exist, the very fact that we’ve had to have such a laborious discussion proves that it is not obvious. If you have to argue that it’s obvious, it’s not obvious.

            I should think that, as a philosopher, you would know better than to make that last claim. The existence of consciousness is obvious, but some philosophers still deny it.

            I think there is strong, publicly available evidence for Christianity. This doesn’t mean that I think that all non-Christians are self-deceived or morally wicked or some such (see below), but it does mean that there’s a clear sense in which I don’t grant that God is hidden. I do grant that he is psychologically hidden, and perhaps this psychological hiddenness is some evidence against Christianity. But, like the lack of constant miracles today, I think this is fairly weak evidence, because, while it’s more likely on ~Christianity than on Christianity, I don’t think it’s very unlikely on Christianity to begin with.

            But I am also an intellectually honest person, and the evidence I have been exposed to appears for all the world to point to the idea that Christianity is so patently ridiculous that it’s not even worth looking at closely. Whatever the status of your arguments, you can’t deny that this is true concerning me—unless you just want to insist that, no, I am secretly being completely dishonest with myself. So I am not justified in believing in Christianity.

            However, in advocating the truth of Christianity, you are committed to the idea that God has revealed its truth to the people of the world and that they are morally obliged to believe it. That if they don’t, they can rightfully be punished by being cast into the lake of fire or whatever.

            I don’t care whether you want to downplay this or not say it too loudly, but your religion teaches it all the same. And it’s the most insulting kind of dogmatism there is, on the same level as the Spanish going on some hilltop in the New World, reading from the Bible, and expecting everyone to immediately bow down and worship it.

            I think that you are imputing to me beliefs and attitudes which I have not put forward and do not hold. I haven’t been arguing that you or anyone else is irrational or that you’ll burn in hell for all eternity. I don’t deny that reasonable people can be atheists. I think they’re wrong, and I think that there is publicly available evidence that tells strongly against their position, but that doesn’t mean I think everyone who disagrees with me on this question is irrational, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I think they’re wicked.

            I don’t deny that many Christians, including William Lane Craig, impute sinister motives to anyone who disagrees with them, and I do not defend their doing so. I do disagree, though, that I’m somehow committed to doing these things myself.

            I certainly don’t think that you have a moral obligation to believe something that you don’t see the evidence for. I agree with Descartes, who wrote that “an infidel who, destitute of all supernatural grace, and plainly ignoring all that we Christians believe to have been revealed by God, embraces the faith to him obscure, impelled thereto by certain fallacious reasonings, will not be a true believer, but will the rather commit a sin in not using his reason properly.”

            I also don’t think you’ll spend an eternity in hell if you disbelieve Christianity. I’m a universalist: I think that everyone gets out of hell eventually. I don’t think a good and loving God would have it otherwise. I think this position is fully consistent with orthodox Christianity, and it’s certainly consistent with anything I’ve said in this thread.

            ***

            This conversation may have largely run its course, since you’ve said that you’re not interested in systematizing why you think the first-order evidence for Christianity is weak. But I’m happy to continue on particular topics if you are interested (though professional obligations will probably keep me from responding for the next day or two).

          • Anonymous says:

            @Troy
            Do you read Koine Greek? If I were to present an argument for the age of say John based on certain words or grammatical constructs used in it versus other texts in the Greco-Roman world with better dating, could we actually have a conversation, or would we just be trading appeals to experts?

            Or to put it another way: given that I’ve studied biblical criticism at the undergraduate level why should I disbelieve the standard academic account? The fact the you have links that claim they are wrong isn’t nearly enough to do it. Short of learning Aramaic, Koine Greek, and Latin for good measure and then applying for and attending grad school I don’t see how I could be convinced the experts are all wrong.

            Compare for example climate change. Every time it comes up in here someone starts talking about how this or that model failed to take into account the critical issue of the molecular structure of unobtainium. As someone who is not a climate scientist and has no interest in becoming a climate scientist, armchair or otherwise, this argument is completely lost on me. I have no choice but to use second order heuristics. I believe that Scott calls this learned epistemological helplessness.

            So if you want to convince me that the apostle Matthew actually wrote Matthew you are going to need to either convince the academy that it is a strong possibility or be very convincing on the claim that this particular part of the academy is totally broken with respect to honestly seeking truth.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Troy:

            I should think that, as a philosopher, you would know better than to make that last claim. The existence of consciousness is obvious, but some philosophers still deny it.

            It is possible for something to be self-evident in the sense that it is properly axiomatic, without being “obvious”: in a context of knowledge where there are an array of seemingly-good arguments against it, for instance. Therefore, even if it should be accepted without proof, they are not being willfully blind (as you are when you deny the obvious) in rejecting it.

            I don’t think you disagree with me on that.

            I think there is strong, publicly available evidence for Christianity. This doesn’t mean that I think that all non-Christians are self-deceived or morally wicked or some such (see below), but it does mean that there’s a clear sense in which I don’t grant that God is hidden. I do grant that he is psychologically hidden, and perhaps this psychological hiddenness is some evidence against Christianity. But, like the lack of constant miracles today, I think this is fairly weak evidence, because, while it’s more likely on ~Christianity than on Christianity, I don’t think it’s very unlikely on Christianity to begin with.

            Even granting for the sake of argument that there is strong, publicly-available evidence for Christianity, my point is merely that it is not strong and publicly-available enough. Obviously so, given that so many people reject it.

            Is Christianity as obvious as the existence of the sun? I don’t think so. But why shouldn’t it be?

            I agree with Descartes, who wrote that “an infidel who, destitute of all supernatural grace, and plainly ignoring all that we Christians believe to have been revealed by God, embraces the faith to him obscure, impelled thereto by certain fallacious reasonings, will not be a true believer, but will the rather commit a sin in not using his reason properly.”

            I also don’t think you’ll spend an eternity in hell if you disbelieve Christianity. I’m a universalist: I think that everyone gets out of hell eventually. I don’t think a good and loving God would have it otherwise. I think this position is fully consistent with orthodox Christianity, and it’s certainly consistent with anything I’ve said in this thread.

            I’m glad to hear that you agree with Descartes on this and that you are a universalist. I’m sorry for assuming otherwise, but it’s a minority view that has little support in the Christian tradition up until the Enlightenment. It’s hard to escape the suggestion that it has been adopted by many because it makes the religion more compatible with the modern worldview.

            Unfortunately, accepting universalism takes away most of the force of the need to proselytize for Christianity, as well as most of the fear and Pascalian arguments that have historically led people to accept it. I mean, this was a major factor in the early spread of Christianity: if you want to be a Christian, you’ve got to deny all other gods and cults. And if you follow other gods and cults, your soul is in grave danger.

            I don’t feel like I need salvation. I don’t feel like I need a divine helping hand. I certainly don’t think the arguments are persuasive. So I’m glad to hear from you that will will not make a difference to my eternal destiny, even though I may spend some time in Purgatory.

            You should probably announce universalism more loudly, though. It makes you seem a lot more reasonable. The default assumption people have is non-universalism.

            This conversation may have largely run its course, since you’ve said that you’re not interested in systematizing why you think the first-order evidence for Christianity is weak. But I’m happy to continue on particular topics if you are interested (though professional obligations will probably keep me from responding for the next day or two).

            It’s not so much that I’m not interested in quantifying how weak the evidence is for Christianity. It’s that I don’t know how it can be done.

            If I knew how to quantify the evidence for fundamental disagreements like the probability of theism, I’d be publishing a book on it and becoming a world-class intellectual.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I take probability theory to simply be a formalization of good uncertain reasoning. ”

            And all the other religions? Because the probability that Buddhism is true but Christian miracles are better supported is higher than the probability Christianity is true, but Buddhist miracles are better supported. This is ignoring religions like Zoroastrianism where the strong evidence for miracles in other religions have zero effect on its probability.

            ” But anyway, I still maintain that if Christianity is true, the probability of God performing any particular miracle is very small.”

            The probabilities are flawed. Think of it this way. Dr Evil wants me dead. I am dumped naked down a chute which goes into one of two rooms. Room one is filled with nerve gas. Room two is filled with normal air. If in a few minutes I am still alive, it is because I fell into room two.

            There is not a spectrum of intervention by the Christian God. Either God wants us to know God exists (in which case we know since God can simply tell everyone), God doesn’t care (in which case Christianity is false, but theism is true so Christianity can’t be used as evidence) or God doesn’t exist.

            That is what happens when you are all powerful or all knowing. You can’t simultaneously hold “God wants people to know God exists” and “the existence of Donald Trump is universally accepted”.

          • Troy says:

            Apologies for the late replies; been busy with work.

            @Anonymous:

            Do you read Koine Greek? If I were to present an argument for the age of say John based on certain words or grammatical constructs used in it versus other texts in the Greco-Roman world with better dating, could we actually have a conversation, or would we just be trading appeals to experts?

            I would be interested in arguments of the form you suggest, but I do lack the expertise to evaluate the textual premises. I do not read Koine Greek. I took it in college but I haven’t kept up with it. About the best I can do now is laboriously go through a short passage on a website like http://www.greekbible.com/.

            Or to put it another way: given that I’ve studied biblical criticism at the undergraduate level why should I disbelieve the standard academic account? The fact the you have links that claim they are wrong isn’t nearly enough to do it. Short of learning Aramaic, Koine Greek, and Latin for good measure and then applying for and attending grad school I don’t see how I could be convinced the experts are all wrong.

            Compare for example climate change. Every time it comes up in here someone starts talking about how this or that model failed to take into account the critical issue of the molecular structure of unobtainium. As someone who is not a climate scientist and has no interest in becoming a climate scientist, armchair or otherwise, this argument is completely lost on me. I have no choice but to use second order heuristics. I believe that Scott calls this learned epistemological helplessness.

            So if you want to convince me that the apostle Matthew actually wrote Matthew you are going to need to either convince the academy that it is a strong possibility or be very convincing on the claim that this particular part of the academy is totally broken with respect to honestly seeking truth.

            I think the latter is pretty probable, at least in certain respects. I don’t think New Testament studies is unique in this; the medical and social sciences are also broken, as Scott has illustrated on this blog many times.

            I am in a similar situation as you vis-a-vis climate science: I rely mostly on second-order heuristics. I think that with respect to New Testament scholarship (I have not studied the Old Testament as much) I am somewhere inbetween this state and that I am in with respect to my own field of study. I have read enough of the secondary literature that I think I am familiar with much, if not all, of the first-order evidence (including some that mainstream New Testament scholarship is apparently not aware of today, such as so-called “undesigned coincidences,” discussed in an earlier generation by William Paley among others and laid out in one of the linked to lectures earlier). Moreover, much of the first-order evidence in this case is not as esoteric as that in climate science, and so I think can be pretty readily appreciated by a non-expert (I grant that some linguistically based arguments are exceptions). I also am an expert (by training) at the evaluation of arguments, especially probabilistic arguments, and the more skeptical secondary literature which I have read on the New Testament seems to me to rely liberally on arguments which can be shown to be quite weak, such as arguments from silence.

            @Vox:

            It is possible for something to be self-evident in the sense that it is properly axiomatic, without being “obvious”: in a context of knowledge where there are an array of seemingly-good arguments against it, for instance. Therefore, even if it should be accepted without proof, they are not being willfully blind (as you are when you deny the obvious) in rejecting it.

            I don’t think you disagree with me on that.

            Well, I’m not sure that having seemingly-good arguments against a proposition necessarily make it non-obvious. But I do agree that there are distinct notions in the neighborhood here. Anyway, I don’t claim that Christianity is obvious in the sense that anyone who rejects it is willfully blind, as I said in my last post.

            Even granting for the sake of argument that there is strong, publicly-available evidence for Christianity, my point is merely that it is not strong and publicly-available enough. Obviously so, given that so many people reject it.

            Is Christianity as obvious as the existence of the sun? I don’t think so. But why shouldn’t it be?

            No, it is not. (Nor is it as obvious as the existence of consciousness, for that matter.)

            Why it isn’t, I don’t claim to know. I suspect that the answer will be related to the reasons God allows evil. (You rightly note that the problems of evil and hiddenness are related.) I have some thoughts on that (I’m broadly sympathetic to John Hick’s soul-making theodicy), but do agree that the existence of evil is some evidence against theism. I’m not sure that the little bit of epistemic hiddenness that there is adds extra evidence. Either way, I don’t think this evidence is nearly as strong as the evidence we have for Christianity (this includes not only the historical evidence but also natural theological evidences for theism more generally, especially fine-tuning). Like any other theory, Christianity should be evaluated in light of the total evidence, and so it’s compatible with there being some evidences against it that it’s nevertheless all-things-considered quite probable.

            I will say that, for any probability short of 1 we could wonder why the probability of Christianity on that evidence isn’t higher. Short of that the line has to be drawn somewhere, and my judgment of how strong the evidence is is such that it seems to me that God has drawn the line pretty high. You could respond that God should have made the probability 1. I’m not sure that’s even possible, but assuming that it is then that God should have made the probability that high is a pretty strong claim. If there are any goals of God for us that cannot be obtained without at least some epistemic distance, then he’ll have reason to not make the probability that high.

            I’m glad to hear that you agree with Descartes on this and that you are a universalist. I’m sorry for assuming otherwise, but it’s a minority view that has little support in the Christian tradition up until the Enlightenment. It’s hard to escape the suggestion that it has been adopted by many because it makes the religion more compatible with the modern worldview.

            Apology accepted; no harm done. I’m sure you’re right that its becoming more widely accepted is partly due to it making Christianity more palatable to moderns. But I think some aspects of modernity themselves have Christian roots, and I think the best arguments for universalism don’t rely on those aspects of modernity that Christians should reject. And while you’re certainly right that it was a minority view, there are a few important historical figures who endorsed it, including Gregory of Nyssa and Origen. My sense is also that it is the plurality view about the afterlife among Christian analytic philosophers of religion. Alvin Plantinga, for example, is a universalist, although as far as I know he’s never defended it in print.

            Unfortunately, accepting universalism takes away most of the force of the need to proselytize for Christianity, as well as most of the fear and Pascalian arguments that have historically led people to accept it.

            I can’t speak to the psychological effects, but I disagree that it takes away the need for proselytization. I don’t think Christians should be selling people fire insurance; I think we should be sharing the good news of Christianity with others because we want them to know the truth and to experience the joy and liberation that a relationship with Christ can bring. I think the truth of Christianity is one of the most important truths there is, not just for the afterlife but for your fulfilling your telos right here on Earth. I doubt I can persuade someone of that by rational argument; if someone disagrees with that I can only ask them to try living the Christian life.

          • Troy says:

            Another thought on divine hiddenness: I think epistemic hiddenness would be a serious problem if universalism were false (or, at least, if post-mortem salvation were impossible). If even a little bit of hiddenness were to damn someone eternally to hell, that would raise serious questions about the goodness of God. But once we eliminate the specter of eternal damnation (or eternal damnation based definitively on this life), it doesn’t seem to me especially probable a priori that God would make his existence more obvious than it is.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I’m not sure that the little bit of epistemic hiddenness that there is adds extra evidence.”

            It does. The problem of evil simply means that a all powerful, all good, all knowing God is incompatible with the universe we observe. The problem of hiddenness means a powerful God who wants to be known is less likely. The former applies only to Abrahamic faiths, but the latter applies to most forms of theism.

            ” Either way, I don’t think this evidence is nearly as strong as the evidence we have for Christianity (this includes not only the historical evidence but also natural theological evidences for theism more generally, especially fine-tuning). Like any other theory, Christianity should be evaluated in light of the total evidence, and so it’s compatible with there being some evidences against it that it’s nevertheless all-things-considered quite probable.”

            Logically impossible trumps evidence. And that is what those two dilemmas are- when you have an individual with infinite power there is nothing that prevents them from achieving their goals so if we don’t see the expect results, we are wrong about their goals or they don’t exist.

            You are also ignoring the other problems. An all powerful God doesn’t need to incarnate as Jesus. God can forgive mankind’s sins because God is all powerful. The Gospels are not evidence for an all powerful God because an all powerful God would not have needed to do any of it. An all knowing God would not have needed to become a person to know how it feels to be a person because they are all knowing. The Gospels can’t be used as evidence of an entity that wouldn’t need to carry them out- they are evidence that polytheism is true or magic exists (especially the massacre of the innocents and Wiseman), not that Christianity is true.

            “I will say that, for any probability short of 1 we could wonder why the probability of Christianity on that evidence isn’t higher.”

            Given God can simply make everyone believe he exists, I’m not sure why this is unreasonable. In fact given people claim this is what religious experiences are, I’m not seeing how this impinges on free will that people like to claim.

            ” I’m not sure that’s even possible, but assuming that it is then that God should have made the probability that high is a pretty strong claim.”

            Yes, if only God was ALL POWERFUL. Then doing that would be exactly as hard as every other possible option!

            ” I doubt I can persuade someone of that by rational argument; if someone disagrees with that I can only ask them to try living the Christian life.”

            Some of us work with Hindus; I can assure you there are plenty who seem to achieve that affect just fine by living the Hindu life. Exactly what is the point of the Good News if other religions can pull off the same thing? Is the claim that Christianity is marginally more effective? Because then that means that people who couldn’t get access to Christianity got the short end of the stick because…

            ” I think epistemic hiddenness would be a serious problem if universalism were false ”

            Or if people believed universalism were false. Because then they would be willing to kill other people in order to prevent them from going to hell. Setting up such a situation is not compatible with benevolence.

            ” it doesn’t seem to me especially probable a priori that God would make his existence more obvious than it is.”

            It costs God nothing to tell people God exists. Therefore we should expect God to pick the level of obviousness that most aligns with God’s goals. If atheists don’t believe in God, that means God doesn’t want atheists to believe in God. That is… sort of weird.

          • On the climate analogy …

            Analyzing all the evidence for yourself would be hard, probably impossible, since it requires a lot of different sorts of expertise. But there are short cuts that can give you some idea what to believe.

            One is testing predictions. You can read the first IPCC report, see what it implied would happen to temperature thereafter, compare that to what did happen, repeat for the second report. That won’t tell you what the right model is, but if the predictions don’t fit what happened it does suggest that the IPCC is not a very reliable source.

            You can also sample the literature, read something that you do have the expertise to make sense of. If you conclude that it’s wrong, still worse dishonest, and it is taken seriously and cited by the people you would otherwise rely on, that’s a reason not to. Again, it doesn’t tell you what’s true–that is a much harder problem–but it tells you that you have only weak reasons to believe the existing authorities.

            I’ve paid more attention to climate issues than to biblical criticism, so don’t know what the equivalent tests are there, but I expect they exist.

            One example in a related field … . Boswell argued that the early Christian church was not strongly against homsexuality–no more than against other forms of non-marital sex. I don’t have the expertise to evaluate his argument. But I read an attack on his book by someone who did have the expertise and the attack was clearly dishonest–misrepresented what the book said. That’s at least some evidence that the book is right, since if there were good arguments against it the critic would presumably have offered them instead of bad ones.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Samuel Skinner:

            It’s not strictly true that all the evil in the world and the hiddenness of God is logically incompatible with God’s existence and benevolence.

            It’s just extremely strong evidence, since no one has ever given a plausible benevolent motive for these things. But you can’t refute categorically the idea that “God works in mysterious ways”, i.e. that the benevolent motive is somehow beyond human comprehension. Once you say “mysterious ways”, though, you’ve left the sphere of rational arguments based on the evidence and are just asserting things on faith. Possibly, you’re arguing based on evidence in other areas, but not in that area.

            You’ve got to emphasize the enormity of the “mysterious ways” view, though: it says that everything from the Holocaust to little Italian children being incinerated by volcanoes is somehow for the greater good and therefore not really evil at all. After all, if there were any phenomena in the world which were evil on net, God would have to eliminate them.

            Exactly what is the point of the Good News if other religions can pull off the same thing? Is the claim that Christianity is marginally more effective? Because then that means that people who couldn’t get access to Christianity got the short end of the stick because…

            Precisely. This is a major part of it.

            If Christianity has…actual benefits, then it’s unjust/unbenevolent of God not to reveal it to everyone. If Christianity has neither natural nor supernatural benefits over paganism, it’s not unjust, but what the hell’s the point? That’s when you convert from universalism to Unitarian Universalism, I guess.

            Of course, this is only a small part of the general injustice and unfairness that God ordains and allows.

            Or if people believed universalism were false. Because then they would be willing to kill other people in order to prevent them from going to hell. Setting up such a situation is not compatible with benevolence.

            This is a really good point, as well.

          • Anonymous says:

            @David Friedman

            What you are suggesting still sounds like quite a bit of investment. Perhaps not as much as my mooted going to grad school, but still many hours a year (100+?). If that’s what you got in the lottery of fascinations, well that’s great but otherwise you are back to LEH.

            Bringing it back to the theological question–
            IF
            the world we live (which according the Christian view was deliberately created down to every last detail by God) is one where: 1) the expert consensus is that the books of the new testament were not written by their traditional authors, and 2) it is generally a decent idea to trust the expert consensus if you don’t have much else to go on, and 3) that the books were written by their traditional authors is an important piece of the puzzle we are supposed to use to come to be convinced of the truth of Christianity, and 4) in order to legitimately convince yourself that the experts are wrong you need to have biblical criticism as one of your top two or three picks in the lottery of fascinations as well as a fair amount of intellectual horsepower
            THEN
            it doesn’t seem like God particularly wants many people to find out the truth.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “But you can’t refute categorically the idea that “God works in mysterious ways”, i.e. that the benevolent motive is somehow beyond human comprehension. ”

            That falls down because God is supposed to have made man in God’s image. It requires God to deliberately make humans unable to fully understand morality. Technically you can toss the superstructure of Christianity and Judaism and it wouldn’t contradict, but at that point you are left with deism.

            “Once you say “mysterious ways”, though, you’ve left the sphere of rational arguments based on the evidence and are just asserting things on faith.”

            It is worse than that. It means morality comes in tiers; actions are praised and judged differently based on their actor. Now, consequentialism can handle that, but virtue ethics and deontology can’t because once you do “omnibenevolence” becomes equivalent to “God’s morality is to act in God’s fashion”. It becomes without meaning which is a problem because it is normally used to explain why God created the universe.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Samuel Skinner:

            That falls down because God is supposed to have made man in God’s image. It requires God to deliberately make humans unable to fully understand morality. Technically you can toss the superstructure of Christianity and Judaism and it wouldn’t contradict, but at that point you are left with deism.

            Maybe he had a good reason to make humans unable to fully understand his morality. It doesn’t contradict the idea that people are “made in God’s image” (a very vague idea, by the way) that they can’t necessarily understand every single thing he does.

            It’s just evidence against. And certainly does refute many interpretations and common practices of Christianity.

            It is worse than that. It means morality comes in tiers; actions are praised and judged differently based on their actor. Now, consequentialism can handle that, but virtue ethics and deontology can’t because once you do “omnibenevolence” becomes equivalent to “God’s morality is to act in God’s fashion”. It becomes without meaning which is a problem because it is normally used to explain why God created the universe.

            I agree that there is a huge problem here with saying that God is “good”. You are smuggling in an implicit theory of the good which says that to be good is to promote the happiness of others or something.

            But why should God want anything? Why would anything in particular be good for God? Aristotle argued much more consistently that, since God is completely self-sufficient and lacks nothing, he does absolutely nothing and simply contemplates himself. There is not anything good for him, that he needs or wants to have.

            As for morality coming in “tiers”, though, it doesn’t really imply that. Maybe there’s a good, perfectly normal “tier” of reason to allow the Holocaust but you just didn’t think of it. Is it logically possible that you didn’t consider one of the possibilities, didn’t have all the information, or were simply too stupid to comprehend how all the parts fit together such that God allowed it? Yes, it is logically possible.

            Is it more likely that the theory has no explanation because it is false? Also yes.

          • @ Anonymous:

            (re what it takes to form an opinion in a controversy other than by accepting the current orthodoxy)

            I may well spend more than a hundred hours a year arguing with people about climate issues, but most of that isn’t aimed at my reaching a conclusion about those issues but at some combination of entertainment (I like arguing), understanding what other people are like, and trying to spread what I believe to be more correct ideas.

            I have, however, done the project I described on IPCC predictions and I have identified two much quoted articles that I think I can demonstrate are deliberately dishonest, as well as one more that I believe is honest but demonstrably mistaken. None of the three hinges on expertise in climate science. For two, all it takes is careful reading, for the third, some understanding of statistics and probability theory.

            And I don’t think all of that took as much as hundred hours even once, let alone annually.

            There are other areas where I reject the dominant consensus, most obviously political, but those come much closer to areas within my own field of expertise.

            I agree that if you are not prepared to spend significant time and energy trying to make sense of a controversy, accepting the current orthodoxy is usually a sensible strategy, providing you can figure out what it is, which isn’t always easy.

          • Troy says:

            @Vox:

            If Christianity has…actual benefits, then it’s unjust/unbenevolent of God not to reveal it to everyone. If Christianity has neither natural nor supernatural benefits over paganism, it’s not unjust, but what the hell’s the point? That’s when you convert from universalism to Unitarian Universalism, I guess.

            There are different ways in which one might take Christianity to have or not have benefits. It’s a central part of orthodox Christianity that Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection atone for our sins and reconcile us to God, but it’s an open question what the means through which that happens are. One view, sometimes called exclusivism, says that these effects come only through Christian faith, or through participation in the church, perhaps — through in some way being a Christian. (Excluvism is compatible with universalism: just say that, eventually — in the afterlife — everyone will convert.) Another view, sometimes called inclusivism, says that these effects can come about through other means as well, for example through participation in other religions. On this view, a Hindu has false beliefs about who and what the divine is, but God may nevertheless work his grace through Hindu faith/practice.

            I think the most plausible view is somewhere inbetween these two positions. It is possible to have a relationship with God outside of the church, but, other things equal, this relationship will be inferior to the one one could have inside the church.

            On the objection that it’s then unjust of God to not reveal Christianity to everyone, I think there’s a clear sense in which he has — he has given publicly visible signs through Jesus’s miraculous life and resurrection, which were recorded and passed on. That, as a psychological matter, many people don’t believe, or that the probability of Christianity on publicly available evidence is not 100% do not seem to me to tell nearly as strongly against God’s justice. Again, this is given that universalism is true, so that no one will be forever excluded from reconciliation with God.

            @Anonymous:

            IF
            the world we live (which according the Christian view was deliberately created down to every last detail by God) is one where: 1) the expert consensus is that the books of the new testament were not written by their traditional authors, and 2) it is generally a decent idea to trust the expert consensus if you don’t have much else to go on, and 3) that the books were written by their traditional authors is an important piece of the puzzle we are supposed to use to come to be convinced of the truth of Christianity, and 4) in order to legitimately convince yourself that the experts are wrong you need to have biblical criticism as one of your top two or three picks in the lottery of fascinations as well as a fair amount of intellectual horsepower
            THEN
            it doesn’t seem like God particularly wants many people to find out the truth.

            There are different views among Christians about the degree to which God micromanages things in the world. Some people think he micromanages things quite a lot (“thank you God for helping me find my car keys”). This objection presupposes a similar conception of divine providence.

            I doubt this view of divine providence is correct. The large majority of the time, the universe behaves as an autonomous self-developing system. It seems that God is content to let people do things for themselves most of the time, even if that means that they are intellectually irresponsible with how they develop certain fields of study.

            Also, (3) is not obviously true. I think the historical case for Christianity is still strong if we deny traditional authorship, just not as strong. It’s still hard to explain the various evidences for the resurrection naturalistically, for example.

            ***

            Really, on the hiddenness objection, it seems to me that if you grant that, conditional on the publicly available non-hiddenness evidence, the probability of Christianity is very high — say >.99 — then “but why isn’t the probability even higher?” or “why isn’t the probability that high on so-and-so’s private evidence?” look like pretty weak objections. I presume neither of you grant the premise, but if the evidence is that strong, it seems to me like the non-Christian has a lot more ‘splaining to do of that evidence than the Christian does of any remaining divine hiddenness.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Troy:

            Really, on the hiddenness objection, it seems to me that if you grant that, conditional on the publicly available non-hiddenness evidence, the probability of Christianity is very high — say >.99 — then “but why isn’t the probability even higher?” or “why isn’t the probability that high on so-and-so’s private evidence?” look like pretty weak objections. I presume neither of you grant the premise, but if the evidence is that strong, it seems to me like the non-Christian has a lot more ‘splaining to do of that evidence than the Christian does of any remaining divine hiddenness.

            If the publicly available evidence—and by that I mean the evidence available to people who hadn’t even studied the question—were such that the probability rationally seemed like >.99, then anyone who didn’t believe in Christianity would be immoral, evading reality and denying the obvious.

            Since you have said you don’t believe that, you can’t say that.

            But sure, what the hell, if the probability is >.99, why not >.999? What’s the probability that man needs food to live? This is imparted to (almost) everybody by the natural sense of hunger and the obvious evidence of the results of not eating. Why can’t God just make people believe in him, like he (in the Christian theory) made them with the sense of hunger?

            Yes, God is less bad in a world where the probability of Christianity is >.99 and not <.001. But he's still bad, to whatever extent the deprivation of Christian knowledge is harming people. If universalism is true, he becomes infinitely better because he's no longer infinitely evil. But he's still a finite amount of evil.

            If not believing in God is no big deal, this argument doesn't play a major role, I agree. The role is then taken up by the usual suspects of why does God allow dictators, rapists, little kids dying of brain cancer, and so on.

            The free will argument is a bad argument (and obviously doesn't even address natural evil). Punishing criminals doesn't take away their metaphysical free will. The existence of just laws doesn't restrict your freedom; it enhances it by removing the threat of criminals.

          • Nita says:

            eventually — in the afterlife — everyone will convert

            I can’t help but imagine each of these conversions like so:

            O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! [..] But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

          • Troy says:

            If the publicly available evidence—and by that I mean the evidence available to people who hadn’t even studied the question—were such that the probability rationally seemed like >.99, then anyone who didn’t believe in Christianity would be immoral, evading reality and denying the obvious.

            Since you have said you don’t believe that, you can’t say that.

            We mean different things by “publicly available evidence.” I don’t mean evidence possessed by people who haven’t looked into the question. By that standard the publicly available evidence for evolution might not be high. I mean evidence available from physics, history, and other fields of study with public records.

            Conditional on that evidence, I do think the probability is above .99. (The probability that the sun exists is and that consciousness exists are still much higher.)

            I don’t think that means that even someone with that evidence is necessarily immoral in not believing in Christianity. They may be “evading reality,” but even that is not necessary. Perhaps they’re just bad at evaluating evidence. Evaluating evidence can be quite difficult (a point I believe David Friedman has made in the past with respect to intractable disagreements). For instance, most people do quite badly on the following problem. Suppose the urn in front of us has either 1 white ball and 3 black balls or 3 black balls and 1 white ball, and that either possibility is equally probable to start. We make the following series of draws from the urn: W, B, B, B, W, B, W, W, B, B. Most people think this evidence is pretty much a wash, and that the probability that the urn has 3 black and 1 white is only slightly above 50% now. In fact the probability is 90%.

            But sure, what the hell, if the probability is >.99, why not >.999? What’s the probability that man needs food to live? This is imparted to (almost) everybody by the natural sense of hunger and the obvious evidence of the results of not eating. Why can’t God just make people believe in him, like he (in the Christian theory) made them with the sense of hunger?

            Yes, God is less bad in a world where the probability of Christianity is >.99 and not <.001. But he's still bad, to whatever extent the deprivation of Christian knowledge is harming people. If universalism is true, he becomes infinitely better because he's no longer infinitely evil. But he's still a finite amount of evil.

            If not believing in God is no big deal, this argument doesn't play a major role, I agree. The role is then taken up by the usual suspects of why does God allow dictators, rapists, little kids dying of brain cancer, and so on.

            The free will argument is a bad argument (and obviously doesn't even address natural evil). Punishing criminals doesn't take away their metaphysical free will. The existence of just laws doesn't restrict your freedom; it enhances it by removing the threat of criminals.

            I’m not sure what you mean by the ‘free will argument’; a couple of different positions can go under that name. I think that John Hick’s soul-making theodicy, which is sometimes called a free will theodicy, goes some way towards explaining the existence of evil. On this view free will is not a good in itself; rather, it is a means towards another good, namely the development of virtue.

            I also think it’s plausible that the existence of stable natural laws is necessary for science and probably for rational planning in general, and that it’s difficult to have stable natural laws without natural evil (once creatures capable of suffering come on the scene).

            I think considerations like these make the existence of evil somewhat less surprising. But I agree that evil is still some evidence against theism. This is where I think formulating the arguments probabilistically really does help. Conditional on God creating embodied conscious agents in the first place, I don’t think that the proposition that those agents suffer natural evil and commit moral evil is terribly unlikely given theism. Maybe it’s moderately low — .05? But we are ignorant enough of God’s purposes and means, and we can come up with enough possible reasons for evil (such as those above) that we should not be super-confident that God would make the world free of evil.

            In general, E can only be strong evidence against H to the extent that E is improbable given H. If E is not too improbable given H, then E cannot be very strong evidence against H. When we look at the evidences for Christian theism, they are facts which are extremely unlikely given naturalism. To return to an earlier example, even if it’s possible that Jesus could rise from the dead given naturalism (via aliens or whatever), the probability of this is incredibly, incredibly low — many, many, many orders of magnitude below the probability of evil given theism. There is thus no barrier to Jesus’ resurrection being extremely strong evidence against naturalism and for theism.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Troy
            I don’t think the micromanaging objection works particularly well when you are positing an omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent creator-God. The question isn’t why didn’t God intervene and suspend the natural order to help me find my keys, but why select the universe where I can’t find my keys when there’s was an identical one available to him where I did find my keys? And we aren’t talking about keys, but rather the difficulty of finding out the Truth about God and Salvation.

            Even if I were to grant your >99%, which I certainly do not, it doesn’t answer the objection. If a reasonable person give it a 2% probability after investing a few hundred hours into the question using a reasonable approach, and only once thousands or tens of thousands of hours were invested did it become clear that 99% is a better estimate, there is a lot tougher hidden knowledge problem than you are suggesting.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Troy:

            We mean different things by “publicly available evidence.” I don’t mean evidence possessed by people who haven’t looked into the question. By that standard the publicly available evidence for evolution might not be high. I mean evidence available from physics, history, and other fields of study with public records.

            Then we’re back to hidden evidence. This doesn’t solve the moral problem you said it solved.

            I am not talking about evidence that people theoretically could know. I am talking about evidence that people do know or reasonably should know.

            Conditional on that evidence, I do think the probability is above .99. (The probability that the sun exists is and that consciousness exists are still much higher.)

            If you believe the probability of Christianity is greater than .99, I can’t take anything you say seriously. That is insane.

            Perhaps they’re just bad at evaluating evidence. Evaluating evidence can be quite difficult (a point I believe David Friedman has made in the past with respect to intractable disagreements).

            If people don’t know the laws of probability, they don’t have part of the evidence they need to evaluate probabilities correctly. It may be perfectly reasonable for a naive person to believe that the distribution is 50-50 in the situation you described.

            I’m not saying that, from the standpoint of an ideal rational agent, it is rational to believe it. I’m saying that, from their perspective, it is rational to believe it. The question with evaluating the extent to which people are “evading” facts is the extent to which they sincerely want and try to believe the truth—or not. Not how good they are at it, or what epistemological theories or methods they have been exposed to.

            Then our situation becomes: God should have made it easier for people to understand the laws of probability. He could’ve put them in the Bible for good measure.

            I’m not sure what you mean by the ‘free will argument’; a couple of different positions can go under that name. I think that John Hick’s soul-making theodicy, which is sometimes called a free will theodicy, goes some way towards explaining the existence of evil. On this view free will is not a good in itself; rather, it is a means towards another good, namely the development of virtue.

            I also think it’s plausible that the existence of stable natural laws is necessary for science and probably for rational planning in general, and that it’s difficult to have stable natural laws without natural evil (once creatures capable of suffering come on the scene).

            The soul-making argument is bad. God doesn’t need to work through intermediate causes. He can just put the virtue in people directly. And the magnitude of the evils perpetrated on innocent parties far exceeds whatever level would be necessary to “promote virtue”.

            For that matter, we’d be better off without many “virtues” if the problems necessitating them were eliminated. If we didn’t have murderous dictatorships, we wouldn’t need the fine art of machine-gun manufacturing. So?

            The stable natural laws argument is really bad. Think about what you are saying! It’s all for the best for innocent Italian villagers to be incinerated so that other people can study geology. This is nowhere near dust specks vs. torture!

            There is no reason why the natural laws can’t operate in basically the same way, but with a lot more miracles to save innocent people from harm. You can have lava not burn the righteous, bullets bounce off the innocent, and tyrants drop dead upon assuming power. That sort of thing happened all the time in the Bible, too, so it’s hardly unprecedented.

            For that matter, there’s no reason the world couldn’t just be set up a lot better. Living standards today are much better than 500 years ago. There is no reason they couldn’t have been that way from the beginning of human existence.

            In general, E can only be strong evidence against H to the extent that E is improbable given H. If E is not too improbable given H, then E cannot be very strong evidence against H.

            The argument is:
            Christianity -> ~Evil.
            Evil
            ~Christianity

            Now, as I indicated, this is probabilistic, not absolute. But the evidence against Christianity by way of the problem of evil is far stronger than the evidence for Christianity by way of the Gospels.

            Naturalism is a better explanation of the Gospels than the theory of Christianity. If Christianity were actually true, the world would look very different, and God would have revealed himself much more obviously. The fact that Christianity appears practically indistinguishable from a Roman mystery cult informed by Greek neo-Platonism—for that matter, one which on a face-value reading proclaims the imminence of the Apocalypse—is better explained by the fact that it is not true, than by the suggestion that it really is true but God wanted to make it seem like it was false.

            To return to an earlier example, even if it’s possible that Jesus could rise from the dead given naturalism (via aliens or whatever), the probability of this is incredibly, incredibly low — many, many, many orders of magnitude below the probability of evil given theism.

            I have no idea what makes you say this.

            I don’t believe aliens resurrected Jesus because I don’t think there’s any big mystery to solve. It just didn’t happen; in the same way there was not a worldwide flood that drowned everybody except one guy and his family.

            But if I were somehow convinced that the historicity of the Gospels were unimpeachable, aliens would be a perfectly reasonable explanation. We already have reason to believe that there are aliens somewhere out there in the universe. Evidence of alien involvement with humanity would wrap up the Fermi Paradox, a difficult problem to address.

            The idea that Christianity was planted by aliens to fuck with us, or as a scientific experiment, is much more plausible than that this was the best an omnipotent, omnibenevolent divine being could do. And maybe the aliens got bored and left. That would explain better than Christianity why there are no miracles anymore, when they were happening left and right in the Old Testament times. Though, indeed, I don’t know how to pin down how much of the Bible you think is actually accurate and how much you think is mythology.

          • Troy says:

            @Anonymous:

            I don’t think the micromanaging objection works particularly well when you are positing an omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent creator-God. The question isn’t why didn’t God intervene and suspend the natural order to help me find my keys, but why select the universe where I can’t find my keys when there’s was an identical one available to him where I did find my keys? And we aren’t talking about keys, but rather the difficulty of finding out the Truth about God and Salvation.

            I don’t think God “selects universes” in this way. One possibility which would make it impossible for him to do so is open theism, according to which the outcome of libertarian free actions (and perhaps other indeterministic events) are not knowable by God, at least not when he is making his decision about how to create. In this case he can still know probabilities for how things will turn out, but

            But even if open theism is false, it doesn’t follow that God “selects universes” on the whole, rather than creates a universe with certain initial conditions and lets things run their course. Perhaps he foreknows what will happen if he creates things one way rather than another, but it does not follow that he intends those outcomes (and hence, it does not follow that he is “selecting” a universe).

            You can still run an argument from evil or hiddenness on either of these conceptions of divine providence, but you won’t be able to use as a premise that God does not want people to know about him (or that he wants people to suffer, etc.).

            @Vox:

            Then we’re back to hidden evidence. This doesn’t solve the moral problem you said it solved.

            Here we just disagree: I think that a universe in which God has given publicly visible signs through Jesus’s miraculous life and resurrection, which were recorded and passed on, is one in which he has revealed himself in a fairly obvious sense. I grant that he could have revealed himself more, but I deny that we have very strong grounds to think that he was unjust for not doing so.

            If you believe the probability of Christianity is greater than .99, I can’t take anything you say seriously. That is insane.

            I naturally don’t expect you to agree with me on that. I’m just telling you where I’m coming from with respect to the hiddenness objection.

            If people don’t know the laws of probability, they don’t have part of the evidence they need to evaluate probabilities correctly. It may be perfectly reasonable for a naive person to believe that the distribution is 50-50 in the situation you described.

            I’m not saying that, from the standpoint of an ideal rational agent, it is rational to believe it. I’m saying that, from their perspective, it is rational to believe it.

            I’m a bit skeptical that this weaker sense of rationality that allows for violating the laws of probability can be spelled out coherently. But I’m not sure the existence of such a sense of rationality is necessary for your argument.

            Then our situation becomes: God should have made it easier for people to understand the laws of probability. He could’ve put them in the Bible for good measure.

            But now it seems the problem is not hiddenness per se but intellectual inabilities, which seem to fall under the class of evils, broadly construed.

            The soul-making argument is bad. God doesn’t need to work through intermediate causes. He can just put the virtue in people directly.

            Hick argues that freely developed virtue is more valuable than virtue given by fiat.

            And the magnitude of the evils perpetrated on innocent parties far exceeds whatever level would be necessary to “promote virtue”.

            It may be that the soul-making theodicy can explain some evils but not others. However, I think Hick already has some good responses to the objection that his theodicy can’t explain horrendous evils. He points out that if we recognized that suffering only occurred to the extent necessary for the soul-making of the sufferer, then we would not be moved to compassion and charity for them. Only in a world in which suffering occurs haphazardly and unequally, even temporarily working against the soul-making of the sufferer, can people develop these virtues.

            Some Christian theodicists, such as Marilyn Adams, adopt as a constraint on theodicies that any suffering must redound to the ultimate good of the sufferer. Hick does not have that requirement. In some cases my suffering may contribute to my own soul-making, but in other cases it may contribute to others.

            The stable natural laws argument is really bad. Think about what you are saying! It’s all for the best for innocent Italian villagers to be incinerated so that other people can study geology. This is nowhere near dust specks vs. torture!

            Well, I think that “other people can study geology” is understating it; humans would be unlikely, for instance, to discover how to make fire if they did not have repeatable experiences of how sticks behave when rubbed together. But setting that aside, I take stable natural laws to be one goal which it is difficult to get without evil. It is presumably not God’s only reason for allowing evil, and so may not be morally sufficient on its own, but may be sufficient together with other considerations.

            There is no reason why the natural laws can’t operate in basically the same way, but with a lot more miracles to save innocent people from harm. You can have lava not burn the righteous, bullets bounce off the innocent, and tyrants drop dead upon assuming power.

            This is probably possible to a limited extent, although the laws would have to be a good deal more complicated. But the variety of ways in which humans can hurt themselves and others is pretty unlimited, so it seems difficult to set up such a system in which there is no natural or moral evil, unless people’s free will is completely curtailed. For example, if bullets bounce off the innocent, evil soldiers could shield themselves from their enemies with virtuous people.

            The argument is:
            Christianity -> ~Evil.
            Evil
            ~Christianity

            I understand the deductive form of the argument. But when we have multiple arguments for or against a conclusion, the way to determine their cumulative force is to apply probability theory. Here, instead of taking Christianity –> ~Evil as a premise, we ask what the conditional probability P(Evil | Christianity) is. This tells us how strongly Evil can disconfirm Christianity. My claim is that this value is not too low, and so that the Bayes’ factor P(Evil | Christianity&K) / P(Evil | ~Christianity&K) is not nearly as bottom-heavy as the Bayes’ factors for the positive evidences for Christianity are top-heavy — e.g., P(Testimony to the Resurrection | Christianity&K) / P(Testimony to the Resurrection | ~Christianity&K). So when we multiply these together, the latter Bayes’ factor “wins.” (This is oversimplifying, because it assumes these evidences are independent, which they almost certainly are not. But I’m just trying to give the general form of my claim here.)

            for that matter, one which on a face-value reading proclaims the imminence of the Apocalypse

            For what it is worth, I think this is probably the strongest historical argument against the truth of Christianity. I think it’s outweighed by the positive evidences, but I agree that the most natural reading of the New Testament is one on which it predicts something which did not come to pass. (However, in light of the fact that they did not come to pass, the version of Christianity with the highest posterior probability is one on which we are misinterpreting those passages. Or, perhaps, one on which Paul was misinterpreting Jesus.)

            I have no idea what makes you say this.

            I don’t believe aliens resurrected Jesus because I don’t think there’s any big mystery to solve. It just didn’t happen; in the same way there was not a worldwide flood that drowned everybody except one guy and his family.

            I realize you don’t grant the resurrection.

            I was just comparing the evidential force of evil with the evidential force of the resurrection for illustration’s sake, since we had talked about the latter earlier and you had said that even if you were convinced that the resurrection had taken place you would not take this as sufficient evidence for Christian theism.

            The idea that Christianity was planted by aliens to fuck with us, or as a scientific experiment, is much more plausible than that this was the best an omnipotent, omnibenevolent divine being could do.

            Do you think this because you think the prior probability of God is low, or because you deny that P(Resurrection | Theism) >> P(Resurrection | Aliens)?

            I’m happy to grant that P(Resurrection | Theism) is low, but it seems crazy to me to say that it’s as low as P(Resurrection | Aliens). I think the Resurrection is obviously strong evidence for Theism, even if that strong evidence is not enough to outweigh the initial improbability of Theism.

            To say that the prior probability of God (by which I mean, its probability independently of the historical evidences for Christianity) is low is not crazy, although I disagree with it because I think there are independent evidences from natural theology.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I think that a universe in which God has given publicly visible signs through Jesus’s miraculous life and resurrection, which were recorded and passed on, is one in which he has revealed himself in a fairly obvious sense. ”

            Except to all the people living before Jesus was born. Or on the wrong continent. Or in Albania.

            ” I grant that he could have revealed himself more, but I deny that we have very strong grounds to think that he was unjust for not doing so.”

            People being treated differently for no reason is the definition of unjust. You need to explain how different treatment is just.

            “Hick argues that freely developed virtue is more valuable than virtue given by fiat.”

            And he is wrong. If you can give pedophiles a way not to be attracted to children, a lot of them would take it. It certainly is fiat, but individuals who refused would be considered bad people. Parents who refused to fix their genes to prevent their offspring from having such a trait would be considered bad.

            “He points out that if we recognized that suffering only occurred to the extent necessary for the soul-making of the sufferer, then we would not be moved to compassion and charity for them.”

            That implies that it is good for people to commit atrocities because it increases the amount of compassion and charity in the world. In fact since there is an optimal amount, it means that after we pass that point we need people to be committing horrible deeds in order to drive up the soul making rate.

            Given the state people lived in for the majority of human history, now is the abnormality. We should celebrate the contributions Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and others who selfless endeavored to insure that people were placed into situations where they could display moral virtues.

            “But setting that aside, I take stable natural laws to be one goal which it is difficult to get without evil.”

            God is all powerful. He can in fact pull that off, if only by highlighting when exceptions are being made. I’m pretty sure “this is the rule except when God intervenes” is already the default position of religion. People already think prayers being answered is reflected differently in the world.

            “For example, if bullets bounce off the innocent, evil soldiers could shield themselves from their enemies with virtuous people.”

            That wouldn’t work since the forces of evil’s bullets wouldn’t hurt anyone. Hard to threaten the innocent or shoot righteous soldiers.

            “I’m happy to grant that P(Resurrection | Theism) is low, but it seems crazy to me to say that it’s as low as P(Resurrection | Aliens). I think the Resurrection is obviously strong evidence for Theism, even if that strong evidence is not enough to outweigh the initial improbability of Theism.”

            Why do you think aliens are so improbable?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Nita
            I can’t help but imagine each of these conversions like so:

            LOL, ouch.

            Conversions in Narnia and Lewis’s other fiction weren’t so groveling (a pity, really). More like ants climbing a costumed elephant, then somehow growing and backing off so they could see the whole thing. Or at least see more of it, becoming (sorry) less wrong. There was a mural in _Perelandra_ that worked like my ants and elephant, and Lewis talked about such a view in correspondence with Dom Bede Griffith.

      • if there were 25 hours in a day i'd work 'em all says:

        This is exactly what you’re supposed to find persuasive and what “faith” actually means to classical Christians is trusting that the chain of transmission from the Twelve Apostles to you are not liars. All metaphysical arguments can get you are the existence of God, not any knowledge about what God is like.

        • anonymous says:

          If there were 25 hours in a day, I’d sleep through them all.

          • anonymous says:

            I’m not sure how to interpret your reply to my self deprecating joke.

          • Anonymous says:

            The most parsimonious explanation is that Mark Atwood is an asshole.

          • if there were 25 hours in a day i'd work 'em all says:

            Different strokes for different folks, as I’d say if I were some kind of folksy type who didn’t work 26 hours a day.

    • anon tith-smeller says:

      >supernaturalism

      If you have a systematic model of the world where it’s created and sustained by God, then God’s intervention isn’t supernatural, it’s natural.

      When it comes to “imperfect observation” … yes, hallucinations and so on are important to consider (I’d argue most people don’t consider them enough.) But there’s nothing supernatural about imperfect observation – plenty of hallucinations etc are of things that are perfectly plausible, and even known to exist, like CIA spies. It’s all about the priors.

      The only reason for assuming evidence for God “must” be fake, in the face of evidence, is a low prior. And the philosophical arguments for assigning a low prior to God’s existence … are suspect at best.

      > religious anthropocentrism

      People used to anthropomorphize lightning. Does that mean lightning isn’t real?

      But maybe that’s unfair.

      God is like us in certain ways. Morality. Something one could call intelligence, if an omniscient and omnipotent being is “intelligent” as we would understand it. Conscious, in some sense. That’s why we’re important. If we weren’t like-God, we couldn’t have this conversation.

      Almost every religious believer who believes in a God would agree that they’re not gendered, not humanoid, and completely apart from our societies. Every society that produced a religion, that religion has criticized.

      Not every religion is equally correct, and not every religious organization has been free from the influence of their society (to put it mildly). But that’s true of every discipline – science, engineering, even math (statistics.)

      Any attempt to find out True Things will discover some truths, make some mistakes, and be misled – wilfully or otherwise – by some of their own biases.

      But they still discovered those truths.

      >demographics

      Are there really more religious people here? There are a good number on /r/rational, even authors. There are definitely some on tumblr, I’ve run into a few.

      I think this blog’s demographics benefit from the simple passage of time, to an extent.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        Almost every religious believer who believes in a God would agree that they’re not gendered, not humanoid, and completely apart from our societies.

        There’s a well-known religion that believes in a God who was a man and lived 33 years as part of human society.

        • Hlynkacg says:

          Jesus having divine origins != Jesus being The Divinity

          • suntzuanime says:

            That’s heresy.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Only if you’re a Baptist.

            Though it would be more accurate to say that Jesus being a divine instrument, or embodying the divine nature in human form is a separate question from whether Jesus was the Logos described in Genesis.

          • Mary says:

            No, only if you’re a Christian.

          • Randy M says:

            What do you mean exactly? I think most Christian denominations hold to Christ predating the creation of the world and being divine even while incarnate. Is there some other meaning to “being” that you have in mind or do you disagree?

            edit: I think you edited while I was posting.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            @ Randy M

            I don’t know if you’re responding to me but it should be noted that this is a specific point of denominational contention.

            Orthodox and Roman Catholics both hold that Jesus was god’s instrument/avatar on the mortal plane but not God himself any more than internet persona you’re currently viewing is “me”. My hands are not me but I am an entity that has hands and through these hands I can affect the world. That is how “The Father” and “The Son” can be both separate and consubstantial.

            Baptists on the other hand reject this and hold that Jesus was the one true God ™ made flesh.

          • DavidS says:

            Catholics and Orthodox Churches do NOT say that Jesus was just an ‘avatar’ or an instrument. That’s definitely heresy (if I was less tired I’d remember which one – it’s not new!). Both say he was fully divine as well as fully human.

          • Jiro says:

            Orthodox and Roman Catholics both hold that Jesus was god’s instrument/avatar on the mortal plane but not God himself any more than internet persona you’re currently viewing is “me”.

            Orthodox and Roman Catholics hold opinions about whether God was Jesus, that seem to be incoherent to outsiders. Presumably, the question “does anyone think God has gender” is being asked from the perspective of an outsider looking at the beliefs of an insider. From the perspective of an outsider looking at an insider, it appears either that Orthodox and Catholics think God has gender, or at best, that they have inconsistent beliefs on that subject.

            If someone says “I believe the world is round” but then defined round as “six square sides that meet at right angles”, with some philosophical explanation about how such a thing has “spherical essence” and so is actually a sphere, saying they believe in a cubical Earth is going to give a more accurate impression with respect to what an outsider cares about.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            @DavidS
            You’re probably thinking of Arianism, which holds that Jesus was an entirely distinct entity from the Logos.

            The mortal avatar/”perfect complimentary natures” of Christ are how Orthodox and Roman Catholics squared the circle of the trinity with monotheism.

            Course neither could agree on how the “The Holy Spirit” fit in, which when combined with spats over leavened vs unleavened bread and Greek vs Latin gave us the first proper schism.

            @ Jiro
            I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at. The closest analogy I can think of as an insider is that asking for God’s is kind of like asking the Sky’s gender. Even if you got a definitive answer one way or the other, what makes you think it would be relevant?

          • Mary says:

            “Orthodox and Roman Catholics both hold that Jesus was god’s instrument/avatar on the mortal plane but not God himself any more than internet persona you’re currently viewing is “me”. ”

            Wrong. Completely wrong. The orthodox view for both is that Jesus Christ was and is wholly God, and wholly man,