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OT46: Open Rebellion

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

1. Some corrections and clarifications about Saturday’s links thread: Fort Galt isn’t that cheap (2), some reasons male toddlers might by deadlier, debate on why not more traditional architecture, Desertopa on school discipline, stable inequality is probably just a measurement error, more promising supersonic flight companies, someone listens to the podcast on non-violent private police.

2. Other good comments this week: John Schilling on cost overruns, Wulfrickson quotes DFW, Wency on real estate development.

3. And Emil Kirkegaard crunches some numbers that broadly support the latest discussion on here about non-shared environment.

4. A CUTE BABY IN THE INGROUP NEEDS YOUR HELP! Those of you associated with the Bay Area rationality community may know Katie and Andromeda Cohen. They’ve fallen on some tough times and some friends have put up a GoFundMe campaign for them.

5. I finally slacked off so badly that the rest of Less Wrong put their yearly survey together without me. Iff you identify as a Less Wronger, you can take it here.

6. You may notice a new ad on the sidebar, advertising online math instructor positions for Art of Problem Solving. Teach kids higher math! Work from home! Incentivize people to put ads up on SSC!

7. Still a little early for this, but might as well get started: I’ll be done with my residency in about a year and will be looking for psychiatry jobs, especially in the Bay Area. If any of you are in psychiatric settings with job openings, I’d like to hear about it. And if any of you are psychiatrists or other doctors with experience in medical job searches, especially regarding outpatient positions or even setting up your own clinics, and you wouldn’t mind talking to me about it, leave a comment here or email me at scott[at]shireroth.org.

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1,472 Responses to OT46: Open Rebellion

  1. chaosmage says:

    I submit that this video may show the most skilled orator in the entire Grey Tribe: https://youtu.be/tDtiTNHPfyo

    The author describes the toxoplaymish dynamics of immigration debates (using the UK as an example) and makes an interesting suggestion how to fix them. But more importantly, he presents his points very skillfully, in 17 minutes of uncut, fluent and vivid monologue.

    He has tons of other good videos too, but they’re mostly about history, not politics.

    • onyomi says:

      I like the interviews about simulated life in the Iron Age. Supports the notion that life feels more complicated now, even though so many things are automated.

    • Amelia says:

      Yeah, lindybeige is cool. If you like his weapons stuff you might also want to check out scholagladiatoria.

  2. Chris says:

    I’m having trouble understanding question 31 on the survey. The question is:

    “With which of these meta-ethical views do you MOST identify?”

    The two answers that seem the closest to my views are “Non-cognitivism: Moral statements don’t express propositions and can neither be true nor false.” and “Error theory: Moral statements have a truth-value, but attempt to describe features of the world that don’t exist.”.

    I’m having trouble understanding the distinction between these views and figuring out where to put myself. The other three options (Subjectivism, Substantive realism, and Constructivism) are nowhere near my views.

    I don’t believe that ethics, morals, or right-and-wrong are fundamental elements of reality. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool materialist who believes that the fundamental description of reality consist of (probably timeless) amplitude distributions over a configuration space. One of the big mysteries of our time is how a bunch of non-conscious matter can give rise to something that experiences consciousness, but I believe that the answer will turn out to be not magical and not mysterious once it’s understood.

    I believe that ethics and morals are entirely constructed. They’re a fiction that allow social animals to do better reproductively than they would otherwise be able to, which is why we have these impulses today. I would expect every social animal would evolve something akin to morals for how they treat each other. Eliezer Yudkowski has done a great job in the Sequences of giving a convincing explanation of how morals are beneficial to reproductive fitness. Bits and pieces of his argument are spread around, but a big chunk of the argument is here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/v1/ethical_injunctions/ and here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/uv/ends_dont_justify_means_among_humans/ . Summarizing his argument, moral injuctions exist because humans do not have sufficient mental capacity to think through all consequences and accurately judge risks for antisocial actions.

    So we have morals about how we treat in-group people because these people have power and there are consequences, but most people don’t give two shits how the chickens and cows they eat are treated.

  3. onyomi says:

    A (so far as I know) novel hypothesis (just a hypothesis) on the issue of “why is everybody so fat all of a sudden?”:

    I am in the habit of drinking large amounts of cold water or calorie-free seltzer with most meals. It feels refreshing and is supposed to be good for you. There is also a theory that drinking more water makes you feel full faster.

    Recently, I read a theory that it was bad to drink a lot of water during, and especially just before a meal, because it dilutes the stomach acid, interfering with digestion. The Chinese always say that drinking cold liquids with meals is bad for the digestion, and I always kind of scoffed at this, continuing to chug huge tumblers of ice water while they sipped on tiny cups of hot tea.

    Recently I tried not drinking water, or at least drinking less water with my meals, and I found something interesting: I seem to get full much faster. Part of it is that, without water, my tendency to eat salty food acts as a limiter on how much I want to eat. But it’s more than that–I literally just feel way fuller, as if it’s a struggle to physically pack away a meal which I know I could easily finish if drinking water per usual.

    One thought: perhaps the water sends semi-digested food flowing into the intestines sooner, which is both bad for the digestion and also clears way for more food sooner. Or maybe large amounts of water interfere with the satiety signalling somehow, because your stomach isn’t directly contacting the food as much or something. Of course, improved digestion might mean more calories absorbed from the same food, but if one is eating less overall, it would probably still be better (to say nothing of vitamins, minerals, etc.).

    I notice the “hydrate! hydrate! hydrate!” thing has become a big fad in the past few decades. I feel like when I was a kid the rule was “drink water when you’re thirsty.” Now it’s “did you know drinking fewer than 10 glasses of water a day can result in headaches, bloating, blah blah…” and drinking huge amounts of water is praised for its ability to “flush” toxins and fat out of the body.

    The big gulp of sugary soda is rightly blamed for contributing to the obesity epidemic, but I wonder if the trend of drinking huge amounts of even water, especially with meals, isn’t screwing with peoples’ satiety mechanisms somehow?

    Experiment for anyone who wants to try: try drinking nothing, or at least much less than usual, with and just before meals. You can compensate by drinking more at other times if you feel it necessary, though I think to the extent hydration problems are genuinely common, it’s probably because we eat too many dried, salty foods. I think the water as locked within the cells of say, a melon, is actually much more absorbable than a big bottle of evian you chug, and which kind of runs right through you.

  4. https://8ch.net/rational/

    I’ve become more sympathetic to 8chan culture lately, largely due to Scottish(?) discourse norms. Hence, an experiment. Let’s see how it goes.

  5. sweeneyrod says:

    Anyone got any suggestions for books to teach yourself genetics with? I have very little knowledge of biology, and some knowledge of chemistry.

    • Anonymous says:

      See if John Maynard Smith’s Evolutionary Genetics is a good fit. Check if it is available at your local library or your other generous library.

    • Dawkins, _The Selfish Gene_, is very readable. Whether it’s what you want depends on what sort of genetics is of interest to you. It’s evolutionary biology, not actual mechanism.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        I’m interested in both. Do you have any suggestions for books on the mechanism?

        • No. Sorry. Not something I know much about.

          The Dawkins book is my standard example of a book that teaches serious ideas and is successfully designed to be read for fun. I thought of it as a model when I was trying to do the same thing for economics.

        • Razib Khan says:

          try *molecular biology of the cell*

    • Urstoff says:

      Depends on the level. Just basic concepts, then “The Cartoon Guide to Genetics” is cheap and readable. At the university level, just buy a used textbook for cheap and plow through it. Alternatively, buy a used biology textbook (e.g., Campbell) and read the section on genetics; as a bonus you get all the other biology stuff too. Finally, check to see if your local library has one of the Teaching Company courses on Biology or Genetics. Those are generally very good.

  6. amac78 says:

    News today that’s relevant to Scott’s January 5, 2014 magnum opus on marijuana legalization.

    A summary in the trade e-pub GenomeWeb (free subscription req’d) on a GWAS from Joel Gelertner’s lab, published in JAMA Psychiatry.

    Sherva et al., “Genome-wide Association Study of Cannabis Dependence Severity, Novel Risk Variants, and Shared Genetic Risks”.

    A Yale University-led team did a GWAS involving nearly 15,000 individuals recruited from the community and substance abuse centers who had a range of cannabis dependence symptoms as defined in the DSM-IV. The search led to three loci with apparent cannabis dependence associations as well as apparent pleiotropy between variants influencing both cannabis dependence and major depressive disorder.

    “These results … suggest that common pathways (nervous system development, inflammation, and ion homeostasis) mediate the risk for multiple psychiatric disorders and dependence on multiple substances, including cannabis,” [the authors wrote].

  7. Audrey says:

    The situation with Katie, as far as I can understand from her posts…

    1. She’s recently had mental health problems, is isolated from family members and cannot financially support herself.
    2. She is living in a group situation with people who all follow a particular ideology. They are paying for her to continue living with them.
    3. Her subsistence needs are being met by this ideological group in return for a. her doing a range of tasks related to the group and b. her assurances that not only herself but also her child will conduct themselves and develop in ways that the group most highly approves of.
    4. Her long term plans are to contribute to the group’s work and raise her child with members of the group outside of usual contact with the state and wider society (financial systems, mainstream education).
    There are many troubling aspects to state involvement in low income families. But one of the benefits is that state financing of such families is that it tends to have a system of checks in place to avoid corrupt practices. Charities also have to be highly regulated to avoid ideological (usually religious) groups from using money and psychological tactics around group support of vulnerable people to manipulate clients.

    I worry that Katie’s scenario has cult like elements to it.

    • Anonymous says:

      Is it a concern if there’s cultlike elements but it’s not a cult?

      • Audrey says:

        I think so. Cult like behaviours can be seen in many manipulative situations that are not strictly speaking cults.

    • Nick T says:

      3. Her subsistence needs are being met by this ideological group in return for a. her doing a range of tasks related to the group and b. her assurances that not only herself but also her child will conduct themselves and develop in ways that the group most highly approves of.

      I live in the Bay Area, have spent time around Katie and her friends, and know the people responsible for the GoFundMe, and AFAIK this point is completely made up.

      • InferentialDistance says:

        It’s not necessarily made up, it could just be a hilariously uncharitable phrasing of “living with a group of people who met by some shared interest, and raising her child to be a moral citizen just like herself and the people she lives with”.

    • Mason says:

      A cult is a kind of community, and the things that you mention seem to largely be markers of a community rather than markers of a cult. There’s no indication that any of her vulnerabilities (lack of support from family, lack of employment, etc.) are exacerbated, purposefully or otherwise, by her involvement with her community. And your entire #3 is speculative at best and false at worst; there’s no indication that she’s doing these things for any reason other than that she wants to do them. Volunteering makes a lot of sense for someone who’s dealing with depression and isn’t employed, especially with a kid: you can find *tons* of content written by moms about how easy it is to go nuts without non-kid-related interests and tasks.

      I can see how the situation might look particularly odd from the perspective of someone living elsewhere, but it’s definitely not unusual in the Bay. It’s so expensive to live here that adult roommate situations are super common, and because people are often living on top of each other (living rooms converted to bedrooms, shared rooms, etc.) it makes all the more sense to try to find housing situations where people share interests/culture/norms. I’ve seen houses for new-agey hippies, young coders, aspiring entrepreneurs, and meditators, and there are probably more I’ve encountered that I can’t immediately remember.

      Basically: A tight-knit community is sort of just a cult minus all the bad stuff; people in the Bay are incentivized to be in tight-knit communities; some people like living that way and some people don’t, but it’s not a particularly worrisome state of affairs on its own. Also probably a generally good position for a struggling single mom to be in, compared to the other options.

      • Adam says:

        It sounds like a pretty terrible way to live, frankly. I wonder if she’d take me up on an alternative proposal. I have a spare house near Dallas where I live. Come live in it. All you have to do is enough yardwork to maintain the property value and rent out two of the bedrooms to whoever you want to cover my mortgage. The rest is yours. Is that not worth it because you have to leave the bay? You can still write grants or review code or whatever the hell you do for CFAR remotely. Why the hell do people love the bay so much? Why is Scott insistent on moving there and driving up the rents even more when the entire county needs good psychiatrists and plenty of places will pay him just as much or even more for a third the expense on his part? Live in Texas and you can have entire spare houses you don’t know what to do with.

        Note this is theoretical and not a real proposal because my wife would never let me do this, but what would be the response? Surely this is a better deal than spare change to cover you for the next two months until you need another handout all over again because you still have no job and the market rent is eight times the national median. Granted, the last time I was in San Francisco was nearly ten years ago, but it wasn’t that different from other cities. Mostly it was just smaller, had more homeless people, and was a lot hillier and windier. And the water is too cold and turbulent to even swim in.

        • Mason says:

          Different preferences. My family has a spare cottage home fairly close to Austin – a beautiful, spacious 1-bedroom surrounded by pasture and woods. It would probably rent for a little less than what I’m paying to split a small apartment in Berkeley. A friend and I stayed there for a few months to start a big project. It had a lot going for it: nature, family nearby, cute animals, privacy, quiet, etc. I can absolutely see why it would be ideal for a lot of people. The isolation really got to me, though; I didn’t want to hang out with my family very often, and I couldn’t really find other people who felt like “my” people. Everything felt far away. There weren’t many places/events in town that were remotely interesting to me. Austin was kind of cool, but still not somewhere that I felt I really fit in. There was a general “meh” vibe to my experience there, and eventually it drifted toward despair.

          I could probably make it work there, but it would be difficult and lonely. Most of my socialization would probably be remote (for a long while, at least), and that would leave some important needs unsatisfied. Barring a lack of any other options, it is not something I would consider attempting during or shortly after a depressive episode.

          • Adam says:

            This is just one of those disconnects between me and seemingly everyone else. I’ve never felt like I’ve had ‘my people.’ My best friends in high school were gay goths I went to drag shows with. I started college at a hippie school as an art student and didn’t last long but got along fine with everyone. I’ve lived in hillbilly country in Kentucky and did fine with moonshiners, NorCal with wine-swilling Prius drivers, East Hollywood with Armenian immigrants, and here I am in Dallas and it seems like no one is actually from here anyway, so there are all kinds of people. None of them are more appealing to me than any other. They’re all people. I’ve been bedridden lately with a back injury and among the people who have come to help me are a good-old country girl born and raised in Mesquite whose sole ambition in life was to have kids, which she started doing at 18, then a libertarian Romanian immigrant who burned out on Wall Street who now does IT consulting who wouldn’t touch a kid with a ten-foot pole, and a lily-white upstate New Yorker who is trying to be an artist and hasn’t had a real job in 8 years. My first wife was a Ukrainian liberal do-gooder social worker, second Puerto Rican military officer who was the first female to a command a line battery in the US Army (MLRS – the headlines will give you the first cannon battery commander), and now my third wife a radar engineer from Long Island.

            I just don’t get why people insist on insulating themselves in culturally uniform bubbles. There’s a big world out there and a lot of it’s really cool.

          • Mason says:

            “I just don’t get why people insist on insulating themselves in culturally uniform bubbles. There’s a big world out there and a lot of it’s really cool.”

            Yep, that’s what I’m saying. You don’t get it because it’s generally hard for people to understand preferences that differ much from their own. I guess it’s your prerogative to determine which is the “better” way to be.

          • Adam says:

            Frankly, I question the relative amount of human behavior attributable to ‘preference’ in the sense of choosing between options you actually have equal information about versus that attributable to sheer inertia and status quo bias.

            I mean, I don’t doubt there are some people who would be made significantly more worse off than the money and space and opportunities they lose living in the bay simply because they really do prefer bay area culture that much, but I don’t know. Just of places I’ve been, at bare minimum Portland and Asheville, and probably even Austin, are pretty damn similar at half the price or less, unless it really is the hills, wind, and homeless you love about it.

          • Mason says:

            I’ve lived in or near Seattle, Portland, Austin, and NYC (among other generally less cool places), so at least in my case it’s probably not really an inertia/status quo issue. That said, there’s a big financial/emotional/social cost to moving and setting up shop in a new place, and I’ve basically only done it after coming to the conclusion that where I’m at isn’t working for me.

            The insular bubble thing isn’t necessarily about a lack of experience with the larger world, or a lack of interest in it. People have different reasons for preferring a particular esoteric tight-knit community, but mine is that I’m just happier around people who care/think about some of the same things I care/think about and like to hash out differences in a productive way. It’s still interesting to talk to people who are all about Saving the Whales or doing yoga or playing country music or getting their candidate for whatever office elected, but at the end of the day I want to go home and jam about my stuff with people who relate to it and can help me hone it. If that requires living in approximately one half of a shoebox, so be it. It turns out that I’m still happier and more productive that way.

            More important to this particular case is that, as a general rule, suggesting that an already-depressed person turn their life upside down and leave their support network in order to have a bigger space or more money is dangerous advice.

          • tinduck says:

            I tend to agree with Mason more than Adam here, but I like both of your points. I grew up in an isolated rural section of a Southern city. Isolation from mainstream society has it perks. We have a beautiful forest surrounding our house, virtually no crime in-spite of reputation of the closest neighborhoods, and enough land to build 4 or 5 houses if we wanted to.

            But with all that said, I have experienced the general “meh” vibe Mason is talking about. I could never find other people who felt like “my” people, except maybe in my engineering classes. I was unfortunately a commuter student to my local university. You won’t make a lot of friends being 30 minutes away from everything.

            Mason is right. If you ever have any depressive episodes, you need to surround yourself with like minded people. Or better stated, you need to put yourself in the best situation to meet people and make friends. I have found when I isolated myself I build much more intense emotional connections with the friends I do have. That’s great, but only when it’s shared. It can be destructive otherwise. If the bay area better fits your emotional needs, you should live there if you can afford it.

      • Audrey says:

        I think the community living and volunteering are often usually very positive experiences for single mothers, but usually single mothers in the West have financial autonomy from their community. I think that financial dependency on a community for basic subsistence needs is highly unusual, because Western states usually guarantee families enough money to meet those subsistence needs.

        If my neighbour (volunteering single parent who follows a particular ideology and is heavily involved with her local community) was suddenly dependent on those around her for money to house and feed herself and children, that would change the dynamic of the whole community. Her money is from the state.

        When I mention cult like behaviour, I don’t mean that the rationalist community or people sharing houses are particularly cult like, I mean that the psychological techniques of cults are likely to come into play when money for subsistence is changing hands in an unusual and unregulated fashion with no immediate signs of how that situation can be alleviated.

        Working conditions and pay for employees is regulated, volunteer contracts and expenses are regulated, charitable organisations’ treatment of vulnerable clients is regulated, state payments to benefits claimants are regulated, because if they aren’t people become vulnerable to manipulation and abuse.

        A well known example is direct marketing companies like Forever Living. They’re not a community, but they belong to a poorly regulated sector and use the psychological techniques of a cult.

        Various people on here are debating whether or not Katie should be given money based on her moral actions around the father, the potential intelligence of her child and her level of involvement in a social group. Those are certainly odd reasons for allocating (or more to the point refusing to allocate) subsistence money to someone, and leaves that person prone to manipulation.

        I’m not suggesting the people administering the fund are corrupt; I’m saying that somebody coming on the internet (this thread) and feeling they have to justify their moral decisions while potential donors of the community pontificate over whether they should be given money is going to be prone to manipulation. It’s basically a 21st century version of An Inspector Calls.

        I can see there is a high personal cost to leaving a community, but there’s also a high personal cost to losing your financial autonomy.

        • John Schilling says:

          I think that financial dependency on a community for basic subsistence needs is highly unusual, because Western states usually guarantee families enough money to meet those subsistence needs.

          Modern western states are themselves highly unusual, to the extent that the acronym WEIRD was only half-jokingly invented to describe their common culture. Broadly speaking, the usual human response to single motherhood is to make the mother and child financially dependent on a tight local community. Sometimes this works fairly well, sometimes it doesn’t.

          Giving single mothers and their children enough money to survive as an autonomous economic unit is a new enough idea that we’re not sure if is really workable in the general case, much less what the best way to go about it is. .

  8. No silent E in my name. It’s not spelled the same as the philosopher. 🙂

  9. Would anyone care to weigh in on the idea that malice is a very strong drive?

    Consider the hours some people spend on trolling and bullying, not to mention the more extreme sorts of child abuse which make having grandchildren less likely. What’s going on?

    Is it just that abuse is a form of status enforcement, and sometimes it goes out of control?

    • suntzuanime says:

      Altruistic punishment.

    • Nick T says:

      Among other things, hurting other people for no particular reason signals the ability and willingness to hurt people.

    • Ant says:

      It’s a strong drive for a very small minority of people, but since it’s annoying, we tend to talk about it a lot.

    • windmill tilter says:

      I am also interested in this but I don’t know how to approach it. It is not like asking about how many psychopaths there are because those people are near the maximum of the curve of sadism level. Instead, I want to know if there is a “fat tail” to this curve.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      @Nancy Lebovitz – “Would anyone care to weigh in on the idea that malice is a very strong drive?”

      …I feel like the last two years or so have consisted almost entirely of this concept, iterated endlessly day after day. Flippant as he is, suntzuanime seems roughly correct, and I’ve seen the idea expressed by both sides of the political divide.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      But is it ever just straight up malice for no reason? What I’ve notice a lot (in politics, on internet forums, in schools) is a strong unspoken norm – don’t be a dick … unless the person(s) deserve it. Either because they have the wrong beliefs, do things the wrong way, are interested in the wrong sorts of things (nerds fall into this category), have too much undeserved status etc.

      I’d like to expand on that last one, because it is so alien to the way I see the world. In my country, it is not uncommon for students to bully students who get too good grades, because (and this is hard for me to explain because its such an alien worldview), getting good grades is complicit with authority and that oppresses students who don’t get such good grades. Moreover, it shows that one is “trying too hard” and “thinks that they are better than others” (regardless of what targeted student’s personality is actually like).

      I admit this model does not explain lot of child abuse or animal abuse (often performed by children). But I’d like to think harder about that before ascribing it to pure malice. I do think that a lot of child abuse is carried out for a reason something like – “these kids have it too good and they don’t deserve it because they do some things I don’t like so I’m going to beat them down to size to even things out”. If I’m to believe fictional accounts of Victorian era England – children were sometimes seen as morally lacking and deserving of punishment for simply being children, which I feel is slightly different than just malice.

      • Zaxlebaxes says:

        Is your country the United States?

        In all seriousness, though, I wonder if what you’re describing really is that different from what we attribute to malice. People do tend to want to rationalize pretty much everything they do, even if it’s not necessarily rational. And in doing so, it only makes sense that people are going to employ the rationales that are common in their communities. If you just don’t like kids who get good grades, but your peers and the moral code you’re socialized into tells you that the true evil in the world is oppression, well, you’re heavily incentivized–by social feedback and by the better angels of our nature, the human desire to do what’s right–to connect getting good grades to being oppressive. It resolves cognitive dissonance and justifies you to your neighbors. Similarly, if your society says all the evil in the world is caused by witches, then in your society those resentful kids burn conspicuously bright students as witches.

    • Sastan says:

      Most of what is called “malice” in the internet is either harsh humor or just tribalism.

      People are not (usually) mean to be mean. They are mean to be funny, or mean to defend their ingroup and attack the outgroup. For those who do not share the ingroup or the sense of humor, it does seem like malice, but that’s usually (there’s my weasel word!) just a failure of imagination.

      • Adam says:

        This. Actual in-person bullies are probably acting out of malice most of the time, but Internet trolls are just in it for the lulz. It can be taken to callous and arguably psychopathic extremes (like twitch viewers trying to get gamers murdered by SWAT teams because it’s funny), but I’d still say it’s distinct from the motivations of people who beat up other people face-to-face to increase their in-group social status.

        • Isn’t enjoying hurting other people kind of malice by definition? I’m not sure I understand the distinction you’re drawing between in-person bullying and internet bullying, although one factor may be that it is easier for internet bullies to pretend to themselves that they aren’t causing any real harm.

          • Adam says:

            Whether or not they’re causing harm is irrelevant to them. I was under the impression malice is action with the intent of causing harm. Trolling is action with the intent to get a laugh out of it, that may or may not cause harm, but causing harm is not the point.

            If you want to call it malice too, fine, it’s malice. We’re just left with two different kinds of malice, then, because I still think this is a useful distinction. Bullies and trolls are not the same type of people.

          • Whether or not they’re causing harm is irrelevant to them.

            I think we must be imagining different scenarios, or else there’s a reason why some people find trolling (in the new sense of the word, since that seems to be the one you’re using) funny that I just don’t get. That’s not unlikely; I’m neuroatypical.

            So far as I can see, the typical troll thinks causing harm is inherently enjoyable, same as the typical bully.

          • Anonymous says:

            Apparently there’s a study to correlates online trolling with scoring highly on the Short Sadistic Impulse Scale, which includes 10 items that assess a person’s tendency to enjoy hurting others. That seems to fit the definition of malice being used here. (http://www.livescience.com/48128-internet-trolls-sadistic-personalities.html)

            I’m not sure why it is being perceived as “harsh humor” or “for the lolz” by (presumably) non-trolling observers. Maybe it’s hard to tell the difference online and the more charitable interpretation is being favored.

          • I think perhaps I’ve got the idea, by way of a Harry Potter analogy: “harsh humour” is James hanging Severus up by his ankles; “malice” is Voldemort killing the other children’s pets. @Adam, does that sound about right?

            (It seems to me, though, that in-person bullies come at all points along the scale, same as internet bullies. Name-calling in person isn’t much different from name-calling on the internet.)

          • Adam says:

            I think you’re just thinking of a very specific subset of trolling. The classic all-time example of trolling is Ken M of Yahoo! Answers fame. He’s not hurting anyone. He’s just saying outrageously idiotic things and getting people to answer seriously and seeing how far they’ll take it until they realize they’re being f-ed with. That definitely isn’t malice. Some people take it to the point that it actually might hurt people, but that’s just overstepping.

            I think the term has just been conflated recently with online bullying, but that isn’t what it is.

          • Ah, that’s the classic definition of trolling. But I don’t think that was what Nancy was talking about. There’s plenty of far more malicious behaviour out there. (And classic trolling seems to have largely fallen out of fashion.)

        • Nita says:

          Most real-life bullies I’ve seen also did it for the lulz (both their own and their friends’, which increased their in-group social status).

          When channers harassed a couple whose 12-year-old son killed himself for more than a year, was that trolling or bullying? They certainly seem to have found it lulz-worthy, and the “an hero” meme is still used by self-identified trolls.

          • Adam says:

            I’m just saying they are distinct things, not that a troll can’t also be a bully. It may even be the case that most are. I have no idea. But trolling is not bullying. Trolling is saying something you don’t actually believe, or pretending to be a person you aren’t, in order to evoke an outsized response that you then laugh at. If what makes you laugh is human suffering, then your particular manifestation of trolling might also be bullying. But bullying is a different thing. It’s just tormenting people because you enjoy tormenting people.

          • While I might prefer things to be otherwise, that’s not really how the word is used any more. It’s like “hacker” vs. “cracker”, that battle was pretty much lost once the black-hats started calling themselves “hackers”. Similarly, now that even the online bullies call themselves “trolls” (and since they way outnumber the older sort) I don’t think there’s any point in trying to insist on the original definition.

            At any rate, definitions aside, I don’t think the original-definition-trolls are relevant here, because they aren’t what anyone else was talking about.

      • Sastan:

        Most of what is called “malice” in the internet is either harsh humor or just tribalism.

        People are not (usually) mean to be mean. They are mean to be funny, or mean to defend their ingroup and attack the outgroup. For those who do not share the ingroup or the sense of humor, it does seem like malice, but that’s usually (there’s my weasel word!) just a failure of imagination.

        When I first read this, I was very angry and wanted to find some way to swat back– it seemed as though you wanted kindness for yourself and for people whose behavior just makes life worse (in my strongly held opinion). After all, you don’t mean *really* badly. However, all I could imagine was you brushing me off. By that point, I’m not just feeling angry, I’m feeling helplessly angry.

        Aren’t you the person with the hyperbole (claimed to not be hyperbole) about my not liking the gender roles in Gene Wolfe’s A Borrowed Man? From my point of view, whoever it was took up my time and also added one of those trivial impediments to a mentioning a mildly feminist point of view.

        I concluded that my least bad strategy was to describe how things are at my end while giving up any particular hope of convincing you of anything.

        I think that if people chose malicious methods of being funny and of defending their preferred groups, they’re malicious.

        I think nastiness is very low information– especially in quantity, it adds noise to good discussion.

    • Walter says:

      Malice is a very strong drive. I’m not sure what you mean by weigh in though. Like, confirm it? Sure.

      Bullies in my school replaced a kid’s eyedrops with what they thought was acid. A couple weeks ago I saw someone kick open their passenger door so they could knock someone off a bike as they drove by. A wargamer I know and his spouse spent most of a gaming session taunting their child (really taunting, the sort of hurtful you can only spew if you know someone well) for being dumb because she wanted to quit their ‘family business’ of disability faking and look for a job. Looked to me like the tail end of a harangue that had been going on for hours. The Go club’s boards and stones (literally rocks and sticks, we make em ourselves) have been stolen on multiple occasions. At my work, a janitor stole all of the team’s test iphones. When they tracked her down with the “find my…” feature her house was full of stolen stuff. Hadn’t sold a bit of it. Just stole it to stack up and gloat over. A week ago someone kicked in my car front window and pissed all over my front seats. They stole nothing.

      The plural of anecdote is not, of course, data, but my general theory of humans is that if you let them hurt someone without getting hurt they’ll take the opportunity.

    • windmill tilter says:

      I just want to say I take this question as being related to the question of whether our relatively egalitarian democratic “nice” Western world is unstable in the long run. If folks are basically mean, maybe illiberalism is more natural and we are living in a weird blip caused by recent high growth levels.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        This, exactly. Scott’s “in favor of niceness, community and civilization” and “I can tolerate anything but the outgroup” paint a picture of a world I would vastly prefer, but it’s not the world we seem to be moving toward. Just judging by the comments here over the last year or so, it seems like niceness is pretty difficult to maintain.

        • Nita says:

          That’s an odd way to look at it, IMO. Are behaviors like keeping things sterile for surgery, good software testing practices, or purifying water before drinking it “stable”? Do they arise spontaneously and persist without maintenance? Not really. Should we give up on them? Probably not.

          The thing is, we don’t have a consensus on how much niceness is proper — e.g., the discussion about Oliver Cromwell’s comment upthread shows that some people are not on board with Scott’s niceness program. They believe too much niceness is bad, so they push against it. Additionally, most people automatically drop niceness when they feel a need to “punish” bad behavior.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nita – “That’s an odd way of looking at it…”

            What’s odd about it? your second paragraph is the dynamic I’m talking about. I see Scott arguing that the tribal divide tends to be pernicious, and that we should try to push back against it in favor of niceness even to people of the opposing tribe. And then I see a general push in both tribes to say “naw, we prefer malice/punishing instead.” And yeah, there’s lots of examples of it in these comments.

          • Nita says:

            [OK, this turned into an essay, so I threw in some section numbers a la Scott]

            1.

            The odd part is the assumption that anything that is not “stable” on its own should be abandoned as hopeless.

            Several new commenters have said the discussion here is more civil than in other places they’re familiar with. So I think we’re doing something right — even if we need to keep reminding ourselves to actually keep doing it.

            E.g., even my original comment contains less outrage and eye-rolling than its first draft. Sometimes I revise a comment several times, and each iteration turns out nicer. Sometimes I write up a comment made entirely of delicious snark, and end up not posting it.

            2.

            You say “both tribes”, but I don’t think we have two tribes here. We have a very diverse set of individuals, each with their own life experience and their own understanding of civility.

            There are obvious disagreements about what is “true” among us, but also about what is “necessary” and what is “kind”. So, even if each of us observes the rules perfectly, we will have cases where a comment is judged to be a good-faith contribution by some, and a malicious defection by others.

            And we don’t have a standard way to handle these. Sometimes tit-for-tat results in a spiral of escalation, but sometimes it actually improves things. Sometimes extra kindness works, but sometimes it’s perceived as condescending (and sometimes it is condescending — it’s very hard to get it right when you’re feeling angry or defensive!).

            3.

            So, it will always take work. Even completely and precisely defined processes require effort to maintain.

            Moreover, our norms are vague and new. It is very likely that things won’t always work out, even if everyone acts in good faith. To paraphrase Jon Postel, we have to be kind in what we say, and forgiving in how we interpret others.

            Obviously, that is much easier said than done. But what is the alternative?

  10. Vita Fied says:

    OPEN QUESTION…to those that care to scroll down all the way.

    I’m looking for new blogs to read on the blogroll. By smart people in general. Not really asking for any specific subject matter or political orientation.

    • Anonymous says:

      Tried voxday.blogspot.com?

      • Urstoff says:

        Now that’s just mean.

        • Anonymous says:

          Well, *I* happen to like it, and as The Nybbler mentions below, it does fit the criteria. If nothing else, it’s a great information source for where VD will strike next, given his habit of calling his attacks.

          • Randy M says:

            It doesn’t fit the criteria; it’s not on the blogroll.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t think Vita Fled meant *this* blogroll here. That would be rather indolent of them and pointless – the blog links are already there. I rather think they meant their own blogroll.

        • Vita Fied says:

          Er, what’s up with that blog?

          • Anonymous says:

            Depends what you mean.

            Urstoff and The Nybbler are probably objecting because of the proprietor’s politics and ongoing feuds with, among others, the Science Fiction Writers of America, John Scalzi, George R. R. Martin, Tor Books in general and the Haydens and Irene Gallo in specific.

            Vox Day is, well, a very socially conservative libertarian, with persistent claims of protected class status via Hispanic and Native American ancestry. His day job is apparently writing books (fiction and non) and managing a publishing house. He’s also among the Gamergate leadership, inasmuch as they have that, the leader of the Rabid Puppies movement, and author of SJWs Always Lie.

            Not boring.

          • “Not boring.”

            Boringness is relative to particular readers, and Vox Day bores me pretty quickly when he’s aggressive, which seems to be most of the time.

          • I read a bit of the current blog, being made curious by the mention. Not boring seems a fair claim.

          • Urstoff says:

            I don’t object because of his politics (any more than any other race-obsessed alt-right blogger). He’s just an annoying tool that favors an intentionally antagonistic style over actual substance. The signal to noise ratio is pretty close to zero.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Like a lot of “issues-oriented” blogging, he gets pretty predictable: a lot of what he posts is alt-right outrage porn, and outrage porn is not so much one-note as three-chord. “We are noble and right, but the bad guys are ahead in points, but we can still pull out a late-game win”.

            He’s a bit unusual in that he seems outright proud of his “Dread Ilk” or whatever it is he calls the people who will Twittermob his opponents. Usual SOP for people, regardless of politics, is to claim that either this doesn’t happen (and it’s the other team who is running the online harassment campaign, and any harassment by people purporting to be on your side is really a false flag) or to shrug and say “I can’t control what individuals are gonna do”.

            Also, his invention of a new, super-cool kind of Alpha Male, way better than ordinary Alpha Males.

      • The Nybbler says:

        That’s cruel. Fits the criteria, but still cruel.

    • You could try mine, I reply immodestly:

      http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/

      It’s about whatever I feel like writing about.

  11. Finally some good news: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/france-s-hollande-drops-p/2649492.html

    “France’s Hollande drops post-attack plans to change constitution”

  12. Anonymous says:

    A 6-part series based on Stewart Brand’s book How Buildings Learn is on YouTube and Phil Gyford has some notes about the book. The book talks about thinking about buildings with time and uncertainty in mind, points out a shift in architecture from function to aesthetics–architecture as art, and offers practical advice (e.g. moisture kills buildings and flat roofs leak more often than pitched roofs; use materials that look bad before they act bad; oversize chases; take and save pictures of open walls before the drywall).

    I’m looking for other book recommendations on building, architecture, and planning. Right now I’m skimming through The Timeless Way of Building, Learning from Las Vegas, Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and Architecture: Form, Space, & Order. Suggestions are appreciated :^)

    • Deiseach says:

      flat roofs leak more often than pitched roofs

      If modern architects have to be told this, then perhaps some elementary geography lessons are in order: there is this thing called “rain” which is made out of “water” which is “wet”. Unfortunately, not every single building you will design is going to be slapped up in the middle of the desert in Qatar, so you will have to take this into account.

      Next: “things move down inclines, things stay in place on the flat”, or “why did all those old-timey people put sticking-up roofs on their houses? were they for ritual purposes? no, the shocking secret of getting water off your roof revealed!” 🙂

      • John Schilling says:

        Frank Lloyd Wright never took this into account, and is revered as one of the greatest architects in history. I mean, who are you going to believe – the thousands of fans of the greatest architect in history, or a few homeowners with the gall to whine about leaky roofs? Or cracked foundations, low ceilings, inadequate ventilation, inadequate storage space…

        I regard Wright as a pretty good sculptor who falsely advertised his ornamental artwork as “buildings”, and lament the fact that so many “architects” seem intent on following his lead. But it is perhaps understandable; if you’re in that line of work, more people will look at your buildings than live in them, and you’ve already cashed the checks from the latter.

        • Deiseach says:

          I will say this, Lloyd Wright’s buildings look absolutely gorgeous. I have no idea what they are like to live in. He really did do “architecture as art”.

          His imitators, successors, and successors of his imitators, don’t have the talent to make art out of architecture and don’t have the pragmatism to make architecture. They want big, bold, splashy statements and as for how the damn buildings will work or hold together while being constructed, well, that’s for the civil engineers to work out.

          I know I sound like the Prince of Wales and the monstrous carbuncle, and I don’t object to new things merely because they’re new, and a lot of new architecture works very well – but when it’s smooshed on top of existing buildings or in a cityscape of much older design, without regard for its surroundings, and is pretty much a dick-measuring vanity project on the part of the clients about “look how much money we have to blow on the world’s tallest dildo” (though it has since been surpassed in pointlessness by The Shard), then I do tend to harrumph 🙂

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            Who is “The Carbuncle”?

          • John Schilling says:

            Peter Ahrends, apparently, though Prince Charles was speaking only of one his architectural proposals rather than the man himself with the “monstrous carbuncle” remark.

          • Winfried says:

            If you ever end up in Oklahoma, go to Bartlesville and check out the only Frank Lloyd Wright skyscraper.

            I absolutely could not work in any of those offices, but they are neat.

          • Zaxlebaxes says:

            I haven’t got a good look at many of Wright’s buildings, but I used to go by one called the Robie House on a daily basis, and it appears to me that in his residential structures at least he mostly got the “roofs have to slope” rule. It’s just that Prairie-Style roofs like his are often very shallow because a lot of emphasis is on the horizontal lines.

            Roofs don’t have to be steep; it largely depends on their materials. In the British Isles, of course, thatch used to be very common, but given that it’s basically dead plant material, it really has to slope at least 60 degrees to keep people under it dry. Any shallower and the water will get caught in the straw and rot it and the roof will collapse. But Wright’s roofs–and most modern U.S. roofs–used (I think) asphalt shingles, which don’t last forever, but still usually survive 20 to 50 years. They’re much smoother and more water-resistant than some traditional European materials, which allows roofs to be much shallower.

            Meanwhile, while I’m sure your roof isn’t thatch, you correctly noted that mixing architectural styles sometimes has unattractive results, I wouldn’t be surprised if roofs in Ireland–at least outside major cities’ central business districts–were on the whole still pretty steep (even if they don’t have to be). So the form follows the traditional function, even if we can get away with shallow–and even sometimes flat!–roofs now.

          • “but I used to go by one called the Robie House on a daily basis”

            Small world. I spent a good deal of my life within a few blocks of Robie House. Very handsome building–but I have no idea what it was like to live in.

        • I’ve been in a replica of a Frank Lloyd Wright room– sorry, can’t remember details.

          The chairs were great! However, I’m 4’11”.

    • Places of the Heart looks very interesting– it includes monitoring the bodily effects of being around drab vs. pleasant buildings– but I haven’t read it yet.

    • Psmith says:

      I’m looking for other book recommendations on building, architecture, and planning.

      Two out of three ain’t bad, so–Robert Caro’s The Power Broker. May be the single best work of nonfiction I’ve read.

      • BBA says:

        I need to get around to reading that someday. As an almost-lifelong New Yorker and a transportation dork I’m well aware of the vast impact Robert Moses had on my city.

        I think our current development environment, with endless planning meetings and impact studies and virtually nothing getting built, is something of an overreaction to the Moses era. We wanted to stop the destruction of neighborhoods, so we put in processes that made it almost impossible to build anything at all. And that was fine for a while, since Moses and his ilk overbuilt far ahead of growth…but now we have massive traffic jams, insufficient transit to get people out of their cars, and no reasonable way to build the highways and railroads we need to fix the problem. And restrictive zoning in every place where anyone already lives means there’s nowhere to grow but out – and ever-expanding exurbia will just make the traffic problems in the city worse.

    • [Content Warning: Self-Promotion]

      The Death and Life of Great American Cities is a good book! If you’re interested in Jacobs, you might enjoy this podcast episode about her life and work.

  13. Douglas Knight says:

    PSA: All gravatars are monochrome, a single color and white, so there is no ambiguity to shorten “green and white anonymous” to “green anonymous.”

  14. I attempted to take the survey. Got most of the way through it.

    Then I accidentally hit backspace. Big mistake!

    After that, there were only error message pages no matter what I did.

    Sorry about that.

  15. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    Regarding Wency on real estate development.

    Very interesting comment and I think its admirable of you to accept correction on the matter. What I cannot understand is why you choose to speak with such bombast on topics that you barely know anything about. There’s nothing wrong with writing things that could be incorrect, but why not write them with an appropriate tone of uncertainty? Or were you simply stating what you think is Trump’s view on the matter and not claiming it as your own? (It didn’t read that way to me, but maybe I’m wrong).

  16. wubbles says:

    I can guarantee that you will have plenty of patients when you move to the Bay. I’ve had lots of friends complain about long waiting periods, etc. My first year in the bay I stopped taking fluoxetine before I should have because I couldn’t find a psychiatrist on my insurance who was accepting new patients. Good luck hunting for jobs.

    • Many lawyers set up as sole practitioners. How practical is that option for a psychiatrist in general, Scott in particular?

      • Scott Alexander says:

        That’s part of what I’m trying to find out. It sounds like it requires a big up-front investment and a lot of knowledge of business administration. I’m wary about the former (especially if it means going into debt with less than 100% chance of making it back) and don’t have the latter.

        • Richard says:

          I’ve set up a couple consulting businesses over the years which should be somewhat similar and I still have ~zero knowledge of business administration. The trick is to find a good accountant.

          For investments, I’m not sure what that would entail for a psychiatrist vs consultant? I did my first from a spare room in my house and an outsourced secretary who picked up the phone for a multitude of small businesses, but you probably need office space that patients actually want to visit. Shouldn’t be huge sums in any case?

        • Perhaps you should sell shares of your future income?

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Do people do that in real life? I thought that was going to have to wait for Libertopia?

          • Nathan says:

            Be the Libertopia you want to see!

            But seriously, I think that’s an idea that work in small doses but faces real problems at scale. I might be happy to buy 5% of Scott’s earnings if he promises not to sell the remaining 95%, but if I expect him to be giving away a large share of his earnings, that’s a kind of voluntary taxation that comes with all the regular deadweight loss effects of regular taxes. That impacts the value that I place on the investment. So I think that dynamic could stand in the way of raising serious money that way.

            On the other hand, I’ve certainly heard of similar arrangements in the real world, particularly with poker players. Though the very high variability of income for poker pros probably contributes to that.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Not exactly, but entering a partnership with a “silent partner” is sort of similar. You do all the work, they provide the up-front money and own some percentage of the business. I’m not sure it can be done in the medical field.

          • On selling shares of your income …

            I was talking to someone a week or so ago who is part of an organization that gives programming classes. Their latest project, I think only just getting going, is a two year school, presumably a substitute for at least part of college. Tuition free, but you agree to give them (I think) a quarter of your income for the first four years out of the course.

            So it is something that happens in real life, even if not often.

            You have the advantage that there are lots of people who would trust you to keep your word, which saves on legal costs.

          • stargirlprincesss says:

            App academy’s standard fee is 18% of your first year’s income after graduating. App academy has been around for a bit now and does not seem to have run into legal troubles collecting this money. So I think such contracts can be made. At least if they are short term.

          • BBA says:

            It’d have to be structured as a debt (e.g., income-based repayment) – selling an equity interest in yourself looks like a 13th Amendment violation to me.

        • Adam says:

          I thought you came from a rich family. They won’t front you seed capital?

  17. onyomi says:

    Heard an interesting statement on a podcast recently. To paraphrase:

    “The technical challenges facing humans desiring to live on Mars today are no greater than those which faced early humand or proto-humans wanting to live in North European 50,000 years ago (or whenever humans first started living there). We may think Mars is not our native environment and therefore unsuitable for life, but in reality, 95% of the Earth is not our native environment. We are native to part of Eastern Africa near the equator, but unlike other species, we’ve used technology (especially fire, houses, and clothing) to, in effect, “colonize” a much greater part of the Earth.”

    I feel like it may be a bit of an exaggeration, but then it may also be hard for me to imagine how difficult it would be for early humans to discover/invent fire, houses, and clothes. So I think this is an interesting point, and part of the speaker’s idea was that we should do it as much for the “motivational” purpose as anything: sure we may not “need” to live on Mars right now, but the technical innovation and hope for the future attempting to so could bring about, as spreading out, seemingly somewhat unnecessarily, across the globe did, would be worth it.

    My only question about this is: why not start with all the parts of the Earth currently not considered livable or desirable? High mountains? On the ocean (seasteading?), Under the ocean? Underground? None of these is easy, nor, at this point, strictly necessary, but also a lot easier than Mars? What about the Moon? Why colonize Mars before the Moon?

    Sure, having people live on other planets has the advantage of not putting all of humanity’s eggs on one planetary basket and might be a little more inspiring, but of all the things which might render the Earth uninhabitable, I imagine most of them wouldn’t affect people living sustainably on the ocean floor? Except maybe the dreaded paperclip maximizer, but that would probably reach Mars eventually, assuming we can reach Mars. And I still find living under the ocean pretty inspiring.

    • Protagoras says:

      Easier to get water on Mars than on the Moon. And while the Martian atmosphere doesn’t provide much protection against meteors, I am under the impression that this is an area where a tiny bit, to stop the smallest micrometeors, is still vastly preferable to none at all. And I’m sure there are other advantages to Mars that I’m not thinking of, though there are of course advantages to the Moon besides being closer and having a shallower gravity well. But the important point is that distance is nowhere near being the only issue that matters, and for the moment the expert consensus seems to be that most of the issues besides distance favor Mars over the Moon pretty heavily.

    • John Schilling says:

      Generally speaking, colonizing a place that is hard to live in but easy to commute to is not going to be economically viable. Which is why, while we exploit the resources of the deep sea, this is done by people who e.g. live in Scotland, take the biweekly helicopter to platforms poking above the North Sea, and very occasionally put on dive gear to support the machinery working below. There’s no way for a habitat on the sea floor to compete with that. And if the motive for colonization is not so much being attracted by what awaits you as repelled by what you are leaving, ask whether whoever you are fleeing can afford a WWII-surplus destroyer and a rack of depth charges.

      The Antarctic coast will probably be the last colonizable “frontier” on Earth, when the question of mineral rights is resolved. The Antarctic interior, really doesn’t justify permanent habitation except for the small prestige value of a permanent South Pole Station.

      Mars, by comparison, is probably the easiest place off Earth for humans to live (for reasons Protagoras touches on), but well beyond commuting distance with any foreseeable technology. If there’s anything worth doing there, it will mostly have to be done by people who live there. Some of whom may be fleeing Earth with a reasonable expectation of not being followed. And given the “geography” of outer space, things that need to be done generically in outer space or on the surface of some generic asteroid may well wind up being done by people who commute up from the relatively shallow gravity well of Mars.

      The Moon is an intermediate case; harder to live on than Mars and easier to reach from Earth, so it’s not actually clear whether it gets settlers or just rotating work crews. I’d bet on settlers eventually, but maybe not before Mars. And probably politically subordinate to Earth, for reasons both material and psychological.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I think that’s a ridiculous exaggeration. The rest of the Earth had a functioning ecosystem full of things humans can eat, that also took their waste and extracted all the nutrients, not to mention keeping up a supply of breathable air. These are big deals. Making a stable self-sufficient system is really hard, and Earth mostly manages by being really big and getting constant energy input from the the Sun. Smaller systems (certainly at any scale we’ll be building in the foreseeable future) are delicate and crash easily, and there go your colonists.

      • John Schilling says:

        Smaller systems are cheap, simple novelty items that sustain themselves for years without any maintenance or resupply.

        That ecologies must be insanely complex networks involving thousands of species each playing a dozen vital roles, is a matter of faith based on one poorly-understood data point. People who try to build simple closed ecologies, whether amateurs, novelty-item salesmen, or professionals like NASA, generally do quite well even in early trials. And understand that the relevant standard is “quite well”, not “perfect”, because a system that includes competent humans on the inside and a planet with air and water just out the door allows for fixing problems as they occur. Also, nobody is really talking about sending one group of astronauts on a one-way trip to Mars with no further contact from Earth; if it turns out that you forgot the seeds of one particular vital plant or you need ten kilos of synthetic micronutrients every year to make the system work, the system will still work.

        Mark Watney’s potato farm is a perfectly viable closed ecology, as is the more complex version where he never runs out of ketchup. Build in a bit of margin, and the potatoes go into lamb stew.

      • onyomi says:

        Well it did take humans something like 900,000 years to colonize Northern Europe… not that they had a mission to do so driving them on, but if it were not a major technical challenge from their perspective I think it would have happened a lot sooner than that. When we make guesses about when we could colonize Mars they tend to range from what… 50-300 years?

    • windmill tilter says:

      The idea of trying to colonize new environments seems to me a fantasy. My reason for this statement is simple. It’s Ulaanbaatar. It’s one of the coldest and most extreme inhabited places. It was also first colonized thousands of years ago. Modern technology has done essentially nothing in advancing human colonization of new environments. There are places like Antarctic bases but they are not self-sufficient, even economically, let alone in an autarkic way. This should make us humble about threats like global warming.

      http://fusion.net/story/209348/no-life-on-mars/

      • John Schilling says:

        Antarctica hasn’t been colonized because the nations of the Earth have signed a treaty essentially promising that nobody will buy anything an Antarctic colonist might want to sell. Absent that, there would be economically self-sufficient mining communities along some of the coasts. And arguments about who gets to mine which sites, possibly settled violently, hence the treaty. A comparable treaty was proposed for outer space, but ratified only by a handful of minor nations.

        On the technology front, probably the most critical technology for colonizing any place is the ability to travel there at a less-than-ruinous cost. We aren’t there yet for Mars, or the Moon, but the cost of space travel is coming down and likely to continue doing so. And, aside from the special case Antarctica, humans have been consistently eager to colonize any vaguely habitable location as soon as shipbuilders and navigators can get them there.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I’m sure there’s some mineral deposits there, but you have to take into account the expense of prospecting.

            If you could really make huge profits mining in Antarctica, I doubt the Antarctic Treaty would be stopping people.

          • John Schilling says:

            I note that the Princeton study says in the second paragraph of its summary that Antarctic oil wouldn’t be profitable unless world oil prices doubled – which actually happened about twenty years after the report was written, with the result that a whole lot of human beings moved to cold, harsh, sparsely-inhabited places to extract oil. Absent the issue with property rights, it seems reasonable to expect that e.g. the Ross Shelf region would have experienced the sort of development that North Dakota and Alberta have. And the same sort of slump in the past few years, but not to the level of total abandonment.

            Beyond that, you don’t gauge mineral resources by scientific exploration, “commercial interest” requires prospectors who ask a different set of questions than academic scientists. And yes, Vox, treaties can and do prevent people from exploiting billion-dollar economic opportunities. Trillion-dollar opportunities are another matter, but there may not be any of those in Antarctica. It wouldn’t take trillion-dollar opportunities to drive a modest level of settlement.

            Look to the extreme Arctic for the level of activity you’d reasonably expect in an Antarctica with secure property rights. No great cities, but not entirely devoid of human habitation either.

          • windmill tilter says:

            I doubt it. McMurdo is colder than either of those places.

            There are places on the Antarctic Peninsula warmer than some places in Alaska. Maybe you could live there in a self-sufficient way, but maybe Eskimos could also have if only they could have gotten there. It’s not very interesting.

          • John Schilling says:

            McMurdo’s coldest month is August, with an average temperature of -27.4 C. By way of comparison, Baffin Island averages -26.5 C in February, with a profitable iron ore mine and a population of over 10,000. Svalbard only has maybe 2,500 people in spite of a balmy February -16.3C. But Alaska’s North Slope comes in colder than McMurdo with a February average of -27.7 C, and maintains a population of nearly 10,000 to support the oilfields.

            I am not clear why you believe marginal differences in temperature place some places entirely beyond viable colonization, but it is clearly not the case that the Antarctic coast is too cold for people to live if there’s something there to live for.

          • windmill tilter says:

            I imagine that the isolation of Antarctica is a bigger factor than the cold, but the cold would still matter. Living seasonally in February does not mean colonization. It is not a question of whether folks “could” colonize a place, but whether any sane person would raise a family there given alternatives. This is about long-term endurance, so it’s the average temperatures that matter. McMurdo is about the same average temperature as Oymyakon, one of the coldest inhabited places on Earth. It’s also much more isolated. So I think with at least 90% confidence that given current technology, nobody would colonize McMurdo permanently, even if valuable minerals were found.

          • John Schilling says:

            Are you similarly 90% confident that nobody would permanently colonize the Alaskan North Slope, Svalbard, or Baffin Island? These places are approximately as cold as McMurdo and approximately as geographically isolated as McMurdo; if they are culturally less isolated it is because daily air service and broadband internet follow, rather than lead, colonists.

            I believe your model of human behavior is in need of recalibration here, and I think I have provided you with a reasonable data set for that purpose. Have fun with it.

          • windmill tilter says:

            Why do you think these places are as isolated as McMurdo? They at least lie on an inhabited continent (except Svalbard, which I only now looked at-looks interesting, very northernly location-not quite as isolated as McMurdo, but I will concede my confidence is only 80% now)

          • Protagoras says:

            @windmill tilter, Svalbard is an island (well, an archipeligo; Spitsbergen is the major island). And you might have guessed that Baffin Island is an island by the name.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Windmill tilter – what’s the difference between flying to your destination over a thousand miles of mountainous, uninhabited wilderness and a thousand miles of flat, uninhabited ocean?

          • windmill tilter says:

            Baffin is an island but it’s part of North America. Svalbard I admit is more interesting. But McMurdo is still twice as far from, say, New Zealand as Svalbard is from Norway or other European countries. And New Zealand is already pretty remote.

          • Protagoras says:

            There don’t seem to be any bridges, or even so far as I can tell regular ferries, to Baffin Island, so it isn’t part of North America in any sense that makes it particularly convenient to travel to.

        • Wrong Species says:

          The only reason countries agreed to that treaty is because no one wanted to live in Antarctica in the first place. It’s not like people were lining up to live there before then.

  18. Chrysophylax says:

    I’m trying to increase the diversity of my opinion sources, which currently means adding more conservative voices. Scott thinking a blogger is worth reading is a fairly strong endorsement of that blogger, but I don’t want to go through the entire set of links in the sidebar for much the same reason that I don’t want to take heroin. I tried to find a comment I remembered in which Scott listed the conservative / right-wing blogs he recommends, but I couldn’t find it despite going through every comment thread back to Dec 1st 2015.

    Could someone who remembers where the comment is point me to it, please? Better still, Scott, if you read this, could you respond with a list of conservative opinion sources you think I should look at?

    Also, an idea for a post: explain why each blog in your sidebar is worth reading and tell us what else you think we should read that isn’t a linked-to blog (books included). I think there are probably quite a lot of SSC readers who avoid investigating those links because they’re afraid of the tab explosion.

    • Anon. says:

      The right-wing blogs are “Those That Belong To The Emperor”, and perhaps “Those That Have Just Broken The Flower Vase”.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Most of the right-wing blogs on the sidebar (the ones belonging to the emperor) are very right-wing, so in my opinion reading more than one isn’t a good way of increasing the diversity of your reading, since you will be reading a large amount from a very small ideology (however much we might forget that on the internet). I can’t suggest any good mainstream conservative bloggers, but I’m sure there are some.

      • hlynkacg says:

        The Federalist is probably the best “Main Stream” conservative blog/news site. Instapudit occasionally linked to by our host is entertaining, but culture-war centric. PJ Media is right-wing Vox, Breitbart(and affiliates there of) is right-wing Gawker. You’ve also got the online versions of old media outlets like National Review, The Washington Post, and WSJ.

        Beyond that you start getting into individual writers/blogs, which tend to be a matter of individual taste.

      • JBeshir says:

        I tend to follow Rod Dreher’s writings on http://www.theamericanconservative.com/ as a Christian traditionalist social conservative viewpoint on events (mostly American events) from someone whose arguments takes it as given that we want people to be well-off and comfortable and happy, and is in and of themselves an advocate of manners and politeness.

        I find it at least more interesting than the boring thing some parts of the nationalist/alt right do where they completely ignore those concerns and spend ages in parts of the proposal space that are never going to contain a proposal of interest to anyone sensible.

        It never convinced me to agree with any of their ideas, and I think I actually got more convinced that the fundamental nature of their version of religious freedom is not egalitarian and wants traditionalist religious viewpoints to be socially allowed to do things that other political viewpoints are not, but it at least made me more rather than less sympathetic to them as a person.

      • nil says:

        I’d second JBeshir’s recommendation of Dreher and add the Volokh Conspiracy, currently hosted on the Washington Post (view in incognito mode to get around the paywall)

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Is Volokh Conspiracy right-wing?

        • Creutzer says:

          No, the Volokh conspirators are libertarian law professors.

        • brad says:

          It’s a mixed bunch. Volokh himself is libertarian, Somin even more so, but Stewart Baker is straight up authoritarian. Kontorovich is obsessed with BDS and doesn’t write about anything else. Orin Kerr isn’t terribly political one way or the other (great 4th amendment scholar). Bernstein and Zywicki tend to be Republican partisans.

        • nil says:

          re: “Is Volokh Conspiracy right-wing?”

          Depending on the contributor, it’s either libertarian or more mainstream conservative (either way, contra Creutzer, I think libertarian counts as right-wing), with Dale Carpenter the Log-Cabin Centrist Republican chiming in occasionally. Very pro Second Amendment, religious freedom/free association (not to imply those are intrinsically right-wing, but the contexts and tones they’re talked about there pretty much are), Citizens-United, etc. Agnostic-to-sympathetic on abortion restrictions. One contributor is very active in FIRE, and one of these days Somin is going to stop trying to kid everyone and come out in favor of restricting the franchise.

          • Of possible interest to those who like fellow techies. From Wiki on Eugene Volokh:

            At the age of 12, he began working as a computer programmer. He attended the Hampshire College Summer Studies in Mathematics. At the age of 15, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Math and Computer Science from UCLA. As a junior at UCLA, he earned $480 a week as a programmer for 20th Century Fox.

          • nil says:

            As a liberal/leftie, Volokh is a guy who I often want to disagree with… but I can only very occasionally find a reasonable way to do so. The dude is a legit genius.

    • null says:

      Ethics Alarms is an interesting right-wing blog in that he will call out everyone, but mostly on the left. Right now he seems to be preoccupied with the problems with this election cycle.

    • zz says:

      I stumbled across this blog in the wake of the Scott Aaronson/Amanda Marcotte/Scott Alexander/Untitled happening at the beginning of 2015. My immediate reaction was “holy shit, Ainsley Hayes has a blog.”

    • Walter says:

      Theodore Dalrymple writes at city-journal, he’s generally a great example of the conservative-as-grumpy-old-man stereotype. I always enjoy his stuff.

  19. Seth says:

    I’d like to recommend this post today on the recent refusal to no-platform a person whose name I shall not write:

    http://degoes.net/articles/lambdaconf-controversy

    It’s very similar to some SSC posts, but notable because it’s attempting to apply the ideals of niceness, community, inclusion, and so on, in the middle of a heated controversy.

    “It’s possible we persuade attendees that treating others with respect, dignity, and empathy, and communicating nonviolently (with empathy and honest self-expression) is good for far more than just professional conduct at a tech conference.”

    What I find most interesting is that I don’t see any evidence he’s convincing anyone with intellectual argument.

    This part is pretty funny: “… [against anyone who wants to] walk up to that whiteboard, look the attendee in the eye, and say, “No, we found out you are an anarcho-capitalist, therefore we are not allowing you to speak about immutable data structures.”

    • stillnotking says:

      I love the fact that the comments disagreeing with the decision are all some variant of “I can’t find anything wrong with your reasoning, but it must be wrong because it generates an outcome I don’t like.”

  20. dndnrsn says:

    Something that I find more amusing than it probably merits is acronyms that get used for more than one thing. I know “CBT” has been brought up before here (being both a therapy method and a BDSM thing).

    I keep seeing “MSM” in the context of “mainstream media” and wondering for a split-second what men who have sex with men has to do with the topic at hand. Or, whenever “GNC” is used to refer to people who are gender non-conforming, there’s a moment where I think “how are supplements involved in this?”

    Does anybody else have any good examples of this?

    • null says:

      In the same vein, PCP is both the name of a drug and a technical acronym in my field.

    • Anon says:

      I hate that the acronym for borderline personality disorder is the same as the acronym for bipolar disorder (BPD). I can usually tell from the context or by looking at who wrote the sentence which one they meant, but it still automatically causes my brain to have to pause in reading and think about what is meant, which disrupts my reading flow (and I hate having my reading flow disrupted).

    • Eric Rall says:

      Depending on context, AAA might tow your car, shoot down your plane, or institute a price-fixing cartel for farm commodities (respectively: American Automobile Association, Anti-Aircraft Artillery, and the Agricultural Adjustment Act).

      In video compression software, SAD stands for Sum of Absolute Differences). In psychology, it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder.

      Also in video compression, GOP stands for Group of Pixels. I keep seeing the acronym in source code and wondering what Republicans have to do with it.

      MB can be either macroblock or megabyte.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      A lot of the time you’ll see DNA length measured in kb or Mb, referring to thousands or millions of base pairs respectively. Naturally those are distinguishable from kilobytes and megabytes only by context.

      It’s actually a pet peeve of mine because there’s no need for it. bp, kbp and Mbp is another accepted unit notation which is significantly less confusing.

    • Equinimity says:

      As a programmer who used to work for a horse breeder, “AI” sometimes does some interesting flips in my head.

      • Deiseach says:

        As a programmer who used to work for a horse breeder, “AI” sometimes does some interesting flips in my head.

        Are MIRI worrying about the wrong existential risk? Or rather, perhaps the risk is that it’s not paperclips such an entity would be interested in maximising 🙂

    • Deiseach says:

      When I read Americans online talking about their IRAs or “You need an IRA” 🙂 When they throw in things about “Traditional IRA” I have a moment where I go “Do you mean the Provos before the Continuity and the Real IRA split off, or do you mean Official versus Provisional, or do you mean the Old IRA?”

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)

    • Vamair says:

      MLP as a multilayer perceptron or a well-known cartoon series.

  21. Off topic, but if you concentrate for a little bit on the green part on the right of the 6, you can see a wolf with his teeth showing.

  22. Walter says:

    Apropos of nothing, here are some sick burns I saw on a random tv show recently.

    Character A: (Seeing B in chef hat): Oh, entering the chili contest eh? You should know that I’ve won it last 5 years.
    Character B: Really? Well, we know how to make chili up north as well, don’t ya know.
    Character A: Oh yeah, I’ve tried Northern Chili a time or two. We call it SOUP.
    Character B: Yeah….I’ve also tried Southern Chili once or twice. I generally think it needs SOME NORTHERN CHILI!

    • Aegeus says:

      Meanwhile in Cincinnati, we’re looking at both of your chilis and saying “This needs some spaghetti under it.” We’re weird like that.

  23. REGARDING KATIE’S CASE:
    ———————————–

    1. Doesn’t seem like a bad situation, mainly because it’s appealing to effective altruists and it’s nice to help someone close to you rather than deal with scope insensitivity or dealing with philosophical questions of “if we value human life, where should we put our effort in”.

    2. The fact that it’s a relatively nice situation does not mean that some people are going to avoid criticism a lot of aspects of it which might relate directly (about Katie specifically) or in general (who’s at fault, what to effing DO, whatever) and it’s an entirely bombastic can of worms. Worms that spend the last few months tripping so hard on LSD that you could see small rainbows crawling along the floor.

    Are those people unjustified? I wouldn’t say so, but please don’t be mean to Katie. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to be mean or judgmental towards the other side, either.
    (Remember, All Debates are Bravery Debates!)

    Last note is that certain things people say are seemingly said in retrospect, such as responsibility or risk. It’s strange how those things are always discussed in retrospect. People should learn about The Proper Use of Humility.

    The two main things I saw:
    Responsibility is an interesting one and if Katie can explain why she decided to have the child I think.. the distribution won’t change significantly but it might help.

    But the risk part is usually some kind of chain defection that it’s literally defect to infinity. Saying things like “man knows there’s a risk by having sex” can be easily countered by “woman should know there’s consequences for non-consensual pregnancy”. There’s such a lack of trust there that I’m really curious what those people are thinking. Not going to judge them for the same reason I’m not judging Katie – I don’t know their reason for that behavior.

    • Vaniver says:

      Last note is that certain things people say are seemingly said in retrospect, such as responsibility or risk. It’s strange how those things are always discussed in retrospect. People should learn about The Proper Use of Humility.

      This feels incorrect to me, because I see many prospective discussions of risks and responsibilities. (In particular, they certainly had a discussion about what to do when birth control failed!)

      I am reminded of a friend’s experience with polyamory: he talked to his girlfriend about it, she agreed, he then started talking to his friends about their decision. His friends mostly responded with “aren’t you worried that she’ll meet someone else who doesn’t want to be poly and leave you for him?”. He responded that he wasn’t. She went on some dates with another guy, that guy wasn’t interested in being poly, and eventually she left my friend to date the other guy instead.

      • Adam says:

        That same thing happens to almost all monogamous relationships, too. You hardly need to let your girlfriend sample other men to determine you’re not the best one she can get. If that’s your worry, be a more appealing lover.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          That same thing happens to almost all monogamous relationships, too.

          Almost all? I don’t think so.

          The rest of your point is sound, though. Leaving you for a better lover is a “threat” in any kind of relationship.

          • Adam says:

            You really don’t think so? I’m not using ‘monogamous relationships’ as a stand-in for marriage. Most marriages don’t end except by death, but most married people had other relationships before they got married and those ended. I’m not saying they end overwhelmingly because the female partner finds a more appealing male while still attached to the other, but ultimately she ends up with someone else.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Adam:

            I’m not saying they end overwhelmingly because the female partner finds a more appealing male while still attached to the other, but ultimately she ends up with someone else.

            That’s what it sounded like you were saying. Sorry if I misinterpreted you.

          • Adam says:

            Okay, sorry that wasn’t clear.

  24. Lasagna says:

    OK – I have a serious, very personal question I’ve wanted to post on one of these open threads for months now. I’ve always chickened out.

    This week is no different, so I’ll try again next time. No matter how often I rewrite it, I feel like I’m giving too many details, and I’d hate for those nearest and dearest to me to think I was insulting them or talking out of turn.

    So I’ll keep working on it, and instead throw a more lighthearted experiment out to the community: I want to give up reading about politics for 40 days.

    I meant to do this for Lent but didn’t. I figure God will forgive the delay. But I’ve recently realized four things:

    1. I spend hours and hours every day reading political and social commentary on the internet.

    2. The only things it’s led me to do is (a) sign up for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s newsletter (which led to MORE political and social commentary reading) and (b) write comments on message boards criticizing or supporting other posts. In other words, absolutely nothing at all of any consequence.

    3. I am not happier as a result. Actually I’m angrier, more prone to be distracted, likely making me a worse husband and father, and definitely worse at my job.

    4. I’m bored to shit with it.

    It’s too much. If you’re reading five articles a day about how Donald Trump is an asshole, or about protests on college campuses, or whatever else, you’re reading too much about protests and Trump and whatever.

    So I want to take a break. But I’m discovering that, not only is it incredibly difficult not to give in (my God, what if I don’t read fivethirtyeight and they write something really important????), which I expected, it’s actually kind of impossible.

    Turns out that most everything I read is decidedly political, even if I don’t want it to be. The AVClub may be my source for entertaining discussion about recent TV shows, but there’s no escaping the fact that virtually every recap and review is informed by leftist politics (“this episode of Shameless was great because it normalized abortion!” “The years of fielding sexist complaints about the amount of nude scenes she does in Girls seem to have only emboldened Dunham in this terrific episode!”) These statements tend to inform the entire article, and the discussion that follows in the comments section often focuses on ferreting out the politically unorthodox.

    I don’t even want to be confronted by bullshit headlines. So news magazines are out (this week in The Atlantic: “Does Manspreading Work?”), all arts and entertainment reading is out (at least the sites I visit). So is every blog I read, which all seem to boil down to “does feminism/identity politics/Trump suck or not?”, except maybe this one.

    So my questions to the group is: what do you read that you like that is not polluted by the current politics? Where things are being written and discussed that aren’t either dubious articles interpreting dubious studies by social scientists or screaming rage at the people who wrote those dubious articles?

    I’ll keep checking Longform.org, which has done a decent job of finding actual journalism out there. I just found this Nautilus site that looks pretty interesting. What else do you have? And what do you think of my idea? Intriguing or stupid?

    Just to be clear: I don’t want to read pages that bemoan the state of discourse on the internet, so rationality blogs are out. 🙂 I don’t want to see anything that’s about attacking the other team. I don’t want to read the words sexist, bigot, islamaphobe, racist, or any of the other trigger words that all of 2016 cultural discussions revolve around. I’m sick of it and it’s going nowhere. I want interesting writing that pushes in different directions. You know, like pretty much all writing used to be.

    And yes, part of the point of this is to seriously cut down on internet browsing. But I’d still like to read SOME stuff.

    Thanks! Sorry for the long post.

    • dndnrsn says:

      So, you want to avoid left-wing outrage porn, right-wing outrage porn, and meta-level outrage porn? Tall order. There’s really no way to get current events that isn’t that sort of thing, and I doubt there ever was a golden age when things were better.

      Just stick to fiction, apolitical non-fiction (which mostly limits you to technical stuff), non-fiction that while political/about politics is far enough in the past that it doesn’t bug you, and so on.

      • Lasagna says:

        So, you want to avoid left-wing outrage porn, right-wing outrage porn, and meta-level outrage porn?

        Yep, that’s pretty much it. I need to work on brevity.

        But it shouldn’t be a tall order, should it? And I don’t think it belongs to a mythical Golden Age – the current situation seems to me to be closer to ten years old or so. America has definitely NOT always viewed everything through the current political lenses.

        Fiction I’ve got handled offline. I’m not against fiction online, but I’m more interested in finding, say, sites where I can read about and discuss movies or current events or whatever without every review/discussion turning into a critique about whether the director is sexist. That shouldn’t be a tall order. Most people, I think, hate this stuff – how come no communities seem to have formed around preventing it?

        • dndnrsn says:

          Seems like it would be hard to avoid culture war stuff and political disputes in discussions of culture and politics?

          As for the nonexistent lost golden age, sure, not the current political lenses, but always political lenses. Now, “liberal” seems increasingly to be a sneer word used by some on the left to refer to those less left than they, whereas ten years ago it was exclusively a sneer word used by the right to refer to those less right than they (note that some on the right haven’t gotten the memo and will refer as “liberals” to those on the left denouncing liberals). I’m not sure if that was better.

          The ways in which discourse was awful in the past might be new to you, and so not annoy you as much, but it was probably just as annoying to your equivalent back whenever. There’s probably cuneiform tablets complaining about how politicized everything has become.

        • brad says:

          Current events online is probably out. Movies you may be able to find a forum with a strict no politics rule in the main discussion area, but I don’t know of one offhand.

          But the best answer I think is to just give up on the notion of being on the cutting edge. Just as you don’t really need to consume political or social commentary, you really don’t need to discuss the latest movie in exhaustive detail.

          Let me put it this way: say you cut out the web except for amazon, email, wikipedia, recipe sites, and other similar very practical odds and ends. Do you think your life would be impoverished for those 40 days? And if yes, what would you miss the most?

          • Lasagna says:

            My wife and I were talking while driving to her aunt’s on Easter. I was pointing out that we lived most of our lives without GPS but still managed to get to places on time. I’m 40 and never had anything like GPS or Mapquest until maybe nine years ago? Ten? So we’re talking very recently. But even though I spent the majority of my driving existence without using computers to give me directions, I have only a dim memory of how it worked. Pulling into gas stations when I got lost. That kind of thing.

            I’m feeling the same way about this little project. The answer to your question is of COURSE my life wouldn’t be impoverished. It wasn’t impoverished before the internet was ubiquitous – again, not that long ago, and I was a full adult at the time. Yet, for the life of me, I can’t really remember it.

            I guess I’d miss the interesting insights from so many sources that I get now. And maybe what I’ll do after my experiment is just give up on everything other than, say, SSC, The Archdruid Report, Ross Douthat, a few other writers that I respect from across the political spectrum. I’ll sadly never visit The Atlantic again, or The American Conservative, or other magazines that I often find insightful but increasingly find tiresome or rage-inducing. You can’t really read Conor Friedersdorf (or whoever) but somehow never click on Olga Khazan.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            interesting insights from so many sources

            I don’t see any advantage to online for getting interesting insights. You might as well completely eliminate it. If you have some reason the reading has to be on the computer, you could put e-books on your computer, or, as Limit says, read the New Yorker.

            If you think that online has some advantage of diversity, then you should attack diversity head-on in thinking about your offline reading habits.

          • Devilbunny says:

            Lasagna: in the hope that you see this.

            I am reminded of an expedition that my college roommate and I once planned (in the pre-cell-phone era) to a destination about four hours’ drive from the place where either of us would start the day (meeting roughly in the middle). We agreed to cross a certain bridge around noon and meet at the first gas station on the right. It turned out that the first gas station on the right was something like thirty miles down the road, but nonetheless we managed to meet there, after a wait of no more than twenty minutes.

            Also, we learned to stop at malls (easy to get directions to), find a bookstore, and peruse the detailed map books found there to obtain local information. And, of course, we each bought a fifty-state atlas every year or two. In addition to getting the state highway maps that visitors’ centers usually gave away for free.

            Also, people used to join AAA just for the map service. Less flexible than Google, but effective. Nowadays, I tend to use Google for everything outside my hometown, even when I’m familiar with the roads, because I have an Android phone and it routes around accidents, traffic jams, etc. This comes at the cost of becoming much less aware of optimum routing in the absence of the additional information. On a recent trip, Goog steered me down some residential streets. It was plainly apparent who else was relying on the Goog (out of state plates all making the same turns?).

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          I’m not against fiction online, but I’m more interested in finding, say, sites where I can read about and discuss movies or current events or whatever without every review/discussion turning into a critique about whether the director is sexist. That shouldn’t be a tall order. Most people, I think, hate this stuff – how come no communities seem to have formed around preventing it?

          The Ban on Politics is a thing. That said, this a hard coordination problem; people defect because “this is just that important!” or “everything is political!” or “this isn’t politics, this is just being a decent person!” or “the other side is doing it!” and then the mods have to clean up. But the mods defect, too, if only with laxer enforcement of their preferred side. And even people that don’t blatantly defect tend to engage in brinkmanship, seeing how close to political they can get before there are consequences, with both sides escalating as they get a feel for how far they can push it.

          Hell, look at what happened on SSC. We used to have a ban on race and gender in open threads, which Scott enforced with his mod powers. Occasionally people skirted the rule, and occasionally people went too far and got their posts deleted, but at some point Scott stopped enforcing the rule (presumably because he could no longer keep up with the sheer number of comments) and people gradually figured it out, and now the rule exists in name only.

        • Aegeus says:

          You’re going to get a little bit of politics no matter what. You can’t talk about Robocop without talking about what makes a good policeman. You can’t talk about Person of Interest without talking about the surveillance state. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was about as obvious an allegory for drone warfare as you could get in a superhero movie. Our entertainment says a lot about how we view the world.

          Personally, I would just find a decent movie discussion forum, and then bail out of the thread as soon as you see politics coming. The first few pages should give you plenty of room to chat about the basic “Is this movie worth 20 bucks and 2 hours of your time?” stuff. Learn to spot incoming drama, and before you reply, ask yourself “Do I really want to pull the pin on this grenade?”

          For current events, is a normal, dead-tree newspaper an option? Last time I opened one, it seemed pretty good at keeping the furious outrage contained in the editorial pages. And if you want to start an argument, a letter to the editor takes considerably more work than a forum post.

          • Lasagna says:

            Definitely an option, and one that I’m doing. I get the NYT and the Economist. Both have become more partisan lately and less interested in straight reporting, but their both still pretty good, in my opinion. That’s the way I’m going for basic news source.

            I don’t know why, but someone bringing up drone warfare while discussing Captain America doesn’t bother me, while someone cheering “yay, Feminism!” over Ghostbusters III does. It’s probably that I’m not constantly barraged by discussions of drone warfare, and that discussion can be neatly severed from the “is Captain America a good movie?” question, while the feminism question, to so many people, is the only questions that determines whether G3 is a good movie or no.

            I guess, in the end, it’s a question of what is guaranteed to derail the conversation and what is not.

            And I’m going to go back and finish watching Person of Interest now. I got distracted and stopped watching around the time Amy Acker became a permanent cast member. Got to go finish it up.

    • Frog Do says:

      Go really old or really foreign (may as well be the same thing), is the typical LW response. You can divorce yourself from the immediate emotional responses and really dig into stuff. This is more or less why I care about theology at all.

      As for journalism, find a couple of people who make good link round ups, and read what seems interesting from them. Any important news or piece will find its way there, and there’s no need to read it as soon as its’ posted unless you have to for social class reasons.

      • Lasagna says:

        Good calls – old and foreign are up my alley. Any suggestions for that, or for good journalists with good link round-ups? Scott doesn’t count. 🙂

        • Frog Do says:

          My link roundup suggestion was more a way to keep abreast of current journalism, which is all trash, sorry. It helps you wean yourself off of it, though, and get some distance. Which roundups you prefer are going depend strongly on your tastes in politics, religion, etc.

    • neonwattagelimit says:

      The New Yorker – the actual print magazine that you can find on the web with a subscription. Lots of meaty, long-form, narrative journalism. It’s not totally free of political bias, or divorced from the issues of the day, but it’s deep, it’s interesting, it’s generally not concerned with scoring zinger points on Twitter.

      The columns and blogs on the web are a little different and can sometimes veer into left-wing outrage porn territory, but even still, they’re nowhere near as bad as The Atlantic or Vox (and sometimes they’re actually interesting). But the long-form narrative pieces and essays that run in the print edition are solid.

      • dndnrsn says:

        The Atlantic, at least the online version, seems these days to be occupying a niche of centre-left outrage porn: chronicling both the misdeeds of the right (which are to be expected) but increasingly also training its gaze on left-wing activists, especially on university campuses.

        It’s sort of the mouthpiece for middle-aged university-administrator types who, while they know that Republicans are bad, are increasingly nervous about the kids assembling in the quad outside.

        • neonwattagelimit says:

          I actually think of The Atlantic as publishing more upper-middle-class anxiety porn than anything else, really, but I didn’t feel like distinguishing among the many varieties of bad online writing in my original comment. I do think you are correct that it’s closer to center-left than anything else.

          • dndnrsn says:

            That’s a good way of putting it.

            The Atlantic’s audience is upper-middle-class, educated, probably older (but younger for the online – the print version doesn’t have Game of Thrones and Walking Dead rundowns), centre-left by average Western standards (which makes them on the left side of the mainstream left by US standards).

            What’s interesting is what they’re anxious about: it’s basically “we (younger audience)/our kids (older audience) won’t be able to have jobs and will have student debt, there’s a populist right-wing uprising, and also those to the left of us are making us nervous.”

            Also, something I’ve noticed: the Atlantic’s comments section is really right-wing compared to the content of the articles.

          • Odoacer says:

            @dndnrsn

            Also, something I’ve noticed: the Atlantic’s comments section is really right-wing compared to the content of the articles

            I’ve noticed that too. I think that has caused (and is caused by) a lot of the liberal commenters having moved to an adjacent disqus site. It’s still somewhat tethered to the Atlantic, and the users still comment on many of the articles there, but the new group has their own mods and can make their own threads.

      • Lasagna says:

        Very good idea. We let our subscription lapse, but this is a good time to bring it back. Thanks!

    • Urstoff says:

      I just check The Browser and aldaily every day and click on things that look interesting. It’s impossible to find writing that’s not informed by worldviews, but there’s plenty of writing that is not overtly political or trying to poke the eye of the other side.

    • Adam Casey says:

      Read newspapers from other countries for the politics. Not being local they don’t pick sides so much and only report the interesting parts. I recommend the Economist, the Guardian (but avoid the Comment Is Free section like the plague), and the BBC as obvious examples from the UK.

      For other stuff read blogs, but only a narrowly selected few. Which few will be up to you. Scotusblog is cool.

      • dndnrsn says:

        The Guardian Weekly, which is their international edition in print, is really good. Good international coverage, quite sane, left-wing in an old-fashioned way.

        The Guardian online is kind of crap. The management seems to have decided that what will get them clicks is American bloggers brought in to write a particular sort of left-wing clickbait. Because, y’know, it’s not as though people who want to read American bloggers can go anywhere other than a British newspaper’s site, right?

    • zz says:

      I see two solutions.

      The first is to go hardcore apolitical. Read Politics is the Mind-Killer, Beware the Man of One Study, Debunked and Well-Refuted, The Toxoplasma of Rage, Meditations on Moloch, Policy Tug-O-War, etc (please reply with further suggestions. I remember one where someone—not necessarily Scott—suggested that pro-lifers and pro-choicers both donated $1M to AMF instead of for advocacy for their preferred abortion policy, the result of which was no change in abortion policy, but $2M to AMF.) Successful conversion to apoliticism should result in inherent avoidance of anything political. It worked for me, at least.

      The second option is to physically disconnect yourself from the internet. Unplug the ethernet cable, unplug your router, remove batteries from your smartphone/tablet, etc.

    • Try reading some interesting primary source material from the past. Casanova’s Memoirs. The Tabletalk of a Mesopotamian Judge. The Book of Contemplation: Islam and the Crusades (the same work as _An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades_ but a later and I think more accurate translation). The Icelandic sagas, starting with Egilsaga.

      And for fiction, _John Brown’s Body_ (a verse novel about the Civil War) and _Kim_ (Kipling’s one really good novel).

      More suggestions available if needed.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Though the statists encroach on ever more turf, there remain many hobbies which are a-political. I did once see a gardening thread nearly take a nasty turn when the discussion turned to sex-changing trees, but it recovered quickly.

      Now, all of these forums will have some topics which are highly controversial and prompt flame-wars, but they typically won’t map to right-left.

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      Honestly, my personal solution is to consume non-text media. Bow out of fandoms. Stick to source material. Don’t bother with reviews. (But on that note, I quite like BirthMoviesDeath, formerly known as BadassDigest.)

      Another solution is to jump into the garbage heap. The lowest-brow fandoms that everyone else looks down on, consider way too obviously Wrong to be considered even the outgroup. Things that are unequivocally about the id. Ecchi anime, idols, RPF, etc. On the downside, it’s harder to find quality writings on those subjects, since most of their appeal is “it made me feel good,” but they do exist, and they tend to be more apolitical because the political dimensions are entirely too obvious to be worth addressing.

      Finally, specialize, specialize, specialize. Writings devoted to minutia are relatively less political because no one else has the expertise to talk about them. Get into science/technology nitty gritty. Analyze animation techniques, and the specific styles of individual animators. Learn music theory, and work your way up to breaking down the beautiful structures of symphonies. Horror movies might be light on character or plot, and often run afoul of politics, but that’s because they’re fundamentally about using audiovideo language to evoke visceral emotion, through any means, so they’re the best study cases for pure moviemaking. Looking at a sports industry or teams will always get political, because people are involved, but the mechanics of how to throw the best curveball, and the physics of why it does so, are a little harder to find a moral angle on. Basically, depth over breadth, because politics lives in the breadth, in the shallows where the masters of none live.

      • Understanding Comics is an analysis of what comics are, why people like them, and how sequential story-telling works. There’s even a statistical analysis of the sorts of pictures in Japanese vs. western (American?) comics. I won’t swear there’s no politics, but if there is, there isn’t much.

        I sympathize with your desire to get away from it all. When I was getting fried by racefail, I read Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously, a woman’s account of knitting an absurdly difficult sweater. Little did I know that there’s a knitting designer with a personality remarkably like Howard Roark.

        However, I wanted to read about yarn and knitting and sweaters. I did *not* want to read about feminism, but there was no escape. Fortunately, it was a short part of the book.

        • Lasagna says:

          Thank you everyone – this is great stuff! I’m working my way through all the suggested material, figuring out what works best for me.

          Incidentally, I’m already more relaxed today by intentionally not jumping into the dumpster fire that is unavoidable in political and cultural discussion in 2016. 🙂

    • anonymous says:

      project gutenberg: free old books, poems, plays etc. (well written plays can be as good as books I find)

      If you find one or two writers they can be used as nodes to find other writers from. This is half of the fun. It’s not a bottomless pool but it could tide you over for a long while if you found it interesting. Just be aware that if you find something amazing there isn’t generally a bottomless pool of the same thing, though I recommend imagining it, and entertaining the thought.

      Sometimes a pool, occasionally a wide one, but the structure of the production of this stuff is obviously very different from the kind of stuff you want to avoid. It’s a real shame about that, the resources are in place to produce such an incredible endless stream of good content but imo it’s drowned in rubbish to the point where people are often worse off rather than better.

      Some famous writers I like a lot

      (you may not like some or all, but can still use them as nodes):

      Albert Camus

      Charles Dickens

      G.K. Chesterton

      Fyodor Dostoevsky

      Marcus Aurelius

      Sophocles

      Aristotle or Plato (as much for the historical context of what these two not-random guys, but greek dudes happened to be thinking)

      Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (not just Sherlock, though Sherlock is interesting. I would recommend “the lost world”)

      Alfred Lord Tennyson

      Rene Descartes

      Percy Byshhe Shelley

      Webster-Hayne Debates. Also the

      great speeches.

      (regardless of anything else, everyone should read or listen to the usually quoted end of MLK’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech at least once in their lives, knowing that he was assassinated the next day) (I wouldn’t recommend listening to all of it though, I found it quite disappointing)

      Here is a website for specifically American rhetoric, http://www.americanrhetoric.com/ (links to similar sites would be appreciated if anyone has them btw)

       

      Taking a completely different angle, many hobbies have an associated endless stream of content. Developing an interest in general fitness for example, or if one already has one, in theories behind it, methodologies etc, opens up a new stream of content if you are running low.

      Also, I haven’t really explored this that much, but one can also try to find neutral specialised web forums- the more specialised the forum is, the less likely it is to be sectarian or anarchic, as one can talk about their common interests with many people, but the only place one can talk about an obscure one can easily be on a particular internet forum, so there’s more incentive not to mess up the public commons. Occasionally visiting 7 or 8 such forums and read one or two threads from many, I find the discussion quality to be higher.

      There’s also all kinds of cool things on youtube, e.g.(imo) http://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com/ (links to youtube), but you still have the basic “sturgeon’s law” problem that there’ a lot of rubbish stuff out there, and a lot of the stuff that’s “good” is more good at getting people hooked on it than actually providing value. This is probably a bigger problem in visual mediums, I think.

      For the sake of completeness, I feel obligated to point out that one can always try to take the opposite approach of reducing one’s desire for input. Personally I see no reason why one shouldn’t lean on a constant stream of input if it’s available, but if you’re going cold turkey on a significant amount of that; then maybe take up breathing exercises, or relaxing music, walks in nature, or something, in the interim, because establishing a new and better input stream might take some time.

      Imo it sounds like kind of a big challenge you’re taking on, but one not distinct from the basic question of establishing an environment one likes, which is one of the most imporant things, so I think you should feel free to take it as seriously as you want, and not get discouraged if it happens to be harder than you anticipate (or indeed worried if it’s easier, either.)

      • Lasagna says:

        This is an amazing list. You’ve given me a ton to review and think about. Thanks!

        And it IS tougher than I thought it’d be. A hundred times a day I’m like “let’s just see what realclearpolitics is linking to.” You’re spot on with the idea of developing an alternative input stream. I just can’t do that at work (actually, I could. WORK at work would be the alternative input stream).

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      The AskHistorians subreddit is a good source for intelligent responses that are as nonpartisan as it is possible to be. You’re not allowed to insult anyone and everything is 100% backed up by sources, which leads to a much higher standard of discourse.

    • thisguy says:

      Consider: take this as an opportunity to *do something else* rather than reading blogs? I did something similar a while back. I realized that I was reading political blogs mostly to kill time when I was too lazy to pay trivial inconvenience startup costs to get into something productive. Taking a break (self-ban from all of my major internet time-wasters) allowed me to develop the habits to begin doing other things, which overcame the trivially inconvenience startup costs that corralled me into the political blog vortex.

    • windmill tilter says:

      > what do you read that you like that is not polluted by the current politics?

      I am tempted to say classics but honestly I don’t read many. Here is what is in my Amazon cart at this moment-I will probably only actually buy two of these: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, The Cave Painters, Sapiens, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, and Climate Shock. (Any recommendations?) Also, lately I watch a lot of Mad Men.

      • If you want to read a very interesting non-fiction book not, so far as I can tell, polluted by politics, I recommend _Gypsies the Hidden Americans_ by Anne Sutherland. It is a very detailed account of the Vlax Rom in America, an ethnic group which manages a reasonably successful and, to most of us, very strange life style. I’m currently reading it.

        Among other intriguing details, it’s not a problem when the Rom the author is talking with discover that she has gotten information out of them by trickery. They approve of trickery, admire it in others as well as engaging in it themselves. A child who doesn’t realize when his parents are lying to him is seen as stupid.

        A Rom has one or more American names. The number is roughly equal to the number of times he got into some conflict with some part of the surrounding system, and so found it useful to change his name.

        Typical living pattern: A house the front part of which has been converted into one very large room. All members of the household, typically ten or more, sleep in it. The grandparents get a double bed, some other adults get couches, possibly one other bed, the rest are on the floor.

        Simple approach to dealing with attempts by non-Rom to control them, for instance by insisting that they must send their children to school or catching them cheating on the welfare system—move. At least for a while.

        One point the author doesn’t discuss but that occurred to me. Gypsies (of which the Vlach Rom are the largest subset) were targeted for extermination by the Nazis, like Jews. Current estimates are that between half a million and a million and a half were killed. I don’t have any exact numbers on how many survived, but it seems clear that there were multiple millions in Europe after the war was over in places that were at some point controlled by the Nazis or their allies.

        Which may be due in part to their strategy of staying below the radar of the non-Gypsy authorities, not having births registered, changing names, … .

        • James C. Scott (author of Seeing Like a State, Two Cheers for Anarchism, etc.) started his academic career by researching government efforts to impose official names on people and to prevent nomadism.

  25. Katie Cohen’s situation seems like a jumping-off point for thinking about what sort of promises people should make, what sort of promises people should ask for, and what sort of promises people should trust.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have much to say on the subject, except that I’ve observed that people are pretty likely to break promises I’ve talked them into. Your mileage may vary. I’m willing to bet there are a lot of people who are better talker-into-ers than I am.

    • blacktrance says:

      Bryan Caplan says it best:

      I’m not a principled advocate of monogamy; it’s not for everyone… I am however a principled advocate of honoring your contracts and promises. If you don’t want to practice monogamy, here’s an idea: Don’t agree to it. If you want a non-traditional marriage, write a contract for it. Don’t accept the standard-issue version, then pretend that you didn’t have a choice…

      But what about human weakness? Here I take a hard line: Human weakness is a choice, and it should be criticized, not excused… I embrace a simple alternative: Do the right thing all day, every day.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        Is it possible to beat Dark Souls without dying, on the first try, without any outside help? Yes, it is.

        Is it reasonable to expect it of people? No, it isn’t.

        I mean, I agree with Caplan on the general point that we shouldn’t categorically excuse people for breaking promises. But human weakness makes it harder to keep them in some particular cases, and to that extent it is at least a partial excuse. To pretend otherwise is not only not “realistic”; it’s not just.

        • blacktrance says:

          I think that’s completely wrong. If you promise to beat Dark Souls on the first try without help, and you fail to do so, the failure is entirely on you. It was a foolish promise that you should’ve known better than to make, but now that you’ve made it, you’re stuck with it unless the other person chooses to release you.

          Keeping particular promises is unrealistic only if you hold constant what people choose to promise.

          • Frog Do says:

            And in a world where humans are all actually Laplace’s demons this might be reasonable. Until then Caplan will remain incapable of understanding human behavior and insist on being morally abhorrent.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I’m not talking about promising to beat Dark Souls. Beating that game without dying was just a “relatable” example of something that is difficult to do. But sure, you can argue that it’s easy to recognize that such a feat is difficult to do.

            An example of a situation where a promise is difficult to keep is one where the situation can change dramatically in the future, or where very strong temptations might be faced.

            Making a promise to say married, not to cheat, etc. is not inherently foolish or ridiculous: over 50% of those who make it keep it. You can reasonably think you’ll be one of those people.

            But then what if you, for instance, become famous and are constantly faced with admirers trying to seduce you? It’s not impossible to stay firm and not give in. But it’s not nearly as easy as when you’re not faced with that temptation, either.

            Besides, I’m somewhat opposed to this fetishization of keeping promises. Yes, keeping promises is important, but so are a lot of other things and there are many situations where breaking them is justified, not just mitigated on grounds of human weakness. For instance, you marry somebody and promise to stay married your whole life, but then five years later you’ve realized that the two of you just aren’t as compatible as you thought. You shouldn’t break that promise lightly, but there’s no reason you should enslave yourself to it just because it’s “your word”.

            Or to take something less morally controversial, say I make a vow to eat Mexican food every day for the rest of my life. But then after a week I realize that this was a really stupid thing to commit to. Why am I obligated to keep doing it?

          • InferentialDistance says:

            Or to take something less morally controversial, say I make a vow to eat Mexican food every day for the rest of my life. But then after a week I realize that this was a really stupid thing to commit to. Why am I obligated to keep doing it?

            The point is not that you have to keep the promise, but that no one else is morally responsible for your failure to keep your promise. You are responsible for the consequences of breaking your promise.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ InferentialDistance:

            The point is not that you have to keep the promise, but that no one else is morally responsible for your failure to keep your promise. You are responsible for the consequences of breaking your promise.

            Where does the idea of other people’s being responsible even enter the picture? Who’s saying that?

            All I am saying is that some people seem to have the attitude that you should keep your promises no matter what, while I counter that if they are foolish promises, you are obligated to break them.

            Now, in the gold-digger case, it is partially the “seducers'” fault that the one spouse ends up breaking their promises of fidelity. But in that case, I’m not saying breaking the promise is justified. I’m saying it’s partially excused. As in, the action was regrettable, but we can’t put the full blame on you because you faced a stronger temptation than normal.

          • blacktrance says:

            Promises are informal contracts, and transfer limited partial ownership of yourself to the recipient. Thus, breaking a promise is similar to theft, and wrong for similar reasons. The fact that some transfers of ownership are foolish makes them no less valid. Yes, it’s dumb to promise to eat Mexican food for all your life, but no one forced you to make that promise, and breaking it entails unilaterally taking away something that doesn’t belong to you.

            In the marriage case, if your partner is good and cares about you, they’ll release you from your promise. But you aren’t entitled to dissolve it unilaterally, not if you literally promised to stay married your whole life. It’s possible that it’s social boilerplate and understood as not literal, but that changes the content of the promise such that dissolving the marriage isn’t promise-breaking. But if you enter into a literal till-death-do-us-part pact – too bad for you.

            To be fair, sometimes breaking a promise is in one’s self-interest. But it’s also in one’s self-interest to live in a society where promise-keeping is strongly enforced.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ blacktrance:

            To be fair, sometimes breaking a promise is in one’s self-interest. But it’s also in one’s self-interest to live in a society where promise-keeping is strongly enforced.

            It’s not in one’s self-interest to live in a society where objectively stupid promises are enforced with absolute strictness. Even when you don’t make any and they’re just enforced on other people.

            That’s the point (and it’s a quite legitimate point) of rules against unconscionability.

            You pay them the cash value of whatever they lost by relying on you to eat Mexican food every day, then move on.

            no one forced you to make that promise, and breaking it entails unilaterally taking away something that doesn’t belong to you.

            This is exactly what happens with bankruptcy: people obtain things that don’t belong to them. And yet it’s in one’s self-interest to live in a society where it is possible to discharge debts through bankruptcy vs. one where people get enslaved into workhouses or something.

            Everyone ends up better off if you just charge higher interest rates to people at risk of doing such a thing.

          • Randy M says:

            Generally, you should not make promises lightly. Given that you make a promise, foolish or not, you should keep it even if it is costly to you unless released from it (which would nullify promises made to yourself).
            All that said, you should not lightly rely on another person’s promises, regardless of the other oughts. Especially if they seem foolish.

            There may be situations where breaking a promise is justified despite the recipient wishing to hold you to it. I don’t think “really feel like it” should fall into this category.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Randy M:

            There may be situations where breaking a promise is justified despite the recipient wishing to hold you to it. I don’t think “really feel like it” should fall into this category.

            “I don’t really feel like it” is a bad reason.

            “Upon careful, rational analysis, I don’t think this keeping this promise serves the life and happiness of myself and the people I care about” is a good reason.

            I don’t think whether the other person “releases you from it” is very relevant in itself—unless you think you are never obligated to keep any kind of resolution you make to yourself. If you make a foolish promise to an irrational or evil person who won’t let you out of it, you’re no more obligated to keep it.

          • hlynkacg says:

            You’re ignoring the fact that when people say “Upon careful, rational analysis, I don’t think this keeping this promise serves the life and happiness of myself and the people I care about” they really mean “I don’t feel like it”.

            Otherwise, they wouldn’t be trying to make excuses as the negative consequences of being seen to break a promise would have been a factor in the “careful, rational analysis” that they are claiming to have made.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ hlynkacg:

            You’re ignoring the fact that when people say “Upon careful, rational analysis, I don’t think this keeping this promise serves the life and happiness of myself and the people I care about” they really mean “I don’t feel like it”.

            The fact that people have an incentive to lie and deceive themselves about being morally justified in what they do does not go to show that it is impossible to correctly determine this.

            Otherwise, they wouldn’t be trying to absolve themselves of the negative consequences of breaking their promise as those negative consequences would have been a factor in the “careful, rational analysis” that they claimed to have made.

            I’m not sure what particular examples you have in mind here.

            There are two different concepts here:

            – Justification
            – Excuse

            With a justification, you argue that the decision was objectively correct. For instance: you promise to eat Mexican food every day, then you break it because that was a stupid promise.

            With an excuse, you argue that the decision was objectively wrong but subjectively excused. For instance: I regret that I slept with this man, but it’s not my fault because he drugged my drink. Or you have partial excuses: I know I shouldn’t have slept with this woman, but I was under a huge amount of stress and this was the fifth time this week a woman tried to seduce me, so in a moment of weakness I gave in.

          • blacktrance says:

            Vox Imperatoris:
            Bankruptcy and unconscionability are obviously contrary to strict libertarian principles. If you can’t give away your ability to do something, it wasn’t yours to begin with. Part of my self-ownership is the ability to choose what food I eat, and making a promise to only eat Mexican food transfers that to another person. If I can’t do that, then why would I be able to give away something else that belongs to me, like a kidney? There are contexts in which that would be a foolish decision, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be enforced.
            Besides, there’s a benefit to unconditionally knowing that if someone makes a promise, they’ll have to keep it or they’ll face strong repercussions.

            I don’t think whether the other person “releases you from it” is very relevant in itself—unless you think you are never obligated to keep any kind of resolution you make to yourself.

            Promises to oneself are only metaphorical (e.g. you’re going to be as diligent as if you had made a promise to someone else) because you’re not transferring any part of legitimate authority over yourself to anybody, just taking some out of your left pocket and putting it in your right. When you make a promise to someone else, they can release you from it and return the transferred fraction of authority, but if you make a promise to yourself, you already have it.

          • Randy M says:

            “It was a stupid thing to say” is not an objective analysis. What you are saying is “I made a bad decision. Do over!” If you can unilaterally declare the do over, your word means nothing.
            You are not a robot (yet…?) that someone else can open up and verify the source code of. No one can check your analysis for objectivity or bias ahead of time. If you grant yourself the right to abrogate a promise based on subjective criteria decided at a later date, please avoid saying the words “I will” because they contain very little information content.

            unless you think you are never obligated to keep any kind of resolution you make to yourself

            I’m really confused where you think these “obligations” come from. I don’t believe you think that there is much force in “I swear to God” so what exactly does obligation mean here?

            If I were to honestly try to restate your position, it is something like “It is objectively more likely for more people to have more pleasure if they can rely on each other, therefore [if you care about most people’s pleasure] you would [if you are rational and logically consistent] try to cultivate a habit of keeping your word, except in cases where you later think [but not just feel!] that it’s a bad idea.”
            Fair?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ blacktrance:

            If you can’t give away your ability to do something, it wasn’t yours to begin with.

            Inalienable rights.”

            More later, perhaps.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Vox
            Besides, I’m somewhat opposed to this fetishization of keeping promises.

            Right. There are promises and there are promises. Some are made in documents written by lawyers, notarized, and include penalties and posting a bond. Some are made drowsily in bed. The meaning/s of the word ‘promise’ fall on a spectrum.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ vox
            One can make a cost/benefit analysis that says the price of breaking a promise is lower than the price of keeping it. But that does not absolve one of the promise.

            In regards to your first example, whether or not the promise was “stupid” is irrelevant to the conversation. Part of being an adult is learning to deal with the consequences of your own stupidity. Suck it up and try to be less stupid in the future.

            Your second example is utterly meaningless, because no promises were exchanged.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Randy M:

            “It was a stupid thing to say” is not an objective analysis.

            Why is it not an objective analysis? The fact that it is possible for a judgment to be biased does not mean that it is impossible for it to be correct.

            You are not a robot (yet…?) that someone else can open up and verify the source code of. No one can check your analysis for objectivity or bias ahead of time. If you grant yourself the right to abrogate a promise based on subjective criteria decided at a later date, please avoid saying the words “I will” because they contain very little information content.

            They can’t check the source code, but it’s called a track record of behavior! Come on. That’s why you don’t get married to somebody without forming a judgment as to their character, a judgment founded on information gathered over a decently-sized period of time.

            If people had to get married to random freaking strangers, then perhaps this idea that no promise can be broken, no matter how unreasonable, would be more sensible.

            It’s the same as how you don’t lend large sums of money to people with no credit history, unless they’re prepared to pay high interest rates. Except that in marriage, you can’t substitute for poor “credit history” by paying money. At least not according to what most people want out of marriage.

            I’m really confused where you think these “obligations” come from. I don’t believe you think that there is much force in “I swear to God” so what exactly does obligation mean here?

            Sure, I don’t believe that saying “I swear” is a magic spell that somehow puts “the force of duty” on you. The only obligation you have is to do what is in your interest. A promise made to yourself is often a useful way of concretizing your interest and making it easier for you to stick to it when it is difficult. That’s the point of making them. But if it turns out that the promise was not founded on objective needs, then there is no reason to keep it.

            If I were to honestly try to restate your position, it is something like “It is objectively more likely for more people to have more pleasure if they can rely on each other, therefore [if you care about most people’s pleasure] you would [if you are rational and logically consistent] try to cultivate a habit of keeping your word, except in cases where you later think [but not just feel!] that it’s a bad idea.”
            Fair?

            Substitute [if you care about your own happiness] for [if you care about most people’s pleasure], but otherwise, sure.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ hlynkacg:

            One can make a cost/benefit analysis that says the price of breaking a promise is lower than the price of keeping it. But that does not absolve one of the promise.

            What are you interpreting “absolving one of the promise” to mean?

            Because I don’t take myself to be arguing that. If you say, “I promise to eat Mexican food every day, or else I’ll pay you $50”, then you should pay the guy $50.

            If you say, “I promise to eat Mexican food every day, or else I’ll kill myself”, then I don’t think you’re under any obligation either to keep eating Mexican food every day or to kill yourself. That would be taking the general rule that you should keep your promises out of its proper, life-serving context and fetishizing into some ridiculous thing that is contrary to human life and happiness.

            Your second example is all meaningless equivocation, because no promises were exchanged.

            What is my “second example”? The one where I talk about being tempted to cheat and various full or partial excuses? That seems to be a case where promises were exchanged.

          • Randy M says:

            Why is it not an objective analysis? The fact that it is possible for a judgment to be biased does not mean that it is impossible for it to be correct.

            The word stupid is ill defined for objective analysis. I realize you are using it for shorthand of “I now think this is not in my interest” but just saying “That was a stupid thing to say” is not objective because different people have different meanings of stupid.

            (Also obviously the whole conversation is about promises that are not obviously jest or hyperbole)

            Sure, I don’t believe that saying “I swear” is a magic spell

            You keyed in on the wrong word.

            If people had to get married to random freaking strangers, then perhaps this idea that no promise can be broken, no matter how unreasonable, would be more sensible.

            Of course you should check people for trustworthiness before basing your life changing decisions on their promises. But trustworthiness *means* that they keep their promises–things you don’t think they are obligated to do if they have buyers remorse.

            A promise made to yourself is often a useful way of concretizing your interest

            So useful = obligatory?

          • hlynkacg says:

            If you promise to do X or you’ll kill yourself, and you fail to do X you should kill yourself. That is unless the person you made that promise to releases you from that bond.

            Like I said before, whether or not the promise was “stupid” is irrelevant to the conversation. Part of being an adult is learning to deal with the consequences of your own stupidity. There are no excuses.

            Further more I think that you are being staggeringly foolish and naïve to “oppose this fetishization of keeping promises”.

            I’m not an objectivist but I do think that Rand was correct about this much…

            So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value.

            When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others. It is not the moochers or the looters who give value to money. Not an ocean of tears not all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into the bread you will need to survive tomorrow. Those pieces of paper, which should have been gold, are a token of honor, your claim upon the energy of the men who produce. Your wallet is your statement of hope that somewhere in the world around you there are men who will not default on that moral principle which is the root of money, Is this what you consider evil?

            By the same token promises and contracts are the principal that you will deal with others through mutual agreement rather than at bayonet-point.

            It’s both shocking and weirdly comforting to me that you’ve lived a sufficiently sheltered life that you haven’t had to learn this first hand.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Randy M:

            The word stupid is ill defined for objective analysis. I realize you are using it for shorthand of “I now think this is not in my interest” but just saying “That was a stupid thing to say” is not objective because different people have different meanings of stupid.

            You demonstrate by this that you know what I’m talking about. Obviously, “stupid” is a vague word. I don’t mean: saying “it’s stupid” suffices for objective analysis.

            Rather, “stupid” was my shorthand for “objective analysis indicates that this promise was enormously injudicious and is not worth keeping”

            You keyed in on the wrong word.

            The only way God comes into the picture is insofar as he will smite you or send you to hell or something for not keeping your promises. But God forgives, so he’s a poor choice of guarantor.

            God has much lower standards than I do: I say some people are well beyond forgiveness.

            Of course you should check people for trustworthiness before basing your life changing decisions on their promises. But trustworthiness *means* that they keep their promises–things you don’t think they are obligated to do if they have buyers remorse.

            Trustworthiness does not mean keeping ill-conceived promises that are not worth keeping. That is, rather, an indicator of stupidity or poor judgment.

            Suppose you arrange a date with a woman and she says: “I’ll be there, I promise!” She shows up, but later you find that she walked out as her roommate was bleeding to death in order not to be late. That would not show that she is “trustworthy”. It would show that she is some kind of psychopath with no sense of priorities.

            In the situation people are considering upthread, a woman promised to get an abortion if she got pregnant. She didn’t get an abortion. But if abortion is murder, it would be evil to keep that promise.

            In the case of marriage, if you’re getting married to someone in a situation where divorce is an option, they are essentially promising: “I promise to stay married unless I rationally conclude that the marriage was a terrible mistake.” Therefore, what you’re interested in knowing is their track record of making good choices and rationally evaluating whether previous choices were good or not. You don’t want to know their track record of irrationally sticking to commitments even though they were terrible mistakes: if the marriage is a terrible mistake, neither do you want to stay married!

            Anyway, I’ve gone through this several times with you in the past. Why do you want a reputation for making and keeping foolish promises? That is not beneficial.

            You should want a reputation for making reasonable promises and keeping them, while breaking them on the off-chance they turn out to be unreasonable. Of course you have the potential for bias here: that’s why other people have to think for themselves to double-check your judgment—and refuse to deal with you if you are twisting the facts to get out of reasonable promises.

            So useful = obligatory?

            Something may be useful without being obligatory if the goal is realizable in multiple ways. For instance, it may be obligatory to get a job. But if there are multiple viable job paths, it’s not obligatory to get any given one of those jobs.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ hylnkacg:

            If you promise to do X or you’ll kill yourself, and you fail to do X you should kill yourself. That is unless the person you made that promise to releases you from that bond.

            That is insanity.

            Why in the world ought you to keep such an agreement? By the nature of the case, there is nothing you could get out of it.

            Like I said before, whether or not the promise was “stupid” is irrelevant to the conversation. Part of being an adult is learning to deal with the consequences of your own stupidity. There are no excuses.

            The death penalty: that’s the best way to learn yerself.

            As for “excuses”: I’m not saying there’s nothing wrong with making foolish promises. There’s just no reason you should keep them. It may harm your reputation somewhat, but better to have a reputation for making and breaking foolish promises than to be dead or stuck doing something really unpleasant.

            In any case, you’re certainly twisting Rand’s words quite out of their intended meaning. Rand emphasized the importance of context in moral judgments. You ought to keep promises because it serves a purpose in advancing your life. To the extent that keeping promises becomes divorced from that purpose, it is no longer good.

          • Vox:
            I think the issue is that people wildly differ on which promises are foolish, and can get real, real motivated to declare promises foolish and obviously nonsense when they are rewarded with getting out of them for doing so.

            And…I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the majority of our soceity, with things like credit cards and mortgages and other obligations, is reliant, on one level or another, on people keeping their word.

            I mean, imagine a world in which there was no societal pressure on people to keep their promises. Imagine if every company you dealt with, every time, kept a little running file on when the optimal moment to cancel your service would be, and if everyone expected this, because keeping an unprofitable customer was stupid. Imagine what politics becomes when people can’t even pretend to believe campaign promises. You think advertising is bad now? Imagine it in a world where companies can say “Yeah, we offered that, but we decided against that, because it was stupid.”

            There are massive, massive externalities to the breakdown of trust and personal honor in widespread society. This doesn’t mean that people should always keep their word. But it does mean that there is an inescapable cost of not doing so.

            The price of a society in which people can be counted on to not lie too much, too often, in front of too many witnesses, is that any such lies will ding your reputation.

            An ideal world, I think, is one with public information, and rumor and reputation become cited and public and verifiable. Ideally, people who don’t want to deal with oathbreakers of any stripe could avoid doing so, while still retaining value in the concept of oaths, and letting people who break some oaths some time still participate in greater soceity.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Robert Liguori:

            I think the issue is that people wildly differ on which promises are foolish, and can get real, real motivated to declare promises foolish and obviously nonsense when they are rewarded with getting out of them for doing so.

            Clearly. I emphasized this several times.

            The fact that a judgment call is fallible doesn’t mean that it’s superior to no judgment at all, however.

            And…I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the majority of our soceity, with things like credit cards and mortgages and other obligations, is reliant, on one level or another, on people keeping their word.

            Certainly. And yet we get by without having one’s word be 100% binding.

            If your credit card company sneaks some kind of unreasonable clause into the contract, it won’t be held up in court.

            I think the burden of proof of unconscionability should be high, perhaps higher than today. But I don’t think it should be insurmountable.

            I mean, imagine a world in which there was no societal pressure on people to keep their promises. Imagine if every company you dealt with, every time, kept a little running file on when the optimal moment to cancel your service would be, and if everyone expected this, because keeping an unprofitable customer was stupid. Imagine what politics becomes when people can’t even pretend to believe campaign promises. You think advertising is bad now? Imagine it in a world where companies can say “Yeah, we offered that, but we decided against that, because it was stupid.”

            I am hardly advocating for a world in which there is no social pressure to keep promises. I am advocating for a world in which there is a strong social pressure to keep promises, except when they are unreasonable—which is a high standard one presumes unmet, not a subjective thing to be determined unilaterally by each person judging his own case.

            If you break a promise, and someone else suffers economically because they relied on your promise, you should have to compensate them. But it has to be actual concrete damages, not an insistence upon specific performance of personal services. So, for instance, I support the right to divorce—and the obligation to pay alimony to a spouse who quit work to stay at home.

            As a side note, companies already always have ways to cancel your service when it is optimal. And when they advertise things, they always reserve ways to take it back and change their minds. For instance, if they run out of stock. So we are living in this very world of chaos.

            There are massive, massive externalities to the breakdown of trust and personal honor in widespread society. This doesn’t mean that people should always keep their word. But it does mean that there is an inescapable cost of not doing so.

            Reputation is much more important in uncivilized societies that don’t have recourse to legal solutions. For instance, if you’re selling stuff on the darknet black market, reputation is everything. If you’re selling stuff under the rule of law, an established reputation is not nearly as important.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Vox Imperatoris says: That is insanity…

            It’s not insane at all. In fact, it might be the purest expression of human sanity that there is.

            You want to argue that betting your life on something as trivial as eating Mexican food is stupid? I agree, but people are killed by their own stupidity all the time. The lesson here is don’t bet your life on something trivial.

            You ought to keep promises because it serves a purpose in advancing your life.

            No.

            You ought to keep your promises because living in a society with some level of social trust/cohesion is vastly superior to living as animal. The point that both Rand and Robert Liguori are trying to make is that society is built on promises. And without the expectation that these promises will be kept you don’t have a society.

            The doctor’s promise to do no harm?

            The Soldier’s promise to support, defend, and obey?

            The bank’s promise to hand your money over when asked?

            The merchant’s promise to deliver the goods purchased?

            The bus driver’s promise to follow an assigned route?

            Never mind John Q Public’s promise not to rob you, defraud you, kill you or rape you..

            There are times when any one of these promises might not be in the immediate interests of the individuals expected to follow through on them. More often than not it is in those very moments that keeping that promise is the most important.

            That is why we “fetishize promise keeping”.

          • stargirlprincesss says:

            Vox is an objectivist and believes that morality is about rationally maximizing your own self-interest. I assume most people in this thread are not objectivists or egoists* of any variety. And hence there is a huge, massive inferential gap between Vox and many others in the comment thread.

            I am not really sure there is a point to arguing if X is “moral” if the participants have radically different conceptions of morality.

            *I think blanktrance identifies as an egoist of some variety. Though his definition of “morality” seems to be something like “the set of rules all rational agents would agree to.” Which is different from how Rand presented morality.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ hlynkacg:

            Are all of the of these promises to be dropped the moment they become inconvenient to keep?

            Sure, if you change “inconvenient to keep” to “rationally not worth keeping”, and keep in mind that this includes the social and legal consequences. Which, as I have said repeatedly, should not be zero.

            In the course of socially and legally punishing people who break promises, those actors should exercise rational judgment about the reasonability of the promise, whether breaking it was justified or excused, and whether there were any mitigating factors if not.

            “No excuses! You said Mexican food or die, so death it is!” is not an optimal policy. It’s not even a halfway decent policy.

            You want to argue that betting your life on something as trivial as eating Mexican food is stupid? I agree, but people are killed by their own stupidity all the time. The lesson here is don’t bet your life on something trivial.

            We’re not talking about whether you should bet your life on something trivial. Clearly you should not.

            The question is whether, having bet it and lost, you should pay up. Clearly you should not.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Vox Imperatoris says: The question is whether, having bet it and lost, you should pay up. Clearly you should not.

            And my response is that clearly you should.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ hlynkacg:

            And my response is that such a course of action is obviously insane.

            I gave an argument as to why “We should hold people to any arbitrary promises, no matter how irrational they are” is not a good general rule. But even if you think it is a perfectly fine general rule, that is no reason for a given person not to commit suicide in this way if he can avoid it.

            As an analogy, the argument that it is a good general rule to punish plagiarists is not the same as an argument that, if you commit plagiary, you ought to turn yourself in. Except the argument that you should turn yourself in for plagiary is decently strong in an environment where incentives are not set up totally perversely.

            The fabric of society is not based on holding people to completely irrational promises.

          • Frank McPike says:

            Interestingly, the view that we have a moral duty to honor our legal contracts is by no means an uncontroversial one within the field of contract law. In fact, I would guess that it is a minority view.

            Why? Because often breach of contact is economically efficient. Suppose A contracts with B to purchase a service from B for $800, and A values that service at $900. The next day, B meets C, who offers $1000 for the same service (which C values at $1100). If B only has enough time to work for either A or C, is he obligated to work for A?

            Consider that if B breaches his contract with A, works for C instead, and compensates A with the $900 of value he lost out on, plus $25 for the inconvenience, all three parties would be better off. (And more value would be created regardless of whether B actually compensated A.)

            For this reason (and perhaps other reasons) American contract law usually doesn’t treat breach of contract as a moral wrong that needs to be punished, but rather looks for concrete damages that need to be compensated. We could imagine a system that heavily penalized breaches of contract, and disincentivized them from happening at all, but economists have pretty compellingly argued that we would all be worse off under such a system. So instead we have a system that actually rewards people for breaching contracts when that breach is efficient.

            Robert Ligouri argues that the modern economic system is reliant on people keeping their word. But that’s not exactly true; it’s reliant upon people either keeping their word or paying damages if they don’t.

            Arguably, the best way of dealing with an efficient breach situation is for B to just approach A and negotiate with him for release of his contractual duty (and sometimes courts will hold parties to the specific terms of a contract merely to force this negotiation will happen). But, equally, sometimes it proves necessary to breach first and make amends later. My point is simply that there’s no presumption in contract law that breach is inherently a bad thing.

            Now, it still could be argued that some agreements, like marriage or personal promises, should be treated differently. But there are at least some commonalities. Vox Imperatoris’ example of a date who arrives late because she stopped to help a drowning man is a classic instance of someone creating value by breaching a contract. So, too, would be two married people who realize that they hate each other and would be happier with others.

            Would we be better in a culture that held people to all promises, regardless of how ill-advised they might turn out to be? Probably in some cases. But making it a general rule would most likely leave us all worse off.

          • Anaxagoras says:

            Mostly @hlynkacg:
            Out of curiosity, in your model of the world, what happens if someone makes two promises, which later come into direct conflict with each other? Does it matter at all how reasonable it is to think that they might clash at some point in the future?

            Also, what happens if someone makes a promise that they then find out was grounded on false premises?

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Vox

            No, you gave a general argument about how we shouldn’t hold people to promises that they find inconvenient / unprofitable.

            I don’t think you appreciate just how irrational inconvenient and unprofitable most of the promises that make up “the fabric of society” really are when viewed at the level of individual agents.

            The fabric of society really is based on holding people to irrational promises. In fact, it is often the most irrational promises that are the most critical.

            @ Frank McPike
            Your premises are incompatible with each other. Without breach of contract being a moral wrong, you have no grounds to seek damages.

            @ Anaxagoras asks:
            Out of curiosity, in your model of the world, what happens if someone makes two promises, which later come into direct conflict with each other?

            You make a choice. You pick one to honor, and you accept the fact that the other might hold you accountable.

            Also, what happens if someone makes a promise that they then find out was grounded on false premises?

            If the promise was secured on the basis of conditions that are no longer (or never were) true, the promise is void. You might even want to consider seeking revenge against those who attempted to defraud you.

            On the other hand If the promise was based on imperfect knowledge, you are still bound.

          • JBeshir says:

            A concept related to this whole conversation is that of Efficient Breach, which holds that rather than all parties holding to all contracts they make come hell or high water, once a contract costs more to perform than it has value to the person you made it with, the correct thing to do is to breach it on purpose and compensate them for the loss.

            Take a fairly realistic scenario in which you promise to provide 10,000 people with a limited run item that only they will ever have, and you manufacture 10,500 of them, but then there’s an accident or a fire, and 700 of them are destroyed, beyond your margin for losses.

            It’s plausible you would find that it would be exceedingly expensive to do another production run to get the remaining 200, maybe the manufacturers you’re contracting with require you to make a full 10,000, of which, per terms of your promise, you would have to destroy 9,800.

            Efficient breach suggests you should compensate 200 people for the loss of their item, whereas sanctity of contract requires you manufacture the 9800 extra items and immediately destroy them because that’s the only way to meet your contract.

            As the name suggests, efficient breach is supposed to be a more efficient philosophy for running an economy, because it means that any time a contract is no longer worth honouring, parties can pay compensation instead. An economy with it is one which does not do wasteful expensive things any time something promised turns out to be wasteful and expensive and so not worth it for anyone.

            An alternative approach is to say that every contract or promise can be dissolved willingly by negotiating with the person it’s made with. The problem here is that you’re negotiating with 200 people, all of which have the incentive to try to capture not compensation but the full benefit to you of not manufacturing the 9800 extra items. With coordination problems, or even one person overestimating how much they can get from you, you’d be forced to do the wasteful run. It seems likely that most of the time people would just do the wasteful run.

            At any rate, in practice, law runs on efficient breach rather than sanctity of contracts, which suggests that there’s no manner in which it will Destroy The Proper Working Of Society to permit breaking of ‘stupid’ promises, subject to compensation.

          • Nita says:

            An interesting complication here is that the pregnancy itself literally changed her mind before she could stop it.

            Perhaps individuals who produce such apparently mind-altering biological material should be expected not to negligently deposit it inside anyone’s body. 🙂

          • Frank McPike says:

            @hlycakg
            “The fabric of society really is based on holding people to irrational promises.”

            You keep saying that, but it’s just not true. You already live in a society where the rule (at least as concerns legal contracts) is “Don’t hold people to the terms of irrational promises.” Our entire economy, virtually every business dealing, rests on promises made under that rule. And it works fine.

            (And even if you don’t think our economy works fine, that’s probably not the reason.)

            Are my premises incoherent? Well, they’re not my premises, they’re the premises of modern contract law. But there’s no incoherence. Why would we award damages only to people who have experienced a moral wrong? Damages are compensations for a harm, and they are paid by the party who caused that harm. But that doesn’t mean that it was wrong to cause the harm. Sometimes causing a harm is the right thing to do; for example, when a harmful activity brings benefits that meaningfully outweigh the harm. Efficient breach is such a case.

            It’s perfectly coherent to say “There’s no moral wrong in breaching a contract as long other parties end up compensated for the actual harm done by the breach.” It’s even coherent to say “There’s no moral wrong in an efficient breach, regardless of whether the injured party is compensated, but in the interest of long-term stability or fraud prevention it’s important that compensation is actually made in most or all cases.” Once we establish that, the goal of the legal system as concerns contracts becomes to ensure that the compensation is paid, while being relatively indifferent to whether the specific terms of contracts are fulfilled.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Vox
            >The question is whether, having bet it and lost, you should pay up. Clearly you should not.
            If morality were just about following our instincts on what’s ethical or not, we wouldn’t have these discussions, we’d just follow our whims. When I feel that producing paperclips is immoral, I don’t want to be convinced that it’s not, I just want people to stop producing paperclips (I enter ethics discussions because I want to enforce my morality on other people regardless of their own ethics systems). So it’s generally about what behavior we as a society should punish or encourage. From the standpoint of the individual killing oneself is clearly insane, and without sufficient indoctrination in our society’s chosen ethical framework he won’t do it. Which is why we fetishize promises and punish oathbreakers who trade communal goodwill for their own benefit. This makes breaking oaths non-rational, because you know you’ll get punished for being unethical, as opposed to just everyone cheering and going “way to screw over that retard who trusted you”. We used to do that as far as punishing family, exactly so that people whose lives are on the line have more than just shame and guilt “motivating” them (wouldn’t be necessary if all people could be bent by shame alone).

            Arguing that breaking promises is not immoral means pushing for society to stop slapping oathbreakers, which is clearly a bad idea. At the very least it’s an attempt to remove the guilt you feel when breaking a promise, which is part of said punishment.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            I agree that discussing questions of morality is not about simply following our initial whims. There are two questions being answered:

            a) The primary question: how should I personally live my life?

            b) The secondary and derivative question: what social rules, if put in place, would be most conducive to allowing me to live and flourish in the appropriate way?

            The point as relates to this discussion is that an absolute prohibition on “oathbreaking”, one which does not take into account context and justification, is not a good rule for society, nor is it beneficial for any particular person practicing it.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yeah, I agree that having “never break promises ever” is a bad norm, I do like my employment contracts unenforceable if they say I’m forbidden from ever working again if I quit this company. Just felt like chiming in that the fact that individuals would be irrational to follow through on a promise to kill themselves does not automatically mean that we shouldn’t berate/punish them for defecting in those cases, since it isn’t about what’s rational for the individual at all.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            Just felt like chiming in that the fact that individuals would be irrational to follow through on a promise to kill themselves does not automatically mean that we shouldn’t berate/punish them for defecting in those cases, since it isn’t about what’s rational for the individual at all.

            Yes, all we have in such a case is a conflict of interests. It is certainly possible that people can commit certain actions that cause their interests to be misaligned with those of everyone else.

            For instance, if you commit murder and are surely facing the death penalty, there is perhaps little reason for you to turn yourself in. (Except maybe to end the stress of being on the run.) That doesn’t mean there’s no reason for other people to try to catch you.

          • Anonymous says:

            What about the idea of having a public register of people who oathbreak? No penalty otherwise.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            There is no reason such a service can’t be provided on the private market like any other service.

            Yelp, Ebay reviews, Amazon reviews, there’s even been an app created recently to review people. Honesty is not the only factor covered by such reviews, but neither is it the only factor that people care about in dealing with others.

            If there were a government database of “oathbreakers”, it would be gamed and abused. A similar thing has happened with the sex offender registry.

          • John Schilling says:

            If there were a private database of oathbreakers, it also would be gamed and abused. Largely by extortionists, very likely including the database’s administrators.

          • Anonymous says:

            @VI

            You have a point. But these things seem to be abused/trolled even in private hands. Is there a way to make this actually resilient against abuse/trolling?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ John Schilling:

            Yes, there is that potential. It is mitigated by not having a centralized government database, so that there is competition.

            If a rating system is known to be untrustworthy, people will tend to move away from it.

            @ Anonymous:

            Competition and the profit motive.

            Amazon, for instance, has extensive experience in coming up with measures to stop people gaming reviews because they have a commercial interest in providing people honest reviews, for which there is a demand.

          • JBeshir says:

            Yelp, Uber ratings (“5 for 5”), Amazon reviews, and other private systems indeed *are* exploited and abused and subject to fraud and it isn’t uncommon for there to be bias in reporting mechanisms and similar in the direction of whatever the database administrator’s interests are.

            On the other hand they remain useful. They have to remain useful, or go out of business. It’s analogous to Google results; at the end of the day it has to serve something of value to the people using it, and nothing can be allowed to compromise that. If that means limiting abuse, it means limiting abuse; if it means being “unfair” in order to solve a problem it means being unfair.

            I would be concerned that a public-run system would not have enough of the same kind of active pressure to remain useful. There’s no theoretical reason why political administrations couldn’t incentivise their managers the same way companies do, it’s the same principal-agent problem, but in practice they aren’t normally nearly as good and you usually take a quality hit.

            Maybe because we don’t have governmental equivalents of per-division revenue vs cost effects. If polling was sufficiently fine-grained that problems in a public-run reputation system causing loss of public goodwill to the administration were picked up on and resulted in the person managing that system losing their bonus, maybe a public-run reputation system would work okay. But we don’t.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Frank McPike & JBeshir

            The thing that you are both failing to grasp is that contract law is predicated on the idea that society will punish breaches and award damages. Using it to argue that we shouldn’t punish breaches of contract or award damages misses the entire point of having contracts in the first place.

            As Anon noted above, Arguing that breaking promises is not immoral means pushing for society to stop slapping oathbreakers.

            Society really is based on promises that are irrational. Because, when viewed at the level of individual agents, the most rational thing for an agent to do is to defect. This is ESPECIALLY true in cases where you know that those around you feel inclined to cooperate.

            Why do people pay damages for breach of contract rather laughing in the other parties face?

            Because we “fetishize promise keeping” and have a nasty impulse towards stringing up the defectors form lamp-posts.

          • JBeshir says:

            I’m not failing to grasp that; I was explicit that efficient breach involved payment of compensation. I never argued compensation shouldn’t be paid. I argued in favour of paying whatever sensible amount of compensation was due rather than following stupid promises to kill yourself because you ate/didn’t eat Mexican food or whatever.

            I’m not sure what the confusion here is. I think it might be that you’re assuming that to have compensation you need to declare it Immoral And Always Wrong, with the only alternative being that it’s Always Okay and no one is wronged so no one can have compensation and promises are totally worthless.

            This isn’t the case; it is possible to have rules other than simple deontological good/bad classification of actions. In particular, you can have rules for compensation and damages and if you really want even a punitive disincentive component to cover transaction costs or unspecified disruption or whatever else, and then say that breaking a ‘stupid’ promise is a morally okay thing to do, provided you’re willing to pay all of those. And that’s what’s advocated here.

            In the case of contract law, it is a particular instance of such rules, and doesn’t rest on any external deontological good/bad classification.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ hlynkacg:

            The thing that you are both failing to grasp is that contract law is predicated on the idea that society will punish breaches and award damages. Using it to argue that we shouldn’t punish breaches of contract or award damages misses the entire point of having contracts in the first place.

            I don’t know what it takes to drill this into your head, but no one is saying that we should never enforce any contracts or that we should stop awarding damages! Let me repeat that: no one is saying that we should never enforce any contracts or that we should stop awarding damages!

            How about a third time? No one is saying that we should never enforce any contracts or that we should stop awarding damages!

            Is the message clear, or do three other people have to keep repeating it to you?

            What is the argument being made? What is the actual status quo? That unconscionable (i.e. extremely irrational) contracts should not be enforced, and that breaches of contract should be allowed if damages are paid.

            Stop arguing against the strawman position that no contracts should ever be enforced. Please.

            Society really is based on promises that are irrational. Because, when viewed at the level of individual agents, the most rational thing for an agent to do is to defect. This is ESPECIALLY true in cases where you know that those around you feel inclined to cooperate.

            In such a case, defecting is irrational precisely because you know other people will punish you. No one is saying that you ought to be able to take money for delivery of 500 TVs, fail to deliver the TVs once you have the money, then run away with the cash with no consequences. No one is saying that!

            I refer you to the examples given of efficient breach for what people are actually talking about.

            Why do people pay damages for breach of contract rather laughing in the other parties face?

            If they don’t, they will get sued. In an uncivilized environment where no legal recourse is available, no one will make deals with them again.

            This does not represent the keeping of an irrational promise.

            Why do fire-fighters risk life and limb to pull people out of a burning building instead of roasting marshmallows?

            If it’s for-profit firefighting (which most, of course, aren’t), then if they don’t save their customers they will lose all their other customers.

            This does not represent the keeping of an irrational promise.

            Edit: plus everything JBeshir just said.

          • Randy M says:

            VI:

            Anyway, I’ve gone through this several times with you in the past. Why do you want a reputation for making and keeping foolish promises? That is not beneficial.

            Really? I don’t recall, except for one thread about marriage in particular, which hinged on whether marital vows are still understood literally.

            Basically I think our disagreement is this: You feel that one’s personal happiness is sufficient to trump moral/ethical considerations, provided that one is well and truly sure of the consequences, and I disagree.

            We both think that external circumstances can change, rendering keeping one’s word undesireable, and often there are unstated caveats that are understood and agreed upon (though that can get you into trouble if they aren’t). “I told you I would pick you up from the airport, but a friend was going into labor and I was the only one around to help, I’m sorry for the trouble this caused you, I hope you agree that there was an unstated clause releasing me in life or death situations.” Valid. “Sorry I wasn’t there for you, but on deep and honest reflection, I realize I don’t care enough about you to spend two hours in traffic, have a nice life.” Invalid.

            Also, you somehow think you can have obligations to yourself that you cannot release yourself from. I don’t really think this is a standard usage of the term. “You owe it to yourself” is a figure of speech (ironically, one usually deployed to convince one to discharge legitimate obligations).

            Also, also I don’t want a reputation for keeping foolish promises; I want a reputation for giving promises carefully but being utterly reliable thereafter, and making plenty of hedged statements of intent for the inbetween cases. I’m probably not nearly as good at this as I intend.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            @Vox Imperatoris

            Where does the idea of other people’s being responsible even enter the picture? Who’s saying that?

            I don’t know what it takes to drill this into your head, but no one is saying that we should never enforce any contracts or that we should stop awarding damages!

            zensunni couch-potato seems to pretty clearly believe that because one agent knew a promise could be broken that the other agent is entitled to maximize the harm caused by the broken promise. They’re not the only poster making such intimations.

            The “fetishization of keeping promises” is a heuristic used to help people avoid ruining themselves with expensive breaches of contract while also minimizing the overhead on both enforcement methods for compensation and increased unreliability from breaches of contract.

            You pick a lot of examples that fail to explain how the other party is being compensated for the broken promises (“I make a vow to eat Mexican food every day for the rest of my life” to who? In exchange for what?). Combined with the occasional flippant descriptions of the pro-keeping-promises side, you come across as a lot more “fuck commitments” than “there are situations where breaking a promise provides enough benefit that, after compensating all involved parties for consequences of the broken promise, everyone is at least as well off as before, and that doing so is justified if and only if all involved parties are sufficiently compensated”.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ InferentialDistance:

            zensunni couch-potato seems to pretty clearly believe that because one agent knew a promise could be broken that the other agent is entitled to maximize the harm caused by the broken promise. They’re not the only poster making such intimations.

            It seems to me that none of those people are saying “we should have no laws, no contracts, no commitments; just chaos and anarchy.” Rather, they are saying that, in the interest of the child, a father ought to be unable to disclaim his responsibility as a parent. I disagree with them, but they are not saying people are, as a general rule, entitled to break promises and “maximize the harm” caused.

            Indeed, rather than denying the validity of commitments, they are saying that the agreement on the part of the father to have sex constitutes irrevocable agreement to pay for the upbringing of any resulting children.

            The “fetishization of keeping promises” is a heuristic used to help people avoid ruining themselves with expensive breaches of contract while also minimizing the overhead on both enforcement methods for compensation and increased unreliability from breaches of contract.

            And my point is that this heuristic is taken way too far, to the point of foolishness.

            It’s equivalent to saying that, since some men are rapists and since accused rapists have a strong incentive to lie, we should convict all accused rapists regardless of the evidence. That’s a heuristic: a very foolish one.

            You pick a lot of examples that fail to explain how the other party is being compensated for the broken promises (“I make a vow to eat Mexican food every day for the rest of my life” to who? In exchange for what?).

            To anyone, for nothing in return, was the original intent of my example.

            It was a deliberately ridiculous example. What I expected to hear in return was people saying “No, I agree that such a promise shouldn’t be enforced. There’s a line to be drawn somewhere to rule out unreasonable promises, but we perhaps disagree on where it is.” Instead, I got a certain person zealously defending this ridiculous example, even when I made it more extreme, into “Mexican food or death”.

            Combined with the occasional flippant descriptions of the pro-keeping-promises side, you come across as a lot more “fuck commitments” than “there are situations where breaking a promise provides enough benefit that, after compensating all involved parties for consequences of the broken promise, everyone is at least as well off as before, and that doing so is justified if and only if all involved parties are sufficiently compensated”.

            I don’t know how I can be interpreted as “coming across” that way, since I explicitly said the latter multiple times. But sure, just to be clear: my position is not “fuck commitments”.

            I was using examples of absolutely crazy commitments because some people were defending even those. If, on the other hand, we agree that certain promises are insane and shouldn’t be kept, we can have a more useful discussion on where the line ought to be drawn.

            @ Randy M:

            “Sorry I wasn’t there for you, but on deep and honest reflection, I realize I don’t care enough about you to spend two hours in traffic, have a nice life.” Invalid.

            In the context of the date, what’s the harm being done here?

            It seems to me like “actually, I realized that I don’t enjoy your company” is a valid “unstated caveat” to a promise to meet someone for a date. We’re not talking about a prostitute or something; the expectation is that both parties are going to enjoy it.

            In that case, the other person is certainly going to break up with you, but that seems to be what one expects to happen from saying something like that.

            If the other person has gone ahead and bought tickets to the game/movie/play, the decent thing to do would be to compensate them. And to let them know ahead of time instead of standing them up.

            Of course you should try to only agree to go on dates with people you actually like. And if you cancel on people repeatedly, you’re going to be rightly perceived as “flaky” and unlikable. But having agreed to go on a date with someone you don’t like, I don’t think you should compound it by leading them on.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            JBeshir says: I was explicit that efficient breach involved payment of compensation…

            Yes you were, but giving people the option to freely ignore contractual terms naturally includes the option to ignore terms like “I will pay Y in damages if I fail to X”. “Efficient breach” only works because the contract is being enforced to begin with.

            Vox Imperatoris says: my position is not “fuck commitments”.

            No your position was explicitly stated as The only obligation you have is to do what is in your interest.

            To which I replied that 99 times out of 100 it would be in your (and many others’) interest to say “fuck commitment”

            My point this whole time has bee that the only stopping everyone from doing things stopping people is the very threats of retribution and fetishization of promises keeping that you claim to be opposed to.

            You’re trying to have your cake and eat it too.

            You want the freedom to ignore contracts when it’s in your interests to do so, (which is such a low bar that it might as well be underground) but still enjoy the benefits of living in a society where promise keeping is strictly enforced.

            As for the fire fighters; By your own metric it’s better to have a reputation for making and breaking foolish promises than to be dead or stuck doing something really unpleasant. (Like convalescing in a burn ward).

            Municipal / public fire fighters don’t even have the threat of loose all their customers to encourage compliance which means that they are even more irrational and insane than the for-profit companies.

            What was that you were saying about “The fabric of society is not based on holding people to completely irrational promises” again?

          • Vox, this is why you shouldn’t use reduction to absurdity online. You’re extremely likely to find someone who disagrees with you about what’s absurd.

          • JBeshir says:

            The ability to efficient breach doesn’t include the ability to ignore damages resulting from efficient breach, because the owing of compensation is not due to terms in the contract, but due to contract law itself, and directly specified by a court’s instructions.

            IANAL but approximately, breaching contract terms gets you a civil case, whereas ignoring a court order probably gets you contempt of court or something and a prison cell until you comply, or bailiffs taking your stuff. Exactly what the law decides to do might depend on the terms (like if they specify process for handling breach) but the structure remains the same; being ordered by a court to do something is not the same as being contracted to do it.

            Socially, it being accepted for someone to say “I know I said I’d give you a lift to X, but I’m really busy today, here’s money for a taxi” does not mean that “I know I said I’d take you to X, but I’m really busy today, so meh” has to be equally acceptable. The making-it-right-as-resolution mechanic isn’t something treated as just another promise, but as a norm in itself.

            Not everything boils down to contract terms and promises. Not every commitment is equal; contracts and promises are not as binding as overarching norms about how contracts and promises are handled.

            Edit: And naturally, the alternative world with no efficient breach, where they can go “No, I demand you give me that ride or else pay me $150 to release you from the promise or else you’re a bad person.”, and be taken seriously, is not the one we live in.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            JBeshir says: The ability to efficient breach doesn’t include the ability to ignore damages resulting from efficient breach…

            I never said that it did.

            What I said was that giving people the ability to ignore contractual obligations at will naturally gives them the ability to ignore things like damages resulting from efficient breach.

            You’re taking it as a given that contracts will be enforced when whether or not contracts can or should be enforced is the very matter under debate.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ hlynkacg:

            What I said was that giving people the ability to ignore contractual obligations at will naturally gives them the ability to ignore things like damages resulting from efficient breach.

            Good thing no one is arguing for giving people “the ability to ignore contractual obligations at will”. You are clearly not engaging with anything anyone else is actually saying, just with the strawman versions of them in your head.

            It doesn’t matter how often and in what detail they explain how you’re misunderstanding them; you keep going back to the same talking points.

            Learn to read. Christ!

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Vox Imperatoris says: You are clearly not engaging with anything anyone else is actually saying, just with the strawman versions of them in your head….

            …Learn to read.
            There is so much irony in this accusation that it is practically magnetic

            Your position was explicitly stated as “The only obligation you have is to do what is in your interest”.

            If I have misread you please say so now.

            Once again I respond…
            This position clearly precludes any sort of promise or contractual obligation as promises and contracts themselves are the mechanism by which we (as a society) convince people to do things that are not in their individual interest.

            My point this whole time, the point that you still don’t seem to grasp is that that “99 times out of 100 it will be in an individual’s interest to say “fuck commitment”. The only reason they don’t is that we as a society have decided to punish defectors and elevate promise keeping. Something that you’ve said that you are opposed to.

            You can’t have it both ways.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ hlynkacg:

            If I have misread you please say so now.

            You have, totally and repeatedly. I refer you back to my previous comments. For instance, take this one:

            In such a case, defecting is irrational precisely because you know other people will punish you. No one is saying that you ought to be able to take money for delivery of 500 TVs, fail to deliver the TVs once you have the money, then run away with the cash with no consequences. No one is saying that!

            You say:

            Once again…
            This clearly trumps any promise or contractual obligation as promises and contracts themselves are the mechanism by which we (as a society) convince people to do things that are not in their individual interest.

            No, our enforcement of contracts and social rules encouraging the keeping of promises is the means by which we cause honoring those contracts and promises to be in those individuals’ self-interest.

            My point this whole time, the point that you still don’t seem to grasp is that that “99 times out of 100 it will be in an individual’s interest to say “fuck commitment”.

            No, it will not be. Let’s go back to the firefighter example you keep misusing:

            As for the fire fighters; By your own metric it’s better to have a reputation for making and breaking foolish promises than to be dead or stuck doing something really unpleasant. (Like convalescing in a burn ward).

            Municipal / public fire fighters don’t even have the threat of loose all their customers to encourage compliance which means that they are even more irrational and insane than the for-profit companies.

            The deal for the firefighters is like this: people pay them in advance so that, if their houses ever catch on fire, the firefighters come and put it out, even take the measures necessary to rescue them.

            If the firefighters take the money, then decide it’s “not worth it” to rescue some of their customers, then all their other customers will cancel the service. Why pay for firefighters who can’t be relied upon to come and do their jobs? Not to mention that, if they fail to honor their commitment, they will be on the hook for any resulting damages, whether that is loss of property or loss of life.

            As for non-profit firefighters, similar considerations apply. They will get fired, or people will stop donating to them. If they actually have no incentive to go and fight fires, then they shouldn’t—but then the system is set up very poorly, and the problem is with the system.

            If they are indeed throwing their lives away for no reason, that would be irrational. But the provision of firefighting in no way depends upon such altruistic motives.

            The only reason they don’t is the fact that we as a society have decided to punish defectors and elevate promise keeping. Something that you’ve said you are opposed to.

            For Christ’s sake, I have not said that I am opposed to promise keeping or the honoring of contracts. I said it three goddamn times in a row; how many more times is it necessary to say it?

            I don’t know what it takes to drill this into your head, but no one is saying that we should never enforce any contracts or that we should stop awarding damages! Let me repeat that: no one is saying that we should never enforce any contracts or that we should stop awarding damages!

            How about a third time? No one is saying that we should never enforce any contracts or that we should stop awarding damages!

            The problem is that, as JBeshir has pointed out, you seem to have the idea that contracts/promises must either be Always Enforced No Matter How Insane or else Mere Words With No Effect At All.

            Here is what I have actually been saying:

            a) You should make promises and contracts with the intention of keeping them.
            b) But sometimes, people make unconscionable promises/contracts that were never reasonable, or the situation changes such that keeping the promise/contract is no longer reasonable.
            c) Social pressure should condemn people who break reasonable promises/contracts but not people who break unreasonable ones.
            d) You should never be able to break a contract without paying the damages caused to the other party by breaking it.

            You can’t have it both ways.

            I am not trying to assert contradictory things.

            I am not “opposed to promise-keeping”. I am in favor of the keeping of reasonable promises and opposed to the keeping of unreasonable promises.

            If someone promises to deliver 500 TVs, then takes the money and runs away, I think that person ought to be punished. That is fraud. Civilization indeed does depend on such reasonable promises’ being kept and enforced.

            If someone promises to eat Mexican food every day or be put to death then skips a day, I do not think that person ought to be put to death. That is an unconscionable agreement. Enforcing it would be irrational. The fabric of society in no way depends on enforcing such agreements.

            There is no contradiction between these two positions. I am saying it’s a matter of judgment, not “Promises—Always Keep ‘Em or Always Break ‘Em?” That is what I meant by the “fetishization of promise-keeping”: taking the principle of keeping promises out of context, out of the sphere of rational judgment, and turning it into a deontological rule that they must always be kept at any cost no matter what.

            Is my position now clear to you? If you were reading me honestly and came to the conclusions you did, I apologize. But you really seem to be in the habit of jumping to negative conclusions.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            @Vox
            You may not have explicitly said that youought to be able to take money for delivery of 500 TVs, fail to deliver the TVs once you have the money but that is the world that your assertion that “The only obligation you have is to do what is in your interest” coupled with your opposition to society’s enforcement mechanisms naturally leads to.

            That is why I keep telling you that you can’t have it both ways.

            Something has to give. You either accept that there are obligations beyond one’s own interest, or you have to take a hard line stance on promise keeping and contract enforcement (even the unreasonable ones). Otherwise the only rational choice is to defect.

            As for the Firefighters…

            people pay them in advance so that, if their houses ever catch on fire, the firefighters come and put it out, even take the measures necessary to rescue them.

            Agreed, and yet according to you that is insanity.

            Objectively there is very little difference between promising to die in a fire and promising to die if you don’t to eat Mexican food. (granted, qualitatively is a different story) In either case, sticking to the contract means accepting the very real chance that you might die as a result. In the end, either both contracts are enforceable or neither are, because as you yourself said. it’s better to have a reputation for making and breaking foolish promises than to be dead or stuck doing something really unpleasant. (like convalescing in a burn-ward)

            That is what I meant when I said that the fabric of society really is based on holding people to irrational promises. and that It’s often the most irrational promises that are the most critical.

          • You may not have explicitly said that you ought to be able to take money for delivery of 500 TVs, fail to deliver the TVs once you have the money but that is the world that your assertion that “The only obligation you have is to do what is in your interest” coupled with your opposition to society’s enforcement mechanisms naturally leads to.

            What “opposition to society’s enforcement mechanisms”? Unless you live in a society radically different to mine, the comment you linked to doesn’t say anything of the sort. (In other words: whatcha talkin bout Willis?)

            In the end, either both contracts are enforceable or neither are,

            Where I live, at least, neither are. The most you can do to a firefighter who refuses to risk his life is dismiss him, and perhaps some kind of financial penalty. You can’t force him into a burning building at gunpoint. Do you think you should be able to?

          • Frank McPike says:

            @hlynkacg

            Simply because someone rejects the statement “Breaking a promise is immoral in all cases” (which is your position, I take it) does not mean that they therefore must adopt the position “Breaking a promise is immoral in no cases.”

            There are possible middle grounds, such as “Breaking a promise is immoral in most cases but isn’t immoral in some cases.” As far as I can tell, everyone in this conversation who has disagreed with you occupies precisely that middle ground position.

            By analogy, it’s possible to take the position that “Killing humans is immoral in all cases.” Many people do adopt such a position. But it would be utterly misguided for them to assume that anyone who disagreed with them thought that “Killing humans is immoral in no cases.” There are good arguments for complete pacifism but “If you reject pacifism you must therefore believe killing is always justified” is not one of them. Nor is asserting that the adoption of complete pacifism is the only way to prevent constant killing.

            And that’s what I find most perplexing about your arguments. The position endorsed by JBeshir, Vox Imperatoris, and myself (namely, “Breaking a promise is immoral in most cases but isn’t immoral in some cases”) is, as has been previously pointed out, already the position of American law. And horrific consequences have failed to result, even though an effective loss of the ability to meaningfully promise at all would probably have made itself known by now.

            But it’s not only the majority position in American law, it’s also the view of most of society not only now, but at every point in American history. No amount of time travel would lead you back to a simpler, more honest era where people would solemnly nod along with you if you insisted that someone kill himself for failing to eat a burrito a day, no matter how confidently that person had pledged to do one or the other.

            Underlying your arguments seems to be some kind of assumption that the position being espoused here leads to some kind of inevitable institutional decay, or a slippery slope into complete societal collapse. But even a cursory knowledge of how promising worked in the past would disabuse you of that notion.

            Most of our knowledge about how older systems of promises worked come from legal systems, and there you see a lot of variation. Roman law allowed for many different types of promise, some more binding that others (even the strictest allowed fraud as a defense; others were more like a rough commitment to a particular course of action backed by a stronger guarantee of good faith; most required some kind of set ritual to become binding at all). Early canon law was more or less a reconstruction of the Roman system, and included some kind of requirement of “just price” in order to be meaningful at all; contracts that went too far astray from market price or common sense were questionable (this was in part motivated by fear of fraud, and in part motivated by a general belief that profit was bad, and that too much profit was itself morally questionable).

            Then you get to Aquinas, who genuinely did believe that all promises were absolutely binding. Two notes, though: First, that really wasn’t a majority view until Aquinas. Second, even after Aquinas, the canon law did not fully reflect his views, and meaningful debates over the enforceability of contracts continued. (Presently, the canon law acknowledges many circumstances in which promises are not binding: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_P4E.HTM)

            As to (secular) civil law, the Aquinas-style hard line on promise-breaking was rarely (if ever) adopted. English common law, of course, introduced the doctrine of unconscionability. In Spain, Las Siete Partidas went further, allowing anyone under twenty-five to void a contract that turned out not to advance his interests. Grotius and Pufendorf, in their treatises on natural law, each allow at least some circumstances where parties are not bound to perform promises (and Pufendorf draws a distinction between ordinary promises and more-binding oaths). The Napoleonic Code allows contracts to be voided if there is a mistake as to a central matter (so does the English common law).

            Non-inviolable promises are the majority tradition in the Western world. This did not at any point lead to the collapse of society. Some of those limitations on enforcement were undoubtedly ill-advised, though evidently not ruinously so. Others are, as I have argued before, in the interests of society as a whole (not just selfish individuals who want to escape their own errors). The hypothesis that society will be torn asunder if we don’t all accept your principles has been put to the test many times over, and been consistently disproved.

            (Of course, I have omitted probably the most crucial limitation on contract enforceability under some of those laws, namely coverture, which effectively prevented married women from contracting. That is clearly a situation where many people genuinely were denied the ability to make meaningful contracts because they could not held to them at all. That is, I suspect, the doomsday scenario hlyncacg fears, and rightly so. But note, ending up there required a near-absolute limitation on enforcement. That’s extremely different from anything being proposed here.)

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Harry Johnston:

            I don’t think you understand what “enforcement” means. If it is immoral to demand that fire fighter put their lives on the line, it is equally immoral to sack a fire fighter for failing to do so.

            IOW If you can punish a fire fighter for failing to get burnt, you can punish our fan of Mexican food for failing to kill themselves as promised.

            @ Frank McPike
            Please read the previous comments.

            My issue is not that Vox “rejects the statement ‘Breaking a promise is immoral in all cases’” so much as the fact that she seats the bar for “Breaking a promise is a moral” so low that it might as well be underground.

            The middle ground in question isn’t a middle ground at all. It’s the difference between “every day” and “days ending in Y”.

            If you went before an American court and tried to argue that “I should be allowed to ignore contractual obligations when it is in my interests to do so.” the judge would bench-slap you so hard that your lawyer’s grandkids ears would feel it, and yet that is precisely the position that Vox has taken.

          • Nita says:

            @ hlynkacg

            You might have been misled by Vox’s unorthodox use of the terms “morality” and “self-interest”. If I understand correctly, the typical firefighter in Voxworld would think:

            1. Hmm, fire is dangerous. Walking into it might not be in my self-interest.
            2. But if I don’t try to help people, their surviving relatives will try to punish me, acting in their own self-interest. And my employer or a judge will cooperate with them, acting in their self-interest in turn.
            3. Therefore, walking into the fire is in my self-interest after all.

            It’s like the free-market capitalism of morality: “don’t try to optimize the system, just let every agent optimize for their own interests, and things will work out in the end”.

          • Frank McPike says:

            @hlynkacg
            As far as I can tell, you’re seriously misunderstanding Vox Imperatoris’ position. There’s a very big difference between “I should not keep a promise unless it’s in my self-interest” and “Promises should never be enforced through any mechanism.” It’s perfectly self-consistent to believe the former and not the latter. No one here has proposed that there should be no enforcement mechanism for promises (only that there are at least some promises not worth enforcing). Vox Imperatoris, as far as I can tell, has not taken the position “All promises that are not already in my self-interest should not be enforced.” And yet that is the position you seem to be ascribing to them.

            I think your key misunderstanding is “If it is immoral to demand that fire fighter put their lives on the line, it is equally immoral to sack a fire fighter for failing to do so.” That may be true in some moral systems (though I’ll note that American courts would treat the two quite differently).

            But it certainly can’t be true in a moral system founded on self-interest. Assume that any act in one’s self-interest is moral. If it’s genuinely in the interest of the firefighter not to enter the burning building (even after taking into account the consequences he will face), then refusing to do so is moral. Granted. But if it’s in the interest of that firefighter’s employer to fire him (and I imagine it would be) then obviously that action would be moral too. Clearly it wouldn’t be in the firefighter’s self-interest to be fired. But he’s not the one doing the firing.

            But let’s get to the real concern. Is self-interest truly incompatible with promise-keeping? Plenty of corporations have no motive other than self-interest for keeping their promises. And yet they are so reliable in keeping promises that our economic system works. You’ve probably contracted with entities that don’t care about you beyond whether they get your money, and I doubt you’ve been consistently burned. “Do self-interested agents keep their promises within our current system?” isn’t something we need to guess about. There’s a clear answer and that answer is “generally, yes.”

          • @hlynkacg: I think you need to define your terms, I’m finding it hard to tell what you’re trying to say.

            If it is immoral to demand that fire fighter put their lives on the line, it is equally immoral to sack a fire fighter for failing to do so.

            Depends what you mean by “demand”. “Do your job or we’ll fire you” is fine IMO, “do your job or I’ll shoot you” is not.

            IOW If you can punish a fire fighter for failing to get burnt, you can punish our fan of Mexican food for failing to kill themselves as promised.

            Depends what you mean by “punish”. Firing someone for failing to do their job isn’t a punishment by my definition of the word, and if you expand the definition enough to cover it, then that comes under the civil enforcement category that Frank has covered so thoroughly and which Vox has repeatedly asserted to be OK.

          • It seems to me that a lot of the clash and confusion in this thread comes from two different parts of Vox’s position:

            1. He has no objection to legal rules that impose costs on people for breaking contracts–indeed approves of such.

            2. He believes, if I correctly understand him, that all morality comes down to self-interest.

            I think people are taking the second point, not unreasonably, as implying that if he can break a contract without having costs imposed on him, whether because the legal system doesn’t have rules against such or because the rule won’t be enforced in his case, then he should do so if it is in his interest–and there is no obvious reason why it wouldn’t often be in his interest.

            This is the same problem sometimes referred to, in the context of arguments with Objectivists, as the prudent predator problem. Having rights respected benefits you. Respecting rights often benefits you. If you are in a situation where violating rights benefits you, should you feel free to do so?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Frank McPike:

            Thank your for your excellent, historically-informed posts.

            What you’re saying is exactly what I’ve been trying to say.

            I just want to emphasize that I am not advocating any kind of radical change in our practices of holding people to contracts and promises. It is hlynkacg who’s doing that. I am defending what is more or less the status quo. This whole discussion started when I merely remarked in passing that some people place an outsized emphasis on keeping promises—this was not a suggestion that we should stop keeping them.

            @ David Friedman:

            This is the same problem sometimes referred to, in the context of arguments with Objectivists, as the prudent predator problem. Having rights respected benefits you. Respecting rights often benefits you. If you are in a situation where violating rights benefits you, should you feel free to do so?

            Yes, and my answer to that is that such situations are uncommon.

            But I don’t believe that they are metaphysically impossible, unless you define rights such that they only apply in situations where there are no conflicts among them. For example, I think killing innocent civilians in war is an example of a possible situation where violating rights may be in one’s self-interest. You can avoid that by saying rights don’t apply to enemy civilians in war—but that’s tendentious.

            However, my general opinion is summed up in the passage I always quote from James Fitzjames Stephen:

            ‘You ought not to assassinate,’ means if you do assassinate God will damn you, man will hang you if he can catch you, and hate you if he cannot, and you yourself will hate yourself, and be pursued by remorse and self-contempt all the days of your life. If a man is under none of these obligations, if his state of mind is such that no one of these considerations forms a tie upon him, all that can be said is that it is exceedingly natural that the rest of the world should regard him as a public enemy to be knocked on the head like a mad dog if an opportunity offers, and that for the very reason that he is under no obligations, that he is bound by none of the ties which connect men with each other, that he ought to lie, and steal, and murder whenever his immediate interests prompt him to do so.

            Of course I don’t agree with the part about God—and I agree that this does weaken the case against committing murder—but it doesn’t weaken it enough to make committing murder good.

        • Frank, I think you’re missing that contracts do not cover all agreements and all scenarios, and trying to extend them into doing so would make real life prohibitive. In your scenario, the optimal behavior for a company in the supply line of a competitor should tactically breach their contract at a time when they can do the most damage to that company. And the first company would need to write their contracts not knowing the future, or would need to be constantly regeneotiating them.

          Do you game? Because you can see this model if you’ve ever played Diplomacy or Munchkin; as you approach the endgame, everyone scrabbles to win, alliances dissolve, the game becomes a Hobbsean war of all-against-all, for perfectly logical game-theoric reasons. We see this because in the toy model of the game, it’s expected that you will tactically default on agreements.

          Again, this does not lead to a strong and stable soceity. Imagine, if you would, if every economic agent you interacted with paid out with the reluctance of cut-rate insurers. Imagine if it becomes expected that companies will identify situations in which efficient breach will kill people they owe money to, and stand a good chance of removing those debts.

          We have models of how people behave when honor is not expected nor extended nor reciprocated. They are not particularly good worlds.

          • Frank McPike says:

            “In your scenario, the optimal behavior for a company in the supply line of a competitor should tactically breach their contract at a time when they can do the most damage to that company. ”

            Not if they will be forced to pay that company the damages that result from their breach. If that requirement is imposed (and it is) then they will breach (if they want to breach) at the time when they do the least damage to the other company.

            I agree that it would be unwise to release people who commit an efficient breach from the obligation of paying damages. But if they must pay actual damages, the problem you raise is solved, while still creating incentives for efficient breach.

            If firm A’s breach is capable of driving firm B out of business (killing them, I suppose), then there is a risk of real inefficiency, since B is unlikely to be able to sue A afterward. But note that this is a problem under any system of contract, even one that tolerated no breach (say, by dissolving any firm that ever breached a contract). If A can drive B out of business entirely, then A will never face consequences, no matter how severe they are. But that’s unrelated to the question of whether we should tolerate or encourage efficient breaches.

            (In any event, I’m not really making a policy proposal. I’m describing how the American contract system already works and pointing out that catastrophic consequences haven’t followed.)

          • Re: the consequences for tactical breach:

            That’s why the social consequences are important. Because the victim of the tactical breach often can’t retaliate, we distribute the negative consequences.

            And, as you say, our current system takes place under the assumption that people quickly stop doing business with known bad actors when given a choice. Again, what we have right now is a good system; contracts which represent a certain level of seriousness (a meeting of the minds, etc.) are enforced legally, and can be breached at penalty to both finance and reputation, but people who work at good-faith efforts to limit the harm from their breaches suffer little reputational damage, while people who revel in broken promises and use them tactically suffer great harm.

            However, this state of affairs does depend on people valuing their word and their reputation, because they know that soceity (and not just their bargaining partners) will shun them if they behave dishonorably.

        • Deiseach says:

          If there were a private database of oathbreakers

          Ashley Madison. Which demonstrated, to what should have been nobody’s surprise, that the owners and CEO of the site were not interested in “let us help you to have a little harmless fun on the side”, they were interested in milking the maximum amount of cash from the suckers out there.

          With many more men than women signing up, fake accounts for fake female users created to address this, and the whole business model of pay for chat, pay for gifts, etc., it was a great cash cow – until the inevitable happened, but even if it hadn’t been attacked in such a manner, I imagine there were a lot of users who signed up for the promise of being matched with married/partnered women looking for no-strings affairs, and who forked over a lot of cash under the marketing wiles of the business model and ended up with little to show for it.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            The point is not that, under a free market, there will be absolutely no scams. The point is that you aren’t forced to pay into them.

            Social Security is a scam, but that doesn’t give me the option to opt out of it.

          • nyccine says:

            That reminds me that the Social Security Administration used to have a FAQ about Ponzi Schemes, to explain how Social Security totes wasn’t one, for real you guys.

            It doesn’t look like it’s on the website anymore, which is a shame; it was always good for a laugh. Looks like the wayback machine has it, if you go all the way back to 2005.

        • Wrong Species says:

          You guys should listen to what @stargirlprincesss said. This argument is like a social conservative and a feminist arguing over the ethics of abortion without asking whether the fetus is a person. From the perspective of the conservative, abortion is murder. If you argue against that by pointing out how an unwanted child could harm a women then you aren’t really addressing the root of the problem. If they both hold radically different values, then neither one of them is going to be convinced by the other unless you deal with the larger issue.

          Vox, the people you are responding to probably don’t believe morality should just be used to help oneself. So if you believe that, then of course breaking an unreasonable promise makes sense. But they probably feel like they have a sense of duty to fulfill their promises that is more important than their own desires. Suggesting that it’s against their self-interest is missing the point.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Vox, the people you are responding to probably don’t believe morality should just be used to help oneself. So if you believe that, then of course breaking an unreasonable promise makes sense. But they probably feel like they have a sense of duty to fulfill their promises that is more important than their own desires. Pointing out that it’s against their interests is missing the point.

            Sure, that’s why I have consistently argued both that such a policy is neither in anyone’s self-interest nor in the general interest.

            If someone wants to argue that it’s good by some deontological standard totally divorced from any kind of benefit to individuals or society, fine. But by any standard connected to human life and happiness, I think it’s a bad idea.

          • stargirlprincesss says:

            @Vox I am sorry if I mis-represented you. The reason I felt you were speaking primarily from an objectivist perspective is you said things like this: “Why in the world ought you to keep such an agreement? By the nature of the case, there is nothing you could get out of it.”

            The above statement really only makes sense to say if you are assuming egoism.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ stargirlprincess:

            Sure, that’s fair. That particular statement does only make sense in that context.

            But I tried to emphasize as best I could that the wider sentiment is applicable in many contexts. Thus the comments about the “fabric of society”, etc.

      • JBeshir says:

        A phrase I’m fond of is “humans respond to incentives”, and that seems to be basically the standpoint being pushed by Caplan here. But another concept that I think is also missed a lot and I don’t have a brief summary for is that there’s already lots of incentives, rewards, and penalties in life, and before endorsing making incentives worse or better, or piling on yourself, you should assess what the current state of incentives is.

        The concern here about giving charity removing important incentive would be reasonable if they had not faced any other downside to going back on the promise than their current problems. But from the sound of it, they’ve had a really damned bad time already- including the loss of a partner- and there’s no call for people to pile on more disincentive.

        The structure of the situation is *already*, from other factors, such that anyone responding to incentives right will quietly try to avoid taking this course. No one needs to refrain from being kind to reinforce it further.

        I put some money in, and I’d encourage other people who want to help to not be deterred from doing it themselves.

    • What’s so unique about her situation that we need to discuss it? It’s nothing unheard of and it’s not new either.

      If you’re asking about promises, it’s depends on the consequences.

      Formal system: When people make promises, they enter a non-formal, mutually consensual social contract(c).
      That contract has two other variables, which are people(p) and situation(s).

      Axiom: the weight (value) of c varies between different contracts.
      Axiom: p and s might have some correlation, but it’s not clear how consistent this is.

      Can anyone improve on this? I’m tired.

  26. bean says:

    I was thinking recently about complaints that engineers do not spend enough time in the humanities/social sciences in college, and that such courses are needed to make us well-rounded. On a whim, I checked my alma matter’s catalog. It’s primarily an engineering school, but even so, an English major needs only 12 hours of math/sciences, while the theoretical requirement for an aerospace engineer is 24 hours of humanities/social sciences. This seems unfair, particularly as there don’t seem to be many restrictions on what kind of math/science classes they can count (which could thus include Math for Dummies), but I had to do literature and ethics.
    Thus, in the spirit in which they say we should have to take humanities/social science classes to be ‘well-rounded’, I have a proposal. I will stop complaining about my HSS requirements if they have to spend as much time doing STEM classes as I had to do on HSS. Oh, and they have to have Calc 1.
    Thoughts?

    Edit:
    Just to be clear, I’m not actually advocating for more STEM for people doing BAs, or defending HSS requirements for BSs. I’m pointing out the double standard.

    • As a (partly) HSS person, I support the idea that HSS could use a little more STEM in their diet too.

      • zz says:

        I am not a HSS person; please correct any incorrect guesses I’m making about them.

        I could stand HSS to be more mathematically literate. However, as things currently stand, there’s this standard ladder of math courses that starts with arithmetic and goes up to calculus and I want everyone who’s not a STEM type out after about arithmetic. I’m guessing that things like {solving equations, trigonometry, graphing conics, differentiation} provide them approximately zero value, but the fact many (most in many instances) of the students taking these courses aren’t STEM types means that the hard stuff, which takes work, gets removed. If the standard high school sequence were taught at the AoPS level, if calculus were taught at Apostol’s level, I’m guessing that HSS students would just fail really hard. So, it gets dumbed down and, really, everyone loses. HSS types spend a bunch of time memorizing a bunch of apparently meaningless rules (eg cos -> -sin, sin -> cos, tan -> sec^2, etc) and I get a 5 on the AP calculus exam without knowing the fundamental theorem of calculus, much less why it’s true.

        I don’t think this situation is unrescuable. My current best solution: draw a big red line in between “here’s some useful heuristics that fall out of mathematics, but be under no illusions that you’re mathematically literate” and “math for people who actually should know math”. The former can probably stop around arithmetic or so, and then learn about Bayes’ Rule with pictures of red and blue waterfalls and odds ratios and the latter group can get something like Jaynes’s treatment, which proves that probability theory is a unique consequence of about three desiderata.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          What kind of non-HSS person are you? I think you might be either underestimating how much maths is needed in engineering, or overestimating how good engineers are at maths.

        • bean says:

          As someone who did understand what the fundamental theorem of calculus was, and still got a 2 on my first try on the BC test (Taylor series made no sense, and I learned them and got a 5 on my second pass), it’s not quite that easy. I think this gets solved in a lot of places with Honors/Advanced math classes.

        • Agree most HSS people don’t have much maths skills. To be fair, I think calculus and related areas are near useless for most subjects on the HSS side of campus, and not really useful life skills either. Statistics, on the other hand, is actually quite useful/important in many HSS areas, and useful for making sensible judgments in many areas of life, but seems to be very under-taught (really wasn’t any different from high school stats where it was). I actually also think logic/fallacies/bias should be compulsory even outside philosophy too, because like calc in engineering its vital but not exactly the fun part and no-one wants to do it. Hence there is more nonsense coming out of the HSS side than there needs to be. Probably a little general science and maybe even a few weeks of programming wouldn’t hurt too. Maybe I’m getting carried away.

          While I think of it, having done a little philosophy, I will say I sometimes find the philosophical end of maths and QT to be pretty suspect, so I’d be keen to see a focus on practical techniques if possible. I realise this may be hypocritical considering I like the idea of STEM having a brief intro to the main philosophical ideas in HSS.

          I do agree HSS has a lot of SJ stuff that belongs in politics and not everywhere else. To be clear, I’m probably the only centre/centre-left person that still thinks this. *sigh*

          • lvlln says:

            I’m a far-leftist who thinks that also.

          • I assumed the far-left generally actively pushed the SJ stuff, so that’s a surprise to hear. Do you disagree with the SJ paradigm or just think politics should be mainly kept in politics class?

          • There was a far left long before SJ took hold.

            I know a communist who thinks SJ focuses way too much on emotions and too little on changes in material conditions.

          • JBeshir says:

            I tend to think of the left as a coalition between the Social Justice Left (centrally things like women’s lib, earlier civil rights movements, etc, with the modern Internet Social Justice thing an outgrowing of it) and the Welfare Left (which kinda further subdivides into Communists and Social Democrats).

            With overlap and resonance between each other, in the same way the right’s Social Conservative and Small Government Conservative subgroups have overlap and resonance.

            Someone being extreme in one of these groups doesn’t make them extreme in others, and in fact someone extreme in one probably thinks people in the others are missing where the *real* focus of the struggle ought to be.

            If I recall correctly, in the 70s feminism was for a while considered a bourgeoisie distraction from the real problems of class and economics by a significant amount of communist thought, for example. And even nowadays, the communist-leaning people I know are happy to view campus social justice stuff as silly and misdirected. Meanwhile a lot of SJ people probably think communism is dumb, or at the very least not focusing nearly enough on social justice issues.

            Not to understate the solidarity; Welfare Left and Social Justice Left are pretty intertwined. But the more extreme a thing is in one, the more likely people who principally think in terms of the other are at best going to be tolerating it and at worst may view it quite negatively, even at extremes.

          • lvlln says:

            @Citizensearth

            To answer your question, I have far-left ideals that match fairly closely with what SJWs tend to believe, with respect to how people should be treated and what the demographic makeup of society should look like. My ideals related to economic/political systems are also very far left, though I fall short of advocating communism. This is why I identify as a far leftist.

            However, I believe achieving these goals should be done in an honest and fact-based manner. And that’s why my perception is that that HSS has too many SJ stuff that belong in politics, not academia. I believe “having an accurate model of the world” is a goal that trumps “changing the world to match my ideals.” I perceive HSS as producing a lot of research that seem optimized for advocacy rather than more accurately modeling reality.

            I think it comes down to reasonable self-doubt. I have far-left ideals, and I believe, with as much confidence one can reasonably have, that I am right to have those ideals. Which is to say that I’m very very unsure, and I have a sneaking suspicion that my belief that my ideals are right is exactly as justified as Hitler’s belief that his ideals were right.

            Thus I want HSS to help me by giving me more information about the world. I don’t want HSS to feed me things that just make me feel good and righteous for believing what I believe – if I’m right, I want HSS to show me that I’m right, and if I’m wrong, I want HSS to show me that I’m wrong. Thus even though I strongly believe in SJ ideals, I also strongly object to HSS academia having SJ stuff that belong in politics.

          • This is the reason I come to the comments section of SSC. There’s a good number of people, from the left, right and centre, that have one thing in common – the truth comes before pushing an agenda. It’s not everyone here, but there’s quite a few. Gives me hope. 🙂

          • @Citizensearth:

            Your comment reminds me of a pattern I have seen several times recently elsewhere online:

            Someone makes a factual claim designed to support a general conclusion.

            I point out that the factual claim is false.

            He neither concedes that it is false nor defends it, but instead makes a different factual claim designed to support the same conclusion.

            After a few more exchanges, it becomes clear that he has concluded both that I disagree with the conclusion and that I am a member of a group ideologically opposed to the conclusion.

            (One such exchange was on Islam. The original poster concluded that I was a liberal committed to defending Islam due to my contradicting two false factual claims he made on the subject.)

            The obvious implication is that he sees the conclusion as what matters, isn’t interested in whether the claimed fact is true, and assumes that the only reason I would contradict him is that I disagree with the conclusion. It pretty clearly did not occur to him that I might object to false claims.

          • @David

            I feel the same way and find that frustrating too. It’s behavior that seems almost default amongst red and blue tribes, though with a fair number of exceptions. Come to think of it, I think grey tribe is like that too, but only for a much more limited number of sacred cows. I suppose its sort of natural instinct, but some people thankfully get infected with a truthiness meme that lifts them out of blind support for tribal doctrine (I hope I’m at least partly one of these people). Or maybe that just what the grey tribe doctrine wants us to think… 😛

        • Murphy says:

          I always breezed math classes but I kind of agree with you.

          There’s some kind of popular idea that forcing people to learn things of zero value to them is right and good. The idea that those people could spend the same time getting better at things that are either actually useful or actually interesting to them…. never seems to cross their mind.

          There’s big chunks even of the highschool math curriculum where I grew up which are obviously useless to 99% of the class but get included almost out of some kind of tradition. There’s chunks of the course which are obviously meant to teach one thing but have been corrupted, for example there was a section on sin/cos/tan proofs which were turned into “memorize these 30 proofs exactly” that was pretty obviously originally written to try to introduce people to the idea of proofs that they could reason through themselves but then they started teaching to the test.

          It’s genuinely cruel to force people through some of that crap who would make perfectly good linguists or musicians for the sake of the perverse worship of “roundedness”.

          Of course I also have similar feelings about being forced to rote-memorize foreign language poetry for years that I could have spent getting better at something actually worth doing.

          • My impression is that most people who have taken, and passed, a calculus course could not give the simple geometric proof of the fundamental theorem, which means they haven’t actually learned to understand the subject, only memorized formulas.

            In what educational system are students required to memorize poetry in a foreign language? My impression is that most people today have not memorized any in their own language.

            My wife and I were on an airplane recently, and my wife recited a bit of a Milne poem (“James, James, Morrison Morrison …”) to entertain a small child. The adults present seemed very impressed that she could do so.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ David Friedman:

            I was required to memorize Russian poetry in the course of studying Russian. Not a lot of it, just short snippets. But I only took it through the intermediate level.

            More commonly, I was required to write an memorize monologues and dialogues (with partners). These were major components of exams. It was done in the Russian-style “billet” system: there are 5-10 possible dialogue topics, you prepare something for each one, and then you randomly draw one of the topics, which are cut up on little strips of paper. Of course, they’re not grading you based on your fidelity to the version you wrote in order to memorize, but you will do poorly and get a bad grade if you’re trying to make it up off the top of your head.

          • Anonymous says:

            Eastern Europe here: Between 1st and 7th grade I was required to memorize a fair bit of poetry in my mother tongue for literature class. And yeah, Russian as a foreign language also included a couple. As did German. I think only English didn’t include poetry memorization, which is weird because I had the most classes in that one, more than ten years.

            Later, a tiny university course for Chinese (in Germany) also had it, although those were only 8-10 lines so could mostly be learned in 10 minutes, and the teach couldn’t punish us for not doing it anyway since it was a more casual/optional class. We only once had to do a real poem there, I think because our level was too low for there to be many suitable ones; the rest was dialogues that we would recite in pairs.

            So yeah, memorizing poetry or sometimes just random things for foreign language learning is super common in my experience.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Oh, and in high school Latin class, extra credit was given for memorizing and writing down the first few lines of the Aeneid. Not a lot, just the first stanza or two. Of course, the whole class was basically memorization: you have all these vocabulary quizzes where you have to give the four principle parts of verbs and write down the declination chart of hic, haec, hoc and so on.

            And there’s a lot of similar memorization in other subjects. In biology, you had to memorize the Krebs cycle and the parts of the cell and that sort of thing. I always found that type of thing pretty easy because it’s not purely random memorization (there is some order to it), and you certainly don’t have to “think outside the box”.

            There was even a competition (in middle school) to memorize digits of pi, but that was just for fun.

          • It sounds as though all of the memorization of verse in a foreign language was a device for language learning, which makes a certain amount of sense, poetry being designed to be easy to remember. I at one point thought of memorizing a good deal of Dante’s Inferno to improve my Italian, but I didn’t get very far with the project.

            Anonymous’ comment about memorizing poetry in his own language is more interesting. I have a vague impression of having been assigned to do a tiny bit of that at some point in K-12, but I don’t think there is much such assigned in U.S. schooling.

            Do people in his society learn poetry for the fun of it very often? Remember what they had to learn in school and recite it for fun? It seems to be a dead art in modern day America, aside from songs.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I had to memorize several pieces of verse for my English high school classes, including Poe’s “Eldorado”, Juliet’s balcony soliloquy, Hamlet’s “To be or not to be…” soliloquy, and the prologue of The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English. I don’t remember Hamlet, but I remember the other three. Granted, my high school English classes were half Honors and half AP; I have no idea if the Regular kids had to do this.

            I’ve been memorizing “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” as a personal project, but its hard without the motivation of a grade and a deadline.

            I also accidentally memorized Chatoyance’s “A Verb Called Self” from Friendship Is Optimal: Caelum Est Conterrens, but I doubt any of my English teachers would have given me credit for that.

          • Dahlen says:

            @ jaimeastorga2000:

            I’ve been memorizing “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” as a personal project, but its hard without the motivation of a grade and a deadline.

            Huh. I’ve memorized Poe’s The Raven years ago, which is twice as long, obviously without any extrinsic motivation. I get mad at myself if I occasionally happen to forget a verse. Come on, it ain’t that hard.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            @David:

            I wasn’t required to memorize anything in high school, but I do memorize poetry and oration for fun.

            I know a good chunk of the Shakespearean canon (especially his sonnets), much of Kipling, a bit of Robert Burns, and a decent selection of great speeches from American history (I have a particular fondness for Lincoln).

            Just yesterday I finished memorizing “Casey at the Bat,” feeling I needed to add a comic poem to my repertoire.

          • Psmith says:

            Chevalier, any useful resources, or does it just come naturally?

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I can’t say that I use many explicit memorization techniques, apart from the method loci (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorization#Techniques, the art of memory article is also useful), although I’m familiar with most since sometimes the administration in its wisdom tasks me with teaching psychology. I’m afraid that I can’t offer many useful suggestions, though, since I’m not quite sure how I memorize things myself. I’ll talk through my process in the hopes that it may be helpful, though.

            Mostly I think it’s just practice. The first verse I ever memorized was when I was 13, when for a course in mythology I learned 14 lines or so of the Middle English Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Since then it’s mostly just been a matter of taking the time to practice a piece.

            The poems, for example, are easy, since poetry is designed to be easy to memorize. Rhyme helps one associate one line with the next, knowing the story helps keep the lines in order, and solid meter clues you in when you forget a word (and often suggests the word that you’ve forgotten). I think that’s also why Lincoln’s orations, in particular, are a joy to memorize – he makes use of a lot of poetical devices such as parallelism and repetition, and writes with a certain meter of his own, all of which aid recall. Without the clear organization of either metered poetry (I don’t know any free verse poems, that I recall) or classical rhetoric, I don’t think I could manage.

            Other than paying attention to those cues, I just use brute force. I read Casey at the Bat through two or three times, then began to recite it myself. Inevitably a few key rhymes and verses stuck in my head, and I began building up the poem around those. “Okay, so ‘They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain, they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again’ must precede ‘The sneer is gone from Casey’s lips, his teeth are clenched with hate…”

            Working from those, and consulting the text, I gradually fill in the weak bits. The hardest part then is distinguishing between similar metaphors or images that repeat – is this the line with the stricken crowd, or the sullen crowd? Is it the beating of storm waves on a stern and DISTANT shore, or stern and COLD shore? (that’s where meter comes in!).

            Finally, once I can run through the whole thing once or twice with only minor errors, I may listen to a recital of the poem and follow along myself, as one last crunch. All told, I’d say it took maybe 2 hours of concentration spread out over two days. Then I just recite it once a day or so, with decreasing frequency, until it’s encoded long term.

            For Jaime’s sake, I’ll learn Gods of the Copybook Headings by next open thread.

          • On the subject of memorization, which used to be very easy for me–read a poem I liked a few times and I remembered most of it…

            It is considerably harder at seventy than at thirty or even fifty. As I discovered when I decided a while back that I wanted to learn “Akbar’s Bridge.”

            But I did.

            So learn things while you are young.

            I’m considering “The Last Rhyme of True Thomas.”

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Psmith – “any useful resources, or does it just come naturally?”

            …I have a strong tolerance for repitition; I can listen to new songs I discover and really enjoy for a day or two straight*, for example. I came across a really good reading of it:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTwHCsTq3IU

            …and listened to it for a day or two. Combined with a copy of the text, that did most of the process more or less automatically.

            *provided I don’t actually put them on repeat, but manually restart them over and over again. For some reason, actually putting them on repeat kills the magic almost instantly.

          • Psmith says:

            Thanks dudes. I accidentally memorized quite a bit of “Kublai Khan” in middle school, but haven’t tried much since then. Would sort of like to get “Horatius at the Bridge”, like Churchill supposedly did. Brb…

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            The main thing I think is that you gotta like it. Memorizing something you don’t love is a waste of time.

            I memorize things that I want to carry around in my head, so I can enjoy them at any time. With that in mind, go for it!

          • Psmith says:

            On that note, here’s a lovely piece by Boris Johnson of all people on this very subject: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/borisjohnson/5004215/Heres-a-really-Right-wing-idea-learn-poetry.html

            As anyone who loves poetry will testify, when you learn a good poem, you make a good friend. You have a voice that will pop up in your head, whenever you want it, and say something beautiful and consoling and true. A poem can keep you going when you are driving on a lonely motorway, or when you are trapped on some freezing ledge in the Alps, or when you are engaged in any kind of arduous and repetitive physical activity, and need to keep concentration. When some disaster overwhelms you, or when you are feeling unusually cheerful – or when you are experiencing any human feeling whatever – it is amazing how often some line or phrase will swim to the surface and help to articulate your emotions, to intensify them or to console.

          • Re Boris Johnson:

            I once had to memorize a poem as an assignment in school, probably elementary school. I have almost no memory of what it was about, no longer remember a word of it.

            But I know hours of poetry that I learned on my own initiative because I liked it.

            So although I agree with Boris Johnson about the value of having poems in your head, I have doubts about his proposal to make kids learn it.

    • Anonymous says:

      I had enough of the indoctrination shit in highschool and in 11th grade was eagerly awaiting university where I would only study useful and necessary stuff. Very glad my country doesn’t have mandatory humanities stuff in university, although I still had to pick a couple classes outside my major.

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      Obligatory Well-roundedness = Blue-Tribeness

      I have met a lot of people who made a lot of money in software / engineering / technology and they are very often of the right to own guns / lower taxes / religious traditionalist.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        Obligatory Well-roundedness = Blue-Tribeness

        No, it doesn’t.

        I’ve seen more push for strong core requirements from conservative traditionalists of the no-one-should-graduate-without-reading-Aristotle type than from leftists.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Yep, I’ve argued that.

        • gbdub says:

          On the other hand I’m pretty sure my school’s requirement for a “race and ethnicity” course did not come from the Red Tribe.

          I think there are two things going on – conservative traditionalists push for the importance of the Western canon, “classical education”, which did consider “well-roundedness” key.

          “Blue Tribe” activists are more likely to push “The humanities are still relevant! Because everyone needs to take X Studies classes!”

          Both groups might agree on the idea that STEM types ought to take more humanities (though I suspect they’d also push more math for social science students). But they’d probably differ on the content of the newly required courses. The “Blue Tribe” group is more dominant among actual faculties at the moment.

        • There is a pretty good guide to colleges put out by ISI, which used to be a libertarian organization called the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists but at some point became a conservative organization called the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. It approves of schools with extensive required curricula. My kids used that as a negative signal, since they disapproved of them.

          The guide not uncommonly says positive things about the educational quality of schools whose politics the authors obviously dislike, which I thought creditable (and useful).

    • Frog Do says:

      College departments sell themselves by teaching general education courses to everyone: so math people have to teach intro math to math students, but they also have to teach it to physicists and engineers and computer scientists. These classes would be completely different if they could be taught as math in the math tradtion, math in the physics tradition, etc. So ideally, everyone would wall themselves off into little communities and teach their tradition perfectly.

      But this is an obvious trap, because people need a base of common knowledge to work with. So you have to dumb your classes down and remove most of the philosophy and history behind it to focus on skills that will be universal across as many disciplines as possible, to sell the fact that you can teach a useful generalist class. That these classes are going to be garbage is kinda inevitable.

      IMO, as someone who teaches introductory math courses at university, there should be less STEM requirements. If you’re going to be utilitarian, classes on public speaking and writing are very needed for STEM people, communication skills are lacking and people are way, way too afraid of being publically embrassed.

      • God Damn John Jay says:

        Do communication skills classes actually teach much relevant material? Most advice winds up being either needlessly obtuse, or completely obvious. I knew a guy attending teachers college complain about the in applicability of the material.

        • Frog Do says:

          They make you practice over and over again, ideally. General education classes should be focusing on skills, not theory, and I have no idea about the usefulness of communication theory.

        • Anon says:

          I think some STEM people need more training in communication (written and verbal), but colleges currently do a horrible job of teaching it, so I wouldn’t want them to be forced to take more currently-useless classes in it.

          As it is now, communication is usually a poor-quality, extremely easy program full of junk classes for people who can’t pass college classes in any other subject (these people are often athletes). It’d be nice if colleges created some genuinely useful communication classes for people going into STEM professions who aren’t great at communicating their findings/work.

          • Vaniver says:

            I recall my required science writing class, which was okay but could have been better. What I would have done is something like “here’s the body of a real scientific paper. Your homework is to write the abstract without looking up the original abstract.”

            Then you have the submissions somewhere public, you stitch together an abstract together as a class, you compare to the actual abstract and have a discussion. Repeat until people feel confident in their ability to write good abstracts.

      • bean says:

        Oh, I’m not being utilitarian, or even particularly serious. I’m pointing out that the demands for well-roundedness seem to be rather one-sided. I had a list of specific class types I had to have, some of which had no bearing at all on anything I could conceivably need to do professionally, while an English major has half the required hours and can take literally any STEM class the school offers.

        • Frog Do says:

          I figured, but this is a personal favorite issue to talk about for me, so I used your comment as a springboard. I do think STEM lack of well roundedness is worse than humanities, but then I would think that, being exposed to more examples of it.

          • bean says:

            I actually think that’s part of the problem. There’s a diminishing amount of personal contact between the general populations of STEM people and non-STEM intellectual (NSI) people after high school. During middle/high school years, STEM people (geeks) tend to focus on STEM stuff and related fields (Sci-fi, for instance) which don’t count as ‘well-rounded’ in NSI minds. Then, during later years, the geeks start to branch out, but the NSIs don’t see that because they don’t have much to do with geeks any more. And then they pontificate on how geeks need to be more well-rounded, even though most geeks tend to round themselves to some extent. And frankly, we’d be more likely to do so if we weren’t looked down on and dragged into those classes. I enjoyed my literature class (SF) a bit, although it was dampened because nobody else understood most of the science involved or anything about how militaries work. Ethics was a blast, but I had a good professor and enjoy philosophy.
            Of course, this is the non-cynical explanation for those classes. The cynical one involves rent-seeking.

          • My impression, possibly long out of date, was that people who were in the sciences tended to also be interested in music, often reading, sometimes even poetry and history.

          • bean says:

            My impression, possibly long out of date, was that people who were in the sciences tended to also be interested in music, often reading, sometimes even poetry and history.
            And I would agree with you. But I’d also guess that most of them got that way, or more that way, after the last time they had much contact with the sort of people who go into journalism and the humanities.

      • brad says:

        My undergraduate school had three intro to physics tracks: 1) for people thinking of majoring in physics, 2) for people in the engineering school, and 3) for pre-meds / other. I thought that worked well.

        The math department didn’t follow that model. There were also three tracks, but it was very muddled as to what the purpose or aim of each one was. One was a lab oriented track, one with no special designation, and one honors. I took the honors track and it ended up being more geared towards proofs and less towards practice sets, which I liked, but it was pretty much dumb luck that I ended up in it.

        The computer science department didn’t have any separate tracks at all, just different starting points: 001 “I don’t know how to turn on a computer”, 006 “I’ve never programmed before”, and 100 “I’ve been programming since I was 9”. The 001 and 006 classes were well received by and large but didn’t prepare students for the 100 class. There were several people I tutored that got an A in 006 and but then had to drop 100 the next semester and give up on computer science.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        You can’t forget one important factor behind core requirements: they “create jobs”, allowing for a bigger department.

        When I was graduating, I went to a breakfast hosted by the philosophy department (I was a philosophy / government double-major). One of the professors explicitly brought up the fact that, since my college requires everyone to take two philosophy classes, this allows the philosophy department to be far bigger and better-funded than it would be on its own and produce more “real” graduate work.

        I imagine the situation was quite similar for the theology department.

        • Frog Do says:

          Definitely, it’s all about selling yourself to the adminstration and to the media, so they can hopefully swing some rent-seeking your direction.

      • John Schilling says:

        College departments sell themselves by teaching general education courses to everyone

        Some do, some don’t. I have never seen an engineering department teach “intro to engineering” to anybody but new engineers. Often it doesn’t even count as a general-education elective for a non-engineer who wants to take it, which is sort of a pet peeve of mine if we are going to have this sort of “well-roundedness” requirement.

        I don’t think I’ve seen law schools teaching introductory law courses, though that would be massively useful to anyone wanting to live in a modern civilized society. Not much from the medical schools either. Others?

        Possibly the general rule is that if you are teaching a lucrative profession, you focus on the wannabe professionals. If you are teaching something where the professional prospects outside of academia are dim, you necessarily have to get outsiders to sign up for some of your courses – ideally by making them mandatory, or at least arranging for them to satisfy a mandatory general-education requirement. I like the idea of requiring a well-rounded education for a traditional university degree, but it may create perverse incentives within academia.

        • Frog Do says:

          Law and medicene also don’t try place themselves as undergraduate degrees, and engineering also segregates into its’ own ghetto in my experience. But then enginnering also has better PR than other departments, they don’t have to convince people they are worthwhile. Similarly for IT and business programs, which also don’t have mandatory general classes everyone has to take, at leaast usually.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            Law schools in particular are pretty well off financially and don’t have to look elsewhere for funds.

          • Law schools are graduate schools, so the only people in them are law students. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern of a law school also teaching some undergraduate courses, although perhaps there should be.

            On the other hand, our business school decided to offer a law and economics class with multiple professors. I taught three sessions of it last quarter, am teaching four this quarter–and I’m in the law school.

          • “Law schools in particular are pretty well off financially”

            Would that it were so.

            Law schools have been hurting badly for the past several years due to a sharp decline applications. Some have merged, I think some have gone out of business.

        • bean says:

          I think that’s a lot of it. I have no problem with a well-roundedness requirement, but I do find it a bit odd that an engineer is required to take twice as much humanities as a humanities major is required to take STEM, and at much higher levels. A typical college might require 2-4 STEM classes for a BA, which a reasonably bright student could easily do with AP credit. I took every AP class I could, and still had to do 3 humanities and a social science.
          If we’re really trying for well-roundedness, then every department should be required to have a specific class or two tailored to non-majors. I have a feeling that ‘Literature for Engineers’ is usually called ‘Sci-Fi Lit’, but professional departments generally don’t have any options there.
          I feel an idea brewing, but it will take a little while.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’m going to take the STEM-elitist view here:

            Literature for engineers is called “Literature”, Shakespeare for engineers is called “Shakespeare”, History for engineers is called “History”. The “X for non-X majors” are peculiar to math and science courses because your typical STEM student is both smarter AND more well-rounded than your typical humanities student. Engineering students can handle introductory humanities classes “undiluted”, but not vice-versa.

            Note that this applies only to the bottom of the ladder, however.

            (also, amusingly, my alma mater had three different introductory physics classes: One for non-majors, requiring no calculus. One on the physics major track, which did require calculus. And one for engineering students. I took the course for physics majors, and one of my roommates took the engineering one. As far as I could tell the main difference between the two was in the problem sets for the engineering one, the results were less likely to be round numbers.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            @The Nybbler:

            The impression I – as a former humanities student – got was that the humanities are easier at low levels.

            However, I took a course that was intended both to be a “science for non-STEM” and a “non-STEM for STEM” course. It was basically about the history and philosophy of science. So, there definitely are diluted humanities/social sciences courses for STEM types.

            I remember two things: one, basically memorizing a bunch of science I subsequently forgot, and two, half of the STEM kids dropped out of the tutorial I was in when the first paper was due. It was 4 pages.

            I remember being dismayed, because here I was thinking the people who would be doing science and building bridges were smarter than us morons in the humanities and social sciences, with our bullshitting on exams while hung over and so forth.

          • brad says:

            @The Nybbler
            I don’t think you have it right. The difference is that there is no strict sequence of courses. Those 100 level English courses are for anyone, those intending to major in STEM or non-STEM, that wants an amuse bouche in the area. They aren’t the ‘introduction to serious study of literature for majors but STEM people can also take them because they are so brilliant’. If you come in freshman year all fired up to go into literature in a serious way you can go talk to someone in the department and skip straight to a 200 level course.

          • bean says:

            The Nybbler:
            Literature for engineers is called “Literature”, Shakespeare for engineers is called “Shakespeare”, History for engineers is called “History”.
            Interesting perspective. To some extent, I agree. We are cooler than they are. But at the same time, I’d guess that any Sci-Fi lit class at a school with a STEM program will be massively enhanced relative to the average literature class in STEM people. And everybody benefits from it. The literature department can probably get more of whatever they’re trying to teach across to the students when the students are not being turned off by the subject matter. And the students get a more enjoyable class, and probably better grades because they’re spending less mental energy forcing themselves to care about the topic, and have more to spend on actually doing the work.
            Also, as others point out, introductory classes are not the same as what they do at higher levels.
            I will admit that I wasn’t hugely impressed with the rigor of any of my upper-level HSS courses.
            SF lit was OK, but not that challenging. On the other hand, it was populated by engineers.
            Military History was dead easy, but that’s a subject I’ve been studying since I was in about 3rd grade. Also, it had lots of engineers.
            I dropped International Relations because the professor was incoherent, and the textbook wasn’t much better.
            And Engineering Ethics was great fun, but it was full of engineers who didn’t share my glee at philosophy.

          • meyerkev248 says:

            I think this is somewhat biased towards “Humanities courses that Engineers actually choose to take”

            X for Engineers is called X, but only for values of X where either:

            * I really, really like the topic
            * (Note: You should start reading this normally, but be reading this in an increasingly frantic, possibly a touch manic tone of voice as this continues) There are no term papers whatsoever, and preferably I knew something about the topic prior with bonus “I actually like this topic”. (Frantic starts here) Because I have 12-16 credits of upper-level CS courses to do, and I have no time, and 50/50 I even bother showing up because you’re on a different campus at the far end of a 20-minute bus ride, and I don’t have time to show up to my engineering classes because these 3 projects are due in 3 days and I haven’t slept in 2 and *Would be curling up into a ball right now, except he doesn’t have LITERAL TIME to have the panic attack*

            Yeah…

            So my humanities courses that AP things in HS didn’t cover (US, World, Euro + 8 credits of Spanish on the placement test + Lang xor Lit, I forget which) were:
            * Philosophy 303: Introduction to Symbolic Logic. AKA: A semester-long rework of the first 2 weeks of the discrete math course I took the same semester. (Which I actually enjoyed a lot though, and it did actually dig into some corners that the discrete math course glossed over).
            * CLCIV 385 – Introduction to Greek Mythology. AKA that class where I dug out some books my Grandma gave me when I was 4, and never bothered to show up for anything other than the first day, midterm, and final. Because I was busy, busy, busy, pass-failing, and probably scraped a B.

            I probably COULD have walked into an Intro to History course and done well-ish, but I just didn’t have the time, and it would’ve been more challenging than I had energy to spare for.

            So I didn’t.

        • bean says:

          If our objective is to make sure our people are ‘well-rounded’, we have two logically-consistent ways of doing so. We can either define exactly what well-rounded means and herd people into those classes that will make them ‘well-rounded’ or we can set it up so that people are encouraged to look for interesting classes outside of their current areas of interest and encouraged to take them. The first model seems to prevail. Looking more closely at my school’s STEM requirements for a BA, they want 12 hours (4 classes) with at least one class in each of physics/chemistry/geology, biology, and math/stats/CS. This does not seem a very high bar to clear, but even then, you’re herded into specific classes. On the engineering side, it’s pretty much the same. I got one HSS class where I had a substantial choice of what to take. Everything else was either a specific course or a choice from maybe half a dozen options.
          The alternative would be to move electives/gen ed courses away from 3-hour courses and into 1-hour courses, with an increase in flexibility and actual breadth of education. Some of the 1-hour intros would be required or picked from a short menu, while others would be ‘anything that’s not obviously from your major or nearby areas’. Maybe require a 3-hour or two somewhere in there.
          I’m not quite satisfied with this, but it seems a good start. If we’re going to push ‘well-roundedness’, we should do so in a way which exposes people to lots of fields and then lets them pursue the ones they find interesting, instead of just making job opportunities for philosophy and english majors.

          • Randy M says:

            Everyone at your school is required to take a computer science class? What are introductory CS classes like?

          • bean says:

            No, they’re required to take class from math or statistics or CS.
            I was required to take an introductory CS class, and it was a complete joke. I did most of the assignments in about 5 minutes, and learned absolutely nothing. The only thing I remember from any of the lectures is a bit of optimization math I did for a game. It was literally the most useless class I took in all of college. Even fireworks at least gave me some information I can use in the future. (Yes, my school had a fireworks class.) At least they let us take C++. Apparently, some of the aero professors want fortran to be required.
            (All of my knowledge of programming comes from doing things on my own. And it’s mostly MATLAB. Which is brilliant and wonderful in every way. At least to an engineer.)
            Oh, and the above is why I don’t hold required gen-ed math in very high esteem.

    • brad says:

      I prefer the English model — college bound students get a well rounded liberal arts education by the end of high school and then undergraduate is for depth in a particular subject.

      That said, in high school I don’t see why any reasonably bright child regardless of area of intellectual interest can’t or shouldn’t take calc I (i.e. an informal introduction to differential calculus in one variable) as part of a “well rounded liberal arts education “.

      • Because most high school students will never have any use for calculus. The same is true of trigonometry. And lots of other classes. Different people are interested in different things and find different things useful.

        The list of classes that it would be neat for someone to take in order to be properly educated would fill up K-12 several times over.

        • brad says:

          First, they may not know whether or not they will need it. Second, I don’t think calculus or trigonometry is most important for knowing how to do calculus or trigonometry, rather it is the mathematical style of problem solving that is most important in a broad liberal arts education.

          I agree things seem pretty tight and one could make the case for many subjects that don’t often make the cut, but unless we all move to your unschooling idea we have to settle on something. Math of one kind or another seems to be high on many people’s list. If you are going to be taking four years of math in high school, I don’t see any reason why that can’t include one year of calc I for at least a 1/3 of the class.

          My basic point in that paragraph was that calc I has a reputation as being much more difficult than high school trigonometry, but that reputation doesn’t ring true to me.

          • Murphy says:

            No. just really. No.

            You don’t know for certain that you’ll never need to know how to clean a tortoises shell. You really can’t be totally certain. That is not an even vaguely coherent reason to require all highschool students to spend 3 hours a week practicing the polishing of dummy tortoises shells.

            Some people are natural linguists, some people have a very clear career track ahead of them and most of the time it has slightly less chance of requiring knowledge of calculus than the chance that at some future point someone will run into their dance studio shouting “who knows how to scrub a Testudines!?!? QUICKLY! THERE’S NO TIME!”

            There’s some bits of math which are useful to almost everyone: arithmetic, very basic algebra, very basic probability but the hours of their lives are finite.

            Every time someone stands up and screams that their special hobby should be included as a requirement the lives of hundreds of thousands of students are made slightly worse because hours they could be spending on something worthwhile end up spent on someone elses gigantic vanity-project.

            It’s not hard to think of things which would be of more value in later life to 99% of the class, hell simply sending the kids running for the time they would be doing calculus is almost certain to have more positive life outcomes for them than spending that same time on calculus.

            This is coming from someone who loved math class. I just try to avoid deluding myself about the utility of many things included in math classes to most people.

          • I can see a case for including a gut-level understanding of interest in everyone’s education, but it still might not work because you can’t force minds.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      It’s kind of ridiculous to call it out as a “double standard”. The fact is that what is classified as “STEM” is a narrow area of knowledge, while “humanities” covers everything else.

      For instance, here were the core requirements of my college (which I believe are fairly typical, except for the theology and perhaps philosophy requirements):

      One course in writing
      One course in the Humanities: Arts, Literatures, and Cultures (HALC)
      Two history courses
      Two theology courses
      Two philosophy courses
      Two math/science courses
      Two social science courses
      Foreign language through the intermediate level

      Now, you say it’s “not fair” because someone majoring in math or science has to take ten courses in “humanities” (if this is used to mean non-STEM), but someone majoring in “humanities” only has to take two math or science courses.

      But what you’re ignoring is that someone majoring in history has to take ten non-history courses, someone majoring in French has to take ten non-French courses, etc.

      • bean says:

        But what you’re ignoring is that someone majoring in history has to take ten non-history courses, someone majoring in French has to take ten non-French courses, etc.
        That’s not a particularly relevant comparison, for two reasons:
        1. Your typical engineering student (or any STEM student outside of math and maybe CS) spends an awful lot of time taking non-major STEM classes. I’d say that my STEM classes were probably about 60/40 non-Aerospace/Aerospace. Some of those were directly relevant, some of them weren’t.
        2. Let’s assume that all people in college have one of two brain types, S (STEM) and H (Humanities). This is an obvious oversimplification, but bear with me. Classes of the appropriate type are relatively much easier than classes of the other type. The H-brain has 2 type S classes, and the S-brain has 10 type H classes. One of these people is doing a lot more work in fields he’s bad at than the other is.

        I would also disagree with your position that because STEM is ‘narrower’, it should get less emphasis. (And that Humanities covers everything else. Business, for instance, is not humanities.) Leaving aside if that has any meaning (and the fact that social sciences have to fit somewhere in there), I would argue that having some real grounding in STEM is just as important to being a Good Citizen today as having a grounding in the humanities. Technology plays a massive role in our lives, but somehow ‘The Classics’ are more important to understand than the basics of science.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Let’s assume that all people in college have one of two brain types, S (STEM) and H (Humanities). This is an obvious oversimplification, but bear with me. Classes of the appropriate type are relatively much easier than classes of the other type.

          You grant that this is an “oversimplification”, but my exact point is that thinking in terms of “STEM / non-STEM” is not a good way of bifurcating the entire intellectual world. It’s like thinking of religion in terms of Mormonism and non-Mormonism.

          I don’t dispute the possibility that requiring more math or natural science courses may be a good idea. (I never took any because I placed out of them with APs). One problem is that most biology or physics courses are either “non-major”, in which they’re crap, or “major”, in which case there’s a fairly rigid progression building from one class to the next. They’re taught like foreign languages, where you have to start from the bottom level and do them one at a time.

          If there were more natural science classes that taught worthwhile information without a mathematical focus and large amount of prerequisites, then I think it might be worthwhile to require a lot more of them.

          In any case, you can see the distribution of core requirements at one college. Currently, they require two math/science courses. How many would you like to require? Four, six, eight? And what would you cut out to make room?

          • bean says:

            You grant that this is an “oversimplification”, but my exact point is that thinking in terms of “STEM / non-STEM” is not a good way of bifurcating the entire intellectual world.
            How would you bifurcate it? And why should we dole out time based on how much of the intellectual world subjects occupy? How would we measure that, anyway? I find it difficult to believe that we can sweep the entirety of math and all of the sciences into the same size of category as ‘philosophy’ or ‘history’ or ‘social sciences’. (Using theology here would be unfair, I grant.)
            The point is that STEM is an important sector of human knowledge, but a typical BA’s requirements for it are ‘any two or three STEM-like classes in the entire school’. So if you’re interested in biology, you can do a couple biology classes and a math class that doesn’t even touch calculus and you’re good. On the other hand, I have twice as many required classes and no choice over what area all but one are going to be in.

            If there were more natural science classes that taught worthwhile information without a mathematical focus and large amount of prerequisites, then I think it might be worthwhile to require a lot more of them.
            I’m in favor of more classes in all subjects which cover lots of territory at a high level. But I’m not sure that we can entirely drop the math without crossing the line from ‘learning science’ to ‘learning about science’. I’m not saying that they all need to be at the rigor of a major-type class, but physics without basic math is pretty much useless.

            In any case, you can see the distribution of core requirements at one college. Currently, they require two math/science courses. How many would you like to require? Four, six, eight? And what would you cut out to make room?
            To some extent, I posted to highlight the absurdity of calls for more gen eds for STEM students. Two is definitely too low, particularly if they can be filled by ‘botany’ and ‘introduction to ecology’ (to pick on the squishiest of sciences). I’d say four, including at least one math-based science.

          • Anonymous says:

            >a math class that doesn’t even touch calculus
            As a CS student, I find it odd that there can even be a university-level math class that doesn’t touch calculus. What can they teach you without calculus, group theory? Rehashes of highschool material?

          • Evan Þ says:

            Statistics, matrices, graph theory, and number theory. I had a couple university-level math classes on those, and I easily could’ve taken more.

          • bean says:

            Rehashes of high school math, I think.
            (I went straight into Calc 3, so I have no actual clue.)

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            What can they teach you without calculus, group theory? Rehashes of highschool material?

            The latter. A lot of people satisfy their math requirements with courses like College Algebra and Trigonometry.

          • onyomi says:

            Also, there are plenty of course offerings in humanities for people with “non-humanities brains,” but not nearly as many STEM courses for people with “non-STEM brains.”

      • The Nybbler says:

        Aerospace engineering is narrow. STEM is certainly not narrow. Mathematics, all of engineering, and all of the sciences. That’s pretty wide.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          It’s narrow in the context of comparing it to everything else.

          • bean says:

            How do we define ‘width’? I don’t have a problem saying that ‘STEM’ is narrower than ‘everything else’, but how much narrower is it? And what happens we we go field-by-field? I would place words like ‘math’ ‘physics’ ‘chemistry’ and ‘engineering’ on the same broad plane as ‘history’ ‘English’ and ‘philosophy’.

        • Anonymous says:

          Aerospace PhD checking in. These days, it’s far less narrow than you think. It’s become more of a systems degree in a lot of places, and you basically have to know a little bit about everything that goes into a complicated vehicle – a little mechanical, a little electrical, a little mechanics, a little control theory, a little CS, and so on and so forth. It’s not the 60s anymore, and honestly, some departments are having trouble positioning themselves and selling their graduates. A lot of aerospace bachelors get hired for positions that aren’t really aerospace engineers.

          When you go to grad school and specialize, there’s a bit of a bifurcation. Some specializations are really quite narrow and really only apply to one thing (e.g., astrodynamics). Some specialization apply to basically everything in the world (e.g., control theory).

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      So far, every subthread on this blog about education has made me feel better about the one we use. This one’s no exception.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I’m glad my country lets you study only one subject at university. I think I would do well with a broader curriculum, but I know many people who wouldn’t, and it seems pointless to force them to study subjects they aren’t at all interested in. Also, what is Calc 1, and who is expected to do it? Is this Calc 1? If so, I’m very glad I won’t go to an American university, that looks like a very easy (and hence dull) course from my perspective.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        If you take Advanced Placement classes in high school and pass the associated tests, you can place out of basic classes like that Calculus one you linked. For instance, I took AP Calculus, Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, U.S. History, English Language & Literature, U.S. Government, and Comparative Government. Consequently, I was able to skip a fair number of requirements (even though a couple of those weren’t counted by my college).

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        MIT combines what most universities call Calc I and Calc II into one Single Variable Calculus class. Calc I introduces derivatives and integrals, while Calc II covers sequences and series, as well as some advanced techniques for integration. Calc III is multivariate calculus.

        Everyone who is doing an engineering, science (except bio), or math degree is usually expected to complete the three-course calculus sequence, and Diffy Q’s (differential equations) as well. You can take AP Calc AB and AP Calc BC in high school to skip out of Calc I and Calc II, respectively, assuming you pass the AP Exams at the end of the year to a level that the university considers satisfactory (most schools take anything above a 3, but elite schools like MIT might only take 5’s).

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Is Calc I taken by everyone; everyone who is better than ambivalent towards maths; all STEM + economics students; mathematical STEM + economics students (excluding biology etc); or only maths and physics majors?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            All STEM students are usually required to get credit for at least Calc 1, including bio students. Economics majors normally have to take calculus as well, but they can sometimes get away with taking Calculus for Business instead of regular Calculus I, which is easier.

            There are plenty of students who never take calculus. As I said in another comment, usually they satisfy their math requirements with rehashes of high-school material like algebra and trigonometry.

    • Adam says:

      You went to the wrong engineering school apparently. My wife graduated from RPI dual EE/CE and took photoshop and video game design as her humanities electives.

      Personally, I just love learning. I have degrees in philosophy, applied math, biology, public policy, finance, and computer science. I ended up ultimately writing algorithmic trading software because it gives the most immediate reward, but I had plenty of other jobs too and enjoyed all of them, from managing a nonprofit to managing a sports bar to commanding tanks to working on the defense budget. There’s a lot out there to do in life. Thankfully, Coursera exists now, so I don’t need to waste all my money on more degrees.

      • Dahlen says:

        … How old are you and how many years of your life have you spent in schooling?

        Also, LOL @ game graphics courses being considered humanities. Just because it’s for funsies and relatively easy, doesn’t mean it’s not a technical topic.

        • Adam says:

          I’m 35. Bio/phil was a dual BA that took 3 years, public policy a resident master’s program that took 2 years while I was in ROTC, the Army paid me to do the finance master’s, which I did part-time over 3 years. I did the applied math BS and CS MS online through SUNY Empire State and Georgia Tech in about 3.5 years total (the math one I already had all of the lower-division courses out of the way and didn’t need electives since it was a second baccalaureate). So really, much of this was accomplished while working. It’s not like I just stayed in school forever. I just like learning new things and I like changing careers periodically. Shit gets boring once it gets easy.

          Theoretically, I actually originally planned to be a biologist, but I discovered I really love the theory but really hate lab science.

    • Virbie says:

      Entirely tangential, but is the BA/BS distinction meaningful or useful at all? I got my math degree along with computer science and economics and they were all BAs. I was given a choice to get either a BS or a BA in CS and I chose a BA because it would mean I could get in the same college (within the uni) as math, thus avoiding a little extra paperwork. The coursework and requirements were 100% identical

      • John Schilling says:

        I don’t know about CS, but in engineering and the physical sciences a BA tends to be interpreted as “qualified to write about…” where the BS means “qualified to practice…”, with the more technically rigorous class and lab work in the BS program. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a BA on a resume submitted for an actual engineering job, though it’s possible I’d have overlooked someone who went on from a BA to get an MS.

      • brad says:

        It seems to vary a lot by university. Which is unfortunate in some ways because a lot of people are just going to assume that however it was at their undergraduate must be how everywhere does it.

        At my undergraduate school currently the only difference between BA/BS in physics is a little more flexibility in the BA but the same overall composition on 100/200/300 level requirements. In the math department the only difference is that a BS requires a year of physics.

      • bean says:

        Well, I know my school just started offering a BS in Philosophy alongside the previous BA. Yes, I know that sounds absurd, but it apparently made it much easier for someone doing a BS to double-major.
        I’m not sure that a BA in engineering would mean anything. If it’s not ABET-accredited, then it’s not really an engineering degree, and I doubt ABET accredits BA programs.
        (Actually, the BS in Philosophy is the second most confusing degree I’ve ever seen. The weirdest was from a liberal arts school that partnered with an engineering school in 2+3 arrangement. The liberal arts school gave out BAs in Liberal Arts Engineering, to go along with the BS from the engineering school.)

      • Adam says:

        I did my bio undergrad as a BA instead of a BS because it made it easier to double-major. If I recall correctly, the BS required an additional 12 credit hours of upper-division bio classes, so it was a meaningful difference. Not that you can do jack with a bio undergrad anyway. The ones I know who actually try to work with that are barely-paid lab rats doing work you could probably train a baboon to do. I’m glad I did something else.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Of course, there are universities that only award one of the two. All Cambridge undergraduate degrees are BAs (later “upgraded” to MAs for arcane historical reasons) whereas IIRC all MIT undergraduate degrees are BSs.

        Although physical-science and engineering degrees at Cambridge tend to award a Master’s (MSci or MEng) as well as the BA. If someone under the age of 65 has *just* a BA in Engineering from Cambridge, they dropped out early.

  27. Can anyone suggest any reason I (we?) shouldn’t consider ALL the big political ideologies as somewhat Molochian in their pure forms? Applied without regard to pragmatic human consequences they all seem to have pretty strong tendencies to become ends in themselves, driving their followers to ignore evidence and nuance in favor of trench warfare. I also observe countries with mixes of ideologies tend to perform quite well and commit few atrocities (eg. modern Germany, Australia, Scandinavia). That’s not to say we should be without ideological understandings of the world (I deeply mistrust that too), but shouldn’t we be suspicious and wary of all ideologies including our own, in the sense that they are fundamentally untrustworthy entities that are metaphorically looking for a way to become an end-unto-themselves and turn upon humanity at the first opportunity? I include everything from left to right in this, and am not really interested in whether one is worse than the others (I already know that).

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      Less ‘in their pure forms’ and more a tendency to elevate The Cause above what it is supposed to accomplish. It is an inevitable feature of popular movements since most individuals don’t actually have in-depth understanding of the actual ideology (séances to find the spirit of Marxist-Leninism is my personal favorite).

  28. Hackworth says:

    “If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t.” – Emerson M. Pugh

    Is there some sort of proof/disproof for this admittedly catchy quote? If it is true, should we expect this to have consequences for AI research, or the practically achievable limits of performance of AI?

    I’m leaning towards “No, it is not true”, because there are computer-aided designs that no human would ever come up with, but that can nevertheless be investigate and explained after the fact, for example:

    http://www.damninteresting.com/on-the-origin-of-circuits/
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolved_antenna

    I would still like to hear counterpoints or better explanations.

    • Richard says:

      I always thought perfect self knowledge implied infinite Godelian recursion, but I may be not even wrong….

    • Nita says:

      It’s too vague to either prove or disprove (which is not necessarily a bad thing for a pithy saying). Who’s “we”? What exactly does “understanding” something involve?

      Let’s take a less mysterious example. Can we understand the entire system of metabolic pathways in the human body, or are we too simple? I think various research groups can map out the relevant details of this system and develop models and abstractions that enable individual humans to think and talk about it, as well as tools to predict and manipulate it. I don’t think an individual person can hold the entire thing in their mind without abstracting away the details.

    • Murphy says:

      Lots of things are complex but tractable. There’s no rule that a single human has to understand every part. There’s hundreds of cell types in the brain, individuals and teams can investigate one each. There’s many distinct modules or sections of the brain. Individuals and teams can investigate how each module behaves. There’s many distinct ways that cells can influence each other. Individuals and teams can investigate them in turn.

      And those people can build build simplified abstractions to help people understand the higher level behavior.

      It’s pretty much how humans approach any painfully complex problem.

    • same name says:

      The halting problem?

    • JBeshir says:

      I can’t fit every line of code in a browser, the OS networking stack, the OS kernel, the device drivers, the microcode for the processor, and every aspect of the design of the processor in my head, not by a huge margin, but we can still build and iterate on all of it. We just don’t keep the information in our head, and we specialise.

      Humans are hominids with the lifestyle of ants; that we’re individually limited on our own with no access to records doesn’t prevent us from doing all kinds of things collectively and with access to records.

    • cypher says:

      Simply: A complete real-time understanding of every component of your brain would exceed the storage and computational capacity of your brain, which also has to run you simultaneously.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        That’s irrelevant, though.

        A completely accurate map of England would have to be the size of England. That doesn’t mean we can’t simplify it enough to hang on a wall without making it useless.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      Brains/minds may be complex, but they’re not magic.

      The only ingredients an algorithm needs in order to qualify for Turing Completeness are GOTO’s and memory. Given it’s possible to reduce “All The Algorithms We’ll Ever Need” to two primitives, I don’t see any metaphysical hurdles to reverse-engineering the brain.

      If you’re worried about Halting Problem: the Halting Problem is essentially equivalent to “This sentence is false”, “A -> ~A”, Russel’s Paradox, etc. I.e. the statement is self-contradictory to begin with. A self-contradictory algorithm isn’t possible to implement in the real world, so there’s no need to worry about it (except in the lovecraftian scenario where Bleem Is An Integer and Everything We Know Is Wrong (except maybe Feminism)). If it were possible to implement self-contradictory algorithms, constructing a Universal Halt-Decider wouldn’t pose such a problem.

      because there are computer-aided designs that no human would ever come up with

      The Computer-Aided Design projects are just using a genetic algorithm to quickly search a large design-space. Given enough time, humans could do the same thing (albeit at a slower pace). [Obligatory xkcd]

  29. R Flaum says:

    A while ago I was reading an archive of translated WWII-era German propaganda, and came across a review by the SS of a Superman comic in which Supes fights some Nazis. One of the criticisms they have is that a Luftwaffe pilot speaks bad German: “No German would say what the pilot says”. I don’t speak German so I can’t tell you whether that’s true of my own knowledge, but it certainly seems plausible, and they should know if anyone does. But what struck me about this is that it means the article was written by a literal grammar Nazi. (related)

    • chaosbunt says:

      <3
      i need to spoil this: the criticism is not, that the pilot is using improper grammar, but rather that he is speaking yiddish
      (or something close to yiddish, "diss" was unknown to google translate and the next best yiddish translater i found, but it is an easily derivable article variation found in many German Dialects)

      And that would of course no proper nazi pilot do.

      since we are only talking about three words here, they could also be interpreted as some dialect close to Baden, but then that whole "look how badly made this is" thing wouldnt work.

      • Hackworth says:

        That article makes no sense on that point. As a German, I can translate that the pilot says “Heavens. What is this?” in a regional dialect, not yiddish.

        The other point is that the reading convention in western comics is left to right and top to bottom, so there is no way that Superman responded to the pilot’s exclamation. Superman responds to himself in the previous panel, where he rhetorically asked “Looking for trouble, eh?”.

        • chaosbunt says:

          oh you are right, himmel is definitely not yiddish. i missed that.

          i am curious though, what dialect do you think this is? definitely something southern, maybe Badisch, but i cannot pinpoint it.

          Of course there is the possibility, that the authors are indeed imprecise about the German phrase =)

          • Hackworth says:

            I missed the part of the context that it was a translation from an SS newspaper. I’m not really good at the fine nuances of dialects. It does sound like southern Germany, maybe Baden as you already said, but ultimately it probably doesn’t matter. Your typical Nazi back then just hates everything jewish, and everything he hates he describes as jewish, and everything jewish he happens to like he appropriates as German. That’s the core message.

          • Creutzer says:

            I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be Bavarian. They don’t actually have “diss”, but “des” with a very closed “e” that someone might have misperceived as “i” or rendered like that by way of exaggeration. Everything else fits and the phrase would indeed be a natural thing to exclaim in Bavarian. (It immediately brings to mind the character Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes, who is exactly the person you’d picture saying that.)

  30. John Greer says:

    Has there been any response to Brett Hall’s critique of Bostrom’s Superintelligence? What do y’all think? http://www.bretthall.org/superintelligence.html

    Or Goertzel’s critique of Superintelligence? http://jetpress.org/v25.2/goertzel.htm

    Crossposted from LW: http://lesswrong.com/lw/nf7/open_thread_march_21_march_27_2016/d6wz?context=1#d6wz

    • Erebus says:

      Everything about Hall’s critique is wrong.

      Part I is a false analogy that goes nowhere. It is wholly irrelevant, if not actually deceptive and misleading.

      Part II criticizes Bostrom’s writing style, but makes no other points. (He’s apparently upset that Bostom hedges his language when making predictions. The stupidity and pointlessness of Hall’s argument should be readily apparent.)

      Part III contains nothing worth responding to.

      Part IV’s core argument is that computers are incapable of creative thought. Not only does this betray mystical thinking about the human mind, it is also false. Artificial intelligences have been designing circuits and other such things for many years — and often quite creatively (if bizarrely). Neural networks are built to “learn” and, based upon what they have learned, produce creative output. It is fairly simple to model the creative process.

      Hall says: “Creativity might very well be tied intimately with consciousness. For to solve a problem you must be aware of a problem. And therein lies the problem: to observe, consciously be aware – of that which you do not know – requires an ingredient we simply cannot express mathematically or in any programming language. Yet.”

      Creativity has nothing to do with consciousness. Furthermore, he seems to be implying that the human brain is a magical device. Consciousness seems to be nothing more than a function of neural complexity, and our silicon is getting there.

      Part V tries to poke holes in the “paperclipper” concept, unsuccessfully. Hall’s argument is that no AGI would single-mindedly latch onto one motivation or goal at the expense of absolutely everything else. He is right about one thing: Paperclips are ridiculous. But replace “paperclips” with “computronium” — assume that this AGI is obsessed with increasing its own capabilities and that it needs enormous amounts of computronium to solve the hidden mysteries of the universe — and it’s rather easy to see how a godlike AI could fixate upon the attainment of computronium, to the exclusion of every other non-vital function.

      Part V’s bottom line: “An AGI is a person. Not a human person – but a person nonetheless. And that means: an intelligence not fixated on a single problem for all time. Instead a person critically reflects. And creates – creates new problems, and solves them.”

      But if the “problem” involves making Planck-scale attacks upon the substrate of our universe, our AGI is likely going to require resources on a cosmic scale, and eons of time.
      …The goals that the AI creates for itself are unlikely to be compatible with human goals.

      Part VI begins with another criticism of Bostrom’s writing style — to wit, that he likes to invent new terminology. It is not worth discussing this criticism further.

      Part VI then makes a couple of inane arguments:
      1. Bostrom is too pessimistic.

      “To see this just switch the topic to non AGI. i.e: a human. Imagine someone said of a baby at birth: do not trust them. They will grow up to be manipulative. The potential of that baby is vast and one day it will learn better than any of us. We must be cautious. We should put it in a Faraday cage…just in case.”

      This is among the worst arguments I’ve ever seen anybody make. A sufficiently advanced AGI and a human baby couldn’t possibly be more different. Human babies are known quantities — they develop and learn at predictable rates, and their capabilities are obvious to everybody. A sufficiently advanced AGI is a wholly alien intelligence.

      2. Ultility functions are irrational. Instead, AGIs will use: “[…] a creative process to make decisions. That involves coming up with new theories and using persuasion (of themselves and others) to find the most rational course forward. So why is there not such a program? Because no one knows how to model – mathematically – algorithmically – in code – the creative process.”

      This is nonsense which indirectly supports all of Bostrom’s arguments.

      • chaosbunt says:

        i agree. his main argument (i have only made it to part 4 so far) seems to be that since we do not know how general intelligence works, we cannot produce it. What to him seems to be reassuring is exactly the point of AI risk. since we do not know how AGI will work we better watch out that we dont accidentally make a computronium maximizer.
        I have not read Bostrom, but judging from what i have read here about AI risk, Hall’s whole essay is about punching a strawman so ridiculous weak, that he starts throwing arguments,
        that in fact support any serious account of AI risk.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        This is among the worst arguments I’ve ever seen anybody make. A sufficiently advanced AGI and a human baby couldn’t possibly be more different. Human babies are known quantities — they develop and learn at predictable rates, and their capabilities are obvious to everybody. A sufficiently advanced AGI is a wholly alien intelligence.

        That depends on your assumptions.

        Yudkowsky, and following him, Bostrom, tend to take an AIXI like approach to AGI, believing that what is necessary is One Weird Trick, a magic formula that will give you full generality all at once. Shortly followed by a leap to superintelligence.
        The alien ness of AGI follows from that , it is not unconditional.

        Hanson and other critics tend to assume that the development of AGI will be the result of combining special purpose technologies, and will be highly incremental. Given that assumption, AGI will not be alien, because each increment will resemble the previous ones.

    • Vaniver says:

      I replied to both over there (Brett Hall, Goertzel).

    • chaosbunt says:

      Edit: this is my bit. if you want a longer and in any way better discussion, follow vaniver’s link above

      Goertzel makes an excelent critique of AI risk thinking. He takes AI risk seriously , although he comes to a more positive conclusion. His criticism of Bostrom and Yudkowsky focuses mainly on two of their hypothesis.
      1. the orthoganility thesis, that is the assumption that any level of intelligence might in principle be coupled with any set of goals.
      2. The conception of intelligence as maximizer of a utility function.

      He argues, that intelligence is better understood in terms of Self-Organizing Complex Adaptive Systems, that supercede the conception of goals and maximizing outcomes. He especially criticizes yudkowsky’s ignorance of complex systems and emergence. In the end he does not try to disprove ai risk, though pointing out some serious issues with Yudkowsky and Bostrom, but generates different ideas about what stand to take on AI development from a broader point of view than “we must avoid the paperclip maximizer”

      I considered it an excellent contribution to the debate. If there is something to respond to, it is not the formal points, on which he is right, but in how far can from his criticism really follow a less cautious approach to the possibility of unfriendly AI.

    • Vita Fied says:

      Though, as for super-intelligence. We already have a risk-minimizing method through guided breeding. If we were to be extreme in this method when it comes to selecting males, its plausible that everyone born by the *end* of this century would be multiple standard deviations above levels now, and certainly by the end of the next. Before the possibility of *soulless* artificial intelligence with only thought but no verified emotion, that idea could be considered evil. Now though, is it?

      This experiment has undoubtedly been done before with animals, at least when it comes to bell-curve traits with massive amounts of interactions. Finding the closest analogy of what’s been done can be a chore, though.

      The next *safest* method is through genetic engineering. Hard to say when this will be perfected, or the largest extent of how its been in animals and humans.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        What are you trying to get at? The doomsday argument?

        • Vita Fied says:

          A pathway to superintelligence that nicely avoids the AI doomsday possibilities, while keeping other doomsday scenarios, such as climate change, comets, and nukes.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Wait, you totally changed the content of your post since I responded to it.

            When I wrote that, it said something like “Isn’t it suspicious that we’re living here now, just as AI is beginning to surpass human intelligence in some areas?”

            In any case, the problem with selective breeding / genetic engineering as a pathway to Friendly superintelligence is that we already know humans with a lot of power tend to get corrupted.

          • Vita Fied says:

            That’s a natural human tendency, yes. But remember, for any one corrupt hyper-intelligence, its competing with hyper-intelligences on the spectrum of morality.

            And I slightly suspect that an somewhat edited variant of “Evolutionarry novel” hypothesis is true, that heightened intelligence tends to move people away from natural brutal methods. A slight example in the modern farming method is vegetarinism, and while women vegetarianism have highter IQ scores then typical eaters, as certain types of brutality amongst men is perhaps called more *natural*, the difference is even higher in men.

            He isn’t the best author, but a few good posts.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “that heightened intelligence tends to move people away from natural brutal methods.”

            That sadly isn’t true. The Nazis are of course the go to counter example.

  31. sky says:

    Could some one explain to me why the left (is the the right name?) has taken to criticizing female characters that are very sexual?

    Classically isn’t this considered conservative/patriarchy thing? But I am consistently seeing such critiques from feminists/the left.

    Why is this?

    • Frog Do says:

      Everyone polices gender norms.

    • Protagoras says:

      There are a lot of prudes. Some of them are feminists, and try to use their feminism to justify their prudishness. In addition, an argument that appeals to prudery will find a receptive audience even among non-feminists, so those who want to reach a significant audience will be helped by appealing to that demographic. Because such arguments are popular with a wide audience, they are encountered more frequently than the more sophisticated feminist arguments which have more limited audience appeal.

      • Zippy says:

        This is my best guess as well, which brings the consensus up to two random internet people at least.

        Though I should warn that these are Outside View explanations, so to speak.

        I might describe the cluster of people you refer to as “Social Justice Warriors”.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Disclaimer: I am not a feminist.

      Well on the ideological side, you’ve got two obvious sources. The first is so-called sex negative feminists, mostly holdouts from the second wave, who see heterosexual sex either as inherently degrading or at least as problematic as long as patriarchy exists. The second is sex positive feminists who nonetheless worry that sexualized female characters are serving more as stroke material for guys than as developed characters.

      Plus there’s always just ordinary jealousy. Right or wrong, most of the time it’s other women shaming female promiscuity. There’s no reason that attitude can’t apply to a fictional character just as much as a flesh-and-blood person.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ Dr Dealgood
        The first is so-called sex negative feminists, mostly holdouts from the second wave

        Wrong wave. Or, say ‘het sex’.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I thought the standard view was that Third Wave was (generally) “sex positive”, although third wave is also more fragmented in ideology.

          Second Wave has some fairly archetypical sex negative examples, doesn’t it?

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Ok, didn’t realize there was a practical difference there. Thanks for the clarification.

          So how would you slice it up?

    • reytes says:

      I think there’s a couple different concerns (at least, this is how I’ve seen people talk about it).

      First, I think there’s the concern that it can come at the expense of character development – that the fact that “sexy cheesecake” is one of the assigned roles for female characters in fiction can limit the range of action and identity that women have in fiction. Especially if it’s done in a way that’s pander-y – that a writer who’s having women behave in particularly sexual ways is not doing so because of anything rooted in character development, but because they happen to like it.

      Second, there’s a concern that portrayals of sex, sexuality, and sexual agency are not symmetrical across the genders. That women are portrayed in sexual ways much more than male characters, that women often have much less agency or are judged differently by media for similar sexual choices compared to male characters, etc. Sexualization of things that would not be sexual for male characters. Criticisms of the prevalence of female nudity versus male nudity, that kind of thing. And so the argument here ends up being that the sexualization isn’t wrong, as such, but that the gender gap makes it problematic.

      But, again, that’s just the sense that I’ve gotten.

      • Protagoras says:

        Those are the rationalizations. Not that those points don’t ever have any merit, but it’s very common for criticisms of sexy female characters to be made with absolutely no attention paid to the nuance, and even in cases where these points seem rather obviously not to apply.

        • reytes says:

          I couldn’t tell you what lies in anyone’s secret heart. I’m just trying to explain the claims that are being made.

          I would say that doing things like missing the point and deploying arguments you don’t really understand are not uncommon at the best of times, and there are plenty of people who seem to pay little attention to nuance. So, I mean, that doesn’t seem wholly unexpected to me, I guess.

          • ii says:

            When the nuance isn’t the source of the argument something else has got to be. I’d take the fact that someone can come up with multiple justifications for the same behavior as a strike against those explanations rather than for. If being a vegetarian is something done to protect animals AND save the environment AND being economically more feasible than I generally round up the argument to “it’s popular among people I like”
            (disclaimer: I’m 3 years and going vegetarian)

          • reytes says:

            @ii:

            Well, I’m not sure. It certainly seems possible to me that – to take the vegetarian example – there are people out there who are pro-vegetarianism whose reasoning does, in fact, boil down to “it’s popular among people I like”. While at the same time, the existence of those people does not in itself invalidate any actual good arguments for vegetarianism as a position. It’s ancillary.

            In much the same way, I certainly agree that there are probably plenty of people who are advancing arguments on female character sexuality just for social reasons. I don’t think that speaks to the validity of those arguments in a vacuum. And I think it is more interesting to try to understand those arguments in their strongest form than it is to point out that some people are very silly and make bad arguments because of it, or that some people are motivated by social concerns.

            I just don’t see why it’s important – and particularly important in this instance – to point out the basically banal fact that some people make arguments they don’t really understand, or to treat this as a meaningful criticism of the arguments when they’re made by people who do understand them. I don’t see why we should be particularly surprised that people make bad arguments on this topic. I don’t see why people making bad arguments in this instance points to some deeper truth. I don’t see it.

          • ii says:

            @ reytes

            It doesn’t really but then the question was “why does this phenomenon seemingly break political ranks” to which the answer is a rather banal “because enough people started doing it so now it doesn’t”

            just like the popularity of most books and movies is 10% “found its audience” and 90% “other people were already talking about it”

            I agree that the minor reason is more interesting to discuss but not that it’s the more important one.

    • 57dimensions says:

      Because there are way too fucking many completely over sexualized female characters in every kind of media. Its inescapable.

      Also there’s ‘sexy’ vs ‘sexual’. Women are most often portrayed as ‘sexy’, and the very definition of that word is pretty much “sexually pleasing for (usually) men to look at.” That is not the same thing has being ‘sexual’, which is just a term to describe something as having to do with sex. I rarely ever see a woman portrayed just as a sexual being in a way that doesn’t directly appeal to male viewers.

      Basically what’s happened with feminism’s stance on this is that society as a whole was very prudish, so there was basically no sexual aspect to media whatsoever. Feminists saw this as undesirable because of a whole ton of reasons that I can’t all explain in this post, but basically that when sex=dirty, bad, wrong + gender roles = women who are in any way sexual (or god forbid enjoy sex) are dirty and worthless.

      So feminists had an interest in making sex less taboo, but since that cultural change has happened now sex is everywhere, but women still get the short end of the stick. Women still don’t get to be truly sexual (just look at those orgasm rates + mountains of other stuff I can’t dig up right now) but can now be marketed as Sexy!! without a good portion of society seeing it as indecent.

      So now sexy women are everywhere and used to market everything and the idea of sexiness has infiltrated every young girls head at an early age, but now instead of just “women + sexuality = bad” its “women + sexuality + performing said sexuality in any number of societally deemed incorrect ways = dirty slut”

      Side note: sexuality/sex for all people is never easy and accepted completely, everyone is looked down at for something, but this comment is specifically about sexualized women.

      Also: The comments that answered the above post are among the worst quality I have yet seen on SSC. Everyone is up for thoughtful and careful discussion until we mention feminism, and then the comments have a totally different (judgmental and contemptuous) tone. This is really disappointing to me. I’m not asking everyone to be “””PC””” or call themselves a feminist (or even use the word feminism!), I just would like to see some better responses of topics that are just as worthy of discussion as anything else here–of which there are many things the majority of people would not consider worthy of discussion at all.

      • anonymous user says:

        Interesting that you claim they’re the worst comments you’ve seen, considering they seem to be saying the same thing as your post. That doesn’t reflect well on you.

        • 57dimensions says:

          then I’m not sure we’re reading the same comments, because while the general gist of my comment was similar to a few others, the tone of others were extremely dismissive and prejudicial, which is not the norm for these threads. The comments were positively tame for average discussions of feminism on the internet, but lower quality than comments here discussing any other topic. To me most comments came across as: “ugh feminism why are we bringing this up? its so insignificant, but those sjws are always so offended. this is what feminists “”””think”””” is happening but they’re stupid and wrong because they always are.”

          • neonwattagelimit says:

            I think you’ve sort of got a point, but there’s something about feminism/gender issues that seems to bring out the bad in people, at least on the Internet. SSC is honestly one of the few places I’ve seen where one can have a discussion/debate around feminism or feminism-related topics that isn’t *totally horrible*, even if it’s still somewhat below the normal level of discourse around here. It’s kinda sad, but I think you need to grade this on a curve.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            The discussion with regard to feminism or feminism-related topics is really bad here. Maybe it’s worse on 4chan or something, but that’s not saying much.

            And I do feel like the standards of discussion, generally, have gotten somewhat worse here over time.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:
            Most discussion of feminism on the net is on the level of

            “SJW freak!”
            “Misogynist pig!”
            GENDER-BASED SLUR
            BLOCKED
            REPORTED
            SUED
            PROSECUTED

            so it doesn’t take much to be better.

          • Urstoff says:

            Where is the quality of discussion about feminism good?

            The FeMRADebates subreddit seems to be decent. The quality here at SSC is not great because there aren’t many committed to arguing against the general opinion.

          • Protagoras says:

            I would like to be clear that my own comments came not from a place of “ugh feminism” but from a place of “ugh this topic.” I normally like discussions of feminism, but far too many cases of feminists criticizing allegedly “over-sexualized” or “objectified” female characters strike me as little more than slut-shaming under cover of a pretense of feminism.

            The problem with media representations of women is that there aren’t enough of them (it’s still around 1/3 of characters across movies and TV, rather than the 1/2 it should be, right?) and as a result they are insufficiently diverse. Having more of them will pretty much inevitably make them more diverse (needs of storytelling; you can’t have multiple smurfettes, once you have multiple women some of them have to be playing other roles besides just being “the girl” because redundancy is bad storytelling). Making them less sexy, or less sexualized, on the other hand, is completely beside the point and will do nothing to help produce more fully realized female characters. Indeed, it will tend to have the opposite effect, because sex is an important part of human experience, and just trying to remove it produces less human characters (I know, you only want to remove it when it’s done wrong, but that never works; there’s never enough agreement about how it’s supposed to be done).

          • Nita says:

            Feminism-related discussions seem to go better at a socially adjacent blog, Ozymandias’ Thing of Things. But breaking the occasional circlejerk here on SSC is still worthwhile. Welcome to the fray, 57d.

            Edit: Protagoras, your earlier comments would have seemed less hostile if they had contained less name-calling and accusations of bad faith. I agree that simply having more female characters would help in most cases, but I don’t agree that it’s sufficient. E.g., the Gor series manages to portray multiple women who seem to be basically the same.

          • “The problem with media representations of women is that there aren’t enough of them (it’s still around 1/3 of characters across movies and TV, rather than the 1/2 it should be, right?)”

            Why should it be? Fiction isn’t supposed to be a realistic picture of the world. I would think the ratio would depend on what works for storytelling purposes. No particular reason why it should be the same as the ratio in the real world.

            At a considerable tangent … . My first novel contains a female military order. Most of the institutions and technology in the novel were based on things that really existed, but that was not—I know of no historical example of anything very close.

            But it worked very well as a plot device, for a variety of reasons, which is why I did it.

          • Vaniver says:

            David, didn’t Qaddafi have a unit of female guards?

          • Protagoras says:

            @Nita, As to my tone, slut-shaming really annoys me. WRT Gor, my point was that a greater number of female characters plus the needs of good storytelling will produce more diverse female characters. Gor is of course a fringe case, and I haven’t read enough of it to really know exactly how many female characters there are or how diverse they are anyway, but I had not been particularly under the impression that it was widely considered an example of *good* storytelling in any event.

          • “didn’t Qaddafi have a unit of female guards?”

            I don’t know. I have seen references to an African ruler in the past with such. But that isn’t very close to the Order in _Harald_, which is more like the Templars–an independent power mostly located within a kingdom. Part of the plot involves the attempt by a new king to convert his father’s allies, including the Order, into subjects.

      • Anon. says:

        >So now sexy women are everywhere and used to market everything and the idea of sexiness has infiltrated every young girls head at an early age, but now instead of just “women + sexuality = bad” its “women + sexuality + performing said sexuality in any number of societally deemed incorrect ways = dirty slut”

        Can you explain why you think this particular case of “X is corrupting our children” is special? And how the “normalization” of female sexuality in media leads to the “performing said sexuality in any number of societally deemed incorrect ways = dirty slut” bit?

      • EyeballFrog says:

        “Women still don’t get to be truly sexual (just look at those orgasm rates + mountains of other stuff I can’t dig up right now)”

        What does orgasm rate have to do with this?

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          I think the idea is that women don’t tend to insist on getting off during sex, because vaginal orgasms are very difficult to achieve relative to clitoral orgasms but are also much more socially acceptable.

          There’s some truth to that. From what I’ve seen, a surprising number of women don’t even seem to be able to bring themselves to climax reliably and don’t expect to climax with a partner at all. It’s a trivial problem to solve in theory, since even if you’re too lazy to learn how to do it manually vibrators have existed forever, but in practice it gets tied up by women’s nervousness in asking. Maybe marriage manuals should make a comeback.

        • InferentialDistance says:

          The Patriarchy cannot be overthrown until women break through the cum ceiling!

      • I don’t think I understand your distinction between “sexy” and “sexualized.”

        Portraying women as sexy, meaning sexually attractive to men, seems like an obvious thing to do in a novel or movie, since sexual desires are a major human motivator. A sexy woman will get more attention from at least the male audience, and her sexiness provides obvious plot opportunities. One wouldn’t want all female characters portrayed that way, any more than you would want all male characters portrayed as tough, aggressive he men, although that too provides plot opportunities. But portraying a fair number that way makes sense.

        Although I have to confess that my fiction is seriously deficient in both categories.

        But then what does “sexualized” mean? Described “Just as a sexual being?” Does that mean a character interested in nothing but sex? I wouldn’t expect many fictional characters to fit that pattern. And, if anything, I would expect it more of male characters than female.

        Or does “sexualized woman” mean “woman portrayed as of interest to the male characters only as someone to try to go to bed with?” I can see that, given how large a role that motivation plays in male behavior, but I would think if anyone is being insulted by that portrayal it would be the men.

        • Alexp says:

          I think one illustrative example might be, say, Power Girl, who is sexy and dresses provocatively, but as far as I know, has never been portrayed as seeking or desiring sex more than the average woman.

          Power Girl might not fit, but I’m sure there are thousands of female comic book characters who do.

    • drethelin says:

      Feminists thought that prudishness was suppressing women, but it was also protecting them from seeing what men really wanted to see.

      • 57dimensions says:

        But why construct it that way? you used a roundabout way of saying that things men “really wanted to see” might not be so great. You seem to be implying that women don’t like the things “men want [them to do/act like]”, why does that not matter? Why is it ok that men “really wanted to see” things that many women don’t like, don’t want, and even consider harmful and degrading? Why not question whether those things are really good things to want in the first place, rather than putting the blame on the people (women) who are required to perform those things?

        • Jiro says:

          You seem to be implying that women think those things aren’t good, why does that not matter?

          Because as a general principle, “someone thinks X isn’t good” shouldn’t matter. Plenty of people think homosexuality isn’t good. Plenty of people think drawing pictures of Mohammed isn’t good.

        • hlynkacg says:

          How would you construct it?

        • Murphy says:

          Which is basically the argument of every prude in history (except the more direct ones who just wanted to burn whores)

          Some people want to see girls wrestle in oil. Some girls want to wrestle in oil.

          And a big crowd of prudes from both the religious and feminist camps take the position that it “might not be so great” and so should be banned either to [pick one or more]:

          1: protect the children

          2: avoid offending god.

          3: protect women

          4: “protect” women from objectification no matter their own opinions on the matter because we know best.

          Should “many” people get to dictate what people who aren’t part of that many do with their bodies or show of their bodies?

          Once you’ve decided that you have the right to dictate what’s good for other people to do with their bodies you’re squarely in the same camp as the nuns and preachers no matter if you delude yourself that you have totally different reasons to sing from the same hymnbook.

          Yes, it is uncharitable but nothing you’ve said has been anything but superficially different from what I’ve heard from nuns in the past.

          • Nita says:

            Um, wait. I thought we were discussing characters — fictional entities created by their authors. They don’t want to wrestle in oil. They don’t want anything. They’re imaginary.

            Of course, there is also plenty of fiction optimized for heterosexual women’s enjoyment at the expense of psychological realism. But some creators of mainstream media seem to want it (and sometimes have it) both ways — to sex-up their work with juicy fanservice and to be taken seriously.

          • Murphy says:

            @nita

            I thought we were discussing protrayal of women in media , “things[many] men want to see” and implicitly things some women want to be seen doing.

            the “sexy women are everywhere and used to market everything” thing.

          • Nita says:

            The “sexy women” in that phrase are characters (including e.g., the ephemeral characters in ads and posters), not people. Hence the distinction between “women portrayed as sexual beings” and “sexy women”.

            For instance, is this a portrayal of a woman as a sexual being, which feminists dislike because they’re totalitarian prudes?

      • hlynkacg says:

        This seems to be a common failure mode of a lot of (I don’t want to call it progressive so…) “un-conservative” policies. IE x is suppressing both y and z, we remove x because we like y but act shocked when z shows up to the party.

      • onyomi says:

        This reminds me a bit of the whole “women should be allowed to breastfeed/go topless in public,” thing, which I think of as a feminist issue. Like most feminist issues, it feels, to me at least, as if it’s aimed primarily at men: “hey men, stop hypocritically suppressing us: if you can go topless, we should be able to as well.”

        But I also think it’s probably mostly women who actually mind seeing other women’s breasts in public. Most straight men would be quite happy to see bare breasts in public, I think, even if that meant sometimes seeing some one might rather not see. So the real message is “hey women, stop shaming other women for not being super protective of their bodies as you are.”

        I feel like feminist criticism of prostitution also has a lot of this character. The ostensible message is “hey men, stop degrading women by patronizing prostitutes”; the covert message is “hey women, stop lowering the value of vaginae by selling them too cheaply.”

        • multiheaded says:

          vaginae

          Oh SSC comments.

          • hlynkacg says:

            That’s what you get for hanging out in a space that’s a bit more literate than your average internet forum.

        • Anon says:

          But I also think it’s probably mostly women who actually mind seeing other women’s breasts in public.

          I think this is right. I’m a woman, and though I would never say so in public for fear of people verbally dogpiling me, I don’t like seeing women breastfeeding in public, especially if their breasts are clearly visible. Breastfeeding with some sort of covering over the breasts is better (though I’d still rather not see it).

          I would never tell a breastfeeding woman to stop, but I don’t like seeing it and I wish women would do this in private, at least whenever possible.

          Part of my objection to it is that the whole concept of drinking from a human nipple viscerally disgusts me for some reason. I don’t know why, but it does. (I was never breastfed as a baby, so that might have had some effect.)

          I’m not saying it’s objectively wrong to breastfeed or anything. I’ve seen the statistics on it and agree that it’s probably a little bit better than formula feeding. I just don’t want to see it. I wouldn’t support a law banning women from breastfeeding in public, but I would like it to be generally socially unacceptable except when there is no other possible choice.

          the covert message is “hey women, stop lowering the value of vaginae by selling them too cheaply.”

          Absolutely. Most women aren’t consciously aware of the whole “female cartel with a monopoly over men’s access to heterosexual sex” thing, but they do seem to get it unconsciously, and they do socially punish women who break the cartel’s monopoly by reducing the price (i.e. marriage or some other form of commitment) of sex. Women who really want men to be forced to commit before they can get sex have basically lost already though, because both prostitution and women willing to have casual unpaid sex with men have completely eroded the cartel’s ability to maintain high prices. This causes those women to be especially vicious towards the women who ruined it for them.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Part of my objection to it is that the whole concept of drinking from a human nipple viscerally disgusts me for some reason. I don’t know why, but it does. (I was never breastfed as a baby, so that might have had some effect.)

            Leon Kass, is that you?

            Seriously, though, I feel the same way. It’s gross.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Do you think that is a common reaction to breastfeeding? I don’t, but neither do I understand why you’d share your idiosyncratic reaction.

            I do think that it is pretty common for people to find injections disgusting and not want to see them. Assuming that premise, what do you think of a norm that diabetics should not inject insulin in public places, particularly dining areas?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Douglas Knight:

            Yeah, they should do it in the bathroom.

            Edit: with Anon‘s obvious caveats about emergencies.

          • Anon says:

            @Douglas Knight

            Assuming that premise, what do you think of a norm that diabetics should not inject insulin in public places, particularly dining areas?

            I’m fine with diabetics injecting insulin in public (even in dining areas) if they have to, but I also think it’d be fine if it was generally socially unacceptable to do so in non-emergencies. I have a pretty big divide in my opinion of what should be acceptable during an emergency and what should be acceptable in non-emergencies.

            Breastfeeding and insulin injection are both fine in public if you need to do it. But I’d like it if people at least tried to avoid getting into a situation where they need to do it in public.

            Like, if you’re (generic you) a mother and you are going out for the day in public with your baby, you should know that you will need to breastfeed him at some point, so you should try to plan to go somewhere at least semi-private at regular intervals to do so (your car would be fine for this, or a breastfeeding room if a location you’re attending has one). If no semi-private place can be found, at least bring a blanket or covering to cover yourself while breastfeeding in public.

            Likewise for diabetics. If you’re a diabetic and you know you’ll have to inject insulin after eating (or before eating, I’m not sure which one they have to do), you should try to do so in a private or semi-private place rather than right in front of all the diners at the restaurant you went to. Obviously if you’re about to die if you don’t inject it right now in public, go ahead. But you should be trying to plan ahead for known issues like this.

            Do you think that is a common reaction to breastfeeding? I don’t, but neither do I understand why you’d share your idiosyncratic reaction.

            I don’t think it’s a rare reaction, though it may not be exactly common. It does seem to be common for people to be grossed out by witnessing a child breastfeeding. That’s why it’s still socially unacceptable in many parts of the U.S., and that’s why some mothers and various types of feminists are trying to make it more acceptable.

            I shared my idiosyncratic reaction because it is relevant information in explaining why I hate seeing women breastfeeding, and because the SSC comments section is unusually open and accepting towards idiosyncratic reactions people have to various stimuli.

            I appear to not be the only one who feels this way, as Vox Imperatoris agrees with my feeling.

            Edit: Stuff like this and this is what I’m mainly reacting to here. This (to me) demonstrates an egregious disregard for the comfort of the people around you, and I think it’s a good thing for this kind of behavior to be socially unacceptable.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I put the odds at 95% that disgust reactions are not the cause of the taboo.

          • Anon says:

            @Douglas Knight

            I put the odds at 95% that disgust reactions are not the cause of the taboo.

            Why? And what do you believe the cause is? Most of the times I’ve seen people express a preference that mothers not breastfeed in public, it’s been accompanied by something along the lines of “it’s gross”.

          • I don’t think it’s possible to assert a social norm of only breastfeeding in private without it acting to discourage breastfeeding altogether. Personally, it seems to me that the public health consequences of that outweigh any idiosyncratic discomfort a very few people might feel.

            (Plus if we can make public breastfeeding sufficiently common, negative reactions to it should become even rarer, at least among new generations.)

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Harry Johnston:

            Public health is a potential concern, I suppose.

            I just don’t trust these things saying that bottle-feeding lowers IQ by 5 points or something. But maybe.

            I guess I’m biased because I was bottle-fed.

          • @Anon, I can’t speak for Douglas, but my own guess is that prudishness accounts for a lot of it.

            Although I’m starting to wonder whether sheer unfamiliarity is also a factor, perhaps for some of the same reasons that the idea of eating dog meat or bugs grosses us out, even though they are both normal parts of the human diet elsewhere in the world.

            @Vox, 5 points seems improbable to me. But I gather the shorter-term immunological benefits are on more solid ground.

          • Nathan says:

            I dunno. I’m fairly prudish, eg I skip past the sex scenes when watching Game of Thrones, and I have no problems whatsoever with public breastfeeding.

          • @ Blue and white Anon:

            Someone I knew had a clever version of the story of how it happened.

            Women generally want to end up with men two or three years older than them. When the women of the baby boom hit the marriage market they were looking for men born in 1944 or 1945 and there weren’t many of them, so some of them ended up settling for lovers instead of husbands–and the immemorial sexual cartel was broken.

            A bit too tidy, but I still like it.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Harry Johnston:

            @Anon, I can’t speak for Douglas, but my own guess is that prudishness accounts for a lot of it.

            Although I’m starting to wonder whether sheer unfamiliarity is also a factor, perhaps for some of the same reasons that the idea of eating dog meat or bugs grosses us out, even though they are both normal parts of the human diet elsewhere in the world.

            Well, I think there’s some kind of…maybe it’s not fair to call it a fallacy, but a belief common in “rationalist” circles that no standard of behavior can promulgated in society unless you can show that it’s universally obligatory everywhere.

            “Why can’t I wear a t-shirt and shorts to this formal event? Couldn’t there be a society in which t-shirts and shorts were formal clothing?” Yes, there could be such a society. That does not change the fact that, in our society, they are not appropriate formal clothing.

            For the same sort of reason, I think it’s okay to be against people being naked in public, or eating bugs, or having sex in the street. You shouldn’t have sex in the street because it’s offensive to everyone else. But you can’t even express the idea that “it offends my sensibilities” without sounding like a parody.

            On the other hand, I think these norms of behavior can certainly be overridden if they have significantly bad consequences. For instance, people’s disgust toward homosexual behavior: it’s a very harmful norm.

            In the same way, I think “smoking is acceptable even cool” is harmful norm that is better replaced with “smoking is disgusting and low-class.”

            Maybe the discouragement of public breastfeeding is a harmful norm, I don’t know. But if not, there’s nothing wrong with it.

            In any case, I don’t think such norms should be enforced by law. I think it’s much better to rely upon social pressure.

          • Anon says:

            @Harry Johnston

            I don’t think it’s possible to assert a social norm of only breastfeeding in private without it acting to discourage breastfeeding altogether.

            If this is true, then I guess it might be better to just make it socially acceptable to breastfeed in public, depending on how beneficial breastfeeding really is. But I’m not sure it is true. There’s plenty of things that are socially unacceptable to do in public, but are acceptable and very normal to do in private, such as having sex, showering, using the toilet, changing clothing, etc.

            If making sex unacceptable to do in public didn’t stop people from doing it in private, I don’t see why making breastfeeding unacceptable to do in public would stop women from doing it privately either. Both are natural bodily functions that people experience an evolved urge to engage in.

            I would also be okay with the compromise position of “women should be able to breastfeed in public, but only if they cover themselves while doing it so other people don’t need to see”. Since a towel or small blanket can easily be put into a diaper bag (which mothers of infants already carry around with them anyway), it shouldn’t impose any additional burden on the mothers. Women who refuse to do this are behaving in a way that ought to be socially unacceptable.

            @Anon, I can’t speak for Douglas, but my own guess is that prudishness accounts for a lot of it.

            That might be a factor for some people, I agree. It’s not a big factor for me, and I’ve never heard anyone express this opinion, but I suppose people who hold this view might be too afraid of being dogpiled on to express it.

            Still, I’m inclined to believe the “ew gross” factor is a larger reason for the taboo than prudishness.

            @Nathan

            I dunno. I’m fairly prudish, eg I skip past the sex scenes when watching Game of Thrones, and I have no problems whatsoever with public breastfeeding.

            Huh, it’s the exact opposite for me. I watch all the sex scenes in GoT, but I don’t like seeing breastfeeding. Mostly because breastfeeding grosses me out, while sex does not (though I also watch GoT alone; if I was watching it with other people I might want to skip the sex scenes due to awkwardness).

            Of course, I still wouldn’t want to see people having sex out in public places, and I’m very glad it’s socially unacceptable to do so.

            Edit: Missed a part I wanted to respond to.

            Although I’m starting to wonder whether sheer unfamiliarity is also a factor, perhaps for some of the same reasons that the idea of eating dog meat or bugs grosses us out, even though they are both normal parts of the human diet elsewhere in the world.

            Unfamiliarity probably is a factor. I doubt very many people living in, say, rural African villages where women don’t even wear shirts and where mothers with babies always breastfeed in public are disgusted by it.

            But that’s not our society. In our society, it’s unfamiliar and many people find it disgusting, and I’m not so sure we should make it familiar because I don’t think socially allowing women to breastfeed in public when they could fairly easily avoid doing so (including by simply covering themselves momentarily) brings us much of a benefit.

            If someone can think of a strong societal benefit for making public breastfeeding socially acceptable, I could support it despite my personal dislike of the practice. But the health benefits of breastfeeding are tiny (though real), and mothers can still give those benefits to their babies simply by privately breastfeeding, or by pumping and then bottle-feeding the child breast milk.

            Also, I do want to reiterate that, like Vox, I don’t want public breastfeeding to be illegal.

          • @Vox, it makes a difference though. If the reason it makes some people uncomfortable is just unfamiliarity, then it will stop being a problem once it is familiar, so the harm is entirely one-sided, at least in the long run. If there are other reasons why breastfeeding makes people uncomfortable, it isn’t that easy.

            I would argue that discouraging breastfeeding is a harmful norm and encouraging it a helpful one. But if there are a significant number of people who would still be upset by it, even once it became the norm, it might be necessary to reconsider.

          • onyomi says:

            I think there is a mixture of disgust, prudishness, and discomfort at viewing something very intimate (which I guess is a sort of prudishness, though it feels distinct to me? Like, seeing a couple look longingly into one another’s eyes for a long time on the subway could make a me a little uncomfortable, even if they aren’t actually doing any PDA).

            1. You’re seeing a boob, which many people think of a sexual 2. You’re seeing a human body excrete something, which many people think of as private/gross 3. You’re seeing something non-romantic, but very intimate. In other words, breasts in general have a complex and potentially confusing set of associations in many minds: sometimes sexual, sometimes nurturing, or even both. None of these feelings are feelings most people expect to feel riding on the subway.

            I think number 3 is probably my biggest problem with it, though I don’t really mind that much. It feels sort of like you’re witnessing something that, while not inherently “gross,” nevertheless should be private. I think at least draping a blanket or something over yourself is a reasonable compromise.

            This relates somewhat to something which has always bothered me: why is it okay on American TV and movies to show someone’s head exploding, but not sex, nor even a bare breast, assuming we’re not dealing with at least a PG13? This always seemed a really f-ed up priority to me.

            The ostensible reason is maybe people are more worried about children trying to imitate sex than violence, but I have a friend who theorizes that people feel subtly empowered/adrenaline rushy when viewing violence, and that is an emotion most people are okay feeling in public/in front of others; viewing sex and naked bodies makes people feel turned on and/or vulnerable, and those aren’t emotions most are comfortable experiencing in public.

          • @Anon, to nitpick, it isn’t socially unacceptable to shower in public, only in mixed public. And most of your other examples are things that we’re more strongly motivated to do (for one reason or another) so I think that’s an apples-and-oranges comparison.

            Empirically speaking, breastfeeding was in fact quite uncommon at one point. So I think there’s good reason to be concerned that any social pressure against it would be risky.

          • Anon says:

            @Harry Johnston

            Empirically speaking, breastfeeding was in fact quite uncommon at one point. So I think there’s good reason to be concerned that any social pressure against it would be risky.

            This is true, and you are right that sex and using the toilet are more powerfully hardwired into our evolved behavioral matrix, but I think this only happened because it became trendy not to breastfeed.

            I don’t want it to be trendy not to breastfeed. I want women to want to breastfeed, so their children can receive those small but real benefits of it. I just want them to do it in private, or at least in semi-private (like with a blanket over them, or in their car, or something). Even just having mothers face away from other people while doing it would be better than this.

            Is it really unreasonable to want mothers to not blatantly display their breasts to the unconsenting public when there are many, many ways they could avoid doing so while still feeding their baby?

            Now, maybe it’s impossible to discourage public breastfeeding while not making non-breastfeeding trendy and thus very popular, but if it is possible, that’s what I’d like.

            it isn’t socially unacceptable to shower in public, only in mixed public.

            Women of my generation (I am 22) seem very reluctant to shower in front of each other. It’s getting pretty socially unacceptable to do this even when only one sex is present. From what I’ve heard, young men are starting to feel the same way.

            When I was in high school, no one showered after gym class because the showers were not private. The fact that boys and girls had separate locker rooms didn’t seem to matter much. Girls didn’t even want to change into or out of their gym clothes in front of each other, and would go to great lengths to conceal themselves from each other while changing.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anon:

            Women of my generation (I am 22) seem very reluctant to shower in front of each other. It’s getting pretty socially unacceptable to do this even when only one sex is present. From what I’ve heard, young men are starting to feel the same way.

            When I was in high school, no one showered after gym class because the showers were not private.

            As a young man of around the same age (23), the sentiment was the same at my high school. We actually had private shower stalls (though people didn’t use them just after gym class), and in any case no one stripped down naked in public. I have never been naked in public in my life.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Mothers need to leave the house sometimes, and babies need to eat frequently and on no convenient schedule. Expecting all breast-feeding to take place at home is not practical; norms against breast-feeding in public round off to anti-natalism.

            Bottles are both less nutritious and less convenient. They are yet another thing to carry around, and babies need to be trained not to reject them. Plus, mommy still needs to be milked regularly, or things become quite uncomfortable for her.

            On the other hand, expecting a blanket or some other form of cover is entirely reasonable, and women whining about that need to get off their high horse.

          • Is it really unreasonable to want mothers to not blatantly display their breasts to the unconsenting public when there are many, many ways they could avoid doing so while still feeding their baby?

            Are you sure there is no prudishness involved here?

            I don’t see any other reason to object to someone displaying their breasts if they are comfortable with doing so, particularly given that they have a practical reason.

            Women of my generation (I am 22) seem very reluctant to shower in front of each other.

            As it happens, I have a personal foible that makes me unwilling to shower or change in public, so I can sympathize. But I don’t think this is a positive thing for society as a whole, and it worries me.

          • Anon says:

            @Jaskologist

            Mothers need to leave the house sometimes, and babies need to eat frequently and on no convenient schedule. Expecting all breast-feeding to take place at home is not practical; norms against breast-feeding in public round off to anti-natalism.

            I’m not expecting mothers to only breastfeed at home. I just don’t want them doing it in public in full view of people. Breastfeeding in a specially designated breastfeeding room, or in the bathroom, or in their car, or in any other private space they can find is fine with me.

            Bottles are both less nutritious and less convenient. They are yet another thing to carry around, and babies need to be trained not to reject them. Plus, mommy still needs to be milked regularly, or things become quite uncomfortable for her.

            Less convenient, absolutely. But I don’t think they’re less nutritious, if we’re talking about breast milk that has been pumped and then placed into a bottle. It’s literally exactly the same milk as the milk babies get when they drink it right from the breast.

            Is there something about the process of putting it into a bottle that makes it less nutritious?

            The training factor for the babies is a good point, as is the point that women who do this have to pump regularly. That’s why I don’t think pumping and then bottle-feeding the pumped milk is the perfect solution, though women who want to should certainly do so. I think it’s a much better idea to just encourage breastfeeding women to breastfeed privately, or semi-privately, or at least not in blatant full view of the public.

            On the other hand, expecting a blanket or some other form of cover is entirely reasonable, and women whining about that need to get off their high horse.

            Yes, I agree! This isn’t my ideal solution, but I’d be fine with this being the social norm. It’s way better than women breastfeeding uncovered, at least.

            Sometimes I wonder if some women actively enjoy showing the public their breasts while breastfeeding, but simply won’t admit it. It would explain why some women are so resistant to the idea of covering themselves with a towel or blanket while publicly breastfeeding, despite the fact that this compromise solution gives them everything they say they want (namely, the ability to breastfeed anywhere, even places without breastfeeding rooms).

          • Anon says:

            @Harry Johnston

            Are you sure there is no prudishness involved here?

            I don’t see any other reason to object to someone displaying their breasts if they are comfortable with doing so, particularly given that they have a practical reason.

            I don’t think so. The point of the sentence you quoted was that the public was unconsenting. They didn’t choose to view the breastfeeding mother’s breasts. She imposed it upon them, even though she could have gone to a more private location, or covered herself with a blanket while breastfeeding.

            I like seeing breasts when I’m consenting to view them (such as in, say, GoT sex scenes like we were talking about upthread). That doesn’t mean I have to enjoy seeing random women’s breasts at any time whenever those women choose to expose them, even if it is for a good purpose.

            Many straight women enjoy seeing men’s penises in certain contexts (like when it’s her husband/boyfriend’s penis and they’re going to have sex). That doesn’t mean they have to enjoy seeing random men’s penises whenever a man on the street chooses to show his to the public.

            Also, recall that I find breastfeeding itself to be disgusting, not breasts. So seeing a woman breastfeeding bothers me more than if a woman just came up to me and showed me her breasts (though I don’t want that to happen either).

            As it happens, I have a personal foible that makes me unwilling to shower or change in public, so I can sympathize. But I don’t think this is a positive thing for society as a whole, and it worries me.

            I think it’s a neutral-to-mildly positive development. I don’t really know what society gains from having nudity (even among single-sex groups) be socially acceptable. Society probably doesn’t gain much from it being unacceptable either, which is why I think the effect is probably neutral. But if there is an effect, I’d guess it’d be in the positive direction, since people seem to genuinely like not having to be nude in public (even when around only the same sex).

          • The Nybbler says:

            Some of the women who object to covering up in public also object to men looking at them (even incidentally) when they breastfeed or reacting at all at seeing it. This is annoying and not because of prudishness.

            Other women see no problem being in a conversation with a mixed-sex group while breastfeeding, which I find rather embarrassing. I guess that would be prudishness.

          • Speaking as a male, I don’t want to try to claim that I understand why some women don’t like the idea of covering up the baby while breastfeeding, but I can imagine several possibilities.

            The most obvious is simply that agreeing that you should cover up might seem like a concession that you’re doing something shameful. Another is that it might upset the baby, or simply be uncomfortable for the mother; breastfeeding can be difficult enough as it is.

          • They didn’t choose to view the breastfeeding mother’s breasts.

            They didn’t choose to view her elbows, either, but that’s unlikely to generate complaints.

            I suppose treating visible breasts as something inherently sexual isn’t exactly prudishness, but I’m struggling to find a better word for it.

            I don’t really know what society gains from having nudity (even among single-sex groups) be socially acceptable.

            Interesting question. I think my opinion is that any widespread irrational phobia is inherently unhealthy for a society, regardless of the specific details.

            PS – I seem to recall that bottled breast milk does have health implications, but I may be mistaken. I would assume it isn’t the process of putting it in the bottle, but simply the delay.

          • Anon says:

            @The Nybbler

            Some of the women who object to covering up in public also object to men looking at them (even incidentally) when they breastfeed or reacting at all at seeing it. This is annoying and not because of prudishness.

            This is a really strange reaction. It kind of reminds me of the sealioning thing, where people want to be able to say/do something in public but don’t want anyone else commenting on it/looking at them doing it.

            Other women see no problem being in a conversation with a mixed-sex group while breastfeeding, which I find rather embarrassing. I guess that would be prudishness.

            I don’t think I’m a prude (though maybe I’m wrong about that), but I would leave a conversation and location if a woman started breastfeeding her baby right in front of me without covering up with a blanket. I wouldn’t tell her to stop, or say anything to her about it, but I would make any excuse I could to leave, or just walk away without an excuse.

            If she really feels she must breastfeed in public right at that moment, fine, but unless she’s really doing it for an exhibitionist thrill, I do not need to be present for it. And if she is doing it for an exhibitionist thrill, she ought to hire people to watch her do it, not try to make people give her the thrill for free.

            @Harry Johnston

            The most obvious is simply that agreeing that you should cover up might seem like a concession that you’re doing something shameful. Another is that it might upset the baby, or simply be uncomfortable for the mother; breastfeeding can be difficult enough as it is.

            I can see how some people might view it as a concession to the idea that breastfeeding is shameful, but I don’t think it really is. There’s a lot of things people do in private (and not in public) that are in no way shameful.

            For example, showering is becoming increasingly a private affair, and yet it is not shameful to tell people that you shower. In fact, it’s shameful not to shower.

            I don’t see why breastfeeding couldn’t be a thing that is good or even admirable to do in private (or in as close to “private” as you can get), but which is not acceptable to do in public except in extreme circumstances.

            Edit: Forgot to respond to the other part.

            Yes, using a blanket might be uncomfortable for the baby or mother. But is it necessarily so? I think a baby that was accustomed to it would not be bothered, and I think trying to get babies accustomed to something they initially don’t like (a blanket over their heads) is more morally acceptable than trying to get adults accustomed to something they don’t like (seeing breastfeeding).

          • My intuition says that it makes a difference that the baby’s objection is rational (!) while the adult’s objection isn’t. But I’m starting to feel that I’m getting out of my depth here, so don’t take that too seriously.

          • Anon says:

            @Harry Johnston

            They didn’t choose to view her elbows, either, but that’s unlikely to generate complaints.

            I suppose treating visible breasts as something inherently sexual isn’t exactly prudishness, but I’m struggling to find a better word for it.

            I think breasts are inherently sexual, because a very large proportion of humanity (straight men, bisexual men, lesbian women, and bisexual women) finds them sexually attractive, while only a tiny proportion of humanity finds elbows or knees attractive.

            Whether something is sexual (to me) depends on whether it is a common and normal thing to be sexually attracted to. And since about half of the world’s population finds breasts sexually attractive, that makes them sexual.

            (If it was common and normal to be attracted to elbows, I’d say people should cover their elbows whenever possible too.)

            Now, yes, breasts also have a non-sexual purpose (breastfeeding). But that doesn’t invalidate their sexual purpose (to look nice and attract men for the purposes of reproductive copulation).

            Interesting question. I think my opinion is that any widespread irrational phobia is inherently unhealthy for a society, regardless of the specific details.

            Ah, I don’t, so that’s why we disagree on this. I think it’s fine for society to have irrational phobias, as long as those phobias don’t cause serious harm. And I don’t think a societal phobia against public nudity causes harm.

            Edit:

            My intuition says that it makes a difference that the baby’s objection is rational (!) while the adult’s objection isn’t. But I’m starting to feel that I’m getting out of my depth here, so don’t take that too seriously.

            Yeah, I’m not super sure if my point there is right. It just feels more wrong to try to change an adult’s preferences than to change a baby’s preferences, especially since having a blanket over your head doesn’t hurt or anything.

            Also, the baby only needs a blanket over its head when its mother is breastfeeding in public and can’t find a more private place to do it. It’s not necessary during every breastfeeding session, some of which will take place at home. And they don’t need it at all anymore after they’ve been weaned, whereas if breastfeeding in public was socially acceptable, adults like me would never be able to have an end to our negative experience without becoming hermits.

            Time-limited bad experiences are generally less bad then indefinite ones.

          • I dunno. Elbows and knees are indeed … I guess we would say specialized interests … but I think most heterosexual men find women’s legs and faces to be sexually attractive.

            (Oh, and the nudity phobia is certainly causing at least some harm; unless I’ve misunderstood, your own experience confirms that, in that you refrained from showering when you would otherwise have preferred to do so.)

          • Anon says:

            @Harry Johnston

            I dunno. Elbows and knees are indeed … I guess we would say specialized interests … but I think most heterosexual men find women’s legs and faces to be sexually attractive.

            Hmm…this is true (I am a bisexual woman and I also sometimes enjoy seeing the faces and legs of particularly attractive women). But I don’t think the intensity of the “wow that’s hot” response is nearly strong enough for me to support having women cover those body parts in public. If faces or legs caused instant, massive sexual arousal for men, I probably would want those body parts covered, but I don’t think it’s that strong of a response. Of course, not being a man, it’s hard to be sure.

            (Oh, and the nudity phobia is certainly causing at least some harm; unless I’ve misunderstood, your own experience confirms that, in that you refrained from showering when you would otherwise have preferred to do so.)

            It never occurred to me to look at it as a harm, but I supposed it could be viewed that way. Still, I’d rather they just put up stalls* around the showers so people could shower privately rather than trying to dismantle the preference not to shower publicly.

            That way, we could satisfy both the preference to shower after gym class and the preference not to shower or be naked in public.

            *And when I say stalls, I don’t mean the kind of stalls they have in American public bathrooms, where you can see under them and through the cracks. I mean real stalls that are difficult if not impossible to view through from the outside.

          • I’m not crazy about seeing breast feeding, though my reaction isn’t nearly as strong as some of the people posting here.

            Still, I’m going to make a case for not opposing breast feeding in public. Having a negative reaction to it can’t be a baseline human norm. Women have been breast feeding babies in the sight of other people through the vast majority of human evolution.

            Taking care of children is work, and some of the benefit of that work goes to society in general. I don’t think raising children should be made harder than necessary.

            We do get the question of freaking the mundanes– if you think people are having an irrational reaction to something you think is harmless, is it bad to expose them in the hope of eventually desensitizing them? I could argue either side of that.

          • @Anon, I think that’s kind of a circular argument, since if we made women cover up their legs and faces, exposing them would produce the same sort of response, because it’s the very fact that they’re kept covered that makes the exposure so titillating.

            (In most of western Europe, I’m reliably informed, public nudity is commonplace and causes no more arousal than, say, women wearing bikinis at the beach do in the US.)

            As for shower stalls, that’s still a little bit harmful, because it means an additional and otherwise unnecessary expense. But granted the main problem is when the infrastructure hasn’t caught up with changes in public mores, or when different sections of the public have disparate views.

          • Cadie says:

            Nudity being accepted and normal, at least in some contexts, is positive in a few ways. It makes for less embarrassment when one accidentally shows body parts one wasn’t intending to show, it helps reduce body image issues when you see a wide variety of other people’s bodies without photoshop and special lighting, and it weakens the link between nudity and sex; more non-sexual nudity means that when you do see it, it’s less distracting.

            Not advocating for everyone walking around naked all the time. It would be good if we were at least at the point where almost nobody cared about being nude in places like locker rooms, private-access swimming pools, etc.

          • Nita says:

            Breastfeeding is not trivial. It has to happen every 3 hours or so, the baby has to cooperate, and if anything fails to go smoothly, we get a screaming infant. So, I’m OK with mothers doing whatever they need to help it go smoothly. Baby doesn’t like having a blanket over its face? Don’t cover up. Baby fails to latch on if you’re nervously huddling face-first into a corner? Do it in the open.

            Also, most places provide no private corners except for toilets. And toilets are for shit and piss, not for eating. (Not to mention that the other patrons might need to use them.)

            Some people feel disgust when they see fat people, for example. And many women feel that men’s bared forearms are sexy. But that doesn’t mean that we should institute a social norm against fat people appearing in public, or shame men for rolling up their sleeves.

          • Creutzer says:

            I hate to say this kind of thing, but somehow Europeans seem to have figured out how to breastfeed their children without displaying a lot of naked breast to everybody and without making a fuss over it…

          • “and it weakens the link between nudity and sex”

            Is that clearly a benefit rather than a cost? It eliminates, or at least weakens, one way of getting sexually aroused.

            Suppose we eliminated the link between all visual experiences and sex. There goes the video porn industry. More frustrated men. Possibly more rapes–there is some evidence that online porn is a substitute not a complement. Maybe more men jumping into unwise marriages because they are desperate for sex.

            You have to look at the downside as well as the upside of hypothetical social change.

          • Nita says:

            @ Creutzer

            The rate of breastfeeding is very heterogeneous in Europe, and way below the rate in the countries where public breastfeeding is completely accepted.

            I’ve only seen a woman breastfeeding in public once here (on a bus). Luckily, no one said anything. It seems that the acrimony around this issue in the United States is due to some people harassing mothers while they’re breastfeeding, and other people pushing back against that with “nurse-ins” and defiant photos.

          • Anon says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            Yeah, I agree that disliking seeing breastfeeding can’t be a human social norm (though I think the disgust reaction people have when they see bodily fluids in general is an evolved trait, which is probably being misapplied to breast milk by accident because evolution isn’t perfect).

            I’m fine with the idea of making having children harder than necessary. There’s a lot of things we legally require parents to do that aren’t strictly necessary for the child’s survival, and there are even more things that parents are socially expected to do or not do that are harder than necessary.

            I agree that having public breastfeeding be socially unacceptable makes the lives of mothers harder than necessary, but I’ve also mentioned a lot of compromises that would make it fairly easy for them to keep going out in public and be able to feed their baby (covering up with a blanket, breastfeeding in the car, or even just turning away from the people you’re with/near while breastfeeding so they can avoid seeing it). That last one is especially easy, as it literally takes like 2 seconds to turn around before unbuttoning your shirt, so I’m not so inclined to feel like this is an unreasonably large burden on mothers (neither is the “use a blanket” solution, to me, but some people feel differently).

            @Harry Johnston
            Is it really the fact that genitalia are covered up that makes them so titillating for straight men? I didn’t think it was. I thought it was an evolved trait, and I figured that that’s why the massive free availability of more internet porn featuring vaginas than any man could ever watch hadn’t reduced men’s general desire to see vaginas.

            That’s interesting about Western Europe, but I find it kind of hard to believe that men there don’t get aroused when they see completely naked women at the beach. Is this really true? I could see them getting less aroused, but it’s hard to believe that such a strong evolutionary response (getting an erection upon viewing a woman who appears to be sexually available and is willing to be naked near you) would disappear just because they see it all the time.

            And yeah, putting stalls around the showers does cost a bit more, but if we’re going to be funding public schools out of tax dollars anyway (including all the massively frivolous stuff schools do and buy), then we may as well shuffle a bit of that money towards modernizing locker rooms to meet today’s mores. It’s a lot less wasteful than half the stuff we currently fund.

            Private schools should also do it, simply because it’s what kids want, and if the kids are unhappy with the locker room facilities, they might convince their parents to send them somewhere else (meaning the school loses those tuition dollars). In fact, I’d guess private schools are more likely to have already done it, due to this factor, but I’ve never been to any private schools, so idk.

            @Cadie
            I agree that public nudity being acceptable does make it less embarrassing if you accidentally show a body part unintentionally.

            The body image issue I don’t really agree with though, simply because I think the fact that many people have body image issues is because they’re objectively unattractive, and being objectively unattractive takes a harsh toll on a person’s happiness and self-image. The huge rise in obesity rates in the modern day is probably the #1 cause of poor self-image (and lest you think I am merely being cruel, I myself am fat and have poor self-image; I just don’t think it’s irrational or unnatural, and in fact believe it’s entirely normal to have poor body image when you actually look really bad).

            I think the best cure for poor body image would be for the pharmaceutical industry to invent a weight loss pill that actually works.

            As for weakening the link between nudity and sex, I (like David Friedman) am not certain that’s a good thing. I kind of enjoy nudity being sexual. I like that it’s an easy arousal trigger. In this day and age of massive porn availability causing erectile dysfunction in young men, I don’t think getting rid of an arousal trigger that actually usually works (seeing a real life naked woman in front of you) is a good thing.

            @Nita
            I totally agree that if the baby needs to eat and simply won’t do it with a blanket on its head, the mother should remove it. But I don’t think babies can even tell if their mother is facing away from her companions towards a wall. As long as she isn’t getting a heightened emotional response from doing so (which the baby can pick up on), I don’t see any reason the baby would be aware of it. I never said the woman needed to “huddle” in a corner. I just think it would be polite to face away from the people you’re near if you need to breastfeed and can’t use a blanket for whatever reason.

            I honestly can’t understand why anyone would object to this, except for people who enjoy having other people watching them breastfeed.

            You say “most places provide no private corners except for toilets”, but…they do? When I say “face the corner/wall,” I’m not expecting the woman to go into another room. Literally any room that has 4 walls will have 4 corners, and even if there’s stuff in the corners in her way, there’s still 4 walls, and presumably at least 1 wall won’t have people between her and it (so facing that wall does a fairly good job of avoiding having other people seeing it).

            And about toilets, yes, they’re for defecating and peeing in. That doesn’t mean it’s inherently disgusting to breastfeed in there, unless you’re planning on rubbing your nipples on the toilet seat before putting them in your baby’s mouth. And yes, other people might come in to the bathroom, but I think it would be wrong for them to object to a mother breastfeeding in there, since she’s obviously trying to do it as privately as she can (I’m imagining her doing it not inside a stall, which someone else might need if all the other stalls are taken. Just standing by the sink out of the way or something).

            I change clothes in public restrooms all the time for reasons. The fact that people poop in there doesn’t mean my new clothes are just like…inherently fouled, unless someone rubs poop on them or something. And for the same reason, the fact that the milk is leaving a woman’s breast in the restroom doesn’t make it dirty, which means it’s fine for the baby to drink.

            About fat people: I agree, but only because it’s incredibly hard to lose weight. If losing weight were as easy as pushing a button or swallowing a pill one time, I would want a social norm against appearing in public while fat, and I think one would organically appear by itself in such a world.

            About men’s forearms: That’s a niche sexual interest. Yes, there’s a reddit about it. There’s a reddit about many niche sexual interests. I’m sure there’s one about My Little Pony (I’m not going to go check); that doesn’t mean we need a social norm where all horses need to be clothed.

            Breasts, vaginas, penises, and butts are in a whole other category. They’re, well, core sexual interests. Almost everyone is interested in at least one, and all 4 have billions of admirers around the world. I think saying that these four should be covered, while forearms and elbows are optional is reasonable.

            Also @Nita
            In your second post, you mentioned something about people harassing breastfeeding mothers and then mothers doing feed-ins and stuff. I just wanted to say that despite my personal dislike of the practice, I don’t harass breastfeeding women and I think it’s wrong to do so. The only thing I’d do that might make a breastfeeder uncomfortable is leave abruptly if one started breastfeeding in front of me, but I wouldn’t say anything rude or tell her she should stop.

          • Jaskologist says:

            You are a prude. The modern focus of prudery has just shifted slightly. It used to be targeted at sex, but now it is targeted at reproduction. We would speak ill of a woman getting it from the whole Theta Chi house, but having six children? That’s just low-class.

          • Jaskologist says:

            “and it weakens the link between nudity and sex”

            Is that clearly a benefit rather than a cost?

            Thank you. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills here. I’m not even allowed to enjoy good wholesome nudity now? I may need to take back what I said about prudery being redirected.

          • onyomi says:

            I will weigh in on the side of “more acceptable venues for semi-public, non-sexual nudity would be a good thing.”

            I think being obsessive about hiding one’s naked body encourages an attitude of shame and promotes bad body image. If what you and nobody else sees when you strip down in front of the mirror doesn’t match the fashion models and the porn stars then you may think there’s something wrong, given that you rarely if ever see average human bodies of all ages.

            Japan also has a concept called “nude interactions,” which means, basically, “honest interactions with no pretense.” That is, you can trust what people say to you at the bath house. This is, in part, because Japan is so repressed/non-confrontational that people have to be either drunk or naked to express their real feelings, but I can say from personal experience that going to a bath house with same-sex friends is a nice homosocial bonding experience. One simply can’t have as many pretensions and barriers and so on when everyone involved is nude.

            And I don’t think it desexualises nudity. Half of Japanese porn is set at a bathhouse (usually where a women somehow accidentally enters the men’s side or whatever). And, of course, locker rooms, etc. are common settings for gay porn, both here and in Japan. I don’t think one could ever entirely “desexualise” nudity. I think what happens instead is that mild titillation becomes not so wildly unacceptable. Certainly I don’t think nudists stop being turned on by the naked bodies of their partners; they are probably just better able to compartmentalize nudity in different contexts and/or more okay with getting slightly turned on in a situation where sex itself is not called for (I think maybe the real function of prudishness as, to some extent, of marriage itself, is to banish sexuality and sexual tensions from occupying such a prominent and non-productive place in peoples’ daily interactions).

            Now we’re weirdly okay with everyone wearing super revealing clothing in public but we can’t be naked in front of our same-sex buddies even in the steam room. This seems to me to be a bit messed up. I’m not sure what the better attitude is toward truly public dress, as in, what you’re wearing while out on the street (though I do find it disappointing how few people bother to look nice anymore: http://www.newworldeconomics.com/archives/2008/122108.html), and maybe it would be too distracting and/or ruin the anticipation if everyone were running around nude in mixed sex, public contexts, but I do think the disappearance of same-sex and/or semi-private spaces like bathhouses where nudity is accepted or even expected, is a shame.

            To Vox and others who are phobic about showing their naked bodies even in places like locker rooms and among same-sex friends: why? I mean, what about the idea bothers you?

          • DES3264 says:

            To add a bit of facts here:

            (1) Insulin is not an medication one would take in an emergency. Insulin lowers blood sugar. The effects of high blood sugar, while harmful, are gradual. Even when my BS is high enough to cause me discomfort; I am still healthy enough to walk to a bathroom or corner. If my blood sugar and ketones were high enough to incapacitate me, I’d need a hospital, not just insulin. LOW blood sugar can be an emergency, but that isn’t what insulin is for.

            (2) As someone who used to go to bathrooms to inject, it is a real nuisance, and, with modern insulin pens (let alone pumps) injection can be very discrete. I think non-diabetics should learn to deal.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anon:

            Less convenient, absolutely. But I don’t think they’re less nutritious, if we’re talking about breast milk that has been pumped and then placed into a bottle. It’s literally exactly the same milk as the milk babies get when they drink it right from the breast.

            When we’re talking about bottle-feeding, I’m definitely thinking of baby formula. And I think most other people are, too. Not pumps.

            I was fed baby formula, I think because my mother had trouble breastfeeding. And it was definitely in vogue for several decades to use formula over breastmilk because it’s more “civilized”. Not to mention more convenient for mothers. For instance, I was able to mix up / heat up formula and feed my little brother if necessary.

            So that’s what the health dispute is about.

            @ Jaskologist:

            So she’s a “prude”, so what?

            Is it that terrible to have social standards of behavior?

          • Turning away from the people you’ve talking with isn’t going to work in a lot of restaurant seating.

            Also, turning away is a social cost for the mother (not being part of the conversation to the same extent), though having a hard time seeing breast feeding is a social cost for you if she doesn’t turn away.

            ” I think the disgust reaction people have when they see bodily fluids in general is an evolved trait”

            Sweat? Semen? Blood? (people shouldn’t be inhibited from helping someone on their side who’s wounded)– I want to see some information about reactions to body fluids in different cultures.

            So far as I know, all human cultures have at least a little something in the way of clothing, but sometimes it’s very little indeed. I assume there might be some slight background arousal, but I don’t think people can afford to get thoroughly aroused at routine nudity, and I’ve heard of Americans getting used to nude beaches.

            “The huge rise in obesity rates in the modern day is probably the #1 cause of poor self-image (and lest you think I am merely being cruel, I myself am fat and have poor self-image; I just don’t think it’s irrational or unnatural, and in fact believe it’s entirely normal to have poor body image when you actually look really bad).”

            Venus of Willendorf! I don’t think that statuette was made with the pathetic hand tools of the era because people thought she looked bad.

          • “I honestly can’t understand why anyone would object to this, except for people who enjoy having other people watching them breastfeed.”

            Or because they like pushing other people around, demonstrating that they can do things that make others uncomfortable, hence establishing their superior status. I may be mistaken, but I see that motive in a fair amount of behavior along lines of this sort.

          • Randy M says:

            My fairly informed opinion (not that anyone asked, but giving opinions to strangers has apparently become a hobby of mine):
            It is perfectly normal for straight men to be aroused by women’s most prominent secondary sexual characteristic, and also for them not to want to be aroused randomly in public (although that ship has long left port thanks to the advertising industry), so women should generally try to take other’s feelings on the matter into consideration.

            But, a quick flash of nipple or whatever is vastly preferable to a screaming infant, a sound I suspect evolution designed to be particularly grating.

            And, anyone asking a woman to cover up with a blanket or go to the restroom should try having a picnic in a burka or in the public restroom and see if it is enjoyable.

            Not to mention more convenient for mothers. For instance, I was able to mix up / heat up formula and feed my little brother if necessary.

            Debatable whether it is more convenient. It is more convenient for mothers who need sitters, and less so for mothers who are tending the child themselves, barring physiolgical or psychological difficulties. For instance, no mix up/ heat up necessary.

          • @David (re desexualization of nudity): I don’t think that’s likely to be a problem. My guess is that softcore pornography would only be slightly affected, and hardcore pornography would be almost completely unaffected. But it might be interesting to see whether nations with a relaxed nudity taboo consume less porn. (I do have the impression that they’re mostly in the same parts of the world that have the lowest birth rates, but I think that’s just a coincidence!)

            @Anon: I think it’s contextual. A woman who is willing to be naked with you in particular is different from a woman who just happens to be naked and couldn’t care less whether you’re around or not. There’s also good reason to think that full nudity is different to toplessness, since almost all cultures seem to expect most people to cover their genitals most of the time, whereas there seem to be very few pre-monotheistic cultures in warm climates have a corresponding taboo against visible breasts.

            For what it’s worth, I’ve heard that the problem for men in nudist colonies isn’t so much that they get aroused more often than normal as that they have a harder time hiding it. 🙂

            Personally, I’ve seen pictures of nudist beaches and don’t find them particularly arousing. On the other hand, some people certainly do, and while I suspect that’s a relatively rare fetish I could be mistaken. I’ve also visited a clothing-optional beach once when I was around your age, and while I don’t recall there being any naked women, some were topless. To the best of my recollection, the only aspect of the visit that aroused me was the vague hope that the girl I was visiting the beach with would follow their example. 🙂

            @onyomi: for my part, there’s no reason I’m aware of for my dislike of being naked in front of other men, any more than there’s any reason for my fear of spiders (mostly under control) or of heights (not so much). I assume it’s just an aspect of my GAD.

            @David (re motive): it perhaps wouldn’t be too inappropriate to compare public breastfeeding (as an act of protest) to gay pride parades? There might or might not be mixed motives in any given case, but they did work!

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            It just feels more wrong to try to change an adult’s preferences than to change a baby’s preferences, especially since having a blanket over your head doesn’t hurt or anything.

            Then I suggest that the few affected adults wear blankets over their own heads at all times. Lest they catch an unwanted glimpse for the split second it takes to look elsewhere.

          • Vorkon says:

            I’m really liking all of these suggestions that we require women to carry around a sheet to cover themselves up, in case someone catches them breastfeeding. We could call it a “birth canvas” since it is a piece of canvas being used to cover up a newly born human. Then, since that’s kind of an awkward phrase, we could make some kind of cute portmanteau out of it. Something like “BirKa,” or “BurCa,” or something along those lines. It’ll be great! :op

        • ksdale says:

          As the husband of a woman who has breastfed our two children, occasionally in public, I believe I can offer some small insight based on my wife’s experience.

          My first observation is that people without children tend to overestimate how easy it is to do anything with children. Just popping out to the car to breastfeed is an ordeal, especially after you’ve already presumably loaded and unloaded the car once just to get inside the mall (or where ever).

          My second observation is that most people tend to be unaware of the social pressure that mothers with young children are subject to when they go anywhere in public. When I (a father) take my toddlers somewhere and they behave like hooligans, I tend to get knowing and sympathetic looks, like “oh, dad’s just doing his best.” Women tend to get what could best be described as “icy stares.” Admittedly, this is super anecdotal, but I think a lot of young mothers are self-conscious to the point of anxiety already whenever they’re in public and adding on the anxiety of breastfeeding in public is not helpful. Keep in mind that a screaming baby has precipitated the public feeding.

          My third observation is that my wife at least is peeved by the fact that Victoria’s Secret has boobs plastered all over their storefronts, and that’s about how much boob you see from uncovered breastfeeding and it feels hypocritical that utterly superfluous lingerie boob is totally fine, but modest food boob is somehow unacceptable. I get the sense from my wife that this complaint is more about venting than justice…

          My fourth observation is that, at least in my experience, exposure to breastfeeding really made me a lot more comfortable with it, to the point that it hardly even registers when I see it in public.

          This is something I never thought about before I became a dad, and my takeaway is that I think it is a worthwhile goal of society to make mothers feel totally comfortable mothering in public, especially because so many women may be struggling with postpartum depression or other issues that make them not want to go out in the first place. It’s pretty easy (dare I say, trivially so?) for everyone else to deal with and it makes a huge difference for moms.

          • The Nybbler says:

            > My third observation is that my wife at least is peeved by the fact that Victoria’s Secret has boobs plastered all over their storefronts, and that’s about how much boob you see from uncovered breastfeeding and it feels hypocritical that utterly superfluous lingerie boob is totally fine, but modest food boob is somehow unacceptable.

            Well, two points here. One, a real woman (even a real lingerie model) walking around in lingerie would probably not be considered acceptable in front of most Victoria’s Secret stores despite being plastered on the store display. Two, with uncovered breastfeeding a woman will expose the whole boob (or at least nipple) when the baby decides to unexpectedly let go. And by Murphy’s law, some guy will happen to look that direction right when it happens.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ ksdale

            +

            Keep in mind that a screaming baby has precipitated the public feeding.

            And even if the mother has pre-emptively begun feeding ahead of any “I’m getting hungry” screaming — as Nita pointed out, anything that disturbs the feeding can cause “Hey, something went wrong” screaming.

            So here’s a rough utilitarian calculus. Delaying/complicating the feeding causes scream-worthy discomfort for the baby, distress for the mother, emotional pain for everyone within earshot, disturbs whatever the other patrons are there for.

            That’s very strong dis-utility for the baby and mother, and strong dis-utility for everyone in earshot (which they can’t turn their ears away from).

            Bystanders who see the feeding are fewer, can look away. Even if they can’t look away quick enough, it is hard to imagine their momentary psychological pain being strong enough to outweigh the physical, and longer lasting, pains (stomach ache, noise) of the many others.

          • John Schilling says:

            It seems to me that the non-negotiable urgency of feeding a child is not significantly greater than that of changing a diaper, or for that matter using the bathroom as an adult. And it does not seem to pose an insurmountable logistic or social burden that we require these things be done in private.

            The problem, I think, is that we’ve spent centuries establishing a social consensus that those things need to be done in private, that there is no shame in excusing yourself to privately attend to them, and gone and built millions of private “rest rooms” to meet the need. Whereas with breast-feeding we’ve spent most of those centuries with the understanding that recently-pregnant women were expected to be barefoot and in the privacy of their own kitchen, rendering the issue moot, and are now playing catch-up.

            If we want to establish a social consensus in favor of public motherhood but against public breast-feeding, that’s not unreasonable or impractical – but we aren’t there yet, and we certainly haven’t built the necessary infrastructure. Neither have we established the opposite consensus.

            In the meantime, it would be really neat if both sides could find some of this “tolerance” and “courtesy” stuff I’ve heard talk of.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ John Schilling
            It seems to me that the non-negotiable urgency of feeding a child is not significantly greater than that of changing a diaper, or for that matter using the bathroom as an adult.

            One of those things is not like the others. For hard sanitation reasons, there is no alternative to a bathroom. For a hungry baby, there is the alternative of feeding where is as is.

        • Lasagna says:

          Just to throw in my two cents on this, as a new father whose wife is breastfeeding:

          I absolutely get where everyone is coming from when they don’t want women to breastfeed in public. Frankly I don’t understand how someone could NOT understand that. And my wife – who is a very modest person – would never do it. Too embarrassing, too risky (and too risque).

          But! As someone who is now routinely watching breastfeeding close-up, I think I can confidently tell all of you who are uncomfortable with it in public: you would very, very quickly stop being so if it were a general thing. It’s pretty amazing how what is virtually always a sexual stimulus – a naked female breast – can stop seeming sexual when the context is changed.

          I’m not advocating for acceptance of public breastfeeding or anything. Doesn’t matter to me. But I’m comfortable saying that it would very quickly stop seeming like a big deal if, for instance, you saw it even a couple times a week for a few months.

        • Virbie says:

          I think this is supported by a couple studies that indicate that men are roughly neutral on average towards women dressed less conservatively, while women are on average quite critical. The upshot being that slut-shaming by individuals is driven largely by women.

          Iirc, an explanation tentatively posited was pretty much what you’re saying: in terms of the sexual “marketplace”, a promiscuous woman is neutral to positive for men and negative for women.

          Take this with a grain of salt though, since I don’t remember the studies in enough detail to comment on their validity or generalizability.

    • Sam K says:

      Personally I done a little of this policing, basically whenever I succumb to the instinct to voice opinions on the internet, but I think my reasons are different from others.

      My angle is not that female sexuality is bad and should be hidden, although that’s what most rebuttal assumes I mean. I just think that sexualizing characters in fiction (and games – is this about the Overwatch thing?) is terrible art, almost every single time it’s done, and it’s so terrible it’s embarrassing to see, and I want to make it go away. It’s the same cringe instinct that makes bad acting so unbearable. I feel this especially when the sexualizing portrayal is in (what feels like) a very dated manner like a stripper pose (maybe its that it feels low-class, maybe I should feel bad about being averse to this). It seems like the aesthetic senses of some artists go out the window when it comes to expressing sexuality, and they can only think of one way to do it, and that way is really stupid, like kid-stuff or trashy-stuff.

      • Deiseach says:

        If we’re talking about games, all I can say is that I abandoned a female character build because as I got items that were higher armour class, she ended up wearing less.

        Now, you could argue that this merely demonstrated the superlative qualities of the better armour (it was so good that, um, it could protect even areas of the body that it wasn’t covering!) but the equivalent male character of the same class did not shed clothing to show off his toned and amply proportioned anatomy in the same manner.

        So that is why I mainly play male characters because (as yet) I don’t have to cope with watching them run round battlefields in battle lingerie and high heels.

        • sky says:

          I think there has been progress made on this front. It seems to me that most developers by now know to avoid this trope.

          Ex:
          https://wiki.guildwars2.com/wiki/Human_female_heavy_armor

          There are a couple skimpy pieces (and the male sets show similar skin), but they are far outnumbered by the ones covered in armor.

          WoW looks similar.
          http://www.wowhead.com/guides=10

          But I am not an expert on MMOs.

        • Anon says:

          If we’re talking about games, all I can say is that I abandoned a female character build because as I got items that were higher armour class, she ended up wearing less.

          I totally get why this bothers a lot of women, but it doesn’t bother me at all. I kind of enjoy it when my female characters get to run around in sexy armor/outfits. This may be because I am bisexual and enjoy seeing attractive women in sexy outfits; heterosexual women wouldn’t get this same benefit from it.

          I do think there should be the option of having your character fully and properly armored, though, at any level. This would resolve the conflict between people who like having scantily-clad female characters and those who do not.

          Male characters should also have the option to be scantily-clad.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I just think it’s pandering and distasteful.

            But I’m just a prude!

          • Vaniver says:

            Obviously all items should come with customization (like they have with colors now), with one of the axes being something like “revealing,” so you can both have bare-chested or bikini-clad warriors and tin cans.

            As I recall, WoW had a feature where you could have one item display cosmetically and another item apply stats, because people would find something they really liked the look of but its stats would only be appropriate for a few levels.

          • Deiseach says:

            I was very flummoxed by it; I earned new gear with better stats, equipped it, and on the character screen my character had less coverage. I switched back and forth between the old and the new gear for a bit because frankly I couldn’t believe my eyes, then pulled up my alternate male character and did some gear-switching between higher and lower for him, and nope, he remained fully-clothed at all levels.

            At which point I went “bugger this” and played the rest of it with my male character because as you say, if I wanted to gawp at boobs, I could look down my own top 🙂

            A lot of it is when I play, I do tend to identify with my character, so I’m thinking as Busty Bombshell is running around in her high-heeled battle boots “I’m going to break my damn neck”, not “Woo, sexy!” Male characters get the option of practicality. Some of it is a very restricted notion of what is sexy: it does seem to take the one-size-fits-all approach of tits’n’ass appeal to all guys unilaterally, which I don’t think can be so. And finally, though this is more a comics complaint than games (excepting game art), as a female I do go “But breasts/spines/hip joints/legs don’t work like that” or “You realise nipples don’t sit on the breasts like that”.

            Male characters should also have the option to be scantily-clad.

            Speaking of comics characters, from a now-defunct livejournal I hung round, we all pitched in to do a male version of the Witch Blade character (called Witch Cup because of the Grail connotations as source of his power, you see?) complete with obligatory tragic backstory, based on the then-design of the comic character (this was back in 2007).

            Very tasteful, completely empowering and liberating, putting a male character into a position of claiming and owning his sexuality, we all agreed 🙂

          • @Deiseach:

            As someone else mentioned, WoW now has the option of giving one piece of gear the appearance of another. I am generally unhappy with the fact that most weapons and armor look like something out of fantasy fiction art rather than something real. If I am willing to go to a little trouble, I can considerably improve that. I have at least made sure that any swords my characters carry look like believable swords.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        This. Most sexy character art in games and comics just comes across as profoundly manipulative and annoying to me. If I am playing a shooter, I am there to manage the intersection of bullets and heads. If I wanted to be staring at boobs, there is an ocean of porn I would be looking at instead.

        On the other hand, the solution is more art, not shaming campaigns.

    • Sastan says:

      The goal of all totalitarian ideologies is to outlaw everything, so they, as the enforcers, get to choose who to punish. Universal guilt, original sin, “male privilege”, call it what you will. Incidentally, also the goal of all law enforcement bureaucracies. This is merely an outgrowth of that tendency in most people.

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      Because whereas the right attempts to solve gender conflicts by policing what it regards as potentially toxic elements of both genders’ sexuality, the left attempts to solve gender conflicts by policing what it regards as potentially toxic elements of men’s sexuality.

      So as it pertains to the policing of men’s sexuality, the gender conservatives and feminists are often in agreement. This can extend to some… very bizarre places. I’ve encountered feminists arguing against abortion because abortion relieves men of responsibility.

    • lemmy caution says:

      Lots of female characters are essentially male sexual fantasies so they tend to mark certain video games/ movies as male-only spaces. Ironically, the rise of internet porn has tended to de-sexualize other cultural products. Those that haven’t gotten de-sexualized tend to look a little off and creepy.

    • Vita Fied says:

      Oh, female movie/vidya characters?

      I don’t see those much in the most mainstream articles, like time and the New York Times. This is a “dick” statement, but IMO its jealousy along with a cultural norm of not pointing that out in general to the …erm cough…*insert negative physical attribute descriptor* girl.

      This is considered “Steve Sailers Law of Female Journalism”

      I don’t see it on mainstream sites though, barring a general critique of the shallowness of general people. Mostly on the pandering portions of slate and salon.

      Males do the same thing to, but it never gets the same coverage. Guys instantly get called out by other guys for that.

      Its jealousy.

    • Anonymous says:

      I suspect part of it is what Bryan Caplan calls anti-market bias. If you don’t believe that businesses have to provide what customers want in order to make money, the natural explanation for lots of sexy women in media is “sexism” rather than “50% of the audience likes it and the other 50% does not have any strong feelings on it one way or the other”.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think it’s a fallacy to say that because businesses are providing something, customers must want it. Businesses can provide the thing for any number of other reasons, sexism among them.

        (Now, if I said that businesses could simply stop providing something that customers want, with no consequences, THAT would be an example of anti-market bias.)

        • Anonymous says:

          What do you mean by ‘because of sexism’? One interpretation could be that business owners choose to inject sexism into the movies they produce in violation of what their audiences want, forgoing some amount of profit, but gaining though spreading their views or getting to enjoy a high budget movie catering to their unpopular tastes. Perhaps the occasional business owner might do this, but the idea that this is pervasive enough to explain why there are sexy women in movies does not seem credible.

          Another interpretation would be that it’s because of irrationality. Movies contain sexy women not because business owners are consciously sexist but because they’re unconsciously sexist, too dumb to see that their belief that audiences want movies with sexy women is mistaken and is losing them money. This too seems implausible. Do feminist movies, or movies that refrain from making their female characters sexy, tend to make higher profits than movies containing sexy women? I don’t have any data on this but I’m enormously doubtful. Apart from anything else, I’ve never heard anyone claim this, which I expect I would have if it was even arguably maybe true.

        • Nita says:

          Uh, people can want things for any number of reasons, sexism among them. That’s one factor.

          Another factor is “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM equipment”. Most people who provide capital for expensive projects don’t want to you to take big risks with their money. Do what everyone’s always done, make what the sponsor believes the consumer wants.

          Similarly, can all people be divided into those who want only white guys in lead roles, and those don’t care about the question at all? Not really. And yet:

          “I can’t mount a film of this budget [..] and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”

    • lvlln says:

      As someone on the left but who doesn’t like that kind of criticism, my belief is that such criticism comes from a belief that exposure to female characters who are sexual (in a way that is typical in most fiction) would change the way people behave towards women in real life, and that change would be in a direction that would be negative towards those women.

      This is the best reasoning I could come up with, because, after all, there is no reason to be against any media whatsoever unless that media also affects what people do in real life. In some cases, people are hurt in the process of creating a work. But those are peculiar cases, and the general criticism against the way anything is depicted in media is the way people could be hurt due to the consumption.

      To be more specific for this question, I think the key belief is that if media is overloaded with females who are sexual, males and females will come to view real females as sex objects who are unworthy or incapable of non-sexual endeavors. Most certainly not ALL – or even likely most – males or females, and most certainly not an extreme flip in opinion from hardcore feminist to hardcore misogynist, but on the margins, we’ll see some people’s behaviors swayed in a less egalitarian direction.

      The reason I don’t like this kind of criticism is that it seems to place an unwarranted amount of faith in the causal connection between exposure to media and behavior. Of course, it’s obvious that exposure to media will cause change in behavior. This is a trivial fact. What’s not obvious – and what needs to be true in order for the above argument to actually work – is that a population being exposed to media that is overloaded with females that are sexual causes a net change in behavior within that population so that behavior that objectifies real females is more common.

      If that connection or a similar one were established, it would reasonably follow that someone who wants less objectification of females in real life would criticize depictions of female characters who are sexual in media. In fact, I’d probably push for actual legislation if we knew such a causal effect with very high confidence.

      I don’t find the argument that it has to do with jealousy or protecting the cartel to be very convincing. Maybe subconsciously it does, I don’t know. But I think the left’s criticism of female characters who are sexual in media comes from a place of reason (along with EXTREMELY faulty premises), not of pure emotion or selfishness.

      • Anon. says:

        >In fact, I’d probably push for actual legislation if we knew such a causal effect with very high confidence.

        The purest spirit of puritanism, alive and well in the left of all places. Marshaling the government to censor the arts in the name of morality! And on what basis? It is left unmentioned, of course. An exercise for the reader perhaps. At least in the past this nonsense was based on some sort of system, at least they had an argument of sorts in God. We did away with God but his zealots stayed around, that’s just great.

        • lvlln says:

          The part you quoted pretty clearly outlines the system in play: knowing with high confidence that exposure to certain types of media create – at the margins – a change in behavior in a certain way. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with morality. It has to do with knowing the social consequences of consumption of certain products and designing laws in order to engineer a desirable outcome.

          For instance, we know with a high degree of confidence that cigarettes are addictive, and regularly smoking cigarettes increases the risk of lung cancer by a lot. We as a population decided that we want a society where we minimize the number of people who get addicted to drugs and/or get lung cancer, but we also want a society where people are free to do what they want with their bodies. So we, through our legislature, have constructed laws banning sale of cigarettes for minors.

          In the case of depictions of females in media, IF we knew with a high level of confidence that media that depicted females in a certain way caused net behavior changes in the population such that sexist/misogynistic/bigoted actions became more common, it would make sense to construct laws against such media, in order that we engineer society to reduce the number of bigoted actions IRL. Whether that would be outright ban or an age restriction like in the case of tobacco, I don’t know, but it would most certainly manifest in some sort of legislative censorship.

          Of course, this is a very very very very big if. Given the current state of scientific knowledge in this field, we most certainly do NOT know with high confidence that such media would cause such outcomes in the population. I believe the major failure of SJWs and other leftists who criticize certain female characters in certain media is that they have unshakable faith in this causation – that is, they believe that we DO know with a high degree of confidence that such media would cause such outcomes IRL. In that sense, I think their motivations are in the right place, and even their reasoning is mostly sound. It’s just that they believe – perhaps to such a strong extent that they identify with that belief and their whole worldview would be shattered w/o that belief – something that is false. This naturally leads to a conclusion that cannot be considered with any confidence to be true.

          • The analogy to smoking doesn’t work very well, since a smoker is injuring himself and you are worrying about media causing people to injure other people.

            But there is a more fundamental problem. Following out the logic of your argument, it ought to apply to books and web pages and articles and not be limited to issues of sexualization.

            Ideas kill. In my view, shared by many but not all others, the idea of communism killed many millions of people. Following out your argument, it would be proper to suppress any publication that made those ideas more popular. If you happen to be on the other side politically, apply the same argument to books that successfully argue for free market views—Ayn Rand’s, for instance.

            Do you really want to go there? The usual legal rule is that individuals are responsible for their own actions, people who spread ideas that make actions more likely are not legally responsible for the consequences. Giving the government the power to suppress ideas it disapproves of is, in my view, a very bad idea.

          • Anon. says:

            My God! *sniff* Pure Ideology! *shirt tug*

            Tell me, what do you imagine is the difference between you, who want to ban media that causes “sexism”, and, say, the people who banned Ulysses because it “lead to sexually impure and lustful thoughts”? The structure of the argument is literally identical, the only thing that has (only sightly) changed are the specifics of what ought to be banned. To say that “This has absolutely NOTHING to do with morality” is simply ridiculous.

          • lvlln says:

            @David Friedman
            >Ideas kill. In my view, shared by many but not all others, the idea of communism killed many millions of people. Following out your argument, it would be proper to suppress any publication that made those ideas more popular. If you happen to be on the other side politically, apply the same argument to books that successfully argue for free market views—Ayn Rand’s, for instance.

            >Do you really want to go there?

            As uncomfortable as I find it, yes, I do want to go there. If we can know with some high degree of confidence that the spread of some ideas causes people to be significantly harmed, I believe it is in our interest that we have laws that regulate the spread of such ideas to some extent.

            I mean, we already regulate speech that cause harm to people, such as slander or true threats. This is because we know with a sufficiently high degree of confidence that slander and true threats cause significant harm to people. If we knew with an equally high degree of confidence that, say, books that are pro-Communism causes harm to people, then I would want regulation on books that are pro-Communism. Or Objectivism or whatever.

            It seems very reasonable to suspect that this would be a very easily abused tool for the government to suppress speech it doesn’t like. It’s a very real concern, definitely. That’s why I believe a very high degree of confidence is required. Like, we should be just as confident in such a causal link as we are of, say, evolution or germ theory or the general oblate spheroid shape of the Earth. Like, it should at least be a consensus among everyone in the field regardless of ideology and have withstood persistent attempts to disprove it for a long period of time. That’s a high bar for any hypothesis to clear, and only once it’s been cleared, would I feel comfortable with legal regulations on such speech. But I would definitely feel comfortable under that wild hypothetical scenario.

          • lvlln says:

            @Anon.

            >Tell me, what do you imagine is the difference between you, who want to ban media that causes “sexism”, and, say, the people who banned Ulysses because it “lead to sexually impure and lustful thoughts”? The structure of the argument is literally identical, the only thing that has (only sightly) changed are the specifics of what ought to be banned.

            The difference is that I do NOT want to ban media. Right now, given what we know, I believe that we have absolutely zero interest in – or right to – banning any media for its depictions of women. And I believe that banning – or even criticizing in a way meant to cause shame or harm – media that depicts women in negative ways would be a terrible thing.

            What you don’t seem to get is that I would only want banning media that “causes” sexist actions if we actually knew that that media “caused” sexist actions. Right now, there is no media that we actually know to “cause” sexist actions. Maybe one could reasonably argue that PUA instructional books qualify, but even for those, I would argue, no, we don’t have sufficient evidence that those books cause sexist actions. If the causality was as well established as, say, the causality between pulling the trigger of a (loaded, safety off, etc) gun and the bullet flying out really fast, then I would want such media to be regulated. If it were any less established, then I would vehemently fight against any such ban or regulation.

            In the case of Ulysses, there’s the additional kink that “sexually impure and lustful thoughts” are meaningfully different from “sexist actions.” The former doesn’t harm anyone. The latter (usually) does. I am against banning or regulating any media for any thoughts it might cause in someone. But if some media were to be proven to cause actions that cause harm, then I would want that media regulated.

            That’s a high bar of proof. In fact, I’m not sure how it could be met or even IF it could be met. Still, I would want at least that bar met before bannings or other regulation took place.

            >To say that “This has absolutely NOTHING to do with morality” is simply ridiculous.

            Please explain how it’s ridiculous. Where does morality enter into it? I mean, I guess one could argue that the government wanting to minimize sexist actions is related to morality, but I’d argue that it’s merely a manifestation of the government fulfilling its presumed function of serving the populace.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @David Friedman – “Do you really want to go there?”

            The more deterministic human interaction becomes, the more subject to regulation it becomes. What we understand, we wish to control.

          • Anon. says:

            >I’d argue that it’s merely a manifestation of the government fulfilling its presumed function of serving the populace.

            So would the people who believed Ulysses caused sexually impure thoughts. Sexually impure thoughts are harmful. Ergo banning Ulysses is a manifestation of the government fulfilling its presumed function of serving the populace. In fact I can personally confirm the correlation exists!

            Luckily some dudes 250 years ago presumed otherwise, so I can stroll into any bookshop and buy this terrible, corrupting book written by a known fart fetishist!

            Here’s evidence on the power of media to corrupt, p<0.01. Is p<0.01 enough or should we put the bar lower? Should we require a replication study first or can we go ahead and start shutting down internet pornography? Of course it would require a modest expansion of government powers and the banning of encryption and such, but what is a little freedom when there is Harm to be defeated!

            You also need to consider how this works out in a democracy. While you people are (thankfully) a minority, there are majority ideologies that have equally insane yet completely different conceptions of harm. Most people in the USA are Christians. Going to hell is clearly harmful. Atheistic literature would be right out.

            There is nothing special about your conception of harm.

            Indeed the argument followed through to its conclusion ends in the banning not only of actively “harmful” art, but neutral art as well, as it takes up time that could have been spent on art that promotes welfare. Anything that does not support the revolution is counter-revolutionary, comrade! This is how you end up with Kazimir Malevich wasting his genius painting Socialist Realism garbage.

          • @Ivlln:

            It seems to me that you have answered your argument in your own post.

            “It seems very reasonable to suspect that this would be a very easily abused tool for the government to suppress speech it doesn’t like. It’s a very real concern, definitely. That’s why I believe a very high degree of confidence is required.”

            The fundamental problem is that “if we know” assumes matters of objective fact and a “we” that can be trusted to make decisions in the general interest.

            We have no mechanism to make governments act in the general interest, unfortunately. So the question should never be “is there a situation in which a wise and benevolent philosopher king could improve things by doing X.” The question should always be “If the government has the power to do X how will it use that power and will the results be good and bad.”

            And for the case of freedom of speech and the press, the answer is that dropping the principle can be expected to have bad results.

            The legal status of threats and slander doesn’t involve the same principle you want to introduce–suppression of dangerous ideas.

            You might want to consider that most people who have thought about the question believe there are ideas which are much more dangerous than you are suggesting the portrayal of sexual women is, although they disagree about which ideas those are. Communism, after all, killed something in the tens of millions of people and kept something over a billion poor for decades.

          • TD says:

            @lvlln

            Another problem besides what everyone else has mentioned is enforcement. Governments worldwide would need to agree or it would be easily circumvented. Germany has various laws related to media featuring the Swaztika as well as Holocaust denial, yet a German can go on the internet and access American sites featuring Nazi propaganda. Unless governments worldwide agree, then this will be true for anything you care to make illegal.

            Even with a world government enforcement would still be a problem, because unlike banning something like child pornography, you’d be banning highly contagious ideas which can be carried via codewords (see racism). There’s no in built disgust mechanism for mere ideologies to help people self-police either. If you banned PUA (for example) because some high council proved that it made people more misogynist, then you’d likely fall foul of people’s mistrust of authority, and get more people seeking those ideas out (nowadays this is happening with racist material).

            If you could click a magic button and delete PUA material (for example) from the internet, then your scheme would obviously have maximum effectiveness. In practice, the act of declaring something illegal but then being unable to enforce it is likely to activate people’s “Fuck the pigs!” impulses and be counter-productive even if you did find an association between PUA material and sexism (for example).

            The laws on intellectual property seem to get more and more severe every year, and to be included in more and more expansive “free trade” deals as we go forwards, and yet, they have very little effect on piracy because the enforcement end of things is so poor. Occasionally, they’ll charge some guy preposterous amounts in supposed lost profits, but at the same time, millions of people get away scot free. If something is popular, good luck doing anything about it short of putting Skynet in charge of everything (and then you have other problems). One gender wanting to bitch about the other is popular enough and sexism a concept vague enough that enforcement would be arbitrary.

          • lvlln says:

            @Anon.
            >So would the people who believed Ulysses caused sexually impure thoughts. Sexually impure thoughts are harmful.

            No, they are not. They are not provably harmful in the same way that, say, regularly smoking cigarettes is provably harmful to someone. You’re conflating “I personally don’t like this” with “we’ve confirmed that this causes harm to enough of a degree that it’s consensus within the relevant scientific field.” The latter case is the only one that’s relevant here.

            >Here’s evidence on the power of media to corrupt, p<0.01. Is pYou also need to consider how this works out in a democracy. While you people are (thankfully) a minority, there are majority ideologies that have equally insane yet completely different conceptions of harm. Most people in the USA are Christians. Going to hell is clearly harmful. Atheistic literature would be right out.

            The existence of hell or the harm that hell would provide to someone hasn’t been proven to the same extent that, say, smoking has been proven to increase the risk of lung cancer and other diseases. Thus your analogy has no bearing in this discussion. We’re talking about a hypothetical world in which scientific studies have made us as confident of a causal relationship between certain types of media with certain types of behaviors as of a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer.

            >Indeed the argument followed through to its conclusion ends in the banning not only of actively “harmful” art, but neutral art as well, as it takes up time that could have been spent on art that promotes welfare. Anything that does not support the revolution is counter-revolutionary, comrade! This is how you end up with Kazimir Malevich wasting his genius painting Socialist Realism garbage.

            Now that’s just a weird leap to make. But going with the example, if it were scientifically proven (to the extent that science can prove anything) that the opportunity cost of not producing art that promotes welfare harmed people – that this causation was so well established that every time some art that didn’t promote welfare was produced, everyone agreed that some orphan would go hungry for a day who would have been fed had that art not been produced, why wouldn’t it make sense to legally regulate art? We legally regulate automobiles because we know that they can be used in ways to cause great harm. If we knew with just as much confidence that art could cause harm – something which we don’t know and which we can’t possibly find out without at least decades of research – I don’t see why regulating it would be so unthinkable.

            Especially since we ALREADY regulate media that are proven to cause harm. Child porn (the real kind) provably causes harm – not by consumption in this case, but by production, which necessarily involves the abuse of a minor. And that’s why it’s regulated. If other types of media were just as proven to cause harm, I’d want the government regulating them too.

            I just don’t believe we live in a world where such a thing has been proven. I personally don’t believe that such a causality exists – that is, I don’t believe that exposure to media depicting women in a certain way causes people to behave in a more misogynistic way or whatnot. Under that belief, I believe very strongly that the government has no business regulating media for sexist content. But that’s an evidence-less belief, just an intuition I have. If it turned out that such a causal relationship did exist, I would change my mind.

          • lvlln says:

            @David Friedman

            >The fundamental problem is that “if we know” assumes matters of objective fact and a “we” that can be trusted to make decisions in the general interest.

            Yes, I’m assuming an objective fact. That is, I’m positing a hypothetical world in which a causal relationship between certain types of media and certain types of behavior were objectively true. At least, the same “objectively true” as the causal relationship between, say, smoking and lung cancer. We don’t live in that hypothetical world.

            >And for the case of freedom of speech and the press, the answer is that dropping the principle can be expected to have bad results.

            If you’re considering this dropping the (legal) freedom of speech and the press, then we’ve ALREADY dropped freedom of speech and the press. The government ALREADY regulates speech and media based on the harm it’s been proven to cause. Child porn (involving real minors) is one example. It is regulated because we know with a very high degree of confidence that the production of that media necessarily causes harm. In the hypothetical world in which, say, pro-Communist media were proven to cause harm to the populace, to the same extent that child porn were proven to cause harm to minors involved in their production, I’d want my government to regulate pro-Communist media in some way.

            >The legal status of threats and slander doesn’t involve the same principle you want to introduce–suppression of dangerous ideas.

            No, it involves the exact same principle: regulating something that is proven to cause harm. The only way in which your characterization of my principle is accurate is if you’re using “dangerous ideas” as shorthand for “media which has been proven to cause harm through broad consensus reached by rigorous scientific research.” But in that case, “dangerous ideas” sounds misleading, because that usually means “ideas I think causes harm,” which is nowhere near the same.

            >You might want to consider that most people who have thought about the question believe there are ideas which are much more dangerous than you are suggesting the portrayal of sexual women is, although they disagree about which ideas those are. Communism, after all, killed something in the tens of millions of people and kept something over a billion poor for decades.

            I actually don’t believe portrayal of sexual women is harmful or dangerous at all and thus don’t believe it should be regulated, either legally or socially. But I also know that this belief of mine is just an intuition. If I were wrong – and if I were proven wrong to a rigorous degree – then I’d change my mind.

            But regardless, how dangerous I or anyone thinks any given idea or media or whatever is is irrelevant. Just like it’s irrelevant whether or not I think smoking increases the risk of lung cancer. So what if some people think misogynistic or pro-Communist media is dangerous? Have they proven that such media causes harm? To the extent that it’s a broad consensus among all the scientists in the relevant field? From my observation, the answer is No. And as long as that answer is No, regardless of how dangerous anyone thinks any media is, that media should be free from government regulation directed at it. But if that answer ever changed to an honest Yes, I would want government regulation.

          • lvlln says:

            @TD

            You’re talking about a specific regulation – that is, outright banning. Indeed, in today’s world, a ban would likely backfire.

            But a ban’s not the only type of regulation possible. It could just as easily be an age restriction. Or maybe just a warning. I don’t know, I haven’t thought too hard about what sort of regulation would make sense and how it would be enforced. I’m just pointing out that it seems to make sense to want the government to regulate something if that something is scientifically established (as much as anything can be scientifically established, anyway) to cause harm.

            Though, in the hypothetical scenario I’m positing, perhaps social enforcement would be in effect. After all, there’s some social enforcement against child porn today, because almost everyone agrees that child porn causes harm. In a hypothetical world in which almost everyone also agreed that media of a certain type caused harm, I imagine there would be social enforcement against that type of media. Perhaps less so than for CP since CP also has lots of psychological issues specifically tied up with it.

            But I hate the concept of social enforcement, so I’d rather leave that out of the scenario.

          • Anon. says:

            >No, they are not. They are not provably harmful in the same way that, say, regularly smoking cigarettes is provably harmful to someone. You’re conflating “I personally don’t like this” with “we’ve confirmed that this causes harm to enough of a degree that it’s consensus within the relevant scientific field.” The latter case is the only one that’s relevant here.

            I see. Since this has nothing to do with morality or ideology, but is purely an evidence-based and scientific matter, I’m sure your opinion would change to follow scientific knowledge, yes?

            For example, if gender equality was found to decrease women’s life satisfaction and happiness, you would be against gender equality because of the harm it produces? (Here’s another paper, and another one — there’s plenty more on google scholar).

            Perhaps you would need a couple more studies before we achieve that magical “Consensus”, but that is beside the point.

            So, Mr. Objective Science Man, I’m sure you have dutifully updated your priors and are now not only a sexist, but would also back a ban on pro-gender-equality literature! It is unfortunate that you have been supporting things that Objectively™ and Scientifically™ cause harm to women, but at least now that you know better you can turn things around.

          • lvlln says:

            @Anon.
            >I see. Since this has nothing to do with morality or ideology, but is purely an evidence-based and scientific matter, I’m sure your opinion would change to follow scientific knowledge, yes?

            >For example, if gender equality was found to decrease women’s life satisfaction and happiness, you would be against gender equality because of the harm it produces? (Here’s another paper, and another one — there’s plenty more on google scholar).

            Yes, absolutely. If we were to know with high confidence that gender equality caused harm (and wasn’t off-set by happiness gained), then there is close to no questiontin my mind that I would be against gender equality. Or at least would want any pro-gender equality actions to be moderated in a way to decrease that harm caused.

            >Perhaps you would need a couple more studies before we achieve that magical “Consensus”, but that is besides the point.

            No, that consensus IS the point. I wouldn’t need a “couple more studies,” I’d need a couple dozen more studies attacking the question from many different angles, performed by a wide variety of researchers of different ideological leanings. If they all reached the same conclusion that achieving gender equality would cause net harm that wasn’t off-set by the positives, I would be against achieving gender equality.

            Now, the idea that such a thing would – or even could – be proven scientifically seems unlikely to me. I’m not sure how one could properly weigh the benefits of gender equality as experienced by individuals against the harms that result in the population level, but in a hypothetical universe in which that were possible, and in which the scientific consensus was that achieving gender equality was harmful to women even when taking into account the great positives to individuals who are gratnted more freedom and comfort, then it’d make perfect sense to be against gender equality, or at least desire ways to moderate/regulate it in such a way to minimize the harm.

            >So, Mr. Objective Science Man, I’m sure you have dutifully updated your priors and are now not only a sexist, but would also back a ban on pro-gender-equality literature! It is unfortunate that you have been supporting things that Objectively™ and Scientifically™ cause harm to women, but at least now that you know better you can turn things around.

            Well, your handful of links and your comment here doesn’t come anywhere near even 1% of the way to establishing that gender equality is harmful to women, but, again, if you had established it to such an extent that “achieving gender equality harms women” were as uncontroversial a statement to make as “smoking cigarettes regularly increases significantly one’s risk for lung cancer,” then I would be against achieving gender equality.

            The tone of your comment seems to imply that you believe that I would find dissonance in this, that I would have a problem concluding that gender equality was a bad or undesirable thing if it were scientifically established as so. I find such a belief to be curious and kind of weird.

          • Anonymous says:

            So, lvlln (?), a few questions about your position:

            Is the level of harm a factor when it comes to these bans? It is presumed that most people do or consume things because they enjoy them, how do you weight harm done vs enjoyment obtained from whatever you’re deliberating whether to ban?

            How do you even go around banning these things? Drugs are hard to ban as they are, and they’re phyisical objects that you have to consume and produce regularly, books nowadays are just strings of words, it would prove very difficult. What degree of enforcement would exist for these bans? Fines, Prison, or do you go Full Singapore (which seems like the most effective method, to date)?

        • Psmith says:

          We as a population decided

          Whoa there, hoss.

  32. Gadren says:

    Oh damn, I accidentally posted this in the links thread rather than the open thread. Reposting here.

    I’m a CS PhD student who just got a summer internship in Santa Clara. After reading about all these rationalist/SSC people off in the Bay Area, I’m hoping to use this as an opportunity to actually find out about that group and get to know people. Are there meetups or social events? Are there secret passwords that are needed or are they pretty open?

    Also, any general tips about the area and getting situated would be awesome. Never been to that area before, and have been stuck in a relatively small college town for a while so not sure what to keep in mind re: housing/transportation/etc. Recommendations on car vs public transport? Areas to look at or avoid for living? Things you wish you had known before arriving?

    • zz says:

      Secret passwords can be found in HPMOR, chapter 33.

    • Anon says:

      There’s a website for such things, though I don’t know how up-to-date it is. You’re a little far south of most of the community; if you’re an EA type, you might be interested in Stanford EA’s meetings on Sunday afternoons and game nights on Thursday evenings.

      If the opportunity arises, apparently going to a CFAR workshop or weekend is a good way to meet people.

      Public transit’s not great, but Caltrain + BART will get you within a short bus ride or Uber of where you need to go… eventually, usually. Outside of the city (i.e. SF) and Berkeley, it usually makes sense to have a car. Try to avoid driving during rush hour, especially going toward the city in the morning or away from it in the evening (though I don’t know if this remains true in Santa Clara).

      • At a slight tangent, how much interest would there be in an occasional meetup at my house in San Jose?

      • meyerkev248 says:

        1) You will need a car (or car-ish levels of Uber expenses coupled with an extra couple hundred a month in rent so you can walk to the grocery store) unless you work in SF proper AND elect to live in SF proper. With that said, decent odds you take transit to work.

        2) SF public transit is terrible, but… when you only need to go 5 miles, a 7MPH bus/MUNI works well enough. But anything beyond that…

        BART exists and works and doesn’t connect anything with actual density unless you’re in SF.
        PEAK Caltrain is fine (Not great), off-peak Caltrain is once an hour at 37MPH.

        3) Re traffic:
        * It’s disgustingly terrible.
        * You will unfortunately need to travel distances of 20-30 miles on a semi-routine basis, especially if you’re taking advantage of everything the Bay and CA have to offer.
        * DO NOT plan a commute that involves driving across a bridge. DO NOT! I’ve got coworkers who commute 90 minutes from downtown Union City to University and 101 over the Dumbarton.
        * The magic places are Palo Alto and SF, and to a lesser extent, Cisco down in Milpitas.

        Heading towards Palo Alto and SF is nigh impossible in the morning, and away from them nigh impossible in the afternoon (This should be read as: “I am debating whether I should eat an $80 Uber after a concert in San Jose, or leave from work at 5:30 for a 7:30 concert 20 miles down the road in San Jose”).

        Just generally, most of the problems the area has are tied to having low density of housing coupled with high density job clusters. Pull up a traffic/transit map about 8/9AM Pacific and 5/6 PM Pacific, figure out where your job is, and then start looking for places to live based on that traffic map.

        Edit: Edited out advice about where to live when I saw where you were working in your post (Thanks, @David Friedman)

        New Version:

        Santa Clara is both affordable (ish) and low-ish traffic. You can totally live in/near Santa Clara, though you still might *need* a car as opposed to merely wanting it depending on exact details of where you work/end up living.

        Or as I put it when explaining to my boss why I wanted to transfer over to Seattle “When I only need to go 2 miles, I don’t care that the bus only goes 8MPH. When I need to go 25, I do. And in the Bay Area, I do”.

        4) It’s gotten way worse very fast.

        My job has been in Palo Alto this entire time.

        In January 2013, I was paying $870 for a 20 minute commute to work.
        In February 2016, I am paying $2100 for a 70-100 minute commute from work in an apartment with mold problems and a broken toilet.

        /Also, @David Friedman, very interested, but Weekends mostly for the aforementioned traffic problems.

      • Rush hour from Santa Clara to SF is pretty bad in the morning, and similarly the other way in the afternoon. But if he is living in Santa Clara and interning in Santa Clara, he may well be able to find an apartment within walking distance of where he will be working, and rush hour within the Santa Clara/San Jose area is not as much of a problem. Also, there are parts of Santa Clara where he could be within walking distance of restaurants and grocery stores.

        I might be able to give more precise information if I knew about where he would be working. I live in San Jose close to the San Jose/Santa Clara border, teach in Santa Clara (SCU).

        • Gadren says:

          Thanks for all the helpful info! (also the other commenters too, replying here once for everyone).

          My internship will be at NVIDIA Research, if that helps.

          • meyerkev248 says:

            Pull up a traffic map right now, and that’s pretty realistic.

            https://www.google.com/maps/place/Nvidia/@37.348256,-122.0055004,12.38z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x76527847b95e08c9!5m1!1e1

            TLDR: The highways are useless, but anything to your southeast has a tolerable commute.

          • You will be working about five miles due north of where I live. The airport is about a mile east of you, so in looking at housing you may want to check on airport noise.

            SCU, where I teach, is a little less than two miles south and east of you, so if you like the university environment for people to socialize with and the like you might want to live in that direction–I’m not sure how much the university students push up rents.

            You are about a mile and a half north of El Camino Real, a street which has quite a lot ethnic restaurants, ethnic groceries, and the like along it, in particular Indian and Korean.

            If you have a car and want to get into SF, 101 is just north of you, 280 a bit farther south. 101 is a little shorter, 280 a good deal pleasanter. Also, just the other side of SCU is a train station where you can catch a train to SF. I haven’t used it so can’t tell you more than that but I expect you can find schedules online.

            If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’ll be having a meetup in San Jose very soon, which I’ll announce on here. That should be a good opportunity to get in touch with people.

  33. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Is it just me, or has the comment section been getting more hostile lately?

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      The world has been getting more hostile lately. SSC has been remarkably well insulated IMO.

    • null says:

      Aside from the whole anon@gmail.com giving people free reign to be jerks, I’m not sure I’ve noticed a major difference. In fact, my impression is that things are a little less hostile.

      • Anonymous says:

        I liked the idea of anon@gmail.com, but a lot of posts under it have been pretty jerk-y 🙁 Please stop, fellow anons!

        • Anonymous says:

          It’s only a few anons that do this, you can’t judge all of us for it! We are a collective of peace.

          More seriously, though, there was an initial spike, but I don’t think changing anons from multicolor to monocolor changed their jerkishness significantly.

          If people feel differently, I suggested a faster track for b&w anon bans, maybe that’ll make us behave.

          • Randy M says:

            If you want to be judged on your own merits, come up with a unique moniker.

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s the opposite of what at least some of the anons want – they want neither being lumped with everyone sharing their gravatar, nor to have their posts read in the context of their life’s work.

          • Andrew says:

            That’s what a unique pseudonym is for.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I just IP-banned eight anons who deserved it. I’ll see if that works before blocking anon@gmail.com directly.

        • Anon says:

          Yeah, I’m pretty much fine with the idea of multiple people posting as the same Anon (using the same anon@gmail.com account to generate their gravatars) so that they can maintain an extra level of anonymity, but I don’t want bad behavior from them to spill over into the reputation of anonymous posters who are using unique emails (like me).

          • Anonymous says:

            You know, the whole point of anon is that you’re not building a reputation. If you’re trying to build reputation for your combo of anon+unique gravatar, you’re not any more anon than suntzu or s3 are, the only difference is that you couldn’t be arsed to pick a nickname for this particular site (or you did pick a nickname, namely “Anon”, maybe because it is kinda trendy nowadays).

            Not saying it’s bad, but worrying about reputation spill or whatever misses the point of the real Anon Way (that can only be found in scotland).

          • Anon says:

            Well, I’m not trying to build a positive reputation, I’m just trying to avoid building a negative one. But maybe you’re right and I should just pick a name.

          • suntzuanime says:

            The issue reminds me of the voat vs. reddit dynamic touched on in https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/07/22/freedom-on-the-centralized-web/

            Basically, when you don the black-and-white anonymous, you are not wiping out all aspects of your identity, you’re identifying as someone who wants to wipe out all aspects of their identity. I think if you want to be *truly* anonymous you should cycle to a new nonce email every time you post. (They’re not verified or anything, are they?)

          • Anonymous says:

            Nah, they’re not checked. I used to write a long garbage string in the email field and delete a character after every couple posts, but this is better because otherwise people assume it’s a unique person for each unique gravatar and I can’t be arsed to save what string I was using for which subthread.

          • John Schilling says:

            If you shout “I am Spartacus”, you get crucified even if you didn’t lead a revolution.

      • Anonymous says:

        What if it’s just standing out because anon@gmail is a lot more active? You don’t notice gargl being mean because he is only mean twice a month, but if twenty people use anon@gmail and three of them are gargls, then anon is three times as toxic as gargl.

      • Vita Fied says:

        Eh, plenty of the best sites I know of are anonymous, however they are well moderated.

        There are sites that are basically the final form of Remove 80% of 4chan posts until the culture develops until 10% need to be removed.

    • s3 says:

      eh, peak hostility was jim/multi this has been a calm period

      • suntzuanime says:

        Multi is still around and still yelling at people. I gather they took a hiatus at some point, which may account for a perception of increased hostility if they came back recently?