OT47: OpenAI

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

1. There’s a new ad on the sidebar for Signal Data Science. This is a rare ad I can (sort of) testify for – I’ve known co-founder Jonah (user JonahSinick on LW) for a couple of years and he definitely knows his stuff, both in terms of mathematics and how to teach effectively. If you’re interested in data science, check it out.

2. I’ve been reading Current Affairs magazine and really enjoying it. It’s edited by Nathan Robinson of Navel Observatory and discusses issues from what for ignorance of a better name I think of as “the Freddie deBoer perspective” – ie pretty far leftist/socialist, but especially interested in criticizing other leftists – especially those who prefer wet dreams about gulags and guillotines, or analyzing how Rihanna lyrics can teach us about mansplaining, to actually fighting for justice. Although the articles are pretty good, what I really love is the sense of humor: for example, instead of real ads, they have beautifully designed fake ads for “companies” and “products” like Tony Blair’s Dictatorship Counseling (“no human rights violation too egregious to euphemize”) and Big Pharma-style socialism pills (“occasional side effects include…accidentally becoming the very embodiment of the thing you are attempting to eliminate”). There are also interviews “conducted nonconsensually and transcribed entirely from the results of public Twitter harassment” and fun childrens’ activities like Color The Flint Water Supply. They say that they’re going to need a lot of subscriptions to stay afloat effectively, so if this sounds interesting, consider sampling some of their work on their website, read their pitch, purchasing a single sample issue pretty cheaply, or subscribing here. Warning: they are not very nice or charitable and you might find them a bit abrasive if you do not 100% agree with them about everything.

3. Thanks to the very many people who made exceptionally generous donations the last time I linked a GoFundMe campaign on here. To the people who were critical of it, I ask that you remember that the people involved may read this blog, that they are down on their luck and in an emotionally fragile state, and that having strangers publicly debating your life choices can be pretty traumatic. If you don’t think a campaign involving such a person is a worthy use of your money, I would prefer you just quietly not donate to it (exceptions if you have constructive criticism about why it is not effective, or want to share novel information about why it might be a scam, or something like that). Thank you for your cooperation.

4. Speaking of which – a few months ago, I linked to a GoFundMe for Esther (Multiheaded in the comments here), who is a trans woman trying to emigrate from Russia. You were very helpful and donated quite a bit of money; unfortunately, the plan failed as Canada rejected the immigration visa. Now Multi is trying again with the help of Promethea (socialjusticemunchkin on Tumblr) who has a plan to get Multi into Europe, details currently secret. I don’t know Promethea well and can’t vouch directly, but other people I can vouch for do vouch for them; you will have to decide whether three degrees of social proof is sufficient. There’s a new GoFundMe up if you’re interested in helping (some clarifications here)

5. And a very different kind of campaign – computer science conference LambdaConf uses a blind review process to select topics for presentation. This year one of their selections was a talk on weird-namespace-software Urbit by Curtis Yarvin (aka Mencius Moldbug). A group of Twitter activists demanded that he be excluded from the conference for his political views. When the conference refused to capitulate, the activists started pressuring sponsors to pull out of the conference in the hopes of making the conference financially unviable. After some preliminary success, anti-censorship blog Status 451 launched a counter-campaign to get people concerned about freedom of opinion in tech to donate to LambdaConf and help make up the difference. This is usually where I’d ask you to donate, except that they reached their $15,000 goal within the first day of their campaign, they’re now 146% funded, and the only reason to give any more at this point is to give an even louder FUCK YOU to the people involved. Since that actually sounds pretty good, you can take a look at the campaign here. See also ESR’s take.

6. Some free CFAR summer programs in Oxford and the SF Bay Area, mostly for math people interested in AI risk. Some travel assistance available if you qualify.

7. I’m in California right now – I’ll be taking the next few days to visit my family down south, but I’ll be back in the Bay Area on Thursday and I’d like to get some SSC meetups in. The current plans are:

— 2 PM on Sunday April 17 at the CFAR office, 2030 Addison, 7th floor, Berkeley
— 7 PM on Monday April 18 at 3806 Williams Rd, San Jose
— Afternoon of Tuesday April 19 at the Googleplex, time and exact location tbd
— 5:30 PM April 19 with Stanford EA at Tressider Food Court, Stanford

I’ll make a separate post confirming this information and giving more specifics sometime later this week. Remember the usual advice: if you’re debating whether or not you should come, especially if you’re worried because you don’t fit the usual SSC demographic or you don’t think you have anything to contribute or you’re not sure you’ll fit in or whatever – just come and it will probably be fine.

2,201 thoughts on “OT47: OpenAI

  1. The Frannest

    I don’t appreciate wordfiltering, it is a band-aid, and there’s nothing more permanent than temporary solutions.

    When 4chan wordfiltered “wapanese”, the word “weeaboo” entered the public dictionary immediately and seemingly permanently. When it wordfiltered “reddit”, people just started saying “leddit”.

    Now we have this anthill nonsense and harry potter references and pastebins and rot-13 and why bother.

    1. Cauê

      It makes it significantly harder for people looking for something to quotemine. Could help with google search results as well?

  2. David Friedman

    Since it’s an open thread and posters here cover a wide range of expertise, a request for information …

    I am currently working on the sequel to Salamander, my second novel, and would like some relevant historical information. The novel is a fantasy. The world it is set in has technology somewhere between our fourteenth and 18th century (no firearms) plus weak magic. Political institutions a bit like seventeenth or eighteenth century England–a monarchy with real power but not absolute, feudalism on the way out but not entirely vanished.

    The capital of the kingdom of Esland has been taken in a surprise attack by an army from a neighboring state. A good deal of looting, burning and killing, as usual under such circumstances. A defending force is still holding out in the citadel.

    Two weeks after the attack, what does the situation look like? Are the attackers sending looting parties into the countryside for food or simply offering to buy it, thus giving farmers an incentive to come to them? Is there a curfew in the city? Has city life for the survivors more or less returned to normal? Have invaders recruited locals to patrol the streets, as a step towards longer run control over the city? Are the city gates open and guarded, open and not guarded, open during the day and closed at night (relevant because I have a character planning to enter the city)?

    The invaders anticipate an army or armies eventually being assembled to try to retake the capital, but there is not yet one close enough to be an immediate threat.

    Anyone know of good historical sources, preferably primary, that describe this sort of situation? I would rather steal from history than make it up out of whole cloth.

    1. Tibor

      What is the goal of the attackers? Are they in for the looting only and planning to retreat back to their land before the Eslandian and allied forces attack or do they intend to keep the capital either as a base for further conquest or as a bargaining tool? I imagine that this would make quite a difference.

    2. God Damn John Jay

      During the the 4th crusade the Venetians/Crusaders picked up a man pretending to have a claim to the throne who promised to reward them when they arrived at Constantinople, but when they arrived nobody particularly wanted to install him or reward the Venetians / Crusaders so they conquered the city and divided up the Eastern Roman Empire (at least one chunk belonging to the former Greek nobility), at least on of which was given to a noble who was traveling with them.

      Mongol Conquests are examples of a foreign power invading and keeping a loose long term grip, but are probably not what you are looking for.

      (Not an expert, but an enthusiast)

    3. John Schilling

      This sounds somewhat like the Siege of Antioch during the First Crusade – a bit earlier than your 14th-century start date, but the Crusaders were a bit better organized than the usual feudal hosts of the day. Two other differences, not sure how critical they are for your scenario. First, there was an eight-month siege before the surprising bit of treachery opened the city for sacking, etc, though the Crusaders were not strong enough to completely envelop the city so “siege” may be an overstatement – more of a large army parked near the city and causing a nuisance. Second, the the army assembled to retake Antioch arrived a month after the city’s fall, and this was not unknown to the Crusaders(*). Your two-week mark would be about halfway through the interlude between the fall of the city and the arrival of the relieving army. The keep held out until the relieving army had been defeated, then surrendered.

      I don’t have any primary sources on the First Crusade handy, but I can’t imagine they would be hard to find. A few observations on logistics, though. Your 14th-to-18th-century period covers a revolutionary transformation in that field, driven in part by the great national armies of the 30 years war. By the mid-17th century, armies had organized supply trains and depots, and did not generally need to forage. So you’ll have to decide whether that transformation has happened in your scenario.

      If foraging is taking place, paying the locals probably won’t work because at that scale you’re probably asking for their children to go hungry, and paying the locals probably isn’t necessary because you just defeated their army and can take what you want. This is what generally limited the size of pre-17th century armies; if the defending force is as large as it can be without starving out the locals and yours has to be bigger to defeat them…

      Similarly, and especially if there are holdouts flying the flag from the keep and an anticipated relief army in the future, the invaders will have to expect raids, banditry, and sabotage at any time. I do recall that being an issue for the Crusaders at Antioch. Generally speaking, the nightmare scenario in siegecraft is being attacked simultaneously from within and without, so as long as the keep is holding I can’t imagine the besiegers wouldn’t make use of the city walls and gates for security.

      An army would have a field treasury of sorts, not for buying food piecemeal from local farmers but to encourage merchants to bring in ships and caravans from a distance. Possibly also for buying favor with influential locals. And keeping the loyalty of one’s own soldiers generally requires allowing them to spend their share of the loot and enjoy the benefits of a great city, preferably right now rather than next year when the war is over. So until the relieving army arrives there will be some level of commerce going on and sneaking in to the city should be possible, but not a matter of walking through an unguarded gate.

      *Nor coincidental. Bohemond of Taranto could probably have taken the city at any time, but wanted the rest of the Crusaders sufficiently desperate that they’d agree in advance to let him keep the city as his personal and sovereign domain.

      1. David Friedman

        I’ve read primary source accounts of the siege of Antioch–and Jerusalem, where they basically killed everyone.

        The question of the objectives of the attackers is complicated and raises some plot possibilities. I need to think more about it.

        The attackers are from Dalmia, the kingdom immediately west of Esland. But the ultimate cause of the attack is the Dorayan League, a sort of old and decadent magical Byzantine Empire which both Esland and Dalmia used to be part of.

        The Doray plan was to get the Dalms to seize the capital with Dorayan assistance, kill the King and his heir, loot the city then withdraw, setting off a civil war in Esland. That would give the Dorayans the opportunity to reestablish the system of indirect control via magic and money that they had been using in Esland (and Dalmia) but that the Eslanders had discovered and mostly eliminated.

        It isn’t clear if that is what the Dalmians thought they were doing, in part because they were interacting not with the ruler of the League but with a subordinate who was planning a coup against the ruler and so might not have transmitted the plan as per orders. Also, of course, the Dalmians might have objectives of their own.

        What makes it interesting is a point I hadn’t thought of until recently. If the Dalmians want to actually conquer Esland, one way is by putting a puppet on the throne. The obvious candidate is Eirick, one of the central figures in the novel, the grandson of the prince who lost out in the succession struggle, son of the lord who tried to seize the throne a few years back and ended up dead. If the Dalmians start announcing that they have come to put Eirick on the throne, that leads to all sorts of complications.


        1. The Dalmians carry out the original plan of the Dorayan ruler.

        2. The Dalmians offer to give the capital back if paid a sufficient sum of Danegeld.

        3. The Dalmians try to trade the capital for substantial territorial concessions.

        4. The Dalmians try to annex the capital.

        5. The Dalmians try to locate Eirick and put him on the throne as a puppet (he’s about thirteen at this point), possibly marrying him to a Dalmian princess.

        Lots of interesting possibilities but this is probably the wrong place to discuss them at length, so people with ideas beyond my original historical query may want to switch to the discussion on my blog.

  3. dndnrsn

    @The Nybbler: you wrote:

    @dndnsrn: I think Ghomeshi’s guilt with respect to the three women he’s been acquitted of assaulting is far less likely than not. The judge tore their testimony to shreds; they didn’t not just tell the whole truth, but at least one of them fabricated a story entirely (with reference to the car that Ghomeshi didn’t have at the time). Ghomeshi seems to have a kink which is legally dangerous in today’s world, but that’s a different question.

    The judge didn’t exactly tear their testimony to shreds. Where they really undermined their case was in lying to police and lying to the court – eg, two of them said they had no contact with him after a certain point when they had. They tried to conceal stuff that was potentially embarrassing.

    Other than that, trauma makes people behave weirdly, and memories can be really bad. These are 3 different things, though. The Crown did a poor job of preparing them. They fucked up, and the Crown fucked up, and Ghomeshi’s lawyer is really, really good.

    I suppose my rationale is that if the stories had been made up, they would have been more lurid. Which, I understand, is far from a perfect heuristic. But one thing that false accusations of abuse and rape tend to have in common is that they describe really extreme scenarios: Satanic child abuse rings in daycares, for instance, or the UVA case (frat initiation gang-rape on broken glass). Again, this is the reason I believe he probably hit them without consent. It’s not a legal standard.

    1. The Nybbler

      Certainly nearly all extremely lurid stories are false; there was a point in reading the Rolling Stone article that I started wondering what horror movie she got all that out of. That doesn’t mean all false stories are extremely lurid.

      L.R. testified all about the bright yellow Volkswagen that Ghomeshi didn’t have at the time, in addition to the contact (which she lied about) with Ghomeshi after the alleged assault.

      DeCoutere, in addition to lying about contacting Ghomeshi after the alleged assault (which was apparently rather extensive: ‘Ms. DeCoutere emailed back to Mr. Ghomeshi saying she was going to “beat the crap” out of him if they didn’t hang out together in Banff and that she would like to “tap [him] on the shoulder for breakfast.” ‘), also colluded with “S.D.”.

      S.D. also contacted Ghomeshi — and gave him a “hand job” — after the alleged assault, despite saying that she felt unsafe around Ghomeshi.

      Sure, trauma makes people behave weirdly and memories can be really bad. But people can also make stuff up that isn’t true or deny or leave out things which are. And IMO that’s the most likely explanation in this case.

      1. dndnrsn

        The post-assault contact could be explained as the women, esp. DeCoutere, trying to feel like they were in control over what happened: if they act like what happened was OK, then it was, and they weren’t victims.

        I suppose my reasoning is that if these really were three people out to harm another via false legal charges, and they were smart enough to put together stories that weren’t unbelievably lurid … it stands to reason they would have been smart enough not to say things that could be easily checked against evidence, and prepared for the courtroom. He also has a reputation otherwise: there’s accusations of harassment at the CBC, and a UWO prof has said that they kept students from interning at his show.

        So, it’s highly plausible that he’s done at least some of the things he’s accused of. I think he did. But, again, “someone on the internet thinks he done it” is not a legal standard. And nobody who’s proposed changing the (criminal) legal standard has really explained how it won’t result in more innocent people getting convicted.

        1. The Nybbler

          The harassment is a separate claim and I think he’s probably guilty of that.

          > And nobody who’s proposed changing the (criminal) legal standard has really explained how it won’t result in more innocent people getting convicted.

          Oh, they’ve explained all right. Many don’t believe there are accused people who are innocent. Others simply don’t care, because the innocent people are men, after all, and women have been getting the short end of the stick for millennia so why not stick it to men now?

          1. dndnrsn

            I know there are people who think either thing, but I’ve encountered a lot of people who correctly identify that there is a serious problem – that a lot of people who commit sexual assault get away with it, for various reasons – and conclude that the solution must be found in the court system – usually by making conviction easy, in one way or another. They haven’t considered the implications. But I can see why they feel the way they feel: it’s a fucked up situation, and it’s not as though the current state of affairs hasn’t prevented people from getting wrongfully convicted (whether falsely accused out of malice, or a case of mistaken identity, as has happened more than once).

            The “all accused are guilty” and “break a few eggs to make an omelet” types have considered the implications. They’ve just dealt with them in fairly ugly ways.

          2. BBA

            When Ezra Klein wrote about this a couple of years back, he made it clear that he had considered the implications and supported affirmative consent regardless as it’s better than the alternatives. The right immediately attacked him for supporting such an admittedly flawed and draconian standard; the left attacked him too for claiming the obviously correct standard was flawed and draconian.

            Hard cases make bad law.

          3. brad

            If some nonnegative false positive rate is targeted so as to keep the false negative rate from going to 1, and a particular crime has special circumstances that increase the false negative rate as compared to other crimes, then it might well make sense to tweak the rules of evidence surrounding that crime so as to bring it in line with the others.

            I don’t have much of an opinion one way or the other of the second premise (special circumstances … compared to other crimes) but if you grant that the rest looks sound to me.

          4. FacelessCraven

            @Nancy Lebovitz – “Only believing one side saves a lot of mental effort.”

            perhaps more charitably, it also allows action when one has lost patience with apparent deadlock. “We must do something, this is something, we must do this.”

        2. ThirteenthLetter

          “The post-assault contact could be explained as the women, esp. DeCoutere, trying to feel like they were in control over what happened: if they act like what happened was OK, then it was, and they weren’t victims.”

          The problem with that theory is that there’s no possible action by the alleged victim that can’t be explained away with it.

          1. dndnrsn

            But in this case it means that “well she didn’t act like a victim afterwards” doesn’t necessarily discredit them. What discredited them was the lies to police and court 10 years later.

          2. David Friedman

            At only a slight tangent …

            Kasich, asked about preventing rape, suggested among other things that women should avoid parties at which there was a lot of alcohol.

            And promptly got attacked for it.

    2. FacelessCraven

      @dndnrsn – “1. If some people say “this would be good” and then various different groups start advancing whatever “this” is, is that coordination? I wouldn’t say it is.”

      I would. Or rather, some people saying arguing that an action would be good and then other people working to implement it is pretty much the sum of what I was talking about. Maybe “coordination” and “strategy” are the wrong words, though. “Tactics” does seem more accurate than “strategy”. How do you see it?

      “Are any of the sub-movements actually new? All I can see that is really new is the increasing impact of social media. There have been practically identical movements on many different fronts before.”

      I think you’re right. It seems more like existing groups adopting new tactics, philosophy, etc. The norms of discourse, epistemology and methods of judgement are what has changed, not the overall goals and probably not the membership.

      “I personally agree with a lot of the object-level goals of the left-wing activist types, and I can be sympathetic to some of the others.”

      I agree with this, most of the way. I have come to wonder whether some of the problems they claim to be fighting even exist, though. I think the role they’re trying to fill is an important one, but the problems with epistemology and community norms you point out can undermine a lot of their efforts if left unchecked. Excellent description, by the way.

      “Again, this is the reason I believe he probably hit them without consent. It’s not a legal standard.”

      I’ll confess to not being current on how the case has gone, other than I saw the acquittal headline in a google search recently. Still, I thought he was accused of sexual assault and/or rape. I can’t really see a way around siding with the official legal outcome; I don’t think there’s any other way to adjudicate low-evidence accusations fairly.

      1. dndnrsn

        Coordination: In regards to tactics/goals/strategy, I don’t really think any of those constitutes coordination. If some academic in the 1980s says xyz, and it becomes a cause among various campus groups (who don’t communicate much, much less have a central leadership) and stays that way until the explosion of social media in the late 00s/early 10s means that it becomes popularized off-campus – but, again, there’s no communication or central leadership – I wouldn’t call that coordination.

        Epistemology: I don’t know that the epistemology, norms of discourse, or methods of judgment have changed recently either. Knowing things based on statistics instead of feelings and individual experience, having norms of discourse that are based around avoiding logical fallacies, and making judgments based on what has been done rather than who did it to what is the norm among most humans at homst times – and even groups that supposedly aspire to a more “rational” way of doing these things (like, uh, us) fail to reach it (like, uh, us).

        With regards to certain branches of left-wing academia, you can find a focus on lived experience, a rejection of traditional logical forms of argument, and a method of making judgments that focuses on power relations and group membership going back at least several decades.
        This isn’t notable as a strange way of understanding the world and making judgments, but it is a bit unusual in the context of academia, which usually has at least pretenses to rationality.

        I do admit to having some sympathy for the whole “pretenses to rationality just suit the status quo” position because this has happened in the past and still happens. The goal is to do rationality right this time (and of course it’s possible that our irrational brains have convinced us we’re being rational so as to better continue in beautiful irrationality; such is the joy of being human).

        Object-level issues/problems not existing: When a movement – any movement, of any stripe – dedicates itself to fighting problems, but some/all of those problems don’t exist, or are different from what they think they are – the problem is usually related to epistemology. People either don’t know about, don’t care about, or find some way to dismiss facts that stand in the way of their narrative.

        To take examples that have nothing to do with modern left-wing activists: anti-drug campaigns that focus on street drugs because everybody knows that heroin/cocaine/crack/pot is a scourge threatening society (when, by the numbers, alcohol is a top-shelf ruiner of lives, and prescription pills aren’t so great either). Anti-child-kidnapping campaigns that ignore that most children who are kidnapped are taken by a parent. Anti-child-molestation messaging that focuses on daycare employees and creepy strangers, when family members are the most common abusers.

        Ghomeshi: My understanding (not a lawyer) is that he was accused of assault (hitting and choking) that was sexual because of the context (eg, while making out with someone).

        1. Nancy Lebovitz

          “With regards to certain branches of left-wing academia, you can find a focus on lived experience,”

          Are they reliable about all sorts of lived experience, or do they think that some sorts of experience (say, a white student bullied by black students) are to be ignored?

          This is an honest question– I’m suspicious bur wouldn’t mind finding out that I’m wrong.

          1. The Nybbler

            Speaking from “lived experience”, I would say that they think some sorts of experience are to be ignored. I am careful not to bring up my own personal experience now, because it will only result in ridicule.

            For an ugly public example of one person’s experience not just being ignored but thrown back in his face, there’s the events which resulted in “Untitled”.

          2. dndnrsn

            @Nancy Lebovitz/The Nybbler:

            As far as I can tell, the lived-experience part of the epistemology usually is informed by the power-structure-based and group-based moral judgment. Some people’s lived experience is definitely worth more than others.

            In the case of Aaronson, his experiences of what were pretty obviously serious mental issues were taken not to count, and it’s hard to avoid concluding that they didn’t count because he wasn’t a member of an oppressed group. Worse, he was a member of an oppressed group, claiming the sort of sympathy that should by rights belong to the oppressed.

            It’s what comes of treating individuals as examples of groups: someone who is a member of a group that is, on average, powerful, in charge, etc is deluded or acting in bad faith if they say they are/feel weak, helpless, etc.

            It’s very unfortunate when it is based on a narrative that doesn’t line up with the facts (eg, male victims of domestic abuse are fairly common, but in pretty much all narratives men don’t get abused, and if they do it’s a black mark on them – so male victims of abuse have a very hard time getting sympathy or even belief from pretty much everybody). It’s still unfortunate when it does line up with the facts (as a group, affluent cis straight white men don’t have it very hard – but the life of an individual affluent cis straight white man can still suck, and saying “well it isn’t systemic, it would be worse if you were less privileged, don’t whine” is pretty inhumane).

          3. Nancy Lebovitz

            A good thing about opening the door to talk about some lived experience is that it makes it more possible to talk about more lived experience.

            The current situation is better than all lived experience being written of as boring and/or whining and/or anecdotal.

          4. dndnrsn

            I hope that the current situation leads to all lived experience being considered potentially relevant, but leavened with facts. Some people’s problems are worse than other people’s problems, and different kinds of problems have different solutions: helping a person who is advantaged by society in many ways but who has crippling depression is going to be different from helping a person who is discriminated against because of their ethnicity.

            Currently, however, some lived experiences are given more weight than others, and bringing up facts and statistics is often unwelcome. Fairly minor and unsubstantiated complaints by some people seem to get more play in “respectable” sources than serious and substantiated claims by others.

  4. Ruprect

    Do nuclear power plants near densely populated areas render nuclear weapons obsolete? On a cost-damage basis, would it be sensible to rely on making conventional (or terrorist) strikes on nuclear power plants rather than building a nuclear weapon capability?

    1. Protagoras

      If an attack on a nuclear power plant is enormously successful, it might produce a Chernobyl-level outcome, though nuclear power plants are not trivial to damage and exact effects would vary depending on reactor design. If you compare the damage and death toll from Chernobyl to what a nuclear weapon can accomplish, it seems pretty clear that the answer to your question is “no.”

    2. Dr Dealgood

      Having lived near one for a while, probably not.

      They’re usually placed a fair distance away from major population centers, at least in the US where we have the space to do that. And even if you could guarantee a meltdown, being at ground level means there would be a lot less destruction than a comparable explosion from a bomb or warhead at a higher altitude. So you’re probably not looking at anywhere near the same level of death tolls.

      Plus they’re pretty well hardened and guarded. Supposedly you could crash a plane into the side of the one near my old house and not damage the reactor itself, although I don’t know how accurate that is.

    3. John Schilling

      Nuclear power plants(*) tend to be hardened to the point where it would require nuclear weapons, or pretty serious conventional ones, to actually breach containment. The Israeli airstrike on Iraq’s breeder reactor at Osirak in 1981, for example, involve eight strike aircraft each targeting two, 2000-pound bombs at the same aimpoint. This is beyond any plausible terrorist attack. And yes, kamikaze airliners (well, accidental crashes at the time) were explicitly part of the design criteria.

      Also, 31 people died in the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl incident. Credible estimate of the total death toll, including people who might develop cancer in the future, range from 4,000-27,000. For the Hiroshima attack, the corresponding range is 90,000-166,000.

      Also also, with a bomb you get to decide which people you want to kill, and where. The vast majority of the world’s killers, particularly the uniformed ones, are somewhat particular about who they want to kill.

      *Though not all nuclear reactors, unfortunately

  5. Tibor

    I would be interested in (especially) Norwegians’ opinion on this (if there are any here):


    It looks basically like what libertarians would accuse socialism of when they’re really paranoid (or stuff that actually was common practice in Soviet Union, but I meant the kind of Scandinavian version of “socialism”). It is hard to judge the specific cases given that all information is kept secret but that alone makes the system extremely non-transparent and prone to abuse by the authorities.

    1. hlynkacg

      My first impression reading that story was “this confirms way too many latent suspicions, there’s no way it can be reliable”.

      1. Tibor

        Then again, the BBC is usually quite reliable and it does not seem to have any obvious axe to grind here (if anything the BBC tilts slightly to the left).

        I’ve heard about this before (although this is the first time I read about Norwegians citizens being affected) and like I said, it is hard to make any unbiased judgement of particular cases, given that the information is kept secret. But two things strike me as very strange and dangerous/suspicious about that system:

        a) The fact that the child protection service acts pretty much unchecked by anyone
        b) That it seems to be a common practice to separate the kids to different foster families. I was told by a Czech/German social worker I know and talked about this with that this is actually a good practice and “good for the kids” because they do not cling to the old family and adapt to the new environment, but I have my doubts. Her argument was more or less “we learned that in the social science class”, which does not inspire much confidence.

      2. Matt C

        This is how child protection services operate in the U.S. I’m not surprised to hear it’s how things work in Norway also. I’d guess it is common in western countries. (By “it” I mean actions from child protection services having no due process, secret proceedings, and general lack of accountability.)

        Is this news? Probably is for some people, but it’s not new.

        1. jaimeastorga2000

          From Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality:

          “You don’t think you could take care of a pet?”

          “I could,” Harry said, “but I would end up obsessing all day long about whether I’d remembered to feed it that day or if it was slowly starving in its cage, wondering where its master was and why there wasn’t any food.”

          “That poor owl,” the older witch said in a soft voice. “Abandoned like that. I wonder what it would do.”

          “Well, I expect it’d get really hungry and start trying to claw its way out of the cage or the box or whatever, though it probably wouldn’t have much luck with that -” Harry stopped short.

          The witch went on, still in that soft voice. “And what would happen to it afterward?”

          “Excuse me,” Harry said, and he reached up to take Professor McGonagall by the hand, gently but firmly, and steered her into yet another alleyway; after ducking so many well-wishers the process had become almost unnoticeably routine. “Please cast that silencing spell.”


          Harry’s voice was shaking. “That owl does not represent me, my parents never locked me in a cupboard and left me to starve, I do not have abandonment fears and I don’t like the trend of your thoughts, Professor McGonagall! 

          The witch looked down at him gravely. “And what thoughts would those be, Mr. Potter?”

          “You think I was,” Harry was having trouble saying it, “I was abused? ”

          “Were you?”

          No! ” Harry shouted. “No, I never was! Do you think I’m stupid? I know about the concept of child abuse, I know about inappropriate touching and all of that and if anything like that happened I would call the police! And report it to the head teacher! And look up social services in the phone book! And tell Grandpa and Grandma and Mrs. Figg! But my parents never did anything like that, never ever ever! How dare you suggest such a thing!”

          The older witch gazed at him steadily. “It is my duty as Deputy Headmistress to investigate possible signs of abuse in the children under my care.”

          Harry’s anger was spiralling out of control into pure, black fury. “Don’t you ever dare breathe a word of these, these insinuations to anyone else! No one, do you hear me, McGonagall? An accusation like that can ruin people and destroy families even when the parents are completely innocent! I’ve read about it in the newspapers!” Harry’s voice was climbing to a high-pitched scream. “The system doesn’t know how to stop, it doesn’t believe the parents or the children when they say nothing happened! Don’t you dare threaten my family with that! I won’t let you destroy my home! 

          1. Tibor

            What I find puzzling is that if this is how things actually work in Norway or elsewhere, why are not people really concerned about that there? I would be afraid to raise children in such a country and this would probably be one of the most important things I would want the politicians to deal with.

            So either it is not really that bad (although still an organization which has the right to take away people’s children and work in a way similar to secret services still seems to me like a really bad system) or the child protection service is careful about who they take the kids form. If it is a poor black family in the US, a lot of people will just assume that there were some problems, similar with foreigners in Norway.

            This is why I’d like to find out what actual Norwegians think about it and how objective they think the BBC article is.

          2. Anonymous


            The Norwegian parents aren’t so hugely affected as the immigrants, because they know what sort of parenting is appropriate in Norway, and what is not. They live and breathe the culture, they have connections in the legal-bureaucratic system, etc. They know that finding an empty beer can anywhere near the children is red light for alcoholism, that any kind of bruise or wound that kids pick up is likely to be investigated for abuse, that the kids should be kept in the dark about incriminating things because the schools teach them to rat on their parents, that they should take valium before a meeting with the child services agents, etc. And if they do run afoul of the services, they really do appear to mostly submit and admit that they’ve done *something* wrong, no matter how slight, that it is *their* fault, not the tyranny of the unsupervised satrapy of child services.

          3. Tibor

            @anonymous: Are you Norwegian/living in Norway or are these your assumptions? I guess that to most foreigners, the fact that Norway is so extremely strict about alcohol (contrast that to Germany, where 16year olds can legally drink beer and wine) because in their culture people apparently either are alcoholics or don’t drink at all, is quite surprising and might lead to problems (and probably not everybody checks the local customs in detail). I am not sure if every bruise the children get on a playground gets investigated by the service or about the other things. It looks like that from the various cases I hear about from Norway (but you always only hear the parent’s side) but it is hard to believe to me that Norway really is such a police state. If this were true as you describe it, I would be afraid to have kids in such a country (and would not want to live there anyway), the nazi/soviet comparison would not be so far off. I would think it is probably a broken system and I would expect it to do more harm than good, but it is hard for me to believe that something on the scale you describe can happen in a developed country in Europe today, especially if it is largely ignored.

          4. Anonymous


            Are you Norwegian/living in Norway or are these your assumptions?

            Live there. Obviously, I am making inferences based on an outsider’s view.

            I guess that to most foreigners, the fact that Norway is so extremely strict about alcohol (contrast that to Germany, where 16year olds can legally drink beer and wine) because in their culture people apparently either are alcoholics or don’t drink at all, is quite surprising and might lead to problems (and probably not everybody checks the local customs in detail).

            Something like that, yes.

            I am not sure if every bruise the children get on a playground gets investigated by the service or about the other things.

            From what I’ve heard, it depends on if the schoolteachers rat on you or not. If they’re your best friends, stuff will be swept under the carpet, but if they don’t have a high opinion of you to begin with, oh, look, that bruise looks mighty suspicious. What I’ve also heard is that the services treat testimony of little kids at face value with alarming frequency. It is not outside the realm of possibility that the kid heard some rat-on-your-parents-if-they-abuse propaganda, did not like that it was refused candy last time at the store, and chose to punish their parents by telling the teacher about some fictional abuse. And then everyone goes thermonuclear on the parents, without even verifying the kid’s story with a doctor.

            It looks like that from the various cases I hear about from Norway (but you always only hear the parent’s side) but it is hard to believe to me that Norway really is such a police state.

            Norway *is* a police state. What is different from, say, the Soviet Union, is that the police and services are trusted to an unbelievable degree by the citizenry. The policeman is your nice uncle, not the outgroup thug. For what it’s worth, the services *do* act according to law, as far as is visible – it’s just that the legal framework is insane and creates spurious incentives everywhere. But it works as designed, so you can’t just accuse it of corruption.

            If this were true as you describe it, I would be afraid to have kids in such a country (and would not want to live there anyway), the nazi/soviet comparison would not be so far off.

            It’s mostly low-risk if you’re a regular, centrist Norwegian. It is a rather higher risk if you are of a substantially different religion or culture. Not even protected class status will save you – according to what I’ve heard, Afghani immigrants have the highest rates of having their kids taken away.

            Given that I happen to be of a different religion and culture, I *am* afraid of raising children here.

            (EDIT: The Norwegian parenting culture is really weird. From parents, I’ve heard that it’s normal and socially accepted that parents are divorced, custody is divided, that kids are sent to government-run care centers as young as one year old, etc.)

            I would think it is probably a broken system and I would expect it to do more harm than good, but it is hard for me to believe that something on the scale you describe can happen in a developed country in Europe today, especially if it is largely ignored.

            It is ignored, IMO, because of two factors:
            1) No provable corruption is taking place. “Reasonable” mistakes of assessment by agents acting in full accordance with legal procedure are difficult to attack from a typical person’s perspective (normal people often equate legal with moral).
            2) The Norwegian state controls the Norwegian mainstream media. They have had rather exceptional success in preventing unorthodox views getting airtime on any of the national outlets – from either direction. Criticizing their own institutions for working according to design is not productive.

          5. Tibor

            @anonymous: I wonder why you still live in Norway if what you say is true (or even if you just feel that way). From your description it looks like a pretty awful place to live (a really nice to visit as a tourist though, the nature there is stunning). If I felt like this about a country I lived in, I would be leaving at the first opportunity. Norway is rich, but so is Switzerland for example and it is also way less socialist (not just than Norway). Also, it has way more sunlight 🙂

            normal people often equate legal with moral

            Yeah, I was going to say something like “but the prevalence of corruption is not the only, or perhaps not even the most important measure of a good system”, but it is true that this is the mindset of many people even outside Norway.

          6. anonymous

            but it is hard to believe to me that Norway really is such a police state. If this were true as you describe it, I would be afraid to have kids in such a country

            By revealed preference, actual Norwegians agree – they don’t have children.

          7. Tibor

            @anonymous: Hmm, according to Wikipedia, Norway has a higher birth rate than most countries in Europe.

          8. sconzey


            the services treat testimony of little kids at face value

            I can see how this might end badly. My three year old will just make shit up. Just the other day I watched her walk into a wall:

            “Daddy, I did hurt my head.”
            “Oh no, what happened?”
            “[boy at nursery] did hit me.”
            “(dies laughing)”

          9. Anonymous

            I wonder why you still live in Norway if what you say is true (or even if you just feel that way). From your description it looks like a pretty awful place to live (a really nice to visit as a tourist though, the nature there is stunning). If I felt like this about a country I lived in, I would be leaving at the first opportunity. Norway is rich, but so is Switzerland for example and it is also way less socialist (not just than Norway). Also, it has way more sunlight

            I live here because it makes me money. I will be returning home permanently in 2-4 years. Also, I don’t have kids yet, so the services can’t do me anything. If I do have kids here, I figure I am careful enough to avoid notice by the services long enough. Worst case, [redacted].

            Hmm, according to Wikipedia, Norway has a higher birth rate than most countries in Europe.

            That’s true, although it is still below replacement, and a little propped up by immigrants. I don’t think the services have a substantial influence here – German child services work very similarly, from what I’ve heard, and Germany has a lower TFR than Norway does – again, being a proper Norwegian will save you in most of the cases.

        2. Tibor

          But for some reason, I’ve seen articles about these problems in Norway several times already (although for the first time on BBC), whereas I have not heard of similar cases in the US (or any other country for that matter). It looks as thought the Norwegian child protection agency is much more inclined to take the children away from the parents. It is hard to say what “lack of parental skills” means if they do not give any details, but it sounds like they could not come up with something “solid” like sexual abuse, violence or drug addiction but someone did not like the parents or their parenting style.

          1. BBA

            I’ve read reports that US child protective agencies aggressively look for reasons to remove children of poor/minority families and more-or-less ignore richer/white families. Naturally the race angle is the focus of these stories.

            There was also one case of a “free range kids” parent getting fined by the local agency for letting the kids play in a city park alone. But it didn’t go any further than a fine.

          2. David Friedman

            “whereas I have not heard of similar cases in the US (or any other country for that matter). ”

            I haven’t followed the Norwegian case, but would you consider taking several hundred children, from infants on up, away from their parents on the basis of a bogus phone call and unhappiness with the parents’ religion a similar case?

            It happened in Texas not that long ago. For details, from my blog at the time:


          3. Tibor

            @David: That looks pretty bad too. It seems like in both in Norway and in this case in the US, the child protection service assumes that someone with an unusual style of parenting (and in Norway, it seems pretty easy to be “unusual” if the Law of Jante is a real thing) is “obviously” abusing the children and tries to take them away. It seems that the problem is mitigated in the US since the range of “usual” is much wider there and so these things do not happen as often. But once they decide to take action, the the child protection services seem to operate similarly (at least based on your description of the events), that is in rather shady ways, in both countries.

    2. FacelessCraven

      Man, it’s a good thing Psychology is such a reliable and firmly grounded branch of the sciences. It’d be horrible to find out the research justifying this sort of thing was just confounders and researcher bias.

    3. Protagoras

      Part of the reason it’s hard to judge the main case the story mentions is that the couple isn’t answering questions from the press on the advice of lawyers. That doesn’t prove that there’s more to the story than the BBC says (there are lots of good reasons for lawyers to give such advice), but it also makes it harder to be confident that there isn’t.

    4. Dr Dealgood

      Not to mention that the “crime” seems to be simple spanking.

      Now my parents didn’t believe in corporal punishment, though honestly I wished they did over the alternative. But even the old-school “bring me a switch” sort of punishment doesn’t seem like it could possibly justify abducting someone’s kids.

    5. Anonymous

      Not Norwegian, but resident.

      I have heard of this topic before; recently, even. My impression is that the cases are fairly sporadic, but one cannot say for certain, given in how much secrecy the services operate under. AFAIK, the procedure is something like this:
      1. Someone – even by anonymous tip – indicates to the police or the services that the parents are in some way deficient.
      2. The services review the claim and immediately confiscate the children, putting them in foster families.
      3. Parents are subjected to a very likely lengthy bureaucratic-legal process over whether they are guilty of abuse or other failure, and whether the children would be returned to them.
      4. Even if it would turn out that the children were taken away unnecessarily, if enough time has passed since they were taken, the services likely decide that for the good of the children, they should stay where they are, to avoid stressing them further.

      The Norwegian mindset appears to be that children do not belong to the parents, and the parents are only temporary tutors that are obligated to look after them – and that they have no claim other than status quo for that. If they fail in some way, as determined by the prevailing mores and rules, the right to raise their own children is rescinded.

      Immigrant parents seem the hardest hit, largely for cultural reasons. What is perfectly acceptable in one place concerning child raising constitutes heinous child abuse in Norway – and almost everywhere is less strict about parenting than this place. And don’t get me started over the issue of religious upbringing. Further, the immigrant parents don’t know how to deal with the cultural-legal-bureaucratic proceedings to rectify unjust seizure of their children. For example, where it would be quite natural to expect a mother whose children were taken by government agents to be in tears – except in Norway, where being seen as emotionally distraught this way serves as evidence that she is unstable and therefore unfit to be a parent.

      1. sweeneyrod

        I don’t think it is exaggerating to say that sounds nightmarishly dystopian, especially the last part – presumably if the mother isn’t distraught, she lacks emotional connection to her children and therefore is unfit to be a parent for that reason.

        1. FacelessCraven

          I’ve heard similar stories from the American child services agencies. It’s a thing.

    6. Nita

      There was a major child abuse case in Norway, which started in 2005, but was in the headlines till 2014 (also, a book was published in 2013). A little boy was physically abused by his stepfather until he died at the age of eight. Apparently, people saw bruises and such, but the kid never said, “stepdaddy beats me, please help,” so they did not intervene. [The only sources I could find in English are this page and this video.]

      According to a Norwegian journalist, the boy “has become a national symbol of system failure and violence against children”. So, presumably they got really serious about preventing outcomes like that, and increased the number of false positives in the process.

      And of course, if there’s a lack of transparency and oversight, some people will be tempted to cover up their mistakes. Incidentally, I’ve heard that mistakes in medicine are easier to detect and prevent when everyone is focused on improving the process instead of punishing the guilty — but this idea is counterintuitive to most people, so implementing it is a challenge.

  6. Nita

    So, in a previous link thread, back in June 2015, I read that ‘social justice activists’ pressured Alex Miller into disinviting You-Know-Who from the conference Miller was organizing — by saying, in essence, “Nice institution youse gots here, shame if somebody were to politicize it.” (Witty paraphrase by Scott.) The language used included: ‘decided to cave to the ban request’, ‘desire to give into that to avoid trouble’, ‘heckler’s veto’. Final sentence:

    Maybe if organizers know that banning all insufficiently-leftist-people and not banning all insufficiently-leftist-people will both result in politicization and Internet firestorms, they’ll say “screw it” and just follow their principles.

    At the time, I took Scott’s summary at face value, and it informed my position on the matter. I’m definitely against conference organizers being pressured into making decisions that go against their own principles. They’re doing the work, so they get to decide. If someone disagrees with their decision, they can host their own conference.

    But now I’ve actually looked into it, and it seems to me that Miller did follow his principles. He seems to believe that politicization would not be inflicted on the conference as punishment by outsider activists, but would inevitably happen in the minds of the attendees because You-Know-Who is already infamous for his views (published on his blog and popularized by his many fans).

    I don’t really know what to think now. Was Scott’s post part of a wave of outrage trying to pressure conference organizers into acting against their own principles?

      1. Nita

        ‘Surrendering’ implies some sort of conflict. As far as I can tell, there wasn’t any conflict between Miller and the people who had an objection to Yarvin.

        According to Miller’s own account, he’d never intended to invite anyone hugely controversial in the attending community in the first place, because he believed it would reduce the quality of the conference (very important to him personally, as he was already committed to doing the work). Members of the attending community informed him about the controversy, he noticed he’d accidentally deviated from his own plan, and he retracted the invitation.

        So, instead of “Let’s liberate conference organizers from mob pressure by forming a counter-mob,” this seems to be more like, “Let’s apply mob pressure to conference organizers whose decisions don’t match our preferences!”

        1. hlynkacg

          The thing is that the “controversy” is largely manufactured. What does Urbit have to do with what Yarvin does in his free time? This seems like an obvious “race to the bottom” sort of scenario.

          The real question is whether a project’s worthiness should be judged by it’s designer’s politics or on it’s own technical merits.

          Do I really need to remind everyone that politicizing technical fields has a rather ugly history?

          1. Nita

            What does Urbit have to do with what Yarvin does in his free time?

            Well, here’s how Clark from Popehat (a.k.a. ClarkHat) describes Urbit in a cute pseudo-quote:

            [W]e build a new virtual machine called Nock VM that’s entirely incompatible with the existing standards, then we create a new language to run in it (also called Nock), then we build a higher level language on top (called Hoon), then on top we layer an operating system (called Urbit), encryption, namespaces, and delegation of privileges ….based on neo-reactionary politics! Oh, and also, we have a customizable UI that not only gives error messages in phrases you like, but it lets you turn political enemies into unpersons.

            And later, in the comments:

            The neo-reactionary stuff on Urbit that seems to be decoration is not. It is the whole point.

            So… yeah. And this is a sympathetic observer, perhaps not an expert on programming, but more familiar with Yarvin’s work than most SSC readers.

            Non-political (or at least minimally political) software development projects certainly exist. But so far, I have seen no reason to believe that Urbit is one of them.

          2. hlynkacg

            @ Nita
            To reuse my example from before.

            Rockets were originally conceived as weapons, and NASA was once run by Nazis. Does this make space exploration inherently fascist? Should we be no-platforming guys like Scott Kelly and Chris Hadfield for their failure to denounce Von Braun or the moon landings?

            If your answer is “yes” I applaud your consistency.

            If your answer is “no” then whether Yarvin conceived of Urbit as part of some grand moldbugian scheme is irrelevant. Judge the project on it’s technical merits and leave politics at the door.

          3. Nita

            To continue with your analogy, the debate is not over no-platforming Scott Kelly or Chris Hadfield. The position some commenters here are defending seems to be:

            1. Anyone who refuses to invite Von Braun to a conference they’re organizing must be denounced for being an evil SJW (or a craven SJW-helper) and politicizing a technical field.
            2. Anyone who decides not to attend a conference Von Braun will be speaking at must be shamed for being unreasonable.
            3. Anyone who tells a conference organizer about their unreasonable decision not to attend must be denounced for being an evil heckler.

            Personally, I don’t think anyone has a moral duty to invite or disinvite Yarvin to/from one of these conferences. Both Miller and De Goes seem to be 1) decent people, 2) passionate about technology and community-building, and 3) valuable contributors in both fields, so I’m not inclined to side with either of the two internet mobs.

          4. Hlynkacg

            It seems that you have your chain of events backwards. Yarvin had been invited, and was then disinvited after certain people raised a stink about it.

            So you’re wrong, the debate absolutely IS over no-platforming Scott Kelly or Chris Hadfield. (or Von Braun)

            The “internet mobs” in question are two mutually exclusive worldviews. One that believes that “everything is political” and one that believes that “science and technology must remain a-political if it is to be effective”. The associated argument being that someone who thinks that political considerations should trump scientific inquiry and/or technical merit has no business calling themselves a “scientist” or “engineer”.

          5. Nita

            Yarvin had been invited, and was then disinvited after certain people raised a stink about it.

            We’re going in circles now. Miller didn’t want to invite anyone like Yarvin, so when he learned that Yarvin was someone like Yarvin, he disinvited Yarvin.

            Yes, the opinions of the two mobs are mutually exclusive, but they are not jointly exhaustive of the possible opinion space. And both of these opinions are based on a political premise I reject — that all individuals hosting community get-togethers must select their attendees in accordance with the mob’s principles instead of their own.

            Not everything is political (in the relevant sense), but Urbit does seem to be. So, it’s up to the organizers to decide whether they want to take the chance of bringing Urbit-related politics into their conference. Additionally, Yarvin seems to be kind of a smarmy asshole. Again, it’s up to the organizers to decide whether to risk inviting someone whose net contribution to the conference might be negative.

            the debate absolutely IS over no-platforming Scott Kelly or Chris Hadfield. (or Von Braun)

            My point is that one of those three is not like the others.

          6. David Friedman

            “Not everything is political (in the relevant sense), but Urbit does seem to be.”

            One person was quoted here as implying that Urbit had some connection to the author’s political views, but it wasn’t clear what. If someone designs an operating system in which system resources are allocated by competitive bidding by processes, that reflects an approach to decentralized coordination which has political implications, but the operating system itself isn’t political.

            Are you actually familiar with Urbit (I’m not)? If not, what is your basis for thinking it’s political?

            As best I can tell from the discussion here, the objection to Yarvin wasn’t that his project was political but that he had argued as Moldbug for political views people disapproved of.

        2. ThirteenthLetter

          “‘Surrendering’ implies some sort of conflict. As far as I can tell, there wasn’t any conflict between Miller and the people who had an objection to Yarvin.”

          I hope you don’t think this is somehow a defense of Miller’s actions, that he was eagerly waiting by the phone for any hecklers to contact him so that he could uphold their veto.

          I’m also curious: what would your opinion be if Yarvin was controversial because it was 1950 and he supported interracial marriage?

          1. Nita

            The ‘defense’ for Miller’s actions is that he’s free to make any judgment calls he wants, and other people are free to attend or not. What’s your justification for attempting to curtail Miller’s liberty?

            what would your opinion be if Yarvin was controversial because it was 1950 and he supported interracial marriage?

            If a group really wanted to reject a speaker for supporting interracial marriage, I would disapprove of the whole group in general, not just in relation to the conference.

            If a group really wanted to include an active mass-murderer, I would disapprove of them as well.

            In both cases, my disapproval would be caused by the moral views implied by their preferences, because I consider such views harmful to society. However, forcing the conference organizer to act against their own judgment would not change the group’s views, so that would be infringing on someone’s liberty for no good reason.

            Luckily, Yarvin is neither a murderer nor a 1950s interracial marriage supporter, so neither including him nor excluding him implies anything terrible. Therefore, shaming is not morally justified for either Miller or De Goes.

            In case you’re starting to wonder about pizzas and wedding cakes, a conference is more like a dinner party than a food item. A pizza won’t fall apart if you do something controversial, but a conference might, making all your hard work go to waste. And if you make both options controversial, there will simply be fewer conferences, because potential organizers will stick to their regular work and avoid the risk.

          2. ThirteenthLetter

            @Nita: “The ‘defense’ for Miller’s actions is that he’s free to make any judgment calls he wants, and other people are free to attend or not.”

            It’s dispiriting how the defenses of no-platforming always seem to fall back to “well, what they did was legal.” Yes, Miller’s actions were legal. It’s also legal to drive fifty miles an hour in the left lane of the freeway, and it’s also legal to not hold the door open for someone carrying a bunch of packages, and it’s also legal to cast George Clooney as Batman. Whether these things are right is a different question entirely.

            “And if you make both options controversial, there will simply be fewer conferences, because potential organizers will stick to their regular work and avoid the risk.”

            True! But if the option of no-platforming is not made controversial, conference organizers will simply always give in to the no-platformers (except for the occasional man of principle, who will then be destroyed as an example to others) and we’ve effectively given veto power over intellectual discourse to some deeply unpleasant and authoritarian people who — even if you think someone like Yarvin is acceptable losses — have already made it clear that they won’t draw the line at ostracizing nebbishy monarchists. So it’s not quite as easy as that.

            Or to put it another way: you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.

  7. Nancy Lebovitz


    This relates to a doubt I have about IQ tests. They’re supposed to be about abilities that can’t be affected by training, but how sure can you be about that negative claim?


    More about the Flynn Effect mostly being increasing skill at (some sorts of?) abstraction rather than an increase of usable intelligence.

    1. God Damn John Jay

      Here we come up against the idea of “ability” = talent + will + skill. When I started programming (in the Air Force in the early 60s) there was an aptitude test made up by IBM that all prospective candidates had to take. It was not an easy test, but those who passed it were then able to undergo an intensive week of training (taught by IBM) and come successfully out the other side as a “machine code coder”, and be put into on the job program writing the very next week. Some months later there was another intensive week covering the rudiments of program design, etc.

      Truly, when they write the history of IBM, they will put this crime down next to building machines to sort people into the camps.

  8. Nita

    I’ve come across a little essay on what the portrayal of minorities in fiction can mean to someone, on a personal level. It’s quite gentle, and although it discusses Ulysses, it might be palatable even to staunch anti-Ulyssists.

    Some quotes:

    As a human being, an American, a college-educated lover of literature, I have been reminded of my Jewish identity unexpectedly, and unpleasantly, many times. [..] Such experiences undoubtedly make many Jews wish that gentiles never wrote about us at all. [..] Joyce’s Leopold Bloom is a remarkable exception.

    Jews can be very touchy when reading about antisemitism. For us, the line is not always clear between reportage and advocacy.


    (Found via nostalgebraist.)

    1. Said Achmiz

      A good essay. Of course, the Jewish example suggests a solution to all other cases of problematic portrayals of minorities in fiction, namely: if you want it done right — do it yourself. For instance, once the victory of the Communist-Zionist Conspiracy was complete… I mean… once a sufficiently large number of prominent Jews established themselves in Hollywood, the result was assured: today, where is the anti-semitic portrayal of Jews in American media? There are scattered examples, to be sure, but you have to search high and low to find even a handful.

      In short: “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em… and then beat ’em” — it worked for us, and it can work for you!

  9. TD

    I decided to write up a quick list of what I think would be a sci-fi utopia I’d like to live in, but it got me wondering whether my idea of a utopia is actually a normal person’s dystopia. I’m a weirdo so.


    -The year is 2350. The world is very different.

    -The populace is 25 million human/transhuman agents, with a few thousand machine agents, along with countless non-agents in their teeming billions, and some who fall between the gaps. The human populace substantially lowered at the end of the 21st Century. Later reductions in population were achieved in the 22nd Century, with Earth’s population then remaining relatively stable up to 2350, in spite of life extension technologies, due to the very small number of births, and low creation rate of legal agents by any means.

    -There are now only 10 countries, occupying areas similar to but not entirely concurrent with the regions that are now known as; Europe, North America, South America, Africa, the Middle East, China and South-East Asia, Russia and Mongolia, India, Japan+Australia+Indonesia and those other weird islands combined as one, and finally, Antarctica (where the council of 10 meet). There are also a collection of experimental sea nations that are overseen more informally by the world council.

    -These 10 countries comprise a loose form of world government, which hardly ever meets to do anything, except unite to attack egregious lawbreakers. The law as written in the world union constitution of 2276 is rarely updated, and consists of very few laws, mostly comprising of collective response to AGI risk, the global land area tax, and the global laws on slavery and mistreatment. The council of 10 are essentially guardians upholding a tradition that restores order in extreme cases, rather than a source of ceaseless legislation to achieve social improvement. One thing the constitution defines is the difference between sentient beings with humanized desires “agents” which deserve rights and those beings designed to be “hypoagents”, which can only follow orders and therefore need no rights, as they have no desires to be fulfilled, and no suffering to be protected from. Informally this distinction may be expressed as “Are you an agent?”

    -Each country is generally libertarian, but local directly elected delegates electing further delegates enforce the law of the land. Machines by command of the delegates enforce various local rules governing the commons, and instead of border control, if you enter a new country, you will be sent an update of the laws into an internet connected device which you will be subject to in the new jurisdiction, but these laws are bound to be very few in most cases. Some countries have set aside more experimental zones in any case. There is more space to do so after the population problem was solved. Beautiful wide open vistas stretch for miles upon miles completely void of humanity, and yet occasionally a spark of wondrous eccentricity will appear, no longer washed out by the banality of the mass collective and its lowest common denominator. Cresting a hill, you may come across a vast modernist skyscraper rising out of a redwood forest, far above the trees and the mist, with nothing like it for miles, and you will know that you inhabit a world of human beings and not committees. What makes this possible is not only the low population of this new Earth, but its governance by taxation of space, and not what goes into that space.

    -A global land area tax has been put into place on the basis of combining equality and property. Taking asides commons, which may comprise no greater than 25% of each nation, and easing, what is left can be divided up equally and considered the basic allowance of property (as you can imagine, with a populace of just 25 million, and technology making anywhere liveable, the square km per agent is large). In the market you are free to purchase in excess of this basic equal standard as much as you would like, but when you do so, you will be met not with specific legal strictures on what property you may have or how you may utilize it, but instead a tax on land area that progressively graduates above that divided among the world citizenry. This is in fact, the only tax in existence, but allows for the zero sum nature of land to be compensated for. This feeds back into a basic income system administered by the world union, in which rations from state owned assets on Earth and in space are doled out equally to each citizen as a basic income. This number is fixed, and will NOT be subdivided for a larger population of agents, so as to discourage “childbirth”/the creation of new agents that require rights, and eat up the beautiful art canvas that the world has become. Certain local exemptions for the land area tax have been made through local democratic agreement that a project someone rich is funding would be of great benefit to the area, but this has been overruled by the high council more often than not to prevent contagion.

    -Due to tiered direct democracy, there are no political parties, and “ideologies” are highly privatized. The three things that seem to be debated publically are the land area tax, the national commons, and AGI limits, but coalitions that lump any of the issues together seem very fluid. Single issue politics is very important.

    -There are many private cities that are quite extravagant and pay for themselves nicely considering the land area tax. Although there are few people on the planet, where Detroit used to be there is one particularly beautiful private city of 50,000 or so residents that comprises of 10 tiers lifted above the other 10km up, forming a 10km cube and avoiding the use of much horizontal space. We have become a people that like our social circles small, and our environments larger than we have use for, even if we have to pay for it. There are many cities left from the old world that have been bought up, and owned by preservation groups in common to spread the tax, or owned by exceedingly rich individuals, and shareholders, leading to many many kms of late 21st Century suburbs being preserved and gated as private historical art exhibits, or even fun parks. For a small fee, you can drive through completely empty old style cities with friends and marvel at how life used to be. For a larger fee, you can even have fun wreaking havoc. Go to the mall and smash all the products with a shopping trolley; it’ll all be fixed later by bots utilizing resources for paid for by your fee.

    -You can pretty much do what you want on your property, as long as you A: keep it internalized and B: respect the rights of other agents.

    -Very advanced AGI is regulated informally. Domain specific AI operating at superhuman levels is generally good enough for high level administrative tasks. For machines that need to actually navigate the real world, a level of general intelligence similar to a human is preferred. The world council keeps a hibernating hyperintelligent AGI on standby in Antarctica to see off any military threats and counter other advanced AGI through MAD doctrine. Local officials are employed to ensure that municipal AI facilities only produce hypoagent AGI, by checking the neural activity map for similarity to agents in the relevant legal characteristics as determined by the world constitution.

    -Almost no one has to work to live; AGI and “robot slaves” do most everything you could pay someone for, with some well paid administrative exceptions.

    -Various models of robot slaves are produced to take the place of human workers, though non-humanoid robots are produced for specialized work. Machines provide work, comfort, and best of all; know when to piss off when you don’t need them. It’s not uncommon for the average person to have 100 mobile machines, as well as uncountable computer simulations, and pieces of disembodied AI software. Waifus abound.

    -Municipal facilities scattered about across the land produce standard models of service robots, gadgets, and so on if you want it now, but also provide 3D printers and feed powder, as most people own them. The same is true of private businesses. Much can be made at home, but larger devices and projects may require fabrication from larger machines than the individual owns, so he will pay to use larger additive manufacturing machines.

    -Aneutronic Deuterium-Deuterium fusion in a compact form has been solved through some handwavium, meaning that underground generators at the municipal level provide much power from the use of Deuterium in rainwater. Solar power is also abundant. Graphene turns out to be the wonder material we all hoped it could be.

    -There are a few public space elevators per country, as well as some private ones, though mostly out in the seastead nations.

    -Some citizens own asteroids and make more wealth that way, though many have shares in these businesses.

    -Due to life extension, people should live a lot longer, but we really haven’t had the time to say how much longer. 5% of the existing populace first received life extension treatment in the 21st Century.

    -Most people can fairly be considered transhuman in some way. Very rich people have been known to resemble great graphmetal centipedes and increase their brainspeed by many thousands of times, though no one has come close to exceeding the technical limit enforced by the council of 10, due to fear of retaliation.

    -Direct connection to the internet through the brain is rare. There is a widespread social sanction against doing this, because for various historical reasons, it came to be considered a terrible idea.

    -The creation of new agents is considered a horrible thing to do. There is a small cult of humanists who even give birth naturally. They are considered disgusting and are marginalized in society.

    -Some people leave for Mars, Titan, or even go interstellar off in hibernate mode to Gliese 158. No matter. The more people leave Earth, the better it gets.

    Is this a utopia or a dystopia?

    1. JDG1980

      How was this massive population reduction achieved? Sure, we know that just having female education and widespread prosperity will substantially reduce birth rates, but 25 million is incredibly low. How did they convince groups like the Amish, the Mormons, and the Hasidic Jews to go along with this?

      It seems to me that your society either has an unrealistically high level of ideological conformity, or else competing ideologies are still out there and are simply being suppressed by force. Honestly, the most likely backstory for your proposed “utopia” is that at some point in the late 21st or early 22nd century, the wealthy (and ideologically homogenous) 1% exterminated the other 99% of the population.

      1. Samuel Skinner

        “How was this massive population reduction achieved?”

        Virtual reality is really addicting?

        1. JDG1980

          But over the course of a few centuries, wouldn’t that just lead to a country/world dominated by the Amish (and other religious groups that prize fertility and reject modern technology)?

      2. Anonymous

        >How was this massive population reduction achieved?

        The rich and powerful fly off on a few spaceships and spray a sterilization virus on the planet, coming back after 100 years have passed?

          1. Leit

            Ah, it was sort of a joke.

            Ergo Proxy is a dystopian anime with a rather neat aesthetic. Humans can’t breed and rely on cloning, FAI androids are common but are going berserk for no reason anyone can understand, society looks… odd, and there’s the question of the ‘Proxies’ – apparently super-powered beings with something of a grudge.

            The story gets pretty interesting, but if you haven’t already seen it then I’ve given away a fairly major puzzle piece.

      3. Deiseach

        How was this massive population reduction achieved?

        countless non-agents in their teeming billions – there’s your answer. The population of “real” humans with “real” rights was reduced by legal re-definition, not by mass murder and genocide (though you never know, maybe a bit of that as well for brave new world building? can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs?) There are legal agents with full rights, and non-agents who don’t matter:

        One thing the constitution defines is the difference between sentient beings with humanized desires “agents” which deserve rights and those beings designed to be “hypoagents”, which can only follow orders and therefore need no rights, as they have no desires to be fulfilled, and no suffering to be protected from. Informally this distinction may be expressed as “Are you an agent?”

        You probably are not going to ask an obvious robot “are you an agent?” but a human-seeming person? Sure, it’s easy to confuse one of the humans-but-not-persons (or “not agents”) with the humans-who-are-persons because they still look like the basic human model (or even one of the modified transhumans, because the non-agent humans get implants and what have you without their consent in order to do the dirty messy manual and menial work).

        So you have estates where one person with their army of robot and non-agent human slaves lives. The official population is “25 million human/transhuman agents” but this does not count the serfs/slaves human population, they’re part of the “teeming billions”.

        Because otherwise, there would have had to be mass extinction of the population, and this would have to be done either by some huge natural disaster, or else the rich/super intelligent/powerful decided to introduce a plague or famine to kill off 99% of the population of Earth.

        I’m willing to bet the 25 million rich and super-rich agents with all the legal rights not alone don’t mind having an army of disposable human servants, they don’t even think of them as human anymore: “are you an agent?” No? Then you’re a mobile tool or walking piece of property, that’s all.

        1. Anonymous

          >countless non-agents in their teeming billions

          I took that to mean animals and robots.

          Otherwise, how do you reconcile the planet being largely a nature reserve?

    2. hlynkacg

      Aside from the whole “nobody mentions the umpteen-billion people who were ‘disappeared’ in the last 300 years” it sounds pretty good.

    3. Anonymous

      Definitely dystopic.

      On the assumption of the inhabitants of this world actually like this state of affairs, and don’t substantially defect on the various dillemmas inherent within it, they are not human. Not even in the “transhuman” sense. They are so alien a travesty that humanity becomes more obscene for the vague resemblance.

      1. Said Achmiz

        Eh? But what’s inhuman about them?

        It seems like a utopia to me. An unsustainable utopia, that couldn’t have come into existence and would, realistically, collapse quickly; but still, taken at face value, I agree with blacktrance: sounds like a great place to live.

    4. Murphy

      “This number is fixed, and will NOT be subdivided for a larger population of agents, so as to discourage “childbirth”/the creation of new agents that require rights, and eat up the beautiful art canvas that the world has become.”

      This bit sounds a tad troubling depending on how it’s implemented.

      If a new agent comes into existence through accident or design is it a non-entity unless someone has reserved one of the “agent” slots for it?

      What happens to the children of this “cult of humanists”?
      Do they join some kind of underclass lacking the status of agents or lacking an income? Do the new agents lacking an income have any recourse?

      You say the council of 10 don’t try to shape social change but it sounds like they’ve shaped it pretty rigidly already and I’m kind of wondering where the mass graves of all the missing billions are.

      That being said if it is a dystopia it’s one of the less horrible ones.

      You say people don’t enhance their intelligence beyond certain legal limits but how is this detected/enforced? Is this some kind of perfect surveillance state where there is no privacy from the council of 10? If you lock yourself in the basement of your estate with piles of compute hardware how do they know?

      Since there are asteroid mining colonies and colonies on mars this perfect surveillance must extend there as well to prevent any billionaire from upgrading himself beyond their limits.

      It sounds a little like second life otherwise up to and including the basic income for any Full account holders.

    5. JBeshir

      It’d be mostly a utopia. I wouldn’t want a population much lower, though. I don’t think a planet of one person who gets all the resources is good. But 25 million is okay.

      The problem is basically that it builds the utopia by assuming that humans will have different preferences and behaviours that are easier to build a utopia with, and that Moloch will do what we want always.

      In particular, it assumes perfect cooperation against market effects, exactly where convenient but never where undesirable. It assumes perfect cooperation on not building hyperintelligent AGI to get an advantage in the market, but no cooperation against lowering prices to get an advantage in the market. This is the main way it assumes Moloch does exactly what we want them to do always.

      (Additionally, it assumes perfect cooperation on not building one as a means to murdering someone without being caught. This isn’t really any more plausible than just assuming humans no longer commit crimes and so law enforcement is unnecessary.)

      It also assumes a state of zero competition of interests between countries has somehow arisen, to fit with lacking a system for managing them, rather than designing a system to solve international competition/races to the bottom as we predict it to exist.

      And it assumes humans stop being political, “just because”, to fit with a system that doesn’t solve tribalism, rather than designing a system to fit with humans being kind of tribal.

      It also posits a disincentive scheme for creating new agents (denying them basic income and capital at a time where human labour is near worthless and land use is expensive) which takes really weird assumptions to make useful without it being a cause of great suffering. You need to assume humans want to make new agents enough that it does something, but care about not creating new agents which are totally economically dependent on them more, consistently enough that very few or no of those agents come into being. This is a very specific assumption; with actual humans, far more likely a lot of those agents come into being and suffer.

      With actual humans, it would sometimes probably even have the opposite effect to that intended; the created agent not getting a share of capital/land/BI in a world where capital/land/BI has all the value means you can create agents and exploit them in exchange for minimal sustenance. A libertarian world like this one surely has legal prostitution; why have waifus when you can have real agents? And not all 25 million regular humans would want those agents to be happy. Sure, they can leave rather than continue to sell to you, but who would take them, and how would they survive with no food or resources long enough to get there? Are you obligated to tell them their rights? Ignorance of one’s rights is a problem in the real world in these kind of cases.

      Some stuff a lot nastier than just regulating the creation of new agents, or disincentivising the creator rather than the created would go on.

      Where this connects to dystopia, is that if you took this utopia designed and described around these maximally convenient agents and put actual humans in- with their inconvenient preferences, imperfect coordination in all the *wrong* places, tendency towards tribalism, international conflicts, and in a minority an enjoyment of cruelty for the rush of power- you would get a failed utopia very quickly, and a failed utopia, especially a failed utopia built on unrealistic ideas of humans, or one that works for the successful but creates a tortured underclass, is a very popular form of dystopia.

      Ironically, evocative of the Soviet Union in that respect.

      1. Deiseach

        How do they keep the population from falling? Unless they’ve got something like immortality worked out, eventually some of the 25 million humans will die and will need to be replaced by new agents. If there is a strong bias against and societal pressure not to have children (because you’re creating agents that are rivals with you and others for the land and capital) then people will not be reproducing but will still be dying and so the human population will keep falling.

        Unless the Council of 10 has a system in place that when a human agent does die, a new agent is then created (cloned, people who want to have children get a licence to have a baby) that inherits the assets of the deceased? (I think this was how the Solarians worked things in Asimov’s novel; children don’t inherit their parents’ property because most people in Spacer societies have no idea who their parents are, so vacant estates are allocated by lot to the new generations).

        Or else the human agents are all gradually moving to become transhuman, and so there are “human agent consciousness” in robot bodies but fewer and fewer “human agent consciousness” in flesh bodies, which is another problem that needs to be addressed.

    6. Deiseach

      Dystopia. Asimov covered something like it in his “Robots” novel series with Spacer society, the most extreme being that of Solaria.

      Like your future Earth, Solaria has plenty of room for each citizen, actual physical presence (except for sex) is strongly socially discouraged (to the point where an Solarian gets faint at the very notion of being in the same room, breathing the same air, as the Earthman when the Earthman uses the phrase “face to face” and makes the Solarian unavoidably aware that the two of them are physically sharing the same space).

      Childbirth and childrearing is kept as far apart from the “normal” citizenry as possible; the children are raised in group nurseries and tended mostly by robot servants, but occasionally have to be picked up or obtain physical contact from a real human – the human nurses have to get rigorous training to overcome their revulsion at the very notion, and the children are trained to ‘get over’ this as quickly as possible.

      Population is very strictly controlled. Solarians have, practically, private mansions and estates and armies of robot servitors. Yet Solaria, despite being rich and successful and dominant, is a dying society. Spacer society in general is becoming stagnant, precisely because people in the post-scarcity societies did what your Earth encourages: “Some people leave for Mars, Titan, or even go interstellar off in hibernate mode to Gliese 158. No matter. The more people leave Earth, the better it gets.”

      They’re all locked into their selfish little bubbles of comfort and while they are momentarily the cream of the crop, they need to control Earth very rigorously because once the teeming billions of Earth get out into the galaxy that the Spacers have corralled for themselves, by sheer force of numbers and by the fresh injection of creativity and life, Spacer society will lose its dominance and power.

      1. Murphy

        Remember one of the darkest elements of that story:

        More children than were needed to replace adults were often created. Until their mental powers manifested they were not considered real humans, the robots there weren’t obligated to protect them or follow their orders under their version of the 3 laws and had no problem with euthanizing them like stray pets.

        1. roystgnr

          Deiseach is discussing “The Naked Sun”, you’re referencing “Foundation and Earth”. Same universe, but set 20k years apart.

    7. onyomi

      I don’t believe the population would drop so low, at least not without a genocide of some kind, under such circumstances. On the one hand, it’s true technological development seems to correlate with lower birth rates, but so does women having full time jobs. In this society where most people don’t have to work hardly at all and you have robot nannies and housekeepers, I’d expect more people to have bigger families.

      I am also generally perplexed by the (many) people who seem to think a utopia would need fewer people than we have now (not saying that is necessarily your opinion). The Earth with 7 billion people is still mostly empty.

    8. Dahlen

      Thank goodness you mentioned at the end that one can leave for Mars. How’s that for an answer?

      I mean… giant billionaire centipedes… “hypoagents”, goodness gracious… the end of motherhood and the rise of waifus… pay pay pay, pay for this, pay for that, crazy things being permitted to people who can pay… fuck Detroit, let’s replace it with a big damn private cube… random ugly modernist skyscrapers in the middle of fucking nowhere… the lowering of the Dunbar number… privatised ideologies, probably the natural extension of having a bazillion libertarian think tanks… “all those weird islands combined as one”, wow, congrats, top tier understanding of history and nations… oh wait, no more nations either, just one big inescapable world government, wait, that’s not right either, now you can fuck right off into outer space if you don’t like it…

      I’m sorry if you were bothered by the snark, but highlighting the negatives of your vision in a connotationally non-neutral tone is the main way I can get the point across, that other people’s intuitions for what a good society is can be widely different from yours.

    9. Urstoff

      Dystopic simply due to the population numbers. Cultural production would be enormously impoverished compared to billions of people with diverse interests and experiences.

    10. Cerebral Paul Z.

      In times past, loyalty to the cause of the populace was to be found everywhere. The will of the Council of Ten was the will of everyone.

      1. Nornagest

        The citizen renders to the populace what is due to the populace. What is due to the populace? Everything.

    11. John Schilling

      I seem to have come late, but:

      A Mars terraformed and settled by twenty-five million people who decided the like things this way would be a Utopia.

      It would also be unstable. “There are no political parties”? There will be, though maybe not in name, and they’ll dominate the political process even more than they do here. Childbirth is rare? On a world this rich, with this much leisure and robotic labor, you’ll find out just how many people truly like raising children. Excess children don’t count as “agents” and so don’t have the full set of e.g property rights? That hardly sounds utopian once the children in question stop being theoretical. It does sound like a fine setup for a classical Patriarch or Dynast.

      Also, it’s going to be invaded and conquered by the planet where all the people who didn’t want this sort of cozy utopia went.

      If you insist on setting it on Earth, as others have noted, you’re hiding a massive genocide of some sort in the backstory. I’m going to suspect that the continued existence of an unstable Utopia is being maintained with equally covert ruthlessness and I’m going to want to know who’s behind it.

  10. onyomi


    How plausible/practical is this? (I guess the idea is to scan the brains of people doing a thing expertly and then use that info to stimulate the brains of people attempting to learn that skill. Which raises the question: how similar do the brains of different people doing the same thing look? I’m sure there will be some differences, but maybe similar enough to be useful in this respect?)

  11. JohnMcG

    On the GoFundMe request…

    Obviously, this is Scott’s blog, and I’ll request his wishes, and I’m not inclined to post commentary on people’s lifestyle anyway.

    But I wonder if what Scott proposes is a workable general norm.

    It seems to me that part of the deal of publicly requesting specific support is opening oneself to some judgment for the choices that led to the assistance being necessary.

    On the other hand, we would disapprove of, say, a religious soup kitchen that served up moral instruction with the food. But those are set up to help people. It seems the rules may be different when one’s case is being presented in a venue whose mission is not altruistic.

    1. TD

      You could even consider it the cost.

      I’ll help you, but the payment is that I get to enjoy dissecting you and your problem without mercy. Ain’t no such thing as a free lunch etc.

      1. Matt M

        That’s basically the “social contract” between the working class and the underclass vis-a-vis welfare payments, is it not?

        1. TD

          Now all I can think of are dystopias in which we formalize this. So, if you receive welfare, you are assigned a taxpayer to survey you and critique your use of “their” money.

          1. JohnMcG

            Which, one could say we are getting closer to with restrictions on food stamps and required drug testing of recipients.

            I’m not a fan.

          2. Nornagest

            There’s a reason why “young adult literature” is more or less synonymous with “ham-handed dystopia”.

          3. TD


            What about basic income? Are you a fan of that?

            Technological unemployment means we’ll need it at some unspecified point in the future, but it doesn’t look like its viable right now as a complete replacement to existing welfare. We may need means testing for just a little while longer now.

            In my country, the government contribution to pensions is actually the biggest money sink in welfare by a long long way. I’d love to destroy it, so we can shuttle that money into a basic income. Realistically, it would need to be phased out and the current oldies would need to get their dues.

          4. BBA

            I doubt unemployment will ever reach the level that basic income becomes necessary. If nothing else, universities have taught us that there can always be more administrative bloat.

          5. JDG1980

            One of the advantages of UBI is that it gets away from the thorny questions of who “deserves” what. Instead, we say that all members of the in-group (i.e. “citizens of country X”) are automatically entitled to a specific monthly payment. The lack of moral judgment is the whole point.

            Yes, in some ways, make-work jobs can substitute for a UBI, but they have downsides as well. “Administrative bloat” often gets in the way of actual work getting done. In other words, make-work jobs can be not only valueless, but actively counterproductive. And in the long run, we really need to break the deep-seated cultural link between work and survival.

          6. Jiro

            There’s a reason why “young adult literature” is more or less synonymous with “ham-handed dystopia”.

            Yes, path dependence and unoriginality. In this case, someone writes one popular young adult dystopia and everyone else follows.

            When “young adult literature” meant “Harry Potter” instead of “dystopia”, the way children lived wasn’t radically different.

          7. JohnMcG

            I’m not opposed to guaranteed income; I’m not sure what welfare solutions scale up to a population as vast and diverse as ours.

          8. Nornagest

            When “young adult literature” meant “Harry Potter” instead of “dystopia”, the way children lived wasn’t radically different.

            Path dependence is important, sure. But I think there’s both a case for dystopia matching the frustrations of children and especially teenagers of all eras, and a separate case for dystopia being extra appealing to children born after, say, 1988. This would match the genre’s publishing history fairly well.

          9. God Damn John Jay

            Harry Potter was an outlier in terms of its success — Rowling is vastly wealthier than her competition and the novels are longer and more densely written than comparable young adult novels, explaining why so many people were so hesitant to publish it.

          10. Douglas Knight

            Was the first Harry Potter book – the one that people were hesitant to publish – longer or denser than its competition?

          11. God Damn John Jay

            Compare the writing in Harry Potter to the writing in something like Animorphs / Goosebumps / Hunger Games. Even the original Harry Potter was longer and had more characters than those, it also opened with a prologue that wouldn’t pay off until later.

            I reread Harry Potter, along with some books I read as a kid and it seemed like Potter is more demanding.

            (On a related note I seem to remember Harry Potter becoming a thing around the release of the third book, which was when I picked it up)

          12. houseboatonstyx

            Was the first Harry Potter book – the one that people were hesitant to publish – longer or denser than its competition?

            Oh, yes, especially for the age group it was aimed at. And it ws praised for bigger words and more complex grammar.

      1. Salem

        Because the moral instruction is more likely to help than the soup, and charity isn’t about helping.

        1. Nancy Lebovitz

          Why do you think moral instruction is more likely to help than soup? My impression is that moral instruction mostly gets ignored. Soup supplies some nutrition.

  12. Nancy Lebovitz

    I was putting off posting new material until I got caught up, but it was becoming increasingly clear that I wasn’t going to get caught up until the thread was pretty much dead. It may be too late already. I’m posting new material as separate comments instead of doing a one-comment core dump because I think it will be better to keep replies separated by topic.

  13. Nancy Lebovitz

    The anomalous light curve of KIC 8462852— that star which *might* have alien structures around it, or a big swarm of comets, or who knows what.

    I’d been vaguely aware of the story, but the background is cooler than I thought. As part of a search for exoplanets, there was a program for crowdsourcing checking up on the light curves because people might notice anomalies that the computer program wasn’t set up for. This turned out to be really important.

    You can only find planets or other obstructions which are between the star and the earth/space telescope. This is presumably a small fraction of all the stuff that’s going around stars, but how small is the fraction? A very casual search doesn’t turn up an answer.

    I’m assuming we’ve only got a chance to see much less than a percent of exoplanets, but I might be missing something, like orbital planes tending to be at the same angle– that seems intuitively plausible, but I may be expecting a tidying tendency that doesn’t exist.

    1. Agronomous

      Also, “Anomalous Light Curve of KIC” would be an excellent name for a certain type of rock band.

  14. Nancy Lebovitz

    Ortega y Gasset predicts a great deal about the modern world in _The Revolt of the Masses_, in particular the average person’s mistrust of experts.

    the article fails to mention that people might not trust experts because experts have some conspicuous failures, in particular bad dietary advice and not noticing the economy was at risk until after a collapse.

    While we’re near the subject, any thoughts about (granting that free trade is generally a good thing) what could have been done so that free trade wouldn’t have been a disaster for a lot of people who lost out in the competition for jobs?

    1. Orphan Wilde

      Encouraging mobility would be a start – the US fetish for homeownership locks a lot of people into regions of the country where their labor is less valuable.

      Another good move would have been more comprehensive and forward-looking job retraining; there are a whole lot of occupations out there where labor is hard to find, and valuable to boot. This was true even in the worst of the last recession.

      The issue isn’t free trade, per se, but rather the economic changes that free trade provokes. The issue is that the labor market is always four years behind current trends and market needs, because the jobs people begin training for today are the jobs that are available today. And when the economy accelerates, this can only get worse.

      1. Saint Fiasco

        There are some people who, mobile or not, are just not that valuable in the labor market anywhere.

        For example in developing countries we see mass rural exodus of peasants, whose labor is less valuable because of mechanized agriculture, moving to the cities looking for opportunities and finding nothing.

        I’m not sure what the first-world equivalent of this would be. Maybe automation?

        1. Orphan Wilde

          That’s a somewhat different issue from that of free trade, and I’m glad I’m not in charge of solving it.

          1. Saint Fiasco

            The issues are related. Peasants were perfectly happy* living lives of poverty doing subsistence agriculture, but that is not competitive anymore and other people need to use that land for more productive activities.

            *(not sure if literally true, but that’s what they say)

            So while other people buy that land at a fair price and put it to use, the peasants find that the money they received for the land does not last that long in the city and they have no relevant skills to earn more money.

          2. Orphan Wilde

            They’re related, but not the same issue. “What do we do with people who technology have rendered no longer usefully employable” is a fully general problem; free trade is a technology that may render a subset of people no-longer-employable in theory, but in practice I don’t think that it’s a major contributor to that particular problem. (And also it merely shuffles the problem around; insomuch as we export labor-intensive work, other people are being usefully employed.)

        2. gbdub

          Right now, it’s offshoring – unskilled labor in Elbonia is just as good as the local version at a fraction of the cost.

          Automation hurts too obviously, although I think it actually helped at first – an unskilled laborer operating an automated machine is much more productive than an unskilled laborer with no infrastructure. But now Elbonian factories can get robots too so you’re left with it only making sense to manufacture things locally if it is cost prohibitive to do it elsewhere and ship it back (so e.g. the U.S. is assembling a lot of “foreign made” cars because shipping completed vehicles is costly).

      2. JDG1980

        Encouraging mobility would be a start – the US fetish for homeownership locks a lot of people into regions of the country where their labor is less valuable.

        But most people don’t want to be rootless nomads. A society that has higher GDP but less stability may well be a more unhappy society that one which has lower GDP and more stability. Is the average American really happier now than they were in 1955?

        1. Nancy Lebovitz

          There’s a big range between rootless nomad and can’t afford to move because the costs of selling one’s house are so high. I believe Germany has a lot of long term home rental, though I don’t know how difficult moving is there.

          I have no idea how to judge happiness levels between now and 1955, but certainly a lot of things have happened beside how much people move.

          It’s certainly the case that people living in Flint would rather be able to move, but they can’t sell their houses because (aside from the reputation of the livability of their town) homeowners can’t sell their houses because they’d have to disclose the lead problem. (Warning: this is something I’ve heard on the news, I haven’t checked it myself. It seems plausible.)

        2. Creutzer

          One might also note that to Europeans, current levels of mobility in the US are already insane. People have family and friends, couples need to find work in the same place, etc. For Americans, living four hours away from your family is close – for us, it’s far away. Interestingly, long-term renting is much more of a thing here than in the US.

          Academia is an area with a known mobility fetish and look what it’s doing to people’s lives.

      1. Leit

        Yeah, this is a joke, but… Ice Ice Baby is a fairly standard “I’m awesome” song. And sadly, I don’t see our ‘umble ‘ost doing many of those sort of posts.

        1. onyomi

          Though “stop, collaborate, and listen” might be a good way to defeat Moloch?

          (Though I mostly made the joke because of the way it steals the beat from “Pressure”)

        2. Agronomous

          “If ya gotta problem,
          I’ll… write a 10,000-word post exploring how it really is problematical
          But really it all comes down to Moloch so what are you going to do
          (Though the SJWs really aren’t helping with their shaming tactics)
          I know that doesn’t scan, but I’m a psychiatrist, not a rapper.”[citation needed]

          Or he could just re-mix the one where he lists all the quotes critical of him; that was fun.

    1. Nita

      The overview of major [X] figures included a faux trading card with you, and so the inference is that you’re [X].

      We claimed that you’re a major figure in our movement, and these terrible people actually believed us! Clearly, they are the worst, and you should start listening to us now.

      Edit: here’s an alternative version, just in case my bold inference was incorrect.

      Group X claimed that you’re a major figure in their movement, and some of group Y actually believed them! Clearly, group Y is the worst, and you should start listening to group X now.

      1. Anonymous

        >Group X claimed that you’re a major figure in their movement, and some of group Y actually believed them! Clearly, group Y is the worst, and you should start listening to group X now.

        Uh… that was none of the four choices proposed by the author to Yudkowsky?

        1. Nita

          Ah, right. The choices. According to the author, Eliezer should:
          a) hide
          b) (not recommended)
          c) realize that he actually has a lot in common with group X
          d) become a craven Y-ist

          The whole argument was vertigo-inducing, because it implicitly equates refusing to read X-ist material with violence, among other things. But the sheer gall of using the impact of their own promotional activity as evidence against group Y is what got to me.

          1. Anonymous

            Ah, right. The choices. According to the author, Eliezer should:
            a) hide
            b) (not recommended)
            c) realize that he actually has a lot in common with group X
            d) become a craven Y-ist

            That’s a somewhat uncharitable reading. Whether any of those are any good depends on your perspective and values. I mean, the author obviously favours C, but would any progressive wish to think of himself as having a lot in common with the Death Eaters?

            The whole argument was vertigo-inducing, because it implicitly equates refusing to read X-ist material with violence, among other things.

            What? Where?

            But the sheer gall of using the impact of their own promotional activity as evidence against group Y is what got to me.

            Can you rephrase that one, one sigma dumbed down?

          2. Nita

            Yes, it was certainly not a charitable reading. You can offer a more charitable alternative interpretation, if you wish.

            (The rest is going to be short — I’m in a bit of a rush.)

            RE: What? Where?

            Repudiate your earlier writings, double down on the aspect of your tumblings which say to delete [X] material unread

            RE: rephrase

            See the quote in my original reply.

      2. Anonymous

        Edit: here’s an alternative version, just in case my bold inference was incorrect.

        I would be very hesitant to make *any* inferences at all from that rambling argument. It’s probably bait, meant to get EY into a flamewar with neuroactionators. (And for once I think the original banned word is appropriate, loose in meaning as it is, because it’s bait for a loose group.)

        Charitably supposing it is meant to be a serious argument, I request that someone please implement a better unified internet commenting system so we can transfer the complaints of unclear meaning from here to tumblr author. Or implement any way at all of getting well-functioning comments on Tumblr, because the “reblogs” for comment seem to quickly turn into impenetrable walls of one-word-per-line text where the entirety of every ancestor comment must be reproduced in full.

        And under that same charitable supposition, I think it’s easier to infer what the point is by working backwards. Of the four courses presented at the end, choice 3 is obviously the author’s favorite, and the “symmetry argument” seems to mean something like this: Group X said stupid things about you and called you regressive based on little information, you said stupid things about Group Y and called them regressive based on little information, you should sympathize more with Group Y.

      3. Alex

        I read it as “Hah! Group Y is about to treat _you_ like you treated us (group X). Let’s see how you like that.”

      1. Anonymous

        You are technically correct. (The best kind of correct.)

        That said, the SJWs do attempt to paint their outgroups as being Death Eaters. The Death Eaters are a sort of reified bogeyman – as though the sheer power of belief that such people exist has willed them into being. It is not entirely clear how much of that reification was done by the SJWs defining a niche that people begun to inhabit, and how much by the Death Eaters own efforts to swell their membership.

        1. Creutzer

          I’d like to think I’m rather more than just technically correct in this case. As I see it, there are lots of people in the SJW-outgroup that are not Death Eathers by any reasonable definition. You’d have to define them as “SJW-outgroup”, and that does not qualify as a reasonable definition.

          This is not to disagree with your second paragraph.

        1. Creutzer

          What I’m saying is that it’s bizarre to make this redefinition. Calling an objection to a redefinition of an already-used term in public discourse a “merely semantic disagreement” is, to my mind, misleading. Names matter And when he said that he’s not a Death Eater, Eliezer probably had the normal definition in mind.

  15. windmill tilter

    About this exchange from last OT about Antarctica: I think a big difference between living in Antarctica and in places like Baffin Island or Oymyakon may be the food supply. In Antarctica, outside of the peninsula there are no woody plants at all. There is no driftwood either. This makes starting fires harder. There are seals, and you can use seal oil for fires, but I’m not sure if the seals are as easy to find as on Baffin, especially in the winter. Also, the distance from New Zealand to McMurdo is four times the distance from Tromso to Svalbard, meaning this is a much more isolated location. I wonder what kind of technologies we would need to start colonizing Antarctica-might be cool to read about.

    1. John Schilling

      I wonder what kind of technologies we would need to start colonizing Antarctica

      That would be the Ernest Shackleton, which may indeed be a lost technology in this era. Seals seem to be in adequate supply along the Antarctic coast, along with penguins and fish. We won’t mention the whales. But we could throw in greenhouses and hydroponics gardens as well.

      1. John Schilling

        I typically visit the suppliers directly to deal with specific technical issues, only occasionally going to the conferences. In the Seattle area, that usually means Aerojet/Redmond.

      2. windmill tilter

        I briefly talked with someone who has lived in Antarctica last night and he said hunting seals in the winter would not be possible due to the places where they hang out being more difficult to reach than in the Arctic.

  16. Nanashi

    I have a question for the Christians on this site, especially Catholics (I know there’s a couple). Is carrying a Mikoshi idolatrous, if neither you nor anyone else around you actually believes there’s a god in there? Is it something that should be avoided?

    1. Hlynkacg

      My first impulse is to say no, but I’m not a particularly good catholic.

      What exactly is the context/what are you hoping to accomplish?

    2. God Damn John Jay

      THere was a huge controversy around ancestor reverence and ritual related to Confucianism amongst Catholic missionaries (Chinese Rite Controversy).

      After a number of years, they said to go for it.

    3. Mai La Dreapta

      My first thought was: throw an image of the Virgin in there and call it a day. After all, it’s not as if elaborate public processions around heavily-decorated divine images are alien to Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

      Then I realized that you might be referring to public processions sponsored by a local temple or whatever, which is on slightly shakier ground. There’s precedent both for accepting it and for refusing it, as Jaskologist mentioned above. The correct decision will depend on local conditions. If no one seriously claims that it’s a divine object, as you said above, you’re probably relatively safe.

    4. Brad (The Other One)

      >A mikoshi (神輿?) is a divine palanquin (also translated as portable Shinto shrine). Shinto followers believe that it serves as the vehicle to transport a deity in Japan while moving between main shrine and temporary shrine during a festival or when moving to a new shrine. Often, the mikoshi resembles a miniature building, with pillars, walls, a roof, a veranda and a railing.

      1 Corinthians 10:19-21

      >19 What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?

      >20 But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.

      >21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.

  17. Zorgon

    Well, now.

    Vox Day’s Blacklist Of Doom was one thing, but this is quite another.

    A site where “friends” enter the personal details of people who are guilty of “harassment”? Complete with mugshots? For public perusal?

    Vox Day, a man that many on his own side consider a cockroach, has managed to be outdone in tribal blacklisting within a day.

    1. Nornagest

      …with $3000 raised of a $75000 goal. It’s a nasty concept, but I’m not worried.

      Personally, I doubt you could get it done even with $75000. Even fairly modest projects cost more than that, unless you can find devs, artists, admins, etc. who are all willing to work for ramen wages and The Cause.

      1. Zorgon

        They’re already Twitter baiting the usual suspects in the hope of getting all those lovely hate-Tweets.

        I know what you mean about the price, but I strongly suspect that the website is mostly show and they plan on making a whole bunch of “Support Women!!!” money and then bolting for the hills.

        Also, I’ve reported them for breaking Terms of Use. Because duh.

        1. Peter

          Not quite; it depends on context, and much less so that before. At international sporting events for example, the UK countries often compete separately and so England gets the English flag, Scotland gets the Scottish flag, etc., and it’s all fine.

          There was a time when the English flag had effectively been claimed by racist nutjobs but in the last 20 years or so it seems to have become respectable again, mainly it seems because of the sporting connection. The unfortunate connations were mere connotations, not inherent to the thing. Not like the Confederate battle standard.

          So, these days, the likes of the EDL will fly the red and white flag, but the rest of us aren’t minded to allow it to be their exclusive property.

          1. JBeshir

            That said, seeing it flying or displayed heavily outside of football (or other sports) fandom or similar is decent Bayesian evidence (in the sense of literally-increasing-the-probability, and not any kind of sufficiency for guilt of anything) for the person flying to be someone who really wants ‘the English’, distinct from the United Kingdom, to be a cohesive tribe and is invested in that concept. Because flying it is so unusual.

            And people react a little to that evidence, mostly being mildly disconcerted.

        2. John Schilling

          It’s especially funny because the English flag in Britain is basically equivalent to the Confederate flag in the US.

          In the sense of “commonly recognized as a symbol of division and hatred”? Or in the sense of “commonly not recognized at all because people hear the words and think of a completely different flag”?

          1. Salem

            Everyone knows the difference between the English flag and the Union Jack. No-one is confused.

            The George Cross is not the equivalent of the Confederate Flag… except. The thing is that no-one has a flag in their garden in the UK, so if someone’s flying a George Cross (not around the time of a major sporting event) then that would be “commonly recognized as a symbol of division and hatred.” Mind you, flying the Union Jack might be treated much the same, although probably not as bad (EDL vs UKIP).

            But outside of the actual physical flag, it’s not an expression of hatred. A Confederate bumper sticker is a political statement. A George Cross sticker on your car means you like football.

          2. sweeneyrod

            In the sense that it is generally (outside of sporting events) sported by this guy at best (i.e. low status bald men who are white and working class) or these guys (i.e. racist idiots).

          3. AlphaGamma


            Note also that the Union Flag is flown from government buildings in the UK and does not provoke nearly the levels of outrage that flying the Confederate flag does in the US (with the possible exception of in Northern Ireland where a significant fraction of the population see it as the flag of a foreign occupying power).

            This also goes for the few official uses of the Cross of St. George, which is flown from many churches in England to mark St. George’s Day and is the rank flag of an Admiral in the Royal Navy.

            And of course there’s the fact that flying any non-English flag of a part of the UK in the relevant areas (Scottish, Welsh or Cornish) seems to be much more common and accepted.

      1. Deiseach

        Not knowing the difference between an English flag and the British flag makes me think that perhaps they are as dumb as their “tee-hee, we’re such girly-girls (except we’re not, we’re techies!)” as their attempts at humour make them out.

        I think this is either going to be a huge self-promotion gig which will do exactly nothing for the cause of “stop cyber-harassment” but which will get these ladies PR and enable them to show prospective employers something (their foundress already has a TED talk lined up) or it’s going to be a blackmail site: “we’ve got your name on our database of 150,000 online harassers and cyberbullies, now if that’s in error, please contribute $/£/€XX to our cause and we’ll remove your details”. Mentioning “doctors and teachers” makes me think they want “professionals with reputations to lose and enough money to make it worth our while to blackmail ask for donations in return for scrubbing their names, don’t bother telling us about Joe who lives at home with his parents and works minimum-wage”.

    2. onyomi

      Just a very general comment on the Kickstarter page itself: I find that self-deprecating jokes like “we are totally going to use all your money to go on a shopping spree” accomplish the opposite of their intent. Scott Adams would probably have something to say about this, but in a sense I think it boils down to: when you say “I suck! LOL ;)” other people’s brains hear “I suck! *something something*”

      Not that self-deprecating humor is never effective, but maybe you have to earn it more than most people realize?

      1. Theo Jones

        Normally I’d agree with you — but this isn’t a normal business. Its pretty much a doxxing site. The unprofessional image goes well with its purpose.

      2. BBA

        I don’t read that as self-deprecation, but as sarcastic mockery of misogynists who legitimately believe that’s what women would do with Kickstarter money.

        I also find this grating but I’m not sure why. It leaves me feeling like they’re implicitly accusing me of misogyny even though I doubt that’s how it’s intended to come across.

        1. ThirteenthLetter

          “It leaves me feeling like they’re implicitly accusing me of misogyny even though I doubt that’s how it’s intended to come across.”

          They’re not accusing you of misogyny. They’re accusing those others of misogyny. You know, the outgroup. You don’t want to be mistaken for a member of the outgroup, do you? Well, by donating to this Kickstarter, you…

          1. BBA

            I’ve seen this pattern in a lot of left-wing posts, most of which weren’t asking for money or other tangible support, just sprinkling a post with some “let’s laugh at everyone who doesn’t agree with everything I say and is therefore evil!” for kicks.

            Freddie deBoer has written a lot on this attitude but he’s already been dismissed by everyone he criticizes. I’m sure that I, a Cis Het White Dude™, would fare no better. (Of course, being Jewish and a New Yorker I have no credibility to criticize righty types either. Ain’t identitarianism grand?)

    3. Whatever Happened To Anonymous

      I’m not convinced it’s a complete scam, but I’d say it’s pretty likely it’s at least partially a scam.

    4. Murphy

      That’s going to crash and burn faster than “Peeple”.

      It looks like they’re trying to auto-generate profiles rather than accepting user submitted comments which means that any claims they make about an individual are all on them.

      So lets say they wrongly link me to some member of the KKK who’s also a child molester and who also used to spend his days sending hatemail to feminists and posting about it online , lets say such a person had an email address which they closed which I later claimed by chance.

      They do their automatic scan, link on the email address and create a profile for me with my real details, my employer etc which shows up when someone searches for my details calling me a child molester, a member of the KKK and the author of abusive messages.

      At this point I take their company and all the directors of their company to court and take everything they own.

      It’s not user submitted content, they have no protection.

      They’re going to crash and burn.

  18. Tibor

    Sleeping – I am currently trying to improve the quality of my sleep. My biggest concern is that I often end up with a full nose and unable to breath through the nose, then I wake up in the middle of the night breathing through the mouth and a sour throat. I know I have a mite allergy, so I bought these special mattress ,blanket and pillow covers which should keep the mites inside (they’re made of cotton but they should be sewn so thick that not even the mites come through). I think they kind of work, but the mites either still manage to survive in the bed linen which I put over these covers (it’s cotton, but not too pleasant to touch) or there is something else that is causing this allergy-like reaction. I visited the doctor, he told me to buy those covers (I also bought an air cleaner, which probably does not help against mites but does against pollen, which is an issue for me about 2 weeks in a year). Strangely, taking Cetirizin (an anti-allergic medicine) or something does not seem to work so well against this (but it helps me with my pollen allergy considerably).

    Has anyone had similar problems? What do you think could be the source of this other than the mites?

    I also had some mold in my German apartment, I think I killed it but maybe there is still some somewhere. However, I had this problem in my Czech apartment as well, although it seems to me that vacuum cleaning and changing the bedlinen works there much better than in the German apartment (which also suffers from being a one-room apartment without am exhaust hood and I tend to cook quite a bit – hence the mold, I guess).

    I am also extremely sensitive to even the slightest noise (unless it is continuous like an air conditioner or a car motor – I can actually fall asleep in a car quite easily, the motor humming and the slight vibrations help me) when falling asleep (not so much when already sleeping), I routinely wear earplugs, it’s ok, but I’d rather learn how to fall asleep without it like everyone else. My dream is converting a recording studio into a bedroom :))

    I think this is currently the thing that has the most negative impact on my productivity – I don’t sleep well, then I am tired and don’t have much will or I sleep extremely long…

    1. HeelBearCub

      I have always had a fair amount of problems with nasal congestion. When I was in my 20s I went through a period where about one or two times a year this would turn into rhinitus and I would have to go on anti-biotics. Here are some things that worked/work for me:
      1) Surgery to correct a deviated septum
      2) Steroidal nasal sprays (now OTC) like Flonase.
      3) An antihistamine nasal spray (Azelastine, by prescription)
      4) A neti pot.
      5) A CPAP machine after a sleep study showed I was suffering from sleep-apnea.

      1. Tibor

        Thanks, maybe I should seek out a doctor who specializes in sleep rather than visiting the general practitioner as I have. I don’t think I have sleep apnea but of course you cannot probably tell that yourself. My biggest concern is that it is hard for me to breathe with the nose while sleeping. However, since this is not the case all the time and also I can feel that it is getting worse while I am lying in bed and still awake, I think it is an allergic reaction of some kind. But since it is still there even after I wash my bed linen at 60°C (which should kill all the mites), there might be something else behind it. It also varies so that some nights I can sleep quite well and with only a slightly runny nose in the morning (which goes away after a few minutes) and sometimes I wake up at 3 or 4 am, unable to breathe with the nose at all.

        1. Chalid

          What happens to your nose if you lie down for a long time without sleeping?

          Have you tried sleeping somewhere that couldn’t particularly have allergens (a leather couch? a rubber mat on hardwood floor?), or outside or in an extremely well-ventilated room?

        2. HeelBearCub

          If you truly feel that your nasal congestion is the issue, you might want to see an Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) provider. The sleep clinics make sense if you find that your nasal congestion isn’t actually the issue…

          As to whether you can tell if you have sleep apnea, it took my wife cajoling me to have the test before I took it as a possibility.

          1. Tibor

            Thanks for the tips. I will try to find out whether this is caused by simply laying down and lying for a while, which would indicate that it is not caused by an allergy and if it’s the case, I will see an ENT doctor.

  19. TheAltar

    I thought I remember a link on one of the links pages or a mention in one of the posts about a group working on developing a pill with all the necessary gut flora for a human being. I’ve searched for it but have been unable to find it. Does anyone know what I’m talking about?

    1. Loquat

      I’ve seen a number of different probiotic pills for sale on the internet and in stores – what differentiates the one you’re asking about? Are they trying to figure out all the exact species considered “necessary” and include every last one?

      1. Nornagest

        Generally, “probiotic” just means it contains a live culture of something — no guarantee of it being necessary, helpful, or even normal. (Though it’s usually something that’s at least reputed to be helpful.) I haven’t heard of the project TheAltar is talking about, but a pill with all the gut flora we need would be a much taller order — we didn’t even know about a lot of the flora in there until recently, because a lot of the species turned out to be hard to culture for whatever reason.

        1. Loquat

          Perhaps The Altar is thinking of the American Gut project – they’re researching human microbiomes and you can send them a sample for dna/rna sequencing to find out what inhabits you personally, but it doesn’t look like they’re trying to actually create any pill. As you mention, it’d be tough with today’s techniques since a lot of common gut flora are disinterested in growing outside a living intestinal tract.

  20. sweeneyrod

    Interesting article about attitudes towards homosexuality during the Islamic golden age. The author is an interesting ex-Islamist. If you want a laugh, read this Guardian hit piece profile of him (edited to be more reasonable than when originally published), and this parody.

    1. Sastan

      The parody is hilarious. Nawaz has an interesting take, and I wish him the best in his endeavors, but I am not sanguine about his chances.

    2. David Friedman

      As best I can tell, homosexual acts, at least male ones, were always illegal under Islamic law. But there were times when they were also pretty much taken for granted.

      There are two famous medieval essays on homosexual vs heterosexual sex, put in terms of a debate (Back vs Belly and Dancers vs Pageboys, or titles close to that). And there is an anecdote about a caliph who preferred boys. His mother, who presumably wanted grandchildren, dressed up a bunch of women as page boys and so successfully got him interested in them.

      And there is a medieval Islamic story that blames the Devil for introducing women to lesbian sex.

      1. Sastan

        Exclusively homosexual adult muslims are pretty well suppressed. Those qualifiers are very important.

        I don’t know what the Koran has to say on the subject other than “hurl them to their death”, but the cultural implication seems to be as long as you get your wife pregnant and you avoid other adult males, you’re not gay. At least not in the way that draws sanction. The line for “Adult” incidentally, is the capability of growing a beard.

      2. John Schilling

        And there is an anecdote about a caliph who preferred boys…

        Boys, not men. There is long precedent in many societies for the idea that a young boy is an acceptable substitute for a woman if there aren’t any women around, and that it is only tolerably eccentric to prefer young boys when there are women around. Particularly if you can manage to impregnate a woman somewhere along the line. But almost always, when I find someone claiming that a particular historic culture tolerated open homosexuality, close examination indicates that this tolerance was specific to pederasty. See e.g. the Bentham article cited here a while back.

        The good news, from the PoV of historic gays, is that if open homosexuality wasn’t tolerated it often wasn’t recognized when it happened. Particularly for women – being openly lesbian would in many contexts have required actual diagrams on a chalkboard and maybe not even that, because homosexuality means sex and sex can’t happen unless a penis is being inserted somewhere. For men, the concept was clearly understood because pederasty, but the idea that an adult man would want to do that with another adult man was often sufficiently foreign that two flaming camp gays walking arm in arm in drag are obviously just very good friends with very bad taste. Possibly actors.

        This is I think a case where a little learning truly was a dangerous thing, for gays who lived in an era when their society had figured out what they were really doing but didn’t much understand the why yet. And, in some corners of the world, still don’t.

        1. David Friedman

          Lawrence, in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, pretty clearly implies homosexual activity among the adult Arab soldiers he was working with. I’m pretty sure that Burton, in the 19th c., implies that it was common in Afghanistan–although I don’t think he distinguishes pederasty from adult relationships.

          1. John Schilling

            A quick search only finds two examples of male homosexuality between Arabs in Seven Pillars; one generic reference to the practice among “Our youths…in their own clean bodies”, and one specific to Lawrence’s servants Daud and Farraj who are explicitly “boys”, one of them “a beautiful, soft-framed, girlish creature” and of the other Lawrence writes “all the woman of him evident in his longing”.

            Adult in the sense of being old enough to serve in an irregular military force, but I’m thinking these are the sort of people the phrase “beardless youth” was meant to indicate.

      3. dndnrsn

        It’s important to remember that even in societies that are, by the standards of the modern West at least, very religious, there’s often a certain pick-and-choose attitude towards following the rules. The “salad-bar Catholic” isn’t a modern invention.

        The number of people who consider themselves observant Muslims who nevertheless drink is surprising, for instance.

  21. Ruprect

    I got a new book about the history of maths and had some thoughts. (My maths background is I gave up after the first year of a bachelors degree some decades ago.) Is the following a reasonable thing to say?

    Numbers are a matter of relation – anything can be 1 – abstract relations are at base verbal.
    Geometry, idealised physical constructions (circles, exponential curves) rely upon assumptions relating to physical intuition.
    It is the fact that numbers and geometry are based in different forms of mental intuition that gives rise to transcendental numbers (or at least to their significance – an infinite sequence can produce something with no direct numerical relation to anything, because it is infinite – this only has significance because we find it useful to think geometrically). You can’t necessarily relate a verbal (mental) relationship to a physical (mental) relationship.

    I feel like this might be related to “map and territory” somehow – one mental process isn’t necessarily related to another…

    BTW the book (“Journey through Genius”), contains a classic bit of ‘things you can’t say these days’:
    “it is clear that any real number is either algebraic or transcendental but not both. This is a stark dichotomy, rather like any person’s being either a man or a woman, with no middle ground.”

    1. Nita

      Numbers are a matter of relation – anything can be 1 – abstract relations are at base verbal.

      I’m afraid this is a bit too vague for me to process. Could you describe the idea in more detail?

      1. Ruprect

        In arithmetic, you very rapidly lose any intuition of numbers being a quantity of some kind, and just deal in the relationships between the various words/symbols – so I guess that numbers are closely related to pure logic. ” 1″ doesn’t mean anything in particular, beyond the fact that it has a certain relation to other numbers.

        Verbal relations – there is a “blurry” and it is related to a “blurg” by “blobbing”.
        We can follow the same procedure with geometry – just call something “pi” there is a circumference, there is a diameter, they are related by pi – if these were entirely abstract concepts there would be no problem — I feel somehow that the difficulty of expressing this relationship with numbers is something to do with the fact that we have a *physical intuition* of a diameter that we want to express abstractly, with logic.

        1. Alex

          I feel somehow that the difficulty of expressing this relationship with numbers is something to do with the fact that we have a *physical intuition* of a diameter that we want to express abstractly, with logic.

          I’m not sure what “difficulty” you are referring to, earlier you said there is no problem. However, I think you are correct in the abstract. The key to enlightenment is to get rid of what you call “physical intuition” ASAP.

          (cf. my answer below)

      2. Alex


        I’m afraid this is a bit too vague for me to process. Could you describe the idea in more detail?

        I guess this confuses “1” (the neutral element of multiplication) with “1” (base in a given unit system). The former is unique by definition, the latter can be anything for some values of “anything”.

        E. g. the magnitude of the unit vector is “1” by definition, but if you leave the vectorspace and go for some “intuition” like an “arrow” in Euclidean space you could be tempted to ask whether that’d be “1 meter” or “1 lightyear”.

        I think this is a non issue because, well, a vectorspace is a vectorspace, and that’s all there is to it, but didactics of mathematics tend to fall for such “intuitions”.


        I feel like this might be related to “map and territory” somehow – one mental process isn’t necessarily related to another…

        At least in first abstraction, math begins to make a lot more sense, once you wrap your head around the fact that in math there is no territory like never ever. Math is the map and only the map.

        Usually people use maps to make sense of the territory, but with math they suddenly try to use territory to make sense of the map. This is bound to fail.

        1. Ruprect

          Both the map, and the territory, are at the base level, mental. But, if you believe that the best way to understand the mental is an examination of the imposed reality – the scientific method – observation – then wouldn’t you have to use the territory to understand the map?

    2. Deiseach

      This is a stark dichotomy, rather like any person’s being either a man or a woman, with no middle ground.”

      ROFL here because oh boy, that is definitely “ignite blue touchpaper and retire” material”! 🙂

    3. Anonymous

      Numbers are a matter of relation – anything can be 1

      Frege would disagree. Julius Caesar is not a number!

      1. Anonymous

        if you add 0 to any number whatever, you get the same number. Since nobody knows what a number is, it might begin to appear as if this rule had a very limited applicability. Supposing Mao Tse-Tung to be a number, for example, one could write the sum

        Mao Tse-Tung + 0 = Mao Tse-Tung.

        On the other hand, if he is not a number, it does not say if you can, or not. May we put the beloved chairman into our sums, or not? Is it a friendly or an unfriendly act? Will he back us up if we do it? Will he turn the cold shoulder and apologise to our head of state for our bad behaviour? Is he really a number, or is it only propaganda? Naturally, the reader shall not find out from me. Partly what is involved here is the ‘belief’:

        Everything, even Chairman Mao, either is or is not a number.

        There are a few other little pieces of etiquette, such as never writing + between any two things except numbers, and that 0 is a number. (The reader had better get used to the idea of not knowing whether Mao is a number. But if he is not one, the reader must not write him into any sums. The author is unaware if he has ever written Chairman Mao into a sum. On the other hand, if he is not a number then I haven’t.)

        Mathematics Made Difficult

        1. Peter

          Oh, the map-territory confusion, it hurts!

          It is entirely possible for Mao Tse-Tung (as in, the person, to be referred to by the pronoun “he”) not to be a number, and for “Mao Tse-Tung” (as in, the name, to be referred to by the pronoun “it”) to be a number. If I wanted to write “Mao Tse-Tung” into a sum, well, that’s easy enough. Actually including Mao Tse-Tung in a sum would involve a daring mission into China to raid his mausoleum, and, depeding on what you consider to count, may involve the services of a necromancer. Not recommended.

    4. ACM

      Mathematician here. I’m afraid that was nonsense – no offense intended. What follows is an attempt to give some comments.

      The things we call numbers do not really have a nice, abstract characterization. They are more or less defined as elements of a few specific fields, rings and one monoid.

      These are the natural, rational, real and complex numbers, and also the integers. Other fields are generally not called numbers.

      When you say that anything can be 1, I think you are perhaps thinking of one of these fields as a 1-dimensional vector space over itself. Equality of vector spaces is different from equality of fields, but relabeling another (non-zero) number to 1 will result in an equivalent 1D vector space, and the corresponding rescaling is an isomorphism between them. You will need to keep an additional, abstract copy of the numbers in question for scalar multiplication to work, however. This means that when you compute the result of either an addition of two numbers, or scaling by an “abstract” number and a number in either system, then convert to the other system where you did the equivalent computation, the results will agree. On the other hand, multiplying two numbers will not make sense in the new system.

      I don’t know what you mean by “verbal”, but there is a dichotomy between algebraic and geometric thinking, which is sometimes remarked upon. That is about psychology though, not mathematics.

      1. Douglas Knight

        I think the intended meaning was not thinking of the ring as a 1d vector space over itself, but thinking of the ring as a set. Of course, almost everything about the forgetful functor from rings to sets is also true about the forgetful functor from rings to vector spaces. But it’s pretty hard to talk about vector spaces without first talking about rings, while people do try to build rings out of sets.

        The modern view is that a ring is a set together with a couple of binary operations, etc. (I date this view to the 19th century and I think such use of sets was the most important development of 19th century mathematics.) In some sense binary operations are the important part and the set is an unimportant amorphous blob. Whereas an earlier view is that there is an ideal realm of Number and a ring is a subset of numbers closed under the operations. Then all rings must share the same unit. Whereas an abstract ring is a set and could have anything as a unit. Even if you define a number field by its ability to be embedded in the complex numbers, the existence of isomorphisms between different subrings is a a big deal, and, indeed, the existence of automorphisms. So it makes a lot of sense to distinguish between abstract and realized number fields.

        But I don’t know what it means to say that binary operations are verbal.

      2. Ruprect

        Thanks for the reply, but I’m afraid that was a bit over my head.
        Anyway, me not having any idea what any of that means suggests to me that the particular definition of number that you are talking about isn’t, at the most meta-level, what numbers actually are. My understanding is that for everyone, numbers are a form of abstract relation, though the extent to which the relations are formalized, and assumptions identified, varies. It is also my understanding that abstraction (at least of this kind) requires the capacity to use language in some form or another (=verbal). I would guess that a ring is some kind of formalized expression of a relation between certain terms?
        By the way, I’m sure you are absolutely right, and the original is complete nonsense, but my feeling is that it is probably complete nonsense because geometry is also completely abstract?
        Apologies if I have completely missed your point!

    5. FullMeta_Rationalist

      Numbers are a matter of relation

      There exists a discipline called Abstract Algebra. It classifies various types of mathematical objects. Dedekind-Complete Ordered Fields (AKA the set of Real Numbers) are but a twig of Abstract Algebra’s taxonomy.

      Some types of objects are better suited to describe particular situations than others. E.g. Quantities are described in terms of Real Numbers. A Rubix Cube is often described in terms of Groups. A Regex can be described in terms of Monoids. Physics is often described in terms of Vectors.

      And do you remember all that pointless shit in elementary school about the Associative Property, the Distributive Property, the Commutative Property, the Reciprocal, etc? That’s basically what Abstract Algebra is. E.g. yes, Vectors contain numbers. But Vectors per se are NOT Commutative across the Dot Product (i.e. “vector-multiplication”), even though plain numbers (AKA scalars) are indeed Commutative across scalar-multiplication.

      The point is, there’s more to Math (the study of abstract relations) than just the subset of Real Analysis we learned from the standard curriculum (I.e. Arithmetic, Elementary Algebra, and the Calculus of Infinitesimals).

      anything can be 1

      1 is special because it’s the Multiplicative Identity. The existence of a Multiplicative Identity is in fact an important criterion of Fields. Lots of types of mathematical objects have a Multiplicative Identity, but not all.

      Perhaps you mean “anything can serve as a unit of measure”. E.g. “the king’s foot measures 12 inches. So let’s call 12 inches a foot”.

      “it is clear that any real number is either algebraic or transcendental but not both. This is a stark dichotomy, rather like any person’s being either a man or a woman, with no middle ground.”

      Transcendentals (for historical reasons) were defined as “any Real Number that isn’t algebraic”. It’s kinda like if only men existed in Eden, but then we discovered Eve so we defined the word “woman” as “any person who doesn’t have a penis”. It simply reflects a discontinuity in Mathematicians’ understanding of Reals, rather than any deep insight. As they say — categories were made for man, not man made for categories.

      1. Ruprect

        “There are lots of other types of objects that describe the world in ways which numbers can’t. E.g. a Rubix Cube can be described in terms of Groups; Groups are different from Fields. A Regex can be described in terms of Monoids; Monoids are different from both Groups and Fields. Physics is often described in terms of Vectors; Vectors are different from Monoids, Groups, and Fields.”

        Mmmm… You can express these things in terms of numbers, though, right? I mean… it has to be possible to express a regex in binary, doesn’t it?

        “1 is special because it’s the Multiplicative Identity.”

        My (probably entirely foolish, but I can’t help but say this) feeling is that the important question regarding an abstract entity is not what it equals when some operation is applied to it, but what operations can be applied to it. It makes sense in a way – if everything is a purely abstract entity, and the result of any operation is another purely abstract entity, the only thing that really matters about it, is what operations can be performed on it. So there is a clear distinction between zero and other numbers, but between the non-zero numbers, not so much.

        “It simply reflects a discontinuity in Mathematicians’ understanding of Reals, rather than any deep insight.”

        Probably cheap (and I’m praying for an intellectual spanking) but doesn’t insight have to be related to understanding? The fact that something can’t be clearly expressed when using one set of assumptions, but can, when using another, is surely significant?

        1. FullMeta_Rationalist

          [I often revise and edit my comments, since I never expect anyone to read it within the first hour. You may wish to reread my earlier comment.]

          I mean… it has to be possible to express a regex in binary, doesn’t it?

          Mathematicians classify an object by how it behaves, not by how it’s represented. ‘ASCII A’ and ‘int 65’ are both encoded (by the hardware) as 0100 0001. But ints behave differently than chars which behave differently than floats (which would be Reals if computers had infinite memory) because they’re encoded (by the programming language) to behave in different ways.

          the important question regarding an abstract entity is not what it equals when some operation is applied to it, but what operations can be applied to it.

          This is 99% correct. The snag is that the existence of an Idempotent Operation is also considered important. Idempotent means “Y will remain constant, no matter how many times I perform X”. E.g. “5 will remain 5, no matter how many times I multiply it by 1”. An acyclic flowchart can be considered an object without an identity operator, since no arrow (directly) maps to the node it came from.

          The fact that something can’t be clearly expressed when using one set of assumptions, but can, when using another, is surely significant?

          imho, Transcendentals are what’s left of the number line after all the interesting things have been strip-mined.

          The discovery of 0 was a big deal, because we can’t express the empty set with only natural numbers. The discovery of negative numbers was a big deal, because we can’t read a modern thermometer with only whole numbers. The discovery of fractions was a big deal, because we can’t make a recipe using only integers.

          But transcendentals? What did we conceptually gain from transcendentals that we couldn’t express using {fractions, et al} (aka algebraics). We got PI and Euler’s Number. Okay… so how does that affect me in every day life? Minimally.

          Like, I can’t imagine a 10th century carpenter complaining “I need to build the spoke to a wheel with a 10 foot circumference. But I don’t know how to exactly calculate the required diameter for the spoke. Alas! If only Transcendentals had been discovered.” The correct response is “quit whining, 22/7 is close enough to PI”.

          The real achievement of Transcendentals was that it closed all the remaining gaps in the Real Number Line (Dedekind-Completeness). I.e. there’s nothing left to be discovered until we jump into the Complex Plane. But this is taxonomically significant, rather than conceptually significant.

  22. merzbot

    Is there any good fiction involving AI risk scenarios similar to those proposed by Yuskowaky et. al?

      1. Chalid

        Would Friendship is Optimal be enjoyable for someone with zero knowledge of or interest in My Little Pony?

        1. Nita

          It might be, but perhaps watching the intro, for the “flavour” of the show, will enhance your experience.

          What else? Princess Celestia is the wise and benevolent ruler of Equestria (pony-land). She’s taller and more magically powerful than normal ponies, and responsible for making the sun rise, among other things. Princess Luna is her little sister, responsible for dreams and the moon. A ‘cutie mark’ is a pictogram on a pony’s flank that represents the pony’s ‘special talent’.

          I think that’s all you need.

        2. Andrew

          The sum total of my knowledge going in was that MLP featured magical talking ponies, and I really enjoyed Friendship is Optimal. The MLP aspect is more of a backdrop for the story rather than the subject of it, so to speak, in contrast to most fanfiction.

      2. merzbot

        Wow, I can’t say I was expecting Frozen fanfiction about AI risk. Thanks for the suggestions!

        1. Samuel Skinner

          If you like that, you’ll love a lot of his other stories (not about AI risk, although with similar themes; ironically the Terminator fanfic has the least overlap).

  23. keranih

    Yet another comment on the late great unpleasantness re: crowd funding –

    I myself was unmoved to donate either to the Bay Area mother&child nor to multihead, abet for different reasons. What most got my attention was the promotion of the Bay Area mother&child on the grounds that this is a darling beautiful clever neonate human and it will do the world good to support her

    To which my reaction was deep cranky anger.

    To me, it should not matter if the child was stupid, ugly, and/or a trial to its parent(s). Its human worth is not affected by beauty or intelligence and I found the promotion of support on those grounds profoundly off putting. It was really shocking to see that thread here.

    Seriously, if the child had been born with Downs Syndrome, would there have been this support for keeping the child and its mother in the Bay Area? (No, seriously, asking. Not accusing.)

    This sort of…distasteful branding was (not to my merit) enough to put me off donating. Perhaps my reaction most specificaly identifies me as “not a humanist, not a rationalist.” Which is true enough.

    Having said that – I think that trying to bind the mother to having an abortion in the case of pregnancy was reprehensible, and I support the mother’s decision to not kill her child after all…but I feel that having agreed beforehand without corrosion to sex with people who stated firmly that they would not support a child born of that sexual activity the mother is without recourse to either her husband or her mistress. The mother as a self-responsible adult knew what she was getting into, and trying to bill either the husband or the mistress now denies the mother’s agency in her pre-pregnancy actions. I feel that a whip-around among like-minded supportive people is the best option, and that the mother should reconsider taking her own family up on any support they might offer.

    1. Vox Imperatoris

      Yet another comment on the late great unpleasantness re: crowd funding –

      How about no?

      1. keranih

        If no one feels moved to engage and/or agree, I shan’t bring it up again. And I haven’t joined in with the other comments discussing this in this thread or elsewhere.

        If anyone else had noted the beauty/humanity linkage, I would have commented there, and not here.

    2. Said Achmiz

      “To me, it should not matter if the child was stupid, ugly, and/or a trial to its parent(s). Its human worth is not affected by beauty or intelligence and I found the promotion of support on those grounds profoundly off putting.”

      So, this is actually an interesting broader point (the specific case aside — I don’t have any strong feelings on that matter one way or the other).

      keranih, do you think that any individual qualities of a human affects their human worth? Or are all humans equally valuable?

      The above is a standalone question, but here’s an optional corollary: what, exactly, do you mean by “human worth”? Are you referring to moral worth/value, or something else? In either case, what is the nature of this property?

      1. keranih

        what, exactly, do you mean by “human worth”? Are you referring to moral worth/value, or something else? In either case, what is the nature of this property?

        I think that the basic rights and liberties of a human – those inate qualities which give weight to a person’s existence and confirm responsibilities and demands on fellow humans as a matter of fact – have to apply to every human, regardless of age, social position, criminal tendencies, mental ability, what have you. This human worth can not be “earned” – it is an inate inborn quality that demands a response from other humans.

        And “human worth” is how we treat each other. It’s a property of inter-human interaction. A piece of ground isn’t going to treat each person the same – the ground is going to react to different weight & density. A pathogen isn’t going to see every human as the same – some will have a more vigerous immune system.

        And it has nothing to do with physical strength, material wealth, patience, or ability to make people laugh.

        keranih, do you think that any individual qualities of a human affects their human worth? Or are all humans equally valuable?

        Human worth, no. Do individual qualities affect how much I like someone, or how effect they can be at their job? Absolutely. And I think that we should be free to like one person more than another, or to prefer to hire one person over another. But these preferences of association have their limits. The miserable murderer on death row still has human worth. (And our execution process acknowledges this, in how long we have to take to come to the point of executing the murder, compared to how long it takes to destroy a vicious dog.)

        I think that “waste of oxygen” and other derogatory insults are problematic because they attempt to deny this universality to specific people.

        (OMG there were a lot of responses. I will try to answer later in the day, esp to provide Scott links to the sorts of statements I am talking about.)

        1. Jiro

          The length of the execution process happens because there are groups who would like to ban executions entirely but have found they cannot, so instead they nickel-and-dime the execution process, which causes it to become stretched out and full of arbitrary restrictions. Even the Supreme Court got tired of this.

          “We” isn’t a single group.

        2. Said Achmiz

          Thanks for the response, keranih.

          Um, I’m afraid your described views here strike me as rather comprehensively nonsensical. (It’s also possible that I’m very badly failing to understand anything you’re saying.) In any case, this comment thread probably isn’t the best venue to hash this out.

    3. anonymous

      To me, it should not matter if the child was stupid, ugly, and/or a trial to its parent(s). Its human worth is not affected by beauty or intelligence and I found the promotion of support on those grounds profoundly off putting. It was really shocking to see that thread here.

      That’s why the multiheaded fundraiser is here too.

      1. keranih

        Agreed. I also found the “multiheaded fund” to be contaminated by outright lying and fraud, which impacted my choice to not donate, but you’re right, that’s the pov that those people supporting multiheaded’s immigration efforts took of the matter.

          1. Eltargrim

            A man chooses; a slave obeys!

            (If the reference is unintentional, I apologize for the flippery)

          2. Leit

            Eltargrim: nah, most likely not. She just has a habit – after being banned a couple of times – of trying to point out that others’ behaviour could be seen as a contravention of the true/necessary/kind rule.

            That it’d only be seen as such by the most thin-skinned of theoretical observers seems to be irrelevant.

            That said, it was also the first thing I thought of.

            @multi: given that multiple people expressed that they believed your plan was essentially fraud, and outlined exactly why in that thread, this seems like you’re just stirring trouble. Better to let it lie.

          3. multiheaded

            @Leit I have heard absolutely nothing of said people and their allegations. Would you please link or quote some?

          4. Whatever Happened To Anonymous

            You can’t possibly not have heard of it, you were involved in it! Insults flew, people got banned, pretty exciting stuff.

          5. multiheaded

            Oh? But that’s not an allegation of fraud! It doesn’t say I’m going to spend the money on crack or that I’m actually a scammer in Brazil or something. It simply states how certain people hate me and don’t want me to leave, which sucks (and I can’t even feel very outraged about it, that’s so laughably petty and evil).

          6. suntzuanime

            Even if the fundraising itself was not fraudulent, the purpose of the fundraising was to aid in perpetrating a fraud, which I believe is what he was referring to.

          7. Creutzer

            Why be uncharitable, though? I think the situation is perfectly explained by multi taking keranih (and perhaps you) to suggest that she was trying to defraud the donors, which would be a very serious and also untrue accusation. For what it’s worth, that’s the way I first read keranih’s comment, too.

          8. suntzuanime

            The whole “that’s not an allegation of fraud, people just hate me despite how obviously lovable I am because they’re deranged freaks” thing when an allegation of fraud was explicitly laid out in the link makes me less inclined to take a charitable reading.

          9. houseboatonstyx

            @ Creutzer
            to suggest that she was trying to defraud the donors, which would be a very serious and also untrue accusation. For what it’s worth, that’s the way I first read keranih’s comment, too.

            That’s the way I read it too.

          10. David Friedman

            I assumed that Multiheaded was taking it as an accusation of fraud against the donors, but thought the most likely explanation was that it was an accusation of fraud against the immigration authorities of the country Multiheaded wanted to immigrate to. I then followed the link to confirm that.

            Assuming I am correct, Multiheaded’s response is interesting. Deceiving people in the in group, in this case potential donors, counts as wicked, hence is described as fraud. Deceiving people in the out group doesn’t, so it does not occur to Multiheaded that that is the kind of fraud being referred to.

            As it happens, I have no particular objection to deceiving government officials trying to enforce laws I disapprove of, but I would still recognize “fraud” as an accurate description. And would not be surprised that some other people disapproved of it.

          11. anonymous

            As it happens, I have no particular objection to deceiving government officials trying to enforce laws I disapprove of, but I would still recognize “fraud” as an accurate description. And would not be surprised that some other people disapproved of it.

            Traditionally* the protection from fraud has been along the lines of “don’t deal with people who commit fraud unless you have leverage” because people who are willing to defraud someone else for personal gain are also willing to defraud you for personal gain.

            However, that does not apply in this case. Multiheaded needs to commit immigration fraud because it would greatly benefit multiheaded. There’s no motive of personal gain, so there’s no reason to be suspicious.

            Be more charitable.

            * It seems that the “rationality” program consists of discarding all hard won cultural wisdom then being stunned at the consequences.

          12. houseboatonstyx

            @ David Friedman
            Deceiving people in the in group, in this case potential donors, counts as wicked, hence is described as fraud. Deceiving people in the out group doesn’t, so it does not occur to Multiheaded that that is the kind of fraud being referred to.

            It didn’t occur to me either, till I looked into the thread.

            I Googled for ‘immigration fraud’. Iirc the whole first screen was urls at an immigration office. The first two or three were warning would-be immigrants about lawyers and others who would take their money with false promises of getting them in — ie fraud against the individual customers.

            Then there were a few using ‘immigration fraud’ in the sense under discussion here: a would-be immigrant making an untrue application.

            I wouldn’t draw the line at ingroup vs outgroup, unless real people are the ingroup and government computers/clerks/lawmakers are the outgroup. And if fraud doesn’t mean just deception, but actually getting money from the victim. And a consequence of actual noticeable harm being done to some actual individual.

            Thus imo ‘welfare fraud’ would be an appropriate term, if a dishonest welfare or scholarship applicant takes money that would have gone to some more deserving applicant.

            But in the sense of a dishonest immigration applicant getting into a country, there is no sure consequence of noticeable harm to any real individual. No bureaucrat or lawmaker is going to be hurt. The consequence of a competent, English-speaking person getting into Canada or the US may arguably be good for the current citizens.

            No harm no fraud.

          13. suntzuanime

            “It’s not fraud, because I know better than those stuffy bureaucrats and the Democratically Expressed Will Of The People”.

            Even Valjean could at least admit to stealing some bread.

          14. John Schilling

            I wouldn’t draw the line at ingroup vs outgroup, unless real people are the ingroup and government computers/clerks/lawmakers are the outgroup

            I would prefer not to see that sort of argument framed in such a way that bureaucrats and legislators don’t count as “real people”.

          15. Whatever Happened To Anonymous

            I mean, someone has to keep the state oppression machine running, and they’ve got to make a living somehow.

          16. Nita

            If you look up ‘fraud’ in an English-Russian dictionary, it will tell you that the Russian word for that is ‘мошенничество’. But that word is used only for scams, not for illegal immigration. So, a typical native speaker of Russian* has no mental box that would contain everything Americans call ‘fraud’.

            * (which may or may not be a good reference class for multiheaded)

          17. Jiro

            But in the sense of a dishonest immigration applicant getting into a country, there is no sure consequence of noticeable harm to any real individual.

            Provided that you accept that unlimited immigration can cause harm at all, there’s a threshhold where an additional immigrant causes harm. It’s just that the harmful effect is distributed over the country so while there isn’t noticeable harm to an individual, there is cumulative harm which, added together, is as much harm as noticeable harm to an individual would be.

          18. multiheaded

            Actually there is a more generic Russian category word that covers the English meaning of fraud, “обман” – which is an article in the penal code, too – “causing material damage by means of fraud” – punishing deliberate harmful deception for monetary gain afaik – but in common speech and not legalese it simply means “deception” in general, which makes it too broad.

        1. houseboatonstyx

          @ keranih

          I just read all the way down from https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/01/03/ot39-appian-thread/#comment-297099 (by Timothy Coish)
          Technically Not Anonymous says:
          January 5, 2016 at 2:01 pm

          Coish said Multi “was attempting immigration fraud”. Keranih echoed that further down, but I did not see anyone else using that word regarding M’s application. — And certainly no one was accusing her of planning to rip off the donations for a shopping spree! 😉

          Okay, Keranih, I want to reply to what you just said above: “that’s the pov that those people supporting multiheaded’s immigration efforts took of the matter.”

          Perhaps you have a Typical Mind fallacy here. It is certainly not my pov of the matter! I’ll help Multi’s project because she is a great person and online friend. Fuck immigration fraud.

          1. Leit

            The point being that that discussion was something of a low point, and I’d rather people ignore the coy “come on, say it, I know you want to” leading.

            For the record: I’ve literally stolen food (and other goods) because the other option was not to eat. I’ve squatted illegally because there was nowhere else to go. The twats talking about how that fundraiser was “tainted” don’t know shit about dealing with a system that actively despises them and does its best to cut off all of their choices. If multi needs to commit immigration fraud to get away from that? Perfectly justified. Not that she needs my justification.

            That doesn’t excuse what I see as basically waving a bag of sweeties from across the street and waiting for the contrarian kiddies to wander into traffic.

            Ugh, now I wish I’d just followed my own advice and shut up.

          2. Nita

            what I see as basically waving a bag of sweeties from across the street and waiting for the contrarian kiddies to wander into traffic

            I don’t think that’s what Multi was trying to do, and I don’t think Scott would ban anyone for linking to comments in a previous thread. (Not looking for a debate here, just giving input.)

          3. Leit

            Fuck it, in for a penny.

            Nita, if you go and read the thread that styx linked you’ll see that multiheaded was actually replying to it. With considerable – albeit understandable – vitriol. That doesn’t point to good faith when people point out that the accusation of fraud was made and she acts as though it’s not something she understands. Okay, I could have been more clear, but this was a reference to something that actually happened, and should have stood out in memory.

            You’ll also see that a couple of folks were banned. The situation wasn’t identical, but it’d be a fair guess that this is now one of those topics that’ll encourage Scott to put on his Reign of Terror robe and wizard hat.

            As for the bag of sweeties… yeah, it’s basically a form of nerd sniping.

          4. Nita

            Fine, fine. Let’s go 🙂

            if you go and read the thread that styx linked you’ll see that multiheaded was actually replying to it. With considerable – albeit understandable – vitriol. That doesn’t point to good faith when people point out that the accusation of fraud was made and she acts as though it’s not something she understands.

            I actually read that thread at the time it happened, so I ‘was there’ in the same way multiheaded ‘was there’. (And although I was not personally invested, I do remember it.)

            But, just like Creutzer and houseboatonstyx, I misunderstood keranih’s comment, taking it to be about donation fraud (uncontroversially terrible), rather than allegations of immigration fraud (controversial, less terrible). It doesn’t seem unlikely that multiheaded also misread keranih in the exact same way as the three of us.

            To be clear, I’m not saying I’m definitely right and you’re definitely wrong. Your reading seems obvious to you, my reading seems obvious to me. But I don’t think my reading is unreasonable.

            Basically, you’re accusing someone of trying to get people banned just for the hell of it, when it could have been an honest request for clarification. After all, if many readers interpreted keranih’s comment as “there has been actual donation fraud”, rather than “some people have mentioned immigration fraud”, it could have a serious impact on Multi’s situation.

          5. Leit

            Eh, that reading is plausible, but combined with a pattern of comments by multi that suggest she has some… issues with how Scott approaches his moderation, it just looks too much like fishing. Note that I do acknowledge that this isn’t charitable at all, but in my estimation the warning was likely to be both true and necessary.

            Besides which, styx has now provided the required clarification, and we can hopefully all carry on without anyone being pettily misgendered, condemned to live in suffering for their sins, or banned.

          6. keranih

            To clarify –

            To me, Multiheaded’s fundraiser was tainted, IMO, by the act of and intent to lie on official immigration forms and the fraudulent attempts to gain visas for entry (and then deliberately overstay without permission.) To the extent that people understood that this is what multiheaded was going to do with the money, multiheaded wasn’t defrauding or lying to the people who donated.

            That is what I meant by fraud.

            When I said: “that’s the pov that those people supporting multiheaded’s immigration efforts took of the matter.”

            it was in response to the earlier comment, drawing a parallel between multiheaded – an adult who I find acerbic and difficult and often unpleasant – and the child for whom funds were being raised.

            The parallel, as I saw it, was that people felt that multiheaded – despite being difficult – was a human who deserved a better living condition than what was going on in Russia. My thought was that we’d already done a whip around on the basis that multiheaded – despite not being an adorable cute neonate – deserved a basic human level of treatment which wasn’t available in Russia.

            So. If people want to get po’ed at me because I think multiheaded’s method of attempting immigration was fraudulent lying, go ahead, because I do.

            If people want to get po’ed at me because of…thinking that most people who donated weren’t aware of that, please don’t. I didn’t go into enough detail on that answer, and for that confusion, I apologize.

            If people were donating because they knew and liked multiheaded that’s something else entirely. I was speaking from my own perspective of not knowing the person at all.

          7. multiheaded

            Leit: fwiw, I was genuinely confused and wondering whether I have done something genuinely inadvisable/suspicious that people suspect me of defrauding *them*. I wasn’t baiting here. I do have… occasional issues with the commenting culture here, but here I was asking in good faith. HONEST.

          8. Leit

            @multi: fair enough, and others have pointed out that the alternate explanation was indeed reasonable. My sincere apologies.

      2. Vorkon

        To me, it should not matter if the child was stupid, ugly, and/or a trial to its parent(s). Its human worth is not affected by beauty or intelligence and I found the promotion of support on those grounds profoundly off putting. It was really shocking to see that thread here.

        That’s why the multiheaded fundraiser is here too.

        Wait, is this supposed to be a subtle jab at Multiheaded’s beauty and intelligence? I appreciate a good zinger as much as the next guy, but that isn’t very nice. :op

    4. David Friedman

      “Seriously, if the child had been born with Downs Syndrome, would there have been this support for keeping the child and its mother in the Bay Area?”

      I expect there would have been support, but from a different subset of the people here, probably with some overlap.

      “Its human worth is not affected by beauty or intelligence ”

      Is it affected by anything? Are all humans of equal worth? If so, why?

      1. Vamair

        My first guess is that a person has intrinsic value as well as extrinsic one. I don’t know what does the intrinsic value depends on. Probably something like “how much does the person enjoys living” and “how much do they want to continue”. And the extrinsic depends on how much good for the others do they produce during their life. Which may depend on how cute or smart or kind or amiable or hardworking they are.

      2. Nancy Lebovitz

        Perhaps “all humans have equal worth” is (in addition to a preference for kindness) an effort to beat Goodhart’s Law by not measuring, and also a belief that the standards for valuing humans are likely to be corrupt standards.

    5. Scott Alexander Post author

      Who was saying this? I said “cute ingroup baby” kind of as a joke, not because I thought cuteness is the Sole Arbiter Of Human Worth (I can’t actually tell babies’ cuteness levels).

      1. Deiseach

        I said “cute ingroup baby” kind of as a joke

        May I proffer my sympathy, as I’ve made online jokes that I thought were plainly and obviously jokes, only to be jumped on by offended persons at how I’ve personally attacked them.

        Plainly, I’m neither as funny nor as clear at communicating as I think. Sometimes it may help to do the “Attention: joke coming!”, “Attention: joke now here!”, “Attention: joke over!” bit 🙂

      2. keranih

        Scott – “Cute ingroup baby” I also took as a joke – ingroup neonates are by definition cute. (Pro tip: If approached by someone holding a photo of a child/pet/gift for a child/pet and asked “Isn’t [child/pet/gift for a child/pet] just the cutest eva?” the correct answer is always “aaaawww! Adorable!” You are not being asked to judge cuteness, relative or otherwise, you’re being asked to make a social signal.)

        I wasn’t expecting this kind of social signaling charity request from the EA community.

        Specific quotes from the comments to the first post discussing the situation:

        “Andromeda seems to be a bright young child”

        “The world is a better place for having an adorable little Andromeda in it.”

        Subsequent posts/comments went further.

        I do note that most of the comments seemed to be about the situation/ethics, and not about the specific people involved, which I think was likely best. However, there were a number of comments which suggested (to my reading) that it was the cuteness/intelligence of the child which warrented outside support, and not just the existence of the child. (Although several people stuck to the last point.)

        1. David Friedman

          “If approached by someone holding a photo of a child/pet/gift for a child/pet and asked “Isn’t [child/pet/gift for a child/pet] just the cutest eva?” the correct answer is always “aaaawww! Adorable!” You are not being asked to judge cuteness, relative or otherwise, you’re being asked to make a social signal.)”

          What I like about that answer is that it evades the question–to which a truthful answer would almost certainly be “no.”

          The chance, for example, that the pictured child is cuter than my granddaughter would be negligible.

          1. suntzuanime

            It’s important to understand that words don’t really mean anything so that you can answer the questions you’re being asked without feeling like you’re lying.

          2. Frog Do

            The meaning of words must be the only important part of human communication because they’re the only parts the socially awkward can understand, lol.

    6. Dahlen

      Said Achmiz:

      keranih, do you think that any individual qualities of a human affects their human worth? Or are all humans equally valuable?

      David Friedman:

      Is it affected by anything? Are all humans of equal worth? If so, why?

      The problem with this crowd, right here in this. Why, oh why do we have to keep having these discussions every single time the opportunity arises? And secondly, why doesn’t it occur to people that it’s kind of a gaffe to start these discussions in the context of (the worth of) a specific, identifiable-by-name human being (who hasn’t even lived long enough to distinguish herself through anything)?

      1. The Nybbler

        Perhaps the gaffe, if it was a gaffe, was inserting a specific, identifiable-by-name human being into a forum where discussing such topics in the abstract is a common event. (Or perhaps this cost was acceptable given that donations could also be expected to result)

    7. Winter Shaker

      Okay, fair enough, but can I put in a vote for not using needlessly inflammatory rhetoric like ‘the mother’s decision to not kill her child’ (no, you weren’t the only one to do that). Generally those who are willing to consider abortion do not think of it as killing an existing child, but as preventing a potential future child from coming into existence, and consider that there is a large gulf in moral significance between those.

      Unless and until we can come up with a generally agreed-on set of criteria for determining at what point between conception and full sentience one becomes an entity deserving of full legal protection, and then apply those criteria to actually arrive at a cut-off point, can we just stick to neutral medical terms like ‘have an abortion’ / ‘terminate a pregnancy’ etc?

      1. keranih

        I would quibble with the idea that the medical terms are neutral.

        Having said that – I think that this is a reasonable request aimed at better/higher quality discourse, and will attempt to use “deliberately terminate the current viable pregnancy” or the like in the future.

        (I can also see where my concluding paragraph was more indepth than needful for a discussion I intended to go in a separate direction. I wish I had sat on this a bit longer – I’d been thinking and drafting this for a few days, and hoping someone else would bring it up.)

      2. Deiseach

        neutral medical terms

        You mean like “foetus”, right? I’ve seen an online post chiding those ignorant pro-lifers for using the term “baby” when they should use the medically correct “foetus”. Because those dumb hicks, confusing a fully-developed real human baby with an undeveloped foetus that is not yet a child but only one in potential or in future!

        When “foetus” actually is the Latin for the state of being pregnant: “the bearing or hatching of young, a bringing forth” and has been medicalised into a term for “unborn at particular stage of gestation”, and being “medically correct” means that when your cousin Jane informs you she’s just had a baby, what you should do is send her congratulations on her successful delivery of a neo-nate rather than on her new baby, right?

        Of course, nobody would dream of using a medical term when talking about a born baby, so it’s not at all a neutral term and under the aegis of “strict impartial scientifically accurate value-judgement-free terminolgy” is used to inculcate the notion that the unborn entity is not really/fully/yet a human offspring, a “baby” (people have such irrational prejudices about “killing babies”!) According to this Ngram usage of “fetus” became most popular at the same period as the abortion rights movement got into full swing, during the 80s.

        At the same time, people who would never dream of talking about an unborn baby in the womb have no problems sharing and cooing over those photos of foetal animals as baby elephants, baby dolphins, etc.

        And to quote a post from a site that comments on religion-news journalism and how religion is covered in the media from the angle of journalism, not religion, how your “neutral medical terminology in non-partisan journalism” gets covered is not quite as simple as it may appear:

        Few issues in newspaper style have created as much controversy as the question of what to call the two sides in the culture wars over abortion. As I understand the style that has evolved, newspapers that seek balanced, fair coverage of the two sides have two solid options. First, editors can allow leaders on the two sides to label themselves, choosing words that they believe state their beliefs accurately. Thus, you can have “pro-life” activists arguing with “pro-choice” activists, with these labels usually put inside quote marks when used in this manner in hard-news copy.

        A decade or more ago, many journalists tended to put their hands on the linguistic scales and tipped them far to the cultural left, calling one side anti-abortion and the other pro-choice. This was, of course, very unfair and, over time, most mainstream journalists came to realize that. I have always thought that the late David Shaw’s majestic series in the Los Angeles Times on media bias in abortion coverage helped open many eyes in many newsrooms that sought to be fair.

        So, it is my understanding that, today, journalists are supposed to be using these two terms – anti-abortion and pro-abortion-rights. These labels are not perfect, since it is always easier to be pro-something than anti-something. However, at least both sides are being identified in relation to the real issue that is before the nation, which remains abortion.

        1. Deiseach

          For those that are interested, that David Shaw article from the 90s about abortion coverage in the media.

          Because the media have generally, if implicitly, accepted the abortion-rights view that there is no human life to be “helped” before birth. That’s why the media use the term “fetus” (the preferred term of abortion-rights advocates), rather than “baby” or “unborn child” or “pre-born child” (as abortion opponents prefer). Editors say “fetus” is medically correct, value-free and non-emotional. A “fetus” does not become a “baby” until it’s born.

          All true. But, Willke says, “fetus” sounds like a “non-human glob,” so it’s easy to understand why abortion opponents complain that the consistent use of that word robs them of their most powerful image and argument. Moreover, to their growing chagrin, the media sometimes use “baby” when speaking of a fetus in a story that does not involve abortion.

          “Semantics . . . are the weapons with which this civil war is being fought,” Ellen Goodman wrote in her syndicated column last month, and nowhere have the semantic weapons of the abortion-rights advocates been more effective than in the seemingly simple but extremely volatile issue of the labels the news media apply to each side.

          Abortion-rights advocates made a shrewd tactical decision last year to try to shift the terms of the debate “from the question of whose rights will prevail, the woman’s or the fetus,’ to who will decide, women or the government,” in the words of Frances Kissling, executive director of Catholics for a Free Choice.

          …Like most newspapers, The [Milwaukee] Journal had long used “pro-choice,” without any complaint from the staff that it was unfair. But when Sig Gissler, editor of the Journal, wrote in a column that the paper would also begin using “pro-life,” more than 80 reporters and editors petitioned him in protest before the column was even published.

          Gissler spoke with several reporters and received memos from others. He considered their objections and revised his column– and the paper’s policy. Both “pro-life” and “pro-choice” were now out. Mostly. Henceforth, the paper would “mainly use descriptive phrases such as ‘anti-abortion groups’ and ‘abortion-rights advocates,’ ” he wrote. Although “pro-choice” and “pro-life” should be part of the “journalistic vocabulary,” he said, “they should be used sparingly and generally should not appear in headlines.”

          1. Nita

            Editors say “acorn” is botanically correct, value-free and non-emotional. An “acorn” does not become a “seedling” until it’s germinated. All true. But “acorn” sounds like a “non-quercine glob”.

            I would like to immediately apologize for the above, with this beautiful video [youtube, 3 min] of the birth of a baby oak.

          2. Deiseach

            “Acorn” is not actually botanically correct; depending on the stage of germination and the species it can take 6 to 24 months to mature, and plainly it is not an “acorn” at all stages of development.

            So referring to the monocotyledonous fruit contained within the hard, woody cupule as an “acorn” is the common but misleading and indeed sentimental notion of “tree babies” that retards the rights of others to use these fruits as mast for their swine instead of “let them become seedlings and grow into trees themselves!”

          1. Deiseach

            I could live with that 🙂

            But really, when for thirty years the media has been using preferred terms that favour one side, that you’ve been born and grown up seeing and hearing those terms used in what you’ve also been led to believe is a neutral media,* and imagining that such usage will not have any affect on how you regard the matter is rather a naive notion.

            *OUR side is neutral, fact-based, and trustworthy; THEIR side is biased, prejudiced and churns out propaganda, of course!

          2. Said Achmiz

            I, being tremendously in favor of abortion rights and indeed abortions themselves, sometimes half-jokingly say that I’m “anti-life”. I mean, I have the opposite view from the pro-life crowd, but I certainly don’t want to associate myself with the “pro-choice” crowd (on account of their terrible, terrible arguments)…

          3. Said Achmiz


            No, sorry. I’m quite familiar with antinatalism, and it’s a rather different thing.

          4. Mai La Dreapta

            Back when I was in college, in discussions with a friend of mine we agreed that we should call our positions “pro-infanticide” and “anti-human-dignity”. This greatly improved the quality of the discussion. I am not joking.

        2. Winter Shaker

          I phrased it such as to avoid applying a noun to the (putative future) baby at all – if ‘foetus’ is too blob-like, okay, but I still think that if we are going to name X at all, , given that the whole dispute is about whether an X at developmental stage A should be afforded the same legal protections as an X at developmental stage B, C, D etc, then I don’t really care what words we use as long as we use different words for the X at those different developmental stages – and in all cases, we should probably be especially careful to not use words that can ambiguously either refer to a specific developmental stage or ones offspring generally.

          Otherwise it just sounds like someone is trying to pull a non-central fallacy (and it’s no surprise that this particular issue is one of the examples actually used in Scott’s article.) The ‘meat is murder’ vegans don’t need to claim that chickens are people in order to make their argument that it is still unethical to kill and eat them, after all.

          1. David Friedman

            I remember the comment in a book on modern reproductive technology that the term “pre-embryo” had been introduced to make practices such as creating multiple fertilized eggs only one of which was going to be implanted sound less objectionable.

    8. Viliam

      For any fundraiser, most people don’t contribute. So it is not necessary to be explicit about it.

    9. Alex

      I think that trying to bind the mother to having an abortion in the case of pregnancy was reprehensible,

      I cannot imagine how this would work in practice If it is at all possible to discuss this in the abstract without judging anybody’s life choices, or, maybe even worse, turning it into a “how-to”, please explain.

      I’m fairly convinced that I’d be impossible to create anything like that of legal consequence were I live.

      I had to google that term, so maybe I’m using it wrong, but “unconscionability” seems to cover the idea.

      1. Vox Imperatoris

        It’s surely unenforceable everywhere. It was a promise, not a binding contract.

        (Oh no, we’re not going to get into this again, are we…?)

        1. Alex

          It’s surely unenforceable everywhere. It was a promise, not a binding contract.

          So it is of no consequence other than emotionally. Not to say that emotional consequences were neglectible.

          (Oh no, we’re not going to get into this again, are we…?)

          The problem with newcomers to any community (here: me and rationalist) is that they lack context in basically every discussion. For me there is no “this” and no “again”.

          This is made worse by the fact that some banned topics seem rather innocent to me. So I feel that I have to watch my every word. But a censor has no way to distiguish malice and naivite.

          1. brad

            This isn’t some long standing community thing. In the last open thread there was a loooong subthread about whether or not unconditional promise keeping was the linchpin of civilization.


            Also saying one of the banned words will prevent your post from posting but it won’t make you subject to being personally banned. If you read the comments link at the top you can find the rules that subject you to banning, as well as a list of people that have been banned and the comments they were banned for.

          2. Alex

            I’m really sorry, but I have to ask this:

            Breaking a promise in generall leads to the other party being off worse, not the promise breaker.

            What is the supposed relation between someone breaking a promise and that someone having “fallen on some tough times “? The former basically should have no causal effect on the latter (I’m talking spherical cow level of abstraction. I realize that it is not actually so absolute.)

            Is this about some karma-like concept or what?

          3. God Damn John Jay

            The basic premise of reign of terror is don’t make malicious shitposts. And especially not when it is at the expense of somebody Scott cares about.

            The issue with a lot of the banned topics is that a lot of these topics turn into massive tirefires- one person makes an innocuous post and then everyone rushes to get their two cents in, the current g_g_ brouhaha has engulfed 3 different posts. This is made worse by the fact that Scott is a licensed professional, whose job requires people to place a massive amount of trust in him.

          4. jaimeastorga2000

            The basic premise of the Reign of Terror is “don’t make Scott look bad in front of his Tumblr commie friends”.

          5. Anonymous

            There are no “Tumblr commie friends”. It was established in the last open thread that there are at best one or two communists vaguely associated with the greater rationalist-sphere and they aren’t particularly close on the reblog graph to Scott.

            This meme is just a tactic from alt right assholes such as yourself to bully Scott. I hope you and sunzuanime get hit with the guillotine.

          6. suntzuanime

            The Reign of Terror started immediately after multiheaded made a post on tumblr calling out SSC comments. Multiheaded is indisputably a commie and indisputably a friend of Scott and indisputably on tumblr. But of course we can’t expect anything a black-and-white anonymous says to have any relation to the truth.

          7. Deiseach


            (1) I am on Tumblr

            (2) I am not a Commie (though by American standards I seem to skew considerably more leftward in my political opinions than I would identify myself as doing)

            (3) I would not consider I could claim to be a friend of Scott’s but I certainly am not opposed to him

            (4) In view of the fact that many people like to present SSC commenters in general and Scott in particular as some kind of nest of right-wingers, your “he’s way too leftist” is ironic

            (5) Someone’s personal blog is their own fiefdom and they get to make up the rules as to how they run it. If that means Scott decides “On the third Tuesday of the month, I will ban everyone with a user-name containing the letter W”, he gets to do so

          8. suntzuanime

            Deiseach, how is your reading comprehension so bad that when someone talks about Irish fishermen you think it’s relevant to point out that you’re Irish, but not a fisherman?

          9. Frank McPike

            Whether abortion contracts can ever be enforced is an interesting area of law. There have been at least a few cases concerning promises to have an abortion that have reached courts. (I don’t have any knowledge of or opinion on the particular situation being discussed here, I’m talking in the abstract.)

            Some promises to have an abortion are not valid contracts at all. A bare promise is not enforceable. However, making a promise in exchange for something else (including money or another promise) can be enough to constitute a valid contract.

            Are abortion contracts generally enforceable? First, the type of enforcement matters. Courts in every state are very hesitant to require actual performance of a contract for personal services (though they will require a non-performing party to pay damages). For analogous reasons, it would be very unlikely for any court to require someone to actually have an abortion. It would be slightly less implausible for a court to require someone who had an abortion in breach of contract to pay damages.

            Courts are, in many states, pretty hesitant to enforce any contracts to enter (or not enter) into a particular family relationship, including parenthood. Apart from that, courts in many states could hold (and have held) that enforcing a contract to have an abortion runs against public policy, for one reason or another, and would decline to enforce it on those grounds.

            This law review article gives a brief overview, and mentions one case (perhaps the only case) where a contract to have an abortion was enforced (though not against the party who agreed to have the abortion; against the other party for not making good on their end):

          10. Vox Imperatoris

            @ Frank McPike:

            Fascinating article!

            Also, the case in question where an abortion contract was upheld:

            In L.G. v. F.G.H., a father offered to reinstate his daughter, L.G., as an equal beneficiary in his will if she would agree to have an abortion of a child she was carrying.8 L.G. agreed and had the abortion, but the father died before making the agreedupon beneficiary designation. L.G. successfully enforced the abortion contract against her father’s estate.

          11. multiheaded

            The Reign of Terror started immediately after multiheaded made a post on tumblr calling out SSC comments. Multiheaded is indisputably a commie and indisputably a friend of Scott and indisputably on tumblr.

            Oh wow. My mythos certainly grows.

            (Most “tumblr communists” who hate the LW community, like @stormingtheivory or @reddragdiva or @wordcubed, explicity hate me as well fyi, because they consider me a psychotic reactionary MRA or something.)

          12. Anonymous

            @Shitposter in chief

            The Reign of Terror started immediately after multiheaded made a post on tumblr calling out SSC comments. Multiheaded is indisputably a commie and indisputably a friend of Scott and indisputably on tumblr. But of course we can’t expect anything a black-and-white anonymous says to have any relation to the truth.

            You mean the person that’s been temp banned from this website three times? Oh yes Scott is terribly afraid of causing offense there.

          13. Nornagest

            Shitposter in chief

            I don’t know the backstory behind this, and I don’t care, but it was boring five threads ago and it’s boring now. Can’t you guys just go out behind the ball shed and have a fistfight, like civilized grown-ups do?

          14. jaimeastorga2000

            Can’t you guys just go out behind the ball shed and have a fistfight, like civilized grown-ups do?

            I’ve never actually done this, so I’m pretty curious about how it works. What does happen after two men step outside to settle their differences? Is the guy who wins the fight considered to have won the argument, or something like that?

          15. Chalid

            You do some macho posturing and then “reluctantly allow” your friends to drag you away?

          16. suntzuanime

            The idea is that the bickering is not really about what is being bickered about, but is rather a symptom of status uncertainty between the two bickerers. A round of fisticuffs resolves the status uncertainty and thereby dissolves the argument.

          17. Sastan


            The argument is usually considered ended, without a winner. Assuming the fight was reasonably fair, and had a clear winner, both sides acquitting themselves well. The fight is more about signalling determination that “settling” the argument. All debates being bravery debates and all. The only way to prove your determination is to risk (or take) a beating. The loser is thought to at least have demonstrated his commitment to his side of the argument, and thus to have a legitimate point. The winner as well, and he gets hurt less.

          18. Nornagest

            Well, I was trying to imply that it’s neither civilized nor grown-up, though preferable to playground-level name-calling (hence “ball shed”). Could probably have been clearer about that. And I haven’t gotten in a fistfight since college (when I was drinking in a townie bar, and some townie felt the need to physically make it clear I wasn’t welcome), so I can’t claim to be an expert.

            But it’s not about winning the argument, it’s about proving that you’re not willing to take an unlimited amount of verbal abuse. You’ve proven that whether or not you win the fight; stepping up is enough.

          19. Zorgon

            I still routinely misread Ilya Shpitser as “Ilya Shitposter”.

            Damn misspent youth mid-twenties on 4chan.

          20. Anonymous

            I find it annoying to have two posters constantly slandering our host. It doesn’t help that one never posts substantively.

            Your millage obviously varies.

          21. Frog Do

            Does reddragdiva hate the LW community? I mean, he shitposts about them (who doesn’t) and seems to think they are wrong about things but interacts with them regularly and sometimes positively, which is the norm for a lot of people in the rationalist-adjacent-sphere. I mean, the existance of RationalWiki does serve as a giant warning sign, maybe that’s the hate outlet. But I couldn’t tell.

            C’mon, one of the easiest ways to perform femininity is to toss around threats like you won’t be taken seriously, because of course girls aren’t taken seriously with stuff like that.

          22. Hlynkacg

            jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I’ve never actually done this, so I’m pretty curious about how it works. What does happen after two men step outside to settle their differences? Is the guy who wins the fight considered to have won the argument, or something like that?

            I have, it basically comes down to what Sastan says about demonstrating commitment and a willingness to “put your money where your mouth is” so to speak. (Also see what Nornagest said about “stepping up”)

            As far as “aftermath” the argument itself is considered a draw. There tends to be a strong taboo against causing permanent injury so usually that’s the end of it. Bringing the topic up again (after both sides have illustrated their commitment) is generally seen as “looking for trouble”.

          23. DrBeat

            @Frog Do

            The dude is constantly accusing LW-ers of being Evil Bad Reactionary Conservatives, sneering at them, and encouraging other people to sneer at and hate them.

            He also is incapable of accurately assessing anyone’s political opinions, and when it comes to people he associates with LW, his error is to always accuse them of having beliefs that justify him attacking them, sneering at them, and hating them.

            It is pretty fair to say he is a hater.

          24. Nita

            @ Frog Do

            Wait, I’m confused. Who’s performing femininity by throwing around threats here? Suntzu-chan? Suntzu’s stalker anon? Nornagest?

          25. Nita

            @ Vox Imperatoris

            What was the threat? And what does it have to do with anything Nornagest has said?

          26. Psmith

            @Alex: so lurk moar.

            Can’t you guys just go out behind the ball shed and have a fistfight, like civilized grown-ups do?

            There are quite a lot of conflicts in the rationalist-adjacent community that cry out for this approach.

          27. Frog Do

            Yeah, but he can also have somewhat reasonable conversations with them, too. He’s clearly talking with them, rather than at them, if you get my meaning.

            I was going on past behavior, thinking of multi, but it is a wide claim. Not saying that it’s a good thing or a bad thing, either, I’m saying it descriptively; I’m saying Nornagest is probably being too serious. But maybe I’m being too unserious!

            Edit: I was interpreting a lot of this thread as back-and-forth banter, not seriously meant to actually insult people. So if people think I’m talking shit, it’s in the spirit of camraderie, not like I’m seriously attacking multi or anything. I guess that may not have been what other people are seeing.

          28. Deiseach

            suntzuanime, the tone of jaimestorga2000’s sneer was that everyone Scott knows or who follows him on Tumblr is a commie (or even Commie) and so he was banning people on here in order to curry favour with the terrible Communists whose boots he slavishly licks.

            I was trying to show that while some of the fish in the tank may be black, not all fish in the tank are black, therefore saying all the fish in the tank are black is incorrect.

            But perhaps I was being too subtle and understated for those that like screaming insults instead?

            anonymous, at least I have a name to be called by (even if it’s one you want to use to call me names). Want to give that a go, or are you too afraid of losing your anonymity because – what? The Tumblr communists will come for you in the night?

            Yes, I do find myself a topic of fascination to myself, if it’s a toss-up between talking to myself or engaging with anons who infest this site like – Tumblr Communists, shall we say?

          29. Whatever Happened To Anonymous

            While I don’t think “Scott’s Commie Friends” is literally true (though I still perpetuate it, because it’s funny), it’s known that he gets pretty distressed when he’s called right wing, or likened to Hipster Conservatives. As far as bannings go, I think there’s a slight bias towards banning people to the right of him, but at the very least most bans towards non-anons come with a warning now.

            Wait, I’m confused. Who’s performing femininity by throwing around threats here? Suntzu-chan? Suntzu’s stalker anon? Nornagest?

            You’ll adress Suntzu-sama with the respect they deserve.

            I still routinely misread Ilya Shpitser as “Ilya Shitposter”.

            I’m glad I’m not the only one.

          30. Viliam

            Tumblr commie friends

            Just a technical note: commies don’t have friends, they have comrades.

            It’s a similar concept, but the difference is that comrades can be sacrificed in a purge. So, a friend wouldn’t attack you for perceived wrongthink, but a comrade would.

          31. David Friedman

            It’s surely unenforceable everywhere. It was a promise, not a binding contract.

            So it is of no consequence other than emotionally.

            Are you saying that the only relevant consequences of an act are legal consequences and emotional consequences? There can be nothing wrong with an act if it is not illegal and doing it does not upset the person who does it?

            Torturing an animal to death in a polity where doing so isn’t illegal is just fine as long as it doesn’t upset the torturer?

            That seems to be the implication if what you wrote.

          32. Agronomous

            Can’t you guys just go out behind the ball shed and have a fistfight, like civilized grown-ups do?

            Dammit, Nornagest, can’t you even obey the first rule of Rationalist Fight Club? I mean, it’s the first one for a reason!

            Giving away the secret location is just the icing on the fucking cake….

    10. Deiseach

      I think the emphasis on “clever beautiful darling child, will be net benefit to the world to support it” was a fruit of the fact that some/many/a lot of people on here are some variety of Utilitarian and/or into Effective Altruism, so there has to be a reason for giving charity other than “this person close to me geographically/that I can see for myself/know personally or at a small remove is in need”.

      We want facts and figures and a net return on handing over our hard-earned money, goshdarnit, we’re not like those fuzzy-minded types who do it for the warm fuzzies!

      So emphasising “child is intelligent, helping it to have better standard of living will result in payback once it’s been educated and goes into worthwhile career” is on the same grounds as “instead of giving that bum panhandling on the streets ten bucks, you could do much more good by donating to malaria bednets and here’s the quantifiable measure of that”.

      Particularly as a “hey, let’s give one of our own a dig out” is one of the terrible bad no-good things non-rationalists do because they can only conceptualise on local levels of appeal to personal interest, and that won’t fly round here 🙂

      1. JBeshir

        I’m always quite clear to separate my in-group donating from my EA donating, I won’t even let meta-charities come out of my 10%, just because I don’t like the dynamic where “helping our own institutions” becomes “obviously” the most efficient way to help everyone. I like doing it, but it comes out of the rest of the budget.

        But, I do get some sort of fuzzies from knowing that I’m helping someone who is saying they want to do good and help others (and fulfil my values) in turn once they can, even though I don’t count on it.

        I’m actually a little uncomfortable with the pattern where people promise to contribute to EA stuff as part of their campaign. The basic idea of them saying they’ll give back to my/the group’s concerns is nice, and community support systems are great, and feeling a bit like they owe something to the group’s concerns is good, but I wouldn’t want them to feel like they have an obligation to their donors to donate lots forever. That’d be kind of exploitative. Doing that much should stay their choice.

      2. Alex

        This seems to ignore the fact (is it a fact?) that fuzzies feel fuzzy for a reason, and that reason is cases like this one.

        “Don’t call fuzziness altruism” is a very sensible claim and I hope it will become consensus one day.

        “Don’t be fuzzy, be altruistic” is nonsense.

    11. houseboatonstyx

      @ keranih
      the mother should reconsider taking her own family up on any support they might offer

      Briefly, not to engage here, but before you go on with this, I suggest you read the earlier discussions closely, as to her own parents’ attitude.

      1. keranih

        I did see the earlier discussions. I saw that people were suggesting that she sue the child’s father – who wanted the pregnancy terminated – or her husband – whos opinion on abortion of this child I don’t recall – for child support.

        That her parents strongly urged the mother abort doesn’t seem to have put them in a very unique position in the mother’s family circle. If the mother was considering accepting support from either of the involved men (which she didn’t seem overly keen on) who wanted her to abort the child, then considering help from her own parents would not be that out of bounds.

        And I have seen previously firmly opposed grandparents turned around by time and a grandchild. *shrugs* It happens.

        1. houseboatonstyx

          That her parents strongly urged the mother abort doesn’t seem to have put them in a very unique position in the mother’s family circle.

          If the help the mother’s parents might offer, would consist of mother and child moving to an isolated area in Texas(?) to live in the same house with the parents who strongly wanted her to abort — that would not be a healthy place for the child to grow. Paging Tennessee Williams.

          In the Bay Area commune there’s no such burden/pressure on the friends/donors. If some don’t want to donate, others can take up the slack (apparently are already). She’s in a city where (when she’s up to it) she can find $employment among sympathetic people.

  24. David Friedman

    “The most accurate view of polyamory is that it is the most rational possible way to arrange your reproductive life.”

    I’ve been wondering if it would be worth organizing a debate on this topic, either online in text or in realspace. The question would be something like:

    For most people most of the time, is polyamory or monogamy a better choice?

    I think my son Patri is willing to take the monogamy side. He has the advantage over me of having tried both.

    1. Dr Dealgood

      You should define your terms first.

      Does monogamy include serial monogamy or ‘monogamy’ with mistresses?

      Does polyamory include polygyny or swinging?

      Who exactly are we talking about when we say most people? Fertile opposite sex couples are the overwhelming majority but generally these discussions tend to focus heavily on bisexuality / homosexuality.

      1. David Friedman

        I was assuming that monogamy includes the possibility of divorce, hence serial polygamy. It does not include monogamy with mistresses. Both divorce and adultery involve it working poorly, but a non-zero probability of a poor outcome isn’t a sufficient reason to reject the institution.

        I do not include swinging or a commitment to polygyny as polyamory. I would count as polyamory a group that happened at the moment to consist of one man and more than one woman, but not if it was taken for granted by all participants that it had to take that structure–as would be the case in a traditional polygynous marriage.

        By “most people” I mean people of the age range at which marriage and similar arrangements are common. If polyamory is better for bisexual people but worse for everyone else, then it is worse for most people, since most people are not bisexual.

    2. Anonymous

      Monogamy, clearly. In my local poly community, that’s pretty universally accepted.

      Fortunately we don’t need to pick one thing for everyone to do. This is like asking “for most people most of the time, are heterosexual or homosexual relationships a better choice?” Well, heterosexual, but it’s kind of a silly question.

      Furthermore, many people think, it isn’t exactly a binary: a lot of monogamous people could benefit from a little more polyamory when it comes to discussing boundaries and so on. Many couples might find that, for example, neither partner actually has a problem with their partner flirting with strangers, as long as it doesn’t go past there.

      1. Anonymous

        Many couples might find that, for example, neither partner actually has a problem with their partner flirting with strangers, as long as it doesn’t go past there.

        My impression is that a large proportion of monogamous couples, perhaps a majority, do in fact allow that.

    3. Anonymous

      The obvious argument in favor of monogamy, in my view, is as follows: assuming you want a stable, long-lasting relationship, monogamy makes this more likely by increasing the costs of ending your relationship. It does this in two ways. First, by having only one person to fill all of your relationship needs, they become a very large part of your life, and you stand to lose more by leaving them than you would if they were only one of several partners. Second, since you are forbidden from beginning a new relationship before ending your current one, leaving your partner becomes a much riskier prospect than it would if you could remain with them while openly searching for, and getting to know, a suitable replacement.

    4. Daniel Keys

      How about not, since I have never once seen or heard anyone say that. I have seen several say (both in and out of the community) that it works for some and should be considered.

    5. Viliam

      For most people most of the time, is polyamory or monogamy a better choice?

      I think the question should be asked separately for the time when people don’t want to have children, and when they do. Even in the usual “serial monogamy” model, there is a difference between the “dating and breaking up” phase and the “marriage and divorce” phase.

    6. Tibor

      I know a couple of people who have also tried both and would probably be interested in that discussion (if it were to take place online and not somewhere in the US part of realspace 🙂 ).

      I have no personal experience in polyamory but I find the topic interesting.

  25. onyomi

    Saw a cute meme a while back pointing out how Star Trek’s Data was quoted as having what, at the time, was a ludicrous processing speed, but a processing speed which now been well outstripped by our fastest computers. Which got me thinking: is Data a pure fantasy, not in the sense that computers will never be that smart, but in the sense that they will continue to be, for the time being, much less generally intelligent than Data is depicted on the show until they suddenly “take off,” at which point they will greatly exceed the level of intelligence Data is depicted having on the show?

    In other words, most scifi with robots has robots which are on roughly the same level of intelligence and functioning as humans. Usually there are some differences–typically they are much stronger than humans and much better at mathematical tasks, yet often they are unable to experience emotions, etc.

    Yet I wonder if the nature of AI is such as to preclude such a state of affairs from ever likely coming about. Namely, a creature of roughly human functioning is too complicated for a human to create unaided. This will mean that reaching human-level will necessarily be a result of self-improving computers. But there’s no reason self-improving computers would stop at the (seemingly?) arbitrary level around where humans exist (unless that level is not arbitrary but rather exists due to some plateau in possible intelligence). Therefore, AIs would never stop around Data or Blade Runner level for any appreciable period of time?

    1. God Damn John Jay

      A robot with an IQ of a smart person, that didn’t have to eat, sleep, play marathon games of Crusader Kings or chase tail could likely surpass humans easily at just about anything.

      There is also the issue that a large number of successful people have extreme personality flaws that limit their successes. Michael Eisner notably collapsed of a heart attack and refused to change his high stress lifestyle, claiming he liked being stressed out. If you look at how many drugs and how much emotional labor a CEO or Director uses it would be horrifying to any normal person.

      1. Urstoff

        It’s going to be a real bummer when it turns out to be an intractable mathematical problem to make human-level AI’s non-neurotic.

      2. sweeneyrod

        I guess that 4 smart people working in shifts so one is always active would surpass an individual smart person, but not in a super-self-improvement-we’re-all-doomed kind of way. You could argue that the equivalent robot would be a single entity without any possible communication problems, but I don’t think the effort lost in communication between a handful of people is equivalent to the extra effort put in by each additional person, so I don’t think that matters too much.

      3. onyomi

        That actually seems to sort of happen on Star Trek. Though Data can’t emote or use contractions, he has time to become an excellent violinist, painter, etc. in addition to his full time job.

        1. Matt M

          But it’s worth noting that he doesn’t attempt to master EVERY skill, even though he almost certainly could.

          His desire to be human seems to also manifest itself into a desire to limit himself in ways that humans are similarly limited. He chooses an to master one instrument, rather than all of them, because someone who mastered all instruments would be pretty weird by human standards, which would call attention to his non-humanity.

          Tying this back in to the original comment, I think we will probably never see TRUE Data-like AIs, but we might see advanced AIs constructing Data-like AIs for the purpose of infiltrating humanity. If the God-AI was suspicious that we were hiding something or plotting against it in some way, it might design a human-like sub-class in order to gain our trust/gather intelligence on us or something.

          1. onyomi

            It is interesting to consider the extent to which Data avoids flaunting his superiority in many areas in order that he should fit in better and have a more “human” experience. This makes it more conceivable that maybe we should have a “Data” in the future, if only because seeming approachable and non-threatening to humans may itself be one kind of advantage for even an AI much smarter than us.

            This makes Ex Machina one of the more genuinely disquieting movies I’ve ever seen.

    2. sweeneyrod

      One possibility is that although they might surpass human level very rapidly, they might need sci-fi robot style agents to communicate with humans (depending on how much influence we have on what they are like).

    1. The Nybbler

      I’m disappointed in his planned non-speaker-blind rejection process. That’s the kind of thing SJWs will exploit.

      1. Theo Jones

        I’m a bit worried that this pretty much means that while they will keep Yarvin they will be much more hesitant to allow similarly controversial speakers in the future. I’m pretty much of the opinion that one’s political opinions should not be a legitimate reason to judge unrelated scientific work.

    2. Nita

      I like it. But then, I liked his original statement, too. The organizing team seem to be honestly trying to do the right thing, given the terrible situation they’ve been dragged into.

      Not inviting potential future speakers whose infamy would result in an empty room is an interesting compromise proposal.

      1. John Schilling

        I am very skeptical that there is such a thing as an otherwise technically relevant future speaker whose infamy would result in an empty room. If the room is empty, it is because people who don’t care about the politics, who wouldn’t otherwise even have known about the politics, have been discouraged from attending by someone else’s political efforts.

        And if that does happen, I’m not sure that providing an empty room to the speaker is really a waste.

        1. Theo Jones

          At some point the controversy could increase the attendance. Previous to this controversy I never heard of Urbit (Yarvin’s distributed computing project) and wouldn’t have cared.

        2. Nita

          It seems that DeGoes is more interested in efficiently allocating conference rooms (large audiences get rooms, small audiences can meet at a coffee table) than in making grand political gestures. People who really don’t care about the politics might find such a policy acceptable.

          1. John Schilling

            One of the critical resources, I think, is an entry in the program guide. If there’s a program guide entry that says “the coffee table in the A4 lobby”, and in fact the coffee table is adequate to the demand, mission accomplished with an efficient use of resources. But if the only people who know that the coffee table is the place to be to talk about functional programming are the ones on the secret mailing list, then no. And for some people, Yarvin’s name on the program is a call to arms even if he is kept in a literal closet for the duration of the conference.

            “Efficient use of resources” is mostly a red herring. The main issue is whether people who espouse certain political views should be denied the ability to promote their unrelated, apolitical work in what would otherwise be the appropriate forum for such.

          2. Nita

            I’ve seen conferences with three-tier programs: invited keynote speeches, selected talks separated into several rooms/tracks, and ad-hoc meetings of smaller groups, coordinated via the wiki.

            Urbit seems to be about as “apolitical” as Bitcoin or GNU (that is, not really). On the bright side, it also seems to be too far into postmodern art territory to actually do anything objectionable.

            The above are all data structures – not even functions. So we say “a pimp” or “a marl” or whatever. For precision, we might say “slam a gate on a pimp,” but everyone will understand you when you say “call a function on a pimp.”

            Then, we refer to the comments (written in English) to see what a pimp, etc, is. Documentation is admittedly a problem, but it’s not any more or less a problem than in any other language, I feel. Obviously, we could have more of it!

            Also, for your convenience we’ve assigned CVC nonsense names to all the ASCII characters.

            And if people are expected to perceive Curtis Yarvin and Mencius Moldbug as completely separate entities with completely separate spheres of existence, perhaps Moldbug shouldn’t blog about Urbit, and Yarvin shouldn’t explain Moldbug’s views in a post about LambdaConf (or defend them in multiple discussions in the comments).

            The only thing you can’t escape is your own reputation. Which you shouldn’t be able to escape from.

            (All quotes here are from comments by the HN user ‘urbit’, talking about Urbit.)

          3. Anonymous

            >perhaps Moldbug shouldn’t blog about Urbit

            Absolutely agree, while I strongly repudiate the attempts of banning Moldbug from speaking, much could’ve been avoided if he hadn’t attempted to pimp Urbit through his popularity as a Nuevo Reaccionario.

            >and Yarvin shouldn’t explain Moldbug’s views in a post about LambdaConf (or defend them in multiple discussions in the comments).

            Yeah, nope. This is reversing causality (I assume deliberately, since you’re a smart person).

          4. Nita

            Well, it’s the dissonance between “Yarvin is not interested in anything except system software and will ignore you, like a total aspie, if you bring up any other subject,” and the 2000-word summary of Moldbug on race that immediately followed.

            I do appreciate the difficult situation he’s in, of course. He can’t simply say, “I believe in treating people as individuals, and I think slavery was an unjust institution that caused a lot of suffering” — he’s a person of integrity. And he can’t simply say, “I think slavery has been unfairly maligned, and I wish more people had the talent to be a good slave” — the hidebound communist masses would not understand.

          5. Anonymous

            > it’s the dissonance between “Yarvin is not interested in anything except system software and will ignore you, like a total aspie, if you bring up any other subject,”

            Which no one said

            >and the 2000-word summary of Moldbug on race that immediately followed.

            Which is a reasonable response when you’re under a lot of flak for being called racist.

            I don’t understand, is this some sort of combo deal? “I’ll steelman positions that are not strongly represented in this comment section, but I’ll also strawman/weakman the more popular ones”.

          6. Anonymous

            Can I get a link to where he said that? It sounds like an uncharacteristically dumb thing to say for someone who’s, by all accounts, very smart.

          7. Nita

            “I’ll steelman positions that are not strongly represented in [social space], but I’ll also strawman/weakman the more popular ones”

            Whoa. Actually, that does sound like a thing. Anyone got an idea for a nice concept handle? ‘Contrarian framing’?

          8. HeelBearCub

            Wasn’t there a long sub-thread last OT wherein someone explored this idea? They flat out said that they were less likely to believe something if it had a great deal of support.

          9. ThirteenthLetter

            @Nita “and Yarvin shouldn’t explain Moldbug’s views in a post about LambdaConf (or defend them in multiple discussions in the comments).”

            That’s deeply unfair. Imagine if I accused you of stealing my car, and you said “no, I didn’t steal your car, here’s all the reasons why I couldn’t have stolen your car,” and I responded that the way you can’t seem to stop talking about stealing my car is very suspicious.

    3. Zorgon

      It’s an excellent final response that pretty much puts the idiots in their place.

      On the other hand, assuming no pendulum swing in the next 12 months, I am forced to reduce my estimate as to the likelihood of John DeGoes still being the lead organiser of LambdaConf next year.

    4. stargirlprincesss

      I don’t understand his actions. Yarvin is extremely racist so maybe he should not be allowed to speak, idk. On the other hand if you let Yarvin speak, even once, you are going to be on the enemies list for a long time. People are already organizing a counter-conference lol. If you let Yarvin speak might as well really stand up for what you believe in.

      I find this “compromise” position a bit odd and off-putting.

      1. Evan Þ

        Not totally. He’s going to be talking to people actually attending the conference, rather than the Internet.

        He’s giving in somewhat, but I think he’s holding on to some important principle.

      2. Matt M

        Yeah. When it comes to culture war issues, the final result of “compromise” is usually “both sides hate your guts”

          1. Jiro

            This can be gamed, though. A side can ask for twice what they want and end up getting what they want. Moreover, they can just keep asking, so you make a compromise between nothing and X and get 1/2 X, then make a “compromise” between that and X and get 3/4 X, etc. (Gun rights proponents have often found they are the victims of this, for instance.)

            This is asymmetrical becaouse one side wants nothing to happen and you can’t go less than nothing.

    5. anon


      If I were going to write an article about this, which I’m not, I would create a fictional marijuana advocate named Darius Dankroach to use as an example.

      1. Anon

        That’s not an overview; it’s an essay intended to persuade. It happens to review some of the events, but only as a means towards persuading the reader to the author’s position.

      2. dndnrsn

        Reading it, I noticed this, which fits with what I think about Yarvin/Moldbug’s (mis)use of historical sources:

        Finally, I have to explain the only one of my conclusions that I’ll categorize as a personal opinion. Some of the things Yarvin frames as true are so inflammatory that it is irresponsible to present them to a general audience without the training and tools to evaluate them. The idea that “we’re all adults, so we can handle some words” is specious for an industry where humanities training is largely ignored. In university, it makes your coursework less impressive to technical hiring managers. Once in the workplace it’s frequently treated as a bonus at best, an indication of lesser technical prowess on average, and idiocy or brainwashing at worst. Engineers, for all their smarts and logic, are probably less suited to philosophy than other professions, because their opinion of their own super-brains is so damn high.

        But, specifically in regard to his use of historical sources (I believe the quote is talking about “humanities territory” in a broader sense) it’s not just that a lack of humanities chops makes it easy for his audience of computer programmers to be led astray. He led himself astray, and probably doesn’t even know it. The way he handles historical sources, especially primary, is a way that nobody who had received a decent education in the methods of the study of history would use. The mistakes he makes are the typical mistake of the intelligent amateur: he isn’t skeptical enough of historical sources that support his argument, and he doesn’t use historical scholarship to analyze primary sources. I say that he probably doesn’t even know it because someone with a historical background trying to gin up support for a bad argument would do it in a different way.

        There seems to be a perception among STEM types that the humanities and social sciences are easy. They are, in a way: a computer programmer can write an essay that’s going to turn out better than a historian trying to code, but they’re probably going to step into a bunch of pitfalls that someone with historical scholarship experience wouldn’t.

        1. Frog Do

          I enjoy how someone who had the major point

          “historical narratives are politically motivated, you should read more primary sources and assume they aren’t written by morons to get a good idea of how different groups of people understand history”

          has been turned into

          “read these historical sources uncritically, like me, who believes everything he has read so long as its old enough”.

          1. dndnrsn

            Has been turned into? Or turned into?Because Moldbug is awfully uncritical of stuff he found on Google Books.

            (I can’t tell if you’re agreeing with me or not).

          2. Frog Do

            Has been turned into, I’m disagreeing with this point as a general point. Mentioning that other narratives exist is not endorsing them. It’s not that Moldbug is immune from criticism or anything, but the whole “Moldbug reads white nationalists therefore he is a white nationalist” style arguments chafe me. Especially because no one ever mentions where he reads history incorrectly, it’s just given as “he reads history incorrectly”, implying that he’s always doing it.

            Edit: I should say this isn’t just a criticism I see here, I see it all over the place, hence my irritation. Everyone says he’s generally wrong in ways that apply probably equally as well to anyone else, no one says he’s specificially wrong, or try and demonstrate a pattern in his wrongness. It seems like an unserious critique to me, when I’d like serious ones.

          3. dndnrsn

            Bah, I had a reply, but something went wrong and it got eaten.

            I’m not generally a believer in guilt by association, and I’m not saying that he’s a white nationalist because he reads stuff by white nationalists.

            The example that jumps out to me of him doing a bad job of history is in the second part of the Gentle Introduction. He criticizes academic historians, and goes on to “prove” that the American revolutionaries were bad by citing three primary sources, written by Loyalists involved in the events in question, that he agrees with. He then further supports this by reference to three secondary sources, one of which he claims is a “tertiary source” because it is the only one written in the last hundred years.

            This is a really bad job of engaging with historical sources.

          4. Frog Do

            I usually try and save long comments in text files for that reason! It happened to me elsewhere yesterday.

            I should have been more specific, I’m not accusing you of making that argument, I was using an extreme case of “presenting alternative viewpoints implies endorsing those viewpoints”, which is something that’s had people here jump on my throat on this blog and elsewhere. I am salty about it, I acknowledge it.

            I read the American history recap as presenting an alternative narrative where the Patriots were that bad guys as an example of alternative readings that most people who don’t go into history don’t read about, not a full endorsement of the narrative. It’s given as an example of how education works in contemporary US society; the classic “the religion of the priests is far different from the religion of the commoners”, except with historical sophistication. He explicitly mentions the idea of this as an alternate reading, not a definitive reading, although wink wink nudge nudge signal evil for all the obvious reasons. That’s how I thought of it, at any rate.

            As for the more general accussaton of bad history on account of how shallow it is, we could just as easily accuse Scott of being a bad sociologist, or The Last Psychiatrist of being a bad cultural critic. It would even be a true statement! However, if we’re going to hold everything to the standards of academia, well, that’s the same argument as to why they didn’t translate the Bible out of Latin and Greek for so long, either, and elitism has its’ own problems.

          5. Samuel Skinner

            “I read the American history recap as presenting an alternative narrative where the Patriots were that bad guys as an example of alternative readings that most people who don’t go into history don’t read about, not a full endorsement of the narrative.”

            That doesn’t require anything that Moldburg wrote. It just requires pointing out the patriots were terrorists.

            “It’s given as an example of how education works in contemporary US society; the classic “the religion of the priests is far different from the religion of the commoners”, except with historical sophistication.”

            In contemporary US society? Almost all educational systems in human history have worked the exact same way. It is also hardly “priests versus commoners”; school textbooks aren’t set by history professors.

            “As for the more general accussaton of bad history on account of how shallow it is,”

            I don’t think claiming the Whig generals were working to make sure Washington won is ‘shallow’ as much as crazy.

          6. Nita

            wink wink nudge nudge signal evil for all the obvious reasons

            Obvious to you, perhaps. Completely obscure to some of us.

          7. dndnrsn

            @Frog Do:

            He presents it as an alternate reading of history, but it fits a bit too well into his overall view. It reminds me of this for some reason.

            As for the “priests/commoners” thing, Samuel Skinner is right. Most university-level historians are pretty unhappy with how history is taught in high schools. I’m not an American, but I took American history in high school (not in university) and I remember the textbook being pretty simplistically triumphalist. The narrative was basically “here is the onwards and upwards movement of American history towards being the Shining City on the Hill”.

            So, on the one hand, yes, a “progressive” narrative in the most generic sense of the term. Maybe even Whiggish. On the other hand, one might as well decry the state of math education in general because the last math course I ever took, explicitly aimed at people who would not be doing any math in university, was pretty dumbed-down.

            But it’s not history professors’ fault. Their version of history would probably offend a lot of textbook buyers in more conservative school board districts. They’re not hiding anything – it’s all in the 100-level undergrad courses.

            Moldbug is worse compared to the waterline for academic history than Scott to sociology or TLP to cultural criticism, I would say. I will admit to having a bias against him because I find some of his views rather repellent, and because his writing style really annoys me (the worst part is the constant filler composed of this weird fake-seeming jocularity – about half of the Gentle Introduction is “oh ho ho, but once I use this diamond drill to extract the earWHIG of WHIGGERY – get it, get it? – from your brainpan, you will be a Good Tory” and on and on.

          8. Frog Do

            @Samuel Skinner
            “Terrorist” is a really contested word to be throwing around, this argument will only work with a small set of people. He’s explicitly pitching to people who disagree with him (regardless of how successful it was), so a longer argument makes sense. Same thing with the claim about Whig generals.

            Mostly I think he was trying to be funny though exaggeration. When you think you’re going to be accussed of being evil, you can either fight back (which in my experience usually doesn’t work) or exaggerate to the point of ridiculousness (which is what he was going for).

            I shouldn’t have implied I think there the priest = history professor metaphor implies that history education is determined by the professors. I’m in academia, I know for a fact that there’s usually a great deal of tension between academic education and public education. I was riffing more off of the difference of the sophistication of the arguments.

            As for “who is worse”, well, they’re all about equally bad as I see it. Not to pick on Scott, but that most recent post of religion, yikes. At least Moldbug misuses older sources, sometimes it feels like the rationalists are slowly reinventing the sociology 101 wheel. Anyways, I think we can both agree that more solid humanities traning is needed in general.

          9. dndnrsn

            @Frog Do:

            I guess I just don’t think his arguments in Gentle Intro 2 are that sophisticated. They’re definitely complex, but they mostly boil down to “here are some sources a high school student probably didn’t get shown”.

            I’ve been out of school for a while, but I had some background in comparative religions, and the religion post wasn’t bad so much as it was kind of obvious – I probably spun a similar yarn in second or third year while taking Intro to Religious studies, and eight beers deep. You are right that there’s a tendency to reinvent the 101 wheel.

            I it’s what you point out – there’s not enough humanities. Something that the rationalists and the Death Eaters have in common is an overrepresentation of STEM types (although in this case I think our host was actually a phil undergrad?), and it’s far easier for STEM types to figure out simple humanities/social sciences stuff than the other way around: an engineer in English 101 is going to have an easier time than an English major in Intro to Engineering or whatever they take in first year.

            This leads to a situation where STEM types are more able to think they’re competent in a field but make basic mistakes – basic mistakes, though, that you’d need a background in that field to recognize.

          10. Frog Do

            I don’t think Moldbug’s arguments are sophisticated, either, I think academic historian arguments are sophisticated. Moldbug was deliberately crafting a narrative, you can get too clever forcing all types of pegs into one hole. That’s a general critique, and I like to see which types of corners have been shaved off in particular, which you’be done, thank you.

            And of course, viva la humanities!

          11. Samuel Skinner

            ““Terrorist” is a really contested word to be throwing around, this argument will only work with a small set of people. He’s explicitly pitching to people who disagree with him (regardless of how successful it was), so a longer argument makes sense. Same thing with the claim about Whig generals.”

            I’m not seeing why pointing out they were terrorists won’t work. That is what they did- attacked civilian targets in order to effect political change. They are good terrorists and traitors is an argument that you can immediately highlight the hypocrisy of.

            As for the claim about the Whig generals, that is straight up insane. If he wanted to make an argument, he should have taken a look at military history first.

          12. dndnrsn

            I can’t really remember and it’s too late to check: doesn’t Moldbug basically take the position that whenever a Western government has lost a colonial or similar war, it was basically because elements in that government didn’t want to win?

            The “British lost America because Whigs wanted the rebels to win” thing, for instance. Doesn’t he extend that to a lot of other conflicts? Just the sort of “the left kept us from winning in ‘Nam” stepped up several degrees?

          13. Samuel Skinner

            He doesn’t blame the left; he blames the State Department.

            I’m not sure how much he generalizes to all conflicts; he doesn’t seem to talk about other countries history.

          14. Aegeus

            I’m getting curious now, how common is it for high schoolers to learn about the methodology of history (how to evaluate sources, proximate cause vs ultimate cause, and so on)? Because I did learn that in high school, and it makes it really hard for me to take seriously claims like “All high schoolers learn to do is repeat their teacher’s narratives unquestioningly.”

            Now granted, I went to a good high school and took AP courses and all that jazz, but it can’t be that rare. Any other APUSH or AP Euro types on here?

          15. sweeneyrod


            Analysing sources is very commonly taught in the UK, how frequently it’s learnt is another matter.

          16. Nornagest

            I took AP US History when I was in high school. Now, that was many moons ago, so some of the details might be foggy, but I do remember analytical methods being covered.

            How well is another question. I certainly did well on the exam without ever having to analyze anything particularly deeply, let alone creatively.

          17. jaimeastorga2000

            Now granted, I went to a good high school and took AP courses and all that jazz, but it can’t be that rare. Any other APUSH or AP Euro types on here?

            Took both. Euro opened with a brief overview of the difference between the great man theory of history and people’s history, and said we would cover history from the latter perspective. Both classes also included some primary sources, but only in the context of studying for the AP test, which includes a written response based on a selection of historical documents. People who have not taken these courses and are curious about the Document-Based Questions can look at the practice questions (Ctrl+F “Document 1”) and asses their worth as a method of teaching historical methodology.

            Other than that, both courses were simply lectures covering the material; no information on how the material was made.

          18. brad

            Re: the methodolgy of history in secondary school

            There’s some, but more focused on something like a well attested speech transcript from the 1930s, than a speech that was supposed to have been given by a certain ancient Greek politician, the oldest copy of which we have is in a somewhat damaged medieval manuscript which purports to be a copy of an older medieval manuscript which purports to be a copy of a book written by a roman antiquarian in the middle empire period.

            Granted you have to start somewhere, but when you get to college and encounter the historical principle that basically treats everything as a forgery until proven otherwise it a real shift in thinking.

        2. anonymous

          There seems to be a perception among STEM types that the humanities and social sciences are easy. They are, in a way: a computer programmer can write an essay that’s going to turn out better than a historian trying to code, but they’re probably going to step into a bunch of pitfalls that someone with historical scholarship experience wouldn’t.

          Right, pitfalls like drawing conclusions that contradict the word of the Party.

          Another of Moldbug’s points is that historians are basically intensely tribal – and their tribe isn’t dedicated to the truth – their tribe is dedicated to spreading the ideology of their tribe. Why would you even believe that historians are particularly good at writing about and understanding history? On a basic level, the pool of historians isn’t selected on the basis of writing good accurate history – it’s based on writing “history” that flatters progressive tribal sentiments. Once they become historians, there’s no selective pressure towards truth either – just on publishing. We all see what the results of this in social psychology are – there’s no reason to expect non-experimental disciplines to be any better.

          The main item that you should get out of Moldbug’s use of primary sources is that they are written demonstrations that not everyone thinks like a 20th / 21st century progressive – there are other coherent ways to view the world. More than an explicit ideology progressivism is a set of unquestioned beliefs that the adherents don’t even think of as beliefs – once you realized that other don’t share them you can see them for the first time. Seeing those unquestioned beliefs is distinctly weird because they’re not particularly well reasoned beliefs nor do they correspond to reality.

          1. dndnrsn

            Oh, come on. Historians don’t all agree in lockstep, far from it. I’ve heard and read plenty of heterodox opinions.

            And it’s not like “not everyone thinks like a 20th/21st century progressive” is some kind of secret. It’s not like they hide the primary sources in a secret cupboard somewhere. You don’t get to PhD level in the area of the history of the revolutionary war without reading sources like the ones he uses in the Gentle Intro. Ditto the Civil War, etc.

            The idea that historians are all part of The General Synod or whatever and are keeping the truth hidden and some computer programmer has found it through nothing more than Google Books is very silly.

            There are plenty of revisionist historians who are at home in academia. There are plenty of historians who the sort of people who want to no-platform Yarvin wouldn’t like: there are plenty of crusty old white guys who don’t Check Their Privilege, and so on.

          2. dndnrsn

            Also, specifically talking about Moldbug’s approach to the American Revolution:

            Showing up in a university history department with his approach (3 primary sources, 3 secondary sources of which only one is remotely recent, all supporting one side of the argument) wouldn’t get you disappeared in the night for thoughtcrime or whatever. It would get you a C+.

            If, on the other hand, you showed up with a heavily revisionist argument on the American revolution focusing on Loyalist primary sources that nevertheless engaged with the various different positions in the secondary literature, etc etc … you could ride that to a PhD dissertation, get some controversy going, maybe write a bestseller if you were lucky.

            Moldbug’s idea that historians are all part of a tribe that has decided upon one set of unquestioned beliefs and rigidly enforces them is the kind of idea someone who didn’t really have much contact with serious historical scholarship would have. Trying to get historians to agree on one thing and do more than snipe at each other in bitchy book reviews in obscure publications is like herding cats.

            Is there a bias towards certain varieties of left-wing thought in academia? Yes, there is. There are some positions that could be taken more strongly. There are some orthodoxies that could be questioned more forcefully. But this doesn’t change the fact that the methods of historical inquiry Moldbug employs are – for instance, in the second part of the Gentle Intro – really, really bad.

          3. The Nybbler

            I thought the new orthodoxy among Serious Scholars was that the American colonists were unjustified in their revolt against Britain.

          4. Samuel Skinner

            It depends on how you define it. By what was reasonable for the colonists? By the actual motivations of the participants?

          5. dndnrsn

            @The Nybbler:

            Exactly. Historians tend to change what’s cool every so often. This isn’t the behaviour of a cabal of hacks making sure they’re in good with The Party.

            To be mean, it’s more the behaviour of a cabal of hacks who need to come up with something marginally novel so they can get their dissertation published and get a nice job somewhere.

      3. FacelessCraven

        From the above:

        “Almost as if to prove their point, a list was created of all of the signers of this letter (and other notable “SJWs”) with the overt intention of “outing” (a lists of aliases is included), naming & shaming, and denying these individuals professional opportunities (while also including a nice bit of plausible deniability by saying that this list is also a resource for those who might wish to hire them. Sure.). This list also has the less explicitly stated purpose of intimidation by providing “enough information on the SJW that he/she/it should be identifiable enough for a prospective employer/friend/spouse to identify them” (while specifically prohibiting doxxing because, of course, that’s illegal).”

        followed by:

        “Furthermore , for those supporting “free speech” itself as part of this argument —

        SCOTUS has recognized limitations on the first amendment.

        The right to say something doesn’t obligate others to listen.

        Asserting that a technologist’s politics are able to be wholly divorced from their work is a privilege fairly unique to our industry (and we should question the truth of that assertion).

        An individual requesting entry to a space does not require giving them a space at the cost of other professionals feeling welcomed and comfortable.”

        That list looks better by the day.

      4. Orphan Wilde

        This reads like somebody who went looking for stuff to disagree with so he could take the “correct” side.

      5. ThirteenthLetter

        “Some of the things Yarvin frames as true are so inflammatory that it is irresponsible to present them to a general audience without the training and tools to evaluate them.”

        And if he was giving a talk at HistoryConf instead of LambdaConf, that would mean something.

        Many of the “he’s not that bad” defenses of Yarvin’s writing miss the point a bit, even if they are accurate. He could believe that the moon is made of green cheese for all it should make any difference to whether or not a talk by him on a completely different area of interest would be useful.

  26. Anonymous

    I figure the best place to post this is a psychiatrist’s blog:

    I’m going through a rough patch in life and someone suggested I should talk to a therapist. The thing is, I know what’s bothering me and I know what needs to change in my life in order for me to (more than likely) feel better. And I’m trying to change these things. It’s just that each day that goes by it seems that goal becomes less and less achievable. And there will definitely come a point where I feel that I’ve failed; whether that’s tomorrow or 10 years from now I don’t know. I think my life would be unbearable at that point.

    I’m not sure talking to someone will make me feel better. Should I inquire about anti-depressive drugs? It seems kind of unscrupulous to do something like that. I have a hang up about taking mind altering substances; it feels like cheating.

    What should I do?

      1. A Different Anonymous

        It’s frustrating that I can’t go to this depression screening test without getting big red text telling me to call the suicide hotline. It’s frustrating that I can’t openly complain about this because if I do people will just tell me to call the suicide hotline. They’re covering their own asses but it’s just driving me further into a corner.

        1. Deiseach

          Yeah, that’s the trouble when discussing depression; any mention of “I’d like to be dead” does have them hitting the panic button, and you can quite understand why they do it (because if somebody does top themselves after talking to a therapist/counsellor/doctor, that therapist is going to get it in the neck about “why didn’t you do something?”), but it’s a real pain in the eye when you have to reassure them “No, I don’t mean I’m going to kill myself right now or indeed any time soon” and they still ring up your doctor to warn them you’re likely to do something stupid 🙂

          It makes it harder to discuss your problems when you have to be constantly self-censoring in case you trigger the alarms.

    1. Dr Dealgood

      I was in a similar situation a few years ago and my advice is to absolutely seek out therapy and antidepressants.

      Ultimately you do have to work on the underlying issues the way that you want to, but that is far easier when you have a clearer head. Learning tricks to shut down depressed / anxious thoughts in therapy and using drugs to cover the rest leaves you free to devote your energy to your goals.

      As for whether or not it’s cheating, that’s a definite no. This isn’t any different from taking cold medicine if you come down with something, or painkillers after an injury. A mental illness is no less physical than any other illness is by virtue of it affecting the brain. Treating a damaged tissue is never unethical.

    2. Frog Do

      If you think you need help, you’re probably right, and should go get help. A professional opinion is probably a good thing to have when you’re thinking about making a decision.

    3. Creutzer

      I have a hang up about taking mind altering substances; it feels like cheating.

      Being happy is not a competition, so what does cheating even mean? I think this is an attitude that is not useful and has the potential of harming you, so you should try to get rid of it.

        1. Anonymoose

          If the symptoms are preventing you from treating the underlying problem, then treating them first is a rational first step towards solving the underlying problem.

        2. Peter

          Symptomatic relief is great. Symptomatic relief is fine. I’ve dosed myself with two different forms of symptomatic relief (one for an anxiety disorder, one for the common cold) this morning and have[1] no qualms about it.

          Yeah, sure, if there’s an instant, sure-fire way of completely fixing the underlying problems right away, then sure, go exclusively for that. Otherwise, consider adding some symptomatic relief to the mix.

          When some actually gets cut, we don’t say, “oh, no, don’t put a sticking plaster on it, that’s just a sticking plaster”, you stick a sticking plaster on. Maybe also you learn to be more careful with knives or whatever, but you can learn to be more careful with knives and get a sticking plaster as well!

          [1] Currently. My teenage self would disagree.

    4. Nornagest

      It seems kind of unscrupulous to do something like that. I have a hang up about taking mind altering substances; it feels like cheating.

      You are not cheating. You are not betraying the “real you”. There is no real you to betray, and there is no set of rules under which you are cheating (well, there are laws, but you’re probably good there).

      1. Zorgon

        There is no real you to betray

        Man, I suddenly feel the need to get that on a T-shirt (possibly along with “Nothing is ‘mere'”).

  27. Larry Kestenbaum

    It’s kind of a truism that as acute diseases and hazards come under control, more subtle threats to health become matters of concern. As mortality from other causes has receded, and people live longer, things like carcinogens have gotten a lot more attention.

    Gradually, people make choices to reduce their perceived health risks, those new choices eventually become prevalent, and the old choices become unthinkable.

    Currently, we are seeing shifts away from smoking, trans fats, drunk driving, unprotected anal sex with strangers, and walking through tick-infested meadows with bare ankles, among other things.

    Over time, as the limits of acceptable risk are dialed down, some past practices come to be seen as ridiculously dangerous.

    Consider watches with radium dials. Or driving without seat belts or air bags, in a car that belches lead into the air. Or routine use of unshielded x-rays in shoe stores. Or swimming downstream of raw sewage outfalls. Or building an auditorium without ample fire exits, or an ocean liner without many lifeboats. Or lighting rooms by burning deadly coal gas.

    My point is that this process is not over.

    It’s not just that scientific understanding of health hazards is bound to increase, though it will. And it’s not just that people will continue to grow more risk-averse, though they will.

    It’s that people are living steadily longer, giving long-acting hazards more time to develop. And the more we control the mechanisms that age the body, the more subject we will be to morbidity and mortality from as-yet-unknown hazards and pathogens.

    The healthier we get, the more health threats we will discover!

    Most assuredly, a lot of seemingly innocuous things we commonly do today will be seen as foolishly dangerous in 50 years’ time.

    Any speculation on what those things might be?

    1. Dr Dealgood

      Supposedly wearing a helmet while driving reduces your risk of injury in a car accident. If advocates manage to push through legislation we could see the same shift as with mandatory seatbelts and motorcycle helmets.

      Another source might be crime avoidance. Just like it used to be a sign of distrust or paranoia to lock your doors but now not locking them is considered foolhardy and naive, we might see not living in a gated community or otherwise having what we would now consider elaborate security measures as being unacceptably risky. Depending on how the gun control debate shakes out that might include more widespread acceptance of concealed or even open carry.

      (Let’s put aside for now whether crime is or isn’t actually a risk for ordinary people. The important thing here is perceived risk and everyone agrees that people are increasingly worried about becoming the victims of crime.)

      1. Hernan Guerra

        Another source might be crime avoidance

        There are already walking / biking / driving direction apps that include a crowd-sourced “sketch factor” of each point into the route selection algorithm, so that if you are moving around in a new city, you don’t go through a bad neighborhood or bad intersection that the locals know to avoid. Of course, the usual suspects have hyperbolically shrieked that this is another kind of “red lining”. Eventually the mobile OS vendors are just going to add this as an invisible feature to the mainstream directional apps.

        1. Dr Dealgood

          There are already walking / biking / driving direction apps that include a crowd-sourced “sketch factor” of each point into the route selection algorithm, so that if you are moving around in a new city, you don’t go through a bad neighborhood or bad intersection that the locals know to avoid.

          Can you name a specific app?

          I could have used that the last time I was in Baltimore, I ended up walking this poor girl through a half mile of one of the worse neighborhoods there at midnight. In the city I know which areas to avoid but it’s not so easy traveling.

          1. ThirteenthLetter

            There was such an app on iOS, briefly, a few years ago. It was accused of racism and instantly removed.

      2. Larry Kestenbaum

        Another source might be crime avoidance. Just like it used to be a sign of distrust or paranoia to lock your doors but now not locking them is considered foolhardy and naive, we might see not living in a gated community or otherwise having what we would now consider elaborate security measures as being unacceptably risky.

        Most of us have lived our lives in the shadow of the crime wave of the 1960s through 1990s, and the paranoia about crime it engendered. At long last, I see growing awareness that the streets are safer now. I remember when many middle-class suburbanites regarded the NYC subways as acutely dangerous; it’s been a long time since I heard anyone say that.

        And yeah, I always lock my car (and I remember the insurance company commercials of the 1960s with the vehement message “LOCK your car. TAKE your keys.”), but lately I notice a lot of cars parked, even in urban settings, with windows open. That used to be unthinkable.

        As for auto safety, I’m not worried about helmets being required inside cars. I expect the rise of self-driving cars, their widespread adoption, a sharp decline in auto accidents, and eventually strict rules on (or against) human driving. I predict that people in the future will look back on our era with horror that all of our cars were perilously human-operated.

        1. LHN

          While I don’t do it, there was a period when I was tempted to park my car with the windows open because the window had been smashed three times. Two of the incidents within weeks of each other, I suspect by the same person. (He’d gotten lucky finding some money the first time around and presumably thought that if I had been naive enough to do that once, I might be dumb enough to restock for him.)

          Granted, this was in Chicago, which hasn’t experienced as thorough a crime drop as e.g., New York has, and some years back.

        2. LHN

          I was still wondering what kick they got driving an obsolete machine on flat concrete when they could be up here with us. They were off, weaving slightly, weaving more than slightly, foolishly moving at different speeds, coming perilously close to each other before sheering off — and I began to realize things.

          Those automobiles had no radar.

          They were being steered with a cabin wheel geared directly to four ground wheels. A mistake in steering and they’d crash into each other or into the concrete curbs. They were steered and stopped by muscle power, but whether they could turn or stop depended on how hard four rubber balloons could grip smooth concrete. If the tires loosed their grip, Newton’s First Law would take over; the fragile metal mass would continue moving in a straight line until stopped by a concrete curb or another groundcar.

          “A man could get killed in one of those.”

          “Not to worry,” said Elephant. “Nobody does, usually.”


          –Larry Niven, “Flatlander”

          Niven also had “Safe at any Speed”, where a driver in a world of near-perfect safety recounts his shocked tale that it was even possible for his vehicle to fail, despite his being in a an impossible to anticipate freak accident on a frontier world. (The car is swallowed by a giant native bird.)

          He’s fine– the safety features protect him until he can be rescued. And at the end, he reassures the skittish reader that the manufacturer has made sure that particular accident can never happen again.

          1. LHN

            I had a bad moment fearing I’d missed something (which happens), but it looks like Niven’s still alive at age 77 as of this writing.

    2. Anatoly

      American football may be entering this process right now (the surge in awareness and press coverage about head trauma).

      Strenuous exercise that may screw up your muscles/joints, e.g. maybe people running marathons will be perceived in 50 years as people running ultramarathons now.

      Driving a car, once self-driving cars become the default.

      Having your child outside home unsupervised is going there fast (with some recent pushback e.g. FreeRangeKids, though so far the pushback is slight)

      Drinking very sugary things.

      1. Psmith

        people running marathons will be perceived in 50 years as people running ultramarathons now.

        Maybe a little daffy but praiseworthy and impressive overall?

        Anyway, boxing is certainly on its way out as a mass sport, to continue the head trauma theme. For a more off-the-wall suggestion, sleep medications and benzos.

        (This is a grim topic. I reckon a good deal too much has been given up to begin with, and it is all too easy to imagine that the future will be no fun: http://thezman.com/wordpress/?p=6993, http://thezman.com/wordpress/?p=3113. Substantive proposals for escaping this trend, besides total collapse, are welcome.).

        1. Vox Imperatoris

          “In the future, everything will be safe and healthy” is not much of a dystopia to me.

          Oh no! Nothing but comfortable, bourgeois existence!

          I am opposed to giving the government the power to nanny people because it doesn’t work well, wastes money, and with that power it can do more dangerous things. But if that were all they did with it, and it worked, then I wouldn’t see the problem.

          I prefer the capitalist “dystopia” where the health insurance company monitors your weight.

          1. Larry Kestenbaum

            “In the future, everything will be safe and healthy” is not much of a dystopia to me.

            Nor me. But you could also say that, “In the future, all kinds of common everyday things will be seen as acutely dangerous.”

        2. TD

          A society where people aren’t allowed to hurt and destroy themselves if it is their wish, isn’t a society I want to be part of. I think the ability to do so is what separates being a citizen from being a ward of the collective (whether that’s a socialist collective, or a collective of shareholders and interlocking corporations).

          I like the fact that people are allowed to take part in sports that cause brain damage, imbibe substances that kill braincells, and balloon up to hundreds of kilos in weight without anyone being able to stop them. I wonder if this makes my value system “evil”.

          1. Vox Imperatoris

            Well, I think you’re wrapping a bunch of issues here up into one big bundle:

            a) Is rational suicide ever justified / should it be allowed? I think yes.

            b) Should people be allowed to act in ways that don’t produce the maximum possible “profit” for the state / business interests, or should they be made to toil 16 hours a day? Yes, people should be allowed to pursue their own interests. It would be terrible if everyone were forced to be a maximally productive citizen.

            These two points seem to be what it means to be “enslaved to the collective”.

            c) Does the pursuit of happiness trade off against the pursuit of absolute safety/health? I also think yes.

            d) Do people often make choices that are contrary to their own best interests? Also yes.

            If everyone really would be miserable because they can’t smoke or ride their motorcycles without helmets, then I agree that would be bad. What I am disputing is whether they really would be. It rather seems to be that they overvalue the benefits and undervalue the costs of these things.

            Now, am I actually in favor of government banning these things? No. As I said, I think they will abuse it.

            Government usually actually makes it worse by creating moral hazard. If you give everyone universal healthcare, then you remove part of the incentive to control health risks. And then you try to add it back in by banning large sodas or something.

            A more rational policy is not to create moral hazard in the first place by havingprivate insurance that charges premiums based on actuarial calculations. If you’re obese and willing to pay the cost of being obese, fine. That doesn’t necessarily make it in your own best interest. But in practice, individuals can be trusted to determine their own best interests a lot better than some external agency can.

          2. Larry Kestenbaum

            A society where people aren’t allowed to hurt and destroy themselves if it is their wish, isn’t a society I want to be part of…. I like the fact that people are allowed to take part in sports that cause brain damage, imbibe substances that kill braincells, and balloon up to hundreds of kilos in weight without anyone being able to stop them. I wonder if this makes my value system “evil”.

            My point is orthogonal to this. I’m not talking about any kind of prohibition, rather, the cultural change that makes a formerly common practice just unthinkable, due to a combination of greater awareness and greater risk aversion.

            For example, I wasn’t kidding about swimming near raw sewage outfalls. A close friend of mine, now 90 years old, was an avid summertime swimmer in Eastchester Creek, Bronx, in the 1930s. So were all of his friends. He tells of all kinds of amusing sewage debris they would encounter in the water. When he got home, his mother made him take a bath because he stank.

            We’re completely free to do that today, but we don’t. Swimming in polluted water is not something anybody would do for fun.

          3. Nancy Lebovitz

            Another risk is that the powers that be are simply wrong about what is dangerous and what isn’t. Look at the recent shift about whether it’s safe to eat much fat, and what kinds of fat are good for people.

        3. Psmith

          Kestenbaum gets it.

          The other thing to remember here is that increasing risk aversion has potential consequences more momentous than duller Saturdays. In this context, I’m thinking of things like reluctance to innovate, or strike out on one’s own, or deviate from organizational scripts. (Harold Lee brings this up every so often at The Future Primeval. See for instance http://thefutureprimaeval.net/the-pensioner-and-the-aristocrat/ or http://thefutureprimaeval.net/the-obedient-rebel/.).

      1. Landshill

        And wasteful. Depending on how good this becomes, it may be a key substitute for lots of material input that the malthusians think necessary for economic growth.

      2. Vox Imperatoris

        Yeah, I think people would have remote-control robot bodies as soon as it became reasonably practicable.

      3. Wrong Species

        It’s unnerving to realize that the future of humanity will be contained entirely in virtual reality.

        1. BBA

          The anime Fractale describes such a society, but I don’t recommend it. A decent concept poorly executed, like so many of its director’s other works.

          1. lvlln

            IIRC, Fractale wasn’t so much about virtual reality as augmented reality. And agreed in that no one should ever be subjected to that filth. A much better anime that explores a future full of augmented reality is Dennou Coil. Which I think got licensed for US release recently.

  28. Zorgon

    Just wanted to say that I would not be particularly averse to a no-ants-on-the-Open-Thread rule. My bonobo matter won’t let the thing go and even my feet are getting splinters from this soapbox.

    1. Vox Imperatoris

      I would definitely appreciate such a rule.

      I thought the whole thing was pointless and stupid the first time I heard about it, and I couldn’t imagine why anyone would spend more than five minutes talking about any element of it.

      I still feel exactly the same way.

    2. birdboy2000

      I’m strongly pro-ant but I’m still not entirely opposed to such a rule; I get sucked into arguments longer than are good for me.

      OTOH, ant-adjacent topics get brought up enough anyway, and there are few places on the internet actually allowing a frank discussion of the subject instead of going full purge, so mixed feelings.

    3. Zorgon

      I’m anti-anti, but I feel we might well be nearing Interminable Argument status at this point.

    4. Scott Alexander Post author

      All right, it is done. I have banned the terms “Gamergate”, “Sarkeesian”, “Quinn”, and a few others. Anybody who can manage to discuss it without those terms will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

        1. EyeballFrog

          And also rather unnecessary. Though her actions were what sparked the event, she pretty quickly faded into the background. She’s the Gavrilo Princip of the whole thing.

          I guess talk about her did make a comeback when Eron started fighting his gag order, but that was centered on him much more than her.

          1. The Nybbler

            Indeed, this is actually borne out by the Google Search Trends, which show searches for the full name of the Q-word (aka LW1) spiking 1 month before the name of the ant movement did. LW2 (the critic) spikes at the same time as the name of the movement.

          2. Vorkon

            Heh. It would be really amusing if the term “LW” was banned around here. :op

            (Seriously, though, I wouldn’t complain ONE BIT about banning “LW[number]”, and I’m generally against all of the random word-banning. Seriously, the whole “Literally Who” thing is one of the dumbest things to come out of the ant side in that entire controversy, and that controversy produced a lot of dumb things. You don’t convince people you don’t care about someone by coming up with funky nicknames so you can talk about them more! It doesn’t matter how dismissive those nicknames might be!)

          3. Nornagest

            I may regret asking this, but what does “LW[number]” mean in this context? Presumably “Literally Who”, but what does that mean, and what’s the deal with the numbers?

          4. Whatever Happened To Anonymous

            Literally Who 1 = So E! Queen

            Literally Who 2 = Anteater Shark Easy Ann

          5. EyeballFrog

            @Vorkon Actually the LW thing was really for a similar reason as Scott filtering those new reactive guys. The LWs (2 and especially 3 moreso than 1) basically fished for people to talk about them so they could quote mine, so terms were created to make mentions of them without turning up in simple searches.

        1. Scott Alexander Post author

          I’m experimenting with whether adding extra trivial inconvenience to talking about things, and defusing the specific words that tend to get people excited, is a softer and less oppressive way of preventing these kinds of things than banning them outright. So far seems to have worked pretty well with n r x.

          1. Frog Do

            Adding a cost to outsiders is a good way to get them to join the group, isn’t it? Lurk moar as pro-community norm.

          2. Jiro

            It’s a bug. Look at the comment above at https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/04/11/ot47-openai/#comment-346202 which mentions the “alti-right” not liking Jews and Asians.

            Applied to the particular alt-right group who we are not permitted to name (but who is listed in the Wikipedia article as a group that is considered by some to be in the alt-right), this is a false implication. But because we’re not allowed to name the group, it’s not easy to tell if he actually is blaming the group for not liking Jews and Asians and just using a substitute for the name, if he is improperly generalizing, or if he didn’t mean to refer to the group at all and really means other groups of the alt-right.

            Imagine that we weren’t permitted to say the word “Jews” here and everyone talked about “minority religions”. You’d never know when people really did just mean minority religions, or at least, clarity would go way down because clarity had become a trivial inconvenience.

          3. Vorkon

            @Frog Do

            It might be a good way to get newcomers more deeply invested in a community once they find it, but it’s a terrible way to get outsiders into a community in the first place.

          4. Watercressed

            That’s probably a bug, but the particular feature I was thinking of was “if people don’t know what you’re talking about, they can’t get excited about it”

          5. Dan T.

            I think such rules definitely do contribute to making this site less accessible to outsiders, by increasing the prevalence of obscure jargon and all the in-jokes that have built around it, as well as creating tripwires and third-rails for the unwary to run into when they unknowingly write something that is taboo.

          6. suntzuanime

            Yeah the fact that your post just disappears without any warning or explanation when you trip over a landmine is a really big problem with the system. Especially if you’re going to make landmines out of reasonably common personal names and the like. And there’s no official explanation to a new commentor that these landmines even exist.

          7. Chalid

            There is a major polling outfit that begins with Quin which can now not be mentioned or even linked to.

        2. Cauê


          Though I assume it doesn’t mean “feel free to go on talking about worker ants”.

          For what it’s worth, I don’t mind it (mixed feelings for the same reasons as birdboy above), as long as it doesn’t create the common situation where random sniping is allowed but responses aren’t. But I don’t think that’s a serious risk here.

          (Edit: ninja’d by Scott. Sounds good to me)

          1. Jiro

            as long as it doesn’t create the common situation where random sniping is allowed but responses aren’t. But I don’t think that’s a serious risk here.

            It’s already happened. Someone below did a random snipe of “The most accurate view of polyamory is that it is the most rational possible way to arrange your reproductive life.” Nobody can seriously respond to it.

    5. EyeballFrog

      As an alternative, couldn’t you just hide the threads about it and move on with your life? If others want to discuss it, why is it any skin off your back?

      1. Vox Imperatoris

        If I’m checking the new comments, I have to click through them. And sometimes it’s hundreds of comments.

        It’s also opportunity cost. It motivates at least some people who would otherwise talk about more interesting things to rehash all that stuff again.

        1. Anonymous

          As a note, when there’s more than 20-ish comments I prefer to start at the top of the thread and press spacebar quickly while looking for green instead of clicking.

          Doesn’t invalidate your point and maybe you’re doing it already, but thought I’d brag about my superior methods anyway.

          1. Vox Imperatoris

            If you want to do it that way, the superior method is going “ctrl-F” and searching “~new~”.

          2. David Friedman


            Note that by giving the information in the form you did, you guaranteed that every time I went through the comment thread looking for new comments I would also find your old one.

          3. Edward Scizorhands

            This happens every time this thread comes up.

            A: How do I search for new?
            B: Control-F “∾new∾”
            C: Now everyone will get caught in it!
            B: Oops!

            There is a way around it, though: I stuffed a unicode looks-like-tilde-but-not-tilde thing in there. Here are some more for your cut-and-paste pleasure: ⁓ ∾ ∼ ˷

      2. Scott Alexander Post author

        I would be interested in a functionality sort of like the one on https://www.reddit.com/r/worldnews/ that lets you press a button to hide Israel/Palestine threads, if someone wants to make that for me. Contact me at scott [at] shireroth [dot] org if you’re interested.

        1. EyeballFrog

          Does this work through a system of tagging threads with their subject matter, then allowing users to hide certain tags? If so, I think this would be generally useful. There’s probably a lot of topics that come up periodically that aren’t of interest to everyone. AI risk comes to mind for me.

    6. Murphy

      I’d actually successfully avoided it online up until this thread. The discussion just seems like a window into a weird conflict where both sides seem utterly unlikable.

  29. FacelessCraven

    This is the third thread in a row people have been talking about video games, without anyone mentioning the ones they’ve enjoyed recently. This is problematic.

    Anyone playing Factorio?

    1. Zorgon

      I hate to admit it but I’m kind of… disliking Factorio. It should totally be my jam but something is putting me off and I don’t really know what, which in itself bothers me. I’ll figure it out eventually.

      I’ve instead been finding myself swaying back to my various survival crafting games. 7 Days To Die and ARK remain the flavours of the month, although the new fleet mechanics in StarMade made me glance in that direction again (but my machine remains unable to actually run the thing at any speed).

      Oh, and I replayed Empire: Total War recently after a discussion about tall-ship combat with a friend. It’s actually really come on since release, much more solid and less buggy, as is usual for a TW game. Managed to turn Prussia into a democratic republic and take over most of Europe and still lost because I forgot to steamroll over Denmark.

      1. FacelessCraven

        Hmm. what were your spawn settings?

        I played a couple hours with some of my coworkers, and then started a solo game with water turned up a bit, resources turned down a bit, and enemies turned all the way up. It created a nightmare scenario of unrelentingly hostile bitey folk and precious few resources, and making it to launch was an awesome challenge. Now I just want to mod it. The game needs more and better monsters.

        I missed ARK when it first came out; heard a lot of good things about it, but was busy with tanks and warships at the time. Don’t think I’d heard of Starmade at all; I’ll check it out.

        1. Zorgon

          The game needs more and better monsters

          Don’t we all? 😉

          Still, I’ll try playing it that way. Thanks.

      2. Vox Imperatoris

        I want to get into the Total War games, but I have never gotten past the early stages of a campaign in any of them. It just turns into insufferable tedium. How do you keep from bogging down waiting for armies to reinforce, etc? Especially because half the battles are these horrible sieges that grind down endlessly because defenders can’t run.

        I love the period of Fall of the Samurai, or Empire/Napoleon, but I start to feel like I’m doing the same damn things over and over.

        1. Zorgon

          I’m a massive fan of Paradox-style Grand Strategy, so the build-up on the strategic map is my kind of thing anyway; the battle map encounters are just icing on the cake.

          If you like getting up-close-and-personal with this sort of thing, have you tried Mount & Blade: Warband? The Viking Conquest expansion more or less ate my life last December.

          1. Vox Imperatoris

            I have played an enormous amount of Mount & Blade, but it has the same problem that I only enjoy the early game when my army is small. The fun part is soloing groups of bandits. Battles where you just charge your mamelukes and watch, being too insignificant to affect the battle yourself, are not fun.

            And trying to conquer and hold territory is not fun at all. I’ve never gone past holding one city.

        2. Dice Without Rulers

          Different ideas of fun, I guess? I liked Total War games, especially Medieval II, to try and push the tactics and strategy as hard as possible (i.e. pushing your conquest without waiting for reinforcements). A good example of this is LegendofTotalWar on youtube and his 14?12? turn world conquest of Medieval II.

          For EU4/Paradox style grand strategy, I find it more fun to make weird goals. I just finished my first world conquest, but before I had been building up a huge single province or doing a “deny European colonizers any colonies” run.

          1. Vox Imperatoris

            I just don’t see how anyone can stand the repetitive sieges.

            Shogun 2 is even worse because the autoresolve is screwed up for them: it vastly underestimates the defensive quality of the castles, so if you manually fight assaults you lose tons of soldiers but if you autoresolve you lose like 3. And the reverse on defense, so you have to play out every crappy siege.

            I love EUIV and other Paradox games, but I also can’t stand playing a big empire in those. I like playing the Hansa. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever played any power but one of the little states in Germany or Ireland, except one time as Novgorod. Also, I’ve certainly never finished a campaign. 1600s is as far as I’ve gotten.

          2. Dice Without Rulers

            I guess for the sieges, I always enjoyed trying novel defense strategies, and got annoyed when the AI would basically stop attacking me once I got to a sufficient empire size. As for the repetitive attacks, I do get sort of bored with them, but enjoyed the challenge of trying to win with the leftover bits + mercenaries as I get progressively farther from my starting cities. It does get boring though, so I’ve only done the world conquest thing in Medieval II once.

            For EUIV, the 1600’s is honestly the slowest, most boring part of the game. Everyone is teching up to better castles but no one really has money or manpower or ideas (especially with all the reformation stuff) to get sufficiently strong generals and stacks to siege them down quickly. The 1700’s is where things really start to get rolling, with core cost and OE reductions plus more idea groups. If you can push through the slog of the 1600’s, it feels like a quick hop and skip to the end of the game. (I also watch DDRJake, so I’m slowly improving my game stretching abilities).

        3. Murphy

          I had some fun coop games with friends. Very much changed how the game felt.

          I was always mediocre on the battle maps but did very well with the economy management.

          My friend was the opposite. Struggled with the wider economy while being very good at battles.

          So we played as Administrator and general, swapping seats at the appropriate times. Me trying to provide the troops he needed to win, him trying to win the battles most important to the empire. We played on the highest difficultly and did surprisingly well.

          Completely changed the feel of the game and made it a lot more fun.

    2. Murphy

      Played the demo, enjoyed it but not enough to prompt a purchase.

      I dunno, it just feels sterile.

      I was hoping for an interesting world fighting against me, what I got was a few dozen dog-things which were turned to paste by my turrets before I realized they were there.

      1. FacelessCraven

        This comment has massively updated me in favor of playing FTB.

        …Still though, I think a lot of the fun in factorio comes from making basic automation easy, which makes complex automation a lot more engaging; the limiting factor is your ability to sort complex logistics, not your tolerance of fiddly build components. I never used redstone in minecraft because it seemed like more trouble than it was worth, and quit playing pretty quickly after I hit the Nether and realized there was nothing new to see (this was a while ago). It sounds like FTB is a lot better about providing motivation, but I’d miss my delicious belts and inserters.

        1. Anon

          This is precisely the case in FTB, at least in most modpacks. Early on you’re automating with hoppers and chests; shortly thereafter you’re using some sort of itemducts or golems; by endgame you’ve got an Applied Energistics crafting machine which can produce most items you ever use on demand.

        2. Jordan D.

          FTB is fantastic if you get the right mudpack, and especially fantastic if you can get a on a private server with friends. To illustrate how great this game is, a few examples of things which have happened with my friends and I:

          Starting with nothing but dirt, we’ve:*

          – Built a satellite plane in which solar-powered robotic factories endlessly assembled additional solar panels to convert sunlight into raw matter for a gigantic production facility.
          – Pacified Hell in order to drain it of magma for a gigantic geothermal generator.
          – Created a facility in the far future after entropy has consumed the universe in which specialized containment spheres use world-destroying magical fires to generate an endless quantity of cake so that cake-eating flowers can funnel life-force into a device which produces endless amounts of rare items from dreams.**
          – Built an immense computer bank to emulate other worlds in order to create stable portals to those digital realms via magic and harvest their endless resources.
          – Created a magitechnological facility and miles-long relays of mystic trees to generate an artificial nexus of ley lines and boost the ambient energy so that we could build especially cool things.
          – Built a series of artificial computer-controlled towns full of villagers in order to study the effects of releasing various genetically-enhanced monsters into the general population, and also as a practical food source for studying vampirism and lycanthropy.
          – Crafted an absurdly complex device which could craft virtually any item in the game, store it automatically in an interdimensional digital cloud and re-constitute them in your inventory by use of a special tablet.
          – Built a series of antimatter ICBMs with a dead-man’s switch to deter another player*** from deploying the mystic device they’d constructed which created one-way portals to any place in the universe and pumped out an arbitrary amount of lava.
          – Developed a mystical incantation which, if used by a mage of sufficient power and skill, annihilated all life in the world (although due to engine limitations this only applies to loaded chunks).
          – Built a vast automatic quarry system which would be deployed only in other worlds due to its tendency to consume continents.
          – Built a complex alchemical facility to convert the unwanted product of the quarry into desirable material.
          – Battled the hordes of encroaching darkness and rapid corruption of the world caused by a miscalculation in designing aforesaid facility.
          – Created a perfectly safe self-perpetuating nuclear engine!
          – Dealt with the literal fallout of discovering the above wasn’t entirely true.
          – Built a vast shadowy prison for our clever device which summoned eldritch horrors and automatically siphoned away their dark powers which were sent to us for safe and easy accumulation of evil energies.
          – Would you believe that somehow went wrong???
          – Pirate battles on airships!
          – You know what’d be really clever? An airship which dropped endless amounts of bombs!
          – Time to restart the world again.
          – Computerized mystic nexus of unfathomable power which controlled time in order to assure peak growing conditions for our prized flower garden.

          FTB minecraft might well be my favorite game in all the world.

          *Mostly my friends, to be honest, but I helped sometimes.
          **This one was all me and it was horrifying
          ***Also me

          1. FacelessCraven

            @Jordan D. – “Built a satellite plane in which solar-powered robotic factories endlessly assembled additional solar panels to convert sunlight into raw matter for a gigantic production facility.”

            …And that was enough to sell me completely. Everything after that point jost made me boggle and laugh uproariously.

            Sold. Sold, damn you, sold a hundred times!

    3. Eltargrim

      A thread on reddit pointed me towards Out There: Omega Edition as a fun way to kill time on my smartphone. I’m quite liking it so far, even more so as I bought it using credit from Google Play surveys.

      I’ve resolved to not spend any more money on games until I have completed (to credits, not 100%) at least 50% of the games I own. Currently I’m at 22.5%. Now if only I would stop playing Civ V and keep up with Bioshock D:

      1. God Damn John Jay

        I never really got into the first two Bioshock games, they felt like a clever plot bolted onto a really subpar shooter with a horrific difficulty curve.

        Infinite is different, because the shooting felt a little better and because having a character alongside you felt different– but I had a hard time seeing what the niche was for half of the weapons.

        1. Eltargrim

          I find that I’m enjoying the gunplay fairly well in Bioshock, though I’m missing the carbine from Infinite. I really enjoy the Research Camera mechanic, and I think I prefer the Tonics to the Gear, though they do fill similar roles.

          Part of why I’m playing Bioshock is due to its landmark status. I’m really impressed by the design of the early levels, and how they teach a lot of the mechanics quite intuitively. Yes, it’s a fairly obvious tutorial, but it feels organic, and lots of stuff that other games would spell out seem to flow naturally.

          But Civ V could just go on forever. One more turn all the way to sunrise!

    4. Vox Imperatoris

      I spent a couple of weekends playing Factorio just after it came out on Steam.

      It’s pretty fun; I really enjoyed it. But it’s hard for me to get into playing one game exclusively. I’ll probably come back to it once they add in some of the planned updates. I never got around to building a rocket.

      My only frustration was having to spend a lot of time acquiring new fields of resources in a repetitive and grindy way…and the combat is not that great. I hear they’re addressing both of those issues, though.

      It’s amazingly well-polished for early access, though. I appreciate that aspect of it.

      And I like the Robinson-Crusoe-in-space / colonizing new lands part of it. The whole “industrialization is awesome!” aesthetic, too. It would be interesting if they played that aspect of it up more. That’s what got me into it. Overall, I think it has a pretty good level of “atmosphere”, though.


      One game that doesn’t have any atmosphere is Endless Legend. I tried to get into playing it for the second time last weekend, and while I did manage to finish a game, it was boring as hell. Just completely lifeless. Like Civilization V but even more gamified so that there’s no immersion whatsoever. I can’t understand why people like it. I felt the same about Endless Space.

      I guess I should just…not buy those games, but I feel like I’m missing something.

      I don’t know why they can’t make another strategy game like Alpha Centauri.

      1. Aegeus

        Galactic Civilizations might have little more life in it. The setting is a sort of sci-fi Star Trek pastiche, and the different races all have different personalities, it’s got a colorful good-vs-evil morality system. And you can design your own spaceships, which is always nice.

        1. Vox Imperatoris

          I played a ton of GalCiv II back when it came out.

          I haven’t bought the third one. It seems just like a rehash. But maybe I will at some point.

          1. Forlorn Hopes

            I’d suggest waiting. From what I understand III is less full featured than II but has better underlying tech that gives it way more potential to exceed II once the expansions start coming out.

      2. Forlorn Hopes

        I felt that Endless Legend had plenty of atmosphere, the lore was – I felt – stretched a little thin and the quests were rather unsatisfying. But the visuals and race design had great atmosphere.

        It was the gameplay that was the real issue, quickly turning into a big wait-a-thon. I’m hoping for Stelleris to finally fix the mid and endgame bordeom of 4x.

        1. Vox Imperatoris

          Oh, the visuals were great. But what I’m talking about is that felt no sense of immersion of really being the leader of my empire. It just felt like “click and watch numbers go up”; it’s the Civ V phenomenon. The gameplay was pretty dull, too, especially as I went for a science victory.

          I’m definitely looking forward to Stellaris.

          1. Forlorn Hopes

            I’m jealous. I’d like to make a 4X; I have some ideas I’ve never seen done that I’d quite like to try.

        2. Randy M

          It’s hard to make a science victory that isn’t dull in 4x-ers. Playing against multiple ai’s, you have to specialize to win, which means neglecting your military. So after the initial land-grab, it comes down to clicking next and hoping you aren’t attacked.

          I like Endless Legend, in fact was going to recommend it here just now. The races are distinct, setting fairly unique. Something about the graphics seems strange to me, it’s a bit bright and jarring at the level of zoom that obscures the details, I think. It’s also the first game with espionage I though was enjoyable, at least with the civ built around it.
          I can see how the game would get tedious after awhile, but playing each civ through to a victory was fun, and I’ll probably come back to it after awhile.

    5. Nero tol Scaeva

      Well. This might come as a surprise to people, but I’ve been playing Final Fantasy XIV a lot recently…

      1. Jordan D.

        What are your opinions on the last few months of content?

        I was very disappointed in the initial raid content after Heavensward. The expansion had some really cool fights in the main story quests, but I found the Alexander bosses to be unimaginative and obnoxious drag-fests. I stopped playing after the first patch (even though I loved Void Ark), but I’ve heard good things about the second round of Alexander.

    6. Aegeus

      I played it a while back and really liked it. It’s basically an ever-expanding puzzle. Figure out how to mine iron and copper. Figure out how to smelt them automatically. Figure out how to power it all by electricity. Figure out how to turn that iron and copper into finished goods. Now double the size of your factory because the next tier of research is taking too long. Now protect it all with a turret network.

      My main complaint is the slow start – you’ll need to spend a lot of time running around between fields of ore before you can build enough conveyor belts to put it all together into a production line.

      In other news, I just finished XCOM 2, and I really enjoyed it. It’s extremely tense – I kept feeling like I was going to lose, even though I was steadily making progress. I kept losing soldiers, the Avatar counter kept ticking down, there was never enough supplies for everything, and every new enemy had some special ability that was really awful to deal with. Sectoids can mind control from the get-go, Stun Lancers can sprint across the map and zap your guys unconscious, Codexes make a mockery of cover, and later aliens are just incredibly tough. It’s a very satisfying challenge.

      1. Forlorn Hopes

        XCOM 2 was a nice challenge at the start, but once I understood how the systems fit together I was winning on commander ironman with 3 soldier deaths total.

        I’m waiting for some serious changes via modding then I’ll go back.

        1. Vox Imperatoris

          The only thing I dislike about it is, as many people have pointed out, it relies almost completely on the “alpha strike” idea. If you’re allowing the enemy pods to take any actions (rather than killing them on the first turn of engagement), you’re messing up.

          (Xenonauts is better in that respect, but it gets way too repetitive.)

          I did find it very fun, though. I finished Commander Ironman and then started a game of Legendary Ironman, but I got bored with the latter one and quit. Maybe I’ll pick it up again at some point, but I’ve never been one for playing these kinds of games over and over.

    7. Forlorn Hopes

      I haven’t been feeling that well recently so I’ve been playing light simple games. Mostly English Country Tune.

    8. suntzuanime

      I’ve been spending my gaming time on Magic: the Gathering Online recently, which maybe sort of qualifies as a videogame? They’re doing a thing where they rotate in a different classic draft format every week, which means there’s never time to get bored. (Ok, maybe with Coldsnap.)

      1. FacelessCraven

        I dipped pretty heavily into cockatrice as a way of playing with a friend across the country. Combined with a skype call, it feels a lot more like actually playing magic than any of the automated versions I’ve seen.

    9. bluto

      I was a backer of Grim Dawn back when it kickstarted, played it through a few times and set it aside, until I picked it back up again upon release. I’ve really been enjoying it. It’s sort of a steampunky take on ARPGs made by most of the dev team that did Torchlight.

      1. Leit

        Oh my, yes. Wasn’t expecting much of it, to be honest, but it did surprise me.

        Loved the “collect the secrets/beat x challenges” aspect, but the fact that they meant the dev team went with preset rather than procedural levels really hurts the replayability.

    10. birdboy2000

      1500+ hours later, I still can’t pull away from Europa Universalis 4. Unless it’s to be sucked into the Pokemon Trading Card Game Online, but since that’s a TCG and not really a video game I’m not sure if it counts.

      1. Dice Without Rulers

        I wonder how overrepresented EU4 fans are in the rationalist community?

        Currently taking a break from EU4 after finishing my first (albeit non-iron man) WC as the orthodox, HRE turks. Keeping all the truce timers, AE, and OE balanced is draining. I’m sure I’ll come up with something interesting and dive into Mare Nostrum. Maybe an Asian country…

      2. Randy M

        Speaking of ARPG’s, I’m enjoying Path of Exile right now. Pretty neat, and free. I don’t have too much experience with the genre to compare; I hear it’s a lot like Diablo but the skill system is unique.

        1. FacelessCraven

          I’ve burned a fair amount of time on that; I cycle long orbits between it, World of Tanks/Warships and my general steam library. It did a much better job of recapturing the feel of Diablo than Diablo 3 did. I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit.

    11. John Schilling

      After spending a year with absolutely no video and/or computer games (unless you count the XCOR Lynx flight simulator, which I can’t really count as training and it was just the one evening…), I’ve been sucked back in to Crusader Kings II by promising reports of the latest updates. There are still some things missing, and probably always will be, but it is addictively good.

      I am not certain, based on a single incomplete campaign, whether it is too easy, or I am too good, or I just got lucky. Attempting to set myself up as a literal Crusader King, starting with two counties in Sicily in 1066 and playing quasi-ironman on “hard”, I find myself in 1106 about to officially found the Empire of the Middle Sea (Sicily, Africa, and Jerusalem), possibly vassalize France, and make the Byzantine Empire a junior member of my dynasty. It is unlikely that managing the resulting Empire will hold my interest through 1453, and if every new campaign plays out in a similar manner I expect I would get bored after three or four tries.

      Which might be a good thing, all told. It is as I say addictively good…

      1. suntzuanime

        I think it’s suffering from bloat – every new DLC is adding more options, every option can be exploited by a canny player, and the overall difficulty hasn’t been rebalanced to account for this. It’s still a great underlying game though.

        1. Vox Imperatoris

          It was always a very easy game.

          It’s like Dwarf Fortress: hard to learn, but easy to survive if you have a clue of what you’re doing.

          It’s very difficult to really lose a game of CKII.

          I haven’t played in a while, but they have added in some EUIV-style expansion-limiting features, like aggressive expansion penalties. Which have been rather unpopular, as I understand.

          1. John Schilling

            they have added in some EUIV-style expansion-limiting features, like aggressive expansion penalties. Which have been rather unpopular, as I understand.

            That’s one of the non-fake difficulties I appreciate. As an almost-Emperor, it would be too easy if I could pick off every independent county, duchy, or weak kingdom I could find casus belli for one at a time. Now I’m faced with explicit defensive alliances on every front I have to deal with one way or another.

          2. Vox Imperatoris

            I like that sort of thing, too. I don’t enjoy painting the damn map with no resistance.

            What I dislike ultimately is the tediousness of controlling too much stuff. Once my empire gets too big, I have to start a new one. Never even got close to finishing one of those games.

          3. Rob K

            I’ve just finished a first long playthrough, so not super-experienced, but if it seems too easy after another game or two I figure I’ll just make it harder for myself by, say, trying to go heretic and overthrow the pope or something like that. Seems like there are a decent number of challenges you could create for yourself to push the difficulty up from just “create an empire and avoid terrible succession crises.”

          4. John Schilling

            I had figured that ruling a newborn Kingdom of Jerusalem surrounded by pissed-off Muslims and with indifferent support from the rest of Christendom would be adequately challenging. Certainly was for several historic Baldwins. As noted, some of my Christian allies have been more supportive than I would have expected and I’m not sure if that was a fluke. Or, hopefully, there are challenging surprises to come.

        2. John Schilling

          Perhaps, but my victories mostly haven’t come through exploiting new capabilities – except for the ability to found custom empires, which is useful. Mostly, the new content means new (non-fake, thus appreciated) challenges. But some of the old challenges seem to be less challenging; in particular, it seems to be much easier to get my allies to support my war efforts.

          Speaking of which, populating the initial setup with bachelor kings who “must be in want of a wife” and willing to accept a well-placed Count’s daughter if nobody else offers first, offers possibly an unfair advantage to anyone who starts with three daughters and the foresight to freeze the game on day one until the relevant political landscape has been explored. Enough to make up for the lack of sons, I think.

    12. bean

      I’ve played Factorio, but gave it up as too addictive if I want to do other things. My primary game of choice is Aurora, best described as ‘mix Dwarf Fortress, 4X, and Excel, then set in space’. I find it to be like nothing else I’ve ever seen. Others usually look at me weirdly when I talk about it.

      1. Vox Imperatoris

        I’ve tried to get into that a little bit, but it just seems boring.

        What do you do in it? It just generates other empires on the fly when you discover new systems, doesn’t it? So what’s the fun in beating them?

        At least with Dwarf Fortress (or Factorio!), it’s like a city builder and you have the ant farm effect: you set your creation up and watch it go. You end up with this impressive, self-running creation. Aurora seems not to have that so much.

        Anyway, I say all this just to ask in curiosity what you find compelling about it.

        1. bean

          I enjoy the complexity, and the level of detail you get. Doing Aurora fleets is the closest I’ve been able to get to planning real-world military forces, and reading up on naval procurement, it’s surprisingly close. The big draw over Dwarf Fortress is that it’s somewhat less susceptible to random frustrations. Your orders get followed promptly, instead of being done when your dwarfs feel like it.
          And there is more to do than just beat up on the random NPRs. The spoiler races usually keep things interesting (no, I won’t say more in case anyone is inspired to take it up), and it’s not uncommon for experienced players to run several sides at the same time.
          Actually, my current game is rather interesting. I invited a couple of friends who haven’t played before to build empires, and I’m running a total of four empires, one for me (with (insufficient) handicapping) and three based on their orders.

          1. Vox Imperatoris

            Maybe I’ll check it out again.

            The thing I like about e.g. Factorio is that it has a high ratio of puzzles to tedium. Where puzzles is figuring out what you need to do to solve your problem. And tedium is doing the busywork of actually putting it together.

            The only tedium is expanding your mines. You do the same thing over and over. Which is why I quit playing. (But they’re working on fixes.)

            I guess it’s another way of talking about the density of interesting choices. Some games seem to have, like, no interesting choices. And so you’re slogging through them waiting for the numbers to go up.

          2. bean

            I’m not sure it would be your cup of tea. It does seem to require a certain tolerance for doing the drudge work. I think I usually tolerate it because most of my brain is working on what I’m going to do next, but I have friends who’ve given up because they got bored.

    13. Loquat

      I’ve recently been playing Kingdoms of Amalur (yes, that game where the studio went bankrupt and the IP is now owned by the state of Rhode Island) and enjoying it quite a bit. Mainly that’s due to the quality of the writing, particularly the questlines involving the quasi-immortal Fae, but I have to admit that after years of mostly playing MMORPGS it’s just viscerally satisfying to be a one-of-a-kind godlike being that doesn’t need a whole damn raid to kill a dragon.

      1. Vorkon

        There was definitely some interesting writing in Kingdoms of Amalur, yeah. It’s really a pity it was all hidden behind the endless padding of MMO-style world and quest design. If they had just been building a single-player game from the ground up, instead of trying to build an MMO, running out of money, and making it single player halfway through, it might have been something special.

    14. Leit

      Came back to Warframe. Every time I quit and come back it just gets better. The Second Dream was well worth it, though it still stings a little that it took so long to answer the questions we’ve been asking since day 1.

      Also, the moon tileset is incredible, but there are hardly ever any pug groups on it. QQ.

    15. Max

      I’ve been playing Endless {Space,Legend}, and Skyrim.

      Since a lot of people here seem to like Grand Strategy games: I’ve played a lot of 4X games, but never played a Grand Strategy game before. What game would you recommend me? Also, are there any such games (or mods) with a Science Fiction setting?

      1. suntzuanime

        I’d say Europa Universalis 4 is probably the easiest to get into for someone not familiar with the genre. Stellaris is coming out in a month, which is supposed to be like an SF grand strategy game, but from seeing preview footage I’m a little dubious as to how good it’s going to turn out to be.

  30. Murphy

    Re: the fundraiser, and some other recent cash appeals. I have no information or opinion on it’s worthiness but it makes me wonder if it’s a stage in tribe formation since it’s also pretty common for small religious groups and communities to form internal structures to financially support tribe members. Freemasons are somewhat known for supporting members who have business problems and the Amish tend to have systems where the community will work together to avoid members going bankrupt.

    Some kind of stage of tribal development?

    1. Deiseach

      It’s a reassuringly human reaction: ‘hey, one of our own needs a hand out’.

      Much better in practice than the theoretical responses about “Yeah, sure, so a Syrian refugee in Turkey is living on a rubbish tip, but objectively, the money you donate to housing them would do more life saving by QALYs if you gave the same amount to mosquito nets!”

      1. Murphy

        If it was purely the EA groups then it would be debatable that it would be going against their groups rallying flag or core beliefs: that the life of a Syrian refugee isn’t inherently less valuable than the life of a someone in your home town.

        Fortunately it’s the wider rationalist community.

        I wouldn’t call that “inhuman” any more than someone sacrificing themselves for children with no relationship to themselves. It feels too much like a slur for something laudable.

        Just because it’s not your first gut-reaction to something doesn’t make it inhuman. Humans can be utter cunts when they go with their gut too much and we don’t normally call every departure from base instincts inhuman.

        It’s much easier to make yourself sacrifice for someone in your community than for someone you will never see and much easier again to do the most human thing and only help yourself and your direct family.

  31. Jonathan

    > down on their luck

    Come on. The primary criticism was that luck was less a factor than conscious life choices.

      1. Alphaceph

        The question isn’t whether such life-choices are “lucky” or not, but whether they respond to (dis)incentives.

        1. Deiseach

          Can we all refrain from passing moral judgements? Donate or don’t; my last comment on this is that there’s a child involved and contributing to the welfare of the child is the important thing, not casting stones at the mother or father.

          I have opinions on the topic, but in the end it’s none of my business. All that is of concern to me is that I can choose to make a donation or not, and it’s perfectly congruent to think the parents were damn fools and still think that giving money will help the child, who is the innocent party in all this.

          1. Alphaceph

            > Can we all refrain from passing moral judgements?

            I have no interest in moralizing, I’m just making a point about free will/luck/incentives.

          2. Carburetor

            I agree. Moral judgment is God’s purview, not ours.

            I do, however, see value in discussing the merits of this or that plea for help, at least on a practical level. For one thing, discussion bubbles up new information that helps inform potential donors. For another thing, these cases (the that I’ve seen anyway) are ones where the request is that the natural default responsibility (e.g., mother to feed/house/clothe her child) be swapped out for, or significantly augmented by, an artificial one (e.g., random people on the internet to feed/house/clothe the child), and that’s kind of a big deal. I understand why people might want to hash that out.

            There’s a line somewhere between

            a) Will giving money to this person really solve her problem? Will giving this guy money subconsciously encourage a pattern of bad decision-making? Etc.


            b) This person is a parasite/unfit mother/useless waste of space. The circumstances this guy finds himself in are perfectly fair/unfair. Etc.

            I think Scott does a pretty good job balancing that line.

      2. Bassicallyboss

        I pretty much always appreciate reading your comments. They tend to be well thought-out without being too long. My favorite, though, is when I can’t tell if you’re trolling or being profound (or both–something I like to do IRL, but seldom manage), like here. Just thought I’d let you know, since people usually like being appreciated.

        Also, I enjoy the anime threshing posts you make on your blog, and would probably read more if you ever plan to do that sort of thing again.

      3. Jonathan

        I get your point. The logical conclusion is that everything is the way it is because of chance. Everyone makes the choices they make because of a confluence of genetics and environment that come together in a deterministic universe to make the person.

        Her life choices had foreseeable consequences, and were in fact foreseen by plenty of people who chose not to make them. I’d like to encourage more people to have that kind of foresight.

        Scott says I should just quietly not donate. Well, I disagree. I’d like to actively discourage others from donating.

          1. Anonymous

            Well, I don’t think anyone but the NSA has figured out how to ban you without using either IP or nick, so if you used a pseudonym and throwaway IP and didn’t leak by webRTC then you’re impossible to ban.

            For sufficiently technical people with no persistent account rep or whatever to keep, any banning is on the honor system.

        1. onyomi

          I think Scott’s point here–and it’s one I agree with even though I’m skeptical of polyamory and arguably participated in the criticism last go round, albeit in a very non-case specific sort of way–is not that anyone in our rationalist ingroup who might ask for help is beyond reproach, but rather that the consequences of criticizing one who does so probably do not outweigh the negatives, regardless of the specific circumstances (within reason).

          Namely, any time someone asks for help and gets criticized, it increases the probability of someone genuinely needing and deserving of help keeping his or her mouth shut out of fear of that judgment. If the options are a. SSC errs a bit too much on the side of generosity, to the point that some undeserving or blameworthy people get charity, or b. SSC errs a bit too much on the side of being judgmental, with the result that deserving people in genuine need are afraid to ask for help, I’m pretty sure Scott would prefer a.

  32. R Flaum

    Are there any good essays/blog posts/whatever examining the possibility of reverse AI risk — that is, of humans maltreating AIs rather than vice versa?

    1. Samuel Skinner

      Since you can set the AI’s utility/goal/plan, it is sort of hard to do that unless you deliberately set out to make one to suffer. I think Robin Hansen covered that under his writings on EMs (emulated people); probably somewhere on Overcoming Bias.

    2. Daniel Keys

      I don’t know that it’s what you want, but this touches on the problem and so does the next post in the sequence.

  33. Jacob

    Would it be possible to set up a charity run by trusted members of the rationalist community so that people who need help (like the fundraiser you posted in this and a previous post) will be able to turn to them privately so as not to suffer the embarrassment of the public fundraising and (unfortunately) personal attacks, and only the people running the charity would know the identity of the person and decide whether to give them money and how much. Many religious communities have such institutions so my question is whether it is transferable to this community or not (For example it might not be viable since it is in competition with EA for funds the emotional appeal of knowing the specific person your helping is a major part of this kind of fundraiser or because the personalities attracted to this community might not like trusting some one else (even trusted people like scott) to decide whether a specific person is worthy of support and how much).
    I am not really involved with the community so I don’t know if this would be viable.

    1. Vaniver

      A mutual aid society has been discussed before. I don’t think there was enough interest to make it happen, but it may be worth discussing again.

      There’s a particular problem in that cases where support are most desired tend to be cases which are especially drama-heavy. It seems likely that a mutual aid society would crumble under the drama, especially if run by committee or a donor advised fund or so on.

    2. Eggoeggo

      Some freak wants to use rationalist aid money to buy meat/$99 per lb organic vegan protein-thing?!! This is a disgusting abuse, and I demand we ban spending aid money on this sort of thing!

      1. Carburetor

        I think it’s a good idea precisely because of your elegant hypothetical: it puts the onus on the Trust to disperse money in a way donors approve of. The Trust could start by enumerating its guidelines (who is eligible to receive money and for what reasons), and donors can vote on changes to those guidelines. Seems totally doable.

        (Full disclosure: I’m not an EA and I probably would never donate to something like this. I’ve witnessed only 2 of Scott’s “hey go help this person out” posts and in both cases I didn’t consider the cause something I would support.)

    3. Deiseach

      I have to admit, I’m tickled by the notion of a rationalist version of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, though they, or at least some branches, seem to be trying to dump the religious connection and go secular as hard as they can; if you’ve ever seen something calling itself ‘Depaul’ (sic), that’s what used to be the SVP but they’re “rebranding” 🙂

  34. Carburetor

    This isn’t really a typical thing people talk about here, but for some reason my stereotype of SSC commenters includes “prefers fuel efficient cars made in Japan or Korea”. So hopefully someone here has some knowledge about this:

    Does anyone know why the Honda Civic hatchback went from getting 40+mpg on the highway in the late ’80s through 2001, but the 2002-2003 Civic Si hatchback (7th generation) topped out around 31mpg? I understand that Si stands for “sport injected,” but the Si sedan still got good gas mileage.

    Wikipedia says the 7th generation was 150 pounds heavier, but that shouldn’t account for a 10mpg reduction in fuel economy.

    So what gives?

    And importantly, are there any simple mods people do to their 7th generation Civic hatchbacks to make them as fuel efficient as previous generations?

    1. LHN

      Part of it, at least, is that the EPA changed the way it calculated MPG in 2008 (to incorporate “the effects of [f]aster speeds and acceleration[, a]ir conditioner use[, and c]older outside temperatures”, and part of it looks like it may be bigger and more powerful engines.

      The EPA’s site, fueleconomy.gov, gives old and new mileage for models from 1986 to 2007. The 86 Civic 1.3L manual got 40mpg by the old method, 34 by the new. The 07 Civic with the smallest engine manual is 1.8L, and gets 33 by the old method, 29 by the new.

      So still lower fuel economy, but not as dramatic as it would look if you compared the then-advertised 40 with the more recent 29.

    2. The Nybbler

      The Si hatchback used a larger engine in 2002-2003. Nothing simple you can do about that I’m afraid.

    3. Sastan

      I had an old civic hatchback (a ’92 perhaps?), great fuel economy.

      If the new SI gets ten miles less a gallon, there could be any number of reasons. In order, I’d guess weight, engine size and gearing ratios. I see other commenters have mentioned these. Lower gear ratios will make a car accelerate quicker, but then it runs at higher revs, which burns more fuel.

      I recently traded in a ’98 civic sedan for a ’08 Accord Coupe V6, and lost about ten miles to the gallon in the process. But I figured that going from a 4 to a 6. And 35 mpg isn’t bad.

  35. Carburetor

    You are frustrated at not being able to read SSC on your mobile device. Focus on your frustration. Visualize it as a ball of energy. Now imagine it coming toward you. It’s a gift. Reach out. Bring it in. Your gift arrives. Your gift is freedom. You are free. You don’t have to read blogs on your phone or small tablet anymore. Put your phone in your pocket. Put your tablet down on the table and turn it off. Rub your eyes. Look around. There’s a real world around you. Have a glass of water. Stretch. Go outside.*

    SSC can wait until you’re at home in front of your computer. If you don’t own a computer, SSC can wait until you buy one. SSC is not important. If you never get a computer, it will be okay.

    *Do those things and see if you even remember your stupid frustration afterwards.

  36. Just Some Comments

    I really don’t feel like going in the hole of this whole affair, but I read on a forum that the political view was “black people on average have lower IQ” . People on the forum believe the guy is racist, and the statement is just a proxy to say black people are dumb. So to them it wasn’t really a political view that wanted him to be suspended from the conference but instead of a “racist view”. Now I don’t know much about the guy. And I think a bunch of people on here would agree “on average black people have lower IQ”, so I don’t accept anyone to think that is racist. However people in the forum made a good point; there isn’t a lot of black people in tech. So if you are black person in tech, invited to this conference, and some guy is invited to speak who holds the opinion your race is genetically dumber than everyone else there, well that’s not a good feeling.

    This whole free speech thing gets complicated. Do people here get mad/reactionary when legitimately homophobic, racist people are block from participating in things, even unrelated things based purely on their views ? What happened to the ” you are free to express your opinion but it doesn’t shield you from the consequences ?” In this case the consequence was that he could have been removed from speaking at a conference. However that action in itself prevents his from exercising free speech at said conference.

    The whole IQ thing is tricky for me personally. I’ve been trying to increase my rationality and it sucks to always come across “black people on average have lower IQ’s”. Typically its made by a white guy who assures it’s not racist because white people on average have lower IQ’s than Asians. I just really wonder how many would say it, if it went Asian > Black > White. And to be honest my IQ is fine for my life. It hasn’t significantly held me back, but if it was higher I probably would have did better in my discrete math classes.

    Anyway no real point, just commenting.

    1. Anonymous

      >there isn’t a lot of black people in tech. So if you are black person in tech, invited to this conference, and some guy is invited to speak who holds the opinion your race is genetically dumber than everyone else there, well that’s not a good feeling.

      Well, if it weren’t for the constant campaigning by the no-platformers, you wouldn’t even know.

      >I just really wonder how many would say it, if it went Asian > Black > White.

      You’d never hear the end of it, only it’d be pushed by different people.

      >And to be honest my IQ is fine for my life. It hasn’t significantly held me back, but if it was higher I probably would have did better in my discrete math classes.

      I think this sentence captures an issue I have with your comment: You seem to be conflating, implicitly, “Blacks have a lower mean IQ than whites” with “any given black is dumber than any given white”. On the individual level, your IQ is the number you get, regardless of whether you’re black, white or purple with golden trimming.

    2. FacelessCraven

      @Just Some Comments – “Do people here get mad/reactionary when legitimately homophobic, racist people are block from participating in things, even unrelated things based purely on their views ?”

      Can’t speak for anyone else, but yeah, I do.

      “What happened to the ” you are free to express your opinion but it doesn’t shield you from the consequences ?””

      If we are going to have serious consequences for opinions, then securing enough power to enforce your tribe’s particular dogma becomes a pressing priority. That escalates the culture war for the foreseeable future, and opens the door to madness and stupidity on a vast scale. A lot of people don’t want to do that, and the only other option is “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.”

    3. Massimo Heitor

      Racial patterns exist and everyone notices them. Just like white people who excel at basketball or rap music are used to some surprise that they are excelling in a field that everyone knows is dominated by blacks. They expect some the occasional surprised look and don’t get offended.

      Black programmers or women programmers know they are in a field known for being white/asian male, and expect the occasional surprise and don’t get offended. Also, if someone like Moldbug commented in one of his long-winded articles that there is probably a biological basis to these aptitudes, it’s not going to offend people.

      If it was said with animosity, or someone walked up to a black or female and said something obnoxious, sure that will offend. Also, SJW types have trained themselves to find things to get offended about and that is different.

    4. Murphy

      > I just really wonder how many would say it, if it went Asian > Black > White.

      Well it’s pretty common to see the fact that women on average outscore men on IQ tests (by between .5 and 1 IQ point, don’t mention the actual numbers, just say “outscore” or “higher IQ”) used on feminist sites as backing for women being more intelligent than men in general.

    5. Sastan

      If you can’t distinguish between “mean” and “individual”, you are a bigot, no matter which side you come from. It’s pretty much the definition.

      Native blacks in the US have a lower average IQ than native whites. What does this tell you about a given white person or black person? Next to nothing. 90+% of the distributions will overlap. It will tell you a lot about the group, on average, but nothing about an individual.

      IQ is not “tricky”. It is a measure of academic potential, and as such it is one of the best measures we have. It is not a measure of creativity, of morality, or of academic interest for that matter. In the US we have this strange conflation of intelligence with worth, and that needs to stop. Smart is just a talent, like anything else. It’s like being tall. There are benefits, there are downsides. You can’t do much to change it.

      But, with that understood, IQ is correlated (correlation is not causation, they all screamed!) with a host of life outcomes, and it is an indisputable fact that some races score better on average than others. This is fact, and fact is not racist. Interpretation can be racist, and if your interpretation is “every group dumber on average than whites aren’t people”, then that is certainly racist. But that doesn’t work so well for white supremacists, because generic “whites” are kind of middle of the pack in terms of average IQ. Above blacks and hispanics, behind asians and jews. But once again, what does this tell us about the individual? Say it with me!………..

      1. Aapje

        AFAIK, Moldbug made this exact distinction. His opinion is that some races are more intellectually gifted than others, but that this doesn’t legitimize treating individuals differently.

        1. Nita

          I don’t know how he thinks people should be treated. I’ve only seen him talk about how ‘talents’ like being smarter or more suitable for slavery than others don’t make anyone a ‘better’ or ‘worse’ person:

          Not all humans are born the same, of course, and the innate character and intelligence of some is more suited to mastery than slavery. For others, it is more suited to slavery. And others still are badly suited to either. These characteristics can be expected to group differently in human populations of different origins.

          I would make a terrible agricultural laborer and an awful agricultural slave. (I am also not very good at being a master, though for different reasons.) Am I praising myself for this lack of talent?

          Yes, it may have something to do with my high intelligence. (It also has something to do with my poor character.) Intelligence can be a liability.

          I agree that if I thought smarter people were better people, given the fact that no magic process has distributed the smarts equally, I would be a racist in the classic sense. (I also don’t agree that the talent to be a master, or the talent to be a slave, makes a person better or worse.)

          1. Aapje

            Yeah, so he says that black people make better slaves, which is a very different argument from saying that it’s morally justified. For example, I think that we can agree that rich people make better targets for a robber than poor people, but that observation in no way condones robbery itself. We just say that someone who already decided to rob makes a rational decision when (s)he seeks out rich targets.

            Anyway, he seems to defend some specific forms of slavery, but his definition of slavery is extremely/absurdly broad, including not just serfdom, but also lifelong employment at 1 company. I think that there is a huge disconnect with his critics here. He defends a situation where people give up certain rights in return for certain benefits, not abusive forms of slavery where people get abused and taken advantage of. However, his choice of words inevitable leads some people to think that he defends the latter, especially when his quotes get taken out of context.

            His point would be much more palatable and come across better if he framed it better, but I think that he likes it when people get confused by his writing.

          2. Nita

            his choice of words inevitably leads some people to think that he defends the latter, especially when his quotes get taken out of context

            Right. And his choice of words seems very deliberate.

            It’s as if someone on Tumblr said, “Some people claim that I’m evil because I supposedly support killing SSC readers en masse. But what is ‘killing’, anyway? The verb ‘to kill’ dates back to early 13th century, when it meant ‘to strike, to hit, to beat or to knock’. While striking or beating someone is an act that no one would call ‘nice’ (and we all know that not being ‘nice’ enough is a mortal sin these days), there are many personal reports of formerly wayward teenagers having been saved from a life of criminality by a well-timed application of physical discipline. Is there any particular point at which a mere series of strikes suddenly turns into that dreaded taboo act? Furthermore, careful consideration will show that killing need not be cruel or ugly — think of a heart-broken owner bringing a beloved pet to the vet for the last time, or a kaishakunin preserving a samurai’s honor and dignity with a precise, swift strike of his katana. And think of many people in our wretched society, stuck in soul-sucking jobs for life — is that not a death of spirit, an even more tragic death, in some ways? No doubt, if you have watched too many gory propaganda movies that deliberately portray killers as monsters who torture their victims for fun and bathe in their blood, you might have become convinced that killing is evil by definition. But of course, if anyone actually performed that kind of ‘killing’ in real life, I would condemn them in the strongest terms. And certainly some actual acts of killing have had more in common with this grotesque caricature than others. But I would like to encourage you to think beyond the narrow confines of the dominant paradigm. Imagine a more pure, less chaotic society than ours, where every citizen has a clear view of their role and purpose, where one can call a spade a spade, where children can play in the streets without fear. Think back on history — might some past societies have been wiser than us, even if their ways would seem alien to a naive observer from our culture? Friend, by reading this text, you have already come very far. You are no longer ignorant or naive, no, you are a brave explorer of forbidden, extraordinary ideas. I wish you the best of luck in your journey, and urge you to seek out and read materials that have been black-holed by the ideological powers that be.”

          3. ChetC3

            When someone puts that much effort into being mistaken for a racist, it gets hard to believe there isn’t something very much like the genuine article motivating it.

          4. Aapje


            There are other motivations, like wanting to feel morally superior over people that cannot follow his (meandering) writing. Or challenging simplistic ideas about certain concepts by deconstructing them and shining a different light on them.

          5. dndnrsn


            Beautiful. All that’s needed is some reference to a few books from the mid-19th century that show the evil nature of the Whigs.

          6. Theo Jones

            I also think there is an extent to which he is trying to imitate the writing style of left-wing academics. I’ve read a number of academics that Nita’s spoof would also work for.

          7. dndnrsn

            The style is circuitous but uses plain language, and is kind of “chatty”, whereas the worst academic writing is jargon-laden, not necessarily circuitous, and tends towards scholarly remove rather than chattiness.

            Moldbug’s writing style is basically “autodidact amateur who is trying to be jocular and also desperately needs an editor”.

          8. Jiro

            If he claims he supports killing SSC readers en masse, he cannot also be referring to the good types of killing referred to in his essay–none of them would apply to a mass of SSC readers. He would be outright contradicting himself if he wrote that–he’s claiming that when he says “killing” he means something which, in context, he couldn’t possibly mean for real.

            Is he, in fact, claiming that he means something by “slavery”, that he couldn’t possibly mean for real?

          9. Nita

            If he claims he supports killing SSC readers en masse

            Oh no! How could you misread him in such a glaringly uncharitable fashion? He tried so hard to explain everything with the proper amount of depth, nuance and historical context. But on the other hand, I can’t really blame you — the USA is a communist country, after all 🙁

          10. Jiro

            Oh no! How could you misread him in such a glaringly uncharitable fashion?

            The point is that if he really he said that, his explanation doesn’t work. The explanation is incompatible with the statement. If he were to respond as you did and accuse people of misreading him, he’d be incorrect.

            Is this what actually happened with his statements about slavery?

      2. Murphy

        It does however have some implications when people wave statistics around about the portion of people in X job while complaining that they don’t perfectly mirror the general population demographics.

        Small shifts in the average can have a magnified effect when you’re looking at people at the far ends of the distribution.

        1. Sastan

          Absolutely. But by definition, the ends of the curve are small numbers. The bulk of human experience is not explained by genetic differences. It is explained by how we harness status and tribalism to exploit those genetic gifts to improve (or decline) outcomes for large numbers of people.

          Then, of course, you get epigenetics and culturally selective breeding, and the whole picture gets very complicated. But interesting!

      3. Sastan

        Personally, I’m not terribly interested in genetic differences between races. They exist, and they have an effect on the margins of populations (NBA players, Nobel winners, etc), but that’s not where we get the real variation in human experience.

        Culture is where we get that. All you have to do is look at all the cultures encompassed by a race to see the variation. Albania and Switzerland are the same race. But they do not have the same outcome. South Korea and North Korea are twins, genetically, but look at those outcomes! Culture, politics and institutions are where the difference is made. The relatively small genetic variations may make for some flashy examples at the very edge of the bell curve, but that is how you get to whole populations.

  37. Massimo Heitor

    Wow, that Current Affairs web site is pretty radical… One quote on university admissions: “Competitive admissions processes among students who are all plenty qualified to do well (but must do dozens of extracurricular activities in order to make themselves stand out) are a dysfunctional absurdity that should have no place in education.”

    That is definitely completely outside the Overton window of what almost anyone would seriously consider. He is targeting mainstream left like the basic premise of university competitive admission… I don’t see why Alexander get value from that.

    1. Theo Jones

      I don’t think that’s too bizarre an idea. At the top tier of colleges (ie. Ivy League) the top applicants are probably so good that there is little actual differentiation between them in terms of academic ability. Currently colleges select them based on criteria that are largely fluff. This creates largely worthless positional competition (ie. spending large sums of money of extra curriculars or international travel). Probably a random lottery would be more effective.

      1. JDG1980

        Ron Unz suggested something similar to this in an article a few years back. After outlining the serious flaws in the current admissions system for Ivy League universities (which he contends is “not meritocratic nor diverse, neither being drawn from our most able students nor reasonably reflecting the general American population”), he suggests that about 20% of admission slots should be reserved for the very highest achievers, and the other 80% should be filled by random selection among all those who meet basic minimum qualifications. Unz contends that this would make the Ivy League more representative of America (and not just in the manner which is currently fashionable) and would also deflate the egos of many Ivy League students, who would know their admission to be due at least in part to good fortune and not pure merit.

      2. Chalid

        Extracurriculars may be fluff from the perspective of academic ability, but an Ivy League is not selecting for ability to get good grades. It’s selecting for the likelihood that the student will become rich, famous, and/or powerful. This is correlated with academic ability, but it’s also correlated with the other traits that extracurriculars demonstrate. For example, being the captain of a sports team says little about academic ability but it shows leadership ability, charisma, and work ethic.

        (And even if the extracurriculars demonstrated absolutely no traits directly, they would be valuable signals because of the handicap principle. Who is more impressive academically, the student with a 4.0 GPA who studies all the time, or the student who manages to get a 3.8 GPA while devoting 20 hours a week to the student newspaper and their sports team?)

        1. Deiseach

          I know nothing about the topic, but does anyone know if the students who submit an application stuffed with consistent high grades plus leadership positions and community involvement and all kinds of extracurriculars keep them up once they’ve got a place in the university of their choice?

          How many people, for instance, continue to study how to play the oboe when they are accepted to university as opposed to dropping it thankfully because now they can concentrate on their main subject of study and have some free time for the fun stuff at university like drinking, making the acquaintance of attractive persons of one’s preferred genders of intimate partners, and going on anti-chalk protest marches? 🙂

          1. Larry Kestenbaum

            If they want to get into law school or med school, they have to go right along through their undergraduate years, achieving all the extracurricular brownie points.

            Once they get into law school or med school, there is generally no time for anything else, and little expectation for anything not directly related to the curriculum.

          2. Chalid

            I think people most people specialize a lot more when they get into college, because it becomes impossible to be good at everything. Classes become much harder, and the standards for belonging to a sports team/orchestra/debate club/whatever become much higher.

          3. David Friedman

            Back before our daughter went to college, she was considering being a librarian and so wanted to volunteer at a local library. She did so, at the main library. After, I think, two weeks, they told her that she had now done her volunteering and let her go.

            Our conjecture was that students were volunteering not because they wanted to work in a library but either because their school had some requirement along those lines or in order to add an extra qualification for college admissions, that the library assumed that was our daughter’s motive and two weeks did it.

            So she volunteered at the local small library and did so, as best I recall, for a year or two.

            If our interpretation was correct, it suggests that a lot of the qualifications really are fluff—doing just enough of something to look good to a poorly informed admissions officer.

            I got the same impression from a conversation on an airplane with a woman who had been involved, I think as an alumna volunteer, with admissions for a prominent university. Her view was that students hired experts to tell them how to tweak their qualifications to fit the checkmarks on the admissions officer’s list.

          4. David Friedman

            What puzzles me about the admissions process is why the universities make no serious effort to find out whether applicants can write, a skill that is important in college and life thereafter. They ask for an essay but have no way of knowing if the student wrote it himself, hired someone else to write it, or wrote it with lots of assistance from parents and others. There is an essay part of the SAT exam, but it has to be graded in a mechanical way (by humans) for consistency, which limits how much information the grade gives.

            Many students visit at a university they are considering. It would be easy enough for the admissions office to have an empty room with a word processor and a list of essay topics. When a student comes for an interview, put him in the room for an hour to write an essay on a topic of his choice.

            The process could be expanded beyond visitors with the help of alumni in various big cities. But no school I know of does anything along those lines.

          5. Chalid

            @David Friedman Don’t high school grades in English classes and other humanities classes convey that information for the vast majority of students?

          6. Frog Do

            @David Friedman
            I feel the same way, but about public presentations. My students really can’t explain themselves to a full room of people (or even to just me), but we didn’t even have a public speaking course in my pre-university public education.

          7. Frank McPike

            I think a lot of Ivy League admissions criteria are examples of Goodhart’s law, or something pretty analogous. (“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”) In a vacuum, giving preference to applicants with substantial extracurricular involvement would probably lead to a better crop of students. But once that’s known to be an advantageous item to have on a resume, it ceases to convey genuine information about interests and enthusiasm.

            David Friedman’s spontaneous essay-writing suggestion may be a good idea, but I suspect that if it became routine you’d see a lot of applicants figuring out potential topics they could be asked to write about, and having outlines (if not whole essays) prepared for each. Of course, it would still convey valid information about writing ability, but a lot of the variation in writing sample quality would be explained by other factors, like level of preparation and knowledge of the application system.

          8. Vox Imperatoris

            @ Frank McPike:

            I think there may something of the inverse Goodhart’s Law going on here: when a measure becomes a target, it suddenly starts being a better measure.

            That’s what I was saying elsewhere. Imagine that top colleges started using one’s competitive rank in video games like Hearthstone or Counterstrike: Global Offensive as the sole criterion for admission. Right now, those are bad predictors of future academic and worldly success. But if they were made the target, they would probably become relatively good measures of future success.

            Because all the talented, rich, and hard-working kids would start attending Hearthstone cram schools and getting one-on-one coaching from top players

            Or, to use a real historical example, if you start awarding the most prestigious and powerful titles to people who have memorized Confucian texts and mastered the art of writing essays about them, then such mastery becomes a better measure of intelligence and dedication than it would otherwise be.

            Now, taking that effect into account, I think there still remain many measures that are better than others.

          9. Frank McPike

            That’s a very good point, but it does depend on what you’re trying to measure. If you’re trying to create a measurement of some mixture of intellectual ability, adaptability, work ethic, and dedication, then measuring success at an arbitrary task specified in advance isn’t a terrible method (although, as you note, probably not an optimal one either).

            To give a contemporary example, at many American law schools selection for the more selective law reviews is determined (partly, at least) based on an exam on the Bluebook, a convoluted citation system. Knowing how to cite properly is important for editors, but the exams also measure things like commitment to the journal, good study habits, and skill at grasping an arbitrary and unfamiliar system of rules, which are also virtues worth having in an editor. (And the exam would be much worse at selecting for those things if law students didn’t know about it beforehand.)

            But by looking at volunteer work and other extracurriculars universities are trying to measure things like “Is this person socially responsible?”, “Do they have genuine passions of their own?”, and “Are they a self-starting entrepreneurial type?” Those qualities may or may not actually be worth selecting for. But if they are, it’s worth having a measure, and making the measure known will reduce its effectiveness by turning it (at least partly) into a measure of something completely different (namely, qualities like work ethic, dedication, and intelligence).

            The types of people who started their own charities before that became known as a good way to get into Ivy League schools probably were pretty uniformly socially conscious and possessed some kind of entrepreneurial spirit. The type of person who does that now probably looks very different. That’s not so say that they’re worse candidates for admission, only that the measure isn’t selecting for the virtues it’s intended to. To the extent you’re trying to measure something other than dedication, intellect, and work ethic, Goodhart’s Law can still be a problem.

            I think it may be a King Midas sort of problem. The first time an Ivy League college has the effect you describe on a measure, that’s great. But when they have that effect on every measure they touch, it becomes an impediment.

          10. Vox Imperatoris

            @ Frank McPike:

            Yeah, I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying there.

            Whenever you design a system that selects for people other than those most ambitious to reach the top, you’re just going to make the ambitious people reorient to pursue that thing.

            Which, while I think it’s a bit silly, seems to be part of the logic behind community service requirements: since the ambitious students are going to do whatever we tell them, we might as well tell them to do something that benefits the wider community. Harness bad or at least neutral motives in order to achieve good.

            And while “checkbox volunteering” may be frustrating to those interested in it for its own sake—for the same kinds of reasons people don’t like poseurs—it’s hard for me to think that it actually has a net negative effect, as some people suggest.

          11. Jiro

            It has a negative effect because of opportunity cost, and because it excludes people for things they have no control over (people in certain socioeconomic situations just can’t volunteer. Even not having a car can make it hard.)

          12. John Schilling

            …people in certain socioeconomic situations just can’t volunteer. Even not having a car can make it hard

            And if you don’t want That Sort Of People going to your university (except for a carefully chosen few), but it’s politically unacceptable to openly discriminate against them in the brave new world of inclusivity…

          13. SUT

            Agree with Vox on the reverse-Goodhart law going on in high prestige Admissions and Corporate Recruiters:

            Want to know who can juggle TA’ing, a course load, working on a PI’s research, and still find time to do her own highly original research? Which highschool kids could juggle debate club, judo, soccer, and traditional Gregorian salsa dancing while earning a 4.7 GPA (they have those now).

            High prestige jobs for the MBA/consultant crowd want people who have literally climbed Mt. Everest. Not some pussy that takes scenic 10K ft summits on the weekends, and stops to smell the flowers. Of course neither actually helps you building excel models for M&A’s but… it does select for who will literally put their life on the line to gain status and approval (to strawman it a bit).

      3. Massimo Heitor

        I interpreted the Current Affairs comment to basically reject the entire idea of competitive admissions to universities.

        You are criticizing how schools select between similar candidates. That’s a lame argument. If the candidates are similar, bickering among the selection criteria at the very margins really shouldn’t matter.

        1. JBeshir

          The difference between random selection and picking the slightly better candidate according to some method of measurement, is small in terms of the difference in selected candidate quality you get right now, but potentially very large in terms of incentives and so in terms of what candidate choices you get in the future.

          The latter sets up something which behaves effectively like a market, where candidates are incentivised to compete to look the best, and causes as a result a race to the bottom to maximise competitiveness. The former does not.

          What you think of this probably depends on whether you think the race to the bottom is optimising for good things or not.

          Edit: For an example, consider, e.g. if everyone switched to choosing supermarkets randomly to buy from, they’d get a pretty competent service today, because they’re all alright- there’s stuff to choose between them but it’s not massive.

          But going forward the competitive pressure would have been removed, so in the longer term you’d expect the options you’re choosing randomly between to stop showing the effects of competition, which in this case means becoming more expensive and less competent.

          This would be a case where competition is doing good things, and switching to random selection would be bad. In cases where you think competition is doing bad things, you might think switching to random selection would be good.

        2. Aapje

          There is evidence that a ‘merit’-based competitive policy doesn’t result in students that perform better in college, but does select for upperclass students.

          The issue is that it’s not discriminatory in ways that we should care about (who is a better student), but is discriminatory in ways that are bad (class).

          1. Chalid

            I would bet that it doesn’t do a good job of selecting better students but does do a good job of selecting people who will have successful lives.

            Harvard doesn’t particularly care if you get good grades or not. It cares whether you’re likely to become president or to donate tens of millions of dollars for a new building.

    2. suntzuanime

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the average commentor here agreed with that statement. I certainly do. It’s worth remembering that “Outside the Overton Window” does not imply “false’.

      1. Massimo Heitor

        You oppose the basic idea of a competitive admissions process to selective universities? Explain.

        Of course, just because something is outside the Overton Window doesn’t mean it’s false, I believe many such things, but it does generally mean it’s fringe, will find a limited audience, and generally not going to be widely taken seriously at face value.

        1. suntzuanime

          The extracurriculars game is a hugely destructive red queen’s race. I’d like to believe the conspiracy theory that the extracurriculars are designed to discriminate against Asians because then at least there’d be some point to all the waste.

          1. Massimo Heitor

            Schools are free to make their own admission criteria and they face the consequences of those.

            Some schools don’t consider extracurricular activities in admissions, which I suspect doesn’t cure your personal grievance.

          2. Randy M

            First, being free to do it doesn’t mean other people can’t agree or disagree, and second, many schools are very much intertwined with governmental funding, regulation, and control already.

        2. Scott Alexander Post author

          I don’t think they mean that you have to take everyone equally. I think they mean that the difference between the people who get 99.5 points on the Admission Rubric and the people who get 99.6 points on the Admission Rubric is so meaningless that instead of forcing people into cutthroat competition for that last tenth of a point they should just forget about it.

          1. Massimo Heitor

            You accept the idea of students competing for rank and admission, but oppose “cutthroat” competition? What is “cutthroat” competition beyond one that you don’t like?

            You broadly accept ranking students for college admission, you just don’t like that similar scored candidates can get non-identical results? If admissions categorizes students into accept/reject results, there must be a cutoff line, and there will be similarly scored students that fall on opposite sides of that cutoff. I don’t understand the logical objection.

            To expand the quote I previously quoted to the entire paragraph:

            “But people do deserve it; everyone should get to receive the best-quality possible college education, even Abigail Fisher. “Smartness” should not determine our material rewards, because smartness is distributed arbitrarily. As far as college goes, the only question should be whether individuals meet the basic standard to be able to do the work. Competitive admissions processes among students who are all plenty qualified to do well (but must do dozens of extracurricular activities in order to make themselves stand out) are a dysfunctional absurdity that should have no place in education.”

            To break that down:

            “Smartness should not determine our material rewards”? <– This is a personal moral judgement that simply conflicts with basic reality. So, it's one thing to just disagree on morals. But smartness, by definition, can be used to get rewards including material ones, how can someone just proclaim this facet of reality to be immoral?

            "everyone should get to receive the best-quality possible college education" <– This seems like a simple wish, but childish and naive. It's not remotely practical or realistic. Should all schools be the same quality? Should all majors within schools be the same quality? What about people who don't go to school as full time students? What about people who don't like college education? What about the majority of humans expected to perform menial labor? Why don't they get a privileged and pampered student lifestyle? Some people pursue education more than others, how do you make them get equal results?

            Also several other posts are equally outrageous. Like the one criticizing moderate Democrats like Bill Clinton for not being a more extreme black power type. Those harsh drug laws were often requested by blacks and pushed by the black congress.

          2. A Definite Beta Guy

            The adjective “cut-throat” doesn’t mean anything specific, but the general concept would be consumption of resources and violation of ethics. These are two distinct concepts.
            Two children competing for the same Harvard spot can compete through investing 10 hours a week on violin lessons. Child B ups his practice to 11 hours. Child A leaps up to 12 hours. Etc.
            Beyond “X” hours the competition can be described as unacceptable negative. “X” is a subjective value, but who care? The minimum wage is also a subjective value. The poverty level is somewhat subjective. These concepts have meaning.

            The more obvious “cut-throat” competition is unethical competition. Say Child B shoots Child A. No more competition for that Harvard spot after all!

            The unethical competition is banned everywhere, the wasteful competition expected of certain athletes and no one else.

          3. Massimo Heitor

            Two children competing for the same Harvard spot can compete through investing 10 hours a week on violin lessons. Child B ups his practice to 11 hours. Child A leaps up to 12 hours. Etc.

            Ultimately, any competition puts pressure on people, and can make people do things that they hate.

            You use the example of students making themselves miserable with violin lessons… People can make themselves miserable doing anything: studying for tests is frequently miserable, working a crappy job to pay off debt is insufferable, trying to capture the interest of others for dating and mating can be cruel and terrible…

            On the flip side, some people love playing violin. I wish I was even offered the option of playing a violin when I was young, and I wish I had time to play violin now as an adult. Anything can be miserable if you let it.

          4. Winter Shaker

            So I read that Clinton and, while I’m not hugely clued up on his policies, I don’t think it is unreasonable to blame him for escalating drug war-fuelled mass incarceration. I understand that, superficially, prohibition sounds like it ought to help if your community has drug problems, or drug gang violence problems, so you can understand some black community leaders being in favour of them at the time, but someone with access to the best economics and public health advisors really ought to know better.

          5. David Friedman

            What several people here are complaining about is rent seeking, spending resources in order to get something whose existence does not depend on that expenditure–because whether you get it does. The original and classic article was by Gordon Tullock, and still worth reading:


            Ideally, you want the reward to an activity to be equal to the net benefit that activity creates, in order that people will do it if and only if it is worth doing. Wages in an ordinary competitive market more or less do that. If Harvard has a given number of places to give out, a way of competing for those places that doesn’t do anything whose value is comparable to the value of getting the place doesn’t.

            What is the value of competing for the place? That depends on whether the competition either produces some other benefit or a better allocation of places.

            Examples of the first include competing by being willing to pay a high price, which benefits the income of the college, or competing by studying in AP classes, letting the university produce better educated students.

            For the second, time spent taking SAT exams produces information useful for deciding which students are able enough to fit in the college. But it isn’t clear that other forms of competition, such as extra-curricular activities or training in how to do well on standardized tests, produce that sort of benefit. If not, it’s rent seeking.