SELF-RECOMMENDING!

Open Thread 49.5

This is an experiment with more open threads. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1,457 Responses to Open Thread 49.5

  1. Anonymous says:

    Test!

  2. Sam K says:

    The scale of these threads is really suggesting to me that SSC needs a permanent forum (it might be that Scott’s reservations about such a thing are misplaced). I’m having a hard time reading all the comments I would like to read, just keeping track of them. And LW forums aren’t much good compared to the community that’s been cultivated here.

    Or innovate in web-design a bit and build a system that gives both forum- and comment-thread-views into the same set of data (with top-level threads being forum posts, and probably comment sections of different articles being maybe subforums or just threads of their own: maybe a forum thread can have child-threads instead?

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes. Forum with categories by topic and no voting system. They worked incredibly well circa 2000~ and then people for some ungodly reptilian reason moved to social media and shitty platforms like reddit. SSC is a personal blog and this “community” (Some people say it doesn’t exist) is a very rare thing…

      The question is, would trying to move that community somewhere else work? Would it really be a good idea?

      On the thread I made on reddit, people said there was nothing in common between SSC readers beyond being SSC readers.

      Some said they wanted an extended comment section for SSC and things “relevant to SSC” only and not a free forum. If we want a forum, do we want it focused on SSC or more like a permanent open thread that eventually is independent of SSC? Would this even wrok? (If you compare this to the already existing reddit and 8chan, you have no idea what a decent forum looks like)

      • “people said there was nothing in common between SSC readers beyond being SSC readers”

        As best I can tell, most SSC readers are reasonably intelligent people who enjoy civil conversation. Presumably they are here, at least in part, because it is one of the relatively rare places online where such conversation routinely happens.

  3. Dolores Dolores says:

    Can anyone hear me way down here?

    There are 1,237 comments above this one. Is the presumption that I have read all of the above before posting?

    I often am about to post something truly brilliant, but then I hesitate, what if one of the 1,237 above has posted exactly the same idea as mine?

    Who will read this? Does anyone actually read all 1,237, and if so, may I borrow your time turner?

    • Anonymous says:

      The thread will be fairly active until there’s a new post. You aren’t expected to have read the comments above. If you duplicate a post from above the worst that will happen is you’ll be ignored.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Who will read this? Does anyone actually read all 1,237, and if so, may I borrow your time turner?

      Unshaved lunatics mentally stable and handsome young men on vacation will. Some of us them read all of the new comments to stave off boredom.

      If you do actually have something truly brilliant to say, I’d recommend posting it. Worst case scenario you can copy-paste it into a notepad document and re-deploy it on the next open thread.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      I at least skim all of them. I skip entire subthreads I’m not interested in and concentrate on the juicy bits.

    • Nita says:

      Yes. No, it’s only a wistful hope. Ctrl+F? Some of us. Not this time, but I’ve read some other threads (usually over several days, starting when the thread is new).

    • I don’t read all of them, but I at least glance at most. Sometimes the glance tells me that it’s on a subject I don’t feel interested in, so I don’t read it, don’t read the next few that appear to be responding to it, start reading again when the subject changes.

      But I do spend a lot of time here.

  4. Jill says:

    If anyone is interested in the scientific research on how people actually behave in economic situations (often not rationally), I am reading a great book right now in behavioral economics.

    Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

    http://www.amazon.com/Predictably-Irrational-Revised-Expanded-Decisions/dp/0061353248/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1463580737&sr=8-1&keywords=Predictably+irrational

    Whether we’re talking about the wages of British Junior doctors, or the price of black pearls, sometimes prices are set, and other decisions are made, according to irrational influence, not rational ones. And it’s informative to know about this and to apply it to our own decisions and lives.

  5. onyomi says:

    On being a good academic versus being a successful academic.

    I find most of these apply to humanities too. Any thoughts on solutions?

    Related, I wish there were a better way to do collaborative work and/or get frequent feedback in the humanities. Ironically, I can more easily get intelligent feedback on my unsubstantiated pet theories on why people are fat at SSC than I can on questions in my field I actually publish on. This is because once you’re done your PhD no one is paid to read your rough drafts and offer detailed criticism (and it can be hard to get that even before) except for peer reviewers who take an eternity and are often jerks (also you are heavily penalized for submitting anything less than perfect to get feedback at an early stage as the anonymous reviewers will lambaste it and your article gets rejected; this produces in some cases the ironic result for me where 2nd-most prestigious journal gets my heavily edited and polished article which has received a ton of useful critique from the reviewers of the 1st-most prestigious journal which rejected it).

    I might start a blog about my academic interests at some point and solicit comments that way, but 1. I probably won’t attract a significant audience (few academic blogs in the humanities I’ve seen do, though I’m open to suggestions) and 2. there’s again the whole “getting scooped” fear.

    (I wouldn’t mind 2 so much if the ideas were associated with me in some way, e. g. if I used my real name on my blog, which I probably might as well, since it’s a very small world, but that introduce the problem of fear of looking dumb by floating very tentative ideas. I don’t so much mind looking dumb on SSC, where I use a pseudonym to talk to other mostly pseudonymous people about things which aren’t my field of expertise; it’s significantly scarier if using real name to talk about own field to people who may decide e. g., whether you get tenure. But if presenting only polished ideas it kind of defeats the point).

    • Jill says:

      Interesting. Sometimes people not in your field can give useful feedback too. Do you ever mention your questions of interest in your field here on SSC? Of course, feedback wouldn’t be as focused within your field or as detailed as you’d get from people in your field, but still it might be worthwhile.

      Another thing that crosses my mind is that you might want to pay an editor, who edits intellectual books in various areas, for some feedback.

      It sounds like it does work to some degree when the 2nd-most prestigious journal gets your heavily edited and polished article which has received a ton of useful critique from the reviewers of the 1st-most prestigious journal which rejected it. You could also try reversing that process. Why not submit to the 2nd-most prestigious journal first, at least on occasion, and thus shoot for ultimate publication in the 1st most prestigious journal?

      One thing I would do– but I’m an extrovert and this may not be easy for some people– would be to go to academic conferences in my field and look for people who seem altruistic enough that they might be willing to give feedback to a colleague. Or else just cooperative enough that they may be willing to do a trade. And also sharp enough in their knowledge of the field that their feedback would be worthwhile. I’d get phone numbers and/or emails of such people. Then I’d see if I could trade a few things back and forth with them by email, giving each other feedback, and if it was useful. If you start a blog, you can email the web site of your blog out to those who are interested and whom you trust.

      This sort of thing works for me for various purposes. I have a Ph.D. and am a writer and a personal growth aficionado. I’ve been trading personal growth exercises by phone for over a year now with someone with a similar degree of sophistication to me, in the areas of interest to me. It’s working out very well. But it took a while and a number of conferences to find such a person.

      Of course, if you are concerned about getting scooped, you would want to step into such a relationship rather gradually and notice how they act and respond to you and others. You’d want to avoid people who have the characteristics described in the book Power Freaks, because these folks would rob anyone blind in a minute with no regrets.

      http://www.amazon.com/Power-Freaks-Dealing-Workplace-Anyplace/dp/1591020131/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1463580222&sr=1-1&keywords=Power+Freaks

    • Jill says:

      Also you may look on Twitter for people in your field. And on blogs that other people have. Some bloggers are brilliant and can be very helpful but are very lonely because no one knows about them yet. Maybe Scott even was that way when he first started blogging.

      I have met some great people on line and had long email exchanges and conversations with them, and shared knowledge in various areas with them, as they did with me.

    • Adam says:

      I don’t think there is a solution, really. We’ll probably forever get shitty results in humanities and social sciences so long as we have sufficient electronics, shipping and manufacturing, and medical technology progress to offset it. Those are big enough prosperity multipliers that we can live with an unhappy populace with no inner life. Whatever your field of study is, presumably you picked it because it interests you, not because anyone else cares about it.

      Or let me tell you this. You think you have it bad because the academy rewards crappy intellectual practices? Up until I decided to abandon it a few years ago, I originally studied budgeting and financial management and then went to work for the Army. We violated every single best practice and principle of budgeting and accounting that has ever been devised in the name of expediency, convenience, and the need to accomplish a mission. It sucked. But what career field ever does not experience the discord between best practices and the realities of the market?

      We’re overrun with programmers here, many of whom seem to insist nearly everyone who tries coding is terrible at it. I don’t buy it, personally. Software engineering isn’t easy but it’s no harder than any other kind of engineering and easier than many. But we’ve had decades of reality smacking us in the face that first to market products that capture network effects make billionaires even when the product sucks. Feature bloat sells new licenses even when the features don’t work. Just as we had pounded into our heads in the officer basic course that even though we’re being taught ideal tactics, an 80% solution delivered on time will always beat the perfect solution that never gets delivered at all, the reality of software is that code doesn’t suck because programmers suck. Code sucks because shitty code makes investors very rich and nobody gives a fuck that it’s not maintainable and is going to confuse the hell out of whatever poor sucker has to rewrite this shit with no documentation ten years down the road when the original designer is sipping Mai Tais on an island in spite of all the bugs and vulnerabilities he left in the code.

      Now that I’ve been a reservist for a while, fuck, I’ve never seen it worse than here. We just had an exercise last month where they sent half the unit to Fort Sill for mandatory crew served weapons qualification and they qualified exactly zero crews. Higher headquarters was more pissed off than I’ve ever seen a higher headquarters outside of a real deployment. We completely wasted an entire drill weekend, all that fuel, and all that ammo, for nothing. Why? Our commander isn’t an idiot. He’s a smart guy and a quality officer, but leaders up and down the chain are yes men. They refuse to ever admit they can’t accomplish something with what they have because they need more time to do it correctly. Because 90% of the time, faking it works. You can just forge the training documents if you’re sufficiently dishonest and nobody cares because this is a construction unit tasked with domestic disaster response anyway and the chance they’re ever going to have to actually fire a truck-mounted machine gun in combat is virtually zero. They cut corners because almost all the time, it makes no difference.

      This isn’t an academic problem. It’s an everywhere problem. Expediency wins in the real world. I remember my very first numerical analysis class having to learn about all these historical disasters that have arisen because of floating point errors. There’s the famous Intel example that probably cost them $50 million or some shit in an abstract economic analysis, but guess what? They’re still the world’s #1 chip manufacturer and whoever was CEO at the time might have suffered some embarrassment, but he’s still a multimillionaire. There’s the story of a missile-defense radar system that suffered timing errors and got an entire unit killed because they used 32-bit floating-point numbers in the time-to-impact estimator to save space. Is that because the engineers sucked? I doubt it. It’s because nobody cares because we didn’t need perfect software. We just needed to be better than the Iraqis and we overwhelmingly won that war in one of the most successful military campaigns ever and it was more important to get there in the first place than it was to have perfectly bug-free control software.

    • The feedback mechanism I’m familiar with is the workshop. You give a talk on your paper to a room filled with academics and academics in training (grad students), they comment.

      My preferred version is the Chicago style, in which everyone in the audience is expected to have read the paper, the presenter talks about it for fifteen minutes or so, and it is then open season.

  6. FacelessCraven says:

    Airgap, your dadaist trolling has caused me to burst into genuine laughter several times in this comment section, without resorting to serious meanness or incivility. You are the best troll, and I sacrifice a chicken in your honor.

    • Airgap says:

      And here I was worried I had made too many constructive comments in this thread. Glad to know it hasn’t affected my more important contributions.

    • Anonymous says:

      I sacrifice a chicken in your honor.

      Pics or it didn’t happen!

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      +

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think you people don’t know what you are asking for. Go to Reddit. It’s all “funny” comments. Airgap is exploiting the commons.

      Additionally, in a space that ostensibly should be safe for the non-neurotypical, some of his comments are resulting in whole sub-threads responding as if he meant what he said.

      I don’t think this is the space for this.

      • I don’t disagree about the commons, but this is a mostly-anonymous message board. If we have posters who are unable to discern trolls and don’t know how to interact with them (or not), then Airgap is providing a vital service to those posters, and should be encouraged and subsidized.

        That being said, I am also reasonably sure that said service will not be long for this poor comments section, as soon as Scott finds a good combination of ways to kick him out.

        • I find that Airgap’s comments are mostly tiresome. There’s an occasional non-troll comment that I like, but Airgap’s a net loss from my point of view.

          I suppose it’s educational for me that there are some posters who think Airgap is hilarious– I would have expected the favorable responses to top out at “mildly amusing”.

        • Anonymous says:

          We already have a poster who makes funny trollish comments that also provide insight (and thus provides this service). Since getting insight + funny + trollish is hard, they post significantly less than Airgap, who just goes for funny and leaves a mark on every other subthread of some size.

          One airgap post per OT is amusing, more are just noise – especially when he repeats the same style of edgy joke – and he didn’t stop at posting just one. And if we get more people aping him, oh boy.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Quality trolls are like the tannins that give a good wine its distinctive flavor. The master is of course suntzuanime, who understands that a little goes a long way, a lesson Airgap needs to learn. But then, I even enjoyed John Sidles, if only people would have learned to not engage him, but rather let him do his eccentric thing as a kind of performance art.

          (In this analogy, purple anons are vinegar.)

        • John Schilling says:

          Being an asshole and saying “But I’m teaching people how to deal with assholes”, really just reduces to being an asshole.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ HBC
        Additionally, in a space that ostensibly should be safe for the non-neurotypical, some of his comments are resulting in whole sub-threads responding as if he meant what he said.

        That might be kind of a feature instructive. For non-neurotypicals who can’t read body language, here’s a conversation where there’s no body language to worry about. So you-generic can learn to detect other signals of sincerity vs put-on (under no pressure, re-reading an exchange as often and slowly as needed, no need to respond but a kind landing if one does respond wrongly).

      • Deiseach says:

        some of his comments are resulting in whole sub-threads responding as if he meant what he said

        But are we responding as if he meant what he said, or only as we would if we thought he meant what he said? Layers upon layers here!

      • Mr Nasal Hazel says:

        Agreed on Airgap exploiting the commons.

    • Adam says:

      Totally second this. This is what trolling is supposed to be. Make the Internet funnier.

    • blacktrance says:

      Airgap deserves a medal. When people talk about trolling being necessarily bad, his comments would be a prime counterexample.

  7. Dahlen says:

    Am I the only one getting weird side effects from melatonin? I took 1mg sublingually last night and it seemed not to have the promised effect — it did make me very tired, but in a way that kept me quite awake and aware of everything that was going on around me. Also, after I took it I got very twitchy and had this strange urge to twist and turn and clench my muscles all over. Sure enough, I did fall asleep eventually for about 8 more hours and now I feel like I’m having a bad hangover. It’s not the first time it worked less than ideally for me, but this grogginess (and the muscle twitching) seems to be a recent development. Gwern talked about melatonin like there was no good excuse not to take it. WTF is going on?

    • Psmith says:

      This might be a dosing thing. Try taking a third to a half of that.

      (Also, even with correct dosing, I’ve noticed that if I don’t fall asleep within half an hour or so of taking it, I’m pretty much guaranteed to be up for a while.).

      • Dahlen says:

        I’ll try, but it doesn’t seem like the kind of pill that’s easy to break into smaller pieces.

    • dndnrsn says:

      1mg? Do they even sell it in that dosage? At the pharmacy I see 3, 5, 10, and 10 time-release.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Here is 0.2mg, the smallest I have found. Supposedly 0.1mg is available in the Netherlands. Experiments show that 0.01mg is effective. Many people find that larger doses are less effective.

        One market is not for going to sleep, but for sleeping through the night. This requires a larger dose (or time-release). But the main reason pharmacies sell ridiculous doses is because the customer believes that bigger is better.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I’ve been taking 10mg time-release, because my problem wasn’t so much trouble falling asleep (that had happened in the past, but had gotten better) – it was waking up at 3 or 4am and not being able to get back to sleep.

          Stuff below 3mg isn’t even available where I am, as far as I can tell.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Have you tried any other doses? I would not be at all surprised if 3mg not time-released worked for you, though I wouldn’t recommend it. I would recommend that you experiment with smaller time-release doses. And report back to us!

            Where are you? If you’re in America, pharmacies won’t sell you less than 3mg, but you can mail order lots of stuff from Amazon. If you’re in Britain, Amazon won’t sell you melatonin, but I believe that the brand I liked above will ship it directly. Here is 5mg time-release.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I know that I tried 5mg non-time release. It worked for getting to sleep, but I still had problems waking up in the night.

            I’m kind of leery of changing what I’m doing, because my sleep is better than it’s been in years.

            Also, I’m cheap, and loves me some store brand.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Being concerned about $14/year is way beyond “cheap.” Sleep is very important. You should be willing to spend a lot of money on it, including on experiments. Though the monetary cost of the experiment is trivial compared to the risk that it will disrupt your sleep.

            Yes, it works for you now, but you are using 100x the recommended dose. I would worry about that in the long term.

          • dndnrsn says:

            That is a lot. I’ll check it out, thanks for the recommendation.

            Edit: Amazon where I am can get me 1, 3, and 5mg time release. I think I’ll experiment with them. Thanks again.

      • Dahlen says:

        Yes. I mostly saw higher doses too, but went for this one because it was the cheapest. I didn’t see any lower ones, though.

        Anyway, I’m confused now — should I go higher or lower than 1mg?

  8. Anonymous says:

    It appears that slimmer comment threads are not helping in reducing the amount of comments.

    Things to try:
    – Ban about half the commenters. Fewer people, fewer posts.
    – Post a new post every day. Few actually post in the non-latest thread, regardless of length.

  9. Zippy says:

    The Whale Metaphor Blogging tag is underpopulated.

    In a perfect world, it would contain every post.

  10. Dave Blanked says:

    Why wasn’t marijuana more popular before the 20th century?

  11. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    SSC SF Story of the Week #16
    This week we are discussing “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin.
    Next time we will discuss “Seventy-Two Letters” by Ted Chiang.

    • Anonymous says:

      It was a girl.

      Predictable! Why don’t they staff EDS with misanthropists? Because that sounds like the prime qualification. If were staffing EDS, I would make sure that they would shoot the stowaway even if it were their own child.

      She had never known danger of death, had never known the environments where the lives of men could be as fragile and fleeting as sea foam tossed against a rocky shore. She belonged on gentle Earth, in that secure and peaceful society where she could be young and gay and laughing with the others of her kind, where life was precious and well guarded and there was always the assurance that tomorrow would come. She belonged in that world of soft winds and a warm sun, music and moonlight and gracious manners, and not on the hard, bleak frontier.

      Sounds like her education was woefully mismanaged!

      UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL KEEP OUT

      KEEP OUT

      It should damn well have also read, “ON PAIN OF DEATH” with a skull or three. The only thing that makes me feel any sympathy for the stowaway is that someone fucked up the warnings, and someone else fucked up educating space-traveling Earthlings about the rigors of space travel.

      The story feels sort of like a shaggy dog story.

      One thing I kept expecting to crop up in the story, but didn’t, was the pilot offering to shoot her before jettisoning. Might have been too cliche, though. Also, offering to go in her place, but that would have definitely been cliche.

      Another thing that I kept wondering about – is there really nothing else that can be jettisoned out of the EDS? I’ll accept the canon statement that there isn’t, but 50kg is really not that much. I bet there would be some sort of non-critical equipment that could be chucked.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      On the one hand, criticizing some of the assumptions this story forces on me is really low-hanging fruit: Really, guys? No safety margin whatsoever? No “welcome to space flight” orientation for the Earthlings going to the colonies for the first time? Hell, he got the relevant safety information across to me in just a couple of paragraphs, no reason a brief “no seriously listen to this or you will die screaming in space” safety brief couldn’t do the same. No warnings beyond “Keep Out,” not even a locked door? No pre-flight safety check? No refusal to launch unless weight was just so? No non-critical equipment to jettison? Like I said, low-hanging fruit.

      However, all of that’s obviously not the point of the story. We’re simply expected to accept it for the sake of the tale Godwin wants to tell, which is, well, about the Cold Equations. Sometimes people die, and it’s not because the universe is mean, gets a kick out of killing them, whatever. It’s just the math. I really did enjoy the message, despite the contrived set-up, but I’ve always been good at that willing suspense of disbelief thing.

      • SUT says:

        1. Reminds me (and could have been inspired) Stephen Crane’s The Open Boat for its Realism.

        2. Seems irrational from the operating company’s perspective to run such tight fuel margins. I know men who are 120 lbs, and some who are 290 lbs, The difference being the weight of the girl. So first off, you lose the ability to releive/replace a pilot. Now granted you could fuel = f(pilotWeight + cargoWeight), but clearly 1950’s people didn’t realize how variable those each of those components could be when you operate flights on a tight schedule everyday [“lost baggage / we’re getting you another flight crew”]. Finally, if fuel needs to be that tight, why aren’t ship pilots like Jockeys – known for their smallness, and paid to stay that way?

        3. One reason to blame “the corporation” for negligence to plan for stow-aways is due to the hostility of space, the environment in which they operate. The life-and-death reality is what would gives a captain licence to play judge, jury, and executioner toward crew / passengers. Likewise, the social contract stipulates generous accommodations for civilians and their stupidity. Again if you’re willing to pay a fuel premium for pilots over 100lbs, you should pay a fuel premium to insure safety of a civilian.

        4. The ultimate knock on the contrived scenario is that seems to offer justifications that social services are as a constrained as orbital mechanics, and the jettisoning extra weight is the only way for the civilization to survive. But in reality we live in a wealthy post-scarcity economy, and any jettisoning is as legitimate as ‘class punishment’ in marxian revolutions.

        • Nornagest says:

          Finally, if fuel needs to be that tight, why aren’t ship pilots like Jockeys – known for their smallness, and paid to stay that way?

          I can’t point to exactly which offhand, but I remember that being a plot point in a couple of stories I’ve heard of.

        • John Schilling says:

          You understand that this wasn’t a routine commercial flight, right? The emergency shuttle was assembled on the spot for this one specific mission, knowing at the time of assembly who the pilot was going to be and what the payload was going to be. The guy doing the propellant budget had the actuals from the mass budget.

          I don’t recall any discussion of the pilot’s stature, but military pilots in general do lean towards the small and wiry – though not to jockeying extremes.

    • keranih says:

      What I like best about the story is how the editor (Campbell) sent the story back to the author three times because the author kept coming up with ways for the story to end “right”.

      There is a long established pattern in (at least Western, and even more so in American) storytelling where the good guys win, morality is upheld, and A Solution is found. Failures have A Reason.

      In reality, the tale is much more tangled, and, at minimum, there is at least a non-trivial number of times when the Bad Guys win, cheaters prosper, and despite trying very hard, things don’t work out.

      The author of the WWII fictional novel A Thread of Grace Mary Dorian Russell gave her son a list of characters and a set of dice and told him to pick the ones who lived and the ones who died. People who have lived through extended combat say that it was like that – that there was a strong sense that God really was dicing with the universe.

      I’ve had several discussions with fellow fans of The Walking Dead who objected to the lack of “a reason” for various deaths on the show – arguing that each character’s death should serve the theme of the show, or at least the plot. While I have several on-going issues with TWD (and remain a big fan) this is not one of them.

      “The Cold Equations” draws out a moral lesson for the reader – it’s just not the one we tend to want to hear. And for that we-the-reader are often very angry.

      • Sivaas says:

        Worm did this as well: during a fairly intense conflict, the author rolled dice to determine which characters lived and died, fully willing to kill the main character and change the viewpoint for the rest of the story if the dice came up that way.

        I really want to read the other Worms that would have resulted from different rolls.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          Out of curiosity, which conflict was this? There are so many candidates – Yrivnguna, gur Fynhtugreubhfr Avar, Rpuvqan, Orurzbgu, Fpvba – that I can’t narrow it down.

          I also would like to know where you learned this, that I might also go and learn behind-the-scenes Worm facts.

          • Sivaas says:

            This was Yrivnguna.

            I believe I originally found out about this on /r/Parahumans: the author himself has mentioned it a few times I think, one such place is forums.sufficientvelocity.com/threads/lets-read-worm-finished.12066/page-7#post-2729359
            (the question this is a response to links back to his mention of rolling dice, and this directly references his willingness to let the main character die and his plans for after)

            (couldn’t get the link to work for some reason)

      • Aegeus says:

        Tangentially related – I recently watched Grave of the Fireflies and, despite being forewarned that it was the most depressing thing ever, I was struck by how hard the main character tries to make things work. He does everything he can to provide for his little sister and it isn’t enough.

        Yes, Seita has a character flaw, he rejects his aunt’s help out of pride, but he didn’t deserve to die because of it. I got the same feeling you describe here – the feeling that it was just completely senseless. The feeling that the story shouldn’t have ended that way.

        • Jiro says:

          These kind of stories in Japanese animation bother me because the Japanese seem to treat World War II as bad because Japanese people suffered, but ignore that Japanese caused other people to suffer. Each individual instance of such animation can be justified, but cumulatively they give the impression that World War II either was caused by the West, or was a natural disaster. Comfort women? Nanking Massacre? What are those?

          • I think that’s pretty average.

            Viet Thanh talks about his novel which centers the Viet Nam war on Vietnamese rather than (as is usual in American accounts) on Americans.

            This being said, I think America does a better job of noticing damage on the other side than Japan does.

            Anyone know how much Germany has given to the non-Holocaust victims of the Nazis?

          • LPSP says:

            I’ve had that exact feeling, of each individual instance being fine (great even) but the overall impression of seeing work-after-work as unsettling and with bad implications, from Japan many times. Topics like leadership, relationships, tactics, when to be honest vs when to decieve, self improvement, resolution of conflicts and so on all seem fine until you notice the weird, seemingly exceptionless pattern in how they’re portrayed.

          • Jiro says:

            American depictions of the Vietnam War center on Americans, but that’s different from never saying that Americans caused any suffering.

      • Heinlein’s “Solution Unsatisfactory” is my standard example of a story where the bad outcome wins. I once taught an undergraduate course inspired by it.

        Our natural instinct is to assume that if there are only two approaches to solving a problem and we have shown that one of them doesn’t work, we are done. But, of course, there is no reason to assume that there is a solution. The course looked at a bunch of problems, for each of which I offered arguments that neither solution worked.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ keranih
        What I like best about the story is how the editor (Campbell) sent the story back to the author three times because the author kept coming up with ways for the story to end “right”.

        I won’t re-read the story, but I greatly admire that meta-story or legend — Campbell’s intention, and what the back and forth did to the resulting story (making it into as much of a patchwork of revisions and bandaids over plot holes, as the shuttle craft itself was*).

        I see Campbell’s intention as creating a ‘conversation’ between the then-default trope stories and this one. Here’s a story that begins with the then-very-common situation of a tech puzzle to be figured out, light and sure to end well, and then … !! It wasn’t just a (to use the mid-century critical term) switcheroo. It may have collapsed the whole light techy lifeboat puzzle sub-genre. (Cf Agatha Christie’s classic convention-breaker where the murderer turns out to be the first-person narrator.)

        Here is Campbell’s blurb for the story:
        The Frontier is a strange place – and a frontier is not always easy to recognize. It may lie on the other side of a simple door marked “No admittance” – but it is always deadly dangerous. I’ve seen that expanded to a big contrast between frontier and civilized attitudes. For example, a high tech laboratory at the Jeffersonian Institute with guards and gardens all around, is ‘frontier’ if staff are working with unknown chemicals that have obscure dangers.

        The frontier in CE is physical jury-rigging, few skilled people, little backup, contriving rickety fixes to urgent problems. They’re lucky they had any ‘no admittance’ signs to use at all, much less any more specific. ‘Frontiersmen’ don’t need a lot of detailed warnings; they know that everything is dangerous one way or another. The person before you didn’t do anything without a reason which zie doesn’t have time to explain; so if zie even taped something shut with masking tape that’s a Chesterton’s Fence.

        Campbell’s conversation stopper could have been nihilistic, something meaningless goes wrong. But instead he made a good SFish point (frontier vs civilization) and made that the key to the girl’s character; and she’s just the right age for audience sympathy but also old/responsible enough to make her own decision when the pilot leaves it up to her.

        * Almost literally. The shuttles and their regulations had not been designed top down for safety and PR etc. They were hasty answers to urgent (at the time) frontier problems. Each time some new glitch came up, a patch was added to the regulation.

      • Mary says:

        The fundamental problem with “Cold Equations” is that if “no stowaways” was so crucial, they would have had enough security to ensure she never got on.

        Lock all the doors and then do a pre-launch sweep to ensure it.

        • John Schilling says:

          The fundamental problem with “Cold Equations” is that if “no stowaways” was so crucial, they would have had enough security to ensure she never got on.

          Actually not. The conclusion is false because it presumes that if a thing is “crucial”, it can and will be achieved.

          The premise is false because “no stowaways” is not crucial. Stowaways = death, but avoiding death is not crucial. On Earth we can at least pretend that it is; on the frontier there is no such pretense. The story was quite explicit about that.

    • keranih says:

      People who are just finding “The Cold Equations” should also look at “The Cold Solution” by Don Sakers. (A discussion and link to further discussion of the story set here.)

      (There was another story on the same sort of theme – the overloaded lifeboat – starring sign-language using chimps. Anyone know which one I’m thinking of?)

    • John Schilling says:

      OK, first, I’m not rereading “Cold Equations”, not no way, not no how. I’ve done that too many times, and it doesn’t get easier. Second, as a guy who builds spaceships, if you ever want to be a passenger on one of mine, you are going to be reading CE, and if I hear a peep of “that’s not how it would really be”, you’re not going. That’s how it is. On to some details.

      The story is sometimes criticized as to the technical implausibility of the shuttle flight. This is perhaps weakly true in that it is based on early 1950s assumptions of how space travel should work, but about twenty years ago I did the math in excruciating detail, or in less detail here. Given the scenario as described in the story, and 1950s assumptions about future spaceflight technology, the flight plan is plausible. And yes, we do really design space missions with propellant margins that tight when we have to. The Equations, for all their coldness, are at least precise.

      There’s usually a suggestion or two that the story would work better if oxygen or life support generally were the limiting factor; it really doesn’t. First, because the necessary consumables are light enough that it is trivial to provide >100% margins. Second, over a timescale of hours, human oxygen consumption, CO2 production, CO2/anoxia tolerance, and so forth can vary by more than a factor of two . If the mission planners can be at all confident that the pilot will live to complete his mission alone, then the pilot and stowaway can both survive if they relax, maybe meditate or take a sedative, and catch a lucky break. Which breaks the story as written, and sets up a different story (though one potentially interesting in its own right – does the pilot have the right to risk six strangers’ lives on “if we catch a lucky break”?).

      The story is also sometimes criticized on the basis of the Obvious Wrongness of the ship’s operators in allowing the known and abhorrent-to-any-civilized-society condition of stowaways being ejected into space to continue. Surely there would be safeguards to prevent this, or if not surely we are to take the story as one of the Obvious Villainy of the ship’s operators? Except, here in the real world, every civilized society on the planet allows almost exactly the same condition to persist. Substitute “airliner” for “emergency dispatch shuttle” and, well, every once in a while, maybe once in a pilot’s career (but several times a year for the industry as a whole) a desperate stowaway will sneak onto an airliner the only way they can, and if they aren’t caught before launch, there’s nothing to do but to push the button that isn’t actually labeled “Eject stowaway to certain death”, but might as well be. We know this happens, and we let it keep happening. We just don’t have long philosophical discussions with them beforehand.

      We can put a man on the moon, but 100.00% effective safeguards against damn fools getting themselves killed in the machinery will be beyond us well into the future. So we let them, and when necessary we kill them.

      Where the story does cheat, kind of, is waffling about the nature of the sympathetic victim. Taken literally, she’s an adult professional whose job requires travelling on a military spaceship but who apparently skipped all the safety briefings, ignored the warning signs, and went out of her way to sneak into a place she knew was off-limits. Gee, turns out you can get killed doing that? But that’s the only way to make the setup at all plausible, so that’s what Godwin does.

      And then turns around to present her as basically a doe-eyed, innocently mischievous, utterly sympathetic child when it’s time to make the audience cry. Maybe some of that is a sort of infantilization of women that dates the story; the 1950s were well before my time, and I don’t have a good enough feel from period literature to be sure. But I think it’s a cheat. A damned effective one.

      Finally: every time I see this story discussed, a disturbing number of commenters will disparage the ethical standards of the corporation that runs the whole system and is clearly responsible for the sympathetic woman-child’s death. I’ve read that story more times than I care to count, several of them specifically to address various criticisms, and I don’t recall any mention or any corporations. The star cruiser is clearly a government ship, either military or close enough as makes no difference. To modern audiences, apparently, a certain sort of villainy is Obviously Done by Evil Corporations, Don’t Bother Us With Facts. I am somewhat optimistic that we’ll see less of that here, and it will be interesting to find out.

      • Murphy says:

        Probably would have worked better to make the stowaway a few years younger… making them an adult detracts from things a little.

        Your “in excruciating detail” link is broken.

        • John Schilling says:

          Fixed – I think. It’s a google groups link, and those are notoriously erratic.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Your last point is quite interesting to me, John. I didn’t get that impression at all reading it – it seemed pretty obviously a government ship to me.

        I think the only objection I have is that it was apparently remarkably easy for a damn fool to get herself killed in this machinery. Like, I appreciate the point that Campbell/Godwin wanted to make, and I think for the most part the story is effective at it. But this girl just wandered past an unassuming sign and got herself killed for it. It seems to me like there’s a low-cost improvement available there: add “on pain of death” or something to the sign. Put a lock on the door to which the pilot has a key. Neither of these things seem capable of ruining the delicate economy Godwin has created.

        But, like I said in my comment above, this is mostly just petty quibbling over details and ignores the central thrust of the story. On the whole, I think it does a good job driving its point home.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          I’ve never worked in a launch facility, or even a regular airport, but my guess from hanging around a few engine rooms and biochemistry labs is that most workplaces that aren’t open to customers are going to have a half-dozen or more unlabeled Things You Shouldn’t Touch If You Like Having Limbs.

          That’s not (entirely) due to laziness on the part of management, it’s because there are potentially hundreds of ways for a determined person to hurt themselves in that kind of environment and being surrounded by blood red skull-emblazoned signs takes away from the effect of each individual one. We generally try to prevent unauthorized people from wandering in because they don’t necessarily even know how seriously to take warning signs they see. After all there are safety warnings on coffee and step-ladders too, to an extent people don’t even see them for the most part.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’ve done launch facilities, civilian airports, and Air Force bases, and it’s pretty much the same thing. There’s a real emphasis on not letting anyone on the facility without checking who they are and making sure they’ve had the safety training. Paying attention during the safety training is mostly optional.

            And the flip side of Chesterton’s Fence is, if you see a someone on the right side of the fence wearing any sort of badge and you don’t understand what she’s doing, you generally don’t interfere until you do understand. And sometimes you’re too busy to ask.

        • John Schilling says:

          Maybe a warning sign like this one?

          Nine hundred ninety nine times out of a thousand, it’s a quiet room full of idle, stowed hardware, the kind of place one might sneak into for a bit of privacy on pain of having the captain yell at them. “On pain of death” would be a lie, and a pretty obvious one, training people to ignore all such signs. Exactly as useful, or useless, as a simple “keep out” sign.

          Fundamentally, it’s Chesterton’s Shuttle Bay Door: Either you’re the type of person who doesn’t understand why and so stays out, or you’re the type of person who doesn’t understand and so sneaks in, or you’re the type of person who insists on understanding and so read the safety guide in the pouch of the seat back in front of you. Whichever, the presence of the sign is what matters, the language is a matter of taste – and one in which tastes have changed over the past sixty years.

          As for “wandered past”, it is explicit that she knew she was sneaking into a place she’d be thrown out of if anyone caught her. I don’t think the story needs to waste verbiage over the part where she hides behind a crate until she sees everyone busy working on the other side of the bay, or grabs a clipboard and acts like she’s working a preflight checklist or whatever. Any doors which were locked, had to be unlocked and opened to prep the shuttle, and any real operational procedures are going to be based on a general presumption of non-malice towards anyone who looks like they know what they are doing.

          As you note, this is quibbling, the story isn’t fundamentally about the details of how to sneak into the shuttle bay of a military ship. And I’m glad you caught that it was a military (or at least quasi-military) ship; trust me, lots of people don’t.

        • Jiro says:

          I don’t think this is quibbling over details because it changes the nature of the story. Lack of adequate safety precautions is a human failing; it isn’t being victimized by the laws of nature. If she had just walked into an engine and burned up, the laws of nature dictate that people who walk into engines burn up, but we wouldn’t consider that the fault of nature.

          • John Schilling says:

            There is no indication in the story that the safety precautions were inadequate.

            There is among some of the audience a grossly unrealistic expectation of what “adequate” safety precautions can do. They can reduce the risk of accident, but are largely ineffectual against even low levels of malice. They can warn of dangers, but they do not divide the world into categories of “Safe”, “Forbidden due to danger”, and “Forbidden but just kidding you won’t get hurt”.

          • Murphy says:

            I think that’s another shift in culture since the 50’s.

            Nowdays, if you have a building site surrounded by 12 foot high fences covered in razor wire and warning signs saying to stay out due to danger of heavy machinery then even when a moron climbs in with his own can of gasoline and manages to set himself on fire and maim himself while trying to conduct a little bit of arson (something that happened in my home town to a moronic student in my year) people will still um and aw and blame the “evil corporation” for the fate of the “poor little child” and go through any contortions to figure out how it must be the fault of whoever has the deepest pockets nearby.

            Sometimes nature kills people. Sometimes people kill people…. and sometimes people ignore all warnings, warnings they know are there and then set about trying to blame everyone else for their fate.

            When someone ignores all warnings and dedicates all their human ingenuity towards defeating any safety measures you have in place there’s nothing , absolutely nothing you can do to defend yourself from the hand-wringers who will claim that they have no responsibility for their actions.

          • Jiro says:

            sometimes people ignore all warnings, warnings they know are there and then set about trying to blame everyone else for their fate.

            Yes, but the story didn’t take that tack either.

            If there aren’t warnings, and she walks into the engine and dies, that’s human failing–humans should have put up warnings and locked the engine door.

            If there are warnings and she ignores the “you will die” and picks the lock and walks into the engine and dies, that’s her own stupidity killing her.

            The story treats it as neither being killed because of lack of safety precautions nor being killed because of her own stupidity.

          • John Schilling says:

            She was killed by her own ignorance, which she could easily have corrected. That’s not quite stupidity, but it’s within spitting distance from there.

          • John Schilling, there’s plenty of indication in the story that the safety precautions are inadequate.

            A generally harmless person sneaking onto a rescue ship is so unusual that precautions couldn’t be expected.

            Criminal stowaways are a known problem, and precautions against them– a lock on the ship or checking the closet before takeoff would have been sufficient.

      • Murphy says:

        Ok, the excruciating detail is quite impressive.

        I defend the rocket science because, to the extent that it is actually
        described rather than implied, it is *not* wrong. There *are* physical
        scenarios in every way consistent with the description in the story and
        with Newtonian physics – presuming the existence of hyperspace cruisers,
        of course.

        But at this point I am sick and tired of trying to teach remedial orbital
        mechanics to the readership of this group. Between uncertainty regarding
        educational backgrounds and the general unsuitability of the subject to
        description in a text-only medium, it is a pointless and frustrating
        exercise.

        So instead, I intend to post a detailed description of a single physical
        scenario to serve as proof by example of the plausibility of the “rocket
        science” in _Cold Equations_.

        Assumptions:

        Target planet radius = 4000km, specific density 3.5,
        rotation period 100,000 seconds, negligible atmosphere.

        Planet orbits star identical to Earth’s sun, at distance
        of 150,000,000 kilometers. Orbital inclination, orbital
        eccentricity, axial tilt, and equatorial bulge negligible.
        No moons or other planets in system.

        Hyperspace cruiser “Stardust” can emerge from hyperspace
        at any chosen point with arbitrary precision and negligible
        marginal cost, but can change velocity only through expending
        reaction mass.

        Cruiser velocity at start is 106,140 meters per second, at
        flight path angle -0.3426 degress right ascension 0.0 degrees
        declination in stellocentric coordinate system, due to proper
        motion of target star w/respect to cruiser’s point of origin.

        Emergency Dispatch Shuttles mass 500 kilograms empty, and can
        carry up to 10,000 kilograms of propellant (1s2s-metastable
        Helium in a 5% bolonium hydroxide matrix). Engines capable
        of providing 30,000 Newtons of thrust, at specific impulse
        of 3,000 seconds.

        Pilot and payload of this particular shuttle have combined
        mass of 100 kg. The stowaway masses 50 kg.

        The cruiser arrives in-system exactly 11,000 seconds before
        midnight, Planetary Mean Time, on the day of the autumnal
        equinox (which is defined as T=0 for this scenario). Requires
        200 seconds to emerge from hyperspace and launch shuttle.

        Method: Numerical integration using 1-second time step. Positions
        accurate to 10 km, velocities to 10 m/s, angles to 0.0001
        degree (greater precision carried within model, but due to
        cumulative rounding errors not reflected in final output).

        The original flight plan:

        _Stardust_ emerges from hyperspace and launches shuttle at
        stellocentric coordinatees T=-10,800s, Radius=149,999,810km,
        Right Ascension=359.6574deg, Declination=0.0000deg, with velocity
        as above. This point is chosen to allow the fastest possible
        minimum-energy trajectory for the shuttle, given the stated
        assumptions.

        For those who prefer planetocentric coordinates, R=575,620km,
        RA=269.7487deg, Dec=0.0000deg.

        At the time of launch, The Planet is at stellocentric coordinates
        R=150,000,000km, RA=359.8773deg, Dec=0.0000deg. The Planet’s
        orbital velocity is V=29,750 m/s at RA=89.8773deg, Dec=0.0000deg.

        Obviously, the planetocentric coordinates of the planet are
        R=0, RA=0, Dec=0, and its planetocentric velocity is V=0,
        throughout the events under discussion.

        EDS shuttle is initially loaded with 8,282 kilograms of propellant,
        for an intended launch mass of 8,882 kg. Of this, 25kg is set aside
        as a landing reserve (sufficient for ~1 minute of hovering in a 1G
        field). Furthermore, the engines are downrated to 75% thrust for
        the planned trajectory, thus allowing a reserve of thrust as well
        as fuel. This results in an additional excess propellant consumption
        of 66kg compared to a maximum-acceleration trajectory.

        Shuttle is intended to thrust continuously at 22,500 Newtons,
        thrust vector RA=270.0000deg, Dec=0.0000deg, for a period of
        10,800 seconds.

        At the end of burn, the shuttle is at stellocentric coordinates
        T=0s, R=150,000,000km, RA=359.9985deg, Dec=0.0000deg, with
        velocity V=29,750 m/s, RA=89.5186deg, Dec=0.0000deg. Again,
        planetocentric coordinates as well: R=4000km, RA=270.0000deg,
        Dec=0.0000deg, V=250m/s @ RA=0.0000deg, Dec=0.0000deg.

        This corresponds exactly to the surface of the planet at
        Longitude 270.0000 degree, Latitude 0.0000 degrees. Shuttle
        velocity matches vector sum of planet orbital and planet
        surface rotational velocity. Safe landing.

        Remaining propellant is, as planned, 25 kilograms.

        The actual flight:

        _Stardust_ launches shuttle as above, with the addition of one
        stowaway bringing total mass to 8,932 kilograms.

        EDS shuttle thrusts for 3,600 seconds at T=22,500N, RA=270.0000deg,
        Dec=0.0000deg, before noticing stowaway.

        At this point, the shuttle is at stellocentric coordinates T=-7200s,
        R=149,999,110km, RA=359.7964deg, Dec=0.0000deg, or planetocentric
        R=318,930km, RA=269.6972deg, Dec=0.0000deg. Shuttle velocity is
        stellocentric V=95,350m/s @ RA=89.8344deg, Dec=0.0000deg or
        planetocentric V=65,550m/s @ RA=89,7964deg, Dec=0.0000deg

        The Planet is now at stellocentric coordinates R=150,000,000km,
        RA=359.9182deg, Dec=0.0000deg, with V=29,750m/s @ RA=89.9182deg,
        Dec=0.0000deg.

        The shuttle’s tanks contain 5,530kg of propellant; total mass
        (including stowaway) is 6,180kg.

        The girl is now toast. The shuttle can only save this approach
        and land at its intended destination by jettisoning >20kg of mass;
        likely more than can be found in its already-stripped interior.
        Obviously, pilot+girl can survive, for a time, by thrusting laterally
        and missing the planet altogether – but only for a time, unless the
        EDS is carrying an absurd surplus of life-support consumables,
        and in any event at the cost of the six explorers’ lives.

        Attempting to continue the approach with the stowaway aboard will
        result in a collision with the surface at >900 meters per second
        no matter what sort of games you play with the throttle.

        Instead, the pilot reduces thrust to 7500N, still at RA=270.0000deg,
        Dec=0.0000deg. This state of affairs persists for 1,600 seconds
        while the pilot discusses philosophy with the stowaway. Then she
        walks out the airlock, and 15 seconds later the pilot throttles the
        engines back up.

        At this point, the shuttle is at stellocentric coordinates T=-5885s,
        R=149,999,060km, RA=359.8593deg, Dec=0.0000deg, or planetocentric
        R=214,690km, RA=269.6505deg, Dec=0.0000deg. Shuttle velocity is
        stellocentric V=93,270m/s @ RA=89.8344deg, Dec=0.0000deg or
        planetocentric V=63,520m/s @ RA=89.7907deg, Dec=0.0000deg

        The Planet is now at stellocentric coordinates R=150,000,000km,
        RA=359.9413deg, Dec=0.0000deg, with V=29,750m/s @ RA=89.9413deg,
        Dec=0.0000deg.

        The shuttle’s tanks contain 5,118kg of propellant; now minus the
        stowaway, the total shuttle mass is 5,718kg.

        The final deceleration burn for the shuttle lasts 4,995 seconds,
        at thrust T=30000N, RA=270.0000deg, Dec=0.0000deg

        At this point, the shuttle is at stellocentric coordinates T=-590s,
        R=149,999,870km, RA=359.9918deg, Dec=0.0000deg, or planetocentric
        R=4,000km, RA=268,0659deg, Dec=0.0000deg. Shuttle velocity is
        stellocentric V=29,740m/s @ RA=89.5184deg, Dec=0.0000deg or
        planetocentric V=250m/s @ RA=2.2924deg, Dec=0.0000deg

        The Planet is now at stellocentric coordinates R=150,000,000km,
        RA=359.9933deg, Dec=0.0000deg, with V=29,750m/s @ RA=89.9933deg,
        Dec=0.0000deg.

        The shuttle’s position and velocity correspond to those of the
        planetary surface at Longitude 270.1850 degrees, Latitude 0.0000.
        Safe landing. 26kg of reserve propellant remain in the tanks –
        about as much as originally planned, the greater efficiency of
        a full-thrust deceleration profile counterbalancing the effect
        of the stowaway’s weight on the first hour of the flight.

        The shuttle does arrive ten minutes early and twelve kilometers
        off-course, which is presumably not a problem. The course error
        I could have eliminated by fiddling with the deceleration burn
        a bit, but it didn’t seem worth the trouble.

        Done.

        Anyone who wants to assert that the orbital mechanics of “The Cold Equations”
        are implausible or impossible, is welcome to point out the error in the cold
        equations as presented above.

        Now I wanna feed it into some modern orbit modeling software to watch it play out.

        Interesting notes about the 50’s culture of often putting highly lethal hazards behind very mild and uninformative “you may not want to go here” style signs.

        On a less serious note:

        I know KSP sucks for anything with multiple stellar bodies but since only one is involved and it does apparently account for a 97kg mass for kerbals I wonder if it would be possible to whip this up almost exactly with a stowaway kerbal and some light modding…. hand people the scenario and let them try to find a solution where they can both survive landing and land reasonably close to the target zone.

        • Eggoeggo says:

          The Kerbal Solution is “we take it in turns to get out and push”.

          • Murphy says:

            or “discover that one of the parts of the ship was a non-physics part and surf it from orbit to landing”

      • NN says:

        Except, here in the real world, every civilized society on the planet allows almost exactly the same condition to persist. Substitute “airliner” for “emergency dispatch shuttle” and, well, every once in a while, maybe once in a pilot’s career (but several times a year for the industry as a whole) a desperate stowaway will sneak onto an airliner the only way they can, and if they aren’t caught before launch, there’s nothing to do but to push the button that isn’t actually labeled “Eject stowaway to certain death”, but might as well be. We know this happens, and we let it keep happening.

        By “the only way you can,” I assume you mean in the wheel well?

        Wow, modern airport security is even more useless than I previously thought. And modern terrorists are even more incompetent that I previously thought. It is apparently super easy to stowaway in an airliner’s wheel well, and yet not a single wannabe terrorist has ever thought of stowing away in an airliner’s wheel well while wearing an explosive vest?

        • Murphy says:

          It’s not a terribly effective place from which to make demands. Your chances of getting in there are slim,most terrorists are going to have poor information about the location vs the inside of the passenger cabin and there’s a good chance of your plans derailing when you start suffering from anoxia.

          I think terrorists are pretty rational to avoid it as a tactic.

          Never mind that they tend to be pretty conservative when it comes to tactics and often ignore far easier options.

        • John Schilling says:

          Modern airport security is almost exactly as useless as you previously thought. Because of that, the success rate of anyone who puts any serious thought into how to get a bomb onto an airliner is about 100%, and it’s way more comfortable to walk through a boarding gate than to cram one’s self into a wheel well.

          There is the bit where people who think seriously about how to sneak bombs onto airliners have a significantly enhanced rate of drone-strike mortality, so it’s not like the problem is being completely ignored. We’d just rather not have people paying attention to the solutions that work. Look, over here, a bunch of stalwart TSA agents standing watch for your safety!

          • Murphy says:

            Is there honestly a non trivial number of people who work at airports who haven’t thought up a half dozen reasonably workable ways to get a bomb on a plane?

            I mean even if you have no intention of ever actually doing such things you see the obvious options.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          In case anyone’s distressing themselves over the agony of the pilot who has to lower the landing gear: as far as I know, there’s still no system in any commercial airliner that alerts the flight crew to the presence of a wheel-well stowaway (which is just as, uhh, well.) This case here in Boston is a good example: the flight crew found out about it when the rest of us did.

      • Deiseach says:

        She’s eighteen and while that may be legally adult, your bones still aren’t set at that age. I’m old enough to still think you’re not an adult until you’re twenty-one 🙂

        “Adult professional” is putting it very strong; she’s straight out of training school and going for her first real job and she’s lived all her life on Earth and only knows the “daring adventure” part of her older brother’s work in space (quite reasonably, he doesn’t tell his parents and little sister about the real dangers).

        On top of that, the whole point of the story is that she’s from Earth; she’s never been off-world before, she knows nothing about the dangers of space, and she has the kinds of attitude that most people in the world have – how dangerous can this be, really? Sure there’s a big sign saying “No trespassing” but come on, just fine me and we’ll both be on our way! People on Earth don’t expect to be killed for trespassing or for stowing away on an aeroplane or boat, the closest analogy we have here. Lots of places have NO UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL signs up and people often ignore them, and she’s doing the same thing.

        The cruiser is a mix of military – or rather government – and civilian; she’s a properly-booked civilian passenger who’s paid her ticket to get to her destination. Nobody expects her to be wandering around loose trying to stow away to see her brother; she didn’t plan on it until the last minute and for the sake of the mood of the story, she’s not the kind who is the usual stowaway (the story makes it plain that it’s criminals or hard-luck types who are bouncing from one planet to another who try it, not nice young girls on their way to their first grown-up job).

        I’m not so sure the ship is military as such; it’s certainly government, at least in large part, but are the lifeboat services military (as distinct from the Coast Guard)? I think the ambiguity is deliberate; if it were very clearly and plainly “This Is Official Military Craft, Keep Out” I don’t think she would have tried stowing away. But she seems to think of the rescue ship as part of the civilian passenger service, or whatever it is exactly; I don’t see it stated anywhere that this is a purely government service or rather, an explicitly military one (government provides other services that are not military; maybe we should be thinking of the cruiser service like public train and bus transport?)

        The weakest part is how she managed to stow away, but then again it’s semi-plausible; if she was talking with “the native girl” in that girl’s own language and was there with the cleaner, she might have been assumed to be an off-duty or just going on-duty member of the cleaning staff herself, and while everyone’s back was turned, she slipped in:

        “How did you manage to stow away?”

        “I just sort of walked in when no one was looking my way,” she said. “I was practicing my Gelanese on the native girl who does the cleaning in the Ship’s Supply office when someone came in with an order for supplies for the survey crew on Woden. I slipped into the closet there after the ship was ready to go just before you came in. It was an impulse of the moment to stow away, so I could get to see Gerry”

        • Peter says:

          People on Earth don’t expect to be killed for trespassing or for stowing away on an aeroplane or boat

          I wouldn’t expect to be shot, as such. I wouldn’t have a strong expectation of survival either; I wouldn’t expect people to risk their lives or even serious injury to save me, I certainly wouldn’t expect people to sacrifice themselves. I wouldn’t expect people to refrain from necessary actions that might kill me, like raising or lowering the landing gear. I do know that people die while attempting to stow away, and yet we continue having transport systems.

          To a certain extent it’s a matter of how much the phrase “dead either way” means to you; I’m a big fan of the phrase but some people are likely to be less so. If you think there’s something especially super-bad about being shot then you might find the CE less defensible than others.

      • Eggoeggo says:

        What bugged me was how the lack of precautions that would prevent a stowaway could easily go wrong in other, less dramatic but more likely ways.

        “Hey, Josie, where’s my atomic floor-sweeper? I left it on the ship when I took a bathroom break.”
        “Ship’s gone, man.”
        “Oooooh fuck. Well, it’s only 50lb; should be safe as long as nothing else got left on bo–”
        “Heya guys! Anyone seen my atomic lunch box? The wife made me, like, 10lb of Blarx-burgers today.”

        You’d expect a strictly organized sweep of the ship before launch if the margins are that tight.

        • John Schilling says:

          The shuttles were explicitly prefabricated and assembled on demand, so there’s nothing to sweep and no possibility of people storing their random junk in the lockers. But that just modifies the problem, merging the assembly instructions with the preflight checklist.

          Preflight checklists, for airplanes or spacecraft, basically don’t cover stowaways, sabotage, or other malice. They basically can’t, first because those things are rare enough that real users will inevitably edit out those parts of the real list, second because no static list can compete with a dynamic mind on the scene and trying to subvert it.

          Among other things, a list can only have one last item. If e.g.”Check the aft landing gear well” is the last item on the list, then “Check the forward supply cabinet can’t be. Leaving a window in which even an ignorant intruder can notice that she just watched the pilot check the forward supply cabinet, he’s now busy aft, and if she slips in the front she probably won’t be caught.

          Really, anyplace where protecting valuable goods from theft or protecting the general public from their own stupidity aren’t core job functions, “I waited until nobody was looking and snuck past” is a perfectly plausible explanation. Not as a 100% effective strategy for defeating security measures, but enough for a single failure.

    • Anonymous says:

      The point the story hits you over the head with seems fairly banal to me. The effect of trying to make it out to be profound strikes me as /im14andthisisdeep. Though another way to look at, especially because of the comically bad gender stereotyping, is macho chest beating. Either way:
      C+

      • Murphy says:

        I think the number of people desperately demanding that there has to be a workable way out shows the merits of the story pretty well. Lots of people are utterly unwilling to accept the idea of a no-win scenario where the sack of kittens has to be thrown into the blender, no other options.

        • Anonymous says:

          Perhaps, but first you need to back out the nerd-sniping aspect of trying to find a loophole.

    • Anonymous says:

      I wanted to shake my fist at it for making it such a big deal just because it’s a woman being killed, but it’s pretty self-aware:

      Pretty girls were not jettisoned on Earth; there was a law against it. On Earth her plight would have filled the newscasts and a fast black patrol ship would have been racing to her rescue.

      And nobody expected the pilot to off himself in her stead either!

      • Murphy says:

        And nobody expected the pilot to himself in her stead either!

        she couldn’t land the ship.

        It also made the point of her being young. (I think the story would have been better if they’d lowered it by a few years)

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          she couldn’t land the ship.

          Campbell mentions that he had to send the story back twice to get the bad end, since Godwin kept coming up with ways to save the girl. I’m guessing that one of the deus ex machina endings was that the pilot sacrificed himself and the girl barely managed to land the ship with instructions from the cruiser over the communicator.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Should I post the next discussion on the new open thread, or should I wait?

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        I’m only halfway through the next story.

        I think we ought to wait to see how deep Scott’s infinite open thread rabbit hole goes. If it looks like it’ll continue more than a few weeks, then yeah, let’s do the discussion there.

        Otherwise let’s just wait for OT50.

        • Nita says:

          I agree. The next story is a bit on the long side.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Alright, I’ll post the next discussion on the next Open Thread after OT49.75, whichever and whenever that is.

    • Hlynkacg says:

      This is one of my favorite Sci-Fi shorts. It figures that I would be late to the party.

      My one and only gripe is that if the emergency dispatch ship were really as “bare bones” as the author describes, stowing away in it should have been a lot harder. Not because of locked doors or anything but simply because there shouldn’t have been anywhere for an adult human to realistically hide. It’s like stowing away in an H-1 or your friend’s hatchback without being noticed.

      That said, the rest of the story is excellent. Being that sort of nerd, I ran the math myself a while back and came to the same basic conclusions John did here. I have a deep appreciation for the fact that Godwin showed his work. After all, math geeks need to be entertained too. As an aside to those saying that the margins are too thin, it should be noted that Godwin’s margins are positively generous compared to those that actual astronauts were flying with at the time, and they still weren’t enough.

  12. Nornagest says:

    So, how many rude anon@gmail.com posts are we going to have to tolerate before Scott drives a stake into the email’s heart? I haven’t even gotten any anon hate yet and I still think it’s obnoxious.

    I’ve seen polite ones too, so some people seem to be using it for good — no offense if anyone reading this happens to be one of them — but that isn’t where the overall incentives seem to be pointing.

    • keranih says:

      So long as we have ten righteous commentators under that alias, I would be against nuking it.

      I do not, however, expect the count to be so high as that.

    • anon says:

      What’s to stop us from using another email ?

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        The Anons’ well documented code of honor, obviously.

        Admittedly, if a policy to avoid anonposting is in place, coordinating around a single e-mail becomes more bothersome, because you can’t do it in the comments’ section itself and expect it to last long. Still not an unsormountable obstacle by any means.

      • Nornagest says:

        I expect it’s easier to ban accounts than it is for users to coordinate on them.

      • Anonymous says:

        Before we adopted this convention I used to post with a garbage string, removing or adding a character every couple posts. Same level of anonymity, but the drawback is that posting in the same thread with different avatars is a form of sockpuppetry (this is why I only modified the string every couple posts even though deleting a character from it is trivial).

        I don’t see what would stop the evil trolls from using the same method.

    • Guy says:

      Is there a story behind that particular gmail on this site?

      • Airgap says:

        Yes. Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who lived in the tallest tower of a huge castle…

      • null says:

        A while back, someone posted on an open thread saying to use anon@gmail.com for full anonymity or something. The email is linked to the gravatar that the anons in this thread are using. People noticed a lot of bad, rude, annoying comments from this gravatar, leading people to suggest that this uptick in thread pollution was caused by anon@gmail.com making it easier to be annoying. Of course, there might not be such an uptick and the rate is the same, it’s just that we notice it more because it’s all aggregated under one gravatar. Scott could probably figure this out by looking at report data from before and after anon@gmail.com rose to prominence.

        • Anonymous says:

          A while back, someone posted on an open thread saying to use anon@gmail.com for full anonymity or something.

          In a thread before that, someone simply mentioned that they used anon@gmail.com when they wanted to be anonymous, and then someone else chimed in with “hey, me too!”. And so it spread to others.

          Of course, there might not be such an uptick and the rate is the same, it’s just that we notice it more because it’s all aggregated under one gravatar.

          Is that actually a bad thing?

          • Adam says:

            For a little n=1 anecdata here, I have gravatar blocked by Ghostery and have noticed absolutely no change in average anonymous comment quality.

          • null says:

            I never claimed it was a bad thing; I was proposing an alternate explanation for an observed phenomenon.

          • Anonymous says:

            For a little n=1 anecdata here, I have gravatar blocked by Ghostery and have noticed absolutely no change in average anonymous comment quality.

            Is Gravatar particularly nasty with regards to privacy?

          • Adam says:

            I don’t think so. Ghostery just blocks any cross-site tracking by default and I haven’t changed it because I don’t miss seeing avatars anyway.

  13. I just heard a BBC program which quoted various researchers claiming very large positive effects from people being bilingual, including four to five years longer for the effects of Alzheimers to appear than with monolingual people. Do you know anything about this? My immediate response was skepticism–the effect sounds implausibly large and researchers have an incentive to produce newsworthy results. But if it’s right, and applies to people who learn a second language as adults, it would be a pretty good reason to do so.

    It wasn’t clear how they controlled for obvious problems, such as the possibility that people who knew two languages were on average different, even before learning a second language, from people who only knew one.

    • keranih says:

      I’d like to know how they defined “language.” Because if someone is mutually intelligible in Upper West Kingson Falls, VT, Acadaina, and Harlen County, KT, then I think that should could for *something*, even if it all is arguably American English.

    • Nornagest says:

      Can’t be bothered to dig up a cite, but I seem to recall that the neurological correlates of language are very different in people that learned a second language as children and as adults. That’s probably important here.

  14. keranih says:

    At the intersection of globalization, culture, communication, appropriation, and literature – I was listening to the latest radio adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (this is the one with Dormer, MacAvoy, Harewood, Cumberbatch and Head) and came to this bit: (rendered from Richard Mayhew’s pov)

    Hunter: Have either of you crossed Knightsbridge before?
    Anaesthesia: No.
    Richard: Not down here [in London Below].
    Hunter: Well, isn’t this going to be fun.
    Richard: Is there anything, really, to be afraid of?
    Hunter: Only the knight on the bridge.
    Richard (laughing): You mean the kind in armor?
    Hunter: The kind that comes when day is over.

    Which is, of course, one of those homophones that peppers the English (and other) languages – and leads to criminal puns, and Tom Swifties, and tons of jokes and memes and plot twists. (“To Serve Man” is probably a version of this, but there are older versions – Tolkien, for one.)

    I am aware of another example of this sort of overt reference to homophones in SFF, but this time the referenced language was Chinese. In one of the sequels to Barry Hughart’s wonderful Bridge of Birds, a word is defined along the various possible inflections – a large mouth, the empty set, zero, sometimes a small mouth.

    What other uses of homophones in fiction are people aware of, and how often is this a device used in other languages? Given that this is one of those literary tools that is generally not able to be translated, would creating a work that used a number of these be seen as a deliberate choice against globalization/wide access for that particular work?

    • Nornagest says:

      They show up a lot in Japanese media. The language is full of homophones — even more so than English, which is also pretty rich in them — and Japanese writers adore wordplay. It tends to go right over the heads of foreign readers, although occasionally by pure chance it happens to be close to an equivalent English pun.

      I think the fact that wordplay doesn’t translate well is one of the things that makes anime and manga come off more serious in translation than it’s really supposed to be.

      • Eggoeggo says:

        This is why every comic I’ve translated has a page at the end explaining all the original wordplay/references, which are way funnier than anything a translator could substitute.

        “Localisers” are the worst. If someone doesn’t want to get a lesson in foreign culture, why don’t they just read stuff from their own?

        • arbitrary_greay says:

          Eh, I’ve seen localisations that better capture the spirit of the joke than the original text did.

          As per Keranih’s original question, Pratchett is the most obvious author for whom wordplay is a key part of his writing’s appeal. As Discworld and the Neverwhere example show, such devices are primarily used for comedy. As such, miscommunication-based comedy may include an increased use of those techniques. Think Abbott and Costello, or Groucho and Chico zingers. Or Shakespeare.
          Chinese comedy must be rife with wordplay. (Look up the Chinese “Shi poem.” Or the “Ma sentence,” along the lines of the Buffalo sentence.)

          The Swifty itself has its roots in books.

          For other media, the most obvious categories would be song lyrics and poetry. *shakes fist at Sondheim*
          But the action one-liner is also one of the biggest sources of puns. There’s nothing like a terrible pun to comment on a specific means of inflicted violence. And then after the body’s had time to cool, here comes Horatio Caine and his sunglasses.

          Second Nornagest’s point on Japanese media. Nisiosin. Just, Nisoisin. I know I’m missing a bunch of the wordplay still, but a respectable number of them translate well enough in the Monogatari anime, thanks to Shaft visually demonstrating them, as well. And speaking of Shaft, the entirety of Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei is basically their exploring various idioms in their literal forms, and then taking them to their logical extreme end.

  15. “This is an experiment with slimmer, more frequent open threads.”

    2 days, 872 comments. Depending on what you mean by slimmer, I don’t think the experiment is working.

    Pedantically speaking, the longer the comment thread, the narrower it is compared to its width, so it’s getting slimmer and slimmer.

    • Anonymous says:

      The sum total of human knowledge advances! I wonder – what is the intended, appropriate length of a comment section under a post?

    • keranih says:

      It occurs to me that – in response to multiple suggestions – Scott is willing to perform low-cost-to-himself experiments to demonstrate what everyone else already suspects/knows.(*) However, I wonder how long he would be willing to go on putting up three threads a weeks with nothing more than “this is an open thread” in order to demonstrate that, no, his commentariant really can babble on for that long, before the various people making that suggestion accept it.

      (*) As is correct – one does want to calibrate one’s priors, after all.

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      No hard data for this, but the more frequent threads, to my perception, are resulting in more conversations re-treading earlier ground. Perhaps it’s influx of some new commenters, but I’m seeing arguments being re-hashed from scratch, instead of linking to “here’s what we said on it before, let’s continue from that point.”
      And sometimes it’s between the same commenters as the last time the topic came up, re-hashing from the same starting point instead of continuing from before.

      Less frequent threads can force those conversations to take place on other platforms, for example one argument playing out once over a long period of time on Tumblr, because there’s no structural element like “a new post is up with a clear comment section” to wipe our brains of what happened last post.
      Less frequent threads also give people the opportunity to stew over arguments, refine them, so that they have more to offer during the thread, when timeliness is a factor, (more substantial opening comments, more counterarguments already pondered) increasing discussion quality.

  16. merzbot says:

    How likely is it that realistic, inexpensive, and nutritious fake meat could significantly reduce or eliminate real meat consumption in places where it’s available? That would make fake meat a pretty huge utility-booster.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Pretty low, because “realistic and inexpensive” are unlikely. A cow is a machine optimized for producing tasty beef, and beating it is likely to be extremely difficult. And cows are probably not the most efficient animal at producing meat by any means.

      Why would fake meat boost utility at all anyway?

      • Nornagest says:

        Why would fake meat boost utility at all anyway?

        By eliminating a category of agents, called “cows”, that are perceived as experiencing a lot of negative utility.

        This only works if you see cows as agents, of course, but it’s pretty common to sneak that assumption into EA discourse these days.

        • And only works if you believe their net utility is negative, that it is better for them not to exist.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            I dare any vegan to come play with my lambs for ten minutes and tell me they shouldn’t be allowed to exist because they’re “suffering”.
            I don’t care if they offer us “synthetic meat” or even reprocessed vegan activists as substitutes–we are not going to give up domestic animals.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Eggoeggo
            I dare any vegan to come play with my lambs for ten minutes

            Are you raising them just for wool, or do you eventually eat them? If the latter, then there’s an element of trust and betrayal.

            (Disclaimer: I’m not even vegetarian at the moment.)

          • Anonymous says:

            And only works if you believe their net utility is negative, that it is better for them not to exist.

            Which is pretty strange! Even a brief, torturous existence is better than nothing.

          • Airgap says:

            There’s no betrayal of trust. He regularly shows them the bolt gun and explains how it works. If they can’t put 2 and 2 together, that’s their lookout.

          • Berna says:

            @Anonymous

            Even a brief, torturous existence is better than nothing.

            Why? I’d say it’s beter than a long torturous existence, but I’d much prefer not being born to having any sort of torturous existence, or even just an unhappy one.

          • Anonymous says:

            Why? I’d say it’s beter than a long torturous existence, but I’d much prefer not being born to having any sort of torturous existence, or even just an unhappy one.

            I suspect this is one of those differences in viewing the world that are just irreconcilable, like being able to visualize mentally or lacking the ability. It is obvious to me why being alive is superior to being non-alive, on an axiomatic level, but I’m not sure I am able to articulate why, much less to someone who would prefer non-existence to unhappiness.

          • Nita says:

            It sounds like you’ve simply never felt the right sort of unhappiness, anon. Perhaps you’re constitutionally incapable of feeling it. But if not, and if you did end up feeling it (say, due to a change in circumstances), you’d understand soon enough.

          • “but I’d much prefer not being born ”

            “Better not to be born. But who can be so lucky? Not one in a million.”

            (From Leo Rosten, The Joys of Yiddish, by memory so probably not verbatim)

          • Anonymous says:

            It sounds like you’ve simply never felt the right sort of unhappiness, anon. Perhaps you’re constitutionally incapable of feeling it. But if not, and if you did end up feeling it (say, due to a change in circumstances), you’d understand soon enough.

            And I should take the very-obviously-not-thinking-clearly future-anon-who-is-suffering’s opinion on the matter? No, thanks. I’d rather precommit while sound of mind – for the same reason one writes a will before one has dementia, why being drunk invalidates consent, etc, etc.

          • Nita says:

            What makes you think you’re sound of mind right now? 🙂 Being human, you are not immune to the usual optimistic biases, illusions or other cognitive distortions.

          • Anonymous says:

            What makes you think that suffering will improve upon that?

      • DavidS says:

        ‘Optimised’ is pretty strong. Selectively bred, but on the same basis a horse is optimised for swift transport, an ox for ploughing etc.

    • keranih says:

      IMO far more likely that we develop some sort of quasi-Vegemite protozoa-extruded pate type meat-ish product that (with different seasonings) replaces scrambled eggs, meat loaf and deli cuts.

      That it boosts utility depends (as noted) how well that system replaces the other things we use cows and pigs for.

  17. zensunni couch potato says:

    What if “sensitivity to environmental influence” is itself genetic?

  18. Two McMillion says:

    So, I’ve been reading Scott’s posts on Raikoth lately, and I’ve been wondering: Scott, do you have a feel for what crime rates are like in Raikoth? It’s certainly a fascinating thought experiment you’ve constructed, though I admit I’m perhaps too much of a pessimist to see a similar system ever working.

  19. Worst practices

    This was started as a discussion of how to sabotage a company. I think almost everything mentioned in the comments is actual business behavior.

    • The Nybbler says:

      My guess would be that the original OSS manual was based on dysfunction the writers had noticed within their own organizations. Thus Conquest’s Third Law: “The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.”

  20. benwave says:

    So in the course of reading through Scott’s older posts I found a link to givingwhatwecan.org, and I was surprised to learn that they only mention four charities that make it into their A list. Anyone have any insights into why this is? Are a lot of charities not very good? Is it hard to assess the value of a charity? I notice that they are all related in some way to diseases/parasites, so is it the case that this one particular issue causes such a vast amount of disutility that to attempt any other kind of charity in the current conditions is negligible by comparison? I’m interested!

    • Peter says:

      In a way, it’s surprising there are as many as four.

      “Negligible” is not quite the right word – if charity A gets a unit of bang for a buck, and B gets a unit of bang for two bucks, then B’s contribution is hardly neglible and it’s much better for people to be contributing to B than to not be contributing at all, but contributing to A is better.

      Under the assumptions that A: charities are scoreable in terms of bang for buck, B: scores can be done to arbitrary precision, C: 5.00 +/- 1 is better than 4.99 +/- 1, D: the chances of two charities having exactly the same score are tiny and E: the aim is to do as much good as possible with the money available, then there must be a “best” charity.

      Naively, it would seem a good idea to send all the money to the best charity, and thereby get the most bang-for-buck. However there are arguably multiple issues with this, some of which the EA movement takes into account. For example, there are issues of diminishing returns, and the ability of a charity to spend lots of money – “room for more funding” as GiveWell puts it. The short and sloppy version is that the bigger the EA movement gets, the more charities it can saturate with cash. (People who like complicated economic models can think about marginal utility per dollar, and equilibria where you give more and more money to the leading charity until the marginal utility per dollar equals that of the next-best charity, and then add lots of extra fussiness and spend forever making and defending economic models… “saturate with cash” is good enough. People who like paradox-like things might note that this destroys the circumstances in which assumption D holds, and compare it to other cases where acting on an economic theory destroys the assumptions it is founded on.)

      I’m not a “full” EAer and find their lists useful but don’t stick strictly to EA principles in my own charity spend; I spend some money on things “closer to home”, and that comes out of my general charity budget, which I think is a no-no for strict EAs (they can spend on other charities from other budgets but not from money earmarked for EA purposes). For example I have mental health problems, and thus spend some money on mental health charities – it’s not exactly self interest but neither is it optimised for the greatest good, it’s… not selfish, not exactly groupish, more people-like-me-ish. There seems to be a weird idea in some places that the only good motives to follow are self-interest or the greatest good and, well, that doesn’t seem to match my sense of motivation.

      I think there are also concerns about the longer-term future of charities; partly in terms of keeping useful but currently-not-maximally-mariginally-useful charities afloat, and of “rewarding” small growing charities who might grow into A-listers if properly nurtured.

      I think that the lists of charities are going to have to grow as the EA movement grows. I think the EA movement tries to optimise for the good it can do in context in the world as it is, and that if there was a danger of everyone suddenly converting to EA principles overnight then the EA movement would have to rethink a lot of things pronto… but that’s not going to happen, so the movement has time to refine its principles over time.

      (There’s a part of me that also says that the size of the EA movement is limited by the proportion of the population that properly gets the idea of marginal utility, that that’s a small proportion of the population, and it must look terribly strange and alien to people who don’t get it. But that sounds suspicously smug to me so maybe I’m missing something.)

  21. Anonymous says:

    The commenting section of this blog is out of control. At the moment of writing this, there are 686 responses to this thread. I would have to put aside half a day to read through all of them. On the other hand, if I happen to have a remarkably insightful comment but I don’t post it within an hour from the original post, it will get buried somewhere and no-one will ever find it.

    Have you considered using some kind of rating system for comments so that good comments rise to the top? Or maybe a “Scott recommends” tag for posts that you like so that others can check them out too (assuming you read even 10% of all the comments here).

    • HeelBearCub says:

      In a voting system your comment is even more likely to get buried.

      It seems to me that what people asking for voting systems want is a system whereby someone else does work and finds interesting comments, and they get to read only those ones and everything else gets (and stays) buried.

      Rather than a system that is conducive to dialogue. Which is what I want.

      And you can always go to the subreddit if you really want a forum that allows voting.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        What about, for open threads, sorting the top level comments in reverse order, so the newest is at the top and more likely to be read?

        Would this mess up any of the tool ecosystem?

    • dndnrsn says:

      My strategy is to just collapse all the highest-level posts that don’t interest me, and after that just use the latest comments feature. Makes it harder to miss stuff, too. But the fact that I have a reading strategy for a comments section does suggest a problem.

      Rating systems, however, bring in their own problems, and a system that would require Scott to read everything himself fully and make decisions as to what’s best is just making a problem for everyone into a bigger problem for one person.

    • Urstoff says:

      Don’t read through all of them. Just check the latest replies and see if anything interests you. Although with a commentariat that probably has completionist / OCD tendencies, that might not be possible for everyone.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        When there is a huge comment thread, I often close the page, and then come back the next day to see where discussion is active.

        This also tends to select for drama-heavy threads, though. Which I probably need to cut down on.

    • There is the reddit subforum http://reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/

      much less activity there

    • suntzuanime says:

      We could try being less friendly and welcoming, or less interesting to talk to.

    • TD says:

      A rating system is a messy socialized solution that can’t please everyone for reasons HeelBearCub mentioned. A better solution might be a tag system, whereby you have to add pre-set tags to describe your post in tl;dr/category terms, and then the individual can privately tailor reading the comment sections by omitting all of the posts in the categories they don’t want/only selecting the categories they do want. The comment section should also be reorganized so that comment trees are threads beginning with the OP.

      • I wonder if one could design a personalized voting system. I’m imagining a system where individuals upvote or downvote comments, the software keeps track of which other readers have views that correlate or anti-correlate with yours and provides you with ratings based on their votes.

    • LPSP says:

      I see no reason why a forum or imageboard wouldn’t solve all the problems with the OTs.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        I see no reason why a forum or imageboard wouldn’t solve all the problems with the OTs.

        Well, the fact is that there exists both a subreddit and an imageboard, and neither of them seem to have solved the “problem” (yet).

      • suntzuanime says:

        I don’t understand the appeal of imageboards. Or, I understand the appeal for image-based discourse, like sharing pornography, but I don’t understand why they’re so popular for mostly-textual discussion. Why is the special sauce for a forum to require an unrelated image in every OP?

        • LPSP says:

          I can’t speak for all imageboards, but when I say (or said) imageboard I meant 4chan, or anonymous. Anonymity improves discussion for the same reason natural selection improves the fitness of a species (and with the same limitations and caveats). In general it requires posters to be actually interesting, and nixes the tumourous influence of comment upboating.

          4chan at its worst is always when regular threads become dominated by name/tripfags. Then it’s no different to any other site.

        • InferentialDistance says:

          Anonymity, lack of registration, image macros, and the ephemeral nature of its threads. Not for everyone (or even most), not for all purposes (or even most). But it has its place.

  22. TomA says:

    Question related to your professional skill set . . . when does hypersensitivity become a psychosis?

  23. Inty says:

    I went to a talk about Effective Animal Advocacy by Jacy Reese today. Some interesting points that came up:

    Improving the standards of living for animals could drive down demand to reduce factory farming, because people will conclude ‘Eh, we’ve done enough.’ this seems like a frustrating problem to overcome in theory, but I can’t think of it happening anywhere in practice in the past. Am I just not thinking hard enough about past examples, or is there a flaw in this reasoning?

    Some people want to focus on concrete gains- for example, ending the use of battery cages. Is this a sensible way of clawing in gains that won’t slide away, or inefficient focus on something symbolic?

    And more generally, Jacy thought that people underestimate the power of their own close personal social networks. Actually, he said that EAs do this, but I’m wondering about whether there is a difference. I feel like people probably overestimate this, but maybe I’m the one who should recalibrate a bit. And if people do overestimate their own social influence, are EAs biased in the other direction?

    • Airgap says:

      One flaw is that improving living standards for animals makes them taste better. I don’t actually think this is a flaw at all, but I can see how you might.

    • keranih says:

      this seems like a frustrating problem to overcome in theory, but I can’t think of it happening anywhere in practice in the past.

      Some have argued that the (largely market-driven, partly democracy-feed-back driven) improvements in factory working conditions in the West have dulled the support for a true communist revolution that would have (in theory) made even greater strides in improving the lot of the common worker.

      concrete gains- for example, ending the use of battery cages. Is this a sensible way of clawing in gains that won’t slide away, or inefficient focus on something symbolic?

      I’m going with “inefficient focus on something symbolic” because the anti-modern ag movements don’t actually have concrete goals for improving the welfare and health of the animals involved – instead they’re focused on farming aesthetics and emotional reactions. An indepth look at the available data on various systems shows that there are health and welfare negatives to all types of farm production – including all the systems promoted by anti-modern ag groups.

      people underestimate the power of their own close personal social networks

      I’m not entirely following – do you mean that people can be more influential than they believe they are? Or that they think they can change things but really can’t?

  24. Eggoeggo says:

    Funny little intersection between “effective altruism”, signalling, and the “college is useless!” discussion.

    My alma mater recently sent a begging letter complaining that alumni giving rates are way down (fallen by almost half in the last few years, percent-participation-wise, iirc). My immediate reaction was shock that they’d even consider headlining a fact like that, rather than ignoring it or only mentioning it carefully in phone solicitations–where people can actually be guilt-tripped.

    It seems like the inevitable reactions are going to be A) there must be some rational reason nobody else is donating, and I should probably trust them. And B) oh good, now I don’t have to feel guilty–I’m in the majority!
    Can anyone with experience in this area suggest why this might be a good strategy for them?

    In the mean time, I’m donating them $0.00, to cover the paycheck of a student who lost his work-study job at the writing center for editing an alternative campus newspaper. And a little cover letter reminding them that we read the news, rather than the brochures 🙂

  25. Scott brought up Calea Zacatechichi on tumblr as a herb that can increase dream recall and dream intensity. I’d love to hear more about it. Has anyone here tried it? Did it work? Any negative side effects? Is it safe?

  26. Elan says:

    Study concludes that the typical reasons people cite for the rise in obesity (“physical demands at work, restaurants, food prices, cigarette smoking, food stamps, and urban sprawl”) explain very little of the rise of obesity, at least when modeled as linear factors.

    I’m a huge skeptic of the types of the claims that e.g. high fructose corn syrup or antibiotics or GMOs have had any major effect on obesity levels, but what the hell is going on here?

    • keranih says:

      What the hell is going on here?

      Dunno. But if you figure it out, there’s a Nobel Prize for you.

    • Jill says:

      What’s going on here? High fructose corn syrup makes people obese, but for some reason you don’t want to believe that. What is your reason for your skepticism? Do you love foods containing high fructose corn syrup? Or are you an heir to a company that produces TV dinners and other high fructose corn syrup products? Or is there some rational reason for your skepticism?

      A sweet problem: Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain
      http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S26/91/22K07/

      • suntzuanime says:

        come onnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

      • JDG1980 says:

        You might want to read Scott’s article, “Beware the man of one study.”

        I wouldn’t necessarily rule out HFCS as a culprit (or at least a contributing factor), but considering how few studies successfully replicate, I’d like to see more evidence. Nutrition seems to be almost as bad as economics or the social sciences in that you can find some peer-reviewed study, somewhere, to “prove” almost anything you want to.

      • Don’t start by assuming bad motives– there’s such a thing as honest disagreement.

        As for what might be going on, there are a slew of theories– less sleep, gut biome, rebound from dieting, prescription drugs that cause weight gain, some specific infections….

      • Glen Raphael says:

        @Jill:

        We’ve discussed this a few times before so people might be tired of discussing it but: much of the conventional wisdom on diet is wrong and nearly every “scientists just found X!” study on the subject doesn’t turn out to solve much of the puzzle.

        To me one of the most interesting factoids is that during the same period that humans in the developed world got fat the animals living around us did too. Our cats and dogs and even laboratory rats are all much more obese than they were in, say, the 1970s. That fact rules out a lot of the standard explanations. Dogs and cats and lab animals aren’t consuming lots of high fructose corn syrup. They’re not being convinced to eat more by television commercials or billboards. They’re not spending their workday surfing the net or playing video games. They’re not the victim of oversized restaurant portions, nor are they being pushed extra food with “super-size this?” or “would you like fries with that?” options. And so on.

        If we knew why the animals are getting fatter, my suspicion is that it would go a long way to explaining why people are too.

        • JDG1980 says:

          Hormones in the water supply would be one possible factor here. Since animals are drinking the same water (potentially with even less filtering than for humans) they would be equally affected.

        • onyomi says:

          Need moar parasites?

        • What’s the source, based on what evidence, for animals getting fatter? If true it’s certainly interesting.

          • Outis says:

            I think it’s this one: http://www.nature.com/news/2010/101124/full/news.2010.628.html

            They did not actually measure obesity, just weight. It’s entirely possible that the animals simply got proportionally bigger, just as humans have gotten taller.

          • Airgap says:

            Maybe animals become more sinful first.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Outis:
            Yeah, that’s one of the relevant studies. To quote another account of it:

            The marmosets gained an average of nine per cent per decade. Lab mice gained about 11 per cent per decade. Chimps, for some reason, are doing especially badly: their average body weight had risen 35 per cent per decade.

            That one mentions one of my favorite off-the-wall theories – we’re fat because we got better at central heating and air conditioning:

            For example, consider the increased control civilisation gives people over the temperature of their surroundings. There is a ‘thermoneutral zone’ in which a human body can maintain its normal internal temperature without expending energy. Outside this zone, when it’s hot enough to make you sweat or cold enough to make you shiver, the body has to expend energy to maintain homeostasis. Temperatures above and below the neutral zone have been shown to cause both humans and animals to burn fat, and hotter conditions also have an indirect effect: they make people eat less. A restaurant on a warm day whose air conditioning breaks down will see a sharp decline in sales (yes, someone did a study). Perhaps we are getting fatter in part because our heaters and air conditioners are keeping us in the thermoneutral zone.

            Also: home and city lights (including computer monitors and LEDs everywhere) disrupt sleep. And there’s the hygiene hypothesis – that we’ve made the world too clean – mammals are adapted to get sick more and have more parasites than we do now. Or the “fat virus” aka infectobesity – there are viruses known to cause people-and-animals to get fat, and those viruses became more prevalent over time.

            I’m not wedded to any of those, but they all seem more plausible culprits than HFCS.

          • Reading the piece Outis linked to, I noticed that the effect was significant if you combined all the animal populations but not for all of the individual populations. So it’s possible that the effect is driven by (say) pets, doesn’t exist for wild animals, or the other way around.

        • Julie K says:

          I could see how people who eat big portions, and don’t exercise, might also give their pets big portions, and not enable them to get enough exercise, but I don’t know how to explain the lab rats…

          • dndnrsn says:

            Maybe they also feed their lab rats more? Maybe the composition of lab rat chow has changed?

          • keranih says:

            Perhaps I’m missing something, but it’s not clear to me that the lab rats data is being controlled for better housing (ie climate control & better/more hygenic bedding) and better diets (fewer contaminates, less spoilage and more nutritious) – all of which could have slowly been improving over decades.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Are their diets better?

            I’m looking at manufacturer’s data on lab rat food (This site calls itself “The world leader in Laboratory Animal Nutrition”) and while it’s in a very different format from human nutrition labels, looking at the contents, I’m guessing by the fact that “Laboratory Rodent Diet 5001” contains both various grains and fat/meat from pigs (which would be fed on grains) the rats are probably getting a fair bit of Omega-9 fats.

            Some people say that an Omega-9 to Omega-3 imbalance is a Bad Thing. Human intake has increased over the 20th century due to what we feed the animals we eat and the fats we use for cooking.

            Possibly relevant?

          • keranih says:

            @ dndnrsn –

            Are their [domestic animals] diets better?

            On the grounds of better balances of necessary nutrients for various life stages – absolutely. This has been a state of constant improvement and experimentation at multiple levels – universities, private feed companies, individual farmers – for decades. Better diets are a non-discardable portion of the improvements in animal health and productivity over the last century.

            In terms of excluding toxins and preventing contamination and waste – also absolutely. Aflotoxins, f’zample, can have impacts on litter sizes and time to adulthood.

            Human nutrition research is laughable in the face of the experimentation and improvement that has been done with feeding domestic animals. More specifically, we are pretty sure (*) that we’ve hit nearly all the low hanging fruit. What improvements that are left are aimed at the delivery of the prescribed ration (think about the difference between the grocery list in the frugal parenting magazine vs what your kid actually eats during the day) tweeking diets for specific life stages of different subpopulations, making the best use of available vs ideal ingredients, and incorporating marginal findings.

            By all the data I’ve seen, omega acid balances are marginal findings. They may turn out to be a part of the whole cars/desk jobs/processed food/HFCS complex…but the data indicating that they are the orange soda itself is not there.

            (Freaking comp ate my first reply. If I am confusing (or incorrect) please let me know.)

            (*) often a bad sign, I know

          • dndnrsn says:

            No, that makes sense. I can imagine that animal nutrition is better studied – ethics committees probably wouldn’t allow locking children in cages.

          • keranih says:

            They don’t allow for controlled diets of aduts, either, nor mandated periods of exercise for elders. But yeah, part of what I left out of this copy of the reply is “Human nutrition info is v. poor compared to animals and that’s not really a bad thing.

            (It’s not just ethics, though – the long lifespan and generations is also important.)

      • Nornagest says:

        HFCS definitely isn’t good for you, but I doubt that it’s a major driver of American obesity on its own, i.e. that it would change much if you replaced it with older sweeteners. The saccharide ratio you get from it is very similar to honey, and not that different from what sucrose (i.e. table sugar) breaks down into — usually either 55% fructose (for soda) or 42% (for most packaged food), while sucrose gets cracked into fructose and glucose by your gut bacteria in a 50-50 ratio. That rules out most of the plausible mechanisms of action here. Absorption time, maybe, but sucrose breaks down pretty damn quick. Plus, countries like Mexico are getting fatter too, and HFCS isn’t a common sweetener there.

        My own pet theory involves the rise of soda and other caloric beverages (fruit juice, Gatorade, energy drinks, Frappucinos) as staple water sources, however they happen to be sweetened, but I’ll readily admit that could be wrong or incomplete. It doesn’t explain fatter animals at all, but I’m a little leery of that claim.

        • Fullmeta_Rationalist says:

          Since we’re sharing pet theories. I suspect the primary instigator is carbs in general. A high-carb diet basically makes everyone pre-diabetic. It’s just that we don’t realize it, because we think a low glycemic index blunts the effect more than it actually does.

          No, I don’t have any evidence for this. I just want it on the record. So that I might gain bragging rights, on the hilariously naive chance that I know what I’m talking about.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Speaking of pet theories, when I’m being really cynical I start to suspect the entire notion of a balanced diet is a problem. Humans didn’t used to eat (or try to eat) anything resembling a “scientifically balanced” diet. What if our ability to put on fat (especially during childhood) used to be limited by the relative lack of various specific key nutrients or micronutrients? As we tried to optimize human nutrition to avoid any important shortages – putting iodine in our salt and vitamin D in our milk and vitamin A in our rice and making all our cereals fortified with essential vitamins and minerals and encouraging vitamin supplements and propagandizing the notion of “a complete breakfast” to parents and making sure schools served “balanced” lunches, maybe we accidentally improved the efficiently of fat storage during some stage of development.

            Maybe an unbalanced diet is better for most people than a balanced one.

          • onyomi says:

            I totally agree this is a problem. I see people at the food court eating a whole fruit smoothie as a beverage to accompany their big pile of fried rice and general tso’s chicken. When one considers the fact that fried rice was originally a way of making a full meal out of a staple/accompaniment to main dish, these people, then, are eating three full meals. But then, they need to get their 10 servings of fruits and vegetables in, don’t they? Don’t you know smoothies are good for you?

            This is why I’m super skeptical of vitamins, supplements, and almost every narrative of nutritional deficiency (other than vitamin D, but that’s really a hormone produced in our own skin and it’s highly plausible we’re low on that because we spend so much time indoors). People used to live on just like… potatoes. And you really think you’re deficient when you have access to Whole Foods year round?

          • keranih says:

            I suspect a physiological system that evolved to deal with seasonal shortages of food coupled with increased activity during dry seasons (the savanna experience) transitioned pretty well to more temperate areas with seasonal severe cold, and (with different modifications) to sea-based diets (more dependable, but more work.) I suspect the shift to dealing with modern excess food year round isn’t going so hot so far.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            IIRC nutritional-deficiencies during childhood lead to obesity down the road, because the body goes into “famine mode: store all the things (as fat)”.

            I’m coming from the opposite direction. I think the diet isn’t balanced enough because macro-nutrients (and also “vitamins & minerals”) are optimized for at the expense of phytonutrients. Alas, who needs phytonutrients when we have incredible, edible potatoes? Foods other than potatoes are certainly available at the supermarket. But a diet of potatoes is also a lot cheaper than a diet of organic free-range hippy salads.

            I do believe in such a thing as a balanced diet. But the USDA’s food pyramid (which puts nothing but starch and B12 at it base) isn’t it.

            ————————–

            I suspect the shift to dealing with modern excess food year round isn’t going so hot so far.

            As a silver lining, it appears the Lactose Tolerance Project is coming along swimmingly.

          • Adam says:

            I could easily be abstracting way too much from personal experience, but this has to be related in some way specifically to what people eat. I don’t know if it’s carbs per se, or at least not all of them, but it’s something. Everyone here is speculating about lifestyle changes and being sedentary and having abundant food, but I’ve spent the last three years gradually seeing my physical condition deteriorate to the point that I can only get out of bed for an hour or two a day and yet I’m the same weight I’ve always been, outside of when I specifically tried to gain or lose weight for athletic purposes. This hasn’t taken any special effort. I don’t do anything ever so I’m not really hungry ever. The whole notion of a set point seems to work the other way, too. I’ve been somewhere between 172 and 178 for nearly 20 years, through being a state champion cross-country runner, a soldier, and now a bedridden cripple with five herniated discs and nerve compression issues. Huge variations in activity level have made no difference. It’s not willpower or intentional dieting. I’m just not as hungry as I was when I was really active, which seems to be the way appetite is supposed to work.

            The fact that sedentary people can spend the entire day chomping down snacks and liquid calories that add up to enough excess to put them 50-60 pounds overweight is pointing to an issue with what they’re eating not creating the proper feedback signals. I don’t know if it’s liquid calories, energy dense sugars, whatever, but I challenge anyone to eat mostly lean meats and vegetables and still manage to overeat. It’s really hard.

    • JDG1980 says:

      What chemical pollutants, hormones, or additives are Americans exposed to that Europeans and Asians aren’t? That might be a good place to start.

      • onyomi says:

        Cars (instead of walking or cycling), outlet malls, Costco (instead of more frequent purchases of smaller quantities), big gulp…

      • Anon says:

        It’s not just Americans who are getting fatter; you’d also want to look at what pollutants/hormones/additives Mexicans and wealthy Gulf Arabs and Ukranians (along with the many, many other nations that are getting fatter every year) are getting.

        The widespread nature of the obesity epidemic makes it especially difficult to pinpoint any specific chemical as the cause, though I do believe something environmental is causing it.

        Also, note that it isn’t even confined to humans: wild animals are getting fatter too, as are lab animals and pets. The rise in pet obesity is easily explained as humans just feeding their pets too much, but the rise in lab and wild animal obesity is much more difficult to explain and no one really seems to know why it’s happening.

        • I don’t even know if it is happening. So far nobody has actually pointed at the source of the information, and it’s the sort of factoids that could easily spread with very little evidence to support it.

          The obvious explanation for humans is increasing real income.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @David Friedman

            The main study on this is titled “Canaries in the coal mine: a cross-species analysis of the plurality of obesity epidemics“:

            We examined samples collectively consisting of over 20,000 animals from 24 populations (12 divided separately into males and females) of animals representing eight species living with or around humans in industrialized societies. In all populations, the estimated coefficient for the trend of body weight over time was positive (i.e. increasing). The probability of all trends being in the same direction by chance is 1.2 × 10−7. Surprisingly, we find that over the past several decades, average mid-life body weights have risen among primates and rodents living in research colonies, as well as among feral rodents and domestic dogs and cats. The consistency of these findings among animals living in varying environments, suggests the intriguing possibility that the aetiology of increasing body weight may involve several as-of-yet unidentified and/or poorly understood factors (e.g. viral pathogens, epigenetic factors).

            There are also separate studies on various individual species. For instance, there’s an Association for Pet Obesity Prevention that regularly surveys vets, resulting in articles like this:

            The study found 24.9 percent of all cats were classified as obese and 21.4 percent of all dogs were obese in 2011. That’s up from 2010 when 21.6 percent of cats and 20.6 percent of dogs were found to be obese.

            Horses follow a similar trend. In the US about 20% of horses are obese (and 30% are overweight); something called “Equine metabolic syndrome” is becoming a big problem.

      • SJ says:

        What chemical pollutants, hormones, or additives are Americans exposed to that Europeans and Asians aren’t?

        Does the use of high-fructose corn syrup as the primary sweetener in packaged foods have any impact?

        EDITED TO ADD: there may be something else entirely at play.

        What was the rate-of-expansion of the availability of cheap food?
        Of jobs that can be accomplished sitting at a desk?
        How does the usual method of travel in the U.S. and Europe affect average metabolism?

    • Anonymous says:

      Here is my bullshit hypothesis…

      The obesity epidemic has many causes and is complex, not a simple chemical thing or anything like that.

      One problem is that people are not moving enough in their daily lives, and it begins in childhood. Staying fit is mostly a metabolic thing, you need to have your metabolism unatrophied for it to work, else people exercise and end up injuring themselves, eating muscle and losing no fat. Fixing this is complicated, there is no single solution or explanation like people are hoping. I have the suspicion that there is a more cognitive side to fitness, having to do with building and maintaining mechanisms in your brain that recognize, control and regulate your body. If we raised a kid paralyzed and unparalyzed him at age 10, he could gain muscle mass and so on but this cognitive side would be completely atrophied and would have to be built from scratch. It could be worse for real people with this problem but already overweight and accustomed to eating a lot.

      I often find news like how kids don’t play in the streets anymore, or how cartwheels are ilegal in some schools. Sitting all day was never a good idea in the first place, and you can’t even stand up to stretch your legs without being disciplined. Exercise is isolated from daily life and this is done only by the few people who actually exercise, the rest mostly living a lifestyle that obviously leads to atrophy. Bed, Chair, Car, Chair, Car, Couch, Bed. Yeah, not a good idea.

      Another problem is food, quality has “increased” in theory but decreased in practice, people go for the cheapest and most addictive food in general, many have no time or money to feed themselves well. Psychology also plays a role here, people in better conditions won’t eat on compulsion as some form of sensory escapism. People overfeeding kids is a huge problem too.

      Yet another problem is non holistic approach to exercise, what little is done is very focused on specific things and pretty myopic.

      More problems: The aesthetic standards are fucked up, particularly for women, that is, too many of them have an ideal physique that is unhealthy and unrealistic and are allergic to actual functioning physiques. Physicality is approached as “Be prettier”, “Be athletic”, “Lose weight!” and so on, instead of a reasonable and unproblematic holistic approach.

      In addition to all this there could obviously be chemicals going around. Wild animals getting fat is interesting/terrifying.

      • I have a notion that car seats may be training (a lot of) children to be used to not moving.

      • I think weight gain and being extremely sedentary are different problems, though there’s overlap. As stated there are fat people in the active to athletic range and thin people who move as little as possible.

        Body image issues are even more destructive than you say– aside from people who are afraid to be noticeable while fat (or “fat”), there’s also the fear of being bad at sports, dancing, etc. which causes people to not get started.

        • Anonymous says:

          I have a notion that car seats may be training (a lot of) children to be used to not moving.

          You mean those things that go above the car natural seats, with belts to immobilize the kid? Are people using those on non-babies?

          I think weight gain and being extremely sedentary are different problems

          Yes, you can stay thin or lose weight by doing nothing and eating the correct amount. You will still atrophy and encounter health problems though, and it won’t won’t work if you are already fat or your metabolism is not tuned for that.

          Ineffective weight loss (From obesity) and being extremely sedentary are more related. Those thin but sedentary people are going to have problems too if they want to put weight, as they should.

          The whole thing is really complicated, other people mentioned stuff I think plays a role too; Exposure to cold and germs. Cold in particular strikes me as very important to maintain a healthy metabolism. We are not, after all, cold blooded reptiles.

          there’s also the fear of being bad at sports, dancing, etc. which causes people to not get started.

          Yeah, I suggest people try and research a lot of stuff until they find something that looks fun for them. Something they want to learn and would do by themselves even after they are super fit, just to have fun.

          Dancing, acrobatics, movement-mysticisms, classic gymnastics, climbing, martial arts, etc. (Something that makes you use your whole body and includes building up muscle, flexibility and complex technique at least) People are obviously going to suck at first as is proper for human beings learning something. Avoid military like trainers that force all students to do the same kind and number of exercises while using humilliation to motivate them, unless you are comfortable with that style (It can be great if you are but is horrible and harmful if you are not, or if the teacher likes that shit instead of using it reasonably)

          • Loquat says:

            I dunno about the rest of the world, but the state of Pennsylvania you have to keep your kid in some sort of car seat or booster seat up to age 8, and official recommendations encourage you to keep using the special seat past that age if the kid isn’t large enough to properly “fit” the car’s own seats.

      • Cheese says:

        I broadly agree with your entire comment, I personally have little doubt it’s extremely complex with respect to the specific biological causes. I don’t think it’s complex at all as to the ‘why as a society are we getting fatter’.

        Another problem is food, quality has “increased” in theory but decreased in practice, people go for the cheapest and most addictive food in general, many have no time or money to feed themselves well.

        This concept is especially striking I think though. Lots of people love to blame the ‘food pyramid’ and various dietary guidelines/health organisations making recommendations on old research or incorrect research.

        One of my favourite facebook pages is a nutrition researcher at an Australian University who commented on this phenomenon, making reference to this article: http://www.smh.com.au/national/health/most-australians-failing-to-meet-dietary-guidelines-new-research-shows-20160511-gosk59.html

        No one follows the bloody dietary guidelines! And where we do come close to following them, it’s in the groups with high sugar/carb content and we eat the types of fruits and grains they specifically advise against.

        • The Nybbler says:

          As far as I can tell, dietary guidelines are put together by picking out which foods people derive the least enjoyment from and calling them “good”, while singling out the foods people like best and calling them “bad”. Is it any surprise they aren’t followed? They’re probably actively harmful, as whereas without them, people would just eat the “bad” foods, now they eat the “bad” foods, feel guilty, and try to “balance” them by eating some “good” foods as well.

        • Psmith says:

          This is why you track macronutrient intake and titrate to effect. This “good/bad foods” stuff is pretty much religious purity law. I have several very smart coworkers who appear to take the idea of “healthy foods” very seriously, even to the extent of using it in published quantitative research, which rustles my jimmies no end.

    • Anonymous says:

      Has anyone done a study comparing a contemporary diet with what a peasant of the same ethnicity would have eaten a century ago? Because that would be *my* bullshit explanation of what is causing the obesity. After all, the nobility and the wealthy always tended to be much fatter than the poor, or even the middle class, and their diets seem not that far removed from a McDonald’s or KFC meal.

      • onyomi says:

        Yeah, if it were a problem with the water supply, etc. then why were Henry VIII and Louis XIV fat? Now we can all afford to eat like they did (not just expensive foods, but also rich, heavily processed foods with pleasingly emulsified fats and condensed sugars), ergo we’re all as fat as they were.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          I feel the same way. I don’t think there’s any great mystery here.

          The rich have never been universally fat, but they’ve always in the past been more fat on average than the poor. Because the poor were on the very effective “no money diet”.

          Now, everyone is rich because of capitalism. And thus, everyone tends to get fatter, except that since fatness now purely signals “gluttony” and not “gluttony plus wealth”, (relatively) rich people have more time and incentive to work to combat their own obesity.

          Of course, there are other people like myself who simply don’t have strong appetites. So we eat a lot less, but it’s not “work” and it doesn’t take mental effort to maintain. It takes time and mental effort to cook a meal or even to drive to McDonald’s, but I’d rather sit at home and not do that. Even when I was in college and had as many all-you-can-eat meals per week as I could want (10, the minimum plan), I went as little as possible.

          On the other hand, maybe if I had unlimited funds to eat out at the finest restaurants every day, I would gain weight. (Though paradoxically, the fanciest restaurants tend to have more reasonable portions, so maybe not.)

          The solution to the obesity problem seems straightforward though so far hard to implement: create effective appetite suppressants without bad side effects, in order to make the people who tend to become obese more like the people who don’t.

          • Nornagest says:

            This implies that the American middle income cohorts only started being able to do much better than subsistence around 1970 or 80, which seems very suspect to me.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nornagest:

            That might not be too far from the truth, at least in some areas.

            My mother (born 1964) grew up fairly poor in rural Alabama, and her family had a relatively hard time rising above the level of subsistence. For instance, they were not farmers, but they had to grow a substantial amount their own additional crops (and they would all get together to e.g. shuck corn or shell peas), and much of the meat they had was from fishing or hunting.

            They certainly couldn’t afford to go to restaurants except as special occasions. They didn’t avoid going to McDonald’s because they were too sophisticated for it; they avoided it because they couldn’t afford it.

            But sure, I may have oversimplified things. Yet I think it’s the same essential story: the major cause of obesity is wealth. Jobs being less physically demanding, requiring people to exert less effort, i.e. being more desirable, is just another aspect of that.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m willing to believe that 10th percentile income in 1970 or 80 was close to subsistence. I’m a lot less willing to believe that of 50th percentile income, especially in light of the relative flatness of real wages since then.

            The rise in obesity is too large to be explained by changes below the poverty line.

          • keranih says:

            I’m willing to believe that 10th percentile income in 1970 or 80 was close to subsistence. I’m a lot less willing to believe that of 50th percentile income

            My grandmother was one of nine surviving kids in a rural tenant farmer family of East Texas Germans. (They were not sharecroppers. They owned their mules and harnesses, thank you, and only rented the land and plows.) She owned two dresses.

            When she was a young wife, married to an enlisted military man post WWII, she would make supper for three from two meat balls, a quarter cup of flour and four slices of bread.

            When I was growing up, we had typically had second helpings of *anything* only on Sunday evenings. We didn’t have desserts that often – maybe once a month, not counting fresh neighborhood fruit in season.

            I don’t consider my lineage to be exceptionally poor – we always had *enough* – but it’s likely we were around the 40% mark by the time I went off to college, and had dipped quite a bit lower occasionally along the way.

            Everyone I know except the really rich upper class people eats more and better than we did growing up. And I think the rich would eat more, but unicorn haunch is only really good in the spring, you know?

          • onyomi says:

            I was born in the 80s and I remember food being more expensive and less varied even then. I think the variety definitely makes a difference too. Imagine that most of what you have available in the fridge looks like this. But you can eat all you want! Personally I would eat this if I were really hungry, but not beyond that.

            But my grandma was a great cook! You object. Okay, but she still can’t compete with the food court for sheer variety and calorie-per-dollar crammed into each spoonful.

            Also, I think one underestimates how much cost, on the margins, affects your decision about how frequently to e. g. eat out or buy one more doughnut. Even if the 1970s middle class could afford to eat like the middle class today, if it meant using say (random figures) 40% of their income on food instead of 30% they might not have done it.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’ve been seeing those aspic photos a lot lately.

        • Peter says:

          In the case of Henry VIII – he had a severe jousting accident in 1536 – reportedly, prior to that, he was a fine physical specimen, after that, he couldn’t have the active lifestyle to go with his appetite so he got fat. Also reportedly his personality changed and he became a lot more cruel and tyrannical than before. Also also the shock of the accident caused Anne Boleyn to miscarry a male child… I don’t know about Louis XIV.

          So I suppose an active lifestyle is an important part of the balance. The poor had hard physical work (and not too much food), the rich had hunting and jousting and all manner of exciting physical recreations.

    • dndnrsn says:

      It’s important to remember that for most of human history, an ability to pack on fat and not lose it easily would have been fairly advantageous.

      While full-on obesity is a problem, just being overweight doesn’t actually seem to cause major health issues in the same way. And “normal” weight, going by BMI, still has plenty of extra fat on the body.

    • Urstoff says:

      So is it not the case that people are consuming more calories while moving about less than they did in the past?

      • Urstoff, how far in the past do you have in mind?

        My impression is that people generally moved a lot more in the twenties, but things haven’t changed a lot since the seventies.

        • Nornagest says:

          The labor market’s changed a lot since the Seventies, with expansions in the professional and service sectors and contractions in manufacturing and most kinds of unskilled labor. I don’t have the data to say that this definitely means people moving less on average, but on first glance it does seem to point that way.

        • Simon says:

          W.G Grace was a cricketer of high renown and in his day job a General Practitioner. He would regularly, (i.e every work day), walk in excess of 12 miles to get round to his patients. He died in 1915, (although in photographs of his old age he looks a bit of a porker).

          As cars trickled down through the economy I imagine lessand less people would even consider such a thing.

      • Corey says:

        It certainly is, but that’s just a restatement of the problem. The interesting question is: why? (which I’m about to post my pet theory upthread)

        • Urstoff says:

          So we know the proximate cause, just not the distal/ultimate causes. Ok, just trying to clarify the state of our knowledge.

    • Corey says:

      My pet theory, based on reading stuff and the personal experience of being a porker, is a combination of causes:

      1) Rising economic insecurity in the last few decades
      2) “Superstimulus” calorie-dense food
      3) Something throwing off hormonal regulation (and there’s probably a genetic susceptibility factor to combine with that)

      My anecdata: I can and have lost significant weight (never permanently; that’s approximately impossible for anyone), but only with iron-fisted calorie counting, which is the hardest diet to stick to.

      • “My anecdata: I can and have lost significant weight (never permanently; that’s approximately impossible for anyone),”

        I don’t know your definition of “significant” or “permanent.” I pushed my weight down by about fifteen pounds several years ago and have kept it there. Not by calorie counting but by monitoring (either with a scale or how tight my belt was) and cutting down whenever it started going back up.

        • Corey says:

          Everything’s very individualized with weight control – nothing works for everyone. My pattern is: nerd-skinny, weight unknown -> 275lb over ~10 years -> 225 over ~1.5 yr via calorie counting -> 315 over ~7 years.

          If I can knock off 100 pounds or so I could go into a “maintenance mode” where I do just what you did – monitor & cut back to maintain some sort of equilibrium. I’m nearly there now, my rate of weight change, while positive, is fairly slow; I haven’t needed new pants for a few years.

          But for me in particular, to actually lose weight it takes about the same amount of willpower it would take a fraternity to quit drinking. Some of this is idiosyncratic (e.g. I grew up poor, and my general willpower is probably on the light side), and I think some is more widely applicable.

      • John Schilling says:

        My anecdata: I can and have lost significant weight (never permanently; that’s approximately impossible for anyone)

        Seventy pounds, permanent for about ten years now, no calories ever counted, no tasty foods excised from diet. Less of certain foods, either in frequency or portion sizes. Half an hour of exercise every day, plus commuting in part by bicycle most days and hiking or diving once a month. And I set the thermostat at minimum in winter.

        Calorie-counting is I think unsustainable, and diet without exercise ineffective, but those aren’t the only options.

  27. Jill says:

    Scott, here is a book for psychotherapists (I am one) that I find quite interesting, and that you may also. It’s a short book. Translated from Dutch.

    http://www.amazon.com/Past-Reality-Integration-Mastering-Conscious/dp/1848505485/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1463443590&sr=1-1&keywords=past+reality+integration

  28. 57dimensions says:

    Ok. Does anyone here really love Monty Python? Specifically The Holy Grail? I absolutely love it and find it hilarious. Does anyone here really not find it funny at all?

    I just re-watched it for the who-knows-what-time an hour ago and I still find it as funny as ever, but the reason I watched it was because I wanted to show it to a new friend I made recently. She didn’t find it very funny, she said she thought parts were funny, but she was clearly very bored because for the second half she just used her phone the whole time; when I said it was the final scene she exclaimed, “FINALLY!”

    Beside the fact that she was using her phone during the movie, I just feel like I’ve lost some of my connection to her. I generally don’t have a problem with people not liking things I like, I don’t really care if the general public happened to not find Monty Python funny, but for some reason since she is a close friend who I share many common interests this is bugging me quite a bit.

    I also feel like taste in humor is a bit different from taste in food or something else. At least to me, someone’s taste in humor says much more about their personality than their taste in food.

    Opinions? Similar experiences? Agree/Disagree?

    • keranih says:

      Take this with a grain of salt. I am not a person who gets a lot of humor that other people seem to enjoy a lot.

      (Aside from that…anyone tend to enjoy being solitary because it frees one from perceived pressure to react to shows/sights/etc in the same way as many other people?)

      I like many of the skits in Holy Grail, and Life of Brian, and other MP products. But a lot of humor is blunted for me if it is dependent on humiliating or mocking other people. For instance, the Black Knight is hysterical in part because the Knight is absolutely not afraid, not stopped, and is still a going concern. Likewise, even though the peasants are filthy mud diggers, they are not mockable – it is Arthur and his watery tart who are foolish. And Arthur is burdened with glorious purpose, so his ego is not really scuffable.

      I don’t like the bits with Sir Robin, there is a lot of Life of Brian that turns me off, and I don’t like humor that depends on making people miserable.

      (My personal morals are crap enough that I can see utility in making (specific) people miserable but that makes the process useful, not funny.)

      A lot of conflicting tastes in music/film/books/etc I can take or leave – there is no accounting. But a difference that depends on something I find abhorrent is a lot harder to get past. It seemed to me that the situation with your friend was more in the line of differing tastes, rather than a deeper conflict.

    • Nornagest says:

      It was funny when I was in high school. Now it’s very, very overplayed.

      I feel this way about a lot of things that geek culture has adopted. It tends to develop this lamprey-like attachment to certain properties and refuse to let go of its host until long after there’s no life left to suck out.

    • Eggoeggo says:

      Assuming this isn’t witty self-parody, this is a well known phenomenon that family guy summarizes quite well.

      I’m english, and think that 99% of everything they made was cringeworthy and awful. Cleese’s scripted comedy was pretty good. How to Irritate People, Fawlty Towers, A Fish Called Wanda, and a bunch of his ads for compaq and business management were really funny.

      • HircumSaeculorum says:

        Why cringeworthy and awful? I’m asking out of curiosity, not trying to be confrontational.

        • Eggoeggo says:

          A lot of their sketches end by just falling apart awkwardly, and get “rescued” by a wacky non sequitur before transitioning to the next scene (like the “this is far too silly” policeman bit they did over and over).

          Also americans who think everything english is the best are… well, imagine someone showing up to intro japanese class in a naruto headband talking about how kawaii stuff is. Desu.
          American anglophiles elicit that level of cringe in me, and it’s tainted things like Python, Harry Potter, etc.

          • Nornagest says:

            well, imagine someone showing up to intro japanese class in a naruto headband talking about how kawaii stuff is. Desu.

            I don’t need to imagine it, I took Japanese in college. There weren’t any literal Naruto headbands, but I saw some stuff that was almost as cringeworthy. And I heard a lot of kawaii talk.

          • suntzuanime says:

            When I took Japanese, the class was basically split evenly into the anime half and the non-anime half. There was even a split in the classroom itself: one of the walls was plastered with anime posters, and the opposite wall was plastered with posters of traditional Japanese cultural stuff. I tended to hang out with the non-anime half, even though I am a detestable weeaboo, because I feel like a classroom is not the appropriate place for that nonsense.

            So I don’t think the analogy quite works, since presumably the Americans are enjoying Monty Python et. al. on their own time, whereas the intro to Japanese weeaboos are harming others by disrupting their education.

          • Airgap says:

            The guy who wrote Gaijin Smash said that anime-japanese and normal japanese were so different that knowing a lot of the first won’t really help you with the second, or something along those lines. Does that sound right to you?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Well, as stated, I would say that the claim is hugely false; the Japanese used in anime has an awful lot in common with the Japanese taught in class and I have to assume with the Japanese spoken in Japan (I’ve never been). I think you should be careful not to be over-confident in what you’ve learned from anime, if you’re careless you could end up talking like a swaggering mecha pilot or a delicate flower of a schoolgirl. People are bad at understanding how little they know, in general. But I would say that watching anime was a definite benefit in terms of pronunciation, listening comprehension (being able to parse spoken Japanese), and to a certain extent vocabulary (although there were a few issues where I learned more melodramatic vocabulary than was usually appropriate).

            Where anime was pretty fucking useless was in learning kanji. I could mostly breeze through the spoken language parts of the class, but memorizing kanji was a constant pain in my ass, and I’ve forgotten most of them.

          • Airgap says:

            I’ve probably misremembered the force with which he drew the distinction. He had JLPT level 1 and was an anime fan, so I doubt he got it wrong.

            The thing about schoolgirls reminds me of another story I heard from a co-worker: White men in Japan tend to learn Japanese from their girlfriends. Because of the status-relative vocabulary in Japanese, they end up speaking as if they were young girls, much to the amusement of the locals.

          • Anime language is much different from regular language in that the way they talk and emote in most of them is the sort of over-the-top melodramatic or childish way, say, soap operas or cartoon shows might talk. It would be really out of place to talk like spongebob or the kardashians in an adult situation. Plus there are all the nonverbal cues and ticks which anime either exaggerates or doesn’t make obvious to foreigners, you just have to sort of live them to get build the neurological pathways for them.

            Disclaimer: I have but one year as an exchange student that went to Japanese high school (I was able to talk conversationally at a middle school level, read like a 3rd grader, and write like a first grader). I know more language than I think I do, but intuitively rather than by rote memorization due to how I learned it.

          • Dahlen says:

            Heh. Cultural appropriation, intra-Western edition.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, I don’t think it’s at all accurate to say that anime and manga Japanese won’t help you with “real” Japanese. It’s just that it’s a subset of Japanese that won’t help you to say, read a newspaper article about the economy (and of course reading introduces the issue of kanji), because that will use different vocab and grammar structures, and so on.

            And yeah, if you actually talk like a person in an anime you run the risk of sounding rude, childish, weird, etc. If you talk like Doraemon you’d sound like a baby. If you talk like Inuyasha people will think you’re rude and strange and think you’re hot shit for some reason. If you talk like Naruto people will think you have some kind of weird verbal tick, etc.

            Of course, I also don’t need to tell this crowd that anime is quite varied. Generally more “adult” anime with real world-ish/non-scifi/fantasy settings are going to depict a more realistic approximation of how Japanese adults talk day to day.

            Part of the issue is Japanese changing more than English to reflect social hierarchy and levels of familiarity. Anime tends to depict people talking like teenagers shooting the shit with their buddies as opposed to the way you should talk to your boss. (Though, conversely, due to the presence of god emperors, etc. it also sometimes uses a level of extreme politeness very rarely used in daily life outside a customer service context; it would be very weird/come off as sarcastic to refer to someone as Name+sama in speech, for example).

          • I’m expecting that by now, Japanese people can tell who learned their Japanese from anime.

    • Anon. says:

      Love ’em. I do think their best work was in Flying Circus, though, not the movies. The Funniest Joke in the World is absolute perfection.

      • smocc says:

        I agree about the show over the movies. Holy Grail is good, but I could never get into Life of Brian (except for the Biggus Dickus scene). The first two seasons of the show, on the other hand, I think are almost non-stop genius.

    • BBA says:

      My dad hates Python. My mom and I love it.

      I find people reciting Holy Grail to be super obnoxious, and not just because I’m ashamed that it’s something I used to do.

      Lately I think some of the more obscure Flying Circus bits are my favorites. This is every sports interview ever.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      A friend of mine often puts The Big Bang Theory on TV while I’m just hanging out at his place. I don’t find the sitcom very funny. But we watch it together anyways. (Sometimes, I even laugh!) There are certainly worse things in life than tolerating a bad sitcom.

      Hypothesis: Perhaps the reason you’ve “lost the connection” isn’t just that she disliked it, but that she conspicuously disliked it. By playing with her phone during the film, she disrespected something you regarded highly and had attempted to bond over.

      Pop Culture is not about aesthetics; it’s about camaraderie. Do my friends and I always share the same tastes in art and culture? Hardly. Would I ever play with my phone while my friend was trying to hook me on his or her favorite film? Never.

      • Viliam says:

        The Big Bang Theory is how non-nerds see nerds. (A show how nerds see nerds would be something more like Dilbert, or maybe with bits of HP:MoR.) This is why the show is usually not so funny for nerds; it’s merely repeating the cultural stereotypes about nerds being socially inept, and there is nothing smart to compensate for that. Someone is laughing at you, and you are supposed to not break the mood and laugh with them. Thanks, not interested.

        • Nita says:

          TBBT isn’t all that mean-spirited, but it’s just… not quite right. Sheldon is too much like the actor playing him, so it comes off like a friendly parody of stereotypical STEM nerds performed by stereotypical acting geeks.

          How nerds see themselves:
          a) comedy
          b) drama

    • SJ says:

      Monty Python’s style of humor was similar through Holy Grail, Life of Brian, Meaning of Life, and the TV show Flying Circus.

      There were even several not-quite-Python films which had a partial Monty Python cast, and similar humor. (Fish Called Wanda, possibly Time Bandits.)

      I think Holy Grail wins because the target of the humor was less time-and-culture specific. Most people know enough about the “Arthur” mythos to enjoy the humor, even if they don’t know enough about English schools to get the English-School-related jokes from Life of Brian or Meaning of Life.

      You may be correct: Monty Python humor is a taste. It’s a taste that I can enjoy in full occasionally, even if I can enjoy it in part much more often.

      Which I think is part of what makes Python so quotable. The short quotes are funny, even to people who don’t like the full-length movie.

    • LPSP says:

      I watched a bit of Monty Python as a kid, enjoyed the sillier sides of ANFSCD but didn’t have the patience for the movies. About this time last year I rediscovered Python, and I was absolutely in love. I’d never see the TV show and it’s just sublime comedy, varied and profound and utterly bonkers. I haven’t felt that strong an inclination to watch the movies, but I did watch most of LoB and enjoyed it. It’s a gorgeous movie in addition to spot-on comedic execution.

      Python almost strikes me as elemental comedy. Individuals who don’t like Python, don’t watch comedy for the funny bits. They are watching it for some sort of gratification, which can be very diverse (gooey romance/touching scenes, affirming social views, haha weed lmao and so on). Python is an acid test, matched by Eddie Izzard if I’m being honest.

      Critical addendum: When I was 14 I quoted Python sketches I hadn’t seen and didn’t know purely to look intellectual and fit in. It happens, but it’s sad when adults do it, no matter the source material.

  29. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Has anyone had melatonin stop working?

    I’m having trouble falling asleep at night. The good news is that I can demonstrate it’s all in my brain, because it only happens on nights when I have work in the morning. The bad news is that it happens on nights when I have work in the morning.

    • Nornagest says:

      Not personally, but you can build a tolerance to most things.

    • Lambert says:

      If it’s in the brain it won’t be melatonin, which is predominantly in the eyes. If you worry about not being able to get to sleep when you have work in the morning, it could be one of those infuriating vicious cycles that minds sometimes get into.

    • merzbot says:

      It’s definitely become less effective over time (5mg sublingual nightly) for me. But my daily caffeine intake has been steadily increasing over that same period of time, so that’s probably it.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I was taking sublingual melatonin for a while, and having trouble with waking up in the night and not being able to get back to sleep. I switched to time-release melatonin, and that seemed to solve the problem: I used to have a very hard time getting to sleep and staying asleep. A combination of melatonin, weight loss, and magnesium seems to have helped: I get by on 7 hours of sleep minimum, whereas previously 8-10 hours wasn’t enough.

    • Dahlen says:

      Oh god, I didn’t see your melatonin-related thread before I posted mine. Even more proof that the SSC comment section is a huge mess, I suppose…

  30. Salty Pickles says:

    Is it weird that there have been no MSM obits for Henry Harpending? Like, none. Or at least none that I can find on Google.

  31. I’ve heard that the current theory is that memories are rewritten when they’re accessed (which I find plausible) and that there’s a pointer system for finding memories (matches my experience).

    Why is making an effort to find a memory likely to be counterproductive, while ignoring the problem makes it likely to for the memory to just come to mind? I’ve find that sometimes deliberate relaxation can make a memory pop up.

    Are memory pointers also subject to rewriting?

    • InferentialDistance says:

      Hypothesis: “an effort to find a memory” means focusing on the same set of inputs/thoughts/senses/experiences that keep resulting in the wrong memories; only by using a different set of inputs/thoughts/senses/experiences can you access the memory you’re searching for. Relaxing yourself is one way to shift your experience so that you get different recall.

      Memory pointers are subject to rewriting, but it’s more like you have a slightly wrong pointer and are just repeatedly accessing the data it points to. By relaxing, you start looking at the nearby pointers, which sometime hold the data you want.

      • Sometimes it’s definitely impossible to get to a memory because I’m fixated on a wrong pointer, but sometimes it seems as though I can’t find any pointer.

        There’s probably another part of the system which checks on whether a hypothesized pointer is plausible.

        • InferentialDistance says:

          but sometimes it seems as though I can’t find any pointer

          Your pointers themselves are stored and indexed in your memory, this problem is recursive. You have to remember how to remember!

          • Fullmeta_Rationalist says:

            I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking memory advice from someone as dopey as you. [SHOTS FIRED]

          • InferentialDistance says:

            Are you mocking the So Zetta Slowpoke, Chibi-san?

      • Fullmeta_Rationalist says:

        Anecdata: Sometimes I’m on a train of thought. Just to make something up, it might be like

        0. reading SSC
        1. reading about human memory
        2. “I wonder how far HP has gotten on that memristor thing”
        3. “magnets… how. do. they. work.”
        4. “I should charge my phone”

        Which prompts me to stand up and plug my phone into an outlet. Then when I sit back down, I try to remember my train of thought but I can’t. So after about 30 seconds, I’ll give up and go back to reading SSC. Which leads me back to the Human Recall post, which triggers the entire subsequent train of thought. This sort of thing happens often.

        Hypothesis: my homunculus first checks its cache. But when I stood up to charge my phone, the cache had been reset to make room for “TASK: charge phone”. However — since my train of thought is often initiated by the immediate environment, and since my mind’s algorithm has such predictable thought patterns, starting a new train of thought (given the same environment) will follow an identical execution path. Kinda like how a pseudo-RNG will generate an identical sequence given the same seed.

    • Fj says:

      In my experience the “on the tip of the tongue” memory doesn’t pop by itself, but is retrieved via indirect associations, after retrieving it by the most direct association (“how was the guy who wrote the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern play called?”) failed. The relaxation part is extremely important to avoid accidentally rerouting those weaker associations via the failed one as they’re being activated, like, if you keep focusing on it.

  32. The original Mr. X says:

    Not sure if it’s been talked about on this site before (if it has, I must have missed it), but I came across this story and thought people here might find it interesting:

    http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/04/oxfords-rhodes-must-fall-co-founder-in-restaurant-altercation-we-will-give-tip-when-you-return-the-land/

    Tl;dr: a (black) law student at Oxford humiliates a (white) waitress and brings her to tears, then self-righteously boasts about it on Facebook ’cause colonialism.

    Really, this sort of thing seems to me a good reductio ad absurdum of modern identity politics, although I’d be interested to hear what everyone else has to say about it.

    • Stan le Knave says:

      Seems like the exact same mechanic at play when any high-status member of the priesthood feels like berating his lessers.

      Vedic Brahmin and a Shudra. Pharisee and a slave. The one with the social power and privilege humiliating their inferior for the sheer joy of rubbing their noses in it.

      Ironic that this soft-handed posh boy seems so eager to ‘take up arms’ though.

      It’s a familiar dynamic from my university experience, but I’m still in awe to see it – how has the identity-politics left managed to seize every single institution of social and political power, and still hold on to it’s self image as the oppressed underdog? The mind boggles.

      In my more conspiratorial moods I feel like this kind of thing arose in order to cement the current class system. We now have an intellectual movement where a Rhodes scholar genuinely believes he is oppressed by a minimum wage waitress. Where the perfumed scions of the upper class strike a blow for equality by scorning those terrible white-van driving, gravy and chips eating proles who can’t even remember to say “person of colour” instead of “black”.

      Since money is the unit of caring… https://www.gofundme.com/tipashleigh

      • 57dimensions says:

        I think that people still have the oppressed mindset even though others don’t see it that way goes hand in hand with Scott’s last post, Skin in The Game. Things can look radically different depending on your vantage point, so much so that everyone disagrees on who is actually oppressed.

      • Eggoeggo says:

        >We now have an intellectual movement where a Rhodes scholar genuinely believes he is oppressed by a minimum wage waitress. Where the perfumed scions of the upper class strike a blow for equality by scorning those terrible white-van driving, gravy and chips eating proles

        That is beautiful and I’m going to quote it everywhere.

        • LPSP says:

          Seconded, and thank for you posting that so it caught my eye and lead me to read the original.

        • Loquat says:

          Did you see Freddie DeBoer’s comment on the Oberlin Dining Hall Cultural Appropriation kerfluffle?

          an undergrad at a $50K/year liberal arts college berating cafe workers making $12/hour in the name of social justice on a human face forever

      • I’m writing it off as misogyny– SJWs have a specific sort of nastiness about white women.

        This being said, I don’t think he exactly believes he’s oppressed by the waitress, he believes he’s so oppressed by white people in general that he’s under no obligation to care about how he treats the waitress.

        • Airgap says:

          To be fair, the nastiness has mellowed a bit since Eldridge Cleaver and Amiri Baraka got old.

        • SJWs have a specific sort of nastiness about white women.

          I personally think this is locational. In some locations, race has achieved Official Sanctioned Victim status, and in other areas, sex has.

          Because Official Sanctioned Victim status is 100% about grabbing social status, this then entails forgetting that intersectionality is a thing.

          Furthermore, this is kind of necessary for the alliance features of the social justice memeplex to work. I’ve long had a theory that the racist and sexist components of the SJW alliance are in direct tension, because so many of the metrics you can use to prove that black people are structurally oppressed also prove men are oppressed. (Arrests, violent interactions with the police, disproportionately low placement in college, etc.)

          The Official Sanctioned Victim status, when it tilts the other way, instead gets you things like that Schrodinger’s Rapist article. But it’s all the same old thing; “You, the Outgroup, are responsible for these historic and vague sins, and thus bear the responsibility for what we accuse you of and do to you now.”

      • Leit says:

        The “soft-handed posh boy” being eager to take up arms makes perfect sense, because he’s politically legitimising himself as a warrior in The Struggle.

        The Apartheid Struggle narrative still has mythic implications in SA. Jacob Zuma – a genuine criminal, who reduces SA’s economic value every time he opens his idiot mouth – got into and has so far managed to stay in power power because he (literally) knows how to do the Struggle song and dance.

        In case you’re wondering, he’s singing “bring me my machine gun”.

    • John Schilling says:

      I am skeptical of the part where a waitress is reduced to tears by A: not getting a tip and/or B: getting a note with a pathetic excuse for not giving a tip. Seething barely-concealed rage, maybe, resignation more likely, but if that brings you to tears you’re not making it past your first week on the job. And we’ve only Qwabe’s testimony on that part.

      Not leaving a tip, bragging about not leaving a tip, overestimating or exaggerating the impact of not leaving a tip, bragging about that – that’s just a jerk move, independent of politics.

      Identity-dropping that you’re having lunch with a “radical non-binary trans black activist”, on account of those being the “ultimate blessors of this decolonial struggle”, is amusingly pathetic.

      • Deiseach says:

        By any objective accounting, this person is privileged. So he feels guilty about it, because he’s supposed to be one of the suffering oppressed minorities on account of his racial origins, right? He’s the poster child for the causes he loves! He is the embodiment of what the progressive leftism is all about! Except he can’t be, because he’s a feckin’ law student on a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford, and genuinely struggling lower-class POC people wouldn’t look at the side of the street he’s on.

        So he has to make himself relevant to the struggle, and fighting alongside radical thises and decolonial thats is the way to do it, and he can turn an act of all-too-familiar bullying by privileged university Hooray Henrys into political activism and a blow for the oppressed against the forces of [fill in the blanks]. The irony is that I’m quite sure, after boasting how he made a woman cry (if this ever happened, like John Schilling I doubt it), this specimen will probably attend ‘safe spaces’ on campus in support of protests against the patriarchy etc etc etc.

      • Theo Jones says:

        I think this guy is just a dick. I’ve met a few people like this. They are naturally toxic people who realize that social justice issues on college campuses are a socially acceptable outlet for a wide range of behaviors that would otherwise get a negative response.

        • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

          This is what runs through my mind when I hear “Religion caused the Spanish Inquisition! Religion caused 9/11. Viva la Atheism!”

          Some people just want to watch the world burn. And where there’s a will, there’s a socially-acceptable way.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Er, what? Atheism is watching the world burn?

          • null says:

            No, presumably the sentences above are how people who ‘want to watch the world burn’, i.e. assholes, will act in atheist culture.

          • MugaSofer says:

            I mean, we have objective evidence for this; China and Russia and their respective megadeaths.

          • suntzuanime says:

            That’s not quite a controlled experiment I don’t think.

          • Airgap says:

            Solzhenitsyn said there was a definite connection in the USSR between official atheism and people being dicks to each other. This was probably a white lie he hoped would save our souls, the slimy fucker.

          • MugaSofer says:

            I’m not saying that atheism caused the Soviets – that’s all but unprovable – I’m saying that the fact that the top two worst regimes in history were avowedly atheist is pretty strong proof of the claim that atheists can be dicks too, contra the crusades-and-terrorists “evidence”.

            (Which isn’t Bayesian evidence in any case, since all regimes in the area at the time were officially religious.)

          • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

            “I’m saying that the fact that the top two worst regimes in history were avowedly atheist is pretty strong proof of the claim that atheists can be dicks too”

            Nah, all you had to do is look at Atheism+ to see how much atheists can be dicks.

            Besides, I’m pretty sure “worst regimes in history” is only due to technology; imagine if the Romans had nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and/or machine guns. The holy symbol of Christians probably wouldn’t be a crucifix…

          • Jaskologist says:

            It wasn’t technology; atheists didn’t achieve their body counts through nuclear weapons and the like. They used more mundane means, like engineering famines (both intentionally and unintentionally), and while their mass executions may have been accomplished with bullets, swords would have served just as well.

          • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

            Are you saying that it was possible for Nero to engineer a famine across the entire Roman empire without 20th century means of communication?

          • Fullmeta_Rationalist says:

            No, presumably the sentences above are how people who ‘want to watch the world burn’, i.e. assholes, will act in atheist culture.

            Nah, fam. I’m saying that dicks will naturally accrete under “any banner which allows the expression of schadenfreude” (be it religion, atheism, etc) like moths to a flame.

            E.g. had we lived in a world where Islam didn’t exist, I think Bin Laden would have been just as pissed at the West as he was in the actual world. He didn’t ram a plane because “it was the will of Allah”. Allah was just an convenient rationalization to do what he already wanted. So for atheists to claim that “religion is the root of all evil” is silly (not a strawman).

            Not to pick on religion though. As others have pointed out, Atheism (etc) could have exemplified my point just as well. As another example, look no further than the other half of the War on Terror. George W had already planned to invade Iraq, but 9/11 gave him an incredibly convenient excuse.

            [relevant memes]

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            People don’t become assholes solely because of religion, but that doesn’t mean that religion has no influence whatsoever.

          • Randy M says:

            Ken, true, but it does mean that you have to do more than merely cite some jerks to even show which direction the effect runs.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            You could also take our host’s perspective:

            The fact that a lot of horrible things are done in the name of things that are not religions is not proof that religion doesn’t cause horrible behaviour, but rather that we are defining religion too narrowly!

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I’m saying that the fact that the top two worst regimes in history were avowedly atheist is pretty strong proof of the claim that atheists can be dicks too, contra the crusades-and-terrorists “evidence”.

            Beating out Adolf Hitler and Hong Xiuquan? I think your list needs work.

            E.g. had we lived in a world where Islam didn’t exist, I think Bin Laden would have been just as pissed at the West as he was in the actual world. He didn’t ram a plane because “it was the will of Allah”. Allah was just an convenient rationalization to do what he already wanted.

            Bin Laden did us the favor of actually listing the problems he had with the US.
            http://web.archive.org/web/20130826184301/http://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/nov/24/theobserver

            Bin Laden is in fact a Muslim. He believed the Muslim world was under attack by the United States and that it was his religious duty to fight the Americans using the only means he had available- terrorism. There is no evidence he was not sincere in any of this.

            Ken, true, but it does mean that you have to do more than merely cite some jerks to even show which direction the effect runs.

            The problem with the Spanish Inquistion wasn’t “they were jerks”. They were in fact, not jerks. They went to people, corrected their doctrinal errors and had them do penance so they could go to heaven.

            The issue is the whole “burning people alive for apostasy and heresy”. Which the Inquisition did (well, the secular authorities did the actual killing) because they needed to stop people from brining beliefs that would be damning.

            Religion creates grounds for thought police to be the good guys. It turns out this is exactly as horrible as you’d expect. Fortunately Communists showed that the ancients were really inefficient in their methods and that modern bureaucratic states could really go the extra mile.

          • NN says:

            Beating out Adolf Hitler and Hong Xiuquan? I think your list needs work.

            Mao probably killed more people than either of them, even if you held Hitler responsible for every death in the European and North African Theaters of World War II and Hong Xiuquan responsible for every death resulting from the Taiping Rebellion. Stalin’s ranking largely depends on which estimates you prefer.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Are you saying that it was possible for Nero to engineer a famine across the entire Roman empire without 20th century means of communication?

            Probably not the entire Empire, although I reckon he could have starved a province or two if he’d been so minded.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Probably not the entire Empire, although I reckon he could have starved a province or two if he’d been so minded.”

            The life expectancy in Egyptian Oasis was higher than along the Nile because it was harder for the tax man to get there (source: Valley of the Golden Mummies)

      • Garrett says:

        I suspect the person in question was driven to tears because she was being blamed or held accountable for both something she didn’t do and had no way of providing restitution for. There’s a certain amount of frustration in not having control.

        If the note had said something like “No tip because I hate white women”, he would have been considered an ass, but likely not as devastating, despite the outcomes being objectively the same.

        • John Schilling says:

          Being blamed for something you don’t do, is pretty much a daily occurrence for waitresses. Customers who don’t like the food, don’t usually barge into the kitchen and track down the chef. Frustrating to deal with, yes, but moving a waitress to tears? That’s about as likely as a nurse who faints at the sight of blood.

          And at this point, I think pretty much everyone in North America with vaguely white skin has developed some level of defense against being blamed for all the ills suffered by Black America. But waitresses, among others, get professional-grade defenses against that entire class of threat.

          • “And at this point, I think pretty much everyone in North America with vaguely white skin has developed some level of defense against being blamed for all the ills suffered by Black America.”

            I think that whether you’ve built up those defenses depends a lot on where you hang out.

            I don’t think a waitress would be likely to start crying in front of a customer– and the tip for two people isn’t going to be that much.

            However, maybe her life was going extremely badly.

            Maybe Ntokozo Qwabe is an unusually skilled bully. Or maybe he was lying about getting a waitress to cry.

            In any case, I don’t have a problem with people sending money to her.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m about 90% on Qwabe being a liar, and 10% on the waitress having a really bad day for unrelated reasons.

            100% sympathetic to anyone who wants to send money to the waitress, on the grounds that it makes them feel good and probably helps the waitress and maybe makes Qwabe look foolish, so what’s not to like?

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            And at this point, I think pretty much everyone in North America with vaguely white skin has developed some level of defense against being blamed for all the ills suffered by Black America.

            I would never cast doubt upon Americans’ famously thick skin (and Canadians, and Mexicans, apparently), however, the incident happened in South Africa.

          • brad says:

            I thought Oxford, England with a South African student studying abroad playing the role of the villain.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            I’ve known a few waitresses who would end up inches away from snapping and having a crying fit after bad shifts. It’s less “defense” than “capacity”.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I thought Oxford, England with a South African student studying abroad playing the role of the villain.

            While I’d love a chance to make fun of brits, the article (and relevant facebook post) seem to say it happened in South Africa.

          • brad says:

            You’re right, I misread that.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        I am skeptical of the part where a waitress is reduced to tears by A: not getting a tip and/or B: getting a note with a pathetic excuse for not giving a tip. Seething barely-concealed rage, maybe, resignation more likely, but if that brings you to tears you’re not making it past your first week on the job. And we’ve only Qwabe’s testimony on that part.

        My first reaction was similar. Apparently her mother was/is seriously ill, though, so she might have been close to tears anyway.

        Regardless, I don’t think it makes much of a difference when assessing Mr. Qwabe’s character and the movement of which he is a part. The mental state of somebody who’d drive a waitress to tears and then brag about it on Facebook to make himself look cool is probably going to be similar to that of somebody who’d pretend to have driven a waitress to tears to make himself look cool.

    • Simon says:

      Well I hope he enjoys any future public dining experience now he’s ensured all his food will have some kind of “special sauce” on it and the cutlery rubbed in the waitstaff’s bum etc.

  33. Lambert says:

    Question for poly people:
    Has anyone ever used polyamory to escape the necessity that a serenade be performed as a solo? It just seems that, say in the formation of a triad, 2 people could turn up outside someone’s window with guitars, maybe employing a call and response structure or something. With more complex networks, even more varied performing forces could be used.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I’m just imagining a barbershop quartet turning up in someone’s back garden.

      • John Schilling says:

        O ye of little imagination. What’s the proper orchestral score for “we’d like to invite you to our orgy”?

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        While I’m imagining eight John Cusacks holding aloft a full complement of 7.1 surround speakers.

  34. jeff says:

    Article on activists shutting down a trans-focused mental health center for kids because they don’t like the philosophy of it seems like it’d be RTYI. Super interesting discussion of to what degree trans in young kids is innate and irreversible vs modifiable. http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/02/fight-over-trans-kids-got-a-researcher-fired.html

    • suntzuanime says:

      Maybe I’m too cynical, but the concern over the made-up bullshit nature of the report that was used to fire this guy seems misplaced. If your boss wants to fire you, your boss is gonna fire you. Of course it was a show trial, that’s how this stuff works. They weren’t looking for the truth with that report, they were looking for an excuse. You should focus your concern on how heads of big institutions kowtow to activist pressure rather than gaping in shock at how a report that was always intended to be bullshit turned out to be bullshit.

    • Anatoly says:

      This article is utterly terrifying.

    • John Schilling says:

      Reminds me of the kerfluffle over cochlear implants.

      Transgenderism can be viewed, simplistically, as a mind trapped in the wrong sort of body, and if we make the body fit the mind, happiness ensues. Or we can take the POV that it is the mind that needs to be adjusted. Superficially, the dispute here seems to be between those two views, with Zucker taking the slightly nuanced version that, among very young children, it’s usually a bit of simple mental confusion but sometimes more than that.

      I think the real dispute lies elsewhere.

      Whichever model we chose, including the nuanced version, if transgenderism is reliably identified and effectively addressed in early childhood, then in a generation or two there isn’t a transgender community any more. There’s just healthy, well-adjusted men and women, some small fraction of whom may have notes in their medical files saying e.g. “The reason for Jane’s infertility is that she was born with a Y chromosome and a penis, but we mostly fixed that when she was three”.

      And if you identify as a member (or even just defender) of the transgender community, that’s an existential threat. For there to be a transgender community, there have to be people who grow up or at least go through puberty as the “wrong” gender, people who are not seamlessly incorporated into the broader community as ordinary members of their preferred gender. Just like, for there to be a deaf community, there have to be people who grow up deaf and can’t hear.

      Zucker’s therapeutic techniques, like cochlear implants, are at far too early a stage to constitute a perfect childhood cure for gender dysmorphia or deafness. But, to the extent that the writing is on the wall, it is perhaps terrifying to the cultures that see themselves threatened with extinction, and understandable that they want to destroy the agent of their extinction while it is still small and weak.

      They will fail, and history will not remember them kindly. But they will cause real damage along the way.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Transgenderism can be viewed, simplistically, as a mind trapped in the wrong sort of body, and if we make the body fit the mind, happiness ensues. Or we can take the POV that it is the mind that needs to be adjusted.

        A bit of a tangent to your post, sorry, but where did this language about being “trapped in the wrong body” come from in the first place?

        Maybe this is just a holdover from my days as an obnoxious teen atheist, but doesn’t this kind of rhetoric strike anyone as superstitious? I mean, no-one is “in” their body. One is one’s body.

        Wanting to change one’s body, change oneself, to approach an ideal can be laudable (depending on said ideal, of course). There’s no reason to drag in obsolete metaphysical concepts, or their dubious postmodern replacements, to deny the obvious physical reality of sex just because one wants to change it.

        Since the rationalist sphere has a lot of both transhumanists and transgender people, does anyone know how common that viewpoint is compared to the gender identity / wrong body one?

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Well, I’m not a materialist, and I don’t think you are your physical body or any part of it.

          But even if you are a materialist, it would seem obvious that you are not identical to your entire body but rather to a very specific part of it: your brain. Or even, (and really, this is the dominant view among Yudkowsky-influenced people) to the “computer program” run by the hardware of your brain.

          For instance, you don’t become a different person if someone cuts off your arm. You stay the same person, but you’ve just lost a possession, namely your arm.

          What transgender people are saying, sensibly interpreted, is that they have a female-typical brain in a male-typical body. And the mind taking preference over the body (or in the materialist conception, the non-brain part of the body), they naturally want to change their bodies to conform to their brains, even if it were possible to do it the other way around (which, it seems, it isn’t).

          No one is “denying the physical reality of sex”. That would be the case if they were literally delusional and e.g. believed they had a penis when they really have a vagina. But they have no such delusional beliefs. What they say is that their mental gender is the opposite of what would normally be associated with someone of their physical sex.

          Now some people deny that there is any such thing as male mind or a female mind. But how would you test this? Well, it seems that you would take a woman and raise her as a man, and see whether she felt totally comfortable in the role of being a man, or whether she felt “gender dysphoria”. And that is just what trans people say they feel like. Indeed, they control for an additional variable of the experiment: you could argue that the woman raised as a man feels uncomfortable because her sex organs are wrong for her gender. But trans people have the “appropriate” sex organs for their assigned gender and still perceive that it is at odds with their mental gender.

          • Jaskologist says:

            They are saying more than that. They are also saying that nobody else is allowed to acknowledge their physical sex. Denying everybody else the right to go off of the physical evidence rounds out to denying the physical reality of sex.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Even in the realm of social sciences, we can come up with better tests than that. Male/female correlates to all kinds of stuff. Are transwomen underrepresented in STEM fields? Do they tend to cluster around the mean IQ, or have a wide standard deviation? Which group does their crime rate come closer to? Do they suffer more from commonly male mental illnesses or commonly female mental illnesses? There’s all kinds of ways we can dig deeper than self-report and blind faith, and as a bonus we can generalize the same techniques to otherkin.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @Jaskologist:

            They are saying more than that. They are also saying that nobody else is allowed to acknowledge their physical sex. Denying everybody else the right to go off of the physical evidence rounds out to denying the physical reality of sex.

            …no they aren’t?

            Obviously, you’re trying to distort something that they are doing into some kind of straw man in order to make a point. But I can’t even tell for sure what it is you’re actually objecting to.

            I’ve certainly never heard any transgender-equality supporter say that people ought to be prohibited from acknowledging their physical sex.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Jaskologist:

            There’s all kinds of ways we can dig deeper than self-report and blind faith, and as a bonus we can generalize the same techniques to otherkin.

            Sure, I’m not saying “self-report and blind faith” is the only thing to go by. Logically, it would follow from the position that gender identity is real that it is possible for someone to be mistaken about it.

            For instance, a woman completely unaware of the existence of lesbians—but who found herself attracted to other women—might wonder if she were really a man, if she had only ever observed men to be attracted to women. She could potentially go through a long period of uncertainty and self-doubt about this—as trans people actually do in reality.

            And of course it’s possible that there are people who do not fit neatly into a binary model of mental gender—just as there are “intersex” people who do not fit neatly into a binary model of physical sex.

            The question with self-identification, insofar as it is political, is who is in the best position to judge one’s mental gender? That person, in consultation with his or her psychologist? Or random, unrelated third parties on the internet—armed with the latest insights from 12th-century theology?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            But even if you are a materialist, it would seem obvious that you are not identical to your entire body but rather to a very specific part of it: your brain.

            It might seem obvious, but it’s incorrect.

            For a simple and relevant example: sex hormones, which are for the most part produced outside of the CNS and have a large effect on its function and development. There are countless other systems in the body, from the facial muscles to the enteric nervous system, which have acknowledged roles in mental processes. A hypothetical brain-in-a-jar would likely have a greatly different personality and desires than the person it was harvested from.

            Besides, why are we prioritizing so-called mental traits as the source of identity to begin with? It’s begging the question to say that all of a person’s actual identifying characteristics (voice, appearance, DNA, etc.) play no major role in identity whereas only those psychological traits formerly attributed to the soul do.

            If God is Dead, then we can’t justify maintaining the fiction of mind-body dualism allowed by the concept of the soul. Dressing it up in Sci-Fi or Po-Mo jargon isn’t enough to keep the idea around when it blatantly contradicts the available evidence.

            What transgender people are saying, sensibly interpreted, is that they have a female-typical brain in a male-typical body. And the mind taking preference over the body (or in the materialist conception, the non-brain part of the body), they naturally want to change their bodies to conform to their brains, even if it were possible to do it the other way around (which, it seems, it isn’t).

            No one is “denying the physical reality of sex”.

            Bolding for emphasis.

            That’s what I’m referring to. If my body is a male-typical body, my sex is male and I am a man. I might prefer to become a woman, and make changes to myself to the effect that I no longer have a male-typical body. But believing myself to have always been a woman, in some vaguely spiritual sense, is to deny the physical reality of who I was.

            Maybe that’s hair splitting, I’ll accept that criticism. But that was the point I was making.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Dr Dealgood:

            If God is Dead, then we can’t justify maintaining the fiction of mind-body dualism allowed by the concept of the soul. Dressing it up in Sci-Fi or Po-Mo jargon isn’t enough to keep the idea around when it blatantly contradicts the available evidence.

            It’s materialism that’s blatantly contradicted by the available evidence…

            And the fact that non-materialism have been advocated by religious people doesn’t make them wrong. No more than the failure of Marxism disproves atheism.

            In any case, I’d really prefer not to tie this to the materialism-dualism debate, but there may be no alternative. If you’re going to say things like this:

            That’s what I’m referring to. If my body is a male-typical body, my sex is male and I am a man. I might prefer to become a woman, and make changes to myself to the effect that I no longer have a male-typical body. But believing myself to have always been a woman, in some vaguely spiritual sense, is to deny the physical reality of who I was.

            Maybe that’s hair splitting, I’ll accept that criticism. But that was the point I was making.

            Then the theory you are advocating is that there can be no such thing as mental gender because there is no such thing as the mind, only the body. But how can I debate with a self-proclaimed mindless individual?

            In any case, let me respond to one of your points, which seems to be the root of it:

            For a simple and relevant example: sex hormones, which are for the most part produced outside of the CNS and have a large effect on its function and development. There are countless other systems in the body, from the facial muscles to the enteric nervous system, which have acknowledged roles in mental processes. A hypothetical brain-in-a-jar would likely have a greatly different personality and desires than the person it was harvested from.

            No one, materialists or not, is denying that the body influences the mind. That is obvious. Surely you don’t think that pain and existence of sensory perception represent the latest scientific observations disproving dualism?

            Sex hormones may be produced outside the central nervous system, but they are irrelevant to people’s experiences and feelings except insofar as they affect the central nervous system. This is not an issue of materialism vs. dualism. This is merely an issue of naive, silly materialism vs. more plausible theories of it.

            The whole fallacy of your argument is this; you’re saying:

            1. Mental gender (“believing myself to have always been a woman, in some vaguely spiritual sense”) doesn’t make sense as a concept, apparently because the mind itself doesn’t exist.
            2. Therefore, when trans women say they are women, they must be referring to physical sex.
            3. Since it is obvious that they are not women in terms of physical sex, they must be lying or delusional.

            But they’re not lying or delusional; they’re making a claim about their mental gender. And contra you, it’s not an obviously false claim. They’re not saying that they “want to become” women. Many of them, in fact, have no desire to have sex reassignment surgery and change their sex organs. Their desire is to be recognized as women, i.e. as people with the feminine mental gender. Their desire is not to deceive people about what sex organs they have or were born with, though they may indeed not wish to disclose this outside of intimate relationships, especially when the disclosure is intended to stigmatize them.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            It’s materialism that’s blatantly contradicted by the available evidence…

            Can you link me to some of said evidence? If materialism is wrong I’d like to know.

            And I’ll agree not to drag this any further into the physical / metaphysical debate.

            You have correctly identified my objection, that mental gender is a nonsense concept because it relies on the existence of a transubstantiation-like metaphysical substance of sex which can contradict accidental physical sex. Although obviously I take issue with your phrasing.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Dr Dealgood:

            Can you link me to some of said evidence? If materialism is wrong I’d like to know.

            The same evidence that should have refuted materialism the first time it was proposed: the existence of subjective mental experience.

            It’s one thing to propose epiphenomenalism, or the idea that the mind is completely inefficacious, and that mental experience exists but is (in the words of one advocate of that theory) a useless byproduct of physical causes, like the steam exhaust from a train. I don’t agree with that, and it has its own serious problems (actually, I pretty much agree with Yudkowsky’s critique of it). But at least it’s intelligible.

            The idea that mental experience is—not caused by—but is identical to physical objects, is just bizarre. As one critic put it, the normal way to show that a philosophical theory is wrong is by demonstrating that accepting it leads to an absurdity. But this kind of theory is an absurdity starting right off!

            Or to phrase this more charitably, I’ve never seen anything like a halfway good explanation of how a mental experience can be the same thing as e.g. an electrical impulse in the brain. Given that they—apparently—have such different properties, and given that two things that differ in their properties cannot be identical. It’s like presenting me with the proposition that Henry VIII and Osama bin Laden were the same person: after all, have you ever seen them in the same room together?

            The usual M.O. is just to sort of obstinately ignore the reality of mental experience. And when someone tries to point to it by a thought experiment like p-zombies or Mary’s room, to object to the experiments on irrelevant grounds.

            There’s no positive argument for materialism, given the lack of an actually existing reductivist theory. There’s just this sort of argument: that first, man anthropomorphized everything in the cosmos, believing everything from fire to water to the harvest and death to be an agent like himself with a mind and purposes of its own. Then, man became more sophisticated and dismissed animism, but he still believed that the universe as a whole was controlled by a single omnipotent mind, though finally he overcame that delusion as well. One day—hopefully soon—man may stop anthropomorphizing himself, and individuals may stop believing that they themselves are agents with minds and purposes of their own.

            The level of “concept stealing” there is mind-boggling.

          • null says:

            I am under the impression that it is not just mental differences, which you seem to think is all metaphysical nonsense. There are also differences in brain structure which can be measured. Also, one analogy which I may be guilty of leaning on too much is that of hardware and software. Would you say that a Linux system running on a Macbook Pro is a Mac?

          • blacktrance says:

            Vox Imperatoris:
            While philosophy of mind isn’t my specialty, physicalists have to be aware that there is at least the appearance of mental experiences, and have some explanation for them that is compatible with physicalism. As for mental experiences being identical to physical phenomena, compare to the brushstrokes that make up a painting seem to have different properties from that of the painting itself, and yet we’re physicalists about paintings. To me, it seems plausible that a an electrical impulse in the brain is analogous to the brushstroke – perhaps by itself it’s not an experience/painting, but when arranged in a certain way with others of its kind, it is.
            Mental experience is real, but I don’t see any compelling reason to believe in the impossibility of explaining it in physical terms.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ blacktrance:

            As for mental experiences being identical to physical phenomena, compare to the brushstrokes that make up a painting seem to have different properties from that of the painting itself, and yet we’re physicalists about paintings. To me, it seems plausible that a an electrical impulse in the brain is analogous to the brushstroke – perhaps by itself it’s not an experience/painting, but when arranged in a certain way with others of its kind, it is.

            I think the problem is that people combine materialism with a weird kind of naive realism. Naive realism reifies abstractions as existing “intrinsically”, apart from their being grasped in anyone’s mind. Then materialism comes in and says “What do we need the ‘fundamental mental’ for? We have all these reified abstractions that don’t rely on the mind anyway.” But in denying the mind as distinct from the physical, you deny the basis for the abstractions!

            To put things more concretely, let’s go with your example of a painting. The painting is an “emergent” phenomenon that exists when brush strokes are “arranged” a certain way. But “arranged” here means presented to a conscious mind! Apart from its perception in the mind, there is no identity of the painting. There’s only “brush strokes and void”. It’s the human mind that isolates the brush strokes from (what we consider) irrelevant factors, like the frame or the density of the air or the radioactivity of the compounds in the pigment.

            Indeed, the identity of any large-scale material object is like this. The Ship of Theseus is the obvious example. You gradually take all the planks out and replace them with new planks; what makes it the same ship? Well, it depends upon the purposes of the human beings in question. If they care about some specific quality of the planks, it’s not the same ship. But if they care about the continuity of the ship’s function as a ship, then it is. But you take away human beings, you take away any question of the identity of the ship as a whole. It’s only in the mind that the ship exists as an entity and not simply as an agglomeration of the various fundamental physical particles that make it up.

            Thomas Reid once responded to Hume’s denial of causality by saying that we most fundamentally observe causation in our minds as we choose our actions, then we (sometimes inappropriately) anthropomorphize and attribute a similar kind of causality to things in the external world. So when a billiard ball hits another, we say that it has some kind of causal power that it uses to make the other one move. Even though all we actually observe is “constant conjunction”.

            My belief is that something similar is going on with identity. People directly observe their own identity as minds, as integrated agents. Then they generalize outward and assume that everything else is like this. So just as I have an intrinsic identity that remains the same through time, my ship also has the same kind of intrinsic identity. But there may be nothing that makes it really, intrinsically the same ship. It depends on what factors I choose to isolate from the rest of reality.

            It’s commonly observed that “society” or “the US government” are not entities. They are composed of many different individuals, all with their own goals and purposes. That’s not to say they’re not very useful concepts for understanding the actions of individuals. We say that millions of people send checks every year to a certain address because they’re “ordered to by the US government to pay taxes”. But it’s only in people’s minds that the government is an entity or an agent with purposes of its own.

            Part of the materialist project is to deny that anyone has ever existed, that there is any such entity as the individual human mind. They come up with a name like “the Cartesian homunculus” and say they don’t believe in any Cartesian homunculus. That they think the mind is no more a single entity or agent than is the US government; it’s made of all sorts of sub-units and processes working independently, and the idea that they form a coherent personal identity is an illusion.

            The problem is: who’s having the illusion? It’s meaningless to talk about an illusion apart from the existence of a mind which is experiencing the illusion. If there were no minds, there couldn’t be any illusions.

            That’s the nature of the stolen concept fallacy: you deny some fundamental premise upon which everything else stands, then you defend the derivative conclusions as if they didn’t rely upon it. It “works” because people are incapable of holding all of philosophy in their heads at once. From the upper levels of the castle, removing the first floor doesn’t appear to affect anything. Except that now you’ve converted your system into an enormous castle in the sky with no tie to reality.

          • blacktrance says:

            Vox Imperatoris:
            I agree that in the case of paintings it’s our minds abstracting them from brushstrokes. Perhaps computer programs would be a better example. We’re physicalists about them even though we can’t point to a particular stream of electrons and say “That’s Google Chrome”, and unlike the painting there really is a program out there in the world, not just an abstraction created by a conscious mind. To me, it seems that saying “Subjective experiences aren’t the same as electrical impulses” is analogous to “Electrons can’t browse the Internet”. It seems true if you look at too low of a level, but you have to look at the interaction of the different parts rather than any particular part. Our understanding of how it works will improve as neuroscience and philosophy of mind advance, but for now we can at least say that the mental processes of a particular mind are identical to the physical processes of the brain as a whole, in the same way that a computer program is identical to what is done by the physical components of the computer running it.

            Part of the materialist project is to deny that anyone has ever existed, that there is any such entity as the individual human mind.

            You keep saying this, but this particular position is called “eliminative physicalism”, and is far from the only type of physicalism. The SEP suggests “Physicalism is true at a possible world w iff any world which is a physical duplicate of w is a duplicate of w simpliciter” as a definition, which doesn’t exclude the existence of the human mind.

        • Fullmeta_Rationalist says:

          Scott has discussed this before.

          The working hypothesis is that each brain has an internal map of the body. This map is probably responsible for proprioception. Males and females have different body parts [citation needed], and therefore are assigned different maps by their genes.

          Sometimes, males get a map to a female’s anatomy (and vice versa). This causes weird sensations akin to Phantom Limb Syndrome. However — whereas PLS is often not fixed by surgery, Gender Dysphoria often is indeed fixed by surgery (and hormones).

          • Jaskologist says:

            Citation needed. The only studies I’ve seen which follow up sex-change surgery have been too small to really count, but have not found any improvement.

          • Fullmeta_Rationalist says:

            Honestly, I don’t know the first thing about gender politics. I was just parroting Scott. You’ll have to page him if you actually want citations. :/

      • Theo Jones says:

        As far as I can tell this is a pretty terrible summary of the dispute. Neither side seems to be disputing the realness of transgenderism, much less their well-adjustedness or health. Zucker seems to be arguing that it is a dubious idea to transition children before puberty because 1) gender identity changes a lot after puberty, 2) a transition is a difficult to reverse thing, and 3) a lot of young children don’t really have the conceptual understanding of the difference between being a girl as a gender and liking some things that are stereotypically female. Zucker isn’t proposing the possibility of changing the gender of patients (although his opponents seem to like to fling that accusation), he is saying that the possible instability of gender identity should be taken into account.

        If anything, ZUcker would be the one that would be dissatisfied with a world where sex changes were routinely done, with no trace other than a note in someone’s medical file.

        The opposition is to the idea that gender identity could be unstable. Zucker’s opponents think it is effectively fixed at birth.

        • John Schilling says:

          3) a lot of young children don’t really have the conceptual understanding of the difference between being a girl as a gender and liking some things that are stereotypically female

          How is “it’s usually a bit of simple mental confusion” a terrible summary of that?

          • Theo Jones says:

            I don’t think its fair to describe point 3 as “temporarily confused”, at least in the sense you could apply that to someone older. Instead its more “a 6 year old isn’t sophisticated enough to get what gender is”.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yes, and “6 year old” is by definition a temporary condition.

            And while we’re on the subject of terrible summaries, “This is a terrible summary” is a terrible summary of “Here are some more details that I think are important”. Is there a reason you are trying to make enemies here, or does it just happen by instinct with you?

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            Yes, and “6 year old” is by definition a temporary condition.

            It’s a noncentral example of temporary conditions.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          I agree. It’s a really complicated issue because, on the one hand, allowing hormones to be administered before puberty would definitely allow people to transition much more successfully. I’m sure all trans people (especially trans women) wish retrospectively that they could have avoided going through puberty (especially male puberty, which is less reversible).

          On the other hand, children are really, genuinely unqualified to decide for themselves on questions like this. You can’t treat them the same as responsible adults.

          So the problem is that you’re trading more effective transitions off against some probability of mistaken, harmful transitions. How big is that probability? I don’t know. But I could easily believe it’s large enough to make the giving of hormones pre-puberty a generally bad idea.

          • Anonymous says:

            I wonder if there is a middle ground solution; Do a procedure to keep them androgynous/stop the development of sexual stuff until they can figure it out. Probably harder figuring it out without the sexual stuff but who knows, maybe with enough fine tuning of the procedure…

          • onyomi says:

            There is no way that would not have long-term health consequences.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yes, but at some point it might be worth it if something clever estimates 50% chance of the kid suffering a lot when adult because they made him a woman and 50% chance of the kid suffering a lot when adult because she can’t transition and has a fully developed male physique.

          • onyomi says:

            Personally, I think part of what makes me feel I’m supposed to be a man is the fact of having gone through male puberty.

            Though this makes me think about a larger issue, which I in no way mean to be a sleight to anyone with genuine gender dysphoria:

            It’s striking to me how many things which used to be just default and/or decided for you in life: where you will live, what you will do, whom you will marry, whether or not to have kids and how many, and so on and so on are now things we have to think about.

            In many ways this is great: you’re not limited by where you were born to whom, etc. nor by rigid social expectations to nearly so great a degree.

            On the other hand I think there’s a “you make the best with what you’ve got” phenomenon where part of the love for the person you marry comes because you chose to commit to them; not the other way around. Part of the pride in the career comes because you’ve chosen to dedicate yourself to it (and in the past maybe your father and father’s father had too). And yes, part of why I feel I’m supposed to be a man is because I was born with male genitals and went through male puberty, even though I didn’t chose to do those things in some sort of ideal, pre-life spirit space.

            Are we really getting to the point where we’re going to tell every kid “well you were born with a penis, but I want you to think hard now before puberty about whether you want to be a man”? I feel like this may be too many choices for some people. Maybe for anyone.

    • eh says:

      FYI, this is apparently a sore point with a lot of transpeople, and if you ask about it be somewhat careful.

      I’ve heard it claimed that the process used to determine the rate of desisters included the step of labelling every single child who left the program as having desisted whether or not this was actually the case, but have not actually read the paper(s) yet and cannot confirm whether this is true

  35. Is there any research on the health effects of very long working hours on junior doctors and interns?

    • Airgap says:

      Yes: NHS administrators have found that if they’re under capacity and in danger of losing funding, they can just make their junior doctors work longer and longer hours until the problem goes away.

    • Stan le Knave says:

      Not on junior doctors, but theres a huge array of research on the effecct of overwork, sleep deprivation, and extended periods at combat readiness on military personnel.

      The nature of continuous at-sea deterrence (SSBN’s) requires the crew of the submarine to be on a combat footing at all times – 6 hours on, 6-hours off, for 6 months at a time. Anecdotally, this really fucks people up.

      • Noumenon says:

        According to people I’ve talked to on Reddit, even the six hours off is mostly maintenance, and you end up getting less than the six hours of sleep. I don’t understand why people sign up for this stuff when they could be truckers or whatever, or why people agitate for the protection of Wal-Mart workers but not these guys.

        • Anonymous says:

          Apply your inner Hanson. It’s not about military necessity.

        • hlynkacg says:

          don’t understand why people sign up for this stuff.

          Glow-worms tend to be a bit… Well, lets just say they make regular squids seem pretty normal.

          Glow-worms who accept a boomer billet tend to make their shipmates look sober and reserved by comparison.

        • Adam says:

          I never joined the Navy, but they did try to recruit me, and it’s not like the recruiter ever mentioned the specifics of how the shift system works. Although honestly, six-on, six-off beats the 23.5 on, 0.5 off we sometimes did in the Army.

    • Tsnom Eroc says:

      Well, I would assume that it falls under the general patten of studys of long working hours for months at a time, namely that it is horribly crippling to some peoples mental and physical health and immune system capability.

      Its probably a net sum loss to society, considering how the weakened immune systems of the junior docs working with already sick patients is..sketchy.

      Or, the prospect of having some work for several years in a sleep deprived state and then wanting them to make critical split-second (or split minute) decisions is madness.

  36. Deiseach says:

    Does anyone have any geopolitical commentary on the winner of the recent Eurovision song contest?

    Australia (yes, this year for reasons which nobody knows what they are, Australia was counted as part of Europe and had an entry) was the clear leader by the national juries vote.

    However, when they went to the televoting and tallied the votes from the public, Ukraine zoomed past them and won.

    Given the topic of the song – the singer has Crimean-Tatar heritage, it’s called 1944 and alludes to the 1944 deportation of the Crimean Tatars in the Soviet Union under the rule of Joseph Stalin, sample lyrics below:

    When strangers are coming…
    They come to your house,
    They kill you all
    and say,
    We’re not guilty
    not guilty.

    and given that’s it seen as a reference to current events in the Ukraine, the irate reaction by Russia, and bearing in mind 2014 when the voting was pretty much the rest of Europe telling Russia – in the wake of the events in Ukraine – “Feck off, Putin” – does anyone think that we’re going to see things boiling over? Is this a straw in the wind?

    Generally the joke goes “Eurovision is what we do in Europe instead of going to war with one another” but it has a sharper edge this year.

    • Airgap says:

      Given that Russia came 3rd with 8% less than Ukraine, it seems like Europe isn’t entirely of one mind. Still, maybe it’s a trick to lull Putin into a false sense of security. I’ve heard Europeans are pretty cunning.

    • If the result had been based on the televotes alone, Russia would have won and Ukraine would have been in second place. But the jury vote pushed Ukraine into first place. Which is probably part of the reason why the Russians are so annoyed.

      By the way, does anybody have any idea why Poland did so well in the televote (3rd place), and so badly in the jury vote (near last place IIRC)? I’ve seen people attributing this to the Polish immigrants which exist in large numbers in many European countries, but I still find it hard to believe that their numbers are large enough and their tendency to vote for their home country is strong enough to produce that result. Maybe it was just a song that appealed to a lot of people? It didn’t stand out to me when I first watched it, but I listened to it again and I guess it is pretty good, as Eurovision songs go.

      • John Nerst says:

        Some have said that the Polish singer did badly at the earlier performance the juries based their scores on. Still, I don’t get it, I thought that song was terribly bland.

      • Deiseach says:

        Calling the Sacred Band of Thebes “a little-known army of homosexuals” is rather too tongue-in-cheek for me.

        On the other hand, I also liked the 2015 Georgian entry. And I was disappointed Belarus didn’t make it through to the final.

        I don’t know about Russia winning it (I couldn’t make head nor tail of the new voting system) but you have to admit, for a while there, it looked like next year’s Eurovision would be hosted by Australia 🙂

        I can’t say it would be funny, exactly, if the next European war was started because of Putin sulking over perceived insults from Eurovision, but it’s the kind of sideways glimpses of history that probably have a lot more to do with how things happen than the old Great Man Model: where the explanation goes “Due to the provocation by the Ministry of Country X, the parliament of Country Y retaliated by expelling all the chestnut-roasters, and thus the Ninety-Three Hours’ War began”.

        I think a lot more things had roots in “somebody read a joke in a magazine that they did not find funny and their boyfriend/girlfriend snubbed the editor at a party and the editor’s cousin was a business partner with the brother of the minister for stapler procurement and when the party in power fell due to the postage stamp riots, the editor’s cousin lent money to the minister via the minister’s brother so he could invest in a munitions company – on the understanding that they would not supply the party supported by the boyfriend/girlfriend who did the snubbing of their cousin at the big gala – and that is why Side X had better weapons than Side Y when they went to war and Side X gained the victory”.

        • John Schilling says:

          We’ve had a war fought over a scoring dispute in a football match (mumble preexisting ethnic and geopolitical tensions mumble), so why not a music contest?

        • John Nerst says:

          I don’t know about Russia winning it (I couldn’t make head nor tail of the new voting system) but you have to admit, for a while there, it looked like next year’s Eurovision would be hosted by Australia.

          The Eurovision sub on Reddit really geeked into this and there were several posts on the mechanics of the scoring system. In short: Australia won the jury vote, Russia won the televote, and Ukraine got second place in both. If the scoring system had been exactly the same as before rather than subtly different, Australia would have won.

          There have been lots of discussion about the way the scores were presented, too. It makes me really curious about whether they’re going to keep this system for next year’s contest. If nothing else, the fact that the juries’ scores where much more “out in the open” than before suggests we might get clearer standards for how the juries are to be put together.

    • BBA says:

      Germany’s entry came in dead last, despite (and probably because of) her embrace of Japanese/Korean fashion. Everybody hates a weeaboo. ;_;

    • Urstoff says:

      I’m only interested when Lordi wins.

      • Simon says:

        I’m only interested if I’m strapped into a Clockwork Orange Lodovico Technique chair and with the associated chemicals forcing it into my subconscious. Does that count as interested?

    • JuanPeron says:

      It’s an interesting post, and it reminds me very strongly of the not-actually-Einstein quote about judging fish by their tree-climbing ability.

      Still, I’m a bit skeptical about the outlook it seems to imply. I’ll accept that there are different types of intelligence – in particular, abstract reasoning seems disconnected from use of context cues and common sense (hence, dumb-but-practical and absentminded-professor as stereotypes). But Asimov’s claim about “80 on an IQ test” makes my eyebrows go up.

      Good mechanics need not be geniuses, but if they’re doing more than following rote scripts they need to be capable of creativity, logic, and problem solving. Similarly, running backs tend to be much smarter than people assume when they hear “football player”, because they’re memorizing complex playbooks and then fitting them to real world situations in a way that can’t be done by intuition and muscle memory.

      None of this seems to oppose the possibility of g; rather, it seems to suggest that our cultural assumptions about it aren’t excellent, and that good mechanics might be “high g, low education” rather than “low g”. It might also imply the existence of some other factor p (practicality) dealing with common sense and an obedience to real-world limitations.

      • I’ll leave the possibility open that the mechanic had a IQ of 80 because of being tested on a bad day or somesuch.

        • Deiseach says:

          Depending what the questions were, a mechanic might do quite poorly on grammar and vocabulary because they weren’t interested in English at school, they were interested in learning what made engines run and how to fix them.

          You can have poor handwriting and bad spelling yet not be stupid.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Nope, that is completely ruled out by the story. We are given no indication that he ever once in his life took an IQ test. We have Asimov’s estimate of his test-taking ability, not formed on a single, potentially bad day, but his impression over many meetings.

          Here is the complete text, not much longer than the excerpt. And here is a scanned copy if one is worried about forgeries.

          • Simon says:

            George Orwell said something along the lines of, an inability to work with one’s hands is a form of stupidity. (Paraphrased as don’t have the foggiest where I ran across it.)

  37. Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

    Has anyone ever done an Escape The Room event? I did this past weekend with some friends and it was pretty fun. I wonder if a group of rationalists got together to do one whether they would escape in record time.

    • Eggoeggo says:

      Or sit there arguing about the most rational method that should be used to solve the problem until they run out of time/pass out drunk if it’s a themed restaurant version.

      • JuanPeron says:

        Are “opt not to leave; drink instead” and “use a multitool on the door hinges, leave without solving the puzzles” considered viable answers? Most of the rationalists I know would be all about those solutions.

    • null says:

      I don’t think rationalists would have a big advantage over people with similar intelligence and experience with puzzles.

    • Anon says:

      I have; it was a good time.

      I doubt an arbitrary group of rationalists would do much better than a similarly intelligent set of non-rationalists. Maybe worse, if they aren’t practiced at cooperating. But if you found or created a group of rationalists willing to e.g. shut up and obey reasonable instructions from someone who has arbitrarily started acting as leader, instead of arguing over leadership or details of those instructions, you could probably do pretty well.

      • Aegeus says:

        The one I went to, we didn’t really have a leader, we naturally fragmented into groups because there were multiple puzzles we could be working on at once. We just made sure to keep talking about what we did, so that when someone says “I found a key marked #6!” the person who is looking at lock #6 can call them over.

    • Airgap says:

      It was more of an “Escape the field surrounded by concertina wire-topped fences and occasional guard towers” event, but yeah. It was pretty easy. I just hid in one of the delivery trucks before it left.

      The main thing to remember is to be sure to wear an armband or other “Fixed, distinctive emblem, recognizable at a distance” or they don’t let you into the event. They just shoot you on the spot. It doesn’t seem fair, but rules are rules.

    • Emily says:

      I did one. I guess I am a rationalist. I was with at least one other person who is more of a rationalist and a couple of other people who weren’t. I didn’t find that any skill set I have learned through rationalism was helpful. The people who had done one previously were better at it. The puzzles struck me as contrived and boring.

    • drethelin says:

      I did one of these at the last CFAR reunion and it was pretty awesome. Duncan Sabien is a good GM.

    • Aegeus says:

      They’re very fun. The one I went to (The Train Car in Chicago) was designed to always be a narrow escape, in a very clever way – one of the final puzzles was a ridiculously difficult dexterity and coordination challenge. Our group struggled with that for a while, got nowhere, and then, five minutes before time ran out, they offered us an alternate way to solve the puzzle (there was a screen in the room that let them pass us hints when we got stuck). We did that, and then we had a mad scramble to solve the final puzzle before the final five minutes were up, escaping with 3 seconds to spare.

      So yeah, sometimes the game is designed to be hard even for a smart group.

    • JuanPeron says:

      My general impression is that like puzzle hunts, weffriddles, and similar, Escape the Room mostly rewards familiarity with puzzles and a certain type of constrained creativity.

      It’s the sort of thing that operates according to unstated norms, where most of the gains available come from knowing which things to try first. Puzzle hunts are egregious with this (though still a lot of fun) because they expect that you’ll respond to random data with analysis techniques that were never implied (ROT13, number -> letter conversions, etc).

      It’s less about rationality than about trying to replicate someone else’s thought process in an otherwise unbounded space of operations. Still, I find them a really good time. For anyone wanting to practice for free, check out Escape the Room flash games (be sure to find realistic ones, that don’t depend on magic or internal logic).

  38. Salem says:

    Are we not already – have we not always been – in the anarcho-capitalist’s utopia?

    I’ve never felt like I’ve got a satisfactory answer to this question, from an anarcho-capitalist point of view. I find it very strange reading anarcho-capitalist arguments for how states won’t win out in a free-for-all of violence, when they clearly did. It seems like such a foundational question should be squarely addressed at the start, but it never seems to be, which I find puzzling. Some of the implicit arguments I’ve encountered are:

    1. Sensitivity to starting conditions. Sure, states formed in the past, but if we were to abolish states now, they wouldn’t re-form, due to changed material conditions. This seems to be implicit in most an-cap writing I’ve read.

    2. Moral progress. An altered version of (1), where the ethical beliefs of society, rather than the material conditions, are the relevant starting conditions. Huemer appears to believe some version of this.

    Both (1) and (2) seem like special pleading. We don’t have special knowledge about how today’s starting conditions would play out in a complex iteration, and it is unclear why today’s starting conditions should be privileged over tomorrow’s, or yesterday’s. Besides, the material conditions and ethical beliefs prevailing at any given time are themselves the result of the interaction playing out. Such an argument can’t even assume that an-capland would be stable!

    3. Multiple equilibria. This appears to be David Friedman’s argument. An-capland is stable, as is a state, and maybe other things too. It might be nicer to live in an-capland, so maybe we should try it. This is much more modest than the typical an-cap claim, but still seems too strong to me; it certainly looks like states “eat” their decentralized neighbours.

    4. The eternal future. Sure, an-capland may not be stable today, but it’s coming, what with Bitcoin and such. This isn’t necessarily wish-fulfillment – Rees-Mogg and Davidson wrote a book predicting this as an undesirable, but inevitable, development. This claim may yet be true, but by its very nature it is impossible to evaluate.

    Are there other viewpoints I should be aware of?

    • JuanPeron says:

      I can’t answer this for you, but I would like to second it as a source of movement-discrediting confusion with most ancap writing.

      The vast majority of ancap arguments for why we won’t just get a slow-and-bloody return to statism seem completely vulnerable to proving too much. They’re eloquent and appealing, but they apply just as well to the pre-state era as to any hypothetical future, and we know that states did evolve the first time.

      1) seems plausible, but I would want someone to explain exactly what those starting conditions are. I haven’t seen it, and the evidence I can think of seems to go against them – deadly-but-expensive weaponry just keeps getting better, and is well-tailored to state dominance.

      2) seems like bunk. The moral values of society are so overwhelmingly dependent on the existing structure of society that I disregard any claim to “fundamental” progress.

      3) doesn’t seem to have any strong existing evidence. Non-state survivors are divided into convenient free cities like Danzig or the Vatican (credibly an-cap, but only existing by the forbearance of states they’re convenient too), and undesirable quagmires (Somalia is effectively a non-state because there’s nothing worth conquering at the moment).

      4) is believable, but centralizing forces seem at least as prevalent as decentralizing ones.

      Possibly 5) active creation? Like, the idea that ancap civilization can come about by consciously creating examples and promoting them as a desirable alternative to statism. It’s sort of special pleading, but it’s a claim that we failed last time because we stumbled into statism without knowing our options. I don’t buy it, but its a claim.

    • William Newman says:

      “it certainly looks like states ‘eat’ their decentralized neighbours”

      I think it can be difficult to look around, and look back at history, and know how confident to feel about such a generalization being the reflection of a stable principle. If you wanted to convince someone in 1650 that representative forms of government would come to dominate the world, but you had to avoid revealing that you knew this by being a time traveler, what arguments would you use?

      • Salem says:

        I’d make the traditional argument about material military force (muskets and rifles) and population concentration (cities), both of which were trends in clear effect in 1650, although neither had come to fruition. Indeed, 1650 should give me an especially sympathetic audience, given that the Civil War and the Fronde were ongoing. Similar analysis makes me think the next couple of centuries will be a bad time for democracy.

        But more generally, I agree with you that it is possible that changes, technological or otherwise, will occur in the future to make an-capland stable, or indeed to cause an-capland to eat all its neighbouring states. This is argument (4). However, this argument has an inherently speculative nature, and absent very concrete details, gives us little reason to privilege the hypothesis of an-capland over any other system.

      • John Schilling says:

        1650 is two years after the Peace of Westphalia established nations, rather than kings, as the basis of sovereignty. At that point, while most every nation still had a king of some sort, the king was expected to serve the interests of the nation and the door was now open for asking whether there might be something better than a king to fill that role.

        You’ll still have an uphill climb dealing with the obvious theoretical criticisms of democracy, mob rule, bread-and-circuses, eternal gridlock, voter ignorance, etc, without any recent examples of successful democracies to point to.

    • TD says:

      I think anarchism is an inherently shaky concept. Coercion springs eternal!

      However, I think point 4 is interesting, and part of what drew me away from anarcho-capitalism. The main things holding back any sort of decentralization are 1: far too many of us are too weak and/or too stupid (not exempting myself!), 2: cost economies of scale and network effects lead to big business being efficient, leading to oligopolies and high exist costs, meaning that business of sufficient size takes on government like characteristics and thus needs the government to check it, and 3: labor binds people into extremely taxing relationships they would otherwise avoid, and from this springs the (hyperbolic but with a grain of truth) Marxist claim that the relationship between the bosses as a class and the workers as a class is one akin to free range slavery.

      Therefore, in order to have any sort of decentralization in a way that is stable, we need to 1: have a strong self-sufficient populace (transhumanism?), 2: technology needs to come along and lower the cost economies of scale for most kinds of industry vital to subsistence (3d printers, indoor farming, etc?), and 3: labor needs to be highly automated (robotics and AI). Humans need to become more survivable, productive property needs to be more efficient at smaller scales of production, and the gathering of resources needs to be highly automated. The convergence of the three creates the possibility of decentralization.

      Anarcho-capitalism focuses on the legitimacy of property claims vis a vis the NAP, and not the distribution of property (which relates exactly to whether we are already in the Ancap utopia). Of course, it would be a mistake to conclude that Marxists and left-anarchists do so, because their entire goal is the abolition of absentee title AKA private property, as contrasted with occupancy and use or various collective schemes of various coherence. The only political philosophy that focuses on the widest distribution of private property as its end goal is the third way philosophy of distributism, coming from the Catholic Church, and long marginalized and misunderstood.

      Now, of course, distributism if taken to its extreme today would throw everyone into miserable toil in subsistence level agriculture, but the seed of the idea could grow into something really special if fertilized with technological improvement. If every person had property sufficient for their survival, wage labor could no longer be the primary mode of our economics. The fact that capitalism produces too few capitalists and not too many is exactly what leads to socialism in the first place. True individualism must be philosophically materialist and not idealist, because it’s clear that the material conditions for wide spread individualism and therefore decentralism do not exist.

      The only way to change that is to try and make a bourgeois status as easy to achieve as possible. The end game here is that automation will drop the cost of production towards zero, as machines make machines and mine the raw material for the machines and run the power stations for the energy needed. Machines will be worker, capitalist, and capital in one. The stock of capital in future society will be so high that a basic income guarantee (government action being vital here to counter technological unemployment) would quickly lead to pretty much everyone owning versatile robots/other AI, making pretty much everyone a member of the bourgeoisie (or a slave owner depending on how you look at it), and perhaps, tentatively, thereby ending the relevance of that class distinction. This is inverse Marxism, predicated not on ending class through proletarianization, but through deproletarianization. If this sort of society becomes so, then people will not need so much big companies, and in turn the servile state can decline in prominence, setting the stage for decentralization. Anarchy here can only be something to asymptote towards, not a realizable condition in of itself.

      Anarcho-capitalism rejects this kind of materialist class analysis and cannot account for why socialism exists or what would be needed to reduce the desire for it. It is capitalism that creates socialism. The class struggle is real, and if it is real it must be resolved.

    • onyomi says:

      To my mind it’s a widespread change in perception that would be needed to make ancapism relatively stable, not any particulars of military logistics.

      Right now a big chunk of people, especially in the developed world, think anything short of universal adult suffrage and democratic representation is a horrible outrage (at least in the places they live). Even if Obama were able to abolish term limits and rig the system to, in effect, become a king, he couldn’t just abandon the pretense and proclaim himself king. Because people won’t accept it.

      1000 years ago people would accept a new king, but if you told them you were going to have universal adult suffrage representative democracy they’d say you were crazy and it would never work. And so under those circumstances being a king works and democracy doesn’t work.

      Doesn’t mean every conceivable system is equally good. Does mean that a big part of making any system work is having a critical mass of people both believing that it does work and that it is somehow right or natural. I think this would apply equally to anarchocapitalism and that if people believed in anarchocapitalism like they now believe in democracy it would be at least as stable as democracies are now.

      • MugaSofer says:

        This is a good point. Democracies outcompete kings, but in order to discover that you have to persuade an entire society to adopt democracy and then wait a hundred years.

      • Salem says:

        You make a good argument that a change in perceptions would be necessary to make an-capland stable, and I agree. But you don’t even approach the question of why you think this would be sufficient.

        Suppose a critical mass of people in Estonia believe that anarcho-capitalism can work, and is right and natural. Even if I were to grant, arguendo, that such a situation would be locally stable, what stops predatory neighbours invading? After all, we know as a historical matter that states have eaten their stateless neighbours.

        Or are you arguing that you need the whole world to believe in anarcho-capitalism for it to be stable anywhere?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          This seems like a very good point to me. Usually I have tried to argue this same point starting from an-cap worldwide (which, I think it is certainly arguable, is where we did start, anyway). But this may be a more effective way to make the argument.

        • onyomi says:

          I definitely don’t think the whole world needs to go ancap for it to work, though it would need to be a large enough area and enough people to garner international attention and respect (not just say, some Oregon ranchers or cultists in a compound).

          Let’s say, for example, Scotland decides they not only want to be independent from the UK, but a great majority of Scots have decided and will overwhelmingly vote to the effect that they don’t want a government as traditionally understood at all, and, in fact, that forcing one on them is a tyranny.

          Could the UK, especially with help from allies, defeat the fledgling Scottish ancap militia? Sure. But first of all, would they, considering all the nasty international press they’d get, and second of all, would they have the stomach to keep it up, assuming the Scots continued to believe in the ethical necessity of ancapism, which would cause them to continually protest and possibly even commit terrorism/guerrilla warfare?

          To be analogous, lets say people in Scotland feel about government as most people in America now feel about Jim Crow and women being unable to vote. In other words, they find it a huge injustice. Even if you force them, for a while, to remain part of a government which has these features they find unjust, there are going to be constant protests, maybe even terrorist attacks. It will be much more trouble than it’s worth.

          This is why the ideological change is key: in the past, regions with nothing we’d recognize as a true, territorial monopoly government have been swallowed up by territorial monopoly governments, yes. But the people inhabiting those areas didn’t have a strong, principled objection to government; they just didn’t really have one, and the new government was probably presented as some kind of continuation of whatever chieftain system they had prior. Plus, they didn’t have live footage of every brutally suppressed rebellion inciting outraged tweets across the world.

          If the Scots continue to believe that territorial monopoly government is as unjust as we now believe women and blacks having no say in government is unjust, then there will be overwhelming pressure to eventually just leave them alone. (I pick Scotland both because of their recent secession attempt and because it strikes me as a large enough area to get international attention and respect, but not a super resource rich or strategically key area as would incentivize someone like Russia or China to just kick everyone out or something).

          Eventually, the fact that, on my view, at least, the ancap country will become richer and more technologically advanced and therefore be able to afford better weapons, combined with the fact that fighting such a country will inherently require intense guerrilla warfare, will add a further layer of protection.

          But in the initial stages I think the ideological change is both necessary and, if widely, deeply, consistently held on to, sufficient.

          • Salem says:

            You appear to be saying that an ideologically an-cap society can compete in the global order because its neighbours won’t invade, and if they do, they won’t be able to occupy in the long term because the people will protest the occupation. Well, OK, but the words “an-cap” are doing no work at all there. You could put in any philosophy, religion or governmental system you like. Do you really believe this?

            Now, I agree that rUK wouldn’t invade an independent, stateless Scotland, and that if it did, Scottish protests would eventually force rUK to withdraw. But this is only because people in rUK identify with, and respect the choices of, people in Scotland.

            But there are plenty of ongoing occupations in the world, where the subjugated peoples’ wishes show no signs of getting their way, because the occupying power simply doesn’t care about said wishes. Sometimes the occupying power gives up anyway, because the subjugated are able to cause enough trouble, but this is dependent on available technology, geography, etc, and very frequently it goes entirely the other way; the subjugated peoples get marginalised or eliminated entirely. This is not exactly a rare process in human history.

            My example was Estonia, not Scotland. How would it work out for them?

            You don’t even engage with the mainstream idea that states came to be, at least in part, as part of a Darwinian logic of violent competition – an omission quite striking when supposedly the logic of anarcho-capitalism is all about that .

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ onyomi:

            Yes, I think ultimately the question here is whether ideology matters. I think it does.

            But many people subscribe to an essentially “dialectical materialist” view of history, on which the dominant ideology is purely a function of the underlying mode of production / military technology / whatever. I think that certainly has an influence, but I don’t think it explains everything.

            For instance, I don’t think the rise of the welfare-regulatory state over the course of the 20th century was inevitable. It’s not truly the case that the special interests and “unproductive classes” have gotten together and hijacked the system to support themselves at the expense of the productive minority. The vast majority of spending at all levels of government is allocated toward programs that are genuinely thought by most people to be in the general interest.

            There’s an incentive problem, but it’s not a coordination problem. The issue isn’t that everyone is rationally maximizing his own interest at the expense of the public good; the issue is that people don’t know what the public good is—and they have little incentive to learn. If people were rationally self-interest utility maximizers, they could arrange Pareto-optimal deals to abolish inefficient government programs that benefit the concentrated few at greater cost to the diffuse many. For instance, by aggregating all the various subsidies and privileges into one up-or-down vote, in which case what one loses from eliminating one’s own special privileges, one more than gains in eliminating everyone else’s.

            But as I say, the problem is just that people’s ideas about public policy are mistaken. And no one is capable of thinking for himself from first principles about every issue—they take their opinions directly or indirectly from the intellectual classes. In the earlier 20th century, these were dominated by socialism, and today they are still dominated by interventionism. I don’t think this is in any way inevitable; I think they could be dominated by different ideas, to the extent that they can be convinced those ideas are true.

            In other words, anarcho-capitalism could not work in the current environment because almost no one is in favor of it. And almost no one is in favor of it because almost everyone believes there are severe and intrinsic problems with it. And almost everyone believes that not because he thought about it himself, but because he’s taking his cue from the journalists and popular political writers, who take their cue from the political philosophers and economists.

            I myself am not a full partisan of anarcho-capitalism because I’m not sure it would work. But I think that if a sizable number of the economists and political philosophers were convinced that it would work, it would eventually become an idea with popular support and would be tried.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi/@salem:

            And what happens when a splinter IRA group buys property in “An-Scotland” ships in arms and militants and starts (a) “buying” more property, and (b) eventually engaging in cross-border raids.

            What happens when every high level criminal in the UK moves to An-Scotland and runs their criminal empire from there?

            Whose going to stop them? How long before rUK feels compelled to act?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Salem:

            You appear to be saying that an ideologically an-cap society can compete in the global order because its neighbours won’t invade, and if they do, they won’t be able to occupy in the long term because the people will protest the occupation. Well, OK, but the words “an-cap” are doing no work at all there. You could put in any philosophy, religion or governmental system you like. Do you really believe this?

            It’s not that the neighbors won’t invade / won’t be able to occupy in the long term under any conceivable global order. It’s that they won’t be able to, in a global order based on liberalism.

            Now, I agree that rUK wouldn’t invade an independent, stateless Scotland, and that if it did, Scottish protests would eventually force rUK to withdraw. But this is only because people in rUK identify with, and respect the choices of, people in Scotland.

            It’s not so much that they “identify with” the people of Scotland. It’s that the people of the UK are under the sway of broadly liberal ideas. If they were under the sway of totalitarian communism then, sure, the humanitarian concerns wouldn’t stop them.

            My example was Estonia, not Scotland. How would it work out for them?

            onyomi pretty clearly states that he thinks it wouldn’t go so well for Estonia. (Though that may not necessarily be the case, if e.g. NATO should decide to extend protection to the stateless area of Estonia anyway.)

            But this is pretty irrelevant. No one is arguing that an anarcho-capitalist territory can resist aggression by any potential state under any potential circumstances. And moreover, there is no form of government imaginable under which Estonia could stand up to Russian invasion, without American protection. It’s not like the Estonian government provides any meaningful contribution to the US in return.

            You don’t even engage with the mainstream idea that states came to be, at least in part, as part of a Darwinian logic of violent competition – an omission quite striking when supposedly the logic of anarcho-capitalism is all about that .

            I’ve never seen an anarcho-capitalist theorist stress that’s it founded on a logic “violent competition”. It’s supposed to be founded on the opposite: a logic of non-violent competition being better for all parties, even the victors. A major problem being that states engage in violent conflict even when it’s not in their rational interests to do so. Putin’s Russia being an obvious example.

            So necessarily, a big part of anarcho-capitalism would be convincing the “thought leaders” that war and violence are not in the interests of their people. Just as economists have—with considerable success, actually—tried to convince people that mercantilism and protectionism are not in the interest of any country.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ HeelBearCub:

            And what happens when a splinter IRA group buys property in “An-Scotland” ships in arms and militants and starts (a) “buying” more property, and (b) eventually engaging in cross-border raids.

            What happens when every high level criminal in the UK moves to An-Scotland and runs their criminal empire from there?

            You are begging the question by assuming a point that any anarcho-capitalist theorist is obviously going to dispute: that any such territory would be a lawless, chaotic place where any criminal or terrorist could hide out with impunity.

            Surely what someone like David Friedman would say is that, in such a situation where IRA members are operating openly and notoriously, representatives of the British government would press charges against the IRA members in a private court, obtain a conviction, and hire private police to arrest them and extradite them to the UK.

          • Salem says:

            @HeelBearClub: In other words, “How did England come to rule Ireland?”

            But according to onyomi, this can’t have happened, because the Catholic Irish didn’t wish to be ruled from London and the Pale, and wishes are horses.

          • onyomi says:

            “but the words “an-cap” are doing no work at all there. You could put in any philosophy, religion or governmental system you like. Do you really believe this?”

            The words ancap are doing work insofar as one believes that ancap could result in a reasonably prosperous, functioning society. I do believe that any strongly held philosophy, religion, or governmental system can be stable so long as it is possible, under that system, to achieve a semi-reasonable level of peace, order, and prosperity. Hell, even systems that objectively produce poverty and misery manage to last a long time so long as people believe in them, or, at least, continue to pay lip service to them (DPRK).

            If the answer to the empirical question of whether or not an ancap society can achieve a reasonable level of peace and prosperity is “no, any ancap society always descends into a war of all against all until some neighboring state steps in” then, of course, ancap cannot work even if people do believe in it. But I don’t think that is the empirical answer. And remember, we don’t need to pass a super high peace and prosperity bar if people believe in it. People are willing to put up with shockingly bad material conditions so long as they believe in the virtue of the system (though really bad conditions tend to erode faith in a system over time, of course).

            One other place where “ancap” is doing “work” here: ancap is, by definition, decentralized. Therefore, you can never just defeat “the army” or occupy “the capital” and declare total victory, since the people living there don’t recognize that kind of victory as entitling you to rule.

            As for Estonia vs. Scotland. I didn’t say anywhere in the world right now could declare itself ancap and be a success. There are places where, even if the local population had strongly held beliefs, it is likely that say, China would just shut them down if they happened to be, say, Tibet. But that’s because China is invested enough in holding on to Tibet to commit a lot of atrocities.

            If the belief were strongly held enough then probably even a less-worried-about-human-rights-and-more-worried-about-propaganda-victory-and-strategic-resource/territory-claims government like the PRC would give up eventually, but it would be harder. Factors I think would make it easier to succeed, in the initial stages, as an ancap region: being already developed/having cultural ties to liberal democracies who care about not brutally suppressing “rebellions,” not being located in a place of great military strategic importance or natural resources.

          • Salem says:

            @VoxImperatoris:

            You appear to stress this notion of a “liberal global order” as the key. In other words, we are safe not because we can defend ourselves against our neighbours, but because our neighbours don’t even want to invade us. So an an-cap society has nothing to fear from its neighbours, because no society does.

            This isn’t entirely wrong (is Canada afraid of US invasion?) but it isn’t entirely right (is Ukraine safe from Russian invasion?). NATO, and more specifically the US military, is the underpinning of our global order. It’s certainly possible to free-ride on that, but free-riding doesn’t scale.

            Estonia isn’t strategically key nor resource-rich. I think we can agree Russia would eat it anyway. Sure, the Estonian military budget isn’t a key part of NATO, but if they become stateless they won’t be able to make treaties. Yeah, NATO might defend it anyway, but they didn’t with Ukraine. Becoming stateless doesn’t look like a winning move.

            How can stateless societies, individually or collectively, provide for national defence? Historically, we know they haven’t been able to in sufficient terms to deal with their neighbours. You can say “persuade people that war is not a good idea” but it only takes a few defectors. Invading Estonia doesn’t even need to be in the interest of the Russian people, only the Russian state. If the US became anarcho-capitalist, even supposing that system “worked” domestically, it would be a disaster for human freedom, because the world would lose its policeman, and the “liberal global order” you rely on would unravel.

            I’ve never seen an anarcho-capitalist theorist stress that’s it founded on a logic “violent competition”. It’s supposed to be founded on the opposite: a logic of non-violent competition being better for all parties, even the victors.

            But anarcho-capitalism is supposed to take place in the shadow of violence, in much the same way that arbitration takes place in the shadow of law. That’s why it posits private protection agencies, who can go around arresting people, not just everyone being perfect. And your private protection agency needs to have enough guns to make it worthwhile for the rival protection agency to respect them, rather than just arrest them too. And so on. People don’t actually resort to violence, because that would be bad for business, but the logic of the violent competition is still there – in much the same way that IRL nukes don’t need to be used to be effective.

            EDIT:

            @onyomi:

            I do believe that any strongly held philosophy, religion, or governmental system can be stable so long as it is possible, under that system, to achieve a semi-reasonable level of peace, order, and prosperity. Hell, even systems that objectively produce poverty and misery manage to last a long time so long as people believe in them, or, at least, continue to pay lip service to them (DPRK).

            The Vikings didn’t invade 9th century England despite the fact that it was peaceful, orderly and prosperous. That’s why they invaded – that, and it wasn’t attending enough to its own defence. Successfully defending against them necessitated military centralisation and dedicating far more resources than could be voluntarily co-ordinated – because national defence is a public good and so gets under-provided. This is the origin of the English state.

            And this keeps happening, over and over… Ghengis Khan, Timurlane, Wallenstein, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Hitler, and hundreds of less famous examples too. Societies that can’t match their neighbours’ defence spending get eaten. Even societies that do spend a lot on defence sometimes get eaten – there’s no guarantee – but they have a better chance. The idea that any country is fine as long as its domestically stable is just ludicrous.

            DPRK exists because they have Chinese military backing. That’s all.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Vox:

            Under what theory of ancap law is a private security agency to prevent the IRA from amassing their own private territory with their own private security force? In my example (a) comes before (b), and (a) is a process that amasses territory and military might, first via strict economic exchange and then via the discomfort that comes from being adjacent to a well-armed theoretical belligerent.

          • onyomi says:

            Meta-comment:

            Debating the feasibility of an ancap system with someone invested in statism, especially of a “social contract”-type variety is usually fruitless because they come at it from the perspective of “must I believe this could work” rather than “could this work?”

            Because if they were to admit it might work then they’d have to face the fact that it’s morally preferable to the status quo and should therefore be given a chance. If advocates of liberal democracy had had to thoroughly satisfy all possible qualms about how it might go wrong before it were ever tried, well, then, I think we can safely say it would never have been tried in the first place.

          • onyomi says:

            Re. the idea that historically Genghis Khan et al invade precisely because a place is peaceful and prosperous, a few points:

            One, again, the residents of those places didn’t have a principled objection to being ruled per se, they were generally just paying taxes to the Khan instead of some king whom they also didn’t know. Their incentive to throw off Tatar rule to replace it by Tsar rule was not great nor principled.

            Second, the transferability of technological and economic power into military power grows greater the more advanced warfare becomes. In the past, your peaceful farmers couldn’t fend off the raiders on horseback just because they were technically richer in material goods. Nowadays, the rich, tiny country with nukes and drones can fend off an essentially unlimited number of less-advanced marauders (keeping in mind also that it’s much easier to keep foreign invaders out than to win on their soil: see, e. g. Vietnam).

            Also, if you recall, Hitler was defeated by a coalition of nations which seemed to object to him just gobbling up his neighbors for their resources. I don’t see why that would have been any different if one of the neighbors he had gobbled up had been the fledgling region of Ancapohungary.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            Under what theory of ancap law is a private security agency to prevent the IRA from amassing their own private territory with their own private security force? In my example (a) comes before (b), and (a) is a process that amasses territory and military might, first via strict economic exchange and then via the discomfort that comes from being adjacent to a well-armed theoretical belligerent.

            In the example, you say they’re part of the IRA. People in the IRA are terrorists or engaged in a conspiracy to commit terrorist attacks.

            If they’re not doing those things, there’s nothing to charge them with or arrest them for. But then, in the current system, there’s nothing stopping people from forming an association of “people who don’t like British rule of Northern Ireland” and buying up property even in London itself. They’re called Sinn Fein. And when it could be proved that they gave money to the IRA in a specific case, they were arrested and sent to prison. But often they did so surreptitiously.

            Actually, some of the biggest funders of the IRA existed as Irish-Americans in the United States. Where they were prosecuted whenever it was proven that they gave money to terrorist groups, but often they were able to hide this by going through intermediaries.

            Nothing about this situation changes in the environment of anarcho-capitalism.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            They don’t say “We are the IRA and we are coming to wage a war of terror!”

            They say “We are the Northern Irish Refugee Alliance” and we just want a place where we can live out our lives practicing our religion in peace. Now get the fuck off our land.” and then pretty soon “their” land is a separate Irish state inside of An-Scotland with enough military might to make the various competing security organizations say “You do not get our protection if you venture inside their privately owned “town”.”

            Absent a shooting war, you will not stop this without betraying AnCap philosophy.

          • Salem says:

            @onyomi:

            1. It’s extremely rude to call me a statist. That whole post is basically Bulverism.

            2. I agree that a society with a shared ideology is better at resisting invasion than a society with no shared ideology, but an anarcho-capitalist ideology seems no better (and likely worse) as a unifying factor than religion, nationalism, dynastic loyalty, etc etc.

            3. A shared ideology only gets you so far – military factors are far more important. The 9th century English, for example, strongly objected to being ruled by Pagan foreigners, and as your thinking predicts, that helped – Alfred would certainly have lost without it. But it didn’t do any good for those north of Watling Street.

            4. What matters is not the wealth of the participants, but the balance between offence and defence, the price, and the level of training involved. Muskets were pretty cheap and needed little training, so they made the world more democratic. Modern militaries are incredibly capital intensive, and this argues that states will become even more powerful as time goes on (to be clear I think this is an undesirable trend) unless further technological advance decentralises power projection. A free market is never going to fund aircraft carriers and nuclear subs, because the benefit we get from them is too remote.

            5. You are right that Hitler got stopped (although note that most of the places he gobbled up didn’t get their freedom back – they were simply given to a different gobbler). Not every gobbler gets stopped. It is courting disaster to make yourself the weakest, most tempting target, then free-ride on others’ willingness to protect you.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:

            Also, if you recall, Hitler was defeated by a coalition of nations which seemed to object to him just gobbling up his neighbors for their resources.

            Nations whose taxpaying members had no right to opt out, thereby preventing free riders.

          • John Schilling says:

            Also, if you recall, Hitler was defeated by a coalition of nations which seemed to object to him just gobbling up his neighbors for their resources.

            Austria wasn’t a neighbor of Germany? Czechoslovakia? Or are we using a very broad and shallow definition of “object to”?

            And nobody much objected to Italy gobbling up e.g. Ethiopia, which wasn’t even a neighbor. But was populated by, hmm, what’s the term for those things that kind of look like people but which obviously aren’t, and those not-really-people things can’t form Real Nations, can they?

            The principle of not allowing nations to invade and conquer other nations may not be so broad as you suggest. In the 1930s, it may have been limited to nation-states with a century or more of sovereignty under their belt and populated mostly by white people. Now, the rules are a bit broader. But I’m going to guess that for some time to come, any An-Cap territory would likely be perceived, by Real Nations, as Not A Real Nation. And that military intervention, hiding behind the right code words, would be seen not as a threat to the proper order of nations but as a restoration of that proper order.

            And, as with e.g. the Libyan intervention, would be conducted on the basis of exaggerated claims of the horrors and atrocities of AnCapLand which would never be questioned or verified because, really, everybody knows how those AnCaps are.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, it’s Bulverism, but I decided this was a rude thread after “But according to onyomi, this can’t have happened, because the Catholic Irish didn’t wish to be ruled from London and the Pale, and wishes are horses.”

          • onyomi says:

            “Nations whose taxpaying members had no right to opt out, thereby preventing free riders.”

            Now we’re moving the goalposts to whether a stateless world can remain stateless, as opposed to whether Scotland or Estonia could remain stateless surrounded by other states. But if it’s a stateless or mostly stateless world then all the arguments about advantages states have over non-states become moot.

            Unless the point is just that ancap regions would inevitably free ride on the militaries of regions with states, and that that, while do-able, is somehow immoral. But how is it immoral to let yourself be protected from the tax-funded marauders by other tax-funded, or god-forbid, conscripted marauders?

          • Salem says:

            Then you provide yet another example of the other remarkable feature of anarchy-capitalists, in that you condemn those who would happily be your allies in shrinking the state as statists, and ascribe to us positions we’ve never held – who knew I believed in a social contract!

            That anarcho-capitalists respond to my polite inquiries to better understand their doctrine by lashing out in such a manner does nothing to increase my belief that there are good arguments at the heart of it.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Salem:

            But according to onyomi, this can’t have happened, because the Catholic Irish didn’t wish to be ruled from London and the Pale, and wishes are horses.

            Does this sound polite to you? If so, you should adjust your idea of what you consider polite. It’s very rude.

            Moreover, it certainly wasn’t clear to me that onyomi was calling you a “statist” or alleging that you believe in the social contract. He was responding to at least four or five different people in the broader subthread.

            This sounds like a misunderstanding or miscommunication.

          • onyomi says:

            “who knew I believed in a social contract”

            Who said I was talking about you?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            First off, slight apologies as I think I pulled a left turn when you were going right. I was speaking to the idea that AnCap security organizations could successfully fend off Hitler inside the AnCap, which I realize is orthogonal to your point.

            As to whether nation-states will unite to stop the absorption of one AnCap region, Hitler is a very bad example, as John Schilling ably pointed out.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Salem:
            You seem like an able commentor, and I have noted that we seem to have broad agreement on a number of issues lately.

            I think that snark is mostly deleterious to productive discussion. I criticize it here fairly frequently. I’d prefer to see less of it at SSC, generally speaking. Of course it ain’t my blog and some people here seem to think I am scold.

            @onyomi:
            That said, I’d love to see snarky comments met with “that was a snarky comment” rather than answering snark, etc.

          • onyomi says:

            Re. WWII, while I can certainly conceive of nations not intervening to help ancapistan for reasons John Schilling states, I do think WWII provides a different interesting example, which is Switzerland. Not ancapistan, but arguably the most libertarian country in Europe where everyone owns a gun and they’re really into financial privacy.

            Of course, part of it is the geography, but part of it is their longtime attitude (perhaps cultivated because of the geography) of “we’re not strong enough nor interested in fucking with you, but if you fuck with us we’re going to make it really not worth the effort.”

            I do think the porcupine is an excellent libertarian mascot, as I think that is precisely the type of defense an ancapish region would tend to cultivate: the “we don’t have a big standing army useful for invasions, but boy would we make you miserable if you tried to occupy us” kind of strength, as, indeed, we still tend to find in some quasi-stateless tribal crossroads areas like Afghanistan.

            And speaking of geography, while I still think the ideology is the key point (that is, it only needs to be held longer and more insistently if geography and other factors are unfavorable), I do think it is interesting to consider how, a la, the “resource curse” thing, we can kind of guess how libertarianish a place will tend to be behind a veil of ignorance, and it is kind of inversely correlated, I guess unsurprisingly, to how bad states will tend to want the territory.

            Like Saudi Arabia, for example: super strategic place in the middle of everything and full of a certain valued natural resource, though also not a nice climate. And of course, brutal monarchy. The fact that the things which make your land desirable to states can be described as “curses” for the people living on that land tells you something about states… (if they really worked for the people they claim to represent we’d expect these places with a lot of “competition” for rulership to be the best run).

          • John Schilling says:

            This would be the Switzerland that imported 20% of its food and 40% of its fuel from Germany, paid for by exporting several billion dollars worth of arms, ammunition, and other war materiel to the Nazis?

            Aside from industries that Hitler & co could already tap, the only thing of great value in Switzerland is the legitimacy of its banks and institutions, and those would be compromised by any invasion. So there’s plenty of reasons to put Switzerland on the list of nations to be conquered last in any attempt to conquer the world. But, completely surrounded and filled with people who will starve or freeze if long besieged, it will eventually yield.

            If the defense of your proposed system is “They’ll conquer us last, because we sell them the weapons they’ll use to conquer everyone else first”, then A: that’s a pretty weak defense both materially and morally and B: it pretty much guarantees nobody will help you if someone decides to conquer you first after all.

          • onyomi says:

            I actually think ancapistan would be like that in the sense that they’s probably sell to whoever’s buying since they wouldn’t be able to coordinate a boycott on selling to anyone. But Switzerland seems to have come out pretty well in the end. And I think they would have been saved by the Allies just like the rest of Europe had they been invaded. And if you are dealing with an enemy destined to conquer the world, well, then, better to be the person making money off them and conquered last, rather than the people conquered first?

            This reminds me: Braavos is clearly the most libertarianish place in GoT and also the most awesome.

          • brad says:

            On the other hand, Jackson’s Whole is full on ancap and it’s an awful hellhole.

          • Nornagest says:

            Let’s not even get into trading fictional evidence. We all know that you can make a plausible utopia or a plausible dystopia based on any political theory you want, if you’re minimally creative.

          • John Schilling says:

            And I think they would have been saved by the Allies just like the rest of Europe had they been invaded

            Switzerland was saved by the Allies even though it wasn’t invaded.

            But I’ll bite: Why do you think that the Allies would have intervened to save Switzerland from invasion, when they didn’t intervene to save Austria? Or Czechoslovakia, or Finland, or Rumania, or Korea, or Manchuria…

            If the answer involves Switzerland being an established sovereign nation of unquestioned legitimacy, that won’t apply to Ancapistan any time in its first century.

            If the answer involves the perception that anyone who would invade Switzerland will eventually e.g. France so might as well deal with it now, that won’t apply to Ancapistan ever – any attacker with a remotely competent PR department will be able to sell “We would never invade a Real Nation; we are invading Ancapistan because it isn’t a Real Nation”, and Real Nations will be eager to buy.

            If the answer involves Ancapistan being peaceful and inoffensive, then HeelBearCub is right that Ancapistan will be particularly appealing to terrorists, pirates, and other troublemakers looking for a secure base and not well-suited to removing them.

          • NN says:

            The principle of not allowing nations to invade and conquer other nations may not be so broad as you suggest. In the 1930s, it may have been limited to nation-states with a century or more of sovereignty under their belt and populated mostly by white people. Now, the rules are a bit broader.

            That may not even be that much broader today. For example, pretty much nobody outside of North Africa objected to Morocco invading and annexing Western Sahara less than 40 years ago.

            There are other examples that I could bring up too, but I decided that they would draw too much controversy to be worth it.

          • onyomi says:

            “That may not even be that much broader today. For example, pretty much nobody outside of North Africa objected to Morocco invading and annexing Western Sahara less than 40 years ago.”

            Western liberal democracies only care when other Western liberal democracies get invaded.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:

            Which Ancapistan would not be…

          • onyomi says:

            Well, I was being a little glib. But that’s why I earlier said that it would be advantageous to be neighbors with and ideally have cultural ties with Western liberal democracies. Hence the Scotland example, again. I think that the rest of the people in the UK feel enough kinship and connection to what goes on in Scotland that even if Scotland decided to try some weird new system they wouldn’t stand idly by if, I don’t know… Russia just decided to try to take over. If nothing else, they’d rather not have Russia controlling Scotland.

            This relates somewhat to my predictions about what would happen if, for example, Texas were to secede from the United States today (but not necessarily to be ancap, maybe just to be a new country). I’ve had debates on here before with people who think this would still be labeled treason and stopped with overwhelming military force even today.

            Personally, I think values have changed a lot in the past 150 years and presumably they also won’t be seceding over something as ethically charged as slavery. Assuming the Texas secession was overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Texas (not just some weird cult in a little part of Texas or something else easily written off as not really representing the wishes of the people of Texas), I don’t the American people would have the stomach for that today. It would just be seen as… wrong. Even if people didn’t approve of what Texas was doing.

            Similarly, if the people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly that they wanted to dissolve their traditional government in an orderly fashion move toward an ancap system, I don’t see the UK or other neighbors having the will or desire to use overwhelming military force to stop them, nor tolerating Russia or whoever just stepping in and grabbing the territory.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            I think if Texas tried to secede today, it would go to SCOTUS and Texas would lose at at least the appellate court and SCOTUS level. Provided Texas said they had seceded and didn’t actually try and use force of arms against any federal facilities, the Feds wouldn’t use force of arms either. But the US wouldn’t just let Texas secede unilaterally and do so by force of arms. Texas would be forced to take the first military move, and then be promptly de-headed.

            It might be possible for Texas to negotiate a secession, but that would be different.

            And there would be no way it would be overwhelmingly approved of when the Feds stopped sending social security checks and block grant money to the state, which would be a move the Feds would make at some point.

          • onyomi says:

            Don’t fight the hypothetical.

            The hypothetical is Texans vote overwhelmingly to unilaterally secede and don’t care about losing their social security checks, etc.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            Don’t ignore the bulk of my comment, which addressed the totality of your point.

          • onyomi says:

            Why would they be forced to take the first military move?

            I’m not sure this can get anywhere, though, as it involves deeply different intuitions about how mainstream American culture would react to “what if” scenarios with no way to test them.

        • I think the correct question to ask is how did previous regime changes work to avoid getting eaten by their neighbors. We should not just look at state to stateless but every drastic regime change from king to republic, theocrat to democracy, elective monarchy to king, holy roman empire prince to principality, etc. Many leadership changes failed and many other succeeded, mostly due to combinations of defensive alliances, mercenaries, blood ties, friendly relations, trade,etc. If it was just a matter of the bigger country eating their smaller neighbors with weaker (or non-existant) governments, we should be ruled by some combination of Persia, the Romans, Mongolians, Timurids, Byzantines, Turks, Mughals, Ming, Austrians, Bohemians, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Spanish, French, German, or Russians by now.

          Your big neighbor may want to eat you, but rest assured your other big neighbor doesn’t want the first big neighbor to gain territory/power either (historically this has a mixed success rate).

          • John Schilling says:

            Most of the historically succesful regime changes resulted in new regimes which could more efficiently raise large armies than the old ones. You might want to consider looking specifically for cases where that didn’t hold.

        • “Even if I were to grant, arguendo, that such a situation would be locally stable, what stops predatory neighbours invading? After all, we know as a historical matter that states have eaten their stateless neighbours.”

          States sometimes eat adjacent states as well. How vulnerable an A-C society would be depends both on whether it has powerful, aggressive neighbors and how well it solves the problem of private production of defense against states (some thoughts on the latter).

          The Comanche provide an example of a stateless society (although not a very attractive one) that punched well above its weight. For quite a long time, the problem was protecting their neighbors from them. They eventually lost out to a state with enormously larger resources of population and technology–but it took quite a while.

          • bean says:

            I’m not sure that would work well. The problem is that ‘amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics’, and you’re doing away with the professionals. What separates a modern army from a bunch of guys with guns are the systems in place to ensure that everyone has enough beans and bullets, and knows what they’re supposed to be doing, and those are the boring parts of the job. Nobody is going to join the volunteer militia as a water tech, and while there are water techs in civilian life, you’d have to get them after the crisis began. And you’d have to stop them from deciding they’d rather be on the front lines instead. And you’d have to stop the militia units from deciding that what they want to do is more fun than what they’re told to do, and being really ineffective.
            This is a good blueprint for creating guerrilla groups, but that’s not a good foundation for actual security.
            They can probably stop the bad guys from occupying your country. Eventually. But they’re terrible at providing actual security, which needs the ability to actually deter potential enemies from causing trouble. Sure, it may be way too expensive to invade your entire stateless place, but they can still bomb it with impunity, and put troops somewhere occasionally if they need to.
            Or to put it another way, your suggestion puts some limits on the ability of other states to meddle, but not enough to raise it to what I would call ‘security’ if you have powerful enemies.

    • eh says:

      Many, maybe most, real-world political philosophies are vectors rather than points. If ancaps are saying “we should go this way and see what we find”, in the same way socialists generally are, the problem becomes less clear.

      Maybe it will get stuck somewhere around minarchy, maybe external security will be much less of a problem than the lack of bread and circuses, maybe a worldwide movement of the Overton window in the same vague direction will make implementation easier, and maybe there’s a point at which people will have sufficient freedom and sufficiently little government interference that they won’t care so much. To predict the future is very difficult.

  39. Kyle Strand says:

    If we have something we’d like to contribute to the discussion on a particular post, but a week or so has already passed and few people (especially Scott with what I imagine is limited time for reading the immense threads his posts generate) are likely to see new comments, where should we put it? Waiting for the next Open Thread could work. Perhaps a better option would be posting on the SSC subreddit, but I’m afraid that the day I finally open a reddit account will be the day my borderline-addiction to writing long posts on the internet via my cell phone will blossom into a total life-sucking black hole of lost time.

    (I ask largely because I posted something fairly long in the Albion thread that I don’t think many people saw (though one person did in fact respond, which was gratifying), and even since then a few new comments have sprung up after mine.)

  40. Psmith says:

    Didn’t we have someone who was involved with this posting here when it came up in a links thread?

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      I don’t know, but thanks for the link, the Schadenfreude was delicious.

      I once read an article arguing that the fictional Galts Gulch could not work, because it inhabitants have no reason to trust each ocher…they don’t genuinely know each other, and they have no legal structure to enforce honesty …apart from the law provided by wider, statist society….

      Being libertarians, many of GGC’s investors were against the use of government courts to correct the injustices and receive the property they paid for. But what they found was that there simply was no other way to regain their stolen property without doing so

  41. TD says:

    (Semi-related to the conversation on superheroes vs the government above)

    If we were to make a technological evil killer terminator robot superhero how extreme would the laws of physics allow their powers to be?

    MIND:
    How smart? The law of physics limit is computronium, but other practical limits for replacing a human brain in that volume without egregious power usage are going to be way way way^50 lower, and we really have no idea of what the trade-offs are yet in total when you move from the way computers work to the way the brain works. AI or enhancement is the ultimate superpower.

    We can already say that really quick reaction times for relatively complex actions don’t seem to have big trade offs. As you can see from the robot designed to cheat at rock, paper, scissors. It has reaction times of 1ms and then forms a counter movement in 20ms. The ceiling for human reaction times is only 100ms. It’s possible to conceive of robot cops in 30 years that can tell someone is pulling the trigger before capping them.

    First version:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nxjjztQKtY

    Second version:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVNnoOcohaU

    Third version:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qb5UIPeFClM

    Telepathy? Cyborgs and robots can interface through the internet obviously, but scanning a human brain at a distance might even be possible. I don’t know.

    DEFENSE:
    We already have bullet resistant body armor, but someone or something stronger would be able to carry more of it, and so stop higher caliber ammunition. If all the magical fairy promises of graphene come true, then bullet proof armor should become… a lot better? …a little better? It all depends on whether graphene really has over one hundred times the tensile strength of steels when you scale it up.

    SPEED:
    Just get on a motorbike. If you wanted to run really fast like speedsters in Marvel and DC, then you reach hard limits really fast without special wanky magic stuff. The coefficient of traction between the supers shoes and the tarmac might be greater than 1, but not much greater (dragsters might be able to get around 4, but that’s between really sticky heated up slicks running on melted rubber), so the maximum acceleration you could achieve would be around the gravitational acceleration, and then your top speed is going to be around terminal velocity in a free fall, because you wouldn’t be able to apply any more force and keep traction. It might be a little higher than this because you are going to have a vertical component to the force you are applying that is only limited by the mass you can push away from you, but the horizontal component is going to be limited close to the normal force. Running at high speed is just plain inefficient and would use loads and loads of energy up.

    So just get on a motorbike, a really cool futuristic motorbike.

    STRENGTH:
    Carbon nanotube based artificial muscle fibers seem to be really really strong:
    http://news.discovery.com/tech/biotechnology/artificial-muscle-stronger-121115.htm

    200 times the force seems high, so I’ll believe it when it scales and its efficient. They can also contract and then lengthen in 25 milliseconds.

    Then there’s these ones made from just fishing line and sewing thread (I want to have a go):
    http://www.livescience.com/43536-yarn-muscles-100x-stronger-human-muscles.html

    “The polymer-muscles generate about 3 horsepower per lb. (7.1 hp/kilogram), or the equivalent of a jet engine.”

    STAMINA:
    I guess this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Respirocyte

    “Respirocytes also have the potential to allow an adult human to sprint at top speed for at least 15 minutes without taking a breath.”

    I can’t evaluate the viability of that.

    • Anon says:

      >I can’t evaluate the viability of that

      I can.

      Assuming ideal conditions (ie 100% energy efficiency in the glucose motor, no excess heat produced by rotors etc), and going off the design specifications here (http://www.foresight.org/Nanomedicine/Respirocytes2.html#Sec31) and here for the sorting rotors (http://www.nanomedicine.com/NMI/3.4.2.htm) in order to transport the volume of oxygen consumed by the average human (I’m just using the lowest value I could find of 198 mL per minute) would require approximately 0.486 KW of power. Since these devices run on glucose I used the total exothermic energy of glucose oxidation of 2870 KJ per mole to obtain a glucose consumption rate of 0.0316 grams per second or 6 POUNDS OF GLUCOSE PER DAY!!! And this value only takes into account transporting the same amount of oxygen the average human does already. So computation, communication, and sensors are not taken into account. So in order to do what the article claims using realistic assumptions instead of ideal would probably require at least one hundred pounds of glucose to be consumed per day.

      So make of that what you will.

      • JDG1980 says:

        Refined sugar wholesales for about 32 cents a pound. So, if the robot consumes 6 pounds of glucose each day, that’s a per diem of less than two bucks. Most Americans spend more than that on food.

        I doubt it would take 100 pounds a day – after all, the robot presumably isn’t running all its servos at full power all the time, any more than you run your car at full throttle 24/7. But what if it did? We’re talking about $32 a day in food/fuel costs. If you’re using the robot as a cop, firefighter, or soldier, that’s almost certainly much cheaper than the human alternative – at least in most First World jurisdictions.

        (Though I admit the idea of Robocop or the Terminator driving around in a squad car jam-packed with massive bags of sugar is rather funny.)

        • Aegeus says:

          If you’re a robot, you can run on more efficient power sources than sugar, like gasoline. It’s only the squishy meat bits that need to run on food. Our hero already has his brain replaced with computronium and his muscles replaced with nanotubes, there’s no reason we can’t stick a generator in his chest to power all that.

          (And why stick to just gasoline? This whole exercise is about theoretical limits, so why not stick a few grams of antimatter in his chest? Now that’s energy density!)

    • JDG1980 says:

      The ceiling for human reaction times is only 100ms. It’s possible to conceive of robot cops in 30 years that can tell someone is pulling the trigger before capping them.

      Why bother “capping them” at all? One of the advantages of using a robot as a police officer is that we don’t have to care if it gets shot at. It could just tank the bullet, take the gun from the perpetrator, and arrest them. Deadly force should only be necessary if third parties are in danger (e.g. hostage situations).

      • Stan le Knave says:

        @JDG1980

        Hostage situations?

        Aside from that, a security robot is probably a significant capital investment – thats state money that’s not going into hospitals, education, primary research.

        Bullets are cheap.

        Criminals almost by definition have a negative value to society.

        Just on cost-benefit grounds I’d say it’s immoral for the robot to be programmed to risk any damage to itself in order to preserve the wellbeing of the criminal.

        Obviously this argument doesn’t work if you posit some kind of inherent value to life.

        • Aegeus says:

          First off, if your robot is bulletproof (which is why JDG1980 says “tank the bullet”), there’s no reason to shoot them at all. If the criminal could actually hurt the robot, you might have an argument, but there’s no way the criminal’s life is less valuable than the price of banging some dents out of the robot’s armor.

          And legally, we do put an inherent value on life – you are allowed to kill in self defense, but not in defense of your property. Even the police cannot use deadly force unless they believe the suspect is an imminent threat to themselves or others. You might have a reason to kill them if there are bystanders at risk, but not if it’s just the criminal and Robocop in a dark alley.

          Lastly, you’re missing the whole point of capturing criminals in the first place! The reason we put them in jail for a set time (rather than removing them permanently) is because we believe that, while they are currently net negatives, they could be set straight with an appropriate punishment. Unless you think that all criminals should be just straight-up executed rather than jailed, this isn’t a useful argument.

          • Stan le Knave says:

            I was playing devils advocate mainly. Tongue firmly in cheek

            I do think ricochets and unforeseen scenarios mean that your robocops need to carry weapons – its an analogous situation to the “power armoured infantry conquer north korea” story that was SF-of-the-week a while back

    • MugaSofer says:

      Disposable robot bodies seem better than armour for defence, albeit a slightly fishy definition of “defence”.

      Telepathy is definitely possible. Current state of the art uses bulky helmets and implants to pull out words or blurry images. There’s no reason this can’t be made smaller. Range is trickier; it’s probably possible, but you’d do better to just use nanobots.

      Speaking of nanobots, just scan and simulate the entire planet, that’ll give you superpowers.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Disposable robot bodies seem better than armour for defence, albeit a slightly fishy definition of “defence”.

        Works for ants. (Meaning actual ants, not any other kinds.) In reality, we should think of the queen as the only “real” ant, or perhaps the colony as the organism, rather than each autonomous worker.

        • Peter says:

          You’re forgetting about reproductively viable worker ants (actual RVWAs, not other kinds)!

          There’s also the business of worker policing which is on a similar theme.

          There was also some fascinating stuff in The Selfish Gene which compared the interests of worker ants with queens, and found that for complicated reasons involving haplodiploidy, there was some conflict over male-to-reproductive-female ratios, with queens “preferring” to produce a 1:1 ratio, and their worker daughters “preferring” a 3:1 ratio (i.e. sisters are better than brothers). Except I remember reading somewhere that a lot of the stuff to do with haplodiploidy doesn’t actually check out, so maybe that’s wrong.

          Anyway, ants: more intra-colony tension than you might naively expect.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Worker policing seems simply like the idea that you want your robot defense agents to be smart, self-aware and self-preserving, but not too self preserving.

      • Anonymous says:

        Telepathy is just speech on a different frequency anyway.

  42. Tsnom Eroc says:

    I think I may have solved, or have given one of quite a few plausible solutions to the Fermi Paradox. Or at least, I have a unique enough solution to it.

    Basically, I argue that there is such a thing as the conservation of utilty principle. More or less, quite a few emotions that exist we simply don’t have access to even when created in our own body. We don’t have access to the counter-emotions that exist when they are being produced. I argue that *can* be the case due to there being some psychological *other* that exists to process stimuli thresholds when we are asleep.

    So, the conservation of Utility, and the possibility of advanced civilizations discovering that principle could lead to a withering of psychological impetus to go out of the solar system.

    Its one of many…many plausible solutions, but this one is a bit damning. Thoughts?

    • Guy says:

      Presumably I’m misunderstanding you, but it soun

      • Guy says:

        Argh! A similar thing happened on the unsong site – I hit post (there intentionally, here accidentally), then was taken to a “you have already submitted that comment” page. When I came back, my comment hadn’t gone through. I assumed an error and added more content, and when *that* comment went through, I saw the first one (and only one).

        (I also don’t have an edit button on the above for some reason, although I should by timestamps)

    • Guy says:

      Presumably I’m misunderstanding you, but it sounds like you’re proposing a weird dream eating ghost that kills desire for exploration.

      A substantially simpler explanation: light speed limits make it difficult at best to organize a manned interstellar journey which must almost certainly be a generation ship if it hopes to get anywhere worth writing home about, so species generally remain focused on their star system. We don’t hear them because as technology improves, targeted messaging becomes clearly superior to blasting signals in all directions and hoping someone is there to pick it up.

      • Tsnom Eroc says:

        Not a weird dream eating ghost. I am proposing that –positive and negative emotion are *conserved*. Or, the properties that accompany the electric force, namely that it is conserved, applies to emotion.

        Say there is an electrical signal propatating a corresponding emotion. And its a good one! It may be the case that there is also a negative emotional signal generated that goes *somewhere*, or perhaps even stays at its original location, however it certainly exists.

        In that case, in accordance with Utilitarian Theory, it would more or less nullify the meaning of accomplishment. Pleasure or Pain, there would be no real difference in the emotions. Requited or Un-requited love would be ultimately emotionally idencital.

        That’s what I mean by the conservation of utility.

        • Airgap says:

          If you’re using the term “Solution to the Fermi Paradox” to mean “Non sequitor” (which is how I use it), then definitely.

          • Tsnom Eroc says:

            Well, not quite.

            Most solutions given are why under the laws of physics, its not possible for this to happen, with a few exotic solutions (nanobot space particles are already past light speed, going into another dimension, etc)

            This is a solution as to why an advanced civilization might utterly not *care* to advance any further, if only not hoping to find a way to disprove the conservation of utility. If its shown that its impossible for life to get any better, why progress?

        • Guy says:

          Ah! Yes, well, I am in some sense a physicist, so I can answer this one pretty easily:

          You are wrong. Very wrong. Wrong wrong wrongity wrong. You are weird-dream-eating-ghost wrong.

          Utility is rooted in agents, which are fundamentally computational entities. They obey the laws of logic/mathematics, as those laws are embedded in reality*. Agents can be (and are) instantiated on physical substrates, and those substrates obey all the usual physical laws with their conservation and such, but the agent is not in principle bounded in terms of purely agenty things, like assigning utility values to stuff. It is bounded in terms of how it can affect the world based on the pure-agent things it does (there are only so many molecules of hormone whatever available at any one time; only so many calories in the system; only so many sectors of hard disk to fill with data…). But the agent can do whatever it wants with the physical signals it gets, subject to the mathematical limits of its nature.

          Furthermore, for “emotion” to exist physically, you would need some kind of experimental way of detecting and classifying emotions, independent of the humans that produce/experience them. You have to work out how the effect happens independent of your detector causing it.

          Even furthermore than that, would you believe, “conserved” things like momentum and energy and charge don’t just produce magical bookkeeping negative versions of themselves to account for the loss – what happens is that the system fundamentally doesn’t change, even though the parts of it are rearranged. A two body system continues to move in the same direction, at the same rate, even though before body1 was going faster in that direction than body2, and now body2 is going even faster than that and body1 is going backwards. In order for there to be some kind of “conservation of utility” like what you’re proposing, you’d need there to be some meaningful global system of utility, which has one canonical measurement. You don’t have that, at least not in the way you’re talking about. It’s not even clear what you’re talking about.

          Nextly, you need and do not have a formal notion of what an emotion is. Once you get that, what the hell is a “negative emotion”? Where do you get requited love = -1 * unrequited love? Or pain = -1 * pleasure? What even is pleasure? How much pain is offset by a pleasant afternoon I spend relaxing on a comfortable couch, versus an afternoon playing videogames with friends? If Jane orgasms, Tom gets the job he always wanted, and Ann gets the last slice of apple pie, how many extra minutes does Biff have to sit in traffic over the course of the next week?

          And finally: you’re just talking about zero-sum games, and assuming that the laws of physics somehow bind agents instantiated in them to zero sum games on any measure of value, despite the existence of trivial proofs to the contrary. (I define a game where each player, on their turn, recieves 8 quatloos. There are 50 turns of play. Now I write a computer program that maximizes quatloos and have it play that game against itself ten times. Bang! 4000 quatloos, totally free, no nega-quatloos generated anywhere.)

          *Thermodynamics: yet another Turing complete system!

    • Wrong Species says:

      You’re going to need to elaborate a lot more. What are these “counter-emotions”? What makes you think we have them? Is there any plausible experiment that could prove these emotions? And why does the possible existence of counter emotions imply a lack of desire to explore other solar systems?

      • Tsnom Eroc says:

        Well, this is pretty similar to that of panpsychism. It tends to deny that emotion is an emergent property of complex intelligent beings, and that emotion is thus a property of the bits and waves of matter. It argues that current materialism does a fairly poor job of explaining emotion.

        The simplest way i know to argue for this is the simple “Where do you put an end to where emotion ceases to exist in creatures”. A monkey and a dog clearly have emotions and can feel pleasure and pain. A gerbil can. A worm reacts to stimuli, and thus has pleasure and pain. Where to stop? Well, I believe that it dosen’t stop. There is no clear way to start saying that emotions don’t exist in cells an mitochondria. We can’t really ask them, as they lack the necessary intelligence to respond, but that dosen’t mean emotion dosen’t exist in that small level.

        We like saying that a dead animal with simple nervous system twitching the emotion no longer in pain. But I argue that the pain in the animal still exists. Or a muscle electrical spasm an hour after official death, a twitch of the arm.

        Once that “Where do you stop” question is asked, its a simply question. What about simple properties of electricity? Well, I belive its plausible.

        So, how to perhaps show that there is a conservation of utility?

        Namely, if there can be shown to be a near one to one correspondence with certain physical measures of emotion and declared intensity, and the typical counter signals can be seen to occur, then there may well be a conservation of utility. Like how the nervous system propogates signals and constantly depletes and refills positive and negative ion channels. (Its been awhile since I took bio, so I am a bit very rusty on the details).

        This dosen’t have to be electricity itself, though. But the main point is there.

        Is my point clear enough?

    • MugaSofer says:

      You’re … suggesting that we experience disutility equal to the utility produced during the day when we dream? And that this makes everything pointless, so societies that discover it don’t bother researching space exploration?

      That seems really unlikely, to the point where I seriously think you should see a psychiatrist.

      • Tsnom Eroc says:

        NO…where did that dream thing come up anyways?

        I argue that the roots of what emotion are and what sensation is…is not very well explained currently.

        As emotions must come from physical processes, they are of course linked and tied to atoms. I argue that each bit of matter has some corresponding emotion to it, and our sensory organs move them around in such a way as to feel some of it. I also argue that the same principals that give a conservation of electric charge may also be applied to that of emotions, both positive and negative (felt intuitively)

        With that, I argue that even if we don’t feel the corresponding opposite emotion in synapse, it doesn’t mean it does not ultimately exist. I say that emotions and sensation can exist in the body without us being consciously and intelligently aware of it by what happens during sleep. What is commonly thought of as the “Other”, or subconscious processes, still process the sensations and stimuli during sleep, our conscious brain simply does not remember it when we wake up. That’s how I argue emotion and sensation exist without your conscious brain being aware of it

        I suppose its difficult to think of proving right now, but its also impossible to prove anyone *but* you is not simply a simulation hologram.

    • suntzuanime says:

      “I argue X” isn’t itself an argument, it’s just an introduction to an argument, it’s like a preview. It doesn’t have any force unless you later give actual reasons to suspect X might be true.

      In this case, I argue that the conservation of utility principle is pretty definitely false. Utility is just a fake thing that we made up to describe problems in decision theory. It’s just a theoretical construct, and we can easily invent utility functions that do not always sum to zero. It’s like saying there’s conservation of dollars – no, dollars are just fake and we can print more whenever we want.

      I think you should take more care to have reasons behind your conjectures before you call them damning.

    • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

      I mean, for this to be a solution to the Fermi Paradox would require that most aliens be a) hedonistic utilitarians and b) concerned about the abstract “emotions” of unconscious, unreflective processes.

      Also, even if that were true it seems so unlikely as to be impossible for utility to balance out exactly like that, which would then lead to the aliens attempting to modify the universe to have either more or less “activity” generally depending on which way the balance goes.

      Edit: Actually, this seems like a way for a poorly made hedonistic AI to go unfriendly, now that I think about it, though I don’t really know much about AI theory.

      • Tsnom Eroc says:

        It might be that way.

        A hypothesis that I find interesting enough is that utility, just like electric charge and the matter to anti-matter ratio might be lopsided, but more or less unchangable.

        If so, it would give credence to the idea of “Why bother”.

        Its a thought.

        • Guy says:

          Utility: not a property of elementary particles.

          • Tsnom Eroc says:

            “The issue of emergence of mind(or emotion) is important because it is the mutually exclusive counterpart to panpsychism: either you are a panpsychist, or you are an emergentist”

            You don’t know that. I simply take that view as I believe its a natural one. Where can we say that a person other then ourselves, and then a smaller animal, then a microscopic animal..and all the way down to a cell and smaller. Where does emotion and feelings cease to exist? I can’t quite put a place where I would say it no longer exists in some form, so I don’t.

          • Tsnom Eroc says:

            I mean, we don’t know that elementary particles don’t contain the properties of utility, and I can’t quite find a spot in the chain of life where I would pinpoint where it suddenly becomes an emergent property.

            All I can say is that some organisms seem more familiar to typical human behavior and emotions than others.

          • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

            I mean, utility is subjective. Whether an atom or elementary particle can have utility or not depends on who’s utility. Its certainly a rather… bizarre… utility function but it can exist.

            (though I am confused, at that scale there may be plenty of “response to stimuli”, but how do you even distinguish which responses are negative and positive if you are trying to tie it in with pleasure/pain?)

            But… the vast majority of aliens are not going to think this way, so its not a solution to the Fermi paradox. And if you want to talk about atomic interactions in a way somehow tied to pleasure/pain responses (which ties you to specific utility functions) then they are not going to balance out exactly like this, there is no reason to expect such a thing and its not going to be exact by chance.

  43. Emily says:

    I have a long commute that’s mostly train + bus. I’ve been playing card games with AIs on my smartphone, which makes me feel like I am a mouse pressing the “feed me”/”pleasure” button over and over. But I am frequently tired and stressed out and doing anything more intellectually taxing is difficult. Does anyone have either tips for this or a really fun novel they could recommend that is out in paperback? I like literary fantasy and science fiction.

    • Vitor says:

      Play card games on your smartphone against other people? That takes the level of engagement up a notch, but it’s still a relaxing activity you can do when tired.

      I really enjoy Star realms, for instance, its default mode of play is “postal” matches where players have 48 hours to make their move, so it’s a nice in-between activity that I can play for as long as I want by having several simultaneous matches going, but can put away at a moment’s notice even though there are other humans involved.

      • Eggoeggo says:

        People still do PBEM? That’s awesome to hear!

        • Vitor says:

          I assume you mean play by email? Well, not technically, it all happens within the official app, but in spirit it’s exactly that.

          I’ve played a bunch of games like that over the years, be it over a webpage, in a private chat, or an android app.

    • Dahlen says:

      Look around you. My favourite thing to do on a long commute is to stare at people (well, not insistently and awkwardly). I like to draw and 3D model and have a fascination for facial/physical traits, so it has served me well. It’s not cognitively demanding and you learn a lot of things about how people look like, dress, behave in public etc., which may seem very basic, but there’s a deeper level of observation that not everybody reaches without practice. And in any case it’s less alienating than staring at your phone screen.

    • Airgap says:

      On the train you can shoot out the window at road signs, since a train probably isn’t a “motor vehicle” for the purposes of California Code 26100 and similar laws in other states. On the bus, try out some of Evelyn Waugh’s comic novels like “Scoop” or “Vile Bodies.”

      • Leit says:

        Eh, probably counts as negligent discharge under 246.3 in CA and falls under discharging a firearm in a public place in other jurisdictions. Wouldn’t be worth the hassle of lugging a decent rifle along.

        • Airgap says:

          Alternatively, if you bring enough books you can use them as improvised sandbags while returning fire at anyone trying to enforce 246.3. Wodehouse wrote a lot, and if you like Waugh, you’ll probably like him too.

      • For Zelazny I would recommend This Immortal (aka Call My Conrad) and Lord of Light.

        • keranih says:

          Second on Call Me Conrad. LoL I never got that deep into – and I read four or five of the Amber novels, but bounced right off LoL.

          • The Amber novels are fluff. Very good fluff—he’s a brilliant writer. Lord of Light is pretty nearly the only novel of his with a really satisfactory plot, but Call me Conrad has a wonderful feel to it.

          • Agronomous says:

            The Amber novels are fluff.

            What? I just re-read the first five this year, thirty years after first reading them, and noticed a whole bunch of depth there that younger me was unequipped to see. There’s an awful lot of philosophy woven into them, along with the usual quasi-existentialist ethical themes. And the symbolism is non-trivial.

            (As an aside, do they qualify as Urban Fantasy? If so, are there any earlier examples?)

            Are they as spectacularly good as “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth”? No, but novel cycles tend not to be concentrated goodness the way (successful) short stories are.

            Speaking of short stories, his stitch-up Dilvish the Damned is worth reading.

    • JuanPeron says:

      I’ll suggest The Dresden Files.

      They’re emphatically not literary, but I enjoy them for the same reasons I enjoy literary fantasy. They’re so massively self-aware and trope-aware that playing “spot the motif” and “spot the trope-breaker” engages the ‘literary’ muscle, even though the basic stories are super easy reading. It was my go-to “tired, stressed, and traveling” read until I finished the whole series.

      • ShemTealeaf says:

        I’ll second that recommendation and suggest the excellent audio versions, which are narrated by James Marsters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

    • mellonbread says:

      Discworld is light and fun, though not especially literary.

    • John Schilling says:

      I like literary fantasy and science fiction

      “Literary”, means different things to different people.

      For well-written character-driven science fiction, Lois Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga would be my first choice, and most of the two dozen or so books should be available in paperback. Anything before Memory can be read as a standalone, but the usual entry points are Cordelia’s Honor and The Warrior’s Apprentice. The former is a love story involving military officers on opposite sides of an ugly war, that becomes rather less ugly for their involvement. The latter, a coming-of-age story about a young man whose dreams of martial glory are shattered, with several of his bones, by a crippling deformity. He adapts.

      Or, per Shaw, he unreasonably forces half a dozen worlds to adapt themselves to him. The earliest books have a bit of new-author weakness, but only in the sense that Bujold didn’t start winning the field’s top awards until her fourth novel.

      • brad says:

        I read the Vorkosigan series based on a recommendation on here a few months ago–probably yours. More space opera than my usual fare, but very enjoyable reading. If it was you, thanks.

        I’d recommend internal chronological order except for Falling Free, which should come before Diplomatic Immunity. You can find a list online or in the back of any of the books. The first one is Shards of Honor which can be had as a stand alone book or as part of the aforementioned Cordelia’s Honor multi-novel book. If you are buying, the omnibus versions are cheaper.

        Any thoughts on Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen? I decided not to read it after I happened to see an amazon review that claimed it was one of those sequels that ruins what came before it.

        • keranih says:

          GJ&RQ was…different. This was…this was what happens when the heroes win the war, and peace descends across the land, and old enemies make truce, and the crops are good, and people spend their whole lives in one place, listening at evening to the dogs barking in the next village, and yet ever having a reason to visit that other town.(*)

          GJ&RQ was about a country for old men. If one really wanted the thrills and risk and heartbreak of failing and making victory out of defeat of the earlier works series, I could completely see how it would not work for that reader.

          I wasn’t entirely thrilled with GJ&RQ, because of how 1) the foundation premise was told, not shown to grow, which left me feeling rather cheated, and 2) the whole foundation premise completely fucking invalidated what I felt was one of the best lines of one of the earliest works in the series.

          And then I went back and re-read Borders of Infinity, and everything was okay again. *shrugs* I’ll always have BoI, and Memory, and the fate of Cockroach Central, and that horrible dinner and that unforgettable marriage proposal – two of them, actually – and your mother’s dog and “Shopping!”

          For me, it is enough.

          (*)Taoist reference

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          >Any thoughts on Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen?

          It was offensively bad and frankly felt like a deliberate slap in the reader’s face. I’m a lifelong fan of the Vorkosigan saga, have read every book in the universe and enjoyed it, and I returned this one.

        • The Nybbler says:

          GJ&RQ was epilogue. A otherwise well-written story where nothing happens. A lot of people hate it for this reason; I’m afraid I can’t even dredge up that much emotion for it.

          The character of Jolie is a bit of a trick on the reader (and on Miles), but I actually found that to be one of the better parts. It’s not like she hadn’t been setting it up for 25 years; nothing since _Barrayar_ has been told from a perspective where you would have seen him, and we learned quite a lot about Aral in _Shards of Honor_ that was never explored.

        • Julian R. says:

          Bujold’s suggested reading order

          Now I’m really confused about whether I should read Gentleman Jole…

  44. I am disappointed by the lack of pun in the title. It could have at least been called something like Open Thread 49.5: Open Trial.

  45. Guy says:

    I sometimes have trouble using a person’s preferred pronoun when that pronoun is “they”, because it feels grammatically incorrect.* However, I frequently use it as a singular pronoun, in certain contexts. After some recent introspection, I realized that this is because I use it as an indefinite pronoun, and I use he/she as definite pronouns. By that I mean, loosely, that I use “they” in place of an unknown name**, while I use he/she in place of a known name***. There are some subtleties (a specific person whose name I don’t happen to know gets a definite pronoun, for example), but that basically captures it. This also maps well onto my gut reactions to various other gender-neutral/genderless first person singular pronouns: “ze” is great, assuming we can agree on the spelling, since it is clearly distinct from but parallel to the gendered definite pronouns; “ey” is awful because it’s just another indefinite singular pronoun and dammit we already have one of those.

    Has anyone else had a similar experience? Any nonbinary folks feel like weighing in? How about linguists?

    *I sometimes have trouble using other preferred pronouns because I forget (about) them, but that’s a different problem (which is, of course, strictly my own).

    ** eg, “If the door would close as the person behind you reaches it, you should hold it open for them.”

    *** eg, “Scott Alexander is an interesting person, he writes about psychiatry, reason, and whale cancer.”

    • TD says:

      I really think that English needs a non-gender specific pronoun that fulfills the same role as “he” and “she”. To use “they” brings on alienating connotations and it feels too impersonal. That’s the nature of an indefinite pronoun.

      If only we could be like the Swedes (IN THAT ONE WAY SPECIFICALLY AND NO OTHER WAY), where they have the neat trifecta of: han, hen, and hon, for male, neutral/third, and female, respectively.

      Something is going to come along to fulfill that role at some point, I would think, because having everyone make up their own pronouns just isn’t stable going forwards. If a new civil rights movement for non-binary people picked up speed, there would need to be some all encompassing pronoun that allowed them to mesh easily with everyone else, otherwise misgendering would happen constantly, being that 500 different pronouns are too hard to remember. That’s pretty much why it’s not a mainstream movement yet and has no real momentum. People are just about grappling with trans rights in which the pronouns are simply flipped. Going to the next level requires a large degree of coordination.

      On the other hand, I can’t think about what the new all encompassing pronoun should be. “They” clearly doesn’t work well, but things like “zey” just sound ridiculous to me. Someone should form the Non-Binary Association of America and let them vote on it. Once non-binary people agree on that, then the rest of us can start trying to agree on it, because then we’ll actually know what we are supposed to agree with.

      • Guy says:

        That’s why I like ze or zhe (pronounced like the letter). It fits phonetically in a way that most of the other proposals don’t, at least to my ear.

        Also, do the Swedes avoid the “it problem” where using the existent neutral pronoun winds up sounding like you’re talking about a lamp or a mosquito, rather than a person?

        • John Nerst says:

          “Hen” doesn’t mean “it” at all, it refers to a person just as clearly as “han” and “hon” does.

          TD does exaggerate a bit when they say that we “have a neat trifecta”, since “hen” is new, far from well established and used very self-consciously. Use of it unfortunately acts a bit like a political marker and many are annoyed by it – on the accasion that I use it myself I tend to use it in a tone of voice that implies quote marks since using it as if it were standard feels like handing political capital to parts of SJ ideology I’m not comfortable with. That’s unfortunate, since a word like it is truly needed.

          In that way I much prefer English where “they” feels much more neutral since its use go back far in history. Imagine if there was, say, “xie” or nothing. You’d have to “pick sides” far more blatantly.

        • Linnea says:

          Not Really. Swedish has four pronouns, han, hon, den and det. Den and det both have the same problem as it when referring to a person, though I think that den used to be ok because there are some fixed expressions where ‘den’ refers to a person.

          Hen is the Finnish personal pronoun, and I believe that they don’t have the it problem because they don’t have gendered pronouns (perhaps not grammatical gender at all).

          Some people are trying to introduce hen in Swedish for about the same reason as some people are trying to make they singular in English. And with about as much success thus far. People here would not recognize hen if you used it in a sentence, but would either be confused or think that you mispronounced han.

      • Airgap says:

        I support this. I want people to know when I misgender them that it’s not because of the poverty of our language.

      • JuanPeron says:

        This is basically why my efforts at gender-neutral language have been limited to “respect people’s active requests for pronouns, vary example-person-pronouns between he/she, use ‘they’ for indefinite when not grammatically horrifying”. Anything more active than that feels like work for essentially no gain, because it will at best violate n-1 standards instead of all n standards.

        In particular, I’ve run into (in person) the requests “don’t neutral gender me” and “gender me based on presentation, without inquiring about my pronouns”. This raises gendering to the level of incompleteness theorems – no process I use can possibly stop me from misgendering everyone.

        • Airgap says:

          The trouble is that even though some people apparently present as non-pronoun-inquiring, they actually identify as pronoun-inquiring because they’re at an early stage of pronoun-identity transition.

    • James says:

      Yeah, it frustrates me when people claim that “singular they” has been in the language for hundreds of years, so it’s not a big deal if people want to use it as their pronoun. Well, yes, there has been a singular “they” for a long time, but not the kind you’re talking about. Probably there should be nongendered definite pronouns, and it’s even possible that “they/them/their” is the best option, but don’t pretend like it’s nothing new.

      “Ze” is my preferred option, but I’m not sure it’ll get off the ground.

      A hack: “that person” works surprisingly well in some limited contexts, avoiding as it does the plural ambiguity of “they” and the object-instead-of-a-person ambiguity of “it”.

      • Guy says:

        I dunno … “that person” seems like a long-winded version of the indefinite singular “they”; plural ambiguity is usually resolved by context alone. The problem is the lack of a proper definite singular pronoun.

        Now that I think of it, by the way, I think “he or she” is another kludgy, needless indefinite singular pronoun; this one has the benefit of sounding less formal/legalistic than “that person”.

    • Interesting. This is very similar to my policy (unless I’m asked to use a specific pronoun set, in which case the only reason I might not do it is because muscle-memory or my crappy memory interferes):

      I use ‘they’ when I’m talking about a generic someone, and ‘ve/ver’ when I’m talking about someone known whose gender is non-binary.

      That leaves a grey-zone of specific people whose gender I don’t know – here I tend to do the awful thing and just guess based on what I know about a person. 🙂 Sometimes I can bring myself to use ‘they’ for someone specific if I don’t know their gender, but usually I just wing it based on the dominant demographic of the group, or use ‘he/she’ if I really must, or just ask. I’m super inconsistent in this slice of life.

  46. Pierre Menard says:

    Long time luker, first comment. I want to know what do you think about this:

    http://www.vox.com/2016/5/12/11666116/70000-okcupid-users-data-release

    A group of researchers has released a data set on nearly 70,000 users of the online dating site OkCupid. The data dump breaks the cardinal rule of social science research ethics: It took identifiable personal data without permission.

    • Lee Wang says:

      I very much like the following book on Bronze age collapse
      http://www.amazon.com/End-Bronze-Age-Robert-Drews/dp/0691025916
      He goes through a list of theories including earthquakes, fires, sea peoples, internal conflict, economic collapse, drought, etc. He ends with his own theory involving the sudden collapse of effectiviness of tradional states deriving their power from Chariot Archer corps. Strongly recommended.

      P.S. Sorry I clicked on the wrong button and reported your comment. Scott this was a mistake! I’m sorry!

      P.P.S. Apparently I also replied to the wrong person.

    • Vitor says:

      The researchers probably broke the T&Cs of the site by using a scraper, but isn’t this just an instance of people being made aware in a visceral, scary way that their data has been public all along? The users probably agreed to T&Cs stating that their data is publicly accessible, it’s a dating site after all.

      Genuine question: What’s so different about this situation and taking other public databases containing sensitive personal information (maybe debtor’s registries or something) and publishing a study about that? would this also be considered unethical without getting explicit consent from each person appearing in said registry?

      • Guy says:

        Nothing’s different from the database side, but a little more effort would probably be put into anonymizing the data, for (minimal) example by discarding both name and username. Also Kirkegaard seems like kind of a dick, irrespective of ethics.

        • Peter says:

          I thought for a moment there you were talking about Søren Kierkegaard, and was about to agree.

        • Corey says:

          Anonymization is a lot harder than most think. It’s probably something nobody should try on their own, because of that and because of the consequences of de-anonymizing some of this data. That said, I don’t know that there’s anyone you can go to and pay to properly anonymize data for you.

    • Anonymous says:

      Once upon a time a student completed a project for his psychology class: design an experiment and perform it on fellow students; and then realized that he had not received IRB approval. Indeed, the teacher had not mentioned IRB approval and it is probably too slow a process to accommodate exercises for class, anyhow.

      It made me wonder, how much do people really believe in IRBs? It makes sense not to train undergrads to submit to IRBs because they don’t do much research in their free time. But an exercise for a class is under the auspices of a psychology professor who does know about IRBs.

      IRBs have leverage over psychology professors because journals demand IRB approval and professors really care about publications. In theory the IRB can directly sanction the professor, but this is pretty rare. But this leads to conflicting situations, like where an IRB invades a new department and, eg, demands that a historian destroy materials. The history journal doesn’t care, so the only leverage the IRB has is direct.

      • Garrett says:

        As someone who’s taken time to take medical ethics training and get IRB approval for real (though low-impact) medical research:
        IRBs exist because people who are enthusiastically curious about questions sometimes fail to take into account the impact on others their experiments could have. See: Nazi freezing survival experiments, Tuskegee syphilis experiments. At the extreme edge, I think they can be useful.
        For low impact things, the overhead seems somewhat ridiculous. Fortunately, for most trivial cases, they are eligible for expedited review, which can be done by a single delegated member of the IRB in short order. In the case mentioned, it’s possible that the professor could have stacked all of the experiments together and had them rubber stamped.
        If this was a class on methodology, however, I suspect that most of the experiments weren’t going to be controversial (like the Milgram experiments). Given that the goal of the IRB is to ensure that informed consent really does exist, having the fellow students in such a class participate probably mitigates the risk as they are informed of the goals, methodologies and so on ahead of time. Likewise if the questions are unremarkable (eg. evaluating how much people like chicken soup vs. the mean seasonal temperature of where they grew up), there isn’t much risk of harm in the question itself.

        • Anonymous says:

          I find medical IRBs a lot more defensible than psychology IRBs and apparently everyone else does, too, because they always defend psychology IRBs by citing medical experiments. Indeed, it appears to me that the main reason psychology IRBs exist is to mimic medicine. The other reason is that Zimbardo was personally afraid of people replicating his work.

          Yes, it is possible that the professor got IRB approval for a very vague program and checked that all proposals fell under it, but didn’t tell the students. Or even submitted them individually to an expedited process.

          But less us move away from boutique IRBs, to general practices, to which I am much more sympathetic. One goal is informed consent. The researcher is supposed to inform the subjects and have that information on record. And the researcher is supposed to collect signatures, demonstrating explicit consent. If I recall correctly, my friend did not do this and the teacher could not do it secretly for him.

          So I should have said: how much do people really believe in informed consent and standard methods of documenting it? But, in fact, I think that an adversarial relationship with IRBs degrades people’s allegiance to the basics.

          • Garrett says:

            The Milgram experiment was in psychology. They are generally viewed as having been unethical. Many of the participants claimed to have been traumatized.
            Personally, I find it hard to find somebody realizing that they can be a dick under stress unethical. And, I doubt that most student experiments conducted on their classmates under teacher supervision would rise to any level approaching that level of stress.

      • youzicha says:

        Googling a little bit, I found e.g. this document, which says

        Research Methods Training/Curriculum

        Research projects for which the overriding and primary purpose is a learning experience in the methods and procedures of research does not meet the federal definition of research and is therefore generally not subject to (i.e., is excluded from) IRB review/approval. Curriculum projects in which students conduct research involving human subjects need not be reviewed by the IRB if the following conditions are satisfied:

        1. The project involves minimal risk to subjects (i.e., when “the risks of harm anticipated in the proposed research are not greater considering probability and magnitude, than those ordinarily encountered in daily life or during the performance of routine physical or psychological examinations or tests”).

        2. The project does not involve sensitive topics or confidential information that could place a participant at risk if disclosed.

        3. The project does not involve persons from vulnerable populations as participants.

        4. The project must involve the voluntary participation of individuals without any coercion or pressure being placed upon them by the researcher. Though not required, it is recommended that instructors/students consider providing a consent document to participants and fully informing them of the research they will be taking part in.

        5. The results of the project will never be distributed outside the classroom and/or institutional setting or used for publication, although the results may be presented to instructors or peers for educational purposes or as part of a class assignment. If the possibility exists that either the instructor or the student would consider disseminating the data as generaliza ble knowledge, the research must be submitted for IRB review. If after collection of data the inst ructor or student deems the results to represent generalizable knowledge worthy of dissemination, the instructor should immediately submit a protocol describing the method and results to the IRB for review/approval. Please note that approval under such circumstances is not guaranteed and any data collected under a classroom projects exclusion may not be disseminated prior to IRB approval.

        (The federal definition of research is apparently this one.)

        I guess this rule makes some sense. The IRB is supposed to protect test subjects from the researcher. A research methods class is done for the benefit of the students rather than the teacher. If the data can not be published, then there is not much for the researcher to gain, so there should less temptation to be unethical.

  47. So, what do people think of this the-Luwians-caused-the-bronze-age-collapse theory that seems to be new? I don’t have the expertise to analyze it myself.

    • jeorgun says:

      I’m not a historian and know very little about ancient Anatolia, but quickly glancing at the page, this bit struck me as kind of weird:

      The city of Troy has not been found yet. Its remains are buried 5-6 meter deep in the alluvial plain of the Scamander River below the citadel of Ilion, whose excavated ruins attract countless tourists.

      The Troy myth that existed from antiquity to the time of Shakespeare rests on genuine memories of the Bronze Age city, fragments of which have been preserved and transmitted in ancient and medieval texts up until today.

      It’s totally out of sync with (my understanding of) consensus views on Troy. If the city of Troy hasn’t been found yet, what do they claim Hisarlık is? Is that what they mean by “the citadel of Ilion”? As to the second paragraph, do they think the consensus view is that Troy was fictional (which I’m pretty sure isn’t true)? If not, why put that in in the first place?

      I’m probably being unfair, but it did raise my eyebrows a bit.

      • HircumSaeculorum says:

        Maybe they’re asserting that Hisarlik is just a citadel – an acropolis/palace/fortress, while the main population center was spread out in the valley below. I seem to recall that Hisarlik itself is tiny, much smaller than you would expect from a full-blown city-state (even in the Bronze Age), so that sounds at least plausible.

        I’d certainly love to hear that they’d found that Troy was a metropolis – perhaps along with Helen’s actual jewels, or the remains of colossal funerary pyres.

    • Theo Jones says:

      jeorgun points seem valid to me. The lack of peer-revieved claims in the formal literature also raises a few red flags for me, especially since they seem to lack any institutional affiliation with a mainstream university or research institute. There is also an extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence issue here. What they are saying conflicts quite a bit of mainstream history, but their evidence seems circumstantial at best. I have no direct evidence against their claims, but their whole operation trips a lot of my pseudo-science alarm bells.

    • Anonymous says:

      I tried to read Eric Cline’s 1177 B.C: The Year Civilization Collapsed, but it turned out to be extraordinarily dull. I think there’s a market failure in the popular non-fiction market somewhere. The process isn’t selecting for engaging writing, just interesting sounding topics.

      • John Schilling says:

        Agreed, but it persuasively made the case that there was a whole lot of interesting stuff that came together about that time, all of which has been extensively researched, and none of which amounts to a smoking gun for the Bronze Age Collapse. So my position on anyone saying “look, we just found the smoking gun for the Bronze Age Collapse!” is one of extreme skepticism and you’ve got no more than a thirty-second elevator pitch to convince me you know what you are talking about and are worth paying attention to.

        The Luwains people don’t pass that bar, and I am disinclined to look into their claims further.

  48. isionous says:

    There’s a video game called Hearthstone with a play mode called arena. You choose a class (like mage or warrior), draft a deck, and then play with that deck against opponents until you accumulate 3 losses or 12 wins; this is called a run. People often like to keep track of their average number of wins per run. There are eras due to releases of new cards which change things up a bit, and each player will see a slight change in their performance.

    There’s this google spreadsheet where this guy tracks the results of every run of a bunch of streamers (people who stream video and audio of their gameplay). A new era just started, and I’d love to take a Bayesian approach on modeling the streamers to better predict their long term performance in the face of low sample sizes.

    For instance, the question “what wins-per-run average would streamer X had if he played all 9 classes evenly?” comes up often. The simplest approach would be to average the win-averages for each class, but unfortunately, there will be classes where there are very few runs. Sounds like we need to mix in some reasonable priors. One very crude method would be to insert some quantity of fake runs to moderate the volatility of low sample sizes, but I’d like something more rigorous.

    Also, let’s say streamer X has played 20 runs in this new era and has an average of 10 wins; streamer Y has played 40 runs in the new era and averaged 9 wins. Which feat is a better indicator of skill (as in, predict which streamer will have the higher win average when they both have more runs).

    Everything above is to set the context for what I’m asking you guys: what are the best books and online resources to read up on Bayesian modeling/analysis to do those various things described above? I’ve had statistics and probability as a light interest for a while, but I’ve never done any serious Bayesian stuff.

    • Charlie says:

      I’m not sure what to recommend you, because this is a pretty classically seat-of-the-pants modelling problem. You build a model that has free parameters, and try to estimate the parameters, and don’t really need to worry about model uncertainty.

      So what you need is a textbook that just makes you do some exercise in estimating continous parameters, and showcases how to build some models of systems. Like, you can make a model by assuming all games are the same difficulty, so each record of wins will let you update, by Bayes’ rule, the effective difficulty for each streamer / class combination. What prior you use is also part of your model, and in this case you should probably use the average win rate of that class, weighted by streamer.

      Now that I put it like that, I’m clearly using a causal model, so you could look up a book like Pearl, or Koller and Friedman, but those might just be more than you need.

      • isionous says:

        Thanks for your response.

        You build a model that has free parameters, and try to estimate the parameters, and don’t really need to worry about model uncertainty.

        Right, I think what I want is pretty basic, and I already have in mind roughly what parameters my model would have (like general skill parameter, and class-and-era-specific skill offsets). I just want to know the standard and rigorous Bayesian way to do parameter estimation without reinventing any conceptual wheels or tools (a long and error-prone process). I’d hate to incorrectly handcraft something in a spreadsheet or python when I all I needed to do was “use Metropolis-Hastings, which is in scipy and R”, for example.

        so you could look up a book like Pearl, or Koller and Friedman, but those might just be more than you need

        If you’re referring to Probabilistic Reasoning in Intelligent Systems or Causality, I’ve read parts of those and my memory/impression is that they won’t be very helpful for my application. I’m not familiar with Koller and Friedman, but assuming that you’re referring to books like Probabilistic Graphical Models, that seems similar to the Pearl books. I’m not trying to build a causal model/graph.

        Two books that look promising to me:

        Bayesian Data Analysis, Third Edition by Andrew Gelman et al

        Doing Bayesian Data Analysis, Second Edition: A Tutorial with R, JAGS, and Stan by John Kruschke

        Hopefully they are well written and accessible introductions that are applicable to what I want to do. If there are some free online resources that are also recognized as applicable and high quality, that would be great. I’d rather not spend a lot of time trying out a bunch of incomplete or low quality web tutorials.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      I was going to say “this sounds like a question for su3su2su1”. But it seems he deleted his tumblr. I wonder what happened.

      • Nornagest says:

        Some kind of drama involving a threat of doxxing. I don’t remember the details.

      • Anonymous says:

        Someone in the greater rationalist sphere doxxed him, found out he had used sockpuppets in the past, and passed around a dossier with proof to various rationalist worthies including our illustrious host. Said worthies generally said: we are all against doxxing but what can you do when someone attacks rationalism and isn’t 100% scrupulous. Just as well he deleted his online presence. Again, not that we support doxxing or blackmail — heavens to Betsy.

        • suntzuanime says:

          su3su2su1 is definitely not above using anonymous sockpuppets to lie and present su3su2su1 in a better light.

        • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

          That’s too bad. Not that I followed him much, but it was nice having someone around who pushed back on The Big Yud.

      • suntzuanime says:

        su3su2su1 was discovered to be sockpuppeting and lying about su3su2su1’s qualifications in order to win arguments, and su3su2su1 fled in shame.

        the “doxxing” people are talking about was the evidence that su3su2su1 was doing this, which was not made public in order to avoid doxxing su3su2su1.

        • Jiro says:

          That’s still doxing. “Admit that you did X or I show these private documents that show that you did X” provides no more real choice than just showing the documents unconditionally.

          • Anon says:

            Eh… except that it leaves you the option to admit you did X without being dox’d? Doxing is not merely offering private evidence someone did something.

          • suntzuanime says:

            The point is not to offer su3su2su1 the choice of not having su3su2su1’s malfeasance revealed. That’s, like, the opposite of the point. su3su2su1’s malfeasance should be revealed. The point is to avoid revealing su3su2su1’s personal information in the process of revealing su3su2su1’s malfeasance.

          • Jiro says:

            By that reasoning, saying “publish your home address or I release these documents containing your home address” isn’t doxing either.

            If the only way to get the information without cooperation is by invading privacy, that’s doxing, for the same reason that “if you don’t give me all your money, I’ll hit you over the head and take it” is stealing. You can’t use the excuse “he gave me the money voluntarily”, since if he didn’t give it voluntarily, you would have taken it by force. Likewise, “he released the private information voluntarily” under the threat of having it released anyway is not an excuse.

          • suntzuanime says:

            … no, that’s doxxing, because it reveals your home address. Are you saying the bare fact that su3su2su1 was using sockpuppets and lying about su3su2su1’s credentials to win arguments is personal information that su3su2su1 had a right to keep private?

          • InferentialDistance says:

            Doxing is a valid, morally acceptable act in some circumstances. When a person is abusing pseudonyms to lie to people, exposing those pseudonyms is morally acceptable, despite being doxing. When a person lies about their identity to support their arguments, exposing their identity to demonstrate their lie is also morally acceptable, despite being doxing.

            The problem with doxing is not that it is intrinsically wrong, but that it is used to cause harm to people completely orthogonal to any useful information. Publishing someone’s phone number so random assholes on the internet can spam their voicemail is not a moral use of doxing, just like death threats are not a moral use of free speech.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I think even in the case where a person is abusing pseudonyms to lie to people, it is worth trying to resolve the issue without exposing that person’s personal information. As was done in this case! And people are complaining about it! It boggles my mind.

          • Anonymous says:

            People are complaining because you people drove away an interesting and insightful poster because he dared to say that the emperor has no clothes (i.e. that Yud doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to physics and that MIRI isn’t doing much useful or interesting).

            I’d much rather lose a shitposter-in-chief that always posts on his own name than someone like su3su2su1 even if he did occasionally sockpuppet or exaggerate his background.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I think it may have had more to do with the malfeasance, actually. Rationalists love interesting and insightful posters who say the emperor has no clothes, that is their favorite thing in the world.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            @suntzuanime

            I think even in the case where a person is abusing pseudonyms to lie to people, it is worth trying to resolve the issue without exposing that person’s personal information. As was done in this case! And people are complaining about it! It boggles my mind.

            Some people view that exposing the shared identity of pseudonyms (i.e. that they belong to the same person) is itself doxing, and I somewhat agree. What happened to su3su2u1 was a non-central example of doxing, where care was taken to minimize fallout. It was, by all accounts, a fair response.

            @Anonymous

            People are complaining because you people drove away an interesting and insightful poster because he dared to say that the emperor has no clothes (i.e. that Yud doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to physics and that MIRI isn’t doing much useful or interesting).

            No, we “people” drove away an interesting and insightful poster because he was also a liar who fabricated evidence to sabotage an in-group organization. It’s more than possible to criticize (or even outright insult) Yudkowsky/MIRI without lying or fabricating evidence.

            I am not too bothered by the loss, because dealing with the stress of double-checking a known liar’s claims is more trouble than I’m willing to put up with.

          • Anonymous says:

            “fabricated” and “sabotage” — you guys are so histrionic.

            I guess that comes with being critical to the most important struggle that’s ever happened or ever will happen!!!1!

          • Watercressed says:

            well yeah it’s probably not going to save the world, but you have to fight for something

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            Doxing is a valid, morally acceptable act in some circumstances. When a person is abusing pseudonyms to lie to people, exposing those pseudonyms is morally acceptable, despite being doxing.

            At least you’re not trying to deny that it is doxing.

            But “X is acceptable, as long as it is done to people who I think are guilty (but where I need to do X to get the evidence)” is indistinguishable from “X is always acceptable”.

            We don’t say that the police can conduct warrantless searches as long as they only do it to guilty people. The whole purpose of doing the search is to collect evidence that the person is guilty.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            @ Anonymous

            “fabricated” and “sabotage” — you guys are so histrionic.

            I guess that comes with being critical to the most important struggle that’s ever happened or ever will happen!!!1!

            su3su2u1 literally created a sockpuppet account that lied about attending an EA convention in order to slander MIRI and EA, in order to dissuade people from donating to MIRI.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            @Ken Arromdee

            At least you’re not trying to deny that it is doxing.

            But “X is acceptable, as long as it is done to people who I think are guilty (but where I need to do X to get the evidence)” is indistinguishable from “X is always acceptable”.

            We don’t say that the police can conduct warrantless searches as long as they only do it to guilty people. The whole purpose of doing the search is to collect evidence that the person is guilty.

            Except I don’t advocate “X is acceptable, as long as it is done to people who I think are guilty”. I advocate “revealing private information is acceptable if it is necessary to expose immoral behavior”. And I further advocate that the smallest amount of private information necessary to expose said behavior should be released, to minimize fallout.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I dunno that I agree with that general principle stated so broadly. I would say that immoral behavior unrelated to the community falls within personal information that you have a right to keep private.

            I think the general principle that applies here is that a community has a right, or even a duty, to protect its discourse from sockpuppeteers and liars. And I don’t see any more respectful towards privacy way of doing so in this case than what was actually done.

            (Also on the scale of doxxing, tying two pseudonyms together is on the incredibly minimal end of it. By those standards, Scott has doxxed me.)

          • InferentialDistance says:

            I dunno that I agree with that general principle stated so broadly. I would say that immoral behavior unrelated to the community falls within personal information that you have a right to keep private.

            I think the general principle that applies here is that a community has a right, or even a duty, to protect its discourse from sockpuppeteers and liars. And I don’t see any more respectful towards privacy way of doing so in this case than what was actually done.

            (Also on the scale of doxxing, tying two pseudonyms together is on the incredibly minimal end of it. By those standards, Scott has doxxed me.)

            I concur.

          • youzicha says:

            “Drove him away”? He could have just kept writing as before. I don’t know why he didn’t, and instead deleted his tumblr, and I don’t think he has said anywhere. (My guess is he was feeling embarrassed.)

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            Except I don’t advocate “X is acceptable, as long as it is done to people who I think are guilty”. I advocate “revealing private information is acceptable if it is necessary to expose immoral behavior”.

            In the analogy, that would be “It’s okay to use the evidence from a warrantless search in court, as long as the person is guilty”. That really isn’t much better.

            If it is necessary to expose immoral behavior? How exactly did you discover they were performing immoral behavior in the first place? You didn’t have evidence for it–that’s why you invaded their privacy. The fact that invading their privacy then discovers evidence can’t retroactively justify it.

            It’s true that there’s a greater invasion of privacy in releasing the information than in just finding it out. But if you weren’t supposed to cause the first piece of harm, you can’t justify the second piece of harm by saying that now that you’ve found out something by causing the first piece of harm it frees you to do the second. If you’re not supposed to be invading someone’s privacy, you’re also not supposed to be using anything you got from invading someone’s privacy to justify further invasions.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            @Ken Arromdee

            In the analogy, that would be “It’s okay to use the evidence from a warrantless search in court, as long as the person is guilty”. That really isn’t much better.

            If it is necessary to expose immoral behavior? How exactly did you discover they were performing immoral behavior in the first place? You didn’t have evidence for it–that’s why you invaded their privacy. The fact that invading their privacy then discovers evidence can’t retroactively justify it.

            It’s true that there’s a greater invasion of privacy in releasing the information than in just finding it out. But if you weren’t supposed to cause the first piece of harm, you can’t justify the second piece of harm by saying that now that you’ve found out something by causing the first piece of harm it frees you to do the second. If you’re not supposed to be invading someone’s privacy, you’re also not supposed to be using anything you got from invading someone’s privacy to justify further invasions.

            The individuals in question are neither police, nor are they taking rights-violating action like entering into someone’s house without their permission (the equivalent here would be hacking someone’s email). We hold the police to a higher standard of behavior because we allow them more power. I reject the validity of your analogy.

            A better analogy would be a private investigator following someone around in public and taking photos of their meetings in public and semi-public (i.e. restaurants) venues. This is, to my knowledge (not a lawyer), both legal, and court-admissable.

            In this case, it’s not even that, because there are no photos. The private synthesis of publicly available information to infer other information is, as far as privacy violations go, inconsequential. The public reveal of said synthesized information is more harmful, but I posit that the harm caused by letting liars undermine discussion exceeds the harm caused by this kind of doxing. Especially when steps are taken to minimize the harm caused by the reveal.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            “fabricated” and “sabotage” — you guys are so histrionic.

            If you’re complaining about being overdramatic, I sure hope you’re not the one who made this post, anon-kun.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Doxxing is a weird sort of privacy violation, because the violation comes from making publicly available info, which is not itself a privacy violation, more visible and prominent to people who may use that info to do harm. If you don’t actually make the info more visible or prominent, there hasn’t actually been a violation.

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            I posit that the harm caused by letting liars undermine discussion exceeds the harm caused by this kind of doxing.

            The harm caused by this kind of doxing isn’t just the harm to the immediate victim. It includes the harm caused by changing the standards so that now everyone feels free to dox liars according to their own personal definition of “liars”.

            Or in other words, you can’t dox people who use sockpuppets without encouraging other people to dox closeted right-wing gays (you know, the right hates gays, so being a closeted gay on the right is sort of like lying) or Ants (those Ants are all harassers and that’s as bad as lying).

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Ken: I think the Ants example you suggest is a bad generalization. The norm under discussion isn’t “dox liars because lying is bad”, but rather (at worst) “expose lies (and doxing is a legitimate means for this)”.

            I’ll grant you the right-wing gays case, that one is more worrisome.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            @Ken Arromdee

            The harm caused by this kind of doxing isn’t just the harm to the immediate victim. It includes the harm caused by changing the standards so that now everyone feels free to dox liars according to their own personal definition of “liars”.

            No. This is no more true than people feeling free to reveal private information because, according to their personal definition of “doxing”, that isn’t in fact “doxing”. If you’re going to let the enemy weasel out of being responsible by redefining words, you have already lost.

            Implying that allowing this means allowing people to break into my house and rifle through my positions because it fits their personal definition of “deduction” is utter nonsense.

            Or in other words, you can’t dox people who use sockpuppets without encouraging other people to dox closeted right-wing gays (you know, the right hates gays, so being a closeted gay on the right is sort of like lying) or Ants (those Ants are all harassers and that’s as bad as lying)

            No, and no. This is not “eye for an eye” shit, this is “censoring threats is moral despite being censorship” shit. “Hurting the bads” is not an excuse, you have to be specifically exposing deception. No, not “sort of like lying”, the information reveal has to pertinent to the deception itself. No, not “as bad as lying”, actually lying. We don’t allow people to deploy violent force as self defence in situations that are “as bad imminent physical danger”, you have to actually be in imminent physical danger.

            Whatever tools you would deploy to dissuade doxing, you instead deploy against doxing that isn’t about exposing deception or that uses methods that are too extreme. And you clearly communicate why you’re deploying said tools (i.e. doxing not for an acceptable reason, doxing not using an acceptable method).

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            Saying that it doesn’t count unles it’s actually lying is just a matter of semantics. A closeted right-wing gay is making false statements about his sexual orientation. That’s actually lying. Someone who says “I’m in it because of ethics in gaming” when in fact he’s in it to harass women is telling untruths about his motivations. That’s actually lying too.

            You can try to reject the second example by saying “well, that doesn’t count because it’s much harder to determine that someone is lying about his motivations and because harassment is a fuzzy concept.” But Schelling points can’t be made for arbitrary categories. You can’t make a Schelling point of “dox him if it exposes easy to determine and unambiguous lying”; you can only make one of “dox him if it exposes lying”.

            And even that won’t save the closeted gay example.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Ken:

            How exactly did you discover they were performing immoral behavior in the first place? You didn’t have evidence for it–that’s why you invaded their privacy.

            I don’t know what they did in this particular case. Do you? If, say, Alyssa looks at the IP addresses of the comments on a particular blog post and finds that they are all the same, is that illegitimate?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Allowing your opponents to stomp on you with impunity because your rules say you can’t expose them is a losing game. It probably means there’s something wrong with your rules. If you’ve got a meta-rule that says your rules cannot be nuanced because your opponents will take any exceptions as permission to break the rule, and you have no other way to require opponents follow your rules, you might as well sign off.

            Thus with doxing. Sure, I agree; I shouldn’t reveal personal information about people even if I happen to know it. But if someone is using false personal experience to bolster their claims, I sure will reveal that the personal experience is false. You can call it an exception to the rule or you can call it a reprisal. Similarly if I know someone is using multiple pseudonyms to create a false appearance of support, I’ll reveal that those pseudonyms are the same. Again, you can call it an exception or you can call it reprisal.

            If that makes my opponents feel free to reveal something completely irrelevant, such as my address or my employer… well, they’re wrong.

            Exposing a closeted gay person would be doxing. And it would be wrong… unless the person is using their identity as a heterosexual to gain advantage. In this case I’d probably hesitate to expose them, because the consequences are greater than the other cases, but again, I don’t think it would be wrong to do so.

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            Allowing your opponents to stomp on you with impunity because your rules say you can’t expose them is a losing game.

            By this reasoning we can go back to the warrantless search example. In fact, let’s generalize it a bit. We should have no reason to ever exclude evidence at a trial just because the evidence was gained in an abusive manner. After all, if the evidence is necessary to convict the person, and your rules don’t let you use it, you’re fighting a losing game in which you can’t expose criminals.

            Exposing a closeted gay person would be doxing. And it would be wrong… unless the person is using their identity as a heterosexual to gain advantage

            That moves the Schelling point from “you can dox someone to expose a lie” to “you can dox someone to expose a lie that leads them to gain an unearned advantage”. That doesn’t work; you can’t build Schelling points on arbitrary statements. Everyone can and will say their enemies are gaining an unearned advantage from the lie, while their own side’s lies are innocuous.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            @Ken Arromdee

            Saying that it doesn’t count unles it’s actually lying is just a matter of semantics. A closeted right-wing gay is making false statements about his sexual orientation. That’s actually lying. Someone who says “I’m in it because of ethics in gaming” when in fact he’s in it to harass women is telling untruths about his motivations. That’s actually lying too.

            Everything is semantics because semantics is meaning.

            A closeted right-wing gay who never mentions their sexual orientation isn’t lying. Being right-wing is not synonymous with gay-bashing, and furthermore self-hating gays are a thing that exist. Responding to “as a straight man, I know what men want from women” with “but you’re gay” is substantially different from outing a closeted gay because you don’t like their position on abortion.

            Similarly, responding to “I’m in it because of ethics in gaming” by revealing a chat log wherein the subject says “I’m in it to hurt wimminz” is substantially different from releasing someone’s phone number because they criticized Kotaku.

            You can try to reject the second example by saying “well, that doesn’t count because it’s much harder to determine that someone is lying about his motivations and because harassment is a fuzzy concept.” But Schelling points can’t be made for arbitrary categories. You can’t make a Schelling point of “dox him if it exposes easy to determine and unambiguous lying”; you can only make one of “dox him if it exposes lying”.

            Schelling points are made for arbitrary categories all the time! We allow people to use violent force in self defence, but arbitrarily limit “violent force” (i.e. low collateral, no grenades) and arbitrarily limit “self defence” (i.e. imminent physical danger, not emotional nor past/far-future). We allow censorship, but on arbitrary targets (i.e. death threats, not insults) and through arbitrary means (i.e. the police and courts, not vigilante action). Shooting people is one method of censorship, but allowing people to respond to death threats by involving the police does not mean allowing people to respond to insults about their hair cuts with knife assaults.

            I challenge you to henceforth replace all uses of “doxxing” and its conjugations with a description of the act you think I’m justifying, the context that justifies it, and why the act is bad. “Privacy violation” is inadequate because it elides “know things” with “breach security measures”; I remain unconvinced that googling public forums is an immoral act.

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            Schelling points are made for arbitrary categories all the time!

            “Not made for arbitrary categories” in this context means “not guaranteed to be able to be made for every arbitrary category”.

            Furthermore, the categories you describe only work because of the existence of processes to determine whether the category was met, that don’t just depend on the say so of the person involved.

            is substantially different from

            Remember that most of the time you’re not the one who gets to decide what is substantially different. People’s enemies get to decide it. Leaving too much leeway in the rule makes it open to abuse. I guarantee you that even if you don’t consider a closeted gay man to be lying, there are those out there who will.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            Leaving too much leeway

            “Direct contradictory evidence to claims” is not “too much leeway”. Anyone willing to claim that someone being right-wing and gay without declaring their sexual orientation at all times is lying isn’t going to give two shits about whether their behavior is doxing.

            If you don’t have an enforcement mechanism, then you have no way to make your enemies follow your rules regardless of what your rules are. Your only hope is to make a persuasive argument, and “you must allow liars to run rampant in your communities because exposing their lies would violate their privacy” is significantly less persuasive than “minimize the harm and collateral damage done when fighting liars”.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Ken Arromdee
            The law is extremely nuanced and full of exceptions; if we had a rule that said evidence obtained without a warrant wasn’t admissible full stop, criminals would have a field day; they’d leave evidence in front of cop’s noses so as to make it inadmissible.

            Furthermore, the law is not a case of similarly-situated people; the government claims a monopoly on making and enforcing the rules, whereas between two people in an unmoderated or lightly-moderated forum the “rules” are more custom than rule, and have no formal enforcement mechanism.

            The set of rules “doxing is not acceptable”, “sockpuppetry is not acceptable” and “exposing sockpuppetry is doxing” is not a good set of rules, because it means sockpuppeteers can act with impunity, provided most people don’t figure them out independently.

      • Agronomous says:

        Is there some reason we’re all misspelling it as “su3su2su1”? Like, we’re putting in the third “s” to make it harder to google the controversy or something? Or we’re just trying to annoy physicists? It doesn’t seem to be on the Big List of Forbidden Words.

  49. JakeR says:

    In this past week’s episode of “Real Time”, Bill Maher had a segment mocking the notion that the prevalence of leftist PC culture has contributed to the rise of Donald Trump. I think he’s totally wrong on that, but putting my opinion aside, here’s the kicker: He himself said as much a few weeks ago in an interview. He’s totally contradicting himself. His own words:

    I have always attributed that to the fact that America has been choking on political correctness for 20 years or more…. So I think America just really embraced the idea of somebody who doesn’t walk back every thing he says that makes someone somewhere in America uncomfortable.

    Another place he expounded on this view was in a discussion with Seth McFarlane months back (jump to 6:50). His exact words there:

    “I know that you feel the same way that I do, that Donald Trump is largely a result of a backlash to political correctness.”

    I hope this is Ok, bringing in politics here. Thought it might be relevant to the readership here because it touches on a topic that’s been mentioned in the past by our esteemed blog host.

    • Charley says:

      Bill Maher is quite far from a pillar of intellectual best-practices. How much PC is to blame for Trump is an interesting topic, but I don’t think we need to talk about Maher’s hypocrisy in this case. It’s par for the course with him, as is the way he strawmans the Vox piece he discusses in that segment.

    • Theo Jones says:

      I think there is a big extent to which political extremism feeds on itself. Moderates get forced out of the debate as extremists on both sides target them. And extremists on the left give extreme voices on the right justification for their fears. So, it is entirely possible to me that PC or what ever you want to call it could have fed Trump’s rise.

    • TD says:

      Maher is being inconsistent, but I don’t think a backlash against PC is responsible for the majority of Trump’s support. There’s a particular kind of support you can see on the internet where segments of non-conservatives are considering Trump for that reason, but it’s a really small percentage of people supporting Trump. It’s just like how if you tried to gauge politics based on twitter, you’d assume that Trump supporters were mainly 16-30 year old dakimakura clutching NEETs and neo-nazis, but then when you look at Trump rallies they are packed with the same fat old people every Republican candidate attracts. Of course, even that is just the segment who will go to rallies.

      Trump is largely pulling from the Republican mainstream, because he’s finally talking about things the base cares about, rather than what the leadership cares about, but it’s not like he’s getting huge numbers of disaffected liberals burned by social justice to defect (most of those are going to be voting Hillary while sobbing).

      • JakeR says:

        I agree it’s probably not the majority, but it’s some percentage. And of course we’re not talking about disaffected liberals burned by social justice, but we are talking about everyday people who haven’t even heard of the term SJW but know that they are being silenced by PC culture.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          Everyday people aren’t being silenced. Everyday people stay faaaaaaaaaar away from college campuses and angry teenagers on tumblr because they have better things to do, like raising kids and having jobs. Backlash against PC culture is greatest among the population that frequents this blog – youngish men in intellectual circles who have some experience with the extreme sides of Social Justice being nasty, but the majority of people anywhere at all aren’t affected by this.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            I know some hippies whose son cut off all contact with them after they refused to accept their weird eastern religion thing was cultural appropriation. Interdisciplinary Studies is a hell of a drug.

            This crap is affecting the general population now.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Hippies are part of the general populace now? They don’t seem like the sorts of people who’d ever vote for Trump to me.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            I’m working on them 😀
            It was just really funny to see this elderly hippie woman murmur darkly about how this newfangled stuff seems a lot like fascism. Because now she gets to be The Man who’s responsible for all the world’s evil.

          • null says:

            Certainly most people aren’t being silenced, but they are at least aware of it; the last season of South Park had an arc about PC, or so I hear. Of course, I might just be overestimating the cultural prominence of South Park.

          • Airgap says:

            Does Jack Kerouac seem like the kind of guy who would vote for Trump? I know he’s technically pre-hippy, but still.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Most people who work in a reasonably-sized company are going to have some exposure to it through their HR department forcing them into sensitivity training or having diversity goals or whatever. They don’t have it as bad as people on a college campus, but nobody has it as bad as people on a college campus.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            South Park’s creators like to poke fun at silly things anywhere. Them having an episode about something doesn’t mean it’s a big societal issue, it means they wanted to make an episode about that topic.

            The company thing.. Well, it should be easy to measure. Find out which companies do/don’t care about sensitivity trainings or somesuch, find out how many Americans are made to attend those, extrapolate from there. I really, really have my doubts over that number of people being very significant, and even then a portion of such people are going to agree because yayyy, diversity.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It wasn’t just an episode, it was an entire season of South Park. Diversity and sexual harassment “training” is common at corporations large enough to have an HR department. While most Trump voters may not be on college campuses, a lot of them probably have kids who are. And there’s been a constant drumbeat from “the mainstream media” about how conservatives are stupid and evil people whose ideas need not be considered. Obama’s remarks about clinging to guns and religion were only unusual in as much as they were impolitic for a candidate to say; the attitude is common among liberal intelligentsia.

            So, yeah, I think everyday people are affected by PC culture and, more widely, liberal “smugness” (e.g. the remark “reality has a liberal bias”).

          • Chalid says:

            There is a big gap between company diversity polices and being “silenced by PC culture.”

            Back when I worked at a giant corporation, the diversity requirements were 2/3 wastes of time (e.g. watch this video on the website and take an online quiz on the contents), and 1/3 stuff that considered quite valuable (“here are things to be aware of when you’re working with people overseas,” “here are guidelines for managing a pregnant employee,” “here are some best practices for conducting interviews,” etc.) Total commitment was a couple hours per year, and I had considerable choice in which diversity courses to take.

          • Anonymous says:

            If most Trump voters have kids at college he is going to have a tough time winning the election. Just how many parents of kids at college do you think there are?

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Hey, now, moving the goalposts isn’t necessary here. It’s a very far cry from ‘PC people are trying to institute quotas for everything and think everything is misogynist’ to ‘liberals are those smug assholes who keep railing against everyone else’. I object to the first being a reason many people vote for Trump, as I doubt there’s really that many people affected by the more extreme social justice movement. The second reason is probably much closer to the truth, if only because the reverse seems to be true as well; the way many right of wing organisations treat and talk about their own outgroups will turn off many people, too.

      • Tsnom Eroc says:

        >you’d assume that Trump supporters were mainly 16-30 year old dakimakura clutching NEETs and neo-nazis, but then when you look at Trump rallies they are packed with the same fat old people every Republican candidate attracts.

        Holy **** I’m glad I wasn’t drinking cuz i’d spit it out laughing.

      • Manpanzee says:

        There are a lot of things you could mean by “PC culture leading people to vote for Trump”. For example, I am a lifelong liberal who is leaning towards voting Trump. Why? Well, the one political belief I’ve been most confident about is an opposition to intolerant religious fundamentalism, and I always thought that that put me squarely on the side of the Democrats. Turns out I was wrong.

        We’re now looking at a world where Islamic fundamentalism is arguably the single biggest issue in global politics. I happen to think that it is, and I think that it should be addressed as such. However, PC has caused some short circuit in peoples’ brains whereby it’s extremely difficult for Democrats to criticize Islam — it turns out that somewhere along the way the “opposition to religious fundamentalism” thing got an “…unless the religious fundamentalists have brown skin” attached to it.

        Effectively, I see PC as having made it impossible for Democrats to seriously address the biggest issue in global politics. That’s a problem, and it strikes me as a problem that could possibly do more harm than anything Donald Trump might do.

        I have similar feelings about illegal immigration, which is a lesser issue but does probably have more day-to-day relevance for most Americans. PC culture seems to have led to a point where “it is good to have restrictions on immigration, but it is immoral to actually enforce these restrictions” has become the dominant opinion. That’s a position that’s self-evidently nonsensical when presented the way I put it, but it survives because of PC culture.

        So, that’s one way that PC may have led to the rise of Trump — I see PC culture as a mind virus that’s actively hampering our ability to deal with important issues. I definitely have my concerns about Trump, and I would love to vote for a safer candidate who also deviates from PC orthodoxy on these issues, but that safer candidate doesn’t exist. And I think PC is the reason for that, too — the only candidates who are willing to publicly take positions like this are people who are willing to let PC culture see them as monsters, and unfortunately that rules out people who are inclined to be sensitive and conscientious and who care about being seen as “good”. PC culture created an environment where the only people who could take non-PC positions are people like Donald Trump.

        • Timothy says:

          PC culture seems to have led to a point where “it is good to have restrictions on immigration, but it is immoral to actually enforce these restrictions” has become the dominant opinion.

          It’s more nonsensical than you think. The record for Most Deportations by a President of the USG is currently held by Barack Obama.

          • Adam says:

            I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he also held the record for most killings of Islamic fundamentalists. I don’t exactly see Hillary slowing down that trend, either. I guess they just have a PR problem if apparently people think the democratic candidate for president is tumblr. Of course Trump is good at nothing if he’s not good at PR.

          • Jiro says:

            That’s damning with faint praise because the record is being compared to other presidents who weren’t very good at deportations either.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Yes, Barack Obama has talked up the PC line on immigration while in practice has not actually followed it.

    • LPSP says:

      Good find. Maybe Maher has turned-about, but this seems duplicitous. Underlines the useful RoT never to take a talking head too seriously.

  50. Charley says:

    Anyone want to help a sci-fi novice begin exploring the genre? I plowed through The Three-Body Problem this week and it only encouraged my prior belief that I’ll probably really like science fiction, even though I’ve only read maybe a half dozen books from the genre. I’ve picked up a few of the recent Hugo winners and plan to get to them soon (probably after I finish Three-Body’s sequel), but does anyone have any advice beyond just doing that?

    • Anonymous says:

      Hyperion, Blindsight

      • Charley says:

        Thanks. Why those in particular?

        • Anonymous says:

          I really like both and they are very different. Should be a great introduction to the genre. Hyperion is soft sci-fi with incredible imagery, stories and so on. Blindsight is hard sci-fi built around interesting ideas.

        • Fctho1e says:

          Actually good novels.

          Don’t put too much stock into Hugo awards. Sometimes they go to good stuff but often it’s a clique/mass appeal thing.

          For example, how the pretty stupid ‘Hominids’ von over Scar and any other SF/F book that came out in 2003. Or Harry Potter triumphing over G.R.R.Martin. Right! Or Ender’s Game over Blood Music.

          • Charley says:

            Right, that’s my sense of awards generally. But I don’t know of a better way to get a sense of the best of contemporary sci-fi if not using them, unless I get help from knowledgeable people. So people giving me recommendations here, especially if they can explain why it’s a good choice (and, frankly, thereby show me that their recommendation is worth taking), is super valuable to me.

      • Fj says:

        I found Hyperion incredibly boring, as the whole series at least. Also, the author has never peed from a great height, this is simply inexcusable.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Fall of Hyperion is easily in my top 5 books. I actually read it before Hyperion which I think may have enhanced the experience for me. Don’t read past Fall of Hyperion; the Endymion books were merely okay, and threw away most of the interesting world-building.

          Anything by Tim Powers is great, but Anubis Gates is greatest of all. I imagine they’re even better if you know about the time period he’s set a given book in; I always find myself wishing for some ki