OT53: Pel-open-esian War

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread. There are hidden threads every few days here. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. Also:

1. Thanks to Arvin (arvinja on Reddit) for creating the ad randomizer I was looking for. The ads on the side of the blog should now appear in a random order every time you load the page.

2. Comments of the week are in reponse to the book on chronic pain. George Dawson MD DFAPA talks about his experience as a psychiatrist treating the condition; Arnold Layne talks about his experience as a radiologist; Bram Cohen talks about his experience with massage and ergononomics; and Steve B and Matt H talk about their experience as patients. A lot of people say they’ve had good success with Dr. Sarno’s course which is very similar to the book I reviewed.

3. Thanks to everyone who emailed me saying they were willing to try the pain book as an experiment. If you didn’t say that you needed me to buy you the book, I’m assuming you’re buying it yourself. If you did say that you needed me to buy you the book, I’ve either responded with a request for more information (in the first three cases), or said that I’m going to limit this to three people to save on my own budget (in the next few cases). If you want the book, can’t afford it, and weren’t one of the first three people, it looks like John Sarno’s very similar book The Mind-Body Prescription is less than $1 on Amazon. Once again, I can’t actually recommend any of these.

4. This will probably go on the next links post, but it’s neat enough to deserve mention here too: Emil Kierkegaard has made an app type thing that demonstrates the problems with comparing discordant groups that I mentioned here.

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1,039 Responses to OT53: Pel-open-esian War

  1. hermanubis says:

    Did anyone go to EA Global last year? I’m debating if its worth the registration cost. Currently my only involvement with EA is donating once a year, did attending help anyone get involved further? Is it mostly students or professionals?

  2. Hackworth says:

    Interesting article about a study of metaknowledge, knowing what you and others know and don’t know:


    A strong consensus is the closest proxy to truth that we have. The lone wolf who knows better than the misguided masses is much rarer than Hollywood movies would lead you to believe.

  3. Dave says:

    966 comments, so I’m probably gonna get buried, but…


    The European Union is skeptical of fluoridating water.

    I want to gloat, because I always fight against the “skeptic” community about this. I always pointed out that 1) small amounts of fluoride should have a small, but existing, effect on bone structure and brain development, similar to how large amounts of fluoride has large effects on bone structure and brain development, and 2) noisy epidemiological studies on the effects of fluoride could not possibly detect microscopic damage to individual brain and bone cells without a detailed study of exactly how the body processes fluoride. The replies have always been downvotes, mockery, and comparisons to anti-vaccination tin-foil hat conspiracy theorists.

    Now I have a trump card, and I fully intend on making a mockery of everyone from lowly Redditors to the higher-ups at the Center for Disease Control.

    • Jiro says:

      The European Union is skeptical of fluoridating water.

      Beware the man of one study. In this case it isn’t even a study, but still, you can find one or a couple instances of some important body saying anything.

      small amounts of fluoride should have a small, but existing, effect on bone structure and brain development, similar to how large amounts of fluoride has large effects on bone structure and brain development,

      By this reasoning, we should avoid water as well as fluoride.

      noisy epistemological studies on the effects of fluoride could not possibly detect microscopic damage to individual brain and bone cells without a detailed study of exactly how the body processes fluoride

      This is a false statement. Noisy studies can detect small effects. The exact details of what size effect the study can detect depends on the mathematics, and you haven’t given any.

      • Dave says:

        >This is a false statement. Noisy studies can detect small effects. The exact details of what size effect the study can detect depends on the mathematics, and you haven’t given any.

        Alright, let me provide some hypothetical math. Albeit some extremely oversimplified math.

        Let’s say that consistent consumption of moderately fluoridated water causes a 1% reduction in bone strength. Let’s say that a minimum reduction of 5% of bone strength is required before an individual goes to the doctor to get checked for skeletal fluorosis. And let’s say that the epidemiological study that attempted to find a link between fluoridation and skeletal fluorosis studied this by counting the number of diagnoses from qualified doctors.

        The end result: no link is found between moderate levels of water fluoridation and bone fluorosis, even though there is a link between fluoridation and a minute loss of bone strength in this hypothetical reality.

        And yet, the American Dental Association touts the lack of “evidence of advanced skeletal fluorosis, or crippling skeletal fluorosis” as evidence that fluoride is completely safe, and has no side effects. Whenever I point out that there could be microscopic levels of damage, the skeptics will always yell, “THERE’S NO EVIDENCE OF THAT”, while ignoring my point that the epidemiological studies aren’t even looking for evidence of that.

        >By this reasoning, we should avoid water as well as fluoride.

        If water could quench your thirst by being applied topically to your skin, then sure. But in reality, the comparison doesn’t hold. Fluoride, in large enough amounts, does damage to bones and the brain, but applying fluoride topically gives you all the benefits of fluoride without any downsides. And this study, while it’s only a single study (more like a research summary), was the only study I’ve seen that explored what happens to fluoride, from a chemistry perspective, when it goes inside the body. The synopsis mentioned how the rate of excretion of fluoride from the body is limited, and how the fluoride that is not excreted ends up in the brain and the bones. The collection of scientific advisors found no evidence of a “threshold” effect, where fluoride had no effect on the body whatsoever when below a certain concentration.

        I simply cannot fathom how an epidemiological study that doesn’t even measure microscopic levels of fluoride can refute that. If anything, it seems that these epidemiological studies are finding an absence of evidence, rather than evidence of absence.

        Meanwhile, the researchers who advised that report are claiming the equivalent of finding gradual tar build-up in smokers’ lungs that analogously point towards negative health effects of smoking.

        Seriously, all it would take to change my mind would be a single, detailed study of how efficiently kidneys get rid of fluoride.

        • Jiro says:

          Alright, let me provide some hypothetical math.

          If you want to claim that actual studies can’t detect the effect, you need to give some mathematics about the actual studies, not about studies you just made up.

          If water could quench your thirst by being applied topically to your skin, then sure.

          This reasoning only lets you conclude that if regular fluoride has some problems, topical fluoride might not. But it doesn’t establish that regular fluoride has any problems in the first place.

          • Dave says:

            This reasoning only lets you conclude that if regular fluoride has some problems, topical fluoride might not. But it doesn’t establish that regular fluoride has any problems in the first place.

            “Systemic exposure to fluoride through drinking water is associated with an increased risk of dental and bone fluorosis in a dose-response manner without a detectable threshold.” ~My original link

            If you want to claim that actual studies can’t detect the effect, you need to give some mathematics about the actual studies, not about studies you just made up.

            Do you know, offhand, the percentage of people with slightly weakened bones who never see a doctor and never have it diagnosed? Nobody does.

            You’re asking me to provide hard, quantitative evidence to explain why a certain phenomenon wouldn’t have hard, quantitative evidence behind it. That’s like asking me to build a perpetual motion machine in order to prove that they can’t be built.

          • Jiro says:

            My original link

            1) That still counts as one study. Beware the man of one study.

            2) You are reading it as “any amount of fluorine, no matter how small, causes problems”. This is not a correct way to read it. What they mean is that over the range where they measured it, there is no cutoff. They didn’t try it on a range that includes infinitely small amounts.

            3) I actually read your link and you are quoting it out of context. The text you described is followed by this: “however the application of the general rules of the weight-of-evidence approach indicates that these observations cannot be unequivocally substantiated.” This is the equivalent of someone saying “water is poisonous… but we can’t actually prove that” and quoting that as “water is poisonous”. The first half of the sentence sounds like it is saying that fluorine is dangerous, but the second half, which you left out, says that the first half has not been established as fact.

            You’re asking me to provide hard, quantitative evidence to explain why a certain phenomenon wouldn’t have hard, quantitative evidence behind it.

            If a phenomenon doesn’t have evidence behind it, exactly why it doesn’t have evidence doesn’t matter. “There’s a reason for not having evidence” is not an excuse to believe it without evidence.

        • Murphy says:

          That’s ignoring one side of the equation.

          If flouride was being added for literally no reason then that would be a good argument.

          But there’s a known and proven set of positive health effects, mainly in the form of better dental health. Tooth loss and tooth decay involve a reasonable number of utils for lots of people so it’s non trivial.

          You don’t just have to prove that there might possibly be some harm. you have to show that there’s likely to be harm and that it’s likely to outweigh the benefits. The possible harm appears so small that it’s not been possible to measure it while the benefit is large enough to be clearly quantified. (25% reduction in tooth decay/cavities)

          • Dave says:

            To which I would respond: the benefits may outweigh the harm for that 25% of the population that would not get dental caries were it not for the fluoridated water; but for me, the other 75% of the population with dental caries, and the 100% of the population that know how to brush their teeth properly, we do not want our water chemically altered for the sake of that minority.

            I personally find it distasteful and creepy that people are altering my body chemistry because of the poor decisions that other people make.

          • Murphy says:


            That doesn’t mean “25% of people never get dental carries” it means that on average everyone gets 25% less. if you’ve had a few cavities in your life and live in a fluoridation area there’s a good chance that you would have had more cavities if you weren’t.

            If you’re creeped out by fortification then you’d best avoid bread, salt, cereal, Milk ,fruit juices, rice ,flour ,Tea , infant formula and various cooking fats.

            odds are that you are not particularly special.

        • Nornagest says:

          Let’s say that consistent consumption of moderately fluoridated water causes a 1% reduction in bone strength. Let’s say that a minimum reduction of 5% of bone strength is required before an individual goes to the doctor to get checked for skeletal fluorosis.

          Both of the conditions you describe could be true, but people will have weaker or stronger bones for all sorts of other, unrelated reasons — maybe they didn’t drink enough milk growing up, maybe they failed to upvote one of those annoying Reddit memes featuring Mr. Skeltal, stuff like that. As long as those factors remain constant between the study groups, and assuming an even distribution, a 1% loss in bone strength against a 5% threshold will translate into 20% more cases of skeletal complaints. That’s more than big enough for a study looking for the right things to pick up. Hell, that’s a big enough effect that you could probably pull it out of public data armed with nothing more than an R script and an hour of free time.

          You would need to be looking for the right things — skeletal problems more generally, not the kind of advanced, specialized problems you’d expect to find in e.g. a crackhead who cuts his product with pure sodium fluoride — but if you’re looking for effects from low-level supplementation, you should expect to find broad marginal differences, not dramatic ones.

          • Dave says:

            As long as those factors remain constant between the study groups, and assuming an even distribution, a 1% loss in bone strength against a 5% threshold will translate into 20% more cases of skeletal complaints.

            That depends on the standard deviation of bone strength, correct? If bone strength among the population is a double bell curve, with the fluoridated bone strength bell curve being 1/4th of a standard deviation below the non-fluoridated bone strength bell curve, and it it takes a 3-standard-deviation drop in bone strength to cause fluorosis, then we probably wouldn’t pick up any statistically significant evidence of weakening bones by measuring the number of incidents of bone fluorosis.

          • Nornagest says:

            I deliberately simplified the math because I can’t be bothered to solve statistics equations for this sort of thing. But if the derivative of the probability density equation at the 5% threshold value is positive, as it would be far out on a bell curve, then a 1% increase in the underlying value would lead to more than a 20% increase in cases — you’re effectively shifting the whole curve 1% to the left.

            I don’t know if it’s actually a bell curve, though.

          • Winfried says:

            doot doot

  4. Nornagest says:

    Apropos of the E Harding thread, but not directly related to it: I find it curious that “white” and “black” in racial contexts are capitalized only by social justice activists and those parts of the far right that’ve decided to focus on race.

    • E. Harding says:

      I don’t care about capitalization. It’s a pointless stylistic issue.

    • hlynkacg says:

      I don’t find it curious at all. They both agree that “blackness/whiteness” is a critical component of a person’s value as a human being and that our political system should be modified to reflect this. They only disagree on what form those changes should take.

    • keranih says:

      I’m more interested in the use of “Asian” “African-American” “Arab” “American Indian”, and the like, in contrast to “white”.

      I myself prefer to use ‘Caucasian’ – which has its own faults, but is at least more accurate than ‘European’, (or even ‘Anglo’, which at least would be at the head of the line with the other kids!!!) and allows my ethnicity the dignity of an actual name, rather than assuming (poorly identified) skin color is the be-all and end-all description.

      • Sandy says:

        Asia, Africa, Arabia and America are all places and proper nouns. Hence capitalization for the groups derived from those places.

        Or at least I’ve always assumed that was the explanation. “White” and “Black”, by contrast, strike me as politicization of those categories.

        • keranih says:

          Well, when you’re human, you politic. It’s what you do.

          There are ethnic subdividisions of American culture which (roughly) correspond to skin color at some division points. These culture groups – being made up of humans – have political implications. Lacking any other options we are going to use the commonly used labels as proper names for those cultures.

          If one objects to the use of those labels as proper nouns for the culture groups, then one should provide alternatives. But neither the groups nor the divisions will go away just because they don’t have proper nouns.

          • Anonymous says:

            If you are just going to appeal to hard boiled it is what is, then we can just say that you are free to capitalize white and everyone will assume you are a member of the kkk. It is what it is.

          • keranih says:

            Pinky peach Anon, you’re gonna have to unpack that a bit. I’m not following.

  5. dsotm says:

    So apparently a civil lawsuit charging Trump with rape of a 13 y.o. girl was filed on behalf of the victim (and initially by her) and with the exception of the Huffington Post is mostly being covered by third tier non-US tabloids and blogs about moon landing conspiracies, alleged scans of the filing were posted online and appear to be signed by a lawyer who checks out at the NY bar registry.
    What can explain the reluctance of the mainstream media and/or the Clinton campaign to pick it up ?
    Are there good reasons to suspect this as a forgery or similar shenanigans (as opposed to false accusation) ? If so shouldn’t an attempt at one be considered newsworthy on it’s own considering this isn’t a screenshot but a purported scan with court stamps
    and the signature of a real lawyer ?
    Is this a timing strategy ? i.e. first get him nominated and then use it to maximise damage – in which case I would expect the other GOP candidates to push this.
    Are civil proceedings involving rape of a minor even a thing that can happen without a criminal investigation taking place first in the US ?

    (Content warning: NSFL)

    Snopes has this covered without taking a stand on authenticity

    Huffington Post item:

    • hlynkacg says:

      This is the first I’ve heard of it.

      The rather “convenient” timing and lack of an associated criminal proceeding both strike me as serious red flags. However, the fact that Jeffrey Epstein was indicted and convicted of statutory rape in a separate instance, and alleged to have been involved in human trafficking and prostitution lends some credence to the story.

      My overall impression is that there is not enough information to make a call at this time, but things will get really ugly if it’s corroborated.

      • dsotm says:

        Yeah there a lot of things that let credence to the story – to the point where it would make the author of our simulated universe embarrassingly cliche if true, though comes to think of it it doesn’t make him look good if it’s fake either.
        But then surely one can’t just expect to get away with faking something so elaborately about a US presidential candidate without consequences ?
        Also isn’t the witness described would be liable for something rather horrible herself considering her own described role in this ? and civil cases don’t grant immunity from prosecution afaik.

    • Sandy says:

      What can explain the reluctance of the mainstream media and/or the Clinton campaign to pick it up ?

      Probably the fact that the Clintons are not on great moral ground themselves when it comes to sexual assault allegations.

      • dsotm says:

        You think ?
        I mean that’s a. Bill Clinton b. Been dealt with c. Hardly comparable – getting a blowjob from one’s adult intern vs. raping a 13 y.o.
        And even if so that shouldn’t be a problem for the anti-trump GOP people and various networks, if anything I would venture to guess that Huff. post is the closest thing to Clinton’s team trying to pick it up.

        • Nornagest says:

          Bill Clinton’s been accused of a lot more than the Lewinsky affair. That was just the one that stuck.

        • Sandy says:

          Bill Clinton has also been accused of outright rape, not just getting sucked off by his intern. And Hillary has been accused of covering it up and intimidating the women in question.

          Whether or not any of these allegations are true is another matter, but the point is that sexual assault allegations are a minefield the Clintons do not want to go anywhere near.

          • dsotm says:

            Accused on any official level ? any links ?

            The facebook commenters on the Huff. Post link also expressed similar ideas, specifically that he was also supposedly affiliated with Epstein.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I know that there are a couple others than I’m forgetting but Paula Jones and Kathy Willey are the first two names that come to mind. The Clintons settled out of court in the Jones case and the prosecutor concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to indict him in the Wiley case due to the he-said-she-said nature of the encounter.

            In the meantime there were a lot of ugly whispers about witness being intimidated/threatened and other women being afraid to come forward but this, and the allegations of Clinton’s misconduct were largely dismissed as “a vast right-wing conspiracy” by both democrats and the media until Lewinsky’s little blue dress came along.

          • Sandy says:

            Yes. The Juanita Broadrick rape story was a big issue during the Starr investigations. Clinton also paid $850,000 to settle the Paula Jones sexual harassment case and was stripped of his law license for five years.

          • dsotm says:

            Right, actually forgot this was a much larger affair at the time.
            Still doesn’t explain why outlet’s that are not affiliated with either side would ignore it unless they have reasons to believe it’s a trap

          • Sandy says:

            Still doesn’t explain why outlet’s that are not affiliated with either side would ignore it unless they have reasons to believe it’s a trap

            How many outlets are not affiliated with either side, if we restrict it to outlets that are at least semi-respectable and not trashy tabloids?

          • dsotm says:

            That’s a good question, fox news if we’re being generous with the ‘at least semi-respectable’ constraint ? – they’re partisan but not fans of trump especially if they can prevent him from getting the nomination

          • Sandy says:

            There are prominent, influential people at Fox who support Trump, like Sean Hannity. Others like Megyn Kelly might prefer someone else taking the nomination but they’re not going to sabotage the Republican candidate.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Naa, Megyn Kelly is going to be Trump’s Press Secretary, possibly moving to a cabinet position later on, to prepare for her bid for a Senate seat and ultimately the presidency. You heard it here first.

          • keranih says:

            @ Nybbler

            You are a crazy person and I wish work would let me take a hit off whatever you are smoking.

            Also I suspect you might be right.

    • Anonymous says:

      This came up in a prior open thread and someone linked a not-at-all sympathetic to Trump reporter that said basically that this story had been shopped around for six months but whoever was shopping it wouldn’t let reporters interview the purported victim and generally acting shady.

      My gut says there’s nothing there. FWIW I detest Trump.

    • suntzuanime says:

      In context it seems like an invention designed to neutralize the Bill Clinton pedophilia scandal, just like Swiftboat Veterans for Truth was designed to neutralize George W Bush’s desertion scandal. Deny everything and make counterallegations.

    • Leit says:

      Trump’s already an alt-right hero, but hitting him with a dubious rape allegation would likely encourage him to go full demagogue on false accusations – and I don’t think anyone in the media wants things like the Rolling Stone piece, etc being dragged out into the public eye again.

      Redpillers would be giddier than the first time they got their lifts over 1/2/3/4.

  6. brad says:

    I saw a Trump bumper sticker that said “the next TR” or something along those lines. I found that rather astonishing. Anyone have an idea of the origin of this, how widespread it is, and exactly what aspect of TR’s presidency (personality?) it is supposed to refer to?

    • dndnrsn says:

      The current popular imagination of Theodore Roosevelt seems to be “badass internet meme TR” – punching bears, or whatever. That could be it.

      Going a little deeper, could be appealing to the idea of a president who “puts America first”, whatever that means.

      • gbdub says:

        Trump seems to be the antithesis of “speak softly and carry a big stick” though. Actually I’m reminded of a Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs mugs as TR and says “I speak softly, but I carry a biiiiig stick!” I believe he whacks Yosemite Sam with it at that point, or at least threatens him with a large blunt object. Yosemite Sam produces a massive club and yells, “Oh yeah, well I speak LOUD! And I carry a BIIIIIIGGER stick!”

    • Sandy says:

      Teddy was the boisterous, masculine maverick and it’s supposed to be comparing Trump to that aspect of the 26th President’s persona.

      Foreign policy-wise, it makes no sense because Trump wants nothing to do with military manipulation of geopolitics if he can help it, whereas Teddy was all “We’re America, we don’t have a choice in the matter, we’ve got to do whatever we can”.

    • cassander says:

      TR was reviled by the republican party establishment of the time, was considered utterly unfit for office, and was dumped into the VP slot as a way of politically neutering him. It’s not a comparison I would make (Andrew Jackson is closer to the mark) but it’s not entirely inapt.

  7. keranih says:

    Regarding something Scott put up on the Scratchpad…

    Do we have any data on the distribution of tattoos in the USA? What fraction of the population has them? What fraction has visible tats, vs very low key placement (back, under shirt, ankles, vs visible on forearms or on neck/face?

    • Nornagest says:

      Pew Research did some looking into this. (I can’t find the original survey, but there are obnoxious factoids spread all over Pew’s site, and Freakonomics referenced it here.)

      There are big generational differences; 35-40% of adults under 40 have one, but only about 10% of older adults. Among those with tattoos, only about 20% of men and 10% of women have consistently visible ones; I don’t know if this includes forearms or other places that would be covered by some but not all clothes.

      Anecdotally, forearm tattoos seem significantly more common than finger or neck, and much more common than facial tattoos.

  8. Sandy says:

    Freddie deBoer has a post up rationalizing the removal of borders and freedom of movement throughout the world as the only true means to guarantee human equality, on the basis that equality is a matter of living conditions and opportunity and the “workers of the developed world must understand that their interests and the interests of those in the developing world are one and the same”, and therefore strive for fair working conditions and an end to economic exploitation.

    I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, when Hillary Clinton said “If we broke up the big banks, would that end racism? Would that end sexism?”, my response was fairly derisive because I saw it as just another example of the modern establishment left’s eagerness to abandon labor issues in favor of idpol. On the other hand, this just seems incredibly, blatantly naive on Freddie’s part. People like him seem to believe other people and cultures are all basically interchangeable save for the differences in their living and working conditions, and if these things improve they will eagerly embrace Western liberal democracy. They cannot fathom that people might have radically different ways of viewing the world that have nothing to do with their economic conditions; it seems to me that if you allowed millions of people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia to just pour in unchecked, all your liberal white whales of the last several decades — gay rights, women’s rights, the diminishing of religion in the public sphere — are liable to disappear practically overnight. If you think the cosmopolitan elite is a small group in the West, they are vanishingly small minorities everywhere else.

    Also, this bit:

    National borders are an invention, and a recent one. If you’re inclined, you can read Napoleon’s letters (to pick one example) to see a leader spelling out why the idea of country had to be invented — invented, that is, to suit the forces of imperialism. Look no further than Germany. There was no such thing as a German nation state until the 1870s, yet within 75 years German nationalism had plunged the world into two horrific wars. Nations only divide, and they do so with borders written in blood.

    Somehow I doubt Freddie would think of nationalist movements like the Arab Revolt and Quit India as divisive or deplorable in the same way. Many of the same arguments that nationalists raise today were raised by nationalists then — Nigel Farage does not believe the policies Eurocrats determine in Brussels are in the best interests of the British people; the Arabs did not believe their interests were represented adequately by Turkish sultans sitting in Istanbul, nor did the Indians feel represented by a British queen sitting in London. Hence borders and a space where the laws that affect you are the laws you have picked for yourself.

    Plus if nationalism is about defending artificial borders, Hitler was not a nationalist by Freddie’s definition — he did not want to safeguard the sovereignty of Germany’s borders, he wanted to expand them as far as he could and swallow up other nations.

    • Murphy says:

      That’s an unusually limited definition of nationalism.

      Other things it’s associated with is the position that your own nation is the best,(lots of Ra-raing) that only (native) members of your nation have top-level value in ethical calculus(hence justifying screwing over people who aren’t nationals to benefit nationals in any way you can, also hence expansion of national borders since you’re not taking the land from real people), rejection of non-nationals and a tendency to believe that your nation doesn’t need anything from the rest of the world (because the nation is the best it obviously does everything best).

    • dndnrsn says:

      I don’t know if I’ve seen him write about the question of whether people/cultures are interchangeable. I know he advocates getting rid of hiearchies – which implies that he thinks any means of ranking people (and, presumably, groups of people) in hierarchies are illegitimate – can’t say one person/one group of people is better/worse than xyz. I know he shows up here sometimes, so maybe if I’m wrong he can correct me.

      Also, while he is a pretty prototypical “boo identity politics, yay class struggle” leftist, he’s still prone to the all too human tendency to adjust views of behaviour based on where it’s coming from: I don’t have a copy in front of me, but I recall his Harper’s article on the Nation of Islam as excusing stuff coming from Farrakhan, etc that deBoer normally would be dead against.

    • Rob K says:

      Somehow I doubt Freddie would think of nationalist movements like the Arab Revolt and Quit India as divisive or deplorable in the same way.

      I don’t know about Freddie (dude seems to have a positive vision, but his written record’s mostly bitching about one set of internet personalities or another) but I think you can definitely make a coherent universalist critique of the Indian independence movement, and many within that movement in fact did. Gandhi’s enough of a secular saint these days that we tend to overlook the fact that his vision for post-independence India seemed to involve everyone living in little villages with his idealized version of the Hindu caste sytem.

      On one level, that led to his split with B.R. Ambedkar, who took the reasonable position that if he and his fellow untouchables were going to fight for anything it was going to involve lifting them out of the social hell they’d been assigned to; on the other it pitted him to some degree against Subhas Chandra Bose, who’s a fascinating figure – an internationalist and a dreamer, but at a time in history when that leads him to become a communist, flirt with the Nazis, and cut a deal with the Japanese, all in the hope of creating a free and equitable India. (And remember, he was popular enough there that even after the various forces he had sided with lost the war and got discredited he remains in the independence pantheon.)

      My point is, I guess there’s a lens in which you can call those guys nationalists – they thought the British were doing a trash job running India, and they wanted Indians to run it. But both of them also rejected a lot of the components of the central vision of the Indian nation at the time, as articulated by Gandhi and the Congress party establishment, described their vision more in terms of universal human equality and flourishing, and sought common cause with what they saw as kindred movements outside their national tradition (including within Europe).

      Anti-colonialism is inevitably going to appeal to nationalism, but I think they show that it can have a grounding in the simple idea of “maybe if this territory was not being run for the economic benefit of some other territory things would be better here.” Similarly, you could ground some kind of modern nationalism in that idea or its equivalents either alongside or independently of the more traditional cultural nationalism.

  9. small-dick-compensating gun culture in america

    This pop-Freudian meme was mentioned satirically by Lysenko, above. Does this popular sneer have any validity whatsoever?

    Of course, this is not just about firearms. Any man who drives a large or loud or expensive vehicle, or who builds a skyscraper, or who seems unusually aggressive or defensive, is ridiculed as “overcompensating for a small penis.” People who know next to nothing about Sigmund Freud like to show off their glib intellectual contempt for such men.

    I suspect this all started as a joking way to insult somebody, a form of what psychologists call “character assassination by diagnosis.” It’s certainly also a form of body shaming, upholding the notion that people who don’t meet certain aesthetic standards are systematically inferior.

    Have there ever been any large-sample empirical studies linking behavior traits of any kind with measurements of genitalia? I’m guessing not.

    Is this “overcompensation” theory still taken seriously anywhere?

    • Lysenko says:

      I think it’s more of a stock insult at this point, but if you’re interested I can point to various op-eds and thinkpieces where it’s trotted out as insight into why America has a Gun Culture and why that culture is different than that of, say, the Norwegians or Swiss. I don’t get the sense that those pieces are much more than tribal signalling and ritual insults, though.

      • But it’s not an “insight”, it’s pseudoscientific bullshit as far as I know, and deserves to be called out as such.

        • Nornagest says:

          Well, sure; all Freudianism is. But when has that ever stopped anyone?

          • Is it even Freudianism? Did Freud ever say anything that could be fairly interpreted this way?

          • Nornagest says:

            “Pop Freudianism” might be a better phrase. I don’t know if he actually came up with the idea of penile compensation, but the related idea of penis envy is legit Freudianism.

          • the related idea of penis envy is legit Freudianism.

            Legit, but severely discredited, and at best only applicable to women.

            “Pop Freudianism” might be a better phrase.

            So, every bit as valid as “pop surgery”, say?

          • Nornagest says:

            So, every bit as valid as “pop surgery”, say?

            I think most, including our gracious host, would stop short of putting psychiatry on the level of surgery regarding its maturity or empiricism. Especially psychiatry in Freud’s time.

            My point is, pretty much every specific model Freud ever came up with is now discredited. (There are some broad concepts which aren’t, such as the idea of parts of the mind which are not accessible to consciousness, or the idea of a defense mechanism.)

      • hlynkacg says:

        My canned response to this is “If I could reliably win a fight by whipping out my cock I wouldn’t need a sidearm would I?”

        • Guy says:

          Well, if you’re already hitting people, there’s something to be said for hitting people with things that aren’t bits of your body, even if you could, strictly speaking, win the fight with just your bits.

          • gbdub says:

            Ron White (if I’m not mixing up my comedians) has a bit about how, if it ever looks like he’s going to be in a fight he can’t win, his first response will be to drop his britches. Because who wants to fight a naked guy?

            This… actually seems like it might be a good strategy?

          • Nornagest says:

            @gbdub — Put your pants back on, Randy!

    • Anonanon says:

      I’m willing to let them have it, as long as it’s treated the same way as saying “she’s just on the rag” to dismiss a woman.

      • keranih says:

        This. Some (many?) women do get overly emotional at ‘that time of the month’. But it’s neither fair nor useful to use that fact to dismiss any particular statement or pov.

        Likewise, some men are motivated to appear more masculine in some ways (dress, working out, speech, accessories) in order to make up for perceived shortcomings in another area (height, build, voice, wealth, etc). But again, attempting to use this an argument is not fair or useful.

    • Liskantope says:

      Have there ever been any large-sample empirical studies linking behavior traits of any kind with measurements of genitalia? I’m guessing not.

      I’m also guessing not. But I think most “compensating for something else” jibes are not meant to literally imply that the targets have small penises, but are instead alluding to a particular type of masculinity where men tend to feel a need for showing their power and manliness in order to cover up their insecurities about not possessing enough of these traits. I’m willing to speculate that there’s more of this flavor of masculinity in American culture (or at least large segments of it) than in, say, most European cultures.

      • I think the small penis jokes are literal claims that gun owners or whoever have small penises, and I detest that sort of claim, not just because of the lack of evidence, but because it reinforces the idea that there’s something defective about men with small penises.

        See also “Napoleon complex”.

        • Yes. More people should object to this kind of claim.

        • onyomi says:

          It is an old, traditional notion that women and children need men to stand up for them because they can’t fully stand up for themselves (yes, sexist, I know, but it exists). Interestingly, I think there is a sense in which men also need women and children to defend them because men can’t defend themselves against gendered insults without betraying vulnerability, and most male-specific insults are, at bottom, accusations of vulnerability.

          • onyomi, I’m discomforted by this, which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have said it.

            I’m going to try to unpack what’s going on at my end.

            My motivation for arguing against small penis attribution (I’m going to call it SPA) is a non-gendered call for decency. It only defends men, but from my point of view, that’s a coincidence. I seriously wish that gender weren’t as important as it seems to be.

            In re vulnerability: I think the culture has shifted to where a lot of people (on various sides of various issues) consider it a very high priority to avoid being kind to the “wrong” people.

            I’ve seen feminists argue against SPA as part of body positivity (there is no wrong way to have a body). Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be anything like a majority.

      • gbdub says:

        “I’m willing to speculate that there’s more of this flavor of masculinity in American culture (or at least large segments of it) than in, say, most European cultures.”

        Modern Northern European, maybe. But “machismo” is still very much a thing, and it didn’t originate in America (either one).

    • Psmith says:

      Countersignaling masculinity. Nydwracu has a post about this somewhere.

  10. onyomi says:

    Now seeing stuff like this implying that the media is biased against Gary Johnson (and, until recently, similar stuff about Bernie Sanders). Of course, there were a ton of complaints about unfair treatment of Ron Paul, some fair and some maybe less fair, in the past two election cycles.

    The thing is, of course everyone thinks their favorite candidate isn’t getting a fair shake, but there does also seem to be a genuine bias on the part of major media outlets against candidates outside the Overton window, third parties, etc.

    My question is, why? It seems like insurgent candidacies, as even Trump’s was not that long ago, are good for media ratings. They make it seem like something interesting or surprising is happening. Like it’s a horse race and there’s a chance someone unexpected could win. One might expect, if anything, for the media to overrate the probability of a dark horse candidate doing well. This would seem to be their incentive. One could maybe make a case that they don’t give Ron Paul and Gary Johnson more time and more free publicity than they deserve, but it definitely seems they don’t give Paul, Johnson, Sanders, Stein et al more time than they deserve.

    My only theory is that they want to be perceived as “serious,” and think, perhaps, that if their network is covering the “fringe” candidates, people will change channels to see what the “serious” candidates are doing. But “serious” candidates are also boring and the networks themselves, in no small part, help determine who is “serious.” Many libertarians would say that they are “owned” in effect by big companies donating to Hillary and Trump and that’s why they don’t help the competition, but I’m not that conspiratorial. I think networks care first and foremost about ratings, which is why they generally follow the sensational and drum up controversy even when there is none. Why then, don’t they try to make the elections seem more competitive than they really are?

    • Alliteration says:

      In the case of Sanders vs Hillary, I think the media might have been bias towards treating the race as competitive long after the betting markets had decided with >90% certainty that Hillary was going to win.

      However, your point still stands about Gary Johnson.

    • suntzuanime says:

      If you try to make a candidate look serious that every other outlet is treating as a joke, you will embarrass yourself. It’s a keynesian beauty contest, they don’t control the winners except in aggregate and despite what you might hear from some of the fringier fringe political candidates, there is not actually a massive coordinated media conspiracy. (It’s not coordinated.)

      • onyomi says:

        I don’t think it’s a conspiracy, but it seems like there is a lot of low-hanging fruit in the form of making more “fringe” candidates seem like they have a better chance than they really do. Arguably this happened with Bernie, though I think his extreme popularity with young people was the bigger story there. My best guess, like you, is the fear of looking “unserious” by treating as serious a candidate no one else does. But since when did news channels care more about seeming serious than ratings? Aren’t we now in the era of sensationalism? Maybe sensationalism sells when it taps into partisan, tribal enmities, but not when it’s like “here’s this guy who doesn’t map onto your preconceived ideas. If we let him on, your applause/boo lights will simply be confused and you may change channels”?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Media is trying to predict what the audience will find “engaging”.

          Fundamentally, this makes media risk averse. Big ratings spikes are great, but large enagement drop-off is much worse. Media will ride any horse as long as it is already proven. There are much less likely to try and actually convince the audience that x, y or z are really (no! Really, really!) interesting.

          They have tons of data on what “moves the needle”. They can predict what stories will have a big splash.

          So, Gary Johnson has interesting ideas (maybe) but isn’t very interesting himself. He doesn’t fit into D vs. R, so he has no built in love or hate-watch factor. Ron Paul was a weird, irascible old man, so he had a certain novelty factor. GJ does not.

          • onyomi says:

            I think maybe the bigger point is that for the vast majority of the public, politics qua politics is incredibly boring. “This guy has some really creative policy ideas,” even if true, is exciting to about 1% of the population.

            For the rest, politics is exciting as a tribal horse race, so narratives that play into that are popular, as are people who are inherently interesting for reasons unrelated to their political views, like Donald Trump.

            Politics has maybe become more acrimonious and partisan precisely because people don’t actually care about politics?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think what you are saying is largely correct.

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      WRT Bernie Sanders, I think it is as simple as that most people writing on him just really dislike his supporters. Even following the twitter feeds of people whose jobs have relatively little to do with politics you will hear people pissed about berniebros.

      I get the feeling that the news media draws from a very small slice of Belmont (literally or metaphorically) and any subject outside of their interests is basically greek to them. Consider how people honestly didn’t know what The Body of Christ referred to in Ted Cruz’s speech.

    • Lysenko says:

      I don’t know about this cycle, but last cycle Gary Johnson’s campaigning was pretty diffident. I suspect part of the reason he was dropped out of the televised debates (despite polling well at the time) and Trump got in instead (when he wasn’t even -running- that cycle) is simply that it was decided that Johnson made for bad TV while Trump made for ‘good TV’. Which helped to ensure he got little mindshare, which helped to tank his poll numbers, which created a coverage and publicity death spiral in the GOP primary season.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      > It seems like insurgent candidacies, as even Trump’s was not that long ago, are good for media ratings.

      Maybe (they’d have to be entertaining insurgents, which Trump is on some level) but… the media, at least the news part, is not in this business for ratings in the first case. If so, they wouldn’t all be attempting to serve the same lefty niche while leaving a giant chunk of the population for Fox News to have all to itself.

    • stargirlprincess says:

      What percentage of the popular vote do you think Gary Johnson is actually going to get? Keep in mind last time he got .99% of the popular vote.

      I find it wildly unlikely he will get 5% for example. I have actually taken bets at 6-1 odds that Johnson gets < 5% of the vote. I personally think he will get sub 2%.

      • I have actually taken bets at 6-1 odds that Johnson gets < 5% of the vote. I personally think he will get sub 2%.

        You are going to win those bets.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Gary Johnson was polling around 5% in 2012 and around 10% now. Assuming a linear drop off, he’ll get about 2%.

        The main party candidates are also a lot more distasteful this year.

    • Nornagest says:

      The Chomskian answer is that the media depend on the political establishment for access to the political process — invitations, press conferences, “confidential” conversations, leaks. Juicy political infighting sells papers, but without access, the papers can’t contain anything more than informed speculation. So they can’t do too much to piss off the establishment.

      When an insurgent campaign picks up enough steam, it’s no longer possible to ignore, so the winning strategy ends up being a tight focus on the controversy, but from the establishment side — or at least a plausibly deniable neutrality. But if it’s still in the wings, even giving it exposure could be seen as a threat.

      I am not generally a big Chomsky fan, but I think he might be onto something in this case.

  11. keranih says:

    Seen on th’ intrawebs: Trump is so divisive, even dead SFF writers think he sucks.

    Butler is another of those – like Le Guin – authors who shaped my life. “The Evening, the Morning and the Night” was spectacular. So was Wildseed and Dawn. Parable of the Sower was just as exceptional – a master work.

    Among my many regrets was never finishing and mailing the fan letter I started after meeting her at a con in the late 80’s.

    Parable of the Talents left me baffled and bemused. Like some friends I would have later on in SFF fandom, Butler saw demons under the bed and in the shadows that I could not see, and for her (and my friends) these demons wore cloaks shaped like fundamentalist/evangelical Christians.

    I never finished that book, even though I had been very excited to hear the news that Butler was to write a whole series on Parable. As it turned out, Parable of the Talents was the last in that series.

    Lucien, I am sure, has the rest shelved somewhere.

    • Outis says:

      “Let’s Make America Great Again” was a Reagan slogan. The novel was not prescient, it was referring to an older demon.

      • LHN says:

        And even as someone who considers a Trump presidency to be an utterly unacceptable outcome, I’m still struck by how many folks in my Facebook and Twitter feeds are equating Trump to a candidate whose supporters in the story are literally burning people for witchcraft.

        (Even more if Butler was suggesting a similar equivalence to Reagan, but I was around in those days and remember that sort of thing being much in the air, e.g., Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.)

    • The Nybbler says:

      More likely, Butler was taking a shot at Ronald Reagan.

      (dammit, skunked)

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      Most eerily prescient story since ‘The Ones Who Vote For Omexit’.

  12. Jaskologist says:


    Welcome back! I had a Father’s Day thought for you: status is not zero-sum. Growth can expand this pie, too.

    Any parent can be the most important person in the world to several kids*, plus a spouse. As a bonus, those are also the most important people in the world to you. In a sane society, this quite achievable by 80-90% of the population.

    * May be void during teenage years.

    • keranih says:

      May be void during teenage years.

      Well, there is a reason God lets you have them for 10-13 years at the “wide eyed, big headed, inquisitive and easily overjoyed” stage.

      If they were *born* teenagers, you’d(*) smother the little shits in the cradle.

      (*) “Yes, yes, I would have. And told God you died of natural causes.” – my mother.

      “AND GOD WOULD HAVE BELIEVED HER” – my grandmother.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:


      Welcome back!

      Thanks, Jaskologist. It’s good to be back.

      status is not zero-sum. Growth can expand this pie, too.

      Any parent can be the most important person in the world to several kids*, plus a spouse. As a bonus, those are also the most important people in the world to you.

      Problem is that by the time you are married with children, you don’t have much need for status anymore. Jim observed that “hot chicks are better than wealth and power, for wealth and power is just a way to get hot chicks”. Same goes for status.

      • Anonymous says:

        Have you ever met any married parents? Reveled preferences are clearly to the contrary.

        Perhaps consider that a philosophy based entirely on the outlook of a horny but sexless (because creepy) sixteen year old boy doesn’t capture the full richness of human experience?

      • Jaskologist says:

        Men still care about being respected post-children. Hell, I care more about wealth now that I have all these mouths to feed.

  13. Le Maistre Chat says:

    I wonder how progressives define “People of Color”, in the sense of “people who deserve as much deference as blacks or Muslims.” I would think Latinos count, but OTOH I can’t imagine Catholic-bashing art like the piss crucifix or elephant dung Virgin Mary ever being accepted as racist by progressives.
    And how about East Asians? Hindus?

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      Maybe Catholic-bashing is not perceived as racist because it’s seen as European. I think art that mocks Quetzacoatl (for example) would be seen as more racist.

      • Nornagest says:

        Does anyone care about bashing dead religions? I kind of suspect not; no one does it, but I can’t really imagine someone mocking the gods of ancient Egypt (for example) being considered racist for it. And ancient Egypt wasn’t anywhere near as brutal as the Aztecs were.

        There are Latino-specific folk saints with live followings, though: Santa Muerte, Jesús Malverde, Niño Fidencio. (All of these are Mexican or Mexican-American; I understand there are others native to other Latin American regions.) Mocking these might well be seen as racist, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in the wild: they don’t seem well-known among Anglos.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Given that there isn’t one big book o’ definitions for this, I’m not sure how far you’d get.

    • Anonymous says:

      This question seems somewhat in bad faith, but to answer it honestly, the central examples of “people of color” are African-Americans and Hispanics with at least some non-white ancestry (Native or African). Native Americans are nominally central members but are so rare as to be irrelevant. East or South Asians and very light skinned Hispanics are peripheral members. Olive skinned people of the Middle East and Central Asia are only considered PoC in limited circumstances.

      I’m not sure why Catholic bashing would count as racist, when Catholicism isn’t significantly associated with any one race. Maybe if in 50 or 100 years the overwhelming majority of Catholics in the US are Hispanics, but certainly not today.

      • keranih says:

        I’m not sure why Catholic bashing would count as racist, when Catholicism isn’t significantly associated with any one race. Maybe if in 50 or 100 years the overwhelming majority of Catholics in the US are Hispanics, but certainly not today.

        A non-trivial amount of ethnic bigotry in the USA was, c. 1880-1940, anti-Catholic. Catholicism was associated with “non-white” ethnicities – specifically Irish, Mediterranean people, and Poles, as well as Cajuns and Black Caribbeans. These people were lazier, stupider, and possessed less individual drive and self-determination than WASPs – hence, it was “only natural” that they should gravitate towards Papist top-down religion and fancy trappings and rituals, rather than the intellectual, self-reflective faith of the Protestants.

        Anti-Catholic bigotry has largely gone, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t once An Actual Thing.

        • Anonymous says:

          So let’s amend it to from 1880-1940 and perhaps again 50 or 100 years from now. But in any event Piss Christ (1987) and elephant dung Virgin Mary (1996) pretty clearly don’t qualify. Le Maistre Chat seemed to want to grind some axe or other.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Not to mention that neither, as far as I know, attacks Catholics in particular, but rather Christian symbols in general. Given the rise of the “Moral Majority” contemporarily, I’d be surprised if they were aimed at Catholics at all.

          But Kerinah’s point is valid in that I’m sure there are some anti-Catholic memetics floating around tied to ideas of the superiority of Protestantism and Anglo-Saxon genetics. And if you can find that kind of meme, it would perfectly valid to call it racist.

          Liberals tend to see “race” as socially constructed. The term “people of color” only really can be defined within a particular social context. I frequently point how the Irish weren’t thought of as “white” in the mid 1800s when they were beginning to compete with the previous immigration wave of Germans. The “drunk Irish” meme is likely a holdover from this timeframe.

          We aren’t in that context any more, and to the extent that anyone does hold those beliefs, the absence of that context renders them far less harmful.

          • keranih says:

            Agreed that the Piss Christ and related works were contemptuous of Christianity and not Catholicism specifically.

            IMO, this quarter century’s anti-Christianity is tribal, not racial – it is directed at Caucasian Americans/Westerners for attitudes and actions that are ignored when spoken/performed by Black/African American or Hispanic believers.

            …I’m not sure that this is any better. Focusing on the action, not the intent – because we can’t actually know what evil lurks in the hearts of men – I don’t think it is.

          • Odoacer says:

            I frequently point how the Irish weren’t thought of as “white” in the mid 1800s when they were beginning to compete with the previous immigration wave of Germans. The “drunk Irish” meme is likely a holdover from this timeframe.

            I’ve heard others mentions that. However, I’ve never seen any real evidence for it. Were Irish really thought of as non-white? Or were there just thought of as non/lesser than Anglo-Saxon? Do you have information about hat?

          • Sandy says:

            @Odoacer: In census terms, no, the Irish were counted as white and they were expected to tick that box on the form. But in terms of socialization, they were thought of as inferior to Anglo-Saxon Protestants; as violent drunks and alien Papists who were only good for grunt work and filling up jail cells.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yeah, we used to discriminate various different European ethnic groups, and just “white” didn’t tell a racist everything she needed to know. Nowadays the only racism we bother with is against People of Color, and maybe Jews if you’re feeling especially spicy.

          • keranih says:

            This article discusses some of the evidence and expert opinions regarding historical anti-Irish bias in the USA.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I forgot she was an eight grader. That is fantastic.

            Here is one of the most direct examples I am aware of, specifically stating that the “Iberian Irish” are thought to have originated in Africa and a drawing contrasting an Irish and Negro head with an Anglo-Teutonic one.

          • hlynkacg says:

            He would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for that meddlesome kid.

          • Odoacer says:

            @HBC and Keranih

            I don’t doubt they were viewed as inferior and different to Anglo-Saxons and discriminated against, but does that mean the Irish were really viewed as non-white in the 19th century? A point against that is that Irish-Americans men could vote before the passage of the 15th amendment.

            Regardless, what did “whiteness” mean in the 19th century? If all whiteness meant was Anglo-Saxon, then yes I can believe that the Irish were viewed as non-white then. However, I’m not certain that’s what it meant.

    • Anonymous says:

      You know that that those two are Latin and Black, respectively, don’t you? They probably do see their work as ethnically charged, but that’s OK because its their own races.

      Probably you can find better examples, but you should be suspicious that these are the first you reach for.

    • Sandy says:

      Latinos count if they have a sufficient degree of non-white ancestry to the point where it is visible. Danny Trejo counts; Ted Cruz doesn’t. Rosario Dawson counts; Cameron Diaz doesn’t.

      East Asians and Indians count in specific contexts. If you say something racist about them, then they’re people of color, but if you want to write an article about how Silicon Valley is not sufficiently diverse, then they are de facto white.

  14. Ruprect says:

    Argument for a (somewhat complex) income tax:

    Income tax is easier to avoid than other forms of taxation. The extent to which you pay it is the extent to which you are not prepared to go through the hassle of finding ways of minimising it.

    The poor have no money so cannot pay tax, the rich love money so should not pay tax.

    • Anonymous says:

      If there’s a law, it should be followed. If it’s not followed, it should not be law. De jure should be de facto, and vice versa.

      I cannot endorse a system that relies on deception and corruption to function.

    • Aegeus says:

      This is effectively a tax on only the middle class (those who have enough money to tax, but not enough to be able to chase exotic tax loopholes). I can’t think of any school of economic thought where this is a good idea. You can argue for a progressive tax (under the logic that the rich will feel the loss the least), or a flat tax (on the logic of fairness), or even a regressive tax (under the logic that the gains will trickle down), but I’ve never heard someone argue for a tax on the middle class.

      • Anon says:

        Why, to prevent upstarts from starting up, of course! Gotta keep the middle class down, lest they become rich. /s

  15. Ruprect says:

    Was it a betrayal for HP Lovecraft’s wife to describe him as an “excellent lover”?

    I’ve always felt slightly upset when I read that quotation on wikipedia.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Well if the Japanese have taught me anything, it’s that women can’t get enough of tentacles.

      But yeah that seems a little private for a Wikipedia article. Maybe this is a case of shifting euphemisms, and being an excellent lover meant something akin to being particularly romantic in the twenties?

      • I’m willing to bet on shifting euphemisms. I’m not sure when “making love” changed from what I think was courting (possibly including necking) to intercourse, but it can make reading older material rather startling.

      • Maybe this is a case of shifting euphemisms, and being an excellent lover meant something akin to being particularly romantic in the twenties?

        In a Sinclair Lewis novel from the 1920s, there is a passage where a man and woman are “making love” — but they are also fully dressed and sitting far apart. Clearly euphemisms have changed.

        • Guy says:

          That or there was some less-than-explicit kink going on.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          In C. S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, there’s a bit where (11- or 12-year-old) Jill Pole is described as “making love” to a castle full of man-eating giants.

        • Nornagest says:

          “Making love” used to mean something along the lines of “wooing, acting affectionate”, but I believe “lover” already implied a sexual relationship in the 1920s. I don’t know if “excellent lover” had the specific connotations of being good in bed that it has now, though — it could plausibly have meant something more along the lines of “good boyfriend”.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Wikipedia paraphrases her as saying he “had performed satisfactorily as a lover” – I can’t find anything there about him being “excellent”.

      Also now I’m imagining HP Lovecraft’s o-face, and so now can everyone else.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Her actual words were “adequately excellent lover”. Wikipedia describing this as “satisfactorily” is interpretation on some editor’s part.

  16. Daniel says:

    Are there any other Phish heads on SSC?

    For the unacquainted, Phish is a hugely popular American band with a nerdy, devoted following. The band is silly, unique and fun. While their music is eclectic, it is largely a mix between Rock and jazz. They’re best known for their live improvisation.

    Here is a sample of their music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avUeS5SZHTU

  17. onyomi says:

    Going on a museum tour lately I noticed that where they used to just give you an audio tour (I usually forego even that, preferring to look, in silence at whatever I want to look at in the order I choose to and read placards where something strikes my interest) they now give you a big ipad plus headphones. This is supposed to give you all kinds of info about everything you’re seeing of course, but also results in everyone walking around the museum staring at an ipad instead of the actual art.

    I am definitely of the curmudgeonly sort who finds it annoying how much everyone is on their cell phone all the time nowadays. That said, I can also see obvious advantages to integrating our world more thoroughly with quickly accessible digital info. Things like the GPS come to mind, but so does GoogleGlass (what happened to that, by the way? Doesn’t seem to have caught on because too expensive or dorky looking? Could it be like the Segway where what someone touts as the obvious future just turns out to look way too lame? Maybe contacts?), or something similar, where one imagines everyone walking around receiving “annotations” to the world they’re looking at, receiving messages from friends, perhaps, which don’t even require that they take out and look at a screen, etc. etc.

    Is this, in fact, the future, and if so, is it desirable? In a weird way, it seems like it might make people less tuned out when the digital and the real merge more completely. On the other, it also seems a bit “brave new world”…

    • Lysenko says:

      I think Stephenson covered this in Snow Crash, and it captures one of the reasons that google glass never caught on.

      Gargoyles are no fun to talk to. They never finish a sentence. They are adrift in a laser-drawn world, scanning retinas in all directions, doing background checks on everyone within a thousand yards, seeing everything in visual light, infrared, millimeter-wave radar, and ultrasound all at once. You think they’re talking to you, but they’re actually poring over the credit record of some stranger on the other side of the room, or identifying the make and model of airplanes flying overhead.

      In short, wearable computing devices like google glass tend to be more distracting (for the user) and obnoxious (for everyone else) than the marginally increased utility over a smart phone justifies. There are cases where they are potentially super-useful: stripped-down, mission-driven AR devices for people working in reduced visibility, for example, but I think that the general use case for wearable computing devices needs to get stronger before you’re going to see your average middle manager ditching his smart phone in favor of one.

      • Anonymous says:

        Nope, distraction is not what killed google glass, since it was not distracting, because it couldn’t do anything. AR might be distracting, but it never arrived. It required way too much energy to upload the photos over wifi.

        (What could it do? Take photos, read email, and give directions. Much less than a smartphone. Heads-up navigation was very nice. Easy access to a camera is nice.)

        • Lysenko says:

          Huh. I was under the impression that it had more or less full web-browsing capability via wifi. I suppose I should’ve known better, but lack of money to spend on smart phones and similar gadgets means I haven’t been following that sort of tech as closely as I used to.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think it did have a web browser, but no one used it because the input UI was terrible and because of the battery life.

            Google glass was output without input. Navigation is a case where you don’t need to do much input, so it works well. Photos require very little input and having the camera already out is good.

            The dream of AR is to do input by object recognition and maybe eye tracking. And, indeed, Stephenson’s prediction is that the gargoyles are distracted by information about things in their field of view, not random web pages.

            Other people’s predictions are that gargoyles would be distracted by information pouring in from afar – facebook updates. Maybe such information was accessible on google glass, because choosing to see the latest is easy. I think that they could get new emails but not facebook updates. That could be distracting, but the onlookers were more bothered by the potential of surreptitious photography than their interlocutors being distracted. And whatever the users could get, they didn’t value it.

      • onyomi says:

        That Snow Crash quote does seem quite prescient now, though. If and when Google Glass-type items start to have more functionality, I imagine those wearing them might start to give their visual attention over in the way those using bluetooth earpieces look like schizophrenics.

        The problem is that the human brain is bad at doing more than one thing (with attention).

        • “The problem is that the human brain is bad at doing more than one thing (with attention).”

          Mine is. My daughter appears able to play WoW competently while conducting two or three text conversations on unrelated subjects.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That’s like being able to shell peas and have a conversation at the same time.

            Or carding wool, or any of a number of other tasks that become easy with repetition.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, I can and often do two things at once if one of them is relatively automatic: driving, doing dishes, sorting laundry. I often listen to audio books while doing these tasks. Even though the tasks are more “important” in most cases, it is to the audio book I am devoting the bulk of my attention. I’d guess in your daughter’s case that the WoW play has become relatively automatic and her mind is actually more focused on the conversations.

          • “That’s like being able to shell peas and have a conversation at the same time.”

            I don’t think so. She was a good raid healer. I don’t do healing in WoW (don’t do anything at the moment, but used to), but I don’t think it’s equivalent in difficulty to shelling peas or knitting.

          • Anonymous says:

            I thought you were talking about running dailies or something. She was texting on her phone while raid healing? That seems unreasonable. Unless it was LFR or farm night late in a content patch or something.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It’s been quite a while since a played WoW, so grain of salt and all.

            If you are grinding dailies or even farming instances that are substantially below your level/gear, it can still be just a matter of spamming the right group heal, I think

            If you are trying to run something that is supposed to be challenging for your level/gear, and you aren’t in a trash mob section of the instance, I imagine you would need to pay attention.

            But to someone watching from the outside, it would look different.

          • She was doing raid healing. In raids that were difficult for the group. And running more than one text conversation from the computer keyboard at the same time.

            I had a hard enough problem both playing in a raid (usually dps) and paying attention to the raid text.

          • Jaskologist says:

            It depends on what is being done at the same time. I can write code while watching television, but I cannot write or read prose while watching tv. There’s Global Interpreter Lock around my English processing center, but my programming center can run in parallel.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, I would say that driving or cooking a meal are a lot more complicated than shelling peas and perhaps equivalent to doing a WoW raid in that, if you’ve done these things many times, you gain the ability to do them as a background to something else, even though they are not strictly predictable (even when driving a very familiar route the cars on the road are different each time, of course. I do, however, pause the audio book if I get to a complicated part of a novel route and must pay attention to the GPS).

            May also have something to do with different senses: I can listen and talk while driving, but that may be because listening and talking are primarily aural, while driving, cooking, cleaning are primarily visual+tactile. Though WoW takes place all on one screen, I can imagine that the actual playing slots into the visual+tactile experience like driving, while the chatting slots into the verbal centers, especially if she can actually hear her partners, but probably to some extent even if she has to read. I could not read SSC and listen with attention to an audio book at the same time, for example.

            Perhaps I should amend to: the human brain is not good at doing two tasks which simultaneously engage the same brain region?

          • My daughter, to whom I mentioned this discussion, says she wasn’t really doing the things simultaneously but conducting the conversations in the slow parts of the raid. But she was running more than one conversation at once.

          • Sivaas says:

            Note that we’ve been in the same content patch for over a year at this point, so it actually might be possible to run more or less on automatic. Healing is probably the least easy to do this way since people will always mess up mechanics at unpredictable times, but certainly a DPS who’s been paying attention to how mechanics line up could probably do the raid on autopilot.

            And being semi-AFK during trash is pretty much a time-honored raid tradition.

    • Civilis says:

      I think with any museum, some people are there for the art (or whatever the museum is displaying), some people are there for the art + context (the history of the art and artist, for example) and some people are there for social reasons.

      I remember seeing the Mona Lisa, barely, in the Louvre. Virtually everyone has seen the painting, digitally. Due to the crowds and security, the amount of people that can physically see the painting in the museum with anything like the quality you see on your computer is almost nil compared to the people that want to say they saw the Mona Lisa. A cell phone means you can say ‘I saw the Mona Lisa’ while actually at the painting, and a selfie allows you to prove you were there. Most of the things I saw at the Louvre, like the mummies and Sumerian and Mesopotamian works, I was there for the art, but for the Mona Lisa, I couldn’t be there for anything other than social reasons.

      The cell phone, specifically, is a social connection tool, to both receive and send social connections. Because we now have instant social connection at our fingerprints, we are loathe to give it up. Google Glass isn’t yet at the point where it adds much to our social connections beyond the modern smart phone. However, most people confuse the means (modern digital devices) with the services (instant social connection). The museum’s tourist tablet + headphones are an attempt to provide the modern digital devices as a replacement for an older service, the tour guide, but the problem is that the service it provides, which is adding context to the art in the museum, isn’t what people want out of the museum. Until people are going to the museum for the art + context, the digital annotations serve little purpose, because if we really wanted that, we could get it at home on the internet.

      • Tibor says:

        I have never been to Louvre and I don’t know how high the security of Mona Lisa is…the closest to Louvre I’ve see is the Zwinger in Dresden (in terms of paintings…otherwise probably either the Vatican museums or the museum on the Capitoline hill in Rome).

        In Zwinger you can see a lot of these paintings which are much bigger than any screen and you can come really close to them (of course, you are still not allowed to touch them) and see the details, there is even some plasticity. I am no art critic but it is definitely a different experience than seeing those paintings on your computer screen. I really like one from the Dutch school with a harbour in it (I think it is supposed to be somewhere in Italy, I forgot the painter’s name but it is on the highest floor in Zwinger close to the staircase :)). The painting is maybe 3×2 metres, so larger than any computer screen and it looks much more “alive” than it could look in a digital format.

        My uneducated opinion of visual art is that if it requires an explanation then it is likely not a good piece of art*, so I rather prefer to just look at the paintings and maybe if there is something on the side about the author then I read it. If I want detailed information about a topic I can look it up online at home. And somehow I prefer reading the placards to listening to audio, mostly because I can easily skip the parts which I don’t find so interesting or read in my own tempo instead of waiting till the guide says stuff. For the same reason I prefer visiting castles and such without the guide, although it is usually not an option.

        *on the other hand, the last time I was in Zwinger it was among others with two Indians and one Vietnamese. They did not immediately recognize a lot of stuff that seemed obvious to me – mostly religious paintings…I realized then that for them Christian themes are about as foreign as Hindu themes are for me and they are equally lost in it as I would be in a Hindu temple…where I just see pretty and colourful statues. Still, those religious paintings are either good or not regardless of what they depict, it is probably not strictly necessary to know that it is a painting of Mary with a baby Jesus (that one they kind of guessed although they were not sure about it) or David and Goliath and many paintings feature the saints, most of whom I can’t recognize either.

        • LHN says:

          The Mona Lisa is bigger than a computer screen, but it’s smaller than you expect, behind glass, and in a roped off area that’s typically many people deep, with frequent camera flashes.


          While there’s doubtless more to be experienced than a high-res photo, I suspect you’d have to get there at a particularly un-busy time or arrange some sort of special access to really get that opportunity for that particular painting.

          (Fortunately, there’s one or two other things worth looking at at the Louvre which aren’t quite so overwhelmed by their viewers.)

          • Civilis says:

            Compared to what I remember of my visit, that’s a lot fewer people in front of the Mona Lisa.

            I think of all the easily recognizable pieces of art in the Louvre, that was the only one I had trouble actually getting a good look at. Other recognizable pieces like the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Coronation of Napoleon had no such crowds.

  18. InferentialDistance says:

    AnkiMobile is the community tested and approved iPhone app for memorization by spaced repetition, right?

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Can’t speak for the community, but it’s what I’ve got and it seems to work. There are probably cheaper ones if you’re on an iPhone, but it syncs up pretty well with the laptop/desktop version

      (though I wish there were a ‘normalise size of photo’ function – or I wish I could find it if it’s there – I’m using it for Gabriel Wyner’s recommended method for learning foreign vocab, where you make your own flashcards, importing pictures from Google Images, and it can be a bit annoying when they come up huge or too small to make out)

      • sweeneyrod says:

        One of my ongoing programming projects is a quick generator for picture flashcards — you type in the foreign word, the English translation, and pick one of three photos, then the flashcard gets made automatically with a normalised picture. I need to find a decent images API first though.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Wyner explicitly recommends against including the English translation on your flashcards, on the basis that the aim is to get yourself thinking in the foreign language, rather than constructing what you want to say in English and then translating it. So it might be worthwhile having the English meaning on a hidden section that you only click on if you genuinely can’t remember what the picture means.

          Plus sound files for the pronunciation; those are useful, especially for languages where you can’t necessarily guess the sound from the spelling.

          I think Memrise actually already does something like the ‘select a picture’ thing – though it depends on other people having already uploaded enough pictures for you to choose from.

    • InferentialDistance says:

      Thanks for the responses, they are helpful to me.

  19. E. Harding says:

    Men! Women! All persons of all other sexes! At last, I, E. Harding, have mostly explained the mystery Scott wrote about in


    in my 10 kiloword post Explaining the Party Shift.


    Basically, the meanings of the DW-NOMINATE dimensions change over time. The biggest change in meaning was that of the first dimension in the 1930s, caused by FDR turning it into an axis of FDR administration loyalty, which, for the first time, made that axis into a liberal-conservative spectrum we would recognize today. I’m honestly not entirely sure what it was an axis of before, but tariffs had something to do with it. The meaning of the DW-NOMINATE second dimension shifts around all the time.

    • Julie K says:

      What’s with the triple parentheses?

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        It’s a conicidence detector.

      • Ed says:

        It’s a Stromfront thing to indicate that the person in question is Jewish. No surprise that E. Harding is using it.

        Hopefully he’ll get deported back to Russia soon.

      • telotortium says:

        It’s an anti-semitic practice, originating in the alt-right community, to put triple parentheses around the names of Jewish people (Wikipedia). Its use provides some hints about E. Harding’s political positions.

        • E. Harding says:

          My political positions are clear. They are broadly far-right. I’m not very pro-Semitic, but, as I used the parentheses in the post to identify all Jews mentioned, even those I broadly like, I do not think their usage in my post is inherently anti-Semitic. Triple parentheses (used to identify Jews) are among the least important parts of my post, and I suggest readers focus on its central claims (especially as relating to Scott’s 2013 post on the thin blue line), not mere stylistic elements. There are over ten thousand words in the post, guys. Less than fifty contain triple parentheses around them.

          I didn’t write ten thousand words for nothing.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            “I’m not very pro-Semitic” wins my award for most weaselly admittance of racism of the year. Waving a swastika can just mean an interest in Jainism. In my experience it doesn’t.

            Edit: the swastika thing was an analogy, not an accusation. On the subject of swastikas, Golden Dawn win my prize for organisation with a logo that looks a lot like a swastika but isn’t.

          • E. Harding says:

            The above comment wins my award for clearest case of selectively, deliberately and maliciously ignoring parts of a sentence in order to make one’s opponent look as bad as possible.

            “Waving a swastika”

            -Stuff I never did.

          • birdboy2000 says:

            The Jainist swastika doesn’t look very much like the Nazi one.

          • suntzuanime says:

            If the Jew-spotting was part of your central thesis, maybe you needed to make that a bit more clear, because I don’t really understand how. If not, perhaps you should have sacrificed those fifty words for the good of the other nine thousand nine hundred and fifty.

            I was going to make a joke about how, when Scott was giving writing advice, he forgot “don’t stop to shout ‘Jew! Jew!’ every time you mention someone Jewish”, but in fact he remembered. It’s number 7: figure out who you’re trying to convince, then use the right tribal signals. If you’re only interested in convincing other Jew-spotters, fine, but I feel like that’s not this audience, and it’s a bit unambitious in any case.

          • E. Harding says:

            “If the Jew-spotting was part of your central thesis”

            -It’s tangential, but by no means completely irrelevant. Jews are the ethnic group with the highest average IQ in America, and rich Jews were some of the first rich people to convert to the Democratic Party just after its ideological transformation as a result of the New Deal; way earlier than most blue-state rich people. I could not possibly mention Steve’s high-low v. middle thesis without pointing to the conversion of Jews to the Democratic party alongside the conversion of Blacks.

            “If you’re only interested in convincing other Jew-spotters”

            -I’m not.

            And I’m not gonna give up the parentheses, because I always liked the idea of such punctuation. I use it all the time.

          • Anonymous says:

            Then you’ll just have to deal with a tiny number of people reading your effort post. Just like your need to call people ‘fag’ means that few people read your comments at MR before they disappear.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I’m not gonna give up the parentheses, because I always liked the idea of such punctuation.

            Then I’m afraid you did in fact write ten thousand words for nothing.

          • telotortium says:

            For what it’s worth, I did read your post, or at least skimmed it — it seems to recapitulate everything else I’ve read about the party shifts over time, so I didn’t get that much out of it. I did find it interesting that you consider the “Seventh Party System” to start in 2000, whereas the actual politics of the Bush era appear to be a continuation of politics since Reagan, with real political change only happening during the Obama era and coming to fruition now with the rise of Trump. However, I think you’re analyzing the geographical+ethnic correlates of votes for the parties, which I think you’re correct in saying has remained mostly unchanged since the 2000 election.

            In any case, I did want to answer Julie K’s question about the triple parentheses, which were completely unnecessary to your post, whose contents can for the most part be found on Wikipedia.

          • E. Harding says:

            “whose contents can for the most part be found on Wikipedia.”

            -The pictures almost all come from Wikipedia (for obvious reasons), but there is no single Wikipedia article that summarizes the shifts like my post does.

            Everything can be found on Wikipedia. Synthesizing it is another matter entirely.

            “whereas the actual politics of the Bush era appear to be a continuation of politics since Reagan”

            -Yes. Didn’t I say “Nevertheless, the Reagan Revolution did bring an end to the rapid swings and extreme candidate-centered politics that characterized the pre-Reagan Sixth Party System.”?

            But Reagan won Vermont, and so did Bush I. And Bill Clinton won Kentucky both times. So that’s why I can’t consider the 1990s as part of the Seventh Party System. The Republican strength in Appalachia and Deep South just wasn’t there in the 1990s to the extent it was during and after 2000.

            BTW, what sources did you consult re: party shifts?

          • telotortium says:

            @E. Harding

            I’ll concede that Wikipedia doesn’t have a synthesis on a single page like you do, and also that my knowledge of party shifts isn’t something I’ve kept track of enough in order to trace it back to sources, which means it’s probably distorted in some ways. So I shouldn’t have dismissed your post with “it can be found on Wikipedia” — I actually thought it was pretty informative. I believe I got a little bored with it because it wasn’t clear what it was arguing that was novel (to me! it’s probably useful to others, if you remove the silly gimmick with regard to the names). It was a really long post, but I’m more than willing to read long posts — I read it right after I posted my first comment. Unfortunately, I’m not a good enough critic to say if there are better ways to structure it. Maybe Scott would know?

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            And I’m not gonna give up the parentheses, because I always liked the idea of such punctuation. I use it all the time.

            Then you’re going to have to choose between indulging in your entirely innocent love of neo-Nazi writing tropes, and having people who are not neo-Nazis read your work. Let us know what you decide.

          • E. Harding says:

            “I believe I got a little bored with it because it wasn’t clear what it was arguing that was novel (to me! it’s probably useful to others, if you remove the silly gimmick with regard to the names).”

            -The explanation of DW-NOMINATE and ideology is something most interested amateurs like me didn’t figure out. I personally consider the post far better at explaining this than the people stumbling around for an answer in the comments of Scott’s 2013 post, being mostly very smart, making lots of good points, but almost all too theoretical -rarely at all practical!

          • Agronomous says:

            Parentheses for Jewish people? What, you guys couldn’t find the yellow-cloth-star emoji?

            Anyway, I like this punctuation-callout idea and will start using it myself: ***E. Harding***.

            (think Vonnegut)

            Fuck it. This is why G-d gave us killfiles.

      • Alliteration says:

        Some people who are not part of the alt-right use it to reclaim the symbol or to confuse the anti-Semites.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Reclaim the symbol? From who?

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I think they generally use it around their own names, not those of their (Jewish) political opponents.

        • Anonanon says:

          >or to confuse the anti-Semites.

          I believe this has been greeted with bemusement in certain circles. “They’re doing it for us now?!” is my admittedly distant understanding of the reaction.

  20. Guy says:

    So I was reading up on the ban list*, and apparently you ban people by filtering their usernames. Should I perhaps pick a different username?

    * It was mentioned, and also I like reading ban lists. One of my favorite forums, back when I was active on that sort of site, kept a humorous registry of bans. Stop looking at me like that.

  21. Agronomous says:

    Just a friendly reminder for Scott:

    D. is still on the banned list. Just in case you forgot or something.

    (The ban’s not helping me kick SSC comments as much as I thought it would, but I can’t be the only one who misses her and thinks three weeks is plenty.)

    • Acedia says:

      I can’t be the only one who misses her

      Definitely not.

    • Tibor says:

      Who? Does D mean Dieseach (I might be spelling it wrong, I’m not used to these Irish names)? If so, why was she banned? I also like reading some of her comments. She may be a bit opinionated but not more so or less polite than some other people here, so I am quite surprised.

      • Nornagest says:

        Yes. It’s abbreviated because her full handle (if spelled correctly) will get caught in the spam filter.

        She was banned for this diatribe (Scott’s response here). Scott seems mostly to have been upset by the “I know this is going to be a bannable offense and I’m going to do it anyway” aspect.

        • Seth says:

          1) The SSC commentariat swims right.

          2) Technologists need to figure out a good discussion system before trying to reform society in general.

          3) There’s often a great deal of tension between the norms of polite intellectual discourse versus lived experience.

          • Nornagest says:

            My post was meant as a statement of fact, not as a statement of position. Personally I think D. deserved a temporary ban but not an indefinite one; Scott’s position on possible rightward drift has been fairly clear, though (viz. he’s against it). This was not an act of political persecution, if that’s what you’re trying to hint at.

            That all being said, if lived experience entitles you to act like an asshole, one should expect a lot of “lived experience” to come crawling out of the woodwork. When someone finally invents the perfect set of discussion norms, thereby absolving us nasty technologists of all blame, it’ll have to take this into account along with everything else.

          • Devilbunny says:

            In the interests of maintaining what I believe to be our host’s primary reason for a few rules he has made, I have replaced the letter “i” with an asterisk in some words below, and the letter “a” with a hyphen.


            Our host has been quite friendly to the expression of r*ght-leaning ideas, so long as he doesn’t find himself high on the list of Google search terms for r*ght-leaning ideas. This strikes me as an eminently reasonable pose. He wants open discussion, but doesn’t want to become subject to machine links that paint him as a very r*ght-w*ng person just because he thinks some r*ght-w*ng ideas have merit. It is, after all, his blog. And if he doesn’t want people searching for information about the nouveaux ré-ctionn-ires to find him based solely on the most common English version of that term, that’s his choice.


            As the above reply to Seth implies, I don’t think he’s particularly worried about r*ghtist commentators; he’s worried about showing up on the radar of people who don’t have any connection to this commentariat and subsequently being quoted out of the very long context that exists here.

          • Seth says:

            I consider all three of the statements I made to be descriptive.

            Note I said nothing above about the viewpoints of our host. I have not argued that the ban should be lifted. But at the same time, I will admit I have much sympathy for D’s actions. There’s many comments filled with a callousness and callowness that leans very rightward. Internet – the last sentence did *not* say every word is right-wing frothing or there never exists a left-wing sentiment expressed anywhere. But I perceive the median to be in an area which tends to repel those who are emotionally affected by the callousness and callowness.

            I take the lesson to be not to invest too much of oneself into any online community. The game is not worth the candle.

          • Jiro says:

            I would be okay with making D’s ban temporary, but only if it applies to other people with similar bans and is not based around “we really like D, so we’re going to cut D more slack than someone we don’t care about”. Different sets of rules for different people are a bad idea and Scott’s system, such as it is, has too much of that already.

          • Agronomous says:


            “we really like D, so we’re going to cut D more slack than someone we don’t care about”

            The reason we like D. is that she consistently and fairly prolifically posts constructive contributions. Woe betide us if we use that as a reason to lessen her sentence, because then we’d just be incentivizing… constructive contributions.

          • Jiro says:

            We wouldn’t be incentivizing constructive contributions; we’d be incentivizing a combination of constructive contributions and just enough destructive contributions to make up for them.

            Also, people, including both Scott and the audience clamoring for D to return, are prone to motivated reasoning, and I expect that to influence how “constructive” the contributions are deemed. This is a problem anyway (how do you decide a contribution is destructive?), but we shouldn’t make it worse.

          • Agronomous says:


            how do you decide a contribution is destructive?

            Same as we decide everything else: deferring to the wise and merciful decision of our Rightful Caliph working from central examples of definitely in (“You’re going to Hell and I’m going to laugh!”, “[[[Teh Joooz!]]]”, “Motivated reasoning much?”) and definitely out (“Actually, Catholic doctrine says…”, “My favorite recipe for medieval Icelandic halal gimbap is…”, “I think our basic disagreement stems from…”), getting tripped up by politics and tribalism, getting back up and dusting ourselves off, getting derailed by semantics and linguistic usage, somehow getting back on track, trying to avoid gratuitous trolley references, and calmly talking about it until we’re too bored to continue.

            It’s what separates us from 4chan.

            It’s the Slate Star Codex Way.

        • Liskantope says:

          I’m sorry to see this, as she has always been one of my favorite commenters. I remember when Scott was advertising the fundraising for Multiheaded and said that Multi was the most frequent commenter on SSC; I’d be willing to wager that D. has been the second most frequent. I can see Scott’s reasoning behind banning her, but I do hope that leniency is used in her case since she has contributed a LOT to the comments sections here and the vast majority of it has been productive.

    • Tik Tok says:

      Eh. Im unsure. It was not a civil comment. And one definately does not want a blog to be filled with angry emotional comments.

      But! If someone is thought of as a valued commentor, and only occasionally gets peeved with a topic close to them, I see no reason to make the ban indefinite.

      Were there warning before this?

  22. keranih says:

    What was the most extreme weather or natural disaster event (drought/extreme cold/extreme heat/fire/earthquake) that you have experienced?

    Do you think that your actions during and after that event were rational? What would you suggest for people to prepare (mentally) for that sort of event, if you think they should?

    • Guy says:

      Definitely not the most extreme event (as an inhabitant of the mid-atlantic for most of my life, I have experienced the occasional hurricane), but the Virginia (?) earthquake several years ago got the most amusing reaction from me, of all unusual natural events (holy crap that’s clunky…):

      I was napping, and woke up to my bed shaking beneath me. I was confused, for a moment, and blamed my cats. Then, remembering that I had closed the door to my bedroom before going to sleep, I decided it must be an earthquake. At no point did I consider the fact that my cats are not remotely strong enough to push my bed around from beneath it.

      • Civilis says:

        We had one rather sheltered lady in our office during that Virginia earthquake that panicked. I think she was out of the building before the ground stopped shaking. Most of us in the office were like ‘that’s an unusually strong earthquake… for Virginia’. I grew up in California, and so minor earthquakes and small brushfires are nothing, but that’s because everyone at the time was so used to it, I had no reason to panic.

        I think a big part of how you react is how the people around you react. Panicky lady aside, most of those people unfamiliar with earthquakes could see that those familiar with earthquakes weren’t panicking, so they stayed calm. On the other hand, as anyone that has seen a southern winter ice or snow storm can attest, it doesn’t matter if you know how to drive in the ice/snow, your drive home is determined by the number of other people that don’t know how to drive in the ice/snow.

        • keranih says:

          I think a big part of how you react is how the people around you react.

          Soooo, I grew up in the SE, and was a post-college adult before I ever came anywhere near an earthquake. About a decade back, I was in Chile – in the city of Valdivia, actually – and one morning was loitering over a very early breakfast/coffee at the hotel, waiting for the intercity bus to come through. The hanging wine glasses started tinkling against each other and I looked up at them, wondering who on earth was stomping on the second floor to make everything sway so much. About half a heart beat later, the gals at the reception desk started screaming and running for the door. We couldn’t catch anything they said, but the volume and the way the one gal was waving at us as she held open the door didn’t need much translation.

          Once we were out in the parking lot, the locals calmed down pretty fast, as it became apparent that it was no muy mal, solo trece, trece cinco, no mas, no mal. Yeah, I thought, still breathing hard, you stand there and flip your hair and try to pretend you weren’t spooked.

          I’d been a few small shakes before, but that one was the most notable. Looking at that multistory hotel and watching it tremble a bit in the aftershocks pretty much put me off living near fault lines.

          OTOH, in my home county that same summer we had thunderstorms, two tornadoes touch down, a forest fire, and a hurricane, and the Chileans couldn’t believe I would voluntarily live in a place like that.

        • Devilbunny says:

          In a southern snow storm, extreme caution when driving is the usual prescription.

          In a southern ice storm, do not drive. No amount of skill can overcome a lack of chains, studded tires, salt, or sand, because the physics matter most: ice that is already near the melting point, and almost certainly heated (by the earth) from below is a nearly traction-free surface. If you have no artificial means of increasing traction or removing ice from the road surface, you will be fighting a losing battle.

          One other major risk: a predominance of softwood pine trees means there are lots of falling limbs.

          Living in the south, I have mapped out a way to work that involves crossing only two waterways. Both are in culverts under the road, rather than open bridges, and neither is longer than ten meters. Still, no guarantee that I will be able to get out of my neighborhood.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          “I grew up in California, and so minor earthquakes and small brushfires are nothing”

          This seems like a somewhat of mistake in thinking, in that I rather doubt the building codes in VA are the same is they are in CA. Of course, building codes have changed over time in CA, so there is some universality…

          • Civilis says:

            We did evacuate the building in a calm, orderly fashion, and we waited for the building to be cleared before going back in. We were also pretty far from the epicenter. There’s a difference between ‘evacuate in a calm and orderly fashion’ and ‘run out the door screaming in terror’.

            Admittedly, there are some things, like tsunami, where the appropriate reaction is ‘run as fast and as far as you can as soon as possible if you want to live’.

        • Chalid says:

          Oh yeah, I was in a skyscraper next to the World Trade Center site when that earthquake happened. Naturally everyone’s first thought was “terrorism,” and early announcements from building security gave some credence to that (“we are investigating reports of an explosion at such-and-such site…”)

          Everyone was very practical and orderly during the evacuation but some people became very emotional after it was all over.

    • James Picone says:

      There was a Richter 3.8 earthquake in a city I was in once. I went back to sleep, which I think was a rational decision.

    • I was in Seattle for the Nisqually earthquake. It was a lot less excited than it sounds. First I felt the room shaking a little bit, as if someone were running some kind of vibrating machinery (like an unbalanced washing machine) in the room next door. I realized that an earthquake was happening after about a second. I grabbed onto a bookshelf which was screwed to the wall to keep myself safe. Later my friends informed me that this is a bad things to do, and I’m supposed to go stand in a doorway.

      I’ve also been in the vicinity of more tornadoes and violent thunderstorms than I can count, but usually not where major damage occurred.

      • Alliteration says:

        I think standing in a doorway is no longer recommended because of the risk the door will swing and smack you. The primary danger in a earthquake in a modern building is falling objects not the building collapsing, so being under something sturdy is recommended.

    • Aegeus says:

      The polar vortex was the biggest weather event I’ve experienced, but the response was the same as pretty much any snowstorm. Go to bed, shovel the driveway in the morning, expect to be at work late the next day. Drive carefully in the snow, accelerate and decelerate slowly. Know how antilock brakes work. In theory, I know how to break out of a skid but I’ve never had to test it.

      I also had a fire at my school once, but there was absolutely zero excitement. We all thought it was a drill until we realized that we had been standing out in the cold for an hour and they still hadn’t let us back in.

      I don’t think you need any special preparation to live in the Midwest. Stay calm, don’t rush, go somewhere safe. The same thing every kid has been taught since elementary school. The only think I’d add is, grab a jacket on the way out. If the fire alarm goes off in the middle of the night and you’re stuck in the snow wearing only your pajamas, you will not be happy.

    • Chalid says:

      My building was flooded during hurricane Sandy. I don’t know if it was “irrational” or not but, but I was able to see the water slowly creeping down the street towards us through my window, and my reaction was to go outside with my roommate to get a closer look. I suppose it was a small risk to my personal safety, but I don’t regret it at all. (I personally lived on the 11th floor so I had no worries about protecting my personal posessions.) I was only out for a few minutes and quickly retreated back to my apartment when the water started to get close. A little bit of temporary community formed on our floor of the apartment as we discussed plans, traded advice, etc, which was interesting – I’d never talked to any of those people before the hurricane (other than occasional elevator pleasantries) and after the crisis passed I never talked to any of them again.

      One thing that I did beforehand that I recommend to everyone was to put some jugs containing a couple weeks of water in the closet, along with a decent supply of water purification tablets. Plus a bunch of nonperishable food. I barely touched them, but they were a great comfort to have. In general, I always make sure that I have a supply like that in the home.

    • Casey Mann says:

      When I was about 10 years old, I was in a tornado that destroyed the hotel my family and I were staying in. My parents tried to pretend that it was something else so that I wouldn’t be scared, but I remember it being very obvious that they were lying to me without actually understanding what was happening. (My mother told me that the loud noise was the plumbing). I can’t say whether I acted rationally or irrationally, since I was so young and wasn’t aware of the danger until after.

      Interestingly, earlier this year, a couple weeks after I moved out of my last apartment complex, it was also destroyed by a tornado. (That one was much worse than the one from my childhood.)

    • Nornagest says:

      It’s not natural-disaster territory, but the most trouble the weather’s gotten me into was a few years ago, visiting Portland, Oregon, when an ice storm struck while I was two hours up the Yakima Valley. Small car, no chains, on roads coated in black ice. I passed more accidents on the way back than I can conveniently count (including a jackknifed trailer and a couple of stranded tow trucks), but made it back without incident by staying calm, driving slow, and keeping very focused.

      The most extreme event was in the winter of 1992, when my family (living in rural California at the time) got snowed in for two weeks by a freak blizzard. It took the county most of the first week to get the power back on. That never really felt like a disaster, though; we cooked on the wood stove and threw on a lot of blankets, but otherwise it was just like an ordinary snowstorm, but more so. The roof did need shoveling a couple of times so it wouldn’t collapse under the weight of the snow.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        You’re a Southern Californian, right? What were you visiting Portland and Yakima for? Work, family, just hitting the hipster tourism sites?

        • Nornagest says:

          I’m a Northern Californian, and I was visiting friends. I have family up there, too, but they weren’t the ones that talked me into heading up the valley to the wineries.

    • Anonymous says:

      Remember to discount for the fish story tendency.

    • hlynkacg says:

      I spent 8 years as a crewchief on Navy/USMC Search and Rescue helicopters, and flew in some truly terrifying heroic conditions over the course of my career.

      As for the question, the “extreme” weather or natural disaster I’ve seen was the immediate aftermath of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. I was stationed in Singapore at the time and our crew was one of the first emergency teams to arrive. Whole towns had been obliterated and we were ferrying aid workers in and pulling the injured out for weeks.

      Distant second would be the 2007 Witch Creek Fire.

      In both cases I was operating in a “official capacity” so I’m not sure how much my advice is worth but for craps sake pay attention. If the flames (or waves) are nipping at your heels you waited too long to start running.

  23. KG says:

    This isn’t anything interesting or intellectual, it just occurred to me that there are more Jewish people here than anywhere else I frequent.
    I’m trying to determine what the singular of the Hebrew word “rephaim” (shades in Sheol) is.
    Through the Internet and some rudimentary understanding of the language, I figure it’s either “rephaite” or “rapha”. Rephaite is what most of the Internet seems to say, but it isn’t clear to me whether or not that specifically only refers to the Canaanite tribe also called rephaim. Rapha seems right as something that would be pluralized as rephaim, kind of like naphil and nephilim, but there isn’t much Internet evidence to support this.
    Can anyone help me? Also, if it isn’t okay to ask this kind of question here, I’m sorry and go ahead and delete this Scott.

    • Guy says:

      Open means open, generally, as long as the comment gets through the filters, and the question seems perfectly reasonable. Unfortunately, I have no answer for you!

    • Julie K says:

      According to Even-Shoshan’s Hebrew dictionary, the word is always plural and there is no singular. If you need a Hebrew singular form for some reason, I would vote for rapha over rephaite, because the latter looks English rather than Hebrew to me (just like “Israelite” and “Canaanite” are English, not Hebrew).

    • Moshe Zadka says:

      “Refaim” as “ghosts” is a weird word, because it’s suppose to describe “ruakh” (wind, spirit or…ghost). Specifically, the proper plural is “ruakhot refaim” and the singular is “ruakh refaim” (which is an actual idiom used in Hebrew for the singular of ghosts). For this reason, I would say that if you are using “refaim” alone, it should be a word that is its own plural/singular, and you have “one refaim”.

  24. Tsnom Eroc says:

    DAE believe that allowing Transgenders into the military is a really bad idea. Actually, I also believe that adding women into combat roles is also quite a bad idea, but that’s a different post(there are some things women in the military are flat out better suited then men,and probably at least as good as men on average(fast accurate foreign language translation) just not combat roles and the social dynamics in that)

    The general rates of suicide,substance abuse are really really high. Hormonal therapy will obviously interfere with combat,regular drills, and simply daily life stability though I don’t think the military would be so daft to allow that for combat peeps. And if someone opts to go through genital mutilation, the costs of surgery are terrible, with the recovery time, and a sizable post-op regret rate.

    This seems like opening up a massive can of worms in a some very high-stress enviroments with a population that is much more unstable then the general population.

    I’m not saying I disagree with going through hormonal treatment and *some* forms of body surgery for some, that’s probably the best thing for them if they can manage to live in a big city and work in San Fran and other large cities with large congregations of…different ones, so to speak. And it definitely isn’t in the military that a person would live the life one would want to life after hormonal therapy in the first place.

    • suntzuanime says:

      It’s generally considered improper to discriminate against people because of the statistical tendencies of their groups.

      • Tsnom Eroc says:

        Well then, why the hell don’t MIT and CALTECH and HYPS start accepting highschool dropouts ? Such discrimination.

        Why don’t police officers start hounding down elderly women in bonnets and too much perfume as much as they do young men with their pants hanging down yelling in ghetto and redneck speak?

        Or, why should insurance companies be allowed to charge men more then women?

        Also, I view a large subset of those who consider themselves transgender as the definition of mentally ill. I don’t think its correct for *all* of them, but that guy with the manly bone structure and hairy belly thinking he will be *more* capable of doing what he wants in life after having a genital deforming surgery that has a very high risk of permanent lowered sensitivity and infection simply *is* a variant of insanty.

        • Jiro says:

          There’s a difference between a statistical tendency based on being in a group that you can choose to be in (and that we expect people to choose to be in), and one based on a group that you cannot choose ti be in. There is also the difference between being in a group where group membership is caused by the thing you’re really trying to measure, and being in one where group membership is not.

          Not accepting highschool dropouts is partly the first one (your actions affect your chance of dropping out) and partly the second (your ability affects your chance of dropping out, and MIT is interested in your ability).

    • MugaSofer says:

      No, I’m afraid literally no-one agrees with you. You are alone in this world.

      More seriously:

      It seems obvious to me that anyone who can pass the male requirements for joining should be allowed into the military, and that reducing those requirements for one group is incredibly stupid. Reducing those requirements in general may make sense, given the current state of technology, but it’s my understanding that women and old people have reduced fitness requirements for the same roles. This is idiotic foolishness.

      I don’t see any reason to keep out transgender people if they can pass the physical. However, it’s been pointed out to me that you’re generally not allowed to join the military if you need expensive surgery (because you might be trying to trick them into paying for it) or regular medication (because this might cause issues if your supply is disrupted.) Of course, hormones aren’t insulin, they’re more like an antidepressant; but I think it’s not unreasonable to restrict trans people of both genders from combat roles IFF it turns out to complicate supply lines too much.

      Transgender people are more mentally ill than the general population, but this goes down with surgery and hormones and should be accessible with an ordinary psych eval same as everyone else. The regret rate is probably >5% as I understand it.

      I don’t know why you assume trans people don’t want to join the military – if that’s the case, shouldn’t llowing them into the military have literally no effect?

      (I’m not sure if you’re aware, but calling them “transgenders” signals you don’t like them? Just a heads up, might make people take you less seriously if you seem like you have a grudge.)

      • Anonymous says:

        Reducing those requirements in general may make sense, given the current state of technology

        Quite the opposite, I think. If you mean physical requirements, infantrymen probably carry more now than a medieval knight in full armour. A lot of research goes into attempts to reduce the weight of stuff a soldier has to carry – and the weight then grows back to maximum possible again, as new gadgets are added. If you mean mental requirements, hell no – more is required of a soldier now than ever.

        I don’t see any reason to keep out transgender people if they can pass the physical.

        There is a reason, and it’s the same reason as excluding women – efficiency. There are very, very few women who can pass a man’s standard for physical fitness – maybe somewhere around the 1 in 10000 ballpark. It does not make sense to go to the trouble of providing increased sanitation and expanded medical support (not to mention the get-out-of-duty-free card that is pregnancy, and morale issues of mixed teams) to cater to so small a group.

        Inasmuch transmen are able to pass the physical requirement, and are otherwise not more of a burden on the military logistics than cismen – sure, why not.

        • Tsnom Eroc says:

          Its not just the physical requirements for women, unless you live in a bubble. What happens when you introduce sex, romance, and jealousy to groups of testosterone poisoned young men in high stress situations(most combat soldiers are under 30) who are just a few years away from getting in fights in High School over a girl, and you add that to a team how does that increase the stability and overall morale? I wonder how many murders/suicides happen when a soldier finds out that his wife has been cheating on him back home.

          • Tibor says:

            What I would be more concerned about is men instinctively trying to protect the women in their squad, effectively reducing the combat ability of the squad. A solution might be an all-female squad. One could look into history of female combatants. I think the most recent example would be WW2 Soviet female soldiers.

            I am not sure how that would work with transsexual soldiers. I’m inclined to see it as an almost non-issue as the only transsexuals I’ve every met were not the kind of people who would want to join the military. It might be a question of whether men have the right to have babies (Life of Brian Steve/Loretta). But yeah, in principle, if you can meet the criteria, then you probably should not be barred from service because of your sex.

            I say probably, because I see the military as something that should provide the best service (the highest possible deterrent of a foreign invasion) at the lowest possible cost. If that means discrimination of people, I don’t think it is really a problem. You should not do it arbitrarily but if it improves the quality of the military, then it is justified.

            Note that you can improve the quality by discriminating people who are fine individually but who cannot work so well in the collective because the majority of the soldiers interact with them in an undesirable way. You could say that it is not the fault of those discriminated people and you’d be right but if you cannot avoid it or if you can only avoid it at a cost which outweighs the benefits of having them then I think it is irrelevant whose fault it is. And since the military will probably be dominated by robots young men for the foreseeable feature, you have to take into account how young men (and particularly the kind of young men who join the army) interact with people.

          • For a shorter response to the discrimination argument …

            The function of the military isn’t to provide people with employment. It’s to protect the country. Policies should be judged on how well they do so.

          • Tedd says:

            @David Friedman, surely the purpose of police is likewise to provide protection, but we are broadly in agreement that certain discriminatory policing policies which would serve that end are nevertheless not to be enacted.

          • Anonymous says:

            In the US it clearly isn’t solely or even mainly to protect the country. It is mostly used to advance various, fairly nebulous, American interests. Throwing a little bit of advancing domestic social agendas doesn’t seem so far fetched in that context. Say American women feel a little bit more like equal citizens and Iraqis feel a little less grateful for the help in rebuilding their country because it is done a little less efficiently. Hard to see that as a disastrous trade-off.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Damn it. Now I’m having far too much fun imagining America’s middle eastern wars being fought by all-female forces, and a lot of people getting very upset over this.

          • Tibor says:

            @Tedd: The police is not the same thing as the army, the working conditions and assignments (save for the almost-military forces like the SWAT teams) are very different. Another thing is that the police is allowed to do quite a lot to the civilian population. In such a scenario, you don’t want to exclude groups of people because the police is in a sense a form of representation. A gay policeman is probably less likely to be unfair to gays than a heterosexual policeman for example. But at the end the goal is the same – the police is not there to provide employment to people but to serve its purpose. If it were best served by only hiring redhaired men from one particular city, then it would be ok to discriminate everyone else, but the nature of the police force makes it unlikely that this is the best idea. With the army, the arguments are more convincing that a version of this might be good.

            But generally, if the discrimination is used to make the organization to serve its purpose better, then it is legitimate for it to discriminate.

            Of course, even with the army you might have some concerns. If you are in a country with two ethnicities, where somehow it turns out hiring people from just one ethnicity as soldiers makes the army better at fighting, it might still be a good idea not to do that in case you have some ethnic tensions. But again, the point is that such a military would be worse at its goal – which is not fighting but protecting the civilian population. However, if your sole objection to discrimination is that it is discrimination, then I don’t think it is enough.

            Of course, it is not written in stone that the military has to only serve the purpose of protection of the country and indeed no reason it could not be seen as a provider of employment. One has to argue why that is not a good idea. A libertarian argument is that the state, if it should exist at all, should limit itself to the bare minimum, because otherwise it tends to have undesirable consequences and if employment is your concern then the free market can provide that in a better way (and if you are convinced that we are reaching a level of automatisation where some people simply won’t be able to find a job then still something like providing a minimum basic income is superiour to using the military to create employment).

            In any case, you should state the purpose of the military (or any other tax-funded organization) clearly and then aim to make it serve its stated purpose in the most efficient way. I think that the stated purpose of the military is protection against foreign aggression. Those who don’t agree with that should state it clearly and explain what they see as the desired goals.

            Note that I am not arguing the current US military serves the stated purpose in an efficient way. It is way too big and expensive for serving that purpose only. But that is not an argument to make it drift away from the stated purposes even more (by seeing it as a provider of employment for example).

      • Lysenko says:

        Anon already covered the bit about physical requirements for ground and armored vehicle combat (The closest we’ve had to a serious test of mixed vs. unisex units in ground combat tasks I am aware of was performed by the US Marine Corps, and it…did not go well, though the test is being attacked as ‘problematic’ and the Corps will not release the entire report).

        As for HRT and/or SRS, the list of disqualifying conditions for entry into the military is rather large. Some of these can be waived for some position, but not without consequences, and most cannot. Until relatively recently, taking psychiatric medication of any kind was an automatic disqualification from deployment (in other words for anything but CONUS-based admin/logistics personnel, you cannot actually perform your job in a real world environment) and in many cases grounds for medical separation.

        And these are not just arbitrary concerns. If and when you have to REALLY do your job (as opposed to train for it), you are not guaranteed sleep, food, timely access to hygiene facilities, timely access to medical care, or any number of other things that complicate matters for anyone managing ANY sort of ongoing condition.

        That said, there are plenty of transgender men and women who have not started HRT or who might choose to postpone undergoing it until after completing a term of service, and assuming that gender integration is desirable (something I am in favor of in the abstract but have very serious concerns about in practice), it should be relatively straightforward.

        Solve the physical, health, and fraternization issues of gender integration and I think GLBT takes care of itself.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Are the Israeli Defense Forces not fully integrated?

          My “background knowledge” was that they were and that the IDF performs well, but maybe that piece of knowledge is somehow incorrect.

          • Civilis says:

            My understanding is that the Israelis have many but not all combat positions open to women. On the other hand, Israel is a special case, as they are dealing with an irregular enemy, at least some of whom consider the entire population legitimate military targets.

            During World War II, the Soviets accepted female volunteers for some combat roles, including aircraft crew, tank crew, and snipers. It’s not because they were particularly well suited for the roles, it’s because the Soviets needed everyone they could get; when you’re arming your own gulag prisoners and some captured German PoWs, you’ll take everything. (The Germans, on the other hand, just armed some captured Russian PoWs; they weren’t quite desperate enough.)

            The US is not nearly at a place where they need to resort to taking any warm body for combat service. I can’t see a situation where we would need to, for example, give prisoners rifles, and send them forward with machine-guns pointed at their backs to keep them headed in the right direction (and people wonder why the Germans were able to get Soviet PoWs to volunteer to fight their former comrades).

            We can either choose who can be assigned a combat role based on political factors or military ones.

          • Lysenko says:

            Short version, No.

            Long version, in 2000 there was a law passed that opened all jobs in the IDF to women for the first time. Prior to this, females were at least as restricted from combat roles as in the US, if not more so. We actually had pilots flying combat missions earlier and in greater proportion than the IDF for example. In any case, this ruling led to the creation of Caracal, a mostly-female light infantry battalion. Since its creation, the battalion has basically been doing patrol work along the Egyptian border and was deliberately kept out of direct combat operations whenever possible. There was a much publicized sister unit started for the Jordanian border, but again, same story. Neither unit has ever participated in combat operations, though there have been two skirmishes between patrols and militants.

            There are a handful of females who serve outside those units, mostly officers, but again, exclusively in non-combat roles even when they have technically had access to combat jobs. For example, search and rescue units, flight engineers on helicopters, etc.

            There is some pressure to change this, but it hasn’t happened yet.

          • keranih says:

            @ HBC –

            To add to what Lysenko says – the IDF used to have sexually integrated forces. They don’t any more. Because of performance/capability issues.

            Also – and not to knock the IDF – but much of the public perception of the IDF is that it has kept Israel from being overrun by conventional Arab armies for decades. Which is not nothing, but the general American opinion of the IDF went down a couple notches after the first Gulf War when the US military fought Arab armies itself.

            Again, “better than Arab armies” is not nothing, but there are higher bars.

          • Lysenko says:

            Can you expand/amplify on that? The last news I heard on this issue was the IDF commission report from 2007 or so pressuring for more and faster opening of combat positions to female soldiers, and more recently that they were looking at creating 1-2 more mostly-female units for border patrols.

            I had not heard that the IDF had DE-integrated.

          • keranih says:

            @ Lysenko –

            I was a part of a peanut gallery as several senior military types discussed gender integration in the 1990’s – the only thing broadly agreed was that the post-Cold War Soviet collapse was as good a time as any to “try stupid stuff that probably won’t work” ie, gender integration, allow openly gay service members, make the whole Army into Special Forces, switch to a “purple uniform” etc.

            At any rate, the IDF was brought up and their gender integration bluntly discarded as being “no more than show” – one colonel said the tell was in parachute packers – the packers who were assigned to male units were of much higher quality and prestige than those assigned to female paratrooper units.

            (Another leader riffed off this and discussed how *extremely* useful female paratrooper trainers were for School of the Americas and other instances of training Latin American troops – when a blond twenty-something female jumpmaster stood up and bellowed “follow me” as she jumped out of the perfectly good airplane, there was not a Latino male in the New World whose machismo would let him refuse to jump.)

            (Apparently red-blooded American boys were not so bigoted, and every year there would be a few who let their common sense override their pride, to their eventual detriment.)

            AT ANY RATE – specifically, back during the fighting in 1948, about 20% of the Israeli military was female (mostly clerks and drivers, but with some front liners), but after the formal development of the IDF, they deliberately shifted all the women out. The speakers I heard said it was “officially because if captured the women would be raped as a matter of course, but reality was because the women weren’t as good at maneuver and sustained contact, and some of the Arab units refused to surrender to Israeli units if they knew there were women.” Wikipedia largely agrees with this.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        I’m not sure if you’re aware, but calling them “transgenders” signals you don’t like them?

        I didn’t even notice that at first reading; it was the reference to “genital mutilation” that tripped my ‘this person may not be very charitable’ sensors 🙂

        • Tibor says:

          I don’t know, have you ever seen the so called sex operation? It can hardly be called anything but genital mutilation. It makes the patient’s genitals dysfunctional by reforming them to a crude replica of the genitals of the opposite sex. Maybe one day medicine will advance to a level where we can actually have something that deserves the name sex operation, but genital mutilation is quite an accurate description of the current procedure. It may perhaps still be the best option for some people, but that is beside the point.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          I think you’re ignoring the connotations. ‘Genital mutilation’ is usually used to refer to a crudely done operation, carried out without anaesthetic on someone too young to give informed consent, for superstitious reasons, or indeed sometimes with the explicit goal of sabotaging their ability to enjoy sex when then they grow up.

          Whereas ‘sex reassignment surgery’ usually means a procedure done under normal surgical standards of care, with informed consent, which has been chosen as (part of) the best treatment options for gender dysphoria, and which, yes, as a side effect may reduce the patient’s ability to experience sexual pleasure (though see here)

          … so the term may be technically accurate on the connotational level, but it is still a term that suggests that the speaker is being uncharitable.

      • bean says:

        It seems obvious to me that anyone who can pass the male requirements for joining should be allowed into the military, and that reducing those requirements for one group is incredibly stupid.
        The problem is that it never, I repeat never, works quite that way. When the Canadians first opened up their infantry to women, they had one woman pass the test out of some rather larger number who started. This is not a good situation from a group dynamics point of view, so they quietly jiggered their tests. Their combat physical, which is technically gender-blind, has two components. First, a reasonably strenuous cross-country portion under a 30-40 lb pack. A modern infantryman is easily going to be carrying 2-3 times that, and load carriage over terrain is not a linear thing. Second, a casualty evacuation test which requires them to carry someone of their own size. Last time I checked, combat doesn’t usually arrange things so nicely. I’m reasonably certain that the previous standard was a certain weight of person, so they managed to break their test without actually stating that it would be easier for women. There have been statements from high DOD officials about dumbing down (I’m sorry, examining standards for) physical tests if they don’t get enough women to pass them and the service can’t make a really good case for keeping them where they are.

        WRT transgenders, I’m not a fan. Principally because any psych drugs are disqualifying for a full year after you stop taking them (a requirement that kept me [ritalin] out of the military), and not applying the same requirements to hormones is absurd discrimination.

        • hlynkacg says:


        • suntzuanime says:

          To be fair, the smaller you are, the less of a problem you will be for other soldiers to carry as a casualty. Seems not totally unreasonable to give them credit for it. If you really wanted to be rigorous you would set a specific size as the minimum size to carry and the maximum size to be and reject soldiers that failed either.

          • Lysenko says:

            The maximums, at least in the US, are established by height, weight, and BMI standards by age and sex.

            Having to be tape-tested at each PT test is generally considered either an annoyance (if the person is obviously a gym monster) or a sign of personal weakness and inferiority (if it’s judged to be due to fat), and failing to ‘make tape’ too many times in a row will get you kicked out.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Sounds like we’re dumbing down our standards so that men can pass.

          • Lysenko says:

            The more common argument is that the tape test as currently practiced is not a good measure of actual fitness/health and combat readiness, but no. The only stock exemptions are for major amputees (which has a whole other set of potential disqualifications), pregnant and immediately post-partum women, and a six month exemption for soldiers coming out of a 30+ day hospitalization.

          • Anonymous says:

            That doesn’t really answer the question. What does BMI, age, or sex have to do with how difficult it is to drag you? Sounds like there should be a flat weight limit and if you can’t make because you are too tall, find another career.

          • Lysenko says:

            Can’t speak to the Canadian Army, but a Buddy Carry is not one of the core fitness criteria for the US Army, though it is a standard part of both physical training (PT) and skills training.

            Generally speaking, similar sized soldiers are paired off, except when the NCOIC of the training is making a point/fucking with someone, in which case they will certainly get the biggest, most oversized and awkward buddy in order to ensure that the point “Get stronger” is hammered home. I say that as the guy who regularly got 80s-90s on Sit-ups and the 2-Mile Run, but struggled to break into 80s on my push-ups score for most of my short military career, and thus was often the target of such encouragement.

            The APFT is as many GOOD push-ups as you can do without resting in 2 minutes, ditto for Sit-ups, and a timed 2-mile Run. Certain units add additional requirements like pull-ups, and there have been regular pushes for a more complicated and “practical” fitness tests, but they have not been implemented Army-wide.

            It’s worth noting that the requirements are “gender-normed”.

          • bean says:

            To be fair, the smaller you are, the less of a problem you will be for other soldiers to carry as a casualty. Seems not totally unreasonable to give them credit for it.
            I’m not so sure. If the objective is to make sure that we have a robust casualty evacuation capability, then you want everyone to be able to handle nearly everyone (there being obvious fringe cases where you can’t expect the smallest guy in the squad to handle the 300 lb machine gunner very well). The objection I have is that that part of the test was changed with the not-quite-explicit purpose of allowing more women to pass. And the fact that men and women have very different bell curves for physical strength, which means that the women you let in are going to be much closer to the minimums on average than men are. This is important because I expect that the minimum man is a bit weaker than is really needed, but the rest of the squad can take up the slack a bit. Add in a lot more minimum soldiers, and this becomes a problem.

            Can’t speak to the Canadian Army, but a Buddy Carry is not one of the core fitness criteria for the US Army, though it is a standard part of both physical training (PT) and skills training.
            This is the Canadian special combat physical, not their basic PT requirements.

        • As I understand it, part of the situation is that women are in combat already, but not getting credit for it. This is not the same thing as being in the infantry.

          Also, I’ve never been clear about how likely it is for a soldier to be injured at a time when only one other soldier is available to carry the injured person out, nor whether the smallest male soldiers can individually carry the largest male soldiers.

          • bean says:

            As I understand it, part of the situation is that women are in combat already, but not getting credit for it. This is not the same thing as being in the infantry.
            This is a very important point. The vast majority of what women have been doing in the middle east involves what are basically police duties in a really, really, really bad neighborhood. There’s a difference between being told to do that and being told ‘that hill over there is crawling with bad guys, and we’d like to have it’. A couple times a year, there would be major armed pushes in one country or the other, but AFAIK, all of them were carried out by all-male combat units. There’s also a big difference between being on patrol for a few hours to a day or two and being told to sit in a muddy foxhole for weeks on end. (That hasn’t happened much recently, but it’s a traditional part of infantry life for the last century or so.) Until we’ve taken steps to test women in an actual infantry unit, it seems wildly premature to rush them into all infantry units.

          • bean, we seem to have different central examples– imagine a woman who’s a driver or a medic, and the fighting comes to her. To put it mildly, the threat level is worse than what you’d see normally, even in a very bad neighborhood.

          • Lysenko says:

            Nancy, to the extent that female soldiers are engaged in firefights with insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan, they are fully eligible for combat-related medals (Navy/Marine Combat Action Ribbon, US Army Combat Action Badge, Bronze Star w/ V Device, Silver Star, etc). So that’s not really a significant part of the situation.

            As far as Bean’s point, you might disagree with bean’s point, but it’s actually a real and crucial distinction. There is a fundamental qualitative and quantitative difference between, say, a female linguist, MP, or interrogator patrolling with a Female Engagement Team, and an infantryman, tanker, or cav scout engaged in the 1st or 2nd Battle of Fallujah, the Battle of Mogadishu, or any of the combat scenarios planned for in the contingency of a conventional war. These patrols may get into firefights (though this is relatively rare), but there is a marked difference between that and “close with the enemy by means of fire and maneuver in order to destroy or capture him, or to repel his assault with fire, close combat, and counterattack”.

            The current arguments are that females can be added to the units intended to perform those missions with no loss of effectiveness. Since this has already been declared and decided on at the DoD level, barring a volte-face from a new SecDef after the current election this is a done deal, and it’s just a question of how fast the implementation is going to happen.

          • bean says:

            bean, we seem to have different central examples– imagine a woman who’s a driver or a medic, and the fighting comes to her. To put it mildly, the threat level is worse than what you’d see normally, even in a very bad neighborhood.
            Yes and no. Yes, the threat level is higher than even the worst city in the US (probably). No, in that it’s still basically police work. I maintain that there is a fundamental difference between being in a position where you’ll probably see defensive combat and being handed a rifle and pointed at hill covered in bad guys. I agree that women have acquitted themselves well in the former case, but I don’t know of any experience with the latter anywhere. The Israelis have made sure to keep their integrated ‘combat’ units definitely in the former category, and nobody else with integrated combat units has done any high-intensity fighting AFAIK.

    • hlynkacg says:

      I’m nominally ok with it so long as performance standards are enforced, but if the whole women in combat arms kerfuffle is any indication they wont be.

  25. onyomi says:

    I commented here that my intuition about the Omelas case is that it’s justifiable to make one or a few people miserable if doing so is necessary to prevent say, human extinction, but not justifiable if it’s just for the purpose of making reasonably okay lives even better.

    I’m not really a utilitarian, but thinking about how this intuition could be justified on utilitarian grounds, my intuition is to say that huge utility gains are possible between “extinct” and “not extinct” which are not available between “okay” and “ecstatic.”

    But this raises to me a much more basic question about utilitarianism (and for all I know, people will tell me that this is totally basic and every utilitarian philosopher already has a great answer): is there not a sense in which utility calculations are always ex post facto justifications for ethical intuitions?

    For example, it “seems” to me to be wrong to make a child miserable in order to make a bunch of already rich people even richer, but it “seems” to be right to make a child miserable if doing so is the only way to save the rest of humanity from extinction. Given these intuitions, I can then come up with some utilitarian calculus to justify my intuitions, but if I had had the reverse intuition, I also could have come up with a reverse utilitarian calculus, such as “the difference between dying and barely surviving is not as much as the difference between barely surviving and living in eternal ecstasy; therefore, the Omelas case is MORE justifiable.”

    If I’m not missing something obvious, isn’t this a big problem for utilitarianism, since one can seemingly adjust the util value any which way to justify whatever intuitions you already hold?

    • “If I’m not missing something obvious, isn’t this a big problem for utilitarianism, since one can seemingly adjust the util value any which way to justify whatever intuitions you already hold?”

      One possible response is that people’s utility functions are to some extent observable in the choices they make.

      • onyomi says:

        This seems to work for, say, voluntary transactions: if, for example, I pay x dollars to procure service y instead of equally-priced service z, then we can sort of assume, axiomatically, that I get more utils from y than z.

        But in the Omelas case, while we can say that those who knowingly stay value their utopia more highly than the happiness of the child, while those who leave do not, how could we compare the utility of the people to that of the child? I’m sure the child would say he really, really, really doesn’t want to keep being a miserable slave and I’m sure the people would say they really, really, really like living in utopia.

        We might be able to find out how much they both really value these things if they were somehow able to strike a deal, but no mutually agreeable deal seems possible when one group has everything to lose and nothing to gain (other than feeling better about themselves) and the other everything to gain and nothing to lose.

        • “how could we compare the utility of the people to that of the child?”

          We can get some idea of their relative size by observing what gambles people are willing to take.

          Consider someone considering a decision that might turn out well or badly, where “well” is a life comparable to that of the ordinary citizen in Omelas, “badly” is misery similar to that of the child, and if he doesn’t take the decision he gets the life a citizen of Omelas would have if the child was not being made to live in misery.

          If he is indifferent between making the decision and not making it when the two outcomes are equally likely, that’s evidence that his utility gain if he wins is comparable to his utility loss if he loses.

          • onyomi says:

            This seems like an interesting way to look at, for example, the case of immigration to developed nations.

            If I were to choose behind a veil of ignorance as to where I’d be born whether developed nations should have liberal or restrictive immigration policies, I’d definitely chose liberal. Because chances are better than not that I won’t be born in the developed world, and, even if I am, being a 1st world citizen dealing with massive 3rd world immigration still seems far preferable to being a 3rd world citizen with no chance of escaping the 3rd world.

          • Jiro says:

            By that reasoning we should support the idea of immediately genociding all undeveloped nations (or at least forcibly sterilizing them). If we genocide them, they won’t have any future generations, and it is more likely that, choosing a random place and time from behind the veil of ignorance, I will be in a developed nation. In other words, the veil of ignorance leads to problems similar to the problems of population ethics in utilitarianism.

            Also, some interpretations of the veil of ignorance idea would lead one to conclude that we should be really nice to newly hatched fish, since there are so many of them and from behind the veil of ignorance, you should not know if you are a human or one of the much more numerous fish hatchlings.

          • Jiro says:

            Of course, now that I think of it, these should be combined, so the veil of ignorance argument dictates that we should try to wipe out fish, so that there will be fewer fish hatchlings with short lifes for us to possibly be from behind the veil of ignorance. Even ignoring quantities, it means we should wipe out as many animal species as we can–if few animals are born, from behind the veil of ignorance I would be more likely to be a human, and I find being a human preferable to being an animal.

            Also, if I was born under different circumstances I would object to blasphemy. People with objections to blasphemy are very numerous, so the veil of ignorance argument seems to demand that blasphemy be considered bad.

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            Jiro, from behind the veil of ignorance, maybe you also don’t know if you were going to be living in a (now non-existing) future generation of an undeveloped nation. Do potential people also enter Rawl’s lottery?

          • Jiro says:

            Counting potential people produces even worse problems. It’s like total utilitarianism and implies that about the most evil thing you could ever do is to fail to reproduce, or to increase someone’s standard of living (since that leads to less reproduction). It would ultimately would lead to tiling the universe with sentient beings.

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            Come on, non-existence can’t be that bad, can it?

            Besides the veil of ignorance thing is not supposed to be utilitarian. It can agree with utilitarianism, but it doesn’t have to.

    • keranih says:

      it’s justifiable to make one or a few people miserable if doing so is necessary to prevent say, human extinction, but not justifiable if it’s just for the purpose of making reasonably okay lives even better.

      At what death rate do you feel the population goes from “in danger of extinction” to “reasonably okay” and if circumstances change (ie, Black Death) are you willing to allow an increasing misery?

    • Ruprect says:

      Well… yes.

      Utilitarianism is fundamentally unscientific (unempirical?), because the internal states of others are unobservable (as opposed to our own virtue, which we should have direct access to.)
      So, we get to write our own rules when we play utilitarianism – the ‘divine signs’ of utility that we choose to recognise have to be based upon a subjective intuition. How could there ever be a purely objective basis for the task we have set ourselves, here?

      • onyomi says:

        Well, this is why I lean towards ethical intuitionism, though of the realist variety. I think there are right and wrong answers to ethical questions, but I don’t think we can know them without intuitions as a starting point.

      • “because the internal states of others are unobservable”

        Entirely unobservable? You have no justified opinion as to whether the disutility to a random person of a pin prick is more or less than the disutility of being tortured to death? A little more or a lot more?

        • Ruprect says:

          Yes – the internal states are unobservable. The external behaviour is observed and then there is a human tendency towards empathy – our emotions projected onto others. (But if this real emotional content is the sole currency of our ethical system, the result cannot be utilitarianism, since empathetic reactions are determined by our attention more than anything else).
          There is definitely a natural tendency to view the pinprick as a worse outcome than torture – but I don’t think there is any natural/instinctive tendency towards a universal empathy. As such, I feel that utilitarianism probably has its roots in the aesthetic appeal of universalism, more than anything else.
          The problem is, an ethics without empathy becomes an arbitrary process – the danger facing utilitarianism is that it might become this if it is too divorced from the original empathetic content. In practice, the intuitive/empathetic tendency tends to overrule the universalist one, as it must, if the system is to retain any humanity.

          • “Yes – the internal states are unobservable. The external behaviour is observed ”

            Similarly, temperature is an unobservable. The reading of the thermometer is observed.

            External behavior, facial expressions, voice tones, are observed and let us deduce something about other people’s utility function. We correctly believe that other people are a good deal like us, being members of the same species, and each of us directly observes his own utility function.

            There is a large gap between “unobservable” and “cannot be perfectly observed.”

          • Ruprect says:

            So… the term “temperature” can have meaning as both a description of (1) some direct sensory experience, or (2) of a relation between various pieces of sense data.

            My thermometer tells me (2), and if I were there, I know (from previous experience) that I would feel (1).
            The previous sentence is a form of (2) – relating my direct sensory experience of heat, to the expansion of mercury (or whatever phenomena we are using for our thermometer).

            I think that this sentence is of a different quality to the sentence: “my thermometer tells me (2), person B is there and therefore he experiences (1)”. Since that isn’t something we’ve ever directly experienced, I’m not sure that we can rightly make any comment upon its probability – and I don’t think you can call it an “observation” or a “deduction”.
            We can, of course, observe his reaction to the temperature, but that data is less important, from an ethical perspective, than the expectation that he is like us.

            So, that’s why I would say that utilitarianism is either a somewhat arbitrary game (a smile/paperclip maximising process – not necessarily harmful, but not especially compelling) – or is reliant upon an empathetic intuition.

            But if that’s the case, isn’t it the empathetic intuition that is key?

      • Aegeus says:

        Utilitarianism is fundamentally unscientific (unempirical?), because the internal states of others are unobservable (as opposed to our own virtue, which we should have direct access to.)

        Our own virtue is observable in theory, but how can you judge yourself objectively? How do you even determine what virtue is without subjective intuition?

        One man pulls the lever in the trolley problem and thinks himself virtuous for saving five lives. Another man refuses to pull the lever and thinks himself virtuous for refusing to commit murder. They both have direct access to their own thoughts, but it doesn’t help clarify which one of them acted correctly.

        • Ruprect says:

          Would they not both be virtuous, by their own lights? I think that there is a subjective element to determining what constitutes a virtue, but once you’ve done that, you can directly access it, and, to a degree, measure it (depending on how well you know yourself).

          If we say that the goal is to maximise the pleasure of others (as opposed to maximising certain physical signs we associate with pleasure) – in what sense do we have any direct access to that? If the idea is to maximise the physical signs of pleasure, does that make for a compelling goal?

          • Aegeus says:

            If they’re both virtuous, if your own opinion is all that matters, then this system basically boils down to “Do what you think is right.” That’s not very helpful.

            Maximizing something externally observable has two advantages – you can judge the actions of others, and it can’t be swayed by your own bias towards yourself.

            It does tend to break down in edge cases – maximizing external signs of pleasure would obviously allow wireheading – but unless you’re programming an AI I think consequentialism is a pretty good way to keep score. Peoples’ external signs are good evidence of their internal state. Not perfect evidence, but good evidence.

            (Bringing this back to the trolley problem, it would not be a good strategy to say “Well, maybe those five people on the tracks are all suicidally depressed and they actually would prefer to get run over.”)

          • Ruprect says:

            I think that, perhaps, consequentialism is a form of virtue ethics.

            The reason why I cannot kill one man to save one hundred is that, to me, empathy is key. In real psychological terms, I don’t have the capacity to empathize with 1000 people. I empathize with one person.
            If I save 1000 people, I imagine one person saved and then say “1000 people” – if I kill one person I imagine one person killed. Emotionally, it’s an impossible choice. Better to do nothing.
            The words “1000 people” are not naturally compelling.
            Obey because you fear, or love, or hate. A directly felt emotion.

            In most practical senses, where utilitarianism asks us to respond to smiles, it’s relying on the same empathetic response as the above. Sure – smiles. I love them. When I think of having more smiles, I’m thinking of a (1) smile. Sounds good.
            But, when we get down to it, in detail, what we are actually being asked to do is to place a greater importance on the aesthetic quality of our internal life than on certain direct emotional experiences- specifically that the words and idea of “1000 people” should take precedence over my capacity to empathize with one person.

            The problem for me with utilitarianism is that it is explicitly based upon the idea of pleasure, which only has meaning with empathy. So, it’s kind of asking us to be Spock, asking us to prefer a form of intellectual consistency to emotion, but the only real justifications for the specific actions recommended, are emotional (empathy).
            It’s either a fusion that is slightly beyond my capacity to appreciate, or an unstable (and dishonest?) hodge podge.

            Anyway, I don’t think we can say that we’ve found some objective measure of morality because we look at external signs – an objective morality would have to emerge from some universal property shared by all subjects.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’d be willing to bet that inter-rater reliability is a lot higher for happiness and pain and other things that utilitarianism might care about, than for virtue. Especially if one of the raters happens to be rating themself.

        • Ruprect says:

          Maybe – lets say you derived tremendous pleasure from sorting people according to their eye colour. You have one room for people with blue eyes, and one room for people with brown, unfortunately, everyone always wears dark sunglasses and you can’t see their eyes.

          It seems reasonable to say that you could, by observing their skin tone and hair colour, have a good rate of success at guessing their (self reported) eye colour. You might even be able to order them from lightest to darkest.

          At the same time, I think there might also be a stage at which, given sufficient difficulties in communication, lack of previous experience, trust, diversity of forms – we would have a better idea of how honest our effort was, than our likely success rate.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      This isn’t limited to Utilitarianism. All normative ethics is ex-post-facto. The solution is to bite the bullet and admit “Yes, my ethical intuitions are arbitrary, capricious, and contradictory. Moving on — let’s take these intuitions and deliberately engineer a morality that’s useful.”

      Clearly, the Omela’s morality was poorly engineered. Their society rested on a single failure-point ffs.

  26. Trigger warning: Suicide, transgender issues

    So I’ve glanced at a fair number of religious, conservative articles which say something like “The transgender suicide rate is so incredibly high, even among those who transition,” with the implication being that physically transitioning is basically hurting the person transitioning, and that by golly, the Catholic Church has it right about everything about human nature.

    And I’ve also glanced at a fair number of secular articles which say something like “The transgender suicide rate is incredibly high,” with the implication being that we all need to be much nicer to people who are transgender, because we’re making them kill themselves.

    What I’ve never found is a good discussion of where these stats on transgender suicides come from; whether more or less people kill themselves after transitioning; at what kinds of studies have looked at rates of regret for transition; and so on and so forth. The kind of stat review Scott does sometimes. The kind of hopefully neutral thing that one can use to sort through these claims.

    Is anyone aware of such a review and where I could find it?

    • Urstoff says:

      I think the implication of conservatives using that statistic is that transgenderism is really a form of mental illness rather than a legitimate case of gender dysphoria.

      • Anonymous says:

        Why couldn’t gender dysphoria itself be mental illness?

        • Guy says:

          Because when you say “illness” (especially “mental illness”), you push all kinds of buttons that at least seem to be less than useful in this case. (I don’t mean to impute any kind of hostile intent here, just trying to answer the question)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            To further this point, assuming that gender dysphoria can be described as a condition wherein a persons brain is at odds with their body about what sex characteristics they should be expressing, I submit it is far easier to change the body. Honestly, I’m not sure if understand enough about those who are transgendered to say I have adequately described dysphoria.

            But, the mirror box should show us that merely trying to convince people that they just need to accept that they don’t have a certain body part isn’t particularly useful.

          • Lysenko says:

            My understanding of gender dysphoria is that this is exactly the case:

            You change the lived experience and in some cases the body (via HRT and in some cases surgery) precisely because your success rates at producing functional and happy adults are better than trying to cure the dysphoria and make the patient comfortable and happy with their physical sexual characteristics and social gender role.

            It’s been awhile since I reviewed the literature on the subject because I did so mainly because I had a transgender boyfriend (initially girlfriend) at the time, but last I read, the prospects of curing gender dysphoria/GID with therapy to make physical males happy with being males and father figures were lower than with a transition.

            That said, not everyone unhappy with their social role or sexuality has gender dysphoria, which is why the medical intervention is supposed to happen only after a period of psychiatric evaluation and therapy and when therapy alone is insufficient to moderate the patient’s distress. Actually, rather than try to remember this stuff, let me find the most common standards of care.

            It will take Scott or one of our other resident people with relevant workplace experience to comment on whether these standards are actually followed in practice, but is there any serious challenge to the current standard with a basis more substantive than “ew, gross”?

    • Vitor says:

      Noone wonders why children disproportionately die in accidents (as opposed to heart attacks and kidney failure).

      It seems to me that transgender deaths are skewed towards accidents, murders, suicides etc, because trans issues are only recently being legitimized, so I’d expect the trans population to be much younger than the general population.

      This fallacy is exploited in rhetoric both by the left and the right.

      Note that this is just my intuition, I’d also like to see actual stats.

  27. J says:

    Okay everyone, what are your favorite things from SSC? The things that have really stuck with me include:

    I can tolerate anything except the outgroup

    Jiro’s comment pointing out you can’t fix [problems] by only empathizing with genuine distress because people have the ability to feel genuine distress in a strategic manner. (And I take “strategic” to mean “unconsciously strategic”)

    “Things that sometimes help for depression/anxiety” were excellent, as was “Asches to Asches”.

      • Moshe Zadka says:

        Yep those are the ones I’ll sometimes share to Facebook, with no further comment (or just “I like this” or something equally bland), when an argument makes me long for this position.

    • suntzuanime says:




    • hlynkacg says:

      I was introduced to Scott’s writing by a gun-blogger friend linking to Reactionary Philosophy In a Planet sized Nutshell but it was Meditations on Moloch, and Social Justice and Words, Words, Words specifically the concept of the “Motte and Bailey” that probably had the most profound effect on my thinking.

      I’d also like to give a shout out to The Witching Hour which IMO is far superior to and more deserving of the label “science fiction” than a good number of actual Hugo winners.

      • Julian R. says:

        The Witching Hour was delightful.
        I’m embarrassed to say I read it, went “Nice worldbuilding, but so what? Not what I expected of Scott”
        Then, a day later, while I was eating lunch…it hit me.

        (I live in India, which doesn’t have …)

    • Sir Gawain says:

      In addition to the posts already mentioned, I find his eviscerations of simplistic popular media interpretations of academic research delightful. Why oh why can’t news organizations have people as smart as Scott Alexander writing for them???

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Because most people don’t care about details? And the media you are thinking is aimed at and tries to capture as readers/listeners/viewers as many of “most people” as they can?

        There are other reasons, as well. Consider the expected income for so,some who targets “journalist” as a career and one who targets MD.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Because there aren’t nearly enough geniuses to go around, and what geniuses they do have would be better deployed working on schemes to defeat ad blockers.

      • Saint Fiasco says:

        Because people like Scott make more money being doctors.

        News organizations are very stingy, just like their customers. Maybe if we paid more money for quality news…

    • E. Harding says:

      A lot of Scott’s posts from 2013 and the first half of 2014 were really good. Then, Scott reduced his production of great posts.

    • TomFL says:

      “I can tolerate anything but the outgroup” was the best random link I have clicked on in the past 5 years.

  28. Is Involuntary Unemployment a Bad Thing?

    I think the answer is “yes,” but I also think that not everybody agrees. Here is one way of interpreting a group of related memes that show up here (and elsewhere).

    1. Nobody should have to do uninteresting work at a low wage. This sometimes appears as the claim that if a company can’t pay it’s workers a “decent wage” it shouldn’t exist. The obvious implication, not explicitly drawn, is that if someone cannot produce enough to earn a “decent wage,” he shouldn’t be working at all.

    2. To implement point 1, we should raise the minimum wage until it equals what we consider a decent wage. People who support this generally assume that the result is that low wage workers get higher wages, not that they become unemployed, but most seem undisturbed by the obvious implication of basic economics–that at the higher wage the quantity of such labor demanded will be lower.

    3. We should provide everyone a basic income sufficient for a minimally decent life.

    Combine all these and one could interpret the package as:

    4. It is better for people with low productivity not to work, since their leisure is worth more to them than their labor is to others. By raising the minimum wage we make sure such people cannot work. Since they cannot work they are deserving objects of our sympathy, so a basic income or some other form of income redistribution should be used to support them.

    The basic income without the minimum wage would achieve the same objective at lower cost, since those workers who preferred work at a low wage could still choose it. But the arguments for a basic income become more convincing if there are lots of people who have no other way of supporting themselves. So a machiavellian redistributist might want to use the minimum wage to create that situation and then blame the lack of jobs on automation rather than on the policy he supported.

    • Guy says:

      There’s something not quite right in what you’re saying, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to put my finger on it, but here goes.

      (1) What makes work “interesting”? There’s work that you like to do and work you don’t particularly mind doing, and there’s work that you really don’t want to do. I would say the first is “interesting”, and the last is what we should definitely avoid forcing on people (for a generalized notion of “you”, which is to say, people make their own choices as free from necessity as possible).

      And what does this have to do with whether or not someone is able to produce enough to earn a nominally decent wage*? Suppose Bob’s Bespoke Balsa Bodkins are incredibly popular, popular enough that Bob is able to make a living producing them, but Bob himself hates making bodkins and wishes he could do anything else. Further, suppose that due to some bizarre circumstance bodkin production is Bob’s only option for a decent wage. Should Bob have to make bodkins? Alternatively, suppose Bob doesn’t make enough money from bodkins to hit a decent wage, but doesn’t particularly object to producing them. Should he be prevented from producing bodkins as a condition of receiving aid?

      (2) That sounds like the position of a typical minimum wage advocate.

      (3) This sounds like the position of a typical GBI advocate, with the caveat that it also applies to minimum wage advocates who indulge in magical thinking re: employment.

      (4) This doesn’t sound like a position anyone holds. A more plausible similar position would be something like “It is better for people prefer not to work (at the wages and jobs offered to them) to not have to do so. This is currently unworkable due to politics/economics, but it is workable to raise the wage floor and thereby decrease the number of such people.” This bans low-productivity jobs, which then makes welfare (more) necessary, providing a sort of psuedo-basic-income in a way that is politically tractable but, of course, magnificently inefficient and of limited effectiveness.


      I think to actually answer the question you raise at the top of your post, I’d have to ask what “involuntary unemployment” actually means. Does it mean that people who need to work (because in our current social order one must perform some job in order to survive, at least by default) can’t? Or does it mean that people who want to work, or want to work a particular job, can’t, for some reason or another? I think people generally have some kind of rank order on the various possible states of employment (occasionally with lots of ties, of course), and they’ll just pick the highest one in reach. Adding a GBI makes “none of the above” a perfectly valid choice for more people than it currently is, at least ideally (because ideally the GBI is enough to survive** on, if perhaps not too much more). That seems like a good thing to me, as a choice-maximizer, but I don’t see what it has to do with voluntary or involuntary unemployment. In our current society, with no GBI, almost all unemployment (by most definitions) is involuntary, because employment is necessary for survival, and I do think that is bad.

      I’m not sure this post actually got where I meant it to go.

      *Maybe a “decent wage” is that wage which provides a standard of living greater than that which unemployment/welfare would sustain? That seems like something we could hypothetically agree on for operational purposes but which is no doubt impossible to actually determine because of US welfare weirdness.

      **I would go a little further and say that the GBI is ideally enough money to participate in society, which means it covers a little bit of social/discretionary spending. Though, again, not necessarily a whole lot of such.

    • I think your analysis assumes that the hypothetical reasoner agrees that wages equal productivity. Such agreement is not very widespread, and is particularly rare among people who support a minimum wage.

      You outline an internally-consistent position, but I think it is a rare one.

      • DavidS says:

        Yes, I think minimum wage advocates believe (or assume) that people being paid less than minimum wage are being paid less than their labour is worth and that if you introduce it, it will cause wages to rise and not for jobs to disappear.

        I’ve seen it claimed on this blog amongst others that despite the ‘basic economics’ point we don’t actually empirically see minimum wage creating unemployment. And this is certainly in the popular understanding in the UK, I think: when minimum wage was introduced, people predicted a rise in unemployment that didn’t happen. Although obviously that anecdote is hopeless as evidence as it lacks a clear counterfactual.

        On a side note: if you accept that if in a large % of cases minimum wages simply increase wages, could this offset a small % of losing their jobs because a $ in the pocket of a low wage worker is more likely to be spent and drive more job creation that a $ in the pocket of a large corporation? I’ve seen people argue both sides of this. Presumably from a national/local POV it would definitely help as the worker spends at home but the company may be investing overseas etc.

        • “And this is certainly in the popular understanding in the UK, I think: when minimum wage was introduced, people predicted a rise in unemployment that didn’t happen. ”

          The implication of the standard argument is that unemployment will rise for those now making less than the new minimum wage will be. For the U.S., about 3% of all workers are paid at or below the current federal minimum wage. So even a substantial increase in their unemployment rate wouldn’t have a significant effect on the national unemployment rate. I don’t know what the comparable figure would be for the U.K.

          What you want to look at is the unemployment rate for subsets of the population, such as teenagers, that contain a high percentage of low wage workers.

          • Pete says:

            My understanding of the minimum wage, is that it applies mostly to jobs where the competitions for jobs is high, therefore lowering he wage (usually because of the low level of skill required to do them), rather than jobs that necessarily have low value.

            If the value of the job is still higher than the cost to the employer, surely someone will still be hired.

            Or to put it another way, if hiring someone gives you a benefit of $20, and the market rate for that employee without a minimum wage would be $13, it would still be worth hiring someone if the minimum wage is $15.

            Of course, this is a massive oversimplification, and I would expect some increase in unemployment at the margins, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect the increase to be huge. Obviously, the higher the minimum wage, the more likely you are to make hiring not cost effective.

            Then again, I’m not an economist, and I”m sure you’re much more aware of the issues than I am.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            IANAEE (I am not an economist either), but I think the idea is that if the minimum wage is higher, it might be profitable for employers to replace several minimum wage workers with one more skilled, higher paid worker. In analogy your example: suppose you get $20 of benefit from an apple, and apples cost $13 (these are very fancy apples). If they go up to $15, you still profit from buying them, but the profit is less, and you might consider buying pears instead (where pears give $30 benefit and cost $24).

          • @Pete:

            What is relevant is the marginal benefit, the amount by which income goes up when you hire one more unskilled worker.

            If your marginal benefit from one more unskilled worker is $20 and he only costs you $10, you would hire more of them–you are making $10 profit on each. So would everyone else. The result would either be to drive down the marginal benefit of having one more worker or to bid up wages. Or, more likely, both.

            If you are maximizing your profit, the marginal benefit from one more worker of any sort is equal to what he costs you. Push up the wage and you hire fewer. How many fewer depends on the shape of the production function. The effect could be small if the demand for unskilled labor is for some reason very inelastic, large if very elastic.

            If you are sufficiently interested in a more detailed analysis, my price theory text can be read for free from my web site.

          • Lysenko says:

            Depends on where you’re talking about, but that absolutely happens, and the employees aren’t replaced at all. The demands on the remaining employees are just increased, and/or some tasks are shifted from hourly to low-level salaried employees who can be worked for more hours at no additional cost.

            The upcoming FLSA changes this December are going to make a more dramatic impact than a minimum wage hike, I think. And I’m not just saying that because I will almost certainly be going back to being an hourly rather than a salaried employee as my workplace is NOT doubling my pay just to avoid paying me 10-15 hours of overtime a week.

          • youzicha says:

            @David Friedman

            Doesn’t that analysis assume that labor is the limiting factor? I image the typical minimum wage job is something like a McDonalds restaurant, but one restaurant only needs so many workers, and if you hired more the additional ones would not produce the same $10 profit. And you may not be able to build more restaurants because e.g. there is no free land.

          • @Youzicha:

            If restaurants are profitable, one can build more. If all the land is occupied, which is wildly false for the U.S., you can buy a building currently being used for something else.

            MacDonalds doesn’t need a fixed number of workers. Add one more and they can do a somewhat better job, fill orders faster or keep the restaurant cleaner. As you add more workers, the amount better due to each declines–that was my earlier point about marginal product going down as number hired goes up.

            Putting it as labor is or isn’t “the limiting factor” just confuses things. Output is a function of input. The marginal product for any particular input, such as unskilled labor, is the increase in output due to adding one more unit of that input. It is a function of how much of that input you are currently using–and how much of other inputs.

          • youzicha says:

            @David Friedman

            I think there are two slightly different claims in play here. Your argument, that there is always some task an unskilled laborer can do, if the price is low enough, shows that the marginal benefit of a worker is not exactly zero.

            But Pete’s original point was whether the marginal benefit of a worker coincides with their current salary. That’s what we need to know in order to predict what the effect of raising the minimum wage will be: how many of the workers who currently make between $7.25 and $15 would get fired? If they currently produce $20/hour value, they they would still be fine.

            Earlier you gave a sketch argument, “The result would either be to drive down the marginal benefit of having one more worker or to bid up wages”, which suggests that peoples current wage should exactly match the value they produce. If that was true, there wouldn’t be much point to a minimum wage. So that’s what I’m trying to give a counter-example to.

            Suppose that most value in the economy is produced by unskilled workers in a couple of McDonalds restaurants in central Manhattan. There is a (slightly) larger pool of potential workers than physically fits in the restaurant building, so they are not in a position to ask for a raise. And restaurants outside Manhattan are not very profitable, say, so the outside restaurants are not able to bid up wages. In this situation, imposing a higher minimum wage seems like a big win, it allows the workers to capture a bigger share of the profit without affecting employment much (only the non-Manhattan workers would be affected).

          • “But Pete’s original point was whether the marginal benefit of a worker coincides with their current salary. That’s what we need to know in order to predict what the effect of raising the minimum wage will be: how many of the workers who currently make between $7.25 and $15 would get fired?”

            No. It isn’t what we need to know.

            Suppose that, if I am employing 10 unskilled workers, the marginal benefit of a worker is $7.25. If I was employing on 9, it would be $15.00, because with only nine there are important things to be done that unskilled workers can do but are not being done. Then it is true both that the marginal benefit is equal to the wage and that a minimum wage of $15 will cost only one job.

            “If they currently produce $20/hour value, they they would still be fine.”

            What do you think “currently produce $X/hour” means? If it’s marginal value, why didn’t the employer hire one more such worker, thus increasing his profit by $12.50 times the number of hours the worker worked?

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      1. Do the people who think no one is underpaid also think no one is overpaid?

      And why would an employer want pay someone what they are worth to that employer if the circumstances are such that the can get away with paying less? The circumstances where they can get away with paying less are where employment is a seller’s market, which it usually is.

      2. The econ 101 prediction isn;t born out in practice.

      4. “. By raising the minimum wage we make sure such people cannot work. Since they cannot work they are deserving objects of our sympathy, so a basic income or some other form of income redistribution should be used to support them.”

      That canters through a number of issues.

      Suppose employers are allowed to pay workers less than they can live on.
      Then they are going to starve, turn to crime, or turn to the government for assistance. Either way, a social cost. So the objection of the taxpayer is : why should *I* pay that cost? (whether in terms of taxes to support below-subsistence workers, or in being the victim of crime, and so on).

      From that point of view, a minimum wage policy so the taxpayer taking a burden off their shoulders and putting it on the employers’.

      • Jiro says:

        Suppose employers are allowed to pay workers less than they can live on.
        Then they are going to starve, turn to crime, or turn to the government for assistance. Either way, a social cost. So the objection of the taxpayer is : why should *I* pay that cost?

        That argument applies whether the people are employees or not.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          > That argument applies whether the people are employees or not.

          If someone is unemployed for no particular reason,then nobody in particular has responsibility for them, and so everyone in general does.

          It’s like the way society in general is responsible for clearing up pollution, unless a specific company causing is rewponsible. Most people think that the company should pay to clear it up themselves in that case. Anything else encourages free riding.

          Of course, all this is assuming the ethical intuitions that the 99% have, the ideas that society exists and that people have obligations, not the intuitions of libertarians.

          Under libertarianism, the company gets to pay as little as they choose in a sellers market, and their employees get to steal to starve.

          • “If someone is unemployed for no particular reason,then nobody in particular has responsibility for them, and so everyone in general does.”

            Bill is currently employed by Charles for $10/hour, which makes him better off than if Charles didn’t employ him, worse off than if Charles employed him for $15/hour. Arthur is doing nothing at all for Bill.

            In your version, as I understand it, the fact that Bill is worse off than if he got $15/hour is the fault of Charles, not of Arthur, even though Arthur is the one doing nothing to benefit Bill.

            That strikes me as odd.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Suppose employers are allowed to pay workers less than they can live on.
        Then they are going to starve, turn to crime, or turn to the government for assistance. Either way, a social cost. So the objection of the taxpayer is : why should *I* pay that cost? (whether in terms of taxes to support below-subsistence workers, or in being the victim of crime, and so on).

        Suppose that employers are not allowed to pay workers less than they can live on. So if a worker is worth less to any employer than what that worker can live on, that worker will be unemployed. Then they are going to starve, turn to crime, or turn to the government for assistance.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Sure. Somebody is going to pay.The question is who it should be.

          It’s like the way society in genera lis responsible for clearing up pollution, unless a specific company causing is responsible. Most people think that the company should pay to clear it up themselves in that case. Anything else encourages free riding.

          Of course, all this is assuming the ethical intuitions that the 99% have, the ideas that society exists and that people have obligations, not the intuitions of libertarians.

          Under libertarianism, the company gets t odo exactly what they want, and their employees get to steal to starve.

          • anon for now says:

            A better example: There is a bunch of pollution around. Some private company (possibly for selfish reasons) decides to clean up some, but not all, of said pollution.

            Libertarian response: Thanks!

            TheAncientGeek response: You jerks, you didn’t finish the job!

      • HeelBearCub says:

        From that point of view, a minimum wage policy so the taxpayer taking a burden off their shoulders and putting it on the employers’.

        I don’t think this argument is completely fair.

        To the extent that the minimum wage is paid (and the job is not eliminated or moved to another jurisdiction where the minimum wage is not in effect), it’s correct to say that the burden goes solely on the employer.

        At the margin we would expect to see some or all of the following effects: increase in prices to consumers (if competition was sufficient to lower prices to near break even), loss of profits for the employer (if profits were available to lower), and increasing productivity at those employers who paid lower than the new minimum wage (assuming they had competition that was profitable but already paying higher wages).

      • “Suppose employers are allowed to pay workers less than they can live on.”

        The average real income in the U.S. at present is about thirty times what it was across the world through most of history. So the current minimum wage is easily ten times what most people in the past lived on.

        Going back to a different part of your argument. If hiring one more worker results in increasing the firm income by more than that worker costs, why doesn’t the employer hire another one? As long as he is a small part of the labor market for unskilled labor, as most employers are, hiring more workers doesn’t significantly affect what he has to pay and does, on your model, increase his profit.

        “The econ 101 prediction isn;t born out in practice.”

        Could you expand on that? If your point is that the unemployment rate doesn’t jump when the minimum wage goes up, you might want to think about what fraction of workers one would expect to be affected. If only a tiny fraction of workers are at the minimum wage, which is the case in the U.S. at present, then the effect on the national unemployment rate of even a sharp increase in their unemployment rate will be smaller than normal variation. And, to the extent that skilled workers are a substitute for unskilled, we would expect the increase in the minimum wage to reduce the unemployment rate of higher income workers, further masking any effect on the overall national unemployment rate.

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          I think the relevant amount is not what wage most people need to live on, but what wage people need to not turn to crime or demand assistance from the government. You can’t just tell poor people to please stop being unreasonable, their parents lived with less money.

          • The Nybbler says:

            In that case, I demand assistance if I get less than <puts pinky to mouth> ONE MILLION DOLLARS per year.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          The average real income in the U.S. at present is about thirty times what it was across the world through most of history.

          Does that include accommodation costs? Because I as far as I can see, they float up to whatever people can pay.

          • Real income is nominal income adjusted for the price level. So yes, it includes housing (and food and clothing and …) costs.

            People could pay considerably higher rent per square foot if they were willing to live one family to a room, as quite a lot of people have in the past, hence as they could do. On your theory, why don’t rents go up to that level?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @David Friedman

            Maximum occupancy regulations? People do live like that (and worse) in NYC, and occasionally people get arrested for it. You can’t live like a pauper c. 1900 because it’s illegal for anyone to provide you such accommodations and illegal for you to live there.

          • If the Geek’s argument were correct, then anywhere that there were not such regulations, rents would rise until what I described happened. I don’t think that describes the real world.

          • Nornagest says:

            I seem to recall you’re British, TAG. Are you a Londoner? Because if so, that’s one of the most murderously distorted housing markets in the world — although it does have its rivals, including the Bay Area.

      • keranih says:

        Suppose employers are allowed to pay workers less than they can live on.

        …errr…because they are a teenager living at home? Because they are a retiree with a pension? Because they are a married mother who has a well paid husband?

        Because they are independently wealthy?

        Or shall we instead say that no teenagers, retirees, married women, or independently wealthy people can hold paying jobs?

        Or perhaps that we shall determine what the living status is of everyone who applies for a job, to see how much they are to be paid, and that “equal pay for equal work” is not at all something we should strive for?

        • suntzuanime says:

          You wouldn’t have to ban them from jobs entirely, just from jobs that pay less than they could in theory live on if they had to.

          This whole discussion is kind of a red herring because workers can live on an awful lot less than the current minimum wage. The original point was about a “decent” wage, which is a lot more extravagant.

          • keranih says:

            OH! So, all of the above *could* compete for higher status, higher earning jobs. And the only people who would be doing low-paying minium wage jobs would be…the low skilled workers who were out competed for higher-wage jobs.

            Right. This is making so much sense.

            (And yes, aware of the red herring. But the dead fish is baked into the deal. We can’t just pick out the rotten scales and keep the rest.)

      • Irishdude7 says:

        1. Do the people who think no one is underpaid also think no one is overpaid?

        The amount of work I do varies from day to do. Sometimes I think I’m underpaid and other days overpaid.

        Whether worker output matches compensation is best determined in bottom-up market fashion, as this is an economic calculation problem that central planners can’t get enough information to solve. It can be hard enough for an individual employer with the best localized information to make profitable hiring/compensation decisions, let alone distant bureaucrats.

    • Max Goedl says:

      For what it’s worth, “efficiency wage” theory implies that some involuntary unemployment is socially desirable. The reason is that the threat of becoming involuntarily unemployed keeps workers from shirking (which is an issue if monitoring workers’ effort is costly). What you want then is the optimal amount of involuntary unemployment. Free labor markets tend to deliver too much involuntary unemployment because employers disregard the social cost of unemployment when setting wages.

    • TomFL says:

      Everyone agrees with this in spirit, now please send a check to the US Treasury to pay for it. I would suggest that if we gave everyone an option to just take $100K a year instead of working, that the economy would come to a screeching halt. Who “wants” to be a truck driver or garbageman? Personally I like having food delivered to grocery stores and my garbage picked up.

      One of the main functions of government is not to determine whether certain things are “good ideas”, but to efficiently allocate scarce resources, i.e. taxpayer money. They prioritize the needs of the community, not hold hands and sing revolutionary songs. The better question to ask is are you willing to reduce education subsidies (or insert your favorite program here) in order to fulfill your living wage payouts? Budgeting on a yearly basis is a zero sum game.

  29. Theodidactus says:

    Once upon a time there was a kingdom high above the limpid lakes of Abbendai, a veritable paradise, where every bride happily found a groom (and every groom, a bride) by these simple rules

    1) A maiden always received one, and only one, marriage proposal over her entire life. Every maiden received such a proposal.
    2) the proposal would come from a single suitor, who would propose on a random day of the 365 day year.
    3) potential suitors ranged, in desirability, from suitable (+1) to ideal (+10) with an equal likelihood that a suitor would have any desirability value
    4) the maiden could accept or decline the proposal, but of course in those days there was no reason to decline one´s only chance at a suitor
    5) upon accepting, the groom’to’be would name the date for the wedding, already decided but kept secret. The day would be some randomly’chosen date in the same year
    6) all weddings that fell on a particular date happened simultaneously.

    The kingdom was SO happy and ideal that, on average, ten proposals like the one detailed above happened every single day. Some days had far fewer proposals than ten, some days had far more. No one could articulate the exact rate but the average boiled down to about 10 every day.

    It came to pass that the newly married prince´s wife died tragically on their wedding night, and the king of the land grew bitter and decreed that henceforth, any groom that proposed to any bride would be summarily executed (-1000), along with any bride foolish enough to accept the proposal.

    This state of affairs did not last long, as even in the troughs of his madness the evil king realized that a kingdom where marriage was illegal would end in either depopulation or debauchery. So, instead, he gathered his closest advisers together and devised a new proposal

    A thousand weddings per year being the number his advisers agreed would be necessary to sustain the population, his decree was now that exactly one thousand weddings would take place every year, with courtship proceeding in line with the ancient traditions. Suitors would propose marriage, and brides would accept, and any wedding that transpired beyond the allotted thousand would end in the brutal execution of the bride and groom (-1000). If many weddings fell on the same day, and that day pushed the total count of weddings over the allotted thousand, everyone who was wed that day would be executed for their insolence.

    Assuming every bride in the kingdom was rational, and assuming the ancient courtship rites transpired exactly as articulated above, my question is…will there be a thousand weddings every year?

    • Nornagest says:

      No. You don’t know what number proposal you are, and you definitely don’t want to be >1000, so it will never go near that value. Standard game theory suggests that no proposals will be made (by a process of induction we can push all proposals to the first day, whereupon no one can rationally make a proposal); a more realistic scenario would likely have some number somewhat less than 1000 performed in the first few days of the year.

      An even more realistic scenario would produce a registrar.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The Prince has the King executed (or perhaps banished to the Royal Asylum, so as not to upset his mother too much). The Prince (now King) then makes himself an exception (it is good to be King), finds himself a new bride after a suitable mourning period, and allows things to return to the old ways after.

      Presumably the answer you’re looking for is that the weddings will proceed until the probability of the next day putting it over the top, times 1000, exceeds the utility of the wedding. This could result in years with less than 1000 (everyone to be married on the day it went over cancelled).

      However, I think there’s not enough information to calculate the expected number of weddings. If the suitors pick the wedding date (uniformly from the days in the year) first, then pick the proposal date, that gives you one distribution of number of weddings, uniform every day (though you have to recalculate as the year goes by!). If the suitors pick the proposal date first, then the wedding date, then weddings end up biased towards the end of the year.

      (Edit: if you’re wondering how the Prince takes the King down… well, he has the entire unmarried part of the guard, and a good number of the married-with-childen guards, on his side)

    • Vaguely related

      A Christian argues that casual dating works a lot better than the strictly marriage-directed customs which have developed among some home-schoolers.

  30. Agronomous says:

    I don’t know if this was discussed here back when it came out in February, but I came across this open letter to Yelp’s CEO from a low-level employee (that got the writer fired) after Reason pointed me to something recent on Ask a Manager about a group of interns’ petition for a looser dress code (that got them all fired).

    (Europeans, this is your cue to squeal in horror at at-will employment.)

    Everyone: what is your reaction to these incidents? Do you consider them similar (one was public, one was not)? How justified were the firings? What should the kids have done instead?

    • sweeneyrod says:

      More like at-will unemployment in this case amirite?!

    • suntzuanime says:

      The Yelp firing was totally legitimate. Yeah, let me just write an open letter to criticize and humiliate the company and spread it around social media, then go into work the next morning. That was a constructive resignation. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if she couldn’t get by on what they were paying her resigning and looking for a better job was the right thing to do. Publicly airing dirty laundry might not help her future employment prospects, but hey, it’s her life and I totally get the attraction of costly vengeance.

      The interns I don’t think should have been fired, if they were only raising the issue to managers and not raising a social media ruckus. But as the article points out, an intern’s life is cheap. Interns, legally, are not supposed to provide their hosts with benefits, so if they are causing management to have to deal with hassles, it does not take much trouble before they’re more trouble than they’re worth.

    • Jiro says:

      The fact that someone makes trouble about reasonable things is Bayseian evidence that he will also make trouble about unreasonable things.

      Also, why would you even want to have someone on the payroll who badmouths you? You’re giving them money in the expectation that both parties benefit. If you’re harmed instead, why would you want to keep giving them money?

      (I find this reasoning tempting, but I don’t actually believe it. The rebuttal is “incentives”.)

    • Nornagest says:

      There’s a lot of blame to go around in the first one. Yelp arguably shouldn’t have fired her for this, but it’s not really Yelp’s fault that she’s not making ends meet — they’re paying what the market will bear. The fact that that market will bear a $24000 wage in a city where you pay $1240 a month for an apartment thirty miles away (and probably in a bad neighborhood, if I know the Bay), is partly the fault of city planners for constraining construction until the price of low-end housing gets that high, and partly the fault of young people like Talia who keep moving to cool cities and taking jobs that don’t pay their expenses. This is not a woman forced into living in the Bay Area because her history and social connections don’t allow for anything else; this is a woman with a college degree and grandparents willing to give her a free car.

      In the second one, I feel comfortable blaming the company. It’s a reasonable request, and they could just have said no.

      • hlynkacg says:

        Agreed on both counts.

      • Anthony says:

        I disagree. Complaining about the company culture, when one hasn’t been there long enough to understand it, is a sign that you’re a troublemaker, and will probably disrupt the company more than your labor will ever be worth. Organizing a bunch of interns to demand changes when all the experienced people at the company are happy with the existing setup is more than sufficient proof that you will be more trouble than your labor will be worth.

        Internships are supposed to be educational. This one was very much so.

        • Clockwork Arachnid says:

          This is generally my take. Firing their interns may have been a bit harsh, but the interns also didn’t take the hint when their management gently turned them down. The petition was not appropriate– I see this reaction as a harsh lesson that the business world doesn’t work the way the same way a college campus does.

      • CatCube says:

        I actually agreed with you about the second one until I read the story. I had interpreted “petition[ing] for a looser dress code” as informally petitioning, i.e., asking in the hall or pulling the boss aside when he wasn’t busy. While they did do that, they were turned down and actually then proceeded to hand their employers a signed formal petition, like they were talking to the student f***in’ government or something.

    • Loquat says:

      I lol’d when I got to the point where she was upset, to the point of feeling bait-and-switched, that company policy required her to stick with the entry-level job for an entire year before transferring to any other position. My employer has the exact same policy, and I suspect it’s common. And really, how did she get to the point of getting a firm job offer and committing to an apartment that’s unaffordable on her starting salary without asking how long she should expect to remain on that salary?

      The interns, I kind of feel like management overreacted, but I also wouldn’t require such a strict dress code in the first place, so clearly the management at that company has different expectations in general than I’m accustomed to.

    • Tibor says:

      I am European and from a country with one of the more liberal labour laws in Europe (still less liberal than those of the US). I also observe countries with one of the least liberal labour laws in Europe, namely Spain, France and Greece. In those countries, not only is it really hard to fire someone, you have to pay them months of wages when you do. The effect is a disproportionately high unemployment rate among young people (the unemployment rate especially in Spain and Greece is incredibly high, I don’t really get how they can function like this…or rather I do – based on what I was told a lot of people work there illegally nowadays) and generally people whom employers consider risky (so in fact this might also have a very negative effect on Arabs in France for example).

      The only people who benefit from that system are those who already have a long-term job contract. But in a sense even they could be better off otherwise. It is hard for the employer to fire them. But they are kind of trapped in their job, because they won’t be able to find another one with the same conditions nowadays, everyone in Spain seems to offer limited-time contracts only. So instead you do the job you possibly hate. And an employer who wants to fire you makes it as unpleasant for you as possible in order to force you to quit.

      I would take a system where a boss can fire you at a whim (while still owing you wages for the hours you spent working there) over this any time. The easier it is to fire people, the easier it is for people to get hired.

      An idiot who keeps firing people for no good reason will find himself with nobody willing to work for him or with worse/less experienced employees than he could have otherwise, so I think such cases are an exception rather than the rule.

  31. Xenograteful says:

    Scott’s posts about biodeterminism and disdain for some forms of positive psychology (like growth mindset) are making me lose hope about being able to change myself. I feel like if I have too much hope for myself I’m one of those “KEEP ON HOPING, SUCKERS” guys in Unsong’s hell.

    It’s funny to compare Scott’s writings to Yudkowky. Yudkowsky was very idealistic, you can take control of your brain, you can get rid of all those cognitive bias that are keeping you down and take over the world. Scott is quite cynical and almost on the other end of the spectrum.

    So is it possible to combine hope and still take into account the facts that almost all traits of people are heritable?

    • suntzuanime says:

      There are so many traits of people that aren’t heritable. Like learning French, or getting your legs blown off by a landmine. The biodeterminism stuff should be read in reaction to the worst excesses of the “Blank Slate” crew that want to say nothing is heritable. Although “Blank Slate” is going much too far, it’s inarguable that your actual life history has substantial effects on you.

      • Xenograteful says:

        I believed that up to a certain point, but when you read Scott’s his post Non-Shared Environment Doesn’t Just Mean Schools And Peers it does seem he really thinks actual nurture has very little effect:

        I kind of want to conclude that the nonshared environment is not as important as had been thought. My guess is that the nonshared environment as Turkheimer discusses it – differential parenting, schools, peers, and so on – is only a fraction of the “nonshared environmental” term in genetics studies.

        If that were true, it would mean that nature is more important than we thought relative to environment in terms of things we can understand and possibly affect. That would make the quest to change important outcomes like intelligence, personality, income, or criminality by changing society even more daunting. And it would make the opportunity to change those outcomes through genetic engineering even more tempting.

        • Peter says:

          Note that that interpretation of heritability implies that variation in nurture doesn’t usually have a big effect. I mean, if you take a baby and completely fail to nurture it at all, it dies (unless someone else takes it from you and nurtures it instead), and severe-but-not-absolute neglect can have some pretty nasty consequences as well… but merely-below-average nurture doesn’t seem to cause (if the results and the interpretation are to be believed) very different results from merely-above-average nurture.

          • Urstoff says:

            Right. In twin studies, for example, one twin isn’t raised by wolves and the other by humans. Their both (usually) raised by (non-abusive) people in the same country.

          • Paul Torek says:

            This. To put a finer point on it, heritability depends on how much variation there is in the population studied. If nearly everyone nurtures their children nearly optimally, heritability will be extremely high. If children are highly resilient, then anything but severe neglect and abuse makes for “nearly optimal” nurturing.

      • Peter says:

        It wouldn’t surprise me if learning French was moderately heritable in some countries, in the technical sense of “heritable”. As in: some people are more likely to have high verbal IQ or high Openness To Experience or something like that, and that means they’re more likely to avail themselves of opportunities to learn French, and more likely to actually learn French when they try.

        Likewise, getting your legs blow off by a landmine – there must be a lot of characteristics that make a person a military type, and that must be associated with getting one’s legs blown off by a landmine, right. Or if a civilian in a land-mine infested country, some combination of curiosity and carelessness (or not having the talents to get out of landmine country and into somewhere safer).

        One solution maybe is to be collectivist in your hopes. Heritability measures environmental variation (vs genetic variation) within a time and a place, but environments vary between time and place quite a lot. Consider how many times and places have effectively 100% or 0% literacy, for example. If you sampled a country when it was at 50% literacy your study might find a high degree of heritability, but that doesn’t prevent long-term large-scale change. If you can think, “Maybe I won’t get the outcome X that I was hoping for, but in the future if we work towards our goal more and more people-like-me will get that X, and that will sort of do – if I can’t have X for myself then I can have meaning and purpose getting X for others” then that might bring some relief (and/or it might make you insufferable, and/or the effect might wear off), although it’s not a full solution.

        Another solution is to be modest in your hopes. In “shared environment/unshared environment/genetic” studies (e.g. twin studies) lots of things have a very high “unshared environment” component, so you never know, you might get lucky.

        To a certain extent, a lot of things are comparative and even competitive, like winning a running race. If you’re on the starting line with seven other runners, well, you’re determined to win, but so are they, so determination to win can’t be the sole determinant of winning.

    • stargirlprincess says:

      Scott seems to take biodeterminism more seriously than almost anyone else I can think of. For example scott credits his success as a writer to innate talent. Scott has written thousands of pieces so I think most people would attribute Scott’s success to practice plus some talent. But Scott really puts almost all the emphasis on talent imo. I think you should look at other sources. Scott is about as extreme a bio-detemrinist as it is possible to be imo. See this passage:

      “My last IQ-ish test was my SATs in high school. I got a perfect score in Verbal, and a good-but-not-great score in Math.

      And in high school English, I got A++s in all my classes, Principal’s Gold Medals, 100%s on tests, first prize in various state-wide essay contests, etc. In Math, I just barely by the skin of my teeth scraped together a pass in Calculus with a C-.

      Every time I won some kind of prize in English my parents would praise me and say I was good and should feel good. My teachers would hold me up as an example and say other kids should try to be more like me. Meanwhile, when I would bring home a report card with a C- in math, my parents would have concerned faces and tell me they were disappointed and I wasn’t living up to my potential and I needed to work harder et cetera.

      And I don’t know which part bothered me more.

      Every time I was held up as an example in English class, I wanted to crawl under a rock and die. I didn’t do it! I didn’t study at all, half the time I did the homework in the car on the way to school, those essays for the statewide competition were thrown together on a lark without a trace of real effort. To praise me for any of it seemed and still seems utterly unjust.

      On the other hand, to this day I believe I deserve a fricking statue for getting a C- in Calculus I. It should be in the center of the schoolyard, and have a plaque saying something like “Scott Alexander, who by making a herculean effort managed to pass Calculus I, even though they kept throwing random things after the little curly S sign and pretending it made sense.” (from The Parable of the Talents).

      • Anon. says:

        You are implying that “practice” is exogenous, but there’s a very good “biodeterminist” explanation for that, too.

        • Paul Torek says:

          But that doesn’t matter to stargirl’s point. Practice causes perfection: if otherwise true, this claim is not undermined by the fact that something else in turn causes practice.

    • Jill says:

      If you want to change something about yourself, why not give it a try, take some classes in the area, do what the Mindset book suggests for changing your mindset, and see what happens? It beats sitting around giving up. You can always go back to sitting around and giving up later, if you decide that that is warranted.

      People change things about themselves all the time– and find other things about themselves that can’t be changed sometimes too. It’s like the serenity prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous.

      Everyone wants to have the wisdom to know the difference between what can and can’t be changed. But I wonder if anyone has that “wisdom.” Maybe experience– of giving change a good hard try– is what matters.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      Yes, there is hope, though a bit delusional and conditional on your opinion about your shrewdness.

      At most, the biodeterminist interpretation of those studies can conclude that the influence of genes is greater than that of nurture the way it’s being done in this society. It’s reasonable to assume exceptions for shitty ways of nurturing: If a child grows up in an environment of regular sexual abuse, the role his genes play will be considerably smaller. All you need to do is come up with a corresponding great way of nurturing, or convince yourself that your actually normal nurture is extraordinarly great nurture.

  32. hlynkacg says:

    So with all the talk about Brexit lately and this being the Ever-Loving Fourth I’ve been thinking a lot about nationalism and there are a couple of related threads that I’d like to tie together and discuss.

    Back in Urling Toward Freedom HeelBearCub mentioned Sarah Palin’s (and the GOP in general’s) characterization of “The Real America” and how she saw this as “a middle-finger to me and everyone like me”. I responded, in part, with “Why would you want to be a ‘real American’ when you could be a hyphenated American or better yet Canadian?”. In hindsight that was a cheap shot that I somewhat regret, but at the same time I think that there is something to it.

    I also mentioned Michelle Obama’s comment about how she had never been proud of America until her husband won the Presidency in my response and contrary to HBC’s suggestion I don not see this comment in terms of “See how awful the left is. We would never be awful like that.” Instead I see it as tying into the above.

    Note that the Democrats (and progressives in general) never really tried to fight the GOP’s characterization and I contend that this is because there is an unstated agreement that the people who are un-ironically “Proud to be American” have a stronger claim to the title of “real Americans” than those that aren’t. Are you proud to be “American”? (or British / French / Japanese etc… for those outside the US) Does that Nationalist identity take precedence over other divisions? If given the choice between identifying as “Nation” and identifying as white, black, brown, yellow, purple, gay, Muslim, Christian, leftist, rightist etc… which do you choose? I believe that a good chunk of culture war divide is encapsulated in this question, and that this is the fundamental problem with identity politics. Once you start knocking down the shared culture / values what is left but intersectionality?

    As Dndnrsn asked in the last open thread;

    If, as is being asserted here, a lot of young Europeans don’t really care about the preservation of their language and culture – how are immigrants supposed to integrate (forget assimilate – let’s just go with integrate) into that? Why would they want to?

    If you don’t take your own side in a fight who will?

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      As Dndnrsn asked in the last open thread;

      If, as is being asserted here, a lot of young Europeans don’t really care about the preservation of their language and culture – how are immigrants supposed to integrate (forget assimilate – let’s just go with integrate) into that? Why would they want to?

      If you don’t take your own side in a fight who will?

      This is not enough of the quote. The entire quote is in a subthread of young people not identifying with the nation so much, but with general western middle class cosmopolitan culture, apparently. Young people have a culture just fine, and it is that.

      • hlynkacg says:

        This is not enough of the quote.

        I disagree.

        That the young people have a culture was never in doubt. That they understand, value, and will if necessary defend it is what is in doubt.

        I see people proclaiming loudly and often that nationalism is a cancer, that western style-democracy has fostered oppression and inequality around the world, and then acting surprised when others respond accordingly. Like I said above, once you start knocking down the shared culture / values what is left but intersectionality?

        Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism (or Wahhabism) at least it’s an ethos.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          It’s in doubt? This comment section is full of people having bad nightmares about THE LEFT being able to persecute those who won’t conform to their culture.

          • hlynkacg says:

            That would be the intersectionality I mentioned.

          • That’s not willingness to fight for beliefs, that’s willingness to bully non-conformists.
            Now will those same people storm Omaha beach to cleanse some ideological vermin?

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            That takes a lot of no true scotsmanning to defend.

            Young people may not care for the culture you would like them to very much, but they care for *a* culture. If you disapprove, that is your problem. Twisting and turning about to phrase it as something unique and strange is highly unnecessary.

            The WW2 example is particularly amusing. You mean the war that only took off in the US after it was attacked? The one with a rate of draftees double that of freaking Vietnam? Some people are committed to invade nations based on ideology, but that was not a case of it.

          • hlynkacg says:

            That takes a lot of no true scotsmanning to defend.

            I disagree, in fact the public response to Brexit vote has been rather illustrative of this. If your first response to a vote not going your way is to demand that the vote be ignored and the people who voted against you thrown out you are NOT defending democracy.

            The Andrew Cords of the world are not defending “niceness community and civilization” they are undermining it.

          • Jiro says:

            Getting the government to ignore the vote seems like it would be permitted according to that. Not only is it a case of coodrinated not-niceness, but a type of not-niceness that inherently *has* to be coordinated because you have to get the government to do that and that must be coordinated by definition.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Political journalists paid to make people read their drivel aren’t generally representative of many people. Do I get to compare people I dislike with their clickbait vendors, too?

          • hlynkacg says:

            Are you suggesting that people aren’t demanding that the Brexit vote be ignored? Or that the idea of using “dirty tricks” to achieve an ostensibly noble goal is somehow novel?

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            They are, in the same sense that some people demand we abolish taxation for it is theft, and in a much clearer sense where the inverse would most assuredly happen as well, with pro-voters demanding people leave anyway.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Is Whababbism the extremist variant of Whataboutery?

        • Anonymous says:

          > and will if necessary defend it

          When a nation is considering the pros and cons of various possible sizes for the military one important consideration should be the lasting damage that the breaking and remolding process does to people that go through the indoctrination process. Afterwords they seem incapable of viewing the world through any other lens but military force.

          Perhaps it is necessary to mutilate young men this way, but the number should be kept to an absolute minimum.

          • hlynkacg says:

            You’ll have to include cops, firefighters, ER staff, and a fair number of other dirty dangerous but otherwise crucial jobs on that list if you want to get any where.

            Making peace with one’s own mortality tends to make one care a lot more about “effective immortality” in the form of children and institutions that will outlive you.

            With that in mind we should probably consider getting rid of old people to, or at least denying them the right to vote.

          • Jiro says:

            When being told that someone shouldn’t be allowed to vote, I usually reply “are they also exempt from government laws, including taxes and regulations on everyday life”? If you can be beaten by the police, you should be able to vote, unless you are absolutely incompetent.

          • “When being told that someone shouldn’t be allowed to vote, I usually reply “are they also exempt from government laws, including taxes and regulations on everyday life”?”

            So foreign tourists in the U.S. should be free to rob and kill? Not obliged to pay sales taxes?

            Consider a country which isn’t a democracy, as most countries historically were not. Should the inhabitants have been immune from all laws?

            Turn it around. Do you want to argue that the fact that you can vote obliges you to obey all laws? If so, why?

          • Jiro says:

            The foreigner has no right to come to our country and buy things at all. And if he restricts himself to doing the things he has a right to do, he won’t be paying any US taxes or arrested based on US laws.

            We can grant him the right to come temporarily in exchange for a price; part of the price is that he has to pay sales taxes and obey the laws while he’s here. The foreigner isn’t being forced to do anything–it’s a transaction. If he chooses not to make the transaction, nothing happens to him other than that he can’t do things that he doesn’t have a right to do anyway.

            I admit this would be a problem for open borders proponents, but I am not one.

          • @Jiro:

            The implication of your original statement, at least as I read it, was that if you are not allowed to vote you are not obliged to obey government regulations. The foreigner is not allowed to vote (at least in the U.S.). So why is he bound by the regulations saying he can’t come except on the terms you describe?

          • Jiro says:

            The foreigner is not bound by regulations saying he can’t enter another country against the inhabitants’ will. He’s bound by morality. And if you don’t believe in the existence of morality, there’s nothing I can say to convince you.

            In practice, such situations would be quickly resolved, since this sort of invasion, not backed by military force, is very dangerous to your health.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I don’t buy it.

            John Q citizen is barred from “settling the issue” by the (pressumed) legal prohibition of violence and the government/military/law enforcement is barred from acting because by your reckoning the immigrants are not bound by the host nation’s laws.

            So in short, No this sort of invasion (when conducted against the sort of nation you describe) is NOT dangerous. In fact, the more law abiding the general populace is, the less dangerous it becomes.

          • Jiro says:

            In fact, the more law abiding the general populace is, the less dangerous it becomes.

            Invading another country is dangerous because it can get you jailed or killed by the coutry’s official purveyors of violence, not by the country’s general population.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Not in the sort of country you describe.

          • JDG1980 says:

            When a nation is considering the pros and cons of various possible sizes for the military one important consideration should be the lasting damage that the breaking and remolding process does to people that go through the indoctrination process. Afterwords they seem incapable of viewing the world through any other lens but military force.

            I’m not at all sure this is borne out by the empirical evidence. Were generations of Americans who went through the draft more likely to “view the world” through the “lens of military force”? If anything, the aftermath of the Civil War, WWI, and the Vietnam War led to quite a bit of soul-searching on the part of the nation.

            And it’s not as if delegating military service to a separate caste, which has increasingly little in common with the rest of the country, is without risks of its own. Historically, that’s the kind of thing that is likely to be dangerous to the future of civilian government.

          • “The foreigner is not bound by regulations saying he can’t enter another country against the inhabitants’ will. He’s bound by morality. ”

            But then the native who for some reason can’t vote is also bound by morality.

            Is it your view that the native who can vote is obliged to obey regulations that have no moral force behind them? Are immoral? Your original claim seems to link obligation to obey the law to being a voter, and I still don’t see why.

            Suppose I create a new non-geographical polity that consists of you, me and ten of my friends. Each of us have a vote. We vote, eleven to one, that half of your income should be transferred to me. Are you obliged to go along with that regulation?

          • Jiro says:

            It is wrong for the foreigner to go into the other country because the other country belongs to someone else. My income belongs to me, not to someone else.

            Is it your view that the native who can vote is obliged to obey regulations that have no moral force behind them?

            I said that someone should have a right to vote if the government forces him to obey regulations. It does not follow that the government should be able to force him to obey regulations because he has a right to vote. A -> B does not mean B -> A.

          • Anonymous says:

            The wartime draftees were not heavily indoctrinated. Nor are ER staff or firefighters, not sure where that connection is coming from.

          • hlynkacg says:

            If you read past the first sentence, you’d see the connection.

          • Luke the CIA stooge says:

            The reason we have courts and democratic processes by which people can challenge and change the laws isn’t so that we can produce optimum legislation (although some democracies do get relatively close) it’s so that people and factions who cannot live with those laws have a means to change them other than violence.

            You deny old people the vote (and thus the only means they have of protecting their rights and property) and your sewing the seeds of Grey Dawn.

          • “It is wrong for the foreigner to go into the other country because the other country belongs to someone else.”

            My house belongs to me (and my wife), but you are saying that it is wrong for a foreigner to visit me without agreeing to the terms set by the government. So you regard “the country belongs to the government” as a true moral claim? Why?

            This could be a long discussion.

          • Jiro says:

            That sounds like an open borders argument. As I said, the argument would not be acceptable to open borders proponents.

            (I would say that the country belongs to the citizens. If different citizens disagree on how to handle the jointly owned area, there are existing procedures for deciding how to reconcile conflicting desires of two citizens. These procedures are what we call government.

            You can, of course, argue that the procedures for reconciling the desires of two citizens are so bad that the process has no legitimacy. If so, then the restrictions on immigrants would also have no legitimacy. But that would be part of claiming that the government in general is illegitimate–it won’t just apply to immigration.)

      • dndnrsn says:

        “Young people”, “young native-born people”, “young native born people whose parents were native born”, etc etc etc are all different groups from “general western middle class cosmopolitan”

        If you’re presenting “general western middle class cosmopolitan”as a culture, it’s a culture/lifestyle that excludes a lot of people, because it is very much middle class and up. It’s predicated on education, and to a lesser extent ability to travel.

        I’m a middle-class cosmopolitan, I suppose. I went to school with a lot of them. It’s not a group that’s ashamed of itself, really, and it is a group that does a good job of attracting new converts, wherever they’re from (a child of immigrants can be one just as much as a kid whose family are blue collar going back five generations in the same town … provided they both go to good schools).

        However, this is not a group that a majority of a country’s population can ever belong to. This isn’t a culture that large numbers of immigrants are going to integrate into. It’s a culture that is going to claim a solid chunk of smart, affluent people, regardless of where they’re from – that’s kind of the point.

        But the fact that smart, affluent people from wherever can go to good schools and travel and work internationally and so on doesn’t really provide much of an identity for people from wherever who aren’t smart or affluent, unless they define themselves in opposition to the elites.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I said, when I mentioned that Palin quote, that I rejected her characterization. “Because I am a real American, thank you very much.

      I, who inhabit an east coast college town, is a child of two teachers, who can trace my heritage back to Italian, German, Czech, and French-Candian immigrants to the US, am just as much of an American as anyone who can trace their roots back to the Mayflower or who can’t trace their roots back anywhere other than “Tobacco farm in the South”.

      My usually self-description of my heritage is “All-American mutt.”

      My roots go back to poor immigrants in Chicago and Nebraska. My paternal line great-grandfather sold vegetables in a farmers market in Chicago, and was by all accounts a real son-of-bitch. My grandfather died when when my father was 17 and my father and my grandmother made sure that all 5 kids were able to attend and graduate college. My maternal grandparents met at a USO function weeks before my grandfather was to ship out and were married before he left (not long past the end of WWII). My parents both attended small Catholic “sister” colleges in the same town and married there.

      So, and I say this politely, fuck anybody who thinks I am not as American as they are for some reason that has to do with where I live, who my parents are, my educational status, my political views, or the fact that I recognize that America has never been perfect. I still have my great-grandfather’s mean streak at times and occasionally it comes out.

      • hlynkacg says:

        The fact that are prepared to make that argument does you credit, and at the same time indicates that you are not the group who is being discussed.

        Contrast your rant above with the sort of people that threaten renounce their citizenship and move to Canada (or Europe) if their preferred candidate doesn’t get elected.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          Just like the people who did the exact same thing when Obama threatened to be reelected, you mean?

        • Tibor says:

          By the way I noticed on some Internet forums that many of these Nonamericans imagine Europe as the land of chocolate, lollipops and Fabian socialism. It is also always just “Europe”, never mind that there are about 50 countries on that continent (possibly more to come soon :)) ), never mind that they differ greatly with Switzerland having a lower taxation as a percent of the GPD than the US and with the same number being over 50% in France.

          Then again, many Europeans of the same sort tend to have pretty distorted views of the US too.

      • Chalid says:

        I wish you hadn’t felt the need to emphasize the length of your family history here. I realize you probably didn’t mean to imply that recent immigrants and their children aren’t “real Americans” but that’s kind of the message it sends.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I hear what you are saying, but I was merely trying to illustrate my story, my experience. One of the arguments that I made elsewhere is that NYC is one of the quintessential American places. Implied, but not stated, is that this is in no small part because it contains Ellis island, the Statue of Liberty and huge populations of many, many recent immigrants, as well as ethnic enclaves with long histories.

          I think everyone can tell their own story of what being a real American means to them.

          • “Implied, but not stated, is that this is in no small part because it contains Ellis island, the Statue of Liberty and huge populations of many, many recent immigrants, as well as ethnic enclaves with long histories.”

            The U.S. abandoned the principle expressed explicitly, in verse, by the Statue of Liberty nearly a century ago, and there is almost no American politician who would defend it now. Does that mean that being in favor of immigration is no longer part of being American or that Americans are no longer real Americans?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            First, I’ve been very, very, very explicitly saying that we should not use the term “real American”. Your final question makes no sense in this context.

            Second, America is still an incredibly multi-cultural country by the standards of most of the world. We have more immigrants than any other country, and we allow them a path to citizenship. We are still very much a nation of immigrants, regardless of whether we offer admittance and free land to everyone who can get here.

          • DavidS says:

            To be fair, that’s most immigrants by sheer number. Not most per head or anything like that. You’d expect the US to have lots of immigrants given it’s the biggest country with a western economy

    • Jordan D. says:

      Speaking as a moderate democrat who takes his oath to uphold the Constitution very seriously and is legitimately proud of his state’s contributions to the history of America…

      When I first heard the talk about ‘real Americans’, I just rolled my eyes. The speakers were obviously mostly referring to people who held different opinions on social issues than I was, while simultaneously trying to insult me for daring to disagree with them. I know that I’m an American- I bristle when people from other countries point out problems with America, even the ones I want to change. Whenever I hear about a century-old American factory shutting down to move to Mexico, it upsets me a little even though I’m intellectually in favor of globalization.

      But I wouldn’t have favored some sort of ‘EVEN REALER AMERICANS’ counter-campaign. Partially because I would much rather have politics focused on policy and issues rather than trying to grab the nicest-sounding names and partially because the idea of shouting across the country that, no, *you’re* less American than I am seems like a shallow insult for no good purpose.

      As for nationalism, I think it’s a mistake to assume that the Left doesn’t have it. Sanders is a nationalist politician, and I strongly doubt that the majority of Democrats care enough about nationalism for that to have been why they voted Hillary. In any event, I strongly doubt that ‘intersectionality’ had much to do with it, since I doubt that one in ten Democrats would recognize the word.

      Many Democrats DO believe, and believe earnestly, that they are on the side of social justice (in the old meaning of the word) and progress towards a better world, but they also believe that progress towards a more just world is the legacy America has always stood for. I don’t know many Democrats who secretly believe that they’re citizens of the world foremost and Americans second; they just have a different conception of the role of an American than some of their compatriots.

      • hlynkacg says:

        This may seem odd, about I actually agree with you for the most part.

        That said I do know a couple “citizens of the world”, and I’ve encountered the type Lysenko describes here more times than I can reasonably count and I really do feel that they are “playing with fire” as it were.

        • Rimblade says:

          Well, I agree with you that such people do exist, I’m just not persuaded that they’re statistically significant.

          I’m also skeptical of a lot of signals discussed up-thread. As a personal example, several members of my extended family have made jokes about rushing for Canada if Trump wins the election, just as some of my friends did when Romney was running a few years back. But I would give very low odds to any of them actually doing it. They’d complain, and they’d link articles from the Times about how the President was secretly illegitimate for X reason and criticize everything he did… but that’s exactly what the almost-half-the-country which loses each election does every election.

          • Agronomous says:


            I agree with you that such people do exist, I’m just not persuaded that they’re statistically significant.

            Sounds like a good story idea for Scott: the tale of someone who exists, but never quite manages to be statistically significant—everything they do could just be chalked up to random chance.

            Interesting careers could include scientist, doctor, statistician, or medical-study participant. Maybe politician: always ending up in a dead heat with the opponent?

            It’s a little like the Woody Allen bit about the guy who’s out of focus (before it got turned into an allergy-medicine commercial).

          • Rimblade says:

            Sort of the curse of ‘may your life be impossibly, spectacularly boring!’

    • HeelBearCub says:

      You want a liberal, inclusive patriotism or nationalism?

      John Cena for the AdCouncil. Released today.

      • anonymous says:

        1:46 — “Almost half of the country belongs to minority groups.”

        At least they’re honest about their motivations. When the rest of the country belongs to minority groups where should I go?

        “There is no Israel for me” – Michel Houellebecq

        • Agronomous says:

          Note that, the instant most of the country belongs to minority groups, all of the country belongs to minority groups. By definition.

    • Teal says:

      The United States is the absolute worst place in the world for real X talk. In most other countries it makes some sense, there’s a legitimate ethnic bound and cultural traditions, that even if they aren’t necessarily ancient at least go back longer than anyone remembers. Both ethnic purity and traditional culture are most strongly preserved in the hinterlands and so these people can be seen as real X.

      But in the United States it is just nonsense. There’s nothing for the rural areas to preserve. We speak a promiscuous form of someone else’s language and even that country (and so language) has significant mutt tendencies. We have no one ethnic base, no one true culture, no prehistoric traditions. But rather than be ashamed of any of this, it is the thing of which we are most proud.

      America is more like a circle of close friends than a family. There’s strength in that, you pick your friends while you are stuck with your family.

      It is telling that almost 15 years on from 9/11 the Pentagon strike is decided the lesser cultural touchstone. Yes there were far fewer deaths, but I think that’s not the only reason. As much as other Americans love to hate New York it really is an avatar for a significant aspect of our culture. It’s a place where anyone, from anywhere in the world can come, work hard, and become a New Yorkers and hence American. New York is the real America — if you really hate it and think it is unAmerican (and not just playfully hate it) than you don’t belong in the United States. You belong in some rural village somewhere in Europe or Asia or Africa where you can live out your life in an indigenous culture.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        “if you really hate it and think it is unAmerican (and not just playfully hate it) than you don’t belong in the United States. ”

        No. Not this.

        If you hate NYC, you hate the most quintessentially American place, and you hold a view that is likely to be in opposition to a quintessential American value.

        But that doesn’t mean you don’t belong in America. To believe otherwise is throw away the First Amendment.

        • Teal says:

          Read the next sentence. I’m not saying you don’t belong in the sense of “and therefore we should kick you out” I’m saying it in the sense of “this place is incompatible with your values.”

          An atheist doesn’t belong in a Church even though most priests would be fine with him attending.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            You belong in some rural village somewhere in Europe or Asia or Africa where you can live out your life in an indigenous culture.

            How does that not come with a strong implication of “You need to leave”?

            However you meant it, “Go back to the small parochial village you should have come from” is never a good look.

            America isn’t my home. It’s not your home or their home. It’s our home. Saying “Why don’t you just leave” doesn’t cut it. 90+% of the people here did not choose to be here, and most don’t really have the option of going anywhere else.

            The governing system we have is designed to promote all of us living together in peace. It’s designed with the idea that at no point in time will everyone in the country even agree on one thing. In that, it simply tries to make peace with reality.

      • hlynkacg says:

        I think you make an excellent point but I think that the distinction between “love to hate” and just plain “hate” really ought to be emphasize. I was born in a very blue collar factory town in the north-east and when I say “Fuck the Yankees!” I really do mean it.

        That said, my first impulse on 9/11 was not “Ha ha, look at those arrogant assholes burn” it was pretty much the same as every one else’s in my town. Indignant Wrath!, and that response was if anything even stronger in the deep “Red States” than anywhere else. Hell, even for all their ostensible “hatred” of gays the Red Tribe was pretty quick wrap the flag around the victims of the Pulse Nightclub attack.

        I contend that this is due in a large part to the sense of a shared “American” national/cultural identity that transcends the typical black vs white, red vs blue, Yankees fans vs ‘Sox fans divide. And I contend that the people who poo-poo nationalism or call it “a cancer” are playing a very dangerous game. What exactly do they think would happen in the absence of that shared identity?

        • Teal says:

          To translate the 9/11 red state example into something blue-er, I think that if there was another hurricane in Galveston / Houston similar in deaths and damage to the 1900 one, or some major disaster in Oklahoma City, the outpouring of grief and aid from NYC would be much larger than if something even much larger happened in India or China. Not, “good those Republicans can take of themselves.” Because of the same thing — a sense of shared identity.

          When people say fuck nationalism, they mostly aren’t saying that this fellow feeling is a bad thing. They are above all taking a particular side in certain political disputes having to do with foreign policy and immigration, and secondarily objecting to ostentatious and often mawkish displays of affection for national symbols.

          • Civilis says:

            objecting to ostentatious and often mawkish displays of affection for national symbols.

            America is full of ostentatious displays of affection for symbols, be they sports team logos or rainbow flags. The problem is that there seems to be a higher degree of objection among some groups that claim to be American for American symbols than for other symbols, whereas you would expect American symbols to get more leeway. One of the things that gets conservatives upset is that the symbols they hold dear do not get the protection that symbols liberals hold dear get. It’s hard to make an objective comparison in most cases, but perhaps the biggest visible example is comparing the treatment of images of Jesus and Mohammed.

          • hlynkacg says:

            In addition to what Civilis said above, I think that people seriously underestimate the role of such symbols in forging that shared identity.

          • A. says:

            I’m not sure I’d put the money on the sense of shared identity overcoming the hate for the outgroup.

            I can’t seem to locate the particular link I’m thinking of, but I’ve certainly seen liberal reactions to a particularly destructive flood in a red state be “haha, you deserve it, that’s what you get for denying global warming”. This may not be the majority reaction, but we can only hope it would not be the loudest one.

            Also it looks to me like major natural disasters in red states generally don’t end up on front pages of major newspapers (if they even end up in those newspapers at all), but I only have anecdotes and not actual data to confirm this.

          • Civilis says:

            A., to be fair, we sometimes see similar reactions from some Red Tribe members when disaster happens in a Blue Tribe area. The key word is ‘some’, whether it’s ‘Climate Change’ hitting the Reds or ‘God’s Wrath’ hitting the Blues.

            As far as natural disasters, people in Blue dominated areas tend to be more concentrated. A fire outside LA affects more people than one in the middle of Texas.

          • Teal says:

            I don’t think the Mohammed/Jesus comparison really works for a number of reasons. First, because Mohammad isn’t a symbol that liberals hold dear. Maybe you can get there as a second order effect (concept of respect for other cultures held dear -> Muslims are another culture and they hold Mohammad dear) but that’s not quite the same thing. I’m hard pressed to think of a physical symbol or image that liberals hold the same kind of reverence for (though I argue below they have a different type of reverence for the same symbols). I guess they are just puritan that way.

            Anyway with respect to American symbols, and to a lesser extent Christian symbols, I think a part of it has to do with the very sense of nationalism that is under discussion. Liberals by and large really do think that those symbols represent them as Americans, which is why they are not okay with them being deployed in ways that seem hypocritical or even just in bad taste to them. The fact that someone gets annoyed at flag waiving American parades but not Russian flag waiving parades doesn’t mean they uniquely hate America, on the contrary it means that they care about American symbols and how they are deployed whereas they don’t have any particular feelings about Russian symbols one way or the other. I think the underlying attitude is well summed up by “not in my name”.

            Clearly there is a huge gulf on a lot issues between the blue and red tribes on a lot of issues, including the role of the United States around the world especially vis-a-vis the military, immigration, what exactly the core values of our country are, and how and when it is appropriate to deploy our national symbols. However, the very fact that these are emotionally salient issues, given that other than perhaps immigration, they aren’t really pocketbook issues, means that there is an underlying nationalism in the sense of caring about the nation qua nation on both sides.

            I’m sure there are at least a few people that grew up in a jet setting family that just consider the US passport a flag of convenience, but I’ve never met anyone like that and I’m skeptical they exist in non-trivial numbers.

          • Civilis says:

            The problem is that the explanations given aren’t that displays of the American flag are ‘in bad taste’.


            “A group of university professors has signed a letter showing their solidarity with students who tried to ban the American flag at the University of California, Irvine – because they said Old Glory contributes to racism.”

            I believe these instances are a lot rarer than the Red Tribe portrays, but still the ones that appear are all of the form ‘I don’t want to risk offending people in America by displaying the flag of the USA.’

            On the Mohammed / Jesus issue, while Muslims may not be Blue Tribe members, they vote for Blue Tribe politicians. It’s not conservatives pushing speech codes on college campuses.

          • The Nybbler says:


            Yes, those are somewhat less-typical left-wing attacks on patriotism that I mentioned here, where the objection is to being patriotic about America because America is (or was) evil.

            That’s still different than attacks on nationalism, though.

          • Teal says:

            I’m quite certain there were many more devout Christians that voted for Obama than devout Muslims.

          • Sandy says:

            Strictly speaking, devout Muslims are not supposed to vote because it is tantamount to polytheism, but I doubt many of them buy into such an idea, at least in the west.

          • Nornagest says:

            Never heard that one. In all schools of Islamic jurisprudence, or only some of them?

          • Sandy says:

            Again, strictly speaking, all of them; a basic Quranic principle is that there is no source of authority other than Allah’s laws. In practice, I suspect few other than quietist Salafis actually believe or follow such an idea. I know some Hanafi scholars say it is permissible to vote in the elections of a secular country as long as the vote is for the ultimate benefit of the ummah, but many of these scholars are from the UK — I don’t know how scholars from Islamic nations view such things. In Shia Iran, at least, they seem to have worked out a compromise where the people can vote but the state is ultimately led by the Ayatollah commensurate with his position as the representative of God on Earth.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            Yes, extremist Islamist preachers often tell people not to vote, because they view non-Islamic government as illegitimate.

          • “Strictly speaking, devout Muslims are not supposed to vote because it is tantamount to polytheism”

            In theory, the Caliph is selected by the people, which in practice meant a poorly defined small subset of people representing the rest. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be by majority vote or by unanimous consensus, very possibly the latter.

            In practice, that’s one of the areas where religious theory yielded to practical requirements early on, with caliphs naming their successors, usually a son.

        • jeorgun says:

          Speaking, obviously, from my personal experience with the blue tribe and no real authority beyond that:

          Leftists who denigrate ‘nationalism’ aren’t using it as a synonym for ‘patriotism’. They aren’t even using it as a synonym for ‘believes in national self-identity/self-determination’ (many blue tribers I know were pretty vocally in favor of Scottish independence back when that was a thing).

          A lot of blue tribers do look down on American patriotism, but that’s because it’s associated with the red tribe and therefore Icky— I don’t think it has much to do with nationalism in the abstract sense.

          • Wilj says:

            I have to completely disagree. I see attacks on the concept of nationalism specifically *all the time.*

          • jeorgun says:

            I’m not saying leftists don’t attack nationalism— just that their attacks on nationalism and their attacks on American patriotism are separate things.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I feel like there is a bit of a Motte and Bailey going on here. Like Wilj see attacks on the concept of nationalism generally (and American nationalism in particular) often enough that i’ve pretty much come to expect it.

            When challenged they’ll say that they’re only objecting to the “mawkish symbols thereof” but then go right back to talking about how it’s wrong to discriminate against people based on where they’re born, and talking about how nationalism is a cancer.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I agree; leftist attacks on nationalism are based basically on the idea that nationalism is akin to Nazism and therefore evil. Whereas attacks on patriotism tend to be based on the idea that patriotism is simplistic and thus a product of low intelligence. Another brand of attacks on patriotism is that America is evil and therefore one shouldn’t support it.

          • Teal says:

            Who’s the they? I don’t think it “counts” as M&B if it’s different people. Consider that you may be experiencing the outgroup homogeneity effect.

          • jeorgun says:

            Who’s motte-and-baileying? Again— I never said leftists don’t attack nationalism! And I also never said that leftists don’t look down on the kind of patriotism you describe! Just that what they’re attacking in each case isn’t actually the same thing, and an argument against one kind of attack isn’t an argument against the other.

            (in case it isn’t obvious, I’m basically against what-leftists-call-nationalism and basically in favor of “mawkishness”/what-I’m-calling-patriotism-for-lack-of-a-more-precise-term, hence why I’m trying to draw this distinction)

          • hlynkacg says:

            That’s a good point. In hindsight the failure to distinguish between “Nationalism” and “Patriotism” is likely a fault in my model .

            That said I think my general conclusion still holds, though the path to it is less direct than I initially thought.

      • Civilis says:

        I think it’s colossal arrogance to think New York is the most American place you can get, and this arrogance is why so many Red Tribe flyover country types react so badly to the idea of ‘New York values’ and the like. This is what they’re reacting against.

        It may very well be mirrored in that the Red Tribe has a similar view of small-town America, but that doesn’t make it any more right. Anyone from anywhere in the world can move to a small American town and adopt the local values and become just as American.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          “I think it’s colossal arrogance to think New York is the most American place you can get”

          I’m going to contend that the word “most” is trying, and failing, to do all of the work for you there. You want to claim that being thought second to NYC somehow means you must be extremely offended. Why is that?

          If people thought “hometown America, Mom and Apple pie” was a close second to NYC, isn’t that something that reasonable people might come to different conclusions on rather than something people are required to be angry about?

          • Civilis says:

            As for why I used the word “most”:

            If you hate NYC, you hate the most quintessentially American place, and you hold a view that is likely to be in opposition to a quintessential American value.

            New York is the real America

            People don’t say that Atlanta or Houston or Cleveland or Sacremento or Smallville, Kansas are the most quintessentially American place, and yet the values that you’re attributing to New York that make it the best can be found in all such places.

            What makes New York unique? Is it Broadway or Times Square or Wall Street? All of those come with assumptions that don’t apply to most of America, and that some people may credibly resent being associated with. And that’s before getting into the pre-Broken Windows Policing associations many people still have of some of New York’s more colorful residents.

            I’m a suburbanite by heart, so I don’t particularly have much love for small town America as other than a place to play tourist. My few brief forays into even quasi-rural exurb America left me feeling as much an outsider as I do in the dense cities. If this was a disagreement between Generic Big City America and Generic Small Town America as to which best represented America as a whole, I doubt I would feel involved enough to contribute to the debate. But this is between one specific polarizing city and Generic Small Town America.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Again, if I think NYC is cardinally first, why is that an insult to whatever is in second? Why is it colossal arrogance?

            Now, if you said “well, I think Peoria is just as American as NYC” I would happily agree with you. This may seem to be in some sense contradictory, but I don’t see it that way.

          • Civilis says:

            At some level, I do need to apologize, as we are comparing different things. If you had phrased it as ‘New York is the most American city’, or even ‘New York is a quintessentially American city’, the debate would have been different.

            1. of the pure and essential essence of something: “the quintessential Jewish delicatessen.”
            2. of or relating to the most perfect embodiment of something: “the quintessential performance of the Brandenburg Concertos.”

            I think the fundamental issues I have with your statement are twofold. First, the terms ‘pure’ and ‘perfect’ are so value-loaded as to be almost completely unusable outside of objective comparisons. In that vein, anything that doesn’t admit that there are multiple possible answers to an opinion question is arrogant. That also applies to the Red Tribe rhetoric that sparked this thread. I can say Washington D.C. is a great city, I can’t say it’s the greatest city or definitely the perfect city.

            The second problem is that any comparison involving multiple assumptions is likely to be misunderstood. You’re not just assuming ‘these qualities make something the most American’, but also ‘New York specifically possesses these qualities the most’. There’s a difference between saying “Michael Jordan is my favorite basketball player”, “Michael Jordan is the quintessential basketball player” and “Michael Jordan is the quintessential athlete”. The first statement is purely opinion and requires no justification. The second is an opinion, but one which can be debated on a rational basis; we have ways to compare basketball players that are at least quasi-objective. The third requires agreement with both the assumption as to what defines an athlete, and that Michael Jordan possesses those qualities.

          • Tibor says:

            @HBC: Would you say that anyone who identifies as a Christian is a Christian? If not, what is your criterion to differentiate between Christians and Nonchristians?

            It seems to me there are two somehow related failure modes – either the standard I mention above where words don’t have any objective meaning, or an unreasonable demand for rigour which you don’t find anywhere outside of mathematics or philosophy, where one can define perfect imaginary objects.

            We routinely call objects something and we mean that they are a very close approximation to an ideal. There are no balls in the real world, but if I say “no, this roughly spherical object is not a ball, because it is not perfectly round”, you will think I am either a troll or a loony. If I insisted that what everyone would call a square is in fact a circle because I like to call it a circle, you would think the same thing (if you want to be really nictpicky, you could point out that you can have a metric space where it would make perfect sense to call a square a circle, so that is a legitimate usage, but the fact that it makes sense in the context of a specific field and in a specific case does not legitimize the same use in general).

            If I say “X is not a real Y”, then it may or may not be an insult. Of course, people do use it that way but not always. It could simply means “X does not adhere to my definition of Y” or more precisely “X differs from Y in fundamental ways, so I cannot see it as an example of Y”. A proper response to this is probably to demand a definition of Y. Not an example but a idealized definition. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer to that, then it was probably meant simply as an insult. In you example, “David Friedman is not a real economist” could mean simply “DF is not a good economist”, but it could also mean “DF is not a real economist because does he not have a PhD. in economics”. The second is a valid definition (even if not one I would use).

            Actually, even being called a bad economist does it have to be an insult, it depends on the context, although when meant that way and phrased like “not a real economist”, it is more likely to be an insult than a critique.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “Most quintessential” was (semi-intentionally) oxymoronic. I was going for a rhetorical flourish, which perhaps missed. All I was going for was the idea that to reject New York City as somehow not “fully” American is to reject something that is deeply embedded in the American identity.

            But, I would also say that if you reject “Mom and Apple Pie” towns, you also reject something that is just as deeply embedded. There is no one completely American place that contains all of America or the American ideal. That is largely the heart of my critique.

          • Tibor says:

            @HeelBearCub: If I understand you well, you are saying that Americanness consists of properties X_1,…,X_N and for someone to be called not real American he has to lack more than just one (and perhaps arbitrarily chosen) of those properties. That sounds reasonable.

            I guess you would also want some properties to be crucial, for example being born in Europe and not having ever visited America should be enough to be disqualified as a real American. So you have a group of criteria Y_1,…Y_M which all “real Americans” have to meet but also a group of criteria X_1,…X_N which not all have to be met simultaneously (and perhaps even cannot be).

          • HeelBearCub says:


            We, again, are really far afield of how the word “real” was applied, and I think you are getting wrapped around a philosophical axle that amounts to arguing about definitions in a legalistic manner.

            Let’s take the phrase “That isn’t a real pumpkin pie”, or its converse “Now, that is a real pumpkin pie.”

            Do we think either of those sentences are trying to say that Mrs. Smith’s, factory made, frozen last month, bought in a grocery store last week, and heated up today, pumpkin pie does not meet some technical definition of pie?

            Trying to argue about the fact that we need definitions, and they need to be both precise and loose doesn’t engage with the way in which the word “real” is being used.

        • Teal says:

          I shouldn’t have said “the real America”, I should have said something like “an inseparable part of real America” or something like that.

          There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to live in or even visit big cities. My point was that if you really hate them and wished they didn’t exist then you hate a large part of what makes makes America, America.

      • Lesser Bull says:

        This is exactly what makes people mad. Because they are Americans, not Europeans, you try to claim that they don’t even have a culture or a peoplehood.

    • Lysenko says:

      Regarding “Real American”:

      I believe I understand and sympathize with the emotional and historical basis of your response, HBC. At the same time, I have to admit that I think there MUST be some point of value dissonance where the label ceases to have any meaning if it is not removed.

      I do not think that anyone who isn’t an asshole, having met immigrants who have sworn their oaths of citizenship and chosen the values of America as their own, can dispute that we cannot define it merely in terms of birthplace.

      And if it’s a matter of citizenship, then Aldrich Ames, Julius Rosenberg, and John Walker Lindh are every bit as much ‘Real Americans’ as Hugh Thompson, Frederick Douglass, and Abe Lincoln…and at that point I think the term is so useless as to be thrown out entirely.

      So there must be SOME relation to cultural identity, to shared philosophical values. And there must likewise be SOME point of deviation from which a person for all intents and purposes ceases to be American in their heart and mind no matter what color of passport they carry when travelling.

      So, while we may disagree on where to draw that line, the rhetoric exists for a reason.

      • HeelBearCub says:


        And if it’s a matter of citizenship, then Aldrich Ames, Julius Rosenberg, and John Walker Lindh are every bit as much ‘Real Americans’ as Hugh Thompson, Frederick Douglass, and Abe Lincoln…and at that point I think the term is so useless as to be thrown out entirely.

        I agree with this.

        My proposed solution is to throw the term out.

        “Real Americans” is a term that suggest we can go through the citizenry one by one and identify those who are allowed to stay and those who must leave, those who deserve the entirety of the rights in the Constitution and those who only receive some of them, those who are first class citizens and those who are second class.

        I maintain that this will not work.

        • Nornagest says:

          The whole point of the rights in the Constitution is that they apply to everybody under that document’s authority. Citizens or not, loyal or not, whatever values they share or don’t share. If you’re rooting your ethics in natural rights, you don’t get to pick and choose — and the Constitution is very much rooted in natural law theory.

          (Except, I suppose, for those extended only to citizens, like voting and running for office. But “citizen” is a legal quality, not an essential one — all but the most nativist would agree that there are “real Americans” who aren’t citizens, and citizens who aren’t, insofar as the phrase is meaningful.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think you are quibbling around my use of the word”citizenry”. Sarah Palin clearly used this term in reference to citizens (giving no thought to aliens, legal or otherwise). To the extent that her use applies to aliens, it is very minor, very edge cases.

            I think there are other ways to invoke quintessential American values and culture, but “real America” should not be one of them.

            I think she was trying to invoke “Mom and apple pie” to talk about a certain rural American culture that is separate from the urban and urbane culture of the populous coasts. She probably intermingled “Real America” with “heartland” and “flyover country” to evoke the sense of aggrievement that is felt by some segment of that population.

          • Nornagest says:

            Honestly, I didn’t even notice you used the word “citizenry”; the parenthetical bit up there was a digression, a weak qualifier on my main point. I doubt Sarah Palin gave much thought to the citizenship status of the people her comments applied to, though I don’t doubt that if you asked her, she’d say they’re mostly native-born citizens. (Some of the most “‘MURICA” people I know personally are East Asian immigrants, though.)

            I think Palin is gesturing toward a single authentic American culture, probably some mix of notional heartland and frontier cultures. And I think she’s wrong about that; there are many authentically American cultures, only some of which look anything like Disneyland’s “Main Street USA”. But I don’t think she imagines kicking out the people that don’t conform to it, or stripping them of rights: not doing that is deep in American ideological DNA. At worst I expect she thinks their goals for America’s future should not take priority.

          • Does someone have a link to the Palin speech everyone is referring to?

            Without having read it my guess, based on the comments here, is that she was contrasting “real American” with “Irish-American, Afro-American, Italian-American,” not in the sense of claiming that people of those ethnicities were not real Americans but that people who identified with the ethnicity rather than the nation were not.

            But that’s only a guess–or, if you prefer, an attempt to steel man the term.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            Here is a CNN segment with some audio.

          • @HBC:


            It doesn’t sound like my guess at what she meant. More nearly that people who are pro-American and who do useful and important things for Americans are the real Americans. I don’t live in a small town, but I can’t say I felt insulted by what she said.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            “people who are pro-American”

            So, do you consider yourself as “pro-American”?

            Because it was a definite statement about geography, that there were “pro-American” parts of the country and … other parts of the country.

        • Lysenko says:

          I disagree with your bundling, HBC. You’re assuming a degree of malicious intent there with talk of forced deportation, stripped of constitutional rights and so on.

          “I love America, except for its excessive protections of free speech and refusing to silence the merchants of hate speech and bigotry…oh, and the stupid second amendment, why don’t people see that it’s time we ended this needless, violent, small-dick-compensating gun culture in america….and all this talk of individualism and rugged indivualism, it takes a village!…and baseball, such a stupid sport, anyone with any class watches proper European Football…and really, we need a proper parliamentary system, these first past the post systems are terrible!…”

          That’s not a straw man. I can’t speak for frequency, but I know enough people who have expressed EXACTLY those sentiments all at once, or flat out said “Why can’t America join Europe in the 21st century like the rest of the -Civilized- countries! Ugh!”. I don’t want people who express these sorts of views forced out of the country, or denied their constitutional rights. But I absolutely reserve the right to point out that their vision of America includes the erasure or removal of all things AmericAN about it, and to question the authenticity of that vision as an American one.

          EDIT: In short, while I think the term ‘real American’ is sloppy and I wouldn’t use it personally, I think it’s getting at a very real phenomenon, and one that deserves description.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            So, one is not a “real American” unless they: a) like football, and b) don’t like soccer?

            You, sir, are on the wrong blog. 😉 (See Scott and “sportsball” if you don’t get the reference”)

            Look, you can always find a great number of people willing to say asinine things, or reasonable things in an asinine way, but does wanting a social welfare state commensurate with Europe actually make people not part of “Real America”?

            I submit that you would love to define it that way, so that you can feel proper enmity towards you ideological enemies (just as those who are liberals would like to define those who are not open to immigration as “not Real Americans”).

            If you want to say that an idea is un-American, go for it, make your case. But that is quite different.

          • hlynkacg says:

            That is essentially my take as well.

          • Nornagest says:

            …really, we need a proper parliamentary system, these first past the post systems are terrible!”

            This is such a nitpick that I almost hesitate to post it, but when I hear complaints about first-past-the-post voting, I usually take them to favor instant-runoff voting or some other ranked voting system — not to advocate a switch to proportional representation or an abandonment of the presidential system of government. The complaint is usually that the voting method marginalizes third parties, not that our system of representation is unfair.

            (The UK also uses FPTP voting, incidentally, despite having a parliamentary system.)

          • Jiro says:

            I think we need to distinguish preferring soccer to football, and using a preference for soccer over football as a tribal indicator. The people in question don’t just say “I like soccer” in the same way that I might like chocolate ice cream; they “like soccer” because their tribe likes soccer, and the tribes which like soccer also have all those other preferences which, unlike soccer, are about how people live their lifes.

            There’s nothing wrong with liking soccer. There’s also nothing wrong with wearing gang colors–if you’re doing it because you just like the colors.

          • Lysenko says:

            As I said, I think there’s a point where there’s so little overlap in philosophy, ideology, and culture that it’s reasonable to point out that what someone wants is no longer ‘America’ in any meaningful sense.

            I agree that ‘real Americans’ vs ‘not real Americans’ is a bad way of describing this divide, and even that the dividing line is fuzzy because something like ‘American-ness’ is composed of a multitude of traits that run the gamut from political beliefs to sports preferences to philosophical outlooks and so on. It’s not a matter of a single bright-line test or cleft point, but rather an aggregation of changes until someone has less in common with American national identity or culture than they do with that of other national or international social groups.

            This was discussed and debated at some length in terms of cosmopolitanism vs. nationalism earlier, I believe.

            As far as how -I- would like to define it, I think I’ve been pretty clear. I have no problem viewing my ideological enemies as hostile to the principles that I believe make America distinctive and valuable as a distinct national identity, and of saying so on a case-by-case basis. You’ll note that I have yet to do so in this conversation or to sling around ‘real American’ or anything like that, so please refrain from making assumptions about my intentions.

            Let me try to restate my premise another way. You are comfortable with the idea that, in theory, an idea or philosophy or proposal can be “Un-American”. How much of someone’s personal ideology and values must consist of “Un-American” ideas and desires before you can justifiably point out “Hey, where does the ‘American’ part of your American Dream come in?”

            I think it’s in many ways analogous to the people who say “How dare you call me not a Real Christian? Just because I deny the divinity of Jesus, don’t believe the resurrection happened, think the bible is entirely a collection of myth and allegory, don’t think that Sunday is a holy day, don’t go to church, or donate to any religious causes, don’t believe that there is a hell, or angels, or saints, and I believe in reincarnation with no heaven?! I’m as Christian as ANYONE!”

            At some point, you’ve changed your definition of the group identity so much so that it loses all value and meaning.

          • Tibor says:

            @Jiro: This is just meaningless bickering, everyone knows that the best collective sport is ice-hockey :))

            In all seriousness though, what would you make of someone who prefers ice-hockey to american football? And don’t say Canadian :))

          • Teal says:

            You have to be careful not to conflate “American-ness” with “conformity with the trappings of my upbringing in one tiny corner of America”.

          • sweeneyrod says:


            What gives you the right to define who gets to be a real American? Why can’t someone who wants the US to become a clone of Denmark equally claim that “real Americans” want the best for their country (which in their view means becoming exactly like Denmark)? If you are going for the idea that real Americans are those who like the current state of the US, that makes pretty much every historical figure who preferred the situation when they were alive an unreal American, which seems odd.

          • Lysenko says:

            I don’t think your proposed definition works because at that point I can claim to be every bit as much a “Real Dane” as someone actually born there by claiming that I want what’s best for Denmark and saying they should become exactly like America. This strikes me as an absurd result and thus a bad definition.

            As far as what gives me the right, I claim no such right. I would claim that no one person can define ‘American’ or ‘unAmerican’ except in terms of relating to the core philosophical values put forward at the time of the nation’s founding, and expressed by key members of the nation over time. Those values have fluctuated some and in many cases have not always been lived up to, but they’ve stayed remarkably consistent.

            That’s a matter for historians and political scientists to have reasonable debates over.

            In that sense, I think that the American national identity has something more in common with religions or philosophies than the more ethnically or culturally derived national identities of some place like, say, France. And once again, once you have people changing a philosophy or a religion past a certain point, it generally gets a new name because the old one is no longer descriptive.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            To some extent, religion is more of a choice than nationality, although, it may not feel like that to the adherent.

            That aside Christian, like American, is a really broad term. I imagine that the Catholics who were referred to as “not Christian” by various Protestants took justifiable umbrage. So to Mormons today.

            And that, to me, is how the term “real” is used in practice, to distinguish between fine gradations very adjacent to each other, and usually as a means of pointing to the other as inferior. If there is some sort of Unitarian Church of Christ, I think if you said that they aren’t “real Christians” they would be justified in taking offense (though they probably wouldn’t, because, you know, Unitarians).

            “He is not a real man.” “You’re not a real soldier.” “Soccer isn’t a real sport.”

            So, theoretically, you could make some list of traits that 99% of Americans share, but I don’t think that would get you any closer to defining a “real” American.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Those people exist (and the ‘ugh’ is such a great marker), but I think you’re giving Palin too much credit to say she was referring to them. I think she was doing some old fashioned populist pandering to those who consider themselves working class, those who make and do “real” things with their hands. As opposed to the effete coastal liberal gentry.

          • Lysenko says:

            That’s something where we may get into personal idiosyncrasy, or maybe I should say ideo-syncrasy. To me, national affiliation IS a choice, and not just of where you build your house. It’s about buying in to the culture, the values, and the underlying philosophical assumptions. I think there’s more to being an ‘American’, or ‘Francais’, or ‘Deutsch’ than the citizenship section on the right legal document. A SF author I’m fond of likes to comment about having been born American and just having taken a few decades to get ‘Home’ (she’s a naturalized immigrant), and that rings true to me in the sense that she made an informed choice.

            And I’d compare it more to saying that Protestants aren’t Catholics, rather than saying either are ‘not Christians’. That said, there are certainly Progressive Christians (theological progressive, not political) I’ve run into that I would call ‘not real Christians’. They’ve discarded so much of what defines Christian theology and praxis that there’s nothing meaningful left. And I say this not as a Christian wanting to denounce the heretic, but as an atheist trying to find good labels for group identities and behaviors.

            And for reference, I was raised UU (less because my humanist father and bitterly ex- and anti-catholic mother were believers in its tenets than that they thought that church and sunday school and the attendant social ties were useful in social and emotional and cognitive development.), so I think you’re right about not taking offense, but again, I wouldn’t call UU a Christian religion ;).

          • “And that, to me, is how the term “real” is used in practice, to distinguish between fine gradations very adjacent to each other, and usually as a means of pointing to the other as inferior. If there is some sort of Unitarian Church of Christ, I think if you said that they aren’t “real Christians” they would be justified in taking offense”

            Why? Words have meanings. Modern Unitarians who believe there is at most one god are not Christians in the ordinary sense of the word.

            Why should they feel insulted? They might conceivably disagree. But saying “this is what I think Christianity is and your views don’t fit it” is no more an insult than simply saying “This is what I think Christianity is,” the rest being obvious.

            In your view, are all disagreements insults? If Murray Rothbard says that I’m not a real libertarian because I don’t hate the state, is he insulting me?

          • hlynkacg says:


            I can’t speak for Sarah Palin, but those people were exactly who was being referred whenever I’ve encountered that sort of rhetoric “in the wild”.

          • Civilis says:

            It’s also rather silly to use sports as a comparison factor, versus actual significant rights. I think the most visible rights differences are in the treatment of free speech (America near total free speech versus European prohibition of Hate Speech) and guns / self defense (America right to self defense versus European no right to self defense).

            Seeing American lefties say ‘we should be more like Europe’, it’s usually stuff like this they’re talking about, rather than ‘we should play Futbol instead of Football’.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            Here again is an example where you engage with only selective points, and key words, and fail to read the entire argument.

            There are (many) evangelicals who say Catholics aren’t real Christians. Ponder that for a second.

            The standard Unitarian Universalist in America today is not Christian, nor do they claim to be. I was making a point about some hypothetical offshoot of UU that would choose to describe themselves as Christian, presumably by asserting the centrality of the story of Christ to divining the will of God. But, as it turns out, the original Unitarians thought of themselves as Christians who did not believe in the Trinity and split on whether Christ was divine. So it turns out it isn’t even hypothetical. Who can say they are wrong and the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Conservative Baptists, etc. are “right”?

            I mean which one of them is right about who, exactly, counts as Christian?

          • “But, as it turns out, the original Unitarians thought of themselves as Christians who did not believe in the Trinity and split on whether Christ was divine. So it turns out it isn’t even hypothetical. “

            Which is why I specified “Modern Unitarians who believe there is at most one god.”

            There is a large gap between words not being perfectly precise in their meaning and words having no meaning. A Protestant who claims Catholics are not real Christians isn’t insulting them, but I think he is mistaken. Someone who claims that Mormons are not real Christians has a considerably more defensible position, and someone who claims that the sort of current Unitarian I described is not has a still more defensible position.

            “I mean which one of them is right about who, exactly, counts as Christian?”

            “Exactly” does most of the work of your argument.

            Would you similarly object to all other words which have a less than perfectly precise meaning? If I say that Cass Sunstein isn’t a real libertarian, am I insulting him? Oppressing him? Doing something wrong?

          • Anonymous says:

            who, exactly, counts as Christian?

            We already had this discussion. In 325 AD. This forms a pretty solid foundation of who counts as a Christian and who doesn’t.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            A Protestant who claims Catholics are not real Christians isn’t insulting them

            I’m pretty sure the bulk of Catholics would perceive it to be so. And I think most evangelicals would understand that as well, which is why most of them wouldn’t tell their Catholic or Mormon friend “Well, you aren’t a real Christian.”

            If I say that Cass Sunstein isn’t a real libertarian, am I insulting him? Oppressing him? Doing something wrong?

            I’d say you are intending to insult him or indicate his inferiority in some way. Oppressing him? Usually that phrase, in this context, is applause lights for people who like to sneer at the left. I assume that isn’t what you are doing here, but otherwise it makes no sense.

            If someone were to say “David Friedman isn’t a real economist” there would be a clear implication, which you could choose to ignore or not. If you took offense at it, I would certainly understand. If someone asked me if it was an offensive thing to say I would say yes.

            And all of this is very, very, very far afield from the phrase “not a real American” being applied (by implication) to something over half of the citizens of the United States.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            And yet, evangelicals may say Catholics aren’t real Christians and there are undoubtably Christian sects, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who reject the Nicene creed

          • Civilis says:

            And yet, evangelicals may say Catholics aren’t real Christians and there are undoubtably Christian sects, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who reject the Nicene creed

            Still, there has to be some mechanism by which we can say that somebody that says they are Christian isn’t, even if we can’t agree on the exact threshold at which the distinction can be made. Somebody that says they are Christian but admits they don’t believe in God or regularly sacrifices doves to Zeus, for example, should be easy to qualify.

            Are there thresholds other than citizenship by which we can classify someone as American? More importantly, are there thresholds that you don’t agree with but you would accept as rational?

          • People deported to Mexico who grew up in America– they’re apt to be working in call centers because they have American accents. They miss America but can’t come back.

            The thing which really made me think of them as exiled Americans rather than non-Americans is that they still celebrate Thanksgiving.

          • Jiro says:

            So along with transgenders and otherkin, and maybe transracials, we now have trans-Americans?

          • I wrote:

            “If I say that Cass Sunstein isn’t a real libertarian, am I insulting him? Oppressing him? Doing something wrong?”

            HBC replied:

            “I’d say you are intending to insult him or indicate his inferiority in some way. ”

            Why inferiority? Most law professors are not libertarians and don’t claim to be. Cass describes his position (in print) as “libertarian paternalism” and described himself (in correspondence–we used to be colleagues) as a libertarian.

            My actual response, as best I recall, was that he wasn’t a libertarian in any strong sense but was at least as libertarian as the then current candidate of the LP (two elections back). That wasn’t an insult any more than his claim was self-flattery–both were attempts to describe his political position.

            If someone said I wasn’t a real economist I would take that as a factual claim, probably mistaken. The most likely context would be someone I was interacting with online who didn’t know the relevant facts about me and would not make the claim if he did. But it also might be someone whose definition of economist or economics was different from mine, which again is a disagreement, not an insult.

            Is it your view that:

            1. “Real X” means anyone who claims to be an X.

            2. “Real X” doesn’t mean anyone who claims to be an X, but you shouldn’t say someone who claims to be an X isn’t a real X not because it isn’t true but because it is rude.

            3. ???

            I am reminded of my wife’s comment that she read someone who said a couple should never go to bed with an argument unsettled between them. He thought “argument” meant “quarrel.”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:

            I note that the phrase “not a libertarian in any strong sense” is not the same as “not a real libertarian”.

            Let me repeat what I said up-thread to Tibor:

            Let’s take the phrase “That isn’t a real pumpkin pie”, or its converse “Now, that is a real pumpkin pie.”

            Do we think either of those sentences are trying to say that Mrs. Smith’s, factory made, frozen last month, bought in a grocery store last week, and heated up today, pumpkin pie does not meet some technical definition of pie?

            So if someone says you are “not a real economist”, the odds are that they know your history fairly well. They are trying to impugn your arguments or positions based on some combination of appeal to authority (you have no PhD) or an ad-hominem (he is is not worthy of our respect, therefore his arguments are invalid).

            Or, take the sentence “He think Mises was right. Only Keynesians are real economists.”

            And this is the sense in which Sarh Palin used the word “real”, not in making technical arguments about who, literally, is an American. It’s fairly obtuse to try and read the argument as being a literal one about definitions, and not a subjective one about relative worth.

          • Anonymous says:

            And yet, evangelicals may say Catholics aren’t real Christians and there are undoubtably Christian sects, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who reject the Nicene creed

            And Muslims don’t believe that Christians are monotheists. Who cares?

            The Evangelicals who are Christian and say that Catholics aren’t real Christians are just heretics committing heresy. The Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t properly Christians via rejection of the Creed – I have read some of their texts and spoken to them, and they even have their own category for what they are in the sectarian classification, distinct from the Christian term ‘Christian’.

  33. Chris Thomas says:

    Just wanted to share this awesome new data set for anyone interested enough to do something cool with it. It’s basically 700 or so variables related to state policy in the US. Please use responsibly!


    • Theodidactus says:

      beautiful stuff Chris. I’m a librarian and I like to have this stuff readily available for both classroom demos and answering reference questions. It’s a big help.

    • Tedd says:

      This is brilliant.

      Remember, “use responsibly” means correcting for multiple comparisons.

  34. Casey Mann says:

    It’s commonly understood that privacy is dead – even if you don’t have Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. accounts, they still know exactly who you are and have incredible amounts of valuable data about you. This is clearly a super scary thing, because while that data is *for now* only usually used to try to sell you things, the Pandora’s box is open and there’s no way to keep that data being used later for nefarious purposes. So what do we do about this?

    We can’t turn off the entire internet, which is the only way that I can come up with for actually protecting privacy. I’m under the impression that even if you use encryption everywhere, there are enough leaky bits that if you become a Person Of Interest, you can still be hunted down. Can you pollute the data by spraying false information around? I’m thinking that that’s not going to be good enough to keep your shadow profile on Google’s servers from still being able to uniquely identify you and everything you do.

    So, is there a way we, as a society, can just……not care? If there’s no way to preserve both the internet and individual privacy, can we collectively adopt norms that render this information harmless? The obvious example is that doxxing harms people because it can cause them to e.g. lose their jobs, so we could adopt a norm of not allowing employment to be jeopardized by any revealed personal activities. (I have no idea how to enforce this in practice.) In addition, exposing secrets seems like it would always affect personal relationships, and I don’t know how norms could be changed other than for everyone to just stop keeping any secrets from anyone, which seems…unrealistic. The only example I think could be realistically achieved is that we could kill the harmful effect of ‘revenge porn’ by killing the idea that naked bodies are somehow shocking or scandalous or shameful.

    Any thoughts? I think we have to go one way or the other – either figure out how to actually ensure individual privacy, or change the norms and consequences of exposed secrets. But they both seem basically intractable to me.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Have you spent even five minutes trying to turn off the entire internet?

    • Agronomous says:

      This reminds me of a bit of anthropology I read someplace (but I think has at least a 60% chance of being true):

      There’s a tribe where everyone lives together in a big, round house with a roof and floor but no walls. They have a convention: anything you do while facing inward is private, and ignored by everyone else. Anything you do while facing outward is public, and acknowledged as visible and audible. Letting on that you know about something “private” is considered as bad as we would consider snooping around in someone’s bedroom or listening in on their phone line.

      So what we need is FaceInwardBook.

      • Casey Mann says:

        This seems like it would work well for dealing with embarrassing, but not important secrets – but what if, say, homosexuality is taboo and you engage in such relations while in ‘private mode’; does the privacy taboo overrule the homosexuality taboo? I think privacy would have to be the Very Highest Virtue in order to keep reputation-damaging behaviors from having any impact.

        • MugaSofer says:

          Do we want reputation-damaging behaviours not to have any impact?

          Bear in mind that we’re not just recreating privacy, but also allowing people to become notionally invisible at will, too.

          • Casey Mann says:

            Yes. Without the ability to keep reputation-damaging secrets, there exists no possible way to fight injustice unless the State (or Society) gives you explicit permission to do so. Which, particularly in cases where the State is itself committing the injustice, it isn’t necessarily inclined to grant.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Casey Mann – “Yes. Without the ability to keep reputation-damaging secrets, there exists no possible way to fight injustice unless the State (or Society) gives you explicit permission to do so.”


            …There… is… no way to fight injustice unless the State or Society gives you fairly explicit permission to do so. At least I’m pretty sure there isn’t?

      • Winfried says:

        So, is it politeness that causes them to ignore the inward actions or do they strive to really not experience it?

      • keranih says:

        They have a convention: anything you do while facing inward is private, and ignored by everyone else. Anything you do while facing outward is public, and acknowledged as visible and audible.

        Excellent. So I can go through Pete’s bag o’stuff and take what I like, or feel up Mary’s little girl, and so long as I’m facing inward, I’m good.

        (And this of course bleeds into one of the tensions over privacy – and the personal/private division, and secret ballots, and sunshine laws, and all the like – there is the freedom to do things without being judged by others, and then there is freedom from judgement by others, and it’s not the same.)

    • Outis says:

      AFAICT, Google doesn’t actually have a shadow profile. The stuff I browse when logged out never shows up anywhere. Even when I forget to log out on YouTube and I go back and delete stuff from my watch history, it works. Could they link my logged-out activity by looking at IP, browser fingerprinting, etc.? Yes, probably. But are they doing it? If they are, they are not using it for anything at all, not even to show you ads, or to gauge your interests on Google News. There are zero visible effects.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      What we’re doing now with regards to Internet privacy is the equivalent of living in a town with a high burglary rate and putting more and more locks on your door. The solution to the burglary problem is not locks; it is arresting burglars.

      Similarly, rather than going to the almost fetishistic lengths we do now to pretend that privacy can be preserved on the Internet, what we should be doing is strictly enforcing existing laws against identity theft, harassment, and threats, and establishing social norms against using people’s political views and hobbies against them in professional contexts. Privacy violations aren’t as important if the consequences aren’t as dire.

      • Kevin C. says:

        “establishing social norms against using people’s political views and hobbies against them in professional contexts.”

        I’m highly doubtful that this is possible. Every society has its “sacred” values and ideas, and thus the equivalents of “blasphemy” or “heresy” in speaking against those ideas. And these are the sort of things, like murder or theft, that a society always punishes one way or another; when the state fails to do so, mobs, gangs, vigilantes and the like form to do so instead. The only way you stop getting “Twitter mob” types from getting people fired for saying “the wrong thing” is to have the government punish people for saying “the wrong thing” instead.

        • Anonymous says:

          Actually, if government prosecution can preempt the mob, it doesn’t have to punish, it just has to have jurisdiction and maybe exercise it by publicly considering the case. Sometimes people accept its verdict and sometimes it is enough to stall till the mob calms down. We see this with the Inquisition and witch hunts.

          • Kevin C. says:

            Exactly, which is why I’m an atheist fan of the Inquisitions. Because they were far better than the alternative they replaced.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          Strongly disagree. The modern “say the wrong thing, get a Twitter mob calling your employer” atmosphere has only been around in America for a few years; the ability to have a non-mainstream political opinion and a job at the same time is still something that existed within living memory. (And no, I’m not saying that nobody ever suffered unfair consequences due to public outrage before the past few years; plenty of examples of that come to mind. I’m just saying that it was rarer enough for the change between then and now to be noticeable.)

          The severity of our situation is due to a combination of factors — an increasingly centralized and nationalized political culture that resists pluralism, ease of assembling a mob on social media, lack of enforced abuse policies on said media, a persistently bad economy that makes employment an easy pressure point and produces large numbers of idle people with nothing better to do than police others’ behavior, and news media and politicians sympathizing with the outrage mobs, to name a few. None of these factors have to be the case. We were better people in the past. We can be better people again.

          • Kevin C. says:


            You list a combination of factors, but as I see it, there is a single factor which dominates over, and is for some the cause of, the other factors: the change in communications and networking technology. As The Nybbler and Nicholas note, it was not so much that would-be heretic hunters weren’t there to punish you for speaking heresy, it’s that they were less likely to know that you’d spoken heresy. Now, we’re trending to the world where anyone could become the next Brendan Eich, Jason Richwine, or Donald T. Sterling. This is an area where our host Scott is right about social change as a downstream byproduct of technological change. Yes, “the ability to have a non-mainstream political opinion and a job at the same time” did exist “within living memory”, but only due to the privacy upon whose death Casey Mann reported. And it isn’t coming back; see Brin’s “The Transparent Society”.

            Addressing in more detail, I’d argue that the “increasingly centralized and nationalized political culture that resists pluralism” is a product of improved communications. For a historical comparison, there’s what William Stuntz in “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice” called the first culture war, where politics, particularly around alcohol, gambling, prostitution, and “obscenity” (which included information on contraception), became more “centralized and nationalized” as a result of the telegraph (allowing New England Puritans to read in their newspapers about the “sinful” doings of the Borderer culture out West). The ease of assembling a mob on social media is also technological, and not readily reversed, but, I would again assert is less important than the ability of such mobs to become aware of targets (good old “phone trees” and their texting/IRC/etc. equivalents are more than sufficient for witch-hunting mob organizing; and there’s always the chans). And how does “Look at what this horrible heretic said! Aren’t they awful? Who would associate with such a person?” violate “abuse policies”? Employment may be “an easy pressure point” now (how much of a pressure point was it when it was Communist opinions that got people blacklisted), but if it wasn’t the easiest pressure point, something else would be. In another time, you’d have people being “blackballed” from social organizations like the Elks, Lions, Rotarians, etc.; or excommunicated from church; or driven from their neighborhood; or simply beaten up. The method by which the heretic hunters punish heresy may change, but the occurance of such punishment, not so much. And a reading of witch-hunting phenomena across history and cultures, or of the aforementioned cultural movements of the “Progressive Era”, or of the handling of heresy charges in the early Medieval periods, before the formalization of the Inquisitions, would, I think, show how “idleness” or haveing “nothing better to do” is not much necessary to get plenty of people who are willing and able to “police others’ behavior”. And where else do the “outrage mobs” get their understanding of what is punishable as “heresy” if not from when some portion of the ruling elite “sympathizes” with them? We were not “better” people in the past, “out of sight, out of mind” and “high fences make for good neighbors” only made it seem that way. And the high fences have been torn down, and the digital Panopticon is coming. The trends and factors all point one way, really, toward this problem becoming worse, not better.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            @Kevin C.

            Well. Now I just want to sit in the corner and have a good cry. 🙁

            You may be right, that it’s not so much us being worse people as the worse part of our natures being enhanced by communications technology. We’re going to have to find some solution, though, if we want a pluralistic society to continue to exist. Correction — a pluralistic planet, as opposed to one where whichever group has the most control over communications media (whether through ownership or violent threats) can and will impose their culture on everybody in the world.

        • JDG1980 says:

          The only way you stop getting “Twitter mob” types from getting people fired for saying “the wrong thing” is to have the government punish people for saying “the wrong thing” instead.

          Not really. You could make it illegal for employers to fire (or refuse to hire) people on the basis of speech made outside the workplace.

          • Nicholas says:

            That is going to be almost impossible to enforce in the many places where employers are not required to furnish a reason for firing. They just fire you for speech outside work and don’t admit to it.

          • Even harder to enforce with regard to not hiring.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Kevin C

            Punish the decision-makers at Facebook, Twitter, etc. They’re the reasonable sized targets and the only ones who have real leverage in this situation. ‘No platform’ the mobs.

        • The Nybbler says:


          I think being able to articulate a sufficiently non-mainstream political opinion and still keep your job is not something that has been common. Two things have changed.

          1) It’s gotten easier for randos to disseminate our opinions wider. Nobody really cared if you mouthed off at the bar (as long as you didn’t comment on the boss’s wife), but mouthing off to the entire Internet is something different.

          2) The mainstream has shrunken, for any particular job. It used to be that aside from certain well-known and mostly right-wing exceptions (e.g. Bob Jones University or Chick-Fil-et), at most employers you could hold any opinion from the religious right to (after the Red Scare ended) some forms of communism. As long as you weren’t an actual Nazi or fan of the Ayahtollah Khomeni, you wouldn’t get fired for outside political speech. What happened is this contracted so that in some high-profile places, you could be as radical as you cared to on the left, but take a step to the right and you could be in trouble.

          • Nicholas says:

            I think that 1 actually does far more of the work than 2. If you mouthed off in the bar, even about the boss’ wife, he would never know. One thing that’s changed in the last ten years or so is people’s ability to find out what you really believe has increased greatly.

  35. Outis says:

    I think the main thing missing from my life is a good social circle. I don’t have one left from my university days, since I moved far away, and I find it very hard to build one as an adult.

    How does one learn to make friends? If I wanted a girlfriend, there is a whole industry that purports to teach me how to make it happen, but what do you do in the (probably even more pathetic) situation where you can’t even make friends?

    • Theodidactus says:

      Hi Outis,
      I have this problem as well. It seems to be universally agreed-upon that it’s difficult in adulthood, but the reasons given are quite variable. I’ve heard people say “well you devote more time to your job/kids/spouse” but i find none are really satisfying answers: as much as I put into my job, it will NEVER be as demanding as grad school, where I had more friends. Spouses and kids seem to LEAD to adult friends, not complicate friendship.

      I think a lot of it is that there are natural processes that don’t work as well in adulthood. I met my best friend while playing with bugs in the street. Tragically, if you do that when you’re in your 30s everyone thinks you’re dangerous or something, rather than just someone who really likes bugs.

      I think just like relationships, a lot of friendships don’t happen because people aren’t willing to take small risks. You seem like someone worth being friends with. Email me if you’d like to talk further. Making connections was my main reason for commenting on this site.

    • Virbie says:

      TL;DR: From what I know of people in similar situations, meetup.com was extremely successful for them. Though I suppose I only know of it in the context of a single city that has a large community of “young people looking for a social circle”.

      In the last 5 years or so, a lot of people moved to my city for a job in their mid-20s and found themselves without any nearby social circle. This was further exacerbated in cases where their colleagues were older than them or lived out in suburbia. I know multiple people who tried checking out meetup.com and built lasting friendships/social circles out of that. One of my good friends is actually getting married to a girl he met through that group of friends. When I first heard about it did strike me as “pathetic” (as you said), but upon reflection, I don’t see why it deserves that descriptor. It’s pretty well-studied AFAIK that making friends is quite different and way harder as an adult than as a schoolkid or college kid.

      • Jill says:

        Yeah, I’ve had good luck with meetup.com myself. You can find people with common interests, which is fun.

      • Outis says:

        I’ve tried Meetup, but it doesn’t really work that well. You can make individual acquaintances, but that’s not the same as having a group of interconnected friends that you can meet often.

        It seems to me that you can either be the seed of your own interconnected social network (which seems very hard if you have trouble making friends in the first place), or get others to pull you into their networks. Both seem to require skills or personality traits that make people want to be around you and introduce you to their friends. Hopefully at least some of those are learnable. That’s what I’d like to hear about.

        • Guy says:

          Having tried to build a new social circle from scratch after feeling exiled from a former one, let me say: it is really fucking hard.

          Joining an existing circle is less hard, especially if it’s built around a public space like a particular game store or a meetup or something. The basic method, I think, is to make friends with one person (or a small group), then make friends with their friends. From there you can usually allow the group to expand/contract naturally and you’ll wind up with about the right number of close friends, though who you’re close to at a given moment will probably vary.

          As for how to do that first contact, the best advice is probably just “be a regular” and “don’t be a dick”. If you’re there frequently, for some value of “there”, and you don’t make other people actively want to not be there, then some of those other people who are also regularly there will sort of naturally become your friends, assuming there is actual interaction happening (eating alone at a restaurant probably won’t work, for example, nor will regularly attending a particular movie theater, for most values of movie theater). As for not making people uncomfortable, the usual advice about paying attention to boundaries and cues and listening to what people are saying still should work.

          A further note, now that I’ve thought of it: hanging around and listening to people talk (that is, letting them talk to you, not attending a lecture or watching a conversation) seems to be a really good way to make friends. At least it works for me, and it works on me.

          • Jill says:

            Scott Adams’ new book How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big has some fairly decent info for shy people on how to make friends.

            If a person actually has social anxiety disorder
            they could see a therapist who specializes in this.

            One problem is that people want friends quickly. But making friends and getting a social network is a process, not an event. So one has to think long term.

        • Becoming the nucleus of a new social group may not be as difficult as you think. Most of the people around you are probably looking for something similar, particularly if they are attending Meet-ups regularly (filters for people without an alternative social circle).

          Invite enough people often enough, post happy pictures on Facebook, and more of those “loners” will naturally drift into your social circle.

          This is roughly how many social circle was developed (though I am NOT the nucleus).

          However, it’s not like college. I’ll warn you of that now. We just don’t have the same free time we did in college. We don’t have 5 hours between classes to burn on UNO. We meet up perhaps every few weeks at most.

          I do have a Wife, though, so that fills a lot of social holes. Obviously, not all, otherwise I wouldn’t post here.

    • BillG says:

      The challenge with making friends as an adult seems to be more of a lack of concentrations of individuals looking for the same thing, rather than a lack of time or abilities. In undergrad, grad school, etc., you often have a large concentration of individuals who want more friends. In adulthood, many often have these already accumulated networks and are not particularly aimed toward building more.

      In so much as there’s a solution, I suggest sites like meetup.com. When my wife and I moved into our current town we were often spending weekends alone, with not much to do. We joined a few meetups based on our hobbies (board games were most effective), and before long felt like we were lacking on time rather than friendships. The benefit seemed mostly to do with the fact that others who came to these events were open to new friendships, whereas in other situations even someone I hit it off with may not be open to building the connection.

      • Outis says:

        I actually had difficulty retaining friends even in university. Meetup helps with the opportunities, but there is still a difference in how much people are able to retain and improve those connections. That’s what I’d like to learn.

        Imagine “The Game” or whatever (never read PUA stuff, but let’s assume it works), except for friendships.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I am amused by the idea of an internet subculture devoted to making as many friends as possible in a generally callous way.

          • Leit says:


          • dndnrsn says:

            But do bros view other bros as prey or conquests?

            The thought of it being stereotypical bros makes it even funnier, though.

          • Urstoff says:

            Do you even deep emotionally satisfying friendship, brah?

          • dndnrsn says:

            “Field report: Hit the sports bar with my wingman B-Pong. Full of B7s at best except for one B9, name of Chad. Told him about a kegger the Omicron Rho house was having on the weekend, got his number. Plan is to pregame at his place and go to the kegger. Hoping for a fist bump or double high five close”

          • Agronomous says:

            I totally agree that we shouldn’t have upvotes or downvotes, but we desperately need a “funny” button.

        • Nicholas says:

          Strengthening and maintaining connections requires you to spend a lot of time with that person. I recommend a semi-formal commitment to some activity that meets regularly, like a RPG or a sports team, where people feel like they’re inconveniencing others by not attending regularly.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Take up a group activity like a sport, would be my advice. It will put you in contact with a bunch of people in a similar way to university does.

      • Or a hobby that you enjoy. Several of my friends were met in the SCA.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I was under the impression that SCA was mostly historical combat, and thus more or less a sport, but Googling suggests I was mistaken.

          Anything with large groups (eg, a softball team rather than a gaming group) with a mandatory activity (that everyone enjoys) ought to do.

          • The combat is the most visibly striking thing the SCA does and is a sport, and sports are one way of making friends.

            But my guess is that only a minority of the members are primarily fighters. My activities (I no longer fight) have long included cooking from period cookbooks, making period furniture and jewelry, telling period stories, … .

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I can broadly vouch for the benefits of getting into a folk dance crowd, though it depends on how much of a scene is available near you.
      Also, learn to play accordion or fiddle well enough (those will be useful instruments pretty much regardless of genre) and people will be more likely to want you around 🙂

    • Mr Mind says:

      Having an agreeable personality and one or two social hobbies are more than enough to form plenty of friends.
      In what of those two you are lacking?

      • lemmy caution says:

        you don’t even need an agreeable personality*

        *assuming Mr. Mind has plenty of friends

    • cbhacking says:

      My most active social group lately is, appropriately to this site, the local rationality community. I’m in the interesting (unusual?) position of having been there, and debatably been part of, the current incarnation of its weekly meetups from the beginning. I was considering starting a Sequences reading group, and mentioned this idea to a few people including a girl I met via OKCupid (which is occasionally a good place to meet friends, though that wasn’t why I was on there) who has HPMOR and SSC in her interests. I think, but cannot recall for sure, that she was already considering the notion too. In any case, a few weeks later she did start the group (which is good, because I have a bad record when it comes to starting things and I think she did a better job than I would have), which initially was largely built from a pre-existing EA community in the city (which I had not been aware of).

      In the year+ since, the weekly “Rationality Reading Group” has grown into a meaningful community in its own right, and extends far beyond reading rationalist essays and such. We get dinner together, hang out and play games together (sometimes until well into the night), have long discussions on Slack and Facebook throughout the week, share life experiences and ask for (and receive) advice, some members have begun dating, etc. I’m friends with some people who no longer regularly attend the group (though I do), and while I don’t see them weekly anymore I now see them for outside-the-group activities, too. Monday nights have turned into one of my few regularly scheduled time blocks, and something I look forward to every week; I now resent anything that will keep me from going, where previously there was no regularly-occurring event I felt so strongly about.

      If you don’t have any such group in your area, but the idea appeals, you’ve got four options (that I can see).
      First, you can move to somewhere that does have one. That’s not trivial but it’s at least simple. Find a meetup, arrange to be where it happens. Maybe try attending before you move there. Finding one via LessWrong’s wiki is probably easiest, but I’m sure there’s other options.
      Second, you can try arranging such a meetup yourself. That’s going to be tricky without an established social circle, but it’s not impossible. Post on SSC and LessWrong about it (LW has an explicit “meetups in your area” thing that you can register an event for). Have a topic (reading list, news event, interesting/controversial idea or suggestion, etc.), have some comfortable and neutral space (we meet in a classroom-ish space, after hours, at the local university), have snacks, have a reasonable timeframe (not going to conflict with too many peoples’ work hours or social events, doesn’t run super long but isn’t so short that people feel there’s no point if they might miss the start), and be patient. It might take a while, but unless your current area is bare of other aspiring-rationalist-type people, you’ll find some folks.
      Third, you can aim to meet people in this community socially, and see if you click with them. Start meeting people 1:1 or in small groups, through sites like SSC or LW but also through things like OKC and other sites where people can list interests. Have something fun but casual ready to do, especially if it’s conducive to conversation.
      Fourth, do something public and see if you get interesting people coming. Host a talk or give a lecture on a topic of interest to the community. Publicize it beforehand (local colleges are a good place for this offline, the usual suspects would work online). If you have the clout to appear as a guest lecturer to an established class, that would work. If you can introduce a celebrity figure, that’s also a good option (when Peter Singer came to town, one of the leaders of the local EA/Rationality community introduced him and mentioned the local community, then spoke with people later). Make yourself approachable in person, and contactable via email/social networking/whatever, afterward. Engage with people, but don’t let yourself be monopolized. This won’t present much opportunity to make firm and lasting friendships directly, but it’s a way to meet the people with whom such friendships may be made. Follow up on that afterward, perhaps with one of the more casual events, or by starting a regularly-scheduled thing.

      Good luck!

  36. Theodidactus says:

    Punxsutawney vs. Mcdonaldshell, a question that’s been rattling around my head since the Suffering Vs. Oblivion thread got posted a few days ago.

    I love the film “Groundhog Day,” if you’ve never heard of it, you should look it up. I find it convenient for examining many issues in philosophy specifically comparing various forms of consequentialism. It has, I’m perhaps ashamed to admit, had a major effect on my philosophical inclinations along with “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off,” which has basically the opposite premise.

    As a short synopsis: the protagonist of Groundhog Day finds himself in a “time loop” where his actions have only minimal consequences. Every day he wakes up in Punxsutawney Pennsylvania, on Groundhog Day. He has complete freedom to move around the town, interact with whomever he wants, eat junk food, rob banks, even kill himself. No matter what he does, he always wakes up the next morning, on the same groundhog day, with the only consequence of the previous day’s actions being his own memories. Everything else is undone. Coincidence conspires to prevent him from leaving Punxsutawney, ostensibly a tiny town without much to do.

    I love the film because they portray this near-freedom from consequences as being both a sort of paradise and a sort of hell…and as being no different than real life . In Punxsutawney, “nothing you do matters,” you would be able to gorge yourself on fine food without getting fat, devote endless amounts of time to your favorite hobbies without going broke or starving, interact with people in daring or impetuous ways without permanently losing friends, or physically assault folks you don’t like without going to jail for more than a few hours…but you’d also be unable to develop normal relationships, see the long-term results of actions that you undertake, or permanently alter the world outside your head in any way…and perhaps worse, you’d have no assurance this would ever, ever end. (For the purposes of the developing hypothetical, let’s say that you only have assurances that it will go on many times longer than a normal life, and possibly forever).

    I’m curious what folks would pick, if they had to pick between Punxsutawney and Scott Alexander’s “Mcdonaldshell”, discussed earlier this week. In Mcdonaldshell you

    “Live the rest of your life working 16 hour days, seven days a week, as a McDonalds cashier. You will have no time off except the time you need to eat, sleep, and use the restroom. Your entire life will be spent doing McDonalds cashier related tasks. When you are no longer able to perform your tasks, you will die painlessly.”

    People interpreted this question in different ways but I pointed out, on that thread, that in McDonaldshell you seem to be able to have semi-human interactions and continuing relationships. Your actions are limited but can indeed have consequences, though you’re no longer able to devote time to your hobbies or anything interesting (basically the opposite of groundhog day, though both deny you the freedom to explore some of the most important and interesting consequences). In many ways, McDonaldshell is better than some currently existing life situations (though as many commentors pointed out, McDonaldshell provides no “hope” that things will get better).

    but is McDonaldshell better than Puxatawney? Which fate would you prefer?

    I’m thinking most people would say “Punxsutawney” so I’d be especially interested in a good minority report.

    • Alex says:

      The whole point of Groundhog Day is that Bill Murray one he accepts his fate has the possibility of character development. IIRC he learns to play the piano or something like that. This indicates that the film actually portraits years rather than a series of consecutive days (I’m of course not the first one to notice this). Most importantly, Murray’s character learns over time not to be an asshole towards the female lead character. The relationship between the protagonists is shown as developing. I think your attempt to steelman mcdonaldshell as a viable option is at odds with the films premise.

      • Theodidactus says:

        I agree that both Punxsutawney and Mcdonaldshell portray situations that allow for “character development” (in quite a literal sense actually), but I think the process you call “steelmanning” is actually an important PART of the film’s premise. Bill Murray (in the film, Phil Connors) is thrown into a situation where it looks like this development can’t happen, but discovers it actually can. Depending on how you’re examining the movie it’s a metaphor for discarding false avenues of development and focusing on workable ones. You can’t do X but you can do Y, and Y is actually far more important. Mcdonaldshell COULD function as a similar metaphor (though of course that was not Scott’s original point*) because I think you can still do a lot of Ys, in fact a few that you can’t do in groundhog day.

        * well yes and no, because the original question was McDonaldshell or Oblivion and my reason for picking McDonaldshell involves a lot of Y that I still would like to do.

        • Outis says:

          The key point is that he changes himself, no? When the film starts, he is unhappy. Normally (for an American man, at least, as well as in a movie) the solution to that is to try to change your circumstances until they make you happier. But here he is absolutely locked into his present circumstances for all eternity. The only thing he can affect is his own mind: skills, attitudes, etc.

          So, after trying everything and failing, he resigns to changing himself. And once he has done so, his circumstances suddenly can change.

    • Jiro says:

      MdDonaldshell is a metaphor for being ems. Ems don’t get to have human interations or relationships.

      • Theodidactus says:

        Yes and no. Arguably, Punxsutawney is a metaphor too, for something that doesn’t allow you to get really really good at the piano. What matters for my hypothetical is that there’s no blanket “you are something very different than what you are.”

    • suntzuanime says:

      I mean, the youtube clip you link pretty much does sum it up, right? McDonaldshell is an option IRL, very few people choose it, revealed preferences, there you go.

    • stargirlprincess says:

      If there is a chance “Punxsutawney” lasts forever I would not even consider it. I would rather be tortured for the next thirty years (or three hundred etc).

      I am not willing to risk finding myself in an eternal situation that I will (or might) eventually regard as a hell.

      • dsp says:

        But how can you reconcile this with the fact that there is a non-zero chance that you are already going to live forever? There is, unavoidably, some small chance that you are, right now, mistaken to assume that death is a real thing that applies to you, and the only way to “not risk finding [your]self in an eternal situation” is to attempt suicide immediately, which you obviously haven’t done (at least, not enough to find out). So, clearly, there’s some level of risk you’re willing to accept.

        • Theodidactus says:

          I think stargirlprincess is extrapolating from the fact that reality seems on its face noneternal (what with heat death and all) and my hypothetical doesn’t (Punxatawney violates time’s arrow). My hypothetical is badly faulty because of this “eternity,” which it’s not really fair to ask someone to comprehend…but it falls apart without it because if Punxatawney is finite (even if it was, say, 10000 years) it’s still clearly preferable to McDonaldsHell

          Suicide might not work in reality either. There could be an afterlife.

          • dsp says:

            Suicide doesn’t work if you’re secretly immortal, either – I meant it’s the only way to find out. (It also can’t guarantee that you find out, but a negative result would be dispositive.)
            Reality seems to be finite, but you might be mistaken to think so, which is why I suggest there is clearly some cutoff you’re (that is, she’s, but also you’re, if you are) willing to accept for the probability that you might actually be trapped in an eternal hell.

        • stargirlprincess says:

          Ok replace “any chance” with “any non-trivial chance.”

          However I do find the possibility of waking up in a bad future sufficiently worrying I won’t sign up for cryonics.

    • Alliteration says:

      I would pick Punxsutawney over McDonaldshell, because in Punxsutawney there is hope. Because mental states carry over from day to day, you can become extremely skilled at things. You also only have the option of brute forcing social interactions: trying every option until you say just the right thing to get what you want. With an entire towns resources at your disposal, you should be able to find entertaining things to do to last an extremely long time. You can set your goal on something, and you should be able to find a way to achieve it.

      • Theodidactus says:

        The movie obviously explores the “brute forcing” thing in great detail. In a critical case, Connors/Murray finds the result unsatisfying because he can’t “get the situation right” consistently as shown here. If you’re a cinephile, you might notice that the slapping montage takes him ever-farther away from his ultimate goal. (bedroom to street to bar)

        One could view this as a metaphor for really loving someone as opposed to just gaming it, or a powerful statement about how hard it is to brute force social interactions, or an interesting observation on how things like your “mental state” matter when you set out to try to affect the world…or all of the above.

        Not really a rebuttal to your point but more of an extension.

        • Tedd says:

          Do keep in mind that the movie is fiction.

        • Alliteration says:

          This is a good point. Brute forcing social interactions would require that you be good at lying, and brute forcing social interaction may interfere with feeling emotions like love.

          Though presumably you could get good at lying after lots of practice.

    • Jeffrey Soreff says:

      I’d choose Puxatawney, no question.
      The main thing that one would lose is that one couldn’t take actions with permanent effects –
      but the vast bulk of our accomplishments evaporate anyway.

    • MugaSofer says:

      Puxatawney, definitely. It’s fun, and I get to be immortal.

      That said, I’d at least consider choosing McDonalds!hell because of the ethical implications of Puxatawney.

  37. Stefan Drinic says:

    SSC, how important is it for centrists to be outspoken? Moreover, how possible is it really?

    Something I’ve noted on more than a few internet communities is that politising things ruins everything; this is not a secret. The pattern appears to be one where one or another line gets drawn, some people take sides, but the majority is left without caring very much either way. It’s when nobody becomes safe to say a damn thing because discussion is now a minefield and everything you say will be used against you, that the sane and uninvested crowd shrugs, gets up, and leaves for greener pastures.

    I’ve wondered for a moment about the use of flipping a number of people off and saying ‘stop being stupid’, but this seems exceedingly likely to produce more trouble rather than less of it. Is there a thing such as ‘radical centrism’? A style of politics where everyone who tries to take sides gets the stick right away? The problem of this inherently becoming something belligerent doesn’t seem like a small one.

    And yes, this was a ramble-ish sorts of post, but this is natural when one is curious and a touch confused.

    • The Nybbler says:

      As soon as you prevent people from taking sides, you’ve chosen sides. Usually though not always for the status quo.

      Anyway, centrism seems like an inherently flawed position; it doesn’t have any principle of its own but blindly declares that the truth lies between the extremes.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        As a philosophical position to always go for, it is flawed. As the political position to default to when deciding what is best for any random forum, it seems much better.

    • Peter says:

      I’d like to come up with a term of my own: “reactive centrism”. “Radical centrism” is to a certain extent already taken, it seems to mean “being very liberal” in the continental-European sense of the word “liberal”.

      So with normal centrism, you listen to various debates and conclude that some of your considered opinions are from column A and some are from column B and some have features from both, that you have more in common with people who are described (including self-describing) as centrist than leftist or rightist, you say, “I guess that means I’m a centrist, then”, and carry on having the opinions you already had. Possibly you might surround yourself with other centrist opinions (possibly even to the extent of joining a centrist party), maybe even find a centrist echo chamber, or find you have more respect for centrists than non-centrists and end up being influenced by them more and taking on more of their opinions.

      “Reactive centrism” is where, rather than having your own opinions, you form opinions “knee-jerk” in reaction to others, in the centrism case to put yourself in the middle.

      There’s a long-running debate in the Lib Dem party about “equidistance”, about whether we should strive to be between Labour and the Tories, or whether we should do our own thing regardless of what the others are doing – their word for what I call “reactive centrism”. I’m not an equidistance fan, as you might have guessed.

      Some of the stuff I’ve read about political polarisation says that there’s definitely a dynamic where you end up with disengaged moderates and engaged immoderates – where if you’re going to stick your head up, it helps to belong to a camp, and to try to be a moderate is to be shot at by all sides.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      How possible is it to speak out on an Internet message board and be thought a centrist? That might be the bigger issue than how many actually exist or speak up.

    • Tseeteli says:

      Centrists are essential for a healthy commentariate. But they need to be centrists in the sense of, “willing to acknowledge good points from either side.”

      Centrists provide the feedback mechanism that separates strong arguments from weak ones. They also provide enforcement for nice social norms like, “don’t be a dick.”

      Without them, you just have partizans. Partizans are predisposed towards rejecting every argument that the other side makes. And they tend to view Other Side in a minimally-charitable light.

      If I’m talking to fully-polarized people, my only feedback for argument-quality is how much applause I can get from the people who were going to agree with me. The other side will disagree with everything, so having them disagree doesn’t make much of a difference.

      The same thing happens with rudeness. If everyone’s polarized then I can be a jerk without worrying about any kind of sanction. It’s not like anyone is willing to flip sides to punish me for jerkiness.

      Unfortunately, this only works if the centrists are actually willing to acknowledge good points.

      There’s a pathology where people get so fixated on the label “centrist” that they’re unwilling to ever make up their mind, for fear that they’ll be mistaken for partizans. (See: Newspapers that report both sides of the global warming ‘debate’)

      When that happens, “centrism” becomes its own faction, except a less interesting one.

    • Paul Torek says:

      Adding a third (fourth, etc.) viewpoint to the mix can have an extremely stabilizing effect, especially when the two most prominent viewpoints are close to balanced in numbers. Now we all become minorities, instead of just some of us.

      If my Google-fu were better, I’d point to some research on racial self-segregation which shows that having three or more races well represented in an area dramatically reduces self-segregation. But I can’t find it. I think it makes a useful analogy.

  38. The discussion, above, of gender and movies, reminds me of a little study I did, years ago.

    I wanted to establish how the gender and ethnicity of candidates for very obscure elected offices (Michigan university boards, 1940-1990 data) affected their vote totals, relative to their party’s average. One thing I found:

    * Female candidates did a little better than average.
    * Male candidates did slightly better than average.
    * Names with ambiguous gender did MUCH worse than average.

    This just supports the truism that people generally won’t vote for you if they can’t visualize you. But it’s a little Lake-Wobegon-ish to be able to say that both men and women are above average political candidates.

    • Murphy says:

      That’s really quite interesting.

      • I suppose the thing to do now is to replicate this with 1992-2016 data. Or take the whole dataset since 1940, and parse out how things changed from decade to decade.

        The thing about Michigan education boards (state board of education, UM board of regents, MSU board of trustees, Wayne State University board of governors) is that voters are faced with a whole raft of completely unfamiliar names, two from each party. A lot of people vote straight party, of course; the rest tend to vote for the most appealing names.

        Substantive characteristics of the candidates, incumbency, etc., play almost no role. It’s not a good system.

        The biggest name-appeal effect was ethnic. Candidates with Irish names (there were many) got more votes than their party average 90% of the time. Hispanic candidates (there were only a few of these) got fewer votes than their party average 100% of the time.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Were the names ambiguous gender because the candidates were from some foreign culture where we don’t the naming conventions (eg most people don’t know if Yuuko is a male or female name)?

      • Were the names ambiguous gender because the candidates were from some foreign culture where we don’t the naming conventions (eg most people don’t know if Yuuko is a male or female name)?

        In some cases, I think that played a role. That’s another reason the study should be replicated by somebody with more careful methods.

        Foreign-sounding names don’t seem to do well in Michigan elections.

  39. Muad'Dib says:

    Related to your dog-whistling post a couple of weeks ago. A couple of days ago, Trump tweeted an image saying Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt candidate ever. Unfortunately, the message was on a six-pointed star, placed on a pile of money. Apparently, the image originated on 8ch /pol/. There was a massive uproar, and Trump deleted the tweet and tweeted another image with a circle instead of a star (a slapdash affair: a couple of star-points are peeking out from underneath the circle). See this for the sordid details.

    My view is that this is a matter of Trump campaign’s incompetence and laziness rather than any dog-whistling. I know that Trump has a lot of Nazi and white-supremacist followers, but nobody really has given a reasonable-sounding story as to why he would engage in dog-whistling in this manner. Since Trump openly insults so many minorities, why would he make an exception here? It also doesn’t make sense from a personal or political point of view, since Trump is himself from New York, has a Jewish son-in-law and daughter (converted) and has Jewish backers like Sheldon Adelson. There have been no Trump broadsides against Jewish immigrants etc. like the ones against Syrian refugees. Besides, his alt-right followers probably won’t be happy with this double quick backtracking on the issue.

    • The Nybbler says:

      He’s done this before (retweeting nonsense figures from Stormfront), so at this point I’m suspecting he’s doing it on purpose. Whether he’s courting the neo-Nazi vote, letting the /pol/acks think they’re putting one over on him, or just stirring up some free publicity I don’t know. He’s proven pretty much immune (or more than immune) to accusations of being a neo-Nazi in the past, so it could be a working tactic.

      • Outis says:

        Scott Adams says Trump is actually going to lose if he doesn’t shake the “racist” label, so going for free publicity with that would be a bad choice.

        • Anonymous says:

          He’s already hedging on his original master persuader prediction? Can’t say I’m surprised.

      • Agronomous says:

        courting the neo-Nazi vote

        In all seriousness, how many neo-Nazis do you think we have in the U.S.? If it’s more than 100,000 (out of 320,000,000) I’ll be shocked. That’s one for every ten New Yorker subscribers, which now makes me want to move my shock limit down to 50,000.

        Given their likely, um, education level, that’s 50,000 (or 25,000) votes. The only place that’d swing anything is in Idaho.

        This is like accusing Hillary Clinton of courting the New Black Panther Party vote. (Except that’s totally cool.)

    • Jacob says:

      I agree. I’m a big believer in Hanlons razor, so I don’t think this was supposed to anti-semitic. Especially since the Jewish undertone is pretty subtle. I mean honestly, if it had been 5 points instead of 6 nobody would have thought twice, and 1 additional star point shouldn’t matter. Plus the Star of David is usually presented as two hollow triangles.

      I do think it’s reasonable to point out that if a presidential candidate is being trolled by /pol/, that throws into question whether that candidate will be a good president. Part of the presidents job is being able to separate fact from fiction and Trump sucks at it. When he retweeted some completely made-up and false statistics on race and crime awhile back was his defense was “what, am I supposed to check every statistic?”. YES, YES YOU ARE!

      • Winfried says:

        What do you make of Obama’s usage of misleading at best stats about gender issues?

        I’ll take incorrect numbers on a Tweet 10 times over incorrect numbers in a state of the union address.

        Hillary can’t even keep her own past straight on events as notable as sniper fire and yet the number of points on a star is important?

        • Nornagest says:

          Almost certainly not malicious.

          Your average guy with a college education and no particular reason to question what his sociology classes said is going to be unaware of misleading gender-studies statistics in roughly the same way that a fish is unaware of water.

          Obama’s a step above that, and he’s certainly heard the rebuttals, but why would he bother to fact-check them? He’s not going to make any friends across the aisle by doing so. And we’re dealing with something that “everyone knows” is misogynistic propaganda — even entertaining the possibility will make him less credible to his base.

          • suntzuanime says:

            “Malicious lies” and “reckless disregard for the truth” are ethically closer than the hypocrites want to admit.

          • Nornagest says:

            Maybe so, but that makes almost every politician in the world ethically close to a malicious liar. Like the Facebook memes after Brexit said, we’re now living in a post-fact world.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I feel like we are still living in a pre-fact world, in fact. Do you suppose there was a time when almost every politician in the world was not ethically close to a malicious liar?

          • Nornagest says:

            Depends where you draw the line, I suppose. But politics now does seem less grounded than it was fifteen years ago, if my nostalgia glasses aren’t too strongly rose-colored.

      • youzicha says:

        Can you even call it “getting trolled” by /pol/? It’s not like they set in motion some clever plan for tricking him into tweeting this, right? If anything, it would appear that whoever runs the Trump twitter account also hangs out on 8chan /pol/ and went “ha, that’s funny”.

        To conclude, this election cycle is substandard, and I want a refund.

        • The Nybbler says:

          To conclude, this election cycle is substandard, and I want a refund.

          Are you not entertained? The Romans may have had better bread (though probably not), but this stuff beats blood sports any day of the week.

        • I concur with Nybbler above. This is the most fun I’ve had in an election season since ever.

          • Outis says:

            I’m a bit bored right now because Trump doesn’t seem to be doing much. I think it’s going to pick back up after the Democratic convention.

    • suntzuanime says:

      The starburst is a visually striking shape, which belongs to all humankind, not just the Jews. We don’t let the Hindus claim monopoly over the symbolism of the swastika, even though it’s a much more complicated and information-dense shape.

      • Agronomous says:

        Yeah! Especially now that they’re taking all our precious parentheses!

      • Julie K says:

        The starburst is a visually striking shape, which belongs to all humankind, not just the Jews.

        The article linked above is mistaken in calling it “a holy symbol of the Jewish religion.” It’s a symbol of the Jewish religion, often used in ways that parallel how a cross is used as a symbol of Christianity, but it doesn’t have deep underlying significance the way a cross symbolizes the crucifixion.
        Its use is also relatively recent in the scope of Jewish history; as far as I know it first was used as a Jewish symbol in 14th-century Prague.

        • Thomas Eliot says:

          The Magen David was used as the symbol of King David and was inscribed on the ring that Solomon used to command the Djinn. It’s a pretty old symbol.

    • MugaSofer says:

      He did give a pretty amazing speech to the Republican Jews’ Convention or whatever they’re called.

  40. There’s a lot of predictions about what employment will and won’t be around in 20 years as a result of technological change. These predictions vary. Any suggestions on what sort of things I should think about in determining good skill-sets/jobs to aim for in the medium to long term? I have skills in several technology-related areas but feel uncertain about what direction to specialize in, if any, in the long term, or if tech is even a good area to be in. Any ideas on how I might narrow down reading/research in this area?

    • Murphy says:

      What are your preferences?

      becoming a driver would probably be a poor move but most tech/science jobs are likely to stick around for a while yet.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Well I make no claims of being able to predict the future, but why not add some non-tech skills on top of whatever your specialty ends up being? Having a better grasp of the business / management side of your work will help you if you want to rise to the level of your incompetence, so to speak, and also leaves you with generally applicable skills in the event that your technological skills becomes obsolete. Plus being able to work with the suits and speak to them in their own language will probably make your job a lot easier.

      That’s not totally idle speculation, I’m getting an MBA alongside my PhD for somewhat similar reasons. I can’t fully endorse that plan, since I naturally haven’t tested it yet, but it seems like a sound idea.

    • SUT says:

      I’d recommend a charitable reading of Rich Dad, Poor Dad for an outside the box perspective of how not to expose yourself to the vagaries of javascript framework employment options.

      To take an efficient market hypotheses view: the ability to speculate on most marketable skills in the technology sector decades down the line “if and only if” the ability to speculate on tech stocks decades down the line. In other words, there is a great range of contradictory opinions, most wrong, and anyone who did know the answer would do much better to just invest and make billions, instead of just positioning themselves for a nice raise.

      To apply to Kiyosaki’s view: “Poor Dad” is characterized by having degrees, which forces him into a working in a system of rigid rules, with no substitutes, preventing true bargaining and making him a wage taker. I don’t want to propose that STEM worker is a long term loser, just that it’s been observed for generation after generation that better men than myself, who have done all the right things, have ended up out to pasture.

      The alternative offered, the “Rich Dad” is a little hard to stomach for most technology types. A harsh take would call it basically flipping houses in marginal areas and waiting for a big real estate bubble to inflate there – hey it happened to the author in ’85(?), it can happen to you! Anyways the book is vague as to means, fluffy on the accounting, but I think it plants a seed for what a “Rich Dad” type play for financial security might look like with your skills and personality.

    • Tok Nok says:

      How old are you?

      But the best answer is always become a doctor. Even if its utterly proven by outside parties that computer Watson is a better doctor, there are still plenty of nurses and other underlings to fire who still have a necessary physical job to do.

    • Anonymous says:

      The things I speculate will still be in demand in twenty years:
      – Housing (especially with the current trend of building not-to-last). Going into real-estate, construction and related fields is typically a good choice.
      – Food (though currently pressed down by our transmutation of oil into crops). Not the most lucrative thing, but could be pretty sweet. If you can obtain some farmland, you can typically get some subsidies to keep you afloat, even if you can’t make a profit without them. Further, you could become largely self-sufficient, growing your own food and making your own necessities.
      – Energy. Fossil fuels will probably keep going for another lifetime – a petrochemical engineer is always in demand while exploitation lasts. Other than that, I would suggest nuclear power as the surest alternative. Could do worse than be a nuclear engineer!
      – Transportation. While driving will probably be automated eventually, I don’t think it’ll be this soon. Related fields – such as automobile and aeroplane repair and maintenance are also decently sure to be around.
      – Computing. If you’ve got an ounce of talent, you could do much, much worse than becoming a programmer or some other technician; particularly if you’re interfacing between normal people who can’t use computers and their devices that they ineptly try to use.

      (Tok Nok already mentioned doctoring. It’s a very good deal, since the prevalence of old sickly people is on the rise.)

      • keranih says:

        – Food (though currently pressed down by our transmutation of oil into crops). Not the most lucrative thing, but could be pretty sweet. If you can obtain some farmland, you can typically get some subsidies to keep you afloat, even if you can’t make a profit without them. Further, you could become largely self-sufficient, growing your own food and making your own necessities.

        No. Stay out of the food business unless you are serious, and have either a chunk of capital and experience, or a separate income and lots of time.

        Subsistence farming is hard, unprofitable, and not something that most people can subside on. Certainly they struggle to educate their children while doing so. Most people have neither the skills nor the tools to fashion their own hoe, much less drill a well, construct a tractor, train a mule to harness, gene-type an bull or concoct a (legal and/or effective) anti-parasitic.

        Commercial-scale farming requires a *lot* of land/infrastructure, money, and labor to stay afloat. Even with subsidies, which are not built into stone (even in France, where you won’t be able to *start* a farm if you don’t have one now anyway) and can go away as fast as they came on. It is possible to find management/plant worker jobs – and jobs in sales – but that’s just another variation on worker management and salesmanship.

        If by food one means niche marketing of local foods, that is better, but still one is riding fads and pensive customer prefs, which will be exploited by larger, more efficient (and safer) farms as soon as the fickler purchaser develops a buying pattern.

        Just ask anyone who owned a cupcake franchise.

  41. Odoacer says:

    Slated, an online movie financing company, recently did some analyses on how profitable women vs men filmmakers (directors, producers, writers and lead actors) were for almost all movies released from 2010-2015. They found that for all filmmakers, save directors, women had a higher ROI (return on investment) then men.

    Other key findings:

    -Female writers had the best ROI on both low budget and high budget films ( $25 million)
    –Men filmmakers had higher ROI on almost all films w/budgets < $25 million.

    -With a few exceptions, male directors have a higher ROI across all genres than female directors.

    -Female directors have the lowest ROI on films w/budgets under $25 million.

    Slated claims this is due to the number of screens that male vs female films play on. They conclude that this indicates there is bias against women filmmakers.

    However, I have a few questions/comments that some of you might be able to answer/address:

    1) Is the article's ROI calculation standard for the film industry? I thought ROI was calculated as:

    (Gain – Cost)/Cost.

    Slated calculates it as:

    (Worldwide box office revenue – estimated marketing cost as % of production budget + estimated tax credits & soft money)/production budget

    *If they used the gain- cost equation the ROIs listed for specific movies in the article would be higher, e.g. 13.28 for Fifty Shades of Grey vs the stated 12.14.

    2) There were no margins or error or indication of statistical significance, so I'm not certain if some of the budget numbers are significant.

    3) What would cause movie companies to release female driven films to far fewer screens? The last infographic I assume means female directors.

    • Murphy says:

      The problem is that they didn’t pre-commit to any analysis format as far as I can find. Why do the calculation methods look a little weird? notably if it’s as you describe then the actual cost of the production other than marketing is ignored.

      If you have a dataset and shuffle things around a little you can often dig the results you want out of it.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I’m confused about your question about definition of ROI. It looks to me that the difference between your two formulas is that marketing is included as a cost in the numerator but not the denominator. That should raise the ROI, but you claim that it lowers it. The rest of my comment is about that decision, but if I missed something else, this may be irrelevant. Are you concerned that they are looking at box office and not DVD sales? Yes, it is common to omit them, partly because it is hard to get the information and partly because they can be spread out over time, making comparison of films of different ages unfair.

      The standard in press coverage of the film industry is to report gross revenue and production costs. Mentioning marketing at all is a big step up. The decision to put marketing in the numerator but not the denominator may be an oversight. But I can defend it if you like.

      Film-making can be idealized as a two step process. First, the producers hire (dis)staff and invest money into creating a film. Then the distributors buy the completed film and invest money into distribution and marketing. So the first investment is much more risky and should have its ROI calculated separately. If the producers outright sold the film to the distributors, their return on investment would be about that sale price and their production budget. But they don’t, and even if they did, that figure might be secret. So this calculation assumes that the second stage is risk-free and defines the value of the completed film as the gross minus the assumed optimal marketing and distribution costs.

      • Odoacer says:

        The Slated numbers don’t include DVD sales or rentals.

        I calculated 50 Shades of Grey ROI* based upon wikipedia’s numbers: Budget $40 million and Box Office Revenue $571 million. This gives an ROI of 13.28 compared to Slated’s ROI of 12.14. The same is true for Your Sister’s Sister (another example named in the article). Budget: $125,000 Box Office: $3.2 million, ROI 24.6 compared to Slated’s ROI of 12.34

        I don’t know if Wikipedia’s budget numbers include distribution and marketing; I’m doubtful that it does from what you wrote. I had naively assumed that production budget would include marketing. Regardless, my knowledge of showbiz business practices is quite lacking and the reported numbers are murkier than I thought. So, I’m going to do a little more reading on this subject.


        • Douglas Knight says:

          When you compute from different sources, discrepancy is almost always the input numbers disagree, not the formula.

          Slated claims that the box office of YSS was 2.2 million, citing Baseline, while wikipedia gets 3.2 out of Box Office Mojo. They agree on the production cost of $125k. So that might represent $600k of marketing costs. Or perhaps, Slated is lying about subtracting marketing costs and is just using the domestic box office, because that’s what’s available at IMDB (and also at Box Office Mojo, which is failing, just for this one film, to add up the foreign figures that it publishes).

    • The Nybbler says:

      For #3, the films probably aren’t the same genre. A film like “Winter’s Bone” is going to be released to far fewer theaters than something like “The Hunger Games”, so if women are making proportionally more specialty films than blockbusters (which is my impression), than women’s films will not be as widely distributed.

      As for the accounting… it’s Hollywood accounting. Figures could mean anything or nothing.

      • Zorgon says:

        But, you see, the specialty genres are devalued because women are more likely to make them!

        (Please ignore any inconvenient data which might counter this blatant shoehorning attempt like specialty genre performance during male-dominated periods in cinema)

  42. Daniel says:

    Considering that the empirical evidence shows that:
    1) 90%~ of academics are leftwing, that their political views shape their academic findings, and that academic journals are reluctant and often unwilling to publish conservative ideas.

    2) Most of the cultural and news media is overwhelmingly liberal, and has a tendency to mock/shame anyone who has views outside of “their” overton window.

    3) 50% of the American population (and a similar story exists in many other parts of the world, IE the UK) has views that are counter to the mainstream liberal ideology and culture

    Based on this, I am not surprised that a huge segment of the American population has pretty much ignored and/or rejected what academia and the mainstream media says.
    I feel like the sentiment against experts and new age populism can be greatly explained by this.

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: 3), I wonder how many would have those ideas if the academia, media and politicians weren’t constantly indoctrinating them in liberalism.