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Open Thread 56.25

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever.

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815 Responses to Open Thread 56.25

  1. Deiseach says:

    I’m beginning to think we should have a separate theology open thread but I don’t know if that would work; we’ve got a couple of Calvinists commenting now, I think, and I’d definitely disagree with them and there are some other Catholics(?) with whom I think there is also some disagreement (“Why do you say that?” “It’s the traditional teaching of the Church and you are bound to believe it!” “Says who?” “SAYS THE POPE!”, “THE POPE IS NOT THE BOSS OF ME, MY CONSCIENCE IS!”, “YEAH, WELL, YOU HAVE A DUTY TO INFORM YOUR CONSCIENCE AND I’M DOING THAT FOR YOU!!”), so it seems like it might devolve into an unholy mess 🙂

    All the sincere non-believers asking “What exactly do you Christians believe in, then? What one doctrine can you all agree on?” and if we say “Well, we’re Trinitarians” then up pop the Unitarians and go “Oh no we’re not!” 😀

    (I really, really, really want to talk about Purgatory since there seems to be some confusion as to what it is for and what happens there; and that seems to be linked in with the idea of post-death repentance of sin, which IS NOT POSSIBLE. I did a thing about Purgatory a couple of years back for a non-Catholic Christian site, but it’s a bit too big to dump it all on here in one comment).

    EDIT: Okay, for anyone who is interested, here’s the Google Docs link to the thing on Purgatory (crossing my fingers and hoping it works because I’ve never put anything on Google Docs before).

    I wrote it for an Evangelical audience as part of a series of posts on Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, so that’s why there are references to other posts in it and why I use so much quotation from Scripture (because writing for people who accept the authority of the Bible). Also please note – I’m a traditional (though not Traditionalist) Catholic, so I have the orthodox Church view of matters. Many Catholics disagree on points or indeed whole swathes of doctrine, so although I consider I’m broadly in agreement with the Magisterium, you may hear a quite different opinion from someone else.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Why not start a marked subthread? It won’t be able to contain 100% of the theological discussion, but having one easy to find tree for it would at least give it a bit of structure.

  2. Deiseach says:

    In response to the complaints that they don’t care because they’re not invested in the future, one of the older generation does something for the cause of the environment and global warming.

  3. FacelessCraven says:

    (continued from the previous thread, and apologies for the length)

    @Jiro – That list is enormously clarifying, thank you.

    With respect, the reason you are seeing contradictions is because you are mashing together multiple versions of Christianity, one of which appears to be Straw Christianity. The result is incoherent because the parts were assembled incoherently.

    “Sin is selfishness” doesn’t mean going through the Warehouse of Vices and slapping a self-adhesive “selfishness” sticker on all the existing inventory. It means Selfishness is what makes sin sinful. It is at least theoretically possible that any action could be described as not really selfish and therefore not sinful. In practice, humans are extremely good at lying to themselves and to others, and there are some actions that are pretty obviously selfish in every observed instance.

    Sin isn’t tally marks in a ledger. Individual sins do not particularly matter one way or the other by themselves, any more than a marriage hinges on precisely when each dish was washed or the exact number of times each spouse said “I love you” or any single one of the other greater or lesser discrete facts that make up its history. What matters is the cumulative effect, which determines whether marriages or souls grow mighty or grow inward like a bad toenail. Sin tradeoffs or other assorted gimmickry don’t work, for very roughly the reason that spouses don’t create healthy relationships by trying to figure out the absolute minimum amount of love with which they can treat each other. Min-maxing sin makes you the sort of person who would minmax sin, which is to say one who prioritizes selfishness.

    Salvation isn’t paying off your spiritual credit card. It is not earned by being “good enough”. “Good enough” is not a standard Humans are able to meet in any case. What God wants isn’t fewer sins committed than some secret cutoff number, it’s for people to actively work at turning away from sin and toward Him and each other. If they are willing to do that, He will meet them at vastly less than halfway. If they prefer selfishness, he will respect their preference.

    Questions about whether specific actions are sins are useful to the extent they are practical. The general answer to all of them is “do what you think is right, but think about it pretty hard because you’ll answer for your choices to God.” The worry isn’t that you’ll make the wrong choice (you definately will on a large fraction of such decisions), but rather that you’ll get into the habit of deceiving yourself about your own motives enough to enter a fatal selfishness spiral. Consensus interpretations on what is and isn’t sin are useful but not absolutely conclusive; you are probably not smarter than everyone else who has ever lived, but thinking things through is useful. Disagreements will happen and can go deep enough to make short-term cooperation impossible, but ultimately don’t matter because God is the one whose interpretation really matters. Questions about other religions, atheists, people who never hear the Gospel, the unborn, belief in original sin and transubstantiation and so on are forwarded to a perfectly just, perfectly merciful, perfectly wise God to figure out. The question for the individual is not how God might judge an endless series of increasingly contrived moral dilemmas, it is what they can do to make better choices today than they did yesterday.

    The above is a very rough rendition of the Gospel under the HitAoG framework, to the best of my understanding and as thoroughly as four paragraphs would allow. Other frameworks of Christianity may or may not be compatible with some or all of it.

    “I can’t choose to believe that communion wafers are flesh, any more than I can choose to believe that 2+2=5.”

    On the contrary, you can believe those things, or that Communism is the one true way, or that the Earth is flat, or that Climate change will annihilate us all/is an invention of pointy-headed liberals. Beliefs are a choice. Humans believe what they choose to believe, no more and no less. We interact with evidence via subjective interpretation, not deterministic arithmetic.

    If really, truly believing 2+2=5 reliably made people live twice as long, there would be a vast, complicated framework to explain why believing this was good and proper while providing patches to keep mathematics working for practical purposes, and another explaining how a short lifetime with pure mathematics was worth way more than a long lifetime infected by the selfish variety. We believe what we think it is useful to believe, and that includes belief in what is useful. People say that Christianity is a crutch, and that is true. So is Atheism. All beliefs are crutches, and all people are crippled. Others doubtless disagree, but that’s the truth as best I understand it, based on my own experience and observations.

    “No possibility of, say, loving humans but not loving God (because of lack of belief in him).”

    As I understand the framework, loving other humans is loving God, and loving God is loving other humans. There is no way to truly have one without the other. It’s theoretically possible that one can love God in this sense while vehemently denying his existence. In practice, actually loving other people is a lot harder than people like to pretend. Humans are not very good at even choosing to want to love, much less succeeding at it. Based on my personal experience, I would say that Atheism made it considerably harder than it should have been, but it’s certainly possible I wasn’t doing it right.

    “I find the idea of Heaven and Hell being beyond time in such a way to be another thing I can’t make sense out of except as an arbitrary law of the universe which says “here’s a list of things which you can’t do, we’ll call that list ‘beyond time’”.”

    Being beyond time isn’t necessary. If you have to choose between A or not-A, there’s no way to choose both. Given a series of choices you could choose A sometimes and not-A other times, but the choices can still be summed, and we can still speak meaningfully of you choosing one or the other over all. If the choices can have different value as choices in themselves, you could make a lot of small-value choices of Not-A and one high-value choice for A, and we could say that you chose A. None of this means that, once the highest level of meta-choice has been made, it’s not decisive. Decisiveness is an intrinsic part of choice, and God wants an actual, final choice. Death seems like a good guess for the cutoff.

    “Making God the equivalent of a heroin fix seems pretty arbitrary to me.”

    The whole point of HitAoG is that Hell is not something God does to you, or doesn’t do to you, or the result of him withholding something from you. Hell is something you do to yourself by the sum of your choices, nothing more, nothing less. Choosing selfishness over and over leads gradually to shutting out and cutting away everything that makes one human, until finally choice itself is abandoned. The process is perhaps most obvious in addiction, but all sin involves the same general arc. That’s what makes it sin. Choosing selfishness some leads to choosing selfishness more, until eventually one is too selfish to love, and eventually too selfish even to choose.

    “God could choose to appear in front of everyone in a way which leaves no doubt that he exists.”

    Several people in OT 56.25 have claimed that if something claiming to be God did so, they would assume it was trickery of some sort due to their prior for God existing being so low. I’ve heard prominent Atheists have make similar claims. I think they’re telling the truth. Increasingly invasive methods of making his presence unarguable run up against free will constraints, near as I can tell.

    “But God makes it impossible for me to do a lot of things without violating free will. Nobody says that God violates free will by making it impossible for me to murder using psychic powers.”

    Not giving you psychic powers to murder with isn’t a restriction of your freedom when you’re perfectly free to murder in a variety of other ways. The ability to make meaningful choices does not require the ability to make literally any choice.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      @HeelBearCub – “And churches of all stripe tend to lean heavily on “know” rather than “believe”.

      What’s the difference in practice between the two?

      All Christians think there’s some subset of behavior that makes you “not of the body”. I’ve known Christians who drew the line at drinking alcohol, and others who drew the line at practicing Homosexuality. I’m pretty sure there are yet others who draw the line at disapproving of homosexuality. Pretending these divisions don’t exist serves no purpose. Doing what one thinks is right is the best that can be done, and they’ll all answer to God for their mistakes.

      The same logic applies to lying, or for that matter to killing or sex.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Example: When someone says “Homosexuality is turning away from God” there is no implied personal statement of belief, nor is the statement a humble statement of personal faith. It is a prescriptive statement of knowing what God wants for someone else.

        “Good enough” is not a standard Humans are able to meet in any case.

        Hell is something you do to yourself by the sum of your choices, nothing more, nothing less.

        I understand the mindset, I really do. But you should at least recognize how maddeningly incoherent it is that those two ideas are commonly held at the same time by adherents.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @HeelBearCub – I have a Gay friend who is also a Christian, who refused to come to my wedding because he thought it was wrong for me to marry a non-Christian. My wife never forgave him. At the time I thought he did the right thing in going with his conscience, and respected him for it whether or not I agreed with his views. Do you think he was wrong to do so?

          All statements are statements of belief. One can be aware of that or not, and one can phrase their statements humbly or haughtily. Everyone has beliefs about what they think is right, what they think God wants, even for other people. It is good to be aware that they are only beliefs, to be open to the idea that you are wrong, and to be as humble as possible about them. On the other hand, if my preacher gets up tomorrow and announces that he believes it’s God’s will that he be allowed to sleep with any of the women in the church he likes, I believe he probably shouldn’t be our preacher any more.

          “I understand the mindset, I really do. But you should at least recognize how maddeningly incoherent it is that those two ideas are commonly held at the same time by adherents.”

          Hmm. Good point. I’ll have to think about that one. Thanks!

          • alaska3636 says:

            “All statements are statements of belief. One can be aware of that or not, and one can phrase their statements humbly or haughtily. Everyone has beliefs about what they think is right, what they think God wants, even for other people. It is good to be aware that they are only beliefs, to be open to the idea that you are wrong, and to be as humble as possible about them. On the other hand, if my preacher gets up tomorrow and announces that he believes it’s God’s will that he be allowed to sleep with any of the women in the church he likes, I believe he probably shouldn’t be our preacher any more.”

            That is basically what I was asking atheists in an earlier thread. I wanted to know if atheists thought that atheism was rational stance since a God concept was inherently untestable or non-falsifiable; but, basically, the probabilistic universe is equally incapable of being proven. Despite a long conversation about what I meant by “proving a negative”, we basically come down on one side as a matter of faith, i.e. all statements are a matter of belief. Some of us adopt those beliefs and others (many people here, for instance) arrive at them.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @alaska3636:

            You can believe in God, and I certainly hope that you find it a positive experience. But you can also believe in astrology, the power of crystals, etc. you could also believe in the Norse, Roman, Greek or Egyptian gods. My beliefs about your God are (likely) similar to your beliefs about the Roman gods.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @FacelessCraven:

          I have a Gay friend who is also a Christian, who refused to come to my wedding because he thought it was wrong for me to marry a non-Christian.

          My Grandfather would not come, nor allow my Grandmother to come, to my wedding because the officiant was not Catholic. The officiant happened to be my uncle, who is a Lutheran minister. So this answer is perhaps more informed than general.

          Here is what I would say. Your friend did injury to your wife, whether or not he did injury to you. Was that wrong? Only he can answer that, but he would have to accept the reality of that injury and compare it to the injury that being present would have done to his faith and his relationship with his God. I don’t know what the precise scenario is, but I doubt he ever considered being present for the reception and not the ceremony. This suggests something about what his ongoing relationship with you and your wife ought to be, and perhaps your wife knows this at a gut level.

          My relationship with my Grandfather never recovered. I wasn’t equal to the challenge of making peace with a man who could be both incredibly generous and incredibly self-righteous in the worst way and likely a functional alcoholic. Perhaps if I wasn’t ADD we could have made a rough peace through letters. Some future selves might use email to achieve the necessary emotional distance.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “Here is what I would say. Your friend did injury to your wife, whether or not he did injury to you. Was that wrong? Only he can answer that, but he would have to accept the reality of that injury and compare it to the injury that being present would have done to his faith and his relationship with his God.”

            Mm. It’s a bit more than just his relationship with God, though; he knew us both pretty well, and he was trying as best he could to warn us against making what he saw as a massive mistake. As it happens, he was right. We were both complete fools, though I’m pretty sure I was a bigger fool than she was. We were horrible for each other, two messed up people messing each other up worse every day no matter what we did, and our religious differences had a fair amount to do with that. The marriage lasted just long enough to thoroughly ruin both of us. I’ve spent the last decade putting my life back together, she’s a thousand miles away doing a pretty good job of drinking herself to death. We still love each other deeply, for all the good it’s done either of us.

            I hope I don’t offend, but it seems to me that my friend and your Grandfather both thought they saw people they loved in danger and tried to warn them. My friend was right, your Grandfather was wrong, but as I understand it both of them were trying to do what they thought was right. From where I sit, I don’t think there’s a knowable rule-set sufficient to solve all the varieties of human interaction. Sometimes we’re blind to even the least-worst option.

            ““Good enough” is not a standard Humans are able to meet in any case.

            Hell is something you do to yourself by the sum of your choices, nothing more, nothing less.”

            I thought about this some more. Is the contradiction you see the idea that humans are the way God made them, the way God made them isn’t good enough, and that not being good enough is assigned as their own fault?

          • In general, is it a good idea to register a protest about a marriage you think is a bad idea by not showing up to the wedding?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Nancy – Lebovitz – “In general, is it a good idea to register a protest about a marriage you think is a bad idea by not showing up to the wedding?”

            I think it worked, once upon a time, as a symbolic gesture to signal that no, really, you’re very serious about your objection. I don’t think it’s a good idea any more. Mores and expectations have changed too much.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @FacelessCraven:
            My grandfather lived about 1000 miles away and didn’t know my wife. His objection was purely based on his belief system.

            It sounds like your friend did not object to a marriage between a believer and a non-believer, but between two individuals he saw as incompatible. This seems like a poor example to illustrate religious beliefs.
            —————————————

            Yes on the free will question.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelbearCub – “”Yes on the free will question.”

            But salvation isn’t dependent on them being good enough. Jesus, The cross, Grace, the whole point of all of that is to route around the whole problem of not being good enough. Instead of getting what they deserve, people are given a free choice. If they truly want Selfishness, in a revealed-preferences sense, they are allowed to have it. If they truly want Love, again in a revealed preferences sense, they get all of it. No one is “good enough” to be offered the later option, everyone can take it anyway. People take it or not as they prefer, and God honors their preference.

            Where’s the contradiction?

            “It sounds like your friend did not object to a marriage between a believer and a non-believer, but between two individuals he saw as incompatible.”

            I don’t think he saw a distinction between the two. Our religious incompatibility and our practical incompatibility were of a piece to him. And again, I don’t think he was wrong. Our differences in belief really did have a lot to do with why the relationship was so dysfunctional in the first place and why it eventually failed. In any case, religious incompatibility was the core of his argument.

            If we say my friend should have attended the wedding, should he have told me his objections in the first place? Should he have told my wife? Wouldn’t those have done harm as well? I’d readily agree that standing on your principles should be your last resort, not your first. Unfortunately the modern trend seems to leave no room for principles at all, and I find that worrying. We can aim for better principles, but principles of any kind are always going to lead to some level of conflict, and are always going to be impossible to distinguish from just being a jerk. At some point, people need to be able to accept disagreement, even bitter disagreement, without escalating further.

            I’ve mentioned it before enough times, but another friend of mine cut off all contact from me when I disagreed with her over Listen and Believe. That hurt a hell of a lot, later events proved her dead wrong about the case in question, and I strongly disagree with the whole unpersoning people over political disagreements thing. On the other hand, I stood on my principles and she stood on hers, and while I think her principles suck, I can at least respect that she holds them genuinely. I still consider her a friend and hope she comes back around some day. What else is there to do?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @FacelessCraven:
            If your future ex-wife had been compatible with you in every way, an atheist but not in a way that caused friction between the two of you, and you had been destined for a 70 year happy marriage, would he still have objected? If he still would have it is a religious principles objection, otherwise it’s not.

            As to the free will question, you seem to be taking the evangelical Christian position here, rather than the Catholic one, I think. So if someone leads an essentially selfless life, but does not accept JC into their heart because they can’t believe in JC, this is choosing selfishness?

            God is all-powerful, and all-good, and ever-present, but is not powerful enough to create all-good beings? I’m perfectly willing to accept I am not all-good, but I’m not willing to accept that free-will logically requires that I be evil.

            Does God have free-will? If the existence of evil precludes either all-good beings or free-will, then why did God bring evil into existence? If God could not choose to forbear bringing evil into existence, then is God actually all-powerful?

            And of course none of this deals with all of the really dicey problems of theodicy. Do infants killed in earthquakes and tsunamis or who just die in childbirth deserve hell? Do the one year olds killed in the Syrian civil war choose selfishness? Does free-will have anything to do with why their are insects whose life-cycle entails their larvae eating the eyeballs of children, blinding them for life?

            The triple-omni God just isn’t compatible with life as we know it to be. If you have to say “I don’t know. I can’t explain it. I just have faith.” I can accept this. But when you start to try and explain it and think you have done so, then I call B.S.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “If he still would have it is a religious principles objection, otherwise it’s not.”

            Aah, thanks for the explanation. I seem to miss obvious things a lot.

            “So if someone leads an essentially selfless life, but does not accept JC into their heart because they can’t believe in JC, this is choosing selfishness?”

            I think the HitAoG inclines people toward thinking not, rightly or wrongly.

            I don’t know, and that it is up to God to judge. I am very worried about how “essentially selfless” is defined. It is very difficult for people to take the idea of sin as seriously as I think it deserves, there is a very obvious polyanna trap lurking around that phrase, and there’s a verse in the gospels about millstones and necks. Again, the whole idea of minimum standards is the complete opposite of the point. This is how people talk about a contract, not about a relationship with someone they love.

            “God is all-powerful, and all-good, and ever-present, but is not powerful enough to create all-good beings?”

            …Was Conservation of Identity the term Scott came up with for the idea that completely identical mind-states aren’t actually separate beings? In which case God making more God is just God.

            “Does God have free-will? ”

            Jesus did, but the pre-creation Logos? No idea. Interesting question. A lot of stuff I’ve read sort of leans toward no, but that sounds like DOUBLE HERESY. Then again, perhaps heaven outweighs hell? especially if heaven is eternal and hell isn’t.

            “Do infants killed in earthquakes and tsunamis or who just die in childbirth deserve hell? Do the one year olds killed in the Syrian civil war choose selfishness?”

            No. I’m pretty sure they don’t get it either. Does any version of Christianity say they do? I would think even the Catholics would appeal to Purgatory. Didn’t Rebel with an Uncaused Cause mention the Baptism of Blood as part of the Catholic framework?

            “Does free-will have anything to do with why their are insects whose life-cycle entails their larvae eating the eyeballs of children, blinding them for life?”

            I’m pretty sure no. Those are deeply horrifying. So is the guinea worm. If God got rid of those two species, would the rest of nature be non-horrifying enough for us to accept, or would we need to get rid of Ebola too? Do these edits have a bottom, or is the next-worst feature always going to be unspeakable because it’s the worst thing in existence? If Shoggoths existed, would the eye-bugs be not-so-bad? Ultimately, isn’t this whole line of thinking just The Problem with Pain? If we think existence is net-positive utility under an atheistic framework, why would these questions matter more under a framework where all this is only temporary and eternal bliss is an option on the table?

            I honestly have no idea why things like that exist. I wish they didn’t, and am interested in ways we could make that happen as a species. I just have a real distrust for the various “why is the world the way it is” arguments. I don’t think they appreciate how much would really have to change before they’d be answered.

            “The triple-omni God just isn’t compatible with life as we know it to be. If you have to say “I don’t know. I can’t explain it. I just have faith.” I can accept this. But when you start to try and explain it and think you have done so, then I call B.S.”

            Ultimately I do say that, as it happens. On the other hand, I think good explanations are possible. Pretty clearly not for everything, maybe not even for most things, but for a lot of things, certainly. And looking for them is fun and interesting and keeps the mind sharp.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @FacelessCraven:
            I don’t think any of your answers actually wrestle with the questions I asked. Much like with your friend who objected “on religious principles” but actually seems not to have, I think you are missing some obvious things.

            Let’s just take one of them. Can God create all-good beings? Your answer to this was “this is just more God”. First off, so what? If eliminating all the human caused evil from the world means simply creating lots of little things that are like pieces of God, why is the an objection? But secondly, we wouldn’t know everything God knows, and we wouldn’t be all-powerful, so we would not be God. We would just be good all the time. We would still do different things from each other, make different choices, they just would not be bad things and bad choices.

            Do people commit evil acts in heaven?

      • Jiro says:

        FacelessCraven:

        humans are extremely good at lying to themselves and to others, and there are some actions that are pretty obviously selfish in every observed instance.

        I know that, but your explanation only works sometimes. It’s plausible that a murderer is lying to himself. It’s not very plausible that millions of people who don’t think fertilized eggs are human are all lying to themselves, or that all practicing homosexuals are lying to themselves.

        And then there are unsettled moral questions. We can’t agree on whether utilitarianism or consequentialism is correct, or which method of aggregating utility under utilitarianism is correct. But whichever is correct, people who pick the wrong side will be promoting and possibly doing things that are horribly sinful. Are they all lying to themselves for getting a moral question wrong like that?

        Sin tradeoffs or other assorted gimmickry don’t work

        I don’t think that’s true. Deliberately trading off sins obviously wouldn’t work. But there will still be cases where two people did almost the same things in life, but one of them performed one more abortion, and the cumulative effect was slightly greater on that person, and that means he “chose” to reject God. It may be true that you can’t take conscious advantage of this by performing one fewer abortion, but the problem happens when comparing people who are already similar except for that extra abortion.

        What God wants isn’t fewer sins committed than some secret cutoff number

        But that’s the effect of the system described. You either go to Hell or you don’t, and people with more than a certain level of sin go to Hell. You may not be able to game the system by deliberately committing just under that level of sin, but the level is still there.

        On the contrary, you can believe those things

        You appear to have an unusual belief-forming process. I find myself unable to believe apparent logical contradictions. Even if you can, you need to think how it applies to people who can’t.

        As I understand the framework, loving other humans is loving God, and loving God is loving other humans.

        But that’s another one of those arbitrary things I was complaining about. Because I don’t love fertilized eggs, I must, by definition, not love God? There’s no room for being honestly mistaken about whether a fertilized egg is something to love? If I don’t pick the right choice between utilitarianism and consequentialism, that means I don’t love God?

        Being beyond time isn’t necessary.

        Yes, it is, because without it, we have the question of why you can’t start loving God (or fertilized eggs) once you’re dead, since dead people have better knowledge that God exists (or that fertilized eggs are people).

        Several people in OT 56.25 have claimed that if something claiming to be God did so, they would assume it was trickery

        It’s usually a bad idea to change your mind based on a single piece of evidence. There are other things he could do which would raise my estimate of God existing some more and at some point I would agree that the *cumulative* evidence means that the entity is probably God.

        Besides, even if not everyone would be convinced, the question still applies to those people who would be convinced.

        Not giving you psychic powers to murder with isn’t a restriction of your freedom when you’re perfectly free to murder in a variety of other ways

        That is subject to reference class manipulation. You say that God can prevent an entire subcategory of X, as long as he doesn’t prevent the whole category. How much this limits God entirely depends on what size category you pick. If you want to limit God, you choose a small category: “God can prevent one kind of murder (psychic murder) but not all murder”, But you could equally have chosen a larger category: “God can prevent one kind of mortal sin (murder), but not all mortal sins”.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Jiro – “It’s plausible that a murderer is lying to himself. It’s not very plausible that millions of people who don’t think fertilized eggs are human are all lying to themselves, or that all practicing homosexuals are lying to themselves.”

          I don’t see why not. Millions of people have collectively lied to themselves about murder and slavery, why not sex or abortion?

          “But whichever is correct, people who pick the wrong side will be promoting and possibly doing things that are horribly sinful. Are they all lying to themselves for getting a moral question wrong like that?”

          Some mix of lying, being lied to, and just flat-out being wrong, yes. You are correct that this is horribly sinful.

          “It may be true that you can’t take conscious advantage of this by performing one fewer abortion, but the problem happens when comparing people who are already similar except for that extra abortion.”

          The whole point of Salvation, the Cross, Jesus, all that stuff is that the extra abortion doesn’t get counted. I understand that is counter-intuitive. I was raised in the church, my family tried very hard to teach this to me, and it still took a decade as a christian and another decade as an atheist to wrap my head around it. Everyone likes sin too much to get the heaven-state, but not too much to *want* the heaven state. If they really want it, that’s permission for him to modify them to be able to get it. If they really prefer selfishness, he lets them keep selfishness. Roughly speaking, the free will choice isn’t over whether or not to sin, it’s over whether or not to *want* to sin.

          “There’s no room for being honestly mistaken about whether a fertilized egg is something to love?”

          There is. Hopefully the preceding explained why.

          “You appear to have an unusual belief-forming process. I find myself unable to believe apparent logical contradictions. Even if you can, you need to think how it applies to people who can’t.”

          Show me the logical argument that universally solves any live culture-war debate. Abortion, climate change, gun control, best voting system, Atheism, Christianity, take your pick. I am not saying evidence has no effect on beliefs, and it certainly can force someone to take or abandon positions. I am saying that I do not think evidence is ever truly decisive in setting or changing core worldview elements, for anyone. Our world is too complex, and we are too good at lying to ourselves.

          You really find the 2+2 = [living twice as long] example so obviously far-fetched?

          “Yes, it is, because without it, we have the question of why you can’t start loving God (or fertilized eggs) once you’re dead, since dead people have better knowledge that God exists (or that fertilized eggs are people).”

          As I understand it, Rationality means consistently getting the best answer possible from the available data, and one is rational to the extent they converge on this ideal. Correct?

          Giving them more information wouldn’t be enough, because the necessary information might be different for different people. Better to give them ALL information. but then, not everyone is equally rational, so better fix that. But then everyone isn’t perfectly rational, so some still make innocent mistakes. At what point does this stop looking like an exercise in free will and start looking like a server farm to you?

          The other problem, of course is that a God who starts waving to us from the sky is obviously coercing us to do what he wants via bribes and threats. Is it possible to really love god of your own free will when he’s standing right there offering heaven and threatening hell? It seems to me that these two problems overlap sufficiently to make the whole thing pointless. Better what we have now; you can choose to believe or not believe as you please. Those who choose selfishness are not unduly coerced, those who choose love are not unduly incentivised.

          @Jiro – “If you want to limit God, you choose a small category: “God can prevent one kind of murder (psychic murder) but not all murder”, But you could equally have chosen a larger category: “God can prevent one kind of mortal sin (murder), but not all mortal sins”.”

          Sure! But what difference does it make whether there are seven deadly sins, or one, or seventy? If the point is that sin itself must be possible, why does the specific number of permutations or their type matter at all?

          • Jiro says:

            Millions of people have collectively lied to themselves about murder and slavery, why not sex or abortion?

            Because “people lie to themselves about X” becomes an unfalsifiable statement if there aren’t conditions you can point to which can show that it’s not taking place.

            Besides, it is much less plausible that people are lying to themselves in those cases because the type of disagreement is visibly different. People kill fertilized eggs because of intellectual disagreements; people commit homosexual acts because of a combination of normal human emotions and intellectual disagreements; people commit murder because of greed and/or a lack of empathy. Yes, you could say “people who kill fertilized eggs are just lying to themselves when they say their belief about fertilized eggs has intellectual roots”, but at that point you’re saying arbitrary things about people’s motivations just because you must in order to keep your belief system from collapsing.

            And if you have to say random, unfalsifiable, and not very obvious things about people’s motivations just to save “people choose to go to Hell”, then that pretty much proves my point.

            The whole point of Salvation, the Cross, Jesus, all that stuff is that the extra abortion doesn’t get counted.

            So what ever happened to “people choose to go to Hell”? That’s the whole reason I brought it up. Are you saying that, actually, people’s choice doesn’t affect whether they go to Hell, once salvation comes into the picture?

            Show me the logical argument that universally solves any live culture-war debate

            “People choose to go to Hell” doesn’t mean “most people who go to Hell chose that, but a few people who go to Hell didn’t”; it means that everyone who goes to Hell chose to go there. A statement like that is falsified by one example.

            So any problems I point out only have to happen for at least one person. They don’t have to happen universally. When I point out that logical arguments aren’t really a choice, I don’t need to show that there is a universal logical argument–I just need to show that there is at least one person who was convinced by a logical argument.

            And I’m pretty sure there is at least one person who thinks that fertilized eggs aren’t people, who was convinced by logical argument.

            Giving them more information wouldn’t be enough

            Likewise, there only needs to be one person who would start loving God once shown evidence for God’s existence in the afterlife, to be a problem for “people choose Hell”.

            The other problem, of course is that a God who starts waving to us from the sky is obviously coercing us to do what he wants via bribes and threats.

            There are people who don’t love God because they don’t believe he exists. For God to appear would not be coercing such people by bribes and threats, at least not any more than he is already coercing believers by bribes and threats; it would just mean they now would join the believers.

            If the point is that sin itself must be possible, why does the specific number of permutations or their type matter at all?

            This came up because Rebel explained that God allows people to choose Hell because he has to allow some free choice. But Rebel was talking about demons–why can’t God just make all the demons go away and limit sin to humans versus humans only? He would still be allowing some sin, so it should be okay.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          @ Jiro

          Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism.

          You’ve also got an interesting sorites paradox going that I haven’t heard before. Where you spend the afterlife is a categorical matter, while sinfulness admits of degrees. That means that there must be two quantities of sin which differ by the smallest conceivable amount such that the first will send you to heaven while the second sends you to hell. For concreteness, we can imagine that if you embezzle $4,342.18 from work you’ll make it through by the skin of your teeth, but if you embezzle $4,342.19, just one cent more, you’ll suffer damnation. But it is absurd and unjust that the theft of a penny should be the difference between eternal bliss and eternal torment.

          • Deiseach says:

            That means that there must be two quantities of sin which differ by the smallest conceivable amount such that the first will send you to heaven while the second sends you to hell.

            There are categories of sin, but the difference is not “the smallest conceivable amount”: venial sin and mortal sin. Mortal sin will send you to hell because it kills the action of grace in the soul.

            In your example, it’s not the difference of a penny that will send a soul to hell. Did the person embezzling the first amount do it out of necessity or with the intention of paying it back or under coercion? It might be a venial sin under certain conditions. Did the person embezzling the second amount know it was stealing, know it was a breach of trust, know it was wrong, did not need the money for a necessity (e.g. was stealing it because they wanted to pay for a foreign holiday) and went ahead anyway? It could be a mortal sin in those conditions.

            So it’s not “you get damned for the sake of a penny”, it’s “you get damned for serious and unrepented sin”.

            Two people knock down someone with their car. The first person gets receives a prison sentence, the second person receives the death penalty. Why is this? Well, you would assume there must be some difference in the circumstances of the cases. You wouldn’t explain it as “the second driver owned a car that was a year older”. If you found out that the first driver fell asleep at the wheel while driving home after a double shift at work, and the second driver deliberately ran down their ex-partner after threatening them “If you leave me, no-one else can ever have you”, would you say “Oh, but the difference in sentencing wasn’t just if they both resulted in a death”?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Deiseach:
            The obvious flaw in your argument is that punishments in the criminal justice system scale, whereas hell does not.

            Now Catholicism does have purgatory, so there is that. But still, we are talking an infinity of punishment in hell. Even the death penalty isn’t infinite punishment.

          • Anonymous says:

            You seem to be saying that sin is a matter of knowingly and intentionally dealing harm to someone you believe to be a person. But beliefs and intentions aren’t discrete either! The “fertilised-egg killer” case seems a good illustration of that. An abortion doctor may think “I suppose there might be a tiny chance that an embryo may have a soul (and therefore killing it constitutes a sin), but I consider it no more likely than an asteroid killing me tomorrow; therefore I’m going to ignore that possibility”: is it then a sin or not?

            The proposition that “you either go to heaven or to hell” is a discrete choice that somehow has to deal with metastable situations. It doesn’t even help if you add purgatory to the mix: where’s the dividing line between hell-worthy and purgatory-worthy behaviour? You may solve this problem by postulating as many intermediate “purgatories” as there will ever be souls, but I don’t believe that to be very satisfactory. (Plus, some versions of that argument may imply that we don’t have free will, i.e. everyone does what earns them their pre-determined spot in the afterlife.)

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Deiseach

            I don’t think superimposing a categorical structure on sinfulness will help. Sinfulness obviously comes in gradations, and if your soteriology can’t do justice to this, your soteriology must be defective.

            Imagine that Fred has led a middling Christian life so far, not going out of his way to sin but falling well short of sainthood. At midnight tonight, and unbeknownst to him, he will die of a brain aneurysm no matter what else he does. His employer is a large international charity, and, on his last day of life, he goes into the office like any other day.

            In the first scenario, suppose that Fred is five cents short of being able to buy a soda from the office vending machine, and steals a nickel from the coffee fund in the breakroom with no intention of paying it back. He enjoys the soda and dies at midnight. Surely this could not be a mortal sin for Fred, the tipping point between going to heaven and going to hell.

            In the second scenario, imagine that Fred instead embezzles $2 million from the company coffers, perhaps planning to buy for himself a lifetime supply of soda, with no intention of paying the company back. He gets the chance to drink exactly one soda before the aneurysm strikes. Surely this would be a mortal sin for Fred: his employer is, after all, a charity, and a theft of $2 million translates directly into the death of one thousand children living in Africa.

            This is all we need to begin a forced march through the sorites sequence. If Fred is not damned for stealing a nickel, it would be absurd for him to be damned for stealing six cents, because a penny could not be the difference between an afterlife of bliss and an afterlife of torment. But if he would not be damned for stealing six cents, it would be absurd for him to be damned for stealing seven cents, for precisely the same reason. But if he would not be damned for stealing seven cents… We may continue the series right on up to $2 million, with the conclusion that Fred must get into heaven no matter how much money he takes.

            But this contradicts our earlier assumption. This means that one of the following must be true: (1) Fred would be damned for stealing a nickel, (2) Fred would not be damned for stealing $2 million, or (3) There are two sums of money Fred could steal differing only by a penny such that the first will result in his going to heaven while the second results in his going to hell. But all three of these options are unpalatable, and it seems as though a God who picks any of them would be deeply unjust.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Heel Bear Cub and Anonymous

            Adding purgatory to the mix won’t help. This is because the expected utility of a finite period in purgatory + eternity in heaven = the expected utility of eternity in heaven = positive infinity. Purgatory turns out to be no punishment at all.

            It also won’t work to send everyone to an afterlife where their daily punishment or reward is perfectly proportioned to their virtue in life, as Anonymous suggests. The expected utility of any constant reward carried out every day for eternity is positive infinity, while the expected utility of any constant punishment carried out every day for eternity is negative infinity. The only way God could give to each according to their merit is by being really sneaky about it and manipulating the daily quantities of utility so that their sum converges to a finite number, for instance, giving you one unit of utility on the first day, half a unit of utility on the second day, a quarter of a unit of utility on the third day, etc.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @Earthly Knight,

            You seem to be trying to force a non-consequentialist system into a utilitarian framing, which is just never going to work.

            In the Christian perspective, as best as I can understand it, theft is simply wrong. Stealing one mill via a deliberate “rounding error” is wrong, embezzling one million dollars is wrong. If either wrong goes unrepented, if you would do it again given half a chance, then you are in trouble with God.

            It’s pretty clear that it’s that intent to sin, not the magnitude of the actual consequences of sin which matters. A computer mistakenly programmed take down the power grid isn’t going to Robot Hell even if it causes hundreds of deaths: a man who, but for a want of opportunity, would gladly rape and murder probably would go to hell.

            (Of course this gets into Faith vs Works but that always seemed like a technical quibble from the outside looking in. A person who has genuinely been saved ought to want to do good works, and one who hasn’t has little reason to. So hopefully we can ignore that here.)

            If that doesn’t make sense and / or is heresy, let me know. Just trying to help.

          • Anonymous says:

            Other Anon:

            An abortion doctor may think “I suppose there might be a tiny chance that an embryo may have a soul (and therefore killing it constitutes a sin), but I consider it no more likely than an asteroid killing me tomorrow; therefore I’m going to ignore that possibility”: is it then a sin or not?

            It’s still a sin (from the perspective of those who believe in this), because you’ve already been told a thousand upon thousand times that it does have a soul by those who preach the Word. Any western abortion doctor has had innumerable chances to absorb the Gospel, and rejected it deliberately, so he’s committing wilful sin. The fact that he regards Catholics or whoever as kooks who believe something incredible doesn’t exactly detract from that.

            On the other hand, if you had no way of knowing that it was a sin — if you were a witch doctor on a remote Polynesian island administering herbal abortifacients or something, say — then you would certainly be in the clear, since you know not what you do.

            Earthly Knight:
            You seem to have a very wrongheaded and perhaps even deliberately malicious idea of Christian dogma, which won’t help you in arguing against it. For instance, your reductive idea about Fred’s distinguishing penny seems to imply that the sin resides in the sum itself, but it clearly doesn’t and no Christian authority that I know of has ever argued that. The sin resides fundamentally in Fred’s soul, nothing else — which people already told you in this subthread. So for instance, Fred might’ve intended to pay the nickel back, or for the exact reason that he or anyone could do so with ease he might have considered it a trivial sum. If he steals $2 million, he can hardly have intended that. This, not some specific figure, marks the distinction between a trivial sin and a serious one — stealing even a nickel is still wrong, of course, so it’s still a sin. The image of the Last Judgment as just that, a trial where each man must reckon with his sins and explain himself before the Almighty, comes from this understanding that ultimately it’s not about dollars and cents — which are the dust of the Earth that shall pass away, anyway — but about the moral content of a lifetime of behavior.

            Also, sainthood doesn’t theologically mean what you appear to think it means (an especially good person, which I admit is a common vernacular usage). It just means that you were saved. The Catholic catalogue of intercessionary saints is just a list of the people the Church is 100% sure have indeed been saved and intercede with God on behalf of the living. Touching on your other idea about a hypothetical heaven where each gets rewarded precisely in proportion to his good deeds, it’s explicitly stated in the Bible that all who are saved will receive the same reward; the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard is all about exactly that: there are no special treatments in Heaven. All those who have been saved are saints.

             
            Finally, as a point of order, if Fred steals $2 million but dies before being able to spend more than precisely one nickel of it, how does that cause the death of a thousand African children? 😀 Don’t they just freeze his assets and restore the money when his widow or other executor finds the money magically present and/or his employer notices it’s gone?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            HBC:

            The obvious flaw in your argument is that punishments in the criminal justice system scale, whereas hell does not.

            How do you know? Maybe there’s some Dante-style Circles of Hell thing going on, where relatively minor sins just get you buffeted around by strong winds all the time, and then more serious sins get worse punishments.

            Earthly Knight:

            No, the difference between venial and mortal sin is qualitative, not just quantitative. You don’t turn a venial theft into a mortal one just by adding $X to the amount stolen.

          • Jiro says:

            EK:

            But it is absurd and unjust that the theft of a penny should be the difference between eternal bliss and eternal torment.

            Oh, it’s worse than that. Remember that this came up in the context of “people choose Hell”.

            So it’s not just that stealing one penny more sends you to Hell, it’s that stealing one penny more means that your own choice can be characterized as for Hell.

            Mr. X:

            Maybe there’s some Dante-style Circles of Hell thing going on,

            This came up because of the idea “Hell is separation from God and people choose it”. If Hell is separation from God, you can’t have multiple circles without saying “this guy is 40% separated from God and this guy is 50% separated”, which allows for people being 0.001% separated, which makes the entire idea fall apart.

          • Anonymous says:

            If saints were simply those for whom the Catholic Church is “100% sure have indeed been saved”, there’d be no need to distinguish capital-S “Saints” from the mere “Blessed” and “Servants of God”.

            On the other hand, if you had no way of knowing that it was a sin — if you were a witch doctor on a remote Polynesian island administering herbal abortifacients or something, say — then you would certainly be in the clear, since you know not what you do.

            Suppose I am that. Then Catholic missionaries come to my island and start preaching “abortion is a sin, you sinful sinners!”. I have never heard of this “sin” thing before, but those palefaces in funky dresses seem rather rude; for all I know, they are trying to stir trouble and disrupt our peaceful remote-Polynesian-island life. I should probably throw them off the island and cast a hex on them. Have my actions become retroactively sinful merely because I was exposed to Catholic dogma, even though I had no reason to believe it?

            Though this kind of ambiguity is not necessarily what I was aiming for; I was trying to demonstrate how “knowing intent to harm” is an inherently vague notion that is better captured by a continuum than a binary choice; and how it therefore gives rise to a continuum of sinfulness and therefore to a sorites paradox of salvation versus damnation. I suppose a better demonstration of that would be if I had an example where neglecting to do something is sinful, but I’m not sure if I can think of a sufficiently solid one.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Dr Dealgood

            In the Christian perspective, as best as I can understand it, theft is simply wrong. Stealing one mill via a deliberate “rounding error” is wrong, embezzling one million dollars is wrong. If either wrong goes unrepented, if you would do it again given half a chance, then you are in trouble with God.

            It’s definitely possible to bite the bullet and say that God condemns people to eternal perdition for the unrepentant theft of a nickel. It’s hard to see how God could be just if this is so, though. It’s also undesirable to make so much hang on repentance, because whether someone has an opportunity to repent will sometimes be largely a matter of luck. Fred does not realize he is about to have an aneurysm, and so never repents, but would have if he had known; meanwhile, his identical twin Ted has a better doctor who warns him about his aneurysm risk, prompting Ted to go to confession, but if he had not known about the aneurysm, he would have acted the same as Fred. Should the fate of our eternal souls really depend on such contingent and chancy features of the world?

            It’s pretty clear that it’s that intent to sin, not the magnitude of the actual consequences of sin which matters.

            This isn’t going to help, because wrongful intent also admit of gradations– intending to steal a dollar is worse than intending to steal a quarter which is worse than intending to steal a dime which is worse than intending to steal a nickel. If you like, you may substitute “intends to steal” for “steals” wherever it appears in the sorites paradox. Still goes through.

            @ Anonymous

            The sin resides fundamentally in Fred’s soul

            The sorites argument I gave in no way depends on where sin is located, only that it comes in degrees.

            So for instance, Fred might’ve intended to pay the nickel back,

            I explicitly stated that he did not.

            Don’t they just freeze his assets and restore the money when his widow or other executor finds the money magically present and/or his employer notices it’s gone?

            We can assume he is never caught, even posthumously.

            @ Mr. X

            You don’t turn a venial theft into a mortal one just by adding $X to the amount stolen.

            Okay. Then is Fred damned for the theft of a nickel, or does God overlook the theft of $2 million? If the sum makes no difference, it must be one or the other, but neither option is at all appealing.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            It’s also undesirable to make so much hang on repentance, because whether someone has an opportunity to repent will sometimes be largely a matter of luck. Fred does not realize he is about to have an aneurysm, and so never repents, but would have if he had known; meanwhile, his identical twin Ted has a better doctor who warns him about his aneurysm risk, prompting Ted to go to confession, but if he had not known about the aneurysm, he would have acted the same as Fred. Should the fate of our eternal souls really depend on such contingent and chancy features of the world?

            The world is not quite so chancy when you have an all-knowing all-powerful being running it.

            If you put God into the picture you can’t make an argument from luck or chance anymore. “Everything happens for a reason” and all that. You get as much time to repent as you are given and presumably God has a good idea how much time you need.

            Besides, saying “I didn’t repent because I forgot that I was mortal!” is an entirely unsympathetic claim. If you try to play chicken with God by not repenting until the literal last second then what right do you have to object when you’re judged accordingly?

            […] intending to steal a dollar is worse than intending to steal a quarter which is worse than intending to steal a dime which is worse than intending to steal a nickel.

            You can’t just assert that, it’s the whole point of contention.

          • Jiro says:

            If you put God into the picture you can’t make an argument from luck or chance anymore. “Everything happens for a reason” and all that. You get as much time to repent as you are given and presumably God has a good idea how much time you need.

            That doesn’t work. One of the factors that may affect whether you get a chance to repent may be someone else’s free will. And it’s already been said that God cannot set up the universe to violate free will. So God may not be able to set up the universe so you have appropriate time to repent.

            If you try to play chicken with God by not repenting until the literal last second then what right do you have to object when you’re judged accordingly?

            Because other people who also waited until the literal last second did get a chance to repent and you didn’t. The unfairness is not “you didn’t let me repent”, it’s “I was given less of a chance to repent than other people”. Just because missing your chance is your fault doesn’t change the unfairness in this comparison.

            Besides, an unjust treatment is unjust regardless of who’s complaining. If the sinner is ineligible to complain, third parties can always do it; in fact when someone says “It is unjust for God to…” he is generally a third party.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            That doesn’t work. One of the factors that may affect whether you get a chance to repent may be someone else’s free will. And it’s already been said that God cannot set up the universe to violate free will. So God may not be able to set up the universe so you have appropriate time to repent.

            I have the free will to point a gun at someone and pull the trigger. I don’t have the free will to determine that my shot will hit and be fatal.

            That is, other people may well choose to attempt to prevent someone from having the chance to repent. But whether or not they succeed is entirely out of their hands.

            Because other people who also waited until the literal last second did get a chance to repent and you didn’t. The unfairness is not “you didn’t let me repent”, it’s “I was given less of a chance to repent than other people”. Just because missing your chance is your fault doesn’t change the unfairness in this comparison.

            This brings up the question of whether unequal treatment is in fact unjust.

            I don’t particularly feel like debating this point right now but it is a debatable one. You can’t show that something is unjust simply by showing that it is unequal. You need to do more work than that.

          • “The expected utility of any constant reward carried out every day for eternity is positive infinity”

            No discounting?

            The present value of a dollar a year forever is 1/i, where i is the interest rate you discount at.

          • Deiseach says:

            Earthly Knight, it’s not down to quantities. Fred could steal seventy million and be saved, Bob could steal thruppence and be damned.

            INTENTION IS WHAT COUNTS. Not the amount of money.

            And this is exactly the kind of logic-chopping that people do try to engage in – “what is the minimum amount of religious observance I can get away with/how much sin can I commit before it’s too much?” that results in an attitude that is damnable. Moral theology is the branch that deals with “If Fred steals six cents and Bob steals seven cents, which of them is damned? Are both? Neither?”

            But that is more of a pastoral necessity when dealing with putting theological principles into practice amongst people’s real lives. No, in theology you can’t get the same easy formula as “If you add 10 mls of 0.5 molar HCl to 20mls of NaOH to neutralise the titrant, calculate the molarity of the NaOH”. It doesn’t work that easily or quantifiably.

            Fred could be a cut-throat murderer and if, on his deathbed, he sincerely and genuinely repents he may be saved. Bob may be a pillar of the community who to the end of his days never regrets stealing that dollar bill from his mother’s purse and be damned.

            130 ‘Let the people, then, not be too certain
            131 in their judgments, like those that harvest in their minds
            132 corn still in the field before it ripens.

            133 ‘For I have seen the briar first look dry and thorny
            134 right through all the winter’s cold,
            135 then later wear the bloom of roses at its tip,

            136 ‘and once I saw a ship, which had sailed straight
            137 and swift upon the sea through all its voyage,
            138 sinking at the end as it made its way to port.

            139 ‘Let not Dame Bertha and Master Martin,
            140 when they see one steal and another offer alms,
            141 think that they behold them with God’s wisdom,
            142 for the first may still rise up, the other fall.’

          • Deiseach says:

            Then Western lawyers come to my island and start preaching “child-sacrifice is a crime, you crime-committing criminals!”. I have never heard of this “crime” thing before, but those palefaces in funky robes seem rather rude; for all I know, they are trying to stir trouble and disrupt our peaceful remote-Polynesian-island life. I should probably throw them off the island and cast a hex on them. Have my actions become retroactively unethical merely because I was exposed to Western attitudes of legality, even though I had no reason to believe it?

            Well, you tell me? Is it only wrong to pull out the hearts of living children and then wear their flayed skins if Westerners come along and tell you it’s wrong, and if you never knew that, it was okay before?

          • Deiseach says:

            Sinfulness obviously comes in gradations

            Which I replied to, Earthly Knight, with the distinction between mortal and venial sin. You, on the other hand, are trying to make it a matter of “Exactly what amount of nickels can I steal before being damned?” and then say Fred will go to heaven and Bill will go to hell for the difference of a penny.

            Okay, let’s put this into secular law terms. Is there a point at which Fred will go to jail and Bill won’t? What amounts of money? If Fred embezzles $1million dollars and Bill embezzles $1million dollars and 1 cent, is that it? Or if everyone who embezzles a million does jail time, can Fred embezzle $999,999.99 and get away with it?

            Do you see the absurdity of what you are trying to argue? There must be some cut-off point in human law at which you invoke the punishment, so how near the line can you come – if you only 75% kill someone, instead of 100% killing them (“beat them to within an inch of their life”), do you avoid getting hanged for murder?

            Your exaggerated fine grain of distinction is absurd in human law (there is no ‘what exact amount measured in foot-pounds of force does the legal system permit me to exert before it turns from assault into manslaughter’ provision of the type you’re demanding) and equally absurd in theology, though people do try to hair-split their way out of consequences.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Dr Dealgood

            You get as much time to repent as you are given and presumably God has a good idea how much time you need.

            It seems to be a straightforward matter of empirical fact that there are some people who would have repented if they knew their death was close at hand, but did not know and did not repent in time, as well as some people who would not have repented if they had not known they would die soon, but did know and so did repent. It will be unjust to mete out wildly disparate punishments to these two groups of people, other things being approximately equal, because the difference between them comes down to a matter of chance.

            You can’t just assert that, it’s the whole point of contention.

            All of us share the intuition that there are varying degrees of wrongful action and ill intent, and that it would be insane to treat all crimes and intents on a par so far as punishment is concerned. It is probably a conceptual truth about justice that punishment must be proportionate to the gravity of the crime, which means that all-or-nothing punishment could not be just, more or less by definition.

            @ David Friedman

            No discounting?

            Not sure how serious you’re being, but I really should have written “utility” rather than “expected utility.” The combined utility of any finite course of punishment together with eternity in heaven will be positive infinity. Purgatory is pointless.

            @ Deiseach

            Freld be a cut-throat murderer and if, on his deathbed, he sincerely and genuinely repents he may be saved. Bob may be a pillar of the community who to the end of his days never regrets stealing that dollar bill from his mother’s purse and be damned.

            That’s great, but in the example we’re talking about there’s just the one person, Fred. You claim that it’s intent that matters and not the action itself, if that matters to you, just swap out “steals” for ‘intends to steal.” Really, the only way you can avoid the sorites is if you’re willing to affirm that:

            –Fred stealing or intending to steal a nickel from his employer is exactly as bad, other things being equal, as Fred stealing or intending to steal $2 million from his employer.

            Do you think this is true? I do not see how anyone could sincerely affirm this claim, but I want to hear your opinion.

            Is there a point at which Fred will go to jail and Bill won’t?

            Uh, secular authorities scale punishments in proportion to the gravity of the crime. This is a core principle of pretty much every criminal justice system in the world. It’s pretty shocking that God isn’t on board with the whole proportionality thing, when you think about it. Even barbarians will amputate body parts for minor crimes rather than sending all criminals indifferently to the gallows.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @Jiro:

            This came up because of the idea “Hell is separation from God and people choose it”. If Hell is separation from God, you can’t have multiple circles without saying “this guy is 40% separated from God and this guy is 50% separated”, which allows for people being 0.001% separated, which makes the entire idea fall apart.

            All people are separated from God, but some choose worse things to separate over than others.

            @Earthly Knight:

            It seems to be a straightforward matter of empirical fact that there are some people who would have repented if they knew their death was close at hand, but did not know and did not repent in time, as well as some people who would not have repented if they had not known they would die soon, but did know and so did repent.

            If you’re trying to game the system by waiting until your deathbed to repent, I don’t think you can reasonably complain when things don’t go as you expect, any more than a man who says to himself “Hmm, what’s the minimum amount of love I can get away with showing my spouse without having her walk out on me?” can reasonably complain when he misjudges and his wife leaves him anyway.

            Besides, how do you actually know that “there are some people who would have repented if they knew their death was close at hand, but did not know and did not repent in time”? As Dr Dealgood says, maybe God arranges things so that everybody who would repent when death is imminent, has sufficient warning to actually repent.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            If you’re trying to game the system by waiting until your deathbed to repent, I don’t think you can reasonably complain when things don’t go as you expect, any more than a man who says to himself “Hmm, what’s the minimum amount of love I can get away with showing my spouse without having her walk out on me?” can reasonably complain when he misjudges and his wife leaves him anyway.

            I have no opinion what it’s reasonable for people to complain about, but we’re not talking about that, we’re talking about justice, and it’s manifestly unjust to send one group of people off to eternal suffering and another off to eternal bliss when the only appreciable difference in their behavior is due to chance.

            Besides, how do you actually know that “there are some people who would have repented if they knew their death was close at hand, but did not know and did not repent in time”?

            Because some of the people who say things like “Lord give me chastity and continence, but not yet” live long enough to repent their youthful indiscretions, while others go on to die in their sleep a few days later? I mean, I could try and track down documentary evidence of a person who planned to repent later in life but never got a chance to, but the request is ridiculous. It would require an ongoing series of massive interventions into the course of nature for God to prevent this sort of scenario from ever taking place, and I am given to understand that God is not a magician. If your defense of God’s justice is that there might be crazy miracles we don’t know about happening constantly all around us, deep down, you don’t really believe that God is just.

          • Jiro says:

            Replying to lots of people at the same time:

            I have the free will to point a gun at someone and pull the trigger. I don’t have the free will to determine that my shot will hit and be fatal.

            This doesn’t mesh with the usual idea that God can’t prevent bad things from happening because it violates free will. If free will only requires that you be able to pull the trigger, but it’s okay for God to make the bullet miss, then God actually can prevent bad things from happening without violating free will–he can make all the bullets in the world miss.

            INTENTION IS WHAT COUNTS. Not the amount of money.

            That doesn’t help. Intention is something which exists in degrees, just like money, so you can ask the same question about intention that you could ask about money.

            Okay, let’s put this into secular law terms. Is there a point at which Fred will go to jail and Bill won’t?

            Secular law includes gradations of punishment. It doesn’t go directly from no punishment to life imprisonment.

            All people are separated from God, but some choose worse things to separate over than others.

            Remember, this is about the argument “Hell is separation from God so people choose Hell”. Having all people separated from God doesn’t fit that.

            If you’re trying to game the system by waiting until your deathbed to repent, I don’t think you can reasonably complain when things don’t go as you expect

            I believe I replied to this one already:

            The unfairness is not “you didn’t let me repent”, it’s “I was given less of a chance to repent than other people”. Just because missing your chance is your fault doesn’t change the unfairness in this comparison. Besides, an unjust treatment is unjust regardless of who’s complaining.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I have no opinion what it’s reasonable for people to complain about, but we’re not talking about that, we’re talking about justice,

            If something is unjust, then it’s reasonable for people to complain about it.

            and it’s manifestly unjust to send one group of people off to eternal suffering and another off to eternal bliss when the only appreciable difference in their behavior is due to chance.

            If you choose to entrust your fate to chance — in this case, by gambling that you’ll have sufficient time for a deathbed repentance — then your fate is entrusted to chance, just like you wanted. Where’s the injustice in this?

            Plus, any repentance needs to be sincere to count. If you plan to repent at the literal last moment to try and avoid hell whilst also giving yourself maximum sin time, I’d strongly doubt the sincerity of your repentance.

            Because some of the people who say things like “Lord give me chastity and continence, but not yet” live long enough to repent their youthful indiscretions, while others go on to die in their sleep a few days later? I mean, I could try and track down documentary evidence of a person who planned to repent later in life but never got a chance to, but the request is ridiculous. It would require an ongoing series of massive interventions into the course of nature for God to prevent this sort of scenario from ever taking place, and I am given to understand that God is not a magician. If your defense of God’s justice is that there might be crazy miracles we don’t know about happening constantly all around us, deep down, you don’t really believe that God is just.

            Thanks for that analysis of my motivations, Dr. Knight. Yeah, I was spitballing, but that’s the thing with omniscient, omnipotent deities, they probably have access to more information than you do, and are probably better-placed to know what the best way is of arranging the world.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            If something is unjust, then it’s reasonable for people to complain about it.

            You originally claimed that it was just to send unrepentant sinners to hell, even when their failure to repent was due to bad luck, for this reason:

            “If you’re trying to game the system by waiting until your deathbed to repent, I don’t think you can reasonably complain when things don’t go as you expect”

            But the principle you’re citing now is that a punishment can be unjust only if someone has standing to complain about it. Even if this were true (it’s not), it doesn’t link up with the earlier claim. You haven’t ruled out the possibility that sending the reprobate to hell is unjust and he has no standing to complain about it, but others do.

            Where’s the injustice in this?

            It is unjust to mete out vastly different punishments to people who have committed comparable wrongs. This is true even if you also have the (here, utterly insane) background belief that the wrongdoers bring the punishment upon themselves.

          • bluto says:

            EK,
            From the perspective of Christianity, everyone (you, me, Hitler, the nice old lady who always has a kind word, etc) deserves hell, salvation is a gift no one deserves.

            If Dave Ramsey offers to pay off all of someone’s debt at midnight tonight provided they agree to his managing their finances following the payment and they miss the deadline through their own or someone else’s action, because they wanted to maximize their debt before going on a budget, missing the offer deadline isn’t unjust (the just thing was always the borrower paying the debts they owed).

          • Earthly Knight says:

            If we conceptualize salvation as a gift or as forgiveness of debts, we can’t also see the disposition of souls in the afterlife as a matter of justice, because justice imposes next to nothing in the way of constraints on gift-giving or debt-forgiveness. Earlier we heard that “the Last Judgment… [is] a trial where each man must reckon with his sins and explain himself before the Almighty… [with regards to] the moral content of a lifetime of behavior,” but now you are saying that God’s judgment is not at all like a trial and need have nothing to with sins or morality because God is free to be as arbitrary and capricious as he likes.

            Really, it is perverse from the outset to think that every human being deserves to go to hell just by virtue of being born. It’s pretty obvious that no one deserves to go to hell, but it’s even more obvious that not everyone does!

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Picking up on one of my earlier suggestions, here is the only way the afterlife could work that stands any chance of being just. We will need to assume that God has some way of measuring quantities of sin as real numbers, and that there is a way to precisely proportion the magnitude of divine punishment or reward to the quantity of sin each person commits in life.

            Given these assumptions, God can assign each human being to her own bespoke afterlife, where punishment or reward is meted out so that the first day she receives a utility of k1, the second day a utility of k2, the third day a utility of k3… such that the sum of the ks converges to the amount of punishment or reward that individual deserves. I believe it is a theorem that there exists some countable series converging to each real number, which makes things a lot easier.

            God could also just administer the entire helping of punishment or reward on the first day and leave people in a neutral limbo for the rest of eternity, but this seems less in keeping with traditional Christian ideas about the afterlife.

          • Jiro says:

            If we conceptualize salvation as a gift or as forgiveness of debts, we can’t also see the disposition of souls in the afterlife as a matter of justice, because justice imposes next to nothing in the way of constraints on gift-giving or debt-forgiveness.

            We’re still talking about “people choose Hell”.

            If we conceptualize salvation as forgiveness of debts, how in the world is that consistent with “people choose Hell”? People choose Hell except when they are given a gift that negates their choice?

          • bluto says:

            There’s a trial for everyone. Evidence is presented and everyone is judged both those with and without salvation.

            At sentencing those without salvation receive a just sentence commensurate with their deeds.

            For those with salvation Jesus files a motion of punishment already delivered in proxy. Court finds would be unjust to apply punishment twice.

          • Jiro says:

            bluto: I don’t think you have been following this very closely. What you describe is inconsistent with “Hell is just separation from God and people go there solely by their own actions”.

            Furthermore, receiving a “just sentence commensurate with their deeds” is inconsistent with Hell being all or nothing.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Substitutionary punishment is also unjust, which is why no modern justice system allows it. You shouldn’t be able to get away with awful crimes just because you manage to find some poor sap to take the rap for you, even if that sap is Jesus.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Earthly Knight:

            But the principle you’re citing now is that a punishment can be unjust only if someone has standing to complain about it. Even if this were true (it’s not), it doesn’t link up with the earlier claim. You haven’t ruled out the possibility that sending the reprobate to hell is unjust and he has no standing to complain about it, but others do.

            If the guy who actually suffers this alleged injustice isn’t justified in complaining, who else would be?

            It is unjust to mete out vastly different punishments to people who have committed comparable wrongs.

            Not if one of them repents, it’s not.

            If we conceptualize salvation as a gift or as forgiveness of debts, we can’t also see the disposition of souls in the afterlife as a matter of justice, because justice imposes next to nothing in the way of constraints on gift-giving or debt-forgiveness. Earlier we heard that “the Last Judgment… [is] a trial where each man must reckon with his sins and explain himself before the Almighty… [with regards to] the moral content of a lifetime of behavior,” but now you are saying that God’s judgment is not at all like a trial and need have nothing to with sins or morality because God is free to be as arbitrary and capricious as he likes.

            God offers us salvation as a gift. People who accept it, get it; people who don’t are judged according to their actions, and, since none of us is capable to earning salvation, go to hell instead.

            Jiro:

            If we conceptualize salvation as forgiveness of debts, how in the world is that consistent with “people choose Hell”? People choose Hell except when they are given a gift that negates their choice?

            If I offer you some money to pay off your debts and you refuse, I think it would make perfect sense to talk of you “choosing bankruptcy”.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            If the guy who actually suffers this alleged injustice isn’t justified in complaining, who else would be?

            Friends and relatives have the biggest stake, but we can also “complain” about injustices from an impersonal perspective. Suppose, for instance, that most people convicted of murder are sentenced to life imprisonment, but a certain number of murderers are chosen at random to be executed instead. Plausibly, the men picked for death have no grounds to complain– they evidently did not value life very highly– but it is still clearly unjust to let the roll of a die decide their fates. All the more so if the difference isn’t between a life sentence and death but between salvation and eternal torment. Justice must be principled, not arbitrary.

            Not if one of them repents, it’s not.

            But then again, it is, if the only reason why one repents while the other does not is that the first by chance had more opportunity than the second. Clearly, the element of chance makes a difference, otherwise, you would not have neglected to mention it.

            God offers us salvation as a gift. People who accept it, get it; people who don’t are judged according to their actions, and, since none of us is capable to earning salvation, go to hell instead.

            There are a lot of problems with this grotesque parody of a justice system, but I’ll only mention two. First, sending everyone who doesn’t accept God’s grace to hell without regard for the gravity of their misdeeds fails to respect the proportionality requirement of justice (the same goes for sending everyone who does accept God’s grace to heaven without regard for their good acts). Second, it is not up to Jesus to unilaterally forgive the sins of everyone who asks for forgiveness. Some of those sins will have been perpetrated against other humans, and it should be the prerogative of victims to decide whether forgiveness is warranted, not a random, officious sky-man.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            But then again, it is, if the only reason why one repents while the other does not is that the first by chance had more opportunity than the second. Clearly, the element of chance makes a difference, otherwise, you would not have neglected to mention it.

            Once again, if you choose to gamble on having an opportunity for a deathbed repentance, there’s going to be a chance that the gamble doesn’t pay off. That’s kind of how gambling works. If your fate was entrusted to chance and there was nothing you could do about it, that would be unjust; if you willingly chose to entrust your fate to chance, then making you face the consequences of that isn’t unjust.

            There are a lot of problems with this grotesque parody of a justice system, but I’ll only mention two. First, sending everyone who doesn’t accept God’s grace to hell without regard for the gravity of their misdeeds fails to respect the proportionality requirement of justice (the same goes for sending everyone who does accept God’s grace to heaven without regard for their good acts).

            Assuming, of course, that everyone who goes to Heaven and Hell has the exact same amount of bliss or torment. The Bible seems to imply otherwise (e.g., “Whoever does x will be called great/least in the Kingdom of Heaven”).

            Second, it is not up to Jesus to unilaterally forgive the sins of everyone who asks for forgiveness. Some of those sins will have been perpetrated against other humans, and it should be the prerogative of victims to decide whether forgiveness is warranted, not a random, officious sky-man.

            A proper response to that would require delving into metaphysical and theological issues which, quite frankly, I don’t think you’d understand. Maybe that sounds arrogant, but whatever. Somebody who thinks of God as “a random, officious sky-man” isn’t in a position to fruitfully consider the atonement, any more than somebody who thinks of quantum mechanics as “that weird theory that my cat is both alive and dead at the same time” is in a position to discuss modern physics.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            if you willingly chose to entrust your fate to chance, then making you face the consequences of that isn’t unjust.

            This might be true if God cared about consequences, but I had heard that God only cares about intent. So which is it, does God judge people according to their intents, or does he judge them on the outcomes of gambles they take?

            Assuming, of course, that everyone who goes to Heaven and Hell has the exact same amount of bliss or torment.

            This is not an assumption. As we saw above, experiencing any set amount of bliss every day for eternity has infinite positive utility, while experiencing any set amount of torment ever day for eternity has infinite negative utility. God may be omniscient, but he’s no Cauchy, apparently.

            A proper response to that would require delving into metaphysical and theological issues which, quite frankly, I don’t think you’d understand.

            This sounds like a concession that your fairy tales can’t be rationally defended to anyone who doesn’t already believe in fairy tales.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            @Earthly Knight

            This sounds like a concession that your fairy tales can’t be rationally defended to anyone who doesn’t already believe in fairy tales.

            Point of order: “fairy tales” seems unambiguously insulting. I imagine this tone is partially responsible for dissuading Mr. X from a discussion of the atonement.

            So which is it, does God judge people according to their intents, or does he judge them on the outcomes of gambles they take?

            My understanding is that God judges people entirely on the basis on their intent, and that there are opportunities to repent after death (i.e., Purgatory). The sort of person who would make the deathbed repentance gamble seems like someone who views sin as a worthwhile payoff, and therefore someone who’s unlikely to truthfully repent.

            God judging on intent leads me directly to biting a bullet: if Fred would go to Hell for the million dollars, he’d to Hell for a nickel. Conversely, if all else being equal Fred would go to Heaven despite stealing a nickel, he’d be able to go to Heaven despite stealing a million dollars. This is because the sorting function is based on Fred’s desire to sin; if he wants to sin, then he’s bad, but if he truly desires to be good but finds himself slipping (second-order desire to do good overpowered by first-order desire to do wrong), then he’s the sort of person who can repent and mean it.

            As an additional note, I don’t think that the mundane justice system is really a good analogue of the divine one. The mundane justice system is designed to minimize harm to society and to optimize the matching of crime and punishment, while the heavenly justice system is more like a purification center that tries to optimize over salvaged souls. The former produces justice, while the second produces mercy.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Point of order: “fairy tales” seems unambiguously insulting.

            Note the comment I was responding to.

            My understanding is that God judges people entirely on the basis on their intent, and that there are opportunities to repent after death (i.e., Purgatory).

            Is everyone given an opportunity to posthumously repent? If so, who, while standing on the shores of the lake of fire, would turn down the offer? If not, we can run the sorites sequence for those who are given a chance to repent and earn salvation versus those who are irrevocably damned based on their deeds in life. You can’t solve a mismatch between a categorical structure and a graded structure by moving the categories around.

            but if he truly desires to be good but finds himself slipping (second-order desire to do good overpowered by first-order desire to do wrong), then he’s the sort of person who can repent and mean it.

            The sorites argument will work for akratic actions, too. Suppose that Fred is trying hard to be a good Christian but is conquered by weakness of will and steals a nickel. Surely this could not be grounds for eternal damnation. Now suppose that Fred is trying hard to be a good Christian but is conquered by weakness of will and steals $2 million, dooming a thousand African children to die of malaria. I expect this would count as a mortal sin, but if not, we can make the sum larger, as large as it needs to be. But now we can construct a sorites sequence connecting the two as before, and again conclude that at some point the akratic theft of one more penny must make the difference between eternal bliss and eternal torment, which is absurd.

            The former produces justice, while the second produces mercy.

            I do not think mercy is a good excuse for injustice. If the status quo is that anyone convicted of murder is sentenced to death, it may be in some sense merciful to entrust their fates to chance instead, but it is also arbitrary and cruel. Even setting aside this objection, though, mercy should be strictly more forgiving than justice– no one should receive a harsher punishment under a system of mercy than they would receive under a system of justice. This means that Christian model of the afterlife still has to answer for disproportionately punishing the guilty.

          • Skivverus says:

            @Earthly Knight

            Now suppose that Fred is trying hard to be a good Christian but is conquered by weakness of will and steals $2 million, dooming a thousand African children to die of malaria. I expect this would count as a mortal sin, but if not, we can make the sum larger…

            Um. I’m pretty sure this is exactly what Deiseach, Dr Dealgood, et al were warning against assuming. As I understand the argument, the answer is just “no, making the sum larger won’t ever turn it into a mortal sin.”
            Though it can certainly make the human-estimated odds of the act coming merely from “weakness of will” arbitrarily low.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            As I understand the argument, the answer is just “no, making the sum larger won’t ever turn it into a mortal sin.”

            This is going to leave them committed to the view that if Fred steals a nickel with malice aforethought, he goes to hell, while if Fred is overcome by weakness of the will and steals an arbitrarily large sum of money resulting in an arbitrarily large number of deaths, he goes to heaven.* (Other things being equal).

            This might be the worst response that’s been suggested yet.

            *I am being generous by contrasting weakness of the will with malice aforethought here, but they’re not really contraries, because a sin being committed out of weakness of the will has to do with the motivational structure of the sinner’s psyche, and is compatible with all degrees of intent.

          • Skivverus says:

            This is going to leave them committed to the view that if Fred steals a nickel with malice aforethought, he goes to hell, while if Fred is overcome by weakness of the will and steals an arbitrarily large sum of money resulting in an arbitrarily large number of deaths, he goes to heaven.

            Maybe so, but I’m having a hard time fleshing out plausible hypotheticals where Fred would steal a nickel out of malice rather than something sounding more like “huh, a nickel on the sidewalk. What’s that doing there?” that don’t also result in Fred coming across as kind of an asshole who would do the same if it were a million bucks similarly guarded.
            For that matter, same deal with stealing arbitrarily large sums of money. It becomes increasingly implausible for someone to be both in a position to steal that much money and not know what they’re doing (particularly since there is, in fact, a finite amount of money in the world at any given time).

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I’m having a hard time fleshing out plausible hypotheticals where Fred would steal a nickel out of malice

            I’m mostly joking about malice aforethought, premeditation will be enough. It shouldn’t be hard to think of a case where someone premeditates the theft of a nickel, right? The important point is that this version of Fred is not acting out of weakness of the will.

            For that matter, same deal with stealing arbitrarily large sums of money. It becomes increasingly implausible for someone to be both in a position to steal that much money and not know what they’re doing

            I don’t know where you think knowledge comes into play. Fred is weak-willed, not ignorant– he knows or can foresee the likely consequence of his actions. Imagine he is looking through his firm’s account books and notices an easy way to embezzle $2 million and get away with. His conscience tells him he shouldn’t, but he can’t resist the urge to take the money, knowing how much it would improve his life. If the sinner’s “intent”– which is to say his second-order desires– matter as much as you earlier seemed to claim, this version of Fred will be routed straight to heaven when he dies of a brain aneurysm at the end of the day, while the Fred who stole the nickel without any pangs of conscience faces perdition.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Here, maybe it will help to make a diagram. We have three continua, one for repented sins, one for unrepented akratic sins, and one for unrepented non-akratic sins. Each stretches from 5 cents up to an arbitrarily large sum of money, x:

            Repented:
            .05———————————————————x

            Unrepented akratic:
            .05———————————————————x

            Unrepented non-akratic:
            .05———————————————————x

            We have to find some way of dividing these sins into a mortal (i.e. damnable) category and a venial (i.e. savable) category. On the one hand, if our division breaks any of the continua, this leaves our model vulnerable to the sorites paradox outlined above. On the other hand, if it does not break any of the continua, we’re saddled with one of two choices: either the non-akratic theft of a nickel leads to damnation while any akratic or repented sin can be forgiven, or the akratic theft of a nickel leads to damnation while any repented sin can be forgiven. Neither choice seems compatible with justice. Whether you’re suffering from weakness of the will and whether you repent your misdeeds might matter some, but it shouldn’t matter as much as the difference between stealing (or intending to steal) a nickel and stealing (or intending to steal) $2 million. Worse, it’s objectionable from the outset that anyone should ever be damned for stealing a nickel, which means that we’re probably going to be stuck with the sorites no matter what.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            Is everyone given an opportunity to posthumously repent? If so, who, while standing on the shores of the lake of fire, would turn down the offer?

            According to Catholic teaching, yes. The “lake of fire” is nonliteral; with no physical forms to burn, incineration very effective. Instead, Hell is a state of absence from God (understood as the embodiment of Good). People can easily choose this state after death because people are not good rationalists; faced with the choice between a lot of utility that takes a lot of effort or a continuation of old habits, people frequently stick with the habits. As an analogy; if a doctor tells someone that they need to exercise regularly and eat right or die of heart disease in five years (vs, say, 40 years with exercise), a lot of people will fail to exercise and diet despite wanting to live.

            I expect this would count as a mortal sin, but if not, we can make the sum larger, as large as it needs to be.

            If it really was weakness of will, and Fred repents, it’s not going to keep him out of heaven. I think you assume that there is some cutoff at which Christians will agree with you that a sin is so big as to prevent someone from getting into heaven, but this is a mistake. Christians don’t approach the issue from a consequentialist framework; what matters is what’s in the mind of the individual.

            This means that Christian model of the afterlife still has to answer for disproportionately punishing the guilty.

            As I understand it, the Catholic model at least says that the punishment is chosen in the same sense that the person who refuses to diet chooses heart disease. Mercy’s available to everyone willing to do cardio try to better themselves. Whether or not the Christian model is morally repulsive is a different question, though; the real question is whether it’s coherent.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            faced with the choice between a lot of utility that takes a lot of effort or a continuation of old habits, people frequently stick with the habits.

            We are discussing whether anyone would pass up the opportunity to repent posthumously. How do you envision this going? If I wake up after a car accident in hell or in purgatory, you had better believe that I would do whatever God asks. Who wouldn’t?

            If it really was weakness of will, and Fred repents,

            There was no repentance in the case we were talking about. Fred steals a nickel out of weakness of the will, then proceeds to die of a brain aneurysm later in the day, his sins unexpiated. You seem to be getting confused, so let me just give you a yes or no question: will Fred go to hell for this?

            As I understand it, the Catholic model at least says that the punishment is chosen in the same sense that the person who refuses to diet chooses heart disease.

            But now you’re just back to saying that God’s judgment is not a trial and has nothing to do with justice.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            @Earthly Knight

            I was also speaking posthumously. As the example of the dieter was intended to illustrate, people are not perfect rationalists, and fall into habits of thought and action that will lead them to do things that are against their long-term self-interest. Catholics believe that sin is a habit of turning against God, and that some sinners willfully choose to continue sinning despite it poisoning their lives. This is how they model people choosing Hell.

            Repented:
            .05———————————————————x

            Unrepented akratic:
            .05———————————————————x

            Unrepented non-akratic:
            .05———————————————————x

            Catholic belief about this diagram might be summarized as follows:
            Repented: Heaven
            Unrepented akratic: working things out
            Unrepented non-akratic: Hell
            The numbers don’t matter. Catholic moral teaching is not consequentialist.

            There was no repentance in the case we were talking about.

            I was speaking posthumously. Catholicism stipulates a state called Purgatory specifically for souls that are still on the fence about repenting after death.

            But now you’re just back to saying that God’s judgment is not a trial and has nothing to do with justice.

            It’s not that it has nothing to do with justice. It’s just that the Catholic view is that humans naturally tend to be assholes that will build a Hell for themselves out of whatever materials are locally available, but that God is made of love and wants to raise humans above their baser instincts. Thus, Justice is everyone goes to Hell; mercy is that those who choose to reform can go to Heaven. I imagine that you would object to those propositions; I’m not trying to convince you that they are correct, but rather trying to describe an alien view.

            Whether you’re suffering from weakness of the will and whether you repent your misdeeds might matter some, but it shouldn’t matter as much as the difference between stealing (or intending to steal) a nickel and stealing (or intending to steal) $2 million. Worse, it’s objectionable from the outset that anyone should ever be damned for stealing a nickel, which means that we’re probably going to be stuck with the sorites no matter what.

            How would you feel about ‘George’, who steals a nickel because he’s a black-hearted fiend who took the only a nickel because he could do no further harm from within his maximum-security cell?

            Likewise, how would you feel about ‘Percy’, who steals 2 million dollars because he believes that the owner will use it on a yacht, whereas Percy will spend the money on mosquito nets and charity?

            In both cases, some wrong is done. Yet I think there’s a strong intuition that George is the sort of person who would deserve Hell, while Percy would not. For the sake of argument, Percy’s shipment of goods to Africa never makes it, so no utility is gained.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Catholics believe that sin is a habit of turning against God, and that some sinners willfully choose to continue sinning despite it poisoning their lives. This is how they model people choosing Hell.

            You say that you understand that we’re talking about posthumous repentance, but your response suggests that you don’t. I ask again: who on earth, were they to wake up in purgatory and thereby come to know beyond all doubt that the Christian religion is true, would still fail to repent? There might be a handful of idiots, but pretty much everyone is going to get into heaven if this is how it works.

            Unrepented akratic: working things out

            What does this mean?

            The numbers don’t matter. Catholic moral teaching is not consequentialist.

            It’s not just consequentialists who think that intending to steal two million dollars and proceeding to do so is worse than intending to steal a nickel and proceeding to do so. It’s every sane moral theory. If these sins are punished alike, your system of justice has failed to respect the proportionality requirement and so doesn’t really have anything to do with justice.

            Catholicism stipulates a state called Purgatory specifically for souls that are still on the fence about repenting after death.

            Who is given a chance to posthumously repent? For instance, if someone steals a nickel from their employer with ill intent, are they given the opportunity? What if they steal two million dollars? You can’t avoid the paradox by changing the categories from hell/heaven to posthumous chance to repent/no posthumous chance to repent.

            Thus, Justice is everyone goes to Hell;

            No, justice comes with a proportionality constraint. If all crimes receive the same punishment, you don’t have justice.

            Yet I think there’s a strong intuition that George is the sort of person who would deserve Hell, while Percy would not.

            That’s great, but I repeatedly made it clear that we’re comparing these cases ceteris paribus, and your stipulations about George and Percy violate the ceteris paribus clause.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            who on earth, were they to wake up in purgatory and thereby come to know beyond all doubt that the Christian religion is true, would still fail to repent?

            This is where I brought up the analogy of the fat man dieting. If that doesn’t seem realistic, imagine a heroin addict who learns that there’s no heroin allowed in heaven.

            Unrepented akratic: working things out

            What does this mean?

            It means that I’m not sure whether anyone is akratic in Purgatory. If not, then the unrepentent akratic is found only on earth; if so, in earth and in Purgatory.

            your system of justice has failed to respect the proportionality requirement and so doesn’t really have anything to do with justice

            I’m not trying to convince you that the Christian understanding of God’s judgment is the best way to do things. I’m an atheist act utilitarian. I don’t believe in the things I’m describing to you; I’m just trying to represent them as they are rather than the worst interpretations of them. The Christian God isn’t judging in some way that has to work for a human judgment system. The purpose is to separate the people who will let themselves be saved from the people who can’t, and mercy is considered to play a huge role in it.

            Consider the differences between the goal of the Christian God’s judgment and the goal of human justice systems. The human justice system aims to minimize harm by punishing society’s defectors, and it makes sense to provide a proportional response to provide more discouragement for large defections than for small. The Christian God’s goal is to save as many people as possible. If a person truly repents, they’re not going to defect ever again. There’s no utility to be gained from a proportional response; the best system is the one that saves all who will be saved and none who will not.

            Who is given a chance to posthumously repent?

            I guess I wasn’t clear. Everyone gets a chance to poshumously repent. Seriously, in Christian thought the only way you go to Hell is if you sin. From C. S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce”: “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.'”

            No, justice comes with a proportionality constraint.

            A Christian might reply: the sin is the same; defiance of God. The punishment is equal. In any case, while I agree that justice should be proportional, it’s a big proposition to assume.

            I repeatedly made it clear that we’re comparing these cases ceteris paribus

            I did not get that impression. Could you show me where you implied that? In any case, consider it to be a separate question; I’d be interested to see if our intuitions line up.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            This is where I brought up the analogy of the fat man dieting. If that doesn’t seem realistic, imagine a heroin addict who learns that there’s no heroin allowed in heaven.

            These analogies are not even in the same ballpark as what we’re talking about. Here’s a better one: you secretly videotape a man’s life for thirty years, recording every single one of his sins and peccadilloes. At the end of the thirty years, you kidnap him, point a gun to his head, tell him about the recordings (showing him a number of videos as proof), and inform him that if he doesn’t confess and sincerely express remorse for all of the misdeeds he can remember committing over that time span you’re going to blow his brains out. I can pretty much guarantee that he’ll make a superhuman effort to comply with your demands. This is roughly the situation that someone waking up in purgatory finds herself in. Only a handful of people who are profoundly irrational or have serious impulse control problems would fail to repent under those circumstances. Actually, passing up an opportunity like this is a pretty strong sign that you have some kind of mental disease or defect, in which case you’d be excused for that reason anyway.

            It means that I’m not sure whether anyone is akratic in Purgatory. If not, then the unrepentent akratic is found only on earth; if so, in earth and in Purgatory.

            Okay… so it sounds like you think everyone who dies or completes their term in purgatory with unrepented akratic sins (but no unrepented non-akratic sins) still on their heads ends up being saved? I wish you would speak more clearly, I do not like having to reconstruct your meanings with every comment.

            The Christian God isn’t judging in some way that has to work for a human judgment system.

            So, again, it is not at all like a trial and we cannot expect God’s judgments to be just? There’s a constant bait-and-switch going on here: one minute I am told that God is perfectly just and will deal with all of us according to our sins, the next that it’s actually a matter of mercy and that principles of justice are beside the point. Pick one, and stick to it.

            The human justice system aims to minimize harm by punishing society’s defectors, and it makes sense to provide a proportional response to provide more discouragement for large defections than for small.

            I do not think that is the purpose or the nature of human justice systems.

            The Christian God’s goal is to save as many people as possible.

            This suggests that it is not in God’s power to save everyone if he wanted, which is extremely difficult to believe.

            Everyone gets a chance to poshumously repent.

            Yeah, if everyone gets a chance to repent posthumously with full knowledge that the Christian religion is true and of the fate that awaits them if they don’t repent, hell is going to be about as populous as Greenland. I agree that some form of universal salvation might be morally acceptable, but I really don’t think that’s what the others had in mind.

            it’s a big proposition to assume.

            It’s not an assumption, it’s a conceptual truth about justice. A court which only ever hands out one sentence could not be administering justice. We all have this intuition, Christian and infidel alike, there’s no denying it. Even if all sins in some sense involve defying God, defying God by murdering people is considerably worse than defying God by stealing small change.

            I did not get that impression. Could you show me where you implied that?

            Uh, I said “other things being equal” verbatim with respect to the Fred case at least twice. As a general rule, though, when someone juxtaposes two cases for a thought experiment you’re not at liberty to alter morally relevant background details about the cases to reach the verdict you want. I’m providing a counter-example to the claim that the Christian model of the afterlife is just; the fact that there are completely different cases that aren’t counter-examples just isn’t relevant.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            These analogies are not even in the same ballpark as what we’re talking about. Here’s a better one:

            That’s not a better example. You understand the popular view of Hell but not the Christian one. Your analogy does not accurately map to anything other than your view of the Christian view of Hell.

            There’s a constant bait-and-switch going on here: one minute I am told that God is perfectly just and will deal with all of us according to our sins, the next that it’s actually a matter of mercy and that principles of justice are beside the point. Pick one, and stick to it.

            I have said:

            I don’t think that the mundane justice system is really a good analogue of the divine one.

            It’s not that it has nothing to do with justice. It’s just that the Catholic view is that humans naturally tend to be assholes that will build a Hell for themselves out of whatever materials are locally available, but that God is made of love and wants to raise humans above their baser instincts. Thus, Justice is everyone goes to Hell; mercy is that those who choose to reform can go to Heaven.

            The Christian God isn’t judging in some way that has to work for a human judgment system.

            Consider the differences between the goal of the Christian God’s judgment and the goal of human justice systems.

            I have said one thing, and stuck with it. God’s judgment is not human justice.

            You said:

            the fact that there are completely different cases that aren’t counter-examples just isn’t relevant.

            I have said:

            consider it to be a separate question; I’d be interested to see if our intuitions line up.

            I’m not trying to change your example to something more vulnerable; I’m raising a different example for the sake of discussion.

            At this point, I feel that we’re going in circles. I’m going to tap out.

          • Jiro says:

            It is generally not fair to argue for your point and tap out after having made the argument. Tapping out is not supposed to be a fancy way of saying “I want the last word”.

            You understand the popular view of Hell but not the Christian one.

            No, he doesn’t. Consider the comparison to the fat man dieting. A mystical entity comes up to him and says “If you don’t start eating healthy right now, you will immediately get a heart attack.” He shows the fat man a crystal ball that makes it utterly clear and obvious that if the man doesn’t diet and keep dieting, he will die five seconds later.

            Pretty much everyone will start eating healthy under those circumstances.

            People in the real world don’t know that God or Hell are real. People who are dead know that God and Hell are real and that Hell is an immediate threat. Being faced with such an immediate danger will drastically change pretty much anyone’s behavior, regardless of whether the Hell is a literal lake of fire or whether it is the result of their own actions.

            the Catholic view is that humans naturally tend to be assholes that will build a Hell for themselves out of whatever materials are locally available, but that God is made of love and wants to raise humans above their baser instincts. Thus, Justice is everyone goes to Hell; mercy is that those who choose to reform can go to Heaven.

            We normally would not think that a system which took all guilty people, flipped a coin, and punished only the people who didn’t get heads is just, even though it is strictly better than “every guilty person gets punished”.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            @Jiro

            I considered my post above to be less an argument and more a demonstration that we are going in circles. With the exception of the first entry, my “argument” was showing that his objections were things that I felt I had addressed.

            The first entry was admittedly a parting shot, but I don’t feel like it was an unfair one. When I was discussing religion with you in the other thread, you said:

            I have no idea what reference I can point to to say “you’re wrong about your own religion”

            .
            I respect that; it seems like an admirable exercise of epistemic humility. In this case, Earthly Knight did the opposite, and claimed that my analogy did not map to what Christians believe, and that his did.

            I didn’t make any new arguments in my post. To my mind, I pointed out a strawman, indicated that the most recent objections were re-treading old ground, concluded that we were going in circles, and disengaged.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            In this case, Earthly Knight did the opposite, and claimed that my analogy did not map to what Christians believe, and that his did.

            The problem is that your analogy contained no parallel for the three most important features of the case. These are:

            1. Absolute certainty that you’ll be punished if you disobey.
            2. The punishment has maximal negative utility.
            3. All you have to do to avoid the punishment is to repent sincerely.

            It is abundantly clear, as a matter of empirical psychology, that almost any human in circumstances where conditions 1-3 are satisfied will choose to repent. This means that allowing inhabitants of purgatory or hell to repent pretty much guarantees that everyone winds up in heaven. So I doubt there are many Christians who would endorse this model of the afterlife.

    • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

      Hey, I saw your comment after I posted mine in the other thread, so I’ve deleted it and moved it over here. It’s also a response to Jiro; I hope you don’t mind.

      @Jiro

      You’ve put forward a lot of examples, so I’m going to try to address them roughly in order.

      – Faith in the wrong religion &
      – Belief that parts of the dogma are incoherent (i.e., communion wafers are essentially Jesus’ body)
      – Unborn children (from a later question)
      The Catholic church’s position is that one must be baptized to get into Heaven; however, there are more kinds of baptism than the Baptism of Water performed commonly on babies and converts. For example, the Baptism of Blood means that martyrs for the faith are considered baptized, and the Baptism of Spirit means that righteous people who did not find the church due to circumstance or honest intellectual objections may also enter heaven. Baptism of Spirit covers the first two points above, while Baptism of Blood covers the newborns.

      – Telling the truth in situations where it causes others grievous harm
      This is open to discussion in the church. Acquinas (iirc) advocated that the best course was to obfuscate without explicitly lying.

      – Homosexuality makes you selfish
      The Church position is that focusing on sexual pleasures where one should not is the sin of lust, and that homosexual activity of any stripe violates Natural Law. So from their lens, doing the dirty does involve putting one’s personal pleasure above the Right Thing To Do, and so is selfish. YMMV on how much you buy into that, of course.

      – All or nothing thing, loving humans but not God, and not loving fertilized eggs
      See my point about the Baptism of Spirit; people of good will can go to heaven, regardless of beliefs. Also, loving humans is godly; “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The Catholic view is that God is all-good, so being a good person means being close to God, regardless of whether you believe in God or not.

      – Original sin
      People start out in a state of separation from God, and have to work towards being in a relationship with Him.

      – You can’t change your choice once you’re beyond time
      Actually, I think that Catholicism is open to that. The Church says that most people go to Purgatory when they die, which is sort of a waiting room where people get rid of the sins holding them back from heaven. My impression is that sin is a self-perpetuating habit, and that in Purgatory is a place where people get an iterated chance to ratify or reject that habit until they’ve devoted themselves completely to it or to God. So they choose until they’ve thoroughly made their choice, at which point they go to Heaven or Hell.

      – Informed consent
      I don’t consent to have gravity pull on my when I step out a window, but it does, anyway. The idea is that going to Hell is literally being separated from God, which happens necessarily because someone chooses to embrace their personal flaws or try to overcome them.

      – Catholic virtues and vices don’t line up with my intuitions
      As previously mentioned, there’s theological justification for virtues and vices. I wouldn’t expect them to line up with your intuitions, necessarily; they don’t line up with mine. My purpose here is to try to explain how a Catholic views Heaven and Hell and why “Hell is the state of separation from God” is not necessarily a motte and bailey.

      – You have to have faith
      This was always my weakest point as a Catholic; I was raised Catholic, and bought the intellectual arguments, but never really “had faith”. My response here would be that God doesn’t make his presence known because He works in capital-M Mysterious Ways, but FacelessCraven might have a better response.

      – Hell doesn’t fit with Jesus saving people
      Jesus saving people doesn’t mean that he alters them to be good people; it means that Jesus lets good people hang out with God, where pre-Jesus, pretty much everyone went to Hell. Jesus saves people by providing the route via which people can get into heaven.

      Final notes:
      I expect someone to point out that Baptism of Spirit looks like a motte and bailey; after all, if a virtuous non-believer can get into heaven, why be Catholic at all? This was instrumental in my move away from the Church; I imagine that a Catholic might object to my interpretation of it, or at least add that it’s harder to be virtuous if you’re not Catholic. Since I’m not super qualified to defend that point, I’ll leave it alone.

      • Jiro says:

        Rebel With:
        I’m objecting to the idea “you really choose to go to Hell”. A lot of what you just wrote are defenses of some of the things I pointed out, but not defenses specifically of how they apply to choosing Hell.

        The Catholic church’s position is that one must be baptized to get into Heaven; however, there are more kinds of baptism

        I mentioned those examples because if you go to Hell because you “love only yourself”, those examples don’t seem to involve that. Saying that they have another way to avoid Hell even if the “love only yourself” rule sends them to Hell doesn’t help–the problem is that it sounds like the “loving yourself” rule shouldn’t apply in the first place.

        Same for the truthtellers and homosexuals.

        YMMV on how much you buy into that, of course.

        The fact that it’s something hard to buy into is my whole point. “You choose to go to Hell” requires a bunch of arbitrary things.

        See my point about the Baptism of Spirit; people of good will can go to heaven, regardless of beliefs.

        Again, the problem is combining that with “you choose to go to Hell”.

        People start out in a state of separation from God

        If people start out separated from God, they didn’t choose it, right? In fact, you believe that they need Jesus to do it. They *can’t* overcome original sin on their own. How is that a choice?

        The idea is that going to Hell is literally being separated from God, which happens necessarily because someone chooses to embrace their personal flaws or try to overcome them.

        That works with murderers, thieves, and rapists. It doesn’t work very well with edge cases.

        A murderer may try to overcome his impulse to murder, but a fertilized-egg-killer probably isn’t trying to overcome anything. He thinks fertilized eggs aren’t people because he has an intellectual disagreement with Christianity, and makes no effort to overcome this flaw; he doesn’t even see it as a flaw. So he goes to Hell. Yet the idea that a genuine intellectual disagreement separates him from God, even a genuine intellectual disagreement that leads him to kill dozens of souls, is nonsense.

        What about someone who (by God’s standards) has commited sins because he thinks the correct answer to aggregating utility is A and according to God it really is B, and his actions in favor of A have resulted in a lot of extra suffering (if you go by God’s standards of how to aggregate the suffering)? Again, he started with a genuine intellectual disagreement, but it turns out that being on the wrong side of an intellectual disagreement is a “choice to go to Hell”.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          A murderer may try to overcome his impulse to murder, but a fertilized-egg-killer probably isn’t trying to overcome anything. He thinks fertilized eggs aren’t people because he has an intellectual disagreement with Christianity, and makes no effort to overcome this flaw; he doesn’t even see it as a flaw. So he goes to Hell. Yet the idea that a genuine intellectual disagreement separates him from God, even a genuine intellectual disagreement that leads him to kill dozens of souls, is nonsense.

          The emotional vehemence shown by the fertilised-egg-killing movement suggests that there’s more at work than a mere intellectual disagreement.

        • Deiseach says:

          Please don’t use terms like “fertilised-egg-killer”, it belittles both sides on the question of abortion, makes you sound like you’re trying to be edgy for the sake of it, and provokes an attitude of “if they can’t even take their own argument seriously enough not to sound like a teenager making their first post on 4chan and trying to be consciously outrageous, why should I take it or them seriously?”

          (Yes, I know: pot meet kettle if it’s me telling you to dial it back. Learn from my experience of letting your typing fingers run away with you under the influence of strong emotion, is what I’m saying).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You can honestly run this argument the other way Deiseach.

            “fertilized egg killer” has the advantage of ceding important parts of both sides arguments, and also isn’t in common use, so it doesn’t signal anything in particular.

          • Deiseach says:

            HeelBearCub, it involves the messy problem that when does a “fertilised egg” move on to become an embryo, foetus, baby, etc.?

            Unfortunately, not all abortions take place at the zygote stage or even that of the blastocyst or immediately post-implantation (a process that takes place up to a week after fertilisation).

            Abortion is broadly legal up to the second trimester and, depending, for exceptional reasons during the third trimester. This means abortion is permissible up to around 22 weeks of gestation, during which the foetus has moved far past the “fertilised egg” stage.

            We could, of course, change such nasty terms as “homicide” to “matured neotenate termination”, but would you really think that would be “ceding important parts of both sides’ arguments”? Using the term “fertilised egg killer” merely means “I don’t think abortion at any stage is killing, so I’ll use a term that belittles and ridicules the sillies on the other side – nobody thinks a 9-hour old fertilised egg is a human being, so it’s not ‘killing’ to prevent implantation of it or to use drugs to induce a medical abortion, and calling someone who induced the menstruation of a fertilised egg before it could be implanted in the uterus a ‘killer’ is plainly over-the-top hyperbole to the point of absurdity”.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Deiseach
            Using the term “fertilised egg killer” merely means “I don’t think abortion at any stage is killing [….]”

            To me that FEK term would mean someone who supports abortion/contraception/etc until the ____ has reached a later stage. Which is a very common position.

            “Fertilised egg protector” would mean someone who opposes abortion etc for all stages down to the ‘fertilised egg’ stage. Which does sound a little snarky. Maybe using some more obscure term that means ‘fertilised egg’ would help.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Deiseach:
            “nobody thinks a 9-hour old fertilised egg is a human being”

            The Catholic Church officially does, so far as I know? I mean obviously you know more about Catholicism than I do, but I’m not completely detached from my Catholic upbringing and I don’t think I am straw-manning there position. Obviously, the whole “no sex unless intending procreation” thing overlaps here, so I suppose that comes into play as well.

            But it is also the case that in the US there are plenty of evangelicals who take the position that ALL abortion is murder, full stop.

        • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

          I’m going to summarize the Church position.

          – God is essentially Goodness
          – Sins are thing which cause one to not be Good, and therefore be farther from God
          – Sins are chosen freely
          – Hell is the state of absence from God’s presence

          In this sense, people choose Hell, because they choose to sin, which puts them farther from the ideal of Goodness, which is what Catholics call Hell.

          The objection you raised in this comment is intellectual disagreements; what happens to someone who honestly doesn’t agree with the Church. I’ve brought up elsewhere that the Church Catechism is very reasonable on that subject. It’s sufficient to act in accordance with one’s conscience to get into Heaven.

          With that said, I’m sure Catholics sometimes do act like being gay/killing fetuses/whatever is going to send you to Hell, even though this framework would suggest that they should look at it, shrug, and say ‘eh, intellectual differences’. My theory is that these Catholics don’t model it as people having genuine intellectual differences, but as people giving in to selfish urges (“I want to have non-procreative sex because it’s fun for me even though it’s forbidden”, “I want to abort this baby so I don’t have to raise it”), and thus try to warn people off it. However, even if they do model it as intellectual differences, there’s still a good (*from within the Catholic framework) reason to warn people about that sort of behavior; to inform the person that the behavior is actually a risky one. Catholics view sin as something that gets its claws into someone and causes them to want to sin more, and further expects that someone who is hooked by a sin will be much more likely to engage in motivated reasoning (just as someone who cheats on a diet is likely to come up with all sorts of excuses).

          Most lay Catholics (in my experience) don’t know about Baptism of Spirit, or any of the rest of this. There’s endless stories on the internet about bad experiences with Christians, and I won’t attempt to justify it; some people are just dicks, regardless of religion. It’s possible that some of these people use “You’re going to Hell if you do X/you choose to go to Hell” as a motte and bailey because they like preaching at people and don’t fully understand the framework of their religion. However, there’s no inherent inconsistency in the two in the orthodox Church view; willfully doing some sin X is the same as choosing to make oneself less good is the same as distancing oneself from God.

          • Jiro says:

            That deals with the main objection, but it raises questions of its own.

            — Remember the old question of “isn’t it a bad idea to tell people about Christianity, since it now means that people who remain non-Christians are doing so knowingly, so they go to Hell”? With what you describe here, that problem exists for every individual Christian teaching. Gay people can go to Heaven, until you come along and tell them homosexuality is forbidden. Now, a certain percentage of the gay people will believe you but won’t stop practicing homosexuality, and thus will go to Hell. You made things worse off for them. (And even if they do stop, your intervention made things worse because they used to be able to have sex and go to Heaven, but they can’t any more.)

            — Is “people choose Hell” actually a Catholic-only teaching?

            — The questions I raised about why you can’t change your choice after you’re dead are not so bad, but they still arise.

            — And if Hell is a choice, how is that reconciled with a whole bunch of other versions of Christianity, including bluto’s description above of being sent to Hell as being the result of a judgment?

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            Catholics believe that it’s better to be Catholic because it’s better to believe the Truth (TM), and that there are tangible (as well as intangible) benefits to virtue and tangible detriments to sin. Catholic philosophy draws heavily from Aristotle, who believed that acting virtuous was the path to being a virtuous person, and who also didn’t draw a fine line between moral and nonmoral virtues. Basically, “being able to have sex and go to Heaven” isn’t better than being a good Christian and going to Heaven, in the Catholic’s view, because having a lot of sex gives you physical pleasure, while being a virtuous person makes your soul harder/better/faster/stronger. More seriously, shouldering your sins and struggling against them is viewed as noble and having value on a higher tier than physical pleasure.

            Additionally, as I mentioned in my previous comment, I think there’s a strong feeling that people aren’t really objecting intellectually so much as justifying their behavior because it’s convenient. Evangelizing can therefore be helpful to the evangelized by exposing motivated reasoning. And hey, if the evangelized has good arguments, he’s got nothing to fear, right?

            Is “people choose Hell” actually a Catholic-only teaching?

            I doubt it. I’m an ex-Catholic who was an apologetics nerd, though, so I’m sticking to the religion I feel qualified to talk about.

            The questions I raised about why you can’t change your choice after you’re dead are not so bad, but they still arise.

            I’m pretty sure you can change your choice, and that Hell is the ongoing choice for sinful pleasures uber alles, while Heaven is the choice for the pursuit of virtue. This shouldn’t be taken to mean that Hell is pleasurable; I conceptualized it as a lot like a prison where the you could occasionally get a cigarette if you swapped favors with the other prisoners. From my current standpoint, I wonder if Catholic Hell would really be that bad for a materialist.

            Regarding the use of judgment imagery; you raise a good point and I’m not sure I have a good answer. My guess would be that it’s like a diagnostic that checks boolean isSinner() and sorts into the appropriate piles, but that seems like a worse fit for the image than a metal “Hammer of Justice Crushes YOU” – type God. Either way, the Catholic view is that it’s your choices that dictate whether you get crushed which group you’re sorted into.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            — Remember the old question of “isn’t it a bad idea to tell people about Christianity, since it now means that people who remain non-Christians are doing so knowingly, so they go to Hell”? With what you describe here, that problem exists for every individual Christian teaching. Gay people can go to Heaven, until you come along and tell them homosexuality is forbidden. Now, a certain percentage of the gay people will believe you but won’t stop practicing homosexuality, and thus will go to Hell. You made things worse off for them. (And even if they do stop, your intervention made things worse because they used to be able to have sex and go to Heaven, but they can’t any more.)

            Sin isn’t just bad because it sends you to Hell; it also has deleterious effects on your life in this world. “Having sinful sex and going to Heaven” isn’t better than “Being chaste and going to Heaven”, it’s worse.

            — Is “people choose Hell” actually a Catholic-only teaching?

            CS Lewis certainly believed that people choose Hell (cf. The Great Divorce), so no.

            — And if Hell is a choice, how is that reconciled with a whole bunch of other versions of Christianity, including bluto’s description above of being sent to Hell as being the result of a judgment?

            In this specific case, if you choose not to accept God’s sanctifying grace, you get judged for your deeds and sent to Hell.

            In general, why should you expect different versions of Christianity to be compatible? They’re different versions of Christianity, of course they’re going to have differences. You might as well ask “But if the hidden variables interpretation of QM is correct, how is that reconciled with the many-worlds interpretation?”

          • Jiro says:

            Sin isn’t just bad because it sends you to Hell; it also has deleterious effects on your life in this world. “Having sinful sex and going to Heaven” isn’t better than “Being chaste and going to Heaven”, it’s worse.

            Well, that answers half the question.

            Sinning in ignorance and going to Heaven is still better than sinning in knowledge and going to Hell. If people honestly don’t know they are sinning and you tell them, a certain number of them will believe you but continue to sin. They now go to Hell when in the absence of your intervention they would have gone to Heaven.

          • Jiro says:

            Rebel, it sounds like you’re giving explanations that are fairly reasonable, but only if I ignore what all the other guys say, because they’re not True Christians.

            Yes, Catholicism has a hierarchy who can speak for True Catholicism but not all the people who believe “it’s your own choice to go to hell” are Catholic.

            And even for the ones who are Catholic, I have no idea what reference I can point to to say “you’re wrong about your own religion”. In fact, right below this message, “The original Mr. X” said exactly what you say is wrong (and you tried to correct him, which I suspect won’t work very well).

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            @Jiro

            Sinning in ignorance and going to Heaven is still better than sinning in knowledge and going to Hell.

            Not quite. It’s more like the EV of virtue is higher than that of sin.
            P(SIN | Ignorance)*Sin Value + (1-P(Sin | Ignorance)) * Virtue Value < P(SIN | Knowledge)*Sin Value + (1-P(Sin | Knowledge)) * Virtue Value
            Not that Catholics think of it in utilitarian terms, but it’s roughly a consequentialist argument regardless.

            Regarding the No True Scotsman point: my view of the discussion was that you felt that there was an inherent problem with the claim that people choose Hell (with respect to the way Christians frequently use the threat of Hell as a bludgeon). In response to this, I’ve provided an argument that it is not necessarily a contradiction, and demonstrated that it’s supported by at least the oldest and most populous denomination of Christianity. To my mind, your expectation was that the ‘people choose Hell claim’ is necessarily a contradiction, and I provided a central example of Christianity with a framework in which it is not. I freely grant that not all Christians who believe the ‘choose hell’ proposition are Catholic, but I think it suffices to demonstrate that there’s a mainstream variant of it that addresses the difficulty.

            Additionally, I think there’s only limited value to be found if I were to defend Christianity in general; I don’t know what, say, Mormons believe about hell. I don’t feel qualified to offer arguments from sects that I’ve never been a part of nor studied.

            Finally, you brought up a good point about reference points to falsify claims about the religion. For most things, I find that the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” suffices for both a position and brief argument for the Catholic stance. It’s freely available on the Vatican’s site, and is about as official as it gets. If you’d like a deeper examination of the arguments, or are just feeling masochistic, Aquinas’ “Summa Theologica” is considered to be one of the most prominent works of theology in Church thought. Fair warning; Aquinas differs from mainstream church thought on a couple of minor points (example; he thought that Mary was conceived with original sin then immediately purified, whereas the Church believes that she was conceived without original sin), but by and large his arguments are (arguably) the most powerful influence on the Church’s position.

          • Deiseach says:

            Fair warning; Aquinas differs from mainstream church thought on a couple of minor points (example; he thought that Mary was conceived with original sin then immediately purified, whereas the Church believes that she was conceived without original sin)

            Oh yeah, that’s a good one; one of the big Dominicans vs Franciscans arguments and the Franciscans won that one (though not formally until 1854) 🙂

            Then the Jesuits came along in a couple of centuries and gave the Dominicans someone else to fight.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            @Deiseach

            A Franciscan and a Dominican were debating whose order was the greater. After months of arguing, they decided to ask God for an answer when they died. Years later, they met in heaven and went to God’s throne to resolve their old disagreement. God seemed a bit puzzled about the question and told them he would reply in writing a few days later. After much deliberation, God sent the following letter:

            My sons,

            Please stop bickering about such trivial matters. Both orders are equally great and good in my eyes.

            Sincerely,

            God, SJ

          • Mary says:

            Sinning in ignorance and going to Heaven is still better than sinning in knowledge and going to Hell.

            The problem is that is that you assume that you know nothing about good and evil until you’re told. Christianity teaches that you certainly know some of it without being told.

          • Mary says:

            Fair warning; Aquinas differs from mainstream church thought on a couple of minor points (example; he thought that Mary was conceived with original sin then immediately purified, whereas the Church believes that she was conceived without original sin),

            He wrote before the Immaculate Conception was defined doctrine.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            @Mary
            Both are fair points.

            He wrote before the Immaculate Conception was defined doctrine.

            It’s true, and I’m not trying to make Aquinas out to be a bad Catholic. For someone trying to get an idea of Church teaching, though, I felt it was best to point out that doctrine has evolved a little since Aquinas’ time.

          • Deiseach says:

            Rebel with an Uncaused Cause:

            Or the one where a man asks a Jesuit and a Franciscan how many novenas he’ll have to make to get a Ferrari; the Franciscan says “What’s a Ferrari?” and the Jesuit says “What’s a novena?” 🙂

      • The original Mr. X says:

        I expect someone to point out that Baptism of Spirit looks like a motte and bailey; after all, if a virtuous non-believer can get into heaven, why be Catholic at all?

        There’s a difference between not being in a position to know the truth of Catholicism (e.g., if you live before the time of Christ, or in a country that hasn’t been evangelised yet) and being in a position to know it but rejecting it anyway. The former isn’t a sin, the latter is.

        • Jiro says:

          Ah, so Jews are all sinners, since they live in countries where Christianity is common?

          And it also follows that Jews have chosen to go to Hell?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Yes?

            I thought that was a pretty well-established thing, both with Christianity and Islam, that Jews who stick it out are turning their backs on God. I mean it sucks if you’re Jewish but that’s hardly a strike against the other Abrahamic religions.

          • bluto says:

            In Christian interpretation, Jews would need offer the mandated sacrifices required under their own covenant.

          • Jiro says:

            I thought that was a pretty well-established thing

            Generally, Christians who say “people choose to go to Hell” don’t follow up with “… which means that Jews choose to go to Hell by being Jews”. “Jews choose to go to Hell” is pretty much indefensible. Getting this out in the open may be useful.

          • Deiseach says:

            Jews have the Covenant which has not been broken. From the Catechism (1992 promulgation):

            The Church and non-Christians

            839 “Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways.”

            The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, “the first to hear the Word of God.” The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ”, “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”

            840 And when one considers the future, God’s People of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.

            From Nostra Aetate (1965)

            4. As the sacred synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock.

            Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God’s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ -Abraham’s sons according to faith- are included in the same Patriarch’s call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people’s exodus from the land of bondage. The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles. Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles. making both one in Himself.

            The Church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle about his kinsmen: “theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:4-5), the Son of the Virgin Mary. She also recalls that the Apostles, the Church’s main-stay and pillars, as well as most of the early disciples who proclaimed Christ’s Gospel to the world, sprang from the Jewish people.

            As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation, nor did the Jews in large number, accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading. Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues – such is the witness of the Apostle. In company with the Prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and “serve him shoulder to shoulder” (Soph. 3:9).

            Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.

            True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.

            Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Jiro

            “Jews choose to go to Hell” is pretty much indefensible.

            Why so? It’s the same general rule: they listened to the Good News, they rejected it, so off to Hell they go.

          • Jiro says:

            It’s indefensible because it blatantly violates what we think of as justice to the point where even Christians find it hard to rationalize away.

        • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

          I don’t think the latter is. Here’s the relevant excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

          Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery. Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

          Emphasis added. Basically, everyone who tries to do good can get in; I think the confusion arises because the Catechism lumps “ignorant by lack of exposure” with “rejects the Church intellectually” because it’s coming from the position of “Of course the Church is correct; people only disagree because they’re ignorant of the Truth”. While the attitude may come across as high-handed, it certainly looks to me like good people who reject Catholicism can explicitly get in.

          • ” it certainly looks to me like good people who reject Catholicism can explicitly get in.”

            I teach at a Catholic school. One of my colleagues, who is a Jesuit, expressed the opinion that my not believing in God did not imply that I could not get into Heaven.

            A little evidence on the subject, but only a little.

    • Anton on.. [etc/REDACTED] says:

      Just commenting on one small thing-

      Granting that all people are crippled, and all people are cripples, does it follow that it’s impossible to refashion one’s crutches and weak, twisted body, into a fearless yet purposeful (-or the other way around)..

      CRUTCH-MECHA

      ?

      And if not, does that show that that frame may not be the best for (at least) some outlier cases?

       

      For the most egregious example that I have ((always) at the top of my head), and the one most appropriate to the mecha- -extension-of-metaphor, surely this guy’s

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simo_H%C3%A4yh%C3%A4

      crutches were formed into the shape of some kind of highly functional, and dare I say it, efficient, battlesuit?

      (I realise I’m kind of prejudicing the metaphor by using a real life invincible(ish) killing machine, -sorry, but killing 600 people -that are trying to kill you back, is such an unambiguously, uh.. uncrippled, un-“only-human” thing to do, that it’s the best example I can think of, even though the metaphor-mecha’s usual properties of being almost invincible machines of war-in-particular was meant to be just an illustrative joke, and this is really bad metaphor-example -form.

      Anyway, please substitute in your own favorite superhuman- -not-from-the-field-of-war, for comparison)

  4. The body dysmorphism part of trangenderism is something I can more or less understand, and seems to have a plausible physical basis. The gender role dysmophism part strikes me as hard to understand. Gender role dysmorphism is the handiest phrase I’ve got, but it’s not just being unhappy with one’s current role, it’s having a strong desire for a specific role. And I don’t think it’s some kind of desire for dominance pretending to be a desire for the role, it seems to be satisfied by getting the role.

    After I’d thought about transgenderism for a while, I realized that there’s no such thing as a “man” or a “woman”, there’s just being a man or a woman in particular culture. At least, the transgendered people I know seem content to be men or women of their preferred gender in their home culture.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if there are a few transgendered people who have a different target culture, but people who want to be full members of another culture are rare, and so are transgendered people, so people with both factors should be very rare.

    My tentative theory is that cultural gender roles involve strong imprinting. This might explain why a lot of people get upset when the roles are violated, though there’s some malliability with time.

  5. Sandy says:

    My university has started a Concerned Students of Color branch to fight “systemic oppressions that are commonplace” here and that is “united in response to the diversity crisis” that plagues X University. One of the administrators of the group knows me and is insistent that I sign up and attend some meetings, seeing as my skin has the requisite melanin content. I suspect my right-wing beliefs would not be welcome in such circles and people have just made assumptions about my progressiveness on account of my race, but I am somewhat curious to see what this group considers systemic oppressions, given that we attend a progressive institution in an East Coast liberal bastion.

    So my question: would it be a dick move to join such a group when I basically just want to sit in and confirm my biases?

    • Anonymous says:

      No. Both you and they might learn something. That’s ostensibly the purpose of college.

    • TPC says:

      It wouldn’t be on your part. The **** move would be the blowback, including ability to be employed or even complete school at all that you’d receive for not following group norms.

    • Anonymous says:

      No, infiltrate the movement, gather intelligence then use it for sabotage.

    • John Schilling says:

      It might be a dick move to do that on your own initiative. Rather less dickish with an invitation, and if the invitation truly qualifies as “insistent”, you’re in the clear.

      Deciding when to “come out” as a conservative, if ever, will require tact and careful thinking. If it were me, I’d start with a factual disclaimer to the insistent administrator, then stay in quiet-observation mode at least long enough for them to let their guard down. Never let them hear a weak objection or counterargument from you; wait until you have the opportunity for an unimpeachable one.

      • cassander says:

        You know anything about John Boyd? He is little known, but he revolutionized the way combat aircraft are designed in the 70s and 80s. He constantly fought bureaucratic battles with the Pentagon from early in his career, and despite his low rank (He started as a Major never made general) won them.

        His advice, and he gave it to multiple people at multiple times, was essentially “Do your homework”. You could get away with telling truth to power, but you had to know more about what you were talking about than your critics, every single time, and you could never, ever, let them catch you making factual mistakes.

        Granted, the Pentagon is (probably) a thornier mess than your average liberal arts college, but this is good advice.

        • Lumifer says:

          The thing is, combat has a well-defined outcome. To crudify a bit, you lose — you die. In other words, there is a reality check present. But in the college protest scene there is no reality check and, to summon Robin Hanson, the protests aren’t really about the things they are protesting about.

        • John Schilling says:

          The thing is, combat has a well-defined outcome.

          Combat aircraft design is less well defined, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s. To crudify a bit, you lose – a contract. And the way you lose a contract is by having your assertion, “My airplane can totally shoot down your airplane!” fail to outpersuade the people saying “Can Not!” with no actual air combat until it’s too late to matter.

          Analogous to SJW infighting? YMMV.

          • Anonymous says:

            You can prove things about aircraft design, the persistence of myths such as “1in5” and the wage gap proves that the SJW scene is impervious to empirical reasoning.

          • cassander says:

            You can once the plane is built, sure, but what sort of plane do you try to build? Should it go mach 2 or 3? Have a 1000 mile range or 2000? Lockheed will try to build whatever sort of plane the DoD tells them to, the argument inside is about what to tell them to do, not if they’ll be able to do it. And those arguments definitely bear an unpleasant resemblance to SWJ arguments, complete with bad statistics, shoddy analysis, and careful cherry picking.

          • John Schilling says:

            You can prove things about aircraft design

            The things you can prove about aircraft design, turn out not to be the things that win contracts and/or force you to shut down business lines. Rather like there are things you can prove about social justice, but those aren’t the things people are fighting over.

        • Agronomous says:

          Wikipedia has a good article on Boyd, who did eventually make Colonel.

          You may have heard of one of his ideas: the OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, and act).
          I’ve found it useful in a work context.

          (It also helped me in combat situations against Imperial Stormtroopers.)

    • Deiseach says:

      I’d say if they’re inviting you to sign up and attend meetings, meet them half-way: agree to go to a couple of meetings to see what they’re about, but don’t formally join anything.

      That way, you can find out if they’re trying to assuage any feelings of “Well, we’re progressives at an elite college in a reliably liberal area, but as POC we should be suffering oppression, and since realising that we’re not because we’re socially and economically fortunate is too uncomfortable, let’s find sources of oppression!” or if they want to head off accusations of being all left-wing progressives and not inclusive and diverse by using you to point to as “Here’s our right-wing/conservative member, see, we’re representative of all views!” without committing yourself to anything and being pressured about “But you signed up and you’re now a member, you have to support our Day of Action because the cafeteria is cooking ethnic cuisine inauthentically” and they can’t accuse you of joining under false pretenses, being an agent provocateur, or rendering the entire college an unsafe and threatening space for them with your deceitful right-wing schemes.

    • Lumifer says:

      I am somewhat curious to see what this group considers systemic oppressions

      Do you have reasons to expect they will be something other than the usual?

      • 80hz says:

        There are no demands listed. Is their site malfunctioning?

        • Lumifer says:

          The phrase “(Link to Demands)” is actually link, just not underlined. If you click on it, you’ll go to this particular list of demands.

  6. BBA says:

    Max Read asks: “Did I kill Gawker?”

    For me he certainly did. The story on the Conde Nast exec that he approved (which he ended up resigning over when it was spiked) permanently lost me as a reader, even of the less offensive ancillary blogs. I may stop actively avoiding the ex-Gawker sites now that they’re owned by Univision. (Yes, the Spanish TV channel. They also own Fusion.net and have been gradually working their way into Anglophone media. Who knew?)

  7. https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/2016/08/15/162200/the-return-of-scurvy-houston-neurologist-diagnoses-hundreds-of-patients-with-vitamin-deficiencies/

    What’s described is people who could afford a varied diet but who either ate a very limited diet for no reason given or because they thought they would be healthier by eliminating various foods.

    While we’re being nice to conservatism here, I wonder whether there was something to be said for a tyranny of custom about food.

    • Loquat says:

      Interesting that the article attributes a lot of the phenomenon to people going gluten-free or paleo, but the only specific examples given are individuals who were eating mainly (or only) packaged food like canned soup, frozen dinners, etc.

      • Yes, I was wondering about the gluten-free bit. After all, it’s not as though most people who eat wheat eat whole grain products.

        One possibility is that the doctor is wrong in some cases. Another is that a small proportion of the people who eliminate a food end up eliminating too many other foods because they get in the habit of thinking that eliminating foods is a good idea.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Most wheat flour in the US is enriched (i.e. has vitamins added), so it doesn’t matter if it’s not whole grain.

        • Loquat says:

          To get into a little more detail, the doctor specifically mentions that giving up wheat deprives you of a good source of vitamin B1, aka Thiamine. But wheat is far from the only natural source of that vitamin – pork is particularly high in it, many species of fish are a good source, and you can get decent amounts from many nuts, seeds, and beans, plus squash and asparagus.

          And, of course, for most of human history wheat was completely absent from large chunks of the world, yet people in those chunks managed to get along just fine on other foods.

      • Lumifer says:

        The article was pretty much bullshit. It’s not news that living solely on cans of soup will lead to bad things and there’s zero evidence or argument provided that paleo and/or gluten-free diets will lead to deficiencies (and with respect to GF it’s obvious bullshit).

      • Adam says:

        Yes, that part is weird. She specifically says that they need to be eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, which is seemingly exactly what you’d do if you were eating paleo or gluten-free.

        • TPC says:

          That article is anti-meat polemic (that’s the reason for the paleo reference).

          It’s barely a news article. What happened to college journalism?

    • 80hz says:

      Very interesting notion.

      One of the things that’s unpleasant to think about with too much realism is whether the average person (in many populations, anyway) could probably benefit from micromanagement in a lot of areas of life.

      In economics, public goods are treated as these rare exceptions, but really they are the rule. Combine this with superstimuli, and it’s easy to envision an argument that totalitarianism might be both just and humane.

      • Lumifer says:

        totalitarianism might be both just and humane

        North Korea is over that way.

        • 80hz says:

          Godwin’s Law ought to include North Korea at this point. Intellectually lazy shorthand for “Boo! Hiss! Evil!”

          Anyway, I never said it’s possible to envision an argument in defense of Everything North Korea, I said it’s possible to envision an argument that totalitarianism might be both just and humane.

          • Lumifer says:

            I said it’s possible to envision an argument that totalitarianism might be both just and humane

            I’m failing at that.

            Would you like to try?

          • 80hz says:

            I already did:

            One of the things that’s unpleasant to think about with too much realism is whether the average person (in many populations, anyway) could probably benefit from micromanagement in a lot of areas of life.

            In economics, public goods are treated as these rare exceptions, but really they are the rule. Combine this with superstimuli…

            In other words, the argument is this: Even most private decisions impact society, and the average person makes poor decisions, so a system that makes decisions for people will yield better results.

            That’s the argument as I envision it; it isn’t what I personally believe at the end of the day.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ 80hz

            so a system that makes decisions for people will yield better results.

            I do not see this as obvious. In fact, there were a lot of totalitarian societies throughout history and they did not “yield better results”. Not a single one of them. Given this, why do you believe that a “system” will actually produce better results and what do you mean by “better”?

          • “so a system that makes decisions for people will yield better results.”

            Only if that system, which is to say the people who make it up, have both the ability and an incentive to make good decisions for other people. The only case I can think of where that’s at all plausible is parents making decisions for their own children.

            In the normal case, the decision maker knows much less about the person the decision is being made for and his circumstances than that person knows about himself and his circumstances, and the decision maker’s incentive is to make decisions in his own interest not somebody else’s.

            The argument on the other side seems to be that the decision maker can take account of effects of the decision he now controls on people other than the person he is making it for. But why is it in his interest to do so? And, given that for most decisions most of the effect is on the person immediately concerned, wouldn’t you expect any small gain from including other effects to be massively outweighed by the lack of knowledge and incentive to optimize the effect on that person?

            I like to put the argument in terms of an imaginary bureaucrat god, a being with all of the knowledge anyone in the society has, unlimited ability to process that information, unlimited ability to make people do what he tells them to do and a desire to maximize the welfare of the population.

            Such a being could improve on the outcomes produced by free choice. But we have a striking shortage of such beings.

          • 80hz says:

            @Lumifer, you said:

            Given this, why do you believe that a “system” will actually produce better results and what do you mean by “better”?

            Please read what I write before asking me questions like that. Just before you asked me that question, I said:

            That’s the argument as I envision it; it isn’t what I personally believe at the end of the day.

            My main reason for not believing it is basically what David Friedman just said.

      • Not sure where the public good argument comes from, but true, 100% public goods are almost impossible to find.

        Even National Defense isn’t REALLY a public good: if for some reason Maine stopped paying their bills, we could TOTALLY let Canada annex their deadbeat ass. And National Defense is definitely not non-rivaled: “you can’t defend everywhere at once” is Sun Tzu wisdom.

        Certain goods have certain aspects of a “public good” nature, let’s say. I am probably putting this poorly. On local roads, it is hard to exclude people. It is also non-rivaled to some extent: your enjoyment of the road does not limit my enjoyment of the road.
        But none of these are 100% true all the time. We can definitely exclude people from the road, which is what cops do when you don’t have a sticker. Roads are definitely rivaled goods, see traffic jams.

        • 80hz says:

          A while ago I noticed that private goods are mostly not.

          For example, let’s say I’m buying a cell phone. The models available inventory are based mostly on other people’s tastes and choices. And prices are to a significant extent based on other people’s habits and preferences. For instance, when they got rid of phone contracts, prices went up to account for the added risk the phone companies were now taking on.

          So it’s probably correct to say that both 100% private AND 100% public goods are especially rare, but I think the curve is skewed toward public goods.

        • That’s markets at work, specifically with mass market and economies of scale typically found after the Industrial Revolution.

          Products need to appeal to a sufficient number of consumers to justify their cost.

          Perhaps there’s a kind of public good or externality argument to be made for taste-makers: If Britney Spears or insert-pop-star-here buys X brand makeup, suddenly X brand makeup is really popular! What if that makeup causes cancer in Banagalore…

          But that’s not really what economists mean when they argue about public goods. That means specifically a good that is available for all to use, under all circumstances, which means free-riders can use the fruits of your labor. This leads to under-investment in public goods, since the free-riders will just let you build it.

          That’s different from arguing that culture needs a shift in tastes. The free-riders are DEFINITELY paying for their own cell phones. We just want the free-riders to not be idiots about cell phone features, so cell phone manufactures create actual quality phones.

          That’s just a natural market like any other, with all the typical market failures (in this case, asymmetry of information comes to mind).

          While it’s true that public goods are rare and vanish when you squint hard enough at them, it’s also true that most of our economy probably isn’t perfectly competitive either. Pretty much every market has SOME market failure somewhere.

          But just because there’s a market failure does not mean government can effectively regulate a market. Government has all sorts of its own failure points. Benevolent tyrants are a lot like public goods: theoretical items that rarely exist in reality, and if you squint hard enough, they vanish. Does this really sound like an awesome benevolent tyrant?

          In 1781 Frederick decided to make coffee a royal monopoly and disabled soldiers were employed to spy on citizens sniffing in search of illegally roasted coffee, much to the annoyance of general population

  8. Two McMillion says:

    Another thing I’ve been thinking about lately:

    So, I’ve been reading the Kushiel’s Legacy fantasy series. A major theme of this series is the instruction from one of the gods to the culture it takes place in, “Love as thou wilt”. This results, naturally, in a culture where people have a lot of sex, and sex is celebrated, lots of sex-positivity, etc.

    But it occurs to me that I can’t think of any real life religions that even remotely resemble this. And this seems really strange to me! One common accusation made against religion is that religion is wishful thinking. Well, the religion in Kushiel’s Legacy seems about as wishful-thinking-y as you can get. What’s more, it seems like a really obvious kind of wishful thinking. “The gods love us and want us to be happy!” If people invent religions because of wishful thinking, it seems like a religion that says having sex is cool and we should do it all the time is one that would get invented really quick.

    Yet somehow I can’t think of even one religion that teaches anything close to this. As far as I can tell, so far as this thinking exists, it comes entirely from humanism (“But humanism is a religion!” Yes, yes, we’ve heard that a million times already.). Some old pagan religions had temple prostitutes, but even they didn’t approve of the free love, anything-between-consenting-adults-goes attitude that Elua does. Obviously, such things actually happen in every culture, but all the same religious authorities seem to officially condemn it, not approve it. Christianity says you can only have one wife and Islam says you can have up to four, but they still both agree that you can’t have absolutely any woman you can convince to come to bed with you. The only possible exception might be some forms of Satanism, but Satanism seems to have developed largely in response to the restrictions of pre-existing religions, so it doesn’t seem to count.

    So my question is- why are religions this way? Why don’t we have a bunch of “love as thou wilt” religions running around in real life? Or, perhaps I’m ignorant and there are lots of them, in which case I’m puzzled why they aren’t more prominent, since it seems like they would have had a lot to offer in past times when repressive religions exerted a more powerful influence over daily life.

    • dndnrsn says:

      The theory of religion whereby religion is first and foremost a means of social control would probably maintain that the reason religions tend not to say “love as thou wilt” is that, absent things like birth control, free love would cause problems. Some say it causes problems even with birth control.

      • Two McMillion says:

        Ha, the Kushiel’s Legacy world is noticeably free of unwanted pregnancies and STDs, that I grant. Still, that doesn’t seem like an insurmountable problem- lots of cultures have been okay with infanticide for unwanted children.

        • Anonymous says:

          [L]ots of cultures have been okay with infanticide for unwanted children.

          Have they?

          I know there have been one or two cases of finding dozens of infant skeletons in sewers behind or under Roman brothels, but I’m not sure that was at all legal, or condoned more than tacitly agreeing “let’s not ask how the whores avoid getting pregnant because the answer’s probably horrible somehow”.

          • Deiseach says:

            Going off the top of my head memories here, but often brothels got new recruits by having people go around picking up unwanted children – exposure of new-borns on rubbish heaps was common – oh, and a quick Google shows this from one of the Oxyrhynchus papyri:

            A letter from a husband to his wife directing her not to raise her baby if it is female. Exposed children were left to be raised by others or to die.

            Hilarion to Alis his sister, heartiest greetings, and to my dear Berous and Apollonarion. Know that we are still even now in Alexandria. Do not worry if when all the others return I remain in Alexandria. I beg and beseech of you to take care of the little child, and as soon as we receive wages I will send them to you. If – good luck to you! – you bear offspring, if it is a male, let it live; if it is a female, expose it. You told Aphrodisias, ‘Do not forget me.’ How can I forget you? I beg you therefore not to worry.
            The 29th year of Caesar, Pauni 23

            And I can’t find where I read it, but some Famous Roman Philosopher/Scientist (can’t remember the name even, that’s how the brain softens with old age) wrote about the human foetus from examination/dissection of one; his sister owned at least one slave who was a dancer hired out at parties (and plainly worked as a prostitute for her mistress as well), the woman got pregnant, the mistress wanted to abort the pregnancy but not risk killing her valuable asset, the brother advised her of a method he’d heard used, where by doing special vigorous exercises (something to do with kicking up the legs high and jumping) a miscarriage was induced; the mistress got the woman to do this, she miscarried, and the brother got his scientific sample.

            Early Christians used to go round and pick up exposed children and raise them, but exposure of the unwanted survived even in Christian societies; St Vincent de Paul used to take in abandoned babies left on rubbish heaps in 17th century Paris, and foundling wheels were common enough until the modern era.

            EDIT: Also, in cultures across the world, children marked out as special (twins, albinos) might be killed or left to die, as they were considered to bring great misfortune – but could also be conduits of magic, so even in present-day African nations albinos can be killed for their body parts which are sold to make charms and medicines and used in rituals. Salif Keita, the Malian musician, was thrown out by his family and regarded as unlucky by his community because he is an albino.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Backing up Deiseach: just leaving unwanted children to die/get picked up by someone else and sold into slavery was definitely a feature of some societies, across the world.

            I believe there was one early Christian writer who argued that one of the reasons prostitution was unacceptable was that a man might abandon an unwanted daughter, that daughter might be taken and sold into prostitution, and so it was conceivable that a man might unknowingly later sleep with his own daughter (sort of a reverse-Oedipus thing going on in more ways than one).

          • Anonymous says:

            Well, Christ, look who’s a poor naive sap about the past!
            This makes my idea of things seem horribly optimistic. I didn’t actually think people sank to that.

          • Lumifer says:

            people sank to that

            If you’re getting pregnant every two years and half of your kids die in infancy, anyway, the value of a child isn’t great. You’ll have another one soon enough.

          • Deiseach says:

            Dear Orange Anon, this is one of the reasons some Christians argue about how Western civilisation has no idea that it’s living on the capital of Christendom and burning through it and has no idea that, having thrown out all the values as “repressive”, “phobic” and the like, that human nature and human cultures were not all naturally sweet and nice and egalitarian paradises of equality and fraternity and nobody ever oppressed anyone.

            It’s the lack of historical knowledge that you know, we did used to have societies with divorce and abortion and the likes, and those generally didn’t very much turn out to favour women, and the reason Western society thinks women are people has a lot to do with bad old Christianity and the values it espoused in the teeth of social custom (like “no killing your girl babies”) 🙂

            Even the emperor Julian the Apostate, when trying to re-introduce and re-invigorate paganism in the 4th century empire, urged the priests to emulate the “atheists” and “Galilaeans” (Christians) in works of charity:

            The Hellenic religion does not yet prosper as I desire, and it is the fault of those who profess it; for the worship of the gods is on a splendid and magnificent scale, surpassing every prayer and every hope. May Adrasteia pardon my words, for indeed no one, a little while ago, would have ventured even to pray for a change of such a sort or so complete within so short a time. Why, then, do we think that this is enough, why do we not observe that it is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism? I believe that we ought really and truly to practise every one of these virtues. And it is not enough for you alone to practise them, but so must all the priests in Galatia, without exception.

            and

            We must pay especial attention to this point, and by this means effect a cure. For when it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by the priests, then I think the impious Galilaeans observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy. And they have gained ascendancy in the worst of their deeds through the credit they win for such practices. For just as those who entice children with a cake, and by throwing it to them two or three times induce them to follow them, and then, when they are far away from their friends cast them on board a ship and sell them as slaves, and that which for the moment seemed sweet, proves to be bitter for all the rest of their lives — by the same method, I say, the Galilaeans also begin with their so-called love-feast, or hospitality, or service of tables,— for they have many ways of carrying it out and hence call it by many names,—and the result is that they have led very many into atheism [conclusion of this letter is lost]

            I’m somewhat darkly amused that Julian uses as an example “So yeah, people go out to entice kids away and then sell them as slaves and export them abroad by ship” as though this were so common an occurrence it was like saying “This is like getting one of those phishing emails trying to get your bank account details”. And apparently no connection in his mind that as Emperor and Supreme Pontiff, he maybe could do something to make this illegal?

          • Anonymous says:

            Oh, I’ve argued (most of) that myself, Deiseach.

            I just never realized even the pre-Christian pagans went as far as routine infanticide.

          • dndnrsn says:

            A lot of cultures have considered infanticide as a sort of “fourth trimester abortion”. Didn’t want the kid? Can’t afford the kid? Something wrong with the kid (birth defects, or just some trait that custom holds to be unlucky or whatever)? Toss them in the ravine where the trash gets thrown.

            I believe the rationale for exposure, at least in the Hellenistic world, was that it did not create blood guilt for killing a family member if you just left them there to die (as opposed to actively killing the child).

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’m somewhat darkly amused that Julian uses as an example “So yeah, people go out to entice kids away and then sell them as slaves and export them abroad by ship” as though this were so common an occurrence it was like saying “This is like getting one of those phishing emails trying to get your bank account details”. And apparently no connection in his mind that as Emperor and Supreme Pontiff, he maybe could do something to make this illegal?

            To be fair, I’m pretty sure abduction was illegal in the Roman Empire; it’s just that, in a really big empire with quite primitive communications, enforcing the laws was often pretty difficult.

          • Deiseach says:

            Well, mr X, there’s also the fact that the idea of abolishing slavery or declaring universal manumission or at the very least, freeing slaves who had been abducted as children and were free-born never occurred to him, even though he was trying his hardest to row back the advance of Christianity and re-introduce classical pagan religion to the Empire.

            It’s another one of those “everyone just knows some things are wrong” instances where it’s very plain that in certain times and places, Thing was not self-evidently wrong. And then we have to examine why do we think slavery is wrong? Why do we think we own our own bodies? And that drags in ethics and philosophy and religion and the whole mess:

            Ah, solving that question
            Brings the priest and the doctor
            In their long coats
            Running over the fields

        • dndnrsn says:

          But not just unwanted children – there’s an argument to be made that the less sure a man can be of the paternity of wanted children, the more stable family arrangements tend to be.

          • Randy M says:

            less sure a man can be of the paternity of wanted children, the more stable family arrangements tend to be.

            Can you make the argument then? Kinda curious about that one.

          • Anonymous says:

            Can you make the argument then? Kinda curious about that one.

            I’m not him, but I believe the theory for why human women have cryptic estrus, which almost no mammals have, and human men have evolved to be less able to recognize whether a child is their own offspring at a quick visual inspection than the other great apes are, is that these things encourage the man to stick around the woman at all times to make sure he’s the one and only man sleeping with her, thus incidentally providing for the children better and giving them a higher chance of survival. (This in turn is supposed to be an adaptation to the inordinately long time a human baby takes to finish baking, which in its turn is a consequence of our gigantic brains, as I understand it.)

          • Nornagest says:

            We have a long-ish gestation time, but by no means an extremely long one by mammal standards — it’s about 10-15% longer than our close primate relatives, or 30% longer than most other animals of our size. Considerably shorter than, say, horses. What is unusual is the long period of helplessness human infants have after birth.

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s what I was referring to, the fact that it takes 15 years to grow up.

          • Nornagest says:

            My bad, I read “baking” and assumed “pregnancy”.

          • Anonymous says:

            Nah, that’s my bad on the word choice, no question – it’s a pretty established idiom, “one in the oven” and all that.

          • Randy M says:

            That makes sense, I should have thought about it more.
            Thanks.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah, the Kushiel world only works where you have tacit robust methods of contraception, abortion is practiced, and STDs are either not known (not impossible, syphilis came from the New World to Europe so in a fantasy world there could be islands where a particular virulent strain had not yet been introduced) or there are efficacious cures for them that are not as bad as the disease (e.g. the use of mercury to treat syphilis).

          If you have interventionist gods on that scale, they probably also ensure their devotees don’t spend their lives constantly pregnant or developing the roses of Venus. The real world isn’t that convenient.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Such was the scenario in places of the world where abortion, birth control, and antibiotics were available, up until the rise of HIV, so really only the late 60s/early 70s to the early 80s.

            Even then, a plausible argument can be made that social problems resulted.

          • Anonymous says:

            Even then, a plausible argument can be made that social problems resulted.

            I’m very certain that – although I can’t remember where, which is iffy – I’ve seen claims from women who were hippies in the Summer of Love era that they didn’t like the free-love part at all and felt pressured into it by the men as a condition of being allowed to be part of the whole hippie movement and feel all good and groovy and such; they weren’t squares, were they?

            Personally, I feel like I recognize that type of social pressure. It’s intuitively very credible to me.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Leftist movements in the 1960s and 70s had a reputation for misogyny, eg Stokely Carmichael supposedly said “The only position for women in SNCC is prone.”

            To some extent, 1970s feminism can be seen as a reaction to this.

          • Actually, it probably wasn’t just pressure into sex, it was rape. Sources: Summer of Love by Lisa Mason, and a woman who was at the Summer of Love who told me the novel was accurate.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      The same reason you don’t see a lot of religions enforcing strict celibacy. Plenty of cults start out with that sort of tennet but they either abandon it or go the way of the Shakers.

      • Two McMillion says:

        The same reason you don’t see a lot of religions enforcing strict celibacy.

        I don’t know what reason you’re thinking of. The main reasons I think of why a religion that demands strict celibacy wouldn’t thrive are:
        – Adherents to it would have few children, and the primary way that religions are passed on is through families.
        – People would probably be less inclined to convert to a religion that demanded it.

        Neither of those would apply to a “love as thou wilt” religion.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          I’d wager that both would.

          Why are you going to work to support children that you can’t be sure are even yours? And why would you join a religion which demands that you be cuckolded?

          • Two McMillion says:

            Those are fair points.

          • Deiseach says:

            Why are you going to work to support children that you can’t be sure are even yours? And why would you join a religion which demands that you be cuckolded?

            If inheritance and lineage is carried via matrilineality, rather than patrilineality (as in some societies), then “children that aren’t yours” doesn’t arise – you can be sure the woman giving birth to the baby is the mother, and since property, money, rank, nobility, family name etc. are all conveyed via the mother not the father, there’s no “this kid isn’t really a Smith, they’re a Jones”.

            Or some kind of social custom and acceptance of bastardy can be worked out; so if men could acknowledge openly that “this is my child even though I’m not married to the mother, and I have a wife and other children” and provision can be made for same, then women having children by men other than their husband can do the same: ‘this is my son who was born before I got married, this is my husband’s son who will get the family farm, and we’re raising them both as our kids because they are our kids’.

            If another man can have sex with your wife/girlfriend/partner and father children by them, equally you can have sex with other women and father children by them. You may be helping raise Joe and Bill’s kids, but it’s just as likely Joe or Bill is helping raise your kids.

            A culture shaped by such norms is going to have different attitudes. The ideas of “but that isn’t your biological kid” isn’t going to be as strong; if you’re there since birth and taking care of the child as your own and it calls you ‘father’, it’s like saying to a step- or adoptive father “but that’s not your real kid, why would you want to take them on?”

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            To be honest, I’ve never understood adoption at all. It’s hard to talk about because I can’t fathom the motivation behind it.

            As for stepfathers, given that they’re evidently 10 times more likely to abuse and 8 times more likely to neglect “their” children, it seems like they’re not all that attached to begin with. You can find similar figures for neglect by stepmothers as well.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Deiseach:

            Matrilineal societies, anecdotally at least, see men not work as hard to support children that might be theirs, or might not be, especially if somebody else will probably take care of the kid anyway.

          • There are cultures where inheritance goes through a man’s oldest sister, so paternity doesn’t matter.

            I first ran across the idea in Farnham’s Freehold, then read about it in one of Appiah’s books.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            As for stepfathers, given that they’re evidently 10 times more likely to abuse and 8 times more likely to neglect “their” children, it seems like they’re not all that attached to begin with. You can find similar figures for neglect by stepmothers as well.

            In societies where polygamy is the norm, the usual stereotype seems to be that wives spend most of their time scheming against the other wives’ children and trying to promote their own offspring in the eyes of their husband. I assume that this stereotype exists for a reason.

          • John Schilling says:

            If another man can have sex with your wife/girlfriend/partner and father children by them, equally you can have sex with other women and father children by them. You may be helping raise Joe and Bill’s kids, but it’s just as likely Joe or Bill is helping raise your kids.

            I’m pretty sure it isn’t “just as likely”, but either much more likely or much less likely – and that most people can make a pretty good guess as to which category they belong into.

            Monogamy may be a valuable compromise for ensuring that Classical Betas do their part as stable providers, because “…but you can seduce that Cool Rich Dude’s wife just like he seduced yours!” is probably not a credible alternative.

          • Deiseach says:

            Well, historically Cool Rich Dude could seduce your wife and you’d have no way of getting back at him (you could kick your wife out but that was about it).

            A “free love” society wouldn’t be about “you can seduce Rich Dude’s wife the same way he can seduce yours”, it’s about “you can sleep with Bill and Joe’s wives, and they can sleep with yours, and you’re all on the same social level more or less”. People who have affairs – who are their partners? I know the cliché is “boss and secretary” and the likes, richer more powerful older man and younger lower-social status woman using her looks and youth as sexual currency, but apart from asymmetric power relationships where it’s “sleeping with the boss/professor/casting couch”, where people are married or partnered and having “a bit on the side” – do they have affairs with partners who are of their approximate socio-economic class? Any studies on this?

          • Deiseach says:

            Okay, this is a short article by a psychological service on affairs:

            Another stereotype is that a spouse has met someone who is superior in some way, someone who better meets their needs and desires. In a wife’s fantasies, the new secretary with whom her husband is having an affair is much more attractive than she is. A husband imagines that the man with whom his wife is infatuated is much more successful than he is. The list goes on and on, but the message is the same. The affair partner excels in the areas that matter, whether appearance, sex appeal, personality, education, wealth, or other accomplishments. In our consumer society, in which we feel entitled to choice and the satisfaction of our wants, we fall prey to the idea that someone better suited awaits us out there. But, let’s step back and take a look at certain changes in contemporary society, as well as the realities of marriage.

            So this says in summary: affairs happen in the workplace, women are more likely nowadays to have affairs because they’re out of the home and meeting and in close contact with other people; it’s not that you’re looking for a better partner, it’s that you want a different role in the affair – you get to be the lover, not the spouse, and recapture romance and excitement.

            So it’s not so much about “Cool Rich Dude” as it is about propinquity, shared interests, and the thrill of novelty. I see no reason, therefore, in a society with a religion of “love as thou wilt” why Joe the Baker feels any resentment about Bill the Blacksmith or Ted the Ploughman having an affair with their wife/partner, or that Joe has no chance of being an attractive candidate for an affair with Bill or Ted’s wives.

            And probably they wouldn’t be called “affairs”, the concept wouldn’t exist as it does with us, and any children would be seen as the mother’s line not the father’s.

            I’m not saying it would be perfect and you could probably make it work better in a work of fiction than real life, but it’s not impossible to contemplate.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’ve frequently seen this referenced as NRE or New Relationship Energy.

            And the person I know who has referenced this most frequently happens to be in the swinger community, where they are (roughly) trying to harness this to foster better long term relationships.

          • I see no reason, therefore, in a society with a religion of “free markets” why Joe the Baker feels any resentment about Bill the Blacksmith or Ted the Ploughman having 10,000 square foot McMansions, or that Joe has no chance of ever owning anything larger than a studio apartment.

          • John Schilling says:

            Well, historically Cool Rich Dude could seduce your wife and you’d have no way of getting back at him (you could kick your wife out but that was about it).

            The ability to kick your wife out, without social sanction or alimony, is an imperfect defense to the failthful-but-cuckolded husband, but it’s far better than being expected to lie down and take it.

            And I believe that in most traditional societies, husbands would be able to offer retaliation to the other man across at least a single level of class difference, which is where most of the opportunities for adultery are going to be.

          • Deiseach says:

            Joe the Baker feels any resentment about Bill the Blacksmith or Ted the Ploughman having 10,000 square foot McMansions, or that Joe has no chance of ever owning anything larger than a studio apartment

            But Joe the Baker, Bill the Blacksmith and Ted the Ploughman are all earning similar wages so they’ve got similar purchasing power and are going to be living in similar properties. If Bill the Blacksmith, on the same money as Joe the Baker, was able to somehow get a McMansion, naturally Joe and Ted would be envious.

            In your “religion of free markets”, if Bill invents a better ploughshare and makes a fortune off it, or wins the lottery, and then can purchase a McMansion, there’s less reason to be envious. Joe and Ted can only be jealous if they should be able to access the same resources as Bill, be that McMansions or hot sexy women who want to climb him like a tree.

            Now, maybe even in “love as thou wilt” religion land, more hot sexy women want to climb Bill like a tree because he has all those muscles from blacksmithing and he has the features of a romance-novel cover model to boot, but that’s not the fault of the religion.

            If Joe, Bill and Ted can all get access to roughly the same number and level of attraction of women, and while in our world Joe having an affair with Bill’s pretty wife would be a scandal and a cause of insult, in LATW-world it’s not, there’s no reason for Bill to be jealous of Joe. Joe is not taking his wife away from him, Joe’s wife can have an affair with Bill if she chooses, Joe is not hoarding access to all the hot sexy women, indeed Bill probably has a better chance of getting access to hot sexy women if Rupert the Investment Banker’s wife takes a fancy to Bill when they’re down staying in their holiday cottage in the village and since it’s LATW-world, then there’s no problem with her having a fling with the village blacksmith, baker or ploughman if he catches her eye.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            If Joe, Bill and Ted can all get access to roughly the same number and level of attraction of women […]

            And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

            The question of exactly what percentage of the male population is considered “average” attractiveness or better by women is somewhat contentious, with OKCupid data leaning towards 20% but with the legitimate objection that the sample isn’t exactly independent. But it definitely isn’t 50:50, or anywhere close to it.

            Genetics shows this pretty starkly. Historically, the genetic contribution of men has been lower than that of women for the entire period since the migration out of Africa, sometimes by as much as 17 to 1. Some of that is men killing one another in wars or sultans with harems of slaves. But it would be shocking if that didn’t also to some degree reflect women’s choosier mate preferences.

            In a love-as-thou-willt society as you describe, Joe Bill and Ted could very have the same number of children. But that’s because they’d all have zero, or close enough to it as to make no difference. And I suspect the Priests responsible for promulgating said religion, much like in modern cults, would be the literal patriarchs of their harem-communities.

        • The Shakers made it work for a while when the government was sending them orphans. After the government policy changed to trying to get orphans adopted into conventional families, the Shakers eventually died out.

          I’ve wondered why no one has managed to duplicate the Shaker commitment to excellence while not insisting on celibacy.

    • Vaniver says:

      I think there are a bunch of fertility religions out there, and there have been religions where the temples were essentially brothels and the priests prostitutes. This hits the sex positivity side of things, but not quite the ‘love as thou wilt’ personal freedom side of things.

      • Anonymous says:

        [T]here have been religions where the temples were essentially brothels and the priests prostitutes.

        Have there?

        I know of exactly one piece of evidence for something like this, which is Herodotus saying the Babylonians had an institution where every woman had to go once in her life to the temple of Ishtar and wait there until she was bought by a stranger. Herodotus says this is shameful and bad, which makes it seem possibly like something Herotodus is just making up, as was his wont, to show what freaks those weirdos over the river are. Also, if we decide to accept the account as true for some reason, it seems like a custom like that has nothing to do with free love in any modern sense – rather, the message to the women is “don’t forget: you’re nothing but a whore”.

        • dndnrsn says:

          The evidence for a lot of “wow cool!” stories in the ancient world is incredibly dubious. There’s more than one ancient historian/chronicler who would basically just put down the coolest story they heard.

        • Lumifer says:

          Behold the Wikipedia.

        • Deiseach says:

          Oooh, these kind of stories are tricky. Because when you’re dealing with beliefs in the power of virginity, then taking a woman’s virginity can be unlucky (the pragmatic Romans got around this in their usual practical manner; if executing or killing a virgin woman might bring the wrath of a god upon you, they had the woman raped first so she was no longer a virgin and could be safely killed).

          The get-around there was to have the woman lose her virginity to some random stranger, often in a ritual/religious context, so her husband wouldn’t get the ill-luck or danger of violating virginity.

          But a lot of these stories are “so these strange people have these weird customs, not like us civilised types”.

    • Lumifer says:

      Well, first of all, YHWH very explicitly said to Adam and Eve: “And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply” and I don’t think he meant IVF. And, of course, seriously religious families tend to have lots and lots of kids.

      As to the general question, humans have biologically hardwired instincts to propagate their genes. Note: their genes, not the genes of some randy neighbours. You need incentives to strongly care about kids and knowing these are your kids helps a lot.

    • Deiseach says:

      Why don’t we have a bunch of “love as thou wilt” religions running around in real life?

      Religions on the model of Judaism/Christianity/Islam were not so common in ancient societies. Outside of those which had a specialised priestly caste, religion (as in the Greek and Roman model) was maintaining proper relationships with the gods so that they sent the rains, made the flocks and herds fertile, ensured victory in war, etc. The Romans really took that to the contract stage: “We, the undersigned, agree to perform the sacrifice of such-and-such at this time if the party in the second part agrees to support us in our wars”.

      So social norms were really the setting for what was considered appropriate with regard to sex, marriage, children, etc. And mostly that worked in the favour of men; remarriage of widows, for example, was often actively discouraged in various cultures so a woman who survived her husband didn’t have many options. Men could take more than one wife or have casual sexual encounters, women were much more tightly controlled (probably to do with ensuring confidence in paternity) – e.g in the Indian legends of the Ramayana, where Ram is forced to set aside Sita due to the murmurs of the people of the kingdom about her being (possibly) impure – she was kidnapped by the demon king Ravan and held captive, but although none of this was her fault and she maintained married chastity, simply being a married woman who had spent time under the roof of another man was seen as blameworthy.

      “Love as thou wilt” mores tend to favour men 🙂

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m constantly vexed with that sort of pagans who claim that Christianity is the origin of patriarchy and repression of women, for this reason. Just look at who was really, really enthusiastic about early Christianity in Rome! That should tell a wholly sufficient story on its own.

        • Deiseach says:

          Oh, I’ve quoted this before in other comments, but there is a work by St Augustine as a defence of Christianity in part of which he defends against charges that Christianity promotes immorality and social breakdown, as brought by pagans outraged that a bunch of Christian women who had been kidnapped by slavers and raped hadn’t killed themselves like good virtuous women ought to do, to wipe out the shame on their family, and their soft, vice-promoting religion supported them in this as suicide was wrong!

          Augustine, the sex-repressive, women-oppressing prude, is saying things like “Women get raped and it’s not their fault”, “virginity is more than bodily, you can be raped and still be counted as a virgin”, “so what if some of them maybe felt some kind of sexual pleasure, this is a bodily reaction and says nothing about their morals” and “the sin and shame of rape belongs to the rapist, not the victim”.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            To be fair, those commentators seem to have highlighted a pretty big flaw in early Christianity.

            Combining forgiveness for sinners, inability to divorce or commit suicide and a ban on abortion / infanticide seems like it makes dealing with rapes very difficult on a societal level. And that’s not even mentioning later innovations, like the idea that rape victims should marry their rapists.

            You can’t put nearly as strong of a selective pressure against rapists if at every decision point you’re picking the option which makes it most likely that their offspring survive.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Laws requiring rape victims be married to their rapists predate Christianity. For instance, in Deuteronomy (in which the Hebrew does not directly say “rape”, but it seems clear what the connotations of “takes hold and lies with her” or whatever the Hebrew translates to are)

            The rationale appears to have been that, in a society where any kind of extramarital sex, forced or not, a woman who is raped is defiled and will be ostracised. Forcing a marriage as part of the legal process was probably seen as a way of ensuring that she would have some support, rather than being out on the street.

            Much of the stuff in the Hebrew Bible like this boils down to the Hebrew Bible consisting in large part of harsh rules for a harsh time. We who live in nicer times and places should be thankful that we can have more humane rules.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The rationale appears to have been that, in a society where any kind of extramarital sex, forced or not, a woman who is raped is defiled and will be ostracised. Forcing a marriage as part of the legal process was probably seen as a way of ensuring that she would have some support, rather than being out on the street.

            Yeah, it’s pretty much a case of “You ruined this woman’s prospects, now you have to take care of her!”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            To be fair, those commentators seem to have highlighted a pretty big flaw in early Christianity.

            Combining forgiveness for sinners, inability to divorce or commit suicide and a ban on abortion / infanticide seems like it makes dealing with rapes very difficult on a societal level. And that’s not even mentioning later innovations, like the idea that rape victims should marry their rapists.

            You can’t put nearly as strong of a selective pressure against rapists if at every decision point you’re picking the option which makes it most likely that their offspring survive.

            If that’s the case, we’d expect to find that rape was more prevalent in the early Church than in mainstream Roman society, or that incidences of rape went up after the Empire became majority Christian. Is there any evidence for this? The only relevant evidence I can think of — that in the early days the majority of Christians were women — would seem to point in the opposite direction.

            (Also, I do kind of doubt that the people promoting suicide as the appropriate response to being raped were primarily worried about stamping out rape.)

          • Deiseach says:

            Dr Dealgood, social mores pressuring women who were raped to kill themselves as it was all their fault and only death can wipe out the disgrace on the family don’t seem to exert any selective pressure on rapists, either. The man (if the aggrieved father/husband/brother don’t catch up to him and kill him) can continue on raping, his victims die, and women get the message “rape is all your fault so if you’re raped it’s not the man’s fault, it’s yours for tempting him, you whore”.

          • Deiseach, I think requiring raped women to kill themselves would apply some selective pressure against rapists, just not enough.

            Also, this is selective pressure against the women who kill themselves– they will have no more children, and their existing children will be worse off.

            I think the big pressure is to conceal having been raped.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nancy:

            I think the big pressure is to conceal having been raped.

            Which would then seem to be selective pressure encouraging rape and rape-denial….

        • dndnrsn says:

          Yes! Roman anti-Christian polemics frequently portrayed it as a religion for women and slaves, not for good respectable men.

          The whole “paganism was lovely, Christianity is awful and repressive and patriarchal” thing is just the most whopping bullshit.

      • I’m reminded of Sita Sings the Blues a relentlessly visually inventive animated movie about the author’s divorce and Indian mythology, combined with a bunch of classic blues songs.

        It has a very fine last straw moment.

    • SUT says:

      Hypotheses: The reason you don’t “see” these religions is that they disappeared at the end of the Paleolithic.

      Paleolithic – selection occurs at the group (tribe) level. Resources are distributed in a semi-egalitarian manner and population growth is severely constrained by food availability. Here, love as thou wilt, and persistently getting your thrusts in seems like a good enough strategy for the men.

      Early Neolithic – private property, accumulation of resources makes hoarding paternity a viable and often advantageous strategy for the winners. There good evidence of this too: a sharp change in genetic ancestry results – a close to 1:1 ration changes to a 17:1 ratio of female-to-male likelihood of succesfully having passing on genes shows up in studies right at the time of the discovery of agriculture. There’s also the example of the Incas with their 1000 woman harem for kings, 100 women for vassals, etc. who were in this stage when Europeans made contact. Since you’re no longer bound to share your food or your women, you can now maximize selfishness.

      So, using a “he who has the gold makes the rules” approach to religious custom says all the religions you know of – those with writing and agriculture – are sufficiently advanced to where free love was no longer the best darwinian strategy.

      • dndnrsn says:

        There are supposed to have been religions with temple prostitutes, sex rites, etc that were very much civilized agricultural societies, bronze age or whatever, though. The evidence is usually fairly spotty, though.

  9. Two McMillion says:

    TW: Discussion of rape and rapists.

    So here’s something that bugs me. This is from an old post by Scott’s:

    I was extraordinarily lucky to find very strong evidence that my friend was innocent. I was extraordinarily lucky that both my co-workers had video feeds that could confirm their stories. If I hadn’t, I don’t know what I would have done. My two choices would have been to either accept the possibility that I’m staying friends with a rapist, or to accept the possibility I’m ostracizing someone for something he didn’t do.

    I’ve heard similar things from other people- if they think a person has done something really bad, they don’t want to be friends with that person, even if the bad things were done to someone they don’t know and even if they never had any complaints about that person previously. What I want to know is- why?

    Because, honestly, that seems like an awful reason to not be friends with someone. Where’s the mercy? Where’s the forgiveness? Those seem like things you kind of need in order to be friends with someone. Do you abandon all your friends as soon as they annoy you? If not, isn’t it kind of inconsistent to do so if they do something really bad? I mean, I bet your friends do things that are not that bad, too, but isn’t that the same thing, in the end?

    Can someone explain this to me? What is it about “being friends with a rapist” that strikes people as so horrible? You’re not saying “Yay rape!”; you’re just being friends with them.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Well, there’s the moral/disgust reaction (“I don’t want to be friends with bad people”) and there’s practical reasons: perhaps you do not want to be around someone who is or is allegedly a threat to others, out of fear they might be a threat to you or someone else in your group (let’s say you’re having a party where people are going probably be drinking to the point of severe intoxication – are you going to invite someone who has been found guilty of rape, or even accused?) or perhaps you do not want to risk the guilt by association risk (after all, who hangs out with rapists?)

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      You’re not saying “Yay rape!”; you’re just being friends with them.

      In a social context in which it is expected you do not remain friends with people who have done sufficiently evil things, remaining friends with somebody who has done evil things implies you don’t think what they did was that evil.

      It’s part of the anti-sociopath (using the term loosely) heuristics most people engage. Amusingly, it makes it very easy for sociopaths to control social groups.

      • Two McMillion says:

        In a social context in which it is expected you do not remain friends with people who have done sufficiently evil things, remaining friends with somebody who has done evil things implies you don’t think what they did was that evil.

        Putting this down for the moment as “one of those weird social things I always have trouble grokking”, I wonder if this sheds some light on a related phenomena I’ve noticed: how people deny that it’s possible to love the sinner and hate the sin. It always feels like I’m talking to a blank wall when I’m trying to explain this to someone in any case but the most abstract, and I wonder if something like this is the reason. They wouldn’t be friends with a “sinner” (whatever that means in their particular social context) and they don’t understand why I would. This causes them to assume that I must either not actually think they’re a sinner, or that I must secretly hate them and be lying about it for some reason.

        • Anonymous says:

          I wonder if this sheds some light on a related phenomena I’ve noticed: how people deny that it’s possible to love the sin and hate the sinner.

          You mean the other way round, right?

        • Jiro says:

          People deny that it is possible to love the sinner and hate the sin because in practice, “love the sinner but hate the sin” and “hate the sinner” mean doing pretty much the same set of actions except without sneering. Does it really matter if you won’t hire homosexuals because you hate them, or if you won’t hire homosexuals because you love them and wish to give them some motivation to stop sinning?

          • Two McMillion says:

            It does if you’re not a consequentialist. But in any case, “motivate them to stop sinning” is not the usual reason a person might refuse to hire a homosexual.

          • TPC says:

            It is possible that someone might simply not hire homosexuals because they are unsuited for the work they tend to hire for rather than hate. That assumption seems facile.

            My experiences with homosexuals are very atypical though (short version, never actually met a pure homosexual in the wild, who was attracted solely to the same sex.)

          • pku says:

            It also does if you are a consequentialist: It implies that, if they stop being gay, you’ll like and accept them, while “hating the sinner” would mean you’d still be kinda iffy at them.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I’m goiing to ignore all the ethical stuff, because that kind of discussion is really annoying and pointless, and focus on the pragmatic issue.

      If your friend has commited a rape, there’s a better than even chance that he’s a serial rapist (I’m going by Lisak’s numbers here, although his studies have been criticized). If he’s a serial rapist you can expect him to continue to rape women around him every so often until he’s actually caught.

      So the question is, do you want any of those women he rapes to be your girlfriend / wife or your daughter? How about your female friends and coworkers? Because staying friends with him puts all of them in proximity to someone who may very well attack them.

      • Two McMillion says:

        To me the pragmatic issues are boring. Keeping a rapist away from vulnerable persons seems like the most trivial part of friendship. Goodness knows I have some groups of friends I try to keep apart even without any of them being rapists.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Do you really want to play rapist-babysitter all the time, especially when the consequences of messing up are as high as that?

          Friends are obliged to help each other out, but it isn’t an unlimited obligation. Once a so-called friend starts posing a risk to your family and your other friends it’s time to cut him loose.

          • Deiseach says:

            Yeah, but then we get into “Is it enough to just say ‘Okay, Terry is liable to sexually assault women when they’re drunk at parties, we’re kicking Terry out of our social circle and never meeting him again.’ Well, that’s us covered!”

            Do you have a duty to warn other people about Terry? After all, if he moves on to a new circle of friends, who don’t know he’ll assault drunk women at parties, they’re at risk from him.

            Do you have any kind of duty to Terry, if he really was a friend? Maybe he doesn’t think of what he’s doing as rape, just that “ah c’mon, women say ‘no’ but they really mean ‘yes’ because they know they’re not supposed to give in too easy” and “a few drinks just means she’s more likely to be loosened up and ready for fun”. Maybe people forcing him to acknowledge what he does and helping him to change is what he needs.

            Is Terry really a friend, or just “fun guy we hang out with but no-one we would put ourselves to inconvenience for”? Sure, if Terry knows what he’s doing, is not willing to stop, and is a real danger, dump him – but then you probably have an obligation to get the cops involved or report him or take some action more than just “we don’t hang out with Terry any more”.

            Most of us hope if we ever needed help, our friends would pull through for us. What if “sorry dude, we’re cutting you loose to cover our asses” is the response you get?

          • Two McMillion says:

            Sure. I’m not going to bring someone I think is a rapist to a party. I have a duty to the partygoers.

            But I’d argue that I also have a duty to the dangerous person. If someone is on fire, it would be bad of me to throw them in a room full of flammable people. But it would also be bad of me not to try and put them out.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            I mentioned in the parent comment that I was avoiding ethical questions here. That said, I agree with you on all but one points.

            I don’t really believe in well-intentioned rapists. Maybe that’s because of a stricter definition of rape (“No Means No” rather than Affirmative or Enthusiastic Consent) or just cynicism, but I don’t see accidentally commiting rape as plausible. So unless we’re dealing with the X-rated version of Lenny from Of Mice and Men, “he didn’t know it was wrong” just sounds like a lame excuse.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Dr Dealgood:

            What about a scenario where the one person thinks all is hunky-dory, other person hasn’t said no, all good, and the other person is only saying nothing because they’re afraid of getting murdered if they say no? That is, no evil intention on the first person’s part – for the sake of an example, let’s say that they would respond to a “no” just fine – but the effect is the same for the second person as if they had.

            Or, do you hold that it is absolutely the responsibility of the second person to say no, regardless of their fears of what might happen?

          • Nornagest says:

            It seems to me that you can always construct a scenario where one party is going along out of fear or some other form of coercion, no matter what standard you use. Even if you’re running enthusiastic consent, that consent and apparent enthusiasm might be implicitly coerced — it’s implausible, since at least one party needs to be either a good actor or remarkably clueless, but it’s conceivable, right?

            We need a Schelling point. “No means no” is not a bad one, provided it covers obvious nonverbal nos.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @dndnrsn,

            Is it a reasonable fear?

            Like, if you climb into a girl’s window holding a machete then yes you’re a rapist even if you’re very polite in how you ask for sex. But if it’s you and your girlfriend rolling around in bed and she silently decides she doesn’t want to have sex she had better speak up about it.

            The whole question of ‘Gray Rape’ or how-drunk-is-too-drunk seems like a way to attach rape-stigma to consentual bad sex. You can be an unethical heartless bastard and still not be a rapist.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Dr Dealgood –

            Ethics->Law creep. People don’t like people “getting away” with things; the gray areas are the areas where it becomes obvious that the intended laws are based on subtly different principles than specified.

          • Anonymous says:

            [T]he gray areas are the areas where it becomes obvious that the intended laws are based on subtly different principles than specified.

            Or just on different principles than the angry people wish they were.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Nornagest/Dr Dealgood

            A Schelling point is needed, obviously. I’m not in favour of weakening due process. I’m not a McKinnonite.

            Is it a reasonable fear?

            While it’s become somewhat impolite to point out the physical differences between men and women, a lot of women have a fairly reasonable fear of men in general, based in the fact that most men are considerably bigger and stronger than women, by a considerable margin. Even taking size out, men are relatively stronger. For a woman of average size and strength to overcome a man of average size and strength, she’s going to need a serious skill advantage (I’m mildly horrified at women’s self defence courses that present a 2 hour seminar as enabling a woman to overcome a male assailant). I think women recognize this – although again it’s impolite to point it out, leading sometimes to extreme incoherence (people taking positions on sexual assault that basically entail protecting women from men – without explaining why they need protecting – or having complicated and strange social explanations where a simple biological one suffices). Far more men murder women than vice versa. I think most men are not aware of the degree to which they can physically overpower women (I wasn’t until I started doing martial arts that I experienced this), and the fear this causes. I’ve always been very careful about consent for this reason.

            The whole question of ‘Gray Rape’ or how-drunk-is-too-drunk seems like a way to attach rape-stigma to consentual bad sex. You can be an unethical heartless bastard and still not be a rapist.

            I think what’s going on there is the obvious corollary of a belief system where “anything consenting adults do is good” – anything that isn’t good must not really be consensual.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m not totally sure how I feel about this, but I think the binary rape/not rape formulation hurts the ability to communicate on this issue (from both sides).

            “You killed someone and you are responsible for it” has all these gradations and (mostly) people understand and accept that civil negligence, manslaughter and murder are different (but bad) things.

            Whereas, in the conversation around rape, everyone seems to assume that rape/not rape is also the OK/not OK divide (or at least a criminal/not criminal divide).

            In other words, it ought to be fairly non-controversial that attempting to have sex with someone who is slipping in and out of consciousness due to alcohol consumption is wrong except in very specific and fairly rare circumstances. But somehow we have to have an argument that implicitly assumes that the proper punishment for it, if it is wrong, is 30 years in jail and life-long stigmatization.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            This is a good point. We apply far greater gradiations to murder than we do to rape and sexual assault.

            The conflation of rape and sexual assault is also a big problem. You see things like articles talking about rape slipping in statistics that are about sexual assault. In some jurisdictions, there isn’t even such a crime as rape. You get a situation where statistics showing sexual assault is rampant are used to “show” that rape is rampant. But rape is a subset of sexual assault.

          • DrBeat says:

            Ever notice how for every difference between men and women, a difference where women come out on top proves that women are innately superior and good and wonderful, and a difference where men come out on top is proof men are bad and threatening and degrading to women and creates in all men a limitless and unfulfillable obligation to women?

            Ever notice how even though women’s emotions live inside of them and affect only them and come from only them, they are men’s responsibility?

            Ever notice how nothing ever goes both ways and there is no help and there is no hope?

            Women constantly being consumed with fear around men because men can beat them up is not reasonable. It is no more reasonable than white people being consumed with fear around black people who can beat them up, or short people being consumed with fear around tall people who can beat them up, or people in wheelchairs being consumed with fear around people not in wheelchairs who can beat them up. It is sexism. It is encouraged in women, unlike those other examples, because our society celebrates sexism at every level and at every stage, and sexism tells women to experience fear, that experiencing fear gives them social and political power, and they are unable to ever deal with their own fear unless the agency of a man is enlisted to take their negative emotions away.

            Men can navigate the world without being consumed by fear and requiring everyone around them to enlist their agency to make the world suitable for them. I believe women are the equal of men. I believe that whatever reason we do not consider it acceptable to create obligations on black people for how scary they are to white people, or on tall people for how scary they are to short people, applies just as well to why we should not create these limitless unfulfillable obligations on men for how scary they are to women.

            But it will never end, and it will never get better, and nobody will ever even notice. These words will be utterly forgotten the moment you finish reading them. There is no path to improvement and there will be no revolution. Life will never, ever be worth tolerating.

          • Anonymous says:

            Life will never, ever be worth tolerating.

            That seems a bit exaggerated. I actually agree with your basic assertion, too; but to go from “the last sixtyish years have not been great about this gender thing in our part of the world” to “all life is lived in hell” seems a bit extreme.

            It sounds like you’ve been pretty burned by it, though, huh?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            I’m not trying to derail here, but as one fake doctor to another, I really hope you’re being rhetorical at the end there.

            Things aren’t great but they’re hardly so bleak as to make life intolerable. The relations between the sexes, as experienced day-to-day by ordinary adults, aren’t anywhere near as bad as in the media or online.

            Because while people bend as far as they have to to accommodate the reigning ideology, underneath that human nature is the same as it’s always been. For the most part men and women are still capable of having pleasant complementary relationships even with a hostile media and legal system.

            It’s very important to keep your chin up when it comes to this stuff because our choices now are what will determine what the next generation is like.

          • “I don’t see accidentally commiting rape as plausible.”

            Do you count intercourse with an unconscious partner as rape?

            I can easily imagine a scenario where both people are drunk, the woman passes out and the man is sufficiently drunk not to realize that she is unconscious and so interprets her failure to say “no” or resist him as consent.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @DrBeat:

            I don’t think that the physical differences create any moral difference. Nor do I believe women ought to live in fear – women are, overall, safer than men. We as a society are unrealistic about the chance of different dangers. However, a woman is more likely to be murdered by a man than vice versa. This isn’t a value judgment or a political statement. It’s just a fact. Even if women abuse men at the same rate men abuse women, as some statistics suggest, the body count is a different story.

            There’s no limitless special obligation to women on the part of men because of this. But I personally have found it to be personally a nice thing to do to keep in mind. This isn’t relevant to all women everywhere. It’s only relevant in situations where consent to sex or whatever would be relevant. I have no more or less obligation to the woman next to me on the bus than I do to any other human being.

          • DrBeat says:

            A white person is more likely to be murdered by a black person than vice versa.

            That seems like just as much of a “nice thing” for black people to keep in mind around white people, by exactly the same logic.

            Our society utterly, violently rejects the idea of that being a nice thing for black people to keep in mind around white people.

            Why do we make such a special exception for women? (Sexism. Sexism is the reason. Our society loves and exalts sexism, is the reason.)

          • Adam says:

            @David Friedman

            This has actually happened to me, but the other way around. A woman I know and I were both extremely drunk, I fell asleep, and she had sex with me while I was asleep. Apparently, it’s not that difficult to induce an erection in a guy who is passed out drunk. I only know this happened because a third-party witnessed it.

            I would never name her or say this in a place I am known, as I would have to think that, legally, she definitely raped me. I don’t feel like I have been raped, so she remains a friend, but I don’t think I’ll ever drink with her again. We keep this between the three of us who know it happened. If she’d given me a disease or something, I’d probably feel differently. Thankfully, I cannot get people pregnant.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @DrBeat:

            I think the argument that the difference is due to biology is far better (the evidence is more conclusive, more easily proven, and more easily seen with one’s own eyes) for sex than for cases where it’s to do with race or ethnic group. A problem that is social in nature is, with the means currently available to us, more fixable than one that is biological in nature.

            I happen to believe that the argument that social factors (racism, obviously, but I also get spicy by adding that well intentioned but badly designed social welfare programs did mess things up) are the primary cause (because nothing is ever the sole cause) of differences like the one you refer to. There’s problems that can be pointed to and fixed (we’ve just been doing a shitty job of fixing them because society as a whole has a few priors wrong). We (as a society) shouldn’t, ideally, have to deal with this, because society should be fixed. Ideally.

            With the difference in size and strength between men and women, there’s no way to fix that, short of sci-fi level stuff. It’s not a problem in and of itself (whereas that serious gaps between groups caused by social issues seem to me to be more likely to be problems in and of themselves). It can’t be fixed, so we (again as a society) have to live with it.

            Where I differ with what appears to be the increasingly dominant view is that I don’t think the problem can necessarily be solved by “teaching” (whether people in general or men in specific) not to violate the personal integrity of others, because there’s a small % of people who don’t seem to care much about that sort of thing regardless of what they’re taught.

            The problem is not that men are all slavering brutes and potential wife-murderers or rapists or whatever. The problem is that sociopaths or whatever they’re called nowadays are hard to spot, in general. This is just a specific case with the added issue of difference in size and strength, but it’s not as though sexual assault, domestic abuse, partner murder don’t happen in same-sex couples.

            I had a complicated analogy but realized it was dumb.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            A white person is more likely to be murdered by a black person than vice versa.

            Not true.

            I assume you mean Americans. For simplicity, let’s say that there are 10x as many whites as blacks and an equal number of black-on-white as white-on-black murders. Then the average black person is 10x as likely to be in one of those pairings as the average white person. A black is 10x as likely to be murdered by a white as vice versa. But also a black is 10x as likely to murder a white as vice versa.

          • John Schilling says:

            A white person is more likely to be murdered by a black person than vice versa.

            Not true.

            Actually ambiguous, depending on whether “A black person” means a single arbitrary black person or a member of the class of black people.

            Assuming statistically average Americans as of 2013, a white person is 2.5 times as likely to be murdered by some black person some time in the future as vice versa, but 2.2 times as likely to be murdered today by the specific black person they just met as vice versa.

            It should be obvious that each of those statistics is relevant in some, different, circumstances.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            John, surely you don’t mean to say that 2.5 is very different from 2.2? Was the 2.5 supposed to be 1/5?

          • Deiseach says:

            Dr Dealgood, I’d agree with you, but “everyone’s drunk at a party and drunken hook-ups are an accepted part of our party scene” is a bit more complicated, particularly when it comes to “he said/she said” situations where there are no reliable third-party witnesses and everybody involved was not sober.

            If Terry is a conscious predator, then he has to be dealt with, and there you as a friend or acquaintance may have a duty to involve the police – although again it’s complicated if the person assaulted by Terry doesn’t want to go that route. It takes a balance between “any claim is automatically credible so shun Terry and kick him out” and “Terry is our pal so he can’t possibly have done anything like this”.

            If Terry is indeed a friend, not just “some guy who hung out as part of the group”, then you may owe him a duty of friendship to not simply say “You horrible rapist, crawl off into a hole and die”. “Hate the sin, love the sinner” is an attempt to make a distinction between the person and their deeds, and to help in rehabilitation if possible (this does not mean “never punishment or reparation”). Otherwise, we leave everything up to the forces of the state (it’s the state’s job to provide rehab and probation services and follow-up) and people do fall through the cracks.

            It’s complicated, as most of us want to cut ties with offenders (unless they’re very close family). That’s very much the case where we feel that our trust has been betrayed (“I thought Terry was a great guy, I had no idea he was a rapist!”) It’s certainly not friendship to enable someone to avoid the consequences of their behaviour (“yeah, just keep an eye on Terry when the party gets late and steer him away from any drunk chicks, then everything will be fine”). But there’s an area in between where it’s “Look, Joe, I’m your friend and I want to help you, but when you drink you’re violent and aggressive and you smash things up and get in fights. You want to stop drinking, I’ll be happy to be your friend. You want to keep drinking, that’s your choice, but I also choose not to associate with you anymore”.

            That’s not saying Joe is worthless or that all there is to Joe is his drinking, it’s saying Joe is the person and the drinking is the fault.

          • “It’s certainly not friendship to enable someone to avoid the consequences of their behaviour (“yeah, just keep an eye on Terry when the party gets late and steer him away from any drunk chicks, then everything will be fine”). ”

            I wouldn’t call that exactly enabling someone to avoid the consequences of their behavior– it’s more like blocking their opportunities (at least locally) to engage in more of that behavior.

            Helping him to avoid consequences would be more like lying to the police about a woman having consented.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Well the point I had been making earlier is that you need to do a bit more than gesture at drunken hook-up culture to establish that there is in fact a category of misguided but otherwise decent rapists. Otherwise the comments about rehabilitation don’t make sense.

            After all, in a “he said she said” situation as you describe, either his her or neither claim is correct. You don’t have a Schrödinger’s sex offender, committing a superposition of rape and non-rape, so that he can be both a sexual predator in need of rehabilitation and an innocent who you don’t have to worry about exposing your family and other friends to in the meantime.

            Anyway, I do believe in strong loyalty to friends. But it’s a reciprocal loyalty. I need to be able to trust that my friend is going to have my back as much as I have his, so if I suspect that he’s going to be getting up to trouble as soon as my back is turned that’s a serious problem.

          • John Schilling says:

            John, surely you don’t mean to say that 2.5 is very different from 2.2? Was the 2.5 supposed to be 1/5?

            Crap, that was a typo but it’s important and misleading and past the edit threshold. Let’s try again.

            a white person is 0.4 times as likely to be murdered by some random black person some time in the future as vice versa, but 2.2 times as likely to be murdered today by the specific black person they just met as vice versa.

      • dndnrsn says:

        This expresses better what I was saying. If you have someone who is a rapist, or even an accused rapist, in your circle, it is possible that you will end up aiding and abetting them. Again, when you’re planning a party that is probably going to end up sloppy, you will probably not invite the guy with a reputation for going after women considerably drunker than he is. And if you do, and if he rapes somebody, you are at least partially morally responsible – you knew that was a risk going in.

        • Anonymous says:

          Again, when you’re planning a party that is probably going to end up sloppy, you will probably not invite the guy with a reputation for going after women considerably drunker than he is.

          It’s clear that de facto, many men think a guy simply isn’t a rapist for going after women much drunker than he is at parties, even if he’s not their friend, so maybe this isn’t the best example. In the typical case I would expect a guy to be alarmed that his friend was accused of being a rapist for something that innocent and trivial (which, to be clear, I don’t defend in any particular; I’m just saying).

          • dndnrsn says:

            In the university bubble I remember, there was definitely a widespread acknowledgment that the guys who would be drunk but still completely in control of themselves, who went after women who were completely plastered, were predatory (and kept away from plastered women, if possible).

            Unfortunately, this did not extend (at a left-wing university, with a 2-1 female-male ratio, in a left-wing city) to publically acknowledging these guys as rapists, to necessarily identifying what they were doing as rape, or really to do much about it. We all just kind of looked the other way and did nothing.

            Unless, of course, a guy was of low social status, in which case he was “rapey” regardless of what exactly it was he did or was accused of doing. An unpopular guy who grabbed a girl’s butt at a party one time would face much more severe social consequences than a serial rapist who was witty and popular. Of course, this is completely unsurprising.

            Looking back I feel guilty at not even trying to do anything, and horrified at the sexual/alcohol culture that enabled all this. I imagine this is common among people who have been to university, or at least people who have been to university and spent as much time at sloppy parties as I did.

          • Alex says:

            who went after women who were completely plastered … identifying what they were doing as rape … a serial rapist who was witty and popular

            I do not really understand. If the rapist was witty and popular (with women?) why would he have to go for that, ahem, strategy? And, since beeing drunk and wanting to have sex do not seem to preclude eachaother, how do we know it non-consensual?

          • Protagoras says:

            @Alex, There do seem to be plenty of witty and popular rapists. Being witty and popular may make other strategies available, but it also makes the rape strategy less risky. Perhaps some specifically want to rape, rather than just have sex; perhaps the riskiness, the transgressiveness, or the assertion of power is a turn on for them. Or perhaps they want sex with this specific person at this specific time, and the fact that they are likely to be able to have sex with someone else sometime soon doesn’t suffice for them. Regardless, it is definitely something that happens.

    • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

      Aside from the reasons mentioned above, there’s a strong social sanction against remaining friends with bad actors. If someone engages in some bad behavior, other people will not want to be friends with him, and tribal effects will tend to put the scoundrel and those who stick up for him in the same ostracized group. So from rational self-interest as well as the reasons in the other comments, it’s a good idea to distance yourself from bad actors.

      Deontologically, there’s also a strong human tendency to want to see bad actions punished. The rapist raped someone, therefore cutting him off can give someone the feeling of having done their part to enforce justice.

      Personally, I’m not sure what I’d do; it would depend on how close the person is to me. Acquaintance, best friend, and brother all parse differently in my mental evaluation of how I’d react.

    • Dahlen says:

      Do you abandon all your friends as soon as they annoy you?

      Well, here’s where your post slips into wrongness. Having the kind of moral flaw that predisposes one towards raping people is not the same as having the kind of moral flaw that predisposes one towards picking one’s nose in public, or asking indiscreet questions, or ruining the atmosphere in a social gathering. Okay, yeah, both map to the realm of “badness”, but there’s “bad” as in “bad choice for an invitee” or “bad” as in “bad deeds that will (metaphorically) send you straight into hell”.

      The usual reasons that have people support their friends in a dispute that doesn’t otherwise have any clear moral pointers have to do with subjectivity, yes. If Anton fought (for whatever reason) with Betrid and you’re friends with Anton and not with Betrid, then sure, you’ll support Anton, in a completely arbitrary and unprincipled way; if you were friends with Betrid instead, then you’d support her side of the dispute. This assumes you like Anton for reasons external to the dispute (e.g. he’s generous or funny or supportive or whatever) and you have a history together, and you’ll tend to stick together when there are external factors threatening to make you side for or against him.

      But, when the actions of your friends have a moral valence, different sorts of judgments are involved, in the case of neurotypical (and not only) people… After all, the entire idea of enforcement of moral norms hinges on this. If you’ve stepped over some lines that are off-limits for everyone, friend or not, you should expect people around you to stop caring about your quality of life. Okay, so you’re a (hetero male) rapist and your (optionally ugly) male friend isn’t a viable target for rape from your viewpoint. Does that mean he only cares about himself and wouldn’t be likely to defend any woman in his life from such a horrible treatment? Like “even if you attack my other allies, you’re still my ally” kind of mentality? Do you really believe that would happen? Well, in that case, none of this morality-thing would have any point, since immoral people could always form coalitions with immoral-aligned people and get their way, regardless of what they stood up for. And there’s not as much of a shortage of immoral-aligned people as you may think.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      Presumably, your friend is getting something out of the relationship, and is better off than he would be without you in his life. This means that if you remain friends with him, it will serve to make his life more fulfilling and thereby reward his behavior, while you if you break off the friendship, it will serve to make him worse off and punish his behavior. If your friend has genuinely committed some grievous crime, not only does he deserve to lose your friendship, but you also have an obligation to the victims of his wrongdoing to punish rather than reward the perpetrator. So you are morally required to ostracize wrongdoers in your social circle, both because of the duties you owe to the victims and because of more impersonal considerations of desert.

    • Randy M says:

      Where’s the mercy? Where’s the forgiveness? Those seem like things you kind of need in order to be friends with someone.

      Mercy and forgiveness come after repentance. If a friend murdered someone, and confessed of the wrong-doing and turned himself in, I would be there to hold his hand when he got the lethal injection (provided I hadn’t passed of natural causes first, of course). If he maintained that he should be above the law for whatever reason, I would reevaluate my opinion of him drastically.

      Do you abandon all your friends as soon as they annoy you?

      Different relations have different levels of loyalty, which determine the transgressions needed to dissolve the relationship for all intents and purposes. For an established friendship, extreme unprovoked harm to an innocent person would be well over the line; a murky situation of differing reports would depend on prior history of trustworthiness, etc.

      I bet your friends do things that are not that bad, too, but isn’t that the same thing, in the end?

      No

      What is it about “being friends with a rapist” that strikes people as so horrible?

      It depends on the certainty of the offense, the severity of the harm, the remorse evidenced, and the punishment given.
      If you are pretty certain of it (say a private confession), does your friendship entail perjury or even refraining for turning him in? This would undermine the rule of law.
      Was harm inflicted on another person? You providing aid (even if only emotional) to the perpetrator who is unwilling to attempt restitution is almost a form of theft.
      Also, what other actions might they take in the future that could get you in trouble with the law? Or might you be exposing yourself or other friends to harm in the future?
      It all depends very much on the details of the offense, but in the central example of rape, there are many reasons to withdraw the friendship absent mitigating details.

    • Aegeus says:

      I don’t see why “Does something really bad” and “Does something annoying but not so bad” shouldn’t get different responses. The punishment should fit the crime and so on. That’s a ridiculously inflexible standard you’re setting.

      Also, you’re not saying “Yay, rape!”, but you’re implying something like “I’m not upset with you for committing rape” or “I still think you’re a good person despite what you did.” Friendship is tied up with our ideas of trust and morality – we don’t want to be friends with people we think are evil.

      even if the bad things were done to someone they don’t know and even if they never had any complaints about that person previously.

      Even if I’ll never meet the rape victim, I don’t want my friend to be a rapist. Rape is pretty high on my list of Things People Should Not Do. I’m going to disapprove of his actions on principle even if it gives me no advantage in practice.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      accept the possibility that I’m staying friends with a rapist

      Is just a way of implying that anyone who doesn’t shun the accused will be targeted next. The post makes sense read that way.

    • Anton on.. [etc/REDACTED] says:

      Where’s the mercy? Where’s the forgiveness? Those seem like things you kind of need in order to be friends with someone.

      assuming you mean in the case where you are fairly sure they did it, I don’t relate to that at all.

      What you say makes me think of people who have fought in a war together, maybe one or both saved the others life. Or something like working a really bad job together and struggling to survive for 10 years, -maybe first emigrating to “1st world” together, -blood or battle brothers, people to whom an absolutely unconditional loyalty is owed by dint of past experience and shared fates, a bond which is a fundamental part of one’s identity.

      Not just “friends”.

      That word doesn’t mean nothing to me, but it defintely also doesn’t encompass a loyalty that can’t be foresworn.

       

      Unconditional loyalty is a dangerous thing, and friendship is a good thing.

      -Why would I want to make the former a condition of the latter?

       

      (Also, this would by default reveal someone to be a different person than I thought they were. And “the person I think someone is” is a large part of the basis of a friendship imo, especially in moral matters)

  10. sweeneyrod says:

    This is an interesting article about IS and ways in which they differ from Al-Qaeda.

  11. In a previous thread, someone mentioned that they’d lose track of a comment they really liked, and I’ve been wondering whether a best comments of ssc would be possible, and if so, what it would look like.

    Thoughts?

  12. 80hz says:

    People have been discussing strange sensations here lately. I just had one for the first time today.

    It’s the sensation you get when a character on TV, in a movie, etc. looks EXACTLY like you, even has your same facial expressions, posture, dresses like you do, etc. Bonus points if he acts like you a little bit too.

    It’s astonishing how much I resemble the main character from the web comic Don’t Hit Save. A very weird feeling.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Went to see “The Forty-Year Old Virgin.” My girlfriend (now wife) happily pointed out that, in addition to other similarities, I was dressed exactly like the main character was. Down to the logo on the shirt.

    • “If it takes all kinds to make a world — where are they?” — Idries Shah.

  13. alaska3636 says:

    Does anyone here have experience or thoughts on lucid dreams?

    I realize that this a niche subject, but having experience with lucid dreams really changed my thoughts on perception and consciousness. Experience with the lucid dream state is bizarro.

    • whateverfor says:

      I lucid dream relatively often (used to be more often when I was younger). I’m confused as to how it changed your opinion on consciousness though: for me the lucid state was incredibly similar to the waking state, just with half the IQ and very few memories. About half the time I’d realize my memory was gone and then move into a lucid dream, the other half I look at my own mind, realize half of it is gone, and just panic until I wake up. Nothing that weird.

      • I have to agree with this. There is nothing that changes my concept of reality, other than that I feel half my brain has been turned off.

        But that sensation isn’t quite unusual, either. It’s not significantly different than impaired cognitive function while tired.

        • ChillyWilly says:

          I’d say it didn’t change my concept of reality, but it did affect how I feel about my perception of reality. It served as an incredibly intense reminder that my whole world really just depends on what’s between my ears. I believe in the same external reality that I did before, but lucid dreams gave me a new, visceral appreciation of Descartes’ evil demon / Zhuangzi’s butterfly / You’re-in-the-Matrix thought experiments, in the same way that I’m intellectually aware I could get in a car accident any time I ride in a car, but it’s not until I actually am in an accident I feel, “Holy shit, these really do happen all the time!”

    • ChillyWilly says:

      I’ve had tons of lucid dreaming experience. Not sure what to offer though — it’s an incredibly cool experience, to say the least. I’ve more or less gotten past the “This is weird!” stage and gotten to the point (it takes practice so I’ve kind of slummed off recently) of being able to consistently manipulate the dream world. Some things are significantly harder to do that others. For example, I can pretty easily make the sun go down or come up, and flying is also pretty easy at this point, but making a person appear is still very difficult.

      If you want to have more lucid dreams, I suggest the practices in Stephen Labarge’s Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming or Michael Raduga’s THE PHASE (http://obe4u.com/files/the_phase.pdf), which has some really good techniques, if you can ignore the insistence on referring to lucid dreaming as some wooo-wooo mystic PHASE STATE.

      Edit: Replied to wrong comment

      • alaska3636 says:

        The application of consciousness in a dreamstate is still profoundly weird to me after a decent amount of experience with lucid dreams. Most people assume wrongly that you could do anything in this state, but as you describe having difficulty doing some things, a dreamer runs up against the expectations barrier. Standing on the edge of a building in a dream with the intent to fly off of it is still terrifying because of the large expectation that you will fall straight down and very badly hurt yourself. For the record, I have always stopped before the ground and hovered there, which then allowed me to breaststroke around.

  14. alaska3636 says:

    For atheists here:

    Do you believe that there is no “higher power”? I mean, would you be convinced by really good evidence that there was one? Or, do atheists here generally consider themselves on the atheist side of agnostic?

    Tangent question: Isn’t agnosticism the most we can rationally accept on the question of “higher powers”? Otherwise, you end up trying to prove a negative or something?

    For myself: I am pretty much agnostic on what we can know; but, I choose to believe in a “higher power” because it helps me accomplish certain goals like not being so neurotic and controlling about uncertainties. Also, as for “evidence”: either way, I find that you could substantially accept one argument over the other for good enough reasons; but I choose the one that brings me the outcome I desire (i.e. generally better wellbeing.) I also find that morality can be derived from a convincing economical standpoint as well; so, “higher powers” are really more of a quality of life thing that I feed to the side of me that can’t get over how unknowable ultimate ends are.

    Thoughts?

    • Nornagest says:

      Do you believe that there is no “higher power”? I mean, would you be convinced by really good evidence that there was one? Do atheists here generally consider themselves on the atheist side of agnostic?

      I don’t believe as a matter of faith that there isn’t one, if that’s what you’re asking. It would be pretty easy to convince me of more powerful than human entities, given evidence. Atheist side of agnostic is a decent way of putting it; I don’t identify as agnostic mainly because I see gods as an unwarrantedly complex hypothesis given current understanding.

      Tangent question: Isn’t agnosticism the most we can rationally accept on the question of “higher powers”? Otherwise, you end up trying to prove a negative or something?

      That is a fairly subtle question. Obviously we can conceive of a scenario where a dude calling himself Thor, wielding powers beyond the current ken of physics, descends from the sky in a bolt of lightning and smashes a nearby boulder with his mighty hammer Mjolnir. But we can say that it’s not very likely given what we know — and, since we are all good Bayesians here, we know that the line between that and “disproven” is very fine indeed. Model uncertainty is the big sticking point, but at some point you have to commit to a model if you want to get anything done.

      But the Abrahamic God is a totally different kind of higher power, and answers to that question when it’s about him are a good deal more speculative. I don’t even know what it would look like to prove or disprove his existence, at least in his more esoteric interpretations, so it’s really hard for me to say we can’t rationally do so.

    • Adam says:

      I honestly have trouble envisioning what the evidence would look like, for much the same reason Nornagest gives. An extremely powerful wizard could certainly do all of what is attributed to a creator in pretty much any holy scripture I know of, or even sufficiently advanced aliens with no magical powers at all. Proving that you actually created the universe and that you get to dictate what is and is not moral behavior and that I should worship you is, well, difficult to say the least.

      • alaska3636 says:

        As an example of very convincing evidence:

        The big guy pokes his head out of the clouds: In full view of everybody on Earth (because he’s super God, Chilean miners underground see him too), and in a language understood by all – even the dimmest of us – he chastises everybody -because obviously he is super bummed about the scripture stuff. He then turns about half the population into chicken-pigs and leaves muttering to himself.

        Granted this is a silly hypothesis, but I have thought about the issue a lot and I am just wondering if it epistemologically null. Some people will believe in some things and others will say “No, no, no. He was trying to tell us to worship the chicken-pigs.”

        • Adam says:

          I don’t feel like projecting images and sound into the minds of every person on a planet is an impossible technology and definitely not conclusive evidence that you created the universe.

          • Wait a minute, created the universe? Alaska only asked for the evidence if one believed in a higher power. I am an atheist but am with Norn that it wouldn’t take a whole lot of evidence if the creature really was a higher power. In fact that is one reason I totally don’t buy the Christian view that God wants us to believe in Him, because it would be so easy to get everyone to believe in Him. Apparently He wants us to believe on faith, and if that is the case, I don’t like this God, because I think faith is a bad thing.

            As far as proof that this creature created the universe, it would be extremely difficult to convince me of that. Of course you would then have the old problem of what is the universe and does it include the creator. I find it rather difficult to believe or even comprehend what it would mean to create oneself.

          • Chalid says:

            It’s not an impossible technology but it would certainly *greatly* raise my estimate of the validity of whatever religion the “god” was endorsing, to the point where I would be willing to make major personal sacrifices if that’s what the religion required.

          • Anonymous says:

            This is approaching Lewis’ dwarfs in The Last Battle who refuse to believe Aslan is really Aslan and prefer to stay in their hut in an otherwise destroyed world for the rest of all eternity rather than make even the tiniest leap of faith and just come with the entire rest of the population of that world passing through their hut into heaven (if I remember the scene correctly. It’s been awhile).

            I always thought that was a very good metaphor except for the bit where he’s clearly hating on the Jews.

          • Adam says:

            I mean, if you guys think that’s convincing, fine, but I don’t. He asked and I answered. I fully expect we’ll be able to do something roughly like that in the next thousand years if we don’t go extinct. Fair point on the “higher power,” though. Being able to do this certainly makes you more powerful than me.

          • Julie K says:

            This is approaching Lewis’ dwarfs in The Last Battle who refuse to believe Aslan is really Aslan

            except for the bit where he’s clearly hating on the Jews.

            By “bit” do you mean a specific point, or just a general theme?

            The dwarfs seem to be the designated skeptics (designated Jews?) in Narnia. Look how much convincing Trumpkin required, and how the other dwarf in _Prince Caspian_ was never convinced, and wanted to summon the Witch.

          • Anonymous says:

            Julie K: I meant “except for the thing where the point of it is clearly to hate on the Jews”. That scene is basically about the recalcitrance of the unconverted Jewish people in the face of the manifest Messiah.

          • Jiro says:

            The fact that it’s about the Jews should give you pause to think about whether the reasoning is actually correct.

            It is not, of course, correct. It’s a straw man; Lewis is suggesting that because nonbelievers reject the kind of evidence that Christians normally give out for Christianity, they would also reject the much clearer, easier to verify kind of evidence given in his made up scenario.

          • Adam says:

            For the record, if I lived in a world in which it was possible to enter alternate dimensions full of talking animals who were very clearly capable of performing contra-causal magic through a closet, and in that alternate dimension I met a talking lion, watched him get killed, and then saw him again the next day and he obviously had all of the same memories and personality, I’d probably be inclined to believe it was actually him. Aslan, of course, never claims to be all mighty, never claims I need to worship him to prevent myself from experiencing eternal fire, never claims that he created the universe, never claims that he alone sets the terms of what constitutes acceptable behavior in this universe. Notably, he also never claims to be a higher power at all. He isn’t responsible for his own resurrection. According to the rules of that universe, I could have sacrificed myself and I’d have been reborn, too. That doesn’t make me a higher power, either.

          • Anonymous says:

            Aslan[…] never claims that he created the universe

            This is quite possibly true, but you do know that they see him do it, right? The future Professor Kirke watches Aslan create Narnia as a boy, in The Magician’s Nephew.

            Also, I’m pretty sure that in various books Aslan does at the very least:
            *make strong assertions about right and wrong
            *determine who goes to heaven and hell
            *at the very least strongly imply that he is in fact literally Jesus in a raiment suitable for the other world.

            That’s entirely aside from the fact that C.S. Lewis was pretty unambiguous about how he meant the books to be read, from outside of them.

            Edit: But all of this is a distraction from your original point, of course, and it’s my fault. Sorry about that.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Aslan implies he sets the rules of the universe, when Lucy uses the “un-invisibility spell” and it works on him, too. Something like “why wouldn’t I be bound by my own rules?”

            But it’s his father, the Emperor-Over-The-Sea, who created Everything.

          • Adam says:

            It’s been 20 years since I’ve read these, so bear with me, but I was under the impression that Aslan’s power only held within Narnia, that is, he definitely did not create the entire universe, which includes the real world as well.

          • Randy M says:

            He tells Lucy at the end of the Dawn Treader that he has a different name in her world, and she must learn to know him by it there. Or something quite similar.

          • Anonymous says:

            Aslan is an incarnation or manifestation of God the Son, like Jesus in our world (the Emperor-Over-The-Sea is God the Father), which is made abundantly clear both within and outside the books (e.g. Lewis mentions that the genesis of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was him speculating on what shape Christ might take in another world).

            It’s quite possible that the power of Aslan in the sense of that specific incarnation of the Godhead is limited to Narnia (although when I think about it he appears on Earth at least once and I think four times — definitely running through Victorian London in Nephew, possibly on the other side of the portal on the island in Dawn Treader, in the end of Silver Chair at the point where Eustace, Jill and the rejuvenated Caspian go apeshit on the school bullies, and at some point in Last Battle although on reflection I think I’m definitely wrong about that last one), but the power of God Almighty is over all the worlds and all times, and each in any case has its own Savior.

            So the answer to your question is it depends on how you define “Aslan” and “universe” — it’s worth noting that I’m guilty of one miscommunication in any case: I took “universe” to refer to “the universe of Narnia“, with its sun, moon, stars and all, while the so to speak metacosmos containing all the worlds and the Wood Between the Worlds I mentally termed the multiverse. A terrible SFF affliction, I’m afraid.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            That scene is basically about the recalcitrance of the unconverted Jewish people in the face of the manifest Messiah.

            Are we actually sure about that? When I read the scene, I assumed it was talking about atheists, not Jews. Speaking of which:

            It is not, of course, correct. It’s a straw man; Lewis is suggesting that because nonbelievers reject the kind of evidence that Christians normally give out for Christianity, they would also reject the much clearer, easier to verify kind of evidence given in his made up scenario.

            Well, Richard Dawkins has gone on record as saying that even if the Second Coming occurred he’d attribute it to “a hallucination or a conjuring trick by David Copperfield”, and other prominent atheists have said similar things (usually involving aliens instead of stage magicians). So no, I don’t think it’s a straw man after all.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @The original Mr. X – Protagoras, takes this position elsewhere in this thread, together with Dahlen and Anonymous. It’s certainly not a straw man.

          • Anonymous says:

            X:

            Are we actually sure about that?

            I’d say I’m fairly sure, but not totally. Do notice, though, that the dwarfs are perfectly convinced that Aslan did at one time exist, just not that this lion is Aslan returned; they believe him to be an impostor and not the real Aslan. (This has some basis in that the plotline of the book involves a fake Aslan, earlier, but he’s a disguised donkey and kinda obviously bogus.)

            The dwarfs don’t reject the very idea of an Aslan; they’re as certain as anyone else is of his historical reality. I think the Calormens are the ones who tend to reject Aslan as a notion entirely, but they’re also obvious not-Muslims and also worship a horrible bird demon instead.

            Edit: Actually, let me revise that right away: the Calormens aren’t not-Muslims; they’re straight up just meant to represent Muslims. In fact, since they’re by literal Word of God the descendants of pirates from Earth who fell into a space hole, they may very well be Barbary Corsairs, so that they were literal Muslims first and became horror-bird-guy worshippers afterwards. (Of course, this is real screwy given how Narnia was created in the 1890s or something, but “time works differently” and that.)

            On those grounds I think Jews are the more likely conclusion.

            Faceless:
            On the off chance that I’m the Anon you mean, I’d just like to stress that I’d embrace the Second Coming with overjoyed astonishment. 😀 My first comment in this subthread was supposed to point out that there seems pretty clearly to be a point where recalcitrant disbelief is by far the more absurd and illogical option.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Anonymous – “On the off chance that I’m the Anon you mean, I’d just like to stress that I’d embrace the Second Coming with overjoyed astonishment. ?”

            naw, I was referring to this.

            “My first comment in this subthread was supposed to point out that there seems pretty clearly to be a point where recalcitrant disbelief is by far the more absurd and illogical option.”

            eeeeh? The brain in the box hypothesis is a workable one. On the other hand, I don’t really understand why the response always seems to be introverted skepticism; if you have solid evidence that you’re a brain in a box and the outside world is trying to communicate with you, why not communicate back?

          • Nornagest says:

            In fact, since they’re by literal Word of God the descendants of pirates from Earth who fell into a space hole, they may very well be Barbary Corsairs

            I thought it was the Telmarines who were pirates from Earth? I don’t remember any Word of God on Calormene origins.

          • Anonymous says:

            Nornagest:
            Oh shit, you’re right! It is. Now I wonder if it’s ever stated where the Calormens come from. Maybe they’re just asshole emigrants from Archenland?

          • Deiseach says:

            It’s a straw man; Lewis is suggesting that because nonbelievers reject the kind of evidence that Christians normally give out for Christianity, they would also reject the much clearer, easier to verify kind of evidence given in his made up scenario.

            There was a BBC Radio Four comedy in the 90s called Old Harry’s Game, where the literal Devil, literal Hell, literal torture of the damned, etc. appear and one character is an atheist/agnostic called The Professor who, when he first ends up in Hell (after dying in a car crash) is all “Goodness me, this is fascinating, plainly I’m in a coma from the accident and hallucinating, who would have thought I had all this in my subconscious?” no matter what Satan does to try to convince him that no, he’s dead and this really is Hell.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            the Calormens aren’t not-Muslims; they’re straight up just meant to represent Muslims.

            No. The Calormens* are desert dwellers, story-tellers, etc — but their gods have four arms and they sacrifice men on their altars. Mohammed, hearing that description, would first rend his clothes and then cut off your head. (Yes, quoting Lewis’s take on Mohammed hearing a different heresy, in Mere Christianity.)

            ETA: They’re not Jews, either. I’m not sure what Moses would have done if he heard it. Crack the stone tablets over your head? Hm, we have some real Jews here, or ex-Jews….

          • I think the Calormen may represent the medieval European view of Muslims as it appears in (among other places) the Chanson de Roland.

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            Wait, you mean Spanish Muslims didn’t actually worship Jupiter, or have court sorcerers making pacts with the devil to defeat those meddling kids King Charlemagne?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I think it’s more likely the Calormene religion was based on ancient Canaanite polytheism, with Tash as their equivalent of Baal.

          • Deiseach says:

            The Calormen would possibly be pre-conversion to Islam Arabs/North Africans? In our world, Mohammed converted his pagan, moon-god and others worshipping neighbours and then moved on to other cities, after all – they didn’t start out as Muslim, they had to be converted.

          • ” In our world, Mohammed converted his pagan, moon-god and others worshipping neighbours and then moved on to other cities”

            More precisely he converted some of his neighbors, persuading many of the rest that he was a public nuisance, fled for his life after his powerful uncle, who had been protecting him, died. He then converted pretty much everyone in a neighboring city, fought an on again/off again war with the inhabitants of his own city, eventually persuaded them to surrender and convert.

            Then he and his successors converted lots of other people in other places.

    • Protagoras says:

      I feel like this is similar to what Nornagest and Adam have said, but what I’d say as the short version of my view on God these days is that for me, most versions of the story (the stories all grouped together under the name “religion” are too diverse to say exactly the same thing about all of them, but I think this applies to the ones you’re thinking of) are skeptical hypotheses. I have never been convinced by the various arguments which people have used to try to refute skeptical hypotheses; I can’t prove that I’m not a brain in a vat, and I can’t prove that I’m not the plaything of some God. But there doesn’t seem to be any benefit to taking such possibilities seriously, not least because there’s no basis for choosing which ones to take seriously, and for those for which it would matter anyway, there is too much conflict for there to be a coherent way of taking them all seriously.

    • Manhattan Über Alles says:

      Edit: Oops, wrong name. It’s me Dr Dealgood.

      I was raised agnostic, and these days I’m atheist on even numbered days and a deist on odd numbered days. Not entirely sure what a higher power is though.

      As for evidence of a higher power, it’s simultaneously a very easy and a very hard question. Easy, because to be honest I’d be convinced by any of the flashier sort of Biblical miracles (I’m not so picky that I’m going to insist on proof of omnipotence rather than just regular potence in my deities) or a direct revelation. Hard because it’s difficult to make sense of why God would perform miracles in the first place.

      I feel like most miracles don’t really make sense, outside of an occasionalist context. God goes through all this trouble to set up a beautiful system of natural laws: mathematics, logic and physics governing creation in an orderly (mostly) comprehensible way. And then he just suddenly steps in and says “never-mind, hold on, there should be a pillar of fire here!” rather than having designed the system to handle fleeing Israelites or whatever beforehand? Unless you want to give up the idea of an orderly universe altogether like Algazel and put everything on momentary divine whim it’s very unsatisfying.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @ Manhattan Über Alles aka Dr Dealgood.
        God goes through all this trouble to set up a beautiful system of natural laws: mathematics, logic and physics governing creation in an orderly (mostly) comprehensible way. And then he just suddenly steps in and says “never-mind, hold on, there should be a pillar of fire here!”

        CS Lewis’s book Miracles goes way, way into this, mostly in the last half.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      Otherwise, you end up trying to prove a negative or something?

      Of all the lazy cliches I hear, this one probably irks me the most. Try explaining what you mean by “prove” and “negative” in a way that makes this claim come out both plausible and interesting. Go on, try it! Here are some things you might mean which don’t pass the test:

      1. You can’t be rationally certain that something which might exist actually doesn’t.
      –Of course you can’t. You also can’t be rationally certain that something which might not exist actually does (except, perhaps, in a few special cases). All our knowledge of the empirical world is fallible to some degree.

      2. You can’t give a deductive a priori proof that something which might exist actually doesn’t.
      –Of course you can’t. You also can’t give a deductive a priori proof that something which might not exist actually does. If you could give such a proof, it wouldn’t be the case that the thing in question might (might not) exist, because if there’s an a priori proof of something’s existence (non-existence) this guarantees that it exists in all (doesn’t exist in any) possible worlds.

      3. You can’t be highly rationally confident that something which might exist actually doesn’t.
      –Sure you can. You should be supremely confident that there are no baseballs traveling at six times the speed of light, no spheres of gold larger than one light-year in diameter, no Tyrannosaurs that ate cavemen, etc.

      Stop thinking in cliches!

      • alaska3636 says:

        But, I understood the cliche. I only think that I understood your comment.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Let me see if I can clarify.

          If we want to see whether it’s possible to “prove a negative”, we will first need to restrict our attention to contingent objects, things which both might exist and might not exist. Now, some things (ostensibly) exist or don’t exist as a matter of necessity. For instance, there a people who think space-time necessarily exists, that there’s no possible world lacking in both space and time. Numbers, if they exist, also exist necessarily. Necessary non-existents are easier to come by: they include married bachelors, objects which are at once red all over and white all over, and the prime number which divides both 14 and 17. If the claim that it’s impossible to prove a negative is going to have a snowball’s chance of being true, we’re going to have to set these aside; obviously, it would be trivial to “prove the negative” that there are no married bachelors.

          So, focusing on contingent objects only, let’s look at the first interpretation, that “prove a negative” means “be rationally certain that something doesn’t exist.” Can we be rationally certain that something doesn’t exist? No, but there’s no asymmetry here: we also can’t be rationally certain that something does exist. This means that the problem isn’t with “proving a negative”, it’s with proving anything about the empirical world beyond all doubt. Empirical knowledge is always fallible.

          On the second interpretation, “prove a negative” means “give a deductive a priori proof that something doesn’t exist,” where a “deductive a priori proof” is the kind of proof seen in mathematics or logic in which the conclusion follows by necessity from the premises. Again, there is no asymmetry: you can’t prove in this sense that a (contingent) object doesn’t exist, but you also can’t prove that a (contingent) object does exist. In fact, the whole idea of giving a proof that a contingent object exists or doesn’t exist is confused. If you can give a deductive proof a priori that something exists, it exists necessarily, conversely, if you can give a deductive proof a priori that something doesn’t exist, it’s an impossible object. This is because deductive a priori proofs do not depend at all on the way the world is– they can only speak to matters of necessity and impossibility, not to contingent features of the world.

          On the last interpretation, that “you can’t prove a negative” means “you can’t be highly rationally confident that something doesn’t exist,” it’s plainly false. You can be highly rationally confident that certain things don’t exist. This might be because their existence would violate a law of nature, as with the baseball traveling faster than light. Or you might be able to know that something doesn’t exist on the basis of experience and inductive reasoning: there just isn’t enough gold in the universe to build a sphere a light-year across out of it (ignoring the problems with gravity). Or we might have direct evidence that something doesn’t exist, like the example of a Tyrannosaur which preyed on early humans.

          So there is no interpretation of “you can’t prove a negative” on which it is both true and says something interesting about “negatives”. On the first two interpretations, it’s true that you can’t prove a “negative,” but it’s also true that you can’t prove a “positive.” On the last interpretation, it’s obviously wrong. The larger lesson is that you shouldn’t rely in your thinking on cliches that kinda seem to make sense if you don’t scrutinize them very carefully. (Anyone who talks about logical fallacies is probably guilty of this, too). This leads to all kinds of sloppy errors in reasoning.

          • I’d like to see the details of why you think there isn’t enough gold in the universe to make a 1 light year diameter sphere. What if I were willing to settle for a 1 light year radius sphere?

            In any case, I think the claim can be salvaged because (I think) the sphere would collapse into a star. You probably couldn’t get that sphere to exist even for an instant with any now plausible technology.

            At that point, it would be smaller, and I think a good bit of it wouldn’t be gold.

            On the less objective side, Clarke has a story which includes a ring of variously colored stars. Really cool or just tacky?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Given the abundance of gold among the elements and the mass of the observable universe, we can estimate that the amount of gold available to any one cosmic-sphere-building race is substantially less than 1.8 X 10^43 kilograms (you might get a little more synthesizing gold in nuclear reactions, but not enough to make a difference). Unfortunately, a cubic light year is about 8.5 X 10^47 cubic meters, and a cubic meter of gold weighs a lot more than a kilogram, which means there’s no way anybody is building a sphere (black hole) of gold anywhere near that big. Sorry if I dashed your dreams.

        • Anonymous says:

          But, I understood the cliche. I only think that I understood your comment.

          You only think that you understood the cliché. (That’s the problem with clichés.) If you actually did, you’d be able to provide a sensible interpretation of “proving” and “negative” and stick to it.

      • Deiseach says:

        no spheres of gold larger than one light-year in diameter

        Oh, why not? Atomic coherence or something?

        EDIT: Okay, I see you answered that. But by “universe” do you mean only “the physical bits we’ve observed” since in an infinite universe that goes on in all directions forever with no ending or limits, can’t we scrabble up enough gold to do that? Or, if we really can’t build a solid gold sphere, couldn’t we build a hollow sphere, a shell of gold?

        • Earthly Knight says:

          From what I understand, the prevailing view in cosmology is that the universe is presently about 100 billion light-years across. That certainly could be wrong, though.

          The sphere of gold is a stock example of something that could exist as a matter of natural law but does not. The diameter is normally given as a mile, but I changed this to a light-year to be on the safe side (although I expect a sphere of gold that massive would promptly collapse into a black hole).

      • Anonymous says:

        You also can’t be rationally certain that something which might not exist actually does (except, perhaps, in a few special cases).

        Actually, why not? Unless your definitions of “rationally certain” and “might not exist” make this statement a tautology, I imagine you could be certain of the truth of a quite large number of existential claims, namely those for which a candidate object can be verified by obtaining a finite amount of observable information (someone with a knack for mathematical logic may refer to those as “Σ₁ sentences”, though I’m bringing this name up largely facetiously). Of course, if you start doubting the reliability of your senses, the accuracy of science/the historical record, the consistency of arithmetic, etcpp. then I guess you can’t be certain of anything at all, but that observation is rather trivial.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Of course, if you start doubting the reliability of your senses, the accuracy of science/the historical record, the consistency of arithmetic, etcpp. then I guess you can’t be certain of anything at all, but that observation is rather trivial.

          Eh, I don’t think it’s irrational to be certain that if A and (if A then B) then B. The probability axioms require us to assign maximal credence to logical truths, after all. I do think its irrational to be certain of just about any claim based on empirical evidence, though, because there are indefinitely many ways the world could be compatible with all of our observations thereof.

          • Anonymous says:

            Fair enough. But given that, it seems that the only things one can be “rationally certain” of are tautologies (and possibly theorems), by definition.

            On the other hand though, your knowledge of logic and mathematics is also derived from experience, isn’t it?

            (I know, it’s been done already…)

    • Jiro says:

      “Proving” and “disproving” most things is not about strict logical proof; it’s about finding good evidence, even if the evidence is not 100% conclusive. You can’t prove that there is no Zeus, nor can you prove that there is an Australia. Nobody accepts agnosticism on the existence of Zeus on the grounds that nobody can completely disprove him.

    • You also have workers using collective bargaining to get above market wages. Oh, and technicians and experts have easily overcharge, since non experts don’t know what the going rate are. If everyone is engaging in banditry, Is it still banditry?

    • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

      I don’t believe in God, but I’d describe myself as on the atheist side of agnostic on Bayesian grounds. I’d likely be more convinced but still skeptical in the face of a miracle, since it’s possible and profitable for people to try to fake miracles, and because my brain software isn’t infallible.

      • Two McMillion says:

        As someone who has witnessed a miracle, I can testify that they are not very good evidence on the “existence of God” question.

        • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

          What’s the miracle? I confidently remember seeing a cricket that I’d killed reanimate after being accidentally crushed and intentionally buried, and attributed it at the time to prayer. I was seven or so, and I don’t believe in God currently, but the memory is vivid.

    • Viliam says:

      Technically, “higher power” could include technologically advanced aliens, or vampires hiding on Earth, or Santa Claus. Could I be convinced by really good evidence that they exist? Sure, I could. (However, “I believe in my heart that space aliens are talking to me” does not count as good evidence.)

      The “atheist” vs “agnostic” is just a manipulative tactic to confuse people. An atheist is a person who believes and behaves as if there are no gods. That’s all. It doesn’t mean “a person who is unable to update their beliefs about gods even in the face of evidence”. It means “a person whose current beliefs say there are no gods”.

      To illustrate what I mean, let me ask you: Do you believe Santa is real? Probably you don’t. However, if you would see a really convincing evidence for Santa (e.g. meeting Santa and finding out he is a technologically powerful alien), would you be able to start believing in Santa? Extremely unlikely, but in the hypothetical scenario, probably yes. Does this make you a “Santa agnostic”? Only if we really really really stretch the definition of “agnostic”. Arguing that “not believing in Santa” must include the inability to change your mind even after meeting Santa, that’s just manipulation.

      I can imagine invisible friends when I need them; it just doesn’t make them real.

      • alaska3636 says:

        @Viliam
        “An atheist is a person who believes and behaves as if there are no gods.”

        But it is also a part of the narrative that we tell ourselves about the world we occupy: are there ultimate ends of nature or is everything probabilistic?

        I was curious if you could believe in atheism and ultimate ends simultaneously; and, furthermore, how the difference in narrative effects peoples rational strategies for making life better.

        To recap: to my understanding, an atheist has a probabilistic view of the universe, a theist has a view which includes ultimate ends, and an agnostic probably leans towards probabilistic but might hedge his/her behaviors in the case there are ultimate ends.

        • Two McMillion says:

          You can believe in no gods and also believe in ultimate ends. Buddhism is the most obvious example, but there are others.

        • lvlln says:

          Why does a theist have to believe in ultimate ends? Isn’t it possible to believe in a god without believing anything else about the nature of the universe or morals or afterlife or philosophy or etc.?

          I’m a lifelong atheist who’s lived mainly in highly non-religious communities, so maybe I’m missing something. I feel like most theists probably do believe in ultimate ends of some sort, but that’s because most of them believe a bundle of stuff called [religion] which includes both [theism] and [belief in ultimate ends], but the [belief in ultimate ends] is not actually logically connected to the [theism] part.

          I’m of the opinion that empirical evidence could turn me from atheist to theist, but it wouldn’t follow that I would also start believing in ultimate ends.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think the Sadducees were examples of theists not believing in the afterlife, the soul, etc. (though they did believe in the primacy of the Law). They were very much this-world and how you behave in it. They’re the ones who proposed the trick question of “who is this woman married to, if she married seven husbands when alive?” in the Gospel of Matthew:

            23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

            29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead — have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

            33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            I was pretty astonished too, since I had been under the impression that married couples were supposed to stick together in the afterlife. Assuming neither of them had gone to hell or something.

            But according to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops:

            […] His argument in respect to God’s power contradicts the notion, held even by many proponents as well as by opponents of the teaching, that the life of those raised from the dead would be essentially a continuation of the type of life they had had before death (Mt 22:30).

            Which makes the whole process of resurrection seem a lot more hardcore and transhumanist than I had been picturing it. Now I’m going to have to see if there’s anything else about what resurrected people are like.

            Not making any kind of a point, just an interesting little discovery. Thanks!

          • Loyle says:

            Really? I was always under the impression that “til death do us part” was a sort of metaphysical clause in the contract that all relationships end up in the couple separating by the time they reach heaven or otherwise. My question always was “what will they do if/when they meet each other?”

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Deiseach
            I think the Sadducees were examples of theists not believing in the afterlife, the soul, etc. (though they did believe in the primacy of the Law).

            I’m puzzled by the use of ‘the’ here. In the grammar I remember, ‘the X’ means that the speaker (as well as the Sadducees) expects the listener to take for granted that X is a thing (or has been established for the sake of argument, or by context, or something).

            I was taught to say ‘an X’, meaning that the Sadducees believe X is a thing, but I’m leaving the question open (rather than assuming anything about the listener’s opinion).

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I think the Sadducees were examples of theists not believing in the afterlife, the soul, etc. (though they did believe in the primacy of the Law). They were very much this-world and how you behave in it. They’re the ones who proposed the trick question of “who is this woman married to, if she married seven husbands when alive?” in the Gospel of Matthew:

            Another example is Paul’s trial before the Sanhedrin:

            6 But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!”

            7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. 8 For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. 9 Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.”[b]

            10 Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks.

      • Deiseach says:

        Do you believe Santa is real?

        I believe Saint Nicholas of Myra, from whom the figure of Santa Claus/Father Christmas (with an admixture of various national folkloric traditions) was derived, is real 🙂

    • Dahlen says:

      I’m inclined to think all definitions of “higher power”, “the Absolute”, “perfect being” etc. etc. are anthropomorphisations or suffer in some form from anthropomorphism, and that the people employing these notions in the context of religion aren’t fully aware of it, and of the implications it brings. Power is a human notion; so is goodness; so is greatness, however defined. They are human in the sense that they hinge on the existence of intelligent mammals. As for the notion of a being, I also see it as belonging to the sphere of the animal kingdom, as I have difficulty thinking of e.g. plant organisms as “beings”. Essentially, one conscious mind in one body.

      Outside of the narrow world of biological humans, I wouldn’t expect agency to converge into a single consciousness or entity (there would be either many such beings or none); I would see greatness as difficult to confine to a single entity or agency, if it even is a valid concept; I wouldn’t expect any notion of goodness or perfection (especially of the moral kind) to apply to beings that do not have necessities, whose existence or comfort is not conditional upon a certain collective code of behaviour; I wouldn’t expect the laws of physics to emanate from anything agent-like (and therefore, whatever powerful beings may exist in this universe, they would probably rule over spheres less important than the laws of physics themselves); I mostly see agents as indivisible entities held together by personal needs (on pain of death) and collective ways of organisation. They’d have no raison d’etre otherwise.

      I most certainly do not think that any higher power would have reason to commune with humans in particular. In fact, all the notions of gods that exist map really well to “invisible human beings not constrained by natural realities”, and the chance that human beings would devise such notions is greater than the chance that they would devise them for their truth. (While I generally don’t like to bring my LessWrong intellectual heritage into all this business, this is an instance of the conjunction fallacy and the Linda problem.)

      I consider “really good evidence that higher powers exist” as orders of magnitude more easily fakeable than the chance that supernaturalism (and all afferent entities) does exist. The dictum of my atheism is “we do not know the natural laws in their entirety (not even our most brilliant physicists do), therefore, when evaluating the causes of a given event, we can never rule out natural (as opposed to supernatural) causes; even the most obvious observations of supernatural shenanigans are more likely to be hallucinations or otherwise fakeable than is the chance for supernatural shenanigans to actually occur”. (Well, that was a mouthful, but that’s the gist of it.) In other words, if I had good evidence that God/the supernatural existed, I’d probably go see a shrink.

      If anything, I might have been a pagan or an occultist for cultural reasons, but I have no reason whatsoever to buy into a theological tradition, whatever that may be.

      • Anonymous says:

        The dictum of my atheism is “we do not know the natural laws in their entirety (not even our most brilliant physicists do), therefore, when evaluating the causes of a given event, we can never rule out natural (as opposed to supernatural) causes

        To a physicist, isn’t “supernatural” a contradiction in terms? It seems to me that the reaction to any apparently supernatural event observed with sufficient fidelity (i.e. you can be sure the UFO isn’t a dinner plate on a string) is, or ought to be, “this occurred, therefore it is possible; let us determine the requisite conditions for violating the laws of our previous model”.

        • Dahlen says:

          That’s what I mean, but I don’t know of anyone that wouldn’t, upon observing such an event, go “therefore, God”, since the concept of God as such is basically in our water supply.

        • Deiseach says:

          “this occurred, therefore it is possible; let us determine the requisite conditions for violating the laws of our previous model”

          The little story quoted from Eliezer Yudkowsky seems to indicate we should instead say “No, the laws of the previous model always hold, this seemingly-anomalous result is because the physics teacher flipped the plate”.

          I suppose in this instance we ought to hold that swamp gas from a weather balloon was trapped in a thermal pocket and reflected the light from Venus, so it’s not a real UFO, no matter how convincing it looks 🙂

        • SUT says:

          It’s within the realm of natural phenomenon for your hand to pass through a table but it’s extremely low probability.

          If it were to happen to you, you’d be like “damn that’s crazy” and wonder about it maybe think it was a dream or a fugue state or something.

          Now let’s give the same event more context and human meaning: your first born son is dying and you need to give the doctor $1M to cure him. You can’t afford it and the they won’t give you a loan. As you dejectedly lean against the bank’s safe, your hand goes through and pulls out a bag of cash. Hmm…still sticking with improbable but natural event?

          • Protagoras says:

            To elaborate on my earlier point above, most “miracles” (like this one) would seem to be proof of the existence of someone or something with a virtually unlimited ability to fool me. Confronted with such a situation, I would place no confidence in my ability to correctly deduce the nature/abilities/intentions of whoever or whatever I was dealing with. The fact that they could provide evidence leading toward whatever conclusion they might want, regardless of its truth or falsity, would in itself make me disinclined to trust any conclusion I might draw. As a result, I have difficulty thinking of anything that I would count as evidence of the existence of God; most of the obvious candidates seem to me to be such that, if they happened, they’d just be proof that I have no idea what’s going on and shouldn’t be believing anything.

          • If any possible miracle simultaneously and equally destabilises your belief in physical-style and anthropomorphic style explanation, then you are left with bewilderment.

            But physicalists think that the actual evidence leans very asymmetrically on the side of the physical. So why can there not be any possible evidence that leans asymmetrically on the anthropomorphic side?

          • Protagoras says:

            @TheAncientGeek, Bringing up physicalism certainly does confuse the issue. I really don’t know what would constitute evidence of the existence of something non-physical. Most supposed examples of non-physical things seem to me to be examples of weird things that we have reason to believe don’t exist, but which would be physical if they did exist. I am similarly confused by “physical” and “anthropomorphic” being presented as opposed categories, insofar as humans seem to be physical.

            Honestly, I don’t know what you mean by “physical,” and I strongly suspect, on the basis of similar discussions with various people in the past, that this is because you don’t actually know what you mean by “physical” either, so I doubt it would help for me to ask you to clarify.

          • Going back to the OP, the claiim of supernaturalism amounts to the claims that the universe supplies meaning independently of human mentality, and has mentallistic atitudes of its own, including one of benevolence towards humans.

            That’s fairly standard and in line with Carriers definition of the supernatural as involving as involving irreducible mentality , and it’s also what I mean by anthropomorphic.

            Theres also a popular criterion
            for physicality involving law-like behaviour andrepeatability, whence the much repeated argument that if you can figure out the laws governing some weird phenomenon, and reproduce it , then you can incorporate it within the physical. (You seem to have gone a stage further, and just require something to happen for it to be physical).

            So that gives two criteria for something being Supernatural: the positive one that it’s irreducible mentality, and the negative one that it is not reproducible.

            If a term had meaning, it is possible to find some criteria for applying it because of the uncontroversial relationship between meaning and truth conditions. The flip side of that is the at applying a term unconditionally implies it is vacuous.

    • Anton on.. [etc/REDACTED] says:

      I believe that there is no higher power, but more important than that, I believe it’s not important if there is one or not, (as- if such an entity or entities exists/exist, they have chosen not to manifest their presence,):

      How do I know if I’m supposed to go to mass every sunday, or If I should build a square kind of pyramid and conduct blood sacrifices (the modern term is “murders”, I believe), for the greater glory of Huitzilopochtli? Or maybe I should be doing whatever ganesh or thor wants?

      For a god-entity with any influence at all in this universe it would be pretty easy to clear up such contradictory impressions.

       

      As, instead, people have been doing all kinds of different and contradictory things, to be more in tune with all kinds of different gods, over the last few thousand years, I can be sure that if there is a god or gods, they have no pre-prepared purpose to give me, -for me to even consider adopting or not.

      (There could also be many with influence/interest, rather than none, but imo that amounts to almost the same thing, -more debatable but that’s for another post.

      -And anyway I am also pretty sure that there isn’t any interventionist god or gods for other reasons.) (The idea of multiple gods has some support in the bible by the way.)

       

      Anyway, if there is a higher power-

      If he/she/it/ze/fnargl wants something, they can ask.

       

      I do think having a religion can be a pretty good wirehead for ignoring fear of death /selfish death-avoidance/death-risk-avoidance, and probably other things, but imo most religions have enough nonsense and insulting and immoral dogmas and ideas that even if I could just choose to adopt one, I wouldn’t consider it for a millisecond, even if I was being completely mercenary and unprecious about my rationality and true beliefs for their own sake (which is itself pretty gosh darn unlikely. ),

      -I don’t think the tradeoff is close to worth it, for at least the majority-to-vast-majority of relions, even on purely *”pragmatic”* grounds.

      (according to my values, perceptions, YMMV, etc)

      (Sikhism and unitarianism (universalism?) are the two that look most likely to be exceptions in my eyes, but I haven’t looked into them.)

       

       

      On the question of agnosticism:

      imo you can seperate out the class of things which would one might call deism (or something along those lines)

      -basically gods without personalities -/who are not intervening,

      and imo this class has more in common with atheism than it has with theism. That would take another post to argue for, but to illustrate briefly:

      in the same way that if this world is a simulation, this is still my world, the world I live in, -and the only one I do, if there is a god, but they have consistently chosen not to manifest/intervene in this world, or even make themselves clearly known, then that fact about the nature of reality, has no bearing on the nature of my reality . (this is not supposed to be a pragmatist argument, but an argument about full technical/game theoretical/just-theoretical equivalence)

      -And I think that theism of all other classes can be conclusively rejected, with basically no more philosophical difficulties than is involved in accepting that the world one appears to see around them during their waking hours is the world they live in, and is in some meaningful (meaning-bearing?) sense real.

       

      -Almost as often as things have “fallen”, when “dropped”, -as often as they have not risen up when let go, -as surely as letting an object go at middling height is not releasing it to the sky, but dropping

      -no god has manifested itself, clearly, to coordinate our lives, to set up Schelling points, to offer or demand a particular purpose, or style, of living.

      As certainly as that the basic molecular forces* that keep me alive, keep me a continuous being, I have no obligations to any god, but those I imagine and/or choose. (Which I do not)

      *(or whatever does so, if not in fact something which can be referred to by that term)

       

      More so in fact, I have only a span of years of observing that neither I nor reality tend to come apart at the seams, but I have thousands of years of evidence and testimony that no god has chosen to manifest itself here, -to ask my/humanity’s service/cooperation/joining-in-a-particular-style, -or-style-of-being, or that if they have, or if they have, (do note the “if”) that the fact has been lost in time.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @Anton on.. [etc/REDACTED] – “If he/she/it/ze/fnargl wants something, they can ask.”

        What’s your take on the people in this OT saying that if they perceived God appearing in the sky, they’d assume it was a trick?

        • Anton on.. [etc/REDACTED] says:

          edit: I read “this OT”, as “The OT” as in Old Testament. Not sure what OT stands for. Oh wait, open thread. Well, mystery solved. My post stands below as written in reply to what I took “the OT” to stand for.

          I don’t have a take as yet, as I’m not familiar with that. Some kinda-random reactions:

          1. I don’t trust the source very much, so I’ll approach this as more of a thought experiment/report of what the bible says, rather than, like, “taking it on the bible’s testimony that a notable prevalance of people had this attitude”

          2. If you hassle people enough, they sometimes use hyperbolic exageration in speaking against you. -as an incidental thing. (I guess I have a pretty negative view of religions, at least actual ones)

          3. If it’s a trick, a trick by who? one isn’t likely to confuse a dwarfism-afflicted-individual standing on a camel wearing a funny mask and cloak, for a vision of god, so this has to involve some direct interference with one’s vision, which is the purview of ..supernatural entities. Taken at face value, assuming , (mundane tricks) it’s illogical as stated. edit: Actually, no, unless one believes in spirits, ghosts, magic, or anything like that, but not god, which I should have thought of sooner.

          4. Would someone say that outside of a social context in which religion was a strong force? (-See 2)

          5. Maybe they mean a trick of the mind, like a hallucination? If so it somewhat depends on how good their reasons for being a committed atheist are, but I am very sympathetic to highly anti-religious attitude, even an irrational one, with probably the sole exception of ones coming from reasons like:

          6. maybe they could be evil people who believe that if there is no god, then anything is permitted, and thus have committed themselves to believing there is no god. Then it’s a bit like saying, “if there’s a hell, I look forward to it”. -probably there isn’t, but even if there is, I am so committed that I will refuse to be dismayed.

          Such people are actual witches, and should be burnt at the stake, or at least beheaded.

          7. just a particulare case of 2. -Maybe it’s just an aggressive way of saying “it’s not going to happen.”

          8. To some people materialism is a religion. Maybe materialism is the wrong wrod. I mean something (vaguely) like (not too sharp at this moment), “If you can’t conclusively (100%) prove it to me, I give it precisely zero credence.

          9. overlaps with 7- Some people adopt a categorical preset rejection of anything taking the form “what if there’s more to this than meets the eye?”, -rather than saying, something like “well, what if?”, or, “that seems unlikely”, as appropriate.

          Sometimes people do this oppurtunistically, like as a way to disavow the consequences of their actions, but people also often do it if they can’t cope with the level of sophism in their society, or sometimes just because they don’t have a way, other than this minorish irrationalism, to disengage with arguments they are either uninterested in and/or not up to engaging with, without admitting or appearing to admit, the latter.

        • Protagoras says:

          Since I think I’m one of the people referred to, I want to try to clarify a bit; when I say I’d assume it was a trick, I don’t mean I’d say “oh, well, obviously a hologram;” I would consider that as silly as saying “obviously it really is God.” What I mean is that I don’t think such a thing should be regarded as obviously anything; it looks like the sort of thing an intelligent being might produce, but the motive for it is quite opaque (even if it claims to tell me the motive; most of the motives I can think of seem implausible, such that the being actually claiming them would make me more likely to conclude I’m dealing with a dishonest being, perhaps one playing on my expectations, than conclude that what it said was genuinely the motive). In my experience, the world just doesn’t work like that, so with the appearance of a completely alien element, I am not in a remotely decent position to judge whether it’s a God, a mad scientist, a tricky alien, something else entirely, or, perhaps most likely, a hallucination (I haven’t had realistic hallucinations in the past (that I know of) but then neither have I encountered God, or elaborate tricks by mad scientists or aliens (that I know of)).Substantial amounts of further evidence could eventually narrow things down, and would likely lead me to believe something, since people are by their nature prone to form beliefs and hypotheses, but I couldn’t possibly chart out from now what would be a more or less plausible chain of such future evidence leading to God, and people being as error-prone as they are, I’m also not confident that any of the beliefs I would eventually arrive at in such a scenario would genuinely be justified, even if my hypothetical self in the scenario did become convinced that they were.

          • Deiseach says:

            But isn’t that a “heads I win, tails you lose” argument? If people here are saying the thing that would make them believe in a god was if it appeared and very clearly stated it existed and what it wanted people to do, and it proved it was a god by performing a miracle – then you say “Oh ho ho ho, you don’t catch me that easy, this could be a hallucination or a hoax or aliens or something!”, how can any god ever prove its existence?

            “I won’t believe in god unless I see a miracle, but if I see a miracle I won’t believe it’s a miracle because I know the world doesn’t work like that”.

          • Protagoras says:

            I never said a miracle would convince me.* Theology is completely stuffed with confusions and contradictions, and unless that were to be cleaned up a bit (and people have been trying without success for thousands of years), I couldn’t even claim to know what the God hypothesis is, and so couldn’t possibly believe in it or even say what would be required for me to believe in it. Admittedly, there are many ways of brutally simplifying theology which I can make sense of, but they’re generally obviously false** and the theologians insist that none of those are what they mean. I could be convinced that there was a species of immortal human-like magical beings living on mountain tops if there were human-like beings wandering around doing miracles and surviving things that should have killed them, and they were observed coming and going from their mountain homes. But we’re all agreed that that evidence is not forthcoming. Far more importantly, those obviously aren’t the gods we’re talking about here. Once we move on to what are supposed to be the theologically serious proposals, however, I totally lose my way.

            * Well, apart from perhaps the miracle Hume describes faith as being; of course I could believe anything if I were suddenly subject to “a continuing miracle in [my] own person, which subverts all the principles of [my] understanding and gives [me] a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience” (from the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.). But I don’t seem to have experienced that miracle, at least not in the relevant form.

            ** Or more rarely trivial; if you claim to be a pantheist, but don’t attribute any properties to your God other than those scientists have discovered, I think you are just confusing the issue by using an idiosyncratic name for the universe.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          @ FacelessCraven
          What’s your take on the people in this OT saying that if they perceived God appearing in the sky, they’d assume it was a trick?

          Appearing in the sky is too easy, and too easy to dismiss as hologram.

          What would impress me is, if every book already printed, suddenly, in religious discussions, showed an update.

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      “Do you believe that there is no “higher power”?”

      I’m pretty sure I, and everyone else on Earth, believe that gravity exists.

      Next question.

  15. Irishdude7 says:

    Government as Stationary Bandit

    So I listened to an episode of EconTalk a while ago and heard about stationary bandits. From Wikipedia: “(Mancur) Olson argued that under anarchy, a “roving bandit” only has the incentive to steal and destroy, whilst a “stationary bandit”—a tyrant—has an incentive to encourage some degree of economic success as he expects to remain in power long enough to benefit from that success. A stationary bandit thereby begins to take on the governmental function of protecting citizens and their property against roving bandits.”

    I think it’s interesting with the idea that state agents are a stationary bandit, and to enhance their take they need to engage in policies that increase the tax base. So, smarter stationary bandits want to allow some freedom to innovate, start a business, engage in commerce, and play, so that wealth is created, but they still want to extract as much of that wealth for themselves as they can. These goals are at some cross purposes.

    Democratic governments with broadly free markets tend to do very good wealth wise, and instead of relatively few people getting extremely wealthy as you’d see in autocratic nations, you see a whole lot of middle-class bureaucrats getting a good living, a smaller set of politicians getting a great living, and many connected businesses getting a nice crony cut. The wealth extraction is more spread out in democracies than in autocracies.

    Anybody else have thoughts on stationary bandits?

    • Loquat says:

      I think one of the key factors is how far down the ladder banditry is allowed to thrive. It’s not hard to find stories about countries with widespread corruption problems in which you can’t get much done without paying off the right people, or excessive bureaucracy that makes you jump through loads of hoops to keep the bureaucrats employed (apparently in Brazil the bureaucracy is so burdensome it’s common to hire professional bureaucracy-navigators) and all of this is clearly an impediment to efficient wealth generation.

      • The Nybbler says:

        We have professional bureaucracy-navigaors in the US as well. In NYC real estate they are called expeditors…. and a license is required to practice as an expeditor.

        • Anonymous says:

          a license is required to practice as an expeditor.

          Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it? If there’s any case where a license is definitive proof of your ability to do what you claim, surely it’s that of a bureaucracy wrangler.

        • Also freight forwarders.

        • Irishdude7 says:

          We have professional bureaucracy-navigaors in the US as well.

          I really like the company Zenefits because it makes it easy for businesses to comply with regulations. It allows businesses to outsource their HR department and I think one of their value-adds is that they probably reduce the cost of regulation compliance.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            >value adds
            >reduce the cost of regulation compliance

            HNNNGGGGG

          • Irishdude7 says:

            HNNNGGG? I’m guessing it doesn’t mean what urban dictionary says: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=hnnng

          • FacelessCraven says:

            no, more the sound of a heart attack.

          • Loquat says:

            Would you prefer “reduce the annoyance factor of regulation compliance”?

            As an insurance agent in the heavily-regulated U.S. Medicare market, lemme tell ya, I’m always happy to hear about anything that makes regulation compliance easier for me.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            Could you explain a bit more why what you quoted gave you a heart attack?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            sorry, no offense meant, it was just a throwaway joke. Describing a reduction in the cost of regulatory compliance as a “value add” seems like the sort thing where, if you say it out loud, Ayn Rand kills a kitten in Libertarian Heaven.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            No offense taken, I genuinely didn’t know what caused your reaction. Do you mean that you think other people would find it a heresy to want to reduce the costs of regulation or that regulations come with compliance costs at all?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            more just a visceral reaction based on the idea that regulations are removing value, and then whole other parasitic industries are created just to fix the problems the regulations create, and that this news is phrased as “we add value!”. They don’t add value! This isn’t something to celebrate! Think of the opportunity costs! They’re spending their lives clawing back a little of the river of actual value endlessly cascading into THE OPEN FURNACE-MAW OF THE GIANT BUREAUCRATIC MOLECH IDOL HHNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGG!!!

            For a brief moment I felt that I had achieved Libertarian Enlightenment, and it felt like heartburn. I dunno. you mighta had to be there.

          • Anonymous says:

            Do you mean that you think other people would find it a heresy to want to reduce the costs of regulation or that regulations come with compliance costs at all?

            No, he means that describing the money clawed back by reducing compliance costs as a “value-add” is like if a mugger beats you up, pulls the $500 that comprise all your worldly wealth out of your wallet, but then pauses and throws a sawbuck on your twitching, mangled body and you call that “earning ten dollars!”.

          • Loquat says:

            Bureaucracy wranglers usually aren’t responsible for creating the regulations, though. So it’s more like there are muggers around who will beat you and steal your money, and some other guys came along and saw a business opportunity to sell “mugger insurance” so when you get beaten and robbed they’ll treat your wounds and give you some pocket money.

          • Anonymous says:

            Right, but that situation still isn’t “I earned ten bucks! Score!”.

            (And, of course, I seem to recall articles bandied around the OTs and Scott’s link roundups which imply that at least some regulations may be the doing of men who intend lucrative future careers in the wrangling industry, so…)

          • Irishdude7 says:

            @FacelessCraven

            I’m a voluntaryist so I’d like to see all state regulations disappear. However, given that state regulations exist, it still creates value to reduce their burden, in the same way that bodyguards add value to people at risk of attack from crazies. Ideally, neither the state or crazies would exist, but given their presence anyone that can mitigate their effects adds value.

          • Thanks. Now I know what to say when a libertarian claims that taxation is literally slavery.

          • IrishDude7 says:

            @TheAncientGeek

            What would you say?

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            HNNNNG

      • Lumifer says:

        I think one of the key factors is how far down the ladder banditry is allowed to thrive.

        Too lazy to go find the link, but I recall a discussion on Marginal Revolution about two kinds of corruption: low-level (e.g. a cop stops you for a minor traffic violation, you pay him off in cash and continue) and high-level (e.g you want to build a factory, you need to make sure enough money flows in a variety of legal ways to a variety of departments). Evidently you can have neither, either, or both.

        • Irishdude7 says:

          Do you think broadly free-market Democracies have more high-level and less low-level corruption than autocratic regimes?

          The more bureaucracy there is the more I think you’d see low-level corruption, with India’s licensing regime an example.

          • Lumifer says:

            I suspect the low-level corruption is more of a function of your geographic latitude. In other words, it’s a function of whether you have a high-trust society or a low-trust society.

            Russia, of course, is a bit of a problem for the latitude approach.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            Have any good metrics been created that can measure the trust level in a society? I’d be interested in how that’s implemented. I do agree that low-trust societies would be likelier to have low-level corruption.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Irishdude7

            I don’t know if there are any universally-accepted metrics, but there is a fair amount of literature on the topic.

            For an example, in a low-trust society you will have metal security bars on all windows and in a high-trust society you won’t lock your door. The Nordic countries are the prototypical high-trust societies and, say, SubSaharan Africa would be low-trust.

    • Anon. says:

      I think the story is more complicated than stationary vs roving bandit. When there’s only a single bandit he has one set of preferences that is easy for him to optimize – he maximizes growth and therefore his own loot.

      But democracies are complex systems with a lot of interacting bandits, where a roving bandit can temporarily abuse the system to the system’s detriment. Public choice basically sees democracy as a buffet for roving bandits. But obviously there is some countervailing force (which is stronger in some countries than others) that keeps it all together.

      • One complication that I don’t think has been mentioned is that some of the things the stationary bandit might do in order to increase economic growth and thus his take also reduce his ability to remain in control.

        Consider the situation from the standpoint of the Congress Party in India a while back, when it appeared to have a permanent majority. Imagine a Congress leader who correctly understands the economics of the situation.

        If he acts to reduce the permit raj he not only reduces his current take, he also reduces his ability to punish wealthy businessmen for supporting other parties. So even if he believes that a freer market will result in economic growth and, in the long run, more tax revenue, it may reduce the probability that he will be the one collecting that revenue.

        • Irishdude7 says:

          One complication that I don’t think has been mentioned is that some of the things the stationary bandit might do in order to increase economic growth and thus his take also reduce his ability to remain in control.

          What economic policy do you think would most reduce a Western democracy politician’s control? I think a strong contender is a national sales tax in place of all other federal taxes, as proposed by Gary Johnson. His line about how this would give a lot of pink slips to lobbyists feels right. Reducing the ability of government to grant tax break privileges to favored businesses would strongly reduce political control of the economy.

    • Viliam says:

      Here is a potentially scary thought: With open borders, the states could become more similar to roving bandits in some aspects.

      They would still be “stationary” about the land and buildings, but “roving” about the people and companies. I mean, the state could expect to extract future wealth from investment in land and buildings, but if moving across the border would become trivial and many people would start actually using this choice, the state could no longer expect to extract all future wealth from investment in people and companies.

      For example, what’s the point of providing good child health care and education, if after turning 18 your students will leave the country and go work (and pay taxes) somewhere else? What’s the point of supporting startups, if after becoming successful they leave?

      Well, it wouldn’t work exactly that way, because if the state actually has superb child health care and education, those students may want to return later, when they start having families.

      • Irishdude7 says:

        Increased ability to exit the political system through either free immigration/emigration or technology would make it much more difficult to remain a stationary bandit. When the people you extract from can more easily say ‘not anymore’ and walk away, you’ll see fewer state bandits.

    • You also have workers using collective bargaining to get above market wages. Oh, and technicians and experts have easily overcharge, since non experts don’t know what the going rate are. If everyone is engaging in banditry, Is it still banditry?

      • Irishdude7 says:

        I consider banditry to be robbery, so it depends on how you define robbery I suppose. I think it involves using physical coercion or threats thereof to take another person’s property without their consent. I think a person using physical force to take property back from a thief without the thief’s consent is not a bandit, so issues of what constitutes legitimate ownership helps define who’s a robber as well.

        I don’t consider collective bargaining to be robbery unless physical force is used or threatened, like say unions cutting fiber cables in a strike or state laws that favor unions over a businesses (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norris%E2%80%93La_Guardia_Act). Voluntary collective bargainers are not bandits.

        I don’t know what you specifically mean by technicians or experts overcharging, can you explain. Also, how do you define going rate? As an expert I might charge more than most others offering my service if I think I bring more value to the customer. Is that overcharging? The closest this gets to being banditry to me is if you think some type of fraud is being committed, but if that’s what you think I’d appreciate you giving an example and explaining why you think it’s fraud.

        If how you define overcharging is extracting a large amount of value from consumers because they don’t know what the going rate is, then that sounds like a great business idea to make pricing for expert services more transparent and available. Personally, I always get multiple bids when I get expensive services conducted just to get a sampling of the rates charged. I only sometimes use the lowest bidder, as I’m trying to find the right balance between quality and price.

      • I mean that in the
        broadest sense everyone takes advantage of whatever leverage they have.

        A lot of political systems are bsded on Suppressing Vice, usually by putting the virtuous., the nobility , workers or priesthood in charge, and hoping that power doesn’t corrupt them.

        There seems to be another way, based on allowing everyone can opporunity to game the system. which is partially implemented in most of these worlds more functional economies. The question I was posing was whether a complete implementation would stil lbe banditry since there is no overall loser.

        • Irishdude7 says:

          I don’t think taking advantage of your leverage is engaging in banditry unless you use force, threats thereof, and perhaps fraud. What do you mean by ‘game the system’? Depending on how you define that, I might consider it banditry.

          I don’t think the examples you described with collective bargainers and experts ‘overcharging’ is banditry. I just don’t see these situations as comparable to state agents extracting wealth from the populace, since it misses the key characteristic of the use of force.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            What is or isn’t banditry isn’t particularly important. What I was getting at was the fundamental styles of building a political system, the style that tries to eliminate vice, broadly defined, the style that permits one party to exploit all others, and finally the style where everyone gets to exploit everybody else. In the last type, it is arguable whether there is any real exploitation going on, and that is the point.

    • onyomi says:

      I think a key point to remember about “stationary bandits” is that, at least in premodern times, their truest function was probably to protect you against moving bandits. This is why the oldest kingly classes generally overlap with warrior classes, even in cases where the priests/scholars are accorded a higher theoretical station (Hindu kshatriya, early Chinese aristocracy), and also why there’s a constant push back in that direction (Japanese shogun taking real power away from the emperor). Periodically the priests/scholars take over, but not without help from the stationary bandits, and often not for long–at least until recently, that is.

      I wonder if, in calling for a return to monarchy, what Moldbug is calling for isn’t really a call for a return to government by military leaders rather than thought leaders? While martial law sounds bad, insofar as I think defense is a more legitimate function for government than most other things it tries to do, this might not be so bad.

  16. sweeneyrod says:

    Trigger warning: amateur sociology.

    Based on anecdotal evidence, I theorise that one reason the descendants of immigrants to Western countries (or at least the UK) are underrepresented in elite professions, academia etc. is because they prefer to stay in the same city as their family for higher education, even if they have the grades necessary to go to a better university elsewhere. I’ve seen this a few times, involving immigrants from various different cultures. As well as simply staying in their home city, I’ve also seen people apply to an elite university, but settling for their middling hometown university after failing to get into the elite one (rather than going to a slightly less elite university). A possible way to test this theory would be examining if descendants of immigrants are overrepresented in the top percentiles of universities in cities with large numbers of immigrants. Thoughts?

    • gbdub says:

      Are they actually underrepresented? Even if they are, are they underrepresented relative to their academic skills? Academia seems more ethnically diverse than average, and “elite professions” are full of recent immigrants and their offspring relative to the overall population. Trick is this applies to certain immigrant groups (east and southeast Asians, mostly), and less so to others (Latinos).

      • dndnrsn says:

        This was my reaction. In the Anglo world, at the very least – I don’t know if this holds true for continental Europe – there are groups of first-generation immigrants that are significantly overrepresented in academia, elite or otherwise – couldn’t say as much about the professions.

        Does the UK have many East Asians? I know that where I am, good universities are disproportionately East Asian, and I would guess from my personal experience that there’s probably an even split between foreign students (I don’t know whether to call them first-generation immigrants, since it is likely that a lot of them will not stay after their education) and people whose families have been in the country for one or more generations.

        Some immigrant groups dramatically outperform large swathes of the local population. I would be willing to bet that Oxford and Cambridge have greater representation of students from India and students whose parents are from India than they do of either people whose families came over from the Caribbean two or three generations ago and than they do of lower-class English, especially from unfashionable places, whose families have been in England since before the place was ruled by a succession of continental conquerors of one sort or another.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Foreign students are a different matter entirely, I’m not considering them.

          Regarding your last two paragraphs, table 8.1 here has a breakdown of the ethnicities of Cambridge students accepted in 2014, and Wikipedia has the general ethnic distribution of the UK in 2011. Presuming these can be accurately compared (possibly falsely, as 18 year olds presumably don’t match the general distribution), blacks (both African and Caribbean) are somewhat underrepresented, Indians are overrepresented, Pakistanis are underrepresented, Bangledeshis are proportionately represented, the Chinese are overrepresented, other Asians are proportionately represented, and mixed race people in general are overrepresented (how much of that is due to mixed white and Asians is unknown).

          I can’t be bothered to try breaking down the economic data to assess your claim that there are more Indians than lower-class white English, the answer doesn’t seem obvious either way. The information above seems to be evidence against my theory. It would be interesting to break down the white bloc to examine the representation of Eastern European immigrants, but that isn’t possible.

          • dndnrsn says:

            If you’re not considering foreign students, does the Cambridge demographic data (your link is broken) break down national origin?

          • sweeneyrod says:

            Here is the link again. Yes, the ethnicity data was from UK applicants only.

          • dndnrsn says:

            These statistics, just looking at the home applicants by ethnicity table, are far more detailed than comparable American statistics usually would be.

    • Creutzer says:

      I don’t believe this plays much of a role. The upper echelons of education in Vienna and Paris display a dearth of immigrants even though these cities are the centers of immigration and, for academic purposes, the cities in their respective countries.

  17. Barry says:

    I’d love to hear some reaction to this article: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/439126/transgender-teens-parents-rapid-onset-gender-dysphoria-doctors

    Specifically, I’d like to know if the facts and figures he uses are wrong, and I’d like to know if there are other people who are uncomfortable with invasive, permanently transformation treatments being assigned on the basis of psychological or psychiatric assessment.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I also saw this one: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/the-cult-of-transgender/ I kept on meaning to bring it up but forgot until you brought your up.

      I don’t agree with many points of the article, but there was one fact that was really interesting: there is absolutely no pushback against teenagers by counselors and psychologists. Most people would grow out of this w/o transitioning and be perfectly fine, but now they are doing serious damage to themselves. A teen can now be peer pressured into going onto hormones.

    • gbdub says:

      Probably ought to throw a content warning on here for discussion of gender dysphoria.

      Teens I’m agnostic about, but I’ve heard stories of parents of kids who are 6 or even younger labeling them transgender – like, how can they have any strong gender identity at that point (or at least how can you be sure about it)? Hell, I wanted to be a dinosaur as a toddler and my girlfriend wanted to be a cartoon. Were we dysphoric?

      Being gender neutral ought to mean allowing kids to explore and develop gender expression – jumping to the conclusion they are transgender and making them be gender non-comforming is no better than forcing them to be gender conforming. The forcing is the problem, not the outcome.

      • Viliam says:

        I wanted to be a dinosaur as a toddler

        I hope that one day we will have a Jurassic-Park-style technology and a more progressive society, and the healthcare system will treat toddlers like you more seriously.

      • Dahlen says:

        Hell, I wanted to be a dinosaur as a toddler and my girlfriend wanted to be a cartoon. Were we dysphoric?

        Tell me about it… At about age 3 I called myself a car, which is so close to this copypasta that it’s not even funny.

        Then again, people who had gender dysphoria at age 25 probably also had it at age 5, so not everybody necessarily grows out of it. Still, it would probably be a wise choice to wait for the child’s preferred gender expression till around the age of puberty, since that’s about when people’s gender starts mattering in the real sense of the word.

        Also, concerning parents developing various ideas about the child’s gender expression: I’ve also heard a different kind of horror story — people who were so fixated upon having a boy/girl that, when their actual child was born as a girl/boy respectively, they kind of forced them to be transgender, dressed them like the opposite sex from early childhood etc.

      • Lumifer says:

        I wanted to be a dinosaur as a toddler

        A classic from teh internets:

        I sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter. Ever since I was a boy I dreamed of soaring over the oilfields dropping hot sticky loads on disgusting foreigners. People say to me that a person being a helicopter is Impossible and I’m fucking retarded but I don’t care, I’m beautiful. I’m having a plastic surgeon install rotary blades, 30 mm cannons and AMG-114 Hellfire missiles on my body. From now on I want you guys to call me “Apache” and respect my right to kill from above and kill needlessly. If you can’t accept me you’re a heliphobe and need to check your vehicle privilege. Thank you for being so understanding.

    • John Schilling says:

      See, my problem with this as written by French is that: I believe there is in fact a certain class of people who live in a state of emotional distress because their sex assigned at birth conflicts with their gender identity. I don’t believe this is a comforting lie of the left. I believe that members of this class of people will be further distressed by French’s writing should they be unfortunate enough to encounter it, and I believe that the left will find it easy to drag such people into the limelight for the purposes of effectively discrediting David French and casting him in the role of a monster.

      I also believe that there are people who are addicted to drama, and people who will follow their best friend or favorite celebrity idol to absurdly self-destructive lengths, people who are unsure of themselves but unwilling to admit uncertainty, and people who are just plain contrarian. Particularly among children and extra particularly among teenagers. I believe that any attempt to sort out from this diverse crowd the ones actually suffering from rapid-onset gender dysphoria, in childhood or adolescence, will result in a catastrophe of false positives. And so I would expect the sensible rule at the current state of the art to be, no hormones or surgery for minors with a clear physiological gender identity, period, because we’ll probably screw it up irreversibly far more often than we help anyone.

      But justifying that with “You’re all faking it, every last one of you”, is not the way to argue for that rule.

      • Barry says:

        I don’t think “You’re all faking it, every last one of you” is the argument he makes here. The main thrust of the article seems to be decrying the rise in very young people doing these procedures that will have life-long consequences based on specious evidence, and being aided and abetted by a group of medical professionals who seem to have abandoned medical ethics en masse.

        His overall opinion on medically assisted “transitioning” may in fact be that it’s all nonsense, but he doesn’t make that case in this particular article.

        The reason I posted this wasn’t to start a transgender/gender dysphoria flame war, but to see if anyone could push back on the numbers and figures he uses to back up his position here.

        • John Schilling says:

          He describes, using the exact words I quoted, a class of people who are pretty much defined by not faking it, and states that the existence of this class of people is a “comfortable lie” from the Left.

          This class of people may be small. But to say that it is simply a lie, is to say that everyone who claims to be part of that class is faking it.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I got the same impression John Schilling did. There wasn’t even a throwaway line about how some cases are legitimate. Here is the closest he gets, and note the part I bolded.

          People who identify as trans need help. Many are suffering from deep and profound traumas. Others are beset by a myriad of mental disorders at rates far exceeding those for comparable “cis” populations. These are people who should receive the utmost compassion and care. They are not, however, trapped in the wrong body. And the extent to which we celebrate their painful malady is the extent to which, culturally, we have lost our way.

          I’m glad there is some pushback, but it should be intelligent pushback. (Even if only “intelligent” in the strategic sense.)

          • Barry says:

            @John Schilling, @Edward Scizorhands

            My bad, and I have to concede. I glossed over that paragraph when I read it and didn’t absorb what he was saying. I happen to agree with him on this, but I did misrepresent his argument.

            Still though, I believe the main point of the article was on the youth/general irresponsibility angle, and I was hoping to get some reaction to the facts and figures he uses to support his argument.

      • John, would you explain what this means to have biological sexual identity different from gender identity. I don’t understand this at all. The only thing my gender has assigned me is a penis and not breasts or a vagina. I don’t see how a penis determines my identity. I might have been born with four fingers. That would have affected my life, but not my essence. That is, it’s just a physical thing, why does it even matter?

        If I had been born with a vagina and breasts, I presumably would be a different person, because society does treat the genders differently. But I would then have grown up with the idea of being a woman and would have thought of myself that way. I cannot imagine wanting the other gender’s sexual characteristics so much to go through the trauma some trans-genders have. I just don’t get it.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          I don’t think that pro trans people usually use the term “trans-genders” FYI, I’ve only heard it from trans skeptics. Not trying to score SJ points, just in case you need to use the new lingo somewhere else.

          Anyway…

          That is, it’s just a physical thing, why does it even matter?

          This sort of thing, and the whole language around being “born in the wrong body,” drives me nuts.

          You are your body. Fingers, penis, brainstem: all of it. That’s you.

          Even if you want to try and split it as finely as possible, and talk only about your conscious mind and personality, tell me how exactly someone is going to have an even remotely similar personality when their brain in marinating in a totally different set of hormones? Or if their face starts feeding back different information to the brain? Or any of the other ways in which the other parts of your body play a role in thought and emotion?

          It’s an attempt to sneak the soul back in through 50’s science fiction tropes about brains in jars.

          • John Schilling says:

            You are your body. Fingers, penis, brainstem: all of it. That’s you

            Yes, and the synapses in your frontal cortex as well.

            If you’ve got the penis of a man and the brain of a woman – which does appear to be different than that of a man in ways that aren’t entirely trivial – that seems like it might be a distressing mismatch in the complex thing that is you. In which case, we can kind of rearrange the genitals (and hormones) but there’s not much we can do about the brain.

            Since it is plausible for this to happen, and since there is a substantial class of people who explicitly report, “Hey, I am distressed in pretty much exactly the sort of way you’d expect from this sort of mismatch!”, and since some of them report being much less distressed when the genitals etc are rearranged, I’m inclined to believe that this sort of mismatch does in fact happen from time to time.

          • Viliam says:

            If you’ve got the penis of a man and the brain of a woman – which does appear to be different than that of a man in ways that aren’t entirely trivial – that seems like it might be a distressing mismatch in the complex thing that is you.

            I guess imagining to have a different body is easier than imagining to have a different brain, so… I imagine being born in a female body, but having exactly the same brain I do now (minus the memories of being a man).

            Then, I would be a lesbian. But would I want to be a man? Only in the sense that I would realize that being a heterosexual man could be easier than being a homosexual woman. Otherwise I would probably take my body instrumentally, just as I do now. (If I would use that kind of language, I would say that my soul is genderless.) Just like now I realize that in some situations it could be easier to be a woman, but it doesn’t make me want to really change.

            So I guess the difference between me and trans people is not exactly “being born in a wrong body” but rather “giving a fuck about a body you were born in”. — Of course it easy to reply that “you don’t give a fuck precisely because you were born in the right body” and, uhm, that’s kinda unfalsifiable. I believe it’s not true, but I don’t know how to test that experimentally. (If we had some Matrix-like technology, I could try to live a few weeks in a female body and see whether it causes me distress.)

          • Nornagest says:

            This might be a good time to link an old SSC post: Typical Mind and Gender Identity.

            The main post is a question, and it is answered in the comments. Tl;dr: a lot of (non-trans) people do have a strong intrinsic sense of gender identity, but a lot don’t, too. It looks to be about 50/50 among the 2013-era commentariat, but this is not a typical crowd, so that might not generalize well.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Your argument is based on the assumption that men and women’s brains are identical, which doesn’t seem to be true.

          • On average, men’s and women’s brains are different, however there is quite a large overlap. There are no states of male brain that do not also have many adherents of the female persuasion. I appreciate everyone’s attempt to answer my question, but I don’t feel any more knowledgeable about this than before. For example, my brain has more typically male traits than female: analytic, quantitative, assertive, poor social skills. But if my brain was suddenly transferred into a body with a vagina and breasts, I think I could make the transition and feel comfortable within a few years. I very much doubt I would want to change my physical characteristics to match my brain.

            It may sound somewhat rude to trans, but my impression is that those who try to make these changes are people with dysfunctional lives that blame it on their gender. I wonder if there have been studies on mental health of those before and after transitions. My guess is that they would be more unhealthy after the transition, because of disappointment that it didn’t solve their problems. But as I said, I pretty don’t get the whole thing, so maybe I am wrong.

            Dr D — now calling people trans-gender is offensive? One is supposed to call them trans-people? Isn’t the gender what is being transed? So the work “trans” only relates to folks who don’t like their biological gender? This is an example of language change that I don’t like.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            No, transgender is still the term of choice. It’s when you seperate it into two words and add an s that makes it sound Steve Sailer-y.

            Transgender(ed) people vs trans genders

            Sorry. As I said before, I don’t like this stuff it’s just that some people will crucify you for it.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            You also come off as less harsh if you say “folk” instead of “people.” Trans people, trans folk; black people, black folk. Maybe because “folk” has a positive emotional valence, so its unlikely to be used by someone who detests the group.

        • TPC says:

          “society” treating genders differently varies wildly by race and ethnicity.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’d like to know if there are other people who are uncomfortable with invasive, permanently transformation treatments being assigned on the basis of psychological or psychiatric assessment.

      I’m astonishingly uncomfortable with this (although obviously I can’t vocalize it non-anonymously in present society). It’s clear to me that transsexualism must be understood as a delusion in practical terms, whether psychologically or neurologically caused, and the idea of the “sex change” as treatment is so out of line with how any other condition of its kind is treated that I’m perpetually alarmed by it. We don’t advise sufferers of Cotard delusion to kill themselves, body dysmorphics to saw off the offending limb (and this despite knowing that “accidents” harming the affected limb and frequently causing death are far more common than chance among this group), or give the classic (albeit I suspect almost unheard-of in reality) man-who-believes-he’s Napoleon a bicorne and tell him he’s quite right.

      And this is entirely besides effectively forcing everyone else to agree that the guy (to extend the metaphor) really is Napoleon, or that a paranoid schizophrenic is quite right to say he’s being pursued and persecuted at all times. Even though that would probably comfort their inner turmoil a great deal, we understand this to be immoral to everyone involved — so how does it come about that we do this with transsexuals?

      I’m convinced, I repeat, that these are people who suffer desperately, or at least that many among them do. I just can’t see that this form of treatment is morally acceptable, and it appears to have desperately corrosive effects on society as a whole.

      • The Nybbler says:

        It’s clear to me that transsexualism must be understood as a delusion in practical terms

        Why? Let’s suppose for a second that we have some science-fictional way to change one’s sex much better than we can now; effectively perfect without an examination of chromosomes. And further suppose that there is some population of transsexuals who undergo this procedure and no longer have the symptoms of gender dysphoria. Wouldn’t that demonstrate that they were not, in fact, delusional?

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          To continue the Napoleon parallel, wouldn’t that be like taking the guy who thinks he’s Napoleon, plugging him permanently into The Matrix, and programming it to send him off to a meticulously recreated 1790s France?

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            If people who believe they’re Napoleon, when put into a simulation of 1790s France, consistently begin to display military and political genius along with a burning desire to conqueror Europe.

            I would take that as evidence that maybe reincarnation or genetic memories are real.

        • Anonymous says:

          First of all this science-fictiony transformation seems to beg the question in a sneaky way, in that we don’t have it and aren’t likely to, nor can we really know what would happen if we did.

          Secondly no, I don’t think it means that even taken as given. Suppose we could magically turn someone into an exact physical replica of Napoleon Bonaparte aside from the brain (and the syphilis perhaps, in a sudden access of Hippocratism), would that mean he was right all along if he thought he really was Napoleon? I don’t think that follows, much like we can amputate someone in virtually perfect safety now, but that still doesn’t imply in the slightest that a body dysmorphic, a person who believes their leg isn’t supposed to be there or is somebody else’s ghoulishly affixed leg is anything but delusional just because amputation would relieve him. All it seems to demonstrate is that indulging the delusional dysfunction of their brains is soothing, which we already predicted. This fact does not in itself imply that the indulgence is moral with respect to the individual, his surroundings, or society at large.

          • Jiro says:

            Napoleon is by definition a specific individual. You can’t turn someone into Napoleon, because there was only one Napoleon.

            A sci-fi method that can turn someone into the opposite sex is at least a logically coherent concept.

          • Viliam says:

            In that case, imagine a sci-fi method that can turn someone into a dragon.

            We turn someone into a dragon, and suppose they no longer have a not-being-a-dragon dysphoria. What does that prove?

            Well, it proves that their far-mode belief that “I would be happier as a dragon” was correct — they actually enjoy being a dragon, in near mode. That is an interesting empirical information, because we could have also imagined a different outcome (someone believing that they would be happier as a dragon, only to realize afterwards that being a dragon didn’t actually make them feel any better). The operation made the patient happier.

            It just doesn’t prove anything about “dragon brains in human bodies” being real. Only about “human brains who expect to be happier in dragon bodies, and actually they are”.

          • Jiro says:

            If a sci-fi method existed that could turn someone completely into the opposite sex, then a sex change would no longer be a loss of function (and note that a social loss of function from looking weird for your target sex is still a loss of function). It would then be a lot harder to object to changing sex as being mutilation and the equivalent of removing a limb.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            It just doesn’t prove anything about “dragon brains in human bodies” being real. Only about “human brains who expect to be happier in dragon bodies, and actually they are”.

            I mean, the only problem with that is that dragons are probably dangerous.

            In practical terms the problem with transgendered people are:
            >Most of them don’t pass
            >They (or rather, proggies, since trans people are not very numerous) are very annoying in demanding the rest of us to act as if they do.

            The latter is a consequence of the former, and the former would be solved with perfect sex change, so unless you believe in some sort of essential human experience, there’s not a lot going against it.

          • Randy M says:

            In practical terms the problem with transgendered people are:

            It seems we’ve completely forgotten the reason for sexual dimorphism in the first place?
            Transexuals passing would be a bigger problem than them not; better to find out on the first date than in the fertility clinic.

            That doesn’t really argue against your larger point, as, in the magic scenario, presumably you are able to give them fertility in their new form; however, for all practical purposes that’s a lot further down the road.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            I mean, there’s probably more infertile people than trans people, the responsiblity would lie on them on being honest about their limitations, which they should be about much more than just that when the relationship is advanced enough for kids to be a possiblity.

          • Randy M says:

            Oh, certainly they can be honest and otherwise infertile people can lie. But the “being unable to have children with romantic partner” is a problem. Having children is something most people want out of a mate.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Edit: Ninja’d by the OP. Not trying to pile on btw. I’m just a very slow typer.

          But you could say the same thing about any of his examples.

          We can already turn sufferers of Cotard’s syndrome or somatoparaphrenia into corpses and amputees respectively much more perfectly than we could change sex, even in your hypothetical. It’s not a lack of capability but a total lack of desire: unlike with transexual / transgender patients, psychiatrists simply refuse to consider “treatments” of that nature.

          The point is, what makes this case of alleged self-mutilation so much more reasonable than those we refuse to employ in analogous conditions?

          • sweeneyrod says:

            For Cotard’s syndrome, the cure is fairly clearly worse than the disease (unless you are arguing for euthanasia as a “cure” for a wide range of mental illnesses) and there is no way to tell whether making people corpses cures it anyway.

            For BIID (which I think is better fit than somatoparaphrenia) one certainly can argue that self-mutilation is reasonable, according to Wikipedia “some [psychiatrists presumably] support amputation for patients with BIID that cannot be treated through psychotherapy or medication”. The difference between BIID and transgenderism is in my opinion quantitative, and the difference in whether “mutilation” is appropriate treatment is down to how bad the side effects of it are, what other treatments exists, and the more politicised atmosphere around transgenderism.

          • Randy M says:

            To be fair, someone wanting to go from one fully functional state to another (arguments about systemic sexism aside) is different from someone wanting to go from one fully functional state to an objectively deformed state.
            However, afaik, gender reassignment in practice doesn’t facilitate the former, even though it is sold as it.

        • The Nybbler says:

          @ThirteenthLetter: That just humors the delusion in virtual reality. Now, if you actually sent him back to 1790s France and he became Napoleon, you have an SF story that’s been done many times. But then “was he delusional” is a really hard question.

          @Anonymous: Sure, we don’t have the SF transformation and we’re unlikely to have it in the near future. And it’s true we can’t know that if we had it, that it would work as I described. But we can’t know that it wouldn’t, either, which makes it hard to say that it “must be a delusion”. Napoleon was a historical figure; someone claiming to be him is clearly delusional. But a man claiming that in all respects but physical, he is a woman, and is distressed by the mismatch between his physical body and his self-image… this doesn’t seem to me to be necessarily a delusion.

          If someone says “this right arm, which is attached to my body, is not actually mine”, that’s a delusion. But if they say “I have a right arm, but I feel like I shouldn’t”, that’s seems to me to be a different problem.

          Which isn’t to say that it isn’t still a disorder. Just not a delusion.

          @Dr. Dealgood

          If we kill a person with Cotards, we have a dead person. If we apply my SF sex-change to a man with my assumed sort of gender dysphoria, we have a healthy woman. That would seem to be a much better result.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            But a man claiming that in all respects but physical, he is a woman […] this doesn’t seem to me to be necessarily a delusion.

            “On all levels except physical I am a wolf.”

            Does that seem like it isn’t a delusion either? If not, why not?

            If we kill a person with Cotards, we have a dead person. If we apply my SF sex-change to a man with my assumed sort of gender dysphoria, we have a healthy woman. That would seem to be a much better result.

            But how about if we don’t apply your SF sex-change, and instead apply an actually existing sex change / gender reassignment surgery. We demonstrably do not end up with a healthy woman.

            The point that is still unaddressed is why we are willing to prescribe a rather brutal regimen of surgeries and drugs in this case, and not in a similar case where the offending member is an arm rather than a penis. The beliefs are similarly bizarre, the proposed cures similarly distasteful. Why is one necessary and the other unthinkable?

          • For all I know, the world would be a better place if people with Cotards could get their amputations.

            As for transexuals, I’ve known a few, and it’s amazing how much happier they were when they transitioned. I’d rather err on the side of kindness.

            I have no idea what gender dysphoria will look like if gender roles continue to become less distinct.

          • sohois says:

            @Dr Dealgood

            I find it odd that you characterize gender reassignment as ‘rather brutal’. Though the surgeries come with the inherent risk of any surgery, I was not aware that they were somehow more painful or unpleasant than other surgeries a person might need.

            And what about the sufferers of other illnesses, such as your examples? For most such illnesses, the only treatments are years and years of therapy and courses of drugs. And there are no guarantees of good outcomes at the end of it either. That seems in no way to me to be somehow better or less brutal than gender reassignment surgery. If you were offered a supply of hormones and a handful of surgery, or years of therapy and drugs, would you opt for the latter? It seems to me that gender reassignment is simply the most effective treatment for this case.

            Obviously there are downsides, such as the aforementioned surgery risks, the irreversibility of the process, and it should be mentioned that for many trans people they remained quite troubled even after gender reassignment. But until we have some perfect treatment method, it would appear to offer the best outcomes in most cases. That being said, the linked article does point out that there are some cases, probably mostly for teenagers and children, where it would be wise not to rush into gender reassignment.

          • Anonymous says:

            Nybbler:
            This is why I expressed apprehensions about discussing your SF sex change example at all: you’re now using it as a kind of prybar in a way that I don’t think is rationally defensible.

            Why would the hypothetical posulate of a technology which may not even be able to exist in the real world prove something about whether someone’s delusional? Is anything you can imagine a technology fulfilling therefore necessarily not a delusion? That’s a pretty strong shifting of the goalposts for what counts as delusional, in that case.

            Napoleon was a historical figure; someone claiming to be him is clearly delusional.

            But you’re a historical figure just as much as Napoleon is. Someone claiming to be Female You is just as clearly delusional, even if that person happens to be you. (That taking for granted, of course, that you are in fact male, a bad internet habit I’ve never managed to shake off.) The fact is that the situation is directly analogous; if we have a machine that can alter your appearance to perfection anyway, there’s no reason why “Napoleon” should somehow be off limits while “woman” isn’t. The fact that one of those groups is more general doesn’t inherently and necessarily contain a distinction for our purposes. Both are infactitious beliefs about your own nature. Fundamentally, there’s nothing you can say about the Napoleon case, no objection you can raise, that you can’t apply with equal accuracy to the transsexual case.

            a man claiming that in all respects but physical, he is a woman

            …So, in no respects? Or are you postulating a soul as something modern medical science ought to assume the existence of, and take into account? It’s not clear to me that even that would help, since most people who do believe in souls in the western world also believe in an infallible God, not one who spills souls into the wrong container every so often.

            I’m being a bit facetious, of course, but I really don’t think “all respects except physical” is meaningfully anything but an empty set.

          • Randy M says:

            a man claiming that in all respects but physical, he is a woman

            …So, in no respects?

            It is oddly phrased for a (largely) materialist community, but to be charitable, I’d read that as “gross morphological”, say, rather than physical.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Dr Dealgood
            “On all levels except physical I am a wolf.”

            I don’t think it’s possible to teach a wolf enough language to make that statement, even if it had the physical ability to produce the words. So such a statement is certainly a delusion.

            You are correct that my scenario doesn’t address the current state of transgender surgery; it’s not intended to. I personally suspect many of those involved with transgender issues (doctors, patients, and advocates) fool themselves into believing the state of the art is closer to my SF surgery than it is.

            @Anonymous
            It’s true that for my scenario to be true, we have to assume there is some difference between men and women other than the (grossly) physical. And that (perhaps due to a genetic or developmental quirk) someone may have the mind of a woman and the body of a man or vice-versa. Either of these may be false, but I don’t know that either is.

            This is all confused by the fact that transgender is now the fashionable thing, so there’s a whole lot of “transgender” people who are either faking or delusional. But transgender was around before it was fashionable, so that’s not all of it.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Anonymous:

        I just can’t see that this form of treatment is morally acceptable, and it appears to have desperately corrosive effects on society as a whole.

        Have you read our host’s own take on this question?

        The idea is that, with currently available technologies, the best outcomes we can achieve, in terms of enabling people to lead happy lives, are by facilitating medical and social transitioning:

        Imagine if we could give depressed people a much higher quality of life merely by giving them cheap natural hormones. I don’t think there’s a psychiatrist in the world who wouldn’t celebrate that as one of the biggest mental health advances in a generation. Imagine if we could ameliorate schizophrenia with one safe simple surgery, just snip snip you’re not schizophrenic anymore. Pretty sure that would win all of the Nobel prizes. Imagine that we could make a serious dent in bipolar disorder just by calling people different pronouns. I’m pretty sure the entire mental health field would join together in bludgeoning anybody who refused to do that.

        Of course, if we ever did develop an effective treatment for gender dysphoria that worked by making people comfortable in their existing body, rather than reshaping the body to one the person feels comfortable in, say a simple course of pills that makes the feeling go away without any significant side effects, then that would open up a can of interesting ethical questions, but for the moment, is your argument that Scott and much of the medical profession are mistaken in thinking that the current state-of-the-art in medically assisted transitioning is the best available treatment (on average) for people with gender dysphoria, or that they are correct about that but that it is unethical to give such people the best available treatment because of other adverse consequences?

        • Anonymous says:

          Have you read our host’s own take on this question?

          I have and it still doesn’t seem to answer why we don’t amputate the body dysmorphic. It’s “the only treatment” in the same way, yet nobody sane calls it a treatment option at all. (In fact, I have to say I find the argument laid out in that essay to be a pure sophism, and seems to me to be sprung from our host’s desperate need to justify an already existing belief which he adopted in order to fit in with his ingroup and avoid being devoured by the ravening hordes &c. I understand and even respect that course of action, but it’s still a sophism.) It seems clear to everyone in all other cases that physically mutilating a person because it’s expedient for their mental wellbeing isn’t even on the table, and that instead the only option is to sit them down and say “listen, we know this is the weirdest, worst feeling in the world, but there’s no known way to fix it, so you’ll just have to take our word for it that your conviction, though powerful, is false, and you’re going to have to bend your rational mind toward understanding this, and learning to live with it”. Even if some unspecified proportion of them then go on to have “accidents” which crush that one arm they don’t like and often kill them with hemorrhaging afterward.

          The analogy between body dysmorphia or Cotard delusion and transsexualism is effectively perfect; it’s as good as you’re ever going to get. And yet the treatment approaches are totally different. Why?

          for the moment, is your argument that Scott and much of the medical profession are mistaken in thinking that the current state-of-the-art in medically assisted transitioning is the best available treatment (on average) for people with gender dysphoria, or that they are correct about that but that it is unethical to give such people the best available treatment because of other adverse consequences?

          Both, or rather, since I know quite a few medical professionals who believe no such thing but are scared into silence, to some extent my argument is the medical profession has been shut down by a lobbying group that should never have been allowed to get powerful. This is the only conclusion I can really draw from 1. the lobbying and 2. the clear discontinuity with treatment in analogous cases.

          It is also unethical to give people the treatment we do now (I disagree that it’s the best available, of course) because it requires everyone else the patient encounters to aver an enthusiastic belief in something they normally don’t actually believe, which is an incredibly dangerous and downright Orwellian operation. (I don’t see any functional difference between this and demanding everyone agree that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, and the fact that pressuring people into saying it apparently works scares the hell out of me in and of itself.) If there were no social pressure whatever to actually identify transsexuals as their self-identified sex, the treatment would still be ethically unsupportable, but not nearly as socially corrosive — but then it wouldn’t be nearly as effective either, as I understand it.

           

          Besides, the categories weren’t made for man. Man was made for the categories.

          • Julie K says:

            our host’s desperate need to justify an already existing belief which he adopted in order to fit in with his ingroup and avoid being devoured by the ravening hordes

            Do you think he’ll get away with it? That essay seems to be saying that there can be multiple valid systems of categorization. That’s not the progressive view.

          • Anonymous says:

            Do you think he’ll get away with it?

            I certainly hope so. I have nothing but good wishes for our host. (I mean, there’s a reason I’d only discuss this anonymously myself.)

            As for how likely it is, I don’t care to speculate; all I can really say is that it doesn’t seem to me like we’re in a stable state at all. Things are going to have to get either worse or better.

          • Patrick Merchant says:

            The metaphor between Cotard’s delusion and transsexualism is not perfect.

            A person with transsexualism understands that they possess the physical body of their non-preferred gender. If you ask a (pre-op) transsexual man “do you have a penis,” they will answer “no.”

            People with Cotard’s delusion have an actual delusion. They really, honestly think that they are a rotting corpse. There is an appreciable difference between these two states of mind!

            Also: Removing somebody’s genitals in a gender re-assignment surgery is done under the assumption that it will make them more psychologically healthy. Killing someone with Cotard’s delusion will not make them more psychologically healthy, it’ll just make them more psychologically dead as fuck.

          • Anonymous says:

            The metaphor between Cotard’s delusion and transsexualism is not perfect.

            No, it is (or rather, as I said, as perfect as you’re going to get in nature, which isn’t quite the same). You’re focusing on the wrong thing. A person with transsexualism has an actual delusion of being stuck in the wrong body; the fact that they can correctly identify the supposedly aberrant body isn’t germane. The whole problem is they have this perpetual sensation of being trapped in the wrong body; but that can’t actually happen in a meaningful way, which means that it must be a delusion, even if you think the present treatment régime is philosophically flawless and just needs some polish on the technical end.

            Even if we understand that the brain of a transsexual is “feminized” or whatever the proper term is, at various loci, this is still only categorizable as a neurologically induced delusion; those aren’t exactly unheard-of.

            People with Cotard’s delusion have an actual delusion. They really, honestly think that they are a rotting corpse.

            Fact check request: is this actually the case? My understanding of Cotard delusion was that it’s essentially focused on the existence of the consciousness: the sufferer believes they are dead, that they’re not supposed to exist anymore, deny that they do, and believe that there’s been some terrible mistake keeping them aware when they’re not supposed to be.

            I ask out of genuine interest; it doesn’t affect the present argument, since, if anything, “I’m stuck in this rotting corpse and that’s fucked up” is an even clearer parallel to “I’m stuck in this male body and that’s fucked up”.

          • sohois says:

            I think many would disagree with your assessment that gender reassignment entails physical mutilation. Amputation is fundamentally taking something away from a person and making them physically worse off. However, for a trans person they aren’t losing any kind of function. The removal or addition of a penis does not prevent sexual relations, whilst artificial conception methods mean children are still very much possible, though perhaps not pregnancy for FtM – but even then, if they did wish to become pregnant the surgery could simply be delayed for later in life.

            Gender reassignment surgery places very limited costs on the patient, as opposed to high costs that come from amputation.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think many would disagree with your assessment that gender reassignment entails physical mutilation.

            I also think many would disagree with my assessment; only I think the reason they’d disagree is that they’ve precommitted to the narrative that transitioning is harmless and indeed the appropriate treatment.

            Amputation is fundamentally taking something away from a person and making them physically worse off. However, for a trans person they aren’t losing any kind of function.

            And, begging your pardon, this sort of argument is why I believe it. As I remarked in response to TheAncientGeek below, taking away a (typically) perfectly functioning part of the hormonal regulation system and replacing it with lifelong artificial medication, and/or removing healthy genitals, is obviously taking something away from a person and making them in concrete terms worse off. You seem to be trying to elide this fact by shifting the definition of “taking away” mid-argument from an objective baseline to a patient-subjective one; but the exact same thing could be done with a body dysmorphic horrified by his own leg.

             

            I don’t mean to be unkind, but I realize this will probably come off that way; it’s desperately hard to avoid when discussing these things: it seems clear to me that nobody would arrive at the kind of arguments you employ here from disinterested rational reflection; they seem inevitably to be the product of having determined in advance what must be proven and trying to get there by hook or by crook. That’s one of the reasons I can’t agree with you.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @Anonymous

            The claim “you’re just saying that because it supports the conclusion you’ve already assumed” can be made about pretty much any argument (including yours).

          • Anonymous says:

            Sweeneyrod:

            Very true, which is why I didn’t make it. What I said was “the form of argument you are using strikes me as characteristic of motivated reasoning, rather than an attempt to get at the truth”.

            I admit to believing that motivated reasoning can be identified and and is less valuable than objective reasoning (regardless of the partiality of the individual producing it). I don’t see that there would be much point to this “discussion” thing otherwise. (Particularly not online and anonymously.)

          • Those of you who think surgical transition is mutilation, what do you think of weight loss surgery? It drastically changes a digestive system which basically works, sometimes causing damage.

          • Anonymous says:

            Nancy:

            I’m not sure it’s correct to say that bariatric surgery changes a digestive system which basically works, given that it’s making the person morbidly obese to the point where he’s not only unhealthy, but can no longer inhibit his weight gain by the ordinary methods. This is particularly the case given that it seems like the surgery doesn’t work by shrinking the stomach so the person can fit less into it, so much as it seems to jolt the satiety/hunger system in a weird way which causes it to reset to normal function after having been haywire and signalling perpetual ravenous hunger. As I understand it it’s also notably the case that the weight loss effected by bariatric surgery often suffices in itself to cure type-2 diabetes, which I think we can all agree is in no way a condition where the body’s regulatory systems are working properly.

            That being said, I’m nevertheless intensely dubious about its provision, for the precise reason that it doesn’t really seem to be the stomach resizing in itself which fixes the issue, and it fairly frequently causes severe permanent complications for the patient’s diet, and so on. I also certainly hope that surgeons are moving to use sleeve gastrectomies exclusively now that they’ve been shown to be roughly as effective and less likely to cause complications than a complete bypass.

            I’ve seen claims that the strict diet that surgical patients are put on both before and after the operation is what really does the trick, and that a placebo surgery would be just as effective if the diet were adhered to, and although I’d call that unlikely I’d certainly want to see that hypothesis tested if it carries any real weight with specialists.

            Ultimately, I guess I’d call gastrectomies an edge case which I tentatively support as a stopgap measure, but that most real research should go into figuring out a purely pharmacological way to produce the reset of the hunger system and that once/if that goal is achieved, surgeries be stopped immediately and comprehensively as a treatment option.

            (Also, I’d argue that a gastrectomy is more like a heart bypass or a mastectomy to remove cancer than it is to sex reassignment surgery. If being fat just made people sad about being ugly rather than threatening their lives and physical health I’d be against allowing surgery for it, even if they became suicidally sad.)

          • Patrick Merchant says:

            I don’t mean to be unkind, but I realize this will probably come off that way; it’s desperately hard to avoid when discussing these things

            Speaking only for myself: I think you are doing a rather good job at presenting your position tactfully. I disagree with you very strongly, but nothing you’ve said so far seems mean-spirited.

          • Anonymous says:

            Patrick, I’m glad to hear it. Thank you.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Well, I don’t know much about Cotard’s syndrome of BIID, but it sounds like Sweeneyrod is talking sense here. The best choice of treatment should be calculated according to a reasonable attempt to balance relief of symptoms against side effects, and if the side effects of losing a limb are significantly worse than the effects of genital surgery then I would not be surprised if the medical profession are less willing to recommend it.

            That said, I don’t personally have a problem with the idea that, if someone is genuinely happier without the limb, and all other efforts have failed, then a medical amputation would be the best option left; certainly better than risking a crudely-done ‘accident’.

            It seems clear to everyone in all other cases that physically mutilating a person because it’s expedient for their mental wellbeing isn’t even on the table

            Can you clarify? After all, we do have a thriving plastic surgery industry – something like, say, breast augmentation surgery surely counts as physically mutilating a person if genital surgery does, and yet while there are ongoing debates about how ill-advised it might be, breast augmentation is certainly not off-the-table. If having breast augmentation surgery is net-positive for Alice’s psychological wellbeing, and having a suite of hormonal and surgical treatments to produce a more masculine body is net-positive for (currently feminine-looking) Benny’s psychological wellbeing, surely they should both have the option? In any case, I’m not sure that ‘mutilating’ is a helpful word to use here, since it normally refers to anatomical alterations that are done against the person’s wishes, which is not what we are talking about here.

            Both, or rather, since I know quite a few medical professionals who believe no such thing but are scared into silence, to some extent my argument is the medical profession has been shut down by a lobbying group that should never have been allowed to get powerful.

            Okay. Are you claiming that the number of people for whom medical transition is the best available option is so close to zero as to be not worth counting – i.e. that for the overwhelming majority of people who do go through medical transition, it would have been better for them not to do so but to have some other course of treatment instead (or even, that no treatment at all would have left them happier that medical transition)? Or is it the weaker claim that there is a non-trivial fraction of patients for whom medical transition is the best available option, but the politicisation of the issue leads the medical profession to also recommend it to significant numbers of people who are on net worse off for going through it? The second sounds like something one could make a good case for, but the first strikes me as deeply implausible given the troubles involved in going through transition, and the numerous reports of people claiming it has improved their lives. What is the best available treatment in your opinion, and what do you base that assessment on?

            it requires everyone else the patient encounters to aver an enthusiastic belief in something they normally don’t actually believe, which is an incredibly dangerous and downright Orwellian operation

            I have some sympathy with this. On the one hand, we have a group of people who claim to experience intense psychological anguish on being addressed as the gender that their outward appearance suggests to most of the rest of the world, and on the other we have a group of people who claim to experience intense psychological anguish if they are put under social pressure to override their system 1 assessment of people in the first group and address them by their preferred pronouns.

            Though I would note that there is at least the option of a hormonal/surgical fix for the first group – the more effective it is, the more likely people are to perceive them as their preferred gender … and that this is kind of a surgical fix for the second group too. If your mind recoils at addressing masculine-looking Carol as ‘she’, with sufficiently good hormone, surgery, voice training etc, you might never register Carol as having once had a penis, square jaw, flat chest etc, and thus never experience any distress at using female pronouns. This is a situation which will of course improve as medical technology improves.

            I certainly understand your worry, about sections of the identity politics crowd seeking to have a superweapon to point at people, and wanting to deny them that power. But I am not persuaded that that means we must throw genuinely gender-dysphoric people under a bus in the process. It ought to be possible to arrive at a compromise whereby gender-dysphoric people get transition treatment if that is the best option for it (and I think you have a very tall burden of proof if you are claiming that it is not the best currently available option for at least a substantial fraction of them), but the illiberal left does not get to harass, have fired from their jobs etc those who are uncomfortable using pronouns that their system 1 resists.

            That compromise may involve everyone learning to speak Finnish, or some other language that doesn’t have separate words for ‘he’ and ‘she’, but hopefully not 🙂

          • Anonymous says:

            Can you clarify?

            Certainly I will do so.

            something like, say, breast augmentation surgery surely counts as physically mutilating a person if genital surgery does

            I’m not sure that follows; on the contrary, it seems clear to me that genital surgery is a much more drastic procedure than altering the size of two pieces of adipose tissue which are by no means uniform in size among women in the first place. I think a person could very fruitfully defend the latter while absolutely interdicting the former. Nevertheless, I do see your point; and I’m willing to engage with it as written.

            while there are ongoing debates about how ill-advised it might be, breast augmentation is certainly not off-the-table.

            Is it not? Perhaps this is a cultural difference. Where I live, so far as I know breast enlargement is very much not something practiced for any reason by the medical establishment (except, ironically, by MTF sex change surgeons).

            Rather, cosmetic surgery (I’m told “plastic surgery” isn’t the right term because it’s something that legitimate surgeons do for functional reasons, not cosmetic — repairing the hands and feet, or something?) is a sort of parallel market operated by fairly immoral private surgeons which preys on the insecurities of the weak for huge profits and which I’m perfectly okay with saying ought to be 100% illegal. I certainly think that at the very least the vast majority of these surgeries constitute physical mutilations of their subject which are not morally defensible, which hopefully answers your question fully.

            If having breast augmentation surgery is net-positive for Alice’s psychological wellbeing, and having a suite of hormonal and surgical treatments to produce a more masculine body is net-positive for (currently feminine-looking) Benny’s psychological wellbeing, surely they should both have the option?

            You appear here to be omitting the (rather obvious, I should have said) position that neither should have it.

            Okay. Are you claiming that the number of people for whom medical transition is the best available option is so close to zero as to be not worth counting – i.e. that for the overwhelming majority of people who do go through medical transition, it would have been better for them not to do so but to have some other course of treatment instead (or even, that no treatment at all would have left them happier that medical transition)?

            I’m claiming first and foremost that happiness isn’t even the relevant metric. It’s my assertion that when dealing with delusional people, catering to the happiness of the patient is a gravely flawed method and not morally defensible. (Indeed, in the general case also, when happiness and truth come into conflict the truth must always win.) This seems to be entirely obvious to me, although I realize from evidence if nothing else that it’s hardly obvious to everybody.

            Or is it the weaker claim

            It’s that too. That is to say, that claim is certainly correct (an d the one defended in the articles that were linked inthe beginning of this subthread), but it’s far from the whole issue, as above.

            What is the best available treatment in your opinion, and what do you base that assessment on?

            The best available treatment is the one I outlined just above, the same offered to body dysmorphics (of every other kind, one might say):

            the only option is to sit them down and say “listen, we know this is the weirdest, worst feeling in the world, but there’s no known way to fix it, so you’ll just have to take our word for it that your conviction, though powerful, is false, and you’re going to have to bend your rational mind toward understanding this, and learning to live with it”.

            I base this assessment on the fact that there is no other way consonant with being rigorously honest and truthful, and we have no medication which will cure the dysphoric sensation.

             

            I’m sorry this got so long. I didn’t respond to the second half of your post for that reason, and also because there didn’t seem to be anything in it which was exactly addressed to me specifically, nor do we seem to disagree very greatly there (except of course for the part about the tall burden of proof — which I hopefully did cover above). If you would like me to respond to something in it, please say so and I will.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Anonymous – “I’m claiming first and foremost that happiness isn’t even the relevant metric. It’s my assertion that when dealing with delusional people, catering to the happiness of the patient is a gravely flawed method and not morally defensible.”

            Are you familiar with Scott’s Hairdryer example? If so, is keeping the hairdryer in the car catering to the happiness of the patient?

        • Julie K says:

          Have you read our host’s own take on this question?

          There’s a big, big difference between saying “We’re going along with this person’s beliefs to make him happy” and saying “This person is not delusional, his beliefs represent reality and if you think otherwise you are wrong.” Our host’s take looks more like the first, but it seems like anything short of the second is no longer politically correct.

      • The things you are suggesting as parallel to sex changed aren’t analogous in an important respect: they are objectively damaging.

        • Anonymous says:

          Amputating an arm is more objectively damaging than amputating the penis? Or disabling the gonads?

          I think especially in the case of the gonads, organs that produce important regulatory hormones, the argument goes all the other way. You have two arms and neither of them is exactly requisite for the continued physical health of the rest of you.

          In the case of genital amputation I might refer to surveys of which of his arm and penis a man would rather lose, but preference is rather obviously the opposite of objective in this sense. I think it’s abundantly clear that the amputations are equally damaging from an objective standpoint, though.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            Most people use their arms more frequently than their penises.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yet most people value their penises higher than their arms. Frequency seems to be the same category of argument to me.

            (Other conceivable arguments: albeit less often used, the use of the penis is more crucial for the survival of the organism’s genes; most people use their endocrine system more often than their arms — only one of those is active to one’s profit while one sleeps, for instance.)

            Edit: Oh, and let’s not forget the classic elench known as Broseidon’s Response: “maybe you do, NERD!”. 😉

          • John Schilling says:

            Yet most people value their penises higher than their arms.

            Did you miss that we are dealing, not with “most people”, but with the group of people that value their penises negatively?

            “Most of us greatly value this thing, therefore it is abhorrent that you should seek to rid yourself of it; you must not be allowed to rid yourself of it!”, is a poor argument. Among other things, it makes a sin of financial charity.

          • Anonymous says:

            Did you miss that we are dealing, not with “most people”, but with the group of people that value their penises negatively?

            I did not. Did you miss that we were comparing that group to the group of people who value their arms negatively? It seems like you did.

            The point under contention is whether the people who want to get rid of their arms are somehow less justified than those who want to get rid of their genitals, because losing the arm is a somehow more objective damage — thus explaining the discrepancy in how these two things are treated in practice. I continue to aver that they are not.

        • The object of gender reassignment surgery is not to create a sexless being. There is an element of swings and roundabouts. Or do you think having no penis, but breasts, etc, naturally is objectively worse?

          • Jiro says:

            Having no penis but breasts, etc. is worse given the state of the art in sex change surgery, because we are unable to make someone resemble a typical member of their new sex as much as they resembled a typical member of their original sex.

            (Also, they won’t be fertile as a member of their new sex.)

  18. Dr Dealgood says:

    Does anyone here get really strong feelings of déjà vu, like time is looping over and over again?

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      I think deja vu is probably a memory write error; it feels very similar to a specific sensation I get during dreaming, which I think might be memories being written ad-hoc to backfill elements of dreams that require explanation.

      (I disbelieved that this happened in dreams until I woke up after a dream entirely uncertain whether my grandfather owned a boat, and had to ask members of my family – he didn’t, and he certainly never routinely took me down a river to eat at a dockside restaurant, a memory the dream wrote quite convincingly into my memories of him. ETA: I can still recall this memory as vividly as any of my real memories of him; more vividly than some, in fact, because it is distinctly fresher. Don’t trust memories that you’re “reminded” of by dreams.)

    • gbdub says:

      Here’s the weird one for me – I will occasionally (not as frequent recently, but at least once a month in the past) have a very brief (like a couple second long) very realistic dream while I’m sleeping. Some time later (usually a few days to a month or so), in real waking life, I will experience that exact moment and have a vivid, distinct memory of having had the dream. Trick is I’m not sure if this is just intense deja vu, or if I really did have the dream (the dreams are too short and usually uneventful, so I don’t really make much note of them the morning after). I’ve also been reluctant to talk about it, because it really does feel like a premonition, but that’s insane, right?

      Anyone else have that?

      • Deiseach says:

        I have had the “Hey, I dreamed this!” experience a couple of times. Nothing unusual or amazing happening, just doing something ordinary (but not that I can remember having done before), saying something, seeing something happen, and getting the strong feeling “I remember this; I dreamed this!”

        • gbdub says:

          Yep, that’s exactly my experience – and it’s almost always something ordinary. But a much, much closer match of dream to reality than the average dream.

      • Over9ine000 says:

        I have nearly identical experiences to yours, maybe 3 or 4 times a year now. The dream / deja vu is typically of some mundane scene, but has on a few occasions been something more unusual. One time in particular I dreamed of an acquaintance getting out a pocket knife and jokingly threatening me with it in a way that made me uncomfortable. I took special note of the dream since it was out of character behavior for this person. They then did this very thing (while intoxicated) several weeks later. Of course as you observe, my mind could be retroactively making up both the dream and taking note of the dream.

      • alaska3636 says:

        I also get those moments. I often will forget that I have had the dream until the real life experience triggers my memory of having experienced it before; then, I realize that it had been in a dream.

      • There is an old book by J. W. Dunne called An Experiment With Time. The author wrote down his dreams as soon as he woke up, then checked for correlations with real events. By his report, the correlation was about equally good with past events and future events.

      • tcd says:

        Every so often, yes. Most recently, I was visiting my parents in a new house in a new city which I had never visited. It was mid-morning and as I was sitting in a chair watching the Olympics and waiting for everyone to get ready, my girlfriend sat down on the ottoman in front of the chair and said, “I think I know what I am getting you for your birthday.” That triggered something for me and briefly the room in the new house seemed too familiar, much as you are describing. She then asked me if I was alright, since my face suddenly changed and went sort of blank.

        I have had these sorts of experiences every so often for years, with only a single case that made me uncomfortable attributing to pattern matching/over-sensitivity.

      • Unknown Kadath says:

        This happens to me, but It’s extremely rare for me to be aware of my dreams. I dream, but I only wake up with even the smallest fragment of a dream in my mind a couple of times a year. Nothing ever reminds me of a forgotten dream, except when I think I dreamed a moment exactly. This seems like solid evidence that my brain is lying about its memories.

    • John Nerst says:

      I don’t think I’ve ever experienced deja vu. Either everyone means it as something much more vague and metaphorical than what it sounds like, or it’s one of those “what universal experiences are you missing” things.

      Anyone else who don’t really have this experience? I don’t think I’ve ever smelled “garlic breath” on anyone either, so I suspect that’s fake too.

      • Loquat says:

        I’ve never experienced deja vu, but my husband will tell you I totally smell like garlic for several hours after eating any appreciable quantity of it. It’s not just the breath, either, I can smell garlic on my fingers even after washing thoroughly.

    • Vaniver says:

      I will somewhat regularly get the experience of déjà vu while remembering something, which seems very weird to me. (That is, something will happen, later that day / the next day / whenever I’ll think back to it, and will have this sense of “This happened before!” which, yes, thank you brain, this did happen before.)

  19. Alliteration says:

    There exists the idea that rationalists should make their beliefs pay rent in anticipated experiences. However, all beliefs anticipate experiences. One is more likely to discover evidence (of any sort, not just experience but also intuition and logical argument) for a belief if it is true than if the belief is false. This is true of all beliefs.* Discovering evidence is a kind of experience. Therefore, all beliefs anticipate some experience. For example, belief in the invisible go-through dragon in the garage anticipates that one will more likely be able to think of a reason to believe in the dragon. This also means that evidence against the invisible go-through dragon can be found. If people try hard for a long time to think of reasons to believe in the invisible dragon and fail, that is (some) evidence against the dragon.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      I think the idea is that you should avoid holding beliefs whose truth or falsity make no difference to anyone’s sensory experiences. Flashes of insight or intuition don’t count.

      • ..which is much too narrow because there are important beliefs that guide action rather than anticipate experience, and because there are other important beliefs that allow you out to make sense of evidence.

  20. Odoacer says:

    Why are so many media outlets covering the Ryan Lochte “robbed at gunpoint” story? Slate alone has four articles about it. Is it really that interesting? Do people really care if he made it up or didn’t?

    • Lumifer says:

      Your expectations of media are unreasonably high.

    • gbdub says:

      The one good thing about the Olympics is that it vastly increases my tolerance and appreciation for “normal” sports coverage the rest of the time.

    • Urstoff says:

      Because it’s a ridiculous story and Ryan Lochte is kind of an idiot.

    • bluto says:

      The story as I’ve heard it has ticks several boxes for an exciting fictional work. It has adultery, violence, a lie to cover one’s misdoings, defamation over a common stereotype, getting caught/the haughty being brought low, and an international fugitive. Sure the stakes are lower, but this one happens to be playing out live right before our eyes on one of the world’s biggest stages.

      • It’s also weird. I don’t expect people to lie about being robbed, and I don’t expect a government to go after someone for being robbed.

        • John Schilling says:

          A government might well go after someone for falsely accusing their police force of being robbers. Even more so for correctly accusing their police force of being robbers, but in this case it seems to have been a fabrication and a generic defamation. If I were a Brazilian cop, I’d be looking for an acceptable way to express my disapproval, and look, here’s a law against filing false police reports.

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        Defamation over two common stereotypes: you get Corrupt, Violent Rio and Ugly American in one repellent package.

    • Irishdude7 says:

      It’s a TMZ type story to me, and with some shame, I’m interested in that stuff from time to time.

  21. sweeneyrod says:

    How should you answer questions when being interviewed by a newspaper? I felt bad giving obvious trite platitudes, but I also couldn’t think of anything interesting to say that would make a nice quote.

    • Two McMillion says:

      If you intend to tell the truth, you should tell the truth as clearly and winsomely as you can. If you intend to lie, you should lie boldly and with as much cleverness as possible.

    • John Schilling says:

      Why are you being interviewed? Unless it’s random-man-in-the-street stuff, the reporter is talking to you because there is something that makes you a particularly interesting person to them (or their readers). You were a participant or eyewitness to some interesting event, you are an interesting hero or villain or victim, you have some interesting knowledge to contribute. Understand what that is and talk to it, because they’ll edit accordingly.

      I generally go with factual, concise, and as interesting as I can make it within the first two constraints, but depending on what they are looking for you might have latitude to speak longer and they may even prefer exaggeration.

    • Deiseach says:

      Why are you being interviewed and is this something that could possibly blow up in your face? If it’s local colour stuff along the lines of “Neighbourhood inhabitant gives opinion on new hanging baskets in town square”, that can be innocuous (or not – you have no idea how controversial such things can be), then just being trite is fine: “yeah they’re lovely, really brighten up the place”.

      “Interesting” can also mean “gives reporter a chance to whip up some instant controversy and pep up their article by hanging you out to dry by selective quotation”.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Yes, basically local slow-news-day stuff. I don’t think there was any danger of controversy.

        • Deiseach says:

          Let us know if, after publication, you are hounded by hordes of angered respondents on “How dare you say the new community centre should have been painted eggshell instead of nutmeg white!” 🙂

          • Anonymous says:

            Nutmeg is a tone of white?! Everything I’ve believed was wrong!

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            You get hounded when you suggest a color for the bike shed, not for the community center.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            There was so much controversy I had to temporarily move to a different country to escape. At least that happened at the same time, so presumably there’s a causal link.

          • Deiseach says:

            I can’t keep up with new paint shades. I, too, would not have considered nutmeg a shade of white. But apparently what I would have considered greyish, beigish, or thereabouts is indeed a shade of white.

            There you go – instant newspaper controversy, with heated letters to the editor about “Sir – what kind of colour-blind idiot thinks nutmeg, of all things, is a shade of white?”

            We could even work it up to include institutional racism – “Sir, your last correspondent who wishes to impose an arbitrary and Euro-centric definition of “whiteness” as applied to paint shades (etc.)” 🙂

          • Lumifer says:

            Nutmeg can be a shade of white is sufficiently desaturated and brightened…

    • Viliam says:

      How should you answer questions when being interviewed by a newspaper?

      My personal experience says: Don’t. Regardless of what you say, the journalist will write something else — something that fits the story they wrote in their head long before they approached you. What the journalist is really looking for, when talking to you, is a short quote that taken out of context will support their story. If there is no such quote, they will simply use your name in connection with something you actually didn’t say.

      It seems like something that shouldn’t happen, but when you think about it, 99% of people are too busy to do anything about it, and for the remaining 1% it’s just word against word, so they can’t really prove anything. It’s incentives all the way down: For a journalist, this makes their work much easier. For a newspaper, hiring a journalist who works this way is much cheaper.

      (There are also ways to further reduce the risk, such as: when you plainly lie, don’t use quotes; that gives your company lawyer more space for maneuvering. And when shit hits the fan, newspapers usually have a budget for lost lawsuits, so it’s all a part of their running expenses.)

  22. Odoacer says:

    Does anyone else have friends who overuse superlatives? I’ve noticed a sort of “superlative creep” or maybe something like the euphemism treadmill from some people, particularly overly positive people.

    I’ve got a few friends who constantly go on about how, “X is amazing/amazeballs!”, “A through Y is good people”, “I really love that place”, etc. It’s gotten so that I can’t really take their recommendations at face value. True, none of what they recommend is bad, but it’s never as good as they make it out to be.

    On the plus side, when they don’t say anything positive* about something, then I know for certain that thing really isn’t good.

    *Though they rarely outright say something negative.

    • brad says:

      Yes, I know people like this. Although not one directional — it’s not that they are overly positive it is that they exaggerate in general. Place A might be “amazing, like an orgasm in your mouth” and place B might “the worst restaurant I have ever been in, bar none”.

      I end up getting no magnitude information from these people, just direction.

      • Tekhno says:

        I end up getting no magnitude information from these people, just direction.

        This is the major cause of world conflict.

    • Lumifer says:

      I call this “word inflation” and, unfortunately, it’s quite prevalent.

      One major negative consequence is that it compresses the range of what you can express: if you call “the Greatest Thing EVER!!!eleven!!” a yummy pizza, you are left with no words for something that is even more tasty.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      Does anyone else have friends who overuse superlatives?

      Nope, not at all, this literally never happens.

    • 80hz says:

      This is sort of a tangent, but you’re lucky to have friends whose recommendations you can use as even a very general guide. Outside my one or two closest friends and a couple family members, if someone says some movie or album is good (or bad) it has zero predictive power as to whether I will agree once I go and check it out for myself.

    • 80hz says:

      Cognitive psychologists will tell you reading is difficult and unnatural, but really this is true for complex/nuanced communication in general.

    • alaska3636 says:

      Many people lack the self-awareness to discern different levels of experience. In outwardly positive people, this manifests in everything being “the best”. Opposite for negative dispositions. Part of maturing is learning what your natural disposition, strengths and weaknesses are and how they interact in various cultures. People are naturally discriminating animals as time is scarce and wellbeing is a function of maximizing our ability to discriminate towards things that will make our situations better.

      I am overly discerning and probably overly self-aware as many people here probably are. My experience is that I come off as having strong opinions on things, often when I am just expressing casual discernment. One thing that has helped me mature is to give fewer shits about why other people are less discerning and to continue doing things that optimize my wellbeing.

  23. Mark Wu says:

    Despite multiple treatment options, persistent depression and anxiety are still a plague among highly ambitious individuals and academics. I have read Scott’s posts on SSRIs, as well as other publications and, taking the experiences of my friends into account, I have many doubts regarding their long-term benefits. Why hasn’t anybody considered (or tested) the joint, potentially synergistic use of multiple low-risk strategies? I would be happy to see a good study comparing the effectiveness of 1) SSRI, 2) SSRI+CBT and 3) a well-designed, “holistic” strategy, composed of computerized 3rd wave CBT (ACT, DBT) + supplement stack (SAM-e, curcumin, saffron, creatine, fish oil, l-methylfolate) + meditation + nootropics + gratitute training + hugs + cold showers + breathing exercises + rTMS.

    • Deiseach says:

      a well-designed, “holistic” strategy, composed of computerized 3rd wave CBT (ACT, DBT) + supplement stack (SAM-e, curcumin, saffron, creatine, fish oil, l-methylfolate) + meditation + nootropics + gratitute training + hugs + cold showers + breathing exercises + rTMS.

      Interesting notion but I’m dubious. Anecdotal opinion based on personal experience:

      (a) computerised CBT – did an online course of this sponsored by national mental health advocacy and awareness and support group. Did nothing for me, but I think that CBT in general isn’t a suitable therapy for me. May work stunningly well for someone else but I think face-to-face therapy would be better.

      (b) supplements – am taking fish oil for different reasons, have started and stopped things like curcumin and St John’s Wort. Did find some minor improvement with St John’s Wort in that before starting it, I was heading back down into bad suicidality and it pulled me back from that, but can’t say if taking it constantly would have any effect (and I think you’re not supposed to stay on it constantly anyway). A regime of supplements would require a lot of discipline about remembering what you’re supposed to take in what dosage when, and when depression is bad, it’s hard to do this.

      (c) Meditation – a non-starter for me. Again, may work stunningly well for someone else, but the exercises I’ve tried have left me either irritated beyond belief at how trite they are, easily distracted, or I haven’t been able to go deep enough/long enough to do anything for me.

      (d) Nootropics – wouldn’t touch ’em with a barge pole for various reasons.

      (e) Gratitude training – I probably could use this, as I’m a grumpy bitch, but I feel it’s one of those “this is irritating me to the point of wanting to axe-murder everyone in the room” exercises as see with meditation above (e.g. “well if I were a bored, middle to upper middle class, well-educated, generally physically fit and attractive person with a good job and enough money and free time to let me fly around the country going to seminars and what have you learning such stunning insights as ‘the importance of making distinctions’, yeah, probably I’d eat this up with a spoon – BUT I’M NOT”).

      (f) hugs – intensely dislike being touched. Not going to work.

      (g) cold showers – ditto. This is Ireland, it’s wet and cold three-quarters of the year, I’ll be damned if I stand in cold water other than being drenched in a cloudburst walking home. You want me to do this voluntarily???

      (h) breathing exercises – find these of some help for anxiety. Maybe.

      (i) rTMS – no idea what this is.

      • Mark Wu says:

        Thanks for responding. I’m not a physician, so everything I wrote is just an informed personal opinion, not recommendation.

        (a) CBT may have a modest effect in some and feel somehow patronizing but it still should be helpful in terms of stopping ruminations (self-perpetuating sequences of negative thoughts).

        (b) I think that SJW is troubling because of the multiple possible interactions. Obviously, anti-inflammatory supplements are meant to be useful in mild/moderate depressive symptoms, and for the general health.

        (c) I think that in some cases, mindfulness meditation might not be useful at the early stages of treatment. You need to have a sufficient readiness to be capable of noticing your thoughts and letting them go.

        (d) How about Noopept, NSI-189, Semax/Selank and general pro-neurogenesis stuff?

        (e) We may share a similar attitude to this one. I don’t want to get desensitized to systemic injustice or become content with my current position to stop working on improving the life situation. On the other hand, you need a sweet spot with positive environmental feedback to stay motivated.

        (f) Well, I’m a huggable person. It’s up to you to find a personally suitable way of experiencing strong social bonds/support.

        (g) The anecdotal evidence seems to be in favor of cold showers and cryotherapy. The first stage requires some willpower but the ultimate effect may be positive.

        (h) I’m not sure about the quality of evidence but pranayama/HRV training still works as a pleasant exercise.

        (i) It stands for the repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. I personally find it intriguing that there is not so much talk about the recent advances in this field. Take a look at these articles:

        http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/depression/repetitive-transcranial-magnetic-stimulation-depression-changing-landscape
        http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/824587

        Again, my main idea is that various therapeutic methods work on different people and mechanisms of action are largely unknown. While large sample studies and meta-analyses are still important, I find that in the end, the trial-and-error/QS approach is what matters. And as long as you’re safe from interactions and major side effects, I have an impression that the joint approach may be the key.

        • (b) I think that SJW is troubling because of the multiple possible interactions.

          I was momentarily confused by this, until I realized that SJW stands for St. John’s Wort.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            It’s even more confusing if you have an extension that replaces SJW with Ctrl-Lefter.

          • Skivverus says:

            …and do you also have that extension replace “anarchist” and “anarcho-capitalist” with “Del-Libertarian” to complete the trio?

          • Deiseach says:

            I was momentarily confused by this, until I realized that SJW stands for St. John’s Wort

            YOUR REMEDY RECOMMENDATIONS ARE PROBLEMATIC – HAVE YOU CONSIDERED INTERSECTIONALITY AND CHECKED YOUR PRIVILEGE YET? 🙂

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            “Make the whole world your Safe Space! SJW on sale now at GNC.”

      • CareerConscious says:

        It doesn’t sound like you want to cure your depression.

        • Two McMillion says:

          “Want” is a complex and multi-layered term.

        • Julie K says:

          This doesn’t look like a helpful comment to make to a depressed person.

        • Alex says:

          It doesn’t sound like you want to cure your depression.

          If a depressed person could “want” to cure their depression in a sense that people making this argument would accept, they would not be a depressed person.

          You could have said “it seems that you are depressed”, which has the same informational content but makes you sound like a nicer person.

        • Deiseach says:

          If it’s me you’re replying to, I don’t know what to say. I did try CBT because I was desperately in need of something and that was what was available.

          It didn’t work for me. It may work for others, and the positive reaction to it in mental health circles seems to indicate that in general it works very well for a range of things, but there is no ‘one size fits all’ cure for anything, and therapy depends very much on attitude going in. I wasn’t ready for it but I had no better or other option. Maybe if I tried it again it would work better, but I don’t think it would – and going in expecting “This is not going to work” defeats the whole point of the exercise, does it not?

          Taking enough supplements that I rattle when I walk – as I said, part of the problem with depression is that it saps motivation, capacity to plan, to remember and to act. “I should be taking these over a period of months but I can’t muster up the energy or desire to do so”.

          If you can source me a magnetic field generator to stick my head under, I’d be willing to give it a go.

          Do I “want” to “cure” my depression? Well, right now, I’ve got myself back up to the point where when I’m walking over the bridge I have to walk over on the way to work, I’m no longer thinking “I really should throw myself off this and if I had any guts, I would”.

          Does that count as “wanting to cure”?

          (And don’t tell me “go find the help that’s out there!” Overcame massive reluctance and broke down and asked for help, got burned, don’t trust anyone now in my medical providers to do anything and certainly not to talk to them about mental health problems.)

          • A Life of One’s Own *might* be useful.

            It’s by a woman whose life wasn’t objectively bad, but who was miserable a lot of the time anyway. She does extensive exploration to find out what she actually wants and what’s conducive to having it.

            I’m not being very detailed because it’s very tempting to get caught up in the specifics of what she did and what she found, but I think that what’s important is that she was pursuing her own ideas of what she needed, and she starts by saying that other people might need different paths. I’m planning to do a more detailed write-up later.

            However, what she describes is an approach that takes a lot of intelligence and independence, so it might suit you.

          • Alex says:

            In the cold numerical view of our god Bayes this, however tragic, does seem to explain the difference between your assessment of your value to this community and everyone elses [assessment that is, not value], in the aftermath of being unbanned.

            So another mystery solved then.

          • CareerConscious says:

            I know my previous comment was rude. I struggle with depression myself, if that’s any consolation.

            The current medical paradigm posits that depression is an abnormality, the malfunctioning of an individual’s brain.

            I want to give a counter-narrative. As I observe it, depression is the consequence of the medical paradigm. In the medicalized post-industrial world, we take it for granted that the social structures upon which the wealth of Western civilization rests are unequivocally good.

            The global economy is dependent on specialization of labor. Knowledge of the mind has been specialized so extensively that it can be repackaged in a product. If you’re unsatisfied with life in the 21st century, try Zoloft, they say.

            What if life in the 21st century is actually the disease, and depression merely a symptom?

            If you break your ankle, you experience pain. The pain in your ankle focuses your attention toward it. Pain tells you that you should stop doing what your doing. It’s not working. Only after you stop running on a broken ankle can it heal.

            The pain of our hearts and minds called depression is analogous. Does you job satisfy you? Is it mentally challenging? Does your boss micromanage you? Are you creating value or merely extracting from others?

            How’s your relationship with family and friends? Do you have anyone to talk to in person? What are your hobbies? How much have you travelled to other parts of the world and experienced a different way of life?

            What’s your sleep like? Diet and exercise? When you look at yourself in the mirror, do you feel attractive? Do you write or draw or create any media? How much time do you spend consuming media? And consuming advertisements? How much do you compare yourself to your friends whose accomplishments outshine your own? Do you donate time or money to those less fortunate than yourself?

            All of the therapeutic solutions will help you be a productive member of society, with more or less effectiveness. But to cure depression is to demand more of yourself than productivity.

            Happiness, or whatever is the opposite of depression, requires challenge, fulfillment, leisure, creativity, risk, spontaneity, love, gratitude….

            Can a drug provide these feelings? Life must be lived, not produced, packaged, marketed, distributed, prescribed, and consumed.

            But don’t take my advice. Take your own advice. As soon as you accept that nobody understands you better than yourself–no doctor or manager or government or blogger knows who you should be–you can begin to love yourself.

          • CareerConscious, I have a thought about hobbies– in traditional societies, people do a lot of crafts and music which they can be sure is part of their culture. It’s probably more like “how we do things” rather than a culture.

            While I appreciate the freedom I’ve got to be idiosyncratic, there’s a kind of support that just isn’t available in mainstream culture. No matter what you love, there’s someone to tell you it’s awful.

          • Deiseach says:

            CareerConscious, there is certainly that. Being depressed when your life is not really under your control and you lack many of the attributes you are constantly being informed are vital parts of being a valuable human and which are necessary to succeed, and that success is the only metric by which one is or can be judged, is a reasonable response. Therapies don’t much help that kind of depression when they’re based on “objectively assessing your circumstances will help you see that things are not as bad as your depression is telling you” when, in fact, objectively your life sucks/you yourself are a failure and deficient.

            But I think there is also a biochemical element to it. Diabetes may be brought on by an unhealthy lifestyle, but you can’t treat it by deciding on a course of counselling and let’s dump all these drugs.

            The brain is a physical organ as much as any other, and there’s enough family history of various mental health problems that I do think there’s a good chance my depression is (a) genetically based (b) resulting from some fucked-up crossed wiring in the lump of meat inside my skull so that stuff that should be happening isn’t. I mean, I started wanting to be dead when I was around twelve, and it wasn’t because I was being bullied at school/couldn’t get a boyfriend/parental abuse or any of the other reasons that might be put forward. It just happened, without any triggering circumstance that I can see, and it’s never really gone away. So either I think there’s a physical component to it, or I think I fucked my life up so badly by the age of twelve that I can never recover from it, which doesn’t help much with the depression.

            As soon as you accept that nobody understands you better than yourself–no doctor or manager or government or blogger knows who you should be–you can begin to love yourself.

            I don’t love myself. I don’t think I even want to love myself because that is too self-indulgent, gives me leave to be soft with myself and avoid all the kinds of “Life must be lived” necessity for change you list. That’s the trap I’m stuck in and I can’t get out of, and is perhaps not get-out-of-able because it’s not a trap, it’s an accurate assessment of my character (there is nothing there to love and much to condemn and despise).

            But now that’s getting into Too Much Information 🙂

          • Amanda says:

            I think figuratively everyone on the internet has read this (the 5000 comments puts even SSC to shame), but…dead fish and bits of shriveled-up corn, in case you haven’t seen it.

            I can’t ever recall exactly what depression feels like when I’m not having it, but I recall thinking this was pretty accurate for me, if not exactly super-helpful.

            Part one is too sad to be very funny, but I recognized the voice I was listening to, which was a bit helpful.

          • Deiseach says:

            Hyperbole and a Half gets it exactly right. The “no, I don’t want to kill myself, I just want to be dead” and “crying for no reason” and “one more overly-sunny bit of advice about Little Things and I will go on a mass killing spree” – precisely!

            I haven’t found the shrivelled-up corn yet, but I’m glad it was there for them.

          • Amanda says:

            Ha! I feel fine, and the “Little Things” campaign makes me want to punch them in the face. I cannot even comprehend of a world in which I’d read that on a poster and adjust my behavior accordingly.

          • Manya says:

            Yeah, I was just about to post a link to Hyperbole and a Half. Especially this part:

            But people want to help. So they try harder to make you feel hopeful and positive about the situation. You explain it again, hoping they’ll try a less hope-centric approach, but re-explaining your total inability to experience joy inevitably sounds kind of negative; like maybe you WANT to be depressed. The positivity starts coming out in a spray — a giant, desperate happiness sprinkler pointed directly at your face. And it keeps going like that until you’re having this weird argument where you’re trying to convince the person that you are far too hopeless for hope just so they’ll give up on their optimism crusade and let you go back to feeling bored and lonely by yourself.

            And then there’s the beautiful Why I’ll Never Be an Adult post. (She says, while on the Internet at work.)

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        Have you tried large doses of vitamin D (in addition to St John’s Wort)?

        I’m on 10,000 IUs a day after somebody’s recommendation on one of the rationalist things, which has a lot smaller effect now that I’m in Florida instead of Michigan, but made a hell of a different in the northern climates.

      • Dahlen says:

        (d) Nootropics – wouldn’t touch ’em with a barge pole for various reasons.

        Just curious, what various reasons? Outside of the matter of irrelevance to the specific problem of depression (as opposed to efficiency at cognitive tasks), of course.

        • Deiseach says:

          Please note, I am making no claim that any of the reasons make sense or are logical or rational or reasonable.

          (1) Brain is already messed up with various things that I am very reluctant to dump strange chemicals in and see what’ll happen

          (2) Paternal family history of mental health problems coupled with addiction to medication for same makes me very reluctant to consume chemicals I may become physiologically/psychologically addicted to or dependent upon

          (3) Tendency to be Lawful means high level of discomfort over “but these things are kind of maybe illegal, I should not be having anything to do with them” 🙂

          (4) Ignorance of how to acquire maybe-kind-of-illegal stuff anyway (I am so pathetic, alcohol is the only thing I’ve ever tried in my life. All the fun teenage stuff of ‘hey try this it’s amazing’ passed me by, with no regret on my part)

          (5) Intense stubborn contrarian streak which makes me go “Hell no, I don’t need any of this crap, I can brute-force my brain to behave”. Which plainly I can’t, but try telling my brain that

          (6) Intense stubborn contrarian streak which makes me go “Oh for hell’s sake, drugs? The cool kid drugs? I never was cool and I don’t ever want to be cool and this is not one bit the kind of thing I am interested in doing”

          (7) Intense stubborn contrarian streak (are we noticing a pattern yet?) that makes me go left when someone says “go right”. So telling me “try this stuff, it might help” actually makes the weird part (which is the majority part, let’s be honest) of my head dig its heels in and go “no I won’t!” Don’t ask me why this is; if only I could convince it that I should be over-eating junk, I might actually succeed on a diet

          • Dahlen says:

            Well, I don’t even know how to tell you this without engaging your Intense Stubborn Contrarian Streak, but it doesn’t sound like you’d wouldn’t need them anyway.

      • onyomi says:

        Meditation works well for me. What was helpful to me was when I started thinking of thoughts intruding on meditation as almost the point, rather than a failure. Meditation is a way of allowing subconscious and latent thoughts and feelings to come to the surface and dissipate. So to be annoyed when thoughts come up during meditation is like being annoyed at finding a lot of dust in your vacuum cleaner filter–something which makes me happy.

        I use mantra meditation, as this also gives you *something* to do (silent repetition of a mantra), rather than just sit and try to be mindful or whatever, which feels more frustrating to me. That said, feeling irritated after meditation can also be a positive sign of having worked through some stuff (again, like vacuuming can kick up dust making your house seem almost temporarily dirtier) and can be largely ameliorated by just laying down and doing nothing for a few minutes after the meditation.

        It may still not be for you, but I also recall trying it and not liking it a few times in the past before finally finding something which worked for me and sticking with it long enough to see some benefits.

    • Teal says:

      I’m exhausted just looking at that list and I’m not even depressed right now. If you can barely get yourself out of bed in the morning you aren’t going to be doing all that. Maybe it would be effective as some kind of maintenance program.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      SSRI+CBT is better than SSRI or CBT alone.

      SSRI + SJW doesn’t have increased efficacy and is anecdotally not safe (people say increases risk of serotonin syndrome, though I don’t know if there’s real evidence for this)

      SSRI + SAMe seems to work well.

      Problem is that most people are wary of using two drugs (or supplements) before they are sure that one drug (or supplement) is not enough. So all of these studies will be done on people who failed antidepressant treatment to see whether antidepressant + something else works better. Then even if it does, it’s hard to say whether it’s synergistic effect or just the second thing working, and whether this would also apply to people who don’t fail antidepressants.

      • Deiseach says:

        SSRI+CBT is better than SSRI or CBT alone

        Cue very unfair rant about the state of the Irish mental health system (what system); unfair because the people involved in it are doing the best they can but the structure (or lack of one) is a complete steaming mess of horsedung.

        Thanks to all the helpful information on here, I picked up that anti-depressants take about six weeks to work. Given that I was put on a “could be up to ten weeks” waiting list for a counselling slot to become available in my area, I was rather annoyed that I wasn’t prescribed anything while waiting – that’s based on our new scheme, where “ha ha we don’t do drugs anymore – well, not unless the Guards pull you out of the harbour at three in the morning, if you make a good attempt at self-harm then you get drugs – we do counselling now!” and it was very much ‘live horse and get grass’ as far as I could see; ‘so you haven’t tried killing yourself yet? well, just keep on not killing yourself until we have a therapist free to see you’ and nothing to help while waiting.

        Then after the initial assessment appointment which didn’t lead on to therapy for reasons, I was called in by my GP (who had previously refused to prescribe me anti-depressants when I couldn’t cope on my own anymore, broke down and went crawling to her begging for them because “so you’re not cutting/self-harming and have not made any suicide attempts, okay so we don’t do drugs anymore under our new scheme here’s a phone number to call to make an appointment for counselling”) who then offered to put me on anti-depressants (the impetus for this turn-around was a phone call from the therapist who had – the impression I got – said ‘yeah she’s at risk of really trying something now’).

        But thanks to Intense Stubborn Contrarian Streak I refused, because “Fuck you all, I told you I needed them, I humiliated myself by coming in here and asking for them and telling you why I wanted them – and believe me, I would rather have stripped naked in the town square than talk to you about my feelings and problems – you didn’t believe me, but now you’re scared I’ll do something and you’ll be held accountable? You can all kiss my arse!” Except I didn’t phrase it like that, I said I’d continue on without them.

        So right now I’m fed-up, angry, frustrated, and not at all reasonable about the “help” so widely touted as being available. And yes, I realise I am making my own problems worse, but the shame I still feel over asking for psychiatric medication and talking about why I felt I needed it, and then getting refused after I’d gone on my knees begging, is not letting me see straight about the situation.

      • Mark Wu says:

        Thanks for the important observation! What would be your educated guess about the possible synergistic effects? While the complex regimen would be much more expensive and requiring some rigor, I have a weirdly strong impression that the combination I suggested in my initial comment could bring a faster and stronger relief through boosting beneficial phenomena (anti-inflammatory response, neurogenesis) on multiple levels, at the same time.

  24. Sandy says:

    There’s been some discussion of Jill Stein’s politics in past OT’s, but, I think, none of her VP and his views. Ajamu Baraka has some interesting views, among them that a rally for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting was a “white power march”, that Barack Obama is an “Uncle Tom President” who should not have been allowed to attend the 50th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington, that Ta-Nehisi Coates is basically a controlled opposition plant, and whose work was once published in a book alleging many Islamist terror attacks (including Charlie Hebdo) were actually Israeli false flags.

    Today is literally the first time I’ve heard of this guy. I suppose Stein had to have a VP, but I paid minimal attention to her campaign. So my question: are people who seriously consider voting for Stein familiar with this guy and his views? Do the majority of them just ignore him, defer to him, or actually buy into what he says?

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I predict most people are unfamiliar with him, or that he as greatly mellowed out in the last year.

    • Deiseach says:

      I hadn’t even heard of Jill Stein. Based on the results of when the Greens got into power over here*, it’s probably for the best that she has even less of a snowball in hell’s chance than Bernie Sanders (I have no animus for Bernie but there was just no way he’d ever be selected as the Democratic party candidate). The real zealots for the cause all jumped ship and the ones left would have sold their granny to the knacker’s yard for power. Resulting in their annihilation in the next election after the people had experience of what they were like once they actually got into government. The only place the Green Party seems to have been successful is Germany, and I’m not too sure how they are doing there nowadays.

      *The Wikipedia article is very mild and says little to nothing of the ructions within the party that split it asunder over going into a coalition government in 2007 or the perceptions produced in the minds of the public by the behaviour of the Green ministers when sharing power, and that all this contributed to the near-destruction of the party in the 2011 election and its aftermath.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’m not sure how much ideology the American Greens share with European ones. For years and years, the American Green Party was essentially the personal party of Ralph Nader, who made his name doing muckraking on the safety record of the Chevy Convair, and it had about the platform you’d expect from a guy like that. Environmentalism was a plank, and not a small one, but in terms of actual emphasis it usually took second place to anti-corporate and other Left populist issues.

        The party’s gotten much less play in recent years, but I get the impression that it hasn’t entirely left that stance behind.

      • Anonymous says:

        the behaviour of the Green ministers when sharing power

        Stories! Stories!

        • Deiseach says:

          Alas, no fun stories of scandals and debauchery, merely the usual grubby compromises when pragmatism outweighs principle and ambition throttles conscience.

          Well, the fun began when the Green Party, much to its surprise and delight, found itself faced with the distinct possibility that Holy God, the people of Ireland had voted for them in sufficient numbers that they had TDs! (that is, Teachtaí Dála or representatives to our national parliament) Multiple! As in “more than one!” in the national parliament after the 2007 election.

          So they prepared to be the junior junior party in a three-party coalition government. Immediately they started ripping themselves apart about “should we hold our noses, make compromises, and go into coalition so we can get into power and get some at least of our policies put into action” versus “never not a moment prop up the wicked corrupt majority party in power and corrupt our purity of thought, word and deed”. The leader of the party, Trevor Sargent, had declared before the election that he would not lead the party into coalition with Fianna Fáil, now he and others were strongly pushing for this and he resigned his leadership and said he would not accept a cabinet seat.

          Which he didn’t, he accepted a ministry of state. Already the fine shades of distinction came into play, do you see?

          Anyway, he had to resign as Minister for State in 2010 because of an attempt to influence the judicial process – he wrote a letter to our national police force on behalf of a constituent. Normal procedure for Irish politicians (“do my constituent Willy-Joe a favour, remember I’m a Minister now”) but not best practice for a party that had campaigned on principle and anti-corruption.

          The new leader of the party, John Gormley, got a good position when they went into power: Minister for the Enviroment. Indeed they got two senior ministers, so you’d think they did very well.

          Except that getting a portfolio for a position they were interested in so easily didn’t mean hard bargaining, it meant the senior party (Fianna Fáil) regarded them as being pushovers and that they’d never make any trouble in that role.

          Mainly what happened was that the Greens, as junior junior members, mostly rolled over and did what they were told. The most controversial episode was the Shell to Sea campaign; the Green Party locally supported, and the party nationally prior to the election had supported, the campaign by locals but in power the Green Party Minister for the Environment followed the government line and said negotiations on the pipeline were over.

          Mostly the Greens were trotted out to defend the government’s position on controversial matters and they were seen as having capitulated on much of their policies for the sake of getting into and staying in power. The financial crisis of 2008 didn’t help them any, and eventually in 2011 they walked out of government, precipitated an election, and along with all the parties in coalition at the time bore the brunt of public anger by getting massacred at the polls.

          • Anonymous says:

            the 2011 “rape tape” scandal when Gardaí (police) accidentally filmed themselves joking about the rape of two female protestors after arresting them, and the reports of gifts of alcohol worth tens of thousands of euros from Shell to the Gardaí, which broke in 2013.

            …Am I reading some sort of satire on Irishness?

          • Deiseach says:

            Am I reading some sort of satire on Irishness?

            Unfortunately, no.

            The whole Shell pipeline saga is hip-deep in controversy, with accusations that our national police force (or at least the force in Mayo) was being used as private security and enforcers for Shell against protesters and others.

            People had legitimate concerns about the safety of such a pipeline, but the government attitude was “this will create jobs and get money into the economy, we are not going to tell a multinational company ‘no’ about anything, shut up the fait is accompli“.

            On the other hand, there are accusations that the protesters were themselves using intimidation and were motivated by personal grudges.

            Have there been allegations, investigations and reports into possible misconduct by elements of our national police force? Yes, like any other country, we have some rotten apples and loose cannons. Am I saying the allegations about the Guards and the Corrib pipeline are anyway believable? 30 grands’ worth of booze for Christmas to the local barracks, are you having me on? No comment, save that they’re hard-drinkin’ men in the Wesht.

            Do I think Shell was and is using money for “local community initiatives” as back-handers and sweeteners to silence complaints? I have no intention of saying anything derogatory, inflammatory, libellous or slanderous that might involve this site or Scott in any legal correspondence. Shell is doing its bit for the local environment, is all I’ll say, with this example from the project website:

            Salmon Conservation Project

            Through the Marine Fund, the Corrib Gas Partners have agreed, as a conservation measure, to purchase the TOC (total allowable salmon catch) of 142 salmon for the Sruwaddacon Bay Salmon fishery (a commercial private draft net fishery) for 2013 (and again in 2014 if the fishery is opened by Inland Fisheries Ireland).

            The purpose is to improve and increase the Glenamoy River salmon stock. This purchase will mean that this commercial fishery will be allowed to “rest” in 2013 and 2014 (if the IFI open the fishery), thus enabling recovery of salmon stock, aiding the long-term viability of this commercial fishery.

            It allows more salmon to move up into the spawning areas for the Glenamoy River thereby increasing spawning and the salmon population. This in turn may increase the future TOCs for this fishery.

            This is a demonstration of Shell’s commitment to sustainable development.

    • Resonant Pyre says:

      I think she probably would have thought more into her chance of VP if there was a reasonable chance of her winning, or even polling above a couple percent.

      I doubt he was chosen specifically to be somebody who would help her win in terms of his views, at least the ones you described.

    • Loquat says:

      Stein may not have said anything as hilarious as calling Ta-Nehisi Coates (and Bernie Sanders!) “media-driven pseudo-opposition”, but since her official platform includes such gems as closing all of our foreign military bases and putting a moratorium on both GMOs and pesticides* until they are “proven safe” I don’t think there were a lot of people seriously considering her that would consider Baraka’s views a deal-breaker.

      *Note that “pesticide” includes weed-killers and anti-fungals in addition to chemicals that deter crop-munching bugs. I’m genuinely curious what she thinks would happen to the food supply if all such crop-protecting chemicals were banned for a year or more.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’m more interested in what “proven safe” means by her lights. It’s not like there’s a dearth of research on either.

    • onyomi says:

      I actually thought earlier in this election that it might have been an interesting approach to try a Gary Johnson/Jill Stein ticket, thereby capturing both sides of those unhappy with the status quo. I thought this might not only be interesting, but possible, because I recall a third party debate in 2012 wherein they were not only quite polite to each other, but even seemed to share many points of agreement. Then I read Jill Stein’s positions as stated on her web page…

      • Adam says:

        Ha, I hadn’t even heard of Jill Stein until a few weeks ago, but yes, her positions are wacky to say the least. It’d be nice if Gary Johnson were a viable candidate, but realistically, I’m done even caring. The fact that the Republican party’s “libertarian moment” just ended up giving us Trump leads me to believe it never happened. Too much of American “libertarianism” is just people Ron Paul courted decades ago because they were pissed at the federal government for forcing them to integrate their schools. Honest-to-god libertarians are a vanishingly tiny portion of the population that will never have any true political power. Some form of technocratic welfare state seems almost inevitable to me at this point for as far into the future as I am ever going to care. If libertarianism is ever going to happen, it has to come from people that actually care about liberty and economic efficiency as core principles, not just people who are mad at authority and will throw their support behind any apparently subversive force.

        • John Schilling says:

          If libertarianism is ever going to happen, it has to come from people that actually care about liberty and economic efficiency as core principles, not just people who are mad at authority and will throw their support behind any apparently subversive force.

          This sounds like special pleading, or maybe special anti-pleading. AFIK, every other political philosophy that has ever achieved even local or temporary success, including democracy in general and including the specific manifestations represented by the US Democratic and Republican parties, has done so by way of a small cadre of true believers being in the right place at the right time to mobilize a much larger number who were just mad at authority and ready to tear it down for Something Different. What is it about libertarianism that requires a plurality of actual true believers, when nothing else does?

          • Adam says:

            My personal disillusionment? I guess I hope I’m wrong.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Absent a population composed of true believers, how does libertarianism stop itself from transforming into something else?

            I’d actually say the same thing about communism.

          • John Schilling says:

            Absent a population composed of true believers, how does libertarianism stop itself from transforming into something else?

            Same way as any other implementation political philosophy, including democracy. Founder effects, path dependence, and keying legitimacy to the philosophy.

            Libertarians should have it easier on this front – everyone else has to create the machinery for a powerful government and then somehow establish checks and balances to keep this existing power from being corrupted. Libertarians only have to establish checks against the creation of government power. Much easier to fight an enemy that doesn’t yet exist.

            Which leads to the hard part for Libertarians here and now, transforming a powerful government into a weaker one. Against the interests of an existing power, and without the ability to promise co-option instead of diminution. A general anti-government sentiment, even if not ideologically pure libertarianism, might be a useful ally there.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            But the very existence of those checks against “government power” is itself government power. How do you have a powerful government without it being powerful? It’s oxymoronic.

            Whereas representative constitutional democracy is a system, rather than an end. There are a series of enumerated offices filled by a voting mechanism. What system accomplishes libertarianism?

            And the ancient Iceland example doesn’t work in my mind. It’s just a crude form of representative democracy.

          • “And the ancient Iceland example doesn’t work in my mind. It’s just a crude form of representative democracy.”

            ?

            How was the old Icelandic system a form of representative democracy? The goðar were not elected.

            I think you raise two rather different questions. One is how one could make a minarchy stable. The other is under what circumstances an anarcho-capitalist system would be stable. The history of the U.S. is some evidence of the difficulty of the former. I discuss the latter question some in Machinery.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The Althing was and is a parliament. The fact that you could declare fealty to one or another extant chieftain looks to my eye very much like a stab at casting a vote for a party. But the vote of the parliament was still binding on all and constrained the goðar.

            You had one central government that ruled by majority vote.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            @John Schilling

            Which leads to the hard part for Libertarians here and now, transforming a powerful government into a weaker one.

            I’d put my money on entrepreneurs innovating products that start making the state less relevant. For example, Uber shows customer/driver rating systems can replace politically regulated taxis as a more efficient transportation sytem and Bitcoin shows value can be stored and transferred without centralized authorities.

          • “You had one central government that ruled by majority vote.”

            Vote of the Goðar, not of the Thingmen. There were about forty-eight men, each of whom owned the bundle of rights that defined a goði. Each of them (and, after 1000, each of the two bishops) had one vote.

            Do you regard that as a representative democracy? The Goðar weren’t elected by their Thingmen. Do you also regard hereditary monarchy as a version of representative democracy, on the theory that the king represents his subjects?

          • “The fact that you could declare fealty to one or another extant chieftain looks to my eye very much like a stab at casting a vote for a party. ”

            How many Thingmen were in your goðorð didn’t determine whether you were a goði or how many votes you had in the Lögrétta, so not at all like casting a vote for a party. The point of voting for a party is that the votes give the party seats in the legislature.

            A little more like becoming the customer of a particular lawyer, since it determined how you plugged into the legal system.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            What’s this then?

            David Friedman states, “…seats in the law-making body were quite literally for sale.” These men who were law-makers did not have power just because they held the title godord. They were powerless “unless he could convince some free-farmers to follow him.” This kept tyranny and injustice in check.

            That looks a lot like “land owning males get to vote for representatives”.

            I’m not saying it’s the original form of the US Constitution or anything. Just that the form of government looks like what happens when you take hereditary rule and start trying to push it towards representation, and it definitely doesn’t look like AC.

            Plus, Iceland sure looks like it was founded, Terra Nova, by a group of like minded believers, so see my original comment.

          • John Schilling says:

            But the very existence of those checks against “government power” is itself government power. How do you have a powerful government without it being powerful?

            A: The operative phrase is “checks and balances”, not simply “checks”. Many small powers can be balanced against each other, so that no one will grow terribly strong. Historical examples left as an exercise for the student

            B: Trial by jury, right to keep and bear arms, even legitimacy of the popular vote, all transfer power traditionally wielded by governments, outside of the government. Where it may then serve as a check on government power.

            So no, we don’t need to have the super-powerful incorruptible government agency to safeguard liberty. If we did, we might as well scuttle the whole debate and set about choosing our dictator now.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            That seems like a very facile argument.

            Regardless of how we set the system up, what is the check against the government becoming less libertarian? It’s either the people in government, which has obvious flaws, or it’s the populace, which means the population has to be composed mostly of true believers, which is what I said in the first place.