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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. Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

    Whenever it’s brought up, I hear a lot of suggestions for classes like Econ and Comp Sci. Does anyone have any suggestions for classes or good reading on negotiating (in a business context)? Art of the Deal doesn’t count.

    • bluto says:

      The old Karrass books (Effective Negotiation and You Don’t Get What You Deserve; You Get What You Negotiate). Not all the advice is great (most of the finance section only worked before it was easy to compute time value of money quickly) but I believe it’s well worth reading if only to recognize the most common tactics being used against you. I’m not sure the same advise is worth the price of a seminar though.

    • Chalid says:

      Getting to Yes is a classic which I liked a lot. It’s used in business schools and professional training too. Quoting wikipedia, the core ideas are:

      “Separate the people from the problem”
      “Focus on interests, not positions”
      “Invent options for mutual gain”
      “Insist on using objective criteria”
      “Know your BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement)”

      which all seem like common sense, but which are perhaps hard to keep in mind when in a live negotiation.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I know I try to separate the people from the problem, but the people just insist on sticking to the problem.

    • Winfried says:

      Cialdini’s Influence was a textbook in a blowoff class I took.

      Turned out to be one of the more interesting and useful courses I took that year.

      Our professor described it as Defense Against the Dark Arts (of Marketing).

    • Daniel says:

      Getting To Yes is regarded as being by far (BY FAR!) the most important book on negotiation.

    • mike says:

      I actually listened to Bargaining for Advantage on audiobook two weeks ago and found it valuable. Well structured, with a good mix of content and historical examples, backed-up by research. The top Amazon review had a useful blurb:

      There are two basic styles or strategies in negotiation literature: advantage seeking and joint gain finding. The best work on joint gain is the seminal work by Roger Fisher, Getting to Yes. The best work on advantage seeking is the work of Chester Karrass who extols high aspiration and concession management. The great thing about this book is that it is simultaneously the second best book in two very different paradigms.

    • onyomi says:

      As someone who, at least in business, has only ever engaged in highly one-sided negotiations (being an employee and writer in an employer’s/publisher’s buyer’s market), I would appreciate more info on what to do in such cases (negotiations-type books tend to be written with an assumption of roughly equal bargaining power, and do not discuss what, if anything, you can do to improve your position when the options are “take this offer” or “find another line of work.”)

      My negotiation power tends to feel something like “hey, mr. editor at prestigious press, you better stop sitting on my manuscript and give me a definitive answer or… I’ll begin the equally drawn-out process with a less prestigious press.”

      Of course, the less bargaining power you have to begin with, the less you can expect, but most of these books seem to assume scenarios like “you want to sell 100 widgets at $50 a piece, but your potential client wants only 40 widgets at $40 a piece. What do you do??” And I’m like “…I am one of 500 producers of quality widgets in a field of 10 wealthy buyers… the buyers pretty much call the shots…”

    • SUT says:

      Buy In: Saving Your Good Idea from getting shot down it’s short (author wasn’t paid by the word), practical for any level business the reader is engaged in, especially lower level, and is the perfect complement to the “programmer’s mind”.

  2. Jordan D. says:

    All those who said a few threads back that they’re all about reading opinions, have ye a gander at http://nvcourts.gov/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=181088 in which we wrestle with the question of whether or not it is trespass to shine light on someone else’s property in order to create a message.

    I agree with the concurring opinion- it’s not trespass to shine artificial light on to someone else’s property, but I think that it could very well be nuisance, or even more serious intentional torts with the right facts. This strikes me as sort of analogous to the questions circulating after Pokemon Go released- if Niantic adds a Gym to the interior of your building, is that trespass? On the one hand, literally nothing has actually been inserted on your property. On the other hand, there is now a highly visible marker on your property which is likely to draw in people to (at the very least) loiter outside your building.

    It’s pretty cool how new technologies unrelated to property at all can raise new questions about the qualities of the rights enjoyed by a property-holder.

    • gbdub says:

      That was an interesting read. I also agree with the concurrence – it’s not trespass per se, but it does seem like the sort of thing we want a property owner to be able to prevent. It’s essentially temporary graffiti applied from a distance, and clearly produces a harm to the property that ambient or incidental light does not.

      I had mixed feelings about the science discussion in the concurrence. On the one hand it was amusing to see a discussion of the quantum properties of light in a legal context, on the other it sort of seemed like the judge just having fun with it because he could, not really necessary for the opinion.

      • Jordan D. says:

        I think you’re right about the science discussion. I’m a supporter of judges going off the rails a bit in concurrences and dissents, since if what you’re writing isn’t binding it may as well be entertaining. On the other hand, you’re bound to make mistakes when you’re setting forth things you’re not expert on (for example, the section on Galileo) and I worry that they detract from the persuasive qualities of the expert legal discussion.

        On the whole, I lean in favor of secondary opinions having whatever fun they can, since judges are normally forced to constrain their writing to a crazy degree. It’s cathartic.

    • herbert herbertson says:

      I agree with you, at least from a common law perspective (which may not have very much relevance for that particular case). Nuisance is made for those sorts of indirect interferences with one’s property.

    • brad says:

      The concurrence’s argument that the claim should have sounded in nuisance rather than trespass was pretty persuasive.

      As a general matter, I think courts should be reluctant to significantly expand the scope of common law doctrines. Unlike 200 years ago, our legislatures are not at all shy about legislating about any and all topics under the sun. And we have regulatory agencies on top that. If someone is going to do something about the scourge of virtual pokeman placements it probably should be someone other than a common law judge-lawmaker.

      • Jordan D. says:

        You say that now, but you’ll be singing a different tune once hordes of judgment-proof kids start rappelling down your building and breaking through your office windows to capture Articuno.

        (Who is in there because of overuse of the AC, obviously)

        • gbdub says:

          Does Niantic let anybody get stops/gyms taken off their property, a la Google Maps (which has a process to get your embarrassing Street View photo taken down)?

          • bluto says:

            Yes, with the caveat that it’s a tiny company whose second product got very huge very quickly so they’re a little behind on everything at the moment.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            In fact, you can probably get things taken off of other people’s property. I’m not sure you even need to say that it’s yours, just “this is private property.”

            They can and do remove things.

          • M Kul says:

            There has been at least one case in the US recently where law enforcement agencies have taken actions to prevent the creation of Pokemon game objects (gyms, lures) within or near to the homes of convicted sex-offenders. IIRC they do this by giving the list of “black-spot” addresses or areas to Niantic so they can re-program around them.

            This raises the interesting question of implicit or unintentional disclosure of the locations of sex-offenders to a commercial third-party entity.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            Re: M Kul

            Is that new?

            A while ago, I looked up crime statistics in my neighborhood. They had a virtual map, so you could see where all the individual things were, and I think showed the last few months? The most common type of crime I found was “vehicle located” – someone had dumped a stolen vehicle, the police had picked it up sometime later, and they’d marked down the location. So we have some blind corners people dump stolen vehicles in; good to know, I guess.

            The second most common thing was sex offenders. Not offenses – offenders. The crime map, free online for the public to view, had each house where someone on the Sex Offenders Registry lived marked with the said person’s portrait and I think minimal descriptive details (name, forget what else).

            What trouble would they get into for disclosing to a commercial third-party entity… what they have already disclosed, to everyone?

            (Note: I’m in California, other states may not disclose this information quite so broadly. But my local area sure does.)

        • brad says:

          That was a fascinating article. For someone that went to law school in what might be called the Scalia era and in a state where Field is still a celebrated figure — a bit disturbing, but nonetheless interesting. Thanks for linking it.

    • Yehoshua K says:

      I’m not familiar with Niantic. Are you saying that they can do a virtual thing that can have real-life consequences? What exactly is it that they do?

      • bluto says:

        They make Pokemon GO. If you never played pokemon, it’s an exceedingly popular game that’s essentially virtual bug catching (go to a bunch of places and catch the various pokemon), GO changed things by making the pokemon appear in different real world places and using cell phone’s GPS to know when players are near them.

        The real life consequences are a result of the game’s enormous popularity driving large amounts of foot traffic to certain important in game areas. The important spots were selected from a vastly less popular, but similar game so very few noticed they were an important site until the legions of pokemon hunters started showing up.

        • Yehoshua K says:

          That does sound annoying, and potentially worse than annoying. Not a sort of damage I’ve thought of before.

          • Gbdub says:

            On the other hand it’s free foot traffic for a lot of places – bars and restaurants are actually advertising their proximity to in-game locations, throwing party nights, etc (one of the things you can do in-game is attach “lures” to PokeStops, which cause extra Pokemon to appear that all players can catch. Lures are pretty cheap in real world currency via micropayment, so I’ve seen bars with a PokeStop attach lures for a theme night).

            Most PokeStops and Gyms are attached to points of interest – places that WANT foot traffic within reason. On the other hand Pokemon can appear anywhere, and the detection range in the game is big enough that you might be tempted to go pretty far onto private property to get one.

          • Yehoshua K says:

            To Gbdub.

            Well, of course there will be pros for the cons. There nearly always are. I tend to think that person a’s benefiting from this would not justify person b’s suffering damages. I imagine that you would agree.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Public Pokemon cannot appear anywhere. There are defined spawn points. And with their prior game (Ingress), they explicitly removed all game elements from K-12 schools, to make sure schools wouldn’t complain about students playing during class. (Colleges are another matter.)

          • gbdub says:

            Yes, there are spawn points, but as far as I can tell they are effectively “everywhere”, in any case very widely distributed. Certainly there are in my own neighborhood (my own house) frequently Pokémon in my virtual backyard on obviously private property.

          • Jiro says:

            The game allows Pokemon to appear anywhere. However, increasing the rate of Pokemon appearance using a special item must be done at a Pokestop. Pokestops cannot be anywhere.

            Also, Pokestops are the main way to get items without paying for microtransactions.

          • Certainly there are in my own neighborhood (my own house) frequently Pokémon in my virtual backyard on obviously private property.

            Daughter found one inside our house.

          • Julie K says:

            Daughter found one inside our house.

            Now I’m picturing a game inspired by the scene where Harry Potter and Ron are removing magical pests from Ron’s garden.

          • There’s a dragon in the garage which is only visiable to people with smartphones.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Yes, there are spawn points, but as far as I can tell they are effectively “everywhere”, in any case very widely distributed.

            You reveal you live in a major city. If you have any friends in the country, or even the lightly populated suburbs or new subdivisions, ask them what they see. The spawn points were originally defined based off of geolocation data of people’s network usage.

            And for the purposes of this subthread, where we are asking how much control Niantic has over them, yes, this distinction is exactly what matters. Niantic can easily remove all spawn points from your property if they want, or put a bunch of spawn points on it.

            There are about 100 different categories of spawn points that are used to influence the RNG that spawns Pokemon.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            It is my understanding that while pokemon will spawn on private property, it will generally only be in locations that are accessible from public property – that is, a pokemon might pop up in our backyard, but if so it’ll be in range to be grabbed by someone on the street outside, no trespassing necessary.

            This has on the whole been confirmed by experience; we have friends who have a farm, and sure enough, as soon as we turn off the public road, pokemon mysteriously stop appearing.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            This is why the man who was suing Niantic because “5 people knocked on my door asking to catch the pokemon in my backyard” was almost surely lying.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            Well, I mean, it’s… not inconceivable someone didn’t understand the game very well and thought s/he needed permission?

            … but it seems pretty clear to me…

        • Zorgon says:

          virtual bug catching

          Ew.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Well, it was invented by an autistic guy who loved collected bugs and wanted to build a video game around that, so “virtual bug collecting” is a pretty good description.

          • It’s better than it sounds.

            Particularly since they are not bugs, but more comic-fied fantastical creatures.

            I loved Red/Blue and Gold/Silver. Never finished Ruby/Sapphire, and found Diamond rather uncompelling.

            The real-life Pokémon Go has absolutely no similarity to the gameplay. I tried for a few days. All the fun of Baal runs, except with actual running in actual heat and no awesome spells.

            F*** that noise.

  3. Dr Dealgood says:

    SSCience Thread
    ~SSCience~

    “Afternoon of the Living Thread”
    (Did Scott already make this pun?)

    Anyway, this is a spot to post and discuss any interesting scientific / mathematical research which has caught your eye recently. Especially interesting articles will be carried over to the next visible OT.

    To start things off:
    Increased nuclear Olig1-expression in the pregenual anterior cingulate white matter of patients with major depression: A regenerative attempt to compensate oligodendrocyte loss?

    This article is a little dense, but the basic point is that depression is marked by both a reduction in the number of mature oligodendrocytes (glia which produce myelin in the brain) and an increase in the number of oligodendrocyte precursor cells. For some reason they fail to differentiate and replace the lost cells. This is very similar to what happens in multiple sclerosis, making another interesting connection between the seemingly-unrelated disorders.

    Edit: Can people get past paywalls? I have institutional access but if most people can’t see stuff behind Science Direct I can look for more hospitable links.

    Please keep discussion civil and apolitical.

    • Nornagest says:

      Did Scott already make this pun?

      Not exactly, but he did do "When Hell is Full, the Thread Will Walk the Earth".

    • Chalid says:

      Does Academic Research Destroy Stock Return Predictability?

      Academics are constantly publishing ways to predict stocks’ returns. It’s commonly believed that once a strategy is well-known (i.e. from being published) then it won’t work anymore, because too many people will try to exploit the mispricing and in so doing they will eliminate it. This paper studies this effect: “We study the out‐of‐sample and post‐publication return predictability of 97 variables shown to predict cross‐sectional stock returns. Portfolio returns are 26% lower out‐of‐sample and 58% lower post‐publication… Predictor portfolios exhibit post‐publication increases in correlations with other published‐predictor portfolios.”

      So investors really do start adopting strategies after reading about them in academic journals, and this really does drive down returns, but not all the way to zero.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Thanks, that looks really interesting!

      • Lumifer says:

        Without actually reading the paper : -/ let me point out two relevant observations:

        * There is a lot of “shadow” (=non-academic) financial research. The heuristic is the reverse of the usual: “If your research succeeds, you trade; if it doesn’t, you publish”. Therefore published academic research is typically not the state of the art.

        * If you went p-hacking into the garden of forking paths, your research will not replicate. The way this will show up is that your portfolio returns will regress to the mean and will be lower “out of sample and post-publication”. So low out-of-sample returns are evidence for at least two different hypotheses: (a) the market self-corrects to eliminate excess returns; (b) the pattern found was spurious to begin with.

        • Chalid says:

          Your second point is discussed in the paper. The 26% drop in profitability out of sample, but before publication, is an upper bound on the effect of statistical bias. (Upper bound because surely some practitioners discover the effect between the sample’s end and the publication date.) I thought this was surprisingly low – apparently academic finance is actually pretty good at avoiding data-snooping bias!

          For your first point – I don’t have anything like a representative sample of what people do in finance, but in my little corner of the field, people spend a decent amount of time looking at academic papers. But of course you never just copy the paper, because you typically have more resources, better data, etc. than the academics have, and because you have to deal with practicalities of real-life trading. So I’d say that a lot of strategies aren’t copied from academic research, but are inspired by it. Is it different where you are?

          • Lumifer says:

            The 26% drop in profitability out of sample, but before publication, is an upper bound on the effect of statistical bias.

            Not sure it’s an upper bound. The thing is, financial markets are unstable (in the statistical sense) and their (meta-)characteristics change all the times, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. So if the paper managed to capture a real pattern, but the pattern is drifting, it’s conclusions will be valid for some time, but will become less valid the more time passes.

            But of course you never just copy the paper

            Heh. The first thing you do is you try to replicate the findings. You’ve heard of the whole replication crisis in science, I presume? : -/

          • Chalid says:

            the paper managed to capture a real pattern, but the pattern is drifting, it’s conclusions will be valid for some time, but will become less valid the more time passes

            … which explains some part of the 26% drop on returns going from in-sample to out-of-sample, which then implies that 26% remains an upper bound on what we can attribute to data mining issues, right?

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Chalid

            The problem is that if you have some underlying drift in the characteristics, there is no such thing as upper bound on data mining.

            Let’s say you found a pattern which drifts away on a time scale of months. Your first out-of-sample months are a bit worse than what the fit predicted. After about a year they are a lot worse. And after a couple of years your model’s output is not predictive at all.

            But wait! There’s more! The pattern can drift against you and your model can actually go into negatives and start being anti-predictive. Ah, you say, but I’ll just flip the sign. Sure, but the pattern continues to drift and are you quite sure it won’t drift back..?

          • Chalid says:

            I understand and agree with everything you said, except for the bit where you conclude that it means there’s no such thing as an upper bound on data mining. I don’t even know what you mean by that.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Chalid

            The idea of the upper boundary on data mining implies that there is a stable baseline and you can measure things off it which is not the case here.

            But let’s take an example. Say you put your magical model maker on “High”, it spins and whirls and dances a little jig, and finally spits out a model which creates a portfolio with the expected return of 100% annually. You go WE ARE GONNA BE RICH! and dance a little jig yourself, but then you realize that you might have overfit a wee bit and go looking for appropriate corrections. Lo and behold, you come upon this paper which tells you that the upper bound of your optimism is merely 26%.

            So you decide that this means your portfolio will return at least 74% which is good enough. You max out your credit cards and borrow to the hilt from all your friends and family, invest it all, and…

            You know how the story ends, right? X -/

          • Chalid says:

            That’s completely irrelevant. The 26% bound is on the average data mining effect within an existing population of already-published papers.

            Obviously one could generate a horrendously overfitted strategy with impressive in-sample returns. What the “26%” tells us is that finance academics generally have generally been doing a pretty good job of avoiding this trap.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Chalid

            finance academics generally have generally been doing a pretty good job of avoiding this trap

            Heh. Go tell someone from hard sciences that being off by a quarter is doing a good job : -)

            But if you are talking about the data analysed in this paper, sure, this 26% is a particular sample metric that comes from this particular sample.

          • Eltargrim says:

            Heh. Go tell someone from hard sciences that being off by a quarter is doing a good job : -)

            That’s the kind of thing that keeps me up at night.

    • 80hz says:

      What happened to the SciFi thread? Did I read that Arthur C. Clarke short story for nothing?

    • anon says:

      Regarding paywalls, somehow that journal has managed to sci-hub-proof itself. 🙁

  4. Pseudonymous says:

    Relevant to the recent discussion of weird childhood memories, does anyone else have sudden-onset childhood amnesia?

    I don’t mean just not being able to remember things that happened when you were very young, which seems to be the standard usage of “childhood amnesia”. I remember a clear dividing line before which there is nothing, and then the lights come on all at once.

    The demarcation point was in the middle of a dream I was having aged 3. I remember waking up and thinking something like “huh, I can’t remember anything ever, maybe I should tell an adult – eh, they probably wouldn’t believe me, whatever”, and not wanting to go to preschool because I wouldn’t know anyone there. I still had language and could recognise my parents, though.

    Does anybody else have a similar amnesia-event memory from childhood, or know what might be behind it? It doesn’t seem to be a common experience looking at Google, so I’m worried I might have had a mini-stroke or something.

    • Some Guy says:

      My earliest memory isan experience that was kind of the opposite of yours.

      I had taken a bunch of toy cars and lined them up on a low, narrow shelf in such a way that the shelf aspirated to be a two lane road.

      I was so pleased with this arrangement that I had a thought that wad basically the toddler equivalent of “this is such a cool setup that I really need to concentrate on remembering it.”

      Lo and behold, that is my earliest memory.

      • Seibert says:

        My first memory was similar. I remember folding up my bed in a way that used the mattress to kind of catapult me off. I thought to myself that I hadn’t remember much about my life before then and that I wanted to remember this moment. This arrangement of bed catapulting fun. This moment with my brother. So I focused and created my first memory just after I turned 4.

      • LPSP says:

        Yeah, I have an exact equivalent to this. When I was 4, I noticed that my house was number 4, and that today was the 4th. So I relentlessly pestered my mother to find another 4 about today to complete the pattern, and to try and get validation for my discovery. Literally nothing exists in my mind before that point.

      • Very interesting! I wonder how many times you might have previously tried to create your first memory and failed.

    • Jill says:

      I suppose it’s possible you could have had had a min-stroke. OTOH, children’s ideas of the world can be rather different from adult’s ideas. And apparently you were able to remember enough of what preschool, and your daily life, was about, for you to keep going on, and not have anyone notice what happened. So maybe whatever part of your memory you lost was less significant than you thought at the time. Or your mind could have been preventing you from remembering some trauma or other experience that you couldn’t handle, but you still remembered plenty of other things.

      • Deiseach says:

        I wonder if 3 or thereabouts is the age at which we begin to be able to retrieve long-term memories consciously? My grandfather died when I was about 2 and although there are photos of me with him and my mother told me anecdotes about what we did, I don’t remember him at all and have no visual image connected with him.

        On the other hand, the earliest memory I have is from about the age of 3, and it’s one recorded in a photo, and I can still recall the feelings and thoughts I had at the time.

        So maybe our brains are not wired up yet until around 3 years of age to let us store and retrieve memories consciously; we learn how to speak and walk and we recognise and know people, but we can’t get at memories formed before the age of 3 because the connections are just not physically laid down yet?

        • Nornagest says:

          Pretty much. The phrase is “childhood amnesia“.

          My earliest memory (that I can assign a firm date to) came in at a few months short of three years, although I don’t remember starting to acquire memories like some others here have.

          • Amanda says:

            My kids have pretty well demonstrated that while under three(ish), they could remember specific events that happened in the past–say, a 2.5 year-old remembering an event from six months earlier or more. However none of them, once older (say five? I don’t check this rigorously), can remember anything from under three(ish) years, not even those same things. It’s almost like a strange memory-erasure-line.

          • Cadie says:

            I have a memory that seems to be from well before age 3, but I can’t be absolutely sure if I’m remembering the real event, or something very similar from a year or two later. I was laughing in my dad’s dark red car, in a brown car seat. I was also being carried as he walked down a city block that winter. Either I remember stuff from around the time I turned 2, or my memory of the car color is wrong and the winter walk when at almost-2 was actually a year later at almost-3.

            The latter explanation seems more likely, but I’m not sure.

    • nyccine says:

      Mine is almost exactly the same – I recall getting out of bed, going downstairs, knowing all the people in the home, but could not and still cannot recall any specific events before this point. I would have been around 3 as well.

    • I could not open the door of my Dad’s pick-up truck. My Mom started the car. I thought she was going to leave me in the supermarket parking lot, so I ran to the dent in the front and started hitting it, because it seemed like the most likely place I could punch through the steel first.

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      Does the existence of recorded material change this? As a kid, I used to rewatch footage from possibly my very first family vacation, and that might have enabled me to remember things from earlier than if I hadn’t had that footage available. It helped that I had a few first-time intense sensory experiences, as well as another intense emotional experience during said vacation, so rewatching that footage also reinforced those strong memories. But now, other than those incidents, I don’t remember anything else that happened on that trip, even the stuff that’s in the recorded footage, which I haven’t watched in decades.

    • Murphy says:

      I know with reasonable certainty that my first coherent memories are at least partially fabrications.

      What I consider my earliest memory involved toddling into the kitchen and looking around. Nothing terribly notable but details of it are definitely fabricated by my mind later since the memory involves floor tiles which weren’t put in until much later.

      But then memory is terribly malleable. I remember running around the family car and into the house before falling and hurting myself but the family car wasn’t there that day because my mom needed to get a lift from a neighbour to get me into the hospital.

      It seems reasonable to assume that every time I re-remember the events I subtly alter the memory until lots of fake details end up included.

      • Tom Bri says:

        I noted this with my daughter. For several years after a vacation, she clearly remembered it. When she was about 6, all of the sudden she had no recollections of that vacation, even though we had talked about it often. It was just gone.

  5. Jobless CS says:

    I am a computer science graduate who is having difficulty finding a job. I left my first job due to mental health issues and have been sending out resumes with little success. I live in Atlantic canada if that is a contributing factor.

    • 80hz says:

      What are you looking for help with exactly?

      • Jobless CS says:

        Basically anything, ways to meet people, ways to write a proper resume.

        • 80hz says:

          Ways to meet people: user groups. They can be found on Meetup.com, for example. Every user group meeting I’ve ever been to starts with a round of going around the room and answering either “Is anybody here hiring?” or “Is anybody here looking for a job?”

          Ways to write a proper resume: that one’s tougher. There are of course lots of online resources, but I don’t think my resumes got good until I started reading resumes, focusing on the ones I liked or that caught my attention, and stealing ideas from them. You can find other people’s resumes online. I suggest starting with famous people in your field who you admire–some of them might have their resumes posted. You might also even be able to email them and ask for one.

          Oh, and always have your resume proofread by someone before you apply for a job. It’s best if that person has some marketing or design background, because those kinds of people are good at understanding what kinds of first impressions are made by a document.

          Are your mental health issues directly related to why you’re having trouble getting work? Sorry to state the obvious, but if so then you should try and address those issues ASAP.

        • Mr. Breakfast says:

          You could put your current resume up somewhere, let us group-critique it.

          What kind of companies are you looking to work for? How are you approaching them?

    • Eltargrim says:

      I live in Atlantic canada if that is a contributing factor.

      Yeah, that might have something to do with it. My understanding is that if you’re not in the Halifax area, the offerings are pretty slim, and even if you are in the Halifax area jobs can still be hard to come by.

      Are you willing to relocate to southern Ontario? I understand that CS jobs are somewhat more plentiful there.

  6. 80hz says:

    Is bigotry a widely misused term, or is my understanding of it wrong?

    I define bigotry as an unwillingness to seriously consider–or at least listen in good faith to–the other side of an argument. A working definition of bigotry is it’s the opposite of the belief that rational & intelligent people can disagree on all kinds of things. Another one is: a stubborn attachment to one’s own opinions (this seems to be approximately the definition at Merriam Webster.)

    Instead it seems like many people use bigotry to mean whatever views they find objectionable.

    Let’s say we go with the “Well, language evolves, words change meaning” approach. In that case, what’s another term I can substitute? I need something that still has that same negative connotation.

    • herbert herbertson says:

      I would definitely call your definition overly broad. Bigotry, to me, means bias based on group membership and/or a characteristic that imputes a group membership.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        Yeah, I’ve only ever heard it used to describe someone ostensibly guilty of one of the -isms or -phobias (no, not surrealism or ophidiophobia). If I called someone a bigot because they were unwilling even to listen to my spiel about free trade I would just get a lot of confused stares.

      • 80hz says:

        Your definition seems even broader than mine.

        For example, if person A says “Homosexuality is wrong because my Bible says so” and person B says “You’re a moron for believing that horse crap,” A is biased based on his membership in a Bible-believing group, and B is biased based on his membership in a non-Bible-believing group. So they’re both definitely bigots under your definition.

        Under my definition, given the same information, only B is definitely a bigot. (A might have earnestly considered B’s arguments but decided his Bible was the more valuable source of knowledge, while B displays a clear lack of interest in considering A’s arguments at all.) This means my definition is, in this case at least, actually narrower.

        • Dank says:

          You aren’t a bigot because you are a member of a group, but because you judge someone else for being a member of a group.

          • 80hz says:

            OK, so in Herbert’s definition, A is definitely bigoted against homosexuals for violating the Bible, and B is definitely bigoted against A for being a Bible-believer.

            That’s still a higher definite-bigot count than I got with my definition.

          • herbert herbertson says:

            In that particular case it’s broader. But if it’s “a stubborn attachment to one’s own opinions” made for irrational reasons, then things like my fiance’s brand loyalty to a certain type of boxed maccorini and cheese–not even willing to try others!–qualifies her as a bigot.

            But, whatevs, if you want to die on the hill of the specificity of your idiosyncratic definition of a common word, you’ll have to find someone else to climb up there and kill you.

          • 80hz says:

            I think there’s an implied clause about “matters of import”.

          • Bryan Hann says:

            Herbert wrote: “a stubborn attachment to one’s own opinions”

            That’s about what I’ve long gone by, with ‘obstinate’ for ‘stubborn’.

          • Bryan Hann says:

            One can be a bigoted regarding literature or music. Many are.

    • Alethenous says:

      As an aside, I think it says something highly negative about my own rationality that I really hate the “language evolves” argument, even though I find it hard to argue with. It only ever seems to work one way, to kill off or at least weaken interesting and useful words: literally, infer/imply, uninterested/disinterested, bigot, etc.

      Anyway, how about sanctimonious? That has more of a moral sense, though. Closed-minded? Intellectually arrogant?

      • Diadem says:

        Language evolution certainly does work both ways. We lose words, but we also gain words. A word like “truthiness” is a very nice recent invention.

        Many of the go-to examples of language getting worse that people tend to use also aren’t very good. For example you mention the word ‘literally’. But the figurative use of literally has literally been around forever. Even Shakespeare uses it, as do many other renowned writers. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. It’s a very succinct way of invoking a strong mental picture.

        Personally I’ve always loved playing with language. Making up words, verbing nouns or nouning verbs, playing hopscotch with idiom. It’s fun!

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Not to to mention that words like “very” and “truly” show that words mean “actually” are likely to be coopted as superlatives. I think it’s just how human minds work.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          @ Diadem
          Personally I’ve always loved playing with language. Making up words, verbing nouns or nouning verbs, playing hopscotch with idiom.

          Inventing new words etc is great. But ruining an important existing tool is not.

      • Patrick Merchant says:

        Sure, language evolves – but if one of every three people (citation needed) finds the misuse of the word “literally” infuriating, then is it fair to say that the word “literally” has evolved into a synonym for “figuratively”? I think most people just use this argument as a way of shutting down linguistic prescriptivists, even when those prescriptivists are just trying to keep valuable words in circulation, or prevent unnecessary ambiguity/confusion in how we speak.

        • As far as I can tell , “,literally” now means “,without exaggeration”

          • gbdub says:

            Except that it’s almost always followed by an exaggeration, usually a figurative one.

            “I am literally working my ass off”.

            Basically it’s become an all-purpose intensifier.

          • Adam says:

            I think this is actually telling of how people intend this and why they use the word “literally.” “Working my ass off” has a clear figurative meaning. You’re working very hard to the point of exhaustion where whatever part of you you’re working can’t work any more. But since this idiom is itself subject to exaggeration creep, you need a way of signifying that you really are, in fact, working very hard, so say you’re “literally” working your ass off, which means you’re literally doing the actual thing that a figurative idiom refers to.

            Take “it’s literally raining cats and dogs.” This isn’t intended to mean cats and dogs are falling from the sky. It’s intended to mean that it literally is raining very hard, unlike when it’s only raining a little bit hard but people still say “cats and dogs.”

          • Deiseach says:

            “Literally” does seem to be used not alone in the sense of “figuratively” but in “so exaggerated it is unbelievable”, as in “When they laughed at me when the heel of my shoe broke, Jon, I literally died of shame” delivered in a tone of utmost sincerity and with every indication that the speaker does indeed feel that the experience was on the same level as real, actual death.

            So perhaps that is what the current usage of “literally” is evolving towards: not to be taken as a description of physical fact but as expressing the authenticity and sincerity of the emotional impact on the speaker, or the vital importance of the topic the speaker is discussing?

          • John Nerst says:

            “Literally” doesn’t really mean “figuratively”. People usually don’t indicate figurativeness explicitly… it is, however, frequently used in figurative expressions.

            I’d argue “literally” works as a way to invigorate worn-out metaphors by forcing you to think about what they literally mean. Example: The first time someone said “He got so angry he bit my head off!” it was a powerful image. The six-thousanth time, not so much. You don’t even think about its literal meaning any more. If you want to say something with the same meaning, you can’t use the same phrase – you have to break through the abstraction by indicating concreteness.

            More thorough argument here.

            Disclaimer: I don’t mean to say that this hypothesis explains each and every instance of use.

      • DrBeat says:

        The “language evolves!” argument, if actually believed, would mean that words cannot be used incorrectly. If words cannot be used incorrectly, they cannot be used correctly, any degree of communication is impossible, and everyone should kill themselves immediately to escape the nightmare. Nobody who makes the “language evolves!” argument to defend damaging the definitions of words believes any of those things. Therefore, I conclude that people who say it is okay to damage the definitions of words into meaninglessness because “language evolves!” do not actually believe it, but DO actually believe they see an opportunity to gain power and status by expressing contempt and superiority to another person.

        • Alex says:

          You are terribly misrepresenting the argument.

          The language evolves argument in this case goes thus:

          If the term “bigotry” is regularly used, by speakers, to convey some meaning M and understood by listeners to have that meaning then M is a correct meaning of that term, no matter [and this is the so called evolutionary part] if the term has been used so in the past.

          The argument, if executed correctly and not in the strawmanned fashion you suggest, is a (IMO correct) refutation of the idea that term T cannot possibly have meaning M because it didn’t have that meaning “back in the day”.

          There is absolutely nothing in the argument that, “if actually believed” would make communication impossible. On the contrary it declares as correct whatever enables communication now as opposed to whatever was deemed correct in the past.

          Conversely, to claim that M is not a correct meaning of “bigotry” is to claim that if a speaker used it that way, the claimant would not understand what the speaker meant. I suspect that this claim is often made insincerely, the claimants true motives being misguided stylistics.

          • DrBeat says:

            The single most important determining factor of whether someone understands the meaning of words spoken by another person is if they WANT to understand them. Whether or not they will gain power and status by understanding meaning or by not understanding meaning.

            So even under this model, words don’t actually have meanings and communication is impossible. There is only endless plays at status and all words are judged solely on if they come from the mouth of a popular person.

          • Alex says:

            The single most important determining factor of whether someone understands the meaning of words spoken by another person is if they WANT to understand them.

            This is trivially false. If you were talking Swaheli to me no matter how much I WANTED to understand you, I could not do it.

            Which is to say the question if we are talking the same language, i. e. if I could understand you if I wanted to, and the question if we actually understand eachother are orthogonal and should not be conflated.

            Whether or not they will gain power and status by understanding meaning or by not understanding meaning.

            So even under this model, words don’t actually have meanings and communication is impossible. There is only endless plays at status and all words are judged solely on if they come from the mouth of a popular person.

            I agree that this does happen, but it is not a language problem. If your point is that people say “language evolves” to defend themselves being assholes, you might be correct. I don’t know, all sorts of things happen.

            Can we conclude from that observation, that language does not in fact evolve? Certainly not. Should we ban the phrase/argument altogether because it gets abused? I think not.

        • I think “language evolves” works if you take the metaphor seriously.

          A person makes a change in the language– new word, shift in meaning for old word, grammatical change, new word order, whatever. This is mutation.

          Other people either pick up the change or they don’t. This is selection.

          Now that I think about it, the situation is more complicated than biological evolution because in addition to the unmediated effect of changes, we also have people advocating for and against changes with varying degrees of success.

          • 80hz says:

            I like to use a different literal analogy, which is that language is a big open-source technology.

          • Patrick Merchant says:

            I think “language evolves” works if you take the metaphor seriously.

            A person makes a change in the language– new word, shift in meaning for old word, grammatical change, new word order, whatever. This is mutation.

            Other people either pick up the change or they don’t. This is selection.

            My feelings exactly!

            The criteria that determines selective success in this environment is hard to pin down, but I think it’s some combination of easy to pronounce + simplest possible definition. “Knife” used to be pronounced “kuh-nife,” but the lower classes couldn’t read or write at the time, so they just pronounced it “nife” because that was easier. Nobody could prove them wrong, so it stuck. In terms of definitions, words like “irony” mutate because their real definitions are hard to articulate, but everybody has a vague sense of what the word means. So they start applying it to things that aren’t strictly ironic (I’m pretending to like Nine Inch Nails, but actually I hate them), and a new definition is born.

            Linguistic prescriptivism is kinda like eugenics, then. You create a new criteria – external to the regular selective criteria – and forcibly apply it.

            At their best, prescriptivists select for clarity and precision. There is no word that means precisely what irony (the original version) means, so allowing it to mutate and change is unacceptable to them. And having “literally” be a synonym for “figuratively” is needlessly confusing.

            At their worst, prescriptivists just arbitrarily preserve older versions of languages with zero mutational tolerance. IF WE LET PEOPLE INVENT A SINGULAR “THEY,” HOW WILL ANYONE UNDERSTAND ONE ANOTHER? ENGLISH IS RUINED

          • The criteria that determines selective success in this environment is hard to pin down, but I think it’s some combination of easy to pronounce + simplest possible definition. “Knife” used to be pronounced “kuh-nife,” but the lower classes couldn’t read or write at the time, so they just pronounced it “nife” because that was easier. Nobody could prove them wrong, so it stuck.

            This is probably true to a degree—phonological change tends to reduce and elide segments rather than to strengthen or insert them, and semantic change tends to broaden meanings rather than specialize them. But there are exceptions. Sometimes sounds get inserted rather than elided, as in modern English thunder < Old English þunor or French écrire < Latin scrībere. The German word for ‘moon’, Mond, was mano in an older form of the language; it acquired a final -d for no apparent reason. Meanings can become more specific, as well as less specific: deer could refer to any animal in Old English, man and girl used to be gender-neutral terms, queen was originally the word for any woman, virtue was in Latin literally (heh) just the word for manliness (vir = ‘man’, -tus = ‘-ness’). And a lot of, if not most linguistic changes are just neutral, neither simplifying the language or complicating it. In that respect most linguistic change is more like genetic drift than adaptation.

        • Lumifer says:

          The “language evolves!” argument, if actually believed, would mean that words cannot be used incorrectly.

          You are going deep into straw land.

          Language is a social phenomenon. A whole society or a community of speakers cannot use words incorrectly (yes, I know, some Academies disagree). An individual can use the words incorrectly very easily and many people do that all the time.

          The point of language is to communicate. If the words used fulfill that function well, they are used correctly.

        • Adam says:

          Except we have been writing down history for a long time and, thankfully, language evolves on a much faster timescale than biological evolution, so denying this happens is even more bizarre than denying biological evolution.

          Take the word “biscuit.” Thanks to where I grew up, I’d use it primarily to refer to what I believe was called a “soft bun” a few hundred years ago. Someone raised elsewhere in the world might use it to refer to what I would call a “cookie.” It Italy, they have the very similar word descended from the same Latin root, “biscotti,” which refers to something sufficiently different that English speakers have simply adopted it as a loan word. 1500 years ago, the only word that was spoken by people whose descendants would eventually use all three of these differently was “biscotum,” from “panis bis cotus,” roughly translated “bread twice-baked,” which these days, I believe comes closest to describing how biscotti is cooked but doesn’t make much sense in either English usage.

          Nonetheless, for the last 1500 years, somehow, miraculously, humans have been communicating with each other, successfully enough to fuck and build cities and nuclear weapons.

          The most charitable way to interpret what you said is that you definitely don’t mean this descriptively, know damn well that language does evolve and people nonetheless manage to communicate with each other, but you believe we need to freeze this evolution and keep language exactly where it happens to be right now for all time, because somehow now is different and, this time, communication really will be impossible and the suicide of 7 billion people will be the most sensible reaction.

          • I recommend C.S. Lewis’ Studies in Words— he discusses how the meanings of about half a dozen words have changed. For example, “wit” went from wisdom to empty cleverness to sharp cleverness.

            I’m interested in other books that discuss changes in meanings of words.

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            I once wrote this giant rant about hating that Arbelas and Scissor gladiators are conflated and how that makes no sense considering that some people attribute the invention of the sliding-blade scissors to the Romans, and that there’s no reason why the Arbelas’s crescent blade even achieves the “carver” description.
            Then I did some more research and found that the shears, from which the scissors were derived, fell under the term Forfex. Oops.

            Along the way, I found that scythe is spelled the way it is because people misattributed it to Latin origins that it doesn’t come from, and a similar reason as to why we use the term scissors for the descendant of Forfex, (the term of which would evolve to Falx and Fork) instead of with regards to cleavers, like it should be.

            GORRAMIT I JUST WANTED THIS ONE CHARACTER IN MY GLADIATOR AU TO WIELD SHEARS DOESN’T THAT IMAGERY ALONE SOUND FUCKING AWESOME
            *shakes fist at Marcus Junkelmann* That was fucking unlabelled picture, Marcus, super arbitrary decision you made there, man.

            (Ultimately, I decided to just invoke Rule of Cool for that character design.)

          • Deiseach says:

            Having prescriptivist tendencies myself, might I suggest that the worst fighting between the “X means X” and “language evolves” sides happens in the mushy middle, where the meaning of X is beginning to slide towards Y, but hasn’t made it all the way there yet.

            So some people are using X to mean X, some people are using X to mean Y, and there is genuine confusion about which meaning is intended, and no real way to sort out who gets to decide (usually it ends up with the passage of time and either the majority of the population who speak that language adopt the new meaning, or the novelty never catches on and it dies a natural death).

            Look at the opportunity for the kind of classroom giggling over older usages of words like “gay” and “queer”, not to mention “ejaculations”; I was raised with the phrase ‘pious ejaculations’ to mean short prayers or blessings (e.g. “God have mercy on the souls of the dead” and the like) but as you can image, such language has fallen out of favour nowadays (even in things like the title of the Blessed Virgin as “Mother of Perpetual Help” being adopted instead of “Mother of Perpetual Succour” because “Succour” is too unfamiliar a word or might be confused with “sucker”).

          • Randy M says:

            Not to mention that sexual intercourse wasn’t always redundant, but watch out saying you had intercourse with the neighbor through the back fence or anything of the sort.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Deiseach
            Having prescriptivist tendencies myself, might I suggest that the worst fighting between the “X means X” and “language evolves” sides happens in the mushy middle, where the meaning of X is beginning to slide towards Y, but hasn’t made it all the way there yet.

            I’m still looking for a good metaphor for this. I’m thinking of the way an epidemic spreads, or a wildfire. Or an ‘invasive species’.

            X is a good and interesting plant, within its original habitat.. But if it spreads too far outside that habitat, it grows into something useless, and eventually takes over the original habitat, so the original form survives only in walled gardens.

            We can map the areas where the plant is still in its original form, good and usefull; other areas where it has changed form but is filling a different need; and others where it is a weak, weedy synomym for ‘great’, ‘wonderful’, ‘awesome’, etc. So some areas would be worth defending, and some not.

            So imo using the ‘abusing/evolves’ argument depends on which kind of ‘area’ (ie conversation/speakers) you’re in. If the original meaning is already lost by this group, or they’re probably not capable of getting your point, trying to correct them would be wasted effort. If they’re having an on-track debate, all of them innocently saying ‘uninterested’ instead of ‘disinterested’, trying to correct them would be derailing their debate, and might deserve the rebuke “language evolves”.

            But if the group is capable of getting and enjoys such points, then the plonkingly obvious “language evolves” is what’s out of line.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            not to mention “ejaculations”;

            I still remember as a schoolboy coming across a line from one of Agatha Christie’s short stories: “As he read the letter, the captain stiffened visibly, and when he reached the end he gave a short ejaculation.”

            Incidentally, welcome back.

          • Deiseach says:

            Randy M, or novels where characters are described as “he made furious love to me” and it’s not that they were having rough sex, it’s that he was making advances to her/courting her with verbal declarations of love and passion and maybe some embracing and kissing.

            The original Mr X, yes, the Captain stiffening and then ejaculating is the sort of thing which you would now get a lot of in Black Sails slash fanfiction but not elsewhere 🙂 (Thank you for the kind wishes).

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Randy M, or novels where characters are described as “he made furious love to me” and it’s not that they were having rough sex, it’s that he was making advances to her/courting her with verbal declarations of love and passion and maybe some embracing and kissing.

            Ooh, that reminds me of the bit from The Silver Chair: “Though [Jill’s] tongue was never still, you could hardly say she talked. She made love to everyone — the grooms, the porters, the housemaids, the ladies-in-waiting, and the elderly giant lords whose hunting days were past.”

          • Loquat says:

            Also the bit from the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist in which the client, a young woman, complains that a certain man “made odious love to me”.

            The story also sheds some interesting light on 19th-century views on marriage law, as it ends with the above man trying to marry the woman by force, and Holmes has to explain to everyone that no, in fact, a wedding ceremony where one party is bound and gagged is not legally binding. But just in case any readers have doubts about that, the clergyman had previously lost his license anyway.

          • Anonymous says:

            The story also sheds some interesting light on 19th-century views on marriage law

            There’s some really peculiar stuff about marriage law in the Sherlock Holmes stories, most notably the bit in The Abbey Grange where the recently widowed woman goes off in the middle of a narrative about getting beaten up by hoodlums and seeing her husband’s face stove in and starts to yell about how unjust it is that divorce is illegal in England.

            Doyle was… not great… at holding back his views on the subject, it seems.

          • Deiseach says:

            Oh yes, the “Silver Chair” bit where Jill is deliberately being winning and sweet and adorable and enticing the affections of all the giants, and even playing younger than she actually is to the point nearly of baby-talk, so that they’ll feel sorry for her (it’s also a great way of showing how sentimentality can lie easily beside cruelty, because the giants may be sorry in a shallow way for Jill and the others, but they’re still going to eat them).

            Doyle had personal reasons for wanting divorce law reformed (it wasn’t illegal but there was no such thing as ‘no-fault divorce’ and only limited grounds for obtaining divorce), but it pops up very strangely in “Dracula” as well, and I’m not aware that Stoker had any marriage problems; divorce law reform was one of the progressive causes of the day, it seems:

            “Well, for the life of me, Professor,” I said, “I can’t see anything to laugh at in all that. Why, your explanation makes it a harder puzzle than before. But even if the burial service was comic, what about poor Art and his trouble? Why, his heart was simply breaking.”
            “Just so. Said he not that the transfusion of his blood to her veins had made her truly his bride?”
            “Yes, and it was a sweet and comforting idea for him.”
            “Quite so. But there was a difficulty, friend John. If so that, then what about the others? Ho, ho! Then this so sweet maid is a polyandrist, and me, with my poor wife dead to me, but alive by Church’s law, though no wits, all gone — even I, who am faithful husband to this now-no-wife, am bigamist.”
            “I don’t see where the joke comes in there either!” I said; and I did not feel particularly pleased with him for saying such things.

            It’s rather odd to put such a speech in van Helsing’s mouth, as he seems to be saying that his wife’s insanity means she is no longer his wife (or that it should be grounds for divorce) but as a Catholic he is held to still be married to her, given that he is otherwise shown to be a devout and faithful Catholic, so presumably he would not complain about Church teaching on divorce as distinct from the civil law of the land. But Stoker was Church of Ireland, not Roman Catholic, and writing for a majority Protestant audience and clearly taking the opportunity to slip in a plea for allowing “insanity as grounds for divorce” by putting it in the mouth of a foreigner who is of a different religion.

            The Holmes story is even stranger, as it is set in 1897 but under a new law of 1857 “a husband could petition for divorce on the sole grounds that his wife had committed adultery; whereas a wife could only hope for a divorce based on adultery combined with other offenses such as incest, cruelty, bigamy, desertion, etc., or based on cruelty alone. The Act allowed legal separation by either husband or wife on grounds of adultery, cruelty, or desertion. The Act also required that a suit by a husband for adultery name the adulterer as a co-respondent, whereas this was not required in a suit by a wife.”

            Now, Lady Brackenstall can easily get a separation and even file for divorce on the grounds of cruelty, as it’s evident her husband is physically violent and abusive to her. That impassioned speech about being tied for life to a drunkard doesn’t apply to her situation, unless he were simply an alcoholic who never otherwise laid a hand on her.

            But the underlying causes for both Doyle and Stoker were the inability to divorce a spouse on grounds of ill-health (physical or mental) alone. The only option would be desertion, where one or other spouse abandoned their family, where in Doyle’s case he would have needed to abandon his sick wife for a period of five years after which she could sue for divorce from him on the grounds of his adultery and desertion. It wasn’t until 1937 that liberalisation of the law broadened to “shortening the time for desertion to three years, apart from instances of “hardship” and “depravity”… with instant divorce for demonstrable adultery of either partner, as well for desertion after three years, or five years if the context was severe mental illness.”

          • Anonymous says:

            That impassioned speech about being tied for life to a drunkard doesn’t apply to her situation, unless he were simply an alcoholic who never otherwise laid a hand on her.

            Not possible, since it’s a plot point that he’s stabbed her in the arm with a hatpin before.

            So yes, it’s weird in more than one way, I guess.

        • Kevin C. says:

          Tsze-lu said, “The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?”

          The Master replied, “What is necessary is to rectify names.”

          “So! indeed!” said Tsze-lu. “You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?”

          The Master said, “How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve.

          “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.

          “When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot.

          “Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.”

          –from The Analects of Confucius Chapter 13, Translated by James Legge

          When the king sets about regulating names, if the names and the realities to which they apply are made fixed and clear, so that he can carry out the Way and communicate his intentions to others, then he may guide the people with circumspection and unify them. Hence to split words and recklessly make up new names, throwing the names that have already been established into confusion, leading the people into doubt and delusion, and causing men to argue and contend with each other is a terrible evil and should be punished in the same way that one punishes those who tamper with tallies or weights and measures. If so, then the people will not dare to think up pretexts for using strange words and throwing the established names into disorder, but will become simple and honest. When the people are simple and honest, they are easy to employ, and when they are easy to employ, then much can be accomplished. Again, because the people do not dare to think up pretexts for using strange words and throwing the established names into disorder, they will be of one mind in obeying the law, and will be careful to follow orders, and if they are like that, the ruler’s accomplishments will be long lasting. When the ruler’s accomplishments are long lasting and his undertakings are brought to completion, this is the height of good government. All of this is the result of being careful to see that men stick to the names which have been agreed upon.

          –From Xunzi, section 22, “Rectifying Names”, translated by Burton Watson

      • Resonant Pyre says:

        Those are definitely sympathetic objections. In the end, don’t hate the argument, hate the evolution itself. Or be annoyed with the masses that choose to interpret and use a word in one way that is contrary to your preferred understanding of it.

        I think that multiple meanings can definitely co-exist in different contexts, but friction does arise. Language evolution in the ways described here would no doubt select for the way of using a term that appealed to the most people.

        The worst possible interpretation of that would be that it basically ensures the “dumbing down” of all, as you described, interesting and useful words. If language evolution is a thing, it’s probably been going on the since the beginning of our language though, so I’m sure we’ve found a way to cope.

        To what extent is evolution within a language in terms of changes in word meaning a thought out theory in linguistics? Anybody know?

        • Skivverus says:

          I haven’t been keeping up with the literature, but I can say that it’s taken for granted that languages evolve (and split, and die off, and recombine – see pidgins and creoles); changes in individual words are merely the most obvious ones to the layman.

          Predicting individual changes is mostly viewed as a futile exercise akin to betting on which of several thousand dice will roll a three first, but explaining past changes is another matter: to my understanding, at least, most changes are movements towards the ideals of either intelligibility or ease of production (cryptographic reasons of “only certain people should be able to understand this” mostly aren’t on the linguistic radar despite the existence of things like Thieves’ Cant and euphemism treadmills, but I expect they also contribute a certain amount to evolutionary pressure).

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            Predicting individual changes is mostly viewed as a futile exercise akin to betting on which of several thousand dice will roll a three first

            Just look at the batting average for movies attempting teen slang.

            (Although it can get murky, as in the case of Buffy fans actually adopting Whedon’s take on teenspeak, which has reverberated through into influencing fandom slang)

        • Agronomous says:

          If language evolution is a thing, it’s probably been going on the since the beginning of our language though, so I’m sure we’ve found a way to cope.

          We have indeed found a way to cope.

          That way is called linguistic prescriptivism.

      • Anton on.. [etc/REDACTED] says:

        I think it says something really dangerous about your rationality that you think it could reflect badly on you to trust your diffuse judgement rather than an argument you feel is bad but can’t prove.

        In this case the problem with the argument in question is (thankfully) relatively clear:

        No attempt is made to establish that linguistic drift has any inherent, particular, or current, -tendency to go in a good rather than bad direction, nor (worse!) that if it did, that it could not be further improved by purposeful cultivation and tending. (like not getting rid of words with no current synonyms, for one example)

         

        -Calling variations in language “language evolution” is not an argument.

        It’s disguising an unbacked assertion:

        that language “evolves”,

        -i.e. gradually develops and improves,

        by conflating it with another meaning of the word “evolves”:

        language is subject to selection pressures, whether they are good for or it or not in the long term.

         

         

        Without this the argument has nothing: seperately, one can say that language improves over time, openly without evidence or argument, and one can say that language is subject to selection pressures, whether good or bad, but smush these two meanings into one word, and say language is that, and you have a wise and mysterious argument for not tending to the branches of the tree that we stand on, -that we use to think, and feel.

         

        (Also an argument, in a different sense, for how badly language needs some serious improvements, -never mind basic maintenance)

         

        _

        One can’t assume that every malicious and negligent argument in favour of lies and falsehoods, will be conveniently easy to find the flaw in. The whole point of such arguments (generally) is to hide their flaws so well that things which follow from those flaws, if accepted, become accepted. Such arguments are both subject to selection pressures, -so you will tend to see the strongest of them, and frequently actively or designed, (or, I suppose, subconsciously or semi-consciously) to do what they do.

         

        So don’t step away from your judgement just because there’s an argument against it that you can’t (fully) refute. Your judgement is all you have to go on. It’s what you use to correct itself.

         

        (this argument does apply to itself, by the way. It is an argument about how best to approach the world. It may have some fundamental flaws, and may much more easily misalign with a particular person’s circumstances/their circumstances)

         

        p.s. I think it says something great about your rationality that you hate an argument that is both false and dangerous

      • Mary says:

        You might enjoy reading C.S. Lewis’s Studies In Words.

        Nevertheless:

        If the changes that we fear be thus irresistible, what remains but to acquiesce with silence, as in the other insurmountable distresses of humanity? It remains that we retard what we cannot repel, that we palliate what we cannot cure. Life may be lengthened by care, though death cannot be ultimately defeated: tongues, like governments, have a natural tendency to degeneration; we have long preserved our constitution, let us make some struggles for our language. — Samuel Johnson

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      @ 80hz
      what’s another term I can substitute? I need something that still has that same negative connotation.

      Googling [ close minded ] brought up a lot of support for the meaning you want, plus a lot of dispute about the spelling.

      • 80hz says:

        At first I thought “Well duh, isn’t it ‘closed-minded’?” and then thought about it for a few more seconds and realized there was a coherent argument for “close-minded”: we don’t say “hammed-fisted” or “opened-minded.” And now that I’ve thought about that, “closed-minded” doesn’t seem quite right anymore. Hah, funny how that works.

        • fubarobfusco says:

          “Open” and “close” are verbs, but “open” and “closed” are adjectives.

          Someone can be hungry-minded more grammatically than they can be eat-minded.

        • Agronomous says:

          No, it’s definitely “close-minded,” and you’ll never convince me otherwise.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Nice.

            Also, aren’t we really looking at a continuum of words where people are meaning various gradations of “biased”? More extreme cases are “prejudiced”? “Close minded” seems like just another way to indicate the same thing.

            You aren’t going to avoid negative connotation in the extreme case. It’s not possible, and no argument will convince me otherwise.

      • Gbdub says:

        That’s the word I was going to recommend as well – pretty spot on to how the OP described it. Bigotry is a whole ‘nother thing.

        • 80hz says:

          I agree closed-minded is accurate, but it lacks the necessary gravitas. You can legitimately be described as closed-minded for refusing to try a new flavor of ice cream, for example.

          Is there another term with more serious implications?

          • gbdub says:

            “Obstinate”, “obdurate”, or “intransigent” are probably best. “Pigheaded” if you’re looking to be insulting.

          • 80hz says:

            Thanks. To me, those convey an unwillingness to change one’s opinion, not an unwillingness to listen to the other side of an argument in good faith. A nuanced difference, I’ll admit.

          • gbdub says:

            Extremely nuanced. But maybe “partisan”, “prepossessed”, or “prejudicial” would be better? “Narrow minded” might fit even better than “closed minded” though those terms are apparently not sufficiently fancy for your tastes.

            The main issue with “bigoted” is that it carries a moral judgment in favor of the thing the bigotry is working against.

            For example, I am prejudiced against the arguments of ISIS. If I am exposed to their propaganda, I will be very closed-minded toward it. I will be pretty obdurate if an ISIS leader comes up to me and tries to persuade me to join ISIS.

            Would you accuse me of anti-ISIS bigotry?

          • 80hz says:

            I like the ISIS example, this is helpful. Though I’m briefly tempted to say otherwise, at the end of the day I don’t think it’s bigotry to reject ISIS propaganda without even considering it. OK, so why is this not bigotry?

            Here’s my best answer: ISIS is sufficiently hostile and sufficiently anti-intellectual that even proof of our empathy toward them and their beliefs would be certain to have no practical benefit in terms of our conflict. In other words, we aren’t trying to de-escalate a culture war with ISIS, we’re trying to win an actual one.

            Now, that said, I actually did read their English-language e-magazine once out of curiosity, and I felt much more confident in my judgments of ISIS afterward.

          • herbert herbertson says:

            I’d suggest that it’s both possible and totally ethically okay to be an anti-ISIS bigot.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ gbdub
            But maybe “partisan”, “prepossessed”, or “prejudicial” would be better?

            My perhaps too shallow impression of ‘bigot’ says that zie will not listen to Y because zis mind is already full of some important X that contradicts (and probably condemns) Y. Or, to turn the metaphor inside out, that zie is already locked inside some particular system.

            My bigot says “Always X”, not “Anything but Y”.

            So my feeling is that a ‘bigot’ is locked into some religion or cult or has very strong feelings about, say, Apples vs PCs.

            (It was very tempting to use ‘actual’, ‘literal’, and/or ‘ironic’ in that sentence.)

          • Anton on.. [etc/REDACTED] says:

            You can legitimately be described as closed-minded for refusing to try a new flavor of ice cream, for example.

            What?!? ?

            If someone calls someone close minded for choosing not to try an ice ice cream flavour, they are, (literally) the one who is closed minded.

    • Deiseach says:

      Bigotry as commonly used is much more than merely stubbornness in sticking to your own opinion or refusal to consider the other side of an argument, and I think it always had a negative meaning attached – a bigot was unreasonable or provably incorrect in what they espoused. Nowadays it definitely has the connotations of being objectionable and even morally wrong – you’re a hater, you’re not disagreeing on a matter of fact or principle, it’s because you’re prejudiced against [race/ethnicity/sexual orientation/gender/religion/no religion/political party] and that prejudice comes from fear, hatred and an unwarranted sense of perceived superiority of your own race etc.

      The term hasn’t quite degenerated yet to the level of uselessness of calling someone a racist or a fascist, but I think it’s heading there – “bigot” more and more often means “person expressing an opinion that is not in agreement with the currently favoured ruling orthodoxy on this matter”.

      • 80hz says:

        “A bigot was […] provably incorrect in what they espoused. Nowadays it definitely has the connotations of being […] morally wrong…”

        That’s all begging the question, of course.

        I don’t think it’s heading there, I think it may already be “person expressing an opinion that is not in agreement with the current orthodoxy on this matter”.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Except now the term “hater” (as in “haters gonna hate”) has been so overused as to mean “someone who disagrees with me whose argument I need not address”. Its use practically marks the user as close(d)-minded.

      • addict says:

        Welcome back.

    • Deiseach says:

      All I can suggest, if you’re looking for a term that means “unwilling to listen in good faith to the other side of an argument” is “closed-minded”, “closed-mindedness”.

      Depending on why someone is unwilling, the degree of negative connotation you want to attach may be greater or lesser; if it’s “that upsets me right now and I can’t deal with it but maybe later”, it doesn’t really deserve to be called “bigotry”, which has a much stronger sense of deliberate blameworthiness.

      • 80hz says:

        if it’s “that upsets me right now and I can’t deal with it but maybe later”, it doesn’t really deserve to be called “bigotry”

        I agree, and I wouldn’t think of someone as bigoted if he made it clear that was his position. I’m pretty much exclusively talking about the scenario where a person is obviously unwilling to listen in good faith to the other side of an argument because of reasons of tribalism, being overly emotional, not wanting to risk losing face, etc.

      • Jeffrey Soreff says:

        a) agreed

        b) Welcome back!

  7. 80hz says:

    Anyone here who interviews people as a method of conducting research: what tools do you use to collect data?

  8. Untrue Neutral says:

    Last OT there was a discussion about whether or not personal tastes could be changed through conscious direction. I have always found this pretty easy to do, even if my first impression of something is horrible. When I put effort into appreciating/enjoying something, I’ll almost always succeed to some degree, with dramatic increases in appreciation/enjoyment being pretty common, and instances of complete failure being rare enough that they really stick out in my memory (turns out I will probably never like country music). The pleasure isn’t forced, either, I genuinely have similar responses to things I liked “automatically” and things I “learned” to like.

    So I know the subset of people for who can will themselves enjoyment has at least one person in it. Trouble is, I used to think that what was true for me must also be true for everyone else, and so everyone grumbling about all the stuff they hated all the time must just be idiots who didn’t realize how easy liking stuff is. In retrospect, there must be some attribute that I and people like me have dialed up pretty high, which I don’t think is quite “open-mindedness” or “openness to experience”, but is somehow related. Maybe call it “ability to brainwash yourself”.

    One possible response Scott brought up was that, if everyone could will themselves to like more or less whatever they wanted, that some groups would use this as a way to condemn others. “You could like x, but you choose not to learn how to like it, because you’re a terrible person”. But learning to like stuff I initially disliked or was indifferent to has led me to the opposite conclusion, which is that the stuff we like is pretty arbitrary/value neutral. People who can like rap but can’t like metal have an interest in arguing the superiority of rap and the inferiority of metal. It gets personal, because it is personal. But if you can enjoy either rap or metal, the abstract question of which is better remains abstract.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I also think that people probably can change their preferences quite a bit if they have a good reason to. And oftentimes it is a good idea to adapt your desires to your circumstances.

      That said, I greatly prefer people to claim to believe in fixed immutable preferences because the alternative is people dictating my preferences to me. There are already quite a large number of people, on both sides of the aisle, who are devoted to this endeavor. I’d rather that there was a poltie way to tell them to pound sand for those situations in which I’m under their power and “I tried but I can’t, sorry” is a good one right now.

    • Chalid says:

      Any concrete advice on how to do this? For example, my life would be better if I enjoyed healthier foods more. The fetish-acquisition advice in the previous OT doesn’t seem useful for this.

      • Randy M says:

        I don’t know. I didn’t used to like butter, but after the paleo people raved about its healthy qualities, I now greatly enjoy it. However, the same can’t be said for liver.
        Perhaps one can grow to like things one has no taste for, but not for things one actively dislikes? But then, I used to hate onions, and grew to like them for no particular reason.

      • gbdub says:

        When I think about how I’ve “acquired tastes” its usually been via either:

        1) Deliberate experimentation. E.g. for beer and whiskey, I like to sample lots of varieties. When I want to “acquire a taste”, I like to read tasting notes or descriptions from people who really like it, and then look for and focus on the flavors they describe (with their positive descriptions) in the drink. By giving myself this little game/reward system for finding flavors, I find I get past the initial unpleasant shock of something new pretty quickly.

        2) Positive experiences. I’ve gotten to enjoy bands/genres that I otherwise didn’t care for by going to a concert with my girlfriend and having a great time. Now the music is associated with a pleasant memory, and it makes it more approachable.

        That said, there are still things I don’t like – I have “acquired a taste” for sushi, in that I will now eat and enjoy it occasionally. But I still don’t love it, and a little bit is enough. My girlfriend loves the stuff, so I end up having it a couple times a month, but I don’t think I’d ever seek it out on my own, or at least not at all often.

      • Jill says:

        There are some things about foods that can be shifted e.g. availability. If you make healthy foods easier and more available, that may help. Sometimes you crave a food an overeat it, when you really need some nutritional requirement that it provides. E.g. you can either eat sugar a lot, or else eat protein every few hours, if you want to keep your blood sugar level stable. Eating protein every few hours is healthier.

        Most people eat when anxious. So if you can finds something to do other than eat, when anxious, that could help too. A lot of people try to get non-nutritional needs met with food. So if you do that, you could make the effort e.g. to get your social needs met by spending enough time with friends, if you find yourself eating when lonely.

        It depends to some degree on your lifestyle and under what circumstances you overeat. or eat unhealthy foods.

        Some people use imagery. If you were to visualize a new daily routine for yourself in which you are eating healthy, what changes in your daily activities– or your way of doing them– is now encouraging and supporting healthy eating?

      • First Bite talks about changing tastes by non-forcefully introducing a new food starting with very small samples of it.

        Caveat– I haven’t tried this, but it seems reasonable and civilized.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah, I mean, that’s how you wean children. Start off with small, bland amounts of foods, build up to more quantity, textures, and tastes.

      • Loquat says:

        In the category of food specifically, I’d say try to figure out if there’s something specific you dislike about healthier foods and then see what solutions exist to that problem. For example, I find tofu disgusting if it’s just raw chunks at the salad bar, but great if it’s properly cooked with salt and the right seasonings.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        I’ve found myself enjoying musical genres I used to hate when those genres were used in a game I enjoyed; that in turn opened my mind to those genres in a way that it wasn’t before. Going by that model, perhaps you should seek out delicious recipes and restaurant meals that happen to include the healthy foods you dislike, and then see where that gets you.

        • Sfoil says:

          I couldn’t stand practically any popular music made in the 80s until I played GTA: Vice City.

      • Glen Raphael says:

        Just regarding the foods thing, in Penn Jillette’s new book _Presto: How I made 100 pounds magically disappear_ he trained himself to like healthier foods by eating a REALLY MONOTONOUS diet for a while – nothing but potatoes for two weeks. Unseasoned whole potatoes (skin and all) for the first week, then seasoned with things like vinegar and hot sauce – but no fat, no butter, no salt – for the second week.

        After two weeks of eating NOTHING BUT POTATOES, the diet gradually introduced other vegetables (also sans salt or butter) and after having experienced “just potatoes” as a comparison class the new extra options tasted AMAZING. Corn on the cob was a particular revelation.

        • Deiseach says:

          Sounds like the latest new fad diet – The Irish Diet, Amazing Results Guaranteed! Eat nothing but spuds (skins an’ all) for a fortnight and see what it does for you!

          Caution: sudden onset of alcoholism, a liking for the Gah, and a tendency to sing morose ballads about death, emigration, or death and emigration combined, are possible side-effects. Promoters of The Irish Diet cannot be held responsible if you have a genetic susceptibility to develop these. Before embarking on The Irish Diet, check if your granny was Irish. Do you have a family history of Gaelicism? The Irish Diet may not be suitable for you.

          • Gbdub says:

            See, were you still banned, no one would have posted that comment and we’d all be worse off for it.

            Anyway I recommend following up the Irish diet with a Mexican Tap Water Cleanse.

          • Deiseach says:

            I am interested to know what did he accompany his dry potatoes with? Milk? Water? He must have been consuming some liquids along with the “nothing but spuds” diet.

            Perhaps he re-discovered the idea of “potatoes and point” to flavour (at least in imagination) the potatoes?

            Our readers must have heard of the old and well-known luxury of “potatoes and point,” which, humorous as it is, scarcely falls short of the truth. An Irish family, of the cabin class, hangs up in the chimney a herring, or “small taste” of bacon, and as the national imagination is said to be strong, each individual points the potato he is going to eat at it, upon the principle, I suppose, of ‘crede et habes.’ It is generally said that the act communicates the flavour of the herring or bacon, as the case may be, to the potato; and this is called “potato and point.”
            (From William Carleton’s short story “Ned M’Keown”, from the book Traits & Stories of the Irish Peasantry, Volume 1, first published in 1844.)

          • Jiro says:

            See, were you still banned, no one would have posted that comment and we’d all be worse off for it.

            It is possible that if Deiseach were still banned, we’d be worse off from not getting that comment, but we’d also be better off because having rules visibly enforced consistently would make the rules marginally more effective, and that overall we would be better off.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Deiseach:

            I am interested to know what did he accompany his dry potatoes with? Milk? Water? He must have been consuming some liquids along with the “nothing but spuds” diet.

            Water. There’s a pretty good attempt to summarize just the DIET part of Penn’s book here.

          • Deiseach says:

            Very interesting. I have to say, you’d need to be brave and determined to eat raw potato because it’s not nice at all. I understand the rationale behind eating the skins as well (fibre and the nutrients concentrated close to the skin) but if you’re microwaving your spuds, the skin can be very tough.

            Plain boiled potatoes mashed up with milk would be very edible; this is called “pandy” and is an introductory food for children. You can add in butter as well, but plain potato and milk, no salt, is classically pandy. You could eat a lot of that.

            Plain boiled spuds, no salt, and only water would be monotonous, I have to agree – though we’re well into new potato season and they can be delicious; down here by the coast, seaweed was often used as fertiliser and by some small growers still is, and the earthy taste of the spuds combined with the definite salty/seaweedy savour means you’d eat a couple of pounds of them at a sitting no bother 🙂

          • Glen Raphael says:

            you’d need to be brave and determined to eat raw potato because it’s not nice at all.

            Um, nobody’s eating raw potato here. It’s baked, boiled, or microwaved. Just absolutely NO milk or cheese or oil or butter involved – that part’s actually kind of crucial to Ray Cronise’s “food triangle” theory. If you add milk (or any of those other things) it’s indeed much tastier but you’re not doing the kind of diet Penn did. (Being monotonous and hard to eat a lot of is nearly the whole point.)

            On the plus side, the diet does allow *sweet* potatoes during those first two weeks. Or yellow or red potatoes – it doesn’t have to be the standard brown idaho variety.

            Incidentally, I have tried doing the mostly-potato-with-no-fat thing. I found the skins of *baked* no-oil potato hard to eat, but microwaved ones are pretty soft and work fine. There’s a lot of liquid in a potato; when you puncture and cook one in 5 minutes in a microwave (rather than 40 minutes in an oven) all the steam coming out softens the skin.

        • John Schilling says:

          Space Piracy is another known side effect, though unfortunately rare. I say “unfortunately”, because even if there were no health or weight-loss benefits such a diet would be justified just for the chance of becoming the solar system’s first Irish Space Pirate.

          • R. A. Lafferty’s _Annals of Klepsis_ is about Irish space pirates, in case you happen to want some very odd science fiction on the subject.

          • Adam says:

            Ha, the Mark Watney diet is not recommended. Alternatively, if you really hate dieting, I watched this documentary about three ultramarathon runners would ran across the Sahara, ate about 7,000 calories a day, and still finished with < 3% body fat. So there are multiple ways to achieve that look.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          One of the ideas behind Penn’s strategy is that our relationship to salt, butter/oil and sugar is very similar to our relationship to caffeine. That is to say, you get accustomed to whatever level you consume and a little extra above that seems like a treat so there’s a tendency to keep raising the stakes over time.

          Unless you can find a way to recalibrate to a lower level. Which is healthier, but currently puts you out of phase with nearly everybody else eating food at just about any restaurant anywhere.

        • ChillyWilly says:

          Vanilla sex is pretty damn sweet after a long period of no sex.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @ Chalid
        Any concrete advice on how to do this? For example, my life would be better if I enjoyed healthier foods more.

        My yoga teacher once told the class, “Don’t give up cold turkey.”

        I’d spend some money on a weekly dinner at an excellent restaurant that has some dishes of your current food that include small amounts of several healthier foods, all jumbled together as in a casserole. Each week get something with more, or different, healthy ingredients. The main thing is to meet these things excellently prepared. If any bit doesn’t please you, don’t force, just skip it.

        When you’ve got familiar with a lot of new things in their best form, then you could work in some cheaper forms.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        Eat any given vegetable in an unhealthy form for 2-4 weeks (cooked in brown sugar and butter works very well for most vegetables), then shift to healthier versions of the same vegetable.

        Essentially, train your body to recognize the flavor as food, rather than contaminant. It will taste exactly the same when you’re done, but pleasant instead of unpleasant.

        • Butter isn’t necessarily unhealthy, and fat may make the nutrients in vegetables more bioavailable.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Our concept of “healthy” hinges upon the general availability of calories. “Healthy” in the modern context mostly means “low in calories”.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Orphan Wilde

            “Healthy” in the modern context mostly means “low in calories”.

            Not really (counterexample: diet soda). In the modern context the world “healthy” as applied to food doesn’t have much meaning except for “not demonized at the moment” and “I like it”. The naturalistic fallacy is usually nearby and ready to pounce.

          • Randy M says:

            Calories is the main reason I eat food.

          • Mary says:

            Definitely remember to have fat with meals containing fat-soluble vitamins. They help absorb it.

            Also vitamin C with your iron.

          • The Nybbler says:

            So an orange with a nail through it?

          • Mary says:

            Only if you eat the nail.

    • Anonymous says:

      One possible response Scott brought up was that, if everyone could will themselves to like more or less whatever they wanted, that some groups would use this as a way to condemn others. “You could like x, but you choose not to learn how to like it, because you’re a terrible person”.

      I really don’t get that mentality.

      Just tell them to screw off. Grow some balls man.

      Worst case, just respond with “you could learn to like not being a humorless scold but you don’t because you’re a terrible person” (ok, that’s actually close to the truth).

      • Nicholas says:

        Presumably he means that the fact that you don’t see people doing that all the time is evidence that everyone accepts that you can’t change what you like.

      • Viliam says:

        Just tell them to screw off. Grow some balls man.

        That’s some gross entitled problematic toxic masculinity here. I am going to find your employer, publish their contacts, and make everyone on the right side of history call them and complain. I am also putting you on all blacklists I moderate, and my friends in media will write a few articles comparing you to Hitler. /s

        I mean, I agree with the attitude, but it also depends on how powerful and vengefully righteous mob you piss off. Some people are not independently rich, and may also have a family to feed.

      • Psmith says:

        It’s rather telling that this comment is coming from an anonymous commenter.

        Anonymity and pseudonymity are great strategies for just this reason, of course, but that ship seems to have sailed for Scott.

      • suntzuanime says:

        There’s certainly an argument that we should all be waging individual doomed wars against society and dying as martyrs.

    • Mr. Breakfast says:

      I would love to comment on this, but I am pretty sure the topic was forbidden at the time of the comment you reference. It seems rude to just launch into it in the following OT.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        I didn’t interpret “embargo this whole way of thinking” in that context as saying it was forbidden, rather that our host would be exceptionally hard to persuade on the topic. The open thread header says “Post about anything you want” and this is at least more interesting than the tribal spats that are sometimes explicitly discouraged.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I can learn to enjoy some foods where my first impression was bad; bitter beers and bitter chocolate are two, for instance, and these are commonly acquired tastes. But for some things, like most of the Brassicas, nope, they’re just terrible.

      I do not know if I am a “supertaster”, but probably not (I don’t find alcohol to be bitter) and I doubt it makes a difference; I find the odor of many of the Brassicas to be quite repugnant as well.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think we can alter personal tastes to a certain extent; after all, we eventually grow up to enjoy eating vegetables that as children we refused and hated. Or you learn to appreciate wine, or music, or art, or fashion.

      But I don’t think all tastes or inclinations are that easily malleable, and I think it’s probably easier to change your taste when there is something in the new thing you are trying to like that has some similarity to what you already like. (For you and country music, that’s me and jazz. Can listen to five minutes of it, don’t hate it, but I go ‘yes that’s quite enough’ and turn off. Tried very hard to like Harrison Birtwistle, attempted it with his opera Gawain, had to give it up as listening to it was making me sea-sick).

      Where we hit up against Scott’s legitimate qualm is that the idea that there are no fixed immutable preferences links up with the idea of bigotry and so the ultra-progressive notion is that there is no reason to be against X (whatever X may be); you can and indeed should change your preferences to like and celebrate X, and any refusal to do so or claim that you genuinely cannot is false and only a mask for your bigotry and Xphobia.

    • Two McMillion says:

      My experience matches yours well. I’ve always been able to adjust my own preferences fairly easily. When I was a teen, I got in a lot of trouble I suggested to a gay person I knew that they simply change their preference.

    • Two McMillion says:

      One possible response Scott brought up was that, if everyone could will themselves to like more or less whatever they wanted, that some groups would use this as a way to condemn others. “You could like x, but you choose not to learn how to like it, because you’re a terrible person”. But learning to like stuff I initially disliked or was indifferent to has led me to the opposite conclusion, which is that the stuff we like is pretty arbitrary/value neutral. People who can like rap but can’t like metal have an interest in arguing the superiority of rap and the inferiority of metal. It gets personal, because it is personal. But if you can enjoy either rap or metal, the abstract question of which is better remains abstract.

      My impression is that you have this backwards. Rap and metal aren’t neutral; like all forms of music, they’re actively good and beautiful. The question is whether you can see that goodness and beauty or not. Changing your preferences seems to me to be more like getting up and looking at them from a different angle that allows you to see the beauty better. If you can’t, Scott is correct that that is an indictment of you and not the music. You’re either blind to beauty that exists, or deliberately ignorant of it. But Scott’s criticism is dodged, I think, because the only person who could rightfully make such an accusation would be one with a wider ability to see beauty and truth goodness than the accused. A person who says you’re bad for not liking rap who does not themselves like metal is no more able to see clearly than the person who can see the beauty in metal but not rap. Only a person who sees the beauty in both metal and rap can rightfully level this accusation against someone who only likes one.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        It’s not just a matter of finding a way of appreciating what is there to appreciate; it’s also a matter of finding a way to ignore whatever is there that you don’t like. For my own money, I can happily enjoy a good nerdy math-rock-ish polyrhythm or a soaring electric guitar solo, but the death metal growl I just find really annoying, so on balance I don’t listen to music that features it – there is so much music out there that I do like that, having considered the metal-including-vocal-growl genre, I don’t think it would be bigoted to say thanks but no thanks, I’m going to listen to some Scandinavian nyckelharpa music instead. And the death metal fan is entitled to pass a symmetrical judgement without me feeling they are offering an unfair dismissal.

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          It helps – a little – if you see the recurring thematic elements of metal as attempts to find relevant subject matter to the growl. That is, realizing that the big problem with the death metal growl (and the black metal growl, as well) is that it’s very hard to not use it gratuitously (and thus most use is gratuitous).

          Which suggests that the issue is, instead of using the growl to fit the music, the music and lyrics are fit to the growl, so you end up with a lot of music which serves largely as an excuse for a growl (and such music tends to be an excuse for a lot of extravagances for all the musicians).

          I’m seeing a couple bands attempting to change this – I mentioned Fallujah’s use of the Death Metal growl as one of the voices of instinct in The Void Alone in a previous open thread – but I doubt it will sweep the music scene. It’s hard to find new appropriate uses, which is why the metal genres tend to revolve around the same broad set of subjects.

          • Urstoff says:

            Whenever I hear complaints about growling in metal, I always wonder what type of vocals such people would want to hear over something like this:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DUCqBkuu7E

            or this:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nw7tFKyOfcE

            The screaming and growling fit in perfectly with the music. It is true that the music needs to fit the vocal style and vice-versa, but that’s true of any vocals (or any musical element, really). Complaints about death growls seem to me similar to complaints about atonal or even chromatic music: it’s not immediately pleasurable, so I will put forth no effort into understanding it’s place in the music.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Some metal I find very “musical”, even the kind with the growling and so forth, but some other stuff isn’t. I can listen to two black metal albums – one will sound like music, the other just sounds like noise. It doesn’t appear to be a genre difference.

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            Urstoff:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_VSo9obWS8

            There’s quite a bit of metal saturating the J-idol scene, actually. Even discounting Babymetal or BiS, a lot of the quirkier indie groups have taken on the genre. Gotta get that gap moe.

      • Loyle says:

        Except that a person who can see the beauty in rap and metal, but not the beauty in a person who can’t see the beauty in either rap or metal is no more able to see clearly than a person who can see the beauty in rap and the beauty in a person who can only see the beauty in metal, but not see the beauty in metal itself.

        At least I hope that made sense.

        My opinion is that if having or not having the preference isn’t actively harmful, there’s no real reason to be judgemental about it.

        Also, I’m aware of the slippery slope of egalitarianism. Tolerance if intolerance isn’t tolerance so on and so forth.

        • Two McMillion says:

          Except that a person who can see the beauty in rap and metal, but not the beauty in a person who can’t see the beauty in either rap or metal is no more able to see clearly than a person who can see the beauty in rap and the beauty in a person who can only see the beauty in metal, but not see the beauty in metal itself.

          At least I hope that made sense.

          It makes sense, but only if “unable to see” is taken in a very specific sense: that is, if a person exists who in a sense *is* a particular aesthetic (perhaps Tao would be a better term). I have never met such a person, but I have seen them created as characters in books, so I don’t think it’s impossible. Nevertheless, this is not the case in the vast majority of instances.

      • ChillyWilly says:

        This notion leads to the frustrating situation where criticism is impossible — like in a creative writing workshop where you suggest the author’s characters are boring, and the author indignantly retorts they’re supposed to be boring. Well, sure, but that doesn’t mean the story is any more interesting for it. If it’s just my failure to appreciate things as they are, the author has no real responsibility to make anything good.

        It seems that, in experience, the people most capable of appreciating the beauty of all genres are people who don’t really care at all — they like music for being there, not for listening to. If something actually matters to you, you’re more likely to have a strong opinion. I’d hate to cede my ability to dislike something to people who barely like said things, claim to be so magnanimous as to like everything, or claim they must like that thing more than you because they can tolerate more garbage.

        What do you think about comparing something to a better version of itself? If carrot A is fresher than carrot B, it seems silly to claim I’m failing to appreciation the beauty and subtlety of stale vegetables.

        • Two McMillion says:

          I don’t think it does. At least to me, the existence of beauty across all genres doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as bad music. There is such a thing as good rap song and a bad rap song. It does, however, means that there is no such thing as a bad genre or style of music. There might be styles of music that are hard to perform well- there might even be styles of music that literally no one alive performs well. But the problem lies with the player and not the genre. To use your carrot analogy, my ability to recognize goodness is worthless if I cannot see that a fresh carrot is better than a stale one. But my sense of goodness is at least incomplete if I can’t see that a stale carrot has beauty of its own. It might no longer be good for food, but it does not follow that it is not good for anything.

          As to your point about not caring, I agree that that is a particular danger. There is a risk that if you try to like everything you will end up being unable to appreciate anything at all. But I do not that that is a necessary outcome of making the effort, only that doing otherwise is difficult.

          • Urstoff says:

            what about the genre of bad rap

          • Two McMillion says:

            I’m actually not familiar with that.

          • Alliteration says:

            I think Urstoff point is

            We get to divide up music into genres however we like because they are man-made categories. Thus, if we define into existence a new genre that only include rap music which is bad, Then, the statement that all genres are created equal would be false.

            Or to give a different example, we could define a genre of music that requires songs to be played so loud that it damages the human ear, requires songs only to include the sounds of fingers-on-chalkboards, and ban any semblance of a beat. It seems unreasonable to call that new genre just as good as normal genres of music.

            Thus, some groupings of music are better than other groupings of music. It would be unlikely that the groupings of music like rock, metal, classical, etc. would be exactly the same quality considering that no one intended them to be so. Thus rock music and classical music are likely different qualities because they include different sorts of music.

          • Julie K says:

            We get to divide up music into genres however we like because they are man-made categories. Thus, if we define into existence a new genre that only include rap music which is bad, Then, the statement that all genres are created equal would be false.

            How about, for the purpose of this discussion, something only counts as a genre if it has fans.
            If other people like something, I can say I don’t appreciate it, but I shouldn’t say it has no beauty.

          • @Urstoff I should hope you are taking rappers like Sharkula quite seriously, sir!

          • Alliteration says:

            @Julie K

            That is a quite clever defense. I no longer see any serious flaws with “the genres are all equal, only music inside the genres are bad or good” position.

    • Resonant Pyre says:

      Those groups would still need to find a justification why their preference is superior. Indeed, if a preference could be changed through a certain amount of conscious direction it shows that that preference is kind of arbitrary. As you said, the question remains abstract to which is better.

    • Anton on.. [etc/REDACTED] says:

      Well I can like stuff pretty well if I want to, probably including rap and metal, but I’m careful about what I “brainwash” myself into liking, because I don’t think liking stuff which is bad doesn’t harm you (me, one), or if not you, harm other people insofar as you might be influenced to be a worse person,

      -by e.g. willingly immersing oneself in an aesthetic of, on the one hand, theft, parasitism, generally being a cancer on the world, and in the other, whatever metal’s deal is (no clue).

      • Loquat says:

        Metal has multiple subdivisions with very different aesthetics; I personally tend to favor the varieties where you get concept albums about Norse warriors fighting mythological creatures and mystic accounts of Noah’s flood

      • nm. k. m. says:

        >theft, parasitism, generally being a cancer on the world, and in the other, whatever metal’s deal is (no clue)

        This will be buried and read by no one, but anyway, “metal’s deal” varies a lot. Some of the classics are about:

        Killing dragons.
        Dogfights of the Battle of Britain.
        Captain Nemo and his crew desperately trying to break through the ice Nautilus is trapped under.
        The drugs didn’t really help in trying to forget the ‘Nam.
        Charge of the Light Brigade, and utter uselessness of it.
        The experience of being a surveillance camera.
        Hey, actually, now I can think about one that is about being a thief, but it’s also a bit about societal injustice, and even more about cool guitar riff.
        Emperor builds a giant airship, which then crashes.
        An abominable creature from horror movie wanders around the town in the night.
        The nuclear apocalypse is nigh, and it will be terrible, and we have a great guitar solo about it.
        The nuclear apocalypse happened, even though they said it wouldn’t, the world burnt, and it’s even more terrible than previous one imagined.
        Nightmares are scary, but the traditional children’s evening prayer is outright creepy.
        You are a man. You are standing on a mountain made of silver. Don’t ask.

        …and other stuff I love but I still have no idea what it’s about: “…closer you get to the meaning, sooner you’ll know that you’re dreaming.”

  9. 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.

          • The strongest check is on the revenue-collection mechanisms. The US had to pass a Constitutional Amendment for income taxes, without which the US government would not be able to function at its current size.

            Now given that the Constitutional Amendment is passed, well, what the f now?

            I sort of agree with you, Heel, libertarians are a vanishingly small set of a the total population and cannot impose their ideological system on a modern population forever. A sufficiently critical mass (90+%) of people demand government services that will simply work around whatever constraints the libertarians set-up.

            In this case, the people pass a damn Constitutional Amendment so the government could grow. That’s an extremely high bar.

          • “They were powerless “unless he could convince some free-farmers to follow him.” ”

            Note that that part is not quoted from me–only the little bit at the beginning is.

            The power associated with a seat in the legislature did not depend on how many Thingmen you had, only on owning a goðorð.

            The point that the source you are quoting might be making is that how many Thingmen you had was relevant to your ability to influence the outcome of a potentially violent conflict. But that wasn’t limited to goðar. If you got involved in a feud, it mattered how many people would support you. Just as, in our system, if you get involved in a legal controversy it matters how good a lawyer you can afford.

            I don’t think that’s what we usually think of as representative democracy.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            I’m just going to re-quote what I wrote in the post you responded to.

            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.

            Also, are you no true scotsmanning the Mises institute?

          • @HeelBearClub:

            The Icelandic system wasn’t representative government. It wasn’t a step towards representative government. As I already said, the vote in the Logretta depended on owning a transferable property right, not on how many Thingmen you had.

            I can’t tell if you simply don’t understand how the system worked or if you believe that any system where your ability to get your way depends in part on how many supporters you have counts as a step towards representative government.

            By that standard, pretty nearly every political system that has existed qualifies. Every time there was a succession struggle in the Roman Empire, or the kingdom of England, or the Holy Roman Empire, or the Abbasid Caliphate, or the Ottoman Empire, one of the things determining who won it was how many supporters he had.

            The Icelandic commonwealth wasn’t representative government. It wasn’t anarcho-capitalism either, as I have repeatedly said, but it had some of the characteristics of AC because there was no executive arm of government. There was a legislature and a court system, but all enforcement of court verdicts was private.

            So far as no true Scotsman and the Mises Institute, are you saying that I should agree with anything any other libertarian says? The Mises people are libertarians but that doesn’t make them experts on saga period Iceland.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            You’ve made the argument several times that goðar did not get more power by getting more votes. I really don’t know what that has to do with representative democracy. I assume you aren’t asserting that the US system is not representative democracy?

            The Althing settled matters by vote, that’s the democracy part. Instead of one head of government whose word was law. It’s not exactly clear to me how a power passed from one goðar to another, but it seems that is where the Thingmen come into play. You need enough of them. But were the goðar not the executive power? They are the ones who appointed the judges, yes?

            But no one can declare themselves a new Godi unilaterally, it doesn’t seem you could chose not to have one (and they seem to have been mostly based on geography).

          • ” It’s not exactly clear to me how a power passed from one goðar to another, but it seems that is where the Thingmen come into play. ”

            You are mistaken. The right to be a goði was a transferable property right. It could be inherited, transferred, even shared. The Thingmen did not get to decide who got it, only which goði they would be thingmen of.

            “That looks a lot like “land owning males get to vote for representatives”.”

            It does not look in the least like that, since the thingmen didn’t choose who would be a goði and hence have a vote in the legislature.

            “But were the goðar not the executive power? They are the ones who appointed the judges, yes?”

            Yes. Judges are part of the judicial power not the executive power. Once the court gave a verdict, there was no executive arm of government to enforce it.

            The U.S. is a representational democracy. Whether you get a vote in Congress depends on whether more people voted for you than for the other guy. Whether you had a vote in the Icelandic legislature depended on whether you were a goði, which had nothing to do with how many people had voted for you.

            I have a detailed description of the system webbed as a chapter of the book I’m currently writing and another (older and less accurate) webbed as an old journal article, both linked to my web page. If you want to make arguments about what the system was you might find it worth reading one of them.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @DavidFriedman:
            Appointing judges is an executive power. The judiciary itself is not executive power. Man this is the way it always is talking to you. I say something, you ignore or misinterpret it and try and knock me over the head with it. I have to reiterate what I actually said.

            I’ll see if I can find what you have available on ancient Iceland and perhaps take this back up some other time.

          • “Appointing judges is an executive power. ”

            So the President of the U.S., who is the head of the executive branch, gets to appoint judges? Governors get to appoint state judges?

            Obama will be delighted with the news–none of that pesky senatorial advise and consent from the legislative branch.

            In some states judges are elected. Does that mean that the individual voter is part of the executive branch of government?

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            I’ll see if I can find what you have available on ancient Iceland

            One of the most relevant links is here.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            If a single person (or the branch of government for which they have ultimate responsibility) gets to decide who is appointed to the position, that is an executive power, yes. Even a process of nomination by the executive, and then confirmation by the legislative, a) is commonly referred to as appointment by the executive branch, and b) regardless of appellation, still constitutes an executive power (with an additional legislative power).

            It is, of course, not the only possible model for putting people in the position of judge. But I’m not exactly sure what that has to do with the price of tea in China.

        • The Nybbler says:

          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.

          Really? This doesn’t deserve more than an eyeroll. I mean, we’re used to the whole “libertarians are just Republicans who want to smoke pot” thing, and at least it’s true that libertarians are against drug laws. But libertarians as segregationsts is just slander

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Ron Paul’s broad scope of efforts included conscious outreach to segregationists of various stripes, whether you want to put that Paul’s feet or merely his various publications isn’t really material.

            In addition, as recently as his last presidential run, he continued to feint that “government” and “federal government” were somehow synonymous. See this video where says that states deciding that gay marriage is illegal is “getting the government out of [deciding what marriage is]”.

          • onyomi says:

            I think it’s more accurate to say that too many “libertarians” are unprincipled in their support for the philosophy and merely gravitated toward it because it seemed the closest to representing “them” among the limited options. The people who gravitated to Ron Paul for the above reasons now gravitate to Trump, not Rand Paul or Gary Johnson, for example.

            Only this is: the above is true of all political philosophies and probably less so of libertarianism than most: most supporters of all ideologies, parties, and candidates are unprincipled, fair-weather, “this group sort of seems like the people I want to identify with” supporters.

          • Nornagest says:

            State and local governments are still governments, obviously, and they’re just as capable as the federal government of passing oppressive, onerous, or dumb laws. (I’ve lived in the Bay Area, and I’m tempted to say “moreso” — but that’s an outlier.) But you can still make a semi-principled argument that devolving powers to the state and local levels is consistent with libertarian principles. It limits the resources that can be brought to bear on any perceived problem; it decentralizes authority; and, maybe most importantly, it makes it much easier to escape any particular jurisdiction. It also makes government power more responsive to local concerns, but in my experience that’s as likely to cause abuse as to prevent it.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.)

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.)

  16. 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.)

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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?

  23. sweeneyrod says:

    This is an interesting article about IS and ways in which they differ from Al-Qaeda.

  24. 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)

  25. 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 wom