Open Thread 56.5

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

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518 Responses to Open Thread 56.5

  1. Anormynous says:

    If we have passed through jillions of generations of natural evolution, why shouldnt we be astounded that our turn at existence abuts the final one or two iterations of this process?

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I’m not sure what you mean by final here.

      If you mean, “should we be astounded that we’re the current generation?” then the answer is no. Because every generation is the current generation when it exists. People 10,000 years ago were the ‘final iteration of natural evolution’ ten millennia ago just as we are today.

      If you mean, “should we be astounded that natural selection is about to abruptly cease?” then the answer is yes. That would be a very astounding thing to discover, so much so that I don’t believe that it is the case.

      • Alex says:

        so much so that I don’t believe that it is the case.

        I think their intended point is that some beople do hold this belief. Which might or might not be a strawman.

        To steelman it a bit: Technology does seem to make it so that adaption to the environment looses importance.

        The obvious counterpoint to that is: Technology might have shrunken the effect of incremental and local environmental changes but one can imagine an amount of environmental change that cannot be countered with todays technology while not putting an end to all life. Is that so?

        • Arguably, we’re moving towards unnatural selection, if we define “natural” as “resembling the ancient environment”.

          For example, we have a good bit of pressure against reproduction. There’s children being a labor cost for much longer than they used to be, demands that children be supervised by adults all the time, and less certainty that they’ll help their parents in old age. There’s social pressure which makes having children more emotionally costly– competing theories of child-rearing, less permission to use children as emotional sumps, and guilt about the population being too high. There’s crowding in cities, with people becoming more urban.

          See also Gloria Steinem’s “I don’t breed well in captivity”. It might be a Moloch thing.

          You have to resist all that pressure to reproduce. Sounds like evolution to me.

          This may not last, but I think car accidents (since they’re likely to kill people of reproductive age) are an evolutionary pressure. You need prudence and/or good reflexes to lower your risk.

          In the foreseeable future, there will be genetic engineering. Popular modifications will be more likely to reproduce. This isn’t what you get in the ancestral environment, but it’s still selection and variation. It might not all be cultural– some modifications might lead to not reproducing either because they don’t work well enough biologically or because of disaster.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Technology has changed the environment, but adapting to it is no less important than before.

          There is evidence of natural selection in contemporary humans. It’s not terribly encouraging, most of the time people find dysgenic pressures the way Beauchamp did, but clearly there are benefits to reduced intelligence and conscientiousness in a modern technological environment.

          • Alex says:

            I phrased that badly. Of course no amount of technology can actually stop adaption. That would be a stupid thought. The point is that humanity’s influence on the environment it has to adapt to is so much larger than that of any other species at any other point in time, that it is arguably a different game. Nancy made that point better than I could have.

          • Deiseach says:

            My results imply that natural selection has been slowly favoring lower EA in both females and males, and are suggestive that natural selection may have favored a higher age at menarche in females.

            Okay, I’m questioning that, because I was led to believe that age of menarche was decreasing. My mother’s generation began menstruating about age 14 while it is now becoming more common that girls begin at age 11. I know that’s only anecdotal but this is something that contradicts what I understood, so I’m wondering if his results are good or if he’s making some kind of mistake somewhere?

            EDIT: Okay, somebody take a look at his supporting information and tell me I’m an idiot who is misinterpreting everything, because it seems to me he is basing his “age of menarche” not by asking the women “when did you start menstruating” but on “number of children ever given birth to”, which is stupid.

            I imagine he is thinking “more kids = having sex earlier/fewer kids = having sex later” and that women who started having sex later were the ones who went through puberty later, but that’s not necessarily so.

            To ensure that the LRS variable is a good proxy for completed fertility, I only include females who were at least 45 y old when asked the number of children they ever gave birth to and males who were at least 50 y old when asked the number of children they ever fathered.

            “Number of children you gave birth to” may exclude miscarriages and stillbirths if you’re going by self-reporting (a woman who became pregnant six times but only delivered four living children might answer that question as “I had four children”). Women who had only (let us say) three children compared to women who had six children might have been using birth control (yes, methods existed before the 60s and Sexual Liberation and the Pill) or might have been unable to find a marriage partner until a later age. There’s all kinds of factors that affect fertility! Maybe their husbands weren’t very fertile, or interested in sex!

            I mean, I’d have thought the obvious question to ask, if you want to figure out whether women are entering puberty later and if so is that an instance of natural selection, is “How old were you when you started menstruating?” but then again, I’m not an economist.

    • Two McMillion says:

      Natural selection doesn’t have long term goals, only short term ones about what works here and now.

  2. HeelBearCub says:

    Question for (David Friedman) those who know something about Iceland in the 10th to 13th century.

    In this paper David says the following:
    “At the base of the system stood the godi (pl. godar) and the godord (pl. godord). A godi was a local chief who built a (pagan) temple and served as its priest; the godord was the congregation. The godi received temple dues and provided in exchange both religious and political services.”

    What do we know about the natures of dues required and services provided?

  3. sam k says:

    I currently have some flu-like virus, characterized by chest congestion, sore throat, cough, loss of appetite, headaches, and soreness/tension all over my body, as well fever & chills.
    I’m feel terrible unless I take ibuprofen (2-3 / 4 hrs), which reduces the soreness, tension, and fever to manageable levels. When I woke up this morning after roughly 5 hours of bad sleep, I wanted to cover myself (except for my head) in multiple blankets for warmth, but 20 minutes after taking ibuprofen was breaking a sweat and couldn’t stand any blankets at all.
    I’m mentioning this because it’s never been clear to me if a fever & the accompanying chills are a side-effect of the immune response, or a mechanism by which the body fights infection (and compels me to raise my body temperature in order to, perhaps, make my body less habitable to viruses?). If it’s the latter, one would expect that treating the pain with ibuprofen would be impeding my recovery.

    • sam k says:

      Didn’t finish this but can’t edit it for some reason. Basically, just wondering if anyone can shed some light on whether taking ibuprofen in this case is a bad idea? Maybe something else (tylenol??) would prevent the discomfort without actually preventing me from feeling chilled?

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      If it’s the latter, one would expect that treating the pain with ibuprofen would be impeding my recovery.


      As I understand it, this is correct. Fevers are part of the immune response, and bringing them down is generally considered counterproductive, and only done if the fever rises to levels where it poses a greater risk than the illness.

      But comfort is important too, so a slower but more comfortable recovery may yet be preferable.

  4. Dr Dealgood says:

    (Low-content political snark placed in rot13 below.)

    V whfg fghzoyrq npebff fbzrguvat engure nzhfvat.

    V jnf tbvat guebhtu zl arj tenq fpubby’f jrofvgr naq fnj n yvax gb gurve bssvpvny qrsvavgvba bs nssvezngvir pbafrag. Phevbhf gb frr jung vg jnf, V pyvpxrq ba vg. Fb urer vf gurve qrsvavgvba va vg’f ragvergl:

    “Abg Sbhaq, Reebe 404”

    Eneryl ner bhe angvba’f rqhpngvbany rfgnoyvfuzragf fb pyrne naq pbapvfr…

  5. I’m throwing in this agnostic’s take on the afterlife. Firstly, I don’t know what’s at the base of the universe, and I think it’s extremely unlikely that anyone else can. It could be something that resembles God, but I’m not sure that people have the ability to evaluate whether they’re dealing with a major local Power rather than the Creator of Everything.

    Religion is very much about people making stuff up, and then pretending it wasn’t them. The effects of a religion is mostly about the quality of the people in it, though I think some religions offer temptations to behave badly that people don’t get in secular life. I think nations make sense if you view them as gods. Nationalism is unacknowledged religion.

    I used to have a sense of joy behind the universe, but I was never sure whether it was something in me or something objective outside me. In any case, I had no idea how to convey it to other people (nor a felt need to do so) so I didn’t talk about it.

    To the extent that I can deduce the nature of a Creator by looking at the universe, I think we’re dealing with a hobbyist rather than a moralist. The Hobbyist (Shiva dancing in the void?) is delighted by change and detail. It loves people and AIDS viruses equally.

    We need moral restraints for our sake (and this is a complicated issue), not to please It. We should be careful to not fight change and variety too much– that will turn around and bite us.

    As for an afterlife, I find it easy to assume people go on after death in some sense– I grew up in this culture. On the other hand, if I think about it as self-sustaining systems getting saved, it gets kind of extreme– does every wave have an afterlife? What would the minimum requirement be? On yet another hand, I’m not convinced that materialism is a complete answer– there may be something odd and interesting about minds, and the universe may be made of more kinds of stuff than we yet know.

    The most satisfying idea of an afterlife I’ve seen is one attributed (sorry no cite) to the ancient Celts– reincarnation without karma. It’s just life after life.

    I grant that all this talk of Hell makes me a little nervous, but I also believe that the impulse to elaborate the horrors of hell is the same thing that makes people create and enjoy horror fiction, whatever that is. If I’m correct that the fundamental nature of the universe is change and variety, then a static afterlife is extremely unlikely.

    • Mary says:

      Religion is very much about people making stuff up, and then pretending it wasn’t them.

      That sounds very much like an assertion about what’s at the base of the universe, namely that it can’t be what anyone says. How can you know that if they can’t? Especially if they don’t say they figured it out.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Nancy Lebovitz’s comment wasn’t very charitably phrased, but I don’t think that’s a reasonable objection to it. Given the sheer number of mutually incompatible religious claims out there, being believed in very passionately by those that hold them, we can be confident that either a) all religions are based on someone making stuff up and pretending it wasn’t them, or b) the overwhelming majority of religions are based on someone making stuff up and pretending it wasn’t them, and if one of them actually does happen to be true, we have absolutely no reliable way of determining which one.

        To quote from our host, from the outside, any specific deity “is an antiquated idea with insufficient evidence to even rise to the level of consideration let alone become a working hypothesis”, so it’s not unreasonable to provisionally assume that option a is more likely than option b, even if we can’t categorically rule out the hypothesis that this universe is the result of sentient creation.

        • Winter Shaker, thank you. I was trying to come up with an answer to Mary, and you’ve made a lot of the points I would have made.

          “Religion is very much about people making stuff up, and then pretending it wasn’t them” isn’t very charitable phrasing, and I’m wondering what would be kinder but still true to my intent. Possibly saying that people don’t realize that what they believe was invented by other people, though even that implies that the invention was intentional, and I think a lot of it wasn’t intentional.

          One thing that’s really clear about people’s reaction to fiction is that even if they’re doing a reasonably careful reading/viewing, their emotional reaction is very much shaped by their temperament. I think it takes a lot of exposure and a pretty flexible mind to have a chance of realizing how legitimately different people’s reactions can be.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Good point; ‘people making stuff up and either pretending or unconsciously confabulating that it wasn’t them’ would be a better way of putting it.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            people making stuff up and either pretending or unconsciously confabulating that it wasn’t them

            I suspect a fair amount of collaborative accidental generation of lies was involved. For instance, given the technology available 2000 years ago, “turning water into wine” was a pretty simple magic trick. If you saw a good magician do that trick and weren’t yourself a magician, you might be fooled into thinking he’d done a miracle. The story “there’s this guy in a town 100 miles away who does miracles” might then spread and grow in the telling, and perhaps get mixed into other stories about miracles.

            Or in a largely pre-literate society a verbal storyteller might tell fictional tales ze made up presenting them as fiction, those stories are retold by others and at some point some some re-teller adds a winking “No kidding, this really happened!” to make it seem more dramatic and relatable, the wink gets lost in later written versions and eventually people think all this nonsense was intended as history.

          • Deiseach says:

            Glen Raphael, you interest me strangely. Please inform me of the mechanism of the simple magic trick whereby six stone waterpots containing in total around 120 gallons of water had the contents turned into wine at a wedding, where unless we assume the steward, servants and groom were in on the con, there does not seem to have been opportunity to prepare the set beforehand, as I understand magicians find necessary?

            Now, maybe indeed the groom invited Jesus as party entertainment and set up the entire stunt: “Oh no, we’ve run out of wine, what will we do?”

            Then Mary ‘persuades’ Jesus to help them out, and he and his assistants wheel out the ‘waterpots’ which have been already filled with – well, whatever is used in the “simple magic trick”. A bit of sleight of hand, alakazam! water into wine! And the guests are all drunk enough they’re impressed, and the story goes round that it was a miracle.

            That’s about the size of it, right?

            On the other hand, seems a bit harsh to crucify a guy just for being good at his job as a party entertainer/stage magician. Makes Lord Vetinari and the scorpion pit for mimes seem positively bleeding-heart liberal.

          • Glen Raphael says:


            Glen Raphael, you interest me strangely. Please inform me of the mechanism of the simple magic trick whereby six stone waterpots containing in total around 120 gallons of water had the contents turned into wine at a wedding, where unless we assume the steward, servants and groom were in on the con, there does not seem to have been opportunity to prepare the set beforehand, as I understand magicians find necessary?

            I should note that it’s always a dicey prospect to try to explain the workings of a magic trick based on any description given by people who were fooled by the trick because the very fact that the trick worked and was good enough to be worth telling others about means the witnesses were substantially fooled – some of what they think they saw was the result of assumptions they made. Stories of that sort also grow in the telling – we tend to retroactively remember a much stronger trick than what we actually saw. But that said, I’ll take a stab at it.

            The water-to-wine effect I was thinking of isn’t quite the one Jesus does. His is…weirdly indirect and not really designed to seem compelling to a modern reader. Important details are left out.

            Anyway, first let’s not dismiss the simplest option: other people were in on it. Consider if David Copperfield came to your wedding and revealed (perhaps after a smaller-scale trick involving a single cup of water visibly changing to wine and being tasted right away – that’s how I’d do it) that, oh by the way, also a huge batch of what everyone had assumed was water was now wine…and you had to choose between only these two options to explain that last part:

            (a) A deity chose that precise moment to suspend the laws of physics to enable a dinner parlor trick, or

            (b) Copperfield had somebody pay off your servants to fill the pots with wine while pretending to follow your instruction to get water.

            …you’d probably go with (b), right? Not even a question, really. Heck, even if the trick involved needing multiple people in multiple roles look the other way or engage in deceit, that is also a resolution that doesn’t involve violating any laws of physics, so it’s an option you’d have to consider a higher probability than a literally-impossible actual miracle.

            But it gets better – this trick might conceivably have been done without many accomplices, if you consider the basic magic principle of multiple outs.

            Here’s how that works: When you see a magician perform a trick, it is natural to assume the magician set out to accomplish the exact precise effect that you perceived. If the seen outcome seems really unlikely, the trick is amazing. But in fact, you don’t know how many other options the magician had than the one he chose to show you!

            In this case we have the best possible scenario: we have a magician who didn’t, say, announce a week in advance “at this dinner I am going to do an amazing trick!” He wasn’t there to do tricks at all. Rather, he was there as a simple wedding guest and apparently spontaneously chose to do a trick. Which makes all the difference. The fact that the trick was “spontaneous” makes it infinitely easier to astound.

            So, you know there’s going to be a big dinner somewhere. IF the water jugs are stored in an easily accessible location where you know that after being filled they will be left unattended for some time such that you can sneakily swap the water-filled ones with wine-filled ones OR you have managed to scope out the location and make a prior side arrangement with the servants to refill “water” from a barrel of wine you supplied them THEN you choose this event to show off your amazing turn-water-into-wine trick. Whereas if the cisterns AREN’T left unguarded and accessible to you or the relevant servants aren’t bribable you simply choose not to do the trick at that meal. You’ll do it at some OTHER meal where circumstances better favor your plans.

            (This is how Uri Geller bent spoons. If he could manage to bend a spoon when you weren’t looking, he’d do it and then show off this amazing bending-spoons-with-his-mind effect had just occurred, whereas if you were doing too good a job of watching him he’d do a different trick or no trick at all.)

            The intended audience for the trick was the disciples; any method that fools them – and only them – suffices to accomplish the effect described.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            On further reflection, to do the water-to-wine thing as described in John 2 would probably be a lot simpler (and cheaper!) than I assumed. I think only one container (the one sampled from) was wine and it was wine that was already there – when Mary said “they’re out of wine” she was lying or misled. Some elements that make the trick seem harder actually make it easier.

            When Jesus says to fill six containers, do you know where they would be filling these containers from? A river? A large cistern? How far would they have to travel to fill the containers?

            Here’s the problem: a “full to the brim” 30 gallon container weighs at least 240 pounds. That makes it at least a two-person job and means getting 6 such containers thus filled would fully occupy a bunch of servants for a long time. If you can get all the available servants schlepping water and it takes, say, a half hour round trip that leaves no servants merely standing watch to see that the already-brought containers remain untampered with. Since nobody is expecting water to be turned to wine – they think it’s just going to be water – nobody is watching very closely.

            So the magician sets aside some wine. His mom says “they’re out of wine!”. He (publicly) directs the servants to fill six containers with water. This being a big job, maybe he “helps them out” with parts of the assigned task or offers his own servant (or friend, or mom) to assist (or supervise?) in wrangling the full containers into place as they arrive, which means he or his associate has access to the “nearby” shed (or whatever) where the containers are being put. Using that access, someone swaps the FIRST container brought with an identical container of (previously set-aside) wine during the long wait while the servants are fetching the SECOND or subsequent containers.

            Once all the containers are full to the brim (which takes, what, a couple hours?) enough time has passed that nobody remembers which containers arrived when or who initially had access to them. And the trick is already accomplished; all that remains is to reveal it.

            When the magician says “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”, he points at the first bottle – the one that’s now wine – while doing so. Since the spectators don’t have reason to think there’s any difference between bottles, they don’t realize that it matters which one is chosen. They sample the indicated bottle and…it’s wine! And remains wine for the next 30 gallons of drinking, which is enough to get everyone drunk. Everybody assumes the choice of which bottle to open first didn’t matter which if true might imply all the other bottles are wine too, but the text doesn’t actually say any other bottles were sampled, so we shouldn’t assume they didn’t remain water.

            Fetching six containers was misdirection.

          • I’ve always been partial to the ideas of narrative/story creep. Maybe what actually happened was a fortuitous donor gave the party wine on the cheap or free, the sort of coincidence that people feel lucky about. “Oh we planned on this party and got lucky that this other guy was looking to get rid of a bunch of wine before it went/so he could clear out space for new barrels/etc”. Play telephone with that one for long enough and it goes from “coincidental cheap wine get” to “god arranged coincidental wine traded for a song” to “god arranged coincidental wine from a guy that jesus helped earlier by giving water when he was thirsty” to “jesus got wine by giving water” to “turned water into wine”. Just a thought, but I’ve seen much more remarkable tales be built up over much shorter times because there are lots of incentives for every step of the way to embellish and plenty of places for errors to creep in.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Last point: by the text, it’s Mary who says “they’re out of wine”. But how does she know that? She must have gone to where the bottles are stored to have a look! At which point she could have set aside one or more (still full) wine containers. Continuing in the same role, she might have overseen the placement of the newly-filled water bottles and done the swap. In which case Jesus would never have to touch the water bottles at all. Thus he could have been conspicuously present as the water was brought, making its “turning to wine” especially miraculous.

            Mary looks to be the “magician’s assistant” who (as these things tend to go) does all the work but gets none of the credit.

            Hypothetically, I mean. If the story isn’t all just a complete fiction, this is one way it could have happened.

        • Mary says:

          Except that that would apply to Nancy, too. You can’t say they are all making it up without knowing enough about the ground of reality to tell.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      @Nancy Lebovitz

      Firstly, I don’t know what’s at the base of the universe, and I think it’s extremely unlikely that anyone else can. It could be something that resembles God, but I’m not sure that people have the ability to evaluate whether they’re dealing with a major local Power rather than the Creator of Everything.

      One of my sticking points is how anybody can know that God still exists and still cares about humanity. In most other contexts if somebody didn’t return any of your phone calls for two thousand years you’d assume they weren’t around anymore or didn’t care anymore. If you walk through the woods and find a pocketwatch on the ground you don’t assume the watchmaker is still alive.

      So maybe thousands of years ago there were some local Powers running around pretending to be God, or there were some Gods, or there was an actual one-and-only God, or maybe they were visiting space aliens or time travelers or otherwise not-from-around-here types. They showed up in person and did miracles and answered prayers and generally impressed people…and then they died out. Succumbed to a rare god/alien space virus. Took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and wound up in a black hole. Or just lost interest in us and went back wherever they came from.

      On top of believing they did exist it takes a lot of extra faith to also assume the god/alien/whatever thingy you think did exist is still out there now. Like Maz said to Rey: “Whomever you’re waiting for on Jakku, they’re never coming back.”

      • Lumifer says:

        how anybody can know that God still exists and still cares about humanity.

        By having personal religious experiences which are not uncommon.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          If the fact that occasionally some people have a weird experience or a really strong feeling that makes them think God exists means God exists, then ghosts, fairies, bigfoot, aliens, and Santa Claus exist on the same basis, no?

          I guess I was hoping for something more…measurable? I mean, if biblical miracles constitute evidence for God’s existence (back then), shouldn’t the subsequent lack of biblical miracles be evidence against God’s existence (now)? Is there a consensus in-universe explanation for why the more explicit kind of miracles stopped?

          • Two McMillion says:

            I mean, if biblical miracles constitute evidence for God’s existence (back then), shouldn’t the subsequent lack of biblical miracles be evidence against God’s existence (now)? Is there a consensus in-universe explanation for why the more explicit kind of miracles stopped?

            The answer is that biblical miracles were never common. In the biblical narrative, there are spaces of hundreds of years where absolutely no miracles occur. The bible reports heavily about the times when miracles did happen, which creates the impression that they were a lot more common than they were. Abraham saw a miracle; his son and grandson saw some things that were kind of weird but were technically within the realm of things that could happen naturally, and then another four hundred years passed before Moses showed up and more miracles happened. After Moses died, Joshua did one miracle, and then no more miracles for a few more hundred years. Less than a dozen happen over the 120 years of the united kingdom; another happens a few decades later, then nothing until Elijah and Elisha show up and do and bunch, then nothing for another century until Daniel shows up, and then nothing for five hundred years until Jesus arrives.

            Miracles, in biblical times, consisted of a few events in rapid succession with centuries between them. Modern science is younger than many of the gaps between miraculous events in the Bible.

            That said, people do sometimes claim to have seen miracles regardless. I’ve seen something I’m convinced was one myself.

          • Lumifer says:

            If the fact that occasionally some people have a weird experience or a really strong feeling that makes them think God exists means God exists

            It’s an answer to the question “how anybody can know that God still exists and still cares about humanity”. You were saying, basically, that maybe gods existed but then went away, how would we know? This is how.

            Unless, of course you want to argue both that some Elder Gods existed and went away, AND that people today have weird religious experiences for no good reason.

      • Two McMillion says:

        One of my sticking points is how anybody can know that God still exists and still cares about humanity. In most other contexts if somebody didn’t return any of your phone calls for two thousand years you’d assume they weren’t around anymore or didn’t care anymore. If you walk through the woods and find a pocketwatch on the ground you don’t assume the watchmaker is still alive.

        I get prayers answered pretty regularly.

        • Montfort says:

          More than chance would suggest? If so, is this a phenomenon we could measure, or do you think the effect would go away if we tried?

          • Two McMillion says:

            Trying to test God is forbidden. Trying to test pray would probably fall under trying to test God. God says he doesn’t answer prayers if you offer them in a way he specifically told you not to.

  6. Orphan Wilde says:

    A response to Jiro from the previous open thread:

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

    I’m an atheist, but I think that’s incorrect. The same people would go to Heaven and Hell regardless of their knowledge of the sin, because it is not the sin, per se, which really matters, but rather the sinner.

    A Mormon once told me that, in the Mormon religion, everybody meets God when they die, and choose then to Accept or Reject Him – with the sole exception of people who already knew God and Rejecting Him, which is why leaving the faith is a big deal. This appears to be a common theme in Christianity; leaving is an explicit Rejection, and worse than simply not believing. But that’s slightly beside the point. The thing to notice is that there is a concept of a choice after death, which a couple of people here have hinted might be applicable in Christianity more broadly in a more metaphorical sense.

    And then we see a fairly simple game theory question. It’s not “Do you Accept God”, because that’s the wrong question. It’s “Are you the sort of person to Accept God”, with a claim in Christianity of being able to change the sort of person you are through salvation – that is, part of the belief structure is the claim to change you from the sort of person who wouldn’t Accept God, to the sort of person who would.

    And once you change it to a “What sort of person are you” question, the whole “Innocent of religion” concept dissolves, and the reason why, in Christianity, it is moral to spread Christianity becomes apparent: In a Calvinistic sense, you’re going one way or the other, but God can redeem you if you ask for it, but that requires knowing that you can ask for it.

    I suspect the “redemption” thing might feel very profound from the inside, as well, which might make it feel like a miracle. Certainly those who feel they have been redeemed feel very strongly about it. Can anyone comment on that experience?

    • Deiseach says:

      The thing to notice is that there is a concept of a choice after death, which a couple of people here have hinted might be applicable in Christianity more broadly in a more metaphorical sense.

      No, there’s not. There’s the General and Particular Judgements, to get old-fashioned.

      The General Judgement is the one at the end of the world, during the Parousia. The one alluded to in the parable of the sheep and the goats. It’s a universal judgement, when nations are a whole are judged, and all of us have our judgement confirmed: “Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.”

      The Particular Judgement is the one we all face after our death; the kind of cliché Chick Tract “facing the Throne of God” moment.

      There is no “Oops, hang on a minute, now I know the truth and I’m really sorry, can I have a second chance?” People do misconstrue Purgatory as “well, you weren’t bad enough for Hell, so you’re earning a chance at Heaven” but that’s not correct. The souls in Purgatory are saved but must make up the penance they did not carry out in life (that’s why waiting till the last moment – as somebody said “why not decide to repent later and just sin now?” in the other thread – is strongly discouraged, you don’t know and you can’t guarantee that you’ll have plenty of time later to repent and be good).

      This life is the only chance you get to decide.

      • Jiro says:

        There is no “Oops, hang on a minute, now I know the truth and I’m really sorry, can I have a second chance?”

        So as far as you understand Christianity, is it possible that someone can go to hell because of an honest intellectual failure to believe the truth (such as not believing God exists or not believing that fertilized eggs are people)?

        • Deiseach says:

          is it possible that someone can go to hell because of an honest intellectual failure to believe the truth

          Complicated. There is “invincible ignorance“: you cannot be condemned for something you had no knowledge of, nor any way to know it:

          Invincible ignorance, whether of the law or of the fact, is always a valid excuse and excludes sin. The evident reason is that neither this state nor the act resulting therefrom is voluntary. It is undeniable that a man cannot be invincibly ignorant of the natural law, so far as its first principles are concerned, and the inferences easily drawn therefrom. This, however, according to the teaching of St. Thomas, is not true of those remoter conclusions, which are deducible only by a process of laborious and sometimes intricate reasoning. Of these a person may be invincibly ignorant. Even when the invincible ignorance is concomitant*, it prevents the act which it accompanies from being regarded as sinful. The perverse temper of soul, which in this case is supposed, retains, of course, such malice as it had.

          *Concomitant ignorance is concerned with the will to act in a given contingency; it implies that the real character of what is done is unknown to the agent, but his attitude is such that, were he acquainted with the actual state of things, he would go on just the same.

          Where it gets tricky is this: if someone is told (for instance) that abortion is murder, yet does not believe it – are they truly ignorant (as in, incapable of understanding the fact, unable to accept it after an honest and genuine exercise of their reason, or unaware that this is serious and involves the risk of damnation) or are they “la la la sticking my fingers in my ears I can’t hear you” because they prefer not to have to think that “fertilised eggs are people” or are they “okay, I looked at the religious argument for five seconds, but I’m already stone convinced SCIENCE! is always right and in this case SCIENCE! says these are not people, so no, sorry, not interested in changing my mind”?

          If it’s genuinely, honestly, an intellectual failure to believe the truth and the person would be willing to believe if they could be convinced – not necessarily damnable.

          You see, we can’t say with certainty who is and who isn’t in Hell. We have to believe Hell exists, we have to believe we run the risk of damnation, we can’t comfortably plan that we’ll be good later (“Lord, make me chaste, but not just yet”) because we can’t guarantee we’ll have a later, but we can’t say “Definitely Joe is in Hell, the life he lived!”

          Because repentance is complicated, too.

          • Mary says:

            To add a few refinements:

            Invincible ignorance does not mean literally unconquerable. It means unconquerable after a reasonably prudent person makes reasonable efforts to find out the truth. (More than reasonable efforts are supererogatory — or scrupulous, if you do enough more that it interferes attending to other matters. )

            And there are different types of vincible ignorance, which can not remove guilt, but can alleviate it, the more diligence and less negligence you showed. If for instance you did try to figure out what the truth was, but didn’t quite make a reasonably prudent effort, that would mitigate the guilt. (This is merely vincible ignorance.)

            When a person who makes no effort, it results in crass or supine ignorance; acting in such a state is just as guilty as doing it with full knowledge. Affected or studied ignorance results when a person goes out of his way to avoid learning the truth, and can increase guilt beyond what you would have incurred with full knowledge, because of the hardness of heart involved.

            Still more here if you’re curious:

        • Two McMillion says:

          So as far as you understand Christianity, is it possible that someone can go to hell because of an honest intellectual failure to believe the truth (such as not believing God exists or not believing that fertilized eggs are people)?

          So, there’s a spectrum of replies to this in Christendom. Deiseach has covered the Catholic side of the spectrum. I’m on the Calvinist side, which is way on the other side. Let me try and explain how we approach this question.

          The Calvinist would say that if someone’s problem with God was solely intellectual, then sure, that wouldn’t be a sin- but that in fact nobody has a solely intellectual problem with God.

          Here’s an example: a while back, I had a discussion with someone at work about video games, and after I mentioned the cost of a particular game, he replied with a bit of a wink that “That’s what Pirate Bay is for.” I immediately said that no, it isn’t, it’s stealing. He paused for a moment, and then said that well, sometimes he couldn’t always afford all the video games he wanted. I replied that I didn’t doubt that, but wondered if he thought stealing was wrong unless he really wanted what he stole. He said that sometimes he used Pirate Bay for things he simply couldn’t find anywhere else. I asked him if he thought that stealing was all right if it’s your only way to get something. He didn’t have an answer.

          Now, notice what happened there. This gentleman never disputed that downloading media from Pirate Bay is theft. A case can be made that it isn’t, but for our purposes it’s enough that he thought it was. In other words, he believed in the existence of a moral law that generally forbade him from using it.

          But notice what actually happened whenever the rubber met the road. Whenever he was actually faced with the possibility that goodness might require him to give up a game or a movie he wanted, he invented a convenient excuse that explained why stealing was okay this one time. And he didn’t notice anything unusual about this! He didn’t even realize he was doing it until I pointed it out to him!

          People do this all the time. All of us know that certain things are wrong- lying, cheating, stealing, etc- and all of us do those things, because whenever they come up we decide that this case is special, this case is an exception. Are there genuine exceptions to these things? Probably, but they’re not nearly as common as we seem to have convinced themselves. All of us have an internal standard by which we judge right and wrong, outrageous or reasonable, and all of have violated it and carefully constructed reasons why it was okay when we did it.

          The Christian view is that ultimately your problem is not your intellectual view of God. Your problem is this kind of behavior. All people stand condemned of sin, not merely by the impersonal decree of a distant god, but by the standards of right and wrong that we ourselves have adopted and expect others to hold to.

          This is where the battle for your belief is. It’s not about the ontological or the cosmological argument; it’s about the fact that you know what right and wrong are but fail to do it. And the only thing you can offer in reply to that is lies and excuses. You’re a LWer. You know how common motivated reasoning is. The Christian argument is that, when it comes to morals- not highbrow moral philosophy arguments but the actual down to earth of how you live your daily life- you regularly do wrong and make excuses for it. So you didn’t think it was wrong? Of course you don’t. That’s the point. Nobody ever does anything they genuinely think is stupid. If you did wrong, you did it because you thought it was a good idea, because you believed the excuse your mind fed you when the issue came up.

          But in actuality there are no exceptions. Excuses are not allowed. Right is right and wrong is wrong, and either you know that you’ve done wrong or everyone else does. Stealing is wrong for everyone, including you, and that excuse you came up with to say that using Pirate Bay is okay isn’t a triumph of moral reasoning; it’s bogus justification you invented because you wanted that game, morals be damned.

          That’s what Calvinists mean when they say that intellectual problems aren’t what keep you from God.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            The Calvinists can assert that no one actually has a purely intellectual objection to believing in gods, but I don’t think that analogy works. To the extent that I can understand the workings of my own mind, I don’t not-believe-in-any-gods because it is personally convenient; I don’t believe because I genuinely am intellectually unpersuaded that any gods exist, but at the same time, if any gods did exist, and the consequences for not believing the correct things about those gods were catastrophic, I would want to know, and I would consider it personally convenient to know. Any god that designed my brain that way, and was willing to condemn me to hell for having a brain that was designed that way, would be at best utterly deranged.

            It also doesn’t answer the question of how to resolve, say, a Christian who says that nobody really has a purely intellectual objection to accepting the truth of Christianity; anyone who disbelieves must be doing so because on some level they don’t want to, and thus they can justifiably be damned because their own selfishness prevented them from accepting the truth, vs. a Muslim making the same claim but swapping in ‘Islam’ for ‘Christianity’.

          • Two McMillion says:

            The Calvinists can assert that no one actually has a purely intellectual objection to believing in gods, but I don’t think that analogy works. To the extent that I can understand the workings of my own mind, I don’t not-believe-in-any-gods because it is personally convenient; I don’t believe because I genuinely am intellectually unpersuaded that any gods exist, but at the same time, if any gods did exist, and the consequences for not believing the correct things about those gods were catastrophic, I would want to know, and I would consider it personally convenient to know. Any god that designed my brain that way, and was willing to condemn me to hell for having a brain that was designed that way, would be at best utterly deranged.

            I think you’re missing the point. You may or may not have a genuine intellectual hesitation on the existence-of-God-question, but whether you do or not is irrelevant. What’s relevant is the fact that you do wrong- and that when you do, you make excuses. This is much more important than where you stand on any particular intellectual issue. People do not go to hell because they believed the wrong things about God. Many people who believed wrong things about God are currently in heaven, and God is beyond human understanding anyway. People go to hell because of sin. And here you can’t claim intellectual objections, because the wrong you do is not a question of intellect.

            I’m not saying that you don’t have intellectual objections to Christianity, I’m saying they don’t matter because your intellect isn’t your problem.

          • Jiro says:

            Whenever he was actually faced with the possibility that goodness might require him to give up a game or a movie he wanted, he invented a convenient excuse that explained why stealing was okay this one time.

            By that reasoning, I can say “I think it’s wrong to hurt other people”. Then it comes up that I need to hurt someone in self-defense. Now you say “when faced with the possibility that not hurting other people will be disadvantageous, you invented a convenient excuse that explained why hurting people is okay this one time”.

            Of course, the rebuttal is that the rule never actually was “don’t hurt people”, it’s “don’t hurt people except in self-defense”. So I am not finding an excuse for violating a rule, I’m just more accurately figuring out what the rule is in the first place.

            But any attempt to make an excuse could be phrased as “figuring out the rule more accurately”, and any case of figuring out the rule more accurately could be phrased as “making an excuse”. The ones that you approve of you call “figuring out the rule more accurately” and the ones you disapprove of you call “making an excuse”, but there’s no actual difference at all–it’s just a matter of semantics.

          • Randy M says:

            Just because two things could be mistaken for one another does not make the difference negligible. Just as in the legal analog to your example–a finding of self-defense in will get someone paroled, while a claim of self-defense because the victim looked vaguely threatening will not mitigate the sentence.
            All the more so when the judge can know your thoughts and even impulses.

          • Two McMillion says:

            By that reasoning, I can say “I think it’s wrong to hurt other people”. Then it comes up that I need to hurt someone in self-defense. Now you say “when faced with the possibility that not hurting other people will be disadvantageous, you invented a convenient excuse that explained why hurting people is okay this one time”.

            There is such a thing as a substantive difference between situations. The Bible is sympathetic to people who steal because it’s the only way they can avoid starving to death, after all. The difference is that an excuse has no substantive relationship to the situation around it. “I was defending myself” is substantive; “I wanted that movie really badly” is not.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        You’re disagreeing with a metaphor as it pertains to broader Christianity. I’m trying to explain what these concepts look like from an outside perspective; the choice is metaphorical, not literal.

        To be more explicit: If you were to go before God, and make a choice, you’re not going to make another choice. You are who you are. God offers the living an opportunity to be someone else through Salvation; but on death, they are who they are. They’re going to make a particular choice. So the result is perfectly consistent with free will and the Hell-is-a-choice narrative; Innocence doesn’t mean you wouldn’t make a choice, it just means you don’t know what the choice is yet. The You-that-is would make the same choice regardless.

        As necessary, this metaphor can be extended: To suggest that nobody could choose God without asking for God’s help to become the person who could choose God. We’re all incapable of appreciating what God is, until we’ve asked God to make us capable. This seems morally perverse to me, but then, I’m pretty sure I’d reject God, given the universe I see around me. I mean, maybe it’s vanity, but I feel like I could do a better job, which just wouldn’t work well for a worshipful experience. So I’m incapable of accepting God, and maybe everybody is, until they experience Salvation, and see the universe is Good after all.

        Of course, maybe I just don’t grok God. Maybe I reject an invisible man in the sky who created a terrible universe full of suffering, and whose religion is a cult of suffering, and that understanding isn’t actually God or Christianity, and I just don’t understand what I’m looking at. In which case, in what sense can I say I would reject God? I don’t even know what I’m being asked. If the universe is Good, and I see that for myself, maybe I’d make a different choice. In that sense, I’m Innocent even after hearing the word of God, because I didn’t actually hear the word of God.

        Eh. I’m more familiar with the arguments than the church doctrine. I think that’s a pretty good way to describe the three beliefs/arguments representing Hell-as-a-Choice as expressed to me. Clearly I favor the last; it’s the most compatible with God-as-what-I-conceive-to-be-Good.

    • Jiro says:

      The same people would go to Heaven and Hell regardless of their knowledge of the sin, because it is not the sin, per se, which really matters, but rather the sinner.

      That means that if I honestly don’t think fertilized eggs are people, and I kill them, but I’m the type of person who would have killed them even if I did think they were people, I go to Hell.

      That would imply that someone who does not murder, but would have murdered if he were to be given the chance, would go to Hell just like someone who actually murders.

      Or, in other words, opportunity to commit the sin is irrelevant.

      That is, of course, a consistent position, but it would be seen by most people as injustice, and it would fall into the category of “having to assume a really arbitrary thing in order to be able to say that people choose to go to Hell”. I also suspect that a lot of Christians here would disagree with it.

      • Amanda says:

        I think that’s only unjust (and it’s clearly unjust) if the person making the judgement is human. If we’re talking about God (assume good and omniscient with me here) deciding if you’re the “type of person” or “would have done it given half a chance,” then it almost seems more just than going by actual behavior. Some life circumstances come with a lot more temptation than others. It seems reasonable to assume that God would be correct about what I’d do if the situation presented itself– if I would fight against the temptation, or just go for it.

        This is not to say that I’m prepared to say that’s how it actually works (or that I’d put myself in the “you choose hell” camp). But I’m not uncomfortable with it.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        That is, of course, a consistent position, but it would be seen by most people as injustice, and it would fall into the category of “having to assume a really arbitrary thing in order to be able to say that people choose to go to Hell”.

        My longer answer to Deiseach I think does a better job explicating what I’m trying to convey there: Getting to choose, given God, would merely be a formality, an unnecessary step. It looks more meaningful than it is, because, at that point, you have all the information. There’s only one choice you’re going to make, and it’s going to depend on who you are as a person. In human terms, you might regret your choice, but you wouldn’t make a different one.

      • bluto says:

        The sermon on the mount (Jesus most famous sermon) is pretty foundational Christian theology (this isn’t as oft quoted but comes in about 15 lines after the famous beatitudes):

        Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matt 5:27-28 KJV)

        A few verses earlier something similar is said about murder and anger without cause.

        • gbdub says:

          But is the lesson, “thinking about adultery is literally just as bad as adultery”, or “don’t be quick to judge the adulterous, you’ve been lustful too”? I’d argue for the latter, since many of Jesus’ teachings are of the form “We’re all sinners here, so stop being so shitty to sinners – judging is God’s job”.

          • bluto says:

            Every commentary I could easily find online (which in practice means the ones with expired copyrights) takes the first interpretation “thinking about adultery is literally just as bad as adultery”.

          • Two McMillion says:

            Yeah, it’s the latter.

        • Randy M says:

          The other verse would probably make the case even better–something close to “Anyone who says to his brother ‘You fool!’ is in danger of the fires of hell.”

          • Mary says:

            “whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. “

      • Deiseach says:

        That would imply that someone who does not murder, but would have murdered if he were to be given the chance, would go to Hell just like someone who actually murders.

        Intention matters. Maybe you didn’t murder anyone, but you went through life in a fume of anger and hatred, ill-wishing people who annoyed you*, hoping bad things would happen to them and rejoicing when you heard they did, and would have killed someone if you could actually get away with it.

        That kind of attitude and habit of mind kills grace in the soul. You may well go to Hell, not for murder, but for the frame of mind you lived your entire life in, where if asked on your deathbed with the possibility of salvation or damnation hanging before you, you would have said “Yeah. Yeah, I would have murdered that son-of-a-bitch if I could have gotten away with it, and I’d do it right now, and I’m not one bit sorry!”

        *Hmm, this is sounding familiar, I should be taking my own advice!

        **There was a good, if short-lived show on years back (I knew it’d only last one season because I loved it) called Brimstone – something of a forerunner to Supernatural, in a kind of way. I loved it because, unusually, it wasn’t afraid to be tough when it came to theology.

        First episode, they introduce the set-up. Anyway, let’s just say a dead and condemned to Hell cop has a second chance at life hunting down escaped souls from Hell; if he tracks them all down, the Devil agrees to send him back to life.

        And they introduced a blind, black priest as a minor character in the first episode who is talking to our ex-cop demon-hunter, and I was fully prepared to start rolling my eyes because I expected the usual fluffy feel-good ‘if you’re a good person, it doesn’t matter what you believe’ kind of spiel because this was an old, blind, black man and that’s the kind of sugar-coated homespun wisdom such characters are put in the script to dispense.

        What made me prick up my ears and sit up and go “Wait a minute – this show could be good!” was when he told the cop that yeah, you deserved to go to Hell for shooting your wife’s rapist, after the guy was acquitted in court. (See what I mean about setting the guy up as “he doesn’t deserve this fate!” with the reason he went to Hell?)

        Because it was murder – you went there to kill him. This wasn’t justice, this was revenge and anger and hatred. And you don’t get to murder anyone you like, even bad guys. You committed mortal sin, you didn’t repent of it, you died and went to Hell, and that’s exactly what you deserved.

        Their portrayal of the Devil was very good, too, though they went a bit soft in the last episodes. And they went for the cringe-inducing Orientalism episode, too, which was a bad idea, but every show has one of those.

        • Anonymous says:

          All criminal justice is revenge. Suppose I had my wife raped. Consider the following scenarios:

          0. I go after the rapist myself and shoot him personally.
          1. I hire a hitman to track the rapist down and kill him.
          2. I tell about the rape to my friend, he believes me, finds the rapist and shoots him.
          3. I complain to a local vigilante group, show them the evidence, they go after the rapist and murder him.
          4. I report the rape to the police, they track the rapist down, he is tried before a court and the judge delivers a death sentence, which is promptly carried out.

          At which point does it stop being “revenge” and become “justice”? I don’t think there is any; the only difference here is that the latter two instances of revenge are socially sanctioned, while the others aren’t. By your standard we should abolish all courts, let all criminals loose and leave all judging to God. I don’t believe that to be a very attractive or viable option.

          And if you think the most relevant detail here is taking someone’s life, you can always swap the murder for locking up the rapist in someone’s basement for the rest of his days while barely providing for his basic needs.

          (<ol> and <li> don’t work? Shame.)

          • caethan says:

            Not really. The classic justifications for criminal punishment are
            1. Rehabilitation (fixing someone so they don’t commit the crime in the future)
            2. Deterrence (promising punishment to prevent people from committing the crime in the first place)
            3. Removal (this person who committed a crime won’t be able to commit more crimes while locked up or dead)
            4. Retribution (giving someone the punishment that they deserve for their crime)
            5. Revenge (hurting the criminal because they hurt us, or hurt society)

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m not disputing the justifications for criminal punishment. I am disputing it having anything to do with “justice”. Your points (1), (2) and (3) have nothing to do with “justice” and I accept them as valid; the latter two of these three are purely practical considerations. I am attacking points (4) and (5), between which I fail to see any difference anyway.

          • Randy M says:

            Revenge is a motive. Justice is a description of an action.
            The reason you are not sanctioned to kill the killer is not because it isn’t just, but because you are less likely to ensure it is just (in theory) via mechanisms of openly evaluating evidence, etc., and less concern with proportionality; and so vigilantism in aggregate is likely to have numerous instances of injustice–but any particular instance of vigilantism is not deemed unjust simply because a justice system was not followed or because the enactor felt particular ways about it.

          • Anonymous says:

            Deiseach seems to be making an argument that hinges on a distinction between someone who desires revenge and someone who desires “justice”. I am pointing out that given the way “justice” tends to be carried out in society, there doesn’t seem to be any real difference between the two — except perhaps for who is actually doing the dirty work.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I don’t think there is any; the only difference here is that the latter two instances of revenge are socially sanctioned, while the others aren’t.

            You seem to be ignoring the important role of procedural justice, which obliges us to reach verdicts by processes which are reliable, open to public scrutiny, and adequately safeguard the rights of the accused. A correct verdict arrived at by a process which fails to respect principles of procedural justice is defective in much the same way that a true belief which comes from an unreliable source is defective. You may have happened to get it right, but there was an unacceptably high objective chance of making a mistake.

      • LPSP says:

        God as the thought-police, sending people who never commited a sin but who always wanted to do so to hell and sending people who never wanted to sin but yet did anyway to heaven, certainly grants an interesting perspective when entertained. God essentially sees people as assets; good assets can do good and bad assets can do bad. If a bad asset never gets the chance to any harm, God will still dispose of them at the first opportunity anyway, and even if a good asset never does any good God will still seize them and promote them.

        You don’t think about whether an object has feelings or not; you simply destroy it if you think it’s harmful, whether it has ever done any harm or not, and you take care of it if you think it’s helpful, whether it has ever done any help or not. In the thought police universe, God thinks of us as objects in this way. As a result iy doesn’t provide any behavioural incentives for people on earth. God has an opinion of whether you are good or bad that exists independent of your actual actions, and will be punished or rewarded respectively in the afterlife. Ergo your behaviour here on earth makes no difference, so you should just follow the incentives you already have, behaving well if/when it suits you and not if/when not.

        I guess this all relates back to the classic God-quality question of Theodicy: if God is omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent, why does evil exist? In a universe where God is not the thought police and has to wait until you have done evil before he can judge you as such, the answer is trivial: God is omnipotent and benevolent but not omniscient. He can make mistakes, which explains the evil in this life. It then presents a worrying corrolary: God may be sending people to heaven that have nothing but ill intentions and merely lived normal to decent lives because they never had the chance to sin, and sending good people to hell because they were forced to sin by contrast.

      • Two McMillion says:

        That is, of course, a consistent position, but it would be seen by most people as injustice, and it would fall into the category of “having to assume a really arbitrary thing in order to be able to say that people choose to go to Hell”. I also suspect that a lot of Christians here would disagree with it.

        I hold this position. Let me try and explain exactly why this is.

        When it comes to goodness, most of us are willing to acknowledge that there’s two levels of goodness: our actions, and our intentions. Thus, you get things like Taylor in Worm saying she “did the wrong thing for the right reason”, or the wrong thing for the right reason, etc. And I think this distinction is correct- you can be morally wrong in one or the other, or both.

        The mistake people make, in view, is in assuming that intentions is where our moral responsibility bottoms out. But think about this: as LWers, most of us are very aware that quite a lot of mental processing goes on below the level of consciousness. Your conscious mind sees what your biases, chemical imbalances, and the all the rest of the physics that feeds your brain lets you see. Of course, we don’t normally think of all that as “us”. But this is simply a failure to apply reductionistic ideas far enough. Thou Art Physics, as Eliazar says.

        To put it another way, those intentions in your mind, good or bad? They don’t emerge out of the void. They come from somewhere. And there can be evil in that somewhere. That’s what the Bible means when it says we have a “sin nature”. It means that the somewhere our intentions come from is shot through with wrongness and evil.

        And think about this: two people, one with bad intentions and one with good, can perform the same act, and there’s no way to tell the difference. One person can donate to charity because they care about poor people, and another can donate to charity because they want to signal their virtue. If bad intentions can occasionally produce right acts, is it so strange to believe that a bad nature can produce right intentions?

        In other words, goodness, in the Biblical view, does not stop at the artificial lines we have constructed. As the Psalmist says, you must have clean hands and a pure heart. To be truly good, you must be good all the way down, and it is important to realize that “good intentions and right actions” is only part of the way down.

      • Randy M says:

        That would imply that someone who does not murder, but would have murdered if he were to be given the chance, would go to Hell just like someone who actually murders.
        …I also suspect that a lot of Christians here would disagree with it.

        But not, presumably, the people who believe that we can use a Simulation to tell us anything meaningful about reality.
        (The point being, an omnipotent God could run a ‘counterfactual’ simulation mentally to determine proper judgement)

  7. Jill says:

    Regarding the recently discussed question of whether people can have pre-verbal memories from very early in life, or from birth, even gorillas apparently can have memories from when they are babies. Take a look at this You Tube of gorillas, at about 32:30 mark. This gorilla reports remembering his mother being killed by poachers.

    The entire video is quite amazing, from beginning to end. The gorillas paint pictures, some of which look somewhat like the objects signified by the titles they give their paintings. I can’t understand why there aren’t more scientists all over the world working on communication with gorillas. Who knows what they might communicate to us if the research keeps going on like this?

    • Deiseach says:

      Yes, those are very well-trained animals. Their coach really has effective methods in getting her pets to perform. So did the owner of Clever Hans, who was not a fairground hustler in the mould of Barnum but the same kind of fuzzy mystic ‘if we could talk to the animals’ well-intentioned, well-wishing, self-deluder as the “teaching chimps and gorillas sign-language so we can break through the communication barrier” sorts of today are. I’m sure you’d love the movie “Day of the Dolphin“, which was the brand of “just as intelligent as us but non-human and we’re making huge breakthroughs in learning how to talk to one another” animal tricks when I were a lad.

      I don’t believe that they are recounting traumatic life events from their childhoods or what have you. They’ve got the level of intelligence appropriate to their species and they’ve picked up the cues about what pleases their trainer and gets them rewards. The interpretation of the signs produced by the animals is all being done by the zoo-keeper, and naturally she produces the most heartstring-tugging effect she can: “poor baby gorilla was terrified when his mommy was killed by bad evil poachers, everyone contribute to the cause of stopping poaching now!”

      I’d agree poaching should be stopped, but not on the grounds of weeping gorillas missing their mommies.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I don’t intend to join in any argument about the extent to which great apes can learn language (I think the answer is probably “approximately to the level of a young child”) but I’d like to bring up the chimpanzee used in one such experiment, who was named Nim Chimpsky. There are no records of him discovering links between poset games and generative grammars, which is strong evidence against nominative determinism.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think “which great apes do we consider for the role of Peaceful Loving Exemplars to shame us dreadful humans?” is very influenced by fashion.

        Chimpanzees, as you point out, used to be the leading contenders in this race and were trotted out as being able to learn and use sign-language at a sophisticated level, human-equivalent emotions, and being artistic.

        Then observation in the wild showed that chimps were violent, ate meat, were even cannibalistic, and led raiding parties that attacked other chimp troops – and suddenly gorillas got the accolade as our superior primate brethren who shame us for our cruel and violent ways, including learning and using sign language, having human-equivalent emotions, and being artistic as in that video, though I believe orang-outans are now coming up fast on the inside as favoured contenders 🙂

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I think bonobos are now winning, due to their progressive attitude towards sex and gender roles.

        • Loquat says:

          Male orangutans pretty routinely rape females, though, and have even occasionally been known to sexually assault humans. So I gotta go with Sweeneyrod and say it’s bonobos, who reportedly have sex to settle social conflicts and routinely engage in orgies.

  8. Kevin C. says:

    An article that I found interesting, from The Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium, by Glenn Geher (SUNY at New Paltz) and Daniel Gambacorta (New Mexico State University):

    Evolution is Not Relevant to Sex Differences in Humans Because I Want it That Way! Evidence for the Politicization of Human Evolutionary Psychology

    This research explored political motivations underlying resistance to evolutionary psychology. Data were collected from 268 adults who varied in terms of academic employment and parental status. Dependent variables represented whether participants believed that several attributes are primarily the result of biological evolution versus socialization. Variables addressed attitudes about: (a) sex differences in adults, (b) sex differences in children, (c) sex differences in chickens, (d) human universals, and (e) differences between dogs and cats. Using a Likert-scale, participants were asked to rate the degree to which they believed items were due to “nature” versus “nurture.” For instance, one of the items from the cat/dog subscale was “Dogs are more pack-oriented than cats.” Independent variables included political orientation, parental status, and academic employment status. Political liberalism corresponded to endorsing “nurture” as influential – but primarily for the two human sex-difference variables. Academic employment status was independently predictive of the belief that sex differences are the result of “nurture.” This effect was exacerbated for academics who came from sociology or women’s studies backgrounds. The effect of academic employment status also corresponded to seeing behavioral differences between roosters and hens as caused by “nurture.” Further, parents were more likely than non-parents to endorse “nature” for the sex-difference variables. Beliefs about differences between cats and dogs and beliefs about causes of human universals (that are not tied to sex differences) were not related to these independent variables, suggesting that the political resistance to evolutionary psychology is specifically targeted at work on sex differences.

    • Anonymous says:

      In contrast, the title of that article does not politicize the issue at all.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      If you strip away the unfounded causal insinuations, all the study tells us is that leftists are more inclined than conservatives to attribute sex differences to upbringing (and academics more than their political orientation alone would predict). We already knew that, didn’t we?

    • a n o n says:

      This article looks like a joke. One internet comment is

      suggesting that attitudes about the issues at hand need not divide across gender lines

      ? Is this science ?
      Said comment contains the following :

      I have not read the book (The Decline of Males; Tiger, 2000) but from the title I would bet this guy has some very valid points ……

      and what the authors have to say about it is this :

      this author sounds reasonable and does not, to our reading, come across as particularly political

    • S_J says:

      Further, parents were more likely than non-parents to endorse “nature” for the sex-difference variables.

      With a sample size of…more than 2 but less than 10…all the parents in my extended family agree.

  9. Perpetually Inquisitive says:

    I spend a lot of time thinking about how best one could spend their energies improving the world. There’s a lot of potential avenues one could concentrate their efforts on:

    – the individual level: recycling, personal garden, going vegan, etc.
    – corporate: starting up, attempting to change the world, etc.
    – scientific: original research, joining a university, etc.
    – technological: open-source, joining openAI, etc.
    – rationality: learn the sequences, preach them, etc.
    – political: starting or participating in a movement, etc.

    and so on. I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest impact would be in investing in political change. Every other problem will be solved once we start aligning our forces in favour of humanity, although I can easily entertain arguments for how any of the other domains on the list might be better. Many items on the list will solve every other item directly or indirectly.

    For instance, you might believe that solving the AI problem is within grasp, and so we should focus our effort here, or that a more rational baseline is the only way humanity can survive.


    • Orphan Wilde says:

      Every other problem will be solved once we start aligning our forces in favour of humanity

      No. As soon as you make your side the side “in favour of humanity”, your enemies, it is implied, must be against humanity.

      Given that you and I likely disagree on what the best policies are, you’ve named yourself an enemy I have to fight.

      • Deiseach says:

        Orphan Wilde puts it a little more strongly than I would, but I have to agree. It sounds great to say “We should all put aside our differences and work for the good of humanity” but when it comes to implementing policies, then what is “good”? who decides? how do you decide? is “good for 75% of humanity but would be terrible for 10% and middling for 15%” the policy you pick, or does it have to be “unalloyed good for 100%”?

        And then, as Orphan Wilde points out, that puts “people who disagree with us” as “enemies of humanity”, rather than “people who think that policy Z is better than policy G”.

      • Perpetually Inquisitive says:

        Hah, fair points, I guess I was being too vague in the interests of keeping my comment brief. I guess I meant something more like:

        “Our political system, and politicians are clearly not ideal. If I could solve one problem, it would be that of taming moloch in the political sphere (political coordination).”

        This does not mean that I want my pet political party/ideology/leader win, just that this is where the lowest hanging fruits lie in terms of the betterment of humanity.

        For example, what are the political views that most people agree on? Can I spend my energies enabling those to succeed? In the interests on not being too hypothetical, I’ll pull a measure out of my ass, that seems to have some limited support across the board: the influence of money in politics (I’m not American, but I think it serves as an instructive example). Just an example, and probably not the best.

        If you disagree that this is an effective use of my time and energy, what would you pick instead? Or do you feel there can be no one clear such issue?

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          Robin Hanson has some advice about how to focus your efforts re: political change in such a way that you won’t be called an enemy of humanity by your opponents.

        • Lumifer says:

          Political coordination is a mere tool in the pursuit of goals which you did not specify. Authoritarian (and/or totalitarian) states solve the political coordination problem quite nicely.

          I think what you mean by “the betterment of humanity” is still quite unclear at this point.

          • Perpetually Inquisitive says:

            Huh, interesting, seems like defining the goal was a harder problem than I realized. Food for thought, I guess.

        • Deiseach says:

          For example, what are the political views that most people agree on?

          I’m very cynical about human nature. Everybody loves Mom and Apple pie, right? Who doesn’t? We do, even those mouth-breathers/godless decadents in the opposition party love Mom and Apple pie!

          Everybody wants love, peace, a reasonable wage, and happiness for all. What is going to get love, peace etc. is the question. Who gets it, how much of it they get, do they have to deserve it, do some people never deserve it, who pays for it, how do you pay for it, who gets to be in charge, are we the People’s Democratic Party or the Party of the Democracy of the People or what?

          There are going to be people whose answer to “how do we get love peace and happiness for all?” will be “the market!” and others whose answer will be “raise their consciousness! crush the gender binary!” and sixty dozen other suggestions.

          I wish you luck in sorting out that tangle 🙂

        • Glen Raphael says:

          @Perpetually Inquisitive:

          For example, what are the political views that most people agree on? Can I spend my energies enabling those to succeed?

          If most people seem to agree on some political view yet that view is not already policy it might be because that view is a terrible idea, an impossible goal, or has substantial popular resistance you don’t know about.

          If the negative impacts of some policy are hard to explain it’s especially easy to demagogue in favor of it. As a result of such rhetoric, many terrible ideas are popular among people who don’t know enough to hold an informed view on the subject.

          If you had asked about the political views that the most smart and well-informed people agree on that might be another matter, except then we’d have to argue about who to include in that category.

          No easy answers, I’m afraid…

    • Vaniver says:

      I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest impact would be in investing in political change.

      What matters is not impact, but impact per unit effort. Politics is the worst on that metric.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Politics might be quite high on impact per unit effort once you reach a certain threshold (taking over), but it is an extremely high threshold

      • Did Scott ban anonymous commenting? says:


        A la Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided, the impact from politicing is probably not as high as you expect.

        This is not, however, the main reason politics is awful.

        The main reason politics is awful is politicing has awful side-effects:
        1. Shitty epistemics. Politicizing tends to make finding the truth harder. One thing I’m currently working on right now involves understanding the results out of cognitive psychology pertaining to efficient learning. This is not politicized, and there is a consensus of experts that I remain confident in even after reading The Control Group is Out of Control, Beware the Man of One Study, Debunked and Well-Refuted, and Rationality Memes. Ditto for microeconomics. On the other hand, women in STEM is politicized. There is no clear consensus here; just a variety of studies that put forth approximately 3^^^^3 explanations, many of them contradictory. And these aren’t the gold-standard studies that GiveWell covets. Oh no, they’re mostly too weak to draw any confident conclusions from, more flamethrowers to fry your political opponents with.

        Politicizing an area also introduces publication bias.

        2. Politicizing hinders alliance-making. My understanding is that one reason OpenPhil chose (American) criminal justice reform as a cause area was because there was a natural alliance between left and right. Liberals do not like the poor and minorities being locked up disproportionately. Conservatives do not like spending lots of money on prisons. Perhaps something good could happen! And then Black Lives Matters happened, and conservatives like law and order and sided with police, and liberals dislike police brutality and sided against the police, and even though it’s not quite the same exact area, it’s close enough that I suspect that it buggered that alliance. At the very least, it shifted focus of both liberals and conservatives.

        3. Politics is averse to third alternatives. In the US, there’s a debate over drug legalization. My reading of our host’s post on this tells me there’s lots of room for reasonable people to disagree, so you have people who are for decriminilization/legalization of marijauna versus those against. But the “for” side doesn’t advocate for making marijuana (and LSD, psilocybin) schedule II to make medical research on it possible because they want to get high. The “against” side doesn’t want to cede that ground because slippery slopes. So, sufferers of {pain, spacicity, PTSD, cancer, ADHD, addiction, terminal anxiety, cluster headaches, OCD, depression, tobacco addiction, alcoholism} are potentially out a treatment. If marijuana weren’t politicized in this way, I suspect that moving it (and LSD, psilocybin) to schedule II would have already happened, because that’s a lot of people who could use another treatment option and doctors (who want to do research/have research done) are high-status. Also, I understand a large reason that these drugs were made schedule I in the first place has a lot to do with Richard Nixon disliking the hippies and those were the drugs hippies used.

        tl;dr: politicing has negative externalities. These affect the expected value of doing things politically and suggest doings things apolitically when possible.

        • Anonymous says:

          No, he didn’t.

        • Anonymous says:

          I’m not sure I follow your point 3. Marijuana is Schedule I, but THC is Schedule II (III?). So that is not an obstacle to research. LSD research is restricted, but I hear that there is a professor at Purdue with a 50 year old vat of LSD who can’t get grad students interested in the subject.

    • Tedd says:

      The Effective Altruism community spends a great deal of time thinking about this question. I suspect you may be interested in the writings of 80,000 Hours in particular. See e.g. this recent piece on land use reform.

      However, investing in political change is what is known as a crowded area, i.e., lots of people are already working on it. So the marginal person (such as yourself) trying to improve the world by that means is unlikely to have much impact. You may wish to instead consider contributing to global health charities or similar, or starting a charity in a less crowded area if you have a comparative advantage in doing so.

    • LPSP says:

      Way too much value signalling inherent in politicals and not enough actual action. Politicals is our big coordination mechanism, and surprise-surprise it’s corrupt and dysfunctional beyond belief. If you can find a way to coordinate others into doing good independently (starting businesses, including research groups, are prime examples) then you’ve bypassed the wretched mechanism entirely.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:


        Or, if you’re stuck working for Megatherium Corp, use their resources to do some useful research, and (if necessary) leak it to some Good Guys.

        This is what I remember the Acquarian Conspiracy movement being about.

    • Agronomous says:

      1 – the individual level: recycling, personal garden, going vegan, etc.
      2 – corporate: starting up, attempting to change the world, etc.
      3 – scientific: original research, joining a university, etc.
      4 – technological: open-source, joining openAI, etc.
      5 – rationality: learn the sequences, preach them, etc.
      6 – political: starting or participating in a movement, etc.

      (Numbers added, for my convenience.)

      1: Your recycling has about as much effect on the world as your vote. Less, actually, since a lot of the stuff you painstakingly separated out ends up in the same landfill as the trash anyway. (Or, in Chicago, the same landfill as your ballot.) In all seriousness, Recycling is a daily religious rite, nothing more.

      2: This can actually make an improvement to the world, and comes with a good yardstick: money. People will give you money to improve their lives. If your company makes a few people’s lives a lot better, you can make millions of dollars from thousands of customers. If your company makes a lot of people’s lives a little better, you can make millions of dollars from millions of customers. Another advantage: if your company doesn’t make anyone’s life any better, it goes out of business and goes away, freeing up people and capital to go do so successfully.

      3: We’ve killed science. If I were a scientist, I would seriously consider hanging myself before realizing I could quit and go be a gardener. Innovative thinkers don’t get funded: good pitchmen do. Individuals can’t compete: only big labs or consortia of them. You can’t advance your career by publishing a few papers that are all true: you have to publish a flood of papers, and truth seems to have little to do with getting published.

      4: I have a soft spot for open-source software, so I’m not going to think too hard about this one.

      5: Rationality actually seems like a good thing to promote. Pro-tip: don’t call it “preaching,” even if it’s preaching. My only reservation would be that perhaps a foundation of sanity would be a good place to start, before erecting the walls of rationality. (Scott is a sanity doctor!) Low-hanging fruit of insanity includes basically every organization of over 100 people I’ve ever seen up close.

      6: Politics always looks promising to the young. I’d advise reading a bunch of political biographies to get an idea what it’s really all about (self-interest and tribes seems to be about 50% of it, blatant careerism another 25%, with righteous crusades like Abolitionism coming in somewhere around the 1% mark). Also, you have to lie all the time to be successful in politics (as a candidate or as a movement); there’s just no way around it.

      TL; DR: Just go make money.* As long as you don’t steal/engage in stock fraud/sell cigarettes/corner the market/go full Shkreli, it’s your surest bet for improving the world, with the best interim feedback mechanism.

      (* And write open-source software in your free time.)

    • Perpetually Inquisitive says:

      The comments have given me plenty to think about. A couple of points that I think I should clarify though:

      – I don’t actually want to get into politics, I’d rather be tortured alive.
      – I hadn’t realized even our terminal values aren’t as aligned as I thought they were. Thinking a bit about it, if they were, AI safety wouldn’t be an issue.
      – I think my current plan (make money, don’t be an asshole) remains the most effective way to bring change *of some unspecified sort* about *at some unspecified point in the future*. I still think it makes more sense to save money than to donate to charity X, I think this thread just confirms it**.

      ** I do have a feeling a lot of the people reading this are in the right general direction, though.

  10. JayT says:

    I’m constantly hearing horror stories about how terrible education in the U.S. is, and how all these other countries test so much better and have so much more academic success. If the U.S. schools really are as bad as the news makes them out to be, why isn’t it showing up more in the outcomes of the population? The U.S. still ranks at, or near the top of pretty much any measurement of quality of life or earnings.

    So I guess my question is, are the U.S. schools not as bad as people make them out to be, or is it just that quality schooling doesn’t really matter as much as people assume? Or is there some third option?

    • Psmith says:

      are the U.S. schools not as bad as people make them out to be,

      Probably not.

      quality schooling doesn’t really matter as much as people assume

      This is also very possible.

    • Two McMillion says:

      One possibility is that the US imports a lot of top talent from other countries. Anecdotally, many of my professors when I was at university were not US-born.

    • Lumifer says:

      Two points.

      First, the US has a large Black population and even without subscribing to HBD ideas it’s impossible to deny that its academic achievements are considerably lesser than those of Whites (not to mention Asians). I think that if you separate out “academic success” by race, the US Whites will be quite in line with the rest of the Western countries.

      Second yes, school is not as important as many people assume it to be.

      • Tedd says:

        Yeah – most major racial groups perform about as well or better in the US than elsewhere, in fact, not just white people. See this table from Steve Sailor.

    • Eltargrim says:

      One other aspect that hasn’t been mentioned yet is that performance may vary dramatically between states. I would not be surprised if wealthier states have better outcomes than poorer states, for example. Looking at Psmith’s link, Massachusetts outperforms Canada, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Given that schooling is a state responsibility, I think the answer is that some schools are doing an excellent job, others aren’t, and that looking at the US in aggregate is the wrong metric.

      • JayT says:

        California consistently is near the bottom in school though, and obviously it is a state that tends to do quite well. Now, maybe it’s possible that California is propped up by people moving to the state from places with good schools, but I have a hard time believing that would be a driving factor.

      • cassander says:

        Here are demographically adjusted NAEP scores by state. It looks like the variance is about plus or minus a year over 8 years. Not sure if that counts as “a lot” or not, but there you have it. Wealth does not seem very important. Mass it the best, but Texas is number 2. California barely beats out Alabama and Hawaii, the third richest state, is dead last.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          You can’t use the demographically-adjusted scores to conclude that wealth isn’t important, they’re adjusted (in part) for wealth! If you look at the raw scores, the top five states are:

          1. Massachusetts
          2. New Hampshire
          3. New Jersey
          4. Vermont
          5. Minnesota

          The bottom five are:

          50. New Mexico
          49. Mississippi
          48. Alabama
          47. Louisiana
          46. California

          Almost certainly going to be a strong correlation with wealth.

        • Urstoff says:

          Indiana: where everything is as good as it should be but no better

    • The Nybbler says:

      The US is very populous and very heterogeneous. On the large scale you have the “Thank God for Mississippi” effect; some areas of the country have absolutely terrible schools whereas some are better. Also on a large scale, poor Hispanic immigrants probably make educational results worse for many schools.

      On a smaller scale, you’ve typically got lousy public urban schools serving mostly poor populations, and far better suburban schools, private schools, or occasionally a few decent public urban schools serving wealthier populations. (This pattern has survived, or perhaps is merely lagging, gentrification of urban areas) On average, then, the US looks pretty mediocre, but the high-achieving schools are pretty darned good.

      Also making the US look worse in international comparisons is that some other countries (China in particular gets mentioned) aren’t as thorough in reporting results, reporting only from their best schools and not all the schools.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I think US schools in impoverished communities mostly do poorly regardless of whether they are rural, urban or even sub-urban.

      • JayT says:

        The only problem here is that lower income Americans tend to also do just as well or better than their European counterparts. So even if it is an issue where a few states are dragging the entire score down, wouldn’t you expect those states to be significantly poorer performing than other countries? From what I’ve seen, that isn’t the case.

        • cassander says:

          To be fair, low income Americans are, as a general rule, considerably wealthier than their European counterparts.

    • John Schilling says:

      The schools that one hears horror stories about are generally the public schools in poor communities, or sometimes large communities whose unified school districts average over a great deal of poverty. Almost all middle-class Americans who care about their children’s education, have better schools than that available to them. But these are often charter schools, magnet schools, private or parochial schools, and so tend to get left out of the simplistic “Let’s compare the standard generic public(*) schools in different nations” sort of comparison.

      And of course children from poor families tend to get left out of the network of charter/magnet/private alternatives to poor public schools, nor can they afford to live in the districts with good public schools, which probably does affect their personal outcomes. But, insofar as they come from poor families, this can be difficult to discern from the generic persistence of poverty.

      * What the US calls “public schools”, which I believe the UK calls “state schools”.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Yes, “public school” in the UK is supposed to refer to the most elite private schools. I think the term refers to how they were originally open to the general public, as opposed to whoever the Church wanted to let in.

      • Saint Fiasco says:

        > nor can they afford to live in the districts with good public schools

        My family was poor and I had a great high school one short bus-ride + half a km of walking from my home, so I went there. In my country you don’t just go to the school that is the closest to you. Parents shop around for a school with good reputation, or the school where the kid’s friends (or the parent’s friend’s kids) go,

        Not being able to live in the same district as a good school shouldn’t stop kids from going there. If that is the case in America, it could be one of the difference makers.

        • Anonymous says:

          If that is the case in America, it could be one of the difference makers.

          It is the case in America, and it could definitely be one of the difference makers, but it isn’t going to change anytime soon. The administration offices of public school districts, esp. wealthier ones, go out of their way to track down “illegally attending” students (who live outside of district lines).

          The funding of schools by property taxes (paid directly to the district) is a big cause of this. Doing away with it would be a game-changer.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The funding of schools by property taxes (paid directly to the district) is a big cause of this. Doing away with it would be a game-changer.

            One way or another. Taking funding out of local control might do something about the patchwork quality… by reducing all the schools to poor quality. We have a hybrid system of funding the schools in New Jersey, both property tax (local) and income tax (state). In practice, nearly all the state money goes to the bad districts (which contribute little from property tax), leaving the better districts funded locally. The bad districts are funded at a significantly higher level, per pupil, than the better districts.

            Proposing an end to local funding (and control) would be political suicide, as the parents in the better districts would assume (not without reason) that the bad districts would get all the attention and their own schools would get shafted, while the money would continue to come from the good districts.

          • BBA says:

            On the one hand, you’re probably right about the deleterious effects of centralizing funding. California and Hawaii, noted above as rich states with underperforming schools, are the states with the least local control over school finances. (California’s low property tax cap forces school districts and other localities to depend on state-level funding, while Hawaii has no school districts at all – every public school is run directly by the state department of education.)

            On the other hand, to the extent of my knowledge there is no other country on Earth with America’s extent of local school funding, and their education systems do just fine even with centralization.

            And on the gripping hand, Milliken v. Bradley overturned Brown v. Board of Education in all but name. That’s the elephant in the room.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Milliken ended forced desegregation of de facto segregation; it did not overturn Brown in all but name, as doing so would allow for schools segregated by law. In practice in NJ, the bad schools tend to be black and Hispanic, with the good schools being white and Asian (in some cases majority Asian), though there’s some mixed schools which are considered good. Schools, though, are one area where yelling “racism” is politically ineffective.

            The basic issue, I suspect, is isolation. If you have students or schools that are bottomless pits of need, then having a system which insists on trying to providing for that need before considering anything else will result in poor results for everyone. Thus you need some way of limiting the amount of money and attention spent on those students and schools. Local control seems to have some success; a serious tracking system (going all the way down to disciplinary/”reform” schools) with real limits on per-pupil spending might also, but are a lot harder sell politically.

          • cassander says:

            It’s perfectly possible to centralize funding without centralizing administration, just have a system that relies entirely on vouchers and charter schools.

          • Anon. says:

            Given massive increases in spending with literally zero effect on results, is there any compelling reason to believe that school funding changes will have any effect?

          • It’s perfectly possible to centralize funding without centralizing administration

            A very good recipe for throwing lots of money at a problem with little effect is to give money without accountability.

          • BBA says:

            Things I will regret writing:

            Segregation is segregation no matter whether it’s by law or by geography. Most white people, deep in their lizard brains, want their kids in segregated schools – even liberal icons like Samantha Bee and Jason Jones who would be railing against segregation if it were anyone else’s kids involved – and the current school district system lets them have it without having to admit it to themselves. (Frankly, if I ever have kids I might move to a “better” school district – and I’m ashamed of myself for even considering this hypothetically.) This is the real reason why centralized funding and school choice, as many other countries use successfully, will never take off here.

          • The Nybbler says:


            If white parents really want their children in segregated schools (as a primary preference), why don’t they object to putting their kids in schools with a lot of Asian kids? Does the lizard brain like Asians but dislike blacks and Hispanics for some reason?

          • Guy says:

            They do, as I recall, but they object differently because the stereotypes and/or facts of the matter are different. Objections to Asian-majority schools tend to mirror objections to integration with Jews, rather than integration with other people of color.

            (This is A Thing in California, mostly, if I’m remembering right)

          • sweeneyrod says:


            Are Americans really that racist? A similar thing occurs in the UK, but based purely on class — the obvious example is left-wing black MP Diane Abbott who sent her son to a private school (despite previously making comments about that being “indefensible”) because “once a black boy is lost to the world of gangs it’s very hard to get them back”. But moving to another area to get your children into a better state school is pretty common, not restricted to white people, and rarely morally condemned.

          • Chalid says:


            People move for “good schools” not race, or at least that’s what they say.. But in the US race and good schools are pretty correlated, for reasons that can be debated endlessly, so looking for a “good school district” can look a lot like looking for a racially segregated place to live.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Those selfish monsters, not wanting their kids to be beaten up or worse. Don’t they realize it’s their duty to make the rest of us feel less guilty by putting their children in harm’s way?

            Seriously though, if any of you are or know public school teachers then you should understand what a “bad school district” is actually like. In the highschool one district over from mine growing up, my mother’s remedial English class lost two kids in black-vs-hispanic gang violence the year I started high school. If I remember correctly one was shot and the other had his throat cut. This was in the suburbs.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ BBA

            California and Hawaii, noted above as rich states with underperforming schools, are the states with the least local control over school finances.

            We should be careful about drawing any casual inferences here, particularly when it comes to California, which has the the most ELL students of any state, by a large margin.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Anon

            Given massive increases in spending with literally zero effect on results, is there any compelling reason to believe that school funding changes will have any effect?

            The graph you link to is worthless, because percent change is not a meaningful metric for standardized test scores. I mean, the scale on the graph goes up to 150%, but NAEP math scores could not possibly have increased that much since 1971– the average that year was 304/500! The graph also cherrypicks data: it uses test scores for 17-year-olds, which have seen less improvement than test scores for younger children. Looking at the actual results, you can see that:

            1. Scores for 4th graders and 8th graders in reading and math have improved.
            2. Scores for 12th graders have not.
            3. Racial/ethnic achievement gaps have narrowed substantially at all three grade levels.

            Bear in mind, also, that the proportion of ELL students in US schools is several times larger than it was in 1970. Now, all that being said, I agree that the increase in test scores is underwhelming compared to the increase in funding.

            Edit: Politifact’s conclusions are similar to mine.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ sweeneyrod

            Are Americans really that racist?

            No, not really, it is mostly about class, but in the US class and race are obviously correlated.

            Generally speaking, people want their kids to have peers of the same or higher social class. In the US it’s easy because most schools draw kids only from the immediately surrounding area and so the prevalent house prices (and/or rents) establish a barrier to lower classes.

            At the upper-middle level you would find mostly Whites, some East Asians, a few South Asians, and very very few Blacks. As has been pointed out, one can debate why this is so, but it is so.

          • Anon. says:

            If 4th/8th grade scores have improved, but 12th grade scores (which are the whole point of high school education) haven’t, that means that 9th through 12th grade education has actually gotten worse, no?

          • Randy M says:

            Seriously though, if any of you are or know public school teachers then you should understand what a “bad school district” is actually like

            I was, and I would, except most of that year is still repressed.

          • cassander says:

            @Mark V Anderson

            It’s perfectly possible to centralize funding without centralizing administration

            A very good recipe for throwing lots of money at a problem with little effect is to give money without accountability.

            That’s how you increase accountability, The centralized funding mechanism is the voucher. The accountability is provided by the parent choosing where to spend it. Centralized accountability clearly has not worked with American public schools.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Anon.

            That’s one possibility yes. Another possibility is that the lack of improvement in 12th grade NAEP scores is an artifact of the declining dropout rate. In the 1970s the dumbest children dropped out of high school before they got a chance to bomb their 12th grade standardized tests, but not so much anymore.

          • BBA says:

            @Dr Dealgood: That’s all true. But if keeping your children out of harm’s way necessarily means contributing to segregation, what the hell was the point of Brown v. Board again?

            It’s a hard problem. Moralizing about it like Erik Loomis will do us no good (and holy shit have you read Erik Loomis? I can barely get through his blog posts even when I agree with him!), but neither does pretending it doesn’t exist.

            @cassander: On some level there is going to be administrative oversight of schools in any voucher program. If anyone can just call themselves a school and cash a voucher, then what you have isn’t a voucher, it’s a check.

          • John Schilling says:

            Are Americans really that racist? A similar thing occurs in the UK, but based purely on class

            The thing that happens in the US is based purely on class as well, but part of our national religion is that There Are No Classes in America. So when we notice our neighbors doing this thing, we ignore what is actually going on, looking for something that correlates with what is going on, and accuse them of racism.

            What will happen if/when race is no longer strongly correlated with class is anybody’s guess. Because everybody is still going to want to send their children to schools dominated by successful middle-to-upper-middle-class families, except for the upper middle class people who want to send their kids to elite schools.

    • Anonymous says:

      Even aside from the demographic heterogeneity discussed by other commenters, there are the vast differences in how and what public schools teach. There is no national curriculum (though that may be changing with Common Core [not to side for or against CC]), and even schools in neighboring districts may have very different offerings. For example, there is no standard sequence of topics for science in middle schools. Any child who moves, even within state, is bound to end up with gaps.

    • onyomi says:

      I always thought of US education as being a lot like US healthcare: actually very good, if not the best in absolute terms, but highly inefficient resulting in a poor cost/benefit ratio. That is, we get good results, but we spend way too much to get these results/should expect much better, given what we spend.

      • JayT says:

        Government spending on education in the US is fairly middle of the pack.

        • onyomi says:

          But I bet the US spends more private money on education per capita, in addition to its government expenditure, than nearly all the countries which spend more on it as public expenditure.

        • Gil says:

          Measured as a % of GDP Yes. Measured in dollars, not so much. It’s not clear to me why a country whose income is (for example’s sake), half that of the US, spending 30% of its national income on education, would have ‘better schools’ than if the US only spent 15% of its national income on education. Except perhaps to signal that said prior country valued education more highly, and so causality is reversed.

          • Chalid says:

            It’s not clear to me why a country whose income is (for example’s sake), half that of the US, spending 30% of its national income on education, would have ‘better schools’ than if the US only spent 15% of its national income on education.

            Isn’t Baumol’s cost disease the reason why this hypothetical country would have better schools?

          • Gil says:

            That could explain it, though perhaps that could be adjusted for by looking at the income and qualifications of the teachers involved.

        • cassander says:

          those numbers are HIGHLY suspicious. The top of the list is Sudan, Timor-Leste, Trinidad and Tobago, Marshall Islands and cuba. The Sudanese number is almost as old as I am. Sudan’s GDP is like 1500 dollars a head, if they were spending a quarter of that on education, they’d probably be starving to death.

          This list, from the OECD, says the US does spend at or near the top, depending on how you slice it.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        My general policy, at this point, is to disbelieve any statistics that “demonstrate” that the US is particularly bad at any particular thing, because every time I’ve looked into it the US is measuring something different than other countries are measuring.

        At this point I think the big difference between the US and pretty much every other country is that the US wants useful information, whereas every other country wants to look better than other countries.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Do you have any evidence for your second assertion (presuming every other country includes e.g. Australia and Germany)?

    • JayT says:

      I have another question, when they compare test scores between countries, are they administering the tests to all children? I know that in a place like Germany they have different tracks, so some kids go to college, some go to vocational school, etc. Do they only count the test scores for the college track kids? That seems like it could be a major source of the differences.

      • Psmith says:

        I have another question, when they compare test scores between countries, are they administering the tests to all children?

        Not necessarily, no.

      • Deiseach says:

        If a country is going to have itself ranked on a global scale of comparison with other countries depending on how well its fifteen year olds did in a test, I rather imagine a lot of ministries for education would make sure that schools were having the best and brightest turn up on test day with their pens and pencils well-prepared for the subject matter. The slower learners, perhaps not so encouraged to bother sitting the tests 🙂

        Certainly, during the years I worked in a school designated as being in a “Disadvantaged Area“, there were no PISA tests on our fifteen year olds.

        I see that for 2012, 5,016 students at 182 Irish schools took the tests. That’s out of 721 second-level schools in 2012/13, which means 25% of the total post-primary level schools were selected for the PISA tests. So plainly they don’t test every single fifteen year old in a country, and equally plainly that leaves some room for “adjustment”.

        If you’re testing one-quarter of the schools but you make sure to take a representative sample so you have good, bad and middling schools, that will give you one set of results. If you’re testing one-quarter of the schools but you’re only testing the top-graded quarter, that will give you another set.

    • gbdub says:

      Eddie Educator: “Look how poorly we do on these international testing standards! We need to invest in education!”

      Polly Politician: “I agree! Let’s make a national educational standard and measure performance with a standardized test, rewarding the programs that perform the best!”

      Eddie Educator: “Whoa whoa whoa, we can’t have teachers teaching to the test, that would be awful! I just meant I want to get paid more, obviously for the sake of the children.”

      • Urstoff says:

        Teaching to the test does seem like a prime case of Goodhart’s Law. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that we any better metrics than test scores.

        • gbdub says:

          Agreed on both counts, but the main point is, if you’re going cite a test to prove that we are doing badly, don’t then assert that using a test to evaluate you is a terrible idea.

          Also I think Goodheart’s Law can be abused (or rather, it’s dangerous to go full-cynic) – it really only fully applies when and if the measure has no direct connection to your actual goals and it’s easier to game the measure than achieve the goal. Some people will always cheat, but on a well-designed, well-administered test (aye, there’s the rub), at least some people who do well will do so because they actually learned the material.

  11. SUT says:

    Anyone want to comment on Freddie deBoer’s retirement from blogging? Seems rather abrupt and an odd time – in the midst of the battle to preserve civilization itself (

    Never found much agreement with the bloke, but he was “my black friend” that I could honestly said I read and wrestled with on the left. Is there a good replacement? I’m looking for something like the opposite of Jill (although she has gotten better!) where the positions defended are somewhat surprising and not always in line with the Democratic party / neo-liberalism.

    • Alex says:

      Not sure, what to read between the lines here. He seems to be very unhappy. Makes me sad, too.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        “Getting a job would be a good start.”

        Seems like a big clue (to me anyway).

      • dndnrsn says:

        His opinions have probably harmed his ability to get an academic job, but it’s not as though there are enough academic jobs even for people whose opinions are impeccable.

        I always get the vibe from reading his stuff of someone who knows he isn’t going to be successful at convincing people they’re doing the wrong thing, but is resigned to try anyway.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Not particularly left-wing, and possibly contains too much discussion of intra-British-left issues, but I like Harry’s Place. Heteronormative Patriarchy For Men is also good but updates very infrequently.

    • The Nybbler says:

      We’re always in the midst of the battle to preserve civilization itself.

    • Chalid says:

      What did people like about him? I mainly encountered him when was being an asshole on Twitter to people I follow, which I’m assuming wasn’t his best side, because nobody’s best side comes out on twitter. (Though maybe watching a leftist being an asshole towards differently-leftist people was the appeal, idk)

      • Alex says:

        I judge him by his texts. I’m not on twitter. The overall impression I have is that it would have served him better also to not be on twitter. It seems that he felt that he had to quit both, blogging and twitter, or neither. I lament the blogging-half of that decision.

      • John Sabotta says:

        This, for instance, is brilliant, and absolutely right:

        “And despite the vast social pressure telling us all that the traditional separation between children’s media and adult media was some sort of elitist conspiracy against fun, it was actually a sensible and constructive thing, because there are themes, plots, attitudes, morals, and ideas that grown ups have to grapple with in art that are not yet accessible to children.

        My wild fan theory is that, while it can be fun to escape into children’s literature sometimes, and there are wonders and value to be had there, too many seemingly functional adults now never want to return to actual adult mental life. This might be nuts, but perhaps we can recognize the magic and sadness and very real literary merit of some children’s books, while also not expecting the ninth book that involves words like “muggles” and “polyjuice potion” to have a lot to offer mature human beings who have to grapple with the fundamentally tragic nature of our world.”

        I understand why you’d give up on blogging, and it’s not my place to reproach you for it, but it’s a real loss.

    • Lumifer says:

      I wonder if it’s the current slate of presidential candidates which did him in.

    • Dank says:

      If you need a replacement liberal blogger, I’d recommend Kevin Drum over at Mother Jones.

    • birdboy2000 says:

      I really like reading Will Shetterly’s blog, but he may be a bridge too far for you. Very left, but also someone who’s broken outright with identity politics to a much greater degree than DeBoer.

      So if you liked about DeBoer was his willingness to hold that group’s feet to the fire from a leftist perspective, you’ll like him – but if what you liked about DeBoer was his willingness to defend that group’s convictions while blasting their behavior, you won’t.

      (Also in that vein, if you want to go beyond blogs and read that general hard-left perspective, World Socialist Website and some but not all parts of Jacobin.)

      • Alex says:

        First impression:

        It seems that deBoer, on average, put much more effort into his blog postings.

  12. HeelBearCub says:

    The last couple of OTs have had a fair amount of discussion, roughly, of theodicy. IMO one of the weak points in the discussion has been to assume the world as it is, posit a triple-omni God, and then ask if the two are compatible.

    Whereas, it seems to me that the correct approach is to posit a triple-omni God, and then speculate about what world they could create (as it so happens, Christians have already done this) and then ponder whether that world is compatible with our observations of the world as we perceive it to exist.

    So, continuing some threads from last OT, my question is:

    Can people commit evil acts in Heaven?

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Can people commit evil acts in Heaven?

      Can people act in heaven?

      People keep saying heaven, or the afterlife generally, is outside of time. If that’s the case then it would seem difficult to describe anything as constituting an action or inaction since both of those concepts depend on time.

      I hope that’s not too pedantic, but the whole concept of not being bound by time is very confusing.

      • Two McMillion says:

        I’m not aware of any Christian denomination which officially teaches that Heaven is outside of time. It seems more like a folk theology belief to me.

        • Jiro says:

          So people make choices that separate themselves from God, but once they go to Hell making further choices to join with God have no effect?

          • Two McMillion says:

            It would be more correct to say that people choose sin, and that the consequence of sin is Hell. We don’t say that “people choose jail” even though people commit crimes; most criminals, like most sinners, secretly believe that they won’t be caught.

        • Deiseach says:

          I’m not exactly sure what you’re saying here, Two McMillion. Time is a property of contingent reality; heaven is in eternity, so there is no sense of moments/hours/days/years/kalpas passing. Time had a beginning and will have an end, along with the end of the world and the end of the universe.

          Timelessness also applies to hell, which is why there is no changing your mind (or rather, your will) from the choice of doing wrong to the choice of serving God for the damned; the attitudes they cultivated in themselves in life are the ones they will eternally possess. That is why you can only repent in life, not post-death.

          • Two McMillion says:

            Eternity can mean a state of timelessness, yes, but it can also mean an unending succession of moments.

            If by “heaven has no time” you mean “time is inextricably linked to the laws of physics, and we have no reason to believe that those will apply in heaven”, then fair enough. But it’s a fallacy to say, “therefore there will be no experience of time passing or no ability to do things in order”, especially when people do in fact do things in order in every place where heaven is described in scripture.

          • Deiseach says:

            Two, if I may be so familiar, the accounts of things happening linearly in time experienced in heaven in the Scriptures is for the sake of us on earth existing in time.

            When, for example, in Revelation St John speaks of “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour”, are we to take it that everyone just stood (or sat) there twiddling their thumbs waiting for the seven angels to show up and be given their trumpets? St John is still in the body and describing what to him seems like the passage of an amount of time (again, I doubt there was a clepsydra conveniently to hand so he could say “Yep, that was about half an hour, sure enough”) in terms his readers can understand.

            “Unending succession of moments” is not eternity, it’s temporal duration stretched out into infinity. Eternity is something we can only reach by analogy as we have no experience of it; that is why heaven and the afterlife is something different.

            Please excuse me if I seem brusque; the pop-culture notion of heaven as “fluffy-cloud land where there’s an eternal party” drives me scatty, so I react badly to anything that makes the afterlife sound like “just like earth life, only better (or worse)”.

          • Two McMillion says:

            When, for example, in Revelation St John speaks of “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour”, are we to take it that everyone just stood (or sat) there twiddling their thumbs waiting for the seven angels to show up and be given their trumpets?


            Though you minimize by using phrases like, “twiddle their thumbs”. Surely you’ve experienced a holy reverence come over a crowd during a worship service; is it so hard to believe that saints in God’s presence could be so overcome that they would be overcome for thirty minutes? He wouldn’t need a clepsydra to tell him how much time had passed; most humans can say, “eh, that was about half an hour” easily enough by themselves. And you must also remember that are least three people currently in heaven still have bodies- Enoch, Elijah, and Jesus (and Mary, according to the Catholic view, I suppose.)

            Simply put, I just don’t see the “heaven is timeless” view in scripture. As far as I can tell, it’s a theory espoused to solve some philosophical problem or other. Well, I don’t think we have that luxury. If it seems like scripture clearly says something, we need a very good reason indeed to think it says something different.

            That doesn’t mean that it’s, as you say, like this life but better, but neither does it follow that it is entirely unlike this life either.

          • Deiseach says:

            Experience of being lost in devotion means that you don’t notice the time passing in the same way; the way someone truly caught up in and focussed on something will look at the clock and say “How can that be two hours, I thought it was only half an hour!”

            The blessed in Heaven do not, I would say, experience time in the same way as St John did or the other mortals who had visions and locutions. For John, he was aware of time passing because that’s how we who are alive experience it, with the beating of our hearts and the cycle of our breathing and the expectancy when waiting for something to happen. For John, it was about half an hour before something else happened. For the saved, it was all of a piece, with no “this happened and then that happened but after a while” because they are existing in eternity and time is meaningless so for them there was no sense of a cessation or a pause in between while waiting, or a feeling of waiting at all.

            Or do you really think we’ll be celebrating our five billionth and ninety-six thousand millionth year in Heaven, counting down the years as we do on earth, when the end of the world comes and we’re all gone to our eternal reward (or punishment)?

        • Ptoliporthos says:

          I’m pretty sure the concept of God and Heaven and Hell being outside of time is a belief of all orthodox trinitarian Chistian sects. Augustine writes about this at the end of his Confessions. You might argue about how much this is due to the influence of Neoplatonism and other Greek philosophy rather than the contents of the canonical books of the Bible, but it’s definitely an idea that Christian theologians have propounded for centuries.

          • Two McMillion says:

            Sure. It’s an idea that’s been talked about. Calling it “folk theology” was probably a bad choice of words on my part, but- well, let’s put it this way. There are doctrines which are long written and well established, and ones that are more part of an oral tradition. The idea that heaven is outside of time has certainly been talked about for a while, but you’re not going to find it in the Nicene creed or the Catholic catechism. It’s a philosophical idea that some Christians accept. As far as I know, the Pope or the Presbyterian General Assembly hasn’t issued an official statement on it. That’s what I mean by folk theology.

          • no one says:

            I’m not entirely sure if this *correct*, but here is a list of Catholic dogmas, i.e. those things that a Catholic must absolutely accept. I don’t see any statement about time in heaven, so while different ideas maybe acceptable, e.g. Augustine’s, no particular statement about time seems to be required.

          • Mary says:

            There are defined doctrines, and then there is a lot of stuff that people have talked about and proposed and argued about. And the usual way something gets defined is that someone in the later bunch says something so idiotic that there’s an uproar about it and much discussion (hopefully no riots) and after decades or centuries the everything is thrashed out so it can be clearly defined. And then it gets defined.

            Doctrine seldom gets defined until it gets disputed. (No, this does not conflict with the notion that public revelation is closed. It can be compared to a sudoko puzzle. It is working out the implications of what is already there.)

    • Two McMillion says:

      Well, according to the Bible, Satan has committed evil acts while in Heaven. However, a saved person who dies and goes to Heaven cannot commit evil acts.

      • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

        More generally, does a saved person have free will?

        What about god? Does god have free will?

        • Two McMillion says:

          God does not have free will in the same way that humans do. Perfect goodness cannot debate the ends to be achieved, nor does perfect wisdom debate how to achieve them. God is a perfect coherent extrapolated volition utilitarian, except that the thing he’s maximizing isn’t “utility” but “glory”. If there exist cases in which there are genuinely two equally good outcomes possible, then, yes, God would exercise free will to choose between them, but this may or may not ever happen.

          God does have free will in the sense that his will is not constrained by any external factors- the only thing that limits what he can choose is himself. This includes both limitations inherent in his nature (that is, he can’t cause himself to not be God) as well as self-imposed imitations (such as Jesus becoming hungry and choosing not to simply turn stones into bread).

          Other Brad gave a good summary of what a saved person’s free will is like below.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Perfect goodness cannot debate the ends to be achieved.

            I think the all-powerful and all-knowing parts are necessary for this to be true. Being perfectly good, but unsure of the truth of things and being unable to affect certain changes means you can in fact have debate about what needs to be achieved.

          • Two McMillion says:

            Fair enough, yeah. I hope the meaning of the rest of my post is clear enough, though. 🙂

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Two McMillion:
            Is Heaven a place where God’s goal of perfect goodness is met?

          • Two McMillion says:

            Is Heaven a place where God’s goal of perfect goodness is met?

            Reposting from below:

            Not at present. Satan, for example, can still visit Heaven occasionally, and human souls in Heaven, while morally perfect, will, until the resurrection of the dead, be fundamentally incomplete.

            God’s goal of perfect goodness will eventually be met, following the series of events around the second coming of Christ.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Satan, for example, can still visit Heaven occasionally

            Is that based on Job and the snake thing, or does that idea come from somewhere else?

            I’m kind of curious what Satan visiting heaven would entail. I mean, if nothing else that would be one hell of an awkward reunion.

          • Two McMillion says:

            Is that based on Job and the snake thing, or does that idea come from somewhere else?

            From Job, yes.

      • Brad (The Other One) says:

        >However, a saved person who dies and goes to Heaven cannot commit evil acts.

        Yeah, but that’s a function of how becoming born-again (re: a Saint) altered that person’s ontology/nature such that their will, at least, no longer desire to do evil acts, and a person in heaven is freed from their sinful flesh such that said flesh can no longer tempt them towards sin, as where as earthly saints do have such flesh and can be tempted in that manner. (c.f. Romans 7) There is a sense that just as “sinful humans cannot not repent towards God because they will not repent towards God”, likewise, saints in heaven do and cannot not sin because they will not sin. The end result looks the same but it’s worth pointing out that it’s not as though their will be people “wanting to sin” but not being able to; their will is aligned with their nature.

        • Two McMillion says:

          Right! Think about a person who’s told by a preacher that they shouldn’t sleep around as much as they do. The usual response to something like this is, “I like sex and I don’t see any reason not to have it.” Your nature, which causes you to like and enjoy sex, is united with your desire to have it, which causes you to take actions to that end.

          We can see an analogy of a person whose nature and will are not aligned in a drug addict. There are plenty of addicts who, while sober, hate that they are addicted to drugs and want to be clean and make all sorts of promises to get cleaned up and then end up taking drugs again anyway. This is something like the relationship a Christian has with sin here on Earth- but unlike many addicts, thanks to God’s promises, the Christian will see incremental improvement over time.

          Enter in Heaven or the new earth and the situation from the first paragraph is flipped on its head. Now a person’s nature has changed to love goodness and want to do it all the time, and their will has been changed so now they don’t have any struggle with it. Their reply when offered the chance to do evil is, “But I like doing good and I don’t see any reason to do something different.”

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Yeah, but that’s a function of how becoming born-again (re: a Saint) altered that person’s ontology/nature such that their will, at least, no longer desire to do evil acts, and a person in heaven is freed from their sinful flesh such that said flesh can no longer tempt them towards sin

          So, God can cause this change in people?

          • Two McMillion says:

            Yes; that’s part of what “being saved” means.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            So God can create beings who are saved?

          • Brad (The Other One) says:


            >So, God can cause this change in people?

            Yes. C.f. John 3, Ephesians 2, and you may want to google search “heart of flesh vs. heart of stone” references in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. (i.e. Ezekiel 36:26, for example.)

            >So God can create beings who are saved?

            All angels were created righteous “saved”, but some fell into damnation.

          • Two McMillion says:

            “Saved” necessarily implies that the being has sinned in the past and been redeemed, so no. God can create beings that are unable to ever sin- animals would be an example.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            All angels were created righteous “saved”, but some fell into damnation.

            So, beings in the state that saved beings are (in a state of “righteousness”) can commit evil acts? Can choose to undo their righteousness? This is one and the same it seems to me.

            Can people who are saved fall into damnation?

            See my earlier question, “Is Heaven a place where God’s goal of perfect goodness is met?”

          • “So God can create beings who are saved?”

            Wouldn’t it be kinder to just create saved beings instead of having all the misery caused by (at least some) sins?

          • Randy M says:

            God can create beings that are unable to ever sin- animals would be an example.

            That’s a bad example, imo. Animals can do things that, if humans did them, would be considered sin (promiscuity, killing, eating their mate…). It is the inability to see the consequences of their actions, or ot understand the existence of a moral law that absolves them from the judgement, not any disinclination to the actions.

          • Two McMillion says:

            So, beings in the state that saved beings are (in a state of “righteousness”) can commit evil acts? Can choose to undo their righteousness? This is one and the same it seems to me.

            I think you’re a bit confused over what “saved” means.

            “Saved” means that you have walked in sin previously and now walk in righteousness. A being who has never sinned is not saved.

            A sentient being can be in a couple of possible places:
            – Innocent
            – Confirmed in righteousness
            – Spiritually dead
            – Saved
            – Damned

            Innocent means that a being has not sinned, but possibly could in the future. All cases that the Bible records of God creating a sentient being places those being in this state when first created. I hesitate to say that God has to create sentient beings in this state, but the Bible at least never records him doing anything else. So Adam and Eve were innocent, and angels before the fall of Satan were also all innocent.

            Confirmed in righteousness is a more mature state of innocence. It means that you were innocent, but you’ve endured the temptation to sin and overcome it and will not sin in the future. Angels today are in this state, and had Adam not sinned it’s most likely humans would be this today. This will also be the state of saved humans in Heaven and the new earth.

            Spiritually dead means that you were innocent, but when the temptation to sin came you failed and sinned. This is the default state of all humans today. A spiritually dead being can do good things sometimes, but their tendency is to do bad things and on the whole they prefer those. Notice that this doesn’t necessarily mean externally bad- it might mean they take a great deal of pleasure in conspicuous acts of charitable giving, for example. It’s also not to say that all spiritually dead beings love absolutely every possible bad thing- they still have a conscience and possibly lines they don’t want to cross, but look deep enough and you’ll find something wrong. Virtue signaling is a classic act of spiritually dead beings. Unless saved, a spiritually dead being will eventually become a damned being.

            Saved means that you were spiritually dead, but God’s grace and mercy has come to you and changed your nature (as discussed above) so that you are no longer subject to the power if sin. Saved beings, like spiritually dead beings, still do both good and bad things, but unlike spiritually dead beings doing wrong discomforts them and they prefer to do right. A saved being will eventually become confirmed in righteousness.

            Damned beings are essentially those who have come into the fullness of unrighteousness. Just as a being confirmed in good is one who has been tempted by evil but unremittingly chosen good, a damned being has unremittingly chosen evil. A damned being cannot do anything good whatsoever (well, they can participate in “goods” like the exercise of intellect, but only as a means of doing something wrong). Demons and humans in hell are in this state.

            Your nature always wins out in the end. A spiritually dead person is one in which the sinful nature has not yet done all of the damage it can do. A person confirmed in righteousness has had all possible footholds for evil eradicated from them. They no longer sin because sin slides off them like water off a duck’s back; it has nothing on them to cling to.

            See my earlier question, “Is Heaven a place where God’s goal of perfect goodness is met?”

            Not at present. Satan, for example, can still visit Heaven occasionally, and human souls in Heaven, while morally perfect, will, until the resurrection of the dead, be fundamentally incomplete.

            God’s goal of perfect goodness will eventually be met, following the series of events around the second coming of Christ.

          • Two McMillion says:

            That’s a bad example, imo. Animals can do things that, if humans did them, would be considered sin (promiscuity, killing, eating their mate…). It is the inability to see the consequences of their actions, or ot understand the existence of a moral law that absolves them from the judgement, not any disinclination to the actions.

            Yes, but that’s part of my point: if the question is, “Could God create a sentient being who could under no circumstances fall into sin?”, my inclination is to say that sentience implies at least the possibility of sinning.

            If your question is more along the lines of, “Why would God create animals that kill each other in the first place?”, the answer is, “He didn’t, but Adam broke metaphysics at the fall.”

        • Jiro says:

          Yeah, but that’s a function of how becoming born-again (re: a Saint) altered that person’s ontology/nature such that their will, at least, no longer desire to do evil acts,

          That too seems to be inconsistent with “people choose Hell”. If being in Heaven just means that you made certain choices, it doesn’t seem like being in Heaven should alter you.

          It also raises the question of why it can’t be possible to leave Hell–why can’t people in Hell also be altered so they no longer wish to do evil? (If free will is a problem for this, just alter the ones who verbally consent to it.)

          • Two McMillion says:

            The analogy used in the Bible about the spiritual difference between a saved and an unsaved person is that the latter is spiritually dead and the former is spiritually alive. If it’s really as great a spiritual difference as that, it shouldn’t surprise us that different things happen to them.

            While you’re physically alive, you are capable of mixing good and evil together. You can feed homeless people today and go out and stab them on the street tomorrow. The difference is that one is an overlay and the other is the person’s real nature. After death, that overlay is lost and can’t be regained. Your deepest nature shines forth unrestricted. If it turns out your deep nature is horrible… well, things won’t work out for you.

            As for why that change can’t happen after death… well, God can’t simply sit around forever and not do anything with people who are doing bad things (or who would, if they weren’t stopped). Sooner or later people have to run out of chances. Death is an excellent Schelling point for the time when your chances run out.

          • Jiro says:

            That sounds like Hell isn’t a choice at all. You can’t change your nature, after all.

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            >Two McMillion

            In regards to Jiro’s comment:

            >That sounds like Hell isn’t a choice at all. You can’t change your nature, after all.

            How do you, personally, resolve the Arminism/Calvinism question of free will vs. God’s design? Just wondering.

          • Two McMillion says:

            That’s one reason I said above that it would be more accurate to say that people choose sin, just as it’s more accurate to say that people choose crime than to say they choose jail.

            But yes, the change in your nature is an act of God’s power and mercy, and you can’t effect it by yourself. That’s why “doing enough good things” doesn’t get you to Heaven. Bad applies spoil the barrel, and bad natures spoil good deeds.

            What you can do is repent of your sins- that is, acknowledge that they are horrible, that you shouldn’t do them any more, that so far as you enjoy doing them you want to stop enjoying them, and ask God to give you mercy through the work of Jesus. Praying like that doesn’t save you, but God has promised to save anyone who prays like that.

          • Two McMillion says:

            @ Other Brad

            I’m a Calvinist through and through. 🙂 I’m guessing from your exposition of Romans 7 above that you are as well?

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            >Two McMillion

            I waffle between the two because there are an awful lot of places where God seems to appeal to human free will or where, at least, that seems implied (see 2 Peter 3:9, for an example of what I mean – if God wants none to perish, and god’s in charge, why do any perish? I understand that this usually goes into a discussion of God’s explicit vs. implicit will.)

            Also, Calvinism goes into strange places with God’s love; it’s easy to see why God hates willful sinners if human will (or just the will of created beings in general) ultimately drives human rejection of God; it becomes very strange if God, who can bring all to repentance and who further, desires all be brought to repentance, does not bring all to repentance. I know about the discussion beginning in Romans 9:19, but it still seems mystifying to me.

            I’ve come to terms with how God creating creatures for his glory is a loving act insofar as the elect is concerned (God is self-sufficient, having no needs to be met, so the act of creating creatures for whom worshiping God is their highest good is not self-centered but loving) but squaring this with the existence of condemned evil-doers is strange on multiple levels – see James 1:13 for an example of another problematic passage to square with Calvinism.

            Also, simply saying “God does no wrong to someone by declining to save someone” as Paul Washer does in my above link seems like a man saying he does no wrong to a homeless man by declining to give him his spare change, and seems in violation of James 4:17. Thus I must be in error or missing something, I think.

            If you have answers to these, please share them, as these things trouble me.

            Nevertheless: Calvinism explains the ontology and process of salvation better than any competing models I know of and if you put a gun to my head I’d pick it over Arminism.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Well, this is interesting.

            You both (Other Brad, McMillion) seem to be leaning toward rejecting choice altogether. That puts free-will as a solution to theodicy right out. The earlier conversations that put this particular question on the table were around the idea of “Hell is a consequence of choosing to separate ourselves from God.”

            This is one of the hazards of the debating theists. It’s not exactly motte-and-bailey, but something akin to it. Maybe like fighting the hydra.

          • Two McMillion says:

            Sorry! If I’d seen the other thread I would have spoken up sooner! 😀

            I don’t reject free will, but I do reject most free will solutions to theodicy.

          • Brad (The Other One) says:


            In both worldviews based or informed by theism and atheism, There is a sense in which it’s meaningful to talk about human free will (“he willingly committed murder in cold blood and thus is culpable to punishment; whereas she donated a kidney to a strange in need an is worthy of praise”) and a sense in which it isn’t (“all human actions, which appear free to us, being actually the result of A: God’s preordained plan; B: the deterministic sequence of events arising from the big bang and continuing onto now”)

            Maybe the real issue is that the prior discussion went to free will as a solution to theodice without considering what free will means, or if it even exists?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I do think it makes sense to have a definition for free will even in the context of believing the universe is deterministic. Certainly discussing the existence and nature of free will can be a very fruitful and interesting discussion.

            But it doesn’t really bear on the question of theodicy. No one is asserting that a material, deterministic universe is an all-knowing, all-powerful singular entity. Most importantly there is no assertion that the universe is all knowing good. (Oops, misidentified one of my omnis there.)

            No worries. I could have been clearer in my setup.

          • Two McMillion says:

            If you have answers to these, please share them, as these things trouble me.

            – So, 2 Peter 3:9. The question is, who is being referred to here? The verse says that the Lord is patient with you– that is, the people the letter is being written to, Christians. In fact, some manuscripts say “patient on your account”. So who are the people that God wants to come to repentance? Probably the same people God is patient with- the elect.

            – James 1:13. This has be considered in context: the next verse says, “But each is tempted when, by his own desire, he is led away and enticed.” The verse, it seems to me, is talking about people who try and blame God for their sin. James is saying that the whole reason the temptation existed at all is because of the sin inside you. Think about it this way: I’m sure that as a Christian, you’ve been told many times not to look at porn. But wait just a second! God is omniscient. He knows way more about the stuff on the internet than I do. If the pictures were the problem, God would be guilty of sin. But the pictures aren’t the problem- I am. Is God guilty of tempting people because those pictures exist? No, he isn’t. The thing that makes those pictures bad is in me, not in the pictures. Absolutely anything can be a temptation. James’ point is that while, yes, God created everything, it’s not the fact that God made it that makes it a temptation- it’s your sin. I can drink alcohol, but my uncle who’s a recovering alcoholic can’t have even one drop, ever, or bad things will happen. The alcohol isn’t the problem; my uncle’s inability to say no to it is.

            Also, simply saying “God does no wrong to someone by declining to save someone” as Paul Washer does in my above link seems like a man saying he does no wrong to a homeless man by declining to give him his spare change, and seems in violation of James 4:17. Thus I must be in error or missing something, I think.

            This is a much longer answer, but can be summed up with, “Effective altruism is wrong”. (In fact, we learn from John 12 that Judas was the first effective altruist.) There is no moral obligation to do absolutely every ounce of good that you could do. The whole point of grace is that you go above and beyond your obligation, after all.

          • Deiseach says:

            This is one of the hazards of the debating theists. It’s not exactly motte-and-bailey, but something akin to it. Maybe like fighting the hydra.

            HeelBearCub – that’s the trouble when doctrinal differences do really mean something. Earnest Inquirer speaks to (let us use Christians here since we’re the ones scuffling in these threads) Christian A and gets an answer about “is it a cassock or a soutane?” and then innocently quotes that somewhere and gets leaped on by Christian B who bangs them about for their horrid presumption in erroneously identifying what is quite plainly a gown and bands 🙂

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            >Two McMillion

            The (implications of) what you say are a hard teaching; who can accept it?

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            @Two McMillion

            Does God love the unelect?

            I realize trolling Christians online is common, so please don’t mistake my terseness for deliberate rudeness. This question troubles me. Is it a lie, for example, to say “Jesus loves everyone?”

            More to the point, is there a sense in which certain people exist merely so God can maximize his glory by destroying them?

            These are the sort of questions that have been running in my head and the implication of them fill me with a kind of despair and moreover, horror.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yes, thank you.

            And hopefully everyone understands I am not trying to be disparaging here to any particular “head” of any “hydra”.

          • Two McMillion says:

            Does God love the unelect?

            Yes, but not in the same way he loves the elect. You don’t love your neighbor and your spouse the same way. (In fact, you really shouldn’t.)

            The question of whether or not God loves people in Hell is equivalent to the question of if you can love a dead person or not.

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            @Two McMillion

            >The question of whether or not God loves people in Hell is equivalent to the question of if you can love a dead person or not.

            I love my dead pets even though I know they are gone, and I miss them. At the same time I’m glad their suffering is done.

            I know a man who died in his late 40s. I wish he hadn’t died.

    • onyomi says:

      Buddhism says that humans are luckier than both demons and gods, because only they have the will and impetus to seek liberation from suffering and attachments. Gods, ironically, have no motivation, since they do not suffer.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        That’s the very, very, very Hindu influenced version of Buddhism, right? My sense is there are at least two or three branches of Buddhism, and the one that has “Gods and Demons” is really just Hinduism with a dash of Buddhist philosophy over the top.

        • Two McMillion says:

          Buddhism allows for “gods” in the sense of “higher orders of beings, but not supreme ones”. It allows for Odin but not Jehovah. It doesn’t require belief in them to be a Buddhist, but as you’ve mentioned the influence of Hinduism means people do.

          The big difference in this respect between Buddhism and Hinduism is that Buddhists deny the existence of Brahma, the supreme All, while Hindus acknowledge it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t think this is true for Zen Buddhism.

          • Protagoras says:

            Are you sure, HeelBearCub? I was definitely under the impression that various versions “gods probably exist but don’t really matter much” was the most widespread view of gods among the various Buddhist branches historically, contributing to Buddhism’s ability to co-exist with local religions (and certainly plenty of Japanese people historically followed both Shintoism and Buddhism, which suggests they didn’t interpret Buddhism as ruling out gods).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I am definitely not sure.

            Wikipedia indicates that Zen Buddhism is distinct from other forms of Japanese Buddhism and says:

            Japanese Buddhism incorporated numerous Shintō deities in its pantheon and reciprocally. Japanese Shingon also has other categories, such as the Thirteen Buddhas. Zen Buddhism however clearly rejected the strong polytheistic conceptions of orthodox Buddhism.

            The page on Zen Buddhism doesn’t mention God at all, so I don’t think it is monotheistic either (and that really would not fit my understanding of Buddhism).

          • Two McMillion says:

            I admit to not understanding Zen Buddhism as well as some other branches, so it’s quite possible.

          • Nornagest says:

            Zen is pretty weird as branches of Buddhism go. It’s also one of the better-known ones in the West, though, so the conception of Buddhism that most of us have probably has some Zen in it. Koans, for example, belong exclusively to Zen — and its Chinese antecedents, but those are mainly of historical significance.

            (Tibetan Buddhism is also fairly well-known in the West, and it’s at least as weird, but the strains you see over here tend to be more sanitized.)

          • shiny says:

            >Zen is pretty weird as branches of Buddhism go

            its not a “branch of Buddhism” anymore than its a branch of motorcyle maintanence.

            zen buddhism is more properly “the zen OF buddhism” you could equally have zen christianity or zen painting or zen astrology.

            historically you might say that zen is what happened when buddhism met taoism and this thing called zen emerged from the rubble.

            it has stuff in common with buddhism but then astronomy has stuff in common with astrology.

            zen != buddhism

            zen is not a synonym for buddhism

          • Mary says:

            And Hinduism’s response was to declare that the Buddha was in fact an avatar of Vishnu to lead demons astray with false teachings.

            (Mind you, I’ve heard some different versions of this, and I don’t know how widespread it is, but it’s a definite Hindu view.)

        • Two McMillion says:

          I read a book a while back that essentially argued that the west has been fed a deliberately skewed version of Buddhism for religious marketing purposes. It argued that this marketing campaign was the reason many westerners see Buddhism as a more reasonable than Christianity, and that real Buddhism is actually just as crazy and stupid as Christianity.

          Don’t know if I’d go that far, but it was an interesting discussion.

          (This was meant as a reply to Nornagest, but I clicked the wrong button.)

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Was that book McMahan’s Making of Buddhist Modernism? All I know about it I heard from David Chapman, as in that link. Previously on SSC. Another Chapman link.

            Marketing certainly marked the missionaries to the west, who created Buddhism-in-the-West. But the main point was that religion was reorganized not (just) to be theologically palatable to the West, but as part of a larger project to create Nations that could claim sovereignty and treat with western powers, rather than being chipped away at. And part of that was having National Religions rather than a bunch of disorganized compatible beliefs. And, also, memetic strengthening against Christian missionaries.

            But there is another issue that I don’t recall Chapman talking a lot about, which is the esoteric/exoteric divide. Zen Buddhism isn’t a branch of Buddhism in disagreement with Pure Land Buddhism. It is quite common to have Zen monks attached to a Pure Land flock. And this has nothing to do with Western influence. Abrahamic religions (Judaism less so) are historical outliers in emphasizing belief and doctrine. Most religions just have the flock support the priests and occasionally take part in rituals, without much emphasis on what the flock believes. Western emphasis on belief lead to interest in esoteric beliefs, quite apart from marketing by the practitioners.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Douglas Knight, Interesting point. I recall reading an early Chinese Buddhist text, Chan I think (and so an ancestor of Zen) in which the author commented on the Pure Land sutras, indicating that he had no disagreement with them, but they were obviously metaphorical (he was very clear that he thought this was the only remotely reasonable interpretation) and that the Pure Land is within, the state of bliss that comes from enlightenment, rather than an actual place. When I first read it, I thought it sounded like a very questionable attempt to paper over differences, but in line with your comment it occurs that perhaps the original authors of the Pure Land texts intended from the beginning for there to be one reading for the priests and another for the flock.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Correction: yes, Chapman does talk about exotericism, and its rejection by Buddhism-in-the-West. I guess this falls under marketing – the West wanted esoteric practices, so that’s all it got (“Protestant Buddhism”). But this is separate from the changes that happened before export (“Buddhist Modernism”).

          • Protagoras says:

            Oh, the text I was thinking of was the “Platform Sutra.” It actually fits better with Knight than I thought; it contrasts the idea that the Pure Land is far (that it’s an actual place you get to in the afterlife if you chant correctly) with the idea that the Pure Land is near (that it’s a state you achieve through becoming enlightened), and says that the former is, essentially, a doctrine necessary for stupid people who can’t understand the latter.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I am making a very narrow claim which is fairly objective: that common classifications of branches of Buddhism often classify adherents differently than their associated monks; in particular that it was common in China (and probably pre-Edo Japan) for Chan monks to be supported by Pure Land laymen. I claim only that the Chan monks didn’t mind that the laymen were Pure Land.

            I don’t claim anything about what Chan and Pure Land monks think of each other, or what the Pure Land authors originally thought. Maybe the Platform Sutra papers over irreconcilable differences. But when it comes to monk-lay relations, they just accept believing different things. If the Platform Sutra is explicit about this, that’s interesting, but I think I am making a claim that can be verified without that.

            Let me contrast this to Christianity. Maybe the Trinity is esoteric. But laymen are supposed to know that it is a Mystery and avoid error, if only by saying that they don’t understand. Most sects have their flock recite the Athanasian Creed on a regular basis, to reject polytheism and unitarianism, even if they don’t quite get trinitarianism. Maybe the Creed doesn’t work and the priests are just fooling themselves, but they care enough to try.

            I started with the existence of a popular classification system that says that Pure Land and Chan are different branches of Buddhism. I don’t know where this came from, whether it is a native Buddhist classification or stems from Western interest in doctrine. Maybe someone with other priorities would create a different classification. And maybe an outsider with the same emphasis on doctrine would find an equally large exo/esoteric split in most Christianity. But Buddhism doesn’t work the way westerners generally believe Christianity does.

            Originally, my point was that if you ask monks about Buddhism, you get a different answer than if you ask laymen, which is relevant to what came to the West. But this is also relevant to comments about real or fake Buddhism.

        • Nornagest says:

          Buddhism was Hindu-influenced pretty much from day 1; it developed in a Hindu context. It would be more accurate to say that some branches have diverged further from Hinduism than others, although some (especially Tibetan Buddhism) have incorporated aspects of Hindu esotericism that don’t seem to be present in the Pali canon.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Buddhism was Hindu-influenced pretty much from day 1; it developed in a Hindu context. It would be more accurate to say that some branches have diverged further from Hinduism than others

            I agree with this and it is what prompted me to put the “very, very, very” modifier on the original.

            But I think it to be the case that Siddhartha Gautama was rejecting far more of Hinduism than Martin Luther was of Catholicism.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          When people say “Buddhism” without qualifying it, they usually mean Theravada Buddhism, the type closest to the teachings of the historical Siddhartha Gautama and still practiced in Thailand, Laos, Burma, and Cambodia today. Buddhism mutated as it spread north into a vast panoply of only loosely-related traditions. Japanese Pure Land Buddhism is (by coincidence) in some respects closer to Protestant Christianity than it is to Theravada.

  13. Samvel Arshuni says:

    German speakers: do you know of blogs/webpages/whatnot in german, likely to be of interest to members of the LW diaspora?

    I have recently started learning german, and am doing fine with the preliminary vocabulary cramming, but not so much with content discovery. So far I’ve only looked into history. (assumption being: local history may be one of the limited number of areas where foreignese content ought outnumber/beat/be superior to english)

    What would you suggest as interesting reads?

    # I think this thread may also be generalized to reads in ANY foreign language

    • Alex says:

      Joscha Bach ( has the occasional piece in German but the vast majority of his content is in English.

      I think you will find this all over the place. If you have basic command of English there is no incentive to post in any other language to the internet, unless what you are doing is “art” rather than “communication”.

      • Agronomous says:

        Das ist Kunst.

        Es ist sehr künstlerisch.

        Ich drücke mich durch meine Kunst.

        Wenn ich zu verstehen wollte, würde ich auf Englisch schreiben.

        Da möchte ich nicht verstanden werden, ich schreibe in Deutsch. Wie Hegel.

        Es ist möglich, diese bessere Kunst wäre, wenn ich tatsächlich Deutsch kannte.

        Vielleicht kann ich es ab, als Performance-Kunst übergeben . Schriftliche Performance-Kunst: eine neue Ausdrucksweise !

        Eine Kirschblüte.

  14. Anonymous says:

    No Unsong this week?

  15. Anonymous says:

    What are the best essays by Nick Szabo?

    • ChillyWilly says:

      I remember seeing this come up before, and one of the suggested reasons was that basic CBT ideas have kind of become commonplace in culture, so CBT isn’t as big a revelation to new patients as it once was. Likewise, the low-hanging fruit patients that may have been treated by CBT already get that positive effect from the influence in the culture. I have middling confidence this is an accurate recollection, though.

    • Deiseach says:

      Possibly because a lot of the recommendations have been incorporated into mainstream medical advice – “talk to your family/friends when you feel blue! Exercise! Get the right amount of sleep – not too much, not too little! Eat healthily!”

      The main advice I took away from it was “brooding over bad thoughts makes you feel worse, so stop doing that” and then some techniques to stop doing that (of greater or lesser effectiveness).

      I think CBT works great where you do not, objectively, have a crappy life (the big deal is “when you’re depressed, you see the worst in everything. So reminding yourself that you have, in fact, managed to achieve success in romantic relationships, jobs, career, exams etc. in the past gives you objective grounds to beat back the voice of depression telling you that you’re a failure”).

      Where it’s not so good is “Okay, yeah, it’s true: having looked at the facts of the situation your job is terrible, your family life is terrible, and there’s not much you can do about that – but hey, let’s do some relaxation exercises and go for a nice walk!”

  16. Tekhno says:

    I want to learn how to program as a hobby, but I was wondering where to start.

    1: What language would it be best to start with? Python?

    2: I want to get the exact same structure of info as I would in a University course, but I don’t want to actually spend money on this, or invoke the pressure of deadlines. It’s just something I want to casually chip away at, and keep experimenting with for projects on weekends. Are there any structured tutorials identical to a course, only for free, and without deadlines? Maybe I just need to watch stuff on youtube, but I learn best by accomplishing specific tasks instead of just rote learning of every general principle. I need something quite structured but for beginners (literally the only thing I’ve ever done with code has been gamemaker).

    • sweeneyrod says:

      GameMaker is how I started programming, and I think it’s a great introduction (or at least it was back in 2007). But if you want to do some “proper” programming, yes, a language like Python is a good place to start.

      What kind of projects are you interested in? Learning to make websites is a skill with some overlap with programming, but to start out (presuming you go the classic path of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, a server-side language + SQL) it isn’t quite the same thing. For making graphical games you can either go for a whole development ecosystem (Unity is very common) or be much more minimalist with a scripting language and framework (Python and Pygame, Lua and Löve or something, probably others I don’t know about). Both approaches have their own difficulties. For the classic approach of making fairly useless calculator programs etc. a scripting language like Python or Ruby is probably good. If you have a mathsy background, you could also try a functional language like Haskell.

      Presuming you do go with Python, I quite like the Invent With Python stuff, which sounds kind of like what you want. I’m also compelled to mention the Sololearn Python app, because I wrote the content for it, but I don’t personally think the structure of those apps is a particularly great way to learn to program. If you want a university course, there are many on EdX etc. but I’d like to point out Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (an old MIT course). You might like it if you want to learn computer science rather than just programming. I’ve also heard good things about From Nand to Tetris, but I don’t have any personal experience with that.

      • Tekhno says:

        This is helpful. Thanks for the links!

      • Virbie says:

        SICP uses Scheme (or at least it did when I got my degree). The usage as an intro language is at least partially because it serves all parties well as an early weeder course for those wanting a degree in Computer Science. But depending on Tekhno’s goal, I don’t know if SICP per se would be appropriate.

        I love SICP and I usually have to consciously counteract my “everyone should learn the purest, hardest, most academic form of everything bias”, but in this case I probably wouldn’t say that a Scheme-based course is a great match.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Yes, it still uses Scheme. I agree that it is pretty hardcore (to the extent that I think MIT now teaches CompSci 101 in a much gentler way with Python), but I think it’s worth considering if you have a maths background and want to learn some CS.

    • Alliteration says:

      Many universities still teach Java as a starting language. So if you want the university experience, you may want to start with Java. (I personally started proper programming with python, which I think is an easier language than Java.) If you do choose to start with Java, robocode can be fun to play around with.

    • J says: has lots of academic-style programming challenges, as well as a web-based interface with tons of languages. So it’s easy to grab any old laptop and spend 10 minutes doing one of the easy challenges. It won’t teach you to code, but it’s a good vehicle for practicing.

    • Chalid says:

      Sounds like you probably want one of the courses by EdX or Coursera, which are, generally, university courses that have been adapted for online (so you have lectures, problem sets, and exams). Some courses have deadlines, some don’t. Access to course content on EdX is still just about entirely free (though you can pay for verified certificates and the like) but I think Coursera has started to have fees for most things.

      • Anonymous says:

        The courses I have been taking on Coursera (no idea how representative they are) allow you free access to the course materials, but not the assessments; you have to enrol (and pay) for the certificate in order to access those.

        Also, although there are deadlines for assessments, you can always just punt to the next session (starting a week/fortnight/month later) and retain your progress to date, so you can effectively take the course as slowly as you like (but again, I’m not sure how representative these particular courses are).

    • Andrew says:

      I’m not sure “wanting to learn how to program” is the right approach. What do you actually want to do? If it’s “be a better Excel user”, that’s going to be Visual Basic. If it’s “be a better web designer”, that’s javascript. If it’s “design scripts to automate some repetitive tasks I do every day”, then python. If it’s “I want to build video games”, go for java (and aim for android development!).

      See what I mean? Programming is instrumental, not terminal.

      • Tekhno says:

        Well, I wanted to make video games, but also have an interest in web design.

        I have an idea for something kinda like reddit but totally different. 😉

      • Virbie says:

        TL;DR: “Learning programming” can _absolutely_ be a goal per se, and a good one.

        > I’m not sure “wanting to learn how to program” is the right approach.

        I quite strongly disagree with this assertion. Programming is a skill a lot like computer literacy[1]. You’re treating it like it must be broken down into a lot of different specific rote tasks (using Excel, using a browser, installing software) and treating them like completely unrelated skills, when it’s much more useful to try to gain a broad sense of how computers and UIs tend to work so that in a new situation (like dealing with files in some novel way or using a new application), you’re not completely helpless.

        To get back to the actual topic, I know several people who want to “learn to program” per se, which basically boils down to having a solid enough grasp of the fundamental concepts that new programming tasks (as they arise) don’t pose much of a challenge beyond learning some details. At a baseline, this is useful because it can have a pretty strong effect on how efficiently you use your computer, and more concretely, because a fundamental understanding can be parlayed into any of the specific applications you mentioned with relatively low marginal effort.

        When I started at Google straight out of college, I interviewed in languages of my choice and had never written (or seen) a line of C++. My very first team there? 100% in C++. The point was that I had shown that I had enough experience with different programming concepts that the space had largely been mapped out, and flipping through a C++ guide was enough to get me to hit the ground running. I’m currently finishing up a sabbatical and planning to find a new job, and any company that cares unduly whether I know a specific language or framework is a pretty big red flag for me (in terms of role incompatibility, not the company being generally awful).

        [1] In fact, the line between programming and computer use should be a lot blurrier (and is for some people) than it is in reality, since it’s just a more powerful way to get computers to do what you want, including just for personal usage purposes.

      • Dahlen says:

        If it’s “I want to build video games”, go for java (and aim for android development!).

        Um. Why? I think I’m more enthusiastic about game development than about anything that I’d have a decent chance of undertaking successfully, but if I had no choice but to — as I see it — contribute to the societal problem of people numbing their minds with stupid little smartphone games on their commutes, I’d rather be doing just about anything else with my career. Isn’t it important for devs’ work satisfaction to try and focus upon building games they like?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      The language doesn’t matter. What matters is that you enjoy it. You will learn a lot of wrong things with your first language, but then you will unlearn a lot of things.

    • codemonkey says:

      hmmm well i dont want to rain on anyone’s parade here, but….

      if you only want to learn to program so you can do a “better reddit” i’d recommend you didnt try to learn, just find someone who can code and get them to do it.

      its kinda like saying “i wish to become a doctor so i can stitch up this wound i have”. your objective isnt really wanting to be a doctor.

      you have to like programming in and of itself or you’re going to be in a world of pain.

      ok so having said that, if you actually want to become a programmer python is good but i wouldnt start there cos you’ll need to grok OO as well. start with c, it covers the basics and will stand you in good stead. once you have a handle on that try python or java or ruby or c# if you like them and want to bend your head try one of the functional languages then, after about a decade of experience, if you suddenly find you enjoy suffering try c++

      • roystgnr says:

        “python is good but i wouldnt start there cos you’ll need to grok OO as well”

        Nah; if you’re writing your own code and not digging into others code then you can write entirely procedural python for as long as you want, and only dip into OO when you’re actually writing something big enough to benefit from it.

        “start with c, it covers the basics”

        It does, but it doesn’t make them seem basic. Learning about segmentation faults and printf format strings is not a good intro to programming.

        “after about a decade of experience, if you suddenly find you enjoy suffering try c++”

        Well, yeah, this is entirely correct.

        C++ is also useful for building very complex codes while still obtaining high performance; however the amount of speedup you’ll get by learning to write and optimize C++ is likely to be no greater than the amount of additional speedup you’ll get by just using the newer hardware that was developed in the time it took you to learn to write and optimize C++.

    • Incurian says:

      I found this to be enjoyable and informative, I think it’s a great starting point:

      You end up learning basic data structures, flow control and logic stuff, some basic algorithms and applications, all while learning python.

    • Alex says:

      1) Being long past the days were I would argue the use of one language over another, all I can say is that python is the language with which I personally am most likely to actually get stuff done. Also, python mostly behaves as you would naively expect it does. While this might make for some surprises down the road, it also might make the beginning easier.

      2a) This should probably taken with a grain of salt for regional differences: Universities really struggle to teach programming. To the point where nobody knows how to do it and no professor in their right mind wants to do it. “University programming course” is not a label of quality. If you want an impression of what universities teach, I suggest you pick up any book co-authored by Ullman or Tanenbaum. They write about things that can be taught and university lectures (correctly) tend to focus on such things. This will not help you learn a programming language though.

      2b) The obvious way to learn python, specifically, seems to be “the hard way” ( It is not the way I learned though, I admit.

      2c) If you want to get into game programming, things seem to have converged on cocos-2d ( There is loads of documentation and bindings, I think, for several languages.

      2d) As a heuristic, in the open source world, nothing you download ever compiles or runs on Windows(tm) on the first try. This is also true for python modules which, more often than not, have C dependencies. You can save yourself a lot of problems by setting up some Linux as your development environment.

      2e) Using Java seems to be an alternative way to solve 2d), but also it seems to be pretty useless outside of enterprise software development (controversy ahead).

      Hope this helps.

  17. Gildor Inglorion says:

    Do any legal experts have thoughts on making all criminal prosecutions private (presumably with substantial state funding for legal aid?)

    • Protagoras says:

      Well, it’s been done, so you could start by looking at how the historical examples worked out.

    • One of the talks I sometimes give is along these lines: “Should We Abolish the Criminal Law?”

    • For a historical example of a legal system where crimes were normally prosecuted privately, see the chapter on English law enforcement in the 18th century in the webbed draft of the book I’m currently working on

      • Aegeus says:

        Interesting read. A lot of your description of the private legal system reads like “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature” – it sounds very backwards from how we normally picture a justice system working, but still works out (sort of, terms and conditions may apply, consult a lawyer before trying).

        For instance, the fact that criminals could settle out of court and pay the prosecutor to not bring charges sounds like a bug (paying to escape justice) but is also a feature (avoids the expense and risk of a trial of a trial). The fact that the victim has to pay to bring a case to trial sounds like a bug (you need to be rich to get justice) but is also a feature (you have an incentive to find a more efficient settlement). The fact that punishments were extremely harsh sounds like a bug (unfitting for the crime) but when combined with all the other “features” of the legal system it was rarely applied, allowing it to serve as a credible deterrent without actually imposing the cost of applying the punishment.

        Like you say, it’s got some obvious problems, but it’s fascinating how well it worked in spite of that.

  18. E.P. says:

    I was laid off a few weeks ago and I’m not sure what to do.

    I have a BS in statistics and worked as an analyst in marketing for 8 months.
    Looking at job postings, the only stuff I seem to qualify for is the kind of stuff I’m really not interested in: marketing, finance, insurance, business intelligence, etc.
    I’d much rather be working in an area like operations research, logistics, any kind of science… something more in the realm of problem solving.
    I feel like I’ve made a mistake with my education, and now there’s no path forward other than doing boring stuff for the rest of my life.

    Any advice?
    Edit: I live in the midwestern US, I’d consider living any English-speaking place.

    • J says:

      Data science?

    • Andrew says:

      At least in my experience, logistics seems to be a thriving field with a fair number of job opportunities.

      EDIT – Just noticed your “midwestern” label. You might need to broaden your search!

      • Factorial says:

        EDIT – Just noticed your “midwestern” label. You might need to broaden your search!

        I wouldn’t be too quick to follow that advice. If you can do (or learn) some computer programming, it seems like tons of companies all around the Midwest are hiring smart people. (Don’t stats people know R?)

        What you call “operations research” might be pretty close to what software people call “QA” or “tester”. Basically, try to break the software, then run tests and report why it broke so the developers can fix it. Did I mention the software industry is fantastic to work in?

        The Midwest is just a very nice place to live. Plus, there are always downsides to moving far away from friends and family that, in my opinion, outweigh the benefits (take it from a guy who moved across the country and back to the Midwest twice).

        PS. What part of the Midwest?

        • Curunir says:

          Operations research is not QA. It had more to do with optimising things like network flows, logistics, factory lines, etc. Lots of LP, SDP, probability, etc.

        • E.P. says:

          Currently in Nebraska.

          I know SAS well and R less well.

          “Software industry is fantastic” is the complete opposite of what I hear anywhere else.

          What I call “operations research” you might know as “industrial engineering” or “decision analysis.” That and experimental design were my favorite classes, but jobs for that kind of work seem to be above my paygrade.

          • Factorial says:

            Re. software industry: I can speak for the startups in my area anyway.

            Re. operations research: OK, maybe not a lot like QA then. Still, those skills are sought after (again, at least in my neck of the woods). My boss hires “smart people” and trusts they can learn what he needs them to know; his peers, at least in the local region, seem to follow a similar ethos.

        • Andrew says:

          I’m in Arizona- lots of corporate headquarters here, so that’s why I saw the job market as thriving. Also sometimes feels like “midwest out of midwest”, thanks to the many, many snowbirds.

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      One of my friends is originally from the Midwest, got a BS in statistics, and began working for the U.S. Census in the Midwest after graduation.

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      I work for a company in the midwest that recently outsourced a huge operations research (stock optimization and sales forecasting) project to my third world country because they couldn’t find enough developers in the midwest who know operations research. I hope I didn’t steal your job.

      More seriously, if companies are willing to outsource, I’m sure the demand for developers like you must be higher than the supply.

    • Seibert says:

      I work in clinical research and there is a spot for a statistician on every study. I’m not sure if that interests you or if it’s something you’ve already considered.

    • LPSP says:

      If it’s of any help, from my private experience people are willing to pay for intelligence, well-educated people to tutor their children at the going rate, even without specialist qualifications. Same for people looking to learn english as a second language, who just need basic correction and a keen/understanding conversation partner. If you put ads up in physical locations and try to get the word around, you can find clients, and once you have one happy testimony more will come. It’s not going to bring in an income without a dedicated qualification but it’s a way to make money on the side while something bigger lines up.

    • Tekhno says:

      Possibly me. I’ve called myself exactly a Keynesian Libertarian before, but not in any particularly serious way. I’ve described myself half-seriously as a (National) Liberaltarian before too. I believe in the utility of countercyclical spending, yes, I accept the idea of the Keynesian fallacy of composition with regards to macro risks, and I think the multiplier effect is real (I think you could even get regular libertarians to accept this if you used an example where a private entity was the one injecting money into the rest of the economy).

      However, I think far too many people who use the label “Keynesian” are very very interested in spending during the bust, but not at all interested in cutting during the boom.

      “The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity as the treasury.”
      ~ John Maynard Keynes.

      Another thing is that, like it or not, as the link notes; any sort of light association with Keynesianism is conflated with regulation heavy policies, or “socialism”, so it’s not a label I’d want to bear having to explain repeatedly.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’d agree with Keynes on that; during the heyday of the Celtic Tiger, the government in power at the time more or less kept buying its way into winning elections by throwing money around in feel-good budgets instead of paying down the national debt and building up a nestegg for rainy days, because this time it was different and the good times would continue to roll and we’d never ever again have the seven lean years after the seven fat years.

        Then along comes 2008 financial crisis and our banks go “ka-blooey” and our Minister for Finance in an absolute panic makes binding committments to bailouts so we had to go begging to the European Central Bank and the IMF for handouts, and we’ve had austerity budgets and slow recovery ever since. And now we’re starting back into what so far looks like a mini-property bubble once again, with rents and market prices rising and construction slowly starting again, but this time round no inflated wages to pay for the mortgages or rising prices.

      • Tekhno says:

        I still regularly see Keynes invoked to argue that deficits and the accumulated debt don’t matter at all, because government budgets aren’t like household budgets and so on. People are all too happy to use Keynes as a club when it’s convenient, only to discard him when it’s not.

        I think some degree of skepticism of counter-cyclical policy isn’t that it wouldn’t work if it could be implemented, but that the demands of politics would never allow governments to implement it in the first place.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          the demands of politics would never allow governments to implement it in the first place.

          I think you must be engaging in confirmation bias if you have yourself convinced that counter-cyclical government policy has not occurred.

          Just one of many possible examples: Unemployment insurance is a program that has a counter-cyclical nature built into it. Add in the fact that unemployment benefits are routinely extended during recessions, and then that extension is routinely rolled back as the recession abates and you even have proof politicians are even capable of voting for counter-cyclical spending during both the down and the up parts of the cycles.

      • birdboy2000 says:

        I’m biased as a digimon fan, but I love everything Wada Kouji ever sang.

    • Chris Thomas says:

      I’m pretty sure Bryan Caplan qualifies as a (somewhat) Keynesian libertarian.

    • Hahahahaha, well, maybe, but this isn’t a group I want to join. It signals MASSIVE pretentiousness.
      Just look at this line:

      That’s right, if you accept basic common sense economics then you’re a Keynesian who believes that countercyclical government policy is actually a good thing and a necessary good

      “If you don’t agree with me, you’re an idiot.”

      Anyways, he’s signaling disagreement with Gary Johnson, which in turn signals disagreement with Donald Trump. A contrarian to the contrarians because the contrarians still aren’t ideologically pure enough.

      I might as well just become a communist so I can argue the minutiae between the Trotskyists, the Stalinists, and the Maoists. And everyone who disagrees with me that private capital is exploitative obviously just doesn’t have any common sense: it’s right in labor theory of economics! It’s so basic.

      I do agree that identifying with certain Keynesian arguments does NOT mean identifying with the social welfare democracies, which is an important point.

      Ideologically speaking, “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” isn’t specific enough to identify with. It’s also incredibly fluid. What does socially liberal mean in terms of practical policy positions?
      Like, my Sister pays property taxes out the ass. We pay as much in property tax as the people who send their kids to Ferris Bueller school, you know, the school where the dude’s dad drives that Ferrari-thing. Except her elementary school has no air-conditioning and 1/2 ESL teachers because of the “diversity.”
      I guess the “fiscally conservative” answer is “screw the school districts and send your kids to private school.”
      If that’s socially liberal and fiscally conservative, count me out.

      • Deiseach says:

        In an Irish context, “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” meant, with our last government (part of which has continued on to our current government) cheerleading for same-gender marriage (because it was politically popular, wouldn’t cost them votes, and wasn’t projected to cost them money by having to pay out for stuff or include it in the budget) but imposing austerity budgets and imposing new charges like the water charges (something they were required to do by the EU regulations and which they introduced in the most ham-fisted, guaranteed to anger the public fashion), property tax and by continuing to impose the Universal Social Charge.

        Pro-business, pro-tax cuts (except they can’t cut taxes too much because they need the revenue to keep bailing us out after the financial meltdown), cutting public spending, building a strong economy

        Being liberal on things that don’t cost votes/money such as same-gender marriage and now they’ve managed to get themselves entangled in the broadening of abortion legislation (the Repeal the Eighth campaign), after legislating for very limited abortion in the last government and declaring that no, of course this would not be the first step on liberalising and broadening access to abortion.

        “We’re committed to helping children succeed in school and to the rights of the disabled, just so long as we don’t have to pay extra, so we’re cutting Special Needs Assistants in schools because we can’t afford them” – that kind of thing.

      • Tekhno says:

        Ideologically speaking, “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” isn’t specific enough to identify with.

        I think it’s a phrase that doesn’t make sense anymore, and retrospectively it was a failed analysis anyway. The entire idea behind it being used as a rough euphemism for libertarian was that liberals(US) were supposed to be permissive on “social” issues, whereas conservatives were permissive on “economic” issues (which I feel aren’t even terribly useful categories to begin with).

        However, liberals aren’t just libertarians except for the economy, and conservatives aren’t just libertarians except for people’s bedrooms. Okay, so it’s a rough sort of phrase, but I don’t even think liberals are socially permissive anymore. The phrase was popular during the Ron Paul campaign, because US liberalism was associated at the time with a relaxed attitude to drugs, abortion, gay marriage etc. “My body, my choice!” was a phrase used by liberals, not libertarians. On race, liberals would say “I don’t see race! Just people!”. There were even liberal comedians in the 2000s who would criticize political correctness.

        It made some degree of sense at the time to see liberals as being permissive on that whole set of issues (with one or two exceptions like guns), so libertarians wanting to market themselves to the uninitiated chose to represent themselves as some kind of superior dialectical hybrid of conservatism and liberalism that finally resolved their contradictions.

        Unfortunately, liberalism isn’t interested in race blindness anymore, but is instead interested in disparate impact. Liberalism believes in hate speech now, and the duty of citizens not to appropriate identities or offend in anyway. The focus on the strong independent woman of the 90s and 2000s has switched to focusing on systemic inequalities. In the current climate, that fact that liberals aren’t just inconsistent libertarians has been exposed. The phrase “socially liberal” is utterly kaput. Permissiveness was just a way-stop.

        Libertarians again and again continue to make the mistake of viewing the left and the right as merely being inconsistent unenlightened libertarians who have it half right and just need a push. This is epitomized by pretty much every non-binary political compass ever (because libertarians seem to make all of them). There never seems to be the breakthrough realization that liberals and conservatives aren’t just inconsistently applying the NAP, but actually have their own principles that render their ideologies fundamentally incompatible with libertarianism on all levels.

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          There never seems to be the breakthrough realization that liberals and conservatives aren’t just inconsistently applying the NAP, but actually have their own principles that render their ideologies fundamentally incompatible with libertarianism on all levels.

          The libertarian struggle in the US is essentially this: Proving that the existing sides are not, in fact, pro-freedom.

          This has probably bled over in a very annoying way into other country’s politics, but in the US, the Democrats and Republicans have historically paid a lot of lip service to the idea of libertarian freedom – while their actual principles are, as you say, quite incompatible with libertarian beliefs.

          So our first task, which might be nearing completion in the US at this point, is just to make all the libertarians in the US aware that the Democrats and Republicans are not actually friendly towards libertarian ideals. This might seem extremely obvious today, but that’s after the Bush administration shattered any pretense of libertarian ideals among the Republicans, that the Obama administration repeated the performance among the Democrats.

    • Urstoff says:

      That seems like a very broad definition of Keynesianism. Would Scott Sumner qualify under that definition?

      These days, I tend to equate Keynesianism with the vulgar Keynesianism promulgated by the High Holy Church of Aggregate Demand (generally made up of various journalists, think tankers, and bloggers), not serious economists whose models have long surpassed (and generally never were at) the point where AD is considered the sole driving force of an economy.

    • roystgnr says:

      Earlier this year I said,

      “If you admit to the need for *some* government spending on long-term investment projects, then Keynesian countercyclical deficits are a pretty solid plan from the Austrian point of view too. To maximize return on investment, spending should be disproportionately done while prices and wages are relatively low, and taxes are likely to be less damaging if they’re disproportionately levied while economic times are better.

      But of course that’s not how we decide on deficits in the real world. With a politician’s incentives, spending is always best done *now*, while you’re in charge of where it goes, and taxes are always best levied *later*, when someone else is in office to take the heat.”

      In hindsight I should also have highlighted the bait-and-switch between “investment” (where we make sure we’re really paying to supply some public good which is worth more than it costs) and “spending” (where, especially if you call yourself a “Keynesian”, it’s tempting to pretend that the cost is the good).

  19. Primadant says:

    Why are the british so good at the olympics? They are ahead of China and Russia and they have three times more gold medals than the french with same population and same gdp per capita. Do they just have a strong sport culture or is it because they throw huge amounts of money at the olympics?

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Huge amounts of money spent well. We haven’t always been this successful, in 1996 we only won one gold. That led to the introduction of funding high-level sports with the National Lottery, culminating at our success in the last two Olympics. I believe there may also have been some gaming of the system involved — funding was focused on areas where it is possible to win a large number of medals (e.g. cycling).

      • Primadant says:

        Amazing that funding can make such a big difference in sport. Anyway, good use of lottery money. Thanks to the british working class for being so bad at probability!

        • gbdub says:

          Funding can make a huge difference in Olympic sports, because it doesn’t take a whole lot of money to take a middle class dedicated amateur with a day job and support them as a full-time athlete (which can yield a huge performance benefit).

          Consider curling on the winter sports side – Canadians are obviously the best, because it’s a major professional-level sport in Canada that just about everyone plays. The US doesn’t have a lot of curlers per capita, but by sheer size ought to have more curlers than say the UK or Norway. Part of the problem (for the US) is that the UK fully funds their Olympic team – their full time job is training for the Olympics. The US team mostly are average joes who practice in their free time (Pete Fenson, the last US skip to win a medal, famously owned a pizza shop). The US in general provides minimal support for its athletes – the government spends nothing (unlike many other countries), and it all goes through a non-profit. Many athletes have to pay their own travel expenses.

          I had a chance to meet a player who was on one of the US teams, and asked what it would take to get US curling to a world-class level, and he said something like $30k a year stipends for each player on a couple of teams – enough to comfortably get by without a day job. Everything else we already have access to.

          Rinse and repeat that across a lot of the less high-profile sports, and it’s easy to see where “Olympic moneyball” can pay off in the medal count.

  20. OhGodWhereAreMy says:

    Anybody know anything about a rationalish sphere is western Canada? Ideally Alberta or Saskatchewan more than BC. Kind of a long shot given the population density and local politics I’m afraid.

    • Argenous says:

      I’ve wondered about that too.

    • knownastron says:

      Hey there. I’m new to the Rationalist community but I’ve been looking for like-minded people in the prairies.

      I live in Saskatoon, drop me an email at knownastron1 at gmail dot com, lets chat!

  21. J says:

    Let’s play “name that economist”! A while back someone asked rhetorically why company profits go to investors rather than the workers. Someone responded that a particular economist would have said that the investor’s contribution was: he waited. That’s stuck with me, but I can’t find the comment and I can’t recall who the economist was.

    • Primadant says:

      You’re probably referring to the abstinence theory of interest, it was originally formulated by Nassau Senior.

    • roystgnr says:

      Wait, isn’t that a tautology? If my company spends 50% of its revenue on payroll, spends 49% on other expenses, and has 1% left over as profit, then we still, by definition, give 100% of our profits to investors, even if the workers collectively received 50 times as much.

      For that matter, even if that 1% was all also given to stockholding company employees (because Scruffy believes in this company?) it would still be accurate to say that 100% of our profits went to investors (who also happened to be employees).

  22. sweeneyrod says:

    How many SSC readers are there in Cambridge, UK? And is the Less Wrong group there dead now?

    • Fal says:

      If there’s any SSC group in Cambridge I’m not aware of it, but a few friends and I discuss it occasionally, so at least 3. We’ve once made the trip down to the London diaspora meetup, but decided it wasn’t worth making the journey regularly.

      When I tried to join the Cambridge LW group a few years ago, yes it was dead. There was a MiriX group that formed about then which might appeal if you’re into the compsci/maths side of things – I ducked out of it as I didn’t have the right knowledge to contribute much, so can’t say if it’s still meeting regularly. It met at the CB2 cafe which decorates its walls with paperclips and so felt like an appropriate place to discuss AI.

    • LPSP says:

      How many SSC readers are there in the UK, for that matter? Going by region, I’d imagine the south would have a higher concentration, but I’d be interested in activity in the north.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      I am (SSC reader, not particularly LW-aligned), and aware of at least one other.

  23. Le Maistre Chat says:

    What epistemic status do truth claims about prehistory have? It’s not hard to find people debunking creationism or ancient aliens, but how certain is the mainstream model?
    Some academic claims seem very shaky to me, such as the Kurgan hypothesis that has peaceful Neolithic Europe being destroyed at the beginning of the Bronze Agw by the Indo-Europeans who invented patriarchy, violence and cavalry, only for the world to forget how to use cavalry until the 800s BC. Others seem to contain availability bias rather than ideological bias, such as the claim that humans were always and everywhere foragers until Jericho and Gobekli Tepe were built, when the earliest farming societies could simply have been flooded as the Pleistocene ended.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Not my area, but my understanding is that prehistory is in a bit of a we-are-learning-lots-of-things-lots-of-old-theories-have-to-be-revised period right now due to the sudden practicality of genomic analysis of ancient DNA, so I don’t know how much of a stable “mainstream model” there is at the moment. Razib Khan writes about this sort of thing a lot over at Grecentene Expression, might want to take a look there.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      I know I harp on this fairly often, but it’s pretty bad.
      If it’s not from an archeologist, it’s probably nonsense. (Edit: or a genomonomist, like Sniff pointed out)

      Maybe people are backing away from grand narrative theories? There’s certainly a lot of “exploring how people in Greek and Roman Anatolia used Bronze and Iron Age material culture to substantiate narratives about local and universal history.”

    • Douglas Knight says:

      There are serious problems with availability bias, but I recently learned a relevant geological fact. The fact that early farmers were on the coast makes it seem like antediluvian farmers would have left no traces. But the early farmers were generally on the coast because they were on river deltas. And river deltas are caused by rising sea levels. So ice age farmers would have no particular reason to be on the shore, and thus no reason to have been hidden by the sea. But just because they aren’t hidden, doesn’t mean they are where we looked. And there could have been large fishing cities lost to the ocean.

    • dndnrsn says:

      A lot of claims about prehistory strike me as being extremely dubious. Especially the middle-20th century stuff that all, in what I am sure is a coincidence, fits really well with what was academically fashionable then.

      In general, the ones to be most suspicious of are the ones that basically posit a fall from paradise – that the original hunter gatherers were well-fed egalitarians, overtaken by sick and unequal agricultural civilization.

    • HircumSaeculorum says:

      >peaceful Neolithic Europe

      >Kurgans invented patriarchy


      Very few actual historians take the neolithic matriarchal paradise view seriously, and, like a number of similar theories (particularly the oft-repeated one about Early Modern witchburnings being a genocide against the followers of a matriarchal pagan religion), it was made up by ideologically motivated non-historians.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Those particular theories were never really found in history departments in the first place. They’re more typical to anthropology or women’s studies departments.

      • I thought the standard version was an egalitarian, fairly well-fed pretty good deal hunter-gatherer society compared to malnourished (for the vast-majority) overworked hierarchical primitive agriculturalists.

        This leaves out (if Pinker is right) a lot of violence between hunter-gatherer males.

        On the other hand, (if what I’ve read of The Art of Not Being Governed is right), primitive agriculturists were at high risk of being enslaved and/or caught up in devastating wars.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I should have been clearer – I meant gender egalitarianism. There’s the sort of “agriculture created patriarchy and overthrew the Mother Goddess” narrative, which I think is pretty shaky (doesn’t account, for instance, for the existence of hunter-gatherer groups that treat women very poorly).

          There’s also the “civilization created war” thing, which was pretty dogmatic for quite a while. There’s at least one “history of war” book where the edition from the 80s begins by talking about the peaceful hunter-gatherers who didn’t fight wars, and the early 2000s edition begins by talking about how violent, relatively speaking, those societies were.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Academic specialization means any given historian could be blissfully unaware of what’s consensus among archaeologists and linguists, which is where most academic claims about prehistory come from.

        Speaking of specialization, the most mainstream alternative to the Kurgan model of Indo-Europeans is Renfrew’s hypothesis that the language was spread by the Agricultural Revolution. Dubious thing about that one is that it would only make the proto-IEs a couple millenia younger than the last common ancestor of all Native Americans, yet those languages diverged into many many families while Indo-European is still recognizably one family. It’s like the specialists don’t talk to each other. =)

        • Lumifer says:

          Academic specialization means any given historian could be blissfully unaware of what’s consensus among archaeologists and linguist

          And all of them tend to be blissfully unaware of the recent work in ancient genome reconstruction.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Of course.
            That’s an interesting article. If I had to guess, I’d say there are three extra-African populations that developed since ~11,000 BP: the Europeans discussed there, an Asian group that emerged from the original rice farmers, Ancient North Eurasians and a forager substratum, the Native Americans isolated from the ANEs. And it would be interesting to know who modern Africans are descended from. There must have been a significant contribution by Middle Eastern farmers, plus West Africa had its own agricultural revolution, there’s various possible HG substrata and there’s the mystery of the ancient North Africans, whom Egyptians depicted as fair-skinned.

    • The Kurgan hypothesis is simply that the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language reconstructed by historical linguists can be identified with the Kurgan culture (or a particular culture under the Kurgan umbrella). Gimbutas does seem to have added a lot of embarrassing spin to her idea about how it was a matter of war replacing peace and patriarchy replacing matriarchy and so on (this is going off what I’ve heard, I have not read her work myself, so this might be an unfair assessment) but I don’t think any other specialists take this seriously (perhaps some of them would argue that the nature of violence and social relations in Europe did change in association with the Indo-European expansions, but in a more nuanced fashion).

      And I certainly don’t think anybody who knows what they’re talking about ever said that the Kurgan culture used cavalry, or used chariots except at very late stages (it’s worth remembering that the Indo-European expansion happened over a period of at least a couple of millennia). But that doesn’t mean having domesticated horses didn’t give them some kind of advantage. It might have been mobility that was the key factor—Proto-Indo-Europeans could ride up to a village, dismount, take what they wanted on foot, and ride off again without anybody being able to catch them. Although everything I’ve read on the subject (which is not anything in-depth; just brief overviews) is actually rather vague about what exactly the advantage of having domesticated horses was. Perhaps there were other ways horses could be helpful, and these overviews just prefer to be non-commital about which one was most crucial. (From the Wikipedia page on David W. Anthony’s book The Horse, The Wheel and The Language, it looks like one of the other advantages might be that having enabled cattle to be pastured in areas where they couldn’t have been pastured before… somehow, I don’t know how that would work.)

      If you want to read more about it, the standard assessment of the problem from the linguistic and archaeological point of view seems to be J. P. Mallory’s 1989 book, In Search of the Indo-Europeans. Note that, from what I’ve heard (again, I have not actually read this book), Mallory is pretty agnostic and arrives at the Kurgan hypothesis only as a sort of best guess. Perhaps more definite conclusions can be made now that we know more about population genetics, but I don’t know much about that.

      • Deiseach says:

        Although everything I’ve read on the subject (which is not anything in-depth; just brief overviews) is actually rather vague about what exactly the advantage of having domesticated horses was.

        Pack animals! Beasts of burden! A lot more useful than merely being a status animal for your Kshatriya! You can get a hell of a lot more work done when you’ve a strong animal there to pull things for you or simply carry a heavier load than you could on your own.

        Then again, I probably go to that conclusion as I remember a guy going around with a horse and dray up to the 80s in this town doing odd-jobs, and there was the tradition of donkeys being used to draw creels of seaweed from the seashore (seaweed is a cheap and excellent fertiliser, but it’s hard and tough work hauling it from the shore to your fields – you need an animal like a donkey or a horse to help you).

        • LHN says:

          You can get a hell of a lot more work done when you’ve a strong animal there to pull things for you or simply carry a heavier load than you could on your own.

          Though while they were useful for pulling chariots and mounting cavalry back at least as far as the Bronze Age, my impression is that horses didn’t really come into their own as beasts of burden till the invention of the horse collar in the middle ages.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Without the horse collar, horses are inferior to oxen as beasts of burden, but when and where were oxen developed?

            Not very relevant to IE, but horses were popular in high tech applications in the ancient world. They weren’t used to plow fields, but the Romans used them in flour mills and I think that the Greeks used them to operate wells.

  24. sweeneyrod says:

    Quote from The Machinery Of Freedom:

    How much would it cost workers to purchase their firms? The total value of the shares of all stocks listed on the New
    York Stock Exchange in 1965 was $537 billion. The total wages and salaries of all private employees that year was
    $288.5 billion. State and federal income taxes totalled $75.2 billion. If the workers had chosen to live at the
    consumption standard of hippies, saving half their after-tax incomes, they could have gotten a majority share in every
    firm in two and a half years and bought the capitalists out, lock, stock, and barrel, in five. That is a substantial cost, but
    surely it is cheaper than organizing a revolution. Also less of a gamble. And, unlike a revolution, it does not have to be
    done all at once. The employees of one firm can buy it this decade, then use their profits to help fellow workers buy
    theirs later.
    When you buy stock, you pay not only for the capital assets of the firm—buildings, machines, inventory, and the like
    —but also for its experience, reputation, and organization. If workers really can run firms better, these are unnecessary;
    all they need are the physical assets. Those assets—the net working capital of all corporations in the United States in
    1965—totalled $171.7 billion. The workers could buy that much and go into business for themselves with 14 months’
    worth of savings.

    Running the stats on an arbitrary individual company (Ford Motors) this doesn’t seem to be true. They have about 200,000 employees and $200 billion in assets, meaning each worker has to save $1 million to buy the company’s assets, which seems unreasonable. Am I missing something?

    • Anon. says:

      I don’t know where you get $200B from, their market cap is $50B, so $250k per worker. Seems to be in the same ballpark as Friedman’s figures.

      Also, Ford is up ~880% from the bottom in ’08. They say you shouldn’t time the market, but really you should wait for a recession for your socialist takeover.

      Something else to keep in mind: workers have assets already. Total pension fund assets in the US ~= total market cap of all listed companies. The money’s already there, you just need the will.

      • S_J says:

        It’s perfectly possible for Ford Motor Company to have $200B in assets, and $50B in market-capitalization.

        Market Capitalization is what counts for owning a dominant share of the stocks in the Company.

        Assets are one side of the Assets-and-liabilities chart that the company has to publish for its stockholders.

        EDIT: I haven’t looked up the numbers, so I don’t know what Ford Motor Company has (in either Market-Cap or Assets-and-Liabilities).
        But my take is that @Sweenyrod confused Assets for Market-Capitalization.

      • Mary says:

        “really you should wait for a recession for your socialist takeover.”

        If every waged and salaried worker in the world started to save half his income for the take-over, there’ll be a humdinger of a recession.

        Of course, the price of the stock will go up as you start to buy.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I think Friedman is kind of missing the point. I was under the impression that as a rule revolutionaries are not motivated by pragmatism but by emotion.

      If you accept Marxist claims, namely that income from capital ownership is a form of theft, then the idea of workers buying out capital should be as unpalatable as the idea of slaves buying their manumission en masse. In their view, the capital already rightly belongs to the workers so paying for it is a profound injustice: rather than compensating owners for their loss of capital, the owners should compensate the workers for having withheld it for so long.

      Plus it raises the question of what happens to all that money used to purchase the capital goods. In a communist system it would be useless, so it’s sort of the equivalent of the old saw about trading Indian land for glass beads. What good does it do you to have a few trillion USD when the market is replaced by “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” as Marx imagined it? Surely investors would at some point realize that being bought out in this way was economic suicide and stop selling their shares to workers.

      It’s a weird sort of argument that isn’t likely to impress anyone.

      • ChillyWilly says:

        My first blush is that Friedman’s point is that revolutionaries are, as you said, motivated by emotion, not pragmatism, and this is demonstrated by their failure to take over. Their stated preference is for a overthrow of the bosses, but their revealed preference is to keep working and complaining, risking none of their own assets, and dreaming about some romantic revolution where beautiful intentions will result in a beautiful world, instead of actually doing something within their power to take over the capitalist system. I think Friedman is suggesting that, if pushed against the wall, the workers who talk about taking over would have to admit they wouldn’t know what to do with the firms if they had taken over, and wouldn’t want that kind of responsibility.

        You’re right that revolutionaries would claim buying out capitalism is to pay the sinner for his sins, and has the same issues as gradual manumission of slaves. But gradual manumission was a legitimate idea discussed in 19th Century American abolitionism (though it would be wealthy Northerners buying out slavery, right?), and was, arguably, a more humane and moral solution than a righteous war against slavery. It’s unpalatable, but better than the alternative. Similarly, workers buying firms has none of the righteous indignation of a revolution, but would probably be faster and more effective if your end-goal is simply worker ownership of production instead of the dream of a communist utopia. In other words, I think Friedman’s idea is meant to suggest how foolish revolutionaries are. Is that a fair assessment?

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          I would agree that it shows a commitment to ideology over pragmatism. But I don’t think anyone, even the revolutionaries themselves, would disagree with that at all.

          That’s why I said the argument wasn’t impressive. It’s nice to see the math laid out I suppose but really it’s not a terribly difficult point to begin with.

          [G]radual manumission was a legitimate idea discussed in 19th Century American abolitionism (though it would be wealthy Northerners buying out slavery, right?), and was, arguably, a more humane and moral solution than a righteous war against slavery.

          That would have been really interesting to see.

          The closest to that which I’m aware of was the British Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which gave compensation to slave owners but didn’t actually give them a choice in whether to “sell” or not. Trying to buy out the whole of the South’s slave population presumably would have freed a large number of people but also made slave ownership and breeding much more profitable. I have no idea whether or not it would have actually been capable of ending slavery.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Gradual manumission happened in some Northern states, for instance Pennsylvania, where the relevant law was passed in 1780 and stated that slaves would remain slaves (though with more rights than previously) but that children of slave mothers would not be slaves, though they were indentured servants until the age of 28. It also banned the importation of slaves into the state and required them to be registered.

            Pennsylvania didn’t actually end slavery and free the remaining slaves until 1847, by which time there were only a few dozen left, all obviously aged 67 or over.

      • birdboy2000 says:

        If the workers buy out corporate owners, said owners will no longer own corporations – but they will continue to have more money than other people, and presumably will spend that money on some other form of power and influence. Perhaps even another company.

        If the goal is for everyone to be meaningfully equal (as it is for myself and most other socialists) a buyout is not even progress.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Here is the thing about equality, everyone’s equal when they’re dead.

        • Irishdude7 says:

          Can you give some details on what ‘meaningfully equal’ means to you?

          • birdboy2000 says:

            Equal in terms of wealth. “Equality” without equality of wealth is meaningless.

            Liberal “equality” strikes me as no such thing, because having more money than other people matters immensely in one’s actual ability to live their life as one desires.

            Even the areas where it allegedly preserves equality seem to fall flat in practice. One person, one vote, except lobbyists and campaign donors can use money to get their desired outcome anyway. Equality under the law, except a high-priced lawyer will give you a much better chance at trial than a public defender even though the facts are the same. Equality of opportunity, except coming from a family with superior financial resources gets you into better schools (not to mention the ability to take time off for education) and being hooked into the right social network gets you better jobs.

          • hlynkacg says:

            How exactly do you see that working?

            Even if you somehow managed perfect redistribution some people would blow their wealth on hookers and blackjack while others blow it on power and influence.

            So long as humans have choices “meaningful equality” will remain an unstable state.

          • John Schilling says:

            Equal in terms of wealth. “Equality” without equality of wealth is meaningless.

            That statement is false. If I say that, e.g., rich citizens and poor citizens are equal in their right to be tried by a jury if they are accused of a crime, I have conveyed meaning to anyone who wishes to hear it. You may argue that perfect equality requires equality of wealth, which is OK, but if you then argue that “equality” should always and only be understood to mean the perfect sort then you are arguing against the way other people actually use that term to convey context-specific meaning. In favor, I suppose, of turning it into a meaningless applause light.

          • IrishDude says:

            Can you describe how you think equality of wealth can or should be achieved? If you give 100 people the same resources, some will be more innovative and skillful in how to combine those resources to make interesting and better things (like a woodworker making a quality chair), some will be better at conserving their resources, some will be better at exchanging their resources, etc. Given differences in abilities and preferences I don’t see how equality of wealth is achievable.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ IrishDude

            Can you describe how you think equality of wealth can or should be achieved?

            The simplest way is abolition of property. No one owns anything: everyone is equal*. Examples: monasteries, kibbutzim.

            * Well, except for some animals which are more equal than others.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            @ Lumifer I don’t think property can ever be eliminated. There is always some person or group of people who can control an object and prohibit others from said use. When there are disagreements about use of an object, who has the final say?

            I don’t know enough about monasteries and kibbutzim, but I’d guess there is some form of authority in those environments too, for decision-making.

      • Mary says:

        ” then the idea of workers buying out capital should be as unpalatable as the idea of slaves buying their manumission en masse.”

        As an alternative to dying to try to pry it loose?

        Not to mention that this means preserves the rule of law, so that you can’t be dispossessed a minute later, because the same law can continue smoothly onward. (Lenin was once, on the streets of Moscow, thrown out of a car so that it could be appropriated in the workers’ names.)

        • Anonymous says:

          Not to mention that this means preserves the rule of law

          I actually think this is the real sticking point for a lot of revolutionaries. They don’t want the law preserved. In fact, I suspect that for many of them the specific ideology the revolution is ostensibly in favor of is thoroughly secondary, if not irrelevant: what really matters is that they chafe against the law. Like teenagers (which is why in many cases they’re literal teenagers) they resent the idea of anyone having authority over them personally, and they want to give Authority a bloody nose.

      • caethan says:

        I’d just like to point out that compensated emancipation is how most of the Western powers eliminated slavery. The two nations that most obviously didn’t use that method were the U.S. and Haiti, which got rid of slavery through respectively a massive continent-wide civil war and and enormous rebellion. Given that track record, I’d take compensated emancipation happily regardless of how unpalatable it may be.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      Your results are going to vary greatly depending on which arbitrary individual company you pick: different industries vary widely in their level of capital- versus labor-intensivity. Auto manufacturing, as you might expect, is pretty far towards the capital-intensive end.

      This is one of the pitfalls lurking in the old syndicalist scheme to give workers ownership of their own firms, as opposed to ownership of each others’. How long is the guy who’s been given 1/20 of a McDonald’s franchise going to stay happy once he hears about the guy who got 1/200 of a billion-dollar refinery?

    • Tekhno says:

      I don’t think the argument is even applicable, because “worker ownership of their firms” is just misconstruing the idea of socialism to begin with (socialists helped with their poor communication skills).

      Socialism was never based on every worker gaining private ownership of the means of production (that’s more the remit of some extreme hypothetical variant of distributism), but on the abolition of private ownership of the means of production as a system.

      The most popular radical variants of Socialism propose “ownership of the means of production by society as a whole”, but what this means is that no one anywhere has any private ownership rights, and that production across society would be organized by directly recallable delegates. It’s not sufficient to transfer property rights to specific workers in specific firms, if your goal is to abolish them. Socialists aren’t trying to measure the effectiveness of socialist firms at turning a profit in the market, they are trying to abolish profit, and in most cases the market too. A key part of Marx is that even capitalists are oppressed by capitalism, the system itself, so workers who gained equal share ownership of their firms would have to start acting as capitalists to survive, thus perpetuating the system. If workers bought up all their firms, they probably wouldn’t be interested in abolishing property afterwards. Marxism is entirely materialist in its analysis and recognizes this, so of course, it’s a no go even if you could coordinate this society wide plan.

      Even the “free market socialists” such as mutualists were arguing for a market based on occupancy and use, but the very same abolition of private property as a set of absentee rights that can be used to accumulate wealth. If the workers buy into the game of accumulation, nothing has changed as far as the socialist has concerned, no matter the tendency.

      • Zerk says:

        ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Socialist said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

      • Tekhno says:

        We should be used to their terminology by now. They’ve had this whole parallel way of speaking that has remained consistent for a hundred odd years.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        From what I recall of Marx, he was less concerned with who owned what, and more concerned with a social structure divided between a rentier class and everyone else. Private ownership of capital enables rent, but it is rent which is the problem, not the ownership, and private ownership is not the only social structure which creates the rentier classes.

        Granted, socialism has changed since Marx, but I’d say it changed in such a way as it forgot the actual point in everything. That was the central problem of the Soviet Union; it didn’t actually abolish rent, instead it merely reallocated who collected it, swapping political power in for economic power.

        This has been the trend for socialism, as a whole: Its most potent leaders don’t, in the end, seek to end the rentier class, they seek to become it.

        • Yes, i am judging you says:

          This has been the trend for socialism, as a whole: Its most potent leaders don’t, in the end, seek to end the rentier class, they seek to become it.

          That being the last page of “Animal Farm”.

          How many leftists did Orwell enrage with that book, and did their enraged writings well survive?

    • S_J says:

      Once the workers of the company purchase enough stock to change the Board, they may discover the coordination problems. Lots of individuals want slightly different things, and their votes may not provide the dreamed-of change to work conditions, wages, etc.

    • lel21 says:

      You’re on the right track — Friedman’s analysis is extremely misleading at best and flat out wrong at worst, in the direction of making the workers’ takeover seem far easier than it actually is.

      There seems to be a lot of confusion here and in Friedman about the difference between equity and assets, along with some latent confusion about accounting standards. I’ll try to clarify some of that, which hopefully will show why the analysis as presented is deeply flawed.

      On equity vs. debt: Equity holders (i.e. stock owners) are only one kind of “owner” of a firm. In every meaningful economic sense, debt holders are also owners of the firm and corporate finance treats them similarly. Although it is true that by default convention equity holders get to control the firm, there are so many exceptions to that rule that it’s useful to think of equity and debt as two different kinds of ownership. Friedman’s first few paragraphs only contemplate workers buying the equity of a company. “Capitalists” would still hold all of the debt. Especially when a company is significantly indebted, the debt holders can often be the real decision makers.

      So if workers want to own their firms free and clear, they need to buy the equity and buy out the debt holders. That transaction would leave the workers owning the entirety of the firm’s assets, since assets = equity + liabilities (i.e. debt) by identity.

      Friedman’s reference to net working capital as the right measure of firm assets is so bizarre I’m inclined to conclude he knows nothing about accounting or finance or is trying to be extremely misleading. The way he talks about it suggests the former to my mind.

      Without getting into the technical definition, net working capital is basically the money you need to run a business on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis. Think cash to keep in the cash registers, money to produce inventory, etc. Net working capital by definition excludes all of a business’s capital expenditures: large equipment, buildings, R&D (not technically capex, but conceptually similar). Obviously, for any typical business, capital expenditures dwarf net working capital by a large margin.

      On accounting: OK, so Friedman’s probably wrong. But why can’t we look up a company’s assets like you did and use that as the firm’s price tag?

      We can’t do that because accounting rules require companies to drastically understate the value of their assets. The rationale for this approach is complex and has both good and bad components, but it essentially boils down to prioritizing objectivity over accuracy. The result is a dramatic divergence between “book value” (what you saw for Ford’s assets) and market value, which is what you could theoretically buy the assets for.

      For example, one of Coca-Cola’s most valuable assets is probably the intellectual property surrounding the Coca-Cola brand. Someone buying Coke would certainly expect to pay a lot just for the brand assets, and Coke simply wouldn’t be Coke if it didn’t have the IP. So what’s the accounting book value of the Coca-Cola brand IP? Precisely zero. The value of Coke’s assets that you get if you pull up Google Finance does not include the Coke brand. For software firms, the R&D / engineering expense of creating the software product won’t be included either.

      I’m not sure the best way to get a better value of the real price tag. Adding the market value of equity (i.e. the market cap, easily obtained for public firms) to the market value of debt would probably be the best. But most debt doesn’t trade and so has no market value. You could use the book value of debt as a crude substitute, which is what’s conventionally done and is called enterprise value. In either case, you’re going to get a price tag that’s much bigger than either Friedman’s or yours.

    • Diadem says:

      Isn’t it a huse error to compare total wages of all workers with the value of companies on the stock exchange.

      Only a tiny percentage of companies is on the stock exchange. Our course companies on the stock exchange tend to be above average in size, but what is the size of the stock exchange compared to the value of all companies? My guess is it is still a small fraction.

      Also many large companies operate internationally. Which means either they have workers in the US while their stock isn’t on the NY exchange, or vice versa.

      I have no idea how these factors impact Friedman’s calculation. But they are big enough to make the calculation as given meaningless.

    • My impression of American labor culture is that it isn’t revolutionary– the model is that unions are in permanent opposition to management, but no one wants to replace management. Unions also seem to mostly focus on pay and not having members fired (in the case police unions, no oversight of any kind) rather than working conditions. Now I realize I’m not sure about how much focus on safety comes from miners’ unions and how much from government.

      I’ve floated the idea that auto workers unioins had some responsibility when American cars were of poor quality compared to foreign cars– they could have pushed for better design, but they didn’t. People seem to look at me as though I’m weird for suggesting that unions could have taken some initiative.

      • LPSP says:

        Or in other words, Union see themselves, and have come to be seen, as simple authorities and regulators. Which of course goes unacknowledged, else people might highlight the lack of credentials for such a role, nevermind competence. It’s safer to spin the old shell-truth of protecting worker’s rights that to take on the responsibilities of being openly… well, responsible.

    • Adrian says:

      In addition to the other criticism, this oversimplified calculation does not take into account that pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into the stock market will vastly increase stock prices. Rising stock prices will create more buyers and cause existing owners to speculate for even higher prices. That Friedman forgot this simple principle (supply and demand) is beyond embarrassing.

      Sure, at some point the bubble would burst and prices would fall again, but it’s nowhere as simple as going into a stock exchange, saying “Hello, I would like to buy all the stocks, please.”

      • Tseeteli says:

        Buying out all companies would undoubtedly raise prices.

        But buying out the first company wouldn’t make that much difference to markets as a whole. Corporate buyouts are already a thing that happens.

        So, workers still have the option of buying out their companies — even if this option would get harder once the trend started.

    • Murphy says:

      That plan seems impractical.

      lets imagine I own a lot of stock in various companies. If americas workers suddenly declare that they’re going to do this and look likely to be able to raise the cash then I’m not going to sell cheap. I know they’re doing it for ideology so I might as well double, triple the price I’m asking for the stocks.

      Suddenly you get a massive bubble with stock prices going through the roof everywhere. Suddenly they can’t buy out the capitalists in a few years because the capitalists have raised the price 20 fold or just refused to sell.

      of course the state could step in and force the issue but then we’re into compulsory purchase and nationalization.

      Employees who are having financial problems for other reasons aren’t going to be able to take part. (one thing I’ve noticed about David Friedman is what while his posts are interesting and informative I think he mistakenly believes that more people have significant disposable income than they really do or at least hasn’t internalized how little free cash many people have even with frugal spending)

      So what’s the result? The richest workers become new capitalist overlords and the capitalists remain as the old money. The people closest to the poverty line already remain near the poverty line without ownership of their companies. Nothing really changes except that the economy tumbles for a few years while huge numbers of people stop spending much and the new boss ends up looking a lot like the old boss.

      I’m not a fan of the communist style rhetoric but if this was aimed at people complaining about the french aristocracy from before the revolution it would be advising that everyone make themselves super useful servants of the king so that he can grant them all titles and lands and they can all be part of the aristocracy rather than having a revolution.

      • John Schilling says:

        lets imagine I own a lot of stock in various companies. If americas workers suddenly declare that they’re going to do this and look likely to be able to raise the cash then I’m not going to sell cheap. I know they’re doing it for ideology so I might as well double, triple the price I’m asking for the stocks.

        But the plan doesn’t require All The Workers of America United. If just the workers at Spacely Sprockets decide they’re sick and tired and they’re not going to take it any more, they can do the traditional thing and unionize, or they can pool their money and buy out the company. From the various non-employee buyouts and buyout attempts I have watched, mostly on account of being a stockholder, “Look, someone is trying to buy out Spaceley!” maybe makes the price of SS stock rise 20-30%, not 200-300%.

        The endgame where the last capitalists are trying to hold on to their position in the era of the Great Socialist Buyout, that could get messy. But the fact that this sort of thing rarely gets started locally, where the obstacles are much smaller, is the sort of thing that reveals true preferences. Which I think was David Friedman’s point.

  25. HeelBearCub says:

    Here is an interesting example of a potential market failure: the lack of toothpaste as a complimentary item in hotels.

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s a coordination problem. I pack toothpaste because I know that it’s standard to. I don’t pack soap or shampoo because I know that they’ll be there. Hotels can compete by providing better shampoo, which benefits (or at least impresses) most clients, without surprising anyone. But if they try to up the ante by providing toothpaste, it only benefits the small number of people who forgot their toothpaste.

      (I could say the same about a shaving kit. It could be an arbitrary decision that some hotels have decided to provide them, just like Asian hotels arbitrarily decided to provide toothpaste. But there could be a good reason about full kits being better than travel kits.)

      • LPSP says:

        That explains why the insufficiency persists, but not why it generated in the first place. Was shampoo easier to provide back when these hotel practices originated? Did people place less value on clean teeth?

        • Julie K says:

          Shampoo is harder to pack (potential mess if it leaks) than toothpaste.
          Possibly people are picky about what toothpaste they use?

        • Jaskologist says:

          TSA rules made it difficult to pack shampoo. You had to have it in very small containers packed in individual plastic bags which were then removed for inspection. Most people buy their shampoo in larger sizes than “travel,” so don’t have that readily on-hand. A regular roll of toothpaste is small enough to fit within the rules, and I get the even smaller sizes from my dentist faster than I can use them.

          (Epistemic status: spitballing)

          • Travel-sized shampoo bottles have been available since long before the TSA.

          • Jaskologist says:

            But my point is that you need to intentionally buy travel-size shampoo, whereas the normal roll of toothpaste is already travel-sized enough.

          • Amanda says:

            Am I buying strangely large tubes of toothpaste here? I think my normal tubes are 6oz or something, way over the TSA limit (did a double check: 6.4oz). I’m just grabbing something at Target here, not picking up some giant Costco-sized tub.

            I mean, it doesn’t change your real point, because the dentists are always giving out those tiny tubes. Just a nitpick born of confusion.

          • Mary says:

            Soap and shampoo were standards before TSA’s new rules. I remember my father bringing back complimentary bars of soap from trips when I was a small child.

          • JayT says:

            In practice, the TSA will almost never take a tube of toothpaste that is a few ounces over the limit. I stopped worrying about the 3oz limit like 10-12 years ago.

          • Good Burning Plastic says:

            Most tubes of toothpaste are 75 ml (at least here in Europe), but mine is 125 ml, so above the 100 ml limit.

          • onyomi says:

            I’m on a trip and someone gifted me a largish bottle of liquor. I managed to pack light enough not to need to check a bag on my way here. I have the TSA precheck so I don’t need to take liquids and gels out of my suitcase when going through security.

            Question: if I stick this large bottle of liquor in my suitcase and run it through the scanner (that is, attempt to carry it on though it’s clearly more liquid than the new rules would strictly allow), what is the probability of me being hassled and/or forced to throw it away? My hope is that worst case scenario, I have to go back and fork over $25 to check the bag, but I hate to pay $25 to check a bag which otherwise doesn’t need to be checked all for the sake of a bottle of liquor which probably cost no more than $25.

          • JayT says:

            Something like a 750ml bottle of alcohol will definitely be confiscated/thrown away. I’d say you have less than a 1% chance of making it through with it.

          • bja009 says:


            The pass-through rate on banned items has been reported to be as high as 90%, although a big bottle is harder to miss than, say, a small knife.

            If you take the risk and end up losing the bottle, take comfort from the knowledge that the TSOs will ‘throw away’ the bottle for show, but will more than likely enjoy its contents later on.

          • onyomi says:

            Check the bag it is…

          • LPSP says:

            Nope, my post didn’t make it through. Blegh…

            @bja009: Pass-through rate sounds to me like it means “the rate at which illegal items pass undetected onto planes”, but the conversation is making me think you might’ve meant the opposite.

          • Agronomous says:

            Put the liquor bottle in one end of your bag, and a small knife in the other to distract the TSA guys.

            (Is it Johnnie Walker?)

          • John Schilling says:

            They will most likely miss the small knife. I routinely carry a pocketknife; if I forget to leave it at home before a commercial flight I just tuck it into the carry-on and prepare to say “oops I forgot” if they catch it. Which happens about one time in five.

            A fifth of good liquor, that they won’t miss. Nor a fifth of bad liquor, but they’ll be more appreciative of the good stuff.

    • bluto says:

      Nearly every hotel I’ve stayed has had a much wider array of toiletries available at the front desk. I took up shaving with a non-electric after being stranded with my electric razor checked from the freebie shaving kit.

    • Curunir says:

      Luxury hotels in India carry them.

    • John Schilling says:

      Toothpaste goes with toothbrushes, and toothbrushes are highly personal items – it is for most people indescribably “icky” to use someone else’s, and how sure are you that the one in the hotel bathroom isn’t the same one the previous guest used? So everybody packs their own, and while they are grabbing a toothbrush it is instinctively obvious to grab the toothpaste as well. Anybody who forgot their toothpaste, forgot their toothbrush as well, so it’s no help that the hotel provides the paste.

      Post-2006, it would be less wasteful and occasionally useful for hotels to provide toothpaste, but as Anonymous notes there’s the coordination problem of not being able to count on it and so not being able to reliably benefit from it.

      • Diadem says:


        It seems very weird to offer toothpaste without toothbrushes. I’m surprised that there are any actually hotels at all that do this.

        I guess hotels could offer both, but that’s a significant expense (toothbrushes are probably a factor 10x-100x as expensive as a single helping of soap). And since both toothbrushes and toothpaste are very personal items I guess there wouldn’t be too much demand even if they did offer them.

        (With ‘offer’ here I mean put them standard in all rooms. I’m aware that most hotels have them at the reception. Which makes sense for the occasional guest who forgets theirs).

        • I’ve occasionally gotten a free toothbrush from a hotel desk. They have been awful toothbrushes– flimsy plastic with the bristles and sometimes the handle being too soft.

      • onyomi says:

        I may be weird, but I have many times arrived at a hotel with a toothbrush but no toothpaste. I’m not sure how this happens. I tend to be something of an illogical packer. Even when I think about it all in advance I tend to end up with too many socks but no shirts, a bunch of fancy shirts but no pants that go with them, etc.

        Ditto floss, though, unlike toothpaste, they are not going to have that at the front desk. I have walked through more than one strange city late at night to find a drug store with toothpaste and floss.

        I do think there is something about the appearance: it seems weird to offer toothpaste but not a toothbrush. But, as you say, most people want their own toothbrush. I wouldn’t mind using a completely new one offered by the hotel, but the kind of new toothbrush most hotels would be willing to offer as a disposable amenity would surely be so crummy I’d hate using it. Ditto shave kits. They could give nice shaving cream, but then they’d feel like they need to offer a razor. And the razor they can offer for free is going to be crap.

        That said, I would be pleasantly surprised to find some kind of fancy toothpaste if staying at the kind of fancy hotel which is offering gilchrist and soames, etc.

    • Julie K says:

      Related: why are hotel towels so skimpy? (Easier to fit a lot of them in a washing machine, obviously, but why don’t nice hotels go for better ones?)

      • bluto says:

        I suspect it’s the result of frequent washing in very hot water and rapid drying in very hot air.

      • Deiseach says:

        why don’t nice hotels go for better ones?

        Because people steal nice towels. Constantly replacing nice towels etc. is expensive. Not so nice ones get the job done and are not worth stealing.

        Because hotels, even nice ones, cut expenses to the bone when it comes to housekeeping. Unless you or a family member/friend has worked in maid services you have no idea the kind of “give it a cat’s lick” attitude to cleaning and getting the maximum number of rooms done in the minimum time to save on hourly wages some hotels engage in. I’ve got an example of a local one in mind and I’m pretty sure they’re not the only ones with that attitude in the industry. Not saying every hotel is like this, but the hospitality industry runs on tight margins.

      • Alethenous says:

        Less tempting to steal them?

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      That’s… not really what a market failure is, in any meaningful sense.
      Anyway, everyone carries toothpaste because you use it before and after staying at a hotel, unlike shampoo and soap. You brush your teeth after lunch before getting on a plane, long before you ever get to a hotel.

      Clickbait, on the other hand…

    • Deiseach says:

      Okay, I googled this and Slate did a feature on that very question back in 2013:

      Why has toothpaste been relegated to this supplementary status? I asked this question of executives at 18 North American hotel chains, and most provided the same pair of explanations. First, they said their in-room amenities are chosen based on extensive consumer research. In other words, if the hotels aren’t giving you toothpaste, it’s because you don’t really want toothpaste. “If such requests did begin to trend,” explained a representative from the Wyndham Hotel Group, “we would evaluate our brand standards and offerings.” (Update, July 3: There is at least one major exception to the rule. A Hyatt spokesperson reports that all of that company’s hotels in North America offer in-room tubes of Aquafresh toothpaste.)

      The second explanation took the form of an appeal to hospitality norms. Several sources said that their company takes its cues from rivals. “Many of our competitors do not include toothpaste as a standard amenity,” pleaded brand director Debbie Grant of InterContinental Hotels & Resorts. Others shrugged and pointed to the independent companies that assign standard ratings for quality of service. If the ratings don’t require it, the hotels won’t acquire it.

      Sure enough, the hotel-ratings firms make very precise toiletry demands, yet as a rule omit any reference to dental care products. According to AAA, which gives out diamond ratings to U.S. hotels, a one-diamond establishment must stock two small bars of soap, while a two-diamond place needs to have two slightly larger bars of soap, plus one packet or bottled item. At three, four, and five diamonds, each hotel is expected to provide ever larger soaps and ever-widening apothecaries of creams, lotions, and gels. Bars and bottles, yes; tubes of toothpaste, no.

    • RDNinja says:

      There’s a flavor issue, I imagine. You don’t want to count on hotel toothpaste, just to discover it’s a flavor you hate.

      • JRM says:

        I’m sure this is part of it. I’m accustomed to my toothpaste, and don’t mind taking it with me. Or at least I didn’t until TSA made the big tubes ineligible for carry-on.

      • Anonymous says:

        What flavor would that be? Every toothpaste on the (U.S.) market seems to be some variation of mint. (I hate mint.) Is there really that much variation in minty-flavor toothpaste that this scenario is at all likely?

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          Have you tried children’s toothpaste? It usually has significantly less minty flavour alternatives?

          • Anonymous says:

            Hm, not a bad idea (though I can imagine finding some of those flavors a bit cloying). I’d have to see if there are any no-SLS toothpastes, since it aggravates canker sores.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          You might be able to find fennel flavour if you look (at least you can in the UK).

        • Rebecca Friedman says:


          I like some mints, hate others, and would not describe most generic toothpastes as minty in the first place. At the moment I am aware of precisely one variety that doesn’t taste awful to me; if they stop making that, I will probably have to try several more I dislike until I find one I don’t. Not the end of the world, but annoying and wasteful. I certainly would not use toothpaste if a hotel provided it; in my experience, better than four in one toothpastes are awful, and a hotel one seems more likely than average to be.

          (That said, I also dislike standard chapstick, so I may just be more picky about what non-food items I put in/near my mouth in general.)

        • Guy says:

          I’ve frequently used a (by all appearances adult) citrus toothpaste, and Arm & Hammer sells another toothpaste I like whose flavor I can only describe as “like baking soda, if baking soda tasted good”. Oh, and I see cinnamon toothpaste all the time, but I don’t like straight cinnamon so I don’t buy it. There are alternatives, though.

    • JayT says:

      This seems terribly silly. For one, the average toothpaste container is small enough to travel with. That’s certainly not the case with shampoo or conditioner. Toothpaste is far more akin to something like deodorant or a toothbrush. Secondly, all that said, I’ve never been to a hotel that didn’t have toothpaste available if you just call the front desk.

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      Whenever I asked for toothbrush and toothpaste I received it. (Canadian, for the record)

    • CH says:

      Many hotels will have toothpaste (single serving) and toothbrushes available at the front desk for those that forget.

  26. Dr Dealgood says:

    SSCience Thread

    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.

    From OT 56.25:
    1. Increased nuclear Olig1-expression in the pregenual anterior cingulate white matter of patients with major depression: A regenerative attempt to compensate oligodendrocyte loss? linked by yours truly. If you want to use Sci-Hub, Anon. suggests using the DOI link (
    2. Does Academic Research Destroy Stock Return Predictability? linked by Chalid.

    Please keep discussion civil and apolitical.

    • caethan says:

      New evidence for grain specific C4 photosynthesis in wheat.


      The C4 photosynthetic pathway evolved to allow efficient CO2 capture by plants where effective carbon supply may be limiting as in hot or dry environments, explaining the high growth rates of C4 plants such as maize. Important crops such as wheat and rice are C3 plants resulting in efforts to engineer them to use the C4 pathway. Here we show the presence of a C4 photosynthetic pathway in the developing wheat grain that is absent in the leaves. Genes specific for C4 photosynthesis were identified in the wheat genome and found to be preferentially expressed in the photosynthetic pericarp tissue (cross- and tube-cell layers) of the wheat caryopsis. The chloroplasts exhibit dimorphism that corresponds to chloroplasts of mesophyll- and bundle sheath-cells in leaves of classical C4 plants. Breeding to optimize the relative contributions of C3 and C4 photosynthesis may adapt wheat to climate change, contributing to wheat food security.

      If true, it means that wheat already contains the genes and systems for the (more efficient) C4 photosynthetic pathway. C4 wheat would give a huge (~30-60%) boost in crop yields with less water and nitrogen (e.g. fertilizer) used.

      • caethan says:

        Of particular note is that this means we could likely develop C4 wheat through traditional breeding methods rather than through direct genetic modification. That means it’s probably both much simpler to do that we had originally thought and is much less likely to see major opposition from anti-GMO types.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Ooh, thanks. That looks really cool. I’m going to check that out tonight.

        As for it being more palatable to anti-GMO types, I wouldn’t hold my breath. The organic food movement is the last gasp of Vitalism and if anything are less reasonable than their intellectual predecessors.

        That said, more efficient wheat harvests are good news for everyone.

        (Hopefully this isn’t violating my own no-politics rule. I don’t think organic food counts as politics exactly, though that might be hair-splitting.)

  27. LPSP says:

    … wow, am I really the first commenter? Unless the website is glitching and not showing me things. I guess it’s pretty quiet around these parts.

    I can’t think of any huge or pressing topics to talk about, so I guess I’ll start with a jovial one. What sort of music does the SSC commentariat enjoy?

    • Ninmesara says:

      Classical, mainly, but not exclusively.

    • Curunir says:

      Post rock and math rock, with a smattering of ambient ala Tycho, Jon Hopkins, etc.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Jazz, classic rock, hip hop, musical theatre, old R&B, classical mostly.

    • A mixed batch– some classical, some jazz, some rock, some folk…..

      I’d have expected more interest in anime and gaming music than I’ve seen so far.

      Here are my Pandora stations– I found that finetuning stations with thumbs up/down made them insipid, but having a whole slew of stations makes me happy.

      Stanley Clarke, Omnia (Neofolk), Adele, Oscar Peterson, Emerald Rose, Epica, Intricate Fire (Eric Raymond’s prog rock station), Marillion, Bill Leslie, Break Of Reality, Brent Arnold, Bill Bruford, Jeremy Messersmith, Liz Carroll And John Doyle, The Piano Guys, Beelzebub, John Scofield, Eleventyseven, Ozzy Osbourne, Funky Mustard, The Piano Guys & Jon Schmidt, Nick Cave, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Ulrich Schnauss, Vienna Teng, Carmina Burana, Scenic Cantata For Soloists, Choruses & Orchestra, Natalie MacMaster, Francesco Geminiani, Agesandages, Scott D. Davis, Ludovico Einaudi, Johann Johannsson, Moondog, Jonathan Elias, Queensryche, Oysterband, Bishop Allen, At The Edge, Katzenjammer, Tracey Bone, Artichoke Heart Souffle, Bat Out Of Hell, The Eighteenth Day Of May, Feist, The Noisettes, Mare Imbrium, The Vitamin String Quartet, Annie Lennox (Holiday), The Imagined Village, Greg Howe, Victor Wooten & Dennis Chambers,The Last Five Years (Original Broadway Cast), Death in Vegas, Bobby McFerrin, Pat Metheny, Brooks Williams,Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Zoe Keating, Janelle Monae, Miranda Sex Garden, Next To Normal (Original Cast), The Temptations, Boston Baroque, Kronos Quartet, The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (live), Ray Lynch, Liquid Tension Experiment, The Klezmatics (Holiday), Martin Carthy, Symphonic– Romantic Period, Michael Praetorius, The Bobs, Charles Mingus, You Can’t Stop The Beat, Enter the Haggis, The Grateful Dead

      • Jugemu Chousuke says:

        >I’d have expected more interest in anime and gaming music than I’ve seen so far.

        I’d guess people with high-status taste are more inclined to answer questions like this.

        • I thought that gaming and anime music would be high enough status in this community that people would be willing to say they liked them, but I was guessing.

          Also, status depends on where you’re hanging out. My tastes are pretty middlebrow mostly (I’m surprised that I can enjoy Sun Ra), and sometimes I worry about being sneered at by hipsters.

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            I tend to fold anime/gaming music into the genres they belong to, rather than considering them genres in an of themselves. One game might have a jazz-based soundtrack, another show might have a classical-based soundtrack, etc.

        • Ricardo Cruz says:

          Exactly. I feel a bit ashamed but I actually like pop top-20 music a lot. It makes me feel energized. But, were not your comment, I would never share this hehe.

        • Aegeus says:

          I forgot about anime music! I don’t have a lot of it on my playlist, but pretty much everything Kalafina does is excellent, and I have the openings to a half-dozen other shows as well. Also a couple AKB48 songs.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      Folk/symphonic metal, classic rock.

    • Celebrimbor says:

      A little bit of everything (except country or opera).

      Recently my favorite music has been by Streetlight Manifesto, Haywyre, and Johnny Cash.

      • Thanks for mentioning Streetlight Manifesto– I’m liking them quite a bit. They’re fast, raucous, and cheerful sounding. That is, I can’t make out the lyrics, but that’s alright.

        Klezmer influence?

        I looked at their wikipedia page, and they mention 60s influence. I was around in the 60s, though hardly keeping track of all the music. I can’t think of anything so chipper from then.

        • Celebrimbor says:

          I think they might have some influence from The Beatles, but who doesn’t nowadays. I also think they have a big band sound that you don’t hear to often anymore.

    • JRM says:

      I like this question! But I have mostly terrible taste in music. (A features editor once told me, “You have terrible taste in music. (brief pause, genuinely:) That’s not meant as an insult. I’m just saying you have objectively terrible taste in music.” It’s better now than it was then, but not by a hell of a lot.

      Non-classical/children’s concerts attended: Weird Al (in 1985 and 2014), Yes, Jonathan Coulton. I’m probably forgetting a couple; I also went to some smaller concerts. Yes was very ordinary, but I went with some friends. The Coulton concert was an SSC type of crowd.

      I think late 1990’s pop is underrated.

      My wife loves the a capella folk group The Bobs. She has worse taste in music than I do, says me. (Though she also loves the Beatles, and we’ve been all-Beatles this weekend.)

      I can listen to anything for five minutes. That’s my tolerance limit for country, but I can listen to almost anything else for a while.

    • Vitor says:

      Mainly Metal: Progressive, death, folk, etc.

      A smattering of other stuff: classical, folk, world music.

      Some electronic: dubstep, ambient.

      In general, I am enjoying variety more and more as I get older, and can appreciate the beauty of many musical styles.

    • Andrew says:

      I tend to listen to music as a sort of “aid” to other activities- so if I’m driving, I listen to classic rock as the repetitiveness isn’t a problem when you’re trying to pay attention, and it’s generally high-energy so you stay awake and focused. If I’m trying to stay pumped up for homework or work-work, I’ll do some variant on EDM/house music. If I want to actually listen to music and not do anything else, then it’s classical or “nerd-rock” stuff. If I want to do chores around the house, definitely metal.

      Anyone else do similar pairings?

      • sweeneyrod says:

        I like listening to music when doing intellectual work, but the quality of the music I can listen to without getting distracted is inversely proportional to the difficulty of the work. So I end up listening to really crappy pop when I’m doing really hard maths.

    • I have terrible taste in music.

      My home generally plays top country. Sinatra when friends come over for dinner. On my earbuds, soundtrack music (“Madder Sky” seduced me into watching Code Geass).

      • Eltargrim says:

        I find that the rest of the soundtrack, while being a fitting accompaniment to the show, just doesn’t hook me. Madder Sky is fantastic, though.

        • Agreed. Code Geass has an underwhelming soundtrack on its own. I quite enjoy Desperation and The Ruins as They Were, though.

          In terms of quality anime soundtrack, I prefer Madoka. Most holds up pretty well, even outside the show. Decretum and Sis Puella Magi are my favorites.

          Mass Effect has some nice hits, too. Suicide Mission, I’m Proud of You, Leaving Earth….mmmmmm.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      80’s synth pop.

    • Eltargrim says:

      My Recent Activity on Google Play Music, which is my player of choice, reveals the following:

      Sigh No More – Mumford and Sons
      3 separate radio stations playing variations on downtempo electronic
      Grow Up and Blow Away – Metric
      Ritual in Repeat – Tennis
      The Bones of What You Believe – CHVRCHES
      another eternity – Purity Ring
      Fantasies – Metric
      Not To Disappear – Daughter
      If You Wait – London Grammar
      Pagans in Vegas – Metric
      Reflektor – Arcade Fire

      If you go deeper to things I haven’t played as recently, you find Big Gigantic, Daft Punk, some video game soundtracks (Legend of Zelda, Chrono Symphonic), and a decent number of anime-based songs.

      So largely popular music with some eclectic tendencies? My usual strategy for new music is to be told of an artist I might enjoy, test a few songs, and then consume their entire discography.

    • Factorial says:

      If I’m hanging out with someone who says “Let’s put on some music” it almost always means I’m about to be tortured. But it isn’t because I only like a few things, it’s because I like only the very best* of a lot of different things. In other words:

      In my experience very few people have tastes in music as varied as mine, and almost nobody has tastes as discriminating.

      The question is, does everybody believe this about themselves?

      *I realize “best” is subjective, but it is at least possible to articulate objective comparisons of some music if you know music theory.

      So, bonus question: Does having a solid background in music theory make it even more excruciating to be subjected to music you don’t like?

      • “The question is, does everybody believe this about themselves?”

        I certainly don’t. I have preferences in music, but I don’t consider myself a connoisseur.

        I’m curious about your favorites.

        • Factorial says:

          OK, I apologize in advance, but since you asked…1990s alternative rock (e.g. The Melvins, Helmet, Soundgarden, Faith No More) is my consistent go-to favorite. My CD binder contains:

          – country (especially Brad Paisley for modern, and I like a lot of classic country)
          – LOTS of gamelan
          – classical (baroque, classical, romantic, The Russians, operas if they’re by Mozart, and modern represented by the Barber violin concerto)
          – traditional Indian
          – traditional African
          – a couple of Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road CDs
          – some modern African (e.g. Habib Koite, Toumani Diabate)
          – rap mixtapes (I tend to like songs more than albums; how much I like a rapper is inversely correlated with how much I’d want him for a neighbor–“Pop Shit” by ODB is my all-time favorite rap song)
          – a couple punk bands
          – a couple metal bands
          – bluegrass
          – steel pan/calypso music
          – black American gospel
          – a couple Tom Waits CDs and all of Fiona Apple’s studio releases (not sure what category to put them in)
          – a CD of German polkas
          – a blues CD or two
          – some novelty/comedic music (Jerry Reed, Weird Al, They Might Be Giants)
          – jazz (“cool” jazz, bebop, some modern stuff, some African jazz)

          All of these get steady rotation.

          Notable genres missing from that list include pop, Christian-spirational, and electronic music, which I completely avoid.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        I think a very large number of people believe that their tastes in music are broad and interesting, regardless of whether they are. Probably not literally everyone though.

        I think having an understanding of music theory lets you articulate why you don’t want to listen to yet another pop song with a I-vi-IV-V progression, but isn’t relevant most of the time. At least for me, I generally dislike music based on lyrics or general feel rather than harmony or structure (presuming those are what you mean by music theory).

        • Factorial says:

          A lot of good music is ruined by crappy lyrics. Which isn’t to say bad lyrics ALWAYS ruin good music–case in point, Rush, Phil Collins, and Nine Inch Nails.

          Good lyrics usually don’t save crappy music, though, especially when they’re poorly sung (which is why I don’t listen to Bob Dylan).

          • Ptoliporthos says:

            Listen to the Nashville Skyline album — it may lead you to reevaluate Dylan’s vocal abilities.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            Second this, there are very few songs I can think of where the lyrics match up with the vocal / musical quality.

            (Every Day is Exactly the same is the exception that proves the rule for NIN and the Tarzan soundtrack is the exception for Phil Collins

            Reznor’s decision to move towards soundtrack work was probably a smart idea.

      • Garrett says:

        I suspect that part of this involves different expectations. In my life, there are at least 4 different reasons that I listen to music:

        * I’m doing tedious manual work and want something to occupy my mind, possibly involve singing along. This goes along with floor-scrubbing and long-distance driving.
        * I’m doing something mentally engaging and need quality background noise. Homework when parents are watching TV. Programming at work with my coworker coughing up phlegm continually.
        * I’m looking to sit down and listen to and appreciate music as the primary activity.

        The type of music that might be called for in each of those cases is different. Having two people with different ideas of why something is being played is also a recipe for conflict.

        • Factorial says:

          That’s a good point. For example, if I’m doing mentally engaging work I prefer no music. If there MUST be music (e.g. to block out some other noise) then my requirements are…

          – There are no English vocals (or better, no vocals)
          – The piece/song is not familiar enough to me that I could hum along or know some change about to happen
          – All instruments are acoustic
          – The music is primarily rhythmic.

          Very little culturally Western music fits that description (Philip Glass being a notable exception).

          • sweeneyrod says:

            Your second point is interesting, I have exactly the opposite experience (I prefer music I know very well).

          • Factorial says:

            If it’s too familiar I get fixated on it and can’t focus on what I’m supposed to be doing.

      • ChillyWilly says:

        Believing you have the “best” taste is pretty normal and acceptable in my opinion, but only as long as you think that about one or maybe two things. I am a complete and unrepentant snob when it comes to books and feel no shame considering many well-received, popular books to be not worth my time (for example, the Lord of the Rings). On the other hand, I acknowledge being an absolute trog when it comes to music — I want the stupidest, trashiest garage rock I can find. When talking about books, I think people enjoy hearing my (fairly well-informed) strong opinions, but if it were books AND music AND food AND whatever, I would just be an insufferable jerk.

        • Factorial says:

          As picky as I am about music (and a few other things), I don’t consider myself a snob. The reason is, I don’t believe my tastes reflect any kind of refinedness or culturedness. There are some things I like that are very popular, some even pretty lowbrow. The pattern follows something else (but I’m not always sure what).

          A good example of this is my taste in rap music, where I tend to enjoy songs like this (NSFW) but I think rappers out toward the right end of this graph of rappers by vocabulary size tend to suck.

          • This reminds me– I like reading, but I’m uncomfortable with people who talk as though reading is a sort of proof of virtue. Especially these days, when there’s so much excellent stuff available as audio, I don’t think a taste for reading proves anything about intelligence or virtue.

          • Factorial says:

            Reminds me of the Comedians in Cars episode with Steve Colbert. Colbert said something like “No matter where I was at in life, I made sure I had books.” Seinfeld, matter-of-factly: “How pretentious.”

            Personally, I’m not sure I equate reading with virtue, but I totally get why someone might.

          • Deiseach says:

            Seinfeld, matter-of-factly: “How pretentious.”

            Only pretentious if you’re sure that all your life you have and will have enough money to buy any book you want, and books will be easily and readily available, and you won’t have to choose between buying books or food.

            I’m inclined to punch Seinfeld inna snoot for that because I remember being starved for books as a kid, scouring neighbour’s garage for a box of coverless, mildewed, soggy old books dumped there (Sir Walter Scott’s “The Black Arrow” being the only readable one), or finding a copy of Charlotte Brontë’s “Shirley” in another neighbour’s cupboard and asking could I have it at age nine.

            Making sure that you always had books, no matter at what stage of life you were (i.e. could you afford them or not) may be pretentious – or it may be as necessary as water.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Deiseach

            “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.” — Erasmus of Rotterdam

          • lemmy caution says:

            don’t be fucking with the Wu-tang clan

          • Factorial says:

            @lemme caution:

            I propose that rappers get better not as they use more words, but as their fanbases become increasingly dissimilar from Coachella attendees.

            Speaking of Wu Tang though, this is the best song by any member:

          • Alejandro says:

            @Deiseach: Fellow reader-as-child of The Black Arrow here; it is Stevenson, not Scott ;).

          • sweeneyrod says:

            Wu-Tang Clan got nothing on their UK equivalent Devilman.

          • Deiseach says:

            Alejandro, I am ashamed! I plainly confused the Sir Walter Scott book I fished out of the box (and which wasn’t one of the well-known ones, like “Ivanhoe”) with the Stevenson!

            But at least this shows it was not down to pretension, since if it were, I would have been very careful to drop the correct name 🙂

    • Philosophisticat says:

      Just about everything, through relatively little metal, blues, or country. Tom Waits is my favorite artist, but classic/alternative/indie rock is probably more representative (Radiohead, Pink Floyd). Recently appreciating hip hop/rap a lot (Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples, Aesop Rock).

      • sweeneyrod says:

        If you’re into hip hop and have listened to Hamilton, try Clipping, an interesting hip hop group featuring Daveed Diggs (Lafayette/Jefferson).

    • I mostly listen to electronic, drum ‘n bass, industrial, and that whole gamut of subgenres. Plus a few video game sound tracks, remixed game or video tracks, and then a few random bands like cage the elephant or Andrew bird. I’ve mostly fallen out of my J-Rock phase.

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      Here’s a sample from my iPod when I put it on random:

      Vanessa Williams: What Will I Tell My Heart
      Metallica: Battery (Live Shit: Binge & Purge)
      Demons and Wizards: Gallows Pole
      White Skull: Still Alive (Outro)
      Enya: Water Shows the Hidden Heart
      Hollenthon: Lords of Bedlam
      The Outfield: I Just Wanna Use Your Love Tonight
      Lindsey Stirling: Zi-Zi’s Journey
      Kings of Leon: Sex On Fire
      Streets of Rage (Sega Genesis): Boss Battle
      The Gathering: In Motion #1
      Jonny L: Hurt You So
      Iron Maiden: The Number of the Beast
      Secret of Mana: Time in the Clouds (OC Remix album)
      Mega Man 2 (NES): Dr. Wily’s Stage
      Stevie Ray Vaughan: Tin Pan Alley
      Descendents: Pervert
      Therion: Fight Fire With Fire (Tribute to the Four Horsemen)
      B. B. King & Eric Clapton: Three O’clock Blues
      Lunar 2 – Eternal Blue: Hiro’s Combat
      Carolina Chocolate Drops: Snowden’s Jig
      Nightwish: Crownless
      Bal-Sagoth: The Hammer of the Emperor
      Citizen Cope: Sideways
      My Dying Bride: The Raven and the Rose
      The Braids: Bohemian Rhapsody
      The Black Mages: One Winged Angel
      Angelo Debarre & Ludovic Beier: I Wonder Where My Baby Is
      The Prodigy: Breathe
      Dark Order: What’s Past Is Prelude
      The Crown: Deathexplosion

    • Dahlen says:

      Mostly metal and rock music over here. I confess I’ve been living under a rock (… sorry) and don’t really know a lot of music outside of the narrow circle of metal bands and songs I usually listen to. There’s the classic rock/metal standard fare (Queen, Aerosmith, Guns & Roses, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Black Sabbath etc.), some alternative rock (Placebo, Silversun Pickups), miscellaneous metal stuff, two or three songs (Bathory, Sabaton, Sepultura)… but more than anything else, symphonic/gothic metal (Therion, old Nightwish, Theatre of Tragedy) and stuff that crosses the Growl Threshold (Cradle of Filth, Gorgoroth) — and I admit, the best part of the latter is playing it to normal people and watching them conspicuously hate it.

      As for the scant few non-metal songs — seems to be mostly fantasy-ish, tranquil, occasionally creepy instrumentals, and some songs from Blackmore’s Night.

      I wish I knew whether I have awful taste in music and all this stuff just objectively sucks, however much I may beg to differ. I’d like to be more of a music connoisseur and/or snob… But the fact is, I can’t be bothered to broaden my musical horizons more than once every couple of years. I was once worried that I’d been listening to the same 50 songs from ninth grade and life had been getting a bit, you know, monotonous, and so I went and added more stuff and now I’ve been listening to the same 100 songs since the first year of college! Progress!

      How do people even stumble upon all these bands?

      Edit: Oh, and I forgot about this — over time I’ve noticed basically all the music having the same underlying numerical pattern and got tired of, basically, counting to sixteen until some part begins. What’s the name for this in musical theory, and what bands are there that are a breath of fresh air in this department?

      • Winter Shaker says:

        How do people even stumble upon all these bands?

        I have a tendency to visit second hand CD shops and just buy a bunch of stuff that looks interesting in the marked-down section. About the best bands that I discovered that way were Morphine, 16 Horsepower (plus later project Woven Hand) and … well, not a band but the Bulgarian folk choir genre. Though you do end up either storing a lot of crap CDs or having to put a lot of effort into getting rid of them

        I’ve noticed basically all the music having the same underlying numerical pattern and got tired of, basically, counting to sixteen until some part begins. What’s the name for this in musical theory, and what bands are there that are a breath of fresh air in this department?

        I’m not sure there’s a specific term for getting tired of music in 4/4 time, but 4/4 is the most common time signature in Western traditions, and l expect lots of others.

        As it happens, Bulgaria might be your answer there – they have dances in all sorts of implausible irregular time signatures. See if you can find a good kopanitsa, paidushko or sedi donka (you may have more luck googling the cyrillic: копаница, пайдушко, седи донка) and take it from there.

        Or, one of my personal all-time favourite bands, Värttinä, who are from Finland but have obviously picked up a bit of Bulgarian influence. Anything from about Vihma onwards will be a sophisticated Karelian folk-influenced acoustic pop/rock concoction, with, again, lots of songs that don’t just sit in the 4/4 groove.

        Or as your nuclear option, you could try Karlheinz Stockhausen 🙂
        Most of his stuff has no discernable time signature or indeed tonal centre at all. Though some does – try Stimmung, Tierkreis or, if you can find it, Wochenkreis for some of his more accessible stuff.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        I think the counting to sixteen you are talking about comes from listening to music with 4 beats in a bar (it makes sense to count 1, 2, 3, 4), and with lots of obvious 4 bar phrases (the counts to 16 you are talking about). Bars with 4 beats are ubiquitous in Western music, and 4 bar phrases (and groupings of 4 bar phrases containing a multiple of 4 of them) are pretty common too. But the phrases are more obvious in some songs than others. I don’t have any specific suggestions for bands with slightly less obvious phrasing. If you want songs that don’t have 4 beats in a bar (which will clearly be a breath of fresh air), you can (as Winter Shaker suggests) try Balkan folk music, or staying within rock try prog metal (I don’t know much about it other than it has weird time signatures). From a quick google, Dream Theater — The Dance Of Eternity is definitely not in 4/4. Other (non prog metal) songs I know are Radiohead — Everything In Its Right Place (listen to the Robert Glasper cover if you want to get into jazz) (10/4), Pink Floyd — Money (7/4), and Led Zeppelin — Black Dog (some 5/4 bars) and Kashmir (3/4 riff over 4/4 drums). Google suggests Queens of the Stone Age — Hanging Tree (5/4), Say A Little Prayer For You(?!) (random 2/4 and 3/4 bars), various Beatles songs, and OutKast — Hey Ya!(??!!!) (random 2/4 bars). In classical music, the piece that springs to mind is Mars from Holst’s planets (although classical music has lots of 3/4 music (waltzes)).

        • Winter Shaker says:

          OutKast — Hey Ya!(??!!!)

          It’s not as irregular as you think – it’s a pretty straightforward slow eleven (if I remember rightly). Pleasingly, the stress pattern falls in the same places as if it were a massively slowed down Bulgarian kopanitsa. I don’t know if this is coincidence or if they’re trying to send a subtle signal. Pretty sure I couldn’t actually dance it that slowly 🙂

          Also, I should have remembered in my original response to Dahlen to suggest googling ‘math rock’ – there are a few bands who make a feature of playing rhythms so complicated you can barely make sense of them, which may be veering too far in the other direction from the repetitive 4/4 they are trying to escape, but worth looking into.

        • Guy says:

          Doesn’t Money also just skip a beat in one measure, to fuck with cover bands?

      • Rebecca Friedman says:

        In my experience, you also get some music in 3/4 from the folk tradition. Waltzes are a very common 3/4 (I like Star of the County Down for a classical folksong that happens to be a waltz), but you could also look up galliards – you mention Blackmoore’s Night, they have multiple waltzes and at least one galliard. (Play Minstrel Play is borrowing its tune from a popular tourdion, which I believe is a type of galliard; the original words are rather different). Galliards are 6/8, which has both triple and duple divisions. (ie, you can count it as two threes or three twos.) I have a feeling there are other classical forms in non-4/4 – minuets are 3/4, aren’t they? – but all that is dance music that only sometimes has words to it, and I’m not sure if that’s what you’re looking for.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          Hmm, never heard ‘Star of the County Down’ in waltz time, though it would sound very well that way. There are an awful lot of different versions of that tune floating about (as evidenced by Vaughan Williams’ Five variants of ‘Dives and Lazarus’— same tune, different name).

          You don’t always have to get too arty to find music in an unusual meter: the humble ‘Happy birthday to you’ is in the same 9/8 as ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’. (Someone in the early ’70s made the Bach into a hit pop instrumental– adding to the weirdness by changing the time to 6/8.)

    • Aegeus says:

      Grew up listening to classical and rock, so they’re my favorite genres, but I’m fine with some modern pop music and the less “screamy” kinds of metal. I usually don’t like rap music. I generally like stuff that’s energetic, with a strong melody and a steady beat.

      Also, I have a massive amount of video game music on my playlist. The Touhou series has some fantastic tracks.

    • Zorgon says:

      Symphonic rock, power metal, west coast punk and a smattering of goth-adjacent bits and pieces like New Model Army.

    • Urstoff says:

      Lately, lots of technical death metal: Beyond Creation, Obscura, Gorod, Entheos, WRVTH, Ulcerate, Artificial Brain, and others.

    • Traditional English-language folk music is the most consistently rewarding genre of music for me. To a lesser extent I also like non-traditional folk, country, blues, and the 60s and 70s pop music that draws from those genres.

    • James says:

      I love glam rock, synth pop, various kinds of sixties/seventies rock, some post-punk, and, in fact, anything poppy and sufficiently great, all the way up to modern pop. I’m obsessed with Brian Eno and T-Rex. My musical taste is highly developed but emphatically not highbrow.

    • Guy says:

      A bunch of classic rock and alternative.

      A substantial portion of the Homestuck soundtrack.

      And of course, a tasteful selection of glorious Arena Rock.

      • God Damn John Jay says:

        Finding out that Toby Fox (Undertale) wrote The Baby is You was incredible.

        On a related note, if you like video game music, check out Undertale and its remixes.

        • Guy says:

          Undertale is pretty great. Toby Fox was the head of the Homestuck music team* and as far as I know The Baby is You was a Homestuck-based crack album, so I’m not sure what is surprising about his writing it? (Especially given the character of Hussie’s early work, and his original circle of friends)

          As this comment section is Worm territory, I assumed Homestucks were thin on the ground**. Anyone who really liked the soundtrack ought to hear this: it turns out that two of the more boring songs on volumes 8/9 (especially Serenade with that fucking piano that never stops) were actually just two halves of one excellent song.

          * I wrote this before I remembered that Undertale is substantially broader-appeal than Homestuck. Homestuck people know Undertale as “the game Toby Fox made”, but most people are Undertale fans and they know Toby Fox as “the Undertale guy”. Meanwhile real Toby Fox fans of course know MeGaLoVania as “Toby Fox’s favorite song”.

          ** I have an IRL friend who notes that Worm and Homestuck ought to have some cross-appeal (very long stories on the internet), but people who have read both are rare, and the readerships don’t interact very much.

    • Agronomous says:

      All the commenters above are just pulling your leg. Death Metal is the official musical style of SSC, and it’s the only thing any of us voluntarily listen to.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      The gloomier sorts of Indie (Smiths, Radiohead), Jazz (especially gypsy jazz, which I am obsessed with), African,(especially Mali/Senegal) some classical…I tend to find heavy/death metal, etc, kind of preposterous.

    • Mammon says:

      Psychedelic downtempo and temple step, à la Desert Dwellers, Whitebear, Kalya Scintilla.