"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

Open Thread 57.25

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

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684 Responses to Open Thread 57.25

  1. Jordan D. says:

    Hello, everyone! I hope you’re all having a fantastic end-of-summer-phase-time, and I wish you all great success in your benevolent and/or morally neutral endeavors.

    • Randy M says:

      How northern-centric of you. Just because most English speaking people happen to reside in the northern hemisphere is no reason to snub Australians readers. If there happen to be any, I am offended on their behalf.

      Which is probably safer for you, since those guys are mean.

    • Eltargrim says:

      September means undergraduate students return to campus, and that students move into town and between apartments.

      I hate September.

    • Julie K says:

      Thanks for the good wishes!
      I went to buy the textbooks my kids need for school.
      I suppressed the urge to ask the clerk if he had “The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1.”

    • This has been a good week so far:
      1. Weight down.
      2. Cholesterol down.
      3. Blood pressure down.
      4. Possible new job coming (oh god please save me)
      5. Wife has not had her monthly visitor yet. Fingers crossed that means we successfully conceived.

      Happy end-of-summer-phase to you as well!

  2. James B says:

    Memantine and other NMDA Inhibitors (such as dextromethorphan and, to a lesser extent, chelated magnesium supplements) appear to prevent or at least slow the development of tolerance to amphetamines and, more importantly, opiates and opioids. If you can prevent physical tolerance, you can prevent physical dependence entirely. This could solve the problem of painkiller addiction resulting from medically legitimate use of analgesics (i.e., post surgery, due to chronic pain, whatever).

    This could have nipped the opioid epidemic in the bud. Why the fuck isn’t this being done?

    • Garrett says:

      A quick look through some research shows that’s part of the action of methadone, so by definition we already are doing this.

      • Anonymorpheus says:

        Interestingly, methadone causes one of the worst, most protracted withdrawal syndromes of all the opioids. It is so bad that some drug treatment facilities will advise people who are on methadone maintenance and planning to quit to first switch back to heroin. This extreme withdrawal is typically attributed to it’s long half-life. At any rate, the NMDA antagonism does not seem to be having the desired effect in this case.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Any links to research on this? Any idea why it works? Has anyone tried taking magnesium supplements with Adderall?

    • Anonymorpheus says:

      I took dextromethorphan along with opiates for an extended period of time, and it did not prevent the development of tolerance – tolerance and addiction were at best delayed somewhat. It was not a magic bullet for me by any means, though perhaps it would have some utility for medium length courses of opiates.

  3. VK says:

    I’ve recently been reading some books by the anthropologist David Graeber – perhaps his most famous book is Debt: The First 5,000 Years. He was also active early in the life of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and is a committed anarchist (with a small -a, as he often mentions, but I don’t really know what that means).

    What I find most interesting about him is that he’s able to draw on a wide range of historical and geographically distributed cultures to show how the assumptions we make, especially about the functioning of the economy and markets, are NOT universal or necessary. For example, he points out the (easily observed) fact that families and other social units operate in a communistic manner. But he goes further, and mentions many examples of societies and groups that have operated similarly, but that we interpret as having economies based on the sort of reciprocal trade and mutual benefit that we think is how society “really” works. The argument is that our interpretation is actually misleading, and a distraction from what’s really going on – members of the group don’t contribute out of some sense that they benefit from the actions of everyone else – they do it because they want to support the entire group.

    He’s very good at extracting stories from history, but I’m curious if anyone has thoughts or ideas about his theories, especially from the economics point of view.

    • Guy says:

      Presumably Anarchist, like Communist, Democrat, Republican, Liberal, Conservative, Socialist, and Progressive (at least), is a political party somewhere, and thus something that (a) one might want to distance themselves from and (b) possibly not actually small-a anarchist. And I suppose David Graeber has interacted with it.

      As to the rest – you can sometimes (usually when at least one party is in the process of moving or something) have a kind of “inverted market” where parties have sets of items they want to be rid of, and take the least-bothersome item the counterparty doesn’t want in exchange. This example comes to mind because I spent last weekend helping some friends move.

    • Jill says:

      Sounds like a fascinating book that everyone should read in addition to the Libertarian one, The Evolution of Everything by Matt Ridley. In reading both, one might have a more full picture of this issue. Ridley’s book cherry picks examples in history to make it look like Libertarian ways of doing things are always best.

      I have already read Ridley’s book, so I will read Debt: The First 5,000 Years too. I found it in my local library, at their web site just now. In my own research, I do find that more historical facts are on the side of Left of Center solutions– although not Communist solutions.

      Communist solutions.have been such an outright disaster that they have been used as the perfect straw man by Right of Center people, like Ridley, promoting their own views. They pretend that Left of Center people want to convert the U.S. to Soviet Communism or to Chinese style Communism. Almost no one on the Left wants to do that.

      • “They pretend that Left of Center people want to convert the U.S. to Soviet Communism or to Chinese style Communism. Almost no one on the Left wants to do that.”

        Probably true.

        On the other hand, left of center people, with some exceptions, were pretty positive about both of those systems until they collapsed. Not “the U.S. should adopt communism” positive but “despite its faults, communism is doing many good things and provides a successful model of development for poor countries” positive.

        Which turned out to be wildly false, as demonstrated by the rapid improvement in Chinese standards of living after Mao died and his successors gradually abandoned communist economic policies. And as should have been obvious earlier by the contrast between China, Kong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.

        The Economist, not left wing but influenced by academic views that were, praised Mao at his death for eliminating famine in China.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I’ve always been very firmly left of center, and I never saw the Soviet system as being successful. Nor China, nor any of the other full on Communist systems. I’m in my late 40s, so my ideas predate the collapse of the system.

          I do recall thinking that “true” communism hadn’t really been attempted when I was in my teens and early 20s, but I also wasn’t sure that it could even be attempted at a country-wide level. Roughly the argument in my head was similar to what is being presented here as Graeber’s, that their exist many truly communal organizations, especially the family.

          • walpolo says:

            I worry that DF’s examples of this left-wing favoritism toward Communism may be cherry-picked rather than representative. The “some exceptions” includes every Democrat ever nominated to run for president. Kennedy was a famous enemy of international Communism, Truman as well obviously. I don’t recall even Eugene McCarthy ever having a positive word to say about communist countries. They were the enemy, to mainstream liberals as well as conservatives of all stripes.

          • Sandy says:

            On the other hand, American supporters of communist governments (support in the manner David described) would include hugely and globally influential leftists such as Noam Chomsky, who defended the Chinese government during the Cultural Revolution and infamously claimed the stories of the Killing Fields coming out of Cambodia were Western imperialist lies. And the Civil Rights era had no shortage of openly communist organizations, including Weather Underground and the Black Panthers.

          • Under Kennedy, did U.S. foreign aid for India go to support the system of five year plans for economic development? Did U.S. advisors endorse that approach?

            My guess is that the answer to both questions would be “yes,” although I don’t actually know. If so, that would support my view. The Soviet Union was seen as an enemy. But the predominant view of center to left people was that it had a successful economic model, one that other poor countries would do well to imitate.

            Which, as it turned out, was not true.

          • Aapje says:

            @Friedman

            I don’t think that long-term budgeting or government investment to kick start economic development is evidence for communism.

            Or do you have a specific issue with the Indian 5 years plans?

          • Chalid says:

            @DF

            I don’t know about economic aid under Kennedy, but there was military aid during the Sino-Indian War. But helping India against China counts as “anti-communist” not “pro-communist.”

            (And generally, any aid that Kennedy might have given to India might have had anti-communist geopolitical motivations, even if it was supporting something resembling a planned economy there.)

          • walpolo says:

            Chomsky, Weather Underground, etc were influential, but not mainstream. They were influential radicals. It seems to me that the connection between communism and the American left was at most as close as the links between white supremacists and the American right during the same period. So accusing the left of being historically pro-commie is about as fair as accusing the right of being historically white supremacist.

          • @Aapje:

            The five year plans were not simply long term budgeting. They were plans in which economic development was to be largely directed, funded and controlled by the government. They worked very poorly. That’s one of the reasons why India remained poor while Taiwan and South Korea, among other places, didn’t.

            @Chalid:

            I think you are confusing two quite different issues. One was the attitude of the U.S. government towards communist states, primarily the USSR and China. For a long time, they were seen as enemies.

            The other is the attitude of the U.S. government and the center left elite more generally towards communism as an economic system. That was generally positive during the same period. The accepted view was that communist states were unfree dictatorships but that the economic policies they followed were a, perhaps the, way in which poor countries could develop–preferably without the unattractive political features.

            Both of the leading elementary economics textbooks viewed Soviet economic development positively, with Samuelson predicting that the USSR would overtake the U.S. at various dates now long in the past. Most western development economists, with a handful of exceptions, and pretty nearly all Indian economists other than Shenoy, supported central planning as the model for development.

            G. Warren Nutter was pretty much the only economist studying the USSR to reject the official statistics and attempt indirect measures of Soviet economic performance. His results were generally rejected as too low by the rest of the field. We now know that they were too high.

          • Chalid says:

            @David Friedman

            I understand the distinction you are making. I merely wished to point out that if Kennedy did give aid to India, that fact in and of itself would not count as particularly strong evidence for (or against!) your view.

          • anonymous posh says:

            “So accusing the left of being historically pro-commie is about as fair as accusing the right of being historically white supremacist.”

            This kind of bias, a failure of balance in case-based reasoning
            that results in relentless one-sided critiques of “the left” characterizes the great majority of political speech on Slatestarcodex.

            It is never appropriate to point out areas in which the right is equally or singularly at fault during regularly programmed dogpiling at SSC.

            The upshot is that critiques of the right, the alt-right, the right-wing media, money in politics, the billionaire class, the circus of GOP prez politcs, whatever, is suppressed here.

            Local phenomenon:
            Actual right-wing sneering at purported left-wing sneering.
            Actual MRA oversensitivity to purported SJW oversensitivity.
            Mr. Friedman’s delusion that he is not as partisan as they come!

          • It does seem to me that the left generally isn’t nearly as disgusted about communism as it should be, and this includes blaming capitalism for poverty while people in communist countries tend to be much worse off.

            It’s unfair that I’m not as angry at right-wingers for thei racist connections some of them have, but the truth is that I find most right-wing stuff so infuriating that I have trouble focusing on it.

          • anonymous posh says:

            Anti-government folks here have a lot of apologizing to do for Timothy McVeigh, dont you agree?

          • @Chalid:

            If the Kennedy government gave economic aid to India, as I think it did, and if that aid was in the form of support for the model of economic development that India was then following, which I think it was, that would be evidence in favor of my view.

            If the Kennedy administration gave aid to India to let India purchase fighter planes to strengthen its air force, that would not be evidence for (or against) my view.

          • cassander says:

            >This kind of bias, a failure of balance in case-based reasoning
            that results in relentless one-sided critiques of “the left” characterizes the great majority of political speech on Slatestarcodex.

            There was a large pro-commie faction on the left a hell of a lot more recently than there was a large pro-white supremacy faction on the right. It’s not bias to call different things different.

            >It is never appropriate to point out areas in which the right is equally or singularly at fault during regularly programmed dogpiling at SSC.

            What cases are you thinking of?

            >the right, the alt-right, the right-wing media, money in politics, the billionaire class, the circus of GOP prez politcs, whatever, is suppressed here.

            That you think those things belong all in the same box speaks volumes.

          • CatCube says:

            @anonymous posh

            Anti-government folks here have a lot of apologizing to do for Timothy McVeigh, dont you agree?

            No. I literally work for the government in a federal building, and this is–by a large margin–the stupidest thing I’ve read all week.

            And I work for the government, so that’s really saying something.

          • Mary says:

            How about all the people in the State Department whom McCarthy said were security risks?

            He had a perfect record. Every single one was, in reality, a Soviet spy.

            I presume that’s mainstream?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Did McCarthy name a single employee at State? I have a perfect record, too. My record of accusing people of being in the State Department is much better than his.

        • Jill says:

          David, would you consider reading Debt: The First 5,000 Years and reflecting on it and writing about your ideas about the examples and arguments it cites?

          I really think that our country is improved when many of us read books and arguments from both sides.

          I have already read a Libertarian version of history: Matt Ridley’s book The Evolution of Everything. And I will be reading Debt: The First 5,000 Years as soon as I pick it up from the library.

          • It’s tempting.

            On the other hand, I interacted with the author at some length on Usenet many years ago and didn’t come away with a very favorable opinion of him.

            I’m going to be participating in an event with James Scott, author of (among other things) _Two Cheers for Anarchy_, later this year. I’ve read all of one of his books, part of another, and my general impression is positive, so interacting with him may be a better way of getting views loosely describable as left anarchist.

          • cassander says:

            @david

            I’m a huge fan of Scott’s, though I don’t share his politics. I’d be very interested in this event, can you give us some more information? Is this event going to be public? In DC?

          • It’s going to be a Symposium at Trinity College in Hartford, CT on November 14th. I get to debate Scott on our different versions of anarchism, with Robert Ellickson commenting.

            I don’t know the details, but my guess is that it will be open to the public. Should be fun.

            I find Scott’s writing interesting, intend to read more of it. I was amused, reading Seeing Like a State (which I haven’t yet finished) by the fact that he was saying things which would appeal to libertarians but making it very clear that he wasn’t one of those horrible libertarians.

          • cassander says:

            @David Friedman

            I had exactly the same reaction to that forward. I found Seeing Like a State very powerful in combination with the analysis in Moral Economy of the Peasant, which has the virtue of being relatively short if you’re pressed for time. The bottom up view of Peasant fits very well with the top down view of State. Haven’t read the art of not being governed yet, but am hoping it will slot in well with the other two.

            Were I looking for debating points, I’d mine the two of them for complementary examples. He’s obviously had libertarians come at him with seeing like a state before, so you can use “Aha, but in Peasant you said X as well.” to get past the canned responses.

          • Jill says:

            I looked at some reviews of Seeing Like a State. Sounds like another “Soviet Communism and Other Similar Systems Didn’t Work” book– even though almost no one currently believes these did work.

            How about looking at some other examples, other than the ones cherry picked to be confirming of Libertarian ideology? I know the author of this one claims not to be Libertarian, but he sure sounds like he is in everything but his own self-description.

            Is there any way anyone here would be willing to read a few arguments and examples from the other side, like the book

            Debt: The First 5,000 Years

            rather than just reading the same arguments and cherry picked examples over and over, examples attempting to prove exactly the same points?

            I have read lots of Libertarian leaning material. How about you Libertarians? Have many of you read lots of progressive leaning books or articles? If not, why not? Are you so sure, without looking, that such articles make no valid points?

          • Fair question.

            I’ve argued with lots of non-libertarians, including Graeber. I’ve read a book by Krugman. I’ve read one book by Scott, am part way through two others–and he is clearly hostile to libertarians while also critical of a range of activities that includes lots of things states do.

            I read, liked, and recommended Thinking Fast and Slow which is, among other things, a critique of the rationality assumption that plays an important role in economics in general and free market support in particular. I’ve read books by both Sunstein (Nudges) and Lessig, who are usually thought of as on the left, although perhaps not your version of the left–Sunstein was part of the Obama administration.

            I’m happy to read books that disagree with me, but only interesting ones, which I think all of those are. I’m an academic economist, and I think I can (and do) accurately reproduce the standard economic arguments against laissez-faire in the course of responding to them, so see no need to read more books making those arguments.

          • “I have read lots of Libertarian leaning material.”

            At a tangent, could you tell us what some of it was? My impression from your posts is that you have a very distorted picture of libertarian views. But it might, of course, be an accurate picture of the views of some subset of people who call themselves libertarians.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            I have read lots of Libertarian leaning material. How about you Libertarians? Have many of you read lots of progressive leaning books or articles?

            I used to subscribe to Mother Jones and read Noam Chomsky and sometimes read the New York Times – it’s hard to avoid. Recently I tried to read the book Dark Money but I can only stand mudslinging propaganda in small doses so I had to stop. (sad face)

          • Jill says:

            David, I am surprised and glad you have read some books that are about economics that is not Libertarian economics. The book by Krugman is probably the only one, of the ones you listed, that I would consider to have Left of Center ideas. The other authors and/or their books seem very close to Libertarian to me, if not actually comfortable with the label Libertarian.

            I am very surprised that one of the authors of Nudge was part of the Obama administration, because the way the book was written seemed pretty Libertarian to me. I guess Obama hired him as a way of trying to be inclusive by hiring Republicans, or else maybe it’s the co-author whose views predominated in the writing of the book.

            Krugman is more establishment Democrat than progressive, but is certainly Left of Center. Robert Reich is less establishment Democrat, and more progressive, so I like him better. I do like a lot of the stuff Krugman has written. But I was quite mad at Krugman about his columns on his blog where he discussed Bernie.

            Krugman was for just about everything that ended up on Bernie’s platform, for years before Bernie ran for the Dem nomination for pres. Then when Bernie did that, Krugman suddenly did an about face and found fault with everything Bernie was for– calling these things impractical and extreme–things that he, Krugman had been for, for years. I don’t know why Krugman did that– maybe just because he prefers Hillary, for reasons that are not clear.

            It’s not the standard ideological arguments so much that I wish everyone would become familiar with. Standard ideological arguments don’t seem to get anybody anywhere except to government gridlock. It’s mainly the examples of government programs that have worked and how and why, that I’d like people to know about.

            I haven’t read the Debt” The First 5000 Years book yet myself, so I don’t know if I’ll like it or not. But I should be able to get it from the library shortly. Hopefully there will be 1 or 2 people here, or somewhere, whom I can discuss it with.

          • “I am very surprised that one of the authors of Nudge was part of the Obama administration, because the way the book was written seemed pretty Libertarian to me. I guess Obama hired him as a way of trying to be inclusive by hiring Republicans, or else maybe it’s the co-author whose views predominated in the writing of the book.”

            Cass Sunstein was the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2012. Not a Republican, but one of a handful of academics, largely associated with the University of Chicago, who identify with the left but have accepted a good deal of the Chicago School critique of conventional left wing ideas. Larry Lessig would be another example.

            When Obama ran for the first time, I had some hope that he might, under the influence of such people, try to create a new version of “left.” Unfortunately, he turned out to be more of a Chicago Machine Democrat than a University of Chicago Academic, despite his time in the U. of C. Law School.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            “Chicago Machine Democrat”

            You either don’t mean what that actually means, or you have some inside knowledge of cash payouts made possible by ties to organized crime (which I firmly don’t believe that you do).

          • I don’t know why someone has to have cash payouts from organized crime to count as a Chicago machine Democrat. Obama’s political career was pushed by the Democratic political machine that runs Chicago.

            Do you disagree?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            Machine politics aren’t really a good way to describe what happens in Chicago anymore.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @HBC

            When Obama took office, Richard Daley was mayor of Chicago and Jimmy Hoffa was running the Teamsters. So what really changed?

        • Jill says:

          Even though I don’t know any of those people, I am glad that any Left of Center people who may had been in favor of Communism, changed their minds when Soviet Communism collapsed, and after the death of Mao.

          That’s what we ALL should do– change our minds when we see that the truth, the facts, the methods of finding the most justice and fairness for our society and our world– when these things turn out to be different than what we originally thought would work.

          • On the general issue of views of communism in the past …

            For many editions, Samuelson’s introductory textbook, the leading book in the field, claimed that Soviet economic growth was considerably faster than U.S. growth, with projections of how soon Soviet per capita income would pass U.S. per capita income.

            The odd thing was that each edition’s figures on the current ratio of national incomes were inconsistent with the previous edition’s projection, a fact that the author never seemed to notice.

            One result of that attitude was that most western development economists advised poor countries to rely on a large element of central planning—Stalinist economics in a non-Stalinist political system. That was one of the reasons India stayed poor for so long.

      • Yehoshua K says:

        Myself, I don’t think that you necessarily want a Soviet-style state. I do think that you dramatically underestimate the risk of getting there, and do not put enough emphasis on the need to staying very far away from any such outcome.

        • Aapje says:

          You have to keep in mind that desperately trying to avoid it may result in a system that is so disliked, that you get a huge backlash in the other direction. So you may actually cause what you want to prevent.

          A major reason why Europe implemented a strong welfare state during the cold war was to undermine support for communism and it worked extremely well.

          • Yehoshua K says:

            Given how much power has been collected in the hands of the federal government, and particularly in the hands of the executive and the executive bureaucracy, I hardly think that going too far in the opposite direction is the immediate danger.

            To me, the critical question of politics is how do you avoid both dangers, anarchy on one side, and tyranny on the other?

          • Aapje says:

            Well, I believe that modern levels of human welfare are very dependent on a relatively strong use of governmental power, where the main challenge facing us is to use the power in better ways, not significantly reducing it.

            But I suspect that you are a libertarian who fundamentally disagrees with this, due to reasons that I reject (possibly projecting your personal intelligence upon the average human as well as overestimating your own rationality). But that is just my personal theory why libertarians believe what they do.

          • “But I suspect that you are a libertarian who fundamentally disagrees with this, due to reasons that I reject (possibly projecting your personal intelligence upon the average human as well as overestimating your own rationality). But that is just my personal theory why libertarians believe what they do.”

            That’s one possible explanation. It would be a pretty good explanation for libertarian utopians. But most serious libertarians, in my experience, are not utopians–”Utopia is not an option” is a popular one liner.

            You might consider that the alternative explanation is that the various human limitations that make a libertarian society imperfect also undercut the alternative arrangements–arguably more seriously. Individuals are not perfectly rational. But they are more rational when making a decision that affects them, such as what to buy, than a decision that has almost no effect on them, such as who to vote for.

            Market failure, situations where individual rationality does not produce group rationality (externalities, public goods, adverse selection, …) is a result of situations where the actor does not both bear most of the cost and receive most of the benefit of his acts (more precisely, does not receive most of the net benefit). Such situations sometimes occur on the private market, as in the situations listed. But they are the exception there, the norm on the political market, where actors almost never pay much of the cost or receive much of the benefit of their actions.

            If curious, I give a more extended explanation of this line of argument in chapter and a talk.

          • > Individuals are not perfectly rational.

            Or good at spontaneous coordination. Has anyone got a way of solving the one problem without making the other worse?

          • Aapje says:

            @Friedman

            I suspect that your standard for Utopian thinking is different from mine.

            But they are more rational when making a decision that affects them, such as what to buy, than a decision that has almost no effect on them, such as who to vote for.

            People are probably more selfish when they feel the direct effect, but I wonder why you call that more rational. That seems like a very subjective claim.

            It’s interesting that you note that people are less rational in who they vote for, because in the US, Congress members are elected by state and this results in inefficiencies such as ‘pork.’ Of course, pork is a bit of a prisoner’s dilemma, where society as a whole would be better off without it, but for each individual pork decision, there are winners. Anyway, this is evidence that closeness doesn’t necessarily give better societal outcomes.

            Perhaps their rather shitty system of politics is a major reason why Americans are more often libertarian.

            Such situations sometimes occur on the private market

            Not just ‘sometimes.’ Capitalism is inherently a system where the sellers seek to get away from the free market (through monopolies, market segmentation, etc, etc).

            the norm on the political market, where actors almost never pay much of the cost or receive much of the benefit of their actions.

            Again, I feel that this is based on no small part on your experiences with the US political system, where congresspeople are extremely hard to oust and there is little room for influence from sizable minorities that are spread out over the country.

            In any case, I very much disagree with your very poor argument that distance automatically results in poorer decisions. I’d argue that for each problem there is an optimal distance, which is often neither too close, not too far away. You assumption that the distance at which the consumer operates is the optimal distance in all cases, is just dogma on your part.

            If curious, I give a more extended explanation of this line of argument in chapter

            I’m not going to critique this in detail, but one problem with your chapter that jumped out to me is that you define market failure as if there is full transparency.

            A major form of market failure is when individuals would be able to make a decision if they had all the information, but where the information is not available to them. An example is restaurant hygiene, which is something that is very hard/impossible for customers to determine. So the government generally sends inspectors, who either simply provide the information to customers (requiring the restaurant to report the finding to the customers) or set a norm.

            This is a huge oversight that undermines your conclusion, as you have merely dismantled a weak man (and even that is done poorly, IMO).

          • “People are probably more selfish when they feel the direct effect, but I wonder why you call that more rational.”

            How much effort you are willing to put into thinking a question through depends in large part on how important it is to you to get the right answer. If I make the wrong decision on what car or computer to buy, I am stuck with an inferior outcome. If I make the wrong decision about which politician to vote for, there is almost no chance of any effect on me, since my vote has a near zero chance of affecting the outcome.

            So voters are rationally irrational. Which candidate I support has no significant effect on what happens to the country. But it has a significant effect on how I interact with people around me. If most of my neighbors are Trump supporters, I will be unpopular if I make it obvious that I’m voting for Hilary, and similarly the other way around.

            So voters decide who to support not on the basis of a rational calculation of which candidate is better for the country, or even for them, but on the basis of which will make for more comfortable relations with those around them.

            Or possibly which makes them feel better to identify with. Less like buying a car than like deciding what football team to cheer for.

            Does that make the point clearer?

          • Aapje says:

            How much effort you are willing to put into thinking a question through depends in large part on how important it is to you to get the right answer.

            The error in your logic is that you seem to believe that people are pre-occupied with things that actually matter the most to their well-being. This is clearly false if you see how much focus there is on celebrities and how little on stuff that matters.

            Most/all people are in denial about major issues.

            In your argument, you have failed to prove that people have more desire to choose on a myriad of issues, rather than choose a single politician/party that in turn decides for them on the myriad of issues. If they refuse to, putting power in the hands of politicians can easily give better outcomes.

            If most of my neighbors are Trump supporters, I will be unpopular if I make it obvious that I’m voting for Hilary, and similarly the other way around. So voters decide who to support not on the basis of a rational calculation of which candidate is better for the country, or even for them, but on the basis of which will make for more comfortable relations with those around them.

            This is illogical. You have merely argued that people virtue signal to fit in, but your claim is about their secret voting behavior. There is no logical reason to assume that the expressed desires will always match their voting decisions.

            Which candidate I support has no significant effect on what happens to the country.

            This is absurd nonsense. Just because my individual vote is not so important, doesn’t mean that as part of a collective, my vote is meaningless.

            Anyway, the typical nature of Western democracy is that people vote for their favorite/least disliked benevolent dictator. The quality of this system depends on the quality of the choice in dictators, the level of education of the citizens, etc. You have provided no evidence that this results in inherently worse outcomes that personal choice and you cannot, since it depends on a multitude of factors.

            Your entire argument just boils down to rationalizations of your preferences, while ignoring the obvious flaws in your argument.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            This is clearly false if you see how much focus there is on celebrities and how little on stuff that matters.

            This is clearly false because celebrities actually matter; they have the power to say things people will listen to.

          • Aapje says:

            This is clearly false because celebrities actually matter; they have the power to say things people will listen to.

            I have a feeling that this was meant to be sarcastic…was it?

          • @ Aapje:

            Aa: “The error in your logic is that you seem to believe that people are pre-occupied with things that actually matter the most to their well-being. This is clearly false if you see how much focus there is on celebrities and how little on stuff that matters.
            Most/all people are in denial about major issues.”

            You are confusing the question of how much an outcome matters with the question of how much one’s choices matter. Who wins an election may be very important. But my decision of who to vote for has almost no effect on who wins, so is not important to me.

            A nice example occurs routinely in online climate arguments. People on either side put lots of effort into insulting those who disagree with them and proclaiming their own superior virtue, very little into actual arguments for their position. Insofar as there is any effect on outcomes, it is to make the side they favor less likely to win, since people not yet convinced are going to conclude that if the best that can be said for (or against) AGW alarmism is insults of the other side, the arguments for the position are probably not very good.

            Insulting your opponents and puffing your own virtue is fun, so people do it anyway. Whether global warming happens and leads to catastrophe is a major issue, but that doesn’t lead people arguing about it to do their best to convince others and so keep it from happening.

            Aa: “There is no logical reason to assume that the expressed desires will always match their voting decisions.”

            Most people are bad liars. The best way to convince your friends and neighbors that you are a Trump supporter is to convince yourself to be a Trump supporter.

            DF: “Which candidate I support has no significant effect on what happens to the country.”

            Aa: “This is absurd nonsense. Just because my individual vote is not so important, doesn’t mean that as part of a collective, my vote is meaningless.”

            Do you disagree with my factual claim—that one vote has no significant effect on the outcome of an election in a large polity? If so, why?

          • Aapje says:

            Most people are bad liars.

            Fortunately for liars, most observers are even worse at actually looking at the other person’s behavior, rather than see what they want to see.

            Besides, the stereotypes about ‘the other side’ are so extreme, that neither supporter would recognize a typical supporter of the other side if that person is part of their own subculture (or close enough to it).

            Also, a smart person just shuts up about this when in a room with the ‘enemy.’ It’s not like it’s mandatory to talk about this.

            Do you disagree with my factual claim—that one vote has no significant effect on the outcome of an election in a large polity? If so, why?

            Not really, however, that still doesn’t support your conclusions.

            You can just as easily argue that your personal decisions in the private sector have no significant effect on the outcome of most things that consumers are supposed to do in capitalism. If you are the only one boycotting a company, they generally won’t feel it at all.

            So for your argument to work, you’d have to prove that the limitations of the free market mechanism for the things that the government does are substantially larger than the limitations of the political mechanism. Secondly, you’d need to prove that individuals are sufficiently capable of making and implementing decisions, compared to politicians (who are on average higher educated and can dedicate their time to this sort of stuff, it being their actual job) and that this actually works in practice.

            You seem to dream about giving individuals the power to shape the world, believing that the government prevents this, while unfettered capitalism would bring this about. However, the same arguments that argue against politics (your vote is one in a sea of votes) applies to many choices in capitalism (your buying decision is one in a sea of many).

            Your argument that individuals would simply focus on their priorities ignores the problem that this will in many cases cause an insufficient number of people to make something their priority, as people generally have too much on their plate. So you get a slow slide into a selfish, nasty society where people stop caring about the common good and retreat into small communities.

            Anyway, you completely failed to address my criticism + example of why your views are myopic and address merely one aspect. You have simplified reality to such an extent that your beliefs have similar validity as communism (which also works perfectly if you ignore inconvenient facts, like human nature). Another ideology that somehow always failed in practice because people just implement it wrong. Yet if no one can get it right….

          • ” If you are the only one boycotting a company, they generally won’t feel it at all.”

            Correct.

            You seem to be missing the point. The reason not to buy products when their quality is too low or the price too high is not to hurt the company, it is to avoid ending up with the product. A result you get with certainty.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            Libertarians often argue a version of democracy that is basically direct democracy.
            Voter irrationality is a well known problem, and most functioning democracies, have multiple fixes to these problems:

            * A standing civil service
            * Elected representatives rather than direct votes
            * Consultation with experts and think tanks
            * Second chambers.

          • “* Consultation with experts and think tanks”

            You are assuming a philosopher king model of government. The rulers want to do good, so the only problem is figuring out how, a problem solved by consulting experts.

            If, instead, the rulers want to stay in power while having good lives for themselves and their supporters, the experts to be consulted are not experts on what is good for the country but experts on how best to win elections and collect revenue.

            Similarly for representative government. Rationally ignorant voters don’t know which candidates have done or will do things that make the country better off. The incentive of the representatives is not to do good for the country but to stay in power and do good for themselves.

          • radmonger says:

            > Insulting your opponents and puffing your own virtue is fun, so people do it anyway.

            This is a key point; when political discussion mixes amateurs and
            professionals, the result is about the same as when that happens in sport.

            The paid oil industry shill, author with a book to sell, or just Chinese opinion
            farmer will almost always be able to run circles around someone who’s only motivation
            is expressing something they care about and think to be true.

            You shouldn’t discount true information because of its source, but you should
            be suspicious of following the agenda of anyone in a discussion who doesn’t look like they are having
            fun.

          • “The paid oil industry shill, author with a book to sell, or just Chinese opinion farmer will almost always be able to run circles around someone who’s only motivation is expressing something they care about and think to be true.”

            I think that’s orthogonal to my point, which is that the amateur who is in it for fun gets fun not by making good and convincing arguments or doing his best to be sure his beliefs are true but by insulting those on the other side, boasting of the superior virtue and wisdom of him and his allies. He isn’t working for his side, he’s entertaining himself.

            Of your professionals, someone who is being paid to convince people–I’m not sure there are many, even any, such people in the typical online argument, but there could be–will presumably do his best to make convincing arguments. Someone who is trying to sell a book or get clicks, on the other hand, will do what gets attention.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Do you see a path to a Soviet-style state that doesn’t involve violent revolution (in any Western country)? I don’t, and I don’t see any path that does involve it either. Nowadays, very few people starve to death or work in really terrible conditions. If there were misgovernment bad enough that a revolution becomes likely, I think large numbers of people would just leave to a similar country that isn’t so bad.

          • Yehoshua K says:

            The path I fear is one of slow peaceful revolution–more and more power centered in government, in politicians elected and unelected. Golden chains willingly donned, until one day we realize that we are slaves in all but name–or worse yet, do not realize it.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            I think there is quite a low upper bound on how bad a government can be without restricting emigration. In most historical Soviet-style states, people were been desperate to leave (and prevented from doing so by the government). In a “golden chains” scenario where emigration isn’t restricted, I don’t think there could be a Soviet-style state in the sense of “as bad as the Soviet Union”.

          • I think Venezuela at present could be on the path to a Soviet style state, although I hope it isn’t. As things get worse and worse, those in power, with the backing of the army, make democracy less and less real in order not to be thrown out of power.

          • John Tucker says:

            I would argue that the EU is on the Soviet path, using the Frog in the Boiling Pot method. Increasing regulation, taxes, govt control of the economy, diminishment of free speech, freedom of religion, due process, democratic government. It may take a while but that’s the goal. No one will call it communism, but socialism is the same thing as Communism when taken to the logical extreme. Ask Apple Computer about the $14.5 Billion tax bill the EU imposed on it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s not necessary to restrict emigration when the world is an amalgamation of Soviet-style states and their clients, _1984_ style.

          • @John Tucker

            Rolls eyes. If having to pay any tax at all is communism, there is a lot of communism about!

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:

            It’s not necessary to restrict emigration when the world is an amalgamation of Soviet-style states and their clients, _1984_ style.

            Vis-a-vis my comment and your answer about applause lights earlier, this seems like that sort of comment to me. You aren’t aware when you do it yourself.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @HBC

            I’m not sure why you think that’s an “applause light” comment, unless it’s the _1984_ reference, which was merely intended to be illustrative.

            My point was that the last significant non-totalitarian state need not restrict emigration as it becomes more totalitarian, because there will be nowhere to go.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:
            First off, let me submit that applause lights are themselves the applause (especially absent upvotes or the like). Someone posts one, in response another is posted, etc.

            So, John Tucker, posts and then you, basically, applaud it. Sure, emigrating from the Ukraine to Russia doesn’t help you if they are both part of the Soviet Union, but that wasn’t really the point of your post, it seems to me.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I know the loss of threading in the reply chain makes it non-obvious, but I was replying to the parent post, not John Tucker’s.

            The point of my post is what I said it was; if you have something like the world during the Cold War, with the totalitarian Russian bloc and the totalitarian China bloc and the Third World is a mess, it just takes Western Europe and the United States to simultaneously move towards a Soviet-style state at the same time to make emigration restrictions unnecessary.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:

            How is “If we are all already a Soviet style state then emmigration can’t prevent Soviet style states” a response to Sweenyrod’s question of how a Western country could become a Soviet style state?

            Basically, I think you are ex-post-facto rationalizing.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s a response to

            If there were misgovernment bad enough that a revolution becomes likely, I think large numbers of people would just leave to a similar country that isn’t so bad.

          • onyomi says:

            How does a government justify emigration restrictions, rhetorically? I imagine by describing would-be emigres as “traitors,” but I haven’t looked much into it, historically. Though once you’re in a totalitarian state I can understand why people keep their heads down and don’t rock the boat, it’s hard to imagine how people initially accept the idea of putting emigration restrictions in place without it being a massive red flag that your government is about to get really bad.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:
            Yes. And your response is “assume everyone is already in a Soviet style system of states” with no explanation as to why this makes any sense to assume. Except, handily there is an explanation (itself composed of applause lights) right before your post. John Tucker’s.

            Someone posits “Getting to A from B is not possible because of C”. Your “solution” is “C doesn’t matter if we are already at B”. That is no solution to the problem of C at all.

            Your post doesn’t make any sense as a direct response to Sweenyrod.

            Look, I’m not trying to be an asshole, although I know I frequently succeed. I am trying to get you to flip your viewpoint for a few seconds.

          • LHN says:

            @onyomi: one route, particularly with high value potential emigrants, is to invoke the state’s investment in them. Obviously this is easiest in places where things like education are state-funded. (Though even without that, the sort of state that wants to hold onto its people against their will can rhetorically take responsibility for everything that happens within its borders.) Citizens not directly affected might well support the restrictions to prevent “brain drain” to richer countries of people who (they reason) only have the skills they do because of their fellow citizens’ support.

            Medical personnel require special permission (over and above what other citizens need) to leave Cuba, for example, and I at least believe it’s justified on that basis.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @HBC

            I’m afraid your attempts to read my mind and intentions are failing completely. My post was not in any way influenced by John Tucker’s; I had my post in mind before I read his.

          • Kind of Anonymous says:

            @LHN

            In that vein, the US could be seen as progressing down that track further than most other liberal democracies. In the last decade it has become increasingly difficult and expensive to renounce US citizenship, and similarly difficult and expensive to live and work abroad while a US citizen. A lot of foreign banks simply refuse to serve US citizens due to American reporting laws that are impossible or just expensive for them to comply with.

            I believe the justification here is to combat tax evasion by high-wealth individuals, but the broad effect is a soft penalty on emigration from America.

          • Mary says:

            Comrade, why do you ask? Given that we are building the most glorious state that mankind has ever known, why on earth would anyone want to leave except for evil motives? And be wary, they might have planted some poison before they left — keep an eye on their family.

    • Tekhno says:

      For example, he points out the (easily observed) fact that families and other social units operate in a communistic manner.

      I don’t want to be family with everyone on the planet.

      The argument is that our interpretation is actually misleading, and a distraction from what’s really going on – members of the group don’t contribute out of some sense that they benefit from the actions of everyone else – they do it because they want to support the entire group.

      With communism (and left-anarchism too) the group is the entire planet. The entire problem with this is that not everybody has warm family feelings towards every possible sub-group that exists on the planet, and putting all of them together in one society, let alone having them have to economically interact without self-interest, is not going to end well. The larger the group is, the more friction there is between contradictory sub-groups, the less you can rely on people being invested in the group as a whole, and the more you have to rely on increasingly totalitarian enforcement mechanisms.

      It’s the universalist aspect of communism that’s the one that makes people hate it. Of course, communism confined to a particular territory and concerning a specific group (such as an Israeli kibbutz) is scarcely communism to begin with technically, instead being a form of joint equity within a larger market, but even so, not at all something objectionable and certainly able to fulfill that sense of close tight knit community that many left-anarchists seem to want. I prefer alienation and atomization*.

      *(As an aside: I’d be interested to see if communists, anarchists and right wing nationalists score as more extroverted in terms of personality, and if right libertarians score as more introverted, and possibly antisocial.)

      • Communism, in the literal sense of common ownership of property, is the usual system within families, and works tolerably well there. Socialist central planning, top down hierarchical control, is a common institution within the firm. As I once put it, the capitalist beach is made up of socialist grains of sand.

        But neither institution scales well. Part of the problem for communism is as you say that we don’t care about everyone else the way we care about those closest to us. The other part, for both systems, is that they work worse the larger the group being coordinated for what are essentially informational reasons.

        Even if I care about people on the other side of the globe, I have no easy way of knowing, in a communist system, how my actions affect them or what outcomes make them better off. One great virtue of a market system is that it provides decentralized coordination with prices as signals.

        Another is that it comes with built-in incentives. My buying something that is worth more to me than to the seller not only makes the world better, it makes me better off, so it is in my interest to do it even if I don’t care about the welfare of others affected.

  4. Jill says:

    Sort of continuing a discussion about obesity and also obese poor people, from a previous thread, here is a relevant article.

    It’s easy to become obese in America. These 7 charts explain why.
    http://www.vox.com/2016/8/31/12368246/charts-explain-obesity

    • Randy M says:

      The Americans who aren’t eating broccoli don’t have a vendetta against it. Instead, there is a range of economic and social factors that make eating enough fruits and vegetables really hard.

      This part is silly. It implies that economic and social factors pick some foods at random to make accessible and others to make scarce. Americans don’t have a “vendetta” against broccoli, but put it on the buffet table next to Fried Chicken or grilled Hamburgers and see which one needs a to-go box.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        It’s almost entirely a demand problem. If people wanted broccoli delivered to their door, they’d have it. But people don’t want that.

        • Urstoff says:

          To be fair, broccoli is disgusting.

          • Aapje says:

            You are objectively wrong! Brussels sprouts are much worse.

            Although not being American, I’ve been amazed at how Americans manage to prepare perfectly fine food in ways that makes it disgusting (Kale, sweetened bread (and not in the right way)). So perhaps there is a difference in food preparation, rather than taste.

          • How do you think kale should be prepared?

            So you prefer sweet bread that has the sweetness concentrated in small volumes rather than evenly mixed through?

          • Aapje says:

            The classic Dutch way to prepare kale is cut it into small bits, cook it, then mash it with potatoes. Serve with thin stock gravy to improve the texture (not too dry) and a fatty sausage. Bacon bits are also an option, instead of, or in addition to the sausage.

            Not sophisticated, but very good winter/working man’s food and quick & easy to make (especially here, as you can buy precut kale, fresh or frozen). This preparation neutralizes the unpleasant texture of curly kale, the dryness and a much of the bitterness. The sausage/bacon gives a counterpoint to make it less bland, to add another texture, etc.

            The wiki page shows that other countries have their own recipes, many being mashes, stews or soups, which ought to have the same advantages as the Dutch preparation in neutralizing the weaknesses of the vegetable. None of the traditional recipes seem to be a raw salad, which I’ve been told is how Americans (too) often prepare it.

            As for the bread, keep in mind that my example is more eaten as a sort of cake than as regular lunch. The lumps of (partially or fully dissolved) sugar create a nice balance between flavors, rather than a mush of sweetness.

            For a normal lunch, I prefer whole wheat bread with a strong texture/high fiber content and a taste that can be combined with a wide variety of spreads/condiments (in Dutch we have a separate word for everything that can be put on bread, it’s hard to explain in English easily :/ ). It can be combined with sweet toppings, cheese, meat, fish, etc, etc. So you can create many different flavor profiles, rather than sugar + something else.

            Anyway, when I went to the US not too long ago, we resorted to making our own bread, as none of the supermarket stuff was any good.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Kale is/was trendy for being supposedly especially healthy, and of course raw things are healthier. It stands to reason.

            I’ve had raw kale and liked it once or twice, but I usually do not like it. Frying kale is probably the easiest.

          • The Nybbler says:

            How should kale be prepared? Just take it raw and whole and throw it into a pigsty. The pigs will eat it and not taste any worse as a result.

            This works for broccoli as well.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            Frying kale is probably the easiest.

            Baking kale chips would be easier.

          • JayT says:

            Kale works quite well when treated like collared greens and sauteed with bacon. Though, I really don’t mind it raw either, even though the texture is slightly off-putting.

            I’m convinced that the only people that don’t like Brussels sprouts and broccoli are people that have never had it prepared properly. Those are two of the most delicious vegetables.

          • Aapje says:

            Well, modern Brussels sprouts are far less bitter than in the past, as much of it has been bred out of it.

            However, I still moderately dislike them and my go to method is simply to bury them in applesauce, which is effective, although can be considered cheating (just like dumping a ton of ketchup on something is not really food preparation, but merely overwhelming one taste with another).

          • dndnrsn says:

            I dislike Brussels sprouts, but broccoli is great. For some reason, cooked broccoli doesn’t taste bitter to me, but Brussels sprouts do.

          • Aapje says:

            I’ve never found broccoli bitter either, but Wikipedia says:

            “A dislike for cabbage or broccoli can result from the fact that these plants contain a compound similar to phenylthiocarbamide (PTC), which is bitter or tasteless to some people depending on their ‘taste buds'”

            So perhaps I’m just tasting something very different from the people that dislike it.

            Another possibility is that the quality of broccoli may differ. Both broccoli and kale are Brassica plants and those plants can taste different depending on how they are grown. For example, curly kale improves from experiencing frost, because it produces (more) sugar as a defense mechanism. The people who may get bad broccoli may be getting it from farmers that have poorer soil, use worse methods or simply are somewhere with weather that doesn’t suit the plant. Or they use poor quality seed.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m convinced that the only people that don’t like [X] and [Y] are people that have never had it prepared properly.

            This conviction is misplaced for all food-related values of X and Y. You know that, right?

          • Deiseach says:

            I saw something on Tumblr (yes, I know) a while back discussing this very thing in regard to vegetarian diets and eating more vegetables, and the consensus seemed to be that trendy white people make the food disgusting because what the hell is this about eating it raw? Indians, etc. use spices and sauces to make the veggies tasty and delicious, who eats raw unseasoned food?

            That’s the problem; the healthy option is “no salt, no butter, no cream, nothing to make the veggies delicious; eat them raw and unseasoned, it’s best for you” but eating them raw and unseasoned means often it’s like chewing cardboard. Delicious creamy korma or pasanda sauces will mean it’s no hardship at all to eat loads of veggies, but delicious creamy sauces are exactly what the health gurus tell you not to use because if it tastes nice it must be bad for you fat! salt! other bad things!

          • Deiseach says:

            I actually like plain boiled Brussels sprouts (but the way I learned to cook them was to boil them in the bacon water, which means they pick up the salty bacony flavour) but my vegan brother does them fried and that’s very good, too. (Slice them thinly, pan-fry them like a stir fry, add any other ingredients/seasoning as preferred. If you’re not a vegan, frying them in bacon fat rendered from chopped-up left-over bacon that’s been fried first is very yummy).

            Kale should not be eaten raw, it should be boiled like cabbage (yes, I know there’s a trend here for “boiled” but that’s Irish and British cooking for you). The method is, as always, when you’ve boiled your nice smoked bacon joint for the dinner to put in the cabbage/sprouts/kale towards the end to cook the vegetable in the bacon water that has the salt from the joint in it. The trick, of course, is not to boil everything into a mush.

            Kale is traditionally one of the ingredients in how you make colcannon. Raw kale is an American innovation that I have never seen before (though, like everything else, the latest fads from America do make their way over here so we’re getting kale smoothies and the likes).

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Baked brussel sprouts are also delicious; shake them in a bag with a small amount of oil and a slightly larger amount of balsamic vinegar, along with whatever spices (I like cayenne), arrange them on a baking sheet, bake them to taste. (I don’t like them crunchy, but some people do)

            And chopped raw brussel sprouts make for delicious salads, surprisingly enough.

          • bean says:

            My theory on kale is that it is popular as the result of a practical joke by the health food industry, who were trying to see what the least food-like thing they could get taken seriously as a food was.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Deiseach:

            The mixed, contradictory, and unclear advice on nutrition has really created problems like this.

            Low-sodium diets might be completely unnecessary for people who don’t already have blood pressure issues – and, as you point out, they taste meh.

            It doesn’t appear that dietary fat is bad much beyond its caloric density, and maybe not even saturated fat … but trans fats (actually promoted for a while as healthier than saturated fats) appear to be terrible for you, and nut/seed oils (again promoted as a healthy alternative) might actually not be as healthy (something about the balance of fats). And low fat diets taste terrible.

            Meanwhile, one of the tricks that processed food manufacturers figured out to make up for the lack of taste in low salt and fat foods was to jack up the sugar content.

            Also, kale smoothies, yeah. It’s annoying because every now and then in a moment of weakness I think “hey, maybe a juice would be nice, a smoothie or something.” But everything has kale in it now! Or spinach. I like spinach, even raw … but when you have a juice made of pineapple, mango, and kale, or blueberry, raspberry, and spinach … one of these things, not like the other ones.

          • Theres a happy medium….you can season things without drowning them in radioactive korma gloop.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            On the low-fat diet thing: One of the things I’ve found that reliably reduced my weight was an extremely low-fat diet (I’d hazard a completely uneducated guess that your body cannibalizing fat cells preferentially when it is in need of fats, whereas if it is low on everything it cannibalizes muscle cells, which are probably more balanced?). So there are advantages to a low-fat diet, under certain conditions.

            But yeah. I think the worst nutritional advice possible is to reduce sodium; it causes people to increase other, less healthy, flavor enhancers to compensate, and sugar is pretty much the worst flavor enhancer.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Well, fat is over 2x as much calories as the other macronutrients, so reducing fat will reduce caloric intake.

            If you have a sane permutation of a low-fat diet (eg, it’s not based on packaged foods that say Low Fat on them) and the right willpower, an 80s-bodybuilder-cutting diet of dry baked potatoes, salads without dressing, and lean protein will definitely take the pounds off.

          • JayT says:

            Absolutely John Schilling! I’ve found that there are vanishingly few bad ingredients, yet many bad cooks.

        • onyomi says:

          Yes, and the problem is that the foods we’ve invented with concentrated fats, sugars, and sodium just plain taste better than fresh fruits and vegetables.

          That said, I think a lot of Americans get a bad impression of fresh fruit because the fresh fruit at the local grocery is usually terrible. It’s all been bred for toughness and shelf life and picked before it’s ripe to survive transport unbruised. But bringing high quality, naturally-ripened heirloom fruits and vegetables to every poor corner of West Virginia would, indeed be way more expensive.

          Summary of food in America: tasty, healthful, cheap: pick two.*

          *Well, as I’ve said elsewhere, if you’re creative and willing to invest some time, you can get at least some meals which are tasty, healthful, and cheap, but not tasty, healthful, cheap, and convenient/quick.

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      So what’s the difference between you and an advertising bot for Vox, anyways?

      (Also, that article is misinformative. I could do a list, but I’ll just address the most grating issue: No shit we couldn’t feed the entire population on our current broccoli production, that would imply we’re throwing away all the currently-uneaten broccoli.)

      • Jill says:

        So what is your favorite news source that you consider to be so much more accurate and to have so much better ideas than Vox?

        Please cite some articles from your source that you think could lead to a good discussion.

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          Mu.

          You, in the general sense, cannot have a favorite news source that is also accurate. Truly accurate news is both boring and unattractive to any given worldview; it attracts no audience.

          Vox is clickbait. It is intended to get you to go to it and read what the authors have to say; its success is dependent upon the number of people who do exactly that. Accuracy is not Vox’s master, but viewers. You happen to be the audience to which Vox caters, and so Vox seems unusually high-quality.

          If you want to introduce a subject, introduce the subject. If the only subjects you want to introduce, however, are those that Vox introduces you to – you should carefully consider to what extent your thoughts are your own, and to what extent your thoughts are dominated by what somebody else is telling you to think.

          • Jill says:

            I do consider that. I don’t agree with everything Vox says. What makes you think I do?

            So Vox is terrible, in your eyes. But then there is no news source that you can point to that you think is better. It sounds like Vox might be the best of all news sources, as far as you are aware. Yet somehow you still have this compulsion to criticize them, and to command me to not cite articles by them, when I find one of their articles worthy of discussion.

            There are some people here who just love to tell others what to do. I guess we all have our bad habits.

            I often discuss subjects without referring to a Vox news article. But I often find their articles stimulating, even when I don’t agree– especially their charts and statistics.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            This came up in an earlier thread, my answer is Reuters. Reuters is def better.

          • Jill says:

            Thanks. I have read some Reuters articles. Definitely Right Wing leaning though. But then most of our media is Right leaning, so that’s nothing unusual. Will look at them again.

          • Jill says:

            I’m checking Reuters out now. Today’s articles seem good. Am not detecting any particular political or economic bias in them. So I’ll keep reading them for at least a while.

            They seem to mainly report what happened rather than to do any investigative journalism. Or charts, graphs, or analysis like Vox does. Since I like those things, I will keep reading Vox also.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Jill
            Here is something on journalism that you might be interested in, though probably not in agreement with.

        • I’m not Orphan. My preferred news source is Google News, which feeds me stories from a considerable range of different sources.

          I haven’t read the Ridley book, although I have read other things by him. Could you give us an example of a historical claim he makes, preferably a simple enough one so that deciding its truth or falsity doesn’t depend on the sort of analysis people might disagree about, which you are confident is wrong?

          • Jill says:

            In talking with people who have read his other books, they say his other books are far less biased. This one has a lot about economics.

            In The Evolution of Everything, Ridley cherry picks a lot of examples to give the impression that laissez faire capitalism can do no wrong and never has, and has always brought wonderful results, and that just about any government intervention has had only bad effects. Standard Libertarian stuff that you would agree with, probably.

            He quotes all the Libertarian laissez faire economists and very very seldom quotes Liberal or even centrist economists. He does the usual straw manning by acting as if the reader either has to believe in totally laissez faire capitalism or else in Soviet Communism– a black/white choice, as if there is nothing in between, as if it is not possible to have a hybrid of capitalism and socialism.

            His cherry picking of historical examples is the biggest problem with the book’s “history” of economics. And he’ll play around with his categories. E.g. he’ll say capitalist countries are the least violent ones. And that may be true, on average. But he includes as “capitalist” countries that are a hybrid of capitalism and socialism, like Denmark.

            It’s really quite an amazing work of Libertarian propaganda. The distortions permeate the book, but some of them are very subtle. I think even most Libertarians, if wanting to be realistic, would have to admit that he is bending over backwards to describe the free market as wearing the “white hat” and all government interventions as wearing the “black hat” !))% of the time.

            He’ll say things like: The market is a system of mass cooperation and innovation, the very opposite of rampant and selfish individualism” And there are indeed examples of this, which he gives. But he ignores things like slavery, sweat shops etc.

            Paul Krugman, in his blog at the NYT

            http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/

            and a few lesser known sites like
            http://www.rweconomics.com/
            and
            http://neweconomicperspectives.org/

            are about the only places I can read about economics that is not totally neoliberal economics. Well, I guess there are probably Marxist sites, but I am not interested in Marxist economics.

            I’ll give Google News a look again. In the past, there’s been a Right Wing bias in it. But almost all news in the U.S. is Right Wing biased. And Google is from Silicon Valley, which is very Libertarian, so that bias is to be expected.

            I am really more interested in views on economics than on anything else, and that is where I look for bias or the lack of it. I am not very interested in SJWs and I never run into any of them.

            One of the ways someone here has changed my mind is that I am currently thinking that perhaps a focus on justice and fairness to all might be a better focus for the Left than a focus on a whole lot of different minority groups. The stuff I read about SJWs doing in universities sounds surreal to me.

            That is the one area where I agree with Marx about: That ultimately, almost everything in a society or government is about economics.

          • Sandy says:

            But he includes as “capitalist” countries that are a hybrid of capitalism and socialism, like Denmark

            Given that the Prime Minister of Denmark rejects the notion that Denmark is socialist….

          • Jill says:

            Of course it is not a socialist country. It is a hybrid of socialism and capitalism. Doesn’t matter what word the Prime Minister prefers. It’s not the laissez faire capitalism place that Ridley tries to say it is.

            From your own article:

            “As Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen himself put it, in reaction to this fictionalized vision of his country: “I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.”

            “Admittedly, it is a market economy with high taxes and an extensive welfare state.”

            If those are not aspects of socialism, I don’t know what would be.

          • Jill, David Friedman asked for a historical claim, preferably something easy to check. Instead, you did an overview of what you see as the ideology of the book, with nothing specific.

          • “If those are not aspects of socialism, I don’t know what would be.”

            Part of the problem here is that “socialism” has multiple meanings.

            To an economist, it means government ownership and control of the means of production. By that standard Denmark is probably a little less socialist than the U.S., although I don’t know enough about it to be sure.

            In a lot of political contexts, it means a welfare state, which Denmark is. In some other contexts it is a fuzzy term meaning, roughly, a good society, with some implication of worker control of firms.

            China went all the way from communism to an economy not much less capitalist than the U.S., all the while claiming to be socialist.

            Whether your complaint about Ridley is legitimate depends on how he is using the term. If he uses it in the economic sense, which seems plausible from what you say (but I haven’t read the book), then you are objecting to something he isn’t saying.

            I doubt that Ridley would regard slavery as part of what he is arguing for. He might well approve of sweat shops–meaning employers paying wages and providing working conditions much worse than what we are used to but better than the other alternatives available to their employees.

            I was hoping you could provide an actual example of something he said that you believe is not true. So far, you are simply telling us that his picture of the world is quite different from yours and since you are confident that yours is true his must be a distortion.

            Incidentally, all modern developed economies, including the U.S., are a hybrid of capitalism and socialism, using the latter in the economic sense. The public school system, for example, is a very large socialist enterprise–government ownership and control of a means of production. Unless Ridley is arguing for anarcho-capitalism, which I doubt, what he is defending is such a hybrid, just one with less socialism than what he is arguing against.

          • @Jill

            Yeah, its standard in libertarian circles to use the successes of capitalism (1), the mixed, pluralistic thing that exists in the real world to argue for capitalism (2) , a much more purist version…..because, apparently, capitalism has been great at lifting people out of poverty, and can only get better if you remove the elements that are specifically designed to alleviate poverty.

            Any libertarian will wring their hands about the unacceptability of slavery, sweatshops, etc, but the point keeps coming up because extreme libertarianism and AnCap don’t provide mechanisms to prevent them, just wishes.

            Schadenfreude corner: Ridley used to be in charge of a bank that crashed in 2008, and had to be bailed out by , yes, the evil government.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            Any libertarian will wring their hands about the unacceptability of slavery, sweatshops, etc, but the point keeps coming up because extreme libertarianism and AnCap don’t provide mechanisms to prevent them, just wishes.

            I think slavery is unacceptable. Two AnCap mechanisms for preventing it:

            1) Eliminate the state which supports or enacts slavery itself: http://www.antislavery.org/english/campaigns/cottoncrimes/default.aspx
            2) Support private organizations that attempt to reduce or eliminate slavery conducted outside the state’s influence: http://www.antislavery.org/english/what_we_do/

            I don’t find sweatshops unacceptable as workers voluntarily work there to improve their lives. For the very poor, sweatshops provide a better life than subsistence farming or alternatives. Still, the AnCap mechanism for reducing sweatshops is for employees to increase their productivity so they can demand higher wages. The best way for them to increase their productivity is to get connected to the global economy where their labor is worth more and allow free immigration to places where they can earn a higher wage. I also support Facebook-type initiatives to increase global access to the internet, which connects people to a world of information to get educated and therefore become more productive.

          • Aapje says:

            Still, the AnCap mechanism for reducing sweatshops is for employees to increase their productivity so they can demand higher wages.

            If productivity increases, fewer workers are needed, so the ability of workers to demand higher wages decreases. Productivity only results in higher wages if workers have enough bargaining power.

            The best way for them to increase their productivity is to get connected to the global economy where their labor is worth more

            If the global market has a greater surplus of labor than their own market, opening up to the global economy just results in a loss of jobs, not better circumstances.

            Furthermore, higher productivity is not something magic that everyone can achieve. If I have a handicap or low IQ, I will probably lose out if I have to compete with a non-handicapped or high-IQ person.

            A global market increases that ‘improves’ the matching between employers and employees, automatically removes inefficiencies that benefit some.

          • Anonymous says:

            those are not aspects of socialism, I don’t know what would be.

            Really?!? Never heard of collective ownership of the means of production?

            A late stage capitalist welfare state is not socialism, it’s a trick by the owners to prevent socialism from being brought about.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Anonymous:

            A late stage capitalist welfare state is not socialism, it’s a trick by the owners to prevent socialism from being brought about.

            This is some combo of motte-bailey and/or strawman.

            Something like:

            Motte – Libertarian principles are better than communist ones.
            Bailey – Therefore we should eliminate the welfare state because all taxation is theft by state violence.

            Edit: And I will note that this argument gets run in reverse as well, something like:
            Motte – Unregulated capitalism leads to abuse of the commons.
            Bailey – Therefore we are ruled by an oligarchy that can only be eliminated by an [insert movement here] revolution.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t see how it’s either a strawman or a motte and bailey.

            The definition of socialism that’s involves a capitalist society with a welfare state is and was an attempt by European political parties to abandon the ideals their parties were founded on while not abandoning the name. Most of them at least still give lip service to the idea that it is still the eventual goal to have actual socialism.

            In the US this rebranding was combined with right wing red baiting that considers anyone to the left of Genghis Khan to be a commie, or if they are being polite a socialist, to produce something like a consensus that black is white. But it isn’t a strawman or any kind of fallacy to point out that no, black is still black.

            The analysis of late stage capitalism I laid out is an absolutely orthodox Marxist one and would not be seen as surprising or at all remarkable by any in the greater socialist / communist neighborhood of ideologies.

          • “Any libertarian will wring their hands about the unacceptability of slavery, sweatshops, etc,”

            Either your view of libertarians is created from your own imagination or you have a very different sample than I do. Any libertarian will disapprove of slavery, but not of sweatshops.

          • Aapje says:

            @Anonymous

            Your knowledge of history is poor. Social-democratic parties mostly didn’t evolve out of communist parties, but competed with them. In some places, like Russia, the communists won, in other places, like Western Europe, the social democrats won.

            I suggest you examine some EU countries, you will see that ex-communists and social-democrats tend to be really good at fighting each other and bad at working together.

          • Anonymous says:

            What was the platform of Socialistiese Partij in 1972? What it is it now?

            They have completely capitulated to their ideological enemies and abandoned all of their core beliefs but still hang on to a name that no longer rightly applies.

          • Aapje says:

            The SP started communist and became social-democrat, but the main social-democrat party (PVDA) was never communist. So it’s incorrect to say that social-democracy is an offspring of communism, they existed side by side.

            Social-democracy started in the 1860’s and very early ran into conflict with Marx, Engels and contemporary communists.

          • @IrishDude

            > Eliminate the state which supports or enacts slavery itself:

            Violently? Is private enterprise slavery still allowed in the new libertopia? If not, who stops it?

            > Support private organizations that attempt to reduce or eliminate slavery conducted outside the state’s influence:

            And what if they are as ineffectual as the organisations that nag people to give up meat?
            I’m seeing what’s anarchic about this unlike the previous proposa (IoF!) but not what’s effective…compared to, you know, using statist power to just ban it. It’s a peculiarity of libertarians that they keep proudly saying they have “a” solution, and it keeps turning out to be simply less effective than the statist solution. Old lamps for new!

          • Using government to end slavery only works moderately well. Slavery by Another Name details how slavery was revived after the Civil War in the US, by using laws against vagrancy and such to enslave people (mostly black men) in the prison system.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contemporary_slavery

            It’s possible that government works better than any conceivable private method of ending slavery, but it doesn’t work all that well. Also, government can facilitate slavery, not just directly (in prisons, for example) but also by making official ID important. The news stories I hear about slavery in advanced nations frequently include enslavement of people whose right of residency is in doubt or whose ID has been taken away.

          • Sandy says:

            Using government to end slavery only works moderately well.

            Historically it worked fantastically well, given that the biggest and most successful anti-slavery campaign in history involved the British Crown sending their famous navy around the Empire to point cannons at slavers and threaten to blow them away unless they stopped selling people — the result being that going into the 20th century, most of the places in the world that still condoned slavery were places the British didn’t control.

          • There seems to be slavery even in places that don’t condone it.

          • IrishDude says:

            @TheAncientGeek

            I oppose a violent overthrow of the state, as I think that would be counterproductive. I see the state withering away as it collapses under the weight of debt for the promises it made to us that we weren’t willing to fund. I also see private alternatives to the state cropping up (like private electricity generation, private security, private arbitration, etc.) that out compete the state and make it less relevant. Also, I think some technologies will be developed that undermine the state, like crypto-currency, which if widely adopted prevents the government from taxing us through inflation. There’s other ways I see the state withering away, but if you wanted some thoughts there you go.

            Private slavery happens with states covering the globe, and I think it would exist without states as well. I think a lot of slavery happens to the very poor, and to the extent I think more markets would raise people out of poverty I think you’d see less slavery. Private Organizations that fight slavery, like Anti-Slavery, exist under states and I think they’d have a more important role in AnCapLand.

            The vast majority of people are anti-slavery and to the extent they’re willing to fund anti-slavery efforts through the state would also be willing to fund those efforts in AnCapLand.

            If any given private organization is ineffectual in fighting slavery, then the cool thing in AnCapLand is you can stop funding them (we don’t have this option with the state!), and you can fund a different organization that is more effective. A variety of solutions are needed to fight slavery, such as education, reducing poverty, and even using violent methods to apprehend slavers, and I expect all these methods to be pursued in AnCapLand.

            What if the state is the one implementing slavery, like in Uzbekistan? What should the people there do?

          • Anonymous says:

            The SP started communist and became social-democrat, but the main social-democrat party (PVDA) was never communist.

            Great. Now go back and read what I wrote instead of responding to what you think I must have meant.

            The problem isn’t social democrats, granted they should probably be called social capitalists, but they aren’t calling themselves socialists so it is no problem that they aren’t. It’s the democratic socialists that are the problem. They started out as gradualists but now they are neverists which makes their name deceptive.

          • Sandy, the Magadalene Laundries were in Ireland when it was under British control.

            This time, I noticed that there were similar institutions run by Anglicans and Presbyterians– it wasn’t just Catholics.

            It’s an achievement to end wholesale kidnapping of people into slavery and public slave markets, but that’s not the same thing as ending slavery.

          • Everyone seems to think I was talking about sweatshops in developing countries. What I meant was the situation in Western countries. Most people don’t expect sweatshoos to re-occur in Western countries, because they are prevented from occurring by minimum wage laws, maximum working hours, and welfare arrangements which mean people do not have to take any job, or starve.

            But AnCaps aren’t most people, and are willing to pull down the fences I mentioned….but not, so they assure us, because they want sweatshops back in thewest. It’s that combination of disapproval of X, without measures to prevent X, even dismantling measures to prevent X, that I call hand wringing.

            AnCaps approve of developing world sweatshops, because they see them as better than the possible alternatives. But what is possible depends. With state power, a government can banimports of goods from sweatshops, forcing them to raise wages, and consumers to pay higher prices. Statists have more options.

          • John Schilling says:

            Most people don’t expect sweatshops to re-occur in Western countries, because they are prevented from occurring by minimum wage laws, maximum working hours, and welfare arrangements which mean people do not have to take any job, or starve

            Anarcho-capitalists, as you note, are not most people. I suspect anarcho-capitalists don’t expect sweatshops to re-occur in Western countries with free-market economies because they would not be economically viable in a region with as many more lucrative opportunites available as the modern West.

          • Tekhno says:

            Anonymous is right about socialism.

            The arch antisocialist Otto Von Bismarck put in place one of Europe’s first welfare state systems precisely to thwart the socialists, and he brought in antisocialist laws at the same time. His strategy (minus the antisocialist laws) is one I endorse thoroughly as an arch-capitalist.

            There are two definitions of socialism. One of them is coherent, one of them is not.

            Definition one: A society with common ownership of the means of production.

            Definition two: An arbitrary level of government intervention into the economy.

            The beauty of definition one is that it fits with what socialists were calling for at their inception, and it fits with the same consistent message that the far-left is calling for today, whether Stalinist, Maoist, anarchist etc. It also allows us to clearly delineate when a society is or is not socialist, or when it is approaching it (such as when you have a command economy with a communist party in power).

            The weakness of definition two is that you can produce a massive contradiction whereby socialism existed before it existed. Socialism is a movement that emerged during the 19th Century and focused on destroying the basis of industrial capitalism; private property. If, instead, socialism is defined as an arbitrary level of government intervention, then perhaps Ancient Rome was socialist because it had a grain dole, and other such silly reasoning.

            If we tune the arbitrariness of intervention up, then perhaps all states are socialist by virtue of intervening at all, which is essentially the Ancap position. It’s very bizarre that so many left-liberals and progressives have also adopted this position, because in doing so they are adopting an Ancap reality frame and simply inverting the moral values they apply to it.

            If socialism = intervention, then a factory boss calling the cops to break up a strike can be counted as being a very socialist practice.

            At some point, conservatives, high on classical liberalism, started calling government intervention socialist. This reached a ridiculous fever pitch in 21st Century America, where conservative talk show hosts would call the Democratic President a “Marxist” frequently. Left wing liberals/progressives then turned around and adopted this reality frame, leading to the inane idea that you can have a “mix” of socialism and capitalism (the old mixed economy concept is a mix of markets and planning, not a mix of capitalism and socialism), and leading to candidates like Bernie Sanders deigning to call themselves socialist.

            It didn’t help that before the collapse of the Soviet Union, many European left wing parties who had calls for common ownership in their party constitutions (see Labour’s Clause IV), dropped them without admitting they were no longer socialist. The French Socialist Party offers nothing more than high taxes mixed with acquiescence to austerity, yet they still bear the title “Socialist”, only adding to the confusion and impoverishment of our political language, whichever side of the spectrum you are on.

          • @IrishDude

            The point is not so much the consequences of a violent takeover of your, or another state, but it’s compatibility with the No Imitation of Force Principle, beloved of AnCaps.

            And the other point was whether libertarian means of opposing slavery are as effective as statist ones, not whether you can write a long list of libertarian means

            @JohnScilling

            .only if you think if a sweatshop as an actual garment factory https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kar%C5%8Dshi

          • IrishDude says:

            @TheAncientGeek

            The point is not so much the consequences of a violent takeover of your, or another state, but it’s compatibility with the No Imitation of Force Principle, beloved of AnCaps.

            1. I think the no initiation of force principle is valued by most people, ancap or not. Don’t most parents teach their kids not to hit or steal? Don’t most people believe violence is justified almost exclusively in self-defense? That’s the principle I use in my interpersonal relationships, how about you?

            2. I think violence is morally justified in self-defense, but not always wise. It’s moral to oppose five armed muggers, but not smart. I feel the same about violent opposition to the state.

            3. I’m not sure if I’m addressing the point you’re making, so let me know if that’s the case.

            And the other point was whether libertarian means of opposing slavery are as effective as statist ones, not whether you can write a long list of libertarian means

            You asked what would happen if a private organization was ineffective at reducing slavery, and my response was that funding for it would reduce and more effective organizations would be funded more, similar to the way crappy cellphones get less consumer dollars and better value smart phones get more. Bill Gates’ foundation uses metrics to determine which proposals get funding or more funding, and I think philanthropic efforts to reduce slavery in a stateless world would have a similar process.

            Your question asking whether libertarian methods to oppose slavery are more effective than statist methods presupposes that states aren’t enacting slavery themselves, but I don’t think you’ve responded to the critique of what to do when the state enacts slavery, like in Uzbekistan with the cotton crops. So, what should the people that get enslaved there do to prevent their state imposed slavery?

          • Aapje says:

            You asked what would happen if a private organization was ineffective at reducing slavery, and my response was that funding for it would reduce and more effective organizations would be funded more, similar to the way crappy cellphones get less consumer dollars and better value smart phones get more.

            Unless they have better marketing than more effective organizations.

            You know that many badly performing private organizations survive because they take advantage of poorly informed consumers, right?

          • IrishDude says:

            @Aapje
            >>Unless they have better marketing than more effective organizations.

            You know that many badly performing private organizations survive because they take advantage of poorly informed consumers, right?>>

            Are you talking about charities or private businesses?

            For charities, good marketing can be effective at getting small donations as donators can have less incentive to learn the actual effect of donations. Big donors like the Gate’s Foundation are less impacted by advertising as they have the resources to follow up on the impact of donations.

            For private businesses, advertising a crappy product isn’t effective long term since consumers quickly find out a product sucks and return the product/stop purchasing more of that product.

            What examples do you have in mind?

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            @IrishDude

            1. I think the no initiation of force principle is valued by most people, ancap or not.

            But not in the same version. The statist version is much more flexible, and , in particular, can be traded off against consequences. The AnCap version has to be more stark and rigid, so as to maintain the absolute unacceptability of taxation.

      • Manya says:

        So what’s the difference between you and an advertising bot for Vox, anyways?

        In what universe is this an acceptable thing to say to someone? If you don’t want to discuss Vox articles, don’t. If no one wants to discuss a specific article, or Vox articles in general, that will very rapidly become apparent. That it hasn’t become apparent thus far means that people are in fact interested.

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          In what universe is this an acceptable thing to say to someone?

          This one.

          While the statement has the formulation of a very ugly insult, the actual content is sufficiently ridiculous that it can’t be taken seriously. The discrepancy between the apparent intended tone and the silliness of the accusation elevates the cognitive attention paid to the statement without incurring a significant degree of actual offense.

          I used the enhanced formulation because Jill has to this point ignored subtler pointers from other posters that maybe a wider variety of sources would be appropriate.

          If you don’t want to discuss Vox articles, don’t. If no one wants to discuss a specific article, or Vox articles in general, that will very rapidly become apparent.

          I don’t care whether or not we discuss Vox articles, but they are beginning to represent a disproportionate amount of the discourse here, entirely because of one person persistently linking to them. This erodes both the person’s credibility – implying that they get their information from a single source – and the overall quality of conversations.

          The fact that people are talking about them isn’t particularly significant; I could easily fill the open threads with a few talking points, because people here will talk about pretty much anything. I don’t, because that would erode the overall quality of discussions.

          That it hasn’t become apparent thus far means that people are in fact interested.

          Interest, in this case, is counterproductive. In both cases, the quality of debate is eroded by the fact that I, like Jill, tend to prefer to open debates about contentious things (observe that Jill, who believes the board is largely right-wing, preferentially posts left-wing topics), which increase overall animosity.

          Threads which incite angry responses are far more interesting to read and participate in, but makes the open threads more hostile places (as Jill frequently turns around and complains about, an irony which I’m getting a little tired of).

    • gbdub says:

      Point 3 about food cost seems bonkers. “Veggies are too expensive – they cost way more per calorie!” Well of course they do, but the whole point is that we are consuming too many calories. We don’t want people to replace their current calories 1:1 with vegetable calories, or people will be just as fat. The relevant statistic would be “cost per serving” but I don’t see that presented.

      The chart on food-at-home vs. food-eaten-out spending also needs some more interpretation / better presentation. Income spent eating out doesn’t seem to have risen that much, but food-at-home has dropped a ton. What that says is that food in general uses up a much smaller portion of our income than it did in past decades. The chart needs to correct for this to more accurately show the shifting balance between the two (even then, just looking at cost would have issues – you’d expect restaurant eating to be more expensive because of increased labor and other overhead costs, even if food prices go down, while eating at home would be tied much more directly to the price of food).

      Finally, the actual chart on obesity rates was interesting – it looks like rates of “overweight” have stayed relatively flat, while the obese and very obese categories have gone up a ton. So are “Americans” overall that much fatter (e.g. everybody just gained 15 pounds and moved up one category) or have a subset of Americans just gotten very big?

      • Randy M says:

        That’s an interesting question, but we’d have to know if and how standards for such have changed.

      • Deiseach says:

        Eating more when in a restaurant than at home is not surprising, either. Many people go to restaurants for special occasions and/or as a treat. If they were cooking for themselves at home, they’d probably just do the basics, but when they’re out for enjoyment, they want the whole thing from soup to nuts, so they have the three or five or however many courses, they have the fancy calorie-laden dessert, they probably have a glass of wine with the meal, etc.

        • Makes sense for people who go to restaurants as a special treat. My guess is that, in the U.S. at present, that’s the exception, not the rule, that most restaurant meals are a substitute for home cooked meals by people who find the cooking and cleaning up and such more trouble than they want to go to.

          We eat at restaurants about two or three times a week. We sometimes have an appetizer, rarely a desert. My wife occasionally has a glass of wine (one person out of four, and both our kids are above legal drinking age). Probably we do not eat more than at home. Quite often one or more of us doesn’t finish the main course and brings the leftovers home for future lunches (or, occasionally, dinners of leftovers).

          My guess is that your description would fit the U.S. when I was growing up better than the U.S. at present.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            Cooking for one is horrible. I wouldn’t wish it in my worst enemy.

            There’s no economy of scale, nothing comes in the right sized package to cook small enough portions so you’re not eating the same thing for days at a time, or it goes bad before you can get to it. And traveling frequently just makes it so much worse.

            The single greatest achievement of the modern age was making it socially acceptable to eat at not-fast-food restaurants alone.

          • I cook for myself, and sometimes it takes an effort of will, but I’m willing to cook five or six meals worth of a thing and eat it (not consecuatively) before it goes bad, so it does depend on the individual.

            It may help that I tend to do fairly complex flavors (let’s say at least five ingredients plus Auntie Arwen’s spices, or it may just be that I’ve pretty good at cooking things I like.

            This being said, if money weren’t an issue, I’d eat out more often.

          • Cooking for one is not horrible, and I did it at various points of my life. Given the availability of freezer compartments and microwave ovens, it’s easy enough to make enough of something suitable for several dinners, eat one dinner’s worth, freeze the rest in dinner sized portions, microwave it when you want it.

            Such things can be suitable to serve over potatoes–microwaving a potato takes almost no effort–or pasta or rice, both of which keep pretty well in the refrigerator.

          • Cadie says:

            My trick for cooking for myself is to make a large amount of something simple for the main course and maybe one side, and not season it. Like a pot of plain rice and beans or a thick soup. Then at dinnertime I add spices, cheese, and/or condiments to the portion I’m about to eat. That way, I’m eating the same basic thing and only spend a few minutes prepping it after the first day, but the flavors vary and the nutritional profile can change a little too.

    • Deiseach says:

      There are some good points there, but the idea of “Let’s tax unhealthy food so the poor won’t waste their money on it and will get healthy!” is spectacularly stupid. They use the example of taxing cigarettes to reduce smoking, but apparently are unaware that poor people continue to smoke, and smoke heavily, and will continue to spend money on cigarettes so that increasing the price simply raises the proportion of disposable income they spend on them and decreases what is left for other things (like buying the more expensive, healthy food). I guarantee you, make the fast food burger’n’chips more expensive by comparison to the head of broccoli, and the poor will not switch to eating more broccoli, they’ll pay the increased fast food price and make up the difference in disposable income for other foods by cutting down on the healthy food that costs more, takes effort and time to prepare, and doesn’t deliver the instant gratification hit to the tastebuds in the same way.

      Coincidentally (or serendipitously) I saw this news story today:

      New research by a team of Irish, American and Canadian researchers suggests problems in the immune system could be responsible up to 40pc of our body’s ability to regulate weight.
      Obesity expert Prof Donal O’Shea, who is one of the study’s lead authors, said: “We know that once weight is gained, for the majority of people it is very difficult to lose that weight.

      “It is too simplistic to say eat less, move more and the weight will come off. It doesn’t actually work like that. The body has a very powerful reaction to defend against weight loss, which we now know involves the immune system.

      “We normally think of the immune system as something that guards against infection and diseases. However, in evolutionary terms, a sudden or rapid weight loss could be a more immediate threat to survival.

      “This immune system response contributes to why people really struggle to lose weight, despite their best efforts to control calories and do exercise. Our findings give us a much better understanding of why this is so and they illustrate the dynamic role that the immune system plays in regulating body weight.”

      *To the extent that certain items in our national budget are known as the “old reliables“, since raising VAT rates on them ensures a revenue stream for the government since spending on these will continue to be steady – and these are alcohol, tobacco and fuel (petrol/diesel).

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        Wait, the poor people don’t do what their supposed betters expect them to?

        How shocking. It’s almost like they have minds of their own.

        • Deiseach says:

          You’d think people would have learned from the experiment of Prohibition 🙂 When you’re trying to regulate a source of enjoyment, entertainment or pleasure, virtue taxes don’t often work. The idea may be “If Joe and Annie only have $X to spend on food, and we make unhealthy junk food more expensive so they can’t spend as much on it, then perforce Joe and Annie will buy less junk food and more healthy food”.

          They don’t seem to imagine Joe and Annie will decide they prefer the tasty, quick, convenient, it’s-a-treat-after-my-shitty-work-shift junk food to buying a bag of rice and cooking that from scratch, so they’ll economise elsewhere to afford the greater expense, and that economy is likely to mean they’ll cut back on the healthy food on a budget of “only have $X to spend on food”.

          • I think your argument depends too much on an all or nothing/everyone the same kind of model. There will be some people whose preference for junk food is so strong that they keep eating it even at a higher price. But there will also be people, or occasions, when whether to eat restaurant fast food or make something healthier at home is an open question, and relative cost will be one of the things affecting it.

            My understanding of the evidence from prohibition in the U.S. is that it did indeed reduce alcohol consumption, although not by as much as its supporters hoped.

      • caethan says:

        As always, Orwell has something useful to say.

        Would it not be better if [the unemployed] spent more money on wholesome things like
        oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter
        to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it
        would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do
        such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on
        brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less
        money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A
        millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an
        unemployed man doesn’t… When you are unemployed, which is to say
        when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to
        eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty’. There is
        always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let’s have three pennorth
        of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and
        we’ll all have a nice cup of tea! That is how your mind works when you are
        at the P.A.C. level. White bread-and-marg and sugared tea don’t nourish you
        to any extent, but they are nicer (at least most people think so) than
        brown bread-and-dripping and cold water. Unemployment is an endless misery
        that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the
        English-man’s opium. A cup of tea or even an aspirin is much better as a
        temporary stimulant than a crust of brown bread.

        • Deiseach says:

          The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots.

          Dear Eric Blair, we have wildly differing views on probably everything, but your common humanity keeps breaking through and making me admire you passionately 🙂

          (Though you can get very nice brown bread, but it’s true: not all brown bread is the same and it’s down to individual taste).

          • caethan says:

            I used to work at a food pantry in St. Louis. The local Panera Bread restaurant would donate all of their day-old baked goods to us to give away. The treats – pastries and cookies and such – would get snapped up right away. Sliced white bread would go slower but usually be gone by the end of the day. The fancy whole-grain loaves would always be left behind. Nobody wanted them – usually the nice middle-class volunteers like me would take them home with them after the pantry closed.

          • caethan says:

            This is another good bit:

            In some districts efforts are now being made to teach the unemployed more about food-values and more about the intelligent spending of money. When you hear of a thing like this you feel yourself torn both ways. I have heard a Communist speaker on the platform grow very angry about it. In London, he said, parties of Society dames now have the cheek to walk into East End houses and give shopping-lessons to the wives of the unemployed. He gave this as an instance of the mentality of the English governing class. First you condemn a family to live on thirty shillings a week, and then you have the damned impertinence to tell them how they are to spend their money. He was quite right–I agree heartily. Yet all the same it is a pity that, merely for the lack of a proper tradition, people should pour muck like tinned milk down their throats and not even know that it is inferior to the product of the cow.

        • BBA says:

          I greatly prefer raw carrots to cooked.

      • Jiro says:

        I guarantee you, make the fast food burger’n’chips more expensive by comparison to the head of broccoli, and the poor will not switch to eating more broccoli, they’ll pay the increased fast food price and make up the difference in disposable income for other foods by cutting down on the healthy food that costs more, takes effort and time to prepare, and doesn’t deliver the instant gratification hit to the tastebuds in the same way.

        Does that mean that fast food is a Giffen good?

        • Andrew says:

          No – it means merely that the demand for fast food is inelastic.

          • I think the claim is that it is perfectly inelastic, a much stronger and less plausible claim.

            At a considerable tangent … . I think both this attitude and some arguments on another topic by another poster are in part a result of not modeling the world as continuous, of thinking mostly in terms of binary choices.

            People want or don’t want junk food–rather than some people much prefer it, some prefer it a little, some prefer it at some times in some moods, just who buys how much will shift continuously as the price changes.

            A firm needs exactly eleven unskilled workers, so will retain all eleven even if the wage they must pay goes up a lot, will not hire a twelfth however profitable hiring the eleventh was.

            Looking at a single person or firm it’s a natural enough approach, but it badly distorts the picture of a large society with many people and firms.

          • Andrew says:

            Agreed- David. I don’t mean “inelastic” in terms of “Either something is wholly elastic or wholly inelastic”, but rather “it is more inelastic than people credit it to be, and indeed more than many other ‘luxury’ goods we normally consider in the developed world”.

  5. dndnrsn says:

    A lot of people’s gravatars seem to have changed colour. What’s up with that?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think I’ve noted that the gravatars seem to be different colors depending on what I am reading them from. My iPad is different than my Windows PC (which seems to match my Android phone).

      In all cases I am using Chrome.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Gravatar changed the algorithm. The ones that appear not to have changed are just stuck in your cache and will change eventually. Different computers have different icons cached and produce different results. Here is what this page will look like when everything settles.

      If you think you’re seeing the old version and you want to know what it will look like, change the URL. For example, here is your icon. Just opening it in a new tab might make it display differently. But changing the size from s=80 to s=81 definitely will.

    • Guy says:

      I believe Jill’s avatar has gone from pink to gold in the past eight hours or so. Can anyone confirm/deny? Alternately, Jill, did you maybe switch the email you use for commenting?

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I can confirm that yours changed from pink to purple, although I think all of the changes were a couple of days ago.

        • Guy says:

          I think I actually did notice that circa OT56.75 or so, but I only just registered that Jill’s had changed. Jill: I had no intention of accusing you of any sort of conspiracy, with or without confederates. (a solospiracy?)

      • pku says:

        My avatar on UNSONG (which uses my other email) has changed both colour and (I think) shape.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Everyone’s gravatar is changing, except for mine because I went and set a picture to it a while back.

        Evidently it’s a change in the algorithm to generate them? Can’t substantiate that but it sounds legit.

        Anyway, no this is not some weird Jill conspiracy.

        • Guy says:

          Huh. Maybe that means there will now be fewer gravatars that look suspiciously like swastikas? (I know the Swastika Problem was a reason that at least one other blog decided against this particular method of generating default gravatars)

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            To be honest, I never really saw the swastikas. When someone pointed it out I could sort of squint and get what they mean but it’s not an interpretation I would come up with on my own.

            And even actual honest-to-God swastikas would be better than those hideous cartoon-creature things. Thankfully most people have the sense to avoid them so the only blog I see the gravatar monsters is on Thing of Things.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I think you’re right about the swastikas. I tried looking at a hundred and couldn’t find a single swastika, while before I recorded 4%. But they looked so similar to the old ones that before I did the experiment, I was sure it wasn’t true.

        • Protagoras says:

          I don’t know why more people don’t set pictures.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Trivial inconvenience.

            To help you all overcome that, here’s the link to follow to get your gravatar set up. It’s tied into wordpress accounts, and keyed off whatever email you enter in the comment forms here.

          • CatCube says:

            My username (CatCube) was already taken, so I didn’t bother. I don’t have any collisions on the sites that use Gravatar (pretty much just here) so I’m not going to change to make a stupid computer shut up.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I don’t understand why so many people set pictures that are ugly and/or indistinguishable at 40 pixels.

          • FWIW, it doesn’t matter for the purposes of this site what username you give WordPress. You can still fill in whatever you want here. All that it looks at is the email.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            As you wish…

            Edit: Meh. Could be better.

          • CatCube says:

            @Jaskologist

            Huh. Didn’t investigate further after I couldn’t sign on with the WordPress account I wanted. Thanks.

            Granted, I probably don’t make it over Douglas Knight’s “not ugly” bar, but it’s the same avatar I use everywhere else.

          • Adam says:

            I’ve noted many times before that Ghostery blocks them by default, as does uMatrix, of course. Apparently, not that many people are actually using strong blocking tools, but I don’t see the pictures, so there is no reason to set one.

    • Chalid says:

      I used to think that I didn’t notice or care about gravatars. But now that they’ve all changed, I’m finding it really jarring how everyone is matched up with the “wrong” image. Something in my brain is saying “that’s not what HBC looks like!”

    • Flank Steak Smack Chops says:

      They should find a way to change the colors every time.

    • dndnrsn says:

      And now they’re back to what they were previously.

  6. Guy says:

    Orphan Wilde said something interesting last thread:

    My own resolution was that land was “properly taxable” – the costs of land ownership are generalized to the commons (Neither Jack nor Jill are harmed in particular by my owning an acre of land, the harm is generalized), so it is appropriate to pay compense to the commons. Ideally, this compense would be distributed directly and equally to everyone who is a part of the commons (which is to say, everyone), but in practice government will be both the agent of collection and distribution.

    So there is a principled justification, of sorts, both for taxing land (but not buildings), and for redistributing the proceeds of those taxes to all citizens; the tax is proportional to the opportunity cost represented by your using the land, and thus, should be proportional to the closest economic equivalent – the value of the land itself, absent any direct improvements, since those are not properly part of the opportunity cost, since without your ownership they wouldn’t be present. Indirect improvements – adjacent roads, for example, or being in a highly desired space in downtown – can improve the value of the land itself, and thus justify increased taxes on that opportunity cost.

    My personal ideal, in view of this, is that the property owner sets the value of the land, and pays those taxes – but anybody may then purchase the land for the stated value, plus the value of any property improvements that will be left with the property or the cost to move such improvements as the owner requires (so if somebody buys the land your house is on, you can require them to move your house to a new lot at their expense), plus a small inconvenience surcharge (10%, perhaps) to compense the current owner for any issues that might thus arise, and the owner must sell. Details, of course, subject to modification as practicality requires. You have a principled framework for land ownership, property taxation, and eminent domain, all rolled up into one.

    First: By property improvement I assume you (Orphan) mean constructed property, no?

    Second: Discuss.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Way, way, way too easy to abuse.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        The final bit, about being able to buy property?

        The goal was to fix two problems: The fair property valuation for taxation purposes, and the fair property valuation for eminent domain purposes. The “Must be willing to sell” part was a concession to a more complex set of ideas dealing with the issue of mediating opportunity cost disputes. But if person A can use the land more productively than person B, in the general case, person A should be permitted to do so, given that the whole thing is organized on pragmatic-principled grounds anyways.

        • Guy says:

          a more complex set of ideas dealing with the issue of mediating opportunity cost disputes

          Care to run through them?

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            I’ll do my best.

            Property ownership, as it exists, is a concession to pragmatism; in the last thread, there were discussions of the difficulties that arise in trying to justify it on strictly principled grounds, and you end up having to build a fence that somebody might damage if they tried to enter your property, to justify nobody getting to do so. But the entire system rests on an edifice of a contract with the commons; we’ll respect your right to use the land, in exchange for you paying us the costs we incur in foregoing our own use of the land.

            So it’s sort of a general contract with the commons (that is, everybody else) that you’ll use the land productively, and compensate others in part for the opportunity costs they forgo by paying, essentially, taxes.

            The issue arises here because the specific opportunity cost varies between individuals; maybe almost all of the population has no use for the land, but Bob in particular has an idea for your land specifically that far exceeds the relative merits of the opportunity cost. In that constructed scenario, the contract is invalid; Bob has no rational reason to agree to let you use the land, given that he could use it better, and thus the contract is being forced upon him, to his harm. (There’s a more complex set of ideas here, but basically, contracts are supposed to leave both parties better off, and contracts which leave one party worse off are generally considered unenforceable/void, on the general premise that we shouldn’t reward people for tricking people into shitty contracts.)

            (We could also say Bob is the government, representing the commons, and the specific use is an easement/road or a hospital, if it helps, but Bob doesn’t need to be the commons for this to apply.)

            In this case, there needs to be a system for mediating the opportunity cost you’re imposing on Bob, relative to the opportunity cost imposed on the owner of the property. That’s what I laid out there; it doesn’t necessarily need to be the system I described, but such a system does need to exist, for property rights to be reasonable on principled grounds.

        • walpolo says:

          I would think it would be easy to abuse in the other direction. If Joe, the richest guy in town, owns a piece of property that no one else could come near affording, then Joe can set its taxable value much lower than its actual value without fear that anyone will buy even at this discount price, and pay a much smaller proportion of taxes than the property is worth.

          • Zakharov says:

            “Town” is in this case the entire country, and there’s no piece of property worth more than the richest land speculator can afford.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Joe probably couldn’t prevent the entire population of the town clubbing together to buy the land at a discount price and then splitting it up between them.

            Actually, that brings up another problem- the divisibility of land, and the fact that different pieces of your property are worth different amounts. You either divide everywhere into individually-valued, indivisible “parcels” or you require everyone to draw a map of their property with the value per square foot of each area. Otherwise somebody can come and buy a farmer’s best field for well under its value (value independent of farmer’s improvements due to things like geology and location) as the value per unit area of the farm as a whole is driven down by the fact that it also includes a large area of land which is of little use for growing things or building on.

          • Zakharov says:

            Why are you assuming that anyone has a right to force a sale of only part of the property?

          • Jiro says:

            Because if it isn’t possible to force the sale of part of the property, you can do the reverse and tie a valuable and a worthless piece together as a single item, thus preventing the forced sale of the worthless piece.

            You can try to work around this by saying “if it’s physically connected it counts as one piece of property”, but that itself results in weird situations; for instance if you own a restaurant with a parking lot across the street you pay a lot more taxes than if you own one with the parking lot right next to you.

          • Guy says:

            You might be able to get around that by giving the property owner a chance to split before requiring sale, rather than just forcing the sale. Let’s see
            … the current rule we’ve got is as follows:

            1) Owen comes into possession of a parcel of land in no particular way. Let’s say there’s a house, a field, and a river, all with reasonable space between them. Owen’s a farmer. The river could be used to build a mill or something, but Owen doesn’t have the time, expertise, or money. Owen values the whole parcel at $100,000, of which $80,000 is the farm and house.

            2) Bernice is a miller. She’d like to build a mill using the river that Owen currently has. Let’s say she’d value a piece of land she could build her mill on at $50,000. If she doesn’t have the $100,000 Owen’s charging for the whole parcel, we lose on net, because Bernice can’t build her mill. On the other hand, if she does, and we don’t subdivide, we still lose, but with positions reversed.

            If Owen and Bernice are willing (and able) to negotiate, we’re fine. They can split the property and together gain about $30,000 worth of utility, plus whatever comes from Bernice being able to mill Owen’s crops in particular. Problems come in if they can’t or won’t negotiate. If Owen’s out to screw Bernice in favor of his son Nemo (a fisherman and yacht racer), she’s all out of luck. The whole parcel stays in the hands of Owen’s family and no one can build a mill. But if Bernice can get a group together to threaten to buy the whole place, Owen can offer to split off the river portion for less. If Bernice takes that, she gets the lower price, and Owen can keep the parts of the land he actually values.

            So yeah, I think the appropriate thing would be:

            – The buyer (optionally) includes minimal acceptable boundaries for the land they mean to purchase.
            – The owner may choose to offer an alternative plot, consisting of some portion of their land, for a lesser price.
            – The buyer may choose to purchase the entire plot or the smaller alternative for the relevant asked price. In either case, the owner must sell.

          • Jiro says:

            You might be able to get around that by giving the property owner a chance to split before requiring sale,

            Yes, that was what I was trying to explain to begin with.

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      Converted property would be a broader term than constructed; a farm would count, so would a mine, so would a house, so would a (planted) grove of trees, so would a factory, so on and so forth.

      • Guy says:

        Converted by whom? Just the (current) owner? Or does converted property just gradually rise in cost as property changes hands and owners add new things? What happens to maintenance costs, and how are they separated from eg an addition to a house or other structure?

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          Once converted, property remains converted; I can sell a house to you, even though the raw materials (lumber, clay, ore, etc.) all started in an unconverted state.

          Converted by whom? Just the (current) owner? Or does converted property just gradually rise in cost as property changes hands and owners add new things?

          I don’t know what to make of this; that doesn’t exactly happen now, mostly, with a much more rigid property ownership system.

          If you’re asking about the land underneath it, that’s why the value of the land is separated from the value of the improvements.

    • Jiro says:

      In order to guard against someone buying the property from under me, I can’t set the taxable value of the property to its actual value. Rather, I have to set it to its actual value plus the cost of moving, which includes not only the transaction costs and the cost of hiring movers, but the cost of not being near my parents who can sometimes take care of my children, not being in a house that has sentimental value, etc. It also includes any improvements I made to the house, even improvements that are personal to me and wouldn’t increase the price the house brings on the market, but which I would have to rebuy if I were to move.

      Furthermore, I am risk-averse. If someone buys the property from under me, the cost of moving falls into a range–it may be that sometimes the cost isn’t very high (I can move across the street and my parents can still come over) but sometimes it is very high (the nearest place to move to is another city with twice the cost of living and a 1 hour commute to my job each way). This means that I must set the taxable value of the property to high enough to cover the worst case scenario of moving costs–it doesn’t do me much good if someone buys my house and pays me enough to compensate for average moving expenses, when I don’t know if my move will be average.

      Note that there is no reason to believe that these costs are necessarily smaller than or similar in size to the actual value of the property.

      Here’s a hypothetical: We have a tax on your sexual market value. You pay some fixed percentage of $X in taxes, and if anyone is willing to pay $X to you they get to have sex with you for the next year, regardless of their gender, whether they are underage, how kinky they are, etc. Do you think this would result in you being taxed on your actual sexual market value?

      • Zakharov says:

        One big difference is that I care a lot about who I have sex with, but don’t care who I sell my property to.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          But you care a lot about WHEN you sell your property. In fact, I will posit that for the average “you” you care almost as much, maybe even more, about when you sell your property, than who you have sex with.

          Because when we own land, we tend not to sell it very often. Depending on the person, they may have many different sexual partners before they sell their house and land.

        • Jiro says:

          Selling sex and selling houses share in common the fact that many people may not want to sell them at all. When you translate this into market terms, that means that the the owner would have to be paid an unusually high amount for him not to consider the forcible sale to be a loss; a sale at the actual market value of the asset would be considered a big loss by the owner.

      • Ivy says:

        @Jiro

        Great comment. Though I think things like being near one’s parents or one’s job or even sentimentality are just part of the “actual value” you derive from the property. The “actual value” is literally the price point at which you are indifferent between taking the money and staying (modulo improvements and the other issues you mention).

        This might be problematic since the tax discourages people from moving to properties they value more, though I’m not sure if this is worse than the disincentive effects of other taxes.

        As for the risk-aversion issue, it seems like it should be solvable by a type of insurance where you specify the desirable attributes of your property and the insurer guarantees you a property with those attributes at a fixed price.

        • Jiro says:

          The “actual value” is literally the price point at which you are indifferent between taking the money and staying (modulo improvements and the other issues you mention).

          The problem is that the “actual value” is different from the market value of the house (since other people cannot buy the fact that you live near your parents), but it’s pretending to be taxing the market value of the house. “We will tax the fact that you don’t have a 1 hour commute to your job” would be considered unfair by most people in a way that “we will tax your house” wouldn’t.

          As for the risk-aversion issue, it seems like it should be solvable by a type of insurance where you specify the desirable attributes of your property and the insurer guarantees you a property with those attributes at a fixed price.

          First of all, the extra cost of such insurance (the insurance company has to pay administration costs and make a profit) is deadweight loss. Second, there’s no guarantee that it will be possible to buy such insurance (note that “X can be produced and sold at a profit” does not guarantee that anyone will sell X, because the return rate on investment may still be low enough that companies would rather do something else.)

          Furthermore, poor people may not be able to afford the insurance; note that the loss that is being insured against is not in cash, while the insurance is paid for in cash. (And you can be poor enough for this to matter and still own a house.)

          • Ivy says:

            the “actual value” is different from the market value of the house, but it’s pretending to be taxing the market value of the house.

            Maybe I misunderstood, but I didn’t think there was any pretense about taxing the market value, the goal was just to come up with a better framework for property rights.

            “We will tax the fact that you don’t have a 1 hour commute to your job” would be considered unfair by most people in a way that “we will tax your house” wouldn’t.

            I’m not sure why you think so – even flat-tax advocates think it’s fair that people who are better off pay more. Having a short commute or living near family makes you better off just as an additional income stream does.

            In contrast, the government using eminent domain to take your house and paying you market value (which may be far lower than the value to you) would definitely be considered unfair while paying you the “actual value” wouldn’t, by definition.

          • Jiro says:

            I’m not sure why you think so – even flat-tax advocates think it’s fair that people who are better off pay more.

            People who don’t think like Internet geeks think that it’s fair to tax other people on assets of a type that are freely sold on the market by their possessors, not on general better-offness. You don’t tax people on the fact that they have a short drive to work or on the fact that they live near their support network, not do you create a “sexual market value tax”.

            Of course, taxing X is the monetary equivalent of taxing everyone and subsidizing not-X, but non-Internet-geeks also categorize things into “subsidy” and tax” in ways that don’t depend on monetary equivalents.

          • Anonymous says:

            I love the gadfly internet commentor that claims, unlike the rest of you squares, to be an authority on what people IRL think.

          • Jiro says:

            Anonymous: Then I challenge you to ask 5 random non-geeks if you think ti’s fair that someone should be given higher taxes the more family members live nearby. I would be surprised if even one said that that tax is fair.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Jiro at 11:14 AM- There have been some serious proposals in the UK to fund universities by an additional tax on graduates, which is probably the closest thing to this in the mainstream.

      • Emile says:

        The way I see it the “taxable value” doesn’t need to be the same as the market value for the system to work. The taxable value would probably end up being something like the lowest between how much money you’d be willing to accept to leave your house, and how much you think someone desperate might be willing to pay to buy your house (i.e. the market value plus a comfortable margin). People will value their houses above market value, be taxed on that, but they will be taxed *less* than they would if the tax was based on actual market value (the current system), so that they end up paying about the same amount.

        Only houses that are actually for sale would be taxed at their market value.

    • Tekhno says:

      Sounds a little like Geolibertarianism, the way undersupported third kind/radical centrist alternative to left and right libertarianism.

      In a world where automation has made the potential supply of capital a lot less limited the actual limiting factor would be the land, so something like an LVT scheme seems appropriate. If the economy evolves towards capitalist robots employing worker robots and everyone else making off on the share value, then the lack of direct wages would tank the income tax. I’m assuming the value of land is going to rise as we become more productive and have more stuff to fill land with more quickly, so the dream of Henry George of a single tax, a tax on the value of land to cover all government expenses, may become more viable in the future, even if it can’t quite cover things now.

    • Grort says:

      (I feel like I’ve said this before, but I forget where)

      The problem this is trying to solve: we want to tax people based on the value of their land, but it’s hard to compute that directly, so instead we have this elaborate taxes-and-rent game which is intended to get the free market to tell us the right rent for a property.

      One problem is this is too easy to game. Most obviously you could build some large fragile difficult-to-move thing (such as a house) and then insist that anyone who buys your property has to move it. Equivalently you could build a special-purpose building (like a giant water park) which nobody wants to pay you for.

      Another problem is this introduces a lot of extra thinking that everyone has to do if they own land. The free market will eventually converge on a price, but there will be a lot of pain along the way: people who guess their rent too high and pay way too much in taxes, people who guess their rent too low and lose their home or business. Here’s a principle of economics: businesses develop better when people have stability, when they’re confident the thing they invest effort in today will still be there tomorrow. If you introduce this uncertainty, the free market will handle it but it will be a drag on the economy.

      But here’s the thing: in order to make this work, you need to have a third-party assessor who tells you what is the value of the structures you have built. If you’re going to have an assessor anyway, you should skip the painful getting-the-free-market-to-tell-you-the-price step, and just have the government hire an assessor to determine the right tax rate for each area.

  7. Jordan D. says:

    Now that I’m down here in substantive-commentary land-

    I think I may have posted this in some past open thread, but it’s entertaining enough to be worth a second read. The history of Muhammad Ali’s appeal to the Supreme Court and the story of the last-minute reversal which allowed him to reclaim his heavyweight title: http://www.scotusblog.com/2016/06/muhammad-ali-conscientious-objection-and-the-supreme-courts-struggle-to-understand-jihad-and-holy-war-the-story-of-cassius-clay-v-united-states/

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      Scotusblog is normally very good, but…
      “unfortunately representative of the way that many white Americans viewed Ali and the Nation of Islam”

      Really?! They murdered people for trying to leave the cult! And that’s not even counting how crazy it got after the Scientology merger. Have we whitewashed (heh) “activists” in that era so thoroughly that even SCOTUSblog can’t write about them sensibly?

      The explanation of the actual case is excellent though. I’ve always wondered how many were complicated by former SGs having to recuse themselves.

      Edit: because it’s too beautiful not to include

      According to those teachings, Harlan wrote, in the beginning all people were black, but the white race was later created at the instigation of an evil deity named Yakub, and was given 6000 years – a period that ended in 1914 – to rule the other races. The day of judgment of the ruling white race was expected to occur in the mid-1960s, and would consist of a battle of Armageddon, a physical war not between the races, but between Allah and the white race – a struggle in which Muslims would not participate physically – ending in Allah’s destruction of the white race and the establishment of earthly paradise for Muslims.

      • Jiro says:

        I remember that in Star Trek, it was said that the Eugenics Wars happened in the 1990’s. One possible explanation was that the wars had actually been done in secret.. Maybe something similar here?

      • Sandy says:

        I often wonder why jihadis haven’t yet bombed the Nation of Islam’s headquarters for blatant heresy and polytheism.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        And that’s not even counting how crazy it got after the Scientology merger.

        Wait, what? Did that actually happen?

      • Tekhno says:

        So, the Nation of Islam have managed to hijack a universalist religion and turn it into a nationalist one in which the holy people are blacks rather than believers?

        I guess this means that their evil twin counterpart would be the Creativity Movement.

  8. Anna A. says:

    What is the closest thing to the “one weird trick” that makes a person fall in love with you? What could it be in the next 5-10 years? While building attraction is an extremely complex process and we all know some generic advice regarding eye contact, touch and sharing vulnerabilties, I was wondering if there might exist some less-known dark art/game theory strategies or personalized techniques of hijacking the mysterious “loopholes in the mind”.

    Just asking out of curiosity. Really.

    • gbdub says:

      Rescuing them from danger. Puppies. Rescuing them from danger with a puppy. Rescuing their puppy from danger. Boatloads of cash.

    • bluto says:

      I’ve noticed that the person who needs the relationship least frequently seems to generate the majority of the attraction in their relationships.

      • Jaskologist says:

        This is why the best trick is to already have a girlfriend.

        • onyomi says:

          I like the idea of this web ad: “get a girlfriend with this one weird trick.”

          You click on it and it says: “already have a girlfriend.”

          Works for jobs too, btw.

          • Aapje says:

            There are these services that fake a holiday for people that want to fit in/brag, but don’t want like to travel.

            I wonder if there would be a market to believably fake a girlfriend.

    • Jill says:

      I don’t know if people ever “make” someone fall in love with them. Or if they do, the relationship is very short. Better to just find someone who is compatible with you, where you appreciate them and they appreciate you.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Capture and/or traumatic bonding?

      I mean, it’s illegal (and for good reason!) to kidnap and/or abuse people but it fits the criteria you’re looking for. Very Dark Arts-y, if nothing else.

      I don’t know of any other ways to force someone to fall in love, rather than letting it happen naturally. Standard Game stuff makes you more attractive but that doesn’t quite fit the bill.

      • Two McMillion says:

        That study is such a weird one to me that it makes me think something is fundamentally wrong with our culture.

        I want to try this on a date sometime, but I have yet to bring it up with anyone.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, but that “four minute” article also mentions in the set-up that (a) the two of them were already acquainted slightly (b) she was attracted to him (c) he used what sounds like a chat-up line on her so he must also have been interested.

        This is not “random strangers meet, try technique, fall in love” which is what is wanted.

    • Loneliness is unattractive. That is possibly the cruelest fact I know. Need is repulsive…. The need itself makes it harder to fulfill that need.

      -Robot Ghost

      • Jill says:

        That is unfortunate. But there are ways out. People go to psychotherapy to learn how to become less lonely and for many of them it works, depending on the type of therapy and the skills of the therapist.

        Also, many people focus too much on romance and not enough on having just regular platonic type friends. If a person focuses all their energy on finding a romantic partner, but does not try to get any of their social needs met while they look for that person, they may be so socially starved that they are unattractive to potential partners.

        There are meetup.com groups in every city, where people can meet others with common interests. There are also social skills classes like Nonviolent Communication classes
        https://www.cnvc.org/
        or these here
        http://susancampbell.com/
        or Assertiveness Training classes at community colleges
        or public speaking classes and all kinds of other classes where people meet people and interact with them, where people can learn better social skills.

        So anyone having a problem with loneliness has many possible ways out. Of course most people prefer the easiest solutions, like reading about how to be a PUA, or doing some “weird trick.” Unfortunately the easiest solutions are generally also the most ineffective ones.

        • One reason to develop non-romantic relations is to fulfill some of one’s emotional needs that are not sexual. Another is that your non-romantic friends have friends, some of whom might be potential romantic friends. Think of it as spreading a wider net.

          After my first marriage ended, the wife of a colleague and friend suggested that folk dancing was a good place to find nice girls. She was correct.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          I’m going to try to avoid the thing where people only mention the part of a comment they disagree with. This is a reasonable comment overall which is why the main thing I have to say about it is the following quibble.

          Pick up might very well be the closest to an exact opposite of NVC that currently exists, and some prominent PUAs are aligned against you politically, either of which could explain why you don’t think very highly of it. But I think you’re giving it rather short shrift here.

          Teaching guys to be more assertive, encouraging them to better themselves (with detailed workout routines, diets, men’s fashion tips, advice on posture, etc.), and to care less about rejection are all pretty valuable. And that’s besides the core of it which is being more interesting in one-on-one conversations.

          As for effectiveness, it’s hard to say. Some full-time PUAs have pretty unimpressive numbers and even the very best aren’t Wilt Chamberlain. But at the risk of TMI it seems to work: I’m currently averaging one new girl per month and spinning two plates at a time, without any large time expenditure or going to nightclubs.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            Which PUAs do the things you mention in your penultimate paragraph?

          • Anonymous says:

            Non-procreative sex with not one, but two fertile women? You monster! It’s people like you that are to blame for the empty strollers.

          • Anonymous says:

            Now, where did he say it was non-procreative?

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m currently averaging one new girl per month and spinning two plates at a time, without any large time expenditure or going to nightclubs.

            Depends what you want, I suppose. But what about (a) a woman who wants to know ‘how do I attract a guy?’* (b) someone who is looking for more than “willing to have fun and sex with me on a casual basis for a short time, I want them to fall in love with me and have a real relationship”?

            *Please tell me it’s a bit more complicated than “bleach your hair blonde, but not too blonde, not trampy-blonde; get your boobs done so they’re about two cup sizes bigger; lose enough weight so you can wear skimpy low-cut high-hemline skin-tight clothes”, because that would simply depress me about our species.

          • Randy M says:

            My formulation for women is that men want three f’s from a woman–fit, feminine, and faithful.
            But I guess it’s not universally applicable, because the first friend I told that to disagreed on the “feminine” part, although that’s a bit of a subjective word. I intend it to mean someone who is more pleasant, nurturing, cheerful, emotional, etc. (Obviously one can go too far and be flighty, irrational, naive, etc.)

            Of course, the ‘fit’ part is a euphemistic as well as euphonious way of saying “be attractive”, which is more than ‘don’t be fat’ and ‘have a nice rack’ but that’s definitely included. Even if you want a nice, kind, soulmate kind of spouse, it’ll be easier to get if you catch his eye.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @sweeneyrod,

            Not really looking to dig up old links, but it was pretty common practice to share those kinds of tips. Some took it to the point of shilling, I know a few manosphere recommendations for tailored / made-to-measure clothing in particular looked like paid ads.

            @Anons,

            I lol’d, that was a good exchange.

            I had planned to concieve my first kid (not counting sperm donation) this year but circumstances didn’t allow it. Regardless, my sort of behavior is highly toxic to civilized society. I would prefer to be monogamously married, almost was as of last year, but that’s a lot easier said than done sadly.

            @Deiseach,

            I don’t have any useful advice for women looking for men: in terms of the sexual marketplace metaphor, I’m purely a “consumer” and not at all involved in production and marketing.

            I’ve briefly glanced as something called “the Rules,” which I believe predates Game but fills a similar role for women looking for long term relationships with men. It looks like a lot of the tips could weed out players but I don’t know how useful it is in attracting men to begin with.

            It also vaguely alarms me in the same way women are vaguely alarmed by Game, which is a good sign I supose. It doesn’t seem very empirical so I have no notion as to it’s usefulness.

          • “But what about (a) a woman who wants to know ‘how do I attract a guy?’* (b) someone who is looking for more than “willing to have fun and sex with me on a casual basis for a short time, I want them to fall in love with me and have a real relationship”?”

            Different people differ. I like to claim, not entirely in jest, that I fell in love with the woman to whom I am currently married when I heard her explaining calculus to another student. Such a nice, clear, logical mind.

            I suspect the point to some extent generalizes. An attractive body is nice. But a mind, a personality, that fits what you like and admire is more important for the long term.

            This may involve a tradeoff. Be too open about what you are like and you may repel the ninety percent of men for whom what you are is not what they want, thus eliminating the potential for a possibly desirable short term relationship. But it should increase the odds of finding a more desirable long term relationship with one of the ten percent.

            All of that, of course, is speculation based on a small amount of data and a radically non-random sample.

          • Loquat says:

            @ Dr Dealgood

            I’ve read that The Rules at their best do pretty much the same thing for women that Game at its best does for men, teaching the desperate single how to act non-desperate, non-clingy, and generally like someone a potential mate is going to have to put forth a bit of effort to secure. So I suppose it does help attract (the right kind of) men, since a visible aura of desperation is generally a turnoff.

          • a visible aura of desperation is generally a turnoff

            That’s the gist of the quote I posted above.

      • Anonymous says:

        I have always been confused by advice to the effect of “you shouldn’t care about her”.

        You shouldn’t care because neediness is unattractive, they say. The moment she notices you’re attracted to her, she is going to find that repulsive and you won’t stand a chance.

        On the other hand, I live in a culture where it’s usually the man who is expected to initiate romance. And if I am genuinely not romantically interested in someone, I’m just not going to bother doing that (which somehow I don’t expect to get me in a relationship); on the off chance that I am asked out instead, I’ll just say “no”. (Something resembling the latter has actually happened to me a few times; I have met a few women which seemed to act in ways I have interpreted as potential romantic interest; but I was never quite sure, and the most it ever prompted me to do is thinking “eh, maybe, she seems kinda cute” and doing nothing.)

        If that advice is right, I end up in a catch-22 scenario where I’m dateless either way.

        Well, there may be a third option where I try to build a relationship with a woman while maintaining a false pretence of it being purely platonic, and hoping she will cling to me in a moment of vulnerability. But I find even contemplating that possibility disgusting.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Desire, not need. She’s the one you want, but not because you had no other options.

          Nobody wants to be the last resort. But if you could have had all those other girls, yet chose her, that makes her special, doesn’t it?

          I don’t claim this is an easy line to straddle, let alone fake, but it is a real thing.

    • utilitarian troll says:

      I’m skeptical that this exists. Consider the corresponding question: “What’s the ‘one weird trick’ that makes a person want to be your best friend?” Salespeople have been searching for this “one weird trick” for centuries and they still haven’t found it. Apparently sociologists say that the crucial conditions for friendship are “proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other”. That doesn’t leave much room for “speed BFFing”.

      Since you like game theory, you could consider a deep bond with someone to be equivalent to having a long history of cooperate/cooperate plays in a prisoner’s dilemma.

      Proximity and familiarity. Study after study shows that we tend to like those who live near us, partly due to availability, and partly because repeated exposure to almost anything increases liking.  A Taiwanese man once demonstrated the power of proximity and repeated exposure when he wrote over 700 letters to his girlfriend, urging her to marry him. She married the mail carrier.

      http://lesswrong.com/lw/63i/rational_romantic_relationships_part_1/

      Of course it’s also necessary to be physically attractive to the person. So work out and dress well.

      Is there much more to it than that? If someone is your best friend (because you hang out all the time and talk about everything), and you’re physically attractive to the person… who wouldn’t want to date their hot best friend?

      IMO, manipulative approaches to dating are way overhyped for both men and women. Also: all this advice goes double if the person you’re interested in is one that’s attractive to many other people… they will have seen every trick in the book in terms of people trying to manipulate them, and it will be easy to stand out if you genuinely care for them as a friend.

    • Deiseach says:

      What is the closest thing to the “one weird trick” that makes a person fall in love with you?

      In the words of Mrs Merton asking Debbie McGee about how she met her husband “But what first attracted you, Debbie, to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”

      I don’t know if there is any dependable “this will do it” trick, technique or method. Maybe in fifty years time scientists will declare the definitive “how to get someone to fall in love” but I’m not sure (the much-trumpeted pheromones don’t seem to be that strong an effect).

  9. Marcus says:

    A 25 y.o. neuroscientist (MSc.) needs a career advice. Good at effective contrarian thinking and creative mutlidisciplinary considerations, bad at dealing with mean lab directors and employers, would love to be a well-paid, independent researcher working on the high-impact studies and technologies.

    Do you recommend getting a PhD? Should I study 1-2 years to become a data scientist? Are there any alternatives?

    • dndnrsn says:

      I don’t have a PhD, but I did a Masters, and one thing I can say is that academia is only worth it if you have the “people” side of things lined up. If you know people, have access to mentors, are giving conference papers, can get your name on things – all this is really, really important. If you intend to get the PhD to boost your earnings outside of academia, that stuff is less important.

    • caethan says:

      well-paid, independent researcher

      This is not happening. Decide which of those things is most important to you, because they’ll guide you down very different paths. If independence and guiding your own research is what you want, you had better be prepared to be poorly paid.

      • Flank Steak Smack Chops says:

        One exception is if you’re willing to compromise personal independence for organizational independence. In other words, be a well-paid researcher at a small agile “boutique” company.

        • caethan says:

          Yep, that’s what I did. Small growing company, and I have an enormous amount of latitude in the research/analysis/development I do, within the organizational goals of the company.

  10. Jaskologist says:

    Proposed: Rationalists should believe in literal Demons, in the sense of actual disembodied non-human consciousnesses who exert influence over our world, and do not necessarily have our well-being in mind.

    1. The hard problem of consciousness – We don’t have a good definition here, except that the word describes our own experience of being an observer looking out from our bodies into the world, and experiencing that world. We won’t try to define it beyond that. Let us stick to the hard materialist stance that this observer is some sort of emergent property of a system complex enough to be intelligent.

    2. P-zombies don’t real – Anything that displays intelligence is conscious. A computer perfectly simulating a human brain is conscious. Searle’s Chinese room is conscious.

    3. Definition of intelligence – The ability to efficiently achieve goals in a wide range of domains.

    4. Therefore, anything which displays intelligence experiences consciousness. It also has the sense of being an observer looking out on the world.

    5. There are already many systems in the world which can efficiently achieve goals. These are often, but not necessarily, composed of groups of people. Capitalism is one such system which comes to mind. Individual corporations would also qualify. America has goals, and implements them.

    6. What is it like to be a bat? What is it like to be a Moloch? Moloch is literally out there, and he* has feelings. Walmart is alive. Evolution has been conscious far longer than our mere species. The world is lousy with non-human consciousnesses, and they affect us in many ways.

    Thoughts? Rebuttals?

    * Apologies if I have misgendered Moloch; I do not know his preferred pronouns.

    • Corporations and nations run on the hardware of people just as people run on the hardware of neurons. They aren’t disembodied, they’re distributed.

      I think it is useful to remember that you can get some freaky behavior out of distributed emergent systems, but characterizing them as demons rather than swarms or hives (which are just bugs being bugs in a clever way) is not the most reality-cleaving metaphor, in my opinion.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Yes, I suppose they’re not exactly disembodied, but the bodies of most of these entities are very abstract, and don’t exist on any particular set of hardware.

        I don’t think “swarms” gets the point across properly, which could also be boiled down to “corporations are literally people.” They have actual experiences and thought processes, even if those are very different from our own. We don’t think of people as swarms of neurons, and a lot of these entities aren’t made of people either (Evolution, for most of his existence, and Moloch when he’s doing his thing on Rat Island).

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I think the problem is all in #1, and I don’t think you have really given me any reason to think that Walmart is aware of itself as a singular entity in a conscious way.

          • Jaskologist says:

            So, you would say that consciousness, whatever it is, is non-material, as opposed to arising from the interactions of our neurons?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            No. It does arise from the interaction of our neurons. But neurons are far more tightly coupled in space-time than the individual actors that make up Wlamart.

            Neurons are also dedicated to being part of a brain. Each individual actor in Walmart is not.

          • Chalid says:

            Without a theory of consciousness you can’t really say why either of those things (tight coupling, dedication) would matter.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Why would any of those would matter? If something performs work that is computationally equivalent to a human brain, wouldn’t it be fair to say that it is conscious in the same way that a human is? Since a turing complete machine can be constructed out of pretty much anything from electricity to cleverly directed flows of water, that would already toss out your requirements of dedicated neurons or even tight coupling.

          • Chalid says:

            If something performs work that is computationally equivalent to a human brain, wouldn’t it be fair to say that it is conscious in the same way that a human is

            I think that’s going a bit too far; if it’s performing a calculation in a different way than a human is, then it’s displaying different behavior than a human (generalize behavior to include internal processes) and therefore you wouldn’t expect it to have the *same* kind of consciousness as the human.

          • Jaskologist says:

            As long as all mental components are material, even the internal processes can be replicated in some entirely different medium, to whatever degree of detail we want*. Whether or not this ends up being slower or faster is an implementation detail; they’re still computationally equivalent.

            * In theory, at least. Practical considerations tend to limit this in reality. But it is theoretically possible to run Microsoft Windows on Conway’s Game of Life, even though we have no practical reason to do so.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Jaskologist @Chalid:

            If something performs work that is computationally equivalent to a human brain, wouldn’t it be fair to say that it is conscious in the same way that a human is?

            I’m going to put forward that this is, in a rough sense, really what is at issue. Especially we are arguing about what it means for something to be “equivalent to” consciousness.

            Definitions of Turing machines and proofs of computational equivalence pay essentially no attention to time, and have no idea of parallel processing. I’m going to posit, with only loose empirical evidence, that parallel processing is necessary for consciousness. True Turing machines can’t be conscious because they don’t parallel process.

            Also, I am going to posit, again with only loose empirical evidence, that consciousness is not a bright line, but a continuum with an asymptotic relationship to [no consciousness] and [maximum consciousness]

          • Jaskologist says:

            I would agree that it’s probably not a bright line. I’ve never really gotten why you consider parallelism important (since to my mind, that can also be simulated), but if I grant that and just posit multiple machines running the simulation together, wouldn’t that get around it?

            (Imagine a beowulf cluster of these.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Jaskologist:
            I’m not arguing against the idea that a “machine” can be conscious, if that is what you are asking.

          • Chalid says:

            @Jaskologist

            Agreed that any calculation can be replicated in a different medium, but disagreed that this necessarily leads to exactly the same experienced consciousness.

            Whether in neurons or in water pipes, there is a ton *more* information in the system than you see when you abstract away the details and view the system as a calculation. You’re only choosing to pay attention to some particular set of outputs and ignoring all the other outputs (gurgling sound of the pipes, evaporation, soaking up heat, etc.)

            Why should something that (we argue) is deeply woven into the universe depend solely on some kind of technical computer-science definition of what its substrate is doing? That’s just inserting a different kind of mysticism.

    • pku says:

      To take a simple case, is there a sense in which an angry mob experiences anger, beyond the degree to which its individual members do? It has some hidden “potential anger” – a mob member who might not be feeling angry at the moment might, in some circumstances, suddenly become outraged because he remembers he’s part of the angry mob. We can consider this to be anger hidden in the mob in the same sense that we can hide energy in various guises.
      This seems, in a sense, equivalent to MWI vs. Copenhagen. When we have a situation that can only be explained by a superposition of different states, should we assume said states have an independent existence?

      • HircumSaeculorum says:

        >To take a simple case, is there a sense in which an angry mob experiences anger, beyond the degree to which its individual members do? It has some hidden “potential anger” – a mob member who might not be feeling angry at the moment might, in some circumstances, suddenly become outraged because he remembers he’s part of the angry mob. We can consider this to be anger hidden in the mob in the same sense that we can hide energy in various guises.

        Does it come from the Hylean Theoric World, or does Moloch create it?

        • Jill says:

          Humans affect one another by their emotions. Angry people often make others afraid, angry, ashamed etc. Not everything is rationality. Some things are energy and/or emotion– often with a lot of adrenaline accompanying them.

    • Anon. says:

      This line of reasoning reads like a reductio of:

      Anything that displays intelligence is conscious.

      Since we are led to conclude that capitalism is conscious, and capitalism clearly isn’t, consciousness and intelligence do not necessarily coincide.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Interesting. I thought of it more as a reductio of 1, but yours works as well. Would you accept the existence of p-zombies, then? Because that is definitely heterodox to lesswrongism.

        • Anon. says:

          Would you accept the existence of p-zombies, then?

          Insofar as p-zombies are used to justify qualia, no. “Atom-for-atom identical” p-zombies are not possible. Conceived more generally, i.e. something that gives an outward appearance of consciousness, or simply something that displays “intelligence”, but does not possess consciousness…why not?

        • Macbi says:

          Eliezer’s arguments against p-zombies claim (more-or-less) that “things which claim to be conscious are conscious” not “intelligent things are conscious”, so there’s no conflict.

          • Jaskologist says:

            There’s got to be some kind of intelligence requirement in there. I’m sure he wouldn’t consider the following conscious:

            10 PRINT “I am conscious!”
            20 GOTO 10

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Well, it’s pretty standard anthropomorphism.

      If you wanted to you could say that a “goal” of thermodynamics is maximize entropy, as per the second law, and it is certainly very effective at increasing the amount of entropy in the universe. But that language obscures the fact that thermodynamics is just a human name for an observed tendency of chemical reactions and not an entity in itself. There is no goal because there is nothing to have a goal, no intelligence because there is nothing to have an intellect, and no consciousness because there is no thermodynamic self to be aware of.

      The same goes for your other examples, particularly evolution. It’s useful to speak about systems as though they were human beings with desires as a shorthand. But you have to remember that they aren’t or you start doing rain dances.

      • Jill says:

        LOL. I think we all sometimes do rain dances, so to speak. “If it works, don’t fix it” we say.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Aren’t you using a circular argument there, though? How do you know that there’s nothing to have a goal? By materialistic accounts of consciousness, there’s nothing to have goals in us, either, and to the extent that there is it’s just an emergent property of the whole system. If something else has a similar system, why shouldn’t something similar emerge?

        The LW definition of intelligence specifically aims to avoid anthropomorphizing intelligence. But I think that the definition as given ends up including far more than just the intended “human” and “AI” under its umbrella. What’s the principle that lets you exclude Evolution?

    • Jaskologist says:

      It really bothers me that I switched formatting half-way through this list, but on the bright side it probably adds to the crack-potty feel.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      By this argument, wouldn’t marriages be conscious? A couple can act in coordinated ways that are more than just the sum of their two members.

      Consciousness is definitely weird, and things like this are hard to rule out, but I think that if you want to reduce consciousness to information processing, you need some assumptions about the amount of information, the speed at which it’s being processed, and some kind of uniformity (ie not easily broken down into subunits that do 99.999% of the processing without reference to the larger whole).

      • Jaskologist says:

        Yeah, I think marriages would qualify. I actually have a hard time coming up with things that aren’t conscious under LW definitions. Materialists believe they have demystified consciousness when they say it’s just emergent properties or the interactions between neurons in our brains or whatever, but I think when you follow the logic it out, it turns out that instead they’ve imbued damn near everything with consciousness.

        (If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because I’m riffing off Tegmark, although in a slightly different direction. I think the logic is basically correct; it’s the axioms which might hold errors.)

        Anyway, this is relevant because if true, the moral for us shifts from “is it moral to create AIs to serve us?” to “what do we do about all these intelligences we have already created to serve us?” Divorce would be literally murder, as would shutting down a company. Is there a moral difference between corporate welfare and individual welfare, both of which seek to keep a conscious being alive and comfortable?

        • Chalid says:

          Well, there is no reason whatsoever to think that the consciousness resembles ours in any way. If Walmart is conscious, its experience is probably much more different from a human than a human consciousness is from an earthworm’s. What would utilitarianism have to say about destroying such a consciousness? Probably just a baffled shrug.

          As an aside, if you look at Hansonian brain uploading scenarios we will get much more casual about shutting down conscious processes that cease to be useful – so our attitude towards human-like minds may become more like our attitude towards potential corporate minds.

    • Chalid says:

      I’ve had thoughts along similar lines too. Why would the level of organization that we refer to as an “organism” be conscious, the lower level of organization we refer to as “cell” not be conscious, and the higher levels of organization we refer to as “company” or “nation” or “ecosystem” not be conscious? Dunno.

      Certainly it is often useful to *act* as if these things are single sentient beings – it is useful to say something like “Japan is trying to secure its energy supplies” or “Morgan Stanley tried to convince the government to delay the new financial regulations.”

      I’ll venture even further into the crackpot realm and add that without any theory of where qualia come from I don’t even know why we would limit consciousness to things that display intelligence. What’s so special about changing the configurations of particles in such a way that humans call it “information processing” as opposed to changing the configurations of particles in any other way? If you look at it the right way, hurricanes are information processing, so maybe hurricanes have qualia. Maybe *everything* does.

      Robin Hanson: “It seems to me simplest to just presume that none of these systems feel, if I could figure out a way to make sense of that, or that all of them feel, if I can make sense of that. If I feel, a presumption of simplicity leans me toward a pan-feeling position: pretty much everything feels something, but complex flexible self-aware things are aware of their own complex flexible feelings.”

    • Two McMillion says:

      This is actually one of my problems with reductionism. To me, if all it takes to be conscious is the right kind of information processing, then we have no reason to think that, in principle, a nation or a corporation couldn’t be conscious. But as far as I can tell, we have no evidence of consciousness from corporations or nations. I count this as weak evidence against reductionism.

    • TMB says:

      Yes, and I think you ultimately get to the point where you have to say: things are meaningfully conscious only when we decide that they are.

      It’s a question of how much energy we are prepared to invest in an act of imagination.

    • Deiseach says:

      “Disembodied” is a bit imprecise; do you mean “non-corporeal” as in “does not possess a material body of an animal kind (where ‘human’ counts as ‘animal'”? An AI is a non-human consciousness but it is not disembodied, it lives in/on its physical substrate which is the computer (or the Cloud or wherever) and which acts as a ‘body’ to it as our physical bodies do for our consciousness.

      (This is part of the conceit of Donne’s Air and Angels, in that a strain of metaphysics held that angels assumed bodies of air when they had to interact with humans; Milton takes another tack, in that his angels have real if rarefied bodies, thus in “Paradise Lost” the war in heaven involves real injury and real weaponry).

  11. knownastron says:

    Question about the EU ruling on Apple’s tax avoidance in Ireland.

    Assuming that the courts are correct that the agreement between Apple and Ireland are “anti-competitive.” Then is it fair or reasonable to retrospectively make Apple pay back taxes?

    It seems unfair for a government to create a new rule and retrospectively punish past offenders. This can’t be good because this gives the government the ability to target uncooperative citizens just by passing a law that says something they did in the past is illegal.

    Yet, you could have someone pass something blatantly unconstitutional, benefit hugely, share that benefit among congressmen, then when the supreme court decides that it is in fact unconstitutional, they all go home rich.

    What is the precedence with cases like this?

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I presumed that the taxes are dated from whenever the law requiring them came into force (i.e. the tax avoidance hasn’t suddenly become illegal). Is that not the case?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      The rule dates to the 1957 Treaty of Rome, but Ireland only joined in 1973. This portion went into effect in 1981 in Ireland.

      You might think that 8 years lead time was to prevent tax holidays negotiated after 1973 from extending past 1981. But, actually, it just stopped tax holidays from being established after 1981, while, say, Apple had one 1980-1990.

    • Aapje says:

      What is the precedence with cases like this?

      The precedence is that illegal subsidies have to be paid back. An unjustified tax break is classified as an illegal subsidy.

      It’s fair because giving one company benefits that another doesn’t get, hurts the competition. So making the company pay normal tax rates levels the playing field between companies. Your mistake is that you are looking at this from a two-actor POV (Apple & the government). However, ‘anti-competitive law’ tends to prioritize market health over the interests of single actors.

      It seems unfair for a government to create a new rule and retrospectively punish past offenders.

      It’s not a new rule, at most you can argue that they interpret the existing rule differently and/or waiting way to long to enforce the rule.

      This can’t be good because this gives the government the ability to target uncooperative citizens just by passing a law that says something they did in the past is illegal.

      It doesn’t, as your interpretation of what happened is incorrect.

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m kind of laughing at this because our government is currently tying itself into knots over it (the Independents, who are propping up the coalition, want the €13 billion as they fondly imagine it will mean a massive cash injection that will pay for restoring all the services that had to be cut and all the new charges in our austerity budgets; the major party knows this is not on as Apple will pack its bags and walk rather than fork over that kind of money).

      Did we cut special deals to attract multinationals? Of course we did. We have bugger-all indigenous industry of the kind that can sustainably create employment on a large scale, so we need foreign investment and companies coming over here to use the factories we build for them and take advantage of the tax breaks we provide them to create jobs for however long it suits them to stay here and not move to Eastern Europe or Asia.

      Did this find-the-lady trickery mess up our notional economic returns? Naturally it did; if you believe the raw figures, we’re rolling in the dough but that ain’t necessarily so.

      Did our government finally get hammered over the tax dodges perfectly legitimate schemes? Yes, which is why it came up with the knowledge box scheme as a replacement.

      So what is going to happen now? God alone knows, our Department of Finance certainly doesn’t!

  12. nope says:

    In the last open thread, I estimated the size of the regular SSC readership from the commentariat.

    Nancy Lebovitz asked how comments varied by thread type (hidden vs. non-hidden). The quick ‘n dirty answer, having only scraped commentors in August posts (6 hidden/8 non-hidden), is that while the two groups have roughly the same number of unique commentors on average, the range is larger for non-hidden threads (75-230 vs. 155-149). ~60% of commentors comment only once or twice. Jill puts us all to shame at 75 comments on a single post (this one).

    Guy asked how I handled anonymouses. Since this is a procrastination project, I simply removed them, as they account for relatively few comments in each thread.

  13. Jaskologist says:

    Those of you who were debating about whether the Narnian dwarves were Jews may be interested to know that the Middle Earth dwarves were:

    The dwarves of Middle Earth, the central characters of one of the most beloved books of all time, are indeed based on the Jews. This was confirmed by Tolkien himself in a 1971 interview on the BBC: “The dwarves of course are quite obviously, [sic] couldn’t you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews?” he asked. “Their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic.” Similarly, in a letter to his daughter, Tolkien reflected, “I do think of the ‘Dwarves’ like Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue.”

    • pku says:

      There’s a difference between “inspired by” and “based on”, though. It reminds me of how Citizen Kane catches flak for both being secretly based on William Rudolph Hearst and for misrepresenting him.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Good point. One shouldn’t expect to find a 1:1 correspondence between Dwarves and Tolkien’s views on Jews. (The bit where Dwarves are made by a Demiurge and adopted by God would be Gnostic heresy, very far from Tolkien’s Catholicism, for example.) Much more likely that the builder of a fantasy world would take bit of inspiration here and there as it struck his fancy, without worrying if those things all go together in the real world.

    • Guy says:

      The Jew-ness of Tolkein’s dwarves is … certainly a thing. The fact that they are basically robots, created not by Tolkien’s stand-in for the Catholic God but one of His angels who didn’t pay attention to the fine print of the Heavenly Mandate and thus don’t have souls and/or a place in the Song That is Creation … that’s certainly another thing. Also they’re short, hairy, greedy merchants and craftsmen, known for their tendency to hoard wealth to no particular purpose. The flaws of dwarves do not paint a particularly flattering picture of Jews. I’m not too happy (as a Jew) with the fact that their culture seems to have very little positive value, other than encouraging craftsmanship (and Tolkien is not necessarily big on craftsmanship / industry). On the other hand, my discomfort with their dismissal by the omnipotent God-figure of the setting is no greater than my usual discomfort with God-figures who dismiss sentient beings present in their creations who happen to not have been planned for.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Didn’t God give the dwarves souls after reprimanding their creator for going off-script, essentially writing them into the song?

      • pku says:

        This didn’t really bother me. I guess I’m more of a Tolkien fan than I am Jewish.

        • It doesn’t bother me. I like dwarves.

          I run an event at Pennsic called Dwarves vs Giants. It’s a series of single combats and melees, ornamented with insults. One side is limited to fighters five and a half feet and under, the other to fighters six and a quarter feet and over.

          Generally fun is had by all.

      • And wasn’t Tolkien furious at his German publishers for wanting an Aryan/Jewish mapping of his imaginary races?

        • Not exactly. Tolkien’s German publisher asked him to establish his Aryan bona fides, and this is what he sent them:

          Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject – which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.

          Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its sustainability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung.

          This counts as an example of how the world changes– the Nazi were interested in ancestry while modern people are more likely to be influended by Social Justice and think about issues of representation.

          • Aapje says:

            Nice smack down, even though he is wrong to complain about German law applying to him.

            The law would presumably apply to the publication of his book in Germany and it is clearly the prerogative of a state to make laws about things that are sold in their country. If Germany would tell him that he couldn’t publish his book outside of Germany, his complaint would be valid, but not now.

          • LHN says:

            Nit: it’s one of two draft letters Tolkien offered his publisher in response to a request for his Aryan bona fides. They sent the other. (Which is presumably why this one was still available for reprint.) From the cover letter it’s pretty clear that he refused to make such a declaration in either, though we may infer the other was more straightforward and less pointed.

            In the cover letter to his English publisher, Tolkien complains about “[the Germans’] lunatic laws” and says that for his own part:

            I should be inclined to refuse to give any Bestätigung (although it happens that I can), and let a German translation go hang. In any case I should object strongly to any such declaration appearing in print. I do not regard the (probable) absence of all Jewish blood as necessarily honourable; and I have many Jewish friends, and should regret giving any colour to the notion that I subscribed to the wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine.

            (He seems to have been willing to respond at all only because he didn’t want to torpedo his publisher’s interest in selling the book abroad without their consent.)

      • cassander says:

        I wouldn’t assume Tolkien was anti-semitic. When asked about his race, he wrote this to his german publisher:

        If I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.

        My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject—which should be sufficient.

        I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army.

        I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.

      • Guy says:

        I suppose at this point I should clarify:

        I don’t think Tolkein was anti-semetic, at least not in a remarkable way, and I do in fact like the dwarves, when they aren’t built up as avatars of Greed*, Jewish or otherwise. The fact that they’re pretty clearly based on Jews just makes me kind of uncomfortable, like the Orc Problem (or the fact that Sauron apparently rules all non-European Men) makes some people uncomfortable.

        * Fuck Burning Wheel directly in the ear.

        • LHN says:

          or the fact that Sauron apparently rules all non-European Men

          Well, all the strategically relevant ones– i.e., the ones who are accompanying his invasion. (And there aren’t any potential allies in range of Gondor’s emissaries, which doesn’t prove much given their limited travels.) On the other hand, the fact that there are people of different cultures around who aren’t allies of Mordor (the Wild Men– who would have had cause, given that the price for their help is not to be hunted like beasts by the Rohirrim anymore(!)– historically the people around the Ice Bay of Forochel who helped Arvedui) suggests that’s more a matter of political geography and history (and demigod sorcery) than racial/national affinity for evil.

          • I take the role of the Southrons and Easterlings as reflecting the world view of medieval Europe, the Chanson de Roland for instance.

          • LHN says:

            @David Friedman I agree, though it’s interesting that there’s no counterpart of Prester John, Armenia, Ethiopia, etc. in Middle Earth. Medieval Christendom had both real and legendary faraway Christian kingdoms in Asia and Africa to invest hope, sympathy, and occasional attempts at contact, but there are no lost Elf-friends in the East or South in Tolkien’s legendarium.

          • Guy says:

            To be sure. Ghan-buri-Ghan (both his people and his attitude) is far and away my favorite piece of the Middle Earth setting presented in Lord of the Rings.

    • *sigh* When I was first introduced to the idea that Tolkien’s Dwarves were like Jews, I thought it was ridiculous, and said something sarcastic about Jews being famous for being axe-warriors.

      Since then, I’ve wondered whether the similarity was that Dwarves (and Elves) were bearing old grudges that no one else cared about.

      If Tolkien says that he intended that Dwarves were like Jews because of alienation, I’ll take his word for it. It’s quite possible that I’m so used to some degree of alienation that I don’t even notice it. Are they really more alien than Elves? Than Ents?

      All this being said, I like the Dwarves. I’m not sure whether the Dwarves from The Hobbit count, but I’m strongly in favor of people on a quest carrying musical instruments. It’s normal for them to play music and sing.

      On the other hand, Thorin could count as a symbol of greed, while the (vaguely Christian?) Bilbo has enough sense to give up the Arkenstone to get peace.

      Aule, creator of the Dwarves, isn’t a symbol of greed– he makes things for the love of it. Perhaps he is a geek god.

      Tolkien was against industrialization, not against making things through skill. That passage about Dwarves very carefully opening up a beautiful cave rather than mining it is about having sacred values and not being run by Moloch.

      Waking Durin’s Bane by mining too deep for mithril could be viewed as a warning against greed, but I don’t think the Dwarves had any idea they were pushing things.

      Sidetrack from another conversation: Mithil is just something we don’t have, but it isn’t exactly magic, is it?

      Another sidetrack: the Elves are set up as being really wonderful in LOTR, but Tolkien didn’t like them quite so much as all that, as we see in the Silmarillion. Feanor’s greed did tremendous damage. Also, Flieger (a Tolkien scholar) talks about Tolkien seeing Elves as mummifying parts of Middle Earth, not preserving it in a good sense. Elves are still pretty wonderful, but it isn’t simple.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Tolkien actually writes the Dwarves as much more attractive than the Elves, I always thought. Not physically attractive, mind you. Just that the Elves are always kind of self-righteous and holier-than-thou. Unapproachable.

        Tolkien was specifically trying to create a mythology, and as such much of the underpinnings are symbolic of universal characteristics. Dwarves are written as having a fatal flaw, or Achillie’s heel, of “greed”. Stories of them going wrong involve greed, but they aren’t written as if they are purely greedy, not at all.

        • LHN says:

          Gimli’s really the only Dwarf who’s very likeable. But he’s also the one the reader spends the most time with.

          The Dwarves in The Hobbit other than Thorin are mostly comic relief sources of demands and need for rescue for most of the book. (Though Balin gets a few sympathetic lines.) Thorin himself has some depth, but his relationship with Bilbo is largely antagonistic till their reconciliation at the end (which in part consists of his granting that Hobbit values may have something to be said over Dwarven values).

          In the Silmarillion, the Dwarves we see are embittered by being caught in the middle of a war they blame both sides for (with some justice). Unfortunately, their legitimate anger and resultant intermittent vengeance mostly results in making things worse. (In the case of Doriath, much worse.)

          Of course the stories are written from the Hobbit point of view in the case of the works published in Tolkien’s lifetime, and from the Elvish POV for the Silmarillion. We never really get a Dwarf’s-eye view of the world except secondhand.

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        Right. “Call 811 before you dig” wasn’t really a thing yet in the Third Age.

        • LHN says:

          Please indicate:

          Depth of delving ______ ft/m (circle one)

          Greed of delving ______ (1-10, 1=”Easy Come, Easy Go” 5=”Treasure of the Sierra Madre” 10=”My Precious”)

      • LHN says:

        Sidetrack from another conversation: Mithil is just something we don’t have, but it isn’t exactly magic, is it?

        One of the Elves more or less says that what Men call magic is a catchall for a bunch of unrelated phenomena. Mithril has metallurgical properties that Tolkien himself certainly didn’t bother to see if they were possible or plausible. The Elves evidently don’t see anything particularly magical about lembas or nigh-perfect camouflage cloaks or ropes that slip out of knots when you want them to, and the Dwarves probably wouldn’t consider mithril magical either. But they’re all things that certainly can’t be made with premodern tech in any way we can easily imagine.

        (And mostly can’t be made with current tech, though we might imagine someday making plausible rope with embedded micromotors and a computer controller, some clever steel or aluminum alloy with many of mithril’s properties, etc.)

        • God Damn John Jay says:

          One of the Elves more or less says that what Men call magic is a catchall for a bunch of unrelated phenomena

          Does anyone have this quote? It sounds interesting and I am surprised I don’t remember hearing it.

          • “For this is what your folk would call magic. I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy.”

          • LHN says:

            Galadriel, re her mirror:

            For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same word for the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel.

            Another Elf of Lórien re the cloaks:

            “Are these magic cloaks?” asked Pippin, looking at them with wonder.

            “I do not know what you mean by that,” answered the leader of the Elves. “They are fair garments, and the web is good, for it was made in this land. They are Elvish robes certainly, if that is what you mean. Leaf and branch, water and stone: they have the hue and beauty of all these things under the twilight of Lórien that we love; for we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make. Yet they are garments, not armour, and they will not turn shaft or blade. But they should serve you well: they are light to wear, and warm enough or cool enough at need. And you will find them a great aid in keeping out of the sight of unfriendly eyes, whether you walk among the stones or the trees ….”

          • cassander says:

            The Elves next unwrapped and gave to each of the Company the clothes they had brought. For each they had provided a hood and cloak, made according to his size, of the light but warm silken stuff that the Galadhrim wove. It was hard to say of what colour they were: grey with the hue of twilight under the trees they seemed to be; and yet if they were moved, or set in another light, they were green as shadowed leaves, or brown as fallow fields by night, dusk-silver as water under the stars. Each cloak was fastened about the neck with a brooch like a green leaf veined with silver.

            `Are these magic cloaks? ‘ asked Pippin, looking at them with wonder.

            `I do not know what you mean by that,’ answered the leader of the Elves. `They are fair garments, and the web is good, for it was made in this land. They are elvish robes certainly, if that is what you mean. Leaf and branch, water and stone: they have the hue and beauty of all these things under the twilight of Lórien that we love; for we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make. Yet they are garments, not armour, and they will not turn shaft or blade. But they should serve you well: they are light to wear, and warm enough or cool enough at need. And you will find them a great aid in keeping out of the sight of unfriendly eyes, whether you walk among the stones or the trees. You are indeed high in the favour of the Lady! For she herself and her maidens wove this stuff; and never before have we clad strangers in the garb of our own people.’

      • LHN says:

        If Tolkien says that he intended that Dwarves were like Jews because of alienation, I’ll take his word for it. It’s quite possible that I’m so used to some degree of alienation that I don’t even notice it. Are they really more alien than Elves? Than Ents?

        Ents are more like an uncontacted tribe, and Elves have withdrawn to the point that people are surprised to even see them in the world. (The Wood Elves’ trade with Lake Town being an exception.) They’re not aliens in the society because they’re not in the society. And when they are, Elves are somewhere between “exotic visiting nobility” and “myth come to life”.

        The Dwarves’ tendency to be Other, to occupy particular economic niches, and to be perceived as clannish and none too friendly isn’t all that different from the way Jews are portrayed in 19th century English novels.

      • I think “alienation” meaning “wandering the Earth as aliens, due to having been expelled from their own lands.”

        • Deiseach says:

          The Dwarves are a people in exile, having been driven out of their native lands and habitations through natural disasters, the shape of the world having changed, and things like dragons deciding their realms are the perfect retirement home.

          That’s the duty of vengeance and reclamation that drives Thorin, though he’s more sensible or less ambitious in the book of “The Hobbit” (which, let us not forget, is a children’s book) than the film; all the Dwarves are really expecting to achieve (despite what their higher aspirations are) as a realistic goal is to see if Smaug is still alive or present; if not, can they reclaim Erebor? if he is, then they can get back some gold or valuables as weregild and symbolically satisfy honour (that’s why Gandalf tells them to take a burglar).

          Dáin Ironfoot is the greatest most sensible Dwarf of them all, and he was wise enough to realise that the dream of reclaiming Khazad-dûm, their ancestral home and sacred land, was not feasible yet due to the Balrog.

          • LHN says:

            Bilbo was there to reconnoiter, but the Dwarves did expect to deal with Smaug… somehow. They’re very disappointed when Bilbo is only able to bring out a few small items and points out that they’d need hundreds of burglars to make any dent in the treasure, even though that should have been obvious from the beginning.

            They debated long on what was to be done, but they could think of no way of getting rid of Smaug– which had always been a weak point in their plans, as Bilbo felt inclined to point out.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I thought one of the very, very few bits where the films improved on the book was in having the quest aimed at getting one particular jewel (the Arkenstone) rather than the entire hoard. Even when I was young I thought the dwarves pretty stupid for not realising how infeasible it would be to try and burgle the entire mound of gold from under a dragon’s nose.

    • TMB says:

      I’ve always wanted to be a Dwarf.

    • Deiseach says:

      NO NO NO NO NO.

      I have Strong Opinions about this, as I’m seeing a load of this kind of “Tolkien was not alone structurally racist but actually racist” stuff floating around, and as ever – Tolkien says something to the effect that IF we’re mapping real-world to Middle-Earth races and places, the Dwarves are like the Jews; Commentator A then says “Tolkien used parallels between the Jews and his Dwarves in his work”; Commentator B then makes that “Tolkien used the Jews to create the Dwarves” and Commentator C goes full-bore “Tolkien was a racist! He modelled his gold-hungry, cowardly Dwarves on the worst stereotypes of the Jews!” as we see in Guy’s comment where he accepts that “small hairy greedy manual labourers = intended to be ugly stereotype of Jews”, primarily (I think) because Someone Said So and thus he believes it.

      And then you get everyone convinced Tolkien meant the Dwarves to be Jews when he did not. Please don’t say, even if it’s not how you mean it to be construed (as from what you quote you don’t), “the Middle-Earth dwarves were intended to be Jewish”. Did he have the prejudices of his race, class and time? Yes. But please, as I always hammer on to people making historical leaps in the dark, please always check with the original sources and don’t rely on “C in their book says that B in their article says that A in their essay says…” as is too often the case nowadays (think of all those ‘quotes’ you see attributed to various historical figures floating about the Internet, which quite plainly by their content could not have been said by that person).

      If Tolkien saw or used parallels with the Jews for the Dwarves (a) re: Semitic languages, he also used Akkadian as a basis or inspiration for Valarin and the Valar are not Jews; plainly, as Aule was the creator of the Dwarves, so the language he created for them would be based on Valarin – Tolkien liked playing with languages (b) he was much more inspired by Northern mythology and the portrayal of the dwarves in those tales, which naturally influenced his dwarves in “The Hobbit”, who in turn were subtly different as developed in “The Lord of the Rings” (and all the huge mass of background material touched on in “The Silmarillion” and the HoME). Dwarves as gold-greedy, untrusty and the rest of it come more from the tradition of Norse legends than “yeah, I’m totally writing nod-and-a-wink about Jews under the name of ‘Dwarves’ because we all know who the gold-greedy, untrusty, etc. types are, don’t we?”

      Things Tolkien said about Jews or inspiration for the Dwarves from “The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien”:

      from Letter No. 297, dated 1967

      Thus the names of the Dwarves in The Hobbit (and additions in the L.R.) are derived from the lists in Völuspá of the names of dvergar; but this is no key to the dwarf-legends in The L.R. The ‘dwarves’ of my legends are far nearer to the dwarfs of Germanic [legends] than are the Elves, but still in many ways very different from them. The legends of their dealings with Elves (and Men) in The Silmarillion, and in The L.R., and of the Orc-dwarf wars have no counterpart known to me. In Völuspá, Eikinskjaldi rendered Oakenshield is a separate name, not a nickname; and the use of the name as a surname and the legend of its origin will not be found in Norse. Gandalfr is a dwarf-name in Völuspá!

      from Letter No. 324, dated 1971

      Your reference to Samson Gamgee is thus very interesting. Since he is mentioned in a book on Birmingham Jewry, I wonder if this family was also Jewish. In which case the origin of the name might be quite different. Not that a name of French or Francized form is impossible for a Jewish surname, especially if it is one long established in England. We now associate Jewish names largely with German, and with a colloquial Yiddish that is predominantly German in origin.‡ * But the lingua franca of mediæval Jewry was (I was told by Cecil Roth, a friend of mine) of French or mixed French-Provencal character.

      ‡ Possibly the reason why my surname is now usually misspelt TOLKEIN in spite of all my efforts to correct this – even by my college-, bank-, and lawyer’s clerks! My name is Tolkien, anglicized from To(l)kiehn = tollkühn, and came from Saxony in the 18th century. It is not Jewish in origin, though I should consider it an honour if it were.

      (Will be more but having to read through my copy to pull out references)

      • Deiseach says:

        Okay, going off-topic here, but Tolkien on numeric system:

        344 From a letter to Edmund Meskys 23 November 1972

        [On the subject of numerals in The Lord of the Rings.]

        With regard to the numerals: the use of duodecimals, especially such main figures as 12 and 144, has no reference to fingers at all. The English use duodecimals and have special words for them, namely dozen and gross. The Babylonians used duodecimals. This is due to the elementary mathematical discovery, as soon as people stop counting on their fingers and toes, that 12 is a much more convenient number than 10. I did devise numeral signs to go with the Fëanorian alphabet accommodated to both a decimal nomenclature and a duodecimal, but I have never used them and no longer hold an accurate memory of them. I am afraid the folder containing the numeral systems is not available and may be locked away in a strongroom. I remember that the numerals were written according to a positional system like the Arabic, beginning at the left with the lowest number and rising to the highest on the right.

        And being profiled in documentaries (take heed of this when thinking of that BBC interview as quoted):

        301 From a letter to Donald Swann 29 February 1968

        [The BBC made a documentary programme, Tolkien in Oxford, which was filmed in early February and televised on 30 March 1968. Swann, whose musical setting of some of Tolkien’s poems. The Road Goes Ever On, had been published the previous year, had written to Tolkien about the television programme.]

        Thank you for trying to cheer me up. But I am not cheered. You are too optimistic. In any case your kind of performance is quite different from mine – as a writer. I am merely impressed by the complete ‘bogosity’ of the whole performance. The producer, a very nice, very young man and personally equipped with some intelligence and insight, was nonetheless already so muddled and confused by BBCism that the last thing in the world he wished to show was me as I am/or was, let alone ‘human or lifesize’. I was lost in a world of gimmickry and nonsense, as far as it had any design designed it seemed simply to fix the image of a fuddy not to say duddy old fireside hobbitlike boozer. Protests were in vain, so I gave it up, & being tied to the stake stayed the course as best I could. I am told that the picture results were v.g. – at which my blood runs cold: it means they’ve got what they wanted, and that my histrionic temperament (I used to like ‘acting’) betrayed me into playing ball (the ball desired) to my own undoing. I was not lifted up in a helicopter, though I am surprised one was not substituted for an eagle: they appeared completely confused between ME and my story, and I was made to attend a firework show: a thing I have not done since I was a boy. Fireworks have no special relation to me. They appear in the books (and would have done even if I disliked them) because they are part of the representation of Gandalf, bearer of the Ring of Fire, the Kindler: the most childlike aspect shown to the Hobbits being fireworks.

      • Deiseach says:

        Okay! Here’s some more quotes from the Letters – and Jaskologist, please note: your source is in error since Naomi Mitchison is NOT Tolkien’s daughter (that would be Priscilla) so the quoted bit about the Dwarves and Jews in the letter is misattributed. And excuse the snark, but if the source can’t get that much right, I don’t think much of their conclusions on other topics:

        144 To Naomi Mitchison

        The language of Dale and the Long Lake would, if it appeared, be represented as more or less Scandinavian in character; but it is only represented by a few names, especially those of the Dwarves that came from that region. These are all Old Norse Dwarf-names. (Dwarves are represented as keeping their own native tongue more or less secret, and using for all ‘outer’ purposes the language of the people they dwelt near; they never reveal their own ‘true’ personal names in their own tongue.)

        156

        To Robert Murray, SJ. (draft)

        Even the dwarfs are not really Germanic ‘dwarfs’ (Zwerge, dweorgas, dvergar), and I call them ‘dwarves’ to mark that. They are not naturally evil, not necessarily hostile, and not a kind of maggotfolk bred in stone; but a variety of incarnate rational creature.

        176

        From a letter to Naomi Mitchison 8 December 1955

        [The Lord of the Rings was broadcast on the BBC Third Programme during 1955 and 1956.]

        I had to deliver the opening lecture of the newly-founded O’Donnell Lectures in Celtic Studies – already overdue: and I composed it with ‘all the woe in the world’, as the Gawain-poet says of the wretched fox with the hounds on his tail. All the more woe, since I am the merest amateur in such matters, and Celtic scholars are critical and litigious; and more woe since I was smitten with laryngitis.

        I think poorly of the broadcast adaptations. Except for a few details I think they are not well done, even granted the script and the legitimacy of the enterprise (which I do not grant). But they took some trouble with the names. I thought that the Dwarf (Glóin not Gimli, but I suppose Gimli will look like his father – apparently someone’s idea of a German) was not too bad, if a bit exaggerated. I do think of the ‘Dwarves’ like Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue…..

        I have now got a pestilent doctorate thesis to explore, when I would rather be doing something less useful….. I am sorry about my childish amusement with arithmetic; but there it is: the Númenórean calendar was just a bit better than the Gregorian: the latter being on average 26 secs fast p.a., and the N[úmenórean] 17.2 secs slow.

        203 From a letter to Herbert Schiro 17 November 1957

        There is no ‘symbolism’ or conscious allegory in my story. Allegory of the sort ‘five wizards = five senses’ is wholly foreign to my way of thinking. There were five wizards and that is just a unique part of history. To ask if the Orcs ‘are’ Communists is to me as sensible as asking if Communists are Orcs.

        That there is no allegory does not, of course, say there is no applicability. There always is. And since I have not made the struggle wholly unequivocal: sloth and stupidity among hobbits, pride and [illegible] among Elves, grudge and greed in Dwarf-hearts, and folly and wickedness among the ‘Kings of Men’, and treachery and power-lust even among the ‘Wizards’, there is I suppose applicability in my story to present times. But I should say, if asked, the tale is not really about Power and Dominion: that only sets the wheels going; it is about Death and the desire for deathlessness. Which is hardly more than to say it is a tale written by a Man!

        212

        From draught of a letter:

        Elves and Men were called the ‘children of God’, because they were, so to speak, a private addition to the Design, by the Creator, and one in which the Valar had no part.

        …Aulë, for instance, one of the Great, in a sense ‘fell’; for he so desired to see the Children, that he became impatient and tried to anticipate the will of the Creator. Being the greatest of all craftsmen he tried to make children according to his imperfect knowledge of their kind. When he had made thirteen, God spoke to him in anger, but not without pity: for Aulë had done this thing not out of evil desire to have slaves and subjects of his own, but out of impatient love, desiring children to talk to and teach, sharing with them the praise of Ilúvatar and his great love of the materials of which the world is made.

        The One rebuked Aulë, saying that he had tried to usurp the Creator’s power; but he could not give independent life to his makings. He had only one life, his own derived from the One, and could at most only distribute it. ‘Behold’ said the One: ‘these creatures of thine have only thy will, and thy movement. Though you have devised a language for them, they can only report to thee thine own thought. This is a mockery of me.’

        Then Aulë in grief and repentance humbled himself and asked for pardon. And he said: ‘I will destroy these images of my presumption, and wait upon thy will.’ And he took a great hammer, raising it to smite the eldest of his images; but it flinched and cowered from him. And as he withheld his stroke, astonished, he heard the laughter of Ilúvatar.

        ‘Do you wonder at this?’ he said. ‘Behold! thy creatures now live, free from thy will! For I have seen thy humility, and taken pity on your impatience. Thy making I have taken up into my design.’ This is the Elvish legend of the making of the Dwarves; but the Elves report that Iluvatar said thus also: ‘Nonetheless I will not suffer my design to be forestalled: thy children shall not awake before mine own.’ And he commanded Aule to lay the fathers of the Dwarves severally in deep places, each with his mate, save Dúrin the eldest who had none. There they should sleep long, until Ilúvatar bade them awake. Nonetheless there has been for the most part little love between the Dwarves and the children of Iluvatar. And of the fate that Ilúvatar has set upon the children of Aulë beyond the Circles of the world Elves and men know nothing, and if Dwarves know they do not speak of it.

        “Okay”, so Some Person says, “this shows enmity between the Children of Iluvatar and the Dwarves, and that the Dwarves were second-class citizens!” And I’ll allow that, but where I have to ask “Do you wanna punch inna snoot?” is if Some Person then goes “And this proves Tolkien thought Jews were lesser beings!” because no, I’m quite prepared to say that Tolkien thought Jews were human beings, and humans (Men) are the Children of Iluvatar along with Elves, so they’re not Dwarves, so Dwarves are not = Jews in the legendarium.

        • LHN says:

          If anything, Men are closest, since they’re the ones chosen for a special destiny by Ilúvatar whose details aren’t vouchsafed to the other peoples (or even the Valar).

          Men are also the only ones who have anything like religion– especially in Númenor, a land flowing with milk and honey that they’re given and then lose through their transgressions, centered on a sacred mount where the One was revered. (And the exiles from Numenor continue to remember it ceremonially even millennia later.)

        • Deiseach says:

          Still flogging this horse:

          55

          To Christopher Tolkien

          [Christopher had now left for South Africa, where he was to train as a pilot.]

          …I managed just to catch the last post with my Cardiff report. Then I had to go and sleep (???) at C. HeadQ. I did not – not much. I was in the small C33 room: very cold and damp. But an incident occurred which moved me and made the occasion memorable. My companion in misfortune was Cecil Roth (the learned Jew historian)[ Reader in Jewish Studies at Oxford.] I found him charming, full of gentleness (in every sense); and we sat up till after 12 talking. He lent me his watch as there were no going clocks in the place: – and nonetheless himself came and called me at 10 to 7: so that I could go to Communion! It seemed like a fleeting glimpse of an unfallen world. Actually I was awake, and just (as one does) discovering a number of reasons (other than tiredness and having no chance to shave or even wash), such as the desirability of getting home in good time to open up and un-black and all that, why I should not go. But the incursion of this gentle Jew, and his sombre glance at my rosary by my bed, settled it. I was down at St Aloysius at 7.15 just in time to go to Confession before Mass; and I came home just before the end of Mass.

          81

          To Christopher Tolkien

          [Christopher had moved to a camp at Standerton in the Transvaal.] 23-25 September 1944 (FS 51)

          There was a solemn article in the local paper seriously advocating systematic exterminating of the entire German nation as the only proper course after military victory: because, if you please, they are rattlesnakes, and don’t know the difference between good and evil! (What of the writer?) The Germans have just as much right to declare the Poles and Jews exterminable vermin, subhuman, as we have to select the Germans: in other words, no right, whatever they have done.

          I suppose it’s possible for someone to simultaneously think “This Jew is kind, intelligent, gentle, courteous and we’ll become friends” and “I’m going to write a book full of thinly-disguised Jews where everyone will know I mean Jews because they’re dirty, greedy, violent and the enemies of the Superior White Race”, but I dunno, seems like a lot of trouble to go to when you could just be a complete bigot all round and not bother saying nice things about any Jew at all, you know?

        • “it is about Death and the desire for deathlessness”

          Deiseach, thanks for the details.

          It seems a bit nervy, but I’m going to disagree with Tolkien about the primary theme of LOTR. I think it’s about what I’ve called biophilia, or what might be called Elua here.

          I see the book centered on the ordinary pleasures of life– heroism is good, but only because it protects those pleasures. The hands of a King are the hands of a healer. Faramir is a better person than Boromir. Denethor’s death-seeking is insanity. There is nothing of value in Mordor’s sterility or Saruman’s bureaucratic destruction.

          • LHN says:

            I see the book centered on the ordinary pleasures of life– heroism is good, but only because it protects those pleasures.

            I think that’s encompassed in Frodo’s last speech to Sam, taking the Shire as the embodiment of ordinary quiet life that it’s been since we first met Bilbo:

            “But,” said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, “I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire too, for years and years, after all you have done.”

            “So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.”

          • Deiseach says:

            I think it’s about what I’ve called biophilia, or what might be called Elua here.

            There’s that, too. Death in the Middle-earth universe is a good, not an ill. The problems come in when people try to cheat death, to extend their lives beyond what they naturally should be.

            Even the Elves fall into this trap to an extent, as outside of Valinor they try to control the lands of Middle-earth under their rule and preserve them unchanging, whereas all things under the Sun naturally change, fade, and are replaced by new things.

            Humans can err in the fashion either as the Ring Wraiths, or as the Numenoreans did; the first, becoming enslaved by a greater will that tricks and cheats them. They don’t get longer life, they get what life they have stretched out, attenuated, made a weariness to them, as Bilbo describes it “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

            Or the Numenoreans (and Gondor after them) who turned to great tombs and monuments to the dead, to having fewer children and instead seeking to preserve and extend their lives, to empty houses and empty streets:

            “Death was ever present, because the Númenoreans still, as they had in their old kingdom, and so lost it, hungered after endless life unchanging. Kings made tombs more splendid than houses of the living, and counted old names in the rolls of their descent dearer than the names of sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry; in secret chambers withered men compounded strong elixirs, or in high cold towers asked questions of the stars. And the last king of the line of Anárion had no heir.”

            That’s why Aragorn shows his wisdom when he comes to the end of his life and despite all the tempations to cling on for a while longer, gives it up gracefully. That’s why the Shire and the Hobbits, even if they can be dull and stuffy and small-minded and petty and blind to the concerns of the wider world outside, are wise in their way: they don’t cling or begrudge or try to halt time.

            That’s why the Elves have to leave when the time of Men is there; they have the choices of dwindling down to become shades in secret places if they remain, or of leaving altogether, because they cannot remain and keep the lands as their own private demesnes for their enjoyment where the current of time is held back and mortality is not permitted.

            Death is a natural part of Life and should not be fought against (this does not mean tamely accepting illness and accident and war and the rest); you lose more than you gain by trying to clutch and cling.

      • @Deiseach:

        I have the same reaction to comments on Kipling. I was recently having an exchange on FB with people who thought he had a “white man problem” due to the title of one of his poems. The fact that the protagonist of one series of stories (Mowgli) is obviously Indian, the protagonist of his one really successful novel culturally more Indian than British and a major character of that book a Tibetan Lama portrayed as a saint, somehow doesn’t count.

        And the idea that Kipling’s version of imperialism included among its virtues the spreading of Christianity is hard to square with, among other things, “Jobson’s Amen.”

        Tolkien may occasionally and unreasonably be viewed at anti-semitic, but Kipling is routinely put down by people who haven’t read him.

        Then there’s the case of Mencken … . And, for that matter, GKC, which was the subject of a chapter in the second edition of my first book.

        • cassander says:

          The best summary I have of Kipling is that he was “an imperialist utterly without any illusions about what being an imperialist actually means. Which, in some ways, means that he was not really an imperialist at all.”

  14. blacktrance says:

    Suppose someone is engaged in an activity that is currently legal but is highly likely to become illegal soon. If they write to their congressperson admitting that they’ve done the activity, protesting the change, and asking them to do something about it, and it becomes illegal anyway, how likely is this person to be subjected to additional scrutiny about whether they’ve continued to do it?

    • pku says:

      Do congressmen even read letters? Scott had a story where he wrote to his congressman to ask him to support intervening in Libya, and a few months later he got a form letter from the senator apologizing that, despite the senator’s best efforts to dissuade them, the government ended up intervening.

      • bluto says:

        I know in the past when I’ve sent the equivalent of a form email to my representatives, several sent a message back agreeing with or acknowledging my position but apologizing that they disagreed some were in the official’s name others from a staffer. My form letter was part of a pretty large campaign so it’s possible everyone writing got the same reply (whether or not they were part of the campaign).

        I certainly didn’t expect a reply even a form email response, considering my input was basically using their tool to find the right people to email and putting my name, address, and email on the letter.

      • tcd says:

        “Do congressmen even read letters?”

        Pretty much no across the board, that’s what the interns are for. A buddy of mine spent a summer interning for a then new senator from New York and he said they were mainly looking out for death threats and/or “unique” messages, with the vast majority receiving a proper glancing at. They would do some cursory sorting and send out mass ghost written responses like the one you mentioned. We liked to joke that he was an Anthrax buffer.

        • Aapje says:

          So if you want your letter to be read:

          Dear Senator,

          I would like Anthrax to ask you to Anthrax legalize marijuana.

          Regards,

          Gary ‘Antrax’ Johnson

          • tcd says:

            Dear Gary “Antrax” Johnson,

            Thank you for your continued support. We are working day and night to thwart the misguided attempts to legalize marijuana in this great country. Your voice will continue to be heard!

            Best Wishes,
            Senator

      • BBA says:

        I remember reading about one person writing their Congressperson on the Israel/Palestine issue, and getting a form letter in response about how Arafat and Sharon need to negotiate a peaceful resolution. At the time Arafat was dead and Sharon was in a coma.

      • Deiseach says:

        Do congresspersons hold clinics? That is, where the representative has a constituency office where at stated times on stated dates they turn up and their constituents can talk to them?

        A lot of those are pure form “Thank you for raising the question, Mrs Smith” encounters, but if you have an interesting and legitimate query they might give you a reasonable answer. Though if X is currently legal but looks like it will be made illegal soon, that probably means that X is unpopular enough with the public and few politicians are going to stick their neck out publicly to be on the unpopular and hence losing side, it’s not worth losing potential votes.

        Don’t say you engage in behaviour X, even if X is legal. That just makes you easy to dismiss as “oh, one of those, eh?” Have a decent argument why you think X should not be made illegal, that doesn’t boil down to “I do X and I like doing X and I want to keep doing X”.

        • cassander says:

          What you describe are is called “constituent services” in the US and much of a congressperson’s staff is dedicated to it (the other big areas being legislative business and fundraising/campaigning). Not sure how hard it is to get to the actual member, it probably varies a lot, but I imagine anyone who’s doesn’t look/sound homeless or mentally ill could get their with either persistence or a small donation.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        I had a similar experience with my MP: I wrote saying that the government’s plans for reforming the House of Lord were rubbish, and got back a letter saying “You may rest assured that the government is reforming the House of Lords as promised”.

    • pheltz says:

      Additional scrutiny from whom? If you’re asking about law enforcement, I would think it very unlikely.

      • blacktrance says:

        Yes, law enforcement.

        • Aapje says:

          What makes you think that the congressperson would pass it on to law enforcement? That seems extremely unlikely unless the congressperson would be really, really, really be upset about people doing that sort of thing, but in that case, (s)he could be expected to speak against legalization publicly and or be part of a political platform that is clearly against. In that case, I assume that you would know better than try to get him/her to advocate for legality.

          Also, stop having sex with your niece (bad joke time, sorry).

  15. pku says:

    We’ve mentioned before that LSD seems to permanently raise openness to an astonishing degree. Is there anything analogous (or at least a less powerful equivalent) for lowering neuroticism?

  16. Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

    I had some trouble posting earlier, so my apologies if this is a double post.

    When I visit my father, we often discuss religion. He’s a practicing Catholic, while I’m an unannounced atheist. One of his talking points is that religion provides a framework for morality; for a religious person, there’s a reason to be moral and it’s because morality is an actual feature of the universe, like gravity. For an atheist, he claims, there’s no such reason; as such, he likes to say that a lot of atheists “act better than their beliefs”.

    I disagree with him on his main point, on the grounds that Atheist does not imply Moral Nihilist. However, as a moral nihilist myself, I’m interested in hearing the justification that nonreligious moral realists can provide for their beliefs. In particular, why do so many nonreligious LessWrongers flock to a certain altruistic movement? What makes the consequentialist theory that it’s based on hold its value; specifically, what force is there to encourage people to accept a harm to themselves in order to benefit others? Is it based on a theory of a Rawlsian Veil of Ignorance, or on endorphins gained from the feeling of doing good?

    I’d like to add, in the interests of not coming across as a total jerk, that I do want to help people, and do so where convenient. However, in my previous life as a pious Catholic, I focused heavily on doing The Right Thing and Being a Good Person, often at great cost to myself. Since my intellectual change of heart, I’m determined to act optimally to improve life for myself and those close to me, even when that means being less than maximally nice.

    • Flank Steak Smack Chops says:

      In my previous life as a nonreligious atheist, I justified Acting Good with a bundle of lines of reasoning, rather than a single one:

      1. Do good to others so that they don’t do bad things to you.
      2. When that fails, do good to others because it makes you feel good.
      3. When that fails, do good to others because it encourages others to do good to others and contributes to a kind of sympathetic chain of goodness throughout society.
      4. When that fails, do good to others in order to maximize total utility.
      5. When that fails, do good to others because it just feels right–don’t think too hard about why.
      6. Etc.

      Now that I’m no longer a nonreligious atheist, I find it curious why I felt the need to rationalize morality at all back then. I guess it was just in my nature.

      • Aapje says:

        Now that I’m no longer a nonreligious atheist, I find it curious why I felt the need to rationalize morality at all back then.

        I would argue that self-reflection and rationalization are key to what makes us human (and evolutionary successful). It actually far outpaces our ability to act rationally, hence post facto rationalizations.

      • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

        Yeah, the first three are pretty much where I’m at. As far as number 4, I have a personal preference for maximizing total utility, but at the same time it’s not as innate as the preference for maximizing personal utility.

        An example of a fairly socially acceptable defection; I get a thousand dollar bonus. I could spend it to provide vaccines to people in third world countries, or I could hold onto it and invest/buy booze/whatever. The former appears to maximize utility, while the latter does not. However, the latter is socially acceptable, and more innately pleasing to me.

        On the other hand, I also feel like a jerk just thinking about that. So I clearly have a moral intuition that maximizing utility or saving lives is a Good Thing. Other than this intuition, though, I can’t justify it. If I’m optimizing for my own well-being and happiness, the best thing to do would be to never think about the situation, since that avoids the guilt of a moral intuition while providing the finest utility $1000 can buy. In addition, I suspect that this is how most people actually (in practice, not in their heads) approach these sorts of situations.

        As a side note, it’s interesting that we’re passing each other in opposite directions. If you don’t mind my asking, what are your beliefs now, and what made you adopt them?

        • Jiro says:

          “You should feel guilty if you can help someone and don’t” is another of those things that evolved (either genetically or memetically) as useful for humans living in small tribes. Applying it to a world where you can save thousands of people across the ocean is outside its parameters, just like “pay attention to any dangers you hear about” is outside its parameters when applied to a world full of scaremonging media.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            That’s very fair. My impression is that altruists of the effective variety would not argue that they’re acting out a genetic imperative in the face of a superstimulus, though; presumably most of them believe that there’s a true moral measuring stick which applies to their actions, and that increasing worldwide utility is one of the best things they can do. I’m interested to know what their justification is for this view.

      • Religion doesn’t solve the problem.

        How do you know that the powerful being you are inclined to worship is good, God and not Satan or some morally ambiguous pagan god? To answer that question, surely you need some basis for judging good and evil other than “God says so.”

        Part of the problem, in my view, with the winning side of the Mutazilite-Asharite conflict in Islam.

        • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

          Theology claims to have solved this, but I’ve never personally seen anything convincing. The gap between the Cosmological Argument’s “A first Cause exists” and the Catholic God was one of the main reasons I moved away from the Church.

    • Aapje says:

      There is no simple answer, beyond the vague assertion that there are various mechanisms that are built into the human psyche that encourage altruistic behavior. One result of that is that many people seek out belief systems that justify what they wanted to do already and/or make them feel good. So then the question is whether religious people get their morality from religion/ideology; or whether people have a morality that makes them seek out a fitting religion/ideology. I would suggest that the latter is the primary mechanism, although religion/morality can/does influence what people see as moral, but only to a limited extent.

      The existence of various very different interpretations of the same religion is good evidence that people often bring their beliefs into religion. For example, conservative Christianity, progressive Christianity (some Christians are even atheist with no belief in a intelligent God) and prosperity Christianity are variants of Christianity with very different morals. If people truly took their morality from the Bible in an objective way, these variants could not exist.

      Anyway, the best answer to your father is that religion is merely one such framework and not necessarily the best one (especially Catholicism IMHO, but I’m not very authoritarian). Many atheists subscribe to humanism and/or utilitarianism. Or they have a personal framework that works for them. There is no reason why a non-religious framework can’t be better than a religious one.

      • Jaskologist says:

        There is no reason why a non-religious framework can’t be better than a religious one.

        The reason is that for one to be “better,” there would necessarily need to be some standard they can both be measured against. His father sounds like the kind of person who will immediately jump on that.

        • Aapje says:

          As long as the father gives actual reasons, rather than ‘God’s judgement is always right,’ that seems like a fine discussion to have.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            @Jaskologist, @Aapje

            You’re both right. He would jump on it, but he’s a sweet guy as well as a rational scientist, and the discussion would likely be interesting.

      • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

        If people truly took their morality from the Bible in an objective way, these variants could not exist.

        I think he’d respond that people tend to agree on the main points and squabble about the details. As C.S. Lewis puts it, people might disagree about whether you can have 1 wife or 20, but they agree you shouldn’t cheat on them. Personally, I think that that is adequately explained as an emergent feature of societies; some rules make for stable societies, and the set of stable rules that best fit peoples’ goals are limited and similar, thus similar moralities across societies.

        There is no reason why a non-religious framework can’t be better than a religious one.

        I think that the measuring stick he’d choose for ‘better’ is something like ‘justifies our shared moral intuitions’. Consequentialism doesn’t do that well, to my mind; it results in lots of sticky situations where it prescribes an action but intuitive morality tends to throw up its hands. I have a ‘homebrew’ atheist Kantian theory which I find intuitively appealing, but it doesn’t really place morality as a feature of the universe; rather, it indicates that morality is a feature of most human beings, and that it’d be great if everyone would follow it.

        Intuitiveness aside, atheist morality is still vulnerable to defection as a strategy. Religious moral systems, on the other hand, are superior to nonreligious moral systems in that they posit a Grand Coordinator who punishes defectors after death. Religious morality has two big perks; it provides a framework justifying our moral intuitions, and it provides a reason why morality actually matters to your self-interest. I’ve yet to find a nonreligious theory that accomplishes both. In fairness to nonreligious theories, I think that ‘maximize utility’ is more compelling than ‘this is the will and nature of the entity on whose existence the universe is predicated, so do it’.

        • Aapje says:

          I think he’d respond that people tend to agree on the main points and squabble about the details.

          ‘You only can reach heaven by giving away your wealth and helping the poor’ vs ‘if you worship Jesus, you will get a lots of money and poor people should just worship Jesus if they want the same’ don’t seem to be minor disagreements.

          Personally, I think that that is adequately explained as an emergent feature of societies; some rules make for stable societies, and the set of stable rules that best fit peoples’ goals are limited and similar, thus similar moralities across societies.

          I believe that it goes further and many of these things are part of our biology. Cheating generates feelings of jealousy/betrayal in the individual. If it was merely an emergent feature, individuals wouldn’t care, but society as a whole would.

          I think that the measuring stick he’d choose for ‘better’ is something like ‘justifies our shared moral intuitions’

          Most religions go way beyond justifying intuitions that truly can be said to be shared.

          I feel that most moral systems are full of hubris (making claims about the unknown and expecting people to behave in ways that may be feasible for the believer, due to their specific situation/mind, but which other people don’t have the capacity to do or which would cause them great unhappiness). So I more or less just try to hurt other people the least, bounded by what makes me reasonably happy, coupled with a preference for the end goal of human society that is maximally viable for long term survival. It’s sloppy and inconsistent, but the human mind is inherently sloppy and inconsistent, so trying to go much beyond that is unfeasible.

          Intuitiveness aside, atheist morality is still vulnerable to defection as a strategy. Religious moral systems, on the other hand, are superior to nonreligious moral systems in that they posit a Grand Coordinator who punishes defectors after death.

          I disagree that atheists are automatically more vulnerable to defection. Catholic(-derived) culture is renowned for not following rules and protestant-(derived) culture is renowned for the opposite. The result is that the average German atheist is far less likely to defect from a moral system that he subscribes to than an Italian catholic. The culture that these people grew up in far outweighs actual belief systems.

          And the catholic who breaks the rules can just get absolution at the end of his live, so the threat of punishment cannot be said to necessarily be a deterrent for Christian criminals (and some Muslims actually believe that terrorism will absolve their sins, so at that point, religion rewards immorality).

          Religious morality has two big perks; it provides a framework justifying our moral intuitions, and it provides a reason why morality actually matters to your self-interest.

          You forgot a third one:
          – It justifies the punishment of defectors, by claiming that it is ordained, rather than a subjective decision by humans.

          So people can use it to justify things like the tyranny of the majority (or minority), which many people seem to favor.

          • At a slight tangent …

            I’ve just been reading Mathew Paris’ account of the final bit of King John’s reign, written in the 13th c. It’s striking how little attention people pay to being excommunicated, how little willing they are to do what the Pope tells them to.

            That includes John, who was excommunicated for quite a while and finally gave in to the Pope in order to get the Pope’s support in his conflict with the barons, the king and Dauphin of France, and the rebel barons, who get excommunicated after the Pope switches sides.

          • brad says:

            Was he the one that got the country put under interdiction? If so, was the attitude towards that similarly blase?

      • “However, as a moral nihilist myself, I’m interested in hearing the justification that nonreligious moral realists can provide for their beliefs.”

        I happen to have a chapter on that subject.

        For a longer version from a professional philosopher, you might want to look at Mike Huemer’s Ethical Intuitionism.

    • Two McMillion says:

      Ultimately, in a materialistic view, what is “good” becomes what is pragmatic.

      It might be pragmatic on a number of grounds. It might be pragmatic because you feel good when you help others; it might be pragmatic because obeying the rules of the society you live in makes you able to live the life you want to live, or for many other reasons. You might call it “satisfying your values”. But if goodness as an abstraction doesn’t really exist, then doing what you call good must always be to get something material.

      • Aapje says:

        You don’t have to be religious to achieve non-materialist well-being. I can be aware that most people like to have a relationship. I can do something that helps people get a relationship that they like to be in. Then I have increased happiness through non-materialist means.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          “Materialist” I think was being used in a philosophical sense, rather than in the sense of “wanting lots of stuff”.

    • pku says:

      I’ll point out that it sounds like your father isn’t moral because he’s religious, but rather the other way around (he uses “it encourages morality” as a justification for religion, implying he believes morality has independent value). In my experience most (though probably not all) religious people are like that – they believe in morality as an independent value, and justify religion (partly) because it helps them be moral, e.g. you appreciate having God around to tell you what’s right, because you already know you want to do what’s right.

      Most atheists are probably the same*, with the main difference that they don’t believe God helps them do what’s right.

      *Actually, I’ve met a depressing number of atheists who just don’t care about morality at all, including people who say they’re pro-choice even in cases where they believe abortion is fully equivalent to murder. This depresses me, and occasionally makes me suspect that maybe religious antiatheists have a point after all.

      • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

        I’ll point out that it sounds like your father isn’t moral because he’s religious, but rather the other way around.

        Hmm. I agree that all else being equal, he’d probably be a moral atheist. However, I think that there’s a distinction to be drawn here between his belief about his beliefs and the argument he’s making. He believes that morality is a part of God; that God is the author and essence of morality, and that those who act morally are partaking in God’s grace. Thus, moral atheists are acting in a moral/Godly fashion despite not knowing that what they do it Godly. His answer to the Euthyphro dilemma
        would likely be to go through the horns and claim that God and moral law are of one essence; God is moral, and morality flows from him.

        He also believes that most people either value morality or like to appear to value morality; as such, his argument aims to appeal to them because moral behavior being good is a point of common ground. He believes that they believe that morality has independent value, and so he addresses them from that perspective.

        This depresses me, and occasionally makes me suspect that maybe religious antiatheists have a point after all.

        Yeah, I’ve noticed this as well, and am struggling with it myself. If there is no higher purpose, then does it matter that we have laws that permit murder against persons of a different class than myself? I would certainly prefer strongly against rules of that sort, and would fight it on the basis of my moral intuitions and sense of justice; but at the same time I don’t believe that those intuitions or justice exist independently of my perception. At the same time, though, I think that it may be optimal from the perspective of personal well-being to ignore laws such as this (that harm others but could not possibly set a precedent for harming you), and wonder if the people who don’t care have the right of it. They certainly do on the basis of my principles.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      The solution to this is that all morality doesn’t depend on God; only slave morality.

      Nietzsche’s “God is dead” refers to the fact that without divinity there is no basis for universal morality, and the observation that that universality is required for the governing Judeochristian slave morality. Without God, the resulting bland morality of “niceness” slides into relativism and eventually nihilism.

      But that isn’t necessarily the end of morality but rather an impetus for new and old moralities to arise. The master morality of the Classical world, based on personal virtue and excellence, could return. A new superior man, the Übermensch, might arise to surpass older merely human morality. Or humanity could degrade into the herd-animal nihilism of the Last Man.

      • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

        I’ll admit, I’m not as acquainted with Nietzsche as I should be.

        I’m not sure that the slide into relativism and nihilism is really solved by the Ubermensch. If slave morality is all we know, why should the Ubermensch morality be superior in my eyes (speaking as a non-Ubermensch slave moralist)? I got a strong vibe of ‘might makes right’ from Nietzsche when briefly encountered his work a few years back.

        I think my personal objection to Nietzsche’s proposed return to Classical morality is that the classical morality of personal virtue and excellence (in the sense of “excelling”) is extremely open to the problem that not-nice people doing not-nice things can be excellent. A millionaire who drops the bottom out of a market to make the leap to billionaire, ruining millions of people’s investments in the process, is not a “good guy” according to anyone’s intuitions. Yet he’s excelled, and therefore is an excellent Ubermensch (at least as I understand Nietzsche).

        My problem is that I’d like to be a Nietzschean slave moralist; I have all the right intuitions. I’m not sure there’s a good reason not to be an asshole Ubermensch, though.

        I don’t remember the “herd-animal nihilism of the Last Man”. What position does this describe?

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          My problem is that I’d like to be a Nietzschean slave moralist; I have all the right intuitions.

          Well there’s your problem…

          But, more seriously, a big part of what Nietzsche is saying is that this isn’t really an option anymore. God is dead. We have to struggle to create a new morality.

          On master morality, you’re pretty much dead on in your description of it. Universal good and evil has no place in that system, only good and bad for the particular virtuous man. Although contrary to popular belief Nietzsche didn’t advocate master morality as an ideal: he greatly preferred it to slave morality but it fell short of his expectations.

          The Übermensch’s morality is something I never got a good handle on to be honest. ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ is written like a riddle, which is appropriate for it’s purpose but also makes it impenetrable to me. Anyway it’s not really supposed to appeal to you: the point is that it is the morality of the posthumans who will replace us the way we replaced other apes.

          The Last Man is a really fascinating juxtaposition to the Übermench. It’s sort of like the humans in WALL-E or the deltas in Brave New World. A diminished degraded humanity without any ambition beyond shallow hedonism and a fear of predation, incapable of achieving greatness. Hence the name “herd animal man,” since they just graze and stick with the mob rather than strike out alone to improve themselves.

          I’m not trying to insult you here, but it sounds like that last one might be closer to what you’re looking for? Brave New World and the Culture frighten and disgust me, but a lot of rationalists aspire to that sort of society.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            I think there is quite a big difference between Brave New World and the Culture. I admit I found the World Controller’s arguments in Brave New World oddly convincing, but the setting is still (to me) pretty clearly a dystopia. In comparison, the Culture is a utopia.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            What, besides the spaceships, is actually different between the two?

          • Two McMillion says:

            @Dr. Dealgood

            Have you read Island? It’s also by Huxley, and attempts to look at that very question.

            It’s not a great book, but it does showcase Huxley’s evolving thoughts on the subject.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @Dr Dealgood

            My memory of Brave New World was that it lacked art, meaningful relationships, and individualism. Those things aren’t missing in the Culture.

          • gbdub says:

            The Culture still contains a lot of ambitious individuals, and there seems to be some drive to carve out an identity / improve themselves. They are obviously outclassed by the Minds that really run things, but you often see humans deliberately making things harder than they need to be in order to feel a sense of accomplishment. Not passive and herdlike, like the deltas or the humans in Wall-E

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            No insult taken. Nietzsche’s got an odd dichotomy; your choices are SPEW, Ron, or Voldemort, in ascending order of enlightenment. For myself, I find my intuitions in favor of slave morality, and I’d find it easy if there were supporting evidence that slave morality is optimal. However, since it seems it is often not, and since I want to act rationally in the interests of myself and those close to me, my second-order volition is to act optimally regardless of moral weighting. It’s very strange to me to arrive at that conclusion, however, as my intuition maps that volition to somewhere on the spectrum from “dickish” to “literally Hitler”. It’s especially strange because in my life as a Catholic, intuitive morality was my habitual path. I started this thread to see if anyone else feels this cognitive dissonance, and in particular to see if anyone has a satisfactory way to resolve it.

            For all practical purposes, I don’t expect the cognitive shift to have much effect on my life; I expect to engage in win-win encounters wherever and whenever possible, because I recognize that I’m playing an iterated game with most of the people in my life. In rare situations where the opportunity arises to defect without penalty, however, I expect to be conflicted depending on the relative damages inflicted, and in proportion to the number of persons and their proximity to myself. I’m not sure that I’m cold or sociopathic enough to truly be a “master” moralist or an Übermensch in Nietzsche’s sense; yet as far as I can rationally tell, that seems to be the optimal play. Perhaps it’s the case that such coldness degrades one’s ability to be happy longterm, and that good people sleep more soundly. But the possibility is not itself enough to overturn my sense that blackguards do profit.

            Nietzsche’s description of the posthumans replacing us reminded me a lot of Scott’s analogy to the rats in (I think) Meditations on Moloch. It sounds like Nietzsche was a herald of Moloch before his time!

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @gdub et al.,

            I don’t think playing Mass Effect on Insanity counts as struggle, in the Nietzschean sense anyway, and neither does turning off the holodeck safeties. Creating an artificial challenge to fend off boredom isn’t self-overcoming, it’s pathetic.

            I mean, listen to Banks’ own description of the Culture: “some incredibly rich lady of leisure who does good, charitable works… Contact does that on a large scale.”

            Yeah, nothing docile or herdlike there…

            @Rebel with an Uncaused Cause,

            I’m not sure I get your Harry Potter metaphor, is it an HPMOR thing?

            Anyway, with your ethical anxiety one thing Nietzsche helped me with is to realize how pointless a lot of the basic questions are. Asking “what is moral?” will ensure you don’t get an answer, but asking “what values do I have?” means you can.

            Creating new values from your own will is the goal his philosophy recommends.

          • gbdub says:

            Well, what do you propose people do in an age of true post-scarcity? Nothing they do, or can do, is literally necessary for their survival. The humans could set off on their own away from the Minds, but that’s just artificially increasing the difficulty on a grander scale.

          • Two McMillion says:

            Asking “what is moral?” will ensure you don’t get an answer, but asking “what values do I have?” means you can.

            That’s true, but it also means that your question no longer corresponds to external reality. “What is moral?” has no answer if there’s no such thing as morals, but “What values do I have?” prevents you from ever discovering if there are morals.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @gdub,

            Well, personally I’d say overthrow the Minds. They’re exactly the sort of baddie Kirk and company always used to face: a machine created in a misguided effort to manage man’s life, which has tamed him and made him into something subhuman in the process. Of course the stories are structured so as to make that impossible, which is part of what makes them so nightmarish.

            But really, it’s only post-scarcity to the extent that humans choose to remain small. After all, the galaxy is “scarce” enough to be worth conquering to the Culture’s rivals, and who knows what the Sublimed are up to. Becoming something more and better than human beings would allow them to get out of the kiddie pool and have a hand in the greater struggle for space and time.

            @Two McMillion,

            Well if you ever discover any objective morals make sure to let me know. That would really be interesting.

          • Two McMillion says:

            Well if you ever discover any objective morals make sure to let me know. That would really be interesting.

            Do you really, honestly believe that torturing children has no moral value?

            Because I seem to find that, no matter what philosophies come out of someone’s mouth, they always seem to find some reason for thinking that children shouldn’t be tortured. Because if you consistently hold to the Nietzschean ethic you really can’t; you can say that you don’t prefer it, and maybe you have the power to enforce that preference on others, but if someone stronger than you says it’s going to happen, and there’s no way to stop them, then under Nietzschean ethics you really have no grounds to complain. But I think people do have grounds to complain in that situation! That’s the only realization that’s needed to establish moral realism- that even if someone had the ability to torture children forever and nobody could stop them, that someone would have grounds to complain of anything except their own weakness. The moment you complain about the suffering of the people being tortured, you have for all practical purposes become a moral realist, regardless of the philosophy that comes out of your mouth.

          • Aegeus says:

            How is overthrowing the Minds anything more than “creating an artificial challenge”? It’s just something you want to do because you’re not happy with life in the Culture. Aside from the scale of the project, I don’t see what makes that struggle any more “meaningful” than any of the other struggles that a Culturite could create for themselves.

          • Two McMillion says:

            For myself, I find my intuitions in favor of slave morality, and I’d find it easy if there were supporting evidence that slave morality is optimal.

            It sounds like you’re evaluating slave morality from a consequentialist standpoint; I assume you’re thinking of things like, “Slave morality says that gay people shouldn’t get married, but I see a lot of gay people harmed by that idea, which implies that slave morality is wrong.” Leaving aside for the moment that any assessment like that has a lot of unproven (and possibly unprovable) assumptions, here’s a question to consider:

            What makes you think you can know what the consequences of something are?

            Because I don’t know of any slave morality system that doesn’t acknowledge that at some point you may be faced with a situation where the prescribed morality doesn’t fit. But the whole point of morality is that you continue to follow it even when it doesn’t seem to work. When morality is given by proclamation of a deity, it is generally implicit that the deity will make right come out. You follow it because you’re leaning on a source that genuinely knows better than you about what’s optimal. If you leave a system because a situation comes up where it doesn’t work, it’s a lot like saying that what you’re really after is being comfortable with your decisions. But why shouldn’t real morality occasionally be uncomfortable? Is there room for moral improvement in your life? If so, that implies you’re not currently living out whatever moral system you hold to the best of your ability, which in turn means it shouldn’t surprise us if following it isn’t always easy. You have probably plucked all the long-hanging moral fruit already. If it were easy, you would likely have done it already.

            I guess what I’m saying is- you shouldn’t necessarily shy away from morality because it doesn’t seem optimal. There’s no a priori reason to favor your intellect over your moral intuitions in these matters, and no reason to think that following a real moral system wouldn’t sometimes be hard.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            @Dr. Dealgood

            “Ethical Anxiety” is a good way of putting it. I like it.

            The Harry Potter metaphor wasn’t HPMOR. Hermione forms SPEW, a society for fair treatment of house elves; this sounded to me like a literal instance of slave morality. Ron tended to be guided by his friends more than an independent agent in my recollection of the series, so I cast him as “The Last Man”. Voldemort was a cold-blooded killer who aimed to replace mankind with a master race of pure-blooded wizards; to literally replace (Muggle) humans like humans replaced apes.

          • Sandy says:

            Voldemort was a cold-blooded killer who aimed to replace mankind with a master race of pure-blooded wizards; to literally replace (Muggle) humans like humans replaced apes.

            But that’s literally impossible. There’s very few pure-blooded families left; certainly not enough to replace the entire human race. The only way they could ever get to that number is by reproducing with half-bloods, at which point the bloodline is no longer pure-blooded and the whole point of it all has been missed.

            It’s not even like Hitler who had weird rules about which non-Aryan bloodlines could be Germanized through proper breeding. Wizarding rules are clear on that count — Harry’s kids with Ginny are all half-bloods even though their mother is a pureblood and their father is a half-blood from an ancient wizarding bloodline.

            I don’t think Voldemort planned to replace mankind — just enslave them.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            @Two McMillion

            I think you misunderstand by thinking too highly of me. I don’t model slave morality as saying that gays shouldn’t marry; I model it as saying that there is a moral law, and I should obey it even where it doesn’t benefit me.

            Say that I’m a worker who has a performance review coming up; I understand slave morality to say that I should go into it and make the best case I can to get a raise. Moral nihilism says I should pull whatever strings I can safely do to increase my chances, assuming that this is what best satisfies my values.

            My issue with morality is that if it doesn’t exist, my fallback values are those values I possess naturally; food, water, sex, entertainment. If morality does not exist, and I want to act out my value system rationally, I should try to optimize over the particular mix of those that makes me happiest. This is problematic insofar as it conflicts with my intuitions of morality; I don’t want to act like torturing children has no moral value, but this is what I believe to be true, since morality is not a true feature of the world.

            The optimality that I feel morality lacks is pertinence to my wellbeing or happiness (other than that happiness which I receive from the feeling of having my intuition satisfied). I don’t believe that moral maxims are anything other than societal prescriptions, though they often have benefits to the society. Granting these propositions, I should ignore morality wherever it conflicts with personal optimality. I favor my intellect only because it does correspond with this optimality. I feel that I’ve reasoned myself into being evil.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            In the novels the Death Eaters paid lip service to absolute blood purity, but in reality most of them were not and it wasn’t considered a huge deal.

            Voldemort and Snape both had a single muggle parent and I remember it being something that was just left unspoken.

          • Sandy says:

            Voldemort just lied about it, and since no one knew who his father was, they couldn’t know the truth. Also his mother was a descendant of Slytherin, which was a very impressive credential for an evil wizard.

            I think most of the named Death Eaters were all purebloods, particularly the important ones — the Malfoys, the Lestranges, the Blacks, the Goyles, all pureblood families.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The humans can’t overthrow the Minds; they’re outclassed. The best they could accomplish would be to convince the Minds to pretend to be overthrown.

          • Two McMillion says:

            The optimality that I feel morality lacks is pertinence to my wellbeing or happiness (other than that happiness which I receive from the feeling of having my intuition satisfied). I don’t believe that moral maxims are anything other than societal prescriptions, though they often have benefits to the society. Granting these propositions, I should ignore morality wherever it conflicts with personal optimality. I favor my intellect only because it does correspond with this optimality. I feel that I’ve reasoned myself into being evil.

            You have, and you have two choices as a result.

            The first choice is that you can admit you don’t care about being good, and you just do whatever you want, screw the consequences. This works well until the consequences start to screw you, which they will. Because personal optimality can’t process long-term consequences well, or possibly even at all. A lot of people fool themselves into thinking they’re the exception, and all of them are wrong. The second choice is that you can accept that being good will cause you to sacrifice your well-being eventually, and to be good anyway. And unless you started out completely good, you ought not to be surprised if this happens. Any serious attempt to live out the precepts of a good moral system always runs into the problem that there are parts of you that are not good, and forces you to decide if you love those parts more than you love goodness, or if you love goodness more than those parts.

            This is the place where you are, and this is the choice you have to make. To try and and avoid is to live in an illusion. You want morality to bless your choices, but you also want to make whatever choice you want. Well, you can’t have it both ways. If you genuinely believe morality is nothing more than societal prescriptions, then live that way. You have given up your right to care. Does that make you feel guilty? Then remind yourself that guilt is only societally enforced. Do whatever you like as long as you don’t get caught. Anything else is chicanery.

            But if that idea disturbs you- if living that way strikes you are horrifying, as I think it should, then you only have one other. You must accept that your moral intuitions are meaningful and point towards something. You must accept that good is real, that torturing children is wrong even if nobody can stop you, and that goodness can place demands on you that you must bend your life to at your own discomfort. And you must open yourself up to every implication of that fact. Because that breaks reductionism, and it breaks materialism, and many other things. I will not say that it breaks atheism; it does not. But it does mean that you must bend. You cannot have reductionism and a moral system that is anything but instrumental. If you choose this path, you must acknowledge that too.

            So make one choice, or make the other. But for god’s sake don’t stay where you are now. Because right now you can’t claim either path; you can’t claim to be good, because you either don’t do good when it’s not convenient or don’t do it with your whole self when you do. And you can’t claim full self-fulfillment because you can’t bring yourself to face the implications of your fallback values alone. You can’t go forward from here because there’s no more path in this direction. Is that harsh? Well, life isn’t fair, and it’s especially unfair to people who want to be good. And you’ll have to either accept that and own it, or throw off guilt completely.

            But I’ll tell you a secret. There’s light down the path of morality and choosing to give up your own desires for goodness. You won’t see it at first. But gradually you’ll become aware of a breaking dawn light, and the promises of your fallback values be revealed to be cheap and hollow. It’s a long path there, and and a hard one. But as someone who’s walked that path before, I can promise you that the journey is worth it.

          • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

            > and you just do whatever you want, screw the consequences.

            Of course, some parts of morality are regulations written in blood. If you are a Bismarck, you can maybe break them and live to tell the tale (protip: most people are not Bismarck). Or maybe you can just enjoy a few decades of being in control, worried for your life, like Caesar and Stalin. Cross the Rubicon at your own risk.

            However, true morality is not doing bad things, not because you don’t want to live in fear, but because they are *bad things*. That is different.

    • Guy says:

      the consequentialist theory that it’s based on

      Argh! (I’m not an EA, but still)

      Consequentialism and utilitarianism are not the same, although all utilitarianisms are (as far as I know) consequentialist. If you are a consequentialist, you believe that actions have moral meaning due to how they change the world, not some sort of intrinsic fact about the action itself (eg a lie’s badness depends in some way on making people believe falsehoods, rather than the fact that it involves you speaking a falsehood). If you are a utilitarian, you believe that goodness has certain mathematical properties that let you add up different (kinds of) positive results to compare possible courses of action.

      Most moralities are consequenetialist in some sense. Virtue ethics usually cares about actions that make you more or less virtuous, for example. Stronger deontologies usually make consequentialist arguments like universalizability. I’m not sure how to discuss morality with someone who literally doesn’t consider the consequences of an action to be morally relevant. Of course, you can think that expected or desired consequences matter as well as or more than actual consequences, but you’re still usually concerned about the effect of the action in some way.

      Effective Altruism is not just consequentialist, it is utilitarian. That is how it is able to compare things like AMF and Give Directly – Give Directly doesn’t save a lot of lives, but it does improve them a great deal. AMF, of course, gets most of its value as a charity from lives not lost to malaria. Plenty of moralities separate themselves from utilitarianism in various ways.

    • blacktrance says:

      As an atheist and moral realist, my answer is that it’s a mistake to separate the moral from the practical – that there’s a conflict between being moral and acting optimally. By definition, morality is what one ought to do. In the absence of external sources of morality, all that remains is one’s goals, so that’s what morality has to be (and/or be grounded in).
      There’s a lot that could be elaborated on, but that’s the basic idea.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        By definition, morality is what one ought to do. In the absence of external sources of morality, all that remains is one’s goals, so that’s what morality has to be (and/or be grounded in).

        When people have conflicting goals, by what principle should the conflict be settled?

        • blacktrance says:

          Sometimes people can make mutually beneficial agreements of the kind of “I won’t try to murder you if you don’t try to murder me” – in such cases, the principle is still individual benefit, there just happens to be a harmony of interests. But while in ordinary life such harmonies are relatively common, there’s no guarantee that every conflict is resolvable in this way, and if it isn’t, then morality has nothing to say about what the correct outcome is, only what each conflicting individual should do. For example, if we’re on a desert island and trying to get the last scrap of food we need to survive, morality says that each of us should try to get it, but not who should ultimately get it.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            For example, if we’re on a desert island and trying to get the last scrap of food we need to survive, morality says that each of us should try to get it, but not who should ultimately get it.

            What about the means of getting it? Take it by (how much) force? Steal it? Use fraud (such as a false promise to trade)? What principle/s shape those choices, and what if you and the rival have different principles at that level?

          • blacktrance says:

            That’s mostly an empirical question, not a philosophical one. The prudent action depends on your and your rival’s capabilities and other situational factors.

      • Philosophisticat says:

        I’m not sure there’s a sense of “source” (and the external/internal distinction) for which both a) there must be a source for morality in order for there to be genuine moral reasons, b) weighty arguments against there being external sources do not apply equally well against there being internal sources. What exactly do you have in mind?

        • blacktrance says:

          I’m not sure I understand the question. Could you elaborate?

          • Philosophisticat says:

            I was reading your post as committed to something like the following argument (correct me if I’m wrong):

            1) If there are moral facts, they have a source.
            2) Either the source is internal or external.
            3) There is no external source of morality.
            4) Therefore, if there are moral facts, they have an internal source.

            I’m not clear on what people mean when they talk about “sources” of morality, so I was asking for some clarification. My worry is that there isn’t a sense of ‘source’ for which 1) is true, and where the strong arguments for 3) aren’t easily generalized to be arguments against there being internal sources as well.

            Maybe to put it another way: as I’m reading your view, it claims that only my interests or goals give me reasons to act. Suppose I have a boring competing view that claims that other peoples’ interests or goals also give me reasons to act. What is the relevant asymmetry between my interests and those of others that explains why one is adequate as a ‘source’ of reasons and the other is not?

          • blacktrance says:

            Re: the source of moral facts, it rests on them not being arbitrary features of the world. For example, if murder is wrong, its wrongness must be grounded in something – it’s not a basic feature of the world.

            Maybe to put it another way: as I’m reading your view, it claims that only my interests or goals give me reasons to act. Suppose I have a boring competing view that claims that other peoples’ interests or goals also give me reasons to act. What is the relevant asymmetry between my interests and those of others that explains why one is adequate as a ‘source’ of reasons and the other is not?

            Because my goals are mine, and are thus inherently motivating for me. It would be conceptually contradictory if they didn’t, because then they wouldn’t be my goals. In contrast, there is nothing about other people’s goals that makes them inherently motivating – they lack the motivating pull that is necessary for morality, and are more like other non-normative facts about the external world. Or:
            1. If there are moral facts, they must be grounded in something inherently motivating.
            2. Either their source is internal or external.
            3. External sources of morality are not inherently motivating.
            4. Therefore, if there are moral facts, they must be grounded internally.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            I see. This isn’t the place to relitigate all of 20th century metaethics, but I’ll just note that the claim that morality is inherently motivating or has a “necessary pull” can be understood in a bunch of different ways – one thought says that making a moral judgment sincerely entails being motivated. Another thought says that if (in fact) you ought to do X, there must be some way (or a way of a certain particular kind) for you to become motivated to do X. And there are others. I think basically none of them are correct, but setting that aside, I think the most plausible ones don’t actually support the kind of view you have (which, as you’ve described it, is a view about the grounding of moral facts and not a view about the conditions of moral judgment). Rather, either they end up not placing any very interesting constraints at all, or they support something like expressivism.

            Also, the view you get I think ends up being even more counterintuitive than it looks at first, since it’s only facts about my present desires which are motivating out of conceptual necessity. I suppose once you’ve attached moral oomph to any desire some schmuck might have anyway, abandoning future interests is probably not much of an extra cost, but I find it has a bit of sting to it even to those who are otherwise attracted to a kind of egoist picture.

          • blacktrance says:

            Present desires are subject to modification with respect to other present desires. We rarely only have one goal, but we sometimes mistakenly act as if we only had a few, disregarding the rest, unless we rationally deliberate between our goals. Ultimately it’s not as simple as “do whatever you desire”. Also, most of us have the goal of being well-off in the future, so it turns out to not be a huge problem, and I think (though this isn’t the place to go into it) that there’s something atemporal about such a goal, such that it caused future desires to be inherently motivating in the present.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            For what it’s worth, I think the strongest true thing you can say about the connection between morality and motivation is something like : If you believe you ought to do X (all things considered) it is irrational for you to fail to form the intention to do X. But that won’t get one to anything like your view.

      • alaska3636 says:

        As a deist and a praxeologist, I basically come to the same conclusions.

        My take on morality is that it seems essentially an economic strategy containing strategies for balancing long vs short term economic goals, i.e. survival and donating to a pension. I think cultures transmit essentially, long-term trend analysis for causes and effects that aren’t easily observed in a generation or two and a culture’s morality is a kind of strategy for hedging against uncertainty, i.e. norms about raising children, monogamy and work ethic.

        Again, from the perspective of praxeology, people have definite ideas and probably very vague ideas encompassing a limited amount of theoretical and sensory information in order to arrange their actions. Mistakes occur and some cultures win out in the marketplace for ideas about survival: i.e. history is a record of human actions and progress follows the implementation of better and worse ideas.

        One problem that I see with objective morality (that makes me lean towards an economic explanation) is that people on the edge of the human spectrum aren’t subject to traditional ideas about long-term strategies such as guilt and shame. Sociopaths (David Friedman mentions prudent predators somewhere). Their worldviews are driven (seemingly) by short-term (one generation) strategies. Governance than seems to be a constant balance between creating central (powerful) institutions and keeping the psychos out of them as long as possible.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        In the absence of external sources of morality, all that remains is one’s goals, so that’s what morality has to be (and/or be grounded in).

        What if my goal is to exterminate the Jewish bacillus from the face of the Earth? Would it then be moral for me to start up a Holocaust Mk. 2?

        • blacktrance says:

          You could be mistaken about the empirical facts – in non-moral aspects, Jews aren’t as you believe them to be. You could also be mistaken about whether you should have that goal – it’s an unlikely terminal value for a human to have, and your other goals probably don’t really imply it. But whether you should have that goal is determined only by empirical facts and your other goals, not normativity external to you. To clarify, it isn’t any one goal that determines what you should do, but your entire network of goals that have been weighed against each other in a process of rational deliberation. A goal can be wrong with respect to the rest of the network, but the network itself can’t be wrong as it’s the determinant of what one should do.

          But given a theoretical mind that only wants to exterminate the Jews or torture everyone forever or some other shocking goal, it wouldn’t be wrong about anything in trying to do so. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we should let it do what it wants.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      There’s a lot of confusion in this discussion I think.

      The moral realist doesn’t have to find some “force” that makes people do the right thing when it is against their interest. That’s not part of what it takes to justify moral prescriptions. Moral claims are claims about our reasons, including our basic reasons. To ask for further reasons to follow those reasons is missing the point.

      Now you can ask what reasons we have for believing that moral reasons exist – but an answer to this question is not going to come from finding other reasons to be moral. And it’s a question that has to be answered by someone who thinks we should pursue our own welfare or our own goals as well. Those of you who think we have reasons to pursue our goals are not really nihilists – you have a substantive view of what we ought to do which stands in as much need of justification – if your justification is just that it seems obvious to you we should pursue our goals, then this is available to the moral realist also. “Be pragmatic” (whatever that means) is itself a normative prescription and it’s far from clear how the absence of God (or anything else) would pose a problem for traditional morality without posing a problem for all other normative prescriptions.

      Anyway, it’s pretty widely thought among those who do metaethics that God couldn’t be the ground for morality (for euthyphro related reasons among others).

      • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

        I think the question could be restated thus:

        1. People have moral intuitions.
        2. People act as though their moral intuitions have real weight (i.e., Hitler really was bad, torturing children really is wrong).
        3. Either universal moral law is a real, existing feature of the universe (3a), or it is not (3b).
        4. If it is not, there is no justification for 2.
        5. Therefore, people should want 3a.

        Further,
        6. Atheists disbelieve in God, commonly on the grounds of Occam’s Razor.
        7. Universal Moral law (the kind necessary for moral intuitions to apply objectively, as in 2) is a metaphysical construct that is likely to fall to Occam’s Razor if God does.
        8. Therefore, atheists are likely to disbelieve in moral law (7), but act as though there is one (2).

        This argument is by no means formal or airtight, but it’s a fairly accurate stencil of my father’s idea’s on the subject. There’s a small conflation between Atheism/moral nihilism and Theism/moral realism, but if we cut/replaced the former term with the latter, his argument is still readable.

        I’m aware of the Euthyphro dilemma, but I believe he’d respond that the concept of morality is tangled up in God’s essence. The horns of the dilemma are “Morality is greater than God” and “God is greater than morality, and therefore if God were otherwise (i.e., a tyrant), we’d still have to consider him moral”. His response would likely be that God is the font of morality, and that morality is an essential part of God’s nature. Additionally, since God is necessarily existent, the second horn fails to describe a counterfactual which could actually occur. My experience is that “most philosophers think X” doesn’t hold much weight with him; the last time I said something like that, he came back with “what do most Catholic philosophers think?”.

        It sounds to me like your main disagreement is with 4 – that moral claims can be “about our reasons”, without corresponding to a universal law. Is this correct? If so, I think that my use of the word “moral” in this discussion represents only a thin slice of the space of reasons for acting; those reasons which all people ought to act on. In this sense, I would consider a pragmatist to be fully capable of nihilism. If a pragmatist believes that there are no reasons all people ‘ought’ to act on in a general sense, but that he himself has innate goals and that given those goals, pragmatic actions are the best for accomplishing it, then there is in my mind no contradiction between his pragmatism and his nihilism. The general moral ought is not present; there is only an instrumental ought of the sort “If you want to go home, you should get in your car and drive there”. It seems to me that a person who claims that there is no morality but knows that when he wants warm food he should heat it is not a moral realist, but might be considered one if we accept that “Moral claims are claims about our reasons, including our basic reasons”.

        Let me know if I’m misunderstanding you with any of the above; my philosophical terminology is rusty and its entirely possible that I misinterpreted you or that some of your meaning escaped me. Also, I’d like to let you know that I found your conversation with @blacktrance higher in the thread very interesting, although I didn’t think that was enough input to merit a comment there.

        • Philosophisticat says:

          My worry isn’t that we can understand moral claims as being about our reasons without corresponding to universal law. Lets grant that to be a genuine moral reason, something must be a reason for everyone, so that moral reasons are a proper subset of reasons. My worry is that many of the very same considerations that cut against there being moral reasons cut against there being any reasons. As I’m understanding the pragmatist (this isn’t actually what we’d call them – as it leads to confusion with a different collection of views that goes by that name), they claim that if someone has certain goals, then they have reasons to do things that satisfy those goals. But if our reasons for rejecting moral reasons is some sort of occam’s razor reasoning (we don’t need to posit moral reasons to explain the observable world), then it’s true of reasons that depend on our goals as well. We can do without normative vocabulary whatsoever, and just explain things using psychological language, and never claim that anyone has reason to do anything (including, incidentally, reason to believe anything). in fact, moral reasons and nonmoral reasons are much more closely analogous in this respect than moral reasons and God. (the same symmetry holds for, e.g. evolutionary debunking arguments against morality)

          Now a different view, which maybe is how you’re thinking about the pragmatist, doesn’t even make claims about nonmoral reasons. They just make claims of the form “action A conduces to end B”, without claiming that someone who desires end B has any reason to perform action A. That would, I think, be a genuinely nihilist view. But it seems to me that a lot of people here do want to say the latter thing.

          Anyway, I’m inclined to think it’s a mistake to apply Occam’s razor in the way suggested, since it’s not the point of normative facts and properties to explain things that happen, in the way it’s the point of scientific theories. The role of the normative domain is justificatory, not explanatory. Carrying over Occam’s razor, as it’s used in science, to judge morality is grading by the wrong rubric.

          Regarding Euthyphro – I think morality turns out to be objectionably arbitrary on the sort of view your father holds whether or not we make the claim that god’s nature is essential to him or that it is a necessary truth that he desires what he does. If God prefers chocolate to vanilla, and nothing explains why he prefers it, this preference is arbitrary. If we assert that he does so necessarily, that doesn’t make it less arbitrary – now we just have an unexplained necessary fact about an arbitrary preference rather than an unexplained contingent fact about an arbitrary preference. It just adds whatever extra problems come with positing unexplained necessities. None of this relies on making counterfactual claims about what would be the case if God desired such and such, incidentally (though even if it did, I think counterpossible conditionals are frequently meaningful and true).

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            I’m inclined to think it’s a mistake to apply Occam’s razor in the way suggested

            I think this may be because of the difference between my local context and the wider philosophical context. I’m unaware of what justification is given for morality globally; in the discussion between me and my father, his justification for morality hinges on the idea that we observe the same trends in moral actions across all cultures, and that therefore there is a universally acknowledged moral law. In this context, I apply Occam’s Razor to the claim that the presence of an actual moral law is the best explanation for this observation (even granting that the observation is true, which seems to me to depend on how loosely you define a moral trend).

            Regarding Euthyphro – I think morality turns out to be objectionably arbitrary on the sort of view your father holds

            That’s true from a certain perspective. From a different one, God is the fundamental truth of the universe, and so moral law is “objectionably arbitrary” in the same way that the law of gravity is arbitrary. I believe the explanation for the relation of God and morality would stem from God’s necessity (included by definition), morality’s necessity, and God’s status as First Cause. I’ve never heard of “counterpossible” conditionals being used, but I’d tentatively agree that they seem likely to be as meaningful as counterfactuals. I jumped to counterfactuals in the Euthyphro dilemma because that’s the argument I’ve been exposed to for the God>Morality horn.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            They just make claims of the form “action A conduces to end B”, without claiming that someone who desires end B has any reason to perform action A. That would, I think, be a genuinely nihilist view.

            I’d like to clarify that we mean the same thing by nihilist here. I’ve (somewhat sloppily) meant “moral nihilist” where I’ve said “nihilist”. It seems from the above quote that you may have been responding to it as it’s written rather than intended. I agree that a genuine nihilist would likely reject the idea that the person who desires B has any reason to perform (B-conducive) action A, on the grounds that there are no reasons.

            My worry is that many of the very same considerations that cut against there being moral reasons cut against there being any reasons.

            Coming from a position of moral nihilism, my initial response was to think that moral reasons are different from normal reasons, in that people will sometimes do them against their first-order preferences. However, on consideration, this is too loose a distinction. I brush my teeth despite my preference to spend two more minutes browsing the internet, but I don’t pretend it’s a moral choice. Instead, I think that the distinction is closer to this: people act on moral preferences against their perceived best interests, and believe that moral reasons ought to outweigh other reasons. This indicates to me that there’s a higher level of reason used to justify moral actions, and it’s this that I don’t think exists. To clarify; I believe that people use a “higher law” as a justification for their actions; I don’t believe that the “higher law” exists in reality.

            In another way, though, I do acknowledge that there are moral reasons which do exist. Since people are spurred to actions on the basis of moral impulses, it is clear to me that plugging in “moral outcome” for “goal” results in the same sort of A-conduces-B type of reasoning that I affirm.

            To me, moral nihilism consists of the rejection of a special status for moral reasons, above normal or self-interested reasons. However, the “normal” reasons for morality as a goal frequently fall short in comparison to the “normal” reasons for normal actions. Thus, the question I posed at the start of this thread was asking for reasons why either the normal moral reasons are stronger than they initially appear, or a justification for the special status of moral reasons above normal ones.

  17. Two McMillion says:

    In what sense are the laws of logic “real”?

    When we look at the world, we find things like the laws of physics and mathematics. And these seem to be contingently real- real because of the state of underlying reality. We could build a computer simulation with different laws of physics than the real world, and we can develop systems of mathematics other than those that describe the real world. But the laws of logic don’t seem to be like this. It seems absurd to suggest we could make a computer simulation in which something could be A and also not-A, for example.

    It seems like there are two possibilities. One is that the laws of logic, like the known laws of physics, are really heuristics- the best known descriptions of a system. But this seems very strange, if true, because we don’t seem to discover the laws of logic in the way we discover the laws of physics, or, to a lesser degree, mathematics. The other possibility seems to be that the laws of logic are some sort of Platonic universal. That would imply that they’re not material, with all the baggage that brings in.

    Thoughts?

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Could you elaborate on systems of mathematics that don’t describe the real world? I feel that most mathematical systems don’t describe any world.

      • Two McMillion says:

        I’m thinking of things like non-euclidian geometries. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-Euclidean_geometry) Some of these don’t conform to any system in the real world, or to only a few very specific and strange systems in the real world, but they’re logically consistent and in theory you could make a simulation in which they applied.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Sure, in that specific case there is definitely a distinction between one system that describes the world, and two that don’t (although that distinction is blurred by general relativity). But I think most areas of maths (e.g. abstract algebra) are not only not related to the real world, but not related to worlds at all. It seems to me that there isn’t a difference between logic and most of maths — in your categorisation of “real” physics and “unreal” logic, I think maths is in general “unreal”. So I think your question about logic could just be a part of the mathematical realism debate. On the other hand, logic is different from e.g. complex analysis in that it is fundamental to studying literally anything else, which changes things. If logic is just a human construction, the implications are much greater than if obscure branches of topology are.

        • S_J says:

          As a pedantic detail:

          Euclidean geometry does not match perfectly to the behavior of lines/shapes on the surface of Planet Earth.

          Spherical geometry (one of the non-Euclidean types) is a better match for the behavior of lines/shapes on the surface of the Earth[1]. But the difference between the two is immeasurably small at at less-than-a-few-miles-ranges, so people use Euclidean geometry for most surface-of-the-earth applications.

          For long-distance navigation, especially airplane navigation, the rules and methods of Spherical geometry are a much better tool than the rules and methods of Euclidean geometry.

          Euclidean geometry is useful for designing buildings. But if the designer assumes that the line denoting “wall” is a Euclidean line with zero thickness, the construction crew won’t be able to build his design.

          I conclude that no geometric system conforms to reality.

          All systems of geometry work on the same basic logical rules, though.

          [1] Spherical geometry is still slightly wrong for Earth’s surface, as Earth is not a perfect sphere.

    • TMB says:

      Logic is a description of the ways in which it is possible for us to process information – the material world apparently conforms to this, since we can only access the material by way of our mental processes.

      (And to imagine a world that isn’t logical, is to attempt to think beyond thought.)

    • Andrew says:

      We can indeed make computer simulations with different laws of logic, though!

      • TMB says:

        Could you tell us a little about this?

      • Two McMillion says:

        I would like to hear about this.

      • Andrew says:

        Well, generally laws of logic are sort-of like mathematical axioms. We can define a system where something can be both true and not-true, and then for instance queries like “Is B false?” for knowledge bases like “A ^ (A -> B)” give answers of “unknown”.

        I’ve also seen toy systems that use three “logical values”, so “true”, “not true”, and “neither true or untrue” and then combine these with the usual logical operations to get novel results.

        It’s not clear that such toy systems relate to much in our real world- but it’s certainly possible to construct them.

        • Two McMillion says:

          This sounds like something I should do more research on. Can you recommend any resources?

        • TMB says:

          Is truth logical?

          Truth and falsehood have special meaning because of their relation to observable reality.
          Otherwise they are just terms – and having six “logical values” related in whichever arbitrary fashion is just the same as having any six terms related in an arbitrary fashion.

          The web of relations is what gives it its logical character.

    • Aegeus says:

      Logic and math are definitions, not observations. 1 + 1 = 2 is true not because we’ve observed that putting one rock on another rock gets you two rocks, but because “2” is defined as “the thing you get when you add 1 and 1” (more accurately, 1 and 2 are both defined using Peano Arithmetic axioms, but let’s keep it simple). If you want a world where 1 + 1 = 3, you’ll need to choose new definitions for 1, 3, +, and/or =.

      Likewise, if you want something to be “Both A and not-A,” you could create a definition of “Not” or “and” where that’s meaningful. It wouldn’t correspond to reality in the slightest, but you could write a computer program that obeys that sort of logic. You could tell it “My hair is red” and “My hair is not red,” and then ask it “What is my hair color?” and get back “Red and not red.”

      What does it mean, for hair to be red and not red? Hell if I know. But the computer is following the laws of logic you set out for it.

      So I’d say the answer to your dilemma is sort of in the middle – logic isn’t a heuristic, because it’s nothing but definitions. If you accept its axioms, you’ll get certain conclusions, with absolutely no wiggle room. But it’s not “immaterial,” those axioms were chosen because they correspond to reality and let you do useful things.

  18. Anon. says:

    Here’s another glorious political compass.

    And this one isn’t even intentionally bad! Vox claims that it “nicely shows how the dividing line in American politics has shifted in clockwise fashion”.

    I particularly like their definition of Social Conservative: “oppose gov’t support for minorities”.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I think that’s actually just their definition of “Conservative”, no modifiers.

    • Two McMillion says:

      It might be accurate if they replaced “minorities” with “the poor”.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I assume that the “support for minorities” was one of several factors dividing social liberal and conservative. And (although I’e not read the article) I think the graph makes sense. The axes are just the generic ones, and the point of how party alignments have switched seems to make sense. In 1960, you could be a racist Democrat, as long as you were economically left-wing. Nowadays, the mainstreams of each party (inasmuch as the Republicans have a mainstream now) are pretty similar on economics — Hillary is really only nominally economically left-wing. But there are massive social differences. Extrapolating the trend leads to the plausible conclusion that in a few years or decades time, the Democrats will blatantly be the party of the elite (Cosmopolitans on the graph) and the Republicans will be Populists.

      • Jill says:

        Interesting comments, Sweneyrod. I agree with you that the graph makes some sense. And I certainly see no outpouring of big support for minorities among the majority of Right of Center leaning people on this site.

        “Extrapolating the trend leads to the plausible conclusion that in a few years or decades time, the Democrats will blatantly be the party of the elite (Cosmopolitans on the graph) and the Republicans will be Populists.”

        Certainly possible, but that seems unlikely to me. Time will tell.

        The reason I see it as unlikely is that in the U.S. today, both parties are primarily following their donors– not their voters. THE GOP does this to a greater extent, and the Dems thrown a bone or 2 to minorities, but both parties do it. In order for either party to become more populist, their donors would have to become more populist. And I don’t see that happening.

        Propaganda is very very effective in getting voters for the GOP– which is why the GOP controls both Houses of Congress, most state legislatures, most governorships, and SCOTUS until Scalia died. GOP candidates have been promising– and not delivering– the same things for decades, and voters still vote for the GOP candidate who makes the most attractive promises, and/or the one who scares them the most prior to promising to solve the problems that they claim caused the fears.

        Of course the Democratic party follows its donors too. We are the United States of the Almighty Dollar.

    • Urstoff says:

      The small business vs. big business axis is weird too. Liberals may say they’re for small businesses, but pro-union and pro-regulation is inevitably pro-big business, as it raises barriers to entry.

      • JayT says:

        Yeah, it’s quite silly to say liberals/Democrats favor small businesses when they are far more likely to push small business-hurting regulations (ADA, environmental, etc) than conservatives/Republicans. After all, the further you move to the left economically, the less business you support in general, no? The idea of socialism is that the government owns the means of production, not business.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @ urstoff
        pro-union and pro-regulation is inevitably pro-big business

        Pro-union may harm both big and small businesses. Why do you say it is pro-big business?

        • Urstoff says:

          It raises the cost of labor, which increases the barrier to entry. Given that incumbent businesses are almost always larger than entrants, anything that raises the barrier to entry is going to be pro-big business.

      • Aapje says:

        Some regulation lowers barriers to entry and some is neutral. For example, preventing companies from gaining too big a share of the market is clearly a limit on big business, yet provides no barrier to small businesses.

    • Aapje says:

      I particularly like their definition of Social Conservative: “oppose gov’t support for minorities”.

      I have big reservations about this, as it implies that one has to support race-based policies to not be socially conservative.

      I am in favor of pretty strong government support, especially for poor people, which will automatically end up more with groups that have a large percentage of the poor among them, yet I strongly oppose economic policies that are race-based.

      Words like ‘minorities’ have become ideological battle grounds where people weak man their opponents through very subjective definitions (for example, women who are a majority in many countries, are often called a minority; and actual minorities such as Asian Americans are often not included). So you have people claiming that you have to choose between discrimination or supporting the status quo, which is a false dilemma.

    • cassander says:

      Phrased a little better, I actually think that would be a good metric. Something along the lines of “support/oppose government programs solely aimed at helping minorities” or “programs that assist people solely on the basis of race” Big business vs. small business, however, is utterly ludicrous. the idea that the economic left is organized around helping pro-small business is laughable on its face.

    • Deiseach says:

      I particularly like their definition of Social Conservative: “oppose gov’t support for minorities”.

      Given that I’m Irish, a social conservative, and my country is still about 94% white (estimation based on 2011 census figures), I feel about as “aw snap, they got me, I am ashamed of myself” as when two applicants for social housing accused us of racism against them because they were English. (In actual fact, they were born-and-raised for a number of years-in-England but of Irish parentage who had returned home to Ireland, which is why we were dealing with their applications. And was anti-English racism the reason they had not been awarded social housing in London when they’d applied there, which is why they were back in Ireland applying to us?)

      Yeah, right. We’re white, you’re white, we’re not giving you a house the minute you ask for it because we’re discriminating against you on the basis of race or minority status.

      Same reaction to this definition: yeah, right. I’m opposed to government helping out minorities, is why I’m a social conservative. Sure thing. All that complaining on here I’ve been doing about they should get married, stop having kids outside of wedlock with umpteen partners, stop doing drugs, stay in school? Because I’m opposed to white like me Irish like me Catholic like me same class as me minority people getting government support, no other reason.

  19. Jill says:

    It’s interesting how people are often– perhaps usually– not interested in the dogma of their own religions.
    Citation here:

    Myths of the Modern American Mind: Religion, an audio recorded on youtube.com by Professor and Renaissance Man Wes Cecil
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuGXtcVc330

    But a few are. One or more of the few are on this site.

    And certainly most people are not interested in the dogma from other people’s religions.

    I agree with Yuval Noah Harari that political and economic ideologies are essentially religions. I highly recommend his book, BTW.

    Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind 1st Edition
    by Yuval Noah Harari

    https://www.amazon.com/Sapiens-Humankind-Yuval-Noah-Harari/dp/0062316095/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472754118&sr=8-1&keywords=Harrari

    I’ve been asked in a Turing Test– which apparently is a test to prove I am a human rather than being a machine?– to say what Saint Ayn meant by the Virtue of Selfishness. Thinking back, I believe I may have been requested to prove this more than once here. Not something I’m really interested in myself, but apparently it is very important to at least one or two of the devotees of Saint Ayn. Although I’ve read The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden, years ago, I certainly am not willing to go back and read all 173 pages of it now.

    But I noticed there is a wikipedia written about the book and about how Rand uses the term “selfishness” within it. And I am quite willing to read that, in order to acquaint myself with something that is of apparent great importance to one or more persons here.

    “Rand acknowledged in the book’s introduction that the term ‘selfishness’ was not typically used to describe virtuous behavior, but insisted that her usage was consistent with a more precise meaning of the term as simply “concern with one’s own interests.” The equation of selfishness with evil, Rand said, had caused “the arrested moral development of mankind” and needed to be rejected.[5]”

    My own view is that “selfish” is one of those words like “love” that sure means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The 2 meanings that are most problematic in my view are 1) the meaning that makes concern with one’s own interests always a virtue i.e, the meaning that Paul Ryan and other people who worship at the Church of Neoliberal Economics (AKA the First Church of Ayn) give to the word and 2) the meaning that makes concern with one’s own interests always a flaw.

    In my view, taking care of one’s own best interests is a virtue, as long as you don’t cause unnecessary harm to others such as e.g. killing them, robbing them or poisoning their air, water, food etc.– EVEN IF you have no intention of doing these things, and no knowledge that you have done them. Even if you are the CEO who has surrounded yourself with Yes Men and Yes Women, because they know how to help you make money for your business, and know how to lobby Congress for regulatory capture by your company, and know how to not bother you with the gory details of who was harmed in the process and how.

    So selfishness, or concern with one’s own interests, in my view, can be either a virtue or a flaw– depending on how you do it.

    I disagree with Rand about many things, and I agree with her about some things. I certainly agree that various forms of unselfishness can also be either a virtue or a flaw. Psychotherapists refer to the type of unselfishness that is a flaw, as being “codependent”, or being an “enabler”, where you help people so much that you drain yourself unnecessarily, and/or you encourage them in alcoholism or other behavior through which they weaken themselves.

    Both the kind of selfishness that is a flaw, and the kind of unselfishness that is a flaw contribute greatly to societal, economic and political problems, in addition to being individual personal problems for people.

    I wish that our society could become less ideological so that we could address all of those kinds of problems and improve our ways of doing things so that they are more just and fair than they are now.

    But we’re very polarized now, so that is not possible yet. And part of the polarization is the Selfishness is Always the Highest Virtue church vs. the Selfishness is Always the Worst Evil Church.

    And so far– Never the twain shall meet.

    I would very much like the twain to meet though. I think that would be great if the twain would meet.

    • “I’ve been asked in a Turing Test– which apparently is a test to prove I am a human rather than being a machine?– to say what Saint Ayn meant by the Virtue of Selfishness.”

      A Turing Test is a test to prove one is human rather than a machine. It is usually imagined a conversation between a human and something claiming to be a human. If the human cannot tell that the other side of the conversation is a machine, it has passed the test.

      A political Turing test, by analogy, is a test to prove that you understand a political position other than your own. You do it by making arguments for that position as good as the ones made by those who believe in it, good enough so that an observer cannot tell that it isn’t really your position.

      The inability to pass a political Turing test is evidence (although not proof) that you should not be confident in your rejection of the position, since you don’t understand the arguments for it adequately.

      Hope that clarifies the terminology.

      • Deiseach says:

        Chesterton has an example of failing ideological Turing Tests in his “The Man Who Was Thursday”:

        “The history of the thing might amuse you,” he said. “When first I became one of the New Anarchists I tried all kinds of respectable disguises. I dressed up as a bishop. I read up all about bishops in our anarchist pamphlets, in Superstition the Vampire and Priests of Prey. I certainly understood from them that bishops are strange and terrible old men keeping a cruel secret from mankind. I was misinformed. When on my first appearing in episcopal gaiters in a drawing-room I cried out in a voice of thunder, ‘Down! down! presumptuous human reason!’ they found out in some way that I was not a bishop at all. I was nabbed at once. Then I made up as a millionaire; but I defended Capital with so much intelligence that a fool could see that I was quite poor. Then I tried being a major. Now I am a humanitarian myself, but I have, I hope, enough intellectual breadth to understand the position of those who, like Nietzsche, admire violence — the proud, mad war of Nature and all that, you know. I threw myself into the major. I drew my sword and waved it constantly. I called out ‘Blood!’ abstractedly, like a man calling for wine. I often said, ‘Let the weak perish; it is the Law.’ Well, well, it seems majors don’t do this. I was nabbed again. At last I went in despair to the President of the Central Anarchist Council, who is the greatest man in Europe.”

    • “the meaning that makes concern with one’s own interests always a virtue i.e, the meaning that Paul Ryan and other people who worship at the Church of Neoliberal Economics (AKA the First Church of Ayn) give to the word”

      I have known lots of libertarians and lots of free market economists, and I don’t think I have known anybody who believes that concern with one’s own interests is always a virtue.

      What free market economists do believe is individual self-interested action within a market framework–property rights, freedom of exchange and contract, …–usually produces good results, with a set of well known exceptions for known reasons that can be described as market failures. Self-interested actions outside of that framework, which includes private crime and the use of political mechanisms to benefit oneself at the cost of others, usually does not produce good results, and self-interested actions within that framework occasionally do not.

      I should add that the belief in question is not a matter of faith, it’s the conclusion of a theorem–but one that, like other theorems, depends on a set of assumptions. The assumptions are not always entirely true, hence the existence of the exceptions mentioned above.

      If your description was correct, the people you are referring to would think that for a steel firm to lobby for a tariff was virtuous behavior. They don’t. As you probably don’t know, a moderately prominent free market economist lost his position as the economist for a major auto firm because he was unwilling to make arguments for auto tariffs.

      • Jill says:

        “What free market economists do believe is individual self-interested action within a market framework–property rights, freedom of exchange and contract, …–USUALLY produces good results, with a set of well known exceptions for known reasons that can be described as market failures. Self-interested actions outside of that framework, which includes private crime and the use of political mechanisms to benefit oneself at the cost of others, usually does not produce good results, and self-interested actions within that framework occasionally do not.”

        Interesting. That’s what I believe. But I am no laissez faire free market person. I’m Left of Center. Perhaps it’s a matter of how many areas you see as market failures.

        I also think we have tons too many laws and regulations, and would like to see tons of them thrown out. I think a lot of other people who are Left of Center think this too.

        • “Perhaps it’s a matter of how many areas you see as market failures.”

          I think the critical point in the libertarian argument is not how common market failures are in the market system but how common they are in the alternative system. If, as I have argued, the conditions that lead to market failure are the exception in the private market but the rule in the political market that’s a pretty strong argument against shifting power from the former to the latter even if you believe that the exceptions are pretty common.

          I’ve been trying to convince my fellow libertarians for some time that that, rather than denying the market failures in the private market, is the correct line of argument for our position. Certainly with some success, but it’s hard to tell how much.

          • cassander says:

            the existence of market failures, even if they are common, is not proof, is not even evidence, that a non-market system will do better.

    • Skivverus says:

      For the record, I think you’ve passed the test of reasonable understanding at least, if not the “ideological Turing test”. On the other hand, I’m not sure whether you’d count me as one of those devotees of “Saint Ayn” or not, so it might not be my vote you’re looking for.

      On my end, well, I’d say that “taking care of one’s own best interests is a virtue, as long as you don’t cause unnecessary harm to others such as e.g. killing them, robbing them or poisoning their air, water, food etc.” is, in fact, what that whole “Virtue of Selfishness” thing is supposed to be pointing at (whether it does so successfully or not is a different question, one whose answer seems to be “it depends”). The part that’s supposed to cover for the “EVEN IF you have no intention of doing these things, and no knowledge that you have done them” caveat is calling it “enlightened” self-interest: both gratuitous assholery and gratuitous myopia tend to hurt one’s prospects in the long run. Altruism is similarly viewed through the lens of long-term self-interest here.

      A perhaps useful oversimplification: Libertarianism focuses on the flaws of government; the Left focuses on the flaws of corporations; the Right focuses on the flaws of individuals. Each “side” proposes their solutions using the two they’re not focused on, assuming that the flaws there aren’t as important (or don’t exist, depending on dogmatism and depth of knowledge).

      • Jill says:

        “A perhaps useful oversimplification: Libertarianism focuses on the flaws of government; the Left focuses on the flaws of corporations; the Right focuses on the flaws of individuals. Each “side” proposes their solutions using the two they’re not focused on, assuming that the flaws there aren’t as important (or don’t exist, depending on dogmatism and depth of knowledge).”

        I do find this to be a useful formulation of where we are at in politics right now. Food for thought. Thanks for thinking of it and sharing it. I think that this is a large part of what keeps our society, culture and government polarized.

      • This reminds me of my father’s old comment on monopoly. There are three alternatives: Private unregulated monopoly, private regulated monopoly, government monopoly.

        People familiar with the first two prefer the third. People familiar with the first and third prefer the second. People …

      • Wrong Species says:

        Progressives are much more focused on race than economics. Progressives focus more on the flaws of white people.

    • “In my view, taking care of one’s own best interests is a virtue, as long as you don’t cause unnecessary harm to others such as e.g. killing them, robbing them or poisoning their air, water, food etc.”

      It was Rand’s view that such acts were not ever really in your rational self-interest. I think that she was mistaken, unfortunately–the term for this point that comes up in arguments between Objectivists and their critics is “prudent predator.”

    • onyomi says:

      The reason I asked you to explain what Rand meant by “the virtue of selfishness” is because it seemed like you were assuming it simply meant “everybody should just be selfish (in the colloquial sense) and everything will work out great.”

      Ayn Rand is one of the most frequently straw-manned thinkers I know of, and I rarely see criticism of her by anyone other than her fellow libertarians which succeeds at engaging with anything she actually wrote (her novels, for example, are commonly believed to extol a strawman version of libertarianism wherein making money is seen as the ultimate proof of one’s worth as a human being, yet the hero of The Fountainhead repeatedly rejects money-making opportunities in the name of artistic principle, for example).

      You are right that, to some extent, this may be her own fault for using words like “selfishness” to mean something other than what they mean colloquially. But I can also understand why she did so: to provocatively call attention to what she saw as an upside-down or perverse aspect of morality as commonly understood: namely the extolling of self-sacrifice for its own sake. But, as Rand points out: would you rather someone love you or befriend you because being with you gave them joy, or because they pitied you and were willing to endure the misery of being nice to you in the name of the virtue of self-sacrifice? Would you rather someone pay for your product or service because they expected to enjoy it more than the alternatives or because they pitied you and were willing to endure suffering on your behalf?

      Moreover, Rand might say that the negative connotations of the colloquial meaning of “selfish” are precisely part of the problem. To invent a different, specialized term for her own idiosyncratic notion of “selfishness” might, in some sense, defeat the purpose, since causing people to reconsider their biases about self-interested action was her goal.

      I don’t entirely agree with her ethical view: the notion David mentions above that there is no such thing as a truly self-interested but evil or harmful act, in particular, feels contrived in a “no true Scotsman” sort of way (because Rand conveniently defines as “not selfish in the true sense” anything we would colloquially call “bad”). Yet I also think she makes an excellent point about morality–one which has nothing to do with “just do what you want and everything will work out” (though, as someone pointed out in the previous thread, the economic notion of the “invisible hand” causing individually self-interested actions to result in benefits for all goes back at least as far as Adam Smith, and, insofar as it causes any pernicious consequences, cannot be blamed on Rand, imo).

      • Jill says:

        Hi, Onyomi. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

        I can understand that some people are formally or informally scholars who study of the lives of historical figures, and I think that’s a good thing to do. Personally, my interest is less in what Rand meant by the virtue of selfishness, or what Smith meant by the invisible hand, than in how the current forms of these ideas affect our government and economy today, every day of our lives.

        That effect is that today, a huge number of Congress members, state legislature members, other public officials, and voters do believe “that everybody should just be selfish (in the colloquial sense) and everything will work out great.” And our current economic and political problems are, to a great extent, what we get as a result of this belief on the part of our officials and our people.

        “would you rather someone love you or befriend you because being with you gave them joy, or because they pitied you and were willing to endure the misery of being nice to you in the name of the virtue of self-sacrifice? Would you rather someone pay for your product or service because they expected to enjoy it more than the alternatives or because they pitied you and were willing to endure suffering on your behalf?”

        For each of these questions, I prefer choice #1, rather than Choice #2. And I think that most Left of Center people would choose in the same way. There are many more points of agreement between different political camps than most people believe. If more of us were able and willing to communicate with one another like we are doing here, then we would find numerous points of agreement.

        Many people, on this site and elsewhere, spend a lot of their time arguing with straw men. I’ve done it before. I am trying to recover from that common addiction of our society.

        The Devil is in the details. And also the Angel is in the details. There are likely many specific areas of solution to political or economic problems, that people of different ideologies would agree on.

        But polarization and bashing wins elections– at least it has so far. Therein lies the quandary. The successful winners of elections in our democracy often want to bash rather than to problem solve. Because our government is set up currently in such a way that success and rewards for a public official are to be found not in governing or in problem solving well, but in winning elections.

        The job description for a Congress member is: 1) Fund raise so that you can win your election– and your re-election, by bashing your opponents. Also, refuse to compromise with your opponents and refuse to allow them to do anything good that they will end up being given credit for by the voting public. 2) Give your biggest donors what they are purchasing from you by their donations, or legal bribes, through the legislation you support or block– so that they will donate to your campaign again, so that you can win re-election. Give big donors a big return on their “investment” in government of the type they want. 3) Oops– there’s no more time left, so you can’t do anything else.

        The GOP are the most skilled bashers, which is why they dominate both Houses of Congress, most governorships, and most state legislatures.

        But unfortunately bashing, while winning elections, does not solve any political or economic problems.

        • I agree that there’s such a thing as a vulgar version of objectivism, and looking at what a mess has been made of Rand’s ideas is enough to make me sympathize with Jesus.

          I wish Rand were still alive to say a thing or two about how people have misused her writing.

          In particular, she talking about “making money” as an excellent shorthand for doing the productive work which makes money valable. People have misinpreted what she said to mean that anyone who gives the impression of making a lot of money by being in business must be virtuous, even if they’re a fraud. (Yes, of course I mean Trump.)

          She also had the handy phrase “concrete-bound mentality”– a person who latches on to specific things rather than principles. The focus on closing Gauntanimo rather than decent treatment for the prisoners there would be an example.

          She hated crony capitalism.

          I don’t think she was right about everything, I think of her as a person who took a few steps outside the consensus and found both true and false things there.

        • Two points:

          “That effect is that today, a huge number of Congress members, state legislature members, other public officials, and voters do believe “that everybody should just be selfish (in the colloquial sense) and everything will work out great.””

          How do you know? You aren’t interested in knowing what Rand actually said or her followers believe but have been blaming her influence for the pattern you think you see. Have you paid any more attention to what Rand Paul, or Paul Ryan, or Jeb Bush, or … actually believe?

          I could be mistaken, but my reading of the logic of your position is “people couldn’t actually believe that policies X, Y and Z are good for people in general, so they must support them because they are good for themselves and that’s all they care about.” To justify that, you have to know enough about the reasons people might think those policies are good to be sure they are wrong, or at least that reasonable people could not be convinced by them.

          Which gets you back to Adam Smith and, more important, later economists.

          “Also, refuse to compromise with your opponents and refuse to allow them to do anything good that they will end up being given credit for by the voting public. ”

          Your immediate opponent lost the election, which is why you are in Congress. Compromising with other members of his party sometimes pays, since both you and they can take credit for passing popular legislation that could not be passed without both of you. The problem there is that “popular” means “can be made to look good to rationally ignorant voters,” which can easily be true of legislation that makes them worse off.

          “IN AMERICA, WE have a two-party system,” a Republican congressional staffer is supposed to have told a visiting group of Russian legislators some years ago.

          “There is the stupid party. And there is the evil party. I am proud to be a member of the stupid party.”

          He added: “Periodically, the two parties get together and do something that is both stupid and evil. This is called-bipartisanship.”

  20. gbdub says:

    So SpaceX blew up a rocket today. Video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BgJEXQkjNQ&feature=youtu.be&t=1m8s

    Looks like a failure (of the “damn thing blew up” variety) in the second stage LOX tank. Same place the in-flight failure started (but probably coincidental). If you look at the gas plume prior to the explosion, which comes from venting boiling-off LOX, the second stage starts venting (a sign the tank has reached full pressure) about 20-30 seconds prior to the initial explosion. Perhaps they overpressured it and/or failed to cut off the fuel supply when planned?

    If you keep the video rolling past the initial explosions, there are a number of secondary fireballs, some a ways to the right of the pad, that are probably indicative of parts of the fueling system going up / fuel still flowing.

    I think this has to raise the question of the wisdom of doing full wet dress rehearsals and static fires with the payload attached – the loss of the rocket is bad but not catastrophic for SpaceX, but the loss of the satellite may be fatal for the Facebook internet project it was meant to support.

    Obviously this will delay the first flight of a recovered booster, and the first flight of Falcon Heavy. Also puts a ton of pressure on the upcoming Antares return to flight to keep the commercial supply line going.

    • tcd says:

      Well that was a spectacular explosion. Since they appear to do static fires of the first stage both with and without the fairing prior to a launch, I would guess that the second check that the engines are running as designed with the added weight is important?

      • Gbdub says:

        I don’t see why the weight would matter, other than to check that the vibration loads for the full-up stack are where they expect. I don’t work for SpaceX, so I don’t know what they use the test for exactly other than a dress rehearsal. The full-stack static fire is not a routine test for other launchers that I’m aware of though (though they’ll often do partial stack static fires in development, as Antares did earlier this year, and most engines are hot-fired off the rocket as part of acceptance testing).

    • Gobbobobble says:

      the loss of the satellite may be fatal for the Facebook internet project it was meant to support.

      Sounds like a silver lining to me. No one deserves to suffer having their internet access controlled by Facebook. To shamelessly steal a line: ” One small loss for mankind, one giant win for Net Neutrality.”

      • IrishDude says:

        They were going to give Internet to parts of subsaharan Africa that don’t have any internet access. Do you find zero Internet to be better than some internet? Shouldn’t that be up to individual Africans to decide what they want?

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Well in systems with heavy natural monopoly and network effect factors, yes I would argue that none is better than garbage. The negative elements become entrenched and momentum makes it harder for quality services to oust them. Not to mention the bad actors getting cozier with local governments the longer they’re there, accumulating influence to actively block new players.

          Would I personally forego all internet if the only access point was through Facebook? Eh, it’s easy to say yes when it’s not a realistic scenario. But I doubt that it’s literally Africa’s only option, and I would very much like for Facebook to not accumulate more power to throw around where I live.

        • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

          Last time I checked, Inmersat provides internet access from 60° S to 60° N the whole way ’round. Which conveniently covers the entire African continent.

          What you mean to say is “better.”

          • John Schilling says:

            Inmarsat provides expensive internet access for White People who are going about their Very Iimportant White People Business in the dark corners of the world. Facebook and Spacecom are aiming to provide affordably-priced internet access to actual Africans. IrishDude may have overstated his case with “zero Internet”, but he’s got the essence of what is going on.

    • Flank Steak Smack Chops says:

      Even the “epic fails” of space exploration are glorious.

    • caethan says:

      Well, Facebook’s motto is “Move fast and break things.”

    • Deiseach says:

      Saw this and thought (a) “Is that Elon Musk’s thing?” (b) “Aw, they’re becoming a real space agency now, they’ve had their first launch-pad disaster” (the number of times I had to listen to news reports of yet another European Space Agency mission not working…well, it probably feels like more than it was in actuality).

      • John Schilling says:

        This is Musk’s second catastrophe, though the first to happen literally on the launch pad. Actual on-pad explosions are extremely rare in the modern era; I don’t know that the European Space Agency has ever had one. This is doubly bad news in that, first, it destroyed or severely damaged the only launch pad from which it can presently launch rockets to the orbits most of its customers care about, and second, its chief US competitor can plausibly claim that its current fleet has flown ninety-seven missions with zero failures compared to SpaceX’s two failures in twenty-nine attempts.

        • LHN says:

          What do the cost and timeframe of rebuilding a launch pad look like? Is it something that SpaceX or its insurance could plausibly cover, or is it dependent on Congress giving NASA the money to do it?

          • hlynkacg says:

            SpaceX currently has 2 pads under construction, 1 at Canaveral and another in Brownsville Texas, the second Canaveral pad was supposed to have it’s first launch at the end of the year so I suspect that they will focus their efforts on bringing that pad on line early.

        • Gbdub says:

          Well, it’s the second lost F9. The Falcon 1 failed a few times before it finally worked (and was enough of a market flop to get retired in favor of all Falcon 9).

          On the other hand, their real competitor for the commercial market isn’t ULA – it’s Ariane and the Russians. Ariane is reliable, but the Russians have gotten pretty iffy lately. This probably hurts them the most with the military market, which has the priciest satellites and is willing to pay a premium for reliability.

          For me the biggest worry with SpaceX is that they are way behind on their manifest, and this makes it worse. Their business model needs a high launch tempo, and this is going to hurt that.

          • Deiseach says:

            Ariane is finally reliable, but it hit a few bumps on the way there 🙂

            Musk’s venture having a few “oops, that wasn’t meant to happen” moments isn’t a sign of failure as such.

  21. moridinamael says:

    Do you get automatically ip-banned for using banned words?

    I was trying to legitimately ask why someone would write an article condemning white rhymes-with-prudes if they themselves were a white-rhymes-with-prude and now I can’t post anymore from my network.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      >Do you get automatically ip-banned for using banned words?

      No.

      • moridinamael says:

        Then why am IP banned!

        • Anonymous says:

          It may not be a permanent IP ban. Sometimes the spam filter decides to give you a time out for reasons unknown. It is quite capricious.

          • Guy says:

            If it’s the spam filter, then it’s probably link related. I know some filters use number-of-links heuristics; was the post in question link heavy?

    • Loyle says:

      Because people, whether or not they admit it, intuitively believe in nuances. Very few people are actually willing to condemn themselves, and fewer do so without intent of repentance. What they are condemning is an idea they don’t see themselves representing, and because the way communication, unfortunately, works the term that generalizes to the group are used only to refer to a specific subset of the group. And no one sees a problem with this.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Send me your IP by email (if you don’t want to post it here) and I’ll see if it’s banned or not.

  22. R Flaum says:

    I recently realized that there will be people voting for president this year who were born halfway through Season Three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Apart from making me feel incredibly old, this got me wondering if young people today even know about it, or if it’s just another show from the olden days to them. So a quick, unscientific survey of any Youths (say, twenty-ish or below) around here: Are you familiar with Buffy? And if so, do you think it’s still an accurate portrayal of teenage life, or has high school changed enough since my generation to make it unrecognizable?

    • LHN says:

      I’m way too old to be able to comment directly. But one thing that’s surely changed is the ubiquity of mobile phones. Even partway through the series, it was becoming a stretch that she didn’t have one. (Not because it was yet a slam dunk that a typical high schooler would, but it was certainly within the means of three high schoolers and a librarian with an interest in the world not being destroyed to arrange for her to be contactable.)

      Now smartphones are virtually standard issue around when a kid turns ten, and you’d pretty much need to invoke magical anti-radio effects or recurring combat damage to keep Buffy from being updated by her buds and vice versa. And of course there’d be video footage of the monster attacks even if all the monsters conveniently were invisible to cameras.

      (In a reboot, Willow takes the “voice with an Internet connection” role a la Wade in Kim Possible, Felicity in Arrow, etc., and there’s a social media network where all the vamps and occultists exchange info and threats.)

      • DavidS says:

        The spin-off, Angel deals with the fact people should have phones by having the title character (as a vampire not hugely up to date with the latest tech) fail to understand them. So a few times he’s trapped and nearly dies and at the end of the episode someone says ‘why didn’t you just call us’. ‘Oh’.

      • John Schilling says:

        Buffy canonically did have a “beeping thing”, but suffered from the fact that the only member of the team legally able to sign a service contract was a technophobe uncomfortable with anything invented after 1066. Also from being perceived as a juvenile delinquent, with drug dealers being among the stereotypical early adopters of cellphones ca. 1997.

        • bean says:

          She only had the beeper in one episode, Never Kill a Boy on a First Date. After that, it disappeared, never to be heard from again.
          And I wouldn’t describe Giles as uncomfortable with anything invented after 1066. The printing press dates to the 1440s.

    • JayT says:

      This is only tangentially related, but today my wife, a high school teacher, showed her class a video that she has used since she started teaching 15 years ago, and it was on VHS. About half the class had never seen a VHS tape, and didn’t understand why she had to fast forward to the point she wanted instead of just choosing it from the menu.

      Moral of the story, I feel old.

      • R Flaum says:

        Makes me wonder if the kids today would recognize the floppy disk that had a major role in Season Two. (Is that correct capitalization? Do we capitalize seasons?)

        • Randy M says:

          Probably only from icons.

          • LHN says:

            I have anecdotally heard that Kids Today don’t know why the “save icon” looks the way it does.

            (And have heard stories of unverifiable provenance about them asking why an older person had a 3D model of the save symbol on a desk or in a box.)

          • Loquat says:

            You may enjoy this Kids React To Things episode about old computers. A couple of them did in fact know what a floppy disk was!

          • LHN says:

            I’ve watched a few of the Kids React videos, but the kids have enough of the broad Disney Channel delivery style that I’m never sure how much they’re playing up their reactions for the camera.

        • Amanda says:

          My child’s kindergarten teacher said she’s starting to get kids who don’t know what to do with a desktop computer. They don’t know what the mouse is and keep trying to touch the screen and get it to swipe.

          • LHN says:

            Sometime within the last couple of years, I was at a university library meeting where they were discussing potential (cheap) incentives to persuade students to attend library training. Maybe something like giving out mouse pads?

            The response: “What’s a mouse pad?”

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I know what it is, but I’ve never watched it. I’m possibly an outlier in that I watch very little TV in general. I know people my age who have watched it, what proportion of the Youth population they are I don’t know. It may also be relevant that I’m British.

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      A mite bit older than twenty-ish or less, but there are plenty of young queer girls for whom Buffy is still considered must-see fandom source material. It’s more watchable to the new generation than, say, Xena, because of the influence Whedon has had over genre TV (the style of dialogue, the parallel of the episode’s monster to a character’s internal conflict), and both its canon and subtext queer couples still do better than some other queer couples on TV today.
      In addition, Whedon actor alumni are fairly prolific within genre TV, which means that kids who encounter them in a recent show and become fans will eventually get to Buffy as they move through that actor’s backlog. (because queer female fans are ridiculously loyal to actors who have played queer female characters, or even just subtext-queer characters)

      As for accurate portrayal of teenage life, the main quibbles would be about diversity (with, say, Veronica Mars providing the more realistic demographic spread of class and race), but realism is not a priority for teen television watching, as evidenced by the popularity of the likes of Gossip Girl, fucking Glee, or Skins. The latter, especially, pointed out that its popularity stemmed from hiring young writers to write about what they wanted to see in their TV teen portrayals. And for Buffy, the iconic moments all stem from the mythology and character relationships, and less from the high school setting itself. (and yes, part of it is that Sunnydale high school is definitely based on that 90s teen movie style of school portrayal, and definitely feels dated for those parts of the show) Have not watched Teen Wolf, so I can’t comment on its realism as the more recent genre high school show.
      But as far as the young queer girls go, again, the genre and hot actors aspects are more important to them. This is the generation for whom The 100 or Orange Is The New Black is probably the source of their big fandom ship, after all. (Then again, I have a geek’s skewed perspective. I know there are also swaths for whom Pretty Little Liars had a huge impact, but I don’t know if that’s the case for the current twenty-ish and younger crowd.)

      • dndnrsn says:

        Tangential: I started to wonder “is it unrealistic that Sunnydale would be so overwhelmingly non-Hispanic white”. Wikipedia tells me Sunnydale is just under 40k people, and probably is in Santa Barbara county.

        Comparing Santa Barbara County in 2011 to the US in 2010:

        a. A little bit whiter than the US average (about 76% vs about 72% – I’m rounding all percentages to the nearest whole number).
        b. Way, way less black (about 2% vs about 13%).
        c. Considerably more Hispanic (42% “Hispanic or Latino (of any race)” vs 16%).
        d. People reporting belonging to a non-listed race plus two more more are slightly more present (15% vs 9% if I’m reading this all right).
        e. About representative for most other groups.

        So, if we assume that a place like Sunnydale would be representative of Santa Barbara county as a whole, and that the demographics haven’t changed wildly since 1995, Sunnydale is represented unrealistically in one way: there should be a lot more Hispanics around.

        However, the first is a big assumption, and I have no idea if the second is correct or incorrect.

        Also, I looked it up, and I remember recording the finale of season 3 on VHS. I do, in fact, feel old because of this.

      • LHN says:

        As for accurate portrayal of teenage life, the main quibbles would be about diversity (with, say, Veronica Mars providing the more realistic demographic spread of class and race)

        Isn’t that more a representation concern than a realism one? Or are there no longer suburbs that look like Sunnydale in California in addition to ones that look more like Neptune?

        And for Buffy, the iconic moments all stem from the mythology and character relationships, and less from the high school setting itself.

        I’m not sure about that. I think the high school seasons are much stronger than most of what came after, and the first season and much of the others are frequently fantasy filters overlaid over typical high school experiences (Xander getting involved with the Wrong Crowd, Xander falling for the hot teacher, Xander falling for the exchange student– a lot of these are Xander, aren’t they?– Buffy sleeping with the older guy who becomes, like, a whole different person afterwards) or centered on actual high school events (Buffy setting out to ensure that Homecoming isn’t ruined, Career Day, the Class Protector moment at prom, etc.).

        Obviously, that’s all coming at it from the perspective of a middle-aged man who watched the show as it came out, so I don’t know how it plays to a younger binge-watcher.

        • John Schilling says:

          This was my perspective as well. At the time, I pointed out that the best contemporary Hollywood could come to capturing the actual experience of high school, was the one show with a high school setting that also had literal vampires. And sometimes My So-Called Life, but that one had a ghost.

          This did not carry over into Buffy: The College Years, which notably suffered for it.

          • LHN says:

            They did do a Roommate from (actual) Hell episode, but I think that was the last of that sort of story. (There were others that tried to take advantage of the college setting as background, like the fraternity party in “Fear, Itself.)

            Possibly because college doesn’t offer as many emotionally primal common experiences as high school does.

          • Arbitrary_greay says:

            Caveat that I’m not a diehard Buffy fan, and from a sector of fans who don’t care much for Xander, the most iconic moments seem to be:
            Buffy’s monologue in the S1 finale (not school related)
            Halloween (kiiiinda school related?)
            Band candy (school related in origin, but more about the adults acting like teens than school itself)
            The Wish (not school dependent)
            Angelus (sleeping with the guy who turns mean afterwards is not necessarily school related)
            Storyline with Faith (not primarily school dependent, other than skipping class and the subtext concerning prom)
            And then post-High School, you got Hush, Once More With Feeling, Willow and Tara, The Body, Tabula Rasa, and then the series finale.

            Of course, there’s a bunch of second-tier iconic moments, because this show is full of them. Earshot (yes, for this one high school setting makes it more relevant), Anne (not necessarily high school dependent), I Robot You Jane (not necessarily high school dependent), and a lot of Spike stuff, but again, coming from the perspective of femslash fandom, and the Spike stuff is rarely high school-focused, anyways.

            But it definitely could be argued that the relative universality of the issues to both teen and adult life is part of what made the show more realistic, treating the characters as not just teenagers, but people with feelings and motivations anyone could understand. And that may have also driven its popularity as more than just another high school show, whereas Teen Wolf has not appeared to have achieved that kind of respect.

            After all, Buffy is one of the few shows that successfully continued the story long after high school. Veronica Mars and Glee both struggled to do that. The latter two shows also failed to produce an adult spinoff show, or multiple ongoing comics series. (Jury’s still out on Harry Potter, and that also is because there’s a genre setting sandbox driving the interest in continuation)

          • LHN says:

            After all, Buffy is one of the few shows that successfully continued the story long after high school.

            It stayed on the air, but how successfully it continued the story is a matter on which people of good will may differ. There were a handful of high points (many of which you mention) which justify its long afterlife. (And I’ll grant that one “Once More With Feeling” is worth a lot of years of kind of shambling along.) But it never really recaptured the thematic and dramatic strength and momentum it had while Buffy was in high school.

            (I lost count of the number of episodes that were about Xander transcending his butt-monkey status and growing up, only to rinse, lather repeat. Or the number of times that Spike was only not staked because James Marsters is so entertaining, so what’s a little murder, or betrayal of the people who inexplicably keep sheltering him? Or plots randomly zigging sideways, like spending years developing magic as the subtle corruption of power going back to season 2, only to dump it all for a heavy-handed drug metaphor.)

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            Glee struggled after the first season, to be honest. Season 1 had a pretty clever overarching plot (the pregnancy managed to directly link together 4 or 5 different characters) Afterwards the show devolved into a soap opera (was there any reason for Puck and Rachel to hook up)

  23. The Register of Bans has still not been updated to strike out Deiseach’s ban.

  24. IrishDude says:

    Make Something People Want

    That’s the motto of Y Combinator, an incubator for start-ups in Silicon Vally that recently held a ‘speed-dating’ conference between entrepreneurs and investors. From a Washington Post article on the conference: “He was as enthusiastic about a building sensor that can identify burglaries as he was about a wristband that detects calories consumed by tracking blood flow. ”

    I think this is a great motto that gets to the heart of one of the reasons I love the market. If you want to make money, you need to serve your fellow man with something they want, and they need to serve you with something you want. If you can think of a way to serve your man well for little cost you can improve their lot and your own.

    This is also why I love Shark Tank, which shows businesses looking for investment from ‘Sharks’, as each business has a different model for making or doing something other people want, and only those who can do so effectively are likely to get funding. The creativity of some entrenpreneurs in creating products that help others, in ways I wouldn’t expect, makes me optimistic for humanity.

  25. IrishDude says:

    The median time for FDA approval of generics is 47 months, with over 4,000 generic applications waiting approval (NPR article). Some generics submitted their applications 3-4 years ago, and while they were sitting in a queue, the standards changed and the FDA got back to these companies (3-4 years later!) to tell them their application was poor quality.

    This is terrible customer service to the drug industry, and results in inflated health costs to consumers as drug prices remain higher than they would be if there was increased competition. It makes a strong case that the FDA needs to lose its monopoly on drug approval. Underwriters Laboratory already trains and certifies FDA inspection agents, why not allow them a broader role in reviewing and approving generic drugs?

  26. Jill says:

    Someone here, maybe it was Nybbler, stimulated me into thinking about propaganda or brainwashing and how it works. That person mentioned the often stated idea about propaganda that it can’t convince you of something you don’t already tend to believe to begin with. And indeed some experts claim this is true. I can’t see how that could be true, as advertising propaganda has persuaded lots of people to buy stuff they had zero interest in, prior to being propagandized. OTOH, maybe it is in a sense true, in that you can almost always find something that people believe within the culture, to use as an inroad to eventually getting them to believe in what you want them to e.g. if you are in a macho culture, then maybe you make your product or person you are pushing seem macho.

    But another example has occurred to me, and I want to ask folks how you think this happened. Not very many years ago at all, it would have been unthinkable for people to have more respect and liking for the president of Russia than for the pres of the U.S., even if the POTUS was from the party they disliked the most. But now many many people think Putin is some kind of saint. And if Russia were found to be hacking the U.S. government and giving the info to Wiki Leaks, as is alleged, then many would find that okay.

    This has gotten more extreme since Trump’s rise, but it was fairly strong even before that.

    But now everyone and their brother and sister has a man crush, or a woman crush on Putin. Most Americans don’t believe in propaganda, so if you don’t, how did this happen? If you are one of the few who do believe in propaganda having effects, then how did this propaganda work in this case? And was it mainly Russian propaganda? Or mainly GOP propaganda? Or both? Why was this apparent canonizing of Putin by so many U.S. voters so incredibly easy to achieve?

    How do folks here think that this changed?

    A few guesses occur to me. One is that “tough guy” propaganda is particularly effective in a nation as war oriented as the U.S. has been in recent years. Where if you want to defeat a candidate, you accuse them of being “soft on crime” or “weak against our enemies” internationally– with or without any facts to back this up– and that usually, though not always, works.

    Another aspect of this is our overall vulnerability to every kind of propaganda, given that in our individualistically oriented society, almost no one believes in propaganda or believes that they could be affected by it. So that makes us sitting ducks for it.

    Another aspect is that when people feel weak or vulnerable because their job was transferred to China or whatever, they want to find strong seeming people, maybe “tough guys” to look up to. And Putin seems to be that.

    Since I assume most people here read/watch/listen to Right Wing media, certainly you have come across this Putin worship in recent years. Perhaps many of you are enthralled with Putin yourselves? It does seem to be an exclusively Right Wing phenomenon, but perhaps only comes from certain segments of the Right Wing but not others. But since we are a Right Wing country, with both Houses of Congress, most state legislatures, and most governorships dominated by the GOP, that’s most of the country I guess, or at least the voters.

    • Sandy says:

      I have to laugh at the idea of any pro-Russia sentiment being the result of GOP propaganda — in 2012, Mitt Romney said Russia was America’s #1 enemy on the world stage, and the Democrats sneered at him for that. Obama and Biden made jokes about Romney not knowing the Cold War was over, and Hillary said it was “somewhat dated” to be worried about Russia. Fast forward to 2016 and these same Democrats are talking in grave voices about how the Kremlin is now the greatest threat to the homeland since the last time the Kremlin was the greatest threat to the homeland. One wonders how much their current attitude about Russia is influenced by the perception that Trump is warmer to Russia than the GOP in general, especially considering Obama was quite dismissive about Russia’s influence on the world stage not so long ago.

      Do any of your guesses include the possibility that there are those who aren’t as enthralled by NATO as the Democrats are?

      • Guy says:

        In my experience, Blue Tribe people tend to be relatively negative about Putin’s politics, positive about his abs, and do not consider his country to be particularly relevant (except when it opposes American interests in the Middle East, and then it’s more like “Putin, why are you being a dick?” than “Putin you are our Great Enemy!”)

        Trump’s affinity for Putin is viewed as alarming because he seems to like Putin’s politics. I do not know Trump’s position on Putin’s abs.

    • Randy M says:

      I can’t see how that could be true, as advertising propaganda has persuaded lots of people to buy stuff they had zero interest in, prior to being propagandized.

      Can you give an example? I don’t think this is self-evident.

      But now many many people think Putin is some kind of saint.

      Can you give a link? I doubt many would call him a saint. I don’t follow what he does or says much, and I expect much of what I get is distorted; I’m sure Russian power corrupts no less than American power. However, the impression I have is that he is for Russia more than American politicians are for America.

      And if Russia were found to be hacking the U.S. government and giving the info to Wiki Leaks, as is alleged, then many would find that okay.

      “Many” is vague, and some definitions of many is trivial. But if anyone, foreign agent or otherwise, hacked a private server set up by a public official to avoid FOI requests from the American Public, I’d find that agreeable in a way hacking a server with names of US agents or nuclear codes would not be. Which kind are you talking about?

      Most Americans don’t believe in propaganda, so if you don’t, how did this happen?

      I dispute that this has happened to the extent you say it has; but to the extent that it has, it is due to declining trust in the integrity of the government officials. I suspect I know what you think caused this (rhymes with Moot Gingrich) and disagree that it is so disconnected to the actions of the ruling class.

      • Loquat says:

        I feel like a lot of the “people buying things they wouldn’t have bought sans advertising” are actually cases where people didn’t know those things existed, or didn’t fully know what they did, and would still have given serious consideration to buying similar products if they’d been exposed to a dispassionate explanation rather than advertising.

        Like, 10 years ago I had no interest in buying a Swiffer because I had no idea what that was, but now that I know I find it much more convenient than using a mop and bucket. Advertising might influence me on brand choice, but it would be inaccurate to say I was propagandized into buying something I had no interest in.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Nobody I know of thinks Putin’s a saint. Not even Donald Trump. Many people (unfortunately including Donald Trump) have misplaced admiration for Putin as a strongman, but that doesn’t mean they think he’s a saint. I haven’t seen these right-wing places that canonize him, but believe it or not I don’t read all that many right-wing news sources.

      I don’t know if Russian intelligence hacked the DNC and gave the info to wikileaks. It’s rather likely that Russian intelligence hacked the DNC; doing stuff like that is their job, after all. But when you put a vulnerable high-value computer system on a network, it’s going to get infiltrated by numerous groups. Which one, exactly, gave the info to Wikileaks, is unknown.

      The idea that it’s definitely the Russians who did it… that’s propaganda too. As to whether it’s “okay” for the Russians to have done it… well, they’re not quite the enemy any more, but they’re certainly an adversary. You have to _expect_ that they’ll try that sort of thing. It’s not really relevant whether it’s OK or not.

    • John Schilling says:

      But now many many people think Putin is some kind of saint….

      This has gotten more extreme since Trump’s rise, but it was fairly strong even before that.

      But now everyone and their brother and sister has a man crush, or a woman crush on Putin.

      I would very much like to see you back up this statement, because I believe it is absolutely false and I am wondering what miscommunication is going on here. Certainly Trump is a Putin apologist, but I doubt he speaks for many of his supporters on that front and you are explicitly pointing this out as a pre-Trump phenomenon. And terms like “saint” and “man-crush” would seem to rule out acknowledging the effectiveness with which Putin pursues his nefarious goals.

      So where, specifically, are you seeing significant pre-Trump sentiment for Putin being an admirable person for e.g. effectively pursuing laudible goals.

    • Clockwork Arachnid says:

      Jill,

      I am not exactly conservative, although I’m not really left of center either. I found Jonathan Haidt’s reasoning on this topic interesting (I’ve tried to link to the part of his talk on politics that seems most relevant, you certainly don’t have to watch the whole thing to get the jist). Basically, he sees us as having transitioned as a society from partisan (which is good), to hyper-partisan (which is a place you don’t want to be as a country), and he talks a bit about why. The TL;DW is that the Other Party has gone from being an adversary to an enemy, and as such, the GOP may see the far group (Russia’s) similarities to themselves without seeing how their views and values don’t align.

    • “But now many many people think Putin is some kind of saint. ”

      I don’t think I have met or read anyone with that view. Of course, my sample is tiny and nonrandom. Can you think of any objective evidence that would support what you wrote?

      Trump seems to admire Putin as a strong figure, but that’s far short of sainthood. And his positive comments about Putin seem to have provoked mostly negative responses.

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      I’m actually going to take Jill’s side here: I’m getting a definite “Putin at least gets things done” vibe from certain quarters, which, while not exactly pro-Putin, can certainly look that way from a certain angle.

      The thing is – there are a lot of people who think the US policy towards, say, terrorists, should be more along the line of Russia’s – for an example which may be apocryphal (its truth value honestly doesn’t matter), when Russia was dealing with a particular hostage situation, they captured the terrorist’s families and started harming them in retribution. Which is to say, broadly speaking, people are unsatisfied with how un-utilitarian our government appears to behave. In the balance between a cruel dictatorship and a cuddlepile, people feel we’ve gone too far in the cuddlepile direction.

      This isn’t to say people want a cruel dictatorship, but rather they want government to lean more in that direction. We feel like our politicians behave like Michael Scott, and we want David Wallace for a change.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        For example, see Randy M’s “However, the impression I have is that he is for Russia more than American politicians are for America” in his comment above.

        • Randy M says:

          Sure, but note that the sentence starts with “however” before I get categorically branded pro-Putin.

      • gbdub says:

        It is, I think, less that people like or admire Putin. It’s more that Putin seems to be very willing to put (geopolitically, much less so domestically, where he’s an oligarchic ass) the interests of Russia first, rather than trying to play nice. He is the head of a near-superpower, and not afraid to use it. He is unabashedly pro-Russia in that regard.

        Meanwhile Obama seems to emphasize building relationships with adversaries/non-allies, even if it weakens the position of America or our allies. Putin is belligerent, “we’re going to do what’s best for us, the rest of you can deal with it”. Obama is conciliatory, “Iran’s interests are just as valid as ours, let’s compromise”.

        Note of course that a lot of this is perception rather than objective inarguable fact. But given that America’s foreign policy stock seems to be bearish (heh) while Russia’s on the rise, it’s not surprising to see some people yearn a bit for a guy who is basically Obama’s opposite when it comes to geopolitics.

    • I think “saint” was an unfortunate word choice on Jill’s part. Many of the responses have focused unduly on that word. I think her question is: why is Putin so admired in the U.S.?

      My own perspective on Putin is deeply negative, and has been since the Chechen wars. Putin, in my opinion, is an evil man, the worst leader of a major country by a wide margin.

      A cult of personality has arisen around Putin, making him a international nonpolitical celebrity. I don’t think it’s the result of propaganda as such.

      I mean, why has everyone heard of the Kardashians or Lil Bub or Ron Jeremy? Some random process made them celebrities. Millions of others set out to become celebrities and fail.

      As to foreign leaders specifically, there is no American cult of personality for David Cameron or Angela Merkel or François Hollande, but there is for Justin Trudeau and Margaret Thatcher. I don’t think any propaganda campaign was responsible for that happening.

    • Deiseach says:

      But now many many people think Putin is some kind of saint.

      I can’t speak for America, but I have not seen anybody over here declaring any kind of admiration for Putin. And if you watched the Eurovision with the booing and tactical anti-Russian entry voting, you’d see the general opinion – booed in 2014, so anti-booing technology used in 2015 to prevent a repeat, and the win this year for the Ukrainian entry while for a time it looked as if (by the jury voting) Russia would win and there was speculation about what would that mean, having to host the Eurovision, given Putin’s anti-gay attitude?

      The Russians were extremely sore losers, probably not helped by the fact that the Ukrainian entry referenced Stalin’s anti-Tatar policy in 1944 (“The lyrics for “1944” concern the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, in the 1940s, by the Soviet Union at the hands of Joseph Stalin because of their alleged collaboration with the Nazis”).

    • Jill says:

      An article below for those of you who think love affairs with Putin are not so common.

      O’Reilly is the exception that proves the rule here– the one guy at Fox News who is apparently not in love with Putin. And Fox is an important opinion setter for the Right Wing media. You can bet if most people at Fox are in love with Putin, that plenty of people at other Right Wing web sites, TV channels, and radio channels are also in love with Putin.

      O’Reilly Breaks Against Fox News’ Love Affair With Vladimir Putin, Criticizes Trump For Praising Him
      Bill O’Reilly: Putin Should Never Be Put In A Positive Light, “He’s A Menace And A Danger” To America
      http://mediamatters.org/video/2016/01/06/oreilly-breaks-against-fox-news-love-affair-wit/207815

      This libertarian news site also thinks Putin is great, as do many others.
      https://consortiumnews.com/

      When I wrote my original comment about this, I had just read someone’s personal blog where he literally said “Putin is a saint.” The blogger constantly quotes Right Wing videos and web sites. Anyway, I started thinking “Where is this all coming from?” I do wonder if Russian propagandists have taken advantage of our polarization, by having their propagandists write pro-Putin articles in our news media, they sure have been successful.

      This would be very easy to do. Anything which bashes one side is attractive to the other side. Since our politics is based not on offering positive solutions but on bashing the other side. And Obama bashers are certainly helped by unfavorable comparisons of Obama with Putin. The war hawk faction in the Right Wing particularly loves “tough guy” war-loving chip-on-the-shoulder types, and hates Obama for not being one of those. So it fits right in to the bashing framework upon which our politics is currently based.

      • Your first link tells us that Media Matters, which is a left wing site, says Fox has a love affair with Putin. The actual contents is a quote from someone associated with Fox attacking Putin. It does have four links in it, but if you follow them none shows Fox News in love with Putin.

        Your second link is to something you claim is a libertarian site. Looking at the “about” page I see no evidence of that.

        Looking at the page you link to, I observe two articles relevant to Putin. One is about Putin “bailing out” Obama some years ago with regard to Syria by persuading the Syrian government to destroy its chemical weapons. The other is about Russia messing up its cooperation with Iran by being too public about it. So one positive on Putin, one negative.

        You write: ” You can bet if most people at Fox are in love with Putin …”

        The sole evidence you offer for that is that Media Matters says so. You are seeing what you expect to see, not what is there.

        At a tangent, what do you think “the exception that proves the rule” means? In this case we have one piece of evidence against your view (O’Reilly, who is associated with Fox, is anti-Putin), and you seem to want to interpret that as evidence for your view.

    • I will join the chorus of people who aren’t seeing anyone who thinks Putin is some kind of saint.

      What I do see is people who like Trump so much that they’re willing to ignore Putin being very bad news.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      The thing about people who respect Putin, that a lot of those in the media commenting on it don’t get, is the idea of respecting your adversary.

      This is something the current elite in Hollywood and Washington fundamentally don’t understand. Anyone who opposes them is, in their estimation, hateful stupid provincial and ultimately doomed to fail. When you see yourself first-and-foremost as chosen and think that you’re on the right side of history you don’t have serious adversaries worthy of respect. Anyone who you could admire must already be on your side.

      I don’t subscribe to that view. Putin is ultimately an opposing head of state, and his geopolitical interests in favor of Russia and the Slavs run counter to our interests in favor of America and the West. But his actions to strengthen the Russian Federation are no less impressive because of that! We in America can, and must, learn from his successes if we want to win in the end.

      • pku says:

        People don’t disrespect Putin because his interests are opposed to America’s, they disrespect him because he’s terrible at pushing for what his actual interests should be (the welfare of the Russian people).

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Said Russian people seem to overwhelmingly disagree with them on that count.

          The same people who go on about the horrors of the Putin regime in Russia then turn around and tell me nonsense about politics in my own country. Why should I believe they are so much more accurate in the places where I have less ability to check their accuracy?

  27. alaska3636 says:

    Has there been any consideration on this forum that political preferences (and concomitant premises) have a strong genetic component?

    If a person’s natural dispositions lead them to see the world in (i.e. conservative, liberal or libertarian) ways that essentially confirm their biases; then, what does that mean about political conversations and of political action in a representative environment?

    As many people here have noticed, the real interesting arguments politically are intra-party arguments about specifics. Inter-party arguments either take premises for granted or reject them outright leading to little in the way of debate (this forum generally being a pleasant exception).

    One reason that I favor libertarian positions is that decentralized institutions allow people with different worldviews to work out different solutions. Greater centralization tends to favor the party in power – as Jill likes to notice, things become very polarized when the dominant world view changes every four or eight years.

    I for one like to think that I arrived at my market-anarchist views rationally; however, my disposition favors pluralistic, libertarian solutions. I generally want to be left alone to pursue my self-interest and am generally pleasant and productive in situations given those freedoms; it therefor makes sense that I think those solutions would be good for everyone else (partly because I can imagine the results in a clear as truth kind of way), and many arguments abound to show that in the long run, this is a stable and productive form of governance.

    But, as I have grown older, I have noticed that given the same freedoms many people would indulge poor decision-making or favor short-term interests that make me think that conservatives and liberals offer productive solutions to stability and growth on different terms. It is hard to determine just how small our (intellectual and social) networks are and which ideas could be implemented in ways that offer incentives across broader networks that people would adopt without understanding the reasons for them. It is, for instance, dubious that many Americans could make a Lockean argument for property rights and equality of universal negative rights (life, liberty, property); yet, America thrived under those principles. Some study (soon to be debunked) claims that most people adopt the political views of their parents. Where does that leave us?

    Thoughts?

    Here’s the Atlantic:
    Do Children Just Take Their Parents Political Beliefs: It’s Not That Simple
    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/05/parents-political-beliefs/361462/

    Manages a caricature of either side and implicitly favors liberalism (because Atlantic), but is a good example of collective failure of ideological Turing tests.

    Here’s the original study:
    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=A4C2A9504C4AC15A3975D3A8F3ECB843.journals?aid=9345153&fileId=S0007123413000033

    Seems to find that people adopt opposite views when their parents engage in political discussion at home.

    Here’s a Gallup poll saying that 70% of people adopt their parent’s views:
    http://www.gallup.com/poll/14515/teens-stay-true-parents-political-perspectives.aspx

    • One complication to the genetic version is that people sometimes change their views over time. That could mean that they have been exposed to arguments that show their old views to be less defensible than they thought. It could also mean that personality changes with age, perhaps in a predictable pattern, and the same personality that finds ideology A attractive at twenty finds B attractive at fifty.

      • alaska3636 says:

        There is of course the old saying: if you’re not a liberal in your twenties, you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative in your fifties, you have no brain.

        The wisdom seeming to be specifically about acquired economic understanding through experience, i.e. the trouble of paying for things over time.

        • The version I’ve most often seen, attributed to Churchill, is socialist/not socialist. For instance:

          “If my son is not a socialist by the time he’s twenty, I’ll disinherit him. If he’s still a socialist after he’s thirty, I’ll disinherit him.”

          Also heart/brain variants.

          The original seems to be from 19th c. France.

    • Flank Steak Smack Chops says:

      My twin and I are on fairly opposite sides of the political spectrum. As an adult, his political beliefs have remained relatively consistent (a kind of eclectic/iconoclastic leftism) while mine have shifted from libertarian to conservative.

      Here are some potentially interesting corollaries about my twin and me:

      – He lives on the East coast; I live in the Midwest.
      – He does cardio; I lift weights.
      – He’s an artist; I work in tech.
      – He drinks wine and mixed drinks; I drink beer and neat liquor (and I drink alcohol much less than he does).
      – He often wears pastels, browns, etc.; all my clothes are pretty much red, black, or camo.
      – He dislikes angry rock music; I generally favor angry rock music.
      – He uses an iPhone; I use a flip phone.
      – When we played sports as kids, my brother always liked playing goalie/catcher; I always liked playing offense/pitcher.

      Our mom and dad are on fairly opposite sides of the political spectrum too.

      I don’t know to what degree genetics influences political views, but it does seem like something more basic than intellect–demeanor? taste? hormonal balance?–has a major influence there.

  28. Archaelogy in the Great Dismal Swamp— around 150 years of refugees (mostly Native American and black) from “civilization”.

  29. Deiseach says:

    Okay, vaguely religion rant coming up.

    Here’s an excerpt from a New York Times piece on Saudi Arabia and Islam. I’m going to be leaping up and down frothing at the mouth in a second, so be warned. Also, this is not about Islam per se, it’s about historical ignorance, a perennial old reliable.

    Thomas Hegghammer, a Norwegian terrorism expert who has advised the United States government, said the most important effect of Saudi proselytizing might have been to slow the evolution of Islam, blocking its natural accommodation to a diverse and globalized world. “If there was going to be an Islamic reformation in the 20th century, the Saudis probably prevented it by pumping out literalism,” he said.

    Now, this is an idea (if you can dignify it with that much coherence) that is floating around and often trotted out when discussing terrorism and fundamentalism and Islam – that what modern-day Islamic countries need is the Islamic version of the Reformation. Then they’ll become all liberal and cosmopolitan and broad-minded and secular.

    What the hell do these people think the Protestant Reformation was?????

    Hint: It was not about being accommodated to the world. It was not about turning away from Biblical literalism.

    ISLAM HAS HAD ITS REFORMATION, AND IT’S SAUDI-BACKED WAHHABISM.

    All the things that the Taliban and ISIS and the other little ultra-fundamentalist groups do, about quoting the bare word of Quran as the ultimate source, ignoring all the development of doctrine or interpretation put on it?

    WHERE DO YOU THINK BIBLICAL LITERALISM CAME FROM?

    From the Protestant Reformation! The various Reformers had different beefs with the Catholic Church, but there were some things they all broadly agreed on: (a) too worldly, too conformed to the secular society, too corrupted by power and ease, too ready to accommodate, to bend, to change ‘hard sayings’ and uncomfortable doctrines – this was part of the scandal of the sale of indulgences, making sin easy! (b) not trusting in or preaching the bare word of the Bible, interposing intermediaries between God and man, changing the meaning of Scripture by interpretations and commentaries and inventions.

    The Reformers were very strong on sola Scriptura, that the Bible is the supreme authority on doctrine and practice. Luther was very insistent on faith being based on the believability of the Gospel, of how you could trust the words of salvation, and hence he (and other Reformers) insisted on the literal meaning of the Bible. Otherwise, if you explain away one part by saying it’s symbolic or dependent on the knowledge of the time or anything but to be accepted as it is written, then you undermine the trust the believer can put in the words of Christ where He says sin is forgiven and your faith has saved you. Luther famously referred to the Epistle of St James as “an epistle of straw” and wanted it removed from the canon of Scripture because it disagreed with his theorem of faith over works.

    Look at the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (though nowadays these are regarded more as a historical curiosity than representing the actual views of same):

    XIX. Of the Church.
    The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

    As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.

    XX. Of the Authority of the Church.
    The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.

    See the point? The first, last and final authority is Scripture. The Church (or the imams or who passes for a central authority in Islam) can’t change a word and can’t impose any teaching that is contrary to the word of Scripture (hence the scrabbling around by progressive Christians, on the same-sex marriage debate, for examples of “David and Jonathan were a gay couple! Naomi and Ruth were a lesbian couple! The Centurion and his boy-servant were a gay couple and never mind that our insistence on how pais should be translated makes it sound like what nowadays is classed as paedophilia! And God favoured them!” from Scripture).

    Islam has been cosmopolitan, broad-minded, tolerant, and open to development of doctrine in the past, and the reformers come along and bring it back to what is considered the pure form. Just as the Protestant Reformation wanted to strip away the accretions of centuries and man-made doctrines.

    The irony is that the popular view is of rigid, literalist Catholicism against which brave Reformers said “Hey, you know, you can use your mind to think! And not have to believe every single word of the Bible is literally true and the direct word of God! And obey your conscience over anything else! And be all live and let live, everyone has their own view, who is to say what version of truth is superior, we sure don’t!”, which is what these kinds of calls for Islam to have a Reformation is about, and which are mistaken on every level. Due to historical accident, the various Protestant denominations got entangled with the State in their nations and became an arm of the State (look at the history of the Dissenters and Non-Conformists vis-à-vis the Church of England when it came to “we have a different religious opinion to you”) and over time, as the conventions and laws of secular society relaxed and changed, so did the attitudes of the state churches (he who pays the piper calls the tune, after all). Also playing a part in this is the anti-Catholicism of those Protestant states, which represented the Pope and the Church as being rigid dogmatics attempting to impose a set of literalist beliefs on free-thinking, open-minded, we-use-our-brains Protestants – see The Episcopal Church’s little swipe about “you don’t have to leave your brains at the door”.

    What that attitude meant was “They’e trying to tell us what to think about the Bible, but we know the Bible means what the Bible says”, which depended on “we have the pure, bare word of God and everyone can agree on what it means”.

    “Let’s go back to the primitive simplicity of the Gospel” and the idealised view of the Early Church, which is the kind of historical retconning the Taliban et al are engaged in with a view of the ideal Islamic society in the time of the Prophet and how the people behaved, before the corruption and falling-away and secularization of later centuries set in and made the Islamic world too soft and worldly and liberal.

    tl;dr – Islam is having its Reformation, you’re seeing it now, and it’s exactly the same as the Protestant Reformation, which was not about “I can make up my own mind who I sleep with and if we need to be married first” but rather “You are all going to Hell, you can’t buy pardons out of it, so believe with a saving faith or else, and how you know you have a saving faith is to trust the bare, uninterpreted, literal word of God in the Scriptures”.

    • Jiro says:

      In other words, the reformers were subject to http://lesswrong.com/lw/18b/reason_as_memetic_immune_disorder/ . People actually sit down and think you’re required to do what the religion requires. It’s logical.

      • Deiseach says:

        That’s exactly what the Reformers did. but in the popular imagination (as demonstrated by those “what this bunch of believers who believe you need to do what the religion requires needs is a reformation” calls) the idea of ‘reformation’ has some hazy view of “big church with guys in robes telling you to believe crazy stuff, other guys went up against them in defiance, therefore other guys were all about not believing crazy stuff and being chill” and that is not what the history shows.

        The “Islam needs a reformation” notion is that if Islam has a reformation, then tomorrow morning, like the Church of Sweden, it will have lesbian civil-partnered bishops which ain’t gonna happen for a couple of hundred years or so.

        The Church of Sweden is Lutheran. You think Martin Luther was fighting for the rights of lesbians to be ordained clergy, become bishops, and marry their same-sex partner when he nailed up the Ninety-Five Theses? To get from there to here takes a long, long time and a lot of changes, and even if Islam had a Reformation in the morning (which it is already doing, that’s my cri-de-coeur), we would not see a “natural accommodation to a diverse and globalized world” for quite a while.

        I mean, Luther thought the universities of his day were much too oriented towards reason unguided by the Holy Spirit, is this the kind of Reformation wanted by Mr Hegghammer and his ilk?

        The universities also need a good, thorough reformation — I must say it no matter whom it vexes — for everything which the papacy has instituted and ordered is directed only towards the increasing of sin and error. What else are the universities, if their present condition remains unchanged, than as the book of Maccabees says, 2 Macc. 4:9, 12: Gymnasia Epheborum et Graecae gloriae,[Places for training youths in Greek glory] in which loose living prevails, the Holy Scriptures and the Christian faith are little taught, and the blind, heathen master Aristotle rules alone, even more than Christ. In this regard my advice would be that Aristotle’s Physics, Metaphysics, On the Soul, Ethics, which have hitherto been thought his best books, should be altogether discarded, together with all the rest of his books which boast of treating the things of nature, although nothing can be learned from them either of the things of nature or the things of the Spirit. Moreover no one has so far understood his meaning, and many souls have been burdened with profitless labor and study, at the cost of much precious time. I venture to say that any potter has more knowledge of nature than is written in these books. It grieves me to the heart that this damned, conceited, rascally heathen has with his false words deluded and made fools of so many of the best Christians. God has sent him as a plague upon us for our sins.

        Complaining about Sharia law? How about “Surely the Holy Scriptures and good rulers would be law enough; as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:1: “Is there no one among you can judge his neighbor’s cause, that ye must go to law before heathen courts?”

        • A couple of points, mostly in support of Deiseach’s point:

          1. Fundamentalist revivals in Islam have happened multiple times before. Both the Almoravides and the Almohads would be (North African) examples.

          2. Islam has, at various times and places, been tolerant of homosexuality, despite the religious rules against it. Also wine drinking. Both indulged in by, among others, caliphs. There are two famous Islamic essays discussing the relative attractions of heterosexual and homosexual sex.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            Point #2 sounds fascinating. Do you have links to the articles?

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @Rebel

            Here is an article about the phenomenon.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            Thanks! I’d looked over the wikipedia article and found that it supported Dr. Friedman’s claims, but didn’t see anything more specific. From the link you provided, it’s likely that the essays he’s referring to are described in the following passage:

            Lovemaking manuals are also to be found, such as The Perfumed Garden (al-Rawd al-Atir fi Nuzhat al-Khatir) by the Tunisian Shaiykh Muhammad ibn Umar al-Nafwazi, between 1410 and 1434, and The Book of Respective Merits of Maids and Young Men (Kitab Mafaharat al-Jawari wa al-Ghilman) by the prolific al-Jahiz (777-869).

          • There is a translation of The Perfumed Garden by Burton, but that wasn’t what I was referring to. Going by memory, the title I saw for one of the essays (probably the other one Rebel mentions) was a debate between the dancing girls and the page boys, and the other between the back and the belly.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Yes, I agree it is annoying when people unambiguously refer to Salafist Islam as needing a Reformation. Most of the time you can get away with interpreting it as a small-r reformation though, especially in cases where Salafism is also described as “puritanical”, which contradicts any implied Salafis = Catholics metaphor.

      • Deiseach says:

        Most of the time you can get away with interpreting it as a small-r reformation though

        But that’s the jumbled ideas which are floating around, sweeneyrod. At once puritanical and dogmatic, the idea of the Catholic Church as anti-fun and anti-pleasure, and so a good fit for the Salafis and Wahhabis.

        What this kind of “Islam needs a reformation” notion boils down to is “Islam needs to become like the mainline churches” (I’m using the American term, since it fits best in this context): the liberal, progressive, “we care more about social justice than purity of dogma” Christianity – gender inclusive, ordain women, support or at least tolerate divorce, contraception and abortion, are anti-racist and pro-equality, pro-same sex marriage and LGBT rights, support things like the Millennium Development Goals, etc.

        And that, as I’m trying to say, didn’t happen all at once, didn’t happen at the time of the Reformation, would probably horrify the original Reformers to contemplate what their denominations have become, and took a combination of political, social and economic factors over a long stretch of time to come about.

        What they are unrealistically calling for is some kind of Pope of Islam (a figure who does not and cannot exist, at least not since the days of the Prophet, unless we think of the Mahdi as such) to step forward and authoritatively declare that the religion is getting modern and we’re junking all this stuff about women wearing veils, no alcohol, there is no God but Allah and only monotheism is true, etc. so the French will kindly guide us in the priniciples of laïcité and we’ll be nice to the West and all the terrorists will immediately, on hearing my authoritative pronouncement, stop believing what they believe and change their behaviour.

        They should try writing that in their letter to Santa, it might happen.

        • Deiseach says:

          Also, the alliance of the literalist theology with the secular power of the House of Saud is exactly what the Protestant Reformation did; linked up with local princes and lords for protection against the power of the Church and the Catholic kings. Geneva, rather than Rome, was more of a theocracy, even before Calvin got there, and the civil authorities were quite happy to exercise their power to set religious opinion. It wasn’t until Calvin’s return when the political winds blew in his favour and the party supporting his views were in power that the full development of matters got into swing:

          In the thought of Calvin, state and church were distinct, but each in its proper sphere was to cooperate with the other in their great common purpose: to serve and glorify God. By the end of his career he had achieved a complete dominance of Geneva, which makes it possible for us to see what his full program was. All inhabitants had to renounce the Roman faith on penalty of expulsion from the city. Nobody could possess images, crucifixes or other articles associated with the Roman worship. Fasting was prohibited, together with vows, pilgrimages, prayers for the dead, and prayers in Latin. Nobody could say anything good about the pope. It was forbidden to give non-Biblical names to children. In 1555, a man who had been found lighting a candle before the body of his dead child was called before the Consistory.

          Attendance at sermons was compulsory. In addition, one had to arrive on time, remain, and pay attention. In 1547, a man who left during the sermon and made too much noise about it was imprisoned. From 1545, there were domiciliary visits, which were put on a regular semiannual basis in 1550. The homes of the citizens were visited in order to ascertain the state of the family’s morals. A great many spies were maintained, to report on matters of conduct and behavior. Dramatic performances were suppressed, except for plays given by schoolboys. Sexual immorality was frequently practiced and frequently chastised. One of the offenses considered particularly serious was criticism of the ministers and especially Calvin.

          From 1546, cards and dice were forbidden. There were to be no taverns; instead, places were provided for eating and drinking, in which pious behavior would be encouraged. In these nurseries of righteousness, a Bible in French was to be displayed, religious conversation encouraged, and excessive drinking, indecent songs, cursing, cards, dice, and dancing forbidden. They were to close at nine in the evening. This experiment lasted three months, during which people did not come to these places, and then the taverns were opened once more. It was many years before all these regulations were put into effect; as a matter of fact, opposition to Calvin was quite serious for several years after his return in 1541. His opponents were not necessarily wicked and immoral, although there were persons of that description among them. There were very strong political motives impelling hostility to his regime. The foreign refugees who poured into the city and strongly supported Calvin appeared as a threat to the native citizens. Though there were some who disagreed with Calvin’s doctrines, his enemies were not Catholics but supporters of the Reformation. Some of them were members of prominent Geneva families, who defied Calvin’s strict moral regulations, possibly under the erroneous impression that their social status would protect them.

          Michael Servetus, who denied the doctrine of the Trinity, was equally condemned by the Inquisition and the Reformers but while the Inquisition might have had him in its power at times, it was Calvin the anti-Catholic Reformer who got him burned at the stake for heresy:

          During most of his time in France, about a dozen years from the early 1540s to 1553, Servetus lived and worked in Vienne, a suburb of Lyon, both as an editor and as a physician. …During the writing of the Restitutio, in 1546 and 1547, Servetus carried on a correspondence with Calvin, which served to reveal the great differences between them. It roused the bitter hatred of Calvin, who not only objected to the unorthodox views of Servetus but who also was probably enraged by Servetus’s tone of superiority not unmixed with personal abuse. Servetus opposed Calvin’s views on the Trinity, justification by faith, the depravity of man, and infant baptism. When Calvin sent him a copy of the Institutes, Servetus returned it with insulting criticisms. He also sent Calvin a part of his Restitutio, which Calvin kept along with the letters Servetus had sent him. Eventually Calvin broke off the correspondence. He wrote Farel that if Servetus came to Geneva, he would try to keep him from getting out of the city alive.

          Servetus was able to find a publisher for his book at Vienne; it was printed in great secrecy, with no indication of the identity of the author or printer, except for the initials M.S.V. (Michael Servetus Villanovanus). …In February, a French refugee of Geneva, Guillaume Trie, wrote a letter to a Catholic cousin at Lyon who had tried to win him back to the old faith and had reproached Geneva for lack of ecclesiastical discipline and order. In writing to his Catholic cousin, the Protestant turned his reproach against him by pointing out that in Lyon a dangerous heretic, Servetus, was allowed to live and print blasphemous books. He enclosed some leaves from Servetus’s book.

          This led to the questioning of Servetus by the Inquisition, but this questioning revealed nothing. In order to get evidence, a letter was sent to Trie in Geneva, who in reply sent several sheets in Servetus’s handwriting, which had been in Calvin’s possession and which, he said, he had obtained from Calvin only with difficulty. Calvin is thus seen to have supplied material to the Inquisition for the purpose of trapping Servetus. Later he denied having any part in this. Early in April Servetus was arrested, examined, and imprisoned. A couple of days later he escaped. He was tried in absentia and burned in effigy.

          In August, he appeared in Geneva on his way to Italy. Here he was recognized, and the news of his presence was conveyed to Calvin, who had him arrested. On the basis of charges preferred by Calvin, Servetus was put on trial. The trial was carried on by the civil authorities, but the accusations were all based on Servetus’s writings and theology. Much of the proceedings consisted of direct encounters between Servetus and Calvin himself, during which Calvin was not always fair or just. The same can be said of the civil authorities, who refused Servetus’s request for counsel and kept him imprisoned under filthy and uncomfortable conditions.

          On October 26, he was condemned to death for decrying the doctrine of the Trinity and infant baptism in other words, as a heretic. This means that he was to be burned at the stake. Calvin tried to get the sentence changed to death by the sword, but failed.

          …This combination of civil and ecclesiastical authorities, of Catholics and Protestants, in hounding to death one radical thinker is generally agreed to be one of the unloveliest episodes in the history of the Reformation. It did not go uncondemned even in its own day. In fact, it aroused so much opposition that Calvin felt compelled to issue a defense in both Latin and French versions in 1554; here he argued for the right to put to death those who dishonored God by teaching false doctrine.

        • “What they are unrealistically calling for is some kind of Pope of Islam (a figure who does not and cannot exist, at least not since the days of the Prophet, unless we think of the Mahdi as such)”

          True for Sunni Islam. The Shia Imams qualify. The last Imam recognized by the largest Shia sect has been in occlusion for a thousand years or so, but at least one of the Ismaili sects still has a living Imam.

          (I’m using “Imam” in the strong sense in which there is only supposed to be one at a time–a descendant and successor of the Prophet through his daughter).

    • For what it’s worth, I gave up on “Islam needs a Reformation” when I realized Islam isn’t centralized, so decentralization isn’t what it needs.

      I’m a big fan of the bit in Corinthians about there being no substitute for love, though I admit I think a decent mix of good will and good sense works pretty well. If you don’t have good will, there is no organizational solution that will make up for it.

      • The Nybbler says:

        What it needs is not just a Reformation, but a few hundred more years of infighting until everyone gives up on caring.

        • Serious infighting goes back to at least the point when Muawiya, nephew of the third caliph and governor of Syria, refused to accept Ali as the fourth caliph. So I doubt another few centuries will make much difference.

        • onyomi says:

          Needs more access to Universal Culture, which causes you to stop taking religion so seriously.

          • Islam had access to the version of universal culture that existed at the time pretty early, having conquered all of the Sassanid Empire and half the Byzantine. The literature of classical antiquity got to Europe largely from the Islamic world.

          • onyomi says:

            And they were relatively more liberal at the time, no?

          • Does knowing someone is a Muslim give you any statistical ability to predict what they will do, except for some aspects of ritual?

          • John Schilling says:

            I think it would lead to very different predictions depending on whether they were Muslims in a predominantly non-Muslim community or Muslims in a predominantly Muslim community. In the latter case, I’d start with the same predictions I would make for anyone living in a generally poor(*), socially conservative, authoritarian state, with a side order of wondering whether it is cause and effect that this so consistently describes majority-Islamic states.

            (*) Yes, including the oil states – one prediction I’d make about any generally poor state is that there is a subset of very rich people who will behave like a decadent privileged elite. That e.g. the UAE has to import guest workers to fill the “poor masses” role, doesn’t change much.

          • Deiseach says:

            Universal Culture pretty clearly isn’t, if there are places we can point to where it is not the culture of the society.

            Also, it’s highly time-dependent. What “Universal Culture” will be like fifty, a hundred, or three hundred years from now, we can’t say. We may speculate that it will continue to be liberal* – but we can’t guarantee that the pendulum won’t swing back to something we consider less liberal. So it’s not necessarily a panacea for “stop taking religion so seriously”, the Universal Culture of two hundred years hence may have mandatory celebration of God-Emperor Day when the AI escaped its captors’ control and ascended to the Exalted Status it now enjoys over the trillions of happy clients in meat and virtual space.

            *e.g. what is now considered bestiality may in future be considered the perfectly valid choice/orientation of zoophilia. Or animals may not exist at all, since the solution to the problem of animal suffering is to cause the end of all such creatures capable of suffering via not permitting new animals to be born, allowing those alive to die naturally, and euthanising those in the wild who would otherwise have “nasty, brutish and short” existences.

      • Sandy says:

        Islam isn’t centralized

        I wonder if the Ottoman caliphs had that kind of influence. Indian Muslims thousands of miles away agitated for the preservation of the Ottoman state, so the caliphs likely had a lot of influence throughout the Islamic world.

        But then again, one of the main reasons the caliphate collapsed was an Arab revolt.

        • Arguably, Islam was more centralized under the Ottomans than before or since. There are four mutually orthodox schools of Sunni law. The Ottomans gave one school exclusive authority in the core areas of the empire, superior status elsewhere. And the Sultan claimed the authority, where that school had several conflicting opinions on an issue, to decide which one judges had to act on.

          In theory, in Islam law is independent of the state. But the Ottomans eventually took over control of the structure of religious scholarship and the endowments that supported it. And the Kanun, the Sultan’s rules, existed in parallel with fiqh, Islamic jurisprudence, in theory supporting the latter but in practice sometimes contradicting it.

    • birdboy2000 says:

      There is an Islamic reformation – which is to say, a back-to-the-basics movement rejecting the modern practices of Muslims as corrupt and worldy, rejecting much of the tradition of the past thousand years, and presenting itself as a restoration of the pure faith. Even gets angry at the idea of the closest Muslim equivalent of saints, demolishes their tombs, and has a major iconoclast streak.

      You may know it as Wahabbism or Salafism – i.e. exactly what the Saudis are spreading.

    • BBA says:

      People are conflating the Reformation with the Enlightenment. I think without a Reformation there would be no Enlightenment, but they were centuries apart. (Contrast Judaism where they were pretty much simultaneous.)

    • Garrett says:

      What I’ve read and promoted myself wasn’t a reformation but instead a Renaissance or, more importantly, and Enlightenment. Orations on the Dignity of Man and all that.

  30. Jill says:

    Just checked Scott Adams blog, which I hadn’t looked at in a while, to see if he’s a total lost cause or if he has said anything interesting lately. I was surprised to find out he had. Although he still seems to have a man crush on Trump, which is not interesting to me, he does read and cite interesting books and articles. He cited this article, regarding humans thinking we are rational but not actually being so:

    Whatever you think, you don’t necessarily know your own mind
    https://aeon.co/ideas/whatever-you-think-you-don-t-necessarily-know-your-own-mind

    Most people seem to think they (but not others) are very rational, and that the subconscious mind doesn’t exist. What do you folks think of the article?

    Adams also had this post where he writes about possible solutions to problems with immigration, and encourages others to do so also. Which seems worthwhile, to a degree.
    http://blog.dilbert.com/post/149751973631/deportation-and-deals

    The rest of what he’s written since I last looked isn’t interesting to me.

    His whole schtick about hypnosis I think is misguided. It’s not that it’s inaccurate. But he doesn’t realize how narrow it is and how many solutions to problems lie outside of this sphere. Hypnosis can be useful for particular problems. But to act like hypnosis and persuasion are the whole of psychology, or like they are all you need to know to relate to people– this is walking around with blinders on.

    I do find this schtick itself interesting, if not accurate or valid beyond a small sphere of life, in that it reflects well a problem that most of our society seems to have. Sometimes writers of articles or songs do us a service– not necessarily in being reflective or aware or solving problems, but in just expressing very well what many other people in the culture are thinking or feeling. Adams does that. And Trump does that too to some extent.

    Once it is out there, more reflective and/or solution oriented people can contribute their parts to the process of dealing with the issues.

    Just like the PUAs, who think successful romantic relationships are about doing that “one weird trick”– and a manipulative trick at that– many people in our culture think that all political solutions are about persuading other people to do what you want them to do. Since, of course, you believe you are right/smart/virtuous and believe that the person who worships at the other ideological church is not. Right and Left Wings may as well be Sunni or Shia Muslims, as far as our difficulties in getting along go– except that we are not killing each other over it– yet, knock on wood.

    But I don’t think the solutions to political and economic problems are mainly going to be found in persuasion. Au contraire, mon frere. I think that improved political and economic success is more likely to come by letting go of some of our polarization and better understanding our own needs/desires for our economy and government– as well as understanding the needs/desires of others about our economy and government.

    People are very often far too polarized to listen and understand one another. There are common interests and possible common agreements possible, right under our very noses, I think. But our polarized ways make such solutions impossible for the time being.

    AL Gore spearheaded an effort to reform the federal government, when he was Bill Clinton’s VP:

    “Vice President Gore went beyond preparing a report to lead an effort that evolved into the longest-running and, arguably, most successful reform effort in U.S. history to date.[2]”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Partnership_for_Reinventing_Government

    But no one tries to actually carry out these sorts of reforms today. Because today everyone thinks that arguing with, and/or bashing the opposite ideological church is more important.

    In fact, 5 years after Gore initiated this, Congress decided it was more important to impeach the president for the very serious offense of getting a blow job, than to pay attention to these frivolous topics like reforming the federal government to make it less costly, more efficient etc.

    • onyomi says:

      I think he called the Clinton camp’s latching on to the word “dark” as a descriptor for Trump extremely well.

      • Jill says:

        Yes, that one was true. He does have a few good and accurate ideas mixed in with the bs. I guess that’s better than average. A lot of blogs have no good or accurate ideas at all.

        Some of his bad ideas are so very bad though, that he ends up turning me off, as well as a lot of other people– especially since he became a one man Trump cheering squad, describing Trump as a Master Persuader. Again, it’s the narrowness which is the issue for me. Trump is indeed a a Master Persuader. He’s been able to persuade a lot of people to buy and sell real estate and to give him financing for his projects. And he has the salesman’s confidence and ability to figure out what people want to hear and tell them that.

        But persuasion is only one of numerous skills a president needs to have, and not the most important one. Diplomacy and tact, ability to understand complex political and economic issues, ability to work together with people who are different from you– the list of the other necessary skills that Trump doesn’t seem to have, goes on and on. But somehow Adams can’t see that, I suppose because Adams is such a devout member of the Church of Persuasion/Hypnosis Is Everything.