Open Thread 57.5

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

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466 Responses to Open Thread 57.5

  1. Jill says:

    For those who might be curious, or at least willing, to read an article that explains a view from the other (Left) side, on both climate change and the economy, here’s an article that describes such a view, that I found interesting.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      It’s sad to see someone so mind-killed. Lots of non-falsifiable claims in there and a bit of projection – seeing in the other side what your own side does. From what I read, I think my favorite bit is this part:

      Alternatively, the cleverer deniers that want to retain their own respectability in the public sphere, such as MIT-educated Charles Koch, allow others to do the tale-spinning or funding of climate denial from their extensive donor network.

      If we take it for granted that Charles Koch is evil and funds “denialism”, it ought to be confusing that what he personally says about climate change is scientifically defensible and that he himself spends virtually no money either actively opposing climate change action or supporting organizations that actively oppose climate change action. But no matter – with enough spin you can explain anything!

      Thus, somebody who doesn’t say anything wrong “allows others to do the tale-spinning” and somebody who doesn’t fund anything wrong “allows others to do the funding of climate denial from their extensive donor network”.

      Where that last bit just means that if we looked hard enough we could probably find somebody who shares enough common interests with Koch to cooperate with him on funding some causes who also funds some organization somewhere that has opposed climate activism.

      If Koch said climate change is a hoax he’d be called “a denier”; if he doesn’t say it’s a hoax he’s called “a cleverer denier”. Is this fair?

    • I didn’t make it through all of that article, but so far as I could tell it contained no arguments and no evidence to support the author’s belief that climate change is a serious threat which requires drastic action. The whole piece simply took it for granted that the author’s view of the subject was correct and then devoted many pages to explanations of the wicked or foolish people who in one way or another disagreed.

    • John Schilling says:

      The article was clearly written not only by but for leftists, presuming that the audience already agreed with the central thesis and so not really bothering to explain it. So, cheerleading rather than persuasion, and not the sort of thing you ought to be pointing outsiders towards. What I did get from it:

      These are people who really, really believe they are on the right side of history, and want to live in the imaginary world where everyone is already telling them how right they were all along.

      By amazing coincidence, the measures that are necessary to avoid an absolute catastrophe due to CAGW line up almost perfectly with things the left advocated before anyone had ever heard of CAGW, and there’s a canned argument for why each of these things is right and good independent of CAGW that will be brought out on the least provocation.

      This is a movement that is about ready to start eating its own. Or maybe not; the author may be representative only of a tiny fraction of the left. But whoever he does represent, is clearly done with attacking the Right; it’s time to attack the people on the Left who are insufficiently zealous in their CAGW activism. That would be fun to watch, and I don’t think it will damage anything I much care about.

    • John Schilling says:

      I saw that when it first came out, and was disappointed in the narrow definition of “welfare”. As near as I can tell, 538 is counting exactly and only Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). One of the biggest changes in the social welfare system over the past two decades has been the shift from TANF-like programs to long-term disability payments, arguably to hide “welfare” payments behind a veneer of medicalization. Long-term disability is I believe still dominated by cash payments to people who were poor to begin with and will remain poor forevermore.

      If that’s not the case, I’d like to know. More generally, I want any accounting for where welfare money is going, to include the disability money. Put it on the chart in a separate color if need be, but it needs to be on the chart.


          That’s a really interesting story. On the one hand, there are a lot of perverse incentives. On the other hand, for someone without much education, there are few “sit down” jobs that can accommodate physical limitations.

          • John Schilling says:

            This problem would be so much easier to solve if there were no real population of people who suffer tremendous pain if forced to stand for more than an hour but have no objectively-verifiable physical symptoms to go along with that. Since it seems that there are, I’m kind of at a loss.

            Well, OK, if your only problem is that you can’t stand up for long periods, I’m maybe OK with the taxpayer subsidizing your sitting at a desk just long enough to get a GED and a 2-year degree in something useful from a local community college. But that’s not going to be a complete answer, I fear.

      • brad says:

        arguably to hide “welfare” payments behind a veneer of medicalization

        That may be part of it, but a larger part is an unintended (?) consequence of the federalist solution that was adopted for welfare reform. In an effort to harness the laboratory of democracy effect and let a thousand flowers bloom and so on, TANF was made into a block grant program.

        The states get a block grant but also a mandate — they have to cover any shortfall that the mandate creates and get to keep any surplus. So they have every incentive to make sure there are as few people eligible for TANF as possible. Meanwhile SSD is wholly paid for by the federal government. So when states pay companies to help people fill out the forms to qualify for SSD it is not out of charitable motives. (In the unfit for work article Ctrl-f for “PCG” for this part of the story.)

      • Yes defining TANF as welfare is crazy. As of 2008, there were 78 means tested Federal welfare programs, and innumerable other state and local ones. TANF was just one.

        It is definitely confusing as to where all this welfare spending goes to, because if we simply gave these funds as cash to the poor, we could easily pull every person out of poverty, and it is my understanding that there are plenty still in poverty. My guess as to where the money goes is as follows:
        1) lots of spending is not on those in poverty, but simply those with lower than average income, and
        2) high administrative costs, especially the many smaller programs.

        Also it is likely that there are fewer in poverty than reported, since non-cash benefits aren’t counted in poverty counts by the Census Department.

    • cassander says:

      The american welfare state is “designed” largely to transfer money from the young to the old, not the rich to the poor.

      • The 14 million people on Social Security Disability may be a bit older than the average American, but they are much, much poorer.

        • cassander says:

          and they are dwarfed by the 45 million people on SS retirement, the 45 million on medicare, and the tens of millions of elderly on medicaid.

      • HeelBearCub says:


        It’s not “designed” to do that.

        It’s designed to do that. That is how the program works and was designed to work. Those who work now support those who used to work, which is pretty much how these things have always worked. Elderly people depend on those who are younger to support them in their old age. Whether that is your flesh and blood kids and grandkids, or just their cohort is relatively immaterial.

        However, although Social Security is part of the broader social welfare state, it’s not what is commonly meant by “welfare” so you are really just tilting at a straw man.

        In other news, scare quotes and straw men are annoying.

        • cassander says:

          >That is how the program works and was designed to work.

          I put designed in quotes because I was referring to the US welfare state as a whole, which is a series of kludges without any overarching plan, not the individual parts of it.

          >Elderly people depend on those who are younger to support them in their old age. Whether that is your flesh and blood kids and grandkids, or just their cohort is relatively immaterial

          In the past, the elderly were poorer than everyone else. Today, that is not the case.

          >However, although Social Security is part of the broader social welfare state, it’s not what is commonly meant by “welfare” so you are really just tilting at a straw man.

          So you admit I’m right, but you’re going to call me on other people using language less precisely?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            In common usage “welfare” and “welfare state” do not refer to the same things and you are trying to act as if they do.

            This isn’t a question of other people misrepresenting what they mean, but rather you willfully (or unintentionally) misinterpreting what they clearly said.

            As to the rest of your argument, it is true that the broad welfare state cannot be characterized as merely Social Security and Medicare (and other elder support). Those parts of the social welfare state are the most expensive, and therefore the welfare state as a whole does transfer money from the young to the old, but it’s a mistake to set the cost of Social Security up as if it is oppositional to something else like SNAP, TANF, Unemployment Insurance, etc. It’s like adding up all the insurance payments made by State Farm and saying that, because the total of home claims exceeds the total of car claims that State Farm is designed to pay home owners at the expense of car owners.

            Certainly their are unique aspects to the American political system that make it in some sense accurate to refer to it as a “kludgocracy” but that doesn’t really connect in to your other points.

  2. TMB says:

    During the Brexit campaign much was made of Michael Gove saying that people had “had enough of experts”.
    Many remainers viewed this statement as demonstrating the anti-intellectual, dishonest, and, frankly, moronic, nature of the exit campaign.

    But, I think it might actually be entirely rational to discount advice from experts, especially intelligent ones.
    If someone is more intelligent than me, there is a greater chance that their arguments are convincing purely as a result of their intelligence, independent of whether their ideas acurately reflect reality. There is a greater chance that they will be able to manipulate me into doing things that are to my disadvantage.
    There is the same problem with people who possess expert knowledge. If I’m incapable of understanding the information under question, I should defer to experts only to the extent that their past results have been pleasing to me. People’s frustration demonstrated that the advice of economic experts was useless.

    I think this goes a bit beyond avoiding appeals to authority – we should, actually, be actively suspicious of authorities. If an ill-informed moron provides you with a convincing argument, you can be fairly certain it is true – not the case for intelligent experts.

    • Protagoras says:

      Perhaps I’m biased, being an expert of sorts myself, but I feel the need to point out that this is an incredibly unreliable method of avoiding being conned. Conmen can and will deliberately pretend to be less intelligent than they are in order to take advantage of this kind of mistaken reasoning. There seems to be a decent amount of that exact con going on in politics.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      There’s also a good case to be made that many so-called experts are nothing of the sort.

      Kahneman and Klein summarize the current research on the reliability of expert opinion by laying out two preconditions for expertise to exist: regularity and validity of environmental cues, and the opportunity to learn those cues through practice.

      Current events and the market are both prime examples of areas where “expert” intuition can be expected to fail. The market because it actively resists giving reliable and valid cues: any successful attempt to forecast its movement would be incorporated into it as price information, making the same forecasting method less useful the more often it is used. Current events because interesting events are necessarily rare deviations from the current trends, which mean that any heuristics one learns through repetition will almost certainly not cover them. And of course in both you can see Taleb’s ‘black swan’ events which cannot be easily predicted from past data.

      Political science and economics might provide useful statistical models, but putting individual political scientists and economists on your couch and asking for their gut feeling on how things will turn out is a bad move.

    • DavidS says:

      You’re focusing on ‘can they convince me’ rather than ‘why do they want to’. If an intelligent expert millionaire tells me that a policy benefits me, I may worry that he’s tricking me. But it’s evidence it benefits him, at least.

      For Brexit and similar, I think the main conundrum was whether the arguments that e.g. the Bank of England, academics, heads of public bodies etc. were motivated to make was motivated by
      1. them acting in their role of working out what’s good for economy etc.
      2. them having some vested EU interest (get funding from EU)
      3. them being part of a cultural milieu which is instinctively pro-EU

    • Jiro says:

      If someone is more intelligent than me, there is a greater chance that their arguments are convincing purely as a result of their intelligence, independent of whether their ideas acurately reflect reality.

      Subject of an earlier post of Scott’s:

      • onyomi says:

        That post is very insightful and points to what I think would be a more precise and defensible way of phrasing the sentiment: “we’re sick of the counterintuitive recommendations of experts.”

        I feel like few people are getting mad at experts qua experts for conclusions like “making guns harder to buy reduces gun violence,” even if they might not be true. Certainly some will argue against that conclusion, but not in terms of “oh we’re so sick of the opinions of you experts, always saying things like ‘making it harder to buy x will result in less of x’.”

        Rather, it’s expert conclusions like:

        Though the weather seems basically not that different from ten years ago, we are on the verge of a climate catastrophe if we don’t take dramatic action

        Though you know a bunch of people who’ve lost their factory jobs to immigrants and outsourcing, protectionism and immigration restrictions make everyone poorer in the long run

        Though saving money and not consuming may tend to make an individual household richer, it might make a nation poorer (“paradox of thrift”)

        And so on (and I’m not saying I agree or disagree with any of the above, simply that they are all counterintuitive*).

        And people are right to be skeptical of counterintuitive expert conclusions because, speaking as an academic myself, I can tell you that experts are incentivized to come up with arguments for counterintuitive conclusions. No one gets tenure for proving that eating fat makes you fat, burning coal is bad for air quality, the weather is going to remain about the same, spending a lot of money makes you have less money, etc. etc.

        Reminds me of the time someone on here said something to the effect of “every health economist will tell you that the market for healthcare is very unusual.” That may actually be true, but we also have to take into account that this similar to saying “95% of theologians will tell you there is a god.”

        People don’t make a special study of something they think just follows the same rules as everything else and even if they set out to do so, a sunk cost fallacy would incentivize them not to keep thinking that, because what good is a health economist who just says “actually, you can pretty much think about healthcare as you would anything else in the economy”?

        *If you really care, I agree with one, disagree with another, and don’t feel qualified to have an opinion on a third.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          “95% of theologians will tell you there is a god.”

          Is that actually true?

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t have statistics. I can say that I’ve spent the past 10 years at universities with prominent Divinity Schools/Schools of Theology and have yet to meet a grad student in Theology who didn’t believe in God.

        • John Nerst says:

          Though you know a bunch of people who’ve lost their factory jobs to immigrants and outsourcing, protectionism and immigration restrictions make everyone poorer in the long run.

          The misunderstanding here seems to be due to an equivocation of “everyone” as in “every single one, individually” and “everyone” as in “the group ‘everyone’, put together”. Somehow I don’t think most of the ‘losers’ of globalization are placated by hearing what amounts to: “but the winners win more than the losers lose!”.

    • Murphy says:

      Remember ill-informed moron’s can parrot convincing argument’s from dishonest convincing people.

      Trusting morons just opens you up wide to 2nd order attacks.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      I think there were two or three main reasons why anti-expert sentiment was so widespread. First of all, it seemed to clash with what people were actually experiencing — warnings from the Bank of England that Brexit will make people worse-off will inevitably ring somewhat hollow if the only tangible way the EU has impacted your life is by introducing lots of immigrants who then drive wages down and make it harder for you to get a job. Secondly, there was a perception that the “expert class” didn’t really care about or like the working classes, in which case I’d argue that ignoring their advice might be sensible: if somebody doesn’t have your best interests to heart, there’s no reason to expect their advice to benefit you, except perhaps accidentally. Thirdly, the track record of experts in predicting things hasn’t been too good — back in the day there were a lot of doom-and-gloom predictions about what would happen if we didn’t join the Euro, and we all know how that turned out; and few were able to predict the financial crisis back in 2008.

    • Publius Varinius says:

      If someone is more intelligent than me, there is a greater chance that their arguments are convincing purely as a result of their intelligence, independent of whether their ideas acurately reflect reality. There is a greater chance that they will be able to manipulate me into doing things that are to my disadvantage.

      Is there any evidence that highly intelligent people are significantly better at convincing (ordinary, non-disabled) people about false things?

      • I think of the same issue in the context of social skills. Someone with much higher socials skills than mine is pleasant to be around, can accomplish lots of useful things–but I worry a little about the ability to manipulate me, possibly in situations where our interests diverge.

      • Jiro says:

        Is there any evidence that highly intelligent people are significantly better at convincing (ordinary, non-disabled) people about false things?

        Probably not–but the main reason why not is exactly the above reason. Ordinary people know they can’t find the flaws in bad arguments from experts, and accordingly refuse to be convinced by the experts.

        • Publius Varinius says:

          That would mean highly intelligent people are significantly better at convincing (ordinary, non-disabled) people about anything, and not false things specifically. Not to say that it’s trivial to control for that by hiding expert status.

          • Sandy says:

            The opinions of highly intelligent people hold more authority by social convention, and people are expected to conform to those opinions as a result. Highly intelligent people who are conscious of this authority and its power may craft their opinions in a manner that allows for their personal mores and ideals to diffuse across society. Ordinary people who recognize that highly intelligent people have this power may grow wary of the latter group’s opinions as a result.

          • Publius Varinius says:

            @Sandy: This sounds way more reasonable, and it also differs a lot from TMB’s argument.

  3. Elijah says:

    I’m looking for a particular article that I think came from SSC. It had themes of effective altruism and transhumanism. It’s main thrust was to liken death to an ever-present malignant force that we have learned to rationalize and live with, but now can finally start to kill. It ended with this video:

  4. I have a question for US readers who get their health insurance through their employer. Do employee payments for insurance vary based on the income of the employee? And has this changed since the advent of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)? In my experience in the old days such employee payments for most firms were the same for all employees for the same plan, regardless of income.

    The reason I ask is because of my personal experience. I work at a temp firm which I believe doesn’t want to cover employees, but has to under the ACA because of the number of employees. When I looked at the payment I would have to make, it was much higher than I would pay for the same plan directly from an insurance company, so I obviously turned down the coverage. The temp firm advertised that their plan was “affordable,” and that is true based on the rule of an individual plan being less than 9.66% of income. But I make quite good money on this contract, and many of their employees make a lot less, so they must have participation charges that vary based on income, for the plan to be “affordable” to everyone. I wonder if pretty much all firms do that now, or at least any firm with a large range of wages. But I’ve never heard any discussion of such a change amongst most firms.

    • BBA says:

      I worked at a megacorp before ACA, and as I recall the employee contribution to the (self-insured) health plan varied based on income, but at a few fixed tiers rather than as a percentage of pay.

    • Andrew says:

      I work at a medium-large corp, and insurance premiums are totally unrelated to our salaries.

    • Loquat says:

      I work for a megacorp, and I’m 99% sure our health coverage is the same price for all income levels. There might be better plans available for the executives, but for the regular employees, middle management, etc, I’ve seen no reason to believe there’s any difference in premium based on income.

      When this temp company claimed their plan was “affordable”, do you know if they actually meant the ACA’s definition? Last I checked, it was still legal to use the word as meaningless fluff. They may also have been using bullshit assumptions like that infamous McDonald’s budget that assumed the worker would have a second job – the official government website defines “affordable” as the price for employee-only coverage divided by the employee’s total household income including income from any other adults in the household so an employer could theoretically set a high price and still claim their plan is “affordable” (to employees with a higher-earning spouse).

    • Garrett says:

      A drone for 2 US megacorps recently:
      Employee contributions were based only on what was being covered and unrelated to income. So coverage for employee only was cheaper than employee + spouse, or employee + children, etc. There was a fixed table of associated costs.

    • gbdub says:

      Our megacorp charges (and pays out to) everyone the same, and I’m somewhat convinced this is why our insurance got notably crappier after a recent merger with a larger company. The nature of the larger company’s business was such that I think their average salary was quite a bit lower (or rather, their workforce had a larger fraction of lower-earners) and I’m guessing our more generous legacy plan would have translated to a bigger fraction of total compensation outlays if it were applied new-company-wide.

    • brad says:

      There are some complicated rules on how exactly employers can discriminate among employee sub-groups in their benefits. There are taxation consequences if these rules are violated. While PPACA modified these rules somewhat, they date all the way back to HIPAA (1996), ERISA (1974), and perhaps further.

      The most impactful of these rules, at least in my experience, are designed to prevent discrimination in favor of highly compensated employees (a term of art). However, there are also intersections with protected class discrimination laws as well as rules that prevent a company from doing its own medical underwriting (though they are allowed to do these incentives for healthy living things).

      Although I don’t see any reason at first glance a company couldn’t pay more of the premium for lower paid workers than it does for higher paid workers, you’d really need to go over the plan documents with an expert in this area.

      • Oh I am sure I could figure out how these premiums work if I had access to their records. It seems that most firms don’t want this info to get out.

        I am a bit surprised how many folks report a flat charge for employee portion of premium not corresponding with income. I would think that the lower paid people at those firms would thus end up paying more than 9.66% of their income, causing penalties for the corps. I wonder if their are some subsidies going n that aren’t publicized to most employees, to avoid these penalties. I need to talk to an HR person who handles insurance to get a better feel for how this works these days. Not that it matters to me personally, but I am intellectually curious.

        By the way, I found out what my family coverage would be today (before I only had the number for my coverage only). For me, my wife, and my daughter, my cost would be 25K per year for a 12k deductible plan. They really don’t want me to take their insurance plan.

        • brad says:

          I believe there’s some provision of ERISA that allows you to request the complete plan documents of any covered employee fringe benefit plan (the term is something like that, I’m rusty on this). Sometimes it can be dicey to exercise these sort of rights, but better than them not existing at all.

  5. onyomi says:

    In a hypothetical society there are, broadly speaking, two sexes and genders. A has internal genitals against which fairly tight-fitting clothing may be worn without seeming obscene or, apparently, feeling uncomfortable. B has external genitals prone to overheating and which do not like to be smushed. Some people criticize Bs for a habit this creates called “Bspreading.” As are stereotyped both as needing to pay more attention to their personal attractiveness yet also not wanting to seem to invite sexual attention. Being careful and guarded, sexually, is a virtue for As. Were they accidentally to expose their underwear publicly, it would be pretty embarrassing. Bs are stereotyped as not needing or wanting to sacrifice function for form in personal appearance, yet it is considered much more acceptable, even desirable for them to be sexually aggressive. Were they to accidentally expose their underwear publicly or let someone catch a glimpse of it on an escalator it would be kind of “so what?”

    Operating behind a veil of ignorance, which of the genders wears skirts and which pants? All of this is a way of saying I wish the utilikilt would catch on enough that I wouldn’t feel ridiculous for wearing one. Of course, this is only step one to bringing back the toga.

    To answer my own question, my best guess is that the skirt is part of the “push-pull” aspect of traditional feminine attractiveness whereby they simultaneously invite and yet must be able to plausibly deny desire for, sexual attention. The difficulty in maintaining decorum while wearing it by, say, primly crossing the legs or not spreading the legs wide, may be a feature distinguishing proper ladies from improper, not a bug.

    If women’s clothes are supposed to signal “desire me” and their behavior “don’t desire me,” perhaps men are the opposite in this respect, at least in Anglo-American culture of today (contrast codpieces etc. and the super-tight pants of Southern European men).

    • dndnrsn says:

      Tight pants for men have been back in style for a while, haven’t they? The style in men’s tailored clothes might be towards more form-fitting stuff but I’m not sure.

    • LHN says:

      Operating behind a veil of ignorance, which of the genders wears skirts and which pants? All of this is a way of saying I wish the utilikilt would catch on enough that I wouldn’t feel ridiculous for wearing one.

      I have a similar wish that “man-purse” weren’t a joke. (There are contexts in which, e.g., a messenger bag is appropriate, but they’re much narrower than those where women expect to be able to carry handbags, which is pretty much “everywhere”.) Yes, men’s clothing has more functional pockets, but using them aggravates (and may have caused) my sciatica. A small bag being ubiquitous and unexceptionable for men would be a real convenience.

      • arbitrary_greay says:

        I think I swore for like a good half-minute after visiting the men’s accessories section of a retail store and seeing how huge their all-but-dufflebag purses were compared to the wide variety of bags, sizes and styles, available to the ladies. Of course, this retail store at least had dude-purses available, unlike a number of other clothing stores. Laptops and tablets are making it more acceptable for guys to have over-the-shoulders, though.

        • LHN says:

          Not at a formal wedding, or at religious services, or at a nice restaurant on Saturday night, or any number of other circumstances. No one’s going to stop you at the door or anything, but a laptop bag is still decidedly out of place.

          (Granted, in some of those some women may feel obligated to carry a purse so small that it’ll barely accommodate a few credit cards. But there’s still a fair amount more leeway.)

          • Andrew says:

            It’s acceptable to carry a briefcase into many fancy dinners- anything short of black-tie events, anyway.

          • LHN says:

            Maybe if you could plausibly have just come from a briefcase-appropriate job. Standing around at the cocktail hour between a wedding and a reception carrying a briefcase, or walking into a restaurant on Saturday night with one would just look odd, whether the level of formality is black tie or sport jackets and slacks or business casual. Especially if the folks you’re meeting know that you’re not coming straight from court or anything.

            (It would probably be fine as a trademark affectation, but I’ve already got one of those.)

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            For some social circles, I don’t think the ladies have their (larger than what would carry what would go in a guy’s pockets + makeup) purses on their person during weddings or dinner parties and such, either.

          • Guy says:

            Yes, I think a (large) purse is usually treated more like an ill-designed backpack than anything else, and dropped off with a coat most of the time. I don’t understand tiny purses, but then I don’t understand why my female friends continue to tolerate the tiny, fake pockets that designers insist on putting on their pants.

      • gbdub says:

        If you have a girlfriend, at some point she will insist that you carry her purse for one reason or another. This is entirely socially acceptable. This has the side benefit for me that I don’t feel bad putting some of my personal items that are awkward in pockets (e.g. sunglasses) into her purse, since at some point I’ll be hauling it anyway.

        Side note: what’s the deal with “clutch” purses? A small, easily lost/stolen thing that you must hold at all times, rendering one hand useless for most of the evening? And they are most popular at crowded, standing room only events with food and drink it seems (clubs, cocktail parties)! Get ye a shoulder strap, woman! You can always take it off for photos.

        • LHN says:

          If you have a girlfriend, at some point she will insist that you carry her purse for one reason or another. This is entirely socially acceptable. This has the side benefit for me that I don’t feel bad putting some of my personal items that are awkward in pockets (e.g. sunglasses) into her purse, since at some point I’ll be hauling it anyway.

          My wife has made it clear that her purse is pretty much at her carrying capacity. :-‌) In a pinch I can ask that she carry something small temporarily, but she’s not going to, e.g., carry my spare phone battery or Kindle or whatever on a regular basis. (And I don’t particularly blame her; the things I want to carry tend to be either bulky or dense.) If I want to have something like that with me, it has to be jammed into a pocket.

          Cold weather is much easier, since jackets and coats tend to have capacious pockets. Summer, or trips to warm climates, are trickier.

          I can sometimes cheat when I’m carrying my camera bag, which is utterly inelegant but is understood and more or less accepted in a way that a messenger bag wouldn’t be. (With some exceptions– e.g., a bar/bat mitzvah in a Conservative or stricter synagogue on the Sabbath: operating any electrical device isn’t permitted, so why do I have a large camera with me?)

        • I don’t know whether this is still common, but I’ve been amused by seeing men carry purses in such a way (a double strip of the strap grasped in one hand) that it’s clear they aren’t carrying it like a woman.

          They’ve also got my sympathy– gender norms get viciously enforced, and they’re making the best compromise they can.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          This is something of a tangent, but since this thread is about gender performance anyway:

          If you have a girlfriend, at some point she will insist that you carry her purse for one reason or another. This is entirely socially acceptable.

          When a woman insists that you carry her purse, that’s (usually) what’s known as a ‘shit test’ or a fitness test. Meekly giving in is about as bad as making a scene out of it, in terms of failing said test.

          There’s a lot of advice on how to deal with fitness tests out there, the best of which utilize humor and a bit of light ribbing to gracefully decline. That way you pass the test by refusing to emasculate yourself, while still staying within the bounds of politeness.

          It’s stupid as hell but ignored at your own risk.

          • Anonymous says:

            This dude-bro wisdom is nonsense, or at least only applicable in its original setting (macking on hot sluts yo!)

            Go to a nursing home, talk to the coherent men there. Find the ones that self report having had long happy marriages. I guarantee you all of them held their wives purses at least once in their lives.

          • Andrew says:

            There are other ways to pass such a “test”, assuming they even mean it as such- as a guy who’s dated a number of punk/alt women, accepting it and then flamboyently owning it works very well!

          • Dr Dealgood says:


            Sounds legit. I just have to find a bunch of guys who married before the sexual revolution got into full swing, and then make sure the group is free of any pesky divorcees who might go off-message.


            Sounds like Agree & Amplify, smart choice.

          • onyomi says:

            I think shit-testing is a thing, but I don’t think being asked to hold a purse is one. At least not unless it is part of a larger pattern of being treated like a butler or something (I have witnessed this in some older couples: the man gets gradually worn down to the status of butler-chauffeur; the reverse probably can happen too: wife being gradually reduced to level of live-in maid/secretary).

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Tom Cruise is an underrated actor.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            The deleted where T J Mackey teaches you about to “putting on a fight” is even more relevant.


            (Warning for language)

        • Loquat says:

          I don’t often have a need for my husband to hold my purse, but he’s definitely not shy about asking me to carry small items like sunglasses, bottle of hot sauce, etc. He basically never carries a bag of his own unless he has some larger item like a laptop to justify it.

          • gbdub says:

            Bottle of hot sauce? Has he recently gone blonde or started craving human brains?

          • Loquat says:

            He was always semi-blond, but the only thing he’s started craving (that I know of) is the Impossible Burger which is kind of the opposite end of the spectrum from human brains.

            (He likes hot sauce and lots of places either don’t have it or have cheap kinds he turns up his nose at.)

      • Aegeus says:

        On the flip side of that, my GF wishes that skirts had pockets, because it’s annoying to carry a purse everywhere.

        • LHN says:

          Sure. Even in garments that have pockets, women’s tend to be smaller and less functional (or sometimes even purely decorative). It seems to me there’s a lot of room for improvement there as well, though in that case I don’t have direct experience.

          Though I’m guessing there’d be pushback from some of the market that cares more about the lines of the outfit than practical storage. Just as any effort to push a “European carryall” for men has foundered on “men don’t carry purses, period”.

      • wubbles says:

        Might I interest you in Highlands dress? In particular the sporran is a very masculine purse.

      • Jiro says:

        Plenty of guys at Dragoncon had the equivalent of purses, usually backpacks or shoulder bags (I brought one myself).

        Bags are necessary to carry at least:
        — con guide
        — tablet
        — lunch and/or water bottle
        — purchases (usually from the dealer’s room, musical groups and fan tables also had some)
        — flyers picked up
        — roleplaying equipment if you are going to do roleplaying
        — charger for phone and/or tablet
        — 3DS for Streetpass

        They are particularly necessary if you commute, since if you need something you have to have it with you all day.

        Of course, that counts as a narrow context.

        • hlynkacg says:

          It suddenly occurs to me that I should have made a “who here is going to Dragoncon?” post.

          So who else was at Dragoncon?

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      Can this also be a motivation for the “low-riding baggy pants” style? Do we need to re-popularize parachute pants, to allow for more crotch space? (And maybe pioneer a chic to allow for more breathable fabrics to cover that area. After all, jeans were originally designed with horse-riding in mind. Absent that requirement, we should be able to allow for, like, jersey material in that area.)

      (I mean, crotch-tight skinny pants aren’t necessarily fun for females either.)

    • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

      I always had the impression that the kilt was just a convenient way to carry around a large piece of fabric, which has a million and one uses: it can be used as bedding, a tent, a horse blancket, to ward off the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, and so one. The actual wearing of it was not a particular concern.

      The toga just seems like a major pain in the ass, being a bulky garment designed to signal wealth and social status. A himation, with our without a chiton, seems much more practical.

      The real secret is to roll back on the Victorian prudishness and make nudity acceptable again.

      • There are two different sorts of kilts being confused here. The great kilt fits your description of a big and useful piece of fabric. The small kilt, which I think got popular as part of the early 19th c. Celtic Revival, is not adequate for that purpose. The utilikilt mentioned above in the thread is a version of the latter.

        • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

          Color me corrected.

          But why use the utili- prefix for the obviously less utility enhancing of the two?? *Grumble grumble hipsters*

          • gbdub says:

            Well, the “Utili-Kilt” is basically a small kilt + cargo shorts. “Cargo Kilt” is a bit too close to “Cargo Cult” I imagine.

            Also, small kilts are less useful from the “all purpose outerwear” perspective, but more utilitarian for the role of “clothing that doesn’t get caught in machinery and kill me”. (Apparently, great kilts were taken off for battle – so even when they were popular, they were recognized as not particularly suited for doing labor in, which is what the utili-kilt is pitched as being good for)

          • Guy says:

            Alternately, a utili-kilt is a toolbelt that doesn’t require you to wear pants too.

    • Guy says:

      I think this all has to do with horses. If you look at the fashions of cultures that don’t ride horses, they tend pretty universally towards skirts-for-all (for example, the Egyptians), except possibly in colder climates where you really need leg coverings (eg Inuits). Then go look at European-descended fashions in women’s riding clothes (and saddles). Riding a horse in a skirt is extremely annoying, and you have to go to ludicrous lengths if you’re in a society that insists you wear a skirt and you want to ride a horse. Furthermore, it’s very helpful to have some sort of durable fabric or other material between you and the horse to prevent chaffing. So: horseback riding implies pants. Do A’s ride horses, or do B’s? That gender will wear pants.

      As an alternative explanation, if you look at (high class) European men’s fashions from the middle ages to the 19th century, here’s the picture you get:

      We start with long tunics over hose. The hose is skin tight, and doesn’t actually include a crotch. Instead, the tunic descends down to the knees, and there’s an extra garment covering the crotch (the codpiece). Over the next several centuries, the bottom hem of the tunic (or doublet, or shirt) gradually rises. Once the hem is high enough, there’s a brief period where the codpiece is a fashion item, before hose are exchanged for connected tights, which then evolve into pants. Again, the development of pants, with two legs connected by a closed crotch, is the unusual fashion item.

      All of this is to say: if someone demands you explain your kilt, just say that you’re going back to basic human fashion, rather than muck about with all the fancy sewing you need to get a good pair of trousers.

      • onyomi says:

        Oh, good point about horses. Also interesting how the codpiece existed before it became a fashion item. Question being: if you were wearing a skirt with hose and a codpiece, was the codpiece actually in direct contact with the saddle? And if so, maybe that’s why they were kind of big or even armor-like? Or is that only after they become a fashion statement?

        • Guy says:

          (I’m pulling this from wikipedia, and all of my analysis above came from there and/or my head, effectively)

          So, this article plainly states that there were no codpieces before it was possible for them to be a fashion statement, and also implies that men just let their tunics cover things, rather than wear any sort of shorts or breeches. Meanwhile this article seems to claim that they were actually worn with a garment called “braise”, which seem to basically be boxers. “Sometimes codpieces sometimes not” was how I resolved those two in my head when I first made my above comment.

          I’ve decided to give up and google “medieval men’s underwear”*. This pointed me to this interesting passage on wikipedia. It’s much clearer on the state of things: the codpiece was initially a piece of cloth attached to the “boxers” I mentioned above, which don’t seem to have been worn with hose. For hose, you would just wear a doublet, which was sort of like a long version of a modern button-up shirt, except without sleeves. Eventually doublets closed at the crotch, but initially you would close them with a codpiece, as you would braies. In any case, if men were padding their codpieces before that period (and maybe they were; I understand that most saddles other than the Western are rather rough on that bit of male anatomy), nobody bothered to say anything about it.

          Codpiece expansion appears to have started with Henry VIII who may or may not have had syphilis and needed the larger codpiece to medicate that disease. Also apparently men sometimes used their codpieces as an extra (only?) pocket.

          * Without the “men’s” the initial results, at least, are mostly about women’s underwear. Apparently in 2010 some medieval bras (that is, garments that essentially are modern bras without certain technical innovations, not medieval boob-covers of another sort) were discovered, which got people excited because it meant medieval women wore something other than the breast bands of the Greco-Roman era(s). I guess.

          • onyomi says:

            This is very interesting as it also makes sense of the cod piece, which always seemed very strange, and which I had thought was like the medieval equivalent of a teenage girl filling her bra with tissue paper. It makes much more sense to me as a signal: “look how wealthy and manly I am by virtue of signalling my readiness to ride a horse at any time–and, incidentally, as the skirt gets higher and higher, I’m okay with implying my junk is big (or using it to apply a cooling salve to my VD?),” as opposed to just the former.

  6. Carinthium says:

    Hi. I’ve recently been watching a documentary ( which alleges that Mother Theresa is nothing more than a fraud and I’m trying to decide what to make of it. Does anyone here know anything of relevance?

    • Anonymous says:

      Nothing? That’s pretty harsh. She really did run hospices. There is some complaint that she could have been more palliative and that she should have looked harder for curable cases. Most complaint is that she was catholic. The only fraud I’ve heard is that after Muggeridge (remember him?) made her a superstar, the funds came rushing in and she handed them over the Vatican, rather than spending them herself. Scale is hard and I don’t condemn people for failing to expand as fast as the money comes in. There is a more specific complaint that she set up small operations so as to increase exposure to donors. Her locations in the first world really were fund-raising wings. Maybe that’s fraud, but be consistent and condemn the huge amount of fund-raising in the world.

      Effective altruists complain about Unicef putting forward effective operations (eg, salt pills) to solicit general funds. You might make the same complaint about Church and Teresa, although the case of Unicef is much more specific and thus worse in my view. But, on the other hand, the same people would say that she could do better work in the third world than in the first, so it’s hard to complain that the operations in the first world weren’t larger. But she wasn’t soliciting donations from people who gave much thought to effectiveness. The Vatican claims that her funds were earmarked for similar work. Can her donors expect any more?

    • Deiseach says:

      Okay, I’m the wrong person to ask about this as, while I don’t have the star-struck reverence for St Teresa of Calcutta a lot of people did, I still think she was doing valuable work.

      What I would say as a counter-attack (and it is an attack, not a response on my part, since I’m not inclined to care two beans about the opinion of any of these guys) to the documentary is that:

      (a) I get a faint whiff of Hindu nationalism from it – the current Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi is pushing this very hard for vote-catching purposes – what with the criticism about this being more European colonialism: “Dr Chatterjee makes it very clear that the denigration of Calcutta is akin to the denigration of India because we are shown as helpless people who cannot look after ourselves” (also, there’s a rival charity, the Ramakrishna Mission, whose nose is severely out of joint over the whole thing)

      (b) a lot of the initial impetus was from admitted atheists who had axes to grind (the above Dr Aroup Chatterjee who then inspired Christopher Hitchens to do his documentary) – I think they wouldn’t have cared two straws if she had set up modern hospitals with all the latest shiny machines and finest drugs, as long as she continued to be orthodox Catholic and against things like abortion: “She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction” – so, economic policy has nothing to do with alleviating poverty, then? Never mind the fact that, in Puerto Rico for instance, the large American companies which had interests there and saw it as a prime area for industrialisation wanted to bring women into the workforce so they could keep wages down, and one way to bring women into the workforce was to promote contraception so they wouldn’t have kids keeping them at home, and they did a lot of campaigning to sell this, including to the Church in Puerto Rico. (There were also allegations of compulsory sterilisation if women wanted to be hired on for factory jobs – how true or not this was, I have no idea, and it would be ungracious of me to claim Hitchens supported racism and sexism by supporting the control of non-white women’s fertility by American capital interests, now wouldn’t it? Why, to do such a thing would be like claiming that someone wanted to reduce women to nothing more than livestock spending their lives breeding, merely because they thought abortion was wrong!)

      (c) there is probably a good deal of truth in the criticism about medicine etc. I don’t know and don’t claim to know. I wouldn’t be at all surprised; she was the driving force and inspiration and very much set things up in her own way, and probably relied strongly on the knowledge and habits she formed as a missionary in the 40s and 50s and probably never updated them or took account of other people later on saying new methods and drugs should be used

      (d) someone who is a missionary is of course going to think that conversion to their religion and the saving of souls is the most important work, not the temporal circumstances. That’s what is grinding the gears of the atheist documentary by Hitchens and Ali above – if she’d done the same things but attacked “the Vatican” and called for abortion rights, they’d have been all over her as one of the few believers doing anything concrete for the poor

      There was a lot of unreflective treacle and gloop in Western societies about St Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity, because people like convenient pretty stories of goodness and kindness. This is the inevitable backlash, and as the pendulum swings, an equally unrealistic “monster of evil who reveled in suffering and caused misery” is going to take hold and all the right-thinking Westerners will nod sagely and say they knew it all along.

      Truth, as ever, lies somewhere in the middle.

  7. News media report the death of Phyllis Schlafly at age 92.

    Of course she was best known as a right-wing activist who almost singlehandedly stopped the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

    Less well known, however, is that she was a consistent ally for those of us who oppose the overreach of copyright law. When Congress was busy knuckling under to corporate interests in extending the length and scope of copyrights again and again, she was one of the few voices on the Right to oppose it.

    Perhaps she did so for ignoble reasons (hating Disney and Hollywood for pro-LGBT policies?), but on an issue where few people had the courage to speak up for the public interest and the public domain, she was one of the few, and I am grateful for that.

    Here is a column of hers, about then-pending copyright legislation, which could easily have been written by Lawrence Lessig:

    • S_J says:

      I always took Schlafly to be an intellectually-consistent partisan. Thus, if she was a champion of small-government, her advocacy against copyright law extensions is a consistent opposition to government changing the rules of the game. [1]

      I was most aware of her advocacy against some parts of the welfare state, on the grounds that aid to single mothers was an economic incentive that harmed the formation of stable families in many parts of society. She often described this as government trying to remake the entire social/economic system, in a way that harmed many individuals involved.

      I’m not aware of the type of arguments she used against the Equal Rights Amendment, though.

      [1] To agree with both Schlafly and Lessig: the most recent changes in copyright law can be referred to as the Mickey Mouse Protection Acts. Essentially, the corporation that owns the rights to use the creative work of Walt Disney likes to extend their ability to own that creative work, and keep it out of the public domain.

      It’s consistent with the don’t-tinker-with-the-market argument of many small-government conservatives to say that extension of copyrights on such properties is a big, market-distorting intervention.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      It’s tragic when someone lives long enough to see all their worst prophecies come true, despite spending their whole lives trying to stop them.
      Getting to say “I told you so, you idiots” isn’t much of a consolation prize.

    • I actually met Schlafly some years back at an event I was participating in. She was a bright, interesting lady and turned out to be on the side of the angels on encryption issues–against government regulation of it. Apparently her son was a cryptographer and she was well informed on the subject.

  8. Sandy says:

    Saw this today:

    It has some personal relevance for me, because I have Indian relatives who have lived in Japan for some 20-odd years now. They seem quite aware that they will never be considered Japanese, but they’re fine with that. I don’t think they want to be considered Japanese. Perhaps it’s different when you’re an immigrant, born and raised with a different identity and set of cultural beliefs — this half-Indian girl who is now Miss Japan was born in Japan and never knew anything else.

    One of the most powerful politicians in India is a woman named Sonia Gandhi. She is a white woman, Italian by birth. She married into the Nehru-Gandhi family and eventually became the head of the Indian National Congress, the country’s oldest political party. She gave up her Italian citizenship and took an Indian passport decades ago, and she is genuinely a skilled leader with a talent for rallying her party’s base and funding. But at the height of her power, when her party had a large mandate to form the government, there was a furious backlash against the mere possibility that she could become Prime Minister — because decades of citizenship and public service did not change the fact that in the eyes of the nation, there is no such thing as a European Indian. So she stepped away from the PM job and appointed Manmohan Singh instead, a man who was largely just a puppet for her will, but was Indian enough to satisfy the people — he was even born before the Partition!

    So I wonder if hyphenated nationalities are just an American conceit being aggressively exported to the rest of the world. I don’t think countries like Britain and Germany started thinking of themselves as “nations of immigrants” until that was America’s label; and as America leads, the world follows — first the West and then spreading eastward. I’m not sure there is such a thing as Indian-Japanese anymore than there is such a thing as Italian-Indian.

    Reaction to Yoshikawa’s victory initially failed to trigger any real outrage, although predictably some were unhappy.

    “What’s the point of holding a pageant like this now? Zero national characteristics,” grumbled one Twitter user, while another fumed, “It’s like we’re saying a pure Japanese face can’t be a winner.”

    Can’t remember where I read it, might have been some tweet, but somebody argued that a reason for declining viewership of the Olympics is something along the lines of “zero national characteristics” — it might be fun to cheer for Britons facing off against Germans facing off against Frenchmen and whatever else, not so much when the Britons are Somali and the French are Berbers. What’s British or French about them? Although I think livestreaming is a much more probable reason for a decline in any kind of TV viewership.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      In general, the British Olympians are white (probably more so than the population at large). Out of those that aren’t, I think Mo Farah is the only first generation immigrant, and in terms of language, accent, culture etc. he is as British as any of the others. So I don’t think the theory in your latter paragraph holds much water.

    • When you say hyphenated nationalities being an American conceit, do you mean the United States, or do you mean the entire Americas of the Western Hemisphere? Because of course there was Fujimori (Japanese) as the prime minister of Peru for many years. He is on the outs now, but not because he is Japanese. I think Brazil also has many different ethnicities in politics.

      I hadn’t heard that Europe or Asia are becoming hyphenated, but I can see this happening. And it seems to me that India should be a good candidate for this, since it is already pretty diverse racially and religiously. I knew about Sonia Gandhi, but had not followed Indian politics closely enough to know of the racial controversy. I hope that India someday moves beyond that.

    • Guy says:

      Isn’t Japan famously kinda racist?

      • All Trite says:

        Definition of racist please.

        Maybe there should be an SSC rule about introducing words like “racist” or any of the “-phobes” into a thread without an accompanying definition or reference to one.

        • Guy says:

          In this case, strongly prejudiced against non-Japanese people*, regardless of their citizenship status. I believe Korean immigrants to Japan, especially, are noted for struggling against biases of various kinds (and thereby winding up poor, ill-educated, etc). That is, Japanese culture is, as I understand these issues WRT Japan, noted for being biased in just such a way as to needlessly freak out about a half-Indian Japanese citizen winning a beauty contest. This story totally failed to surprise me, while a similar story about, say, Italians being upset over a half-Swede Italian citizen winning a beauty contest would at least strike me as notable.

          * There’s also some trouble with minority ethnicities within Japan. The Ainu have been a conquered people since the 15th century; similarly the Ryukuan have had to deal with cultural suppression since at least the Meiji era, largely around language (their languages were only recently acknowledged to actually be distinct from Japanese, as opposed to dialects).

          • All Trite says:

            It sounds like your definition of racism in this case is essentially “concerned with racial/ethnic purity in one’s culture and institutions.” Is that a fair summary?

            Racist is not a value-neutral descriptive adjective. If you say the Japanese are racist for being concerned with racial or ethnic purity, then you are saying the Japanese are BAD for being concerned with racial or ethnic purity.

            That is a different from saying the Japanese are doing something disadvantageous by being concerned with racial or ethnic purity.

            I’m not interested in opinions on whether the Japanese are good or bad, but the question “Is the Japanese’s concern with racial/ethnic purity disadvantageous to them?” is an interesting one and intelligent rational people can disagree on it. Do you have an argument you’d like to make in response to that question?

            (I wish people would make those kinds of arguments instead of just calling other people racist.)

          • Gbdub says:

            I did not get the impression that Guy’s reference to Japan as racist was morally neutral… nor intended to be.

            Certainly, if you believe that race based prejudice / preference can be morally objectionable, and most people myself included do, then at least some of Japan’s more… enthusiastic embraces of ethnic purity would have to fall in that category (a category for which the label “racist” is perfectly handy and descriptive).

          • All Trite says:


            I’m repeating myself, but:

            Opinions about whether the Japanese are bad for displaying race-based prejudice/preference are not interesting. What is interesting is the question of whether race-based prejudice/preference is advantageous for the Japanese.

            If we can answer the second question, THEN we can address the first one. It’s possible to do something advantageous but still be bad for doing it, but it raises the issue of why/whether/in what situations we ought to judge people negatively for acting in their own interests–or against them. (Where, for example, do we draw the line between committing genocide and having a lot of people upset about the race of a beauty queen?)

            Wouldn’t you rather think about those kinds of questions than just yield to your disgust impulse? Pointing at stuff and going “Eew, that’s morally objectionable! Racist! Yuck! End of story.” doesn’t seem like a fun or productive way to spend your time.

          • LHN says:

            I’m not sure that it’s interesting to point out that discrimination against an outgroup is (intended to be) to the advantage of the ingroup and the disadvantage of the outgroup.

            There are contrary arguments made in both directions to attack or defend the policy (“discrimination harms us all”/(“separate but equal is better for both”), but they’re elaborations or counterintuitive responses to the baseline presumption.

          • gbdub says:

            All Trite, you are stating a personal preference/interest as an objective fact when it is nothing of the sort. Turns out many people are in fact interested in whether Japan is racist in the pejorative sense (indeed, that may an extremely relevant question if you are foreigner interested in visiting, emigrating to, or doing business with Japan).

            Really, I only objected because you were lecturing Guy (and now me), in a manner that comes off as somewhat condescending/pedantic, based on what you believe he ought to be talking about, as opposed to what he meant to say. I mean, it’s an open thread. Talk about what you want, but don’t go after someone who wants to talk about something else.

            That said, whether this racism (or racialism, or ethnocentrism, or whatever you want to call it to avoid the pejorative) has historically been a net benefit or a net detriment to the nation of Japan is also an interesting question, and I’m fine if you want to move the conversation in that direction.

            Do you think it has been beneficial? I tend to see Japan, despite its historic isolationism, as making its greatest advances when forced into interacting globally. In other words, their historically preferred level of ethnocentrism and isolation is suboptimal, even if their current level has some benefits (and I think that’s a big “if”).

          • All Trite says:

            1) I saw it as disingenuous to give a descriptive value-neutral definition for a pejorative term.

            2) If you’re curious whether you can expect a nice experience in Japan as a tourist or immigrant or businessman, then talk about that. Focusing on whether the Japanese are “racist” is really just inviting a judgment dogpile. It should be discouraged, even in an open thread, for the same reason Scott tries to discourage other dogpiles.

            3) I apologize if any of that came off as condescending. My patience for all kinds of controversial statements is extraordinarily high, but for judgment dogpiles my patience is low. (Part of this is expectations of course: my expectation at SSC is rational open-minded discussion, not judgment dogpiles.)

            As for what I think about Japan, I don’t know enough to have a very strong opinion on what they should do, but I’ll say this: I’m not an absolutist about racial purity one way or the other. I think there is an equilibrium where both insular comfort and productive exposure to outgroups can both happen. I tend to believe that sovereign nations ought to be able to determine their own points of equilibrium without judgment grandstanding from us (perhaps up until they start putting innocent people on trains and so forth). Commentary from us is fine, however.

            From my admittedly underinformed perspective Japan seems to be doing alright with the level of insular comfort/exposure to outgroups they’ve got, and not enough people are being seriously harmed in serious enough ways to inspire me to say “Something Needs To Be Done.”

          • Fahundo says:

            1) I saw it as disingenuous to give a descriptive value-neutral definition for a pejorative term.

            Is that what happened? His definition was “strongly prejudiced against non-Japanese people,” which sounds like a standard definition of racism to me, and also doesn’t strike me as being value-neutral. How does the word racist invite dogpiling in a way that prejudiced does not?

          • All Trite says:

            Prejudice just means “judging before”. I don’t see it as a value-laden term. There are situations where prejudice maybe isn’t very nice but doesn’t seriously hurt anyone, and there are plenty of situations and contexts where prejudice is acceptable or even expected.

            I can think of over a dozen categories of things that could get you called racist–everything from “wants to exterminate all members of another race” to “finds something someone of another race does to be funny”–but I know of no standard definition of racism. Therefore the only useful property of the word is as a taboo marker: “Watch out for this person/idea, he/it is bad, stay away.”

            Ad hoc definitions are fine if you’re clear about them, but the tabooing property is an immutable constant and so the definition should accord with that.

          • Guy says:

            Well, this thread’s a little stale, but…

            My attitudes about Japanese racial attitudes are present but perhaps not totally obvious in my comment, especially if you’re expecting standard social justice opinions about racial attitudes. I’ve noticed a tendency towards Japanese exceptionalism in their national culture, which is visible in things like the claim that the Japanese language is special or unique in its grammar, or that various aspects of Japanese-ness are especially noteworthy. This Japanese exceptionalism has been exported to the US (usually in the form of eg ninja fetishisation, claims that katanas are inherently superior to western swords, …), and from there to the world, and it particularly annoys me.

            While I do have very little respect for concerns of racial purity (or cultural purity, for those with Feelings about gentrification and cultural appropriation), Japanese concerns about racial purity in particular annoy me because they are usually isomorphic to “Our unique and special Japaneseness is not being respected!” which is a claim that I consider worthy of a pointed, deliberate dismissal. My initial comment (“Isn’t Japan famously kind of racist”) was meant to be just such a dismissal – as far as I’m concerned, this is “Conservative Christian Pastor Rails Against Female College Students, Predicts Divine Punishment” (alternately, “Occupy Wesleyan Demands GSA Be More Inclusive of Lesbians”*), just with a different cast. That is, it is a story utterly unworthy of discussion.

            * I’m having trouble coming up with the left-wing equivalent story because the left wing usually has other, differently stupid hissy fits.

          • Jiro says:

            Japanese concerns about racial purity in particular annoy me because they are usually isomorphic to “Our unique and special Japaneseness is not being respected!

            Are these typical Japanese concerns with racial purity, or are they just the ones that a Westerner would be most likely to run across?

            (I suspect the latter.)

      • Now I’m wondering whether Somtow Sucharitkul’s Starship and Haiku was trolling a bit when it turns out that the Japanese are partly descended from whales.

    • Outis says:

      So I wonder if hyphenated nationalities are just an American conceit being aggressively exported to the rest of the world. I don’t think countries like Britain and Germany started thinking of themselves as “nations of immigrants” until that was America’s label; and as America leads, the world follows — first the West and then spreading eastward.

      Yes, that is clearly true.

      • Diadem says:

        Neither Germany nor Britain are nations of immigrants, and I’m pretty sure they don’t think of themselves like that either. They are nations where immigrants make up significant minorities, but not a near 100% majority like in the US.

        And hyphenated nationalities are a logical result of having immigration. That’s hardly an American conceit. I have no idea how people in for example ancient Rome thought about immigration, but I’d be surprised if ancient Romans with multiple backgrounds also did not describe themselves with those backgrounds in some way.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          Depends when you stop being an immigrant. A definition in which the US consists “near-100%” of immigrants seems to count anyone who isn’t Native American as an immigrant (including those whose ancestors have been there 400+ years).

          If you go back further, to immigration 1500-2000 years ago, then until relatively recently the English were believed to be descended from migrants (the Angles, Saxons and Jutes). I think current understanding based on genetic testing is that while significant numbers of them did come over, the existing British population of what is now England were assimilated into their culture rather than being replaced by them.

          • ” the existing British population of what is now England were assimilated into their culture rather than being replaced by them.”

            At a slight tangent, I’ve been reading stuff about the Nuer, a Sudanese people who were the subject of some early anthropological research.

            At the time they were observed, they were gradually expanding, conquering the territory of the Dinka, an adjacent and less warlike tribe. There was a fair amount of killing involved but also a lot of absorption, with the result that a lot of Nuer were, and were recognized as, descendants of Dinka.

            It’s interesting as an example of the same process that may have occurred with the Saxon invasions of Britain, happening recently enough to be observed and described by a modern anthropologist.

        • There’s definitely a segment of the British population that thinks of it as something close to a nation of immigrants, inasmuch as a multicultural Britain is considered a good Britain. Legal immigrants to Britain are certainly considered to be British by all respectable people, and it would be considered offensive to describe them or treat them as otherwise. However, they tend not to be thought of (by themselves or others) as English (or Welsh, or Scottish, although there aren’t that many immigrants to those areas). But this isn’t that much of a political issue, probably because the English identity isn’t the one the British state is organized around. I guess it’s kind of like how an immigrant to America can be considered American but not WASP, although WASP identity in America is less positively reinforced than English identity is in England—nobody in America would express sentiments like “I’m proud to be a WASP”, so far as I know (there isn’t even a proper, non-slightly pejorative word for WASP), but some people in England do express sentiments like “I’m proud to be English” (though such expressions are often seen as gauche in left-wing circles).

          (FTR I am an English person, non-immigrant, and that’s how I perceive it having lived in England, but I don’t claim to have infallible knowledge of the ideology of the nation as a whole and perhaps other people from the UK will disagree with my picture.)

          • Guy says:

            There isn’t a word for it, but there is some pride among people who can trace their ancestry back to the days of the American Revolution. This is clearest in organizations like the Daughters of the American Revolution (natch), but it can sometimes be seen in the background in New England or Pennsylvania.

          • hlynkacg says:

            When I was growing up, there was “white” and then there was “Mayflower white” you don’t get no “privilege” in the northeast unless your folks got here before 1860.

        • Guy says:

          An ancient Roman with ancestors in Greece might think of themselves as an ethnic Greek, but they probably would consider themselves to be a Roman “national”. Jews are an extreme example of this kind of thinking, having kept it up for about 2000 years in a wide variety of nations (and further, if you want to go back to the Babylonian exile).

          The uniquely American thing, I think, is the idea that you can effectively acquire a new ethnicity when you arrive in a new nation without fully assimilating. This, as I see it, genuinely was true of the Africans brought over in the slave trade: because of the way slave owners in America operated, their slaves effectively ceased to be Yoruba or Igbo or Akan or whathaveyou and acquired a new ethnicity: African-Americans, meaning literally those Americans who were of African descent, who were in this particular historical period forced into a single, unified ethnicity. (How many African-Americans are there in Britain? Not too many, but probably more than you might think if you make that joke a lot*)

          The notion that America is a “nation of immigrants” came later, after the period of heavy immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century. In that case, it was mostly a way for southern and eastern Europeans to assimilate into what had previously been a largely western European nation – by pointing out that, in the grand scheme of things, the western European claim didn’t go back all that much further. It also serves to cover up guilt among United States patriots over the colonization of the Americas by rendering invisible the Native American peoples that lived here before them.

          Many current citizens of the United States (prominent ones, too!) are also the descendants of these more recent immigrants, many of whom for various reasons lived in ethnic enclaves and maintained their culture quite strongly. But, at the same time, a lot of these immigrant groups won inclusion in the “white” category, and wound up classed with the older settlers during the civil rights struggles of the 50s and 60s, not to mention the heavily nationalist Cold War.

          So the ultimate result of all of this is that you have a bunch of different groups of immigrants that all strongly consider themselves to still be “of” the culture they came from, but want to hang on to the notion that they are “of” the dominant group as well. They see African-Americans, a genuine of/not-of class of people, and decide that being a hyphenated American is probably the right way to go about it. This works fine except possibly for new immigrants from Africa who aren’t assimilated into the native African-American culture and have some difficulty doing what Italian, Irish, or Russian Americans did.

          (aside: I’m never sure what to do with the capitalization on directional adjectives for people. Is, say, someone from the US state of Georgia a Southerner or a southerner? Today I’ve decided they’d be a southerner, but it doesn’t quite look right)

          * Just a guess that some Americans moving to Britain at some point were descendants of slaves, or African immigrants who integrated into the culture of slave-descended Americans, and brought that culture with them to Britain. I intend no claims of real demographic data.

          • Peter says:

            On your *:

            The Black British thing is a bit odd, because for census purposes there are two main ethnicities, traditionally known as “African” and “African-Carribean” (or “Afro-Carribean”) but on the most recent census just “African” and “Carribean”, there’s also an “Other Black” which most people forget about but which presumably includes people of African-American heritage. There’s some overlap between the African and Carribean communities, but it’s not total – if you look at maps of London (e.g. and the two aren’t identical, rumour has it the two communities don’t always get along, there are some other memorable differences (the Africans tend to be less poor, less likely to be married to white people, when asked “do you feel more British or English” they’re less likely to go for “English”, to name a few).

            The Carribeans – yes, in a sense, descendants of slaves, however descendants of slaves in the Carribean, and I think that affects a lot. Slavery was found to be illegal in Britain itself very early (“the air of Britain is too pure for a slave to breathe”), and was abolished in the British Empire in 1834 (31 years before the 13th Amendment) without need for a civil war, whereas large-scale immigration from the Carribean only started happening after the end of WWII. So the history is very different and that affects how things play out today.

            To a certain extent there’s a specifically African-American influence in British culture; however that’s due to visiting musicians rather than people who came to stay.

        • TGP says:

          And hyphenated nationalities are a logical result of having immigration. That’s hardly an American conceit.

          Actually, as a Brit, I very much see hyphenated nationalities as an American conceit.

          It’s only in an American context I’ve seen such hyphenation commonly used.

          There is largely no such thing as an British-Italian, or a French-Brit or a British-Nigerian. And even where I have seen it used (British-Indian) it seems rather rare and odd.

          I think most other countries perceive themselves as citizens of their nation. Brits, Germans etc. This whole “hyphenation as a core of identity description” thing seems pretty uniquely American.

          Has anyone else experience of a non-American (north and south) using hyphenation in the American way ? I may be an outlier here but even in cosmopolitan London I’ve never really heard of anyone using this with the exception of seperating groups for the purpose of statistics/political discussion (e.g. In polling cross tabs).

          In my experience no one “IRL” uses this descriptor of their origins apart from Americans.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            The only example I can think of doesn’t actually include “British” — “afro-caribbean”.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Actually, as a Brit, I very much see hyphenated nationalities as an American conceit.

            I agree; and not only that, but people retain the hyphenations for what seems like a very long time. I once had a friend who referred to herself as an “Italian-American” on the grounds that one of her great-grandfathers had come over from Italy, whereas I don’t think a British person would trace their ethnic heritage like that.

  9. Anatoly says:

    Old textbooks appear to be more hardcore than current ones on the same subject.
    E.g. when I looked at textbooks of French or Latin from the late 19th or early 20th century,
    I typically saw texts that made more demands on the reader from what I’m used to. A modern textbook will use a more informal style, introduce more concepts with stories and pictures, will offer more explanations using simpler sentences. An old textbook doesn’t shy from offering dry blocks of rules to memorize or denser explanations that demand more careful reading. It’s more difficult to compare science textbooks (because the material changed so much), but the same sort of difference in arrangement and delivery seems to come up there, too.

    So… why is there such a marked difference? Aren’t we supposed to have denser textbooks with more complicated language, due to the Flynn effect? Why does it go the other way?

    Some possibilities…

    1. The old textbooks could make high demands on their readers because they were meant for a tiny elite, while modern textbooks try to appeal to everyone. Seems like this explanation can work for college-level math or physics, but hardly for Latin or French which were studied by millions upon millions of people back then.
    2. The old textbooks aren’t really more complicated or demanding, I just perceive their prose as such because I’m less familiar with it.
    3. People just knew less about effective teaching, they would have written textbooks in the modern style back then if they knew how. Today after 100 years of pedagody research we know how to write textbooks much better.
    4. We genuinely have abysmal attention spans and poor reading skills compared to people in the same socioeconomic brackets 100 years ago, and the Flynn effect doesn’t contradict this because it’s about IQ and not those things or because reasons.
    5. Anything else?

    • blacktrance says:

      Other possibilities:
      6. While education wasn’t limited to the elite, it was meant to spread elite norms to the masses, so it made elite-level cognitive demands on them.
      7. The education industry had only relatively recently been exclusively directed at the elite, so its techniques and institutional culture hadn’t yet changed much at the time.
      8. Children were expected to spend more cognitive resources on learning from their textbooks than they do now.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I think in 1. you overestimate how many people studied Latin or French in the past. For instance, the table on page 3 here says that 72.5% of US citizens born between 1886 and 1890 left high school before grade 9. For the cohort born between 1946 and 1950 that figure is 6.6%. Old textbooks might not have been aimed at a tiny elite, but they were presumably aimed at the most intelligent 5-20% of the population (roughly speaking).

      Regarding the Flynn effect, it is possible that IQ rises because the negative environmental effects that reduce IQ on the left hand side of the bell curve are removed. That means the right hand side could remain the same, or even get worse.

      Two other explanations:

      1. Really old textbooks (i.e. those that cover recently invented concepts) are often difficult to read because no-one knows how to teach those concepts. For instance, Newton’s Principia is almost impossible to understand. Similarly, secondary philosophy texts are often easier to read than primary ones. I don’t know that this applies to language textbooks much.
      2. The textbooks you are looking at aren’t typical. For instance, Lewis Carroll’s Symbolic Logic (1896) is pretty readable (apart from the random anti-semitism).

      • All Trite says:

        …For instance, Lewis Carroll’s Symbolic Logic (1896) is pretty readable (apart from the random anti-semitism).

        I’m intrigued. Anti-Semitism? Can you be more specific?

        • LHN says:

          A number of the illustrative propositions Carroll uses evoke common uncomplimentary stereotypes. E.g.,

          (1) No Gentiles have hooked noses;
          (2) A man who is a good hand at a bargain always makes money;
          (3) No Jew is ever a bad hand at a bargain.


          No Jews are honest;
          Some Gentiles are rich.
          Some rich people are dishonest.

          A Ctrl-F for “jew” in the text will find several more in the same vein.

          • All Trite says:

            Those all seem pretty readable to me! Quite hilarious actually.

            Maybe you have to be a non-Jew to find them offensive?

          • “Maybe you have to be a non-Jew to find them offensive?”


            In particular, “No Jews are honest;” is a vile thing to put into a logic puzzle.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Vilely humorous!

            EDIT: Whoa, old gravatars are back in town.

          • ” “No Jews are honest;” is a vile thing to put into a logic puzzle.”

            The propositions in a logic puzzle are not statements about the real world. Do you think Lewis Carroll, or anyone else, believed that no gentiles have hooked noses?

          • Aegeus says:

            Maybe you have to be a non-Jew to find them offensive?

            Jew here, I find it offensive. And in general, I would expect the members of a stereotyped group would be more likely to be offended than people who aren’t part of that group, because they take it personally.

            @David Friedman:
            A statement doesn’t have to be true or sincerely believed for it to be hurtful. For example, people get upset about the #killallmen hashtag even though the speakers probably don’t actually want to kill all men.

          • John Schilling says:

            In particular, “No Jews are honest;” is a vile thing to put into a logic puzzle.

            But “All Cretans are liars” is perfectly fine. And let’s not get started with poor Eve.

            There’s a sort of sense to this double standard, but I’m not entirely comfortable trying to make it explicit. If nobody else is saying bad things about a class of people, it’s OK for you and your friends to do so as a matter of course because nobody will take you seriously?

          • Jiro says:

            Using a loose definition of “about”, if nobody else is saying bad things about a class of people with the intent of saying things about actual people, then it’s okay for you to say bad things about a class of people without the intent of saying things about actual people.

            Pretty much nobody who uses the Cretans example does so out of a belief that actual Cretans are liars. Plenty of people who say bad things about Jews do so out of a belief that actual Jews are bad people, especially back in Carroll’s time. Using evil Jews in a logic problem either 1) reinforces that, or 2) is plausible deniability for deliberately making statements about evil Jews while saying “it’s just a logic problem”.

            That’s not a double standard.

          • The Nybbler says:

            “All Cretans are liars” is notable as being a historical “logical paradox”; it’s Epimenides the Cretan saying that all Cretans are liars. So not quite the same.

            There’s also the fact that most places are distinctly lacking in Cretans to be offended, and there’s no Cretan anti-defamation league.

            Personally if I were updating the original, I’d change “honest” to “Nazis” (“No Jews are Nazis/Some Gentiles are rich/Some rich people are not Nazis”), and enjoy the irony of making something LESS offensive by adding Nazis.

          • Guy says:

            Nobody’s claiming the sentence is true (at least today, outside of certain highly parenthetical sets), but it is needless. Even the Cretan version is usually presented in a historical context (and, as noted, as a paradox spoken by a Cretan), rather than simply being presented as a statement.

            There are plenty of alternative statements that could be used; the Nybbler’s is amusing for the reasons he mentions, and you could also just use a nonsense category, like Blarghs or Foozles (as is, I believe, standard practice in this part of the internet).

          • LHN says:

            But “All Cretans are liars” is perfectly fine. And let’s not get started with poor Eve.

            Apparently, at first use, and for many centuries afterward, “all Cretans are liars” was used only to literally mean exactly that. Epimenides was railing against his countrymen over a religious dispute, with no evident awareness of the paradox. While the liar paradox was known to the Greeks, they never connected it with Epimenides as far as anyone knows.

            Six hundred years later St. Paul was still using Epimenides’ observation to condemn the whole lot of them. (“One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.”) It wasn’t till the eighteenth century that a French philosopher cited “all Cretans are liars” as an example of the paradox.

            If there were still self-identified Cretans around (do modern inhabitants think of themselves that way, or just as Greeks?) still being routinely tarred as congenital liars as they had been for the better part of a millennium, it’s hard to say they wouldn’t have a beef.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Who was the 18th century French philosopher? Wikipedia’s earliest citation is Fowler in the 19th century.

          • LHN says:

            Wikipedia also says (in the next section of the article, “Emergence as a logical contradiction”) “Finally, in 1740, the second volume of Pierre Bayle’s Dictionnaire Historique et Critique explicitly connects Epimenides with the paradox, though Bayle labels the paradox a “sophisme”.

            (It is possible the article could use a little editorial cleanup for clarity.)

          • All Trite says:

            To my offended co-ethnics:

            I was referring in a tongue-in-cheek way to the hilarious pattern of people getting offended on behalf of other people. (Allergies in our cultural immune system.)

            A related pattern is people on the outskirts of a group getting offended on behalf of the core of the group.

            This latter pattern is suggested by, for example, Black Lives Matter activists tending to be lighter-skinned while black conservatives tend to be darker-skinned. Also, when Jews voice their offendedness at “anti-Semitic” microaggressions I notice they are usually secular or Reform Jews.

            I have some overlapping theories to explain this pattern. I will list them here, but I’m interested in yours as well. (Or do you refute the pattern?)

            1. Being on the fringes, those people feel they live in two worlds and this creates an anxiety that the two worlds are out of alignment whenever they see something that might possibly be offensive.

            2. Being on the fringes, those people are insecure about their place among [blacks] [Jews] [etc.] and feel the need to compensate with over-aggressiveness toward any perceived slights from outside.

            3. Being on the fringes, those people spend more time thinking about their own identity issues and become hypersensitive to perceived attacks on their identity.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @All Trite:

            I have no idea whether light-skinned black people in the US are more or less likely to be left-wing activists, or go to university, than dark-skinned black people (and where does one draw the line, to create two groups?)

            But if one is comparing Reform/secular Jews to, say, Orthodox Jews, or even the more conservative Conservative Jews, there’s a long history of left-wing political activism, and I’d wager it developed under different conditions than are the case now.

            Were Jewish left-wingers a hundred years ago “on the fringes” of the Jewish community (if you meant that as a pun, it is recognizable as such)?

            Additionally, in North America, besides the most Orthodox, I would imagine that even religiously observant Jews have higher rates of secular higher education than the norm. Given that the source of a lot of left-wing activist thought is (humanities and social sciences) secular higher education, simple exposure is also a factor.

          • All Trite says:

            Good points dndnrsn.

            “Fringes” would be a sly reference (to tsitsit, I guess?), not a pun, but it wasn’t intentional anyway.

          • dndnrsn says:

            While it is definitely true that people seek opinions and so on that work with their identity, make them feel good about themselves, etc we all do this. A statement like “light-skinned [and presumably thus heavily mixed] black people feel unsure of their place in both society as a whole or black society, and adopt a particular brand of left-wing politics” is essentially the same as a statement like “some disaffected young white men feel ennui and displacement in modern society and develop a particular brand of right-wing politics”. And both are quite similar to “happy people who feel like they belong tend not to be political activists”. (I’ve met happy people involved in politics, but they always were more the “party hack” than “activist” types).

            The whole “it’s rationalizations all the way down” thing is cool, but some people definitely have better rationalizations than others, and some people have a better grasp on reality than others, at that level.

          • Anonymous says:

            Under both the Jewish concept and the secular concept a Reform or non-religious Jew is not necessarily on the fringes of the community. It is only under the Christian notion, and really Protestant at that, that the one automatically implies the other.

            It is rather odd that right wing Jews have jumped on this. Perhaps it is diffusion from their favorite political allies — the evangelicals. Or maybe it is the pop evo psych influence from the alt right.

          • dndnrsn says:

            A lot of people discussing religion, even non-Protestants, do so unconsciously through a Protestant lense.

          • All Trite says:

            In the Torah, God made covenants with the Israelites based on their being circumcised, on keeping the Sabbath, not worshipping false gods (i.e. any other gods), and so on.

            There were other laws (e.g. most of Leviticus) that only spoke to whether an Israelite could enter the Temple, make a sacrifice, etc. and these were based on things like touching dead bodies, keeping kosher, etc.

            So I guess really it’s kinda nuanced: you can be “core” and be fairly secular, IF you keep the Sabbath and are circumcised etc. You can also be very religious and be fringe, IF you are uncircumcised, don’t keep the Sabbath, etc.

            BUT, dndnrsn has a point which is that most people (including most Reform/secular Jews) probably don’t see it this way, but in the (Protestant?) way of more secular = less core.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @All Trite:

            That’s kind of what I meant, but more that there’s divisions drawn that are kind of Protestant in nature.

            The big one is that Protestantism separates the secular from the religious more than most Christian denominations, and Christianity tends to separate the two more than most religions. This has to do with the history of Christianity as a weird accident where a Jewish apocalyptic preacher somehow became the Son of God, and the history of Protestantism as a rebellion against the Catholic church, among other factors.

            The other important thing, which is associated with the “what rules to follow” thing you’re bringing up, is faith vs works. Probably descends from similar factors as the above. There’s endless arguments among Christians about this one, but with Judaism it’s an interesting case:

            By some interpretations, an observant Jew doesn’t actually have to believe in G-d, believe that the cosmology and cosmogony of the Hebrew Bible are true, etc. That is, some people view it as a works-only religion, with faith (in the form of either belief in the factual nature of the deity, or belief that the deity likes you and you’re saved etc) not a major element. I’ve encountered this mostly coming from left-wing, generally Reform or secular, Jews. They’ll say things like “you can be an atheist and still be a good Jew” or “there’s nothing in there that says you can’t be an atheist”.

            I personally think that this is an example of Protestant-inspired thought slipping in. The authors and codifiers of the Hebrew Bible definitely thought that works were important – how much time is spent describing how to build the Temple, what to do with it, how many animals to kill and how often, who can go where, etc. However, I think that the claim that faith isn’t important is a misconception – I think instead that faith (at least in the “G-d exists” sense) was probably so important and basic to them that they didn’t think to address the idea of G-d, or gods in general, not existing. Throughout most of the Hebrew Bible the existence of G-d is treated as an obvious factual matter.

            Getting out of my wheelhouse, but I’m pretty sure that attempts to prove the existence of God are a relatively later, and heavily Christian, thing.

          • Anonymous says:

            Immediately jumping to the Torah is another very Protestant thing to do (sola scriptura).

            I don’t know that much about Sephardic history, so leave that to one side, but for a 1000 years in Europe being a core member of the community had very little to do with how well you kept every detail of halacha. In many times and places there was a Judaism of the people that would horrify modern Yeshiva students if they were to ever acknowledge its existence. Where does the Torah or any of the sages say you should tie a red string around a baby’s arm to ward off the evil eye?

            The community of secular Jews that go to 92nd street Y, eat bagels at least once a week, sound like Bernie Sanders, and have fancy bar and bat mitzvahs for their grandchildren is no less a Jewish community than Kiryas Joel.

            In fact, going back to the original context, anti-Semitic comments are more likely to be aimed at the first community than the second. So a better theory as for why they are especially offended is that they are the primary target rather than that they are on the fringes of the target. Anti-semites are far more likely to point to Lloyd Blankfein than Aaron Teitelbaum.

          • dndnrsn says:

            A thought:

            Secular/unobservant/assimilated Jews being the target instead of Orthodox/observant/unassimilated Jews is maybe a North American thing.

            In European anti-Semitism there used to be both: Nazi propaganda (which is extreme, but can be seen as a sort of culmination in much previous anti-Jewish/anti-Semitic messages) had both the image of the Jew as conspiring financier and as backwards alien. Films were made (and used in The Eternal Jew) of ghettos in conquered Poland, with the intention of horrifying German audiences (who either had little interaction with Jews – Poland had a far higher Jewish % than Germany – or interacted with assimilated Jews – Germany’s Jewish population was very assimilated, while Poland’s wasn’t) with scenes of filth and primitivity.

            Most North Americans seem to regard ulta-observant Jews, if they think of them at all, much like they regard the Amish: quaint, weird, but hardly either a threat or worth threatening.

          • All Trite says:

            I’m willing to be persuaded there are more attacks against secular/Reform Jews/Jewish stuff than against very observant non-assimilated Jews/Jewish stuff, and indeed that’s an interesting point if it’s true. (Which kind of Jew was Lewis Carroll talking about, again?)

            However, I’d want to have some idea of the ratio of attacks against the former to attacks against the latter. I don’t think it can be very high, certainly not high enough to justify the disproportionate level of outrage seen among the former.

          • Publius Varinius says:


            Secular/unobservant/assimilated Jews being the target instead of Orthodox/observant/unassimilated Jews is maybe a North American thing.

            In my experience (former Yugoslavia, Hungary, UK) modern European antisemitism almost exclusively targets the secular/unobservant/assimilated jews. As you mentioned, this was somewhat different historically.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Publius Varinius:

            My understanding of antisemitism in Eastern Europe is limited to having heard that it is big on conspiracy theories linking Jews to the communist ex-leadership. Which would indeed be aimed at secular rather than observant Jews.

            I would also imagine that the composition of the local Jewish population would vary based on local history. There were some places where Jews weren’t killed, and in the places where they were, I am guessing that, say, a Polish Jew who is assimilated is probably more likely to escape than one who is not. But the % of the Jewish population that is descended from the local pre-war population probably differs from place to place.

            Are there even any unassimilated Jewish communities left? Didn’t all-Jewish communities all get annihilated? I can’t imagine any whole communities surviving 1939-1945 in most parts of Eastern Europe.

    • Skef says:

      Another common explanation for this change is that what you’re seeing is a slice of time in a longer evolution away from teaching methods of the scholastic era. That era emphasized memorization in part because of the expense and therefore limited availability of printed materials. The focus was also primarily on learning a fixed curriculum, rather than on developing skills or learning concepts by whatever route works well.

    • Montfort says:

      From what you say, there seems to be no significant difference in the material covered, only in its presentation. Why do you think this requires an explanation more complicated than “textbook fashions change”? To be more specific, educators today seem much more comfortable being informal with their students, and so I suspect textbooks changed style to match.

    • William Newman says:

      I spent some time years ago studying Dirac’s famous quantum mechanics text and Fermi’s famous thermodynamics text. Both were from the 1930s, and as best I recall, they weren’t very startling compared to modern books; the style differences between successful modern books seemed larger to me than the differences between those classic books and (some) books of our era.

      FWIW, Gutenberg seems to have Fermi online: .

    • Urstoff says:

      Modern history texts seem to be considerably less opinionated than those of 100+ years ago. Of course, maybe this is simply because my opinions align with modern history textbooks, thus I don’t really notice how opinionated they are. But older textbook writers (and historians in general) were definitely saltier than modern writers, making the latter seem quite dull in comparison.

  10. SUT says:

    So the Colin Kaepernick national anthem boycott seems to be catching on:


    and Megan Rapinoe

    What’s the probability this grows throughout the 20-week NFL season?

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      One additional person isn’t “catching on.”

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I wonder what reception this would have had in the US.

      • All Trite says:

        Not knowing anything about the athlete in question, to me it pretty obviously wasn’t a political statement but just a joke (funny face during solemn moment = LOL) to get his teammates (and possibly others) to laugh.

        Often, for certain segments of a televised sports event, what you see on TV is the same as what’s being shown on the big screen in the stadium. Seems pretty clear that this guy saw his face was on the megatron and took the opportunity to create a story he and his friends could laugh about for the rest of their lives.

        Am I perhaps biased by the fact that the athlete who made the face, and the others who laughed at it, are white? Yes, yes I am.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Yes, it was certainly a joke. But it still caused some murmurings about disrespect, and I think those might have been louder if he was American.

          • All Trite says:

            Yes, as an American I would agree it’s disrespectful. But I’d file it as a much milder case in the same folder as the swimmers who made up accusations about being held at gunpoint: failing to show proper decorum and solemness during an important event we’re all trying to take seriously, reflecting poorly on one’s country, and so on.

            Not evidence of a crisis of national pride. (There’s plenty of that elsewhere.)

    • Urstoff says:

      The backlash against a backup QB indicates how strong conservative political correctness is in this country. Imagine if he said he didn’t support the troops!

      • dndnrsn says:

        While the original comment is made in a mode of snark, I imagine, I think this is actually true. “Political correctness” should be a neutral term, sufficing for left and right.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          “Political correctness” should be a neutral term, sufficing for left and right.

          It is, it just depends on who’s your current overlord, which is kind of geography-specific but increasinly less so.

          • dndnrsn says:

            There are places and times where both are in effect though.

            Let’s say a politician manages to say/be perceived as saying both racist stuff and stuff against the troops.

            This politician is going to get it more from the left on the former, and more from the right on the latter, but from both on both, and boy are they gonna get it.

      • Gbdub says:

        Good point about political correctness, although the fact that it’s a backup QB in danger of not making the team sets off some cynic alarm bells (oh, you’ve made it a political minefield to cut you now that you’re down the depth chart? How convenient!)

        But that’s probably too cynical, Kaepernick seems sincere, albeit in a freshman undergrad “I’m the first one to learn the TRUTH I must speak it to the nearest POWER” sort of way.

      • cassander says:

        What backlash? apparently, so far, it consists of people saying mean things about him on the internet. He didn’t get fired, he didn’t get paid less, he didn’t get accused of a crime. What’s being demonstrated is the sheer lack of power of right wing political correctness.

    • Gbdub says:

      I have no issue with him protesting, but it makes sense that it’s upsetting people. Like, almost everyone agrees that the Wesboro Baptist Church protesting funerals is a dick move, even people who are against expansion of gay rights. Likewise, someone who interrupts a moment of silence to shout a political slogan would be considered a jackass. So the idea of frowning on someone hijacking a solemn moment for their personal political message is hardly new. And I do think “hijacking” is a fair term – the point is that you’re using the solemnity of the moment to amplify your own message.

      It’s a bit odd that our most open displays of patriotism are parts of sporting events, but here we are. I do think it’s a nice observance not only of patriotism but also unity (as a ritualistic setting aside of the differences between the opposing teams/fans before they spend a couple hours whaling on each other, at the end of which they are expected to shake hands). Injecting an intentional message of disunity into that is an understandable taboo.

      I suspect he’d get some, but much less, backlash if he participated in BLM protests off the field (or even on the field outside the anthem, though the NFL is notoriously strict about preventing individual expression with uniform messages, e.g. fining players for wearing non-uniform socks, so allowing a BLM message would look like favoritism).

  11. HircumSaeculorum says:

    Problem that’s been bothering me for a while: if I increase the likelihood of an event happening by 1%, am I responsible for it? What about 5%? 50%?

    I’m sure that this is a known issue, but I don’t know what to Google.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      The whole issue of responsibility is difficult. By “responsible for it” do you mean “caused it”? If so, you might want to look at legal issues of causation, sine qua non and suchlike. I don’t really know any philosophy on moral responsibility.

    • Mr Mind says:

      Probability is in the mind, not in the physical world. What do you mean by “increasing the likelihood”?

    • Zakharov says:

      It makes sense to me that if you increased the likelihood by 1%, you bear 1% of the responsibility; if you increased the likelihood by 50%, you bear 33% of the responsibility.

    • (From memory) This is reminding me of a John Campbell piece about whether you’d be responsible for killing someone if you kept making everything in their life just slightly more risky, and they eventually died of it.

      My opinion is that if you were caught adding risk (highly unlikely, but a good mystery story could probably made out of this), you’d be legally responsible for murder for the specific quantum of risk you added which led to death. I’m not sure what would happen if you were caught doing this, but the person hadn’t died or been injured from it. There would probably be some trespass involved.

      On the other hand, I’m not a lawyer, so I could be completely wrong about the legal aspects.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think if you keep making things risky, even if it’s only by a little bit each time, then you have to bear responsibility if they end up injured or even dead.

        It’s “a little bit more risk – okay, a little bit more – a bit more – a bit more” continuously over time, eventually all those little bits are going to add up to a whole lot.

        If it’s a one-time “little bit more risky”, then it depends what the original risk is – if it’s only (say) 5% risk and you make it 6%, that’s not so bad. If it’s 80% risk and you make it 82%, that’s worse since there is more chance of something going wrong already and you’re helping push up the chance of a bad event.

        I now await all the mathematicians showing me that I’m an idiot and it doesn’t work like that 🙂

  12. Skef says:

    Visually I dig my new Celtic heraldry, but I’m a bit worried it may give the wrong impression …

  13. Paul Smith says:

    Did this guy rip off your blog about lizard men and polling data? Or maybe you knew about it already.

  14. All Trite says:

    I’ve been listening to the Intelligence Squared debate podcasts.

    1) Anyone else here listen to these and want to talk about them? Are there specific debates/episodes that stand out to you as particularly good? etc.

    2) What do you think stops audience members at the tapings of those shows from just gaming the voting system? I’m about 65% confident that a large enough portion of the audience at any given taping is gaming the voting system to make the whole win/lose outcome of the debates meaningless.

    PS. As I’m writing this, I can resize the text field horizontally and vertically. TWIMC, I found it a better user experience when I could only resize it vertically.

    • anon says:

      I only started listening to these recently, although in the past I’d watched some of the videos for high-profile debates. Of the recent episodes, the ones I found most interesting involved Brexit.

      I think the stakes are far too low for anyone to bother voting strategically.

      • All Trite says:

        I think the stakes are far too low for anyone to bother voting strategically.

        That would make sense if people were rational.

    • Urstoff says:

      The website comments on the GMO episode are hilarious, accusing much of the audience of being Monsanto plants sent there to vote against GMOs before the debate and for GMOs after.

  15. Dahlen says:

    I have a bit of a medical mystery on my hands.

    After a couple of years of sporadically looking into it, I’ve managed to acquire some selegiline, to treat my problem of diminished motivation. Background: it’s a MAOI that has selectivity for MAO-B at doses below 10 mg/day. Both anecdote and theory (as well as whatever scarce scientific literature there is on this) point towards the possibility of it helping with motivation, although it is primarily used in Parkinson’s. One study indicates potential to be used as a stimulant for ADHD (it compared the effects to methylphenidate and found no significant difference), and some of the adverse effects seem to be along the same lines as those of stimulants.

    I took half a pill (about 2.5 mg) a day for two days, orally, with a high-fat breakfast. The mental effects occurred as expected, around the time of digestion, and seemed pretty promising: the selegiline made me extremely calm and patient (not expected, not mainly sought after, but a welcome effect nonetheless), and greatly lowered my “activation energy” for engaging in work-like tasks (at least those of a physical nature — I might have cleaned half the house in the first day), as well as keeping me motivated and focused throughout the task. I’m positive that the effects were not attributable to placebo; I’ve also taken stuff that was more effective as placebo than anything, was nothing like this. Something switched on in my brain, and I would have loved to not have to discontinue the usage. (First day on stimulants, I know, I know, but still.)

    The somatic effects, however?

    A mild case of angina pectoris that lasted between 12 and 16 hours, ceaselessly, accompanied by tachycardia and extremely irregular pulse — a sign of myocardial ischemia, which could mean that a heart attack might be just around the corner at any moment, with chronic use. In other words, I was at risk of going from “patient” to “the ER kind of patient”. Onset of symptom: about 3 minutes after oral administration. What the actual fuck.

    I’m young, very lean, not a smoker, physically active, good diet, general good health (to my knowledge), took a very small dose, didn’t take anything else with it (even quit coffee for this). I don’t have any of the risk factors for heart problems, and selegiline definitely does not have a reputation in the nootropic community for ruining your heart health (most common side effect I’ve seen anecdotally was irritability and other mood problems). This stuff is prescribed to generally elderly patients who might also be smokers or obese or whatever, in doses 4 times greater than what I took (even with dosage adjusted for body weight). I should have been just fine. Nothing indicated that I might be in for such an experience. And besides, what the hell is up with such rapid onset of cardiovascular side effects (hence, effects that are not allergic in nature) following oral administration?! It doesn’t make any sense. That would be the time of onset expected for intravenous or maybe sublingual administration.

    Its amphetamine metabolites, being stronger stimulants in and of themselves, are known to produce similar side effects, but for metabolites to manifest effects, the substance would have to have passed from the stomach to the liver, which doesn’t happen in 3 minutes.

    (Pretty sure I couldn’t mistake the angina for an emotion of anxiety about possible side effects, this kind of anxiety doesn’t last over half a day throughout different moods and objects of focus, nor does it mess up my pulse.)

    At this point I’m not even asking for medical advice, I just want to know how an orally administered substance can conceivably produce an effect in 3 minutes. I can’t ask my doctor about this for reasons. Where I go from here is something I’ll have to work out on my own.

    P.S. Apologies for boring all the non-pharma people with this instead of asking on reddit or whatever, this is the only noots-adjacent community that I frequent.

    • Skef says:

      I am not a doctor, but good god why aren’t you thinking in terms of the simplest explanation?

      Selectivity is not absolute even under ideal circumstances and all sorts of things can affect it, and that includes selectivity for MAO-B over -A. You’re taking an oral dose, not the patch, and having heart trouble that from what you say could be explained by a blood pressure spike. You say you have a “good diet” but say nothing about having changed your diet to avoid foods with tyramine. Was there cheese in that “high-fat breakfast?” Are you eating aged sausage or drinking wine?

      It sounds to me like you’re mentally using the three minutes to rule out any straightforward pharmacokinetic explanations. Whatever. Just know that the “should” in “I should have been fine.” is not some iron-clad rule of chemistry. A knowledgeable professional presented with “MAO inhibitor” and “heart trouble” is not going to scratch their heads and say “Huh, that sounds really strange!”

      • Dahlen says:

        Consider the possibility that I might have already thought of that. During the first day I avoided any and all foods with tyramine, my high-fat breakfast consisted of eggs with bread & butter, and even given the higher oral bioavailability of selegiline when taken with food (as I gather it is usually taken, rather than on an empty stomach), I still should have been safely within the limits of selective MAO-B inhibition. Only on the second day I dared to add a little cheese, precisely because I was pretty sure I wasn’t entering unselective territory, and it was late in the day and the symptoms before and after were exactly the same as on the first day.

        My blood pressure was relatively normal, with occasional veers into slight hypertension and hypotension; my heart rate featured worrisome irregularities.

        And even assuming it lost its selectivity, even assuming MAO-A inhibition alone in the apparent absence of high-tyramine foods would automagically produce a hypertensive crisis, I should have begun seeing symptoms of a hypertensive crisis in at least half an hour after administration, you know, after the medication had some time to spread through my system.

        • Skef says:

          OK, so assume tyramine is ruled out. Does your question boil down entirely to the three minutes? Looking them up, abnormal and increased heart rhythm and angina are all listed side effects for Selegiline, so it’s false that “Nothing indicated that I might be in for such an experience.” Particular side effects are not necessarily correlated with overall health. The short timeline would hint that the effect has to do with some binding of the unmetabolized drug, but only hint.

          You took a drug and experienced known if relatively rare side effects of that drug. There is nothing in current drug testing that would guarantee or even make very likely further knowledge of the underlying mechanism of that effect. The common-sense advice would be “this drug is probably not for you, given the serious side effects you experience when taking it.”

          • Dahlen says:

            Does your question boil down entirely to the three minutes?

            Essentially. I haven’t the foggiest how it might be theoretically possible. Elucidating the pharmacokinetic mechanism of it (in which time of onset might provide an important clue) might help me understand whether/how the side effects are treatable — because, ideally, I’d still like to find a way to eliminate them and continue my experiment safely. If that’s not possible, *grumble grumble* I guess that’s fine as well.

            Look, I’d appreciate if you toned down the condescension a bit. I really did research this matter to the best of my ability, and just because I’m very surprised at being in a low-probability case (after all, low probabilities should probably produce surprise) doesn’t mean I haven’t read the list of side effects or that I’m not being careful about this and neglect very obvious things.

          • Skef says:

            To the extent that I’ve intended any condescension, it’s in relation to the subtext, which I suppose is now text. To ask about bad side effects while adding in “this seems impossible” is to ask a leading question — maybe hoping for an answer like “that does seem impossible, so it’s probably nothing to worry about.” The fact that you’ve done your research and seem to understand the implications just makes it more mysterious what additional information from a comment board would affect your decisions.

            If you take away the short onset, which you should, you’re left with the side effects. Trying to add an additional drug on top in the hope of addressing those seems like a really bad idea. I say this as a someone with no particular objections to self-medication, recreational or otherwise.

            Assume for the sake of argument someone thinks that taking an MAO inhibitor will put them in a better overall state, assuming manageable side effects. That person then does research and finds the one that seems to have the lowest side effect risks, obtains it, self-medicates, and experiences serious side effects. If that experience doesn’t change the original assumption, and self-medication is still on the table, the next step would not be trying to work around the side effects. it might be obtaining a different MAOI and ramping up over a long period from a proportionately lower dose.

            There is a large risk here of letting the difficulty and delay of obtaining other substances or the hope that the dietary restrictions could eventually be unnecessary affect a decision about whether to give up on the drug at hand. it’s very hard psychologically to avoid doing that kind of thing. The questions you’re asking have a framing consistent with that direction. I am, as one completely unqualified person, trying to wave you off doing that.

          • Dahlen says:

            From this I understand that you’ve been consistently misreading me and continue to do so. Is there anything I can say to convince you to please give me a bit more credit than that, and occasionally assume I know what I’m talking about and am not seeking to endanger my health?

            To ask about bad side effects while adding in “this seems impossible” is to ask a leading question — maybe hoping for an answer like “that does seem impossible, so it’s probably nothing to worry about.”

            But that’s just your interpretation. Obviously I’ve felt it happen, so whatever my previous expectations, I now know it can happen, even though I don’t understand why, and I sure as hell don’t believe that it’s nothing to worry about. If anyone here tried to tell me that I should just ignore the symptoms, I’d assume they wanted to do me in with bad advice. I’m not fishing for reassurance here. I think I’ve said something concerning more credit, so can you please…?

            I don’t mean to make decisions according to the responses I get here, I’m just asking about the possibility of very rapid onset as an academic curiosity, no more, no less. I could have just asked “hey guys, any idea how cardiovascular side effects of a drug can have an onset significantly shorter than 30 mins p.o.?” and left it at that, but I figured that I should provide an adequate amount of background. And if there were any interesting comments concerning other stuff than my main question, so much the better.

            Trying to add an additional drug on top in the hope of addressing those seems like a really bad idea.

            Which I did not do. I knew I had some beta blockers around the house, checked for possible interactions, and decided against taking them. Instead I waited for the day to pass hopefully without any heart attack. My plan of action has been and is going to be the same anyway: suspend usage indefinitely, go get my heart checked, and improve cardiovascular health with aerobic exercise. Sane and simple. Would that have been too generous an assumption?

            There is no other MAOI that’s B-selective. Well, there’s rasagiline, which is also very similar, but it costs so much that it’s off the table as an option. I have reason to suspect other dopaminergic medications would have even stronger stimulant-like negative side effects on me, so I’m not even thinking about replacing it with something that might be stronger and more dangerous (as for weaker, I don’t know of any). It’s true that I don’t much like the thought that I might not be able to medicate my problem safely at all, with anything, and be stuck with the same “software” (psychotherapeutic) productivity techniques that have only yielded mediocre results so far, but I’ve lived my whole life like that and can continue to do so, if the alternative is poor health and higher mortality.

            I appreciate the concern, but… please don’t assume the worst about me, it’s really not helping.

          • Skef says:

            “Elucidating the pharmacokinetic mechanism of it (in which time of onset might provide an important clue) might help me understand whether/how the side effects are treatable — because, ideally, I’d still like to find a way to eliminate them and continue my experiment safely.”

            “I’m just asking about the possibility of very rapid onset as an academic curiosity, no more, no less.”

            You’re doing a few different things at once. I am trying to cover the important bases. This isn’t something personal for me.

          • Dahlen says:

            Okay. Both. It’s interesting from a theoretical standpoint as well as for personal relevance. (I never said I scored top marks at the internal consistency of the things I say…)

            So what’s with that?

  16. Jill says:

    I had replied to someone on the previous thread about my reasons for being unwilling to engage in discussion with him. It’s a topic that I think bears thinking about for many of us– What types of people are you willing to engage in discussion with, on the Internet or elsewhere? And what types of discussion are you willing to engage in? Answers will vary for different people.

    Now the previous thread is hard to get to. So I am repeating my thoughts on this here, in an expanded version actually. I won’t say who the person is, because it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t seem to understand anything I write, so I don’t write it for him. So I write it for other people, to think about.

    To a particular commenter:

    I engage with tons of people on this board, answer many of their questions, and read many of the things they cite or that they ask me to read. But not with you. There’s a reason for that.

    Many people here exhibit good faith and seem interested in getting to know what each other think, rather than in trying to “devastate” the other person’s argument in their own view, if not in the other person’s view. People who try to play “devastation” and insulting and demeaning and nit picking games with me, will end up playing alone.

    If I brought a chess board to the park, and sat down and tried to find people to play chess with, and some did, and then you came along and insisted on playing checkers, and railed against me for not giving in to your demands to play checkers with you– I’d walk away. Same here.

    “Oh” you may say, “but this proves you don’t have the intellectual ability to back up your arguments, that you are not smart enough to win in a game of insulting and demeaning one another, and demanding unreasonable things of one another, and specifically choosing questions to ask where the answers will appear to confirm our own point of view, repeatedly proving (at least to ourselves) that the other is wrong, stupid and evil.”

    Here are the things you do that cause me to be unwilling to engage with you”

    –ask me questions that are an obvious setup to try to make your own point of view look good, and then demand that I spend time researching these questions that interest you but not me

    –nit pick endlessly

    –rail against me for not giving in to your demands

    –assume that I am somehow obligated to give in to your demands because I supposedly care so much about proving something to you

    –sometimes follow me from one thread to another, to protest my not giving in to your demands on a previous thread, telling everyone how “irresponsible” I am for not giving in to your demands

    –show zero interest in understanding what is important to me, or in considering things I say, or in anything at all except grabbing statements by me for the purpose of attacking them– in any nit picking or insulting way that may occur to you. You seem to “discuss” only for the purpose of trying to prove every statement by me wrong– almost before you have even read it. It’s sort of like you’re a missionary, having a “discussion” for the sole purpose of converting me, or maybe “devastating” me as an infidel– except that missionaries aren’t generally insulting and demeaning.

    All of this stuff just seems like feces throwing to me. I don’t want to play feces throwing games. But if you want to play them, I am sure you can find people all over the Internet 24/7/365 who have the “intellectual ability” that you seem to believe feces throwing demands.

    • torytroll says:

      well jill no doubt theres fuckwits everywhere, but i think you’re missing the point a bit too. if you say “X is true” and people here say no it aint and here’s why “a,b,c” thats not nitpicking a lot of people here[1] are genuinely interested in determining The Truth(tm), they want you to go “well i dont agree with a,b,c and here are my reasons”, they *like* the debate, they’d actually get a kick out of learning something new or seeing it from a different angle. its not about you, its about the ideas.

      but like i said, there are fuckwits too.

      [1] should note, i’ve never met any of them, in a lot ways i cant think of anything scarier but the above is my sincere observation.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’ve actually come across a few of the fuckwits that Jill describes, who are exactly as annoying as she says. (And I think that is their goal.)

    • Interesting general question.

      I think the only characteristic of someone that makes me entirely unwilling to continue arguing with him is deliberate dishonesty. I had an interaction recently (not here) where someone claimed the existence of a specific graph (supporting his argument) in a specific webbed article. I looked and it wasn’t there. I asked him what page it was on. He responded by various evasions, along the lines of “there are lots of graphs in the article” and “you obviously can’t understand scientific articles,” making it clear that he knew the graph wasn’t there, that he had just invented it. I haven’t interacted with him since.

      A weaker and more common negative is concluding that someone has no interest at all in the actual argument, just in saying negative things about those he is arguing in and positive things about his side. It might be worth arguing with such a person in order to convince third parties but I’m not going to convince him and am unlikely to learn anything from him.

      The people most worth arguing with are the ones who are actually interested in whether there might be good arguments against their current views. Short of that are the people who are sure their current view is correct but willing to make the intellectual effort to understand arguments on the other side, if only to refute them.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      The example you give is an extremely interesting one, and I find it hard to form a firm opinion on this.

      If I’m recalling your incidence correctly, you are describing it a bit worse than what it came across to me. I understood it the following way:
      Person A claims some views about the world to be true. Person B (implicitly) argues that from those views certain predictions seem to follow and hence A should indeed guess the value of some statistic and check *later* whether the estimate was correct. The point being that if your world view consistenly leads to wrong predictions, it’s probably incorrect.

      I symphatize with Person B’s point of view a lot. If you are rhetorically gifted and sufficiently motivated, you can convincingly defend anything you want. The correctness of a prediction however is exclusively determined by the truthfullness of the underlying propositions.

      On the other hand, just like babies, real world data is messy and noisy, so to Person A it must fell obvious that Person B asks only about the statistics he already knows to be supporting his argument. It’s like me claiming that earthquakes stronger than 9.0 are very rare in the US and somebody smugly daring me to guess if thre was a earthquake of that magnitude on March 27, 1964 in Alaska.

      I guess the best approach is to ask for predictions about numbers both parties do not already know (requires trust), or even better to guess the future.

    • Outis says:

      I don’t know anything about the background, but it seems really strange to write such a long post, in a new thread, to explain why you won’t talk to some person. You could just not talk to them, but it seems that you really really want people to notice, so you posted it in a new thread, in cause we missed the old one. Well, I noticed, but I’m not sure what you expect me to think, as a third party.

      • Jiro says:

        She is doing that because she needs to provide an excuse as to why, when someone proves her wrong, that doesn’t really count. It’s easy to say “Ha ha, I won’t respond to you” when the truth is that she can’t respond.

    • Gbdub says:

      Jill, in good faith, I suggest you go read Scott’s excellent article “Against Bravery Debates” and consider how it might apply to your writing on this blog, and why some of it provokes the reaction that it does (apologies, I can’t get the link widget working on iOS, but a Google search on the title takes you right to it).

        • Interesting old post.

          I think Scott missed one reason why people on both sides of an issue think they are the brave ones and the majority is on the other side.

          Suppose a newspaper publishes a middle of the road article on some issue people feel strongly about, say an estimate of the frequency of rape based on the NCVS figures. Someone who believes society is much too tolerant of rape will believe that the number is far too low–his preferred source giving much higher figures. Someone on the other side will conclude that the number is much too high–much higher than his preferred source. Each of them will see the same article as biased against his opinion.

          There is a sense in which, in such disputes, both sides are correct. If you are in the 5th percentile of people ordered by how big they think government should be, you correctly believe that those who want bigger government than you do outnumber those on your side of the issue by almost twenty to one. Similarly, mutatis mutandis, if you are in the 95th percentile.

          That doesn’t work, of course, for a binary issue.

          • gbdub says:

            In some sense, that was covered by his follow-up “All Debates are Bravery Debates”, where he discussed that e.g. a very snarky, insult-laden anti-religious forum might be appropriate/necessary for people who really had come out of oppressive religious upbringings, but is much more likely to turn off someone approaching atheism from a more tolerant background. Or that “nothing is your fault” is good advice for someone paralyzed by guilt, and “take responsibility for everything” is good for a chronic excuse-maker – but swapping the advice would be very bad.

            Still, I think it’s best answered by the closing of “Against Bravery Debates”, where Scott concludes, essentially, that it’s maybe okay to argue for your bravery if your speaking up exposes you to actual tangible harm, but the vast majority of the time it’s just toxic.

  17. Zombielicious says:

    There was an interesting comment (imho) a while back to the effect that Americans might distrust government more than others because U.S. government really is worse than others. Thinking about why that might be, I got to wondering if large, rich countries are more susceptible to lobbying and regulatory capture for the simple reason that the biggest corporations tend to be located there. If you’re a place like Iceland or New Zealand you’re only a limited target for manipulation of the political process, while the U.S. gets the absolute worst of it since it is home to many of the world’s largest and richest corporations, which have high incentive to manipulate the process in favor of their own interests. (So of course do many other types of organizations, but, with some exceptions, they’re generally less well positioned to do so.)

    In other words, the tradeoff of having a leading economy and being attractive to big business is that you end up with a really screwed up legal and regulatory system.

    So is this a trend for other countries in the world? Are there other factors involved, like population and geography, that prevent places like Japan or Germany from getting screwed over like the U.S. or Russia does, despite having very strong economies attractive to large MNCs? Or does the U.S. just fail so often to pass any semblance of sane laws or regulations because of other structural shortcomings of its government (e.g. constitutional vs parliamentary, etc.)? This would seem like a pretty easy hypothesis to test just by plotting the number of major corporations headquartered in a place, or the amount of lobbying done by them, versus some measure of government dysfunction.

    • Jill says:

      Certainly government dysfunction does have something to do with distrust and bashing of government. But to say it’s the main reason is to think the tail is wagging the dog.

      The biggest reason for this is corporate propaganda. Corporations already know and hire the best propagandists in order to sell their products by advertising. They just carry those resources over to political advertising.

      People here who’ve read my comments before know that I think that most of the anti-government sentiment in the U.S. is due to propaganda. Bashing the establishment government– when your party is not in power– works, as propaganda to win elections. Newt Gingrich was particularly skilled at doing this.

      I don’t understand how the huge number of Americans who don’t believe propaganda works, think Big Money in politics works. Well, I guess some of them don’t think that Big Money in politics works.

      It does work. But we are in a democracy. So voters have to vote for people in order for them to be elected to Congress or wherever. Huge donors pay for the propaganda to convince people to vote for their preferred candidate.

      And since bashing works, to win elections, donors pay for their candidates to do it more and more in ads, and candidates do it in their speeches even once in office. The general population, hearing it so often, begins to do it to each other. So political conversation becomes one big feces throwing contest for all involved.

      When you have such a system, the government functions as efficiently as a fine Swiss watch, actually. The question is: WHO is the government working for? The fact that the government is obviously not working for the benefit of everyday Americans is, of course, a contributor to distrust in government.

      However, if people could stop throwing feces at each other for a few minutes some time, they might discover that they have some interests in common and could come to some common agreements and work on making progress of various kinds together.

      Distrust of government– as role modeled and encouraged by negative political ads and negative political reporting about everything– not just about individual political races– is itself the main cause of government lack of progress and dysfunction. Not vice versa. That is: Government dysfunction doesn’t cause distrust in government. (At least it’s not the biggest cause.) Distrust in government (as exhibited in negative campaigning and excessively negative media reporting about government) causes government dysfunction.

      • I think this is mostly crap. But it certainly is likely that my disagreements are as much from my ideological priors as are Jill’s. But if possible, I would like to try to discuss some of these topics on a rational basis. So I request discussion of a few topics:

        1) Corporate propaganda is anti-government. In my mind, this is clearly wrong, since the large corporations with the most to spend on propaganda, are great beneficiaries of big government. Jill, why do you think anti-government propaganda is from corporations? Any evidence?

        2) I think most anti-government feeling exists because government simply doesn’t work very well. But of course those are my priors. But we have seen in real life that totalitarian government ruling all things is clearly terrible (USSR), and also when government takes over too many things, economy goes downhill (Europe a few decades ago, Latin America nationalizations also a few decades ago). Also it makes logical sense to me that government simply can’t satisfy consumers as well as the free market because the government gives the same thing to everyone instead of each consumer buying what they want. So gov’t should only be for those few things that the market doesn’t do a good job on.

        3) Gov’t distrust causes gov’t dysfunction. How is this? I think a healthy cynicism may keep the worst gov’t excesses at bay. Rose colored glasses cause the most problems.

        • Anonymous says:

          1) There are two claims: most anti-government propaganda is corporate vs most corporate propaganda is anti-government. These are very different claims (even if we restrict only to stuff that is definitely pro- or anti-government). You attribute the first to Jill and reject the second, but they could both be true.

        • DrBeat says:

          4) Why do you think advertising has so much persuasive power, when there is no evidence at all that it actually does?

          Past a certain early point — the point where people who were not aware of your product are now aware of your product — advertising money is wasted. Advertising is not evil corporate mind-control sorcery, advertising is a scam being run on those corporations to cause them to spend billions of dollars for no productive outcome.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Past a certain early point — the point where people who were not aware of your product are now aware of your product — advertising money is wasted.

            There’s also reminding people your product exists. Also there’s the performance bond aspect of advertising – conspicuous spending on advertisement is a way of demonstrating a company’s commitment to maintaining the quality level of the product.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            If companies that buy advertising are wasting billions of dollars, why are they not out-competed by those that don’t do so?

          • DrBeat says:

            If companies that buy advertising are wasting billions of dollars, why are they not out-competed by those that don’t do so?

            Because to be large enough for it to be an option, you must be inundated in a corporate culture that exalts bad ideas and thinks that wasting money is vitally important. The entities large enough to spend that kind of money on advertising are literally and not figuratively incapable of observing their advertising money was wasted. You may as well ask why, if astrology is nonsense, kings who spent resources on court astrologers weren’t outcompeted by kings who didn’t bother with court astrologers. Astrologers didn’t go out of fashion because the kings who hired them noticed they were complete wastes of time and resources; they were incapable of noticing that. The culture around them had to change for unrelated reasons until they felt it was low-status to hire them.

            Capitalism isn’t the mechanism where everyone’s best ideas all fight for dominance, it’s the mechanism where we allow everyone to make all of the terrible, terrible decisions that their emotional reasoning demands so we can leave open the possibility that someone makes a good decision by accident.

          • Glen Raphael, I’ve heard of another reason for advertising– to get people who already like your product to like it more. Someone who likes Coke might drink anyway, but if they associate it with having a wonderfully good time, they might be less tempted by other sodas.

          • It’s simply not true that only large companies do advertising. For example there are small local businesses which pay for ads on restaurant menus.

          • Jiro says:

            Kings continued spending resources on court astrologers because spending on court astrologers is a very small portion of the king’s budget, and spending on an astrologer also serves as a form of signalling. It’s the same reason that the king owns fancy robes rather than selling the robes and using the money to avoid taxing the populace as much and thus reducing the chance of a revolt.

            Advertising budgets are massive, too massive to be explained in this manner.

          • DrBeat says:

            And small local businesses advertising aren’t wasting their money.

            Advertising has a punishing rate of diminishing returns, and large companies are deep, deep in “additional spending adds no value at all” territory. Small businesses are not.

          • DrBeat says:

            Jiro: And spending shittons of money on advertising doesn’t have signaling value to other people in the Platonic realm of terrible decision-making that is the corporate world?

            Okay, how about this.

            Clearly, software development anti-patterns can’t exist, because software developing is 100% of the output of a software development company, and if there was a maladaptive pattern of development exhibited by a company, then it would be outcompeted by companies that did not exhibit those traits.

            So why do anti-patterns exist? Why do they not just exist, but utterly dominate their field?

          • Jiro says:

            Jiro: And spending shittons of money on advertising doesn’t have signaling value to other people in the Platonic realm of terrible decision-making that is the corporate world?

            It may have some signalling value, but it can’t have enough signalling value to make up for the loss of billions of dollars. If advertising was useless except for signalling, some company who signalled less would use the billions of dollars advantage to take over the market.

            The king isn’t paying billions of dollars for his astrologer.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Medieval astrology was part of medicine and we all know that is the only irrational budget.

            Steve Sailer says that his company did randomized controlled experiments in advertising, leading Procter & Gamble to cut their advertising. But they still do a lot. more

          • “Advertising has a punishing rate of diminishing returns, and large companies are deep, deep in “additional spending adds no value at all” territory. ”

            How do you know?

            “The entities large enough to spend that kind of money on advertising are literally and not figuratively incapable of observing their advertising money was wasted. ”

            That’s not an answer to the “why are they not outcompeted” question. If the result of a firm wasting a lot of money on advertising is that its products, which have to cover its costs, are ten percent more expensive than its competitors’ products, customers buy from the competitor. That doesn’t depend on the firm, or anyone else, knowing that the useless advertising is the reason for the high costs.

          • Jiro says:

            Medieval astrology was part of medicine and we all know that is the only irrational budget.

            I doubt that the total funds that a medieval king spent on medicine made a big enough dent in his budget that it substantially affected his other activities.

            A peasant may have spent more money (proportionately to his budget), but other peasants who spend less on medicine won’t drive him out of the peasant business.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            Additionally, I don’t think the market in kings was very efficient.

          • DrBeat says:

            That’s not an answer to the “why are they not outcompeted” question. If the result of a firm wasting a lot of money on advertising is that its products, which have to cover its costs, are ten percent more expensive than its competitors’ products, customers buy from the competitor. That doesn’t depend on the firm, or anyone else, knowing that the useless advertising is the reason for the high costs.

            Your logic would predict that software development anti-patterns (ways of organizing and completing projects that waste time and money to no productive outcome) can not exist.

            Anti-patterns totally dominate the field of software development.

            Why is this?

          • Jiro says:

            And your logic would indicate that there is no software development, since the field is dominated by anti-patterns and using anti-patterns is not productive.

            Obviously there is software development. So the field isn’t dominated by anti-patterns.

            Companies that use them certainly do get outcompeted by companies that don’t. It just doesn’t lead to them dying out, because there is a steady state where the rate at which they appear in previously efficient companies and the rate at which companies with them die exactly balances.

            Advertising doesn’t fit this; all big companies that sell things use lots of advertising. We don’t have a steady state with a balance between companies suddenly deciding to use advertising, and companies being outcompeted because they use advertising.

            Also, remember that software is subject to forces that allow companies to be inefficient, such as network effects, copyright laws, and the multitude of dirty tricks Microsoft has used.

          • DrBeat says:

            And there isn’t a force that allows companies to be inefficient?

            I’m not sure if you noticed this, but a corporation is a process that turns money into terrible decisions. All large organizations, by virtue of the fact they are large organizations and by virtue of that fact alone, are horrifyingly incompetent. But since they are large, they lumber on through inertia, unable to be killed by the damage their own bad decisions cause. They cannot be outcompeted by competent organizations, because to be able to compete with them, an organization must become large, a process which makes them become incompetent.


            I think it would be a fair summary to say that when an organization becomes too large to be held in human minds it requires formalized (dare I say rationalized?) control structures, and there’s a considerable loss of intelligence and flexibility.


            However, no one has figured out a way to do without large organizations.

            It would be interesting if increasing individual intelligence pays off more by increasing the size of organizations which don’t need formal structure than by increasing discoveries.

          • Skivverus says:

            All large organizations, by virtue of the fact they are large organizations and by virtue of that fact alone, are horrifyingly incompetent.

            From a somewhat different perspective – how long did it take for multicellular organisms to develop?

    • Sandy says:

      I wonder if Americans distrust their government more than others because they’ve encountered the idea that government can be used as a weapon against different Americans they don’t like, and as the population diversifies, polarizes and tribalizes, Americans will become even more aware of these capabilities of government and thus more wary of what could happen when people they don’t like take control of the weapon. It is a difficult idea to dislodge. I think this is the case in India, which has a very diverse population and also a vehement anti-government sentiment — not so much in the libertarian sense as the “Whoever’s in charge will seek to reward their in-group and punish their out-group” sense. Places like New Zealand, Iceland, Japan and Germany are much more homogeneous, aren’t they? The “us and them” idea is likely not so prevalent in such places.

      Russia might just be a really hard place to govern, given the geography.

      • Zombielicious says:

        That would make sense if the dysfunction was centered around issues exacerbated by types of diversity which are disproportionately high in the U.S. compared to other countries (racial, ethnic, religious, etc). But stuff like healthcare, college tuition, housing crisis stuff (examples picked off the top of my head) would be along class divisions or rural/urban dichotomies, which afaik aren’t particularly unique to the U.S. I’m not sure how something like EpiPen regulation would fit into that narrative.

        It also doesn’t seem like the most anti-government groups are the ones who have the greatest historical history of oppression. If so you’d expect anti-gov conservatives to be from the racial minorities with the longest history of government oppression, rather than stereotypically a “whites-only club” while historically-oppressed racial minorities going for the party of “big government liberals.” Native Americans would be the only racial/ethnic minority I can think of that are stereotypically anti-government for the reasons you’d expect them to be.

        • Jill says:

          Most of the extreme anti-government people are the ones who watch/read/listen to the most anti-government and government-bashing media: e.g. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh etc.

          Libertarians are an exception, who are also anti-government, but most probably do not listen to Rush or watch Fox. But perhaps to say “small government” in the case of Libertarians, would be more accurate. But they are a fairly small group– not the majority of the anti-government folks by any means.

          • JayT says:

            I don’t think the average Limbaugh listener is actually anti-government. They are just anti-Democrat. They all gladly turned a blind eye when Bush increased the government.

          • gbdub says:

            JayT – not saying that group doesn’t exist, but annoyance at a perceived abandonment of small-government conservatism by the GOP in general (and Bush in particular) is part of what drove the TEA Party movement. Note that much of their initial success was in attacking incumbent Republicans in primaries – hardly the actions of pure anti-Democrats.

            And it’s not like strategic embrace of ideological groups is a pure right-wing phenomenon – e.g. look at what happened to the anti-war movement after Obama got elected.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It’s not clear to me that the tea party wanted less government in any sort of principled way. They were, at least partly, really angry about government bailouts of … people who didn’t deserve it, whether that was Wall St. or people with bad credit scores who bought houses.

            But they didn’t seem to want Social Security or Medicare taken away or reduced. They didn’t seem very interested in reducing the size of or spending on the military.

            It seems more like garden variety “I’m not getting enough, so take something away from that guy that I’m sure is getting too much” populism. Craig T. Nelson famously made the comment, while appearing on the Glenn Beck show, “I’ve been on food stamps and welfare. Anybody help me out? No.”

            Now, I’m sure people are being tired of banged on the head with that quote. And I know it doesn’t represent, say, David Friedman, but I don’t think the Tea Party movement was really motivated by principles in the way he is.

          • gbdub says:

            Every movement is going to attract some unprincipled hangers-on. The bigger and more popular it gets, the bigger a problem it becomes – that was my point, this is a universal issue (also relevant to the EA discussion above). I’m not sure why Nelson’s statement is any more relevant than that Obamaphone lady.

            Still, I think reducing the entire group of “Limbaugh listeners” to “just Anti-Democrat”, or to imply that there was no group disgruntled by late-Bush era pork, is either a misread or a deliberate oversimplification. The leap from “some unprincipled tribalists exist” to “no one has principles” is a big one, and would take a lot more evidence than has been presented here.

          • cassander says:


            It was the tea-party that forced through the admittedly now mostly dead sequestration, which included substantial cuts to military spending. And I mean actual cuts, as in a nominal dollar decrease from year A to year B.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The cuts to the military were the compromise part of sequestration. What the “Freedom Caucus” really wanted were the domestic sequestration cuts, which did not include SS or Medicare. The Democrats and Obama insisted on marrying those to Defense cuts.

            Maybe the Freedom Caucus are secret Machiavellian geniuses and they knew they could get the Democrats to propose the military sequestration, but that still means they weren’t arguing for military sequestration to begin with.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            I’m not sure why Nelson’s statement is any more relevant than that Obamaphone lady.

            Because he said it on Glenn Beck’s show and received a positive reception. Glenn Beck seems to have been a fairly prominent backer of the Tea Party movement, yes? I believe Nelson also continued to speak at and on behalf of various Tea Party groups.

            “Obamaphone” lady was not getting any speaking gigs, and really can’t be characterized as identifying with or being representative of any particular ideological or political movement within the Democratic party or the broad left.

          • nona says:


            You’re saying that “get free stuff” isn’t representative of a particular movement on the left?

        • Sandy says:

          Firstly, the housing crisis has been portrayed as a race-laden issue for years now — see all the commentary about the exacerbation of segregation, or the annihilation of black wealth since 2008, or the disproportionate impact of foreclosures on minorities. Or anything to do with Section 8 funding. Class and race go hand-in-hand in America because there is a large non-white underclass and there has been since before the United States even existed.

          Secondly, a crisis of trust doesn’t have to revolve around specific issues so much as a general breakdown in group feeling and cohesiveness, which contributes to a decline in faith in government. Putnam’s diversity study explicitly links an increase in ethnic diversity with a decline in confidence in government, a decline in the inclination to vote, an increase in feelings of political powerlessness and a decline in expectations that others will collaborate towards common goals.

          We might need to determine what is meant by “distrusting the government”. If you mean it in the sense that “people who distrust the government” should overlap with “people with libertarian tendencies or beliefs”, then sure, self-identified libertarians in America are going to be disproportionately white. Whether being a libertarian or an anti-government conservative should necessarily correlate with a history of oppression is a different question — see Black People Less Likely. You’d expect any group or affiliation outside the status quo to be disproportionately white. There are socialist and communist parties in America whose membership is also disproportionately white, even though you might expect groups that report a higher level of trust in the federal government to have some amount of sympathy for ideologies that seek to expand the power of that government. Bernie Sanders was the candidate proposing large expansions of the federal government, and minorities didn’t exactly flock to him.

          And it should be noted that while white people generally have the lowest levels of trust in government, other groups aren’t exactly huge fans either. No one in America trusts the government much. Less than 30% of blacks and Hispanics believe that the government can be trusted all or most of the time. The vast majority of Americans believe the government can only be trusted some of the time. And the percentage of black people who believe the government can never be trusted is only slightly less than the national average, or the percentage of white people who believe so.

          Does this mean that there are huge potential votebanks the Libertarian Party could be tapping into? Not really. People not trusting the government doesn’t necessarily mean they want the government to be smaller. Most Americans, even most Republicans, generally approve of a large government’s influence in many areas. What it means is that they want control of the government to fall into the hands of groups they can trust, and for that control to be removed from groups they distrust. To some extent, that is democracy in action: the goal is not to defend your country, but to defeat your fellow citizens. In a scenario where there are ever more categories for different types of citizens, and each category is associated with a different political affiliation, the urge to defeat your fellow citizens becomes stronger and you think of the government as a weapon rather than some impassive leviathan. And people are scared of weapons that they perceive as beyond their control and a potential threat.

        • cassander says:

          >But stuff like healthcare, college tuition, housing crisis stuff (examples picked off the top of my head) would be along class divisions or rural/urban dichotomies

          Medicaid and housing, being means tested welfare, goes to some groups vastly more than others. And anything education related is tainted with the knowledge of affirmative action.

      • pku says:

        How do Canada or Singapore fit into this? They seem to avoid this “competitive government” idea despite being much more diverse.

        • Sandy says:

          Canada is not as diverse as the United States. And I’m not sure they’ve handled their diversity any better — it wasn’t America that had an ethnonationalist separatist movement in the 20th century.

          Singapore is a police state. It styles itself as a democracy, but the People’s Action Party has ruled unchallenged for decades, and nobody has any stake in the government save for an elite bureaucracy culled from a strictly meritocratic civil service. When no group can influence the government, no one has to worry about any single group using the government as a weapon against them. I also question whether Singapore is as diverse as the United States, given that 75% of the population are ethnic Chinese.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            What do you mean by a “police state”? Do you just mean “not a democracy”? If so, why add this? Do you mean that that the police are arbitrary? arbitrary in suppressing political speech? Sometimes people claim that the libel laws are used arbitrarily to suppress political speech, but that’s not the police. [Added: well, sometimes it is.]

          • Sandy says:

            I mean the PAP has the power to alter the Constitution and redefine rights at will, and the courts have given them free rein to do so as they see fit. This allows the PAP to legally detain or imprison anyone they deem a subversive element for as long as they want — in one case, an opposition politician was imprisoned for 23 years and then placed under house arrest for another 9 years, all without ever being charged with a crime, and it was all legal and above board.

            Sometimes people claim that the libel laws are used arbitrarily to suppress political speech, but that’s not the police.

            How does the state suppress anything, if not by the police or the threat of the police? If a better term is required, perhaps “benevolent despotism” is a better fit.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            OK, imprisoning indefinitely without charge is pretty good.

            My understanding is that libel suits against opposition politicians are usually civil suits, quite removed from the police. Ultimately, the police are necessary to enforce libel judgements, but it is not the police who are exhibiting arbitrary powers or standards. There are similar laws that the police have the discretion to enforce, but I think that they are rarer.

        • Fahundo says:

          How can anyone use Singapore as an example of a good government? When American police beat somebody there’s a protest; when Singapore police beat somebody it’s probably because a judge ordered it.

          • Psmith says:

            You pretty much answered your own question there.

          • pku says:

            To clarify, I didn’t mean to imply the Singapore government was necessarily good, just that it seemed to avoid the issue of being severely restricted in power due to its various ethnic groups being afraid another will use it to abuse them.

          • onyomi says:

            One of the reasons Bryan Caplan supports free immigration is that diversity, apparently, erodes support for government welfare.

    • Diadem says:

      I think America may be in a negative feedback loop actually. Americans trust their government less because their government is worse, but this distrust in government also makes it worse. It’s just impossible to get things like a well working healthcare system, because every attempt to improve matters is met with a chorus of ‘government interference!’ (plus plenty of other opposition. I’m not saying distrust of government is the only reason, but it does play a role).

      There might be a size effect. I have long suspected that small countries, on average, are more stable and have better functioning governments, although I have no hard data on that.

      But I also think that the US just has a uniquely bad system of government.

      A presidential system is bad. A two-party system is bad. A presidential two-party system is just a disaster. Add to that many poor rules that were grandfathered in, such as filibusters, gerrymandering and the electoral college, and you just end up with a very dysfunctional system.

      It’s somewhat of a testament to the American people that despite all this they still have something resembling a democracy. I think most other countries in the world would long ago have devolved into dictatorships, had they been operating with the US rulebook.

      • Protagoras says:

        Haven’t there been some Latin American governments that did basically copy the U.S. system (in the 19th century, I think), that did indeed devolve into dictatorships?

        • pku says:

          To be fair, latin american countries seem to fall into dictatorships pretty often either way (or at least, that’s my impression as someone who knows very little about latin american history).

        • pheltz says:

          “Devolving into dictatorship,” not really. Granted, Latin American political history is vast and you can find cases of just about anything. But self-coups are pretty rare; there was Porfirio Diaz in Mexico around the turn of the 20th century, and there’s somewhat of a tradition of them in Peru, but they’re not common. The much more common pattern for Latin American dictators was for an elite-based dictatorship to violently overthrow a populist elected leader. But these are sudden and confrontation transitions.

          It’s important to distinguish between “freely elected leader who’s somewhat corrupt and is compared to a dictator by the opposition” from “actual dictator,” is the main point I’m making here.

    • Fahundo says:

      I thought the main reason Americans distrusted government was because it was built into our mythology. A group of brave men risked their lives to overthrow an oppressive regime, then intentionally wrote a Constitution that splits government power into 3 branches that by design have checks against each other just in case one of them is corrupt, then on top of that, half the states refused to adopt the new Constitution until a list of citizens’ rights was added to it.

      We’re taught to distrust government power in elementary school.

      • cassander says:

        I would cite a frontier ethos long before I’d cite founding myth as a cause. The US is overwhelmingly populated by the descendants of people who said screw you guys, I’m going to go west until the roads stop and do things my way.

        • Garrett says:

          I’d agree. I generally view the American ethos as embodied in “Screw you! I’ll show you!”. Possibly an irrational attachment to the idea that we’ll be the exception, or that we know more than tradition/the system/the man.

    • pku says:

      I’m inclined to blame the deontological nature of the US government for its inefficiency – other countries think “what can our government do to be more effective”, but americans think primarily “what should our government be allowed to do to stop it becoming too powerful?”. Which does have the advantage of having gone on stably for an amazingly long time, but has the severe disadvantage of being less effective.

      • PedroS says:

        The problem with an effective government is that effectiveness may easily be directed to ends incompatible with general well-being ( rather than the well-being of those in power). Effective pursuit of bad policies (as in the USSR or the Grest Leap Forward in PRC) is IMO much worse than ineffective pursuit of good policies.YMMV, of course.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      It’s maybe a mistake to just define “corruption” as “influence of giant corporations” and call it a day; what about corrupt local officials, featherbedding union contracts, bad accounting in the military, benefits fraud, and so forth? People are quite capable of being corrupt all by themselves, they don’t need a giant evil skyscraper and a two thousand dollar suit to do it.

    • “There was an interesting comment (imho) a while back to the effect that Americans might distrust government more than others because U.S. government really is worse than others. ”

      Can you think of any reasonably simple, objective measure of how bad different governments are? For charities, people try to measure overhead–how much of the money collected actually goes to the charitable objective. What would be the equivalent for governments?

      • Zombielicious says:

        IANAE(conomist), unlike yourself, but if I was going to try to quantify it, I’d probably start by looking at something like quality of life (adjusted for wealth) or government dysfunction. Which might be measured as something like ratio of productivity to value of goods and services available to the median member of the population as measured by the median price in industrialized countries. Which might come out to something like the ratio of per capita GDP or MFP to consumption as priced by the average of the middle 50% of OECD countries. Or something similar to that.

        Alternatively you could just try to measure government dysfunction instead, by comparing a government’s ability to pass common types of legislation, with the standard being set by an average of other similar countries. For instance, identify x major pieces of legislation in y categories that have all been passed by >70% of similar countries, then compare stuff like completeness and difficulty to passage in the target country being measured. That would hopefully compensate for problems like probably not being able to objectively decide which pieces of legislation were a net benefit or not. It may not be perfect, but if your country is repeatedly failing to enact legislation that is fairly standard is most other parts of the world, and does so while failing to provide services (regardless of whether they’re public or private) those other countries do, despite being as or more wealthy than they are, it’s at least a hint that your system for large-scale coordination is dysfunctional.

        You could probably do a lot better than this as far as creating a good measure, again that’s just where I started thinking about it when you asked. Looking at consumption and services, regardless of whether public and private, would also be a general reflection of your coordination systems rather than automatically assuming passing legislation is good. A more complicated measure looking at effectiveness and outcomes of various parts of society would probably be better, but at that point we’re definitely beyond “simple” and, like with the various inflation measures, people could still endlessly debate how “objective” it was.

        If you want something really simple for measuring “bad government,” copy something like the measures of polarization in Congress – though I’d think you’d first need to show that political polarization strongly correlates with bad governing, though that doesn’t seem particularly unlikely. But given that there are so many ways to start measuring the problem, you could probably find some governments that fail on most all of them, in which case the evidence is pretty strong. I’d expect the U.S. would be one of these.

        (EDIT: The more I think about it there are so many ways you could start measuring this. Taxes versus services provided, as you were hinting at. Bond ratings. Weighted statistical models of various measures. Prediction markets. Etc…)

        • Quality of life is a complicated thing, and should include negatives as well as positives.

          How much does dealing with the bookkeepping for taxes lead to many (certainly not all) Americans resenting the government?

          • BBA says:

            The United States has the most annoying taxes in the world. Not the highest – they’re relatively low by OECD standards – but in most countries there is no requirement to fill out pages of forms to report income to the government that somebody else has already reported. In the UK, for instance, the government totals up your income and withholding and just sends you a bill or a refund as needed. Only people with relatively unusual income situations (self-employment, capital gains, etc.) have to file the 1040 equivalent. There have been proposals floated to do the same thing here, but invariably the lobbying efforts of Intuit and H&R Block (and Grover Norquist) win out.

            Also, most other countries include sales tax/VAT in the sticker price. We add it at the cashier, just to make it that much harder to figure out how much to pay.

          • Anonymous says:

            Also, most other countries include sales tax/VAT in the sticker price. We add it at the cashier, just to make it that much harder to figure out how much to pay.

            I think it may also have to do with the fact that sales taxes differ by county. Retail chains or online retailers might want to have the prices of items not depend on where they’re sold.

        • roystgnr says:

          I’d probably start by looking at something like quality of life (adjusted for wealth)

          So with all other things equal, the less wealthy my policies make my citizens, the better a government I’m running? This seems to be a popular sort of statistical adjustment but I don’t think it’s an illuminating one.

          • Zombielicious says:

            Raw wealth or GDP might not be the best way to measure it, but you’d probably still want some way to adjust outcomes for natural advantages. Look at the disparity of outcomes for oil rich nations (e.g. Venezuela, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Norway) or resource-scarce ones (e.g. Singapore, North Korea). Otherwise you’re just measuring stuff like wealth and productivity, not the effectiveness of social coordination mechanisms.

            You’re abusing the fact that wealth, productivity, and quality of life all tend to correlate, while still saying “with all other things equal…” It’s unlikely a large decrease in national wealth would leave people’s purchasing power, consumption, quality of life, etc totally unaffected, but if it did… I guess that means society became more efficient? What’s the alternative – just look at quality of life alone, and a cronyist government that squanders national resources is equal to an effective one which maintains a high standard of living despite being resource poor, as long as they have equal outcomes for the median citizen?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Both of the proposed measures favor a larger and more intrusive government. A government which taxes away the wealth of its citizens to redistribute it as government services will be better under “quality of life adjusted for wealth” than a government whose citizens can afford their own services. A government which passes various sorts of benchmark legislation will be better than a government that deliberately refrains from passing that sort of legislation.

          • Zombielicious says:

            A government which taxes away the wealth of its citizens to redistribute it as government services will be better under “quality of life adjusted for wealth” than a government whose citizens can afford their own services.

            I don’t really see how that’s the case. I was specifically suggesting that availability and affordability of goods and services should the measure, since it shouldn’t really matter whether you get them from public or private orgs. Though I’m not sure what the best proxy for that would be – simple consumption seems bad since it would seem to matter if your consumption is on something like liquor and cigarettes versus something like healthcare.

            A government which passes various sorts of benchmark legislation will be better than a government that deliberately refrains from passing that sort of legislation.

            This one’s potentially more ideologically biased, but it helps to restrict it to benchmark legislation implemented by most advanced economies, rather than just “the more laws the better.” Regardless of the quality of the legislation, if the incentives are still there but the only thing preventing bad legislation from being passed is government dysfunction, that doesn’t really reflect well on government efficiency. Similarly, a country’s totalitarian policies that make them very efficient at high cost to their people wouldn’t be included unless it’s standardized across the developed world. Besides, the people who tend to think all government is so awful that major legislation common throughout the world is a mistake are probably the minority, i.e. as a measure it would still be useful to the majority of people, even if some ideologies reject it.

            (ETA: It’s also ambiguous which ideological direction the legislation would necessarily lean. Benchmark legislation could include streamlining of various government functions, e.g. tax policy, entitlements, healthcare regulations, etc, as much as adding new complexities to the system.)

        • Garrett says:

          This gets to be more complicated when you take into account Federalism in the US. Delegations from several States suffering drought may want to, eg. decrease water used by flush toilets. Delegations from more States (including those suffering floods) may think that this is a waste of time/government overreach and so refuse to enact such regulations at the Federal level. Under one model, this is a low-performing government.

          However, the affected States can write their own local regulations to address their local needs. Thus those who are most strongly impacted can still get the regulatory changes they want, while not impacting others.

          Whether this makes for good or bad government is certainly not clear-cut.

          • LHN says:

            And in practice, state regulation on the part of large states can effectively run nationwide. E.g., it’s frequently easier for companies to hew to California water-saving and automotive regulations or Texas textbook standards than produce multiple versions. Or the disappearance of phosphates from US dishwasher detergents at the beginning of this decade (perceptibly degrading performance) at a time when fewer than a third of the states had banned them.

      • Diadem says:

        That’s an interesting question.

        An easy answer would be “We can look at how well government policy reflects the will of the people”. But we run into a few problems there. What the people may want may not always be possible, and it may not always be wise. And what if the people want something because they were mislead by their government?

        To counter those objections we could say something like “We measure how good a government is by looking at how well government policy reflects the coherent extrapolated volition of the people”.

        Now we have a nice definition, but one that’s not easily measurable.

        As a more practical approach maybe we can look at things that are very uncontroversial. It’s hard to say what the perfect tax rate is, but it’s obvious what the perfect crime rate is. It may not be clear if building a particular highway is a good idea, but it’s obvious that if you do build that highway, that you should set aside funds for maintenance, and that you should make sure the roads feeding the highway have sufficient capacity, and a dozen other things like that.

        • John Nerst says:

          the coherent extrapolated volition of the people

          Am I the only one who thinks it’s totally obvious that this does not exist?

          • Diadem says:

            The concept of Coherent Extrapolated Volition may not be uncontroversial, but to say it obviously does not exist seems a bold claim.

            Even if it doesn’t exist that doesn’t mean it’s meaningless. The function sin(x) has no limit for x -> infinity, but that does not mean we can’t say meaningful things about it’s behavior. For example that it’ll never be 2.

            The idea behind CEV is basically that you take the limit of your goals and desires (your volition) as your wisdom and intelligence go to infinity. This limit might not exist (though that seems highly counter-intuitive to me), but that doesn’t mean we can’t say meaningful things about the behavior of the function. I’m pretty sure about some of the things that won’t be included.

          • Guy says:

            I don’t know, now that you’ve raised the example of the sine function, that seems like you’ve got a pretty good analogy for why CEV might meaningfully not exist. Maybe you genuinely do have two values that trade against each other, and how you weight them is a function of your intelligence, for example.

          • Zombielicious says:

            Problem with the sin(x) analogy is that CEV is only meaningful in terms of the limit, while sin(x) is not. Dirac delta function might be a better analogy – picks out a value when integrated against another function, and is otherwise ill-defined outside of a particular mathematical process (integration).

          • Guy says:

            The sine function would be equivalent to your goals and desires, and how they change as your inteligence/wisdom increase. In this analogy, your CEV is like the limit of the function, not the function itself.

          • John Nerst says:

            @Diadem: I didn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, rather that it seems obvious to me that it doesn’t. Like, it could exist but it’d have to be demonstrated to me against every intuition I have and it surprises me how it can seem intuitively correct to people. Should’ve phrased that better.

            I suspect happiness (the goal of any value system, surely) is extraordinarily slippery and anti-inductive, relying more on progressing towards goals than having achieved them. Not only are there tensions between different people’s values, but obviously (to me) also significant irresolvable tensions within people. That makes me suspect that CEV is divergent even for many individuals, let alone groups.

        • ” it’s obvious what the perfect crime rate is”

          No it isn’t– what’s defined as a crime may actually be a good idea.

          • Fahndo says:

            Well, in a perfect society the law would be changed so it’s no longer considered a crime.

          • gbdub says:

            I assume the implied “perfect crime rate” is zero, but to me, that implies you are either being far too lax… or far too draconian.

            Or you’re a sci-fi dictator of an army of perfectly behaved clones. None of these sound like utopia.

          • There are at least three different reasons why the perfect crime rate is not zero:

            1. There are costs to various ways of reducing the crime rate–paying more cops, having lower standards of proof, convicting more innocent people, having more people in jail, … . At some point, the cost of even the least expensive way of getting the rate a little farther down may be greater than the benefit.

            2. There may be things that are crimes but should not be, hence that we are better off not preventing.

            3. There may be categories of things that should be crimes but examples that should not be. There’s an interesting article by Donald Black which argues that a lot of crime is really private non-state law enforcement.

          • Anonymous says:

            David, your link is broken. try this
            [thanks, Jiro]

          • Jiro says:

            Anonymous: your link is broken too.

          • Both links work for me, although the one anonymous posted takes me to a page with a further link to the article.

      • IrishDude says:

        Re: Using overhead to measure the quality of charities.

        An episode of EconTalk discussed charities, and the guest Dan Pallotta talked about how it would be better if the non-profit sector acted more like for-profit companies. He specifically noted that overhead wasn’t the best metric for measuring charity effectiveness, as a higher overhead could mean attracting better talent to the organization and advertising better, which could lead to an overall bigger charity pie and more effective charitable interventions. It seems like a fair point to consider, though it makes measuring charity effectiveness more difficult if you shouldn’t use overhead as a quality metric.

  18. Deiseach says:

    You all know I try to stand up for the humanities, right? That they are as valuable and worthwhile as STEM subjects? That it’s not a bunch of poseurs flinging baffle-gab around and heaping the organic fertiliser higher?

    And then I stumble across stuff like this and I may as well throw my hat at it:

    In the West, meat has deeply seated symbolic links with notions of the erotic, naturalness, stereotypical femininity, and the earth, and also serves, according to the classic structuralist argument, as an oppositional coding that reinforces normative categories of culture, masculinity, and civilization through acts of desire or consumption. In a 1990 interview for the Swedish newspaper Expressen, Jacques Derrida remarks that “the establishment of man’s privileged position requires the sacrifice and devouring of animals.” He adds, “Eating is, after all, the great mystery of Christianity, the transubstantiation occurs in the act of incorporation itself: bread and wine become the flesh and blood of Christ. ” In this narrative of Christianity and Western humanism, it is the capacity to absorb the flesh of the other which makes us fully human.

    I very much appreciate that Derrida is so apparently influenced by Catholicism that he is either unaware of, or completely ignores, the Protestant denominations dominant in many Western European nations and in the USA that deny transubstantiation, with positions ranging from consubstantiation to “it is merely a memorial ordinance” and that there is no physical becoming or consumption. It’s a lovely compliment, Jacques. and I appreciate it: the only real Christianity is Catholic Christianity 🙂 Though what of the devouring of animals by other animals? Does that convey a privileged position upon the predators? Is there a sinister meaning to “The Lion King” where monarchical rule and dominance are tied to being a predator and consumer of animal flesh? And therefore logically shouldn’t we, as humans, establish our privileged position as humans by eating predator species, not prey species? So why don’t we?

    As for the rest of it – “classic structuralist argument, as an oppositional coding that reinforces normative categories” – take me away, sweet Jesus, I’m ready to leave this earth now. That’s not communicating a point, that’s regurgitating jargon.

    • Sandy says:

      You all know I try to stand up for the humanities, right? That they are as valuable and worthwhile as STEM subjects? That it’s not a bunch of poseurs flinging baffle-gab around and heaping the organic fertiliser higher?

      There is a Twitter account that will disabuse you of such notions.

    • HircumSaeculorum says:

      I agree 100% about the importance of the humanities and humanities education. I don’t think that that means we can’t also agree that Derrida’s writing – or contemporary academic “theory”in general – is often pointless, irrational, and obscuritan.

      I’m not saying that every piece of critical theory should be expunged – Edward Said, for instance, is genuinely very insightful, and I like what little I’ve heard about Foucalt – but I think that a major reemphasis on a shared literary and cultural tradition in which popular participation is possible would do a lot for the credibility of the humanities. Some tinkering with the way they’re taught in primary and secondary schools wouldn’t hurt either.

      • Sandy says:

        I genuinely would not mind if academia expunged Edward Said — his work on Orientalism is mostly sophistry and there are obvious errors of historical fact that his supporters seem content to sweep up under the rug so long as the broader political point his work champions can be advanced.

    • Murphy says:

      As always, relevant xkcd:

      I don’t think the humanities are worthless but I do believe that in some subject it’s easier to just sort of waffle without any real content and get away with it.

      • Jiro says:

        That xkcd comic ignores the existence of shibboleths. That could easily make it possible for someone from the field to tell you’re a fake without there being any substance in the field.

        I’m pretty sure I couldn’t pretend to be a Catholic theologian, and not because I think there is meaningful content in Catholic theology.

        • Murphy says:

          I think shibboleths work less well when it’s regular for insiders to roll their eyes at a publication by senior people in the field for doing little other than chaining buzzwords and nominal shibboleths.

      • dndnrsn says:

        As a humanities guy, yes. While showing up hungover and half-prepared is not a great exam strategy, it works better for humanities or social sciences than hard sciences.

        More significant, though, is the fact that it’s easier to learn the beginning stuff, relatively, and so easier for an outsider to think “hey, that’s easy”. If a first-year physics student and a first-year religion student chat at a party, probably the latter will have an easier time explaining what they’re learning to the former than the inverse. If they find themselves chatting several years later, and are both PhD students, I think the relative gap would be different: the outsider physicist could have the various world religions, the history of the Bible, etc given to them in basic formulations, but let’s say the religions student has gone hardcore into textual history and reconstruction of the Mahabharata. The physicist is still speaking gibberish, but now the religions student is speaking gibberish too.

      • Is there any coherent way of thinking about where conlangs fit into the history of languages? Conlangs presumably always have some influence from languages known to their inventors.

  19. Arbitrary_greay says:

    Is anyone else feeling despair over this 6/2(1+2) nonsense?

    • John Woolley says:

      I had never heard of that until I looked it up after seeing your comment. I can confirm that, after less than a minute reading about it, I feel your despair.

    • Diadem says:

      I don’t know this particular example, but I’ve seen similar problems in the past.

      The problem is that the question is ambiguous. Because mathematics has rules, but it also has unwritten rules. By the rules of mathematics, the correct answer would be 9. But by the unwritten rules of mathematics, the answer is 1. Of course the latter answer is also the one that people who don’t know anything at all about mathematics are most likely to get, so I’m not surprised this gives endless debate and people trying to out-condescend each other.

      What I mean by ‘unwritten rules’ is that no mathematician would ever write the above statement unless they meant 6 / (2(1+2)). If they wanted 6/2 * (1+2) they would write it like that, or put the (1+2) in front.

      I think most mathematicians if they saw 6/2(1+2) with no context would give the answer as 1, not 9. And if we write the question as 6 / 2(1+2) no sane mathematician will answer 9. At best they’d answer something like “Eh, I think you mean 1, but strictly by the rules I have to say 9”.

      • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

        Like, honestly, I don’t see how you get 9 “by the rules.” PEMDAS is pretty explicit that the multiplication comes first. 😉

        • bluto says:

          Google calculator gets 9 because it uses the order:
          1. P
          2. E
          3. MD (with left to right determining order on the same level)
          4 AS (again with left to right determining order).

          The unwritten rule is either write it in a way that is clear (with an extra set of parenthesis or by varying the length of the division bar) or follow the order of operations exactly:

          1. P
          2. E
          3. M
          4. D
          5. A
          6. S

          Both Google’s method and the unwritten method result in a single order of operations, but the order varies based on the problem.

          • Raph L says:

            I think this may be a misunderstanding of “PEMDAS.” The standard order is parentheses, exponentiation, multiplication and division (left associative), then addition and subtraction (also left associative). Left associativity is natural, most people wouldn’t get confused by 3 – 2 + 1. This is just a case of a pattern which is unfamiliar, I think.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I propose a rule: the * operator has the same precedence as the / operator, but concatenation binds tighter.

          • Diadem says:

            The thing to remember is that PEMBAS is not a rule at all, it’s a convention. And it’s not universal. Different conventions have been in use in the past, and to some extend still are.

            One particular ‘unwritten rule’ that’s often used is that implicit multiplication takes priority over explicit multiplication and division. So by that logic we’d have 6/2(1+2) = 1 and 6/2*(1+2) = 9.

            It’s just better to avoid some kinds of expressions.

            6/2 + 3 = 6
            6 / 2+3 = 1.2 + a frown
            6/2+3 = a big frown and a tentative ‘eh, 6?’

          • Publius Varinius says:

            @Douglas Knight: This rule is so good that it is already used in contexts with many different multiplication operations. E.g. in geometric algebra, juxtaposition binds tighter than both the center dot and the cross symbols.

            Naturally, this muddies the 6/2(1+2) case even further.

          • Arbitrary_greay says:

            Unwritten rules are the enemy of fields that are supposed to be all transparent. The entire point of creating an order of operations convention was to do away with any unwritten rules. Any rules dependent on trivial formatting (e.g. presence of spaces) seem like a really bad idea, given how easy it would be to screw up an expression that way, and how ambiguous formatting can be across different fonts and renderings. Order of operations should be robust to handle a wide variety of ways to write things.

            In the case Publius Varinius points out, they simply define different symbols for different operations, which is good. Too bad language still conflated “product/multiplication” terminology for these things. Part of the issue there for the layman is that for simpler cases of arithmetic, all of those operations produce the same result. (as with the confusion over modulo vs. remainder)

          • Diadem says:


            The fields of mathematics and physics are simply too big to make rules that perfectly fit all situations. To keep your notation simple, you need conventions, shared context.

            There is for example no rule saying what symbol to use for what property. But if I wrote an otherwise perfectly good paper that used v for position and x for velocity, I’m pretty sure every peer reviewed journal in the world would reject it.

            We abuse notation all the time, because it simply saves huge amounts of paper, and thereby improves understanding. A two-line argument that slightly abuses notation is much easier to understand than a 10-line argument that doesn’t.

          • arbitrary_greay says:


            I dunno, there’s a ton of different notations used across various ASTM methods. Some use b for width, others use w, some use t for thickness, some use h, others use h for length, some use b for half-thickness, etc.

            It’s not a problem, because each specification contains a definition section, applicable to that document only. If a paper using v for position and x for velocity, but had those variables defined as such at the beginning, was rejected, that would call the review process into question.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          PEMDAS? When I was at school it was BIDMAS (brackets, indices, division, multiplication, addition, subtraction).

      • Mary says:

        In fact, a sensible mathematician might write (6/2)*(1+2)

      • Murphy says:

        It’s just operator precedence.

        When writing simple parser you’d hit the subject.

        I wouldn’t say it’s a “rule” of mathematics but there is a fairly standard order of precedence.

        If you’re using a non standard order of precedence then you should note that you’re doing so but otherwise it’s perfectly valid.

    • Alex says:

      There is only one sane way to write division and that is in two rows with a horizontal line between them. The / notation itself is an atrocity. If linear notation is needed I always state the parentheses explicitly, i.e (term)/(term), and so should everybody else.

      • HeelBearCub says:


        However, programming languages don’t enforce parentheses, probably because that would be annoying much of the time, and it would be rather unwieldy to code with division bars, therefore we must have order of operation rules for single line expressions.

        I’m surprised I’m the first to explicitly mention programming.

        • Skef says:

          With a programming language there is a grammar and a specification one can refer to, and if ambiguities arise they are either addressed or labeled as undefined behavior. From that perspective there’s not much more to say about the controversy than “just pick one”.

          It seems like the strong feelings about the case come from a thought like “Truths of mathematics aren’t up to us, so the interpretation of mathematical formulas shouldn’t be up to us.” As it happens, that’s not true.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            With a programming language there is a grammar and a specification one can refer to, and if ambiguities arise they are either addressed or labeled as undefined behavior. From that perspective there’s not much more to say about the controversy than “just pick one”.

            Well, I would submit that “all” there is to say about the original problem is “just pick one”. But, also, anyone who has been around programmers long enough knows that “just pick one” doesn’t stop people from arguing about the relative merits of various protocol specifications.

        • brad says:

          > we must have order of operation rules for single line expressions

          This is true. Computer programming languages should be fully specified (I’m looking at you c). On the other hand, if you the programmer, write an expression that isn’t quickly comprehensible without needing to look up the spec then you are doing it wrong.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yes, this is true. But then again, when did “doing it wrong” ever stop people writing uncommented code that compiles?

            More germane, the original problem was specifically written to be confusing, or at least repeated because it was ambiguous.

            Heck, there is still a contest based on writing the most cleverly confusing c code possible.

          • brad says:

            Yes, but the obfuscated c contest isn’t accompanied by choruses of people claiming that the schools must be terrible these days because these damn kids can’t figure out what’s going on with the winner.

            It’s not the existence of the problem that’s the issue, it’s the terrible comment section (as usual).

          • HeelBearCub says:


            All good points.

            Although I think you are discounting that “look at this clever way of writing confusing code” and “look at how bad school is these days” are both just serving to entertain, but different groups of people.

    • JayT says:

      The only despair I feel is over the fact that people continue to try to trip up others by writing mathematical equations in the most confusing way possible. No actual mathematician would actually write that equation, so I don’t feel any need to try and solve it.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, I don’t know why people do trick questions like that. Is it supposed to teach you the “right” way to solve things via that PEMDAS mnemonic? Because things like this seem to go the route of:

        (a) Here’s a problem, what do you think the answer is?
        (b) Patsy gives what appears to be obvious answer
        (c) Ha, ha, boy are you dumb! No, this is the smart person way to answer it!
        (d) Completely contra-intuitive answer that no sane person would derive using that method

        Result: non-mathematicians are turned off maths because nobody likes being made to feel a fool and by using examples like this, they think it’s all a bunch of traps designed to trip you up, and mathematicians think (1) who poses a problem in those terms (2) why don’t people know the simple way to do this (3) why do people hate maths?

        • “I don’t know why people do trick questions like that”

          I know, at least in a limited sort of way. Malice is a very strong drive (evidence: people who abuse their children in ways which make grandchildren impossible or unlikely, or on the smaller less Darwinian scale, people who enjoy torturing sims or spend untold hours trolling and griefing). What I don’t understand is why it’s such a strong and fairly common drive.

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          You are more likely to remember the rule if you apply it (or fail to apply it) to an uncommon counter-intuitive situation.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          You seem to be conflating people who want to educate with people who want to “entertain”.

          The original referenced problem is just entertainment. It’s not being promulgated, certainly not in that form, by people who truly want others to learn math. Sometimes math teachers may also throw these kinds of things out as a way to make class more entertaining, and if that makes some students feel less inclined to actually learn it is unfortunate, but you do need to balance that vs. the fact that other students will be more motivated. Also, there is an art to these kinds of things that some, perhaps many, teachers lack.

          Also, as St. Fiasco said, sometimes doing “tricky” is useful to make the non-tricky stuff more rote.

          • Deiseach says:

            Well, I don’t find it entertaining, but that’s my anti-maths bias coming out. I also tend to be literal-minded, so I like plain declarations of “this is A, B and C and we need to work out D”.

            Dressing it up in “Is the answer 1? Is it 9? It all depends! How amusing!” is not the kind of thing to endear someone or something to me 🙂

  20. John Woolley says:

    I was thinking today about, from my own personal perspective, how much of Scott’s life could feasibly be totally made up. I mean, for all I know he might not be a doctor, he might not be American, his name might not even be Scott. This whole site might be written by a fifty-seven-year-old Australian woman who works as a shop assistant and has four kids. There are the other corroborating sites by similar people I suppose, like Ozy’s…though since I’ve never met anyone else mentioned in SSC I’ve got no proof that Ozy is who they say they are either. These sites might all be written by the same person.

    I’ve definitely heard of Eliezer Yudkowsky and Less Wrong in other contexts that I trust (like Sam Harris) – so I’ve got that pinned down I suppose. But even then, is Yvain *really* the same person as Scott? Hard to tell.

    I guess if anyone on here starts asking me for money I’ll know to be first sceptical, and then incredibly impressed.

    • Jill says:

      We’re on the Internet. Anyone could be anyone or anything, in contrast to what they claim to be– psychotic, or 12 years old, or a serial murderer. One never knows.

      One thing that’s good about the anonymity is that if you like, you can consider information or arguments on their own, without needing to think about who made the argument or contributed the information or the cited reference.

    • Anonymous says:

      Scott claims to be Yvain and Yvain claims to be Scott. Is there any reason to doubt this, any more than to suspect that the blogger on this site was quietly replaced at the beginning of the year? (which is something that happens)

      Scott is asking for money: search for Patreon on this page.

    • People are just vectors for concepts anyway.

    • pku says:

      Scott is actually a collection of rabbits wearing a human suit. Don’t tell his mother.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      Most of what Scott has revealed about himself can be checked. If you wanted, you could pretty easily track him down like, right now. And then… I don’t know, eat his brain or something.

      EDIT: While my new gravatar is objectively prettier, I’ll miss the old one.

      • Dahlen says:

        EDIT: While my new gravatar is objectively prettier, I’ll miss the old one.

        Psh. Tell me about it. While I was posting my comment I was going, “please not magenta, please not magenta… oh fuck it’s magenta”. Okay, I guess I’ll sign up for Gravatar then.

        • All Trite says:

          Old gravatars are back!

          It gives me an idea for an interesting experiment: change everyone’s gravatars AND handles automatically to something else for an OT, and then once the next OT comes out, have people guess about who’s who in the old OT. Then change the handles and gravatars in the old OT back to normal so we can see who knows who best.

          You’d have to do this without telling people so they didn’t try to game the experiment by impersonating other people.

    • Quite a lot of people who post here, myself included, have met Scott at meetups. So unless your Australian woman hired a substitute and trained the substitute to do a good job of sounding like the person who posts here, we can be pretty sure Scott at least fits the physical role.

    • Adam says:

      If you paid attention to his other posts, you can pretty easily find records of him, including photographic evidence of his existence, on the bio page of the hospital he works for. It’d be an extremely elaborate ruse to both impersonate a real psych intern in Michigan and try to obscure that identity by using a fake last name and never naming the hospital.

    • Murphy says:

      I found out quite a while after I started reading his blog that my social bacon number from scott, a random american blogger as far as I had been concerned was something like 2 since I was friends with med students in the same university while he was in Uni and I likely attended some of the same events as him.

      So he’s a real person and what he’s said about himself appears to be true.

  21. Getting Arguments Wrong

    In another thread, I responded to someone who thought he understood the argument against raising the minimum wage and didn’t. It occurred to me that the pattern may be fairly common. There is an argument, typically by professionals in some academic field (in this case economics), for a conclusion. Outsiders know such an argument exists, try to recreate it in their mind, and get it wrong. The outsiders might agree with the conclusion and want an argument for it, they might disagree and want to rebut it, but in both cases they have constructed an argument that the insiders would not make and misidentified it as the insiders’ argument.

    Free trade provides a second example involving economics. I’ve come across another example in climate issues, this time involving physics.

    Are there examples I am missing, possibly because I am one of the people who has the argument wrong? In particular, are there arguments for left wing or conservative conclusions which are routinely mistranslated into other and worse arguments, either by supporters or critics?

    • Arbitrary_greay says:

      A common case of mistranslation by supporters is when someone sincerely believes in the bailey. (And in some cases, they skip straight to the bailey and never learn the motte)

      A Dark Arts variation, where the person intentionally misidentifies the argument of their opponent, might be something like motte-and-strawman. When confronted, the person retreats to showing how they understand the motte, and but then extrapolate a bailey their opponent doesn’t believe in, but still attributes the bailey to their opponent.

    • alaska3636 says:

      One argument I see that is consistently misrepresented is the public money crowd consistently making arguments along the lines that the Federal Reserve is a completely private institution.

      Their argument seems to follow that since it is a completely private institution, the monied interests set policies that favor the owners of private banks. This seems true to the extant that the Fed sets policies that favor private banks; however, it consistently misses the relationship between federal reserve policy and public institutional funding, namely bond buying and political expedience.

      Presumably, a public Federal reserve would set policies consistent with the will of the governed, but this seems to fail to see the problem of regulatory capture and revolving door policies between bureaucrats and private banks. Also, the argument usually calls high interest rates usury, by which banks lend money that don’t reflect savings deposits and charge too high of an interest on it. Presumably, that money should be lent for free or at a rate consistently below whatever a natural “usurious” rate of interest would be. Often these arguments are used to call for and justify massive public spending on infrastructure and other make work policies intent on “full employment”.

      Consistent with this argument is a more common argument that typically comes from left-center politics that government investment is a dollar-for-dollar benefit to capital accumulation in an economy. The arguments that consider conservative or libertarian cuts to government then are consistently misrepresented as policies that are apathetic to the poor and unemployed, or only favoring tax cuts and interest rate policies that benefit the already wealthy. A consistent representation to the conservative call for cuts would need to expand on the long-term effects of massive government influence over an economy and the concomitant “misallocations” of capital that result in aggravating the booms and busts of the business cycle.

      One reason that I find leftist policies to be unfavorable is that their arguments tend to exist in stark opposition to economic arguments against them. One consistent source of conflict is between policies favored by SJW-types whose call for policies to spend public money in this or that way appear to have long term consequences (from a conservative or libertarian standpoint) that are against the stated goals of those policies. Policies that feel good but have adverse incentives, like reducing the barriers to mortgage or student loans for poor people that led directly to inflation in the real estate and college markets, are often favored over long-term understanding of the effects of intervention in a market.

    • Jill says:

      If we attempted to list the cases where ordinary people DO understand the basic arguments made by professionals in the area of the subject matter (e.g. economics), that would be a much shorter list.

      Human communication is almost impossible. One strange thing about polarization is that it makes people very comfortable with member of their own ideological tribe– so much so that they believe they understand other members of their tribe– that they all think alike in their great intelligence, correctness, and virtuousness. But if they ever got curious and decided they wanted to know precisely what each other think– well, they might discover that they don’t understand one another any better than member of opponent tribes understand one another.

      • I really like this point. On the rare occasion I find someone who seems to agree with a lot of my views, I am a little scared to dig deeper, because it seems almost invariably they only agree on a surface level, and when they explain their reasons I am disappointed.

        I suspect this is probably true within most tribes. Probably why the arguments within tribes are often more bitter than those outside them.

        • Andrew says:

          Indeed- I’ve found myself enthusiastically agreeing with people on object-level goals many times only to be horrified when they reveal the reasoning behind their support.

    • Jill says:

      Also, almost all arguments for almost all ideologies are at least partially false, some totally false. The best of them probably are true in some cases but not in others. The Devil– and the Angel– are in the details and specific cases.

      Ideological books and articles and media– that is MOST politically and economically relevant information– it’s all full of arguments that are accompanied by cherry picked examples, plus straw man arguments and cherry picked examples from the other side, to make it appear as though the proposed argument is true all or most of the time, and the opposite argument is never true, when that is not really the case. If you go read the books/articles/media of the OPPOSITE ideology, it’s all full of arguments accompanied by cherry picked examples to make it appear as though the OPPOSITE argument is true all or most of the time.

      I do a lot more reading across the political and economic spectrum than anyone I know, and I see evidence of this constantly. You might think that different publications were reporting about totally different events when they’re not, because their descriptions, fact selection, descriptions of the motivations of the various parties etc. are so diametrically opposed.

      In case anyone hasn’t read it yet, this Matt Taibbi article I’ve been citing makes that point about media in particular.

    • Jill says:

      If you want to see this, watch Fox News for a while, and also MSNBC at the same time, about the same events. And also listen to Clear Channel or Rush Limbaugh type stations, and then NPR too. And, in the case of each major event or issue reported on, decide whether you think the folks at each of these stations understands the other’s point of view and arguments or not.

      Warning: If you try this, and it this begins to drive you insane, stop immediately.

    • Skef says:

      This isn’t precisely the sort of thing you’re asking about, but it’s very common to hear that before it was established that The Earth goes around The Sun, people thought that The Sun goes around the Earth. I’m pretty sure (but not completely positive) this is one of those statements that’s technically right but entirely misleading.

      The problem with putting things this way is that it sounds like these two ideas were directly exchanged with one another, but that’s wrong. In the old framework The Earth was considered stationary, so what “The Sun goes around The Earth” referred to was the apparent daily motion of The Sun, which trades off with The Earth’s rotation on its axis, not it’s annual revolving around The Sun. It seems likely that the year also showed up in the old conception somehow, but one of the frustrating things about all the “how we know The Earth goes around The Sun” explanations I’ve run into is that they never explain just what that conception was. Obviously it shows up in where North/South The Sun rises and sets, but that’s a factor to be explained, not an explanation. Everyone now has a clear idea of two separate patterns of motion, but they had no obvious basis for such a separation.

      I’ve discussed this subject with a number of people over the years. Everyone starts out convinced I’m crazy and then the discussion descends into general confusion.

      • Skef says:

        I should clarify: the information concerning the models themselves is obviously available. In the Ptolemaic model most of the calculations were star-sphere relative, which effectively removes The Earth’s rotation. (Of course, this is a convenience for calculating rather than a metaphysical view.) My point is about how the standard accounts are presented.

        • Deiseach says:

          From the little I’ve gleaned from the Great Galileo Controversy, there were several models. It wasn’t simply Ptolemy versus Copernicus as tidied-up by Galileo, as Ptolemy’s model by then was deemed dead on its feet (works great as pure maths, but transcription errors over the centuries meant corrupted data and lots of errors in astronomical tables). In fact, part of the trouble was that Galileo picked a strawman (in the Ptolemaic model) to show off how much superior his version was; which worked fine for his publicity-hound instincts, but didn’t help him get taken seriously (“okay, you beat the guy everyone knows is a soft target, but so what?”)

          Mike Flynn (SF author and professional statistician) did a long series of posts on this. Maybe he’s completely wrong and I am wrong for believing him, but I do know that the Tychonic system was around as well.

          I imagine the common view, whatever the educated understood, was pretty much that the sun and the moon moved, you could see them moving across the sky, so the earth stood still and the stars moved. How would you explain to somebody that yes, the moon does go round the earth but no, the sun doesn’t, even though we can see both of them moving? 🙂

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Yes, there are two innovations, that the earth rotates on its axis daily and that the earth revolves around the sun each year. I’ve read that Copernicus appropriated the word “revolve” specifically to distinguish them.

        Martin Luther made this error. When he heard about Copernicus, he cited the miracle of Joshua stopping the sun, which is about the daily rotation. But the daily rotation is not Copernicus’s innovation. It was controversial at the time, but it had a substantial following among pre-Copernical astronomers. Well, I don’t hold it against Luther; it wasn’t high on his agenda. But the arguments between Galileo and Bellarmine are confused. Both sides equivocate on which model they are arguing about.

        Ptolemy (100 AD) specifically rejects the rotation of the earth. I think that he objects to the absence of wind. But my impression is that Hellenistic (300-100 BC) astronomers universally accepted the rotation of the Earth, which is a classical concept: Simplicius writes that Plato proposed the problem of explaining the motion of the heavens; Eudoxus proposed the heavenly spheres, while Heraclides Ponticus proposed that the earth rotates on its axis every day, but did not propose anything beyond that.

        How do we know? If the planets all move slowly against the fixed stars, there must be a single reason. Either because the earth rotates or because the planets are, somehow, attached to the fixed stars, which is why the physicality of the heavenly spheres is appealing.

        Similarly, when Ptolemy says that the planetary orbits are not centered on the earth, if they were all offset by the same amount, there ought to be a reason those amounts were all the same. That’s basically Copernicus’s argument. And that’s basically Kepler’s argument. But Copernicus’s argument is a mess because the inner planets look different from the outer planets – the equants and epicycles exchange, while Kepler was able to get rid of both the equants and epicycles. Also, Copernicus had bad data. After Kepler fit the parameters of the Ptolemaic model from Brahe’s data, he probably could have done a convincing job of Copernicus’s argument. He probably did, for himself.

        A completely different argument is that Aristarchus (250 BC) measured the diameter of the sun to be 10x that of the earth and (probably) concluded that was a reason to believe that the earth went around the sun.

        • Guy says:

          Copernicus had bad data

          This is my understanding as well. Prior to Galileo and the telescope more generally, there genuinely was not enough evidence to distinguish between the geocentric and heliocentric models, because nobody could measure accurately enough.

          • Protagoras says:

            The telescope wasn’t the turning point. As Knight indicates, Brahe’s data was the first really good stuff, and Brahe didn’t use telescopes. He used improved sextants and quadrants, but a big element of it seems to have been just that he was phenomenally careful and thorough.

          • cassander says:

            This is not exactly right. After thousands of years of observation, geo-centric models of the stars had gotten very accurate. They did this by inventing epicycles to explain why stelllar objects would not always move exactly as expected. While accurate, accounting for all the epicycles was very complicated. The virtue of the copernican system was that it was much simpler. However, because copernicus assumed perfectly spherical motion, he still needed some epicycles, and even with them, his predictions were less accurate than those of the old system.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I think that Aristarchus had enough evidence.

            Note that my argument was that you should reinterpret Ptolemy’s model as heliocentric. I was not proposing a model to compete with Ptolemy’s. I’m predicting that there are coincidences in the parameters. This is something that can be falsified, but it makes no prediction that would falsify Ptolemy. I think that Copernicus did have good enough data to say that the coincidence was surprising and evidence for heliocentrism. But instead of stopping there, he proposed circular orbits. It is true that Brahe was the first to give good enough data to distinguish ellipses from Ptolemy’s model, but that’s not the question.

            Galileo’s main contribution is not data, but theory. His theory of relativity addressed the problem of the winds on the rotating earth. That’s an important argument and an important rebuttal. It’s not all about data.

            Galileo also observed the phases of Venus. This is overwhelming evidence that Venus goes around the sun. But, again, there are multiple models, and this is only evidence against some of them. Mercury and Venus are always near the sun, so many people, both ancient and Renaissance, proposed that they orbit the sun, while the outer planets don’t. Yet this never caught on, which seems crazy to me.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Ptolemy’s system is not based on thousands of years of observation. It was probably just based on the observations of Hipparchus.

            Yes, it would have been a lot easier for Copernicus if he didn’t have Ptolemy’s system to compete with. So where did it come from? He doesn’t say. It’s a lot more than just epicycles. Epicycles are a fairly obvious kludge, but Ptolemy also has the equant and the eccentric. One possibility is that it was devised as a practical approximation to ellipses, maybe not fit from the data, but derived from Newton’s laws.

          • cassander says:

            >Ptolemy’s system is not based on thousands of years of observation. It was probably just based on the observations of Hipparchus.

            Ptolemy’s writings weren’t based on thousands of years of observation, but his was refined by observation for nearly 1500 years after his death.

          • Guy says:

            I was referencing Galileo for the time period, not the data itself. But thanks for the correction on why the data improved. That said, cassander has reminded me of what I actually learned, which I misremembered.

          • Njordsier says:

            Throwing my hat into the ring to point out a few things.

            Galileo’s primary contributions, which falsified the Ptolemaic model, were the discovery of the phases of Venus (which was incompatible with Venus orbiting the Earth), and the moons of Jupiter (which was less of a nail in the coffin). But the Copernican model was not the only one left standing by his discoveries. The Tychonic model was a hybrid model, where Mercury and Venus orbited the Sun, and everything else revolved around the Earth, which remained motionless. This accommodated the observations made of the phases of Venus, and also didn’t require that the Earth moved, which was the most troubling thing for contemporary philosophers before they understood inertia (as was noted above, Galileo proposed correctly that motion is relative, but this wasn’t formalized until Newtonian physics was established).

            There really wasn’t enough data in Galileo’s time to speak with confidence about whether the Copernican or Tychonic models were physically correct (in really, neither were; they both used epicycles). In fact, the Tychonic model was more predictive, since it was based on Tycho Brahe’s superior data, which Copernicus did not have. Astronomically speaking, it was not a clear-cut case. Not between Copernicus and Tycho, at least.

            Galileo’s quest to prove the Copernican model true was thus a quest to prove that the Earth moves. Some of his arguments, like how you do not feel motion on a fast ship, sound obvious to we who actually get to experience fast, smooth motion undisturbed by bucking waves or galloping horses. But he also used arguments that rang hollow to his contemporaries and face-palmingly false to modern ears, such as the idea that the tides were caused by the oceans sloshing around as the Earth rotated.

            The great irony of the Galileo affair is that the most correct model, Kepler’s, was right there in front of them, was mathematically simpler, and postulated fewer entities. It still didn’t offer an explanation for why the laws worked, though. That would have to wait until Newton.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Cassander, Ptolemy’s model wasn’t good enough to be run forward for a thousand years, so they had to reset it based on current observations. For the parameters that are eternal, they probably made new ones based on their observations, but those were probably inferior to the originals. Refinement? What, new epicycles? That would have made it worse.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Even later than that. It required 18th-century advances in optics to get round the main problem, which was that stars appeared to have disks of finite size in Galileo’s telescopes (due to diffraction) and yet stellar parallax had not been observed.

            Given how far away a star has to be in order not to exhibit visible parallax, if the apparent size of stars was their actual size they would all have to be absurdly large. Copernicus had to resort to saying that God could create the Universe however he liked in order to explain this.

          • Deiseach says:

            But he also used arguments that rang hollow to his contemporaries and face-palmingly false to modern ears, such as the idea that the tides were caused by the oceans sloshing around as the Earth rotated.

            Oh, yeah. In fact, this was part of why l’affaire Galileo is not as simple as “Biblical literalist power-hungry superstitious clerics versus brave scientist who knows the truth via empiricism and reason”.

            Galileo needed as many arguments to prop up his theory as he could get, and the solution to “what causes tides?” was one of them where he pinned his colours to the wrong mast. He also got into a row over comets and managed to insult everybody he hadn’t previously insulted:

            Oct./Nov., 1618. Three different comets appear, the third a very bright one. Comets, being exceptions to the regularity of the heavens, have always been of grave interest. In this case, they announced the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War. They are carefully observed by nearly all the leading astronomers — with one exception: Galileo, due to his chronic ill health, is bedridden while the comets are visible.

            Orazio Grassi, a professor of mathematics at the Roman College, after meticulous observations concluded (as Tycho had in 1577) that the comets were located between the Sun and the Moon on a non-circular path. This argued against Copernicanism, which insists on pure Platonic circles. He delivers a public lecture on the matter.

            A manuscript copy of this lecture is sent to Galileo, and he is astonished and offended that in the entire lecture there is no mention of Galileo Galilei. His marginal notes on the manuscript are a primer in Tuscan invective:pezzo d’asinaccio, elefantissimo, bufolaccio, villan poltrone, balordone… Galileo marked up his copy: “piece of asininity,” “buffoon,” “evil poltroon,” “ungrateful…” Evil poltroon was a nice touch. We just don’t cuss that way any more.

            Jan/Feb 1619. Grassi’s lecture is published as On the Three Comets of the Year MDCXVIII and is subtitled An Astronomical Disputation Presented Publicly in the Collegio Romano of the Society of Jesus by one of the Fathers of that same Society. Try saying that in one breath.

            1619. Christoph Scheiner builds and uses an equatorial mount on his helioscope. Equatorial mounts allow changing the view of a telescope by altering position in a single axis (other mounts require altering position in two axes). Equatorial mounts for telescopes will later be perfected by another Jesuit, Christoph Grienberger.

            Jun. 1619. Galileo’s reply to Grassi is published in Florence ghosted by Mario Guiducci, a pupil of his, under the title Discourse on the Comets. By Mario Guiducci. Delivered at the Florentine Academy during his Term as Consul. Galileo, committed to circular orbits, claims that comets aren’t in the heavens but — as Aristotle said — are just a refraction of sunlight bouncing off high-altitude vapors rising from the Earth. Anyone who fails to see this, he says, is not fit to do science, let alone teach it. The technical scientific term for Galileo’s position is “not even wrong,” although like geocentrism there actually were reasons for supposing so, prior to the telescopic age. If all heavenly bodies move in circles, and comets do not move in circles, then they cannot be heavenly bodies. QED There’s a reason why the science of weather is called meteorology.

            Galileo opens the Discourse on the Comets by explicitly accusing Scheiner of plagiarism during their earlier flamewar over the sunspots, couching the charge deliberately “in the most insulting terms.” Then he rips Grassi a new one and adds:

            “You cannot help it… that it was granted to me alone to discover all the new phenomena in the sky and nothing to anybody else.”

            So much for Harriot, Marius, Fabricius, Scheiner, Lembo, and the rest. He also refers to Tycho’s “alleged observations” and to comets as “Tycho’s monkey-planets.” Then he confidently proclaims that comets are emanations in the Earth’s atmosphere! Starting a flame war is bad enough. Starting one when you’re dead wrong is worse.

            I would heartily recommend Mike Flynn’s exhaustive series of posts on the entire matter, as they’re hilariously funny and show why everyone thought they were in the right in the whole affair, as well as the political upheavals in the background influencing the movers and shakers with the final decision.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            AlphaGamma, that was a problem for Copernicus, not Galileo. It was a problem that stars appear so big to the naked eye. But in a telescope, they appear no bigger. Thus one cannot trust either measurement and the argument breaks down. We are left with the new problem of why the size is not magnified. Maybe this is a worse problem, but it does not discriminate between theories.

          • cassander says:

            @Douglas Knight

            >Refinement? What, new epicycles? That would have made it worse.

            Yes, exactly. New epicycles made the model more accurate, though also more kludgy. I think you’re reading what I’m saying a bit too literally. By ptolemy’s model, I don’t mean they used exactly what ptolemy wrote for a thousand years, I mean they used a vision of the solar system with orbits and epicycles growing ever more complex over time as more epicycles were added to explain more inconsistencies with observation.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The best medieval numbers are from the Alfonsine Tables, which are pure Ptolemy. They are widely claimed to have extra epicycles, but wikipedia cites a source claiming to reconstruct them directly from Ptolemy. I am skeptical that anyone added epicycles, but if they did, it was to improve inferior models or to explain erroneous observations. See also this, which notes some confusion from sometimes restricting to longitudinal models.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Guy

            This is my understanding as well. Prior to Galileo and the telescope more generally, there genuinely was not enough evidence to distinguish between the geocentric and heliocentric models, because nobody could measure accurately enough.

            The chief contributions of telescopy to the debate were the discovery of the phases of Venus and the Galilean moons of Jupiter, which were striking evidence against the Ptolemaic system. The telescope was of no use in resolving the controversy between the Tychonic system and the Copernican, because telescopes powerful enough to observe the stellar parallax would not become available for two centuries. It was Newtonian theory, and not empirical evidence, which ultimately secured victory for Copernicus.

            @ Njordsier

            The Tychonic model was a hybrid model, where Mercury and Venus orbited the Sun, and everything else revolved around the Earth, which remained motionless.

            This is wrong– Tycho had the moon and sun orbiting the earth, and the five planets orbiting the sun.

            [Kepler] still didn’t offer an explanation for why the laws worked, though.

            Yes, he did, he believed that the sun’s rotation emitted a magnetic influence which propelled the planets around in their orbits. Kepler did not offer a correct explanation, but neither, then, did Newton.

          • John Schilling says:

            This is wrong– Tycho had the moon and sun orbiting the earth, and the five planets orbiting the sun.

            If you ignore the mechanism and focus just on the relative motion of the solar system bodies, the Tychonic system is basically just the Copernican system with a coordinate transform set such that Earth is always at (0,0,0). Which makes it quite appealing if you’ve got solid data on relative motion within the solar system but the most famous proponent of putting Sol at (0,0,0) just got into a big pissing match with the most powerful man in Christendom.

      • onyomi says:

        This relates to a general trend whereby we have a tendency both to overestimate how clueless premodern people were and also to underestimate how big of a deal such innovations were. I guess they are related: getting such things right seems easy to us but only because we already know. Seeming easy, those who didn’t get it right seem unfathomably dense, and so there is a tendency to attribute cute-sounding strawmen (of admittedly wrong ideas) to them (like “people thought Columbus might fall off the edge of the world,” etc.).

    • All Trite says:

      Reminds me of evolution: lots of the laymen who purport to believe in evolution and who scoff at those who don’t, are themselves ignorant of evolution. More interestingly, they are often unwilling to consider evolution in certain contexts–for example human biodiversity.

    • torytroll says:

      my favourite instance of this is when you get a tory and a libertarian talking to each other. i like to observe the love-in for a while and then point out to the tory all the things the lib is also for but that he hasnt mentioned. like free movement of people, legalisation of drugs, gays-are-a-ok etcetcetc highly amusing.

  22. Dr Dealgood says:

    So I’m trying to dip my toe back into tabletop RPGs after a several year long hiatus (not counting playing the delightfully odd Prince Valiant RPG with a bunch of non-gamers) and I’d like to get some recommendations of games people here are currently playing.

    If you’re currently running a tabletop game, or playing in one, what system are you using? How well do it’s rules complement your preferred playstyle? And are you enjoying it?

    • Protagoras says:

      I’m playing a GURPS superheroes game set in the late 40s in the Marvel universe (so we’re working with the SRS and fighting Hydra and Leviathan). I’ve always been a big fan of the GURPS system, though I’m not sure supers is what it does best. Still, I think it’s a good fallback choice for any setting where there isn’t a decent game dedicated to the setting.

      Also playing a Glorantha game using the HeroQuest rules. I generally dislike the HeroQuest rules, but I absolutely love the Glorantha setting; it’s by far my favorite fantasy setting. I especially like how the religion works, something that most fantasy settings do atrociously. That game also emphasizes role-playing over things like lengthy, complicated combats, so the weaknesses of the system don’t end up making as much of a difference as they otherwise might.

      • wintercaerig says:

        I especially like how the religion works, something that most fantasy settings do atrociously.

        Can you say more about this, please?

        • Protagoras says:

          It’s hard to summarize briefly. One of the things I like is that the various myths of the various cultures are, in the magical world of Glorantha, all basically true, despite contradicting one another on many points. One of the ways this manifests is that one of the most powerful ways to do magic is to re-enact the deeds of the gods; this works about equally well regardless of which of the different contradictory legends are employed.

          For gaming purposes, there’s also a history of people being twinks. Many of the important figures in the history of Glorantha were people who tried to exploit the workings of magic in the ways player characters are likely to do, with varying outcomes; the PCs are not likely to change everything by using magic in ways that for some mysterious reason nobody has ever thought of, because somebody in the history probably did think of it, and do it. And either they’re still doing it (as with the Lunar Empire, one of the major players in the part of Gloranthan history where the games are most often taking place), or forces have arisen to put a stop to that sort of thing (as with the God Learners, who once ruled most of the oceans, but whose empire was destroyed and who are now legendary villains in most places).

          • Protagoras says:

            Yeah, should have linked to that myself. The comments contain spoilers, since the webcomic is following the standard Glorantha continuity and some of the people commenting are mentioning stuff from the future. There’s also a bit of irrational anti-Lunar bias, especially in the comments, but all factions in Glorantha are complex; I particularly enjoyed a game I played some years ago where the PCs were Lunar missionaries. We are all us!

          • Protagoras says:

            Oh, and not an RPG, but in the setting, there’s now a kickstarter for “The Gods War,” a wargame set in the Glorantha setting. I’ve played the free downloadable and printable version, and was impressed at how differently the various factions played.

    • wintercaerig says:

      If you primarily like tabletops as an avenue for storytelling, I can’t recommend White Wolf games enough. The company went under awhile ago so the books can be a bit hard to find, but I managed to get all of mine at local used bookstores so it can’t be all that difficult. The gameplay is imaginative and encouraging. I recommend Mage: The Ascension for satire and mythologising (it can, and I think should, be set where and when you are, adding a magical layer to real-life processing about your surroundings) and Vampire: The Masquerade for a more gloomy flavour of fun. The rules are built in a way that makes creative problem-solving easy to handle/arbitrate.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        The company went under awhile ago

        When did that happen?

        I tried the nWoD, pre-God Machine, and remember my impression being that the setting was interesting but the rules were a huge hassle to work with. Partly that’s my fault, since I like splat-mixing (wanted to run a Hunter game where the monsters-of-the-week actually followed the rules and lore for Vamps, Weres, Mages, etc.) and the game lines really aren’t meant to handle that.

        Never played God Machine or oWoD. The former seemed more stripped down and usable mechanically, but most of the setting hadn’t been converted so it was pointless. The latter looked balls-out insane.

        • DrBeat says:

          The game lines, like, were meant to handle exactly that. (Whether they were BALANCED for that was a whole nother story. Mages were always “our one special power is to have all the special powers we want”.)

          White Wolf was hollowed out by CCP hf and, as itself, basically doesn’t exist anymore, the company that made Eve sucked everything out of them and produced nothing from it. However, “White Wolf shutting down” actually meant the releases of games increased, because what they did was created a new company, Onyx Path Publishing, and licensed the now-worthless property they had created from the cash-vampires that took it. Since they were licensees, instead of directly controlled, they could actually produce things at a steady pace instead of adhering to the idiotic whims of CCP.

    • Andrew says:

      I play in a 5th edition D&D game, and run a separate one myself, with no overlap in players. If you’re a fan of older editions of D&D, I’d recommend it- it makes great strides to make D&D a better story-telling engine that is less dependent on stat creep and various numerical optimization strategies, while still allowing for fun tactical combat and class dungeon-exploring.

      But honestly, choosing a system is the LEAST important aspect of tabletop gaming. The important pieces are GM preparation, a group that’s friendly and collaborative, and an understanding of everyone’s goals as players.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        But honestly, choosing a system is the LEAST important aspect of tabletop gaming. The important pieces are GM preparation, a group that’s friendly and collaborative, and an understanding of everyone’s goals as players.

        I’m not going to knock those other factors, because they are definitely important. But system choice isn’t a trivial issue.

        If you try to run a Lovecraftian horror game in d20 Modern, for example, you’re going to be fighting the rules constantly. The built-in assumptions of that game are contrary to the theme you’re aiming for. And moreover, its incentive structure rewards player behavior that is setting inappropriate while punishing reasonable in-character behavior.

        Choice of game system should complement the atmosphere and structure of the campaign.

        • Alethenous says:

          I have limited experience with either, but from what I can tell, 3.5e is a much better simulator, and the rules (at least for me) are a lot more intuitive, at the expense of some accessibility. It does have balance problems, but they can be solved by house-ruling some stuff from here: (or the linked minimalist version).

          5e is more accessible and “game-y”, and many people prefer it, but personally I lean far more towards the 3.5e end. (The loss of Touch AC was particularly annoying).

          • Guy says:

            Wait are you nonsi?

          • Andrew says:

            I’ll admit that I do miss Touch AC- but 5e is far less “game-y” than 4th edition, so Wizards is definitely trying to find the right balance. I make minimal houserules to improve gameplay for the game I run- most notably I make long-rest healing work like short-rest healing (no auto-full-hp), and change short-rest healing to be basically zero (with various common-sense exceptions for bardic and fighter abilities).

            My largest problem with the system is that it’s balanced around a high number of encounters per day- something like 10+, which I’d consider extreme for the kinds of games I’ve run in the past. Luckily, that only seems to be a problem at super-high caster levels, and my party is only 5th or 6th so far, and still feels well-balanced. (The game I play in has balanced that aspect in other ways- currently our entire party is full-caster, so it’s all like-to-like!)

    • I play a customoized version Mutants and Masterminds which uses the base attributes and rules from 2E, treats the redefined powers from 3E as errata, and uses a hitpoint hack to the Damage/Toughness save system. I also brought in the concept of Roles from D&D 4E, and gated certain kinds of powers behind roles. So, the Controller character is allowed to buy the Duplication power to fill the combat arena with disposable clones, the Defender can stack Impervious with Regeneration, the Striker gets Improved Crit and Follow-Up Strike, and so on.

      While M&MM is super-modular, I have found after running it for a while that I can’t help but want to engage in large amounts of house-ruling in any other gaming systems I play, to fix math or optimize an experience or so on. I’d recommend, if you have free reign and consider yourself capable and interested, to just go ahead and look at what you want from a system, then make that.

    • chaosbunt says:

      playing the Dark Eye 4th Edition. I found it pretty accessible since it is a classic fantasy setting and cultures are caricatures of real cultures. There are ridiculous amounts of background and world building material available though.
      since it is a German system it has rules for everything. The group will end up choosing a subset of the official rules and simplifying a lot. To do that on the fly in unexpected situations makes the task of the GM relatively demanding. But if you really want to haggle over the correct modifier for a karate-chop from horseback in waist-deep water while blindfolded and after haveing taken an arrow to the knee – theres rules for that. My magicians character sheet has about fifteen pages, so yeah. Great if you like to manage a hundred different skills, not so much if just want to hack and slash.
      I dont know though, if the english translation that was kickstarter funded is still available.

    • Guy says:

      I’ve got a pretty heavy complexity addiction and I enjoy building characters for its own sake, so keep that in mind. I also prefer crunch-heavy games and don’t fully understand why someone would bother with lightweight rules.

      5th edition D&D is probably the easiest system to get other people to play – it’s the current version of a highly recognizable brand, and it’s extremely easy to teach to people as well. It has one major problem: it has absolutely no depth. After trying about three classes, you’ve fully explored the system (assuming you picked interesting ones). I’ve grown very tired of playing 5e.

      4th edition D&D is famously and semi-rationally hated. The problem with it is that it diverges too far from what D&D is to really belong under the brand. It is, however, a pretty excellent tabletop implementation of various cRPG (especially MMORPG) combat tropes. If you like building and playing MMO characters, but want the flexibility of a human GM, D&D4e is probably worth a shot.

      D&D 3.X is my home in the world of RPGs, but I haven’t been back to it in quite some time. There’s seven or eight different games hidden inside it. The problem is, if you play 3.X, you NEED to be dedicated enough to pick out which of those seven or eight games you’re going to play. Intra-party balance is an enormous problem in 3.X that the community only sort of managed to solve. You’ll need to look at the tier list to get started there; tier 3 is usually about right. Optimization ceilings and floors vary wildly between classes; you should probably check out a guide or two before building a character. I don’t really know anything about modern Pathfinder, but I understand them to still be on standard d20. There’s pretty extensive homebrew available, of varying quality. There are also 3rd party sources, but they aren’t as widely used. Of special note in 3.X is a variant called e6, the so-called “game inside 3.X”. I’m interested in this dedicated homebrew for it, but haven’t played.

      I also enjoy 4th edition Shadowrun quite a bit, but it has problems. Technomancers are extremely broken, and hackers generally have no need for any attributes. Many of the hacking mechanics are incomprehensible and/or difficult to use, and hackers sometimes wind up essentially going on a side adventure in the middle of the session. All that said, it’s a pretty great point-buy game with a nice success mechanic. I haven’t gone ahead to 5th because I heard they made some design decisions that I don’t particularly like, but I think I will wind up playing a short game in the next couple of months.

      Mutants and Masterminds is a pretty good superhero game, but I haven’t tried other settings, and I’ve heard their fantasy setting isn’t that great. As a brief superhero game, though, it works pretty well.

      Eclipse Phase is very intriguing, but the first EP character I came up with had multiple morphs he used regularly and the game just totally failed to account for that concept. I haven’t actually tried the character in a game, though.

      Cthulutech is a game that I looked at a few years ago. It has really cool fluff (Mecha vs EVA vs Cthulu!) but is encumbered by other, really bad fluff (rape everywhere!), and also an absolutely bizarre success mechanic (I’m not even going to try to explain that one). Stay away from it.

      Call of Cthulu is pretty good for one shots, but I don’t know how great it is for long campaigns. Characters are pretty fragile.

      I’ve just started my first OSR game with Legend of the Flame Princess. It’s weirdly simple coming from later D&D, but neat. Of course, which particular retroclone or older version of D&D you pick is up to you. My understanding is that a lot of the more complicated mechanics in AD&D just straight weren’t tested and probably shouldn’t be used.

      I’ve also played and enjoyed an Avatar (cartoon, not movie) variant of GURPS, but I’m not sure I could find it again.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I run Cthulhu (using a hacked together bunch of house rules) or run in and play various things using Wild Talents rules (ditto). I’ve only actually used Wild Talents for the intended purposes, superheroes, once. If you ignore the power rules mostly or entirely, it becomes a very good mid-powered campaign for mundane settings. Ran Cthulhu using the system once (characters waaaay more powerful than in Cthulhu’s house system) and it was fun but I wouldn’t do it again – too much work to convert stats from system to system. All going great.

      Cthulhu’s system is kind of not that great, but its combination of too detailed in some places and barely there in others makes it pretty easy to mess around with. The sheer amount of stuff published for it, including some of the better published materials for any game, and it’s relatively easy to teach.

      I like the Wild Talents system because like Cthulhu’s it’s fairly easy to explain and you can pare it down to the basics without breaking it, but it’s more complex and higher power. The combat system works well in that the order things happen varies from turn to turn based on the rolls, so people always pay attention.

    • Jordan D. says:

      I’m running one, prepping one and playing in a few, and I have a few which recently finished.

      Mutants and Masterminds 3e – Current game I’m running, using a setting which is a mix between Unsong, Worm and Hitherby Dragons- presently my players are anticipating how to prevent Japan from becoming the latest casualty in the war between the Archangel Gabriel and Lucifer, while trying to counter Mitt Romney’s dark plans for a new Deseret. M&M’s ruleset is my favorite for superhero games, no contest. It handles everything from low-power games to cosmic-power situations well, and every wacky idea which my players have come up with has been mechanically supported.

      Pathfinder – This has been my group’s go-to for high fantasy adventures, mostly because it has amassed such a gigantic volume of third-party mechanics (much of it available for free on the SRD) but also because Paizo’s Adventure Paths are actually pretty fun and are a lot easier for GMs to use and tweak than to set up everything themselves. You can even get megadungeons and adventures with a retro feel pretty easily- I recommend Frog God Games for those.

      Dungeons and Dragons 5e – I’ve been playing in a 5e game for a few months now as a pirate-paladin. It’s fun and it works well, but I’m not yet sure that I see any big advantages over Pathfinder.

      Godbound – I’m prepping a game for this system which recently came out of Kickstarter, and I think it’s got promise. I’ve been a big adherent to Exalted over the years, even though the mechanics haven’t treated me well, and I’m really hoping this will prove to be a good substitute.

      Nobilis 3e – I recently finished a game of this, but my favorite game was about two years ago, where all the players were various gods responsible for upkeep of Yggdrasil, the Tree Upon Which Rests All Creation, by assessing property taxes on all the other gods. The game went a bit off the rails due to one of the players repeatedly destroying the things we were trying to tax, leading to a libertarian revolt against divine taxation led by the God of Death. Needless to say, I highly recommend this system for anyone who is willing to give highly-abstract diceless games a go.

      • Protagoras says:

        Ah, Nobilis. I was in a game of that which fizzled out. Always wanted to try it again; the setting seems quite interesting. I was less sure of the system, but I haven’t seen 3e.

        • Jordan D. says:

          3e’s system is vastly superior to 2e’s, but the book has an awkward issue- the bad art and increased twee-ness of 3e’s core rulebook seriously turn some people off. It’s especially painful given that Nobilis 2e is generally considered one of the most beautiful and elegant rpg books.

          If you can get past those (larger than you think) hurdles, the mechanics elegantly manage to balance a diceless mechanic which successfully simulates any supernatural being in a way which is a lot more balanced than you’d think without diminishing the oomph of your power choices.

          The other problem the system has is that not a lot of GMs are sure what to do with it. It takes an unusual sort of person to envision and successfully run a game for a pantheon of divine concepts, and I don’t mean that as an insult to those who can’t. I’ve never dared try it.

          • LHN says:

            It’s especially painful given that Nobilis 2e is generally considered one of the most beautiful and elegant rpg books.

            It was beautiful and elegant, but it was also unwieldy and lacked a useful index. But yeah, the art in the third was a serious step down.

            Our 2e game was much more successful than our 3e game, but I suspect that was more a matter of hitting better on our characters and story than the difference between the systems.

    • bean says:

      My group just wrapped up a GURPS game and has gone to FATE. Very different systems for very different styles.
      GURPS is justifiably well-known for its complexity, but it handles that complexity well, and is, to some extent, scalable. There are lots of rules you can chose to ignore or simplify, and some well-chosen game aids can make combat go faster. It helps if you can keep your players focused, which is one of the reasons we stopped using it (at least for now).
      FATE is a good system if you just want something that has some dice to build a framework for your story. If you want mechanical detail, stay well away from it.

    • Anonymous says:

      Since about 2009 I find the only thing worth playing is old D&D. I’d recommend getting a Rules Cyclopedia, reading a couple of the old-school primers and then just going hog wild from there.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Rules Cyclopedia is definitely a fun read, although retroclones like ACKS seem a lot more user-friendly.

        Not that old school D&D was poorly designed compared to modern editions, if anything it seems like quite the opposite, but it’s a lot less transparent as to how or why numbers come out of the system. THAC0 is a popular punching bag but it’s also a good example of a beautifully made yet horribly presented system, with roll-under skill proficiency being another. Keeping the basic workings the same but presenting them more comprehensibly makes for a better game IMO.

  23. Affective Egoism says:

    I am a small-e effective altruist: I find the ideological basis compelling and worth exploring but strongly dislike the institutional part.

    Too many decisive individuals in the movement focus on status games and powertalk, are unresponsive and unwelcoming, and secure the low-hanging fruits while exhibiting a patronizing, exploitative approach to volunteers. My personal experiences with multiple organizations are supported by the remarks of my friends building the local chapters from scratch, without any support from the higher levels. It was surprising for me to see that so many talented individuals concerned with the ethical issues are either conflicted or engaged in the suspicious schema of overlapping interests, showing a superficial interest but entering the ghosting mode when they have to keep their promises. This is a recurring theme. While I still strongly support the foundational work within the EA, it currently looks like another futuristic trend undergoing the phase of an elitist, buzzword-loaded hype (see: Quantified Self, Singularity University). These phenomena, along with the extremely poor community coordination, risks concerned with the potential corporate takeover, as well as a huge degree of uncertainty of interventions regarding the long-term consequences and suffering reduction discouraged me to actively endorse the movement. From my experience, using the Effective Altruism term can be so counterproductive that it’s sometimes better to conduct a high-impact, evicence-based interventions while avoiding any association with the brand.

    How many of you have similar experiences? Do you see any solutions for these problems?

    • Tedd says:

      Not only have I never had similar experiences, I’ve never even heard of anyone having similar experiences.

    • Njordsier says:

      What, specifically, are the “status games,” “powertalk,” and “low-hanging fruits” you’re talking about? I am not by any stretch part of the capital-EA movement, but the lowercase “effective altruism” ideas appeal strongly to me and have greatly influenced my thinking around charitable giving, and I would like the EA movement to itself be effective at promoting effective charitable interventions.

      • Deiseach says:

        What, specifically, are the “status games,” “powertalk,” and “low-hanging fruits” you’re talking about?

        Should we mention the war (i.e. the great vegan catering controversy which seems to have cast its shadow over two conferences)?

        • Njordsier says:

          Ok, I remember a couple mentions of that from older comment threads, which I only skimmed. So (from my vantage point), at least one of the controversies is that there’s the perception that veganism is taking over the movement, along with the emotion-based rhetoric that the movement was supposed to try to avoid. This started with EA declaring that they weren’t going to serve meat at a conference or event or something, and justified it by saying it would make some people uncomfortable. This seems to me to be a tractable problem. Let me pitch some oddball ideas to deal with that:

          1) Don’t cater at events at all, because after all, that money is better spent on animal welfare/malaria nets/X-risk anyway.
          1a) Make it a potluck event; add trigger warnings that people might choose to bring meat (or nuts, or gluten, or whatever people might be allergic to). Those who really can’t tolerate any public function where meat is available are duly warned; those who just want the fact that meat can be considered bad acknowledged because they’d feel bad otherwise can take solace in the existence of the trigger warning, and those who will fight to the death for their right to tasty bacon can read the trigger warning as permission to bring some, if they are willing to put in the work to prepare it.
          1b) If nobody brings food, use that fact to draw attention to the fact that there are people in the world who are starving and maybe there are some effective ways to deal with that?
          2) Have catered meat, but offset the animal suffering it causes by donating to an effective animal welfare charity. What better way to demonstrate utilitarianism?
          3) Don’t have catered meat by default, but allow attendees to donate money to have their preferred foods added to the menu, so if people really want tasty bacon, they can put their money where their mouth is. This has the added effect of reducing the strain on EA’s financial resources from catering needs.

          I can’t find myself caring too much about the issue because the likelihood that I will attend any events like these any time soon is quite small. But come on, surely we’re more rational than to let the kind of food we eat tear apart an evidence-based altruistic movement!

          Regardless of the solution, the main point should be that EA can embrace both vegans and non-vegans, or, more broadly, that the central rallying cry of EA is not to “end animal suffering” or “end human suffering” or “prevent all existential risk” or whatever, but rather that whatever you value as an altruist, whatever utility you assign to specific outcomes, you want evidence that your actions will do quantifiable Good. Defining Good is left as a personal exercise; up for debate between members of the community, but never subject to dogma. The role of EA should not be to judge utility functions, but to evaluate whether certain interventions maximize certain utility functions.

          I can’t speak to the broader issue of jockeying for power and and territory (c.f. Jill’s response), which seems to be a human universal. That’s a harder problem, though it would be awesome if we could solve it once and for all. That could almost be an effective altruistic cause in its own right, for the impact a real solution to that particular human universal would have 😛

          • Guy says:

            There are obvious solutions to the Menu Problem (as was pointed out repeatedly, the easiest is probably “don’t cater the conference”). That EA did not implement any, but instead took a stand on an issue where it is nominally neutral, indicates to some people (well, at least me) that the movement’s culture is not where it wants to be.

          • Deiseach says:

            I didn’t particularly want to rattle bones left resting uneasily in a shallow grave, but the fact that some people were quite prepared to throw over EA altogether due to the fact that it (or the conference organisers, the poor divils) neglected what they saw as the most important thing – addressing animal suffering, and supporting that stance by “no meat here” catering – struck me as one of the ways in-fighting, status fights etc. can get going.

            So far as I am aware, although Peter Singer is one of the founders/admired and revered figures of EA, there is as yet no official dictum that “EA is a vegan organisation”. So it was rather a storm in a teacup and an example of the way a quite extraneous and petty issue could raise a lot of ire on all sides and have the potential to tear apart, or lose a good chunk of, supporters as soon as the movement is beginning to gain traction and grow into something more ambitious than “sixteen people in the Bay Area”.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            Not long ago someone from EA announced that the coming menu will be vegetarian but not vegan. That seems a practical solution — by the rule of 80/20 (or more likely, 98/2).

            To omit, say, a whole dish featuring bacon or ham from the menu for a mixed group, is easier than meeting the standard of those Jews who keep double kitchens, etc. That is, 2% of the cooks’ effort produces 98% of the desired results (for simplicity, I say ‘desired results’ to include both the food being 98% pure, and 98%of the guests accepting it).

            (Apologies for over-simplifing the standards of … partially-Observing Jews.)

          • Guy says:

            Hang on a sec, the Menu Wars are a prominent story about EA, but has the movement actually had any other problems? On the one hand, the conflict was kind of silly. On the other hand, it’d be crazy to dismiss an entire movement for one fit of silliness.

          • utilitarian troll says:

            For what it’s worth, I don’t have a perception that veganism is taking over the EA movement at all, although this could become a self-fulfilling prophecy if Deiseach keeps bringing this up and nonvegans are turned off… so Deiseach, please consider not bringing it up. Like I’ve heard more about the supposed veganism controversy on SlateStarCodex than I have in actual EA circles. It’s possible that I have an odd filter bubble but still.

      • Jill says:

        The same jockeying for power and territory that happens in corporations, in office politics, happens in non-profits too. See the Dilbert comics, The Office TV program etc. Just because something is a nonprofit doesn’t mean organizational structure and problems are different– although volunteers often hope that that will be the case.

        • Apropos of this …

          I wonder, in a conflict like the one over serving meat at an EA event, how much of the motivation comes from caring about the issue, how much from seeing it as a way of getting power or showing you have it.

          Scott has an old piece discussing why high profile controversies, such as recent ones involving rape or police shooting, tend to involve unclear cases, the ones where the people using the case for their cause have a relatively weak argument–with the UVA bogus rape story an extreme example. His answer is that if the case is clear there is nobody arguing the other side, so no controversy and no publicity. It’s only by pushing the weak cases that you can get attention.

          I wonder if there is something analogous here. If you push your organization into doing something that you have a very good argument for doing and that almost nobody objects to, your success doesn’t demonstrate your power. But if you can get everyone to do something that lots of people really don’t want to do and have reasonable arguments for not doing, that proves that you are the boss, that your coalition has power.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’ve been pushing this theory for a while. Orwell knew it. It’s no big deal to force someone to admit that 2+2=4. But to force them to admit 2+2=5; that shows you have power.

    • Jill says:

      A lot of what you are talking about happens in a lot of charitable non-profit organizations, regardless of whether anyone labels them EA or not. I’ve had such experiences, as a volunteer, and have known tons of people who have had such experiences. Certainly a lot of charities spend so much on salaries for the higher ups and other administrative costs, that very little of the money donated gets spent on the alleged altruistic or charitable purposes or target groups.

    • Deiseach says:

      That’s something that happens when a movement starts to get big and grow past local grassroots we’re all volunteers level, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it happened to EA (part of why I did the eye-rolling at the “doing charity better than the old ways” enthusiasm, because this is a very big pitfall on the path towards becoming recognised by the general public and breaking out of being a niche organisation, and if they can avoid it, it will take a lot of care and attention to do so.)

      The main solution seems to be to have one guy in charge, a benevolent dictator, who sets the tone of the entire organisation, is a little tin god, and drives it forward by sheer force of personality, keeping it focused on its aims and goals. The problem there is when/if that one guy retires, is shoved out of the way by disgruntled underlings (because being a little tin god means you step on toes) or drops dead, then the energy dissipates and the organisation falls prey to the “we need to go professional, so that means paying our board members salaries comparable to the private sector while still relying on volunteer labour” trap. Or the one guy/little clique in charge treat the charity as their own private piggybank and milk it for their own profit – we’ve had a recent scandal or two along those lines here in Ireland.

      I think it’s a sad fact: as soon as something becomes successful and grows beyond a certain limit, you get the jockeying for status and power within the organisation and the rewarding themselves in the guise of “we are running this as a professional concern so we deserve private-sector pay and perks”.

    • pku says:

      I have a vague impression that getting seriously involved would be mostly about that, which is why I haven’t. If it is, it’s probably more because people who are big into status games like to get involved and talk big rather than the other way around.
      In practice, I think to recruit it’s just best to make the fundamental point – that you’ll save more lives by donating to malaria than to other foundations, so it’s best to focus on that – and not bring in the tribal part. Though I’m unusually offput by apparent tribalism and this may not generalize well.

    • utilitarian troll says:

      It was surprising for me to see that so many talented individuals concerned with the ethical issues are either conflicted or engaged in the suspicious schema of overlapping interests, showing a superficial interest but entering the ghosting mode when they have to keep their promises.

      I had a hard time understanding this sentence.

      “How many of you have similar experiences?” – I haven’t had similar experiences. All my experiences with the EA movement have been great. EA Global was a blast.

      My understanding is that EA’s leadership is ambivalent about movement growth, for reasons that seem sensible to me. (If you think EA has status games now, imagine how bad they would be if the movement was 2x bigger!) This could explain what you see as lack of support for movement growth efforts.

      What concrete recommendations would you make to EA’s leadership? “extremely poor community coordination, risks concerned with the potential corporate takeover” – what do you mean by these?

    • Zakharov says:

      I’m also a little-e EA, not involved with the movement. I think the EA movement is especially vulnerable to politics and division. Either animal welfare charities are vastly more effective than human-welfare charities, due to the abundance of low-hanging fruit (billions of factory-farmed chickens); or human-welfare charities are vastly more effective, due to animals having little to no moral value. The outcome of this debate is massively important to the proponents of both sides, and it seems perfectly reasonable for either side to expend a lot of effort to get their way – the fate of millions of animals, or thousands of people, is on the line.

      • utilitarian troll says:

        Cause neutrality is EA’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

      • Njordsier says:

        The EA community simply needs institute a taboo against its members punishing one another for having different utility functions. It can be okay to question and criticize an ill-thought-out utility function, but not to banish someone from the group or make an Official Statement (or unofficial one) that people who hold that utility function are not welcome in the community, nor should it be okay to strike a cause that is deemed unworthy. The role of EA is to evaluate effectiveness of charities at their stated goals; leave it to individuals to determine for themselves what stated goals are most worthy. The thousands of people/millions of animals who are on the line are not helped by an organization trying to help them tearing itself apart squabbling over which one is more important right now.

        If someone has a utility function you just can’t stand, your arsenal as a member of EA includes probing that utility function with hypotheticals, scrutinizing the evidence for the effectiveness of their choice charities, requesting and proposing better experiments if there’s an obvious flaw in that evidence, suggesting alternative utility functions that may still satisfy their preferences, and producing evidence of your own that the interventions requested adversely affect the utility functions of others. I also recommend trying to see the other’s point of view before trying any of these. But at no point should one say that, on the basis of your utility function alone, you must not be included in the community.

        Example 1: Imagine a subset of EA members want to donate to effective charities that send as many people as possible to hell, because their utility functions are aligned with Thamiel. The proper response from EA is to ask for a way to quantify the effectiveness of their methods. If they cannot, they are not EA. But if somehow they can, and demonstrate that they are actually able to measure the population of hell and use randomized controlled experiments to effectively predict the likelihood of an intervention increasing that number, then we all ought to pay attention. (Along the way, EA and its members should be free to scrutinize every part of the data-gathering process: how do you know that it’s the population of hell you’re measuring? What are the confounding factors? Can you prove that hell even exists?) If they somehow make it through that, well, everyone’s free to build on their research and find ways to maximize the opposite utility function, since if it turns out that hell exists, and its population can be measured, I’m sure plenty of people will be interested in knowing that to serve the opposite goals that the followers of Thamiel espouse. And thus, having delegated the hard work of soundly proving the existence of hell and the methods to measure interventions in the rate of people entering it, the more right-minded members of EA can set out thwarting the disciples of Thamiel, not by expelling them from EA, but by giving to efficient organizations or agencies that do the quantifiable good that we otherwise wouldn’t have known about.

        Example 2: One guy wants to destroy all whales, because their very existence is triggering, and because he claims that the triggers are so intense that he is in a constant state of suffering greater than the suffering of all of animalkind. The proper response of EA is to ask him to provide hard evidence that the death of a whale increases utility as he has defined it. The guy replies that sure, here’s a chart mapping the yield of this illegal whaling charity to his emotional state for the past five years, showing a strong correlation with p<0.0001. OK, says EA, but how did you attain this data? How do we know that you didn't just draw a graph? Trust me, says the guy. We need more than that, says EA. EA then subjects the person to a controlled experiment: the guy must agree to not touch any literature on whales for a month, and keep a diary tracking his emotional state, that utility function that only he is able to query. To keep him from gleaning any information about real whale deaths, EA says, how about you stay in one building, monitored by a professional, say, we know a guy, really trustworthy, who's working in an institution that I'm sure would be happy to take you in; you just have to stay confined for one month and keep a daily log, and then an independent source will correlate your data with the real whaling rates post-facto. If he refuses, EA would be right to dismiss him for not cooperating with an honest attempt to get untampered data. If he agrees, at least you've got rid of him for a month, and committed him to a psychiatric hospital while you were at it, which comes in handy in the overwhelmingly likely chance that the experiment yields a negative result. And if he comes back and his log miraculously correlates perfectly to the independently-gathered whaling data, and the whole experiment defies all scrutiny, then you've learned something very neat indeed. Maybe not that he's a utility monster, but it's still worth following up on. That doesn't mean his utility function is right; people can decide for themselves whether the impact of the continued existence of whales on one guy's psyche really does outweigh the aggregated suffering of the rest of the animal kingdom, or just of children in Africa, or even just of the hunger of conference-goers who have a hankering for tasty bacon. EA itself has no obligation to create charitable organizations to support whaling for his cause, but they should make the evidence they collected available if they believe that the experiment was a true positive.

        And now I have demonstrated that this approach works for even the most ridiculous cases that are never going to happen. Requiring quantifiable data from trolls and demons can filter out the useless causes and also potentially make novel discoveries in cases you might not expect. So can we please agree that maybe we can accommodate utility functions that are inside the Overton Window, like “animal suffering is bad” and “malaria is bad?”

        • Jiro says:

          To keep him from gleaning any information about real whale deaths, EA says, how about you stay in one building, monitored by a professional, say, we know a guy, really trustworthy, who’s working in an institution that I’m sure would be happy to take you in; you just have to stay confined for one month and keep a daily log, and then an independent source will correlate your data with the real whaling rates post-facto. If he refuses, EA would be right to dismiss him for not cooperating with an honest attempt to get untampered data.

          This is stupid, because of the blissful ignorance problem. Most people who are not utilitarians think that some states of the world are good or bad regardless of their knowledge of the state in question, even if an unknown state cannot, by definition, make them happy or unhappy.

        • Deiseach says:

          And now I have demonstrated that this approach works for even the most ridiculous cases that are never going to happen.

          Never say that. After I’d been working in social housing for a little bit, I said to my colleagues “You know, I thought soap operas were overblown fantasy-fodder. But now I see that they’re actually documentaries” 🙂

          I think EA’s biggest problem is that it’s rather an umbrella organisation, which worked fine when it was three men and a dog and everyone could have their own “This is the most important cause in the world” without impinging on others.

          But now that it’s actually growing and establishing itself, there are beginning to be sufficient numbers (and influential names dropped in the mass media) that it’s worth squabbling over “Cause X is the most important!” “No, Cause Y is absolutely vital!” “Both of you are fools, plainly Cause Z is the only one worthy of attention!” and trying to grab the rudder to steer the movement in the preferred direction.

        • Zakharov says:

          Example 3: a terrorist joins the movement, and learns how to commit terrorism much more effectively. We know how he does it, but stopping him is still a less effective form of charity than bed nets. The world is worse off overall.

          Anyway, all of these examples are beside the point – effective non-vegans support animal charities, just not as much as human charities, and effective vegans support human charities, just not as much as animal charities. I agree that the two groups agreeing not to try to recruit each others’ members is the most effective strategy for both.

          • Jiro says:

            Stopping a terrorist who joins the movement would, for most people, be considered a priority because most people don’t care about every person in the world equally, so it is okay to prefer fixing a problem that is close to you to fixing one on the other side of the world. It’s only the weirdnesses of EA that even makes “isn’t it better to buy bed nets than stop the terrorist in the movement” a question.

    • Adam says:

      Charities and third parties have been evaluating program impact for decades before anyone ever coined the phrase “effective altruist.” Certainly, a fair number of donors never cared or paid attention, and I had never seen much of an effort to couch the impact in utilitarian measures outside of government funding studies, but since no two people have exactly the same utility function, this isn’t necessarily useful anyway. I see no reason at all that you need a named organization or a movement to read these studies and figure out which charities are doing the work that is most important to you and making the greatest impact.

      • brad says:

        I think what is (finally) starting to get traction is charity evaluation on metrics like transparency and overhead. But once those type of evaluations get at a number for program spending they stop. There’s no attempt to directly compare providing basketball court time to at risk inner city teens to spaying dogs to malaria nets.

        I agree with you that there probably doesn’t need to be. A donor can figure out for himself which of those he is most interested in donating to. I suppose there’s no problem with people trying to convince others that their favorite charity should be yours too, but I’m a little uncomfortable with something inherently subjective being dressed up in objective sounding language.

  24. All Trite says:

    I am badly addicted to reading blogs. I’d like to harness and redirect this addiction to something productive by replacing the mostly political/social commentary blogs I’m currently addicted to with blogs that are related to my field (UX research and technology ethics). Can anyone make recommendations?

    PS. I don’t plan to quit reading SSC.

  25. All Trite says:

    I know hardly any Australian colloquialisms, but one that I do know is their term for what we call a “string trimmer” or a “weed whacker”: they call it a whipper snipper. I like “whipper snipper” so much that I have adopted the term, much to the consternation of my heretofore kind and patient wife.

    I also really like “walkabout” and would like to adopt that too but I have no idea what it means. Is it something to do with being drunk?

    What are some other handy Australian terms I can cultural-appropriate?

    • That’s interesting, whipper snipper was common where I grew up, in Atlantic Canada.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Does this have anything to do with how old people supposedly (I’ve never heard anyone use it) call young people “young whippersnappers”? If so, what’s the connection?

      • Bassicallyboss says:

        If this brief source is to be believed, they are not really related, though they both reference whips. Whippersnappers in its earliest form referred to idle youngsters who passed the time by cracking whips. Most weed-whackers I’ve used work by spinning a flexible plastic string around at a high speed; I presume this is the “whip” in “Whipper Snipper” (which Google says is/was originally a brand name).

        But it’s probably a good bet that the marketing team that came up with Whipper Snipper was influenced by the term “whippersnapper.” It wouldn’t be quite so catchy if it didn’t sound like a term that already existed.

      • mobile says:

        They will ruin your lawn if they don’t get off of it.

    • wintercaerig says:

      Re: walkabout, proceed with caution as it a) has rather specific traditional significance b) has underwent a colloquialisation process which was viewed as insulting by members of that tradition.

    • Loquat says:

      My husband, an American with no particular connection to Australia besides the fact he took a business trip there for a few weeks one time, really likes “walkabout” as well. His definition is something like “wandering about doing your own thing, in a way that makes it difficult or impossible for others to find you” – for example, if we’re on vacation in an interesting town, and I’m planning to sleep in or spend time on an activity he’s not interested in, he’ll inform me that he’ll be going on walkabout while I’m doing that.

    • straya says:

      my favourite is “yeah-nah”, its got lots of uses, one is…

      q: fancy a beer this friday mate?
      a: yeah-nah, cant mate, seeing the missus friday.

      indicating that whilst one really would like to enjoy some grog with ones maaaayyyyyyt one in fact cant due to a previous engagement with a female.

      i also like “boofhead”, its a rather fond term for a mate who is a bit stupid but lovable.

      “chuck a sickie” is good too, for when you cant be arsed going in to work.

      “slab” is often useful as in “hey cunt, i’ll get yer a slab and a pack of winnie-blues if you’ll help me catch that drop-bear mate” which translated would be “i say! my dear fellow, i will buy you a 24-pack of beer and a packet of durries if you’ll help me rid myself of this terrifying predator.”

      and so on 😉

    • Zakharov says:

      My favourite is “do a Bradbury” – succeed in a very unlikely manner. Named after Steven Bradbury, who won a gold medal in the Winter Olympics after all the other skaters crashed into each other. Bradbury was losing badly enough to avoid the pileup.

    • anon says:

      I like “arvo” for afternoon. Also “cooee“, especially in its usage where it means within calling distance.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      You are aware, I hope, of chunder?
      That definition does not actually even list the etymology I remember hearing, namely that when you were on the top part of a ship, about to throw up, you would warn people on the lower decks to ‘watch under’.

    • eh says:

      A relative apparently said “ripper, it’s knock-off, time for smoko” in the middle of a forestry youth camp in Germany in the 1950s, and spent the next half an hour trying to explain Australian slang to a crowd of not-quite-bilingual German twenty-somethings.

  26. All Trite says:

    I’m interested in the ethics of the colonization (by humans) of other planets with life on them. (Maybe this is a topic in “theoretical ethics” if that’s a thing?) Are there any good books–perhaps sci-fi or nonfiction–that discuss this?

    • Njordsier says:

      Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card is one of my all-time most beloved books, and this is a major part of that story.

      • All Trite says:

        Thanks. I’ll check it out.

        • LHN says:

          It’s also an issue in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy. (Some of the characters are opposed to terraforming even if there’s no life, on the grounds that it’s destroying a unique and beautiful environment either way.)

          • Guy says:

            There’s also an amusing story in The Martians where a group of hikers discover what look like snail fossils and freak out about having possibly wiped out a planet’s life by accident.

            A big part of the moral question for all but the most extreme Reds is the fact that they don’t know, early in the colonization, whether or not there is life on the planet. Thus the anger at Sax Russel for adding lichen to a surface experiment.

    • Loquat says:

      Life in general, or life that’s reached a certain developmental stage? The ethical situation looks a bit different when there’s at least one native species with language, culture, etc, than it does when you’re only dealing with bacteria.

      • All Trite says:

        In either case, the life is extraterrestrial and therefore extremely scarce (as far as we know). Let’s say that the alien life is “bacteria-like”–we don’t know if it IS bacteria, since bacteria is something that evolved on Earth (and maybe possibly Mars)–but seems to form complex colonies and can solve problems (the way that smart goo does).

        What are some of the differences, with regard to ethics, of life like that and advanced life with languages/culture/etc.?

        • Guy says:

          A sentientient bacterial colony pops up in Asimov’s Nemisis; the ethics of dealing with it are a small part of the plot.

    • Arbitrary_greay says:

      “Enchantress From The Stars” by Sylvia Engdahl kind of touches on it, taking a Prime Directive stance on the issue.

    • Alethenous says:

      If we’re talking non-sapient life, I have zero problem with it – I suspect most of the arguments against it would be non-consequentialist (don’t meddle with things beyond your ken, we have no right to it, etc.)

      If it’s sapient life, well, that would be unbelievably fascinating to the point where, if in some bizarre circumstance it were my decision, I don’t think I’d be able to resist sending people down to say hello.

      Of course, contact with less-technologically-advanced peoples hasn’t gone brilliantly in the past (can anyone think of any counterexamples?) but that doesn’t mean it’d be impossible in principle for us to be the benevolent helpful aliens bequeathing the grand secrets of the workings of the universe (and/or chocolate.)

      • All Trite says:

        I’m not talking about just “saying hello,” but about colonization. Permanent mass settlement.

        How would you make the determination of sapience in a way that isn’t biased from an Earthling’s perspective?

        What are some of the ethical differences, do you think, between if the life is sapient or not?

        As far as the counterexamples you’re talking about, I think it’s a mixed bag in most of the instances I can think of. Some of the natives died, some or perhaps all mourn the loss of their traditional culture and identity, most who survive are far better off materially than they were before. Plus, some of their traditional cultures contained elements that were terrible, “good riddance” and all that. (For example, we’ve mostly wiped out human sacrifice and cannibalism.)

      • TGP says:

        Of course, contact with less-technologically-advanced peoples hasn’t gone brilliantly in the past (can anyone think of any counterexamples?)

        Two spring to mind. First the complete counter-case…The mongols.

        Easily described as less technologically advanced than the cultures they overran (e.g. Persia and China) but nevertheless it seemed to go rather well for them due to their rather brutal focus on effectiveness in war. Still, clearly a case where lower tech peoples met higher tech people and the higher tech peoples definitely came out the loser.

        In a more standard example (a lower tech people colonised/overrun by a much higher tech people) the Maori seem to have done particularly well out of the colonisation of New Zealand, retaining all of their culture and much of their land.

        There are many reasons why this is the case, but the fact they were on the exact oppositte side of the world to the colonising power, we’re very warlike with a good warrior culture, and seemed to have higher resistance to “western bugs” than other native peoples all seem to have contributed (as well as historical accident, being colonised later than other areas and also seemingly benefitting from a much more ‘enlightened’ approach from europeans than other regions).

    • Philosophisticat says:

      Here’s a compilation called “the Ethics of Space Exploration” by a philosopher I knew as an undergrad on the topic – seems like it might have what you’re looking for:

      • All Trite says:

        Danke. Unfortunately, “>>Free Preview<< ist nicht verfügbar". Guess I'll have to check if it's at da lye-berry.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Fuzzy Nation (John Scalzi’s “reboot” of H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy series), and possibly the originals as well.

    • Anon. says:

      Let us take what is ours, chew and eat our fill!

      • Machine Elf says:

        For anyone who isn’t already familiar, this is a reference to Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, an excellent science fiction 4X (i.e. Civilization-like) game.

        Being fairly old, it’s somewhat hard to get into at this point, both because of software incompatibilities and because it has mechanics and UI that may offend modern design sensibilities. You can get it on Good Old Games, or if you’d rather get a sense of it without playing it yourself, someone made a blog called Paean to SMAC which goes through most of the game’s “story” content and contextualizes it.