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Open Thread 58.5

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

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1,070 Responses to Open Thread 58.5

  1. J Mann says:

    My daughter has issues with chronic pain from Ehlers Danlos syndrome and some depression. She started Cymbalta this week. Any thoughts beyond the stuff on the package label of things to watch out for/best practices/better alternatives? We looked up patient feedback on the internet (I know, big mistake!) and are pretty worried.

    • AnonBosch says:

      Like most meds in the SSRI/SNRI class, it’s a bit of a crapshoot to find which one works the best. Cymbalta’s discontinuation syndrome is notoriously harsh even within its class, so just make sure that if it ends up not working she tapers off very gradually.

  2. I'd like to hide says:

    Hi. I’m mostly new here. I don’t know if this is the right place, but I figure it won’t hurt to ask, so I will. If I’m wrong, tell me where to go. There seems to be a lot of material here, and I find it fascinating, but I would like to immediately figure out where to start and begin solving my problems if this is at all possible. (I know it won’t just happen on its own, but I’ve heard good things) What are the top ten (or whatever number you feel appropriate) most *effective and applicable to daily life/normal problems* takeaways from LW and SSC and the diaspora/wherever else there are aspiring rationalists?

    Note: I do not mind looking at links, but I would like a little summary of each one – I am terrible at finding main points and I focus on the details too much.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      …what are your biggest problems? The answer to that will probably change suggestions significantly.

      • I'd like to hide says:

        I have problems with productivity/focus/procrastination.

        I have several things about myself I’d like to change (not *exactly* bad habits but something similar but more emotional). (Such as my dislike for changing clothes and going outside)

        I get strange thoughts and beliefs once in a while and I’d like to figure out where they came from and stop them. (Such as suddenly appearing “So-and-so hates me” (they don’t) or “Not washing my hands will destroy the world and kill me”).

        I am very bad at knowing what other people will do next and badly need an actual guide to social skills which gives me steps to follow instead of vague woo.

        I would like more tools in my toolbox to generally change my mind and the way my brain works. Currently it works badly.

    • To solve your problems? Is that what this blog is for? I just read this because the folks are pretty smart and have rational takes on various issues. Well also Scott has some good ideas too, but Scott has become less important than the commenters as I get more involved.

      But then I have little interest in Scott’s medical expertise — maybe that’s what drew you to this blog?

    • Wrong Species says:

      https://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Rationality_materials

      The main ides from the sequences are probably something like:
      All models are wrong but some are useful
      “Right” and “wrong” is not a dichotomy but a continuum.
      If you want to be right there should be a way to prove you wrong. You don’t get rationality points for making unfalsifiable claims.
      Saying you are rational doesn’t make you so.
      Everyone is biased, including you.
      If you want to get closer to the truth, you can’t stop your inquiries once you have found a way to defend a cherished belief. Seek out strong rebuttals.
      In fact, if you are scared of learning something that challenges your beliefs, that probably means you need to study that more.

      And something that isn’t in the sequences but I find useful as a framing device: you and your opponent can both be “right”. Let’s say that you and I are on opposite sides of an issue. Let’s say that you have 100% confidence in belief in issue X and I have 0*. However, we discuss the issue and you come away at 85 and I at 10. Congratulations, you won the argument! Maybe I changed your beliefs more than you did mine but you still changed my mind. That’s progress. Not only that but most people struggle to admit a good point in the middle of a debate. It’s only after they have quietly contemplated the issue will they see that you had a point. So that 10% could be the seed of a bigger change. So you shouldn’t necessarily be discouraged by your lack of progress in a debate. You can’t tell what is going on inside their mind.

      *You should rarely have 0 or 100% confidence in your beliefs. Especially when it comes to something ideologically motivated.

    • Aegeus says:

      Two simple tricks to make your internet arguments 20% less annoying:

      1. The Principle of Charity/Chesterton’s Fence: If large numbers of people support something that sounds crazy to you, odds are there’s some reason why. There may not be a good reason, but you should figure out what it is instead of dismissing them. There might be some useful insight at the core, or some common ground you can share.

      2. The Motte and Bailey and The Weak Man: Two fallacies which both hinge on the same thing – combining something reasonable-sounding and something crazy-sounding and saying they’re the same. Pay close attention to which one you and your opponents are arguing about – don’t accuse the guy who’s arguing a moderate position of being a moonbat conspiracy theorist just because he happens to have moonbats on his side, and don’t try to defend an extreme position by equivocating it to a more reasonable-sounding one. If you can separate the two, you can avoid arguments where you’re talking past each other, each accusing the other of supporting something they don’t.

  3. Jill says:

    Have people here heard of the Von Mises Institute’s solution to the world’s economic problems, called the Chicago Plan? 100% reserve banking sounds like a great idea to me. Does it to you?

    “Irvin Fisher, a Yale economist whom Milton Friedman called America’s greatest economist, said that the plan would greatly reduce the severity of business cycles, probably eliminating booms and busts. Bank runs would be impossible, making deposit insurance unnecessary, and it would greatly reduce the amount of public and private debt.”

    An Unorthodox Solution to the World’s Economic Problems

    https://www.mises.ca/a-solution-to-the-worlds-economic-problems/

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Q8q2hfIPAA

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Is that sarcasm or are you serious?

      Usually the only people I hear talking about opposing fractional reserve banking are hardcore libertarians and Objectivists. It’s kind of an unusual position to hear from you.

      Anyway, I’d say test it out somewhere small and far away from where I live. I’d be thrilled if it turned out to be a workable policy but I’m not too keen to wager to whole economy on it.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Yeah, when you eliminate the booms, you can’t tell you’re living in a constant bust.

    • onyomi says:

      I don’t know enough about economics to know how, exactly, such an idea would work out in practice (and I’m not sure anyone does, though I think the most probable concern would be, as Suntzuanime says, that while it would prevent credit bubbles, the cost in probable slowed growth might not be worth it), though I will say I think there’s something somewhat fraudulent about how fractional reserve banking is practiced today: namely, despite the Great Depression, runs on banks, FDIC, etc. etc. I still don’t think the average person really understands how it works. I think the average person thinks of banks like virtual safes with nice lobbies. You give them your money and they hang on to it for you.

      There’s nothing inherently fraudulent about “you give us your money and we promise to give it back to you on demand and will keep at least x% of that sum on hand to make sure we can,” but I don’t think most people who deposit their money understand that’s what’s happening. Maybe I’m underestimating the average bank customer… I hope?

      • Lumifer says:

        I still don’t think the average person really understands how it works.

        And why is this a problem? An average person, generally speaking, has no clue how the world works.

        • onyomi says:

          It may not be a problem for its functioning. If I’m correct that many people don’t understand this then it clearly already functions at least reasonably well despite this.

          Whether or not people understand what they’re getting into is relevant primarily to the question of whether or not it is a fraudulent practice, as a minority of Austrian economists argue. If you think you are just giving your money to the bank for safekeeping but are, in fact, extending them a loan, you are arguably being defrauded, since you don’t know what you’re getting into (though I’m sure it’s there in the fine print no one reads).

          Put another way, some Austrians will say the bank is committing a fraud by, in effect, creating a kind of fictional dual ownership. This gets to the question of whether money is just a kind of claim ticket for a certain amount of, e. g. gold, or else more of a promise of a promise. Of course the reality today is much more like the latter, but people tend to think more in terms of the former, I think (that is, they don’t realize their money, in effect, “multiplies” when they put it in the bank such that there are more claims to it than actual funds).

          This is a separate, somewhat philosophical/ethical question from that of whether or not fractional reserve is to blame for the business cycle. Maybe not one anyone outside a small circle of libertarian property rights purists cares about, but it is a question.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t know.

            How many people have seen “It’s a Wonderful Life”? It’s laid out fairly simply and clearly when the run on George’s bank starts.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I think Lumifer’s point is that, by the standards which would call fractional reserve banking “fraud”, almost every interaction an ordinary person has with an organization constitutes fraud. Which makes fraud perhaps not seem all that bad, although there is some appeal to the notion that we humans are nothing but sheep being herded by a pack of duplicitous demons known collectively as “society”.

          • Lumifer says:

            > If you think you are just giving your money to the bank for safekeeping but are, in fact, extending them a loan, you are arguably being defrauded

            No, because the bank is not promising you that it will take your banknotes and put them into its vault to await the time when you want them back. The bank is taking your fungible money and promises to give you back the same sum when you ask for it.

            If you are mistaken about what’s going on, that is not fraud on the part of the bank. And it’s not like it is a secret — anyone who cares even a little bit can easily find out how banks work.

            Besides, are bank runs really a problem in our days? FDIC is well-funded and when was the last time depositors in a US bank actually lost their deposits?

          • Matt M says:

            “How many people have seen “It’s a Wonderful Life”? It’s laid out fairly simply and clearly when the run on George’s bank starts.”

            It also takes place about 70 years ago and during the Great Depression. I’ll bet you most people think “things were sure crazy back in the 40s but banks don’t work that way any more! now we have computers and stuff to ensure that sort of thing never happens again”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The don’t think banks loan money anymore? Hardly. No, if anything post-2008, they think bank’s are being too speculative with deposits.

            The do think that it wouldn’t be possible to create a small town bank run by accidentally handing the bank’s cash to someone inside a newspaper, I’ll grant that.

            Now mind you, just as there are plenty of people who have not bothered to consider whether the McRib is actually made out of pork ribs that have been magically turned into meat, there are plenty of people who don’t really care what happens to their money as long as the can get to it when they want. And some huge sub-set of people that don’t have any money in the bank at all.

            But broadly, I think the idea that bank deposits and lending are ungrockable to the populace and therefore banks are defrauding their customers seems like it confuses “doesn’t care” for “has been misled”.

    • Yeah I am pretty skeptical like Dealgood and sun. I haven’t looked much into the idea of 100% reserves, but it seems like it would decrease available credit tremendously. While I believe the debt level in the US is too high, I don’t think it should be zero either. When banks have 100% reserves, how do banks make money? I assume they would have to charge customers for holding their money, since they couldn’t lend it out.

      On the other hand, maybe it does make sense. No one would be able to invest or lend money except to the extent that they have money. If everyone is treated like banks, then people couldn’t buy stocks on margin either? It would make the economy a lot more stable. I’d be curious how much invested capital would drop. I have mixed feelings.

      • bluto says:

        Slightly higher margin servicing like P2P lenders, so the banks get a fee for doing the paperwork on loans that individuals select and fund?

      • Lumifer says:

        It would make the economy a lot more stable.

        Being dead is a lot more “stable” than being alive.

        You don’t want a stable economy, you want a growing economy. The stone-age tribes in the Amazon have had a very stable economy for millenia.

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      @ Jill

      The banks are over my head, but Elizabeth Warren might have something readable to say about them.

      I’ve been thinking about a previous post of yours, which ended with the idea that each real life problem might require work from several different angles at once, and the combination would be different for each problem. — What would be a neat term for that attitude? ‘Pragmatism’ is sort of a Boo Light for both sides, but could it be rescued if coupled with some widely-approved word?

      Could you re-post a sentence from that comment, so I can Google the thread?

    • John Schilling says:

      Bank runs would be impossible because banks would be impossible. Booms and busts would be eliminated because the economy would never rise above what we now consider a bust.

      I’ve heard variants on this idea many times before; it is emotionally appealing to people who do not understand economics, but I’ve never seen one that wasn’t a Very Bad Plan wrapped in emotional appeal. And I am surprised to see the Von Mises name linked to this one, because I’m pretty sure Ludwig would not have approved.

      • Rothbard, who was a Mises disciple, opposed fractional reserve banking. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mises did but don’t know.

        I do, however, have Human Action on my bookshelf. Mises criticizes Fisher’s proposal and argues instead for free banking. It isn’t clear on a quick read whether he thinks private banks would be able to function on a fractional reserve system or not, but I think it’s pretty clear that he (unlike Rothbard) doesn’t think they should be prohibited from doing so.

        I don’t know why you would think that a 100% reserve system would result in the economy being in a permanent bust. Like Mises, I favor free banking, and I expect we would end up with a fractional reserve system, but the only significant advantage would be economizing on the cost of producing the monetary base. An FR system based on gold (for example) can provide the same monetary services as a 100% reserve system and tie up less gold doing it.

        It’s a mistake to confuse money with credit. With or without fractional reserve, in order for someone to borrow someone else has to be willing to lend, which means that someone has to forego present consumption in exchange for future consumption. The fact that the firms which act as middlemen in much of that market are also associated with providing monetary services is accident, not essence.

        • John Schilling says:

          The fact that the firms which act as middlemen in much of that market are also associated with providing monetary services is accident, not essence.

          If the effect of a 100%-reserve law is merely that the front end of “First National Savings and Loan” is broken into “First National Savings” and a quasi-separate “First National Loan”, I expect the law would be quickly amended with a “that’s not what we meant!” clause.

          In order for someone to borrow, someone else has to be willing to lend, yes. The pool of willing lenders becomes vastly larger if you can promise that, A: they won’t have to bother with the pesky details of what is being loaned to whom for which purpose, and B: however much they have put up to lend, they can get all of it back immediately on demand even if the loan they made has not come due. The latter, in particular, is the service that fractional reserve banking provides, and it is necessary to providing the volume of credit our relatively prosperous economy requires.

          If you insist that nobody can offer the “you can have all of your money back immediately on demand” service without keeping all of the money (or its near-equivalent) actually on hand at all times, that source of credit dries up.

          • “If you insist that nobody can offer the “you can have all of your money back immediately on demand” service without keeping all of the money (or its near-equivalent) actually on hand at all times, that source of credit dries up.”

            Suppose you do your lending by buying stock on the stock market. You can have your money back immediately on demand by selling the stock.

            It’s true that, in that case, you are accepting some uncertainty in how much your stock is worth. You can eliminate some of that by buying into an index fund, by buying bonds instead of stocks, by hedging in the future market, and if there was a big demand for doing the last there would be middlemen doing it for you.

            In any case, in the limit of zero fraction all that means is that providing a stock of money isn’t tying down any real resources. That’s the same advantage I already mentioned. You don’t have to spend real resources digging gold out of the ground in order to put in a vault–or mint it and have it circulating as coin.

          • John Schilling says:

            If I do my “lending” by buying stock on the stock market, that’s no help at all when e.g. Toyota needs to pay for a shipment of steel today that won’t generate revenue until they turn it into a shipment of cars three months from now. It also isn’t much help if my neighbor is looking for a mortgage to buy a house.

            Providing long-term capital investment for starting or expanding businesses, is a small fraction of what banks do. Mostly, banks don’t do that because the stock market does. If that’s the only kind of lending we are left with in the world of 100% reserve banking, that’s going to be a huge loss to the economy.

  4. Sandy says:

    Donald Trump Jr. posted an analogy about Muslim refugees on Twitter. It goes: if I offer you a bowl of skittles and tell you that three of them have been poisoned at random, would you take a handful? The inference being, clearly, that since you can’t tell which refugees are going to wind up planting bombs in Times Square, it’s best not to take a chance on any of them. The responses to this analogy from the left have been “It’s dehumanizing! People aren’t skittles!” and howls about this legitimizes bigotry. This amuses me because I was on Twitter when this analogy first surfaced a few years ago, except then it wasn’t about Muslim refugees, it was about feminists arguing that they must assume all men are rapists or potential rapists because they obviously can’t tell from a glance (and it was about a bowl of M&M’s back then). And it’s only dehumanizing if you take metaphors literally, which would seem to defeat the whole point of metaphors — when someone says “There’s plenty of other fish in the sea”, I doubt anyone indignantly points out that people are not fish.

    But people are selective about their literalism; when someone says “George Bush created ISIS”, they all know what that’s supposed to mean, but when Trump says “Barack Obama created ISIS”, they assume he must mean it literally and dash out sneering fact-checks about how Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the real creator of ISIS, you orange cretin.

    • Anonymous says:

      Who was the last person admitted as a refugee that committed a terrorist attack in the United States?

      • dndnrsn says:

        The Tsarnaev brothers’ family entered the US on a tourist visa and claimed asylum once in the country. So, not admitted as refugees, but they did claim asylum.

      • Jaskologist says:

        So far, it’s looking like the guy responsible for the bombings in NYC and NJ this past week was.

        (Edited to add: Is there a difference between refugees and asylum-seekers? I could imagine there at least being a legal distinction.)

        • dndnrsn says:

          What are you basing that on?

          All the New York Times says is:

          Ahmad Rahami was born on Jan. 23, 1988, in Afghanistan and came to the United States as a child.

          Jonathan Wagner, 26, who has known the Rahami family since childhood, said Mohammad Rahami told him he was from Kandahar and had been part of the mujahedeen in Afghanistan that fought the Soviet Army.

          None of the stories I’ve seen have even said when he came over beyond vague “he came over as a child” but the above leads me to believe it was probably prior to the most recent invasion of Afghanistan. However, I haven’t seen any indication as to how this was.

          • Jaskologist says:

            CNN:

            The law enforcement official says Rahami became a naturalized US citizen in 2011. He first came in January 1995, several years after his father arrived seeking asylum. The official said Rahami was given a US passport in 2003, while a minor, and again in 2007 after he said he lost his first one.

            Makes it sound to me like he came in under his father’s asylum. I’d count that as him being part of the asylum process, too. And I think most people would lump refugees and asylum-seekers under the same general policy prescriptions, even if there are probably legal distinctions.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I wonder why the New York Times doesn’t have this. Unless of course I missed an article – I find their website rather poorly laid out.

        • Anonymous says:

          (Edited to add: Is there a difference between refugees and asylum-seekers? I could imagine there at least being a legal distinction.)

          (Also in response to dndnrsn)

          There is a distinction: a refugee applies abroad to come in and an asylee is here and applies to say.

          That sounds like a fairly minor or technical difference, but in practice the procedures they go through and the selection they undergo is very different. Of relevance to the question at hand, refugees undergo much more rigorous background and security checks than any other group of immigrants.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I figured as much from doing a little bit of research. If refugees into the US are carefully screened, then I can see why conflating the two is misleading.

            Is this a US distinction, or a general one?

            If someone comes into a country illegally (let’s say they pay someone to smuggle them across the border) and once there says they are fleeing persecution – are they an asylum seeker, or a refugee?

          • Anonymous says:

            I believe the asylum / refugee distinction dates back to the post-WWII treaties and so isn’t US specific. But I wouldn’t stake my life on it.

            In regards to the hypo, under US terms they’d be an asylum seeker, unless they were Cuban in which case they’d be a parolee (without the need to claim persecution).

          • dndnrsn says:

            What I find myself wondering is whether people entering Europe are technically refugees, or asylum seekers. I don’t think that visiting the German embassy in Damascus and claiming refugee status is the norm. If someone hires a smuggler to get them into a European country, then travel to somewhere like Germany, and say they’re fleeing Assad/ISIS – are they a refugee, or an asylum seeker?

            If they’re actually asylum seekers, then the talk of refugees is misleading. Most mainstream* politicians, media sources, etc who are against letting refugees into the US and Canada sort of present the idea as being like what’s happening in Europe (pictures of trails of people trekking through the Balkans, rickety boats full of people across the Mediterranean, etc) – the idea is sort of “we’ll have no ability to control who comes in; they could be terrorists!”. But in fact the US and Canada have a significantly better position when it comes to being able to do that, for geographic reasons.

            *of course, non-mainstream opponents of letting them in have other reasons.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Careful screening isn’t very relevant to children, which is what both the Tsarnaevs and Rahami were when the immigrated. But more to the point, the Tsarnaevs were admitted in violation of the policy of no asylum for Chechens. They were almost certainly admitted for being violent allies rather than peaceful victims. Rahami’s father was also a violent ally, although it’s less clear why he was granted asylum.

          • Anonymous says:

            @dndnrsn

            Normally I’d say they were asylees but there may be some EU wrinkle whereby an asylee in one European country is transformed into a refugee if another European country agrees to take them from the first. I’m just spitballing, the EU process on this is beyond my knowledge.

            But in US terms demagoguing against refugees when you mean asylees is IMO highly unfortunate. I’d be much happier to see reforms / cutbacks to the asylee program (which is riddled with fraud) than the refugee program (which is much better from a good government / EA perspective).

      • Randy M says:

        Why limit it to the US? Do you think we are drawing on a different pool than other nations?

        • Anonymous says:

          First, because Junior is presumably commenting on what the US ought to do. Second, yes the US selection and screening process is fairly unique.

          • Randy M says:

            First, because Junior is presumably commenting on what the US ought to do.

            So is that a blanket prohibition on using consequences of European social policy to inform that of the US, or just as applies to immigrants?

            Second, yes the US selection and screening process is fairly unique.

            In what ways?

          • Anonymous says:

            Eh. Since you are kind of coming off as a dick, do your own homework.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Lol.

            Pot calling kettle black much?

      • Sandy says:

        I think the vast majority of Somalis in America are resettled refugees or the children of resettled refugees. Somalis are also the largest single group of Americans who have joined or attempted to join foreign terrorist organizations since the rise of ISIS and al-Shabaab.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      To be fair, that point was widely ridiculed at the time too. With several parodies involving black people, muslims, etc.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        This is the problem with “people in group X supported position Y; now people in group X support position !Y.” There are a lot of people in group X.

        Now, find specific people in group X who supported Y and now !Y, and we’re getting somewhere.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I was also amused by the poisoned sweets analogy turning up again. I think the problem with both analogies is that rapists are a much smaller proportion of men that don’t seem like rapists (and terrorists a vastly smaller proportion of refugees) than three sweets are of a bowl of them. However I guess you could claim that the proportion of rapists is high enough that the analogy is valid. I don’t think you could do the same with terrorists — they are fewer than 0.001% of refugees.

      • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

        Another issue is that you can set the bowl of candy down and go eat a sandwich instead, and nothing bad happens to you or others. That changes if the bowl of candy is actually the set of all males, and not eating the candy means avoiding interaction with them or imposing sanctions on them. Likewise, if the bowl of candy is the set of all refugees, and not eating the candy means turning them away.

    • Zombielicious says:

      What percentage of the people who say it’s a bad analogy meant to associate refugees and immigrants with poison and terrorism also agree that all men should be treated as potential rapists?

      Skittles cannot suffer for not being eaten. Refugees suffer when immigration is restricted. That’s why it’s dehumanizing and a poor analogy – one is an inanimate object, so there are no ethical considerations or tradeoffs involved. Failing to make the distinction says something about your value of human life outside of your ingroup.

      • Matt M says:

        Are all restrictions on immigration inherently dehumanizing? As far as I know there isn’t a single country on Earth whose immigration policy is “Anyone can come here whenever they want – no questions asked.”

        • Zombielicious says:

          I don’t know if all immigration restrictions are inherently dehumanizing (though I am a fan of open borders, or at least more open than we have now), but justifying them by comparing people to poisonous skittles is.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        What percentage of the people who say it’s a bad analogy meant to associate refugees and immigrants with poison and terrorism also agree that all men should be treated as potential rapists?

        What percentage of the people objecting to Trump’s analogy today were objecting to the feminists’ analogy at the time that was made? Brief, awkward throat-clearing about the feminists’ behavior years later is of little value.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          not to mention that the immigration version seems significantly more defensible.

        • Zombielicious says:

          Believe it or not, not everyone’s life revolves around what the mean internet feminists have said this week. They get far less attention than the son of, and lead figure in the campaign of, one of the Presidential nominees. If you’re really claiming that “all men are potential rapists” is such a widespread and commonly accepted belief outside of some feminist internet bubbles, that seems like an extraordinary assertion requiring some real evidence.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Does this count? “feminist internet bubble” seems like an uncharitable description of Vox, much less the state of California.

          • Zombielicious says:

            So you found a random article on Vox that doesn’t give any empirical evidence to support your claim, nor does the author argue the claim, nor is it a reason given for why he supports the law he’s talking about…

            So no, I think it counts about as much as if pulling some random opinion by some random conservative on some awful conservative legislation automatically means that all conservatives are women-hating, jingoist bigots. Moreover, even if it did, I’m not sure how two wrongs make a right and the issue of what anti-rape laws should be determines the optimal immigration policy. Your best argument against letting refugees immigrate is that liberals are evil hypocrites? It’s drivel.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Your best argument against letting refugees immigrate is that liberals are evil hypocrites? It’s drivel.

            I believe the thrust of the OP was indeed that accusation of hypocrisy, not an argument against refugees. (To be fair, the argument was pretty much irrefutable, so there’s not much to talk about there.)

    • Aegeus says:

      The responses to this analogy from the left have been “It’s dehumanizing! People aren’t skittles!” and howls about this legitimizes bigotry

      Here’s the issue: If I decide not to eat the skittles, nobody gets hurt. I can throw the entire bowl in the garbage and nobody will care. But if we decide not to take in refugees, they’re going to continue to be stuck in a war zone, where they will most likely suffer and die. In other words, the flaw in the argument is that it implies the refugees are not deserving of moral concern, that we can just shut them out and not care what happens to them. So this really is a “dehumanizing” argument.

      …it was about feminists arguing that they must assume all men are rapists or potential rapists because they obviously can’t tell from a glance (and it was about a bowl of M&M’s back then).

      I’m willing to say that this argument was stupid too, and for the same reason – nobody cares if you throw out a bowl of M&Ms, but if you treat all men like rapists, you will probably hurt the feelings of actual people who deserve moral concern.

      The metaphor of “There’s plenty of fish in the sea” only compares people to fish insofar as they both have very large populations, so it’s unlikely to lead people to evil conclusions.

    • AnonBosch says:

      The problem with both arguments is they baldly assert absurdly high percentages to seed inaccurate perceptions of risk and steer people towards “if it saves one life” reasoning. The Skittles argument is not merely an argument against refugees, it’s an argument against any immigration, period. Illegal, legal, even tourism; there have been far more terrorists on tourist visas than refugee visas.

      (This logically leads you to the immigration policies of North Korea, which I assume suffers from near-negligible immigrant crime.)

      • FacelessCraven says:

        The difference between the two arguments is that men are half the population and are owed equal protection under the law, while foreigners only have what rights of entry we explicitly grant them. Thus it seems to me that the second formulation is significantly more defensible than the first regardless of whether it’s ultimately a good idea or not, which begs the question why the second formulation is a mark of the deplorables, while the first was generally acceptable to the dominant culture.

        • Anonymous says:

          Since it had nothing at all to do with state action, equal protection under the law has no application. It was individual women saying that they personally had to act as if all men were potential rapists.

          The fourteenth amendment, like the first, only restrains the government. It’s not a tough concept.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            …as part of an explicitly political movement arguing for explicit political policies which do, unequivocally, involve the state violating equal protection.

            …And again, foreigners have no right to enter at all other than what we collectively grant them, so what is the objection to Trump Jr’s statement?

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            So now prejudice is just like chilling freedom of expression, in that we’re only allowed to complain if the government does it? Careful now, Anonymous, the foundations of decades of propaganda are shifting under your feet as you casually pull that block out.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            What you can’t do

            Sorry, I don’t recall you being my mother. I’ll do what I please, even if that includes (gasp!) thinking that equal protection, like freedom of speech, is a concept that’s larger than the details of how any one state might presume to enshrine it into the law, and that even if someone’s behavior is technically legal that doesn’t make it immune from criticism.

          • Anonymous says:

            The rest of us are free to think you are a fucking moron for claiming that equal protection of the laws has anything to do with private conduct.

            Freedom yay!

          • birdboy2000 says:

            I suppose it’s okay if private businesses want to set up separate water fountains, too?

            Non-discrimination and free speech aren’t just constitutional rights, but also ideals any free society should uphold. Empowering a powerful and unaccountable private sector to violate them at will upholds the letter of the constitution but exerts in practice a mighty chilling effect on anyone seeking to exercise these rights.

            Being blacklisted for your ideas or your race or gender might not be quite as bad as being thrown in prison, but it’s nonetheless more than worthy of fanatical opposition.

          • Anonymous says:

            No one is saying otherwise. Just that words have meaning.

            Also, how is women tweeting that they need to act as if all men are potential rapists for thier safety like separate drinking fountains for black people, again?

          • birdboy2000 says:

            Do you also support when white women cross the street to avoid black men? What about when they patronize businesses which will protect their honor by keeping away those scary dangerous black men? After all, it’s all about safety.

            Same sentiment, different era. Being paranoid about [demographic group] because of differential crime rates has a lot of ugly implications.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            The rest of us are free to think…

            “Us”? What, you got a mouse in your pocket?

          • Matt M says:

            “Non-discrimination and free speech aren’t just constitutional rights, but also ideals any free society should uphold.”

            For the record, I am an anarchist libertarian who does, in fact, believe that private businesses should be allowed to discriminate in any way they choose, including based on race.

            BUT I think this quote is very important and cannot be emphasized enough.

            People say things like “the first amendment doesn’t mean freedom from consequence of your offensive speech” when justifying the efforts of people to utterly destroy the lives of random strangers on Twitter guilty of the crime of saying something not so kind. But perhaps it’s worth asking why the founders bothered to include freedom of speech at all?

            Generally speaking, the government exists to help individuals more efficiently protect and exercise the rights that they, themselves, already have. In other words, if the people who were debating the bill of rights at the time thought it was appropriate to destroy someone’s life for saying bad words, why would they feel the need to prohibit the government from doing that? Because they assigned a positive value to the concept, to the idea, of free speech.

            Even if the first amendment is not literally/legally violated by Twitter mobs, the concept and the idea of free speech certainly is. Personally, I am convinced that we simply no longer value it at all. If a constitutional convention were held today, clear exceptions for “hate speech” would be added and free speech would be dead (as it already is in Canada and much of Europe).

            And if you happen to be such a person who does not place a high value on free speech, then shouldn’t you want the first amendment to be overturned? If hate speech is destructive, why should preventing and punishing it rely solely on the invisible hand of the market?

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I don’t see how that is relevant, in two senses. Firstly, protection under the law of men is irrelevant; the argument is that women should treat them with suspicion, which is not legally prohibited.

          Secondly, as I understand them, both arguments are just “Not all x are bad, but some are, which means interacting with any of them is poor risk to take.” That is sometimes a good argument (e.g. “serial killers are like skittles”) but in the refugee terrorist case it is clearly not (since such a small proportion of them are bad), and in the male rapist case it is slightly less clearly not (since flaw is that the cost of not interacting with men outweighs the benefits, which has less of a clear parallel to the skittles analogy than the flaw with the refugee argument).

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Is it an uncharitable reading of your statement to interpret it as “a fearmongering-worthy proportion of men are rapists”? Because I thought the male rapist case is clearly not a good argument for the same reason as the refugee terrorist one.

            Also, I’m curious, how do you square that with the outsize proportion of refugees who are young men? Even if only a tiny proportion of refugees are terrorists, by your own logic a large proportion of them would be rapists.

          • AnonBosch says:

            Agreed on both points. The feminist / M&M formulation of the fallacy, as I recall, was an attempt to justify suspicion by individual women in personal interactions, not to justify a particular law or policy.

            And in any case, as SSC isn’t a law blog, whether or not a viewpoint maps onto (United States) law is of secondary concern compared to how rational it is. In both cases it’s not.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @Gobbobobble
            I don’t know what proportion of men are rapists, but it is orders of magnitude higher than the the proportion of refugees that are terrorists, since that is so low. The only number I can find for refugee terrorists is 0.00038%. Reasonable estimates of male rapists can be up to 10%. I personally don’t think that the higher figures are accurate, but it certainly seems that the true number is greater than 0.1%. The higher the figure, the more convincing the argument (if 20% of refugees were terrorists, the skittles analogy would be very convincing). So I think the skittles-rapists argument would be strong, if it were not for the fact that treating all men with suspicion has quite a lot of costs that outweigh the gain (whereas I don’t think you even need to consider that in the skittles-terrorists case).

            There is no reason to treat refugee young men differently to US-born young men in terms of regarding them as potential rapists. If a policy is good for one, it is good for the other. But in any case, the proportion of refugees to the US who are young men is not overly large. This source gives a figure of 2% of the total being single men “of combat age”. It seems possible that they might have an odd definition of “of combat age” and being single isn’t necessarily relevant here, but using these stats you can see that the gender balance is pretty much 50-50, and taking the claim from the other source that 50% are children (i.e. only 6% of the total are under 20 but not children) it seems that the proportion of young men is pretty low — at most 10% or so.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            There is no reason to treat refugee young men differently to US-born young men in terms of regarding them as potential rapists.

            Except for, you know, all the rapes committed by refugees.

            Seriously, we really haven’t learned anything? Nothing at all from what has been going on in Europe?

            Letting those people in was a mistake, and the innocent are still paying for it. Even Merkel admits as much now. It’s the height of insanity to look at that situation and then do the same thing to ourselves!

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @Dr Dealgood

            Do you have any stats on that? Specifically regarding American refugees, who are carefully selected by the State Department, as opposed to European “refugees” who are firstly not always fleeing warzones, and secondly largely selected by ability to survive dangerous boat journeys. Although I would also be interested in stats that show European migrants as being disproportionately likely to rape.

          • “I don’t know what proportion of men are rapists, but it is orders of magnitude higher than the the proportion of refugees that are terrorists”

            Surely true.

            But if I have correctly followed this argument, it starts with an objection to the Trump refugee analogy based not on numbers but on the fact that human beings are not pieces of candy. That objection applies equally well to the rapist analogy.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @David

            That may be an objection, but it’s not the one I make. I think that the analogy would be correct if, say, 10% of refugees were terrorists.

    • Randy M says:

      This difference in the two skittles bowls is the pros of the non-poison skittles. A woman who never interacts with men, or trembles with fear at the sight of men or whatever the extreme, no-chance-at-poisoned-skittles position is, then cuts herself off from most employment and likely all romantic opportunities. While men can try to understand her risk-averse anxiety, ultimately she is losing a lot. (And the moderate view, that she should approach unknown men with some wariness in situations where she is especially vulnerable, is actually rather sensible and not particularly offensive).

      Whereas with immigration from war-prone areas with populations extremely divergent from majority American/European culture, the downside of a moratorium, for the host nation (the one the executive has a stronger duty towards) is what, really? Slight economic inefficiency if we assume all people are basically fungible? Having to deal with slightly more civic trust? Having to learn how to make ethnic food from a book?

      Obviously the refugees lose a lot in not being granted free admittance. Nicer conditions, escape from civil war (well, open civil war), social welfare, etc. But we as a nation can discuss if the extent of humanitarian obligation might fall short of open borders throughout the western world and what other steps might meet these needs.

    • birdboy2000 says:

      Loathsome feminist rhetoric inspires equally loathsome white supremacist rhetoric, take 300. I wish they’d stop pretending to be left-wing or liberal and join their natural allies on /pol/ already.

      Both stances are horrifying.

      • Neither of the metaphors is horrifying, although both may be being used as part of bad arguments.

        The characteristics of the candy relevant to the metaphor are that there are lots of pieces, most are good but a few are bad, and one cannot readily tell which are which. Those characteristics are shared by men and refugees.

      • Winfried says:

        I have way too much invested in the moral high road to hop off for a political jab, but I can’t fault other people for accepting what is and isn’t effective and following suit.

    • AoxyMouseOnArgo says:

      Instead of skittles, I prefer computing probabilities.

      Hows this algorithm?

      1. Locate sub-populations X1,X2,X3…XN out of the total set of indiciduals.

      2. Compute list of total events Y of interest.

      3.Compare probabilities of sub-populations, pruned in whatever way necessary to be an intelligent comparison, to create event Y.

      4. No longer speak in skittles analogies and actually have some interesting data.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Every single thread has a post of this sorts.

      In a shocking revelation, we have found out the blue tribe is comprised of humans! They are not angels after all!

      We got it the first time. We get it now. Why does this seem to be such a popular point to make?

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      A certain number of US citizens are going to turn terrorist too….basically, people aren’t safe.

    • John Schilling says:

      Donald Trump may wish that I should starve to death, but I plan to keep living and so keep eating. Since pretty much every wholesome domestic foodstuff on the supermarket shelves has about the same poison content as his hypothetical Skittles, I think I’m going to go with a diversity of foodstuffs whose tastes I favor and hope for the best.

  5. Jill says:

    Fascinating– to me– article about race and political correctness, with a Right of Center Ivy League professor here. I think he makes some excellent points that are food for thought, whether one agrees with them or not. He attempts to get beyond ideology sometimes, into specific factors affecting, or affected by, our national conversations about race.

    An Ivy League professor on what the campus conversation on race gets wrong
    Brown University’s Glenn Loury: “We’re arguing about labels, about what to call our holidays or which portraits to rearrange on the wall.”
    http://www.vox.com/2016/9/20/12915036/race-criminal-justice-inequality-glenn-loury-ta-nehisi-coates

  6. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Anyone here ever read Mr. Money Mustache? Primarily of interest here for being an attempt to undo hedonic adaptation and reconnect with our by-1900s-standards wealth.

    I worry that this sort of thing might only work for those who don’t need it–those with good marshmallow-test scores, high conscientiousness, strong resistance to peer pressure (or good power groups), high intelligence for DIYing, and low risk of being seen as lower class.

    • fr00t says:

      Those are the only people likely to be interested in the first place, but having it reinforced and encouraged is a good thing. When my friends are talking about buying a Tesla, I know there’s no good reason to be tempted, but that acquisitional/status seeking part of the brain is insidious.

      My concern with the frugal community is that it can seem small-minded. As a global/social initiative it has ecological benefit, but from a personal-utilitarian perspective you probably should be wary of darning your socks rather than developing or applying a specialized skill. Division of labor is real.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I read his site for a bit.

      I found some of his stuff useful. Some of it is a bit over-the-top (no, I’m not going to ride a bike year-round to avoid paying for a bus pass). Some of it seems a bit clueless about the fact that most people are not engineers or whatever he is – I have neither the aptitude nor the education to do a lot of the DIY stuff.

      For me, it was part of a few different things I came across when I was transitioning from university to real life. It was a good thing I absorbed some stuff about saving and investing. I seem to be conscientious enough to actually handle saving and investing instead of blowing my money, but having resources on the subject was useful. I needed to absorb the message “start saving NOW”. So, it isn’t just for people who don’t need it.

    • Lumifer says:

      As usual, what are you optimizing for?

      My main objection to the extreme frugality can be summed up as “So, you are going to be very poor for some years in order to be very poor for the rest of your life?”

      • dndnrsn says:

        A “moderate” interpretation of the “Moustachian” mindset is actually pretty easy:

        Prepare your own meals whenever possible, cut down on the booze (where I am, at least, it’s taxed heavily), get a library card, etc etc etc, and use the money to set up index funds in some tax-advantaged account or other.

        • Anonymous says:

          The second half of that is just boglehead-ism. So it’s the first part that really separates out the community.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Honestly, “The Elements of Investing” by Malkiel and Ellis is probably a better source than MMM. He gets attention, though.

        • Lumifer says:

          But at this point it’s not “Moustachian” in any way — it’s just plain-vanilla mainstream frugal living, one that many people practice by necessity or by natural inclination, or because their (great(grand))parents having lived through the war/Great Depression/etc. brought them up this way.

          • dndnrsn says:

            This is true. MMM gets attention, though.

            In some ways I was raised to be frugal – I’ll almost always buy the store brand, I calculate the price per unit of stuff to find the best deal, etc – but I’m doing stuff I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t come across the attention-grabbing but ultimately kind of silly MMM style stuff.

      • Psmith says:

        So, you are going to be very poor for some years in order to be very poor for the rest of your life?

        While climbing the local mountains, homeschooling kids, reading, writing, playing instruments, tinkering with Craigslist parts bikes, teaching part-time…sounds pretty great to me, yeah. But I suppose your mileage may vary if you work for reasons other than paying the bills, or if you have expensive tastes. (And good partners are positional goods, to some extent.).

        • Lumifer says:

          That why I started by asking what are you optimizing for : -) People’s preferences differ and they pick different trade-offs.

          In its most basic and crude form the trade-off here is between free time and things that money can buy.

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t especially want to stop working at 40. Especially not if all I have to look forward to for the 40 years after that is penny pinching.

      The MMM people remind me of cross-fitters and vegans.

      • JayT says:

        I feel the same way. In a lot of ways I understand the appeal of scrimping and saving to make sure you don’t owe anyone anything, but at the same time, I like the fact that I eat at the best restaurants, go on exotic trips, own nice cars, and live in a big (for the Bay Area) house, even if it means I won’t be retiring until I’m 70. I’d rather spread out the enjoyment I’ll get in life rather than try and save it all for later when later may never come.

        • Matt M says:

          Especially considering there’s a non-zero probability you’ll drop dead before you reach the age where you can finally start enjoying all that money you saved.

          • Acedia says:

            Couldn’t that be used as an argument against any long term planning for your future?

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Acedia

            No, this is argument against extreme delay of gratification, not against planning.

            “Life is uncertain, eat dessert first” : -)

        • caethan says:

          Part of the difference is, I think, just that I wouldn’t enjoy “eat[ing] at the best restaurants, go[ing] on exotic trips, or own[ing] nice cars”. Doing all of those things because you get a lot of enjoyment out of them makes perfect sense. What I’ve seen, though, is a fair number of people spending money on things that they don’t actually enjoy a whole lot because of social pressure.

        • LHN says:

          I like the fact that I eat at the best restaurants, go on exotic trips, own nice cars, and live in a big (for the Bay Area) house, even if it means I won’t be retiring until I’m 70

          You may be in an occupation that will let you make that choice. Many, possibly most of the retired people I know didn’t really get it. The company merged or folded. The organization offered a generous retirement incentive which was absolutely voluntary, except that everyone knew that if the numbers weren’t reduced enough by attrition there was a good chance they’d shortly be reduced by staff cuts without the financial sweetener.

          Finding a job gets harder as one gets older, finding one with comparable pay and benefits even more so. And that’s if your health holds up to the point that you’re even able to, which is always a gamble. Some people have skills that remain in demand or even increase due to circumstance (e.g., COBOL programmers circa Y2K). But a lot start to look less attractive to employers next to someone younger and fresher-looking.

          For most people, there still needs to be a balance between present and future needs. Voluntary lifelong financial asceticism is a minority hobby. But “I’ll just work longer” isn’t necessarily a realistic option for everyone.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I’ve read him. I don’t agree with him on everything (I experimented with biking when I was in college; it didn’t work), but I like his ideas.

      Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme is also pretty good. I recommend his “Frequently Asked Questions”, “How I live on $7,000 per year”, “How to retire in 5 years”, and this awesome reddit comment.

    • keranih says:

      I’ve read MMM. He really doesn’t have that much to say, compared to The Tightwad Gazette of years gone by, but he’s far more inspiring to guys who want to cut corners. *shrugs* Different strokes.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Yeah, I’ve been reading a lot of Mr Money Mustache lately. While I think the chances of me developing the pantheon of skills to not have to outsource any home repairs are slim, I have been trying to take to heart the not-buying-unnecessary-stuff philosophy, and also the cook-more-meals-from-cheap-but-healthy-ingredients part.

      I am also intrigued by the invest-in-low-expense-ratio-index-funds part of it, but being just starting out, I’m a good couple of orders of magnitude away from having enough to buy into Vanguard UK’s funds directly, so would need to go through one of the intermediary banks or other organisations. I was actually planning on raising the question on an open thread here – anyone got any good advice about how to get started with a good index fund in the UK?

    • I read, and am a fan of the philosophy, but my own preference is to point out that the numbers and the ideas, rather than the specific recommended actions, are the takeaway. That is to say, it’s an important skill to be able to evaluate something like investing in your own DIY skills or dropping your current car usage to 10% in terms of “How hard will this really be?” and “What will I gain from this?”

      The ability to simply choose to not do a thing that is The Expected Thing That People In Your Socioeconomic Class Do is huge; even people who drive cars and hire handymen for minor repairs should know that they have the option to do a lot less of this.

      I always do wonder about the people who refer to the extreme frugality folk as poor. MMM in particular isn’t poor, and doesn’t even live much like a poor person; he instead spends his life looking for areas of comparative advantage. If you’re having great, restaurant-quality meals at an incredible discount because you’ve done loads of comparison shopping for ingredients and learned how to cook them yourself, then you’re doing the opposite, in several respects, of eating like a poor person.

      • Anonymous says:

        If you’re having great, restaurant-quality meals at an incredible discount because you’ve done loads of comparison shopping for ingredients and learned how to cook them yourself,

        Preferences are preferences and all, but I find it just odd. If you are going to invest all the time and energy into running a tiny restaurant why not enlarge it a little bit and have a small restaurant? Because you have some sort of mental block that equates work to terrible?

        Personally I have zero interest in spending ten thousand hours becoming a restaurant quality chef or spending hours a week scouring my local produce stands for excellent, inexpensive ingredients. I pay other people to do those things and do what I’m good at instead.

        You make it sound like he is coming out ahead, but that’s only the case if you happen to have the strange meta-hobby of enjoying doing everything yourself. Or (and I think this is more common) an extreme aversion to spending money. If the intestinal pain of turning over money overwhelms any enjoyment you get from whatever it is you are buying then of course you are going to look for any way possible to avoid buying anything.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Barriers to entry. It’s probably a couple of orders of magnitude more difficult to run a restaurant that can serve two families than to cook similar-quality meals for your own family. This would be less true if we didn’t have the regulatory barriers we have in the US, but even without them, customers make everything difficult.

        • Psmith says:

          Because you have some sort of mental block that equates work to terrible?

          Because that means you need to hew to a consistent schedule, as opposed to doing what you want when you want to, and you value being able to do what you want when you want to.

          Also, I think you overestimate the work that “restaurant quality” entails, assuming that the restaurant you have in mind doesn’t have three Michelin stars. (And indeed there are restaurant chefs who do when they want when they want to, but the only ones who stay afloat doing that are at the celebrity level.).

          And, for that matter, it’s mighty hard to break even in the restaurant business, let alone make money. (Outside of places like New York and LA, the problems you face have more to do with attracting customers than with the high prices of the various inputs, but it works out about the same over the long run.).

          the strange meta-hobby of enjoying doing everything yourself

          Seems like a perfectly normal desire to me, but I guess that’s what makes horse races.

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s a flexibility in theory more than practice if the plan is to make all your own meals. Everyone has to eat. And you can’t bail out of the plan because your savings have to last 40+ more years. I suppose going to tuna fish and ramen noodles is an option if you decide doing what you want, when you want no longer includes making restaurant quality meals.

          • caethan says:

            Seems pretty normal to me, too, but then I like watching handymen at work so I can figure out what they’re doing.

            And being able to cook totally is still an increase in flexibility. We do weekly meal planning with the plan of cooking everything from scratch most of the time, but if we’re tired or sick, takeout is still an option.

        • Loquat says:

          I suspect most of the people who would consider doing this already more or less know how to cook and do other household tasks for themselves, and thus don’t need to invest huge amounts of time into acquiring those skills. My parents taught me to cook when I was in my teens, and I’ve been cooking for myself for many years; I’m not at the level of a 3-Michelin-star chef, but I can certainly do as well if not better than the typical fare you get at a diner or an Applebee’s, for less money. Not to mention, cooking at home makes it waaaaaaay easier for my pre-diabetic husband to be aware of his sugar/starch intake, as opposed to restaurant meals where dressings and sauces could be full of sugar you wouldn’t necessarily notice.

          • caethan says:

            Even just trying to stay on a basic diet is so overwhelmingly much easier cooking from scratch.

            Plus, I like cooking and my wife really appreciates having a nice meal waiting for her when she gets home.

          • dndnrsn says:

            You also don’t have to be a great cook to impress friends, family, romantic partners, etc.

          • Anonymous says:

            Everyone always says nice things about home cooked meals. I wouldn’t take that to mean they are actually impressed.

          • Lumifer says:

            Everyone always says nice things about home cooked meals

            Revealed preferences are revealed : -)

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m not saying I’m turning out fine-restaurant-quality meals, but yeah, revealed preferences. If someone eats what I cook one time and subsequently is willing to take me up on the “I cook, you clean” deal, I take that as a compliment.

            Then again, I was lucky, because my mother is a very good cook and I’ve picked up some tricks over the years.

        • “if you happen to have the strange meta-hobby of enjoying doing everything yourself. ”

          “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

          -Robert A. Heinlein

          As an economist I can see much to be said for specialization. But I also see the emotional force of Heinlein’s point.

          • Anonymous says:

            Doesn’t do anything for me. Just comes across as machismo.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If you can give orders, you can get by without most of the rest. If you can’t, you’re stuck doing much of it yourself, like it or not.

          • Psmith says:

            Just comes across as machismo.

            Me too. Modus ponens/modus tollens, I suppose.

            Is it not annoying that in the Age of the Wimp the adjective macho, and its accompanying noun machismo, have come to be regarded as derogatory? There is no exact translation into English of this Spanish term, but it signifies a combination of dignity, elan vital, courage and “copability.” An example that comes to mind is that of Rene Barrientos, who was at the time president of Bolivia. It appears that a political scandal arose when a couple of military aviators died when their parachutes failed to open. It was adduced by the political opposition that Barrientos was profiteering off of second rate parachutes discarded by the US.

            Rather than arguing the point, the president decreed a press conference at dawn the following morning. He arrived promptly, dressed in full flying gear, and told the assembled reporters to pick out a spokesman. When this was done the president escorted the spokesman to the storehouse in which all parachutes were stored and had him pick out any one at random. When this was done the president donned the parachute and climbed aboard a two-seater jet fighter plane, piloting it himself. He circled the field, and when ready, rolled on his back and bailed out. In the parachute he guided himself to a stand-up landing in front of the press corps, whereupon he shrugged out of his harness and said, “Now, let’s everybody get back to work.”

            That was macho. Don’t put it down.

            (source)

          • Anonymous says:

            I look at war a little bit differently. To me, war is a lot of prick-waving okay? Simple thing, that’s all it is, war is a whole lot of men standing out in a field waving their pricks at one another. Men are insecure about the size of their dicks and so they have to kill one another over the idea. That’s what all that asshole, jock bullshit is all about. That’s what all that adolescent, macho-male posturing, and strutting in bars and locker rooms is all about, it’s called “dick fear!” Men are terrified that their pricks are inadequate and so they have to compete with one another to feel better about themselves and since war is the ultimate competition, basically, men are killing each other in order to improve their self-esteem. You don’t have to be a historian or a political scientist to see the Bigger Dick foreign policy theory at work. It sounds like this: “What?! They have bigger dicks?! BOMB THEM!” And of course, the bombs and the rockets and the bullets are all shaped like dicks. It’s a subconscious need to project the penis into other people’s affairs. It’s called: “FUCKING WITH PEOPLE!”

            This is my idea for one of those big, outdoor summer festivals. This is called Slug Fest. This is for men only. Here’s what you do. You get about a hundred thousand of these fucking men. You know the ones I mean. These macho motherfuckers. These strutting, preening, posturing, hairy, sweaty, alpha male jackoffs. The muscle assholes. You take about a hundred thousand of these disgusting pricks, and you throw them in a big dirt arena, big twenty-five acre dirt arena. And you just let them beat the shit out of each other for twenty-four hours non-stop. No food, no water, just whiskey and PCP. And you just let them punch and pound and kick the shit out of each other until only one guy is left standing, then you take that guy and you put him on a pedestal and you shoot him in the fucking head.

          • Jiro says:

            Heinlein is being very selective about what tasks he puts in his list at the same time he is pretending to tell you to be a generalist. Why is designing a building in the list, but planning how to get somewhere using a bus map not? Why doesn’t he say we need to know how to forge a sword or make a pair of shoes?

            Of course the answer is that if he really puts a lot of such skills in the list, it would be obvious that a human being either can’t learn them all, or would be wasting his time by doing so. So he makes a list of “skills I know or would like to have known” and acts as though that’s the same thing as not specializing.

          • Lumifer says:

            Specialization is great in stable environments. In times of upheavals those heavily specialized die out first.

            I am a fan of that Heinlein quote.

          • Anonymous says:

            Right, when the zombie apocalypse comes I sure am going to wish I knew how to gut a pig.

            Actually, I have no problem with pessimists. Even when they are assholes about it; not a big deal. It’s only when it goes from worrying about the apocalypse to hoping it comes so they have their moment to shine that it crosses a line.

          • hlynkacg says:

            More succinctly, stop taking pride in not having your act together

            If you’re going to insist on acting like a 3 year old don’t be surprised when people treat you like a 3 year old.

          • John Schilling says:

            Why is designing a building in the list, but planning how to get somewhere using a bus map not?

            The latter is effectively subsumed by planning an invasion, which is on the list.

          • keranih says:

            I’m female. I adore Heinlein’s quote.

            To me, the idea is that all humans have a responsibility to stretch their brains to handle a variety of challenges.

            (Division of labor is one of the signs of advanced civilization, so that us-who-can’t-handle-screaming-women still have viable contributions via cooking and manure pitching.)

            It was A Thing, on a social site I was on mumble-mumble years ago, to list the things on the list one had done, or had trained to do. Very few of us had done all of them.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ keranih

            Very few of us had done all of them.

            Given the last item of the list, I’m surprised the number of people able to post about it is greater than zero : -/

          • keranih says:

            Modern medicine is a marvel, iddinit?

          • hlynkacg says:

            Modern medicine is a marvel, iddinit?

            Conventional wisdom says that helicopters are dangerous. I say that’s bullshit. I have personally survived 3 helicopter crashes, good luck finding someone who can say the same thing about airliners. 😉

          • “Heinlein is being very selective about what tasks he puts in his list at the same time he is pretending to tell you to be a generalist.”

            If you think the point of the list is that those particular things are the ones you should be able to do, you are missing the point.

            One reason people remember the quote is that Heinlein could write.

          • Jiro says:

            If you think the point of the list is that those particular things are the ones you should be able to do, you are missing the point.

            The point of the list isn’t that you should do that exact list of things. But the point of the list is that you should do a list of things of similar scope. And that has the same problem: that scope isn’t really very broad, and making it broad would also make it impractical.

      • Lumifer says:

        The ability to simply choose to not do a thing that is The Expected Thing That People In Your Socioeconomic Class Do is huge

        Yes, but it’s not a frugality thing, it’s general flexibility and not being limited by your peer group stereotypes — a hugely useful ability with respect to not only money.

        If you’re having great, restaurant-quality meals at an incredible discount because you’ve done loads of comparison shopping for ingredients and learned how to cook them yourself

        Ah, but have you looked at costs? Division of labour greatly increases productivity and all these meals that you’ve learned to cook and are now cooking — how much time did you spend and what is your time worth? What is the opportunity cost of you becoming and being a cook?

        • caethan says:

          I find it really odd that cooking at home is where so many people have chosen to argue about the cost-benefit calculations, when it seems to me like this is one of the big wins – at least when you have access to a reasonable kitchen and grocery store.

          It takes me about 10-15 minutes a day to prepare breakfast and lunch and 30-45 minutes to prepare dinner, but I’m also doing that for three people, not just one. If you’re not getting delivery, it’s probably about the same amount of time to go to the restaurant and pick it up. Plus I usually watch TV or read a book while cooking anyway. The only real excess time spent is grocery shopping, and I’ve gotten that time down extremely low between meal planning, bulk buying, and occasional grocery deliveries.

          As far as time spent to learn – I learned to cook by just cooking meals for myself, not taking classes or whatever, mostly during times in my life when I was a lot poorer than I am now when eating out just wasn’t financially an option. Now that I do have money to eat out, I find the difference in quality compared with my own cooking just isn’t very high.

          Division of labor within the household is great – it’s way more efficient for me to cook most things than to have everyone cook their own meal (and not very effective for the 2-year-old), but outsourcing cooking outside the family just doesn’t seem like a very efficient way to spend money.

          • Lumifer says:

            I am a big fan of home cooking — I cook a lot. But then I enjoy the process and appreciate the advantages of being able to eat precisely what I want at this particular moment : -)

            However the post I replied to mentioned “loads of comparison shopping” and “restaurant-quality meals” which I interpreted as fancy dishes with lots of ingredients and considerable prep time.

            I’ve seen people who rarely cook do fancy dinners: they pick an unfamiliar recipe out of a cookbook with 20 different ingredients, go shopping specifically for these ingredients, and then spend half a day (or more) on prepping and actual cooking. That is not particularly time-effective.

            Like you, I make dinners from scratch in 30-40 minutes, usually, but I don’t “comparison shop” for which of the three stores has the best tomatoes today and I avoid complexity in preparation.

          • caethan says:

            Oh yeah, that sounds about right. I’ve seen novice cooks do the same thing plenty of times, and that’s probably why they think that cooking is such an enormous chore. It is, if you only do it rarely. If it’s a regular part of your day, not so much.

          • “However the post I replied to mentioned “loads of comparison shopping” and “restaurant-quality meals” which I interpreted as fancy dishes with lots of ingredients and considerable prep time.”

            Not how I interpret it.

            Yesterday my wife and daughter were both tired and my daughter suggested I do something about dinner. I made a 13th c. lamb and noodle dish that we are fond of. I didn’t time myself, but I doubt it took me more than half an hour, if that. I would guess total ingredient costs, to feed four people, of about four dollars. My son made a fruit salad. I don’t know how long he spent–his fruit salads are more time intensive than mine.

            To me, “restaurant quality” means “we enjoy it as much as a restaurant meal.” That describes pretty much all of our home cooked meals, whether done by my wife, by me, or occasionally our adult daughter. It doesn’t mean that we have as many different things in the meal, or as wide a variety across meals, as when we go to a restaurant.

            But then, the restaurants we go to when we don’t feel like cooking are mostly local ethnic–Chinese, Japanese, Italian or Indian. Not elaborate meals.

            On time cost, it’s not clear which alternative is cheaper. Figure that going to the restaurant involves a ten minute trip in each direction plus fifteen minutes waiting to be served. For four people that comes to almost two person hours, which is significantly longer than it took me and my son to make dinner last night.

            On the other hand, as my wife points out, that’s time when we may be chatting with each other, reading a book in the car while someone else drives, and the like … .

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            I’d love to get that lamb recipe off you. I’ve got a freezer and a field full of the damn things, and am learning a lot of new ways of cooking lamb.
            Vaguely-middle-eastern foreshanks came out very well the other day, but my first batch of merguez sausage was a bit under-spiced. Would really like to try something with noodles.

            And re. the thread: my typical cooking time during the week is about 30-45 min, mostly spent shitposting on my phone and picking beans/squash/etc. in the garden. Cooking up batches of stuff on the weekend takes longer, but it’s mixed in with puttering around the house.

            Our sad Anonymous friends eating mealsquares and hotdogs every day are welcome to that lifestyle.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ David Friedman

            To me, “restaurant quality” means “we enjoy it as much as a restaurant meal.”

            Well, I’ve never been subjected to horrible home cooking, so my baseline is that normal restaurant food isn’t more tasty, it’s just different. It’s strange to me to consider “restaurant quality” as a synonym of “delicious”. Restaurants which serve very yummy food certainly exist but they are rare and, unfortunately, tend to be expensive.

            Outside of travel, if I eat out I typically want something unusual. So for me “restaurant food” usually means “exotic”, but I know that I’m… not quite representative of the general population and I suspect that for normals “restaurant food” means “fancy”.

          • “I’d love to get that lamb recipe off you. ”

            Rishta. 13th century Al-Andalus. It’s in How to Milk an Almond, Stuff an Egg and Armor a Turnip.

            Lots of other medieval Islamic recipes that we do with lamb–often they just say “meat” and leave it to you to decide what meat to use.

            I don’t suppose you are raising any fat-tailed sheep? The tails are a common ingredient in the cuisine and my grocery store for some reason doesn’t carry them.

          • Randy M says:

            $4? Where are you getting your lamb?

          • I get my lamb from Costco as boneless legs of lamb, I think from New Zealand. I cut it up in one pound chunks and freeze them.

            The recipe used one pound. Plus some lentils, some chickpeas, half a stick of cinnamon, four cups of flour, a little salt, and water.

          • keranih says:

            The tails are a common ingredient in the cuisine and my grocery store for some reason doesn’t carry them.

            Fat tailed sheep are very much a niche market in the USA. Frankly, there are other breeds which outperform these sheep even in the SW where they would be a good fit. And importing ruminants into the USA has been a right bugger due to FMD and BSE/scrapie.

            See if you can find a halal butcher in your area, who might be able to point you at a source. Alternatively, remind me where you live (New England, Gulf, the Great State of Texas, etc) and I can ask for sources.

          • Someone who shares my medieval cooking hobby found a source of fat tailed sheep, I think somewhere on the east coast, and I have a little of what he bought in the freezer. He gave it to a friend who brought it to Pennsic for me, I brought it back here, keeping it cold all the time. But it would be nice to have a source somewhere closer.

            I’m in San Jose, CA. If you find someone raising fat tailed sheep somewhere in northern California, I would definitely be interested.

          • keranih says:

            Try this listing here – for Karaku sheep breeders. I am also asking amongst mah peeps for someone in your area who stocks FTS meat.

            (No promises.)

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            Wow, what interesting animals. The carcasses look very different than my mostly-coopworth/texel mutts. Even cropped long, the tails on mine are too small to be worth saving, unfortunately.
            Is the taste very different?

            Will definitely try that recipe—thanks for the link! Had roast rolled breast w/ stuffing tonight, loin chops last night, so might be taking a break from lamb for a few days.

          • Thanks. The only ones in that list that say they have fat-tailed sheep are far from me. I could try emailing the closest ones.

    • Psmith says:

      Relevant.

      (I first read about this sort of thing through Jacob at Early Retirement Extreme, but same deal.).

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Other people have made this point already, but it’s worth amplifying:

      Money and effort spent on keeping up appearences is not necessarily wasted. Failing to keep up appearences has real costs.

      Frugality is a virtue. But like any virtue, when taken to an extreme it is a vice. In this case it is miserliness.

      • dndnrsn says:

        One useful tip I have to determine whether it’s a good idea to spend money or not on some item is “is this thing enabling an experience”?

        Dropping a few bucks on Starbucks coffee every day is somewhere it might be smart to economize by finding a better alternative, as is drinking 5 or 10 dollars of beer every evening.

        Having coffee or a few beers with a friend, though, is the sort of thing that it seems like a quality-of-life hit to abandon.

  7. Alliteration says:

    Creationist claims that Creationism accurately predicts low levels of Junk DNA: http://blog.drwile.com/?p=15215

    (I am not saying this is correct. Though it does suggest that the claim that creationism makes no predictions is false.)

    • suntzuanime says:

      The whole Popperian paradigm is oversimplified and people who try to use the literal definition of falsifiability as a “gotcha” to disregard something because it’s not Capital S Science are fools. Creationism isn’t false because it’s unscientific, it’s false because of the weight of evidence against it, just like anything else.

      I mean, if they did make the advance prediction (I don’t see an actual cite to it), then they do score some points, but they’re still far enough behind in the game they won’t be mounting a comeback.

      • Nicholas says:

        I think people make the slightly different claim that Creationism isn’t not-true, but rather sits outside the set of things that can be true or false.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Well, that claim is pretty clearly not-true.

          • Deiseach says:

            “Blue is a better colour than red”.

            True, not-true, or judged by different criteria?

            If you wave it off by saying “it’s a meaningless nonsense statement”, then what are (for example) graphics designers and people charged with revamping company logos doing when they make statements like that*? Plainly in their context it’s not a meaningless nonsense statement, and equally plainly it’s not a ‘scientific’ true/false statement.

            *Do you know why bulldozers and construction equipment all tend to be yellow/orange and not other colours? Apparently, because that’s an “ugly but efficient” colour and that fits with the idea of what the equipment is for – or so we were all told in a marketing class I had to do for a course years back. And why is yellow considered “ugly but efficient”? All to do with those kinds of focus groups and questionnaires and customer surveys etc. that data is gathered from – the public has spoken!

          • Anonymous says:

            Meaning is subjective. For graphic designers, ‘Blue is a better colour than red’ may be a succinct way to phrase a whole palette of intuitive judgements about legibility, distinctiveness, and their own personal sense of aesthetics; for which judgements they may or may not even have a more precise means of expression.

            Without a context to place this statement in, though, yes, it is meaningless.

          • “then what are (for example) graphics designers and people charged with revamping company logos doing when they make statements like that*? Plainly in their context it’s not a meaningless nonsense statement, and equally plainly it’s not a ‘scientific’ true/false statement.”

            In that context it is a true/false statement which could in principle be tested by measuring people’s response to the two different versions of the logo. It isn’t “better” but “better for this purpose.”

      • Urstoff says:

        I agree. I think the science vs. pseudoscience debate has much too big of a mindshare in the “skeptic” community. Creationism, astrology, etc. simply don’t have the evidence, and trying to do an end-run around that by disqualifying them on a philosophical technicality seems like the wrong way to think about it.

    • pku says:

      This prediction passes through the intermediate step of “creationism implies animals should be efficient”, which is also implied by evolution, so it still fails in making a prediction that would distinct itself from the accepted alternative. Though I guess this would back both of them against a third hypothesis that did not expect animals to be efficient.

      • suntzuanime says:

        From the claims it seems like creationism made the prediction more strongly and should get more credit. A priori, both evolutionism and creationism might have predicted slim lean DNA, but when evidence seemed to show DNA bloated with junk, evolutionism said “huh, junk DNA, better go update the theory” while creationism said “no, God would not create something so inelegant, I defy the data“. Obviously if DNA does turn about to be slim and lean the latter is much more impressive.

        • Jiro says:

          And if someone says things that seem to be logical, but are contradicted by all the outside authorities, you should say “I defy your reasoning” for the same reason that you shoulkd say “I defy your data”–it is likely there is something wrong with the reasoning and you haven’t figured it out yet. Of course, if you do that, you pretty much end up defying everything unusual that Eliezer has written.

          So this is another case where Eliezer tries to get people to become rational because he thinks they will believe what he says, and Eliezer fails because they actually become rational and reject it using the rationality tools he himself has provided.

          • Diadem says:

            Wait, are you saying that Eliezer is a creationist? I’m a bit confused what his name is suddenly doing in this middle of this discussion.

          • Deiseach says:

            It’s a tricky one. Sometimes the wild-eyed crazy guy yelling nonsense is indeed a visionary, and sometimes he’s exactly what he appears: a wild-eyed crazy guy yelling nonsense.

            Do academies stultify? Does received opinion fossilise? Is it possible for the experts to be wrong? Sure! But sometimes they’re right and the old, stuffy, stock answer is the correct one.

            Check all the reasoning to see if there are any obvious errors, and then for unobvious ones. Ditto the data. And if you’re not an expert yourself, just wait until the experts eventually shift to a different answer 🙂

          • Jiro says:

            Wait, are you saying that Eliezer is a creationist? I’m a bit confused what his name is suddenly doing in this middle of this discussion.

            That “defy the data” link goes to an essay by Eliezer.

            In which he unintentionally explains why you shouldn’t believe in rogue AI, cryonics, or any of the other ideas specially associated with Eliezer (except that he doesn’t have data for those ideas, so you have to substitute experiment->theory).

          • Diadem says:

            That “defy the data” link goes to an essay by Eliezer.

            Ah, I missed that. Thanks.

          • suntzuanime says:

            It’s one of the more lovable things about EY, tbh.

          • “And if someone says things that seem to be logical, but are contradicted by all the outside authorities, you should say “I defy your reasoning” for the same reason that you shoulkd say “I defy your data”–it is likely there is something wrong with the reasoning and you haven’t figured it out yet.”

            I am perhaps biased on this question, having grown up in the family of someone who defied the orthodoxy of both his field and the general intellectual climate and, on the evidence, was right–at least, he got a Nobel Prize for it and had a very large effect on the field.

            When I was an undergraduate at Harvard, I remember being told by another student, one who had probably taken only one introductory economics course, that he couldn’t take economics at Chicago because he would burst out laughing. Within a decade or two the position at Harvard on at least one major issue the schools differed on (the Phillips Curve) had shifted to “Of course we all know (the Chicago position) is true, but …”

          • Diadem says:

            I’m trying to leave a comment but for some reason this site keeps eating it. Strange.

            *edit* And now it’s allowed. Hmm. Some word censor? The word ‘crackpot’ is not allowed?

          • Diadem says:

            I am perhaps biased on this question, having grown up in the family of someone who defied the orthodoxy of both his field and the general intellectual climate and, on the evidence, was right–at least, he got a Nobel Prize for it and had a very large effect on the field.

            Out of curiosity, but who was that? If your name is not a pseudonym, I take it you are related to Milton Friedman?

            Yeah, sometimes people who defy the accepted consensus are right. But it’s worth remembering that generally they aren’t. I don’t think that should stop you from going against the consensus, but it should influence the way you go about it.

            There are dozens of people out there who claim that the theory of relativity is wrong, and who have their own alternative theories. The scientific establishment doesn’t take them seriously. At the same time there is MOND, Modified Newtonian Dynamics, which makes roughly the same claims, but isn’t considered crackpottery.

            What’s the difference? Many things. MOND was proposed by someone who was very much an established scientist, who clearly knew what he was talking about. MOND was created to address real open questions, instead of imaginary deficients, in the consensus view. And finally and perhaps most importantly, it’s a much more modest proposal. The proponents of MOND don’t make wild claims that all scientists are idiots or that science is entirely misguided. They recognize how unlikely their own theory is, they just claim it is an alternative worth investigating.

            Going against the consensus is a worthy effort. But you should start by very clearly recognizing that you are going against the consensus, and the strong prior that generates against your hypothesis.

          • “I take it you are related to Milton Friedman?”

            Correct. My father.

          • caethan says:

            @Deiseach:

            Clarke’s First Law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

          • Jiro says:

            Asimov’s Corollary to Clarke’s law: When, however, the lay public rallies round an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists and supports that idea with great fervor and emotion—the distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right.

            (It’s a real quote from Asimov. Google it.)

  8. Dr Dealgood says:

    Given that we’re already linking to Thing of Things this OT, what do you guys think about this?

    I tried to read ‘On the Sexual Nature of Man’ carefully but John C Wright wrote it in a style you normally only see in old translations of foreign works. A few years ago I had more patience for that. Now I just make a ‘vrooom!’ noise in my head as I skim through the prose.

    Anyway, it seems like that odd brand of Christianity-by-way-of-Stoicism that makes me love Catholics. Imitating Aurelius’ asides to atomists, his position is that one should act as though the church is correct on sexual matters even if one is not a Catholic. The bulk of the article is him attempting to show that Natural Law type teachings are correct from a secular angle.

    I’m broadly sympathetic. I’m the world’s worst Stoic and also becoming increasingly conservative despite (because of?) being a sexual degenerate. But at the same time he seems to be making a much weaker argument than he could be.

    Edit: How did I miss Bill Clinton’s crooked penis on my first scroll-through? Currently dying of laughter.

    I wonder whether he means that as a metaphor for corruption or if he has inside knowledge of Bill’s willie.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Huh, a more interesting bit even than Bill Clinton’s penis seems to have evaded me.

      In order to circumvent what this Cuckoo’s Egg strategy, and to minimize the risks of venereal disease, prudence suggest bridegrooms take only virgins as brides. In such cases (unless you are St. Joseph, I suppose) the chance of being victimized by the Cuckoo’s Egg strategy is minimized.

      (Bolded for emphasis.)

      Is that orthodox?

      I can see that, especially given that Mary is supposed to have been a perpetual virgin. But I can’t imagine that it’s church doctrine.

      • Jaskologist says:

        I mean, the orthodox wouldn’t call Joseph a cuck, but he did raise a child (Jesus) who wasn’t his own.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          I guess I had always assumed that Jesus was still supposed to more-or-less be his even without the actual act of conception?

          I mean, as far as I know Jesus’ list of miracles doesn’t include being haploid. Even if he wanted to use as much of Mary’s DNA as possible he’d still need a Y chromosome. So if he’s going to do it anyway he might as well use Joseph’s metaphorical rib rather than creating more from scratch.

          Plus at least one biblical author traces his genealogy through Jospeh, which makes no sense if he’s not actually Joseph’s descendant. This isn’t a minor point: one of the prophecies he’s supposed to have fulfilled is being descended from King David.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Well, obviously the Bible doesn’t tell us anything about the contents of Jesus’ DNA, nor is there any record of how he much he resembled Joseph*. At any rate, Mary had a baby in her belly and Joseph didn’t put it there.

            * But note that in Mark 6, the people in his hometown snidely refer to him as Mary’s son.

          • keranih says:

            Plus at least one biblical author traces his genealogy through Jospeh, which makes no sense if he’s not actually Joseph’s descendant.

            Eh. As WP points out, that lineage is doing a lot of work, and technically isn’t correct wrt what was accepted at the time of whobegatwho.

            I was taught that the whole point of including Ruth, Tamar, and Bathsheba was to highlight the longstanding tradition of slightly skeevy marriage situations being brought under the tent, so to speak, and thus to rejoin the people making much of the length of Jesus’s gestation(*) to STFU.

            (*) New parents are amateurs at everything – they can’t even get it right, how long the baby has to bake, and so they tend to pop the first one early. After that first one though, they tend to settle down and take a proper 9 months with the rest of them.

          • S_J says:

            I think the genealogy through Joseph is a legal genealogy, with Joseph in the role of adoptive father.

            I note that the wording changes when Joseph is mentioned, to something translated as “Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus.”

          • Nicholas says:

            I’m told it makes sense in a tradition of Jewish symbolism at the time: Claiming patrilineal descent from David was necessary for theological reasons, but Jewish law and identity was at the time primarily matrilineal, so it wouldn’t be considered a literal or legal claim.

          • In Jewish tradition, if a man died without offspring (male offspring?) his wife was supposed to marry his brother, so-called levirate marriage, in order to bear children who would count as the first husband’s children. So that’s at least one situation where biological parentage and legal parentage are split.

            There’s quite a lot of that among the Nuer, a group in southern Sudan who were the subject of some famous early anthropological research. The literature distinguishes between genitor (biological father) and pater (legal father) and there are a number of situations in which it is accepted that they are not the same man.

          • pku says:

            Or if he refuses to marry her, she has to throw her shoe at him. Apparently there’s a whole ceremony.

        • LPSP says:

          Jesus was Joseph’s, but God apended a bit of pizzaz onto the end of the Y chromosome. The whole controversy of the virgin birth is because Mary was a teen out of wedlock; virgin was a mistranslation of young woman.

          Jesus is basically Sephiroth but good.

          • Deiseach says:

            The whole controversy of the virgin birth is because Mary was a teen out of wedlock; virgin was a mistranslation of young woman.

            Look, please just say “It’s all lies and the kind of accretion that gathers round a figure who becomes famous, particularly when spirituality is involved – there are no gods, it takes a man and a woman to become pregnant, and virgin human females don’t have babies without having sex. The Jesus-cult was competing with other popular gods and demi-gods in the Classical world so they wanted and needed a semi-divine origin for their own cultic hero to make him appeal to the masses”.

            I can accept people who hold the above view. I accept the Virgin Birth myself. But it drives me up the wall when people try to eat the cake and have it – provide a ‘reasonable’ explanation for why the rubes and suckers back then thought such arrant nonsense that we moderns know better can’t have happened. Accept it or deny it, but don’t be wishy-washy about it.

            I know all about the almah translation thing (which only got popular when liberal Christians wanted to dump embarrassing miracle stories without dumping “So Jesus was this special guy, you know?” as well). I also know that even back then, people knew “you don’t get babies without sex”, as you point out, and saying “God did it” would not have convinced a Jewish village anymore than it convinced you. “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly” – because adulterous women were stoned to death, as we see later on:

            The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

          • LPSP says:

            I have no idea what the fuck you’re on about.

          • Deiseach says:

            LPSP, what I am on about is don’t give a rationalised answer to “why did people think Jesus was the son of God/why did they think a virgin could have a baby”.

            I don’t care what you believe or don’t believe but don’t give cutesy-poo answers where you’re only looking for a laugh. Drop the “yeah, people back then were so dumb, they swallowed the idea that a woman who had sex outside of marriage could be a virgin”.

            Oh, and by the bye, had she been pregnant by Joseph, it would not have been considered “out of wedlock” as they were formally betrothed. So your exegesis, whatever about your knowledge of video games, sucks.

            That is what you are going for by the “virgin was a mistranslation of young woman”, is it not? That is what almah refers to, which you apparently know, unless you are simply regurgitating something you read or heard somewhere else without knowing what you are talking about.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            LSPS, you said that Jesus was conceived by Joseph and the only reason anyone thinks otherwise is a mistranslation. But Deiseach quotes Matthew which states very clearly that Jesus is not the son of Joseph. Maybe Matthew made an error translating Hebrew into Greek, but that would be an error about prophecy, not an error about Jesus. If he’s trying to shoehorn Jesus into prophecy, then he’s distorting facts about Jesus and it doesn’t matter what the prophecy said. She went on to psychoanalyze you, which drowned out the first point.

            (If we are concerned about virginity and not just Joseph, Luke is even clearer.)

          • “Oh, and by the bye, had she been pregnant by Joseph, it would not have been considered “out of wedlock” as they were formally betrothed.”

            Also, for what it’s worth, a child born out of wedlock had the same legal status as a legitimate child as long as he wasn’t a momser–the child of a couple who not only were not married but could not have been.

          • LHN says:

            I had always heard the almah issue raised in connection with whether Isaiah 7:14 is a prophecy foretelling a virgin birth for the Messiah or not, something on which Christians and Jews disagree. (Short version: “See, this was the fulfillment of your prophecy.” “That’s not what it says.”)

            The Gospels, by contrast, are AFAIK pretty unambiguous on the subject.

          • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

            I don’t think ancient Greek is as strict about the sexual habits or lack thereof of young women like ancient Hebrew. Indeed, according to the LXX, Genesis 34:3 calls Dinah, who was raped by Shechem, a “virgin” after being raped.

            Besides, there’s another Jewish virgin birth that was written around the same time as the gospels: The Second Book of Enoch. It’s apparently an apocryphal Jewish work form the late 1st century. The last part, the Exaltation of Melchizedek, says that Melchizedek was born of a virgin, Sofonim (or Sopanima), the wife of Nir, a brother of Noah.

            All of the cool people were born from virgins back then. Like how we have millions of cop-drama TV shows these days (YEEEEEEEAAAH).

          • LPSP says:

            “LPSP, what I am on about is don’t give a rationalised answer to “why did people think Jesus was the son of God/why did they think a virgin could have a baby”.”

            Why? Why are you on about this?

        • Deiseach says:

          I mean, the orthodox wouldn’t call Joseph a cuck, but he did raise a child (Jesus) who wasn’t his own.

          Just like step-fathers, adoptive fathers, and foster fathers do today. Are they all “cucks” too?

          • Anonymous says:

            These people have a sexual obsession and not the decency to keep it to themselves. Any post with that word in it in any form can be skipped.

          • Matt M says:

            I think you’d be surprised at how much you can find on alt-right or anti-feminist blogs that would say yes, absolutely.

            “Don’t date single moms” is starting to become part of the “man code” for a lot of people.

          • Deiseach says:

            Then men who are unwilling to date single mothers should also have the consistency of their code not to create single mothers either; that is, do not get your girlfriend/cohabiting partner pregnant, then break up with her and leave her holding the baby or do not divorce your wife and leave her with custody of the child(ren).

            Single mothers only get to be single mothers with the help of single fathers.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s a different audience. The premise is largely “If she wouldn’t have dated you 10 years ago, don’t date her today.”

            The very general idea is that women who are young and unattached and pretty and fun go for the “bad boy” types, who unsurprisingly have no future, get them pregnant, and split. The women learn a lesson, and in their 30s, are now looking for the responsible, dependable, nerdy guy they wouldn’t have given five seconds of their time to back during their youth. And so, the guy who for most of his life was totally undesirable but not finds himself in a position of strength, has a duty to “teach them a lesson” and refuse to enable her previous bad decisions.

          • Diadem says:

            Then men who are unwilling to date single mothers should also have the consistency of their code not to create single mothers either;

            That’s not inconsistent. If I don’t like driving a used car, it’s not inconsistent for me to buy a new one – despite the fact that buying a new car leads to the existence of used cars.

            Cars are goods that exist to be used, after which they lose much of their value. This is exactly how these kind of men few women. It’s sexist and extremely dickish, but it’s not logically inconsistent.

          • Jaskologist says:

            You guys are reading way too much into this. The context was a throwaway joke about how marrying a virgin is a good way to avoid raising someone else’s kid, even if it didn’t work out that way for Joseph. Dealgood asked if it was the orthodox view that Jesus was not Joseph’s biological son. It is.

            That’s not casting aspersions on Joseph. If God asks you to do Him a solid, “yes” is the wise response.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Yeah, looks like I was a bit unclear and this subthread ate the discussion I was hoping for about natural law and sexual mores.

            It’s my own fault for invoking the dark god phpx. I feel like I understand Christianity a bit better at least.

            Anyway, sorry about that.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I’m trying to come up with a good joke playing on the phrase “I am the Alpha and the Omega” but just can’t.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Sorry I derailed. But I’m not terrible comfortable critiquing Ozy’s article. A lot of the argument boils down to “it’s working just fine for me!” and I don’t know how to critique that without critiquing the person, which feels mean even when they invite it.

      Suffice it to say that a lot of the SJ community look like very damaged people to me. That they have surrounded themselves with other damaged people to the point that they don’t even realize how abnormal this is just makes it all the more pitiful.

      • Jaskologist says:

        OK, one last bit. If your sexual arrangements have not lead to the raising of children, then they are not sustainable/do not work on any timespan worth taking note of.

        • Anonymous says:

          You mean like the entire timespan of your life? Why would anyone care about that? Heaven is forever, amirite?

        • Fond though I am of children, I don’t follow the argument. Surely one can have a society in which different people do different things. If half the population produces an average of four kids each (surviving to reproductive age) and half produces zero kids, the population maintains itself.

          • Loyle says:

            Society moves forth, yes, but will be filled more with people who are like them and less like you. Which is what I think Jack was going on about, at least.

          • DavidS says:

            Well, there are other ways of influencing people than genetically. If a person shapes the culture but has no children he will have lots of people who are somewhat ‘like him’ (or influenced by his ideas at least)

          • GKC produced no children. But has several among commenters here.

          • Deiseach says:

            Chesterton on children (as a tangent in an essay on how he mixed up the authors of a quote in an article):

            Playing with children is a glorious thing; but the journalist in question has never understood why it was considered a soothing or idyllic one. It reminds him, not of watering little budding flowers, but of wrestling for hours with gigantic angels and devils. Moral problems of the most monstrous complexity besiege him incessantly. He has to decide before the awful eyes of innocence, whether, when a sister has knocked down a brother’s bricks, in revenge for the brother having taken two sweets out of his turn, it is endurable that the brother should retaliate by scribbling on the sister’s picture book, and whether such conduct does not justify the sister in blowing out the brother’s unlawfully lighted match.

        • Gazeboist says:

          I was under the impression that Ozy plans to have kid(s) with their husband.

  9. US says:

    Are there any any fiction readers out there?

    I am having a bit of trouble figuring out who to read next. Ideally what I’m looking for is an author with a great sense of humour – the authors mentioned below should help illustrate what I mean by that – and a style that’s relatively undemanding to read. I’ve pretty much depleted Wodehouse, Pratchett (not completely, but I’m saving the few remaining Discworld novels for special occasions), Jasper Fforde, Tom Sharpe, Douglas Adams, Bill Bryson, David Sedaris, among others. Non-comedy writers I like include Agatha Christie and George R. R. Martin (also read pretty much all of their stuff). Any brilliant/very funny authors I should know about? I’m mainly looking for authors who consistently write/wrote enjoyable books (preferably a lot of them…), not specific books; I read a lot, I’m at roughly 100 books this year so far, and a good work of fiction will not take me long to finish, regardless of how great it might be.

    Not sure if this is the right forum, but I have the impression that I might get better answers here than I might get e.g. at r/books.

    I originally intended only to post the above query on the subreddit as I find it easier to keep track of things on the subreddit because there are fewer comments there, but I realized that what I dislike about these threads – the massive number of comments and the high level of activity – also should be expected to increase the probability of ‘success’, broadly defined.

    • Andrew says:

      I was quite in love with Gene Wolfe’s New Sun series, but everyone I’ve pushed it on didn’t care for it. So, uh… maybe nth’s time’s the charm?

      • US says:

        “everyone I’ve pushed it on didn’t care for it.”

        – I like that recommendation, it’s the kind of recommendation I could see myself giving (at least I could see myself giving it if I had friends who cared about which books I read, which I however currently do not…).

        It looks like an interesting work I’ll want to take a look at when my present life situation, which makes me limit fiction reading to ‘enjoyable stuff that doesn’t take much work’ for now, has changed (likely in a matter of months). Thanks.

      • Anonymous says:

        Wolfe’s probably the greatest writer currently alive, but is he funny? Also, for a questioner who finds Dickens to be a too heavy cognitive load at the moment, Wolfe’s plots would almost certainly be a very unhappy match. I’m not even sure the very extensive and deliberately obscure vocabulary in New Sun would fall inside tolerability.

        So, as much as I would recommend any book by Wolfe unreservedly to someone making no provisos, I have to say I’d very strongly advise US to skip him until he feels more relaxed and able to concentrate.

    • Anon. says:

      Perhaps try Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint is super funny.

      In the other thread I recommended Gaddis’s JR to someone, I’ll recommend it to you too. Possibly the funniest book of all time, but it’s probably not your style.

    • keranih says:

      Dick Francis (British racing-oriented mysteries – look for his older stuff, not the newer stuff written by his son) Dry Brit wit, with deeply satisfying characters.

      Lois McMaster Bujold – Not always funny, but frequently so. SFF of the military/space opera sort, but lighter fare (*) than most of that sort.

      Connie Willis – Adores slapstick. Also Agatha Christie. “To Say Nothing of the Dog” is side-splitting hysterical sitcom. Others of her books are far less light.

      Kage Baker – esp “The Empress of Mars” and “The Graveyard Game”.

      Janet Kagan’s “Hellspark” and “Mirable” – alas, she is no longer with us, but both these are fun delightful books.

      I shall think anon and perhaps have more.

      (*) Well, it *looks* lighter, for sure.

      • US says:

        “alas, she is no longer with us” – well, I find it hard to hold that against her, I’m assuming that she’d have liked to be (my dad’s roughly her age and he doesn’t seem to mind being alive)…

        Dick Francis looks exactly like the sort of thing I was thinking about – at a first glance he looks quite promising. ‘Dry Brit wit’ – that’s the stuff… The others were not the sort of authors I had in mind, but that’s no reason to assume they’re not great (no reason to blame *them* for *my* limited mind…).

        “I shall think anon and perhaps have more.”

        Please do.. And thanks for the recommendations.

        (To the people ‘below’ – I’m out of time for now, but I’ll get back to you soon…)

        • Dick Francis is good. His protagonists are pretty similar to each other but he explores a range of settings, starting with the horse racing world that he knew as a champion jockey and branching out to other worlds that he (and his wife) presumably came to know after he retired as a jockey and became a successful author.

          He explores an interesting range of ideas, including prejudice against the rich (High Stakes) and, from the other side, how an extremely rich man ought to deal with problems of his adult children that could perhaps be solved by money (Hot Money).

          • keranih says:

            Dick Francis really is a marvelous writer – and is one of the things I point to when people sneer at Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. He is one of several authors I would not have read, had the books not been available in that format.

            (I think that RD was a function of the limits of the publishing industry & international copyright law, and that Kindle/etc is a far better fix, but we didn’t have Kindle/etc back then.)

          • US says:

            ‘Write what you know’ was never bad advice, and if that was mostly what Francis did then that’s just one extra point in his favour. But I’m not sure he needed it – I must admit that of the recommendations in this thread (so far? people keep coming up with stuff I might like, it’s awesome and completely different from what I’d imagined when I originally made the query – compare with the r/slatestarcodex thread, in which there is exactly one reply, which is a book – not author – recommendation…) this was already the author I’d decided to pick next – I’ll probably start out reading one of his works tomorrow or the day after, when I’ve finished the fiction I’m currently reading.

          • The early Dick Francis books are set in the racing scene, which the author knew. In the later ones there is generally some connection to that scene, but it isn’t the central part of the background.

            Apparently a good deal of the research was done by his wife. She, for instance, was the pilot of two, and flying airplanes shows up in several of his novels.

            After she died he said that she could have been listed as coauthor. I’m guessing that she didn’t want to be. And the next book after that felt to me like the first draft of a Dick Francis novel.

            However he did it, in the later books he has gotten into some other world and used it as his background. And they work.

        • keranih says:

          OH! I do have one! Barry Hughart – Bridge of Birds, The Story of the Stone, and Eight Skilled Gentlemen.

          You can find them at used books stores, but your better bet might be to get the whole set on digits.

          So glad it seems you are finding some useful things to read.

          One for your “try later, when brain is more forgiving” stack – The Steerswoman and its sequels.

          • Those are good. But if what you want is humor, you might try an older fake Chinese series–the Kai Lung books.

          • US says:

            I’ve actually become a bit exhausted by now checking out all those authors/books people keep throwing at me, so I think I’ll wait a bit before ‘researching further’ – but this thread is one I’ll come back to, more than once, in the future, and all the suggestions will be evaluated at some point. Thanks for the further suggestions.

            “So glad it seems you are finding some useful things to read.”

            And I’m very grateful to all the people who contributed here, even those whose suggestions might not be exactly what I was looking for (and for all I – and they – know, it might be that those books were just what other people were looking for…).

        • LHN says:

          I had no idea the Hughart books were available as ebooks. (Thanks, keranih!) I’ll be forever grateful to the proprietor of the (alas long-defunct) Chicago SF bookstore The Stars Our Destination[1] for making it her personal mission to push Bridge of Birds on anyone who came in.

          [1] I took my wife there on our first date when she was living in Hyde Park in the 90s. Where’s our movie, Hollywood?

          BTW, if you haven’t read it, Hughart’s letter to readers/autobiographical sketch on the Amazon page is worth taking a look at: https://smile.amazon.com/Chronicles-Master-Li-Number-Ten-ebook/dp/B005ISOYLK/

          • “I took my wife there on our first date when she was living in Hyde Park in the 90s.”

            If it was early 90’s my wife and I were living in Kenwood.

            [adjacent neighborhood]

          • LHN says:

            1993. But while you won’t remember (I doubt I even spoke to anyone), we also briefly crossed paths some years earlier when I looked into the SCA (under its nom de student organization of the “Medieval and Renaissance Society) during my first weeks at the U of C.

            (I didn’t wind up joining, but I knew a fair number of people who were involved.)

          • “(I didn’t wind up joining, but I knew a fair number of people who were involved.)”

            Then we probably had friends, or at least acquaintances, in common.

        • US says:

          Interesting. I’m looking forward to having a go at his (and his wife’s) stuff..

          (this was a response to Friedman’s 3:02 pm comment..)

    • pku says:

      Somewhat outdated, but I’d still say the animorphs series. I re-read it a few years ago as an adult, and realized I really did not appreciate it enough as a kid. The Dresden files also seem up your ally – lots of fun and sarcasm, but also a serious side, and incredibly readable, especially starting around book 5 (one of the few series I know that starts strong and improves over time). Also, A series of Unfortunate Events.

      A bit different in style from the others, but I’d also recommend the Jim Herriot books – If you like both pratchett and Agatha Christie you might enjoy them.

      • 27chaos says:

        Seconding Dresden Files. Maybe a bit too pulpy and action oriented for this person, not sure, but I love them.

      • Incurian says:

        I like Dresden Files a lot, although I don’t find it to be particularly well written.

      • US says:

        From what I can tell from a brief skim, the Animorphs series does not look like the kind of thing I was going for (and I don’t think I’d like that series). I may give one of The Dresden Files novels a try to see if I like the stuff. The same goes for Snicket. Herriot I actually considered reading a while back, but for some reason I never did (I can’t remember why not, but most likely I was reading some other author and I just forgot about him), so I could certainly see myself giving him a try.

        Thanks for the suggestions (and thanks to 27chaos and Incurian for their remarks and additional details).

        • For old thrillers that are fun and not very demanding, you might try the Saint stories by Leslie Charteris, preferably the earlier books.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            In that case, Manning Coles.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            Oh yes! Manning Coles!

            The ghost ones, right? Brief Candles and such? Those are very funny.

            Except that one… The Far Traveler? That one is also very silly, but has some seriousness underneath it. I wouldn’t say it’s demanding, though. I would actually say it’s the best of them. But a little more serious.

            Anyway, seconding that!

          • US says:

            This thread is turning into a pure goldmine, but see my (second?) answer to keranih – it’s exhausting to check out all those authors, and I’ve already decided which author to start out on next.

            But I have a sense that this thread might turn into one of those gifts that just keep on giving for a long time to come. Thanks!

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      I’m surprised no one has recommended Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels yet. Perhaps because they’re not comedy in the sense that most of the other authors you mentioned are– still, the humor’s there in a quiet way. With 20 books in the series, it’ll keep you off the streets for a while.

      • Homo Iracundus says:

        Ehhh, they’re… ok. If you can put up with Sedaris and Bryson they’d be pretty tolerable. If the man actually knew anything about sailing they’d have been much better.

        • nona says:

          Can you expand on this? My impression was that they were supposed to be pretty historically accurate, and he used a lot of primary sources to write them, but I couldn’t find anything arguing one way or the other.

          • US says:

            I’m curious as well, also about what HI meant with his ‘if you can put up with Sedaris and Bryson’-remark…

            Incidentally Bryson did test my patience from time to time and I did think during a few of his books that I was mostly reading him because ‘I didn’t know who else to read’. Some of Sedaris’ stuff was similar, but a couple of them I did find *very* funny indeed.

      • I liked the Aubrey/Maturin books.

        One of them has on the back the following blurb (by memory, so probably not verbatim):

        “C. S. Forrester’s Hornblower novels have given great pleasure to me and many others. These are so much better that it is almost unfair to compare them.”

        Signed Mary Renault.

        Speaking of whom, you might enjoy her historical novels, although they are not particularly funny (or cheerful). But very good.

    • Lois McMasters Bujold is good if you like fantasy and science fiction. So is C.J. Cherryh.

      For fun and not very demanding thrillers you might try the Modesty Blaise books.

      For mysteries, Nero Wolfe (Rex Stout is the author).

      • US says:

        keranih also mentioned Lois McMasters Bujold, seems worth having a look at (though not my current first choice among the authors mentioned). C.J. Cherryh I might check out later, my initial impression is that her stuff might be a bit ‘too serious’.

        The Modesty Blaise novels I had never heard about, I’ll have to think about that one.

        Rex Stout/Nero Wolfe I almost certainly will give a shot; after skimming wikipedia I’m sort of surprised I’d never heard about him/them. I don’t know if it’s ‘sufficiently light’ to read now/in the near future, but if not it’s an author/series to have a go at later.

        Thanks for the suggestions.

        • keranih says:

          my initial impression is that her stuff might be a bit ‘too serious’.

          My thought is that your impression is probably correct – she is my favorite author eva, but I think she is Not What You Want, at least right now.

          And while you are considering Modesty Blaise, also check out the romance-adventures by Madeleine Brent – Moonraker’s Bride, Golden Urchin and The Long Masquerade are my favorites.

    • Gazeboist says:

      I am a huge Tad Williams fan, but I think my appreciation is out of proportion with the actual quality of his work. His best books are all immensely long fantasy* works that take a very long time to really get started: Otherland; Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn; and Shadowmarch. Note that MST is a deliberate homage to Tolkien, and also the book series that made Martin decide to write ASoIaF.

      Neal Stephenson is amazing and funny. If you want laughs from him, your best bet is probably Snow Crash, which I sometimes think of as the book that destroyed cyberpunk. Though I’d be remiss not to mention Reamde, a near-future thriller-type which … well, there’s a particular moment in an apartment complex in about the middle of the book, which I enjoyed very much, especially in the context of what came after.

      Susanna Clarke is quite funny in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (two gentlemen bring magic back to Napoleonic Britain), but again it’s a bit slow to start, and in this case you have to deal with a great many utterly detestable characters in the early parts with minimal relief. I haven’t read her book of short stories, but now that I know it exists I’d like to. I will also say that she’s got a thing for footnotes, which you might like as a Pratchett fan.

      Also worthy of note is Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss, which is a hilarious tale of a young man’s university hijinks, plus some rather interesting recursive storytelling, all hidden inside fairly straightforward fantasy epic (itself a commentary on master-of-all protagonists).

      * Otherland is actually … I’ve heard it been called post-cyberpunk, and that’s kind of right. But it’s got a fantasy novel’s structure.

      • Incurian says:

        Completely agree about Neal Stephenson. Very funny, very well written, thought-provoking, even educational sometimes… he’s basically the best and you should read everything he wrote (except maybe Anathem :P).

      • Alex says:

        I am very angry with Reamde because it has this dialogue [spoiler free]:

        Executive: We could do X to transform Problem Y into Problem Z and then crowdsource Z
        Engineer: You know X alone solves Y, there would be no need to crowdsource anything.
        Executive: Don’t bother me with technicalities, make it work.

        And this utter nonsense might be an accurate description of corporate politics. What do I know.

        BUT:

        The Executive is a main characer with which we are supposed to sympathise and who generally talks sense. And unbelieveably the Engineer then goes on to solve incredibly hard problem X off screen and they do unneccessary step Z because the Executive said so and nobody ever calls him on it and everybody still acts as if that made any sense.

        And maybe this also is an accurate description of corporate politics, though out of character for this particular Execeutive. But it is certainly not what I want from a Stephenson novel.

        And that isn’t even the worst part.

        The worst part is that Z is basically an advanced version of what would later become the author’s real life kickstarter project.

        I can only read this so that the author was so in love with his idea Z, that he had to have it in the novel even though he knows that the way he introduces it is bullshit (he has a character saying so) and probably also knows that it breaks one of the main characters.

        It’s disgusting.

        • Incurian says:

          I didn’t interpret it that way. The way I read it he said, “I understand X alone solves Y, but Z would be great publicity for our company.”

          • Alex says:

            I do not think that this would be a sound publicity strategy. AFAIR this is never discussed later in the book, which is part of what bothers me, but any public claim that Z somehow contributes to Y is an obviuos lie that would backfire. The author may rule that this works in his universe but I cannot suspend my disbelief.

            What makes this feel like a betrayal to me is that this is Stephenson and in his earlier novels publicity would never have taken precedence over engineering.

      • US says:

        Names are noted – Tad Williams doesn’t sound like the sort of stuff I’m looking for now, and the same probably goes for Susanna Clarke – but maybe later? Neal Stephenson? Not sure. (Don’t know what to think, based on brief skim of wiki).

        “a hilarious tale of a young man’s university hijinks” (I find that sentence weird. Maybe that’s just me. University hijinks? I probably have to read more about this to make sense of it…)

        • Rothfuss is a brilliant writer, but he takes an awful lot of pages to get the plot not very far and I find his protagonist irritating.

          • Zombielicious says:

            Agree with the above analysis of Rothfuss. Also he has a lot of heavy-handed feminist themes, and his idea of martial arts is about as realistic as a Bruce Lee movie. The coolest part about Kingkiller Chronicle is how it subverts the usual trilogy structure. Instead of the middle novel being the dark one where things look hopeless, then the heroes make a comeback in the third, you’re told from the beginning that the main character screws up royally and ruins everything by the end, but you get to watch him through a series of greater and greater successes until that point, wondering how it’s going to end up happening.

          • pku says:

            Yeah. The most glaring part was where the guy tortured a bunch of bandits to death for raping some women, then felt incredibly guilty about killing them (but not about killing them cruelly! just about killing them!) and had to be reassured it was the right thing to do. Immediately followed by him breaking a random straw misogynist’s arm and getting high fived for it.

            The other somewhat-frustrating part is that we keep swinging on whether the protagonist is an uber-super-ultra genius or just a moderately smart guy. Also his love interest is even more annoying.

          • Zombielicious says:

            I would have given it to the several hundred pages set in a superior nation ruled by matriarchal wise-women kung-fu masters where men are rightly treated as second class citizens who never rise to the level of their female betters. He’s also apparently the advisor for the feminism club at his alma mater.

            That aside, as others said, his writing can be very poetic, funny, and clever, has a really creative magic system, and is good at stringing you along with interesting plotlines and mysteries.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            He also plays a mean game of D&D.

          • 27chaos says:

            In the TOR reread, a kind of background consensus in assumptions emerged that Kvothe must be screwing things up and making dumb mistakes subtly in the background, for the sake of foreshadowing and eventual thematic consistency. There were some details that implied this, though I can’t get into them without spoilers. I think this is partly true, though only partially. Kvothe is more tolerable when you interpret his awesomeness as an artifact of a biased storyteller who’s hamming up his greatness for the sake of his reveal. I do think Rothfuss kind of glorifies Kote’s depression and suffering as redemptive, which seems self indulgent and I don’t like.

          • Gazeboist says:

            The endgame seems pretty clear:

            Nzoebfr be n eryngvir bs uvf orpbzrf xvat bs Ivagnf, naq xvyyvat gur Znre vf cneg bs gung cebprff. Xibgur trgf cvffrq va uvf hfhny jnl naq zheqref jubrire vg vf, gura zntvpnyyl punatrf uvf anzr gb Xbgr vafgrnq bs qbvat fbzrguvat fnar, gurerol oernxvat uvf cebzvfr gb Sryhevna naq erfgnegvat gur perngvba jne. Gung be Xibgur’f svtugf jvgu Nzoebfr rfpnyngr gb Xibgur bcravat gur sbhe-cnar qbbe, gb gur fnzr erfhyg.

            And hence Cthulhu.

          • Zombielicious says:

            I’m not seeing it…

            Xibgur nyernql fnvq ur’q xvyyrq gur xvat bire n jbzna, fb nyzbfg pregnvayl Qrnaan, va snpg V’z thrffvat gur xvat be fbzr haqreyvat vf ure zlfgrevbhf fhvgbe nyernql. Sryhevna’f Perngvba Jne fgbel vf cebonoyl vaibyirq, ohg zber yvxryl guebhtu gur Znre’f obk juvpu jnf fhfcvpvbhfyl fvzvyne gb gur bar hfrq gb genc gur zbba va ure fgbel. Gur qbbe va gur nepuvirf vf cebonoyl vaibyirq gbb, ohg V’z abg fher ubj. Tvira nyy gung, naq gur Punaqevna, Ebgushff unf n ybg bs ybbfr raqf gb gvr hc va gur svany obbx, naq V’z abg fher ur’f npghnyyl tbvat gb qb vg, irefhf yrnivat gurz unatvat sbe gur arkg gevybtl.

            Punatvat uvf anzr naq gung jrnxravat uvz vf pyrire gubhtu, V unqa’g gubhtug bs gung bar.

          • US says:

            Criticism/information like this is in some sense just as valuable as are recommendations – as Schopenhauer noted, ‘A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.’ So thanks for adding this information (to Zombielicious and pku as well).

    • 27chaos says:

      GK Chesterton is good, both fiction and nonfiction.

      • US says:

        “He was a convinced Christian long before he was received into the Catholic Church, and Christian themes and symbolism appear in much of his writing.” (wiki)

        That one is a big no-no for me.

        But thanks for the suggestion.

        • 27chaos says:

          It would normally be for me also, but he’s good. I think he’s more a conservative writer than a Christian one. It’s not that he is someone I always or usually agree with, but he’s reliably interesting and entertaining. Christian inspired works of fiction can be good in the same way any kind of religious folklore or values inspired book can be good.

          Here’s a poem of his I like, as a sample: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/47918 this is as religious as he ever gets when writing, and it’s still IMO great.

          Unrelated, if you haven’t read a Redwall book or two, you might like that. They’re pretty YA at times, but I think the original at least is worth a read for anybody. The reason it comes to mind is that there are like a couple hundred of them, though you should probably stop long before that point for the sake of your sanity, as they descend into predictable formulaic episodes fairly quickly.

          • US says:

            “Christian inspired works of fiction can be good in the same way any kind of religious folklore or values inspired book can be good.”

            Religious folklore also does not interest me and never really has, and if I interpret the way you use the term ‘values inspired book’s correctly then in my experience when people write those kinds of things they’re usually pushing some message, either explicitly or perhaps more commonly a bit more subtly – and I in general do not like when authors do this kind of thing. If I know an author is trying to push some message, regardless of the message and whether or not I think I might agree with it, it’s unlikely – though admittedly not completely out of the question that – I’ll want to read his stuff (this is one manner in which I have changed over time, incidentally – I felt differently about this 10 years ago). I want good stories, not messages/opinions; opinions are boring (and come to that, what about opinions about opinions? Those are probably boring^2 – you must be falling asleep now, reading this…). I like this quote by Nathaniel Hawthorne:

            “Many writers lay very great stress upon some definite moral purpose, at which they profess to aim their works. […] A high truth, indeed, fairly, finely, and skillfully wrought out, brightening at every step, and crowning the final development of a work of fiction, may add an artistic glory, but is never any truer, and seldom any more evident, at the last page than at the first.”

            Chesterton is the sort of author that I would probably enjoy spending a bit of time on wikiquote reading, in order to later quote some of the good stuff on my blog or on goodreads; I often blog quote posts on my blog which include quotes I have come across that way, and I’ve read and quoted a lot of people with whom I violently disagree(/d) about a lot of stuff – but usually I limit my reading of such people to collections of quotes, I don’t find it worthwhile to read the stuff in full.

            On a different note, I don’t really much care for poetry in general.

            Despite ‘disagreeing’ about the probability that I’d like Chesterton’s stuff, I should note that I appreciate that you took the time to add those recommendations and comments. And I should note that as I have yet to read his stuff on wikiquote, I might well end up actually reading some of his books – perusing wikiquote is something I enjoy doing from time to time, and aside from using it for blogging purposes it’s also one of the mechanisms I have employed in the past to decide what/who to read next; when I really like the quotes I find on wikiquote, I’ll often give the specific author a shot.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      You might like might like The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. Technically children’s books, but I enjoyed rereading them recently (possibly as I caught more of the British political satire). A. A. Milne (of Winnie the Pooh) wrote an old-fashioned mystery ala Agatha Christie called The Red House Mystery, which I vaguely remember liking. Also the Sherlock Holmes books, if you’ve not read them, and Dorothy L. Sayers.

      • pku says:

        Speaking of Jonathan Stroud, I enjoyed his Bartimaeus trilogy but liked Lockwood&co better.

      • US says:

        I can tell from the description on the wiki that I would be unlikely to like Stroud’s stuff. The Red House Mystery sounds interesting, I’ll give that one a go.

        I have read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories published by Doyle, and I read a few of Sayers’ books (4). Didn’t feel like reading any more of her stuff after I’d read those; the books were sort of okay, but not more than that, and I couldn’t help thinking while reading her books, especially the last two of them, that there had to be better books out there which I should be reading instead.

        Thanks for the suggestions!

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Oh, and I’m glad to find someone else who likes Jasper Fforde! Did you see this news story at the time?

    • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

      I recently finished reading Joe Abercrombie’s “First Law” series, and loved it. It’s a grim world, somewhat like GRRM’s, but also splashed through with black humor. Most of the characters are excellent (one fell very flat to me, but didn’t ruin the experience), and the writing is engaging throughout. I highly recommend it.

    • DavidS says:

      Neil Gaiman, maybe, for some of the dry Brit style? He co-wrote Good Omens with Terry Pratchett and otherwise I’d particularly recommend starting with American Gods (which incidentally feels oddly like Steven King to me: don’t know if that’s good or bad for you) or Neverwhere.

      This might sound insulting but really isn’t meant to be – when taking book recommendations, worth taking into account that I suspect your taste doesn’t necessarily distinguish particularly well-written books. Christie is often talked about as having fun plots but not being a very good writer stylistically, and I think the same is 100% true of Martin (which is why he’s better on TV). So if some people recommend a book for humour/plot and others complain about clunky writing, I’d guess you should pay more attention to the first bit than the second.

      • US says:

        I found Good Omens unreadable – I tried out reading it twice, putting it away for a while after having given up on it the first time around, and that’s one more attempt than most books get – and that was the first Pratchett book I did not like (out of 30 or so at the time) – coincidentally it was also the only Pratchett book I’d read who had Neil Gaiman as the co-author. From that experience I decided I did not want to read Gaiman, if he could ruin a Pratchett book there’s no way I’m giving him a chance. Maybe that’s harsh, but I really didn’t like that book, and I had the distinct impression that the parts I didn’t like were the parts where Gaiman’s metaphorical fingerprints were on display.

        As for Christie, you’re not the first person who has told me this about her so I definitely do not take it as an insult, and the point is well made. In a way it would be weird to expect of Christie to be as sophisticated in terms of word choice etc. as are some other authors, who might obsess for hours about how to get the exact wording of a particular piece of (unimportant?) dialogue just right, considering how many novels she published during her lifetime; you need to take short cuts to get that many books published, and of course that will sometimes tell. In general if a writer is very good at X [e.g. telling stories] it can sometimes compensate for Y [e.g. occasionally deficient character development/portrayal] – there are all kinds of tradeoffs at play when trying to evaluate quality, and what you ultimately want out of a novel is going to be important in terms of which aspects to pay particular attention to. I’m incidentally also one of those people who find Christie’s international intrigue/’spy-stuff’ and most of the last of her works almost completely unreadable, so I’m definitely not one of those people who find everything she wrote amazing.

        • pku says:

          I wouldn’t take that as strong evidence against Gaiman – I didn’t particularly like Good Omens either, despite generally liking Gaiman even more than Pratchett. I think it’s the somewhat incoherent nature of the joint writing that makes it unlikable to some people, not either of the individual authors.

          Also, I completely disagree about Martin stylistically – I found his style as his strongest point (I remember last time I decided to re-read the first three ASOIAF books, a few years ago, I was remembering the plot and thinking “why did I like it so much again?”. Then I started reading it and went “oh right, this is really well-written.” It fades a bit with the later two, but it’s the only thing that made me have the ability to actually get through ADWD).

          • US says:

            “I think it’s the somewhat incoherent nature of the joint writing that makes it unlikable to some people, not either of the individual authors.”

            Right, that might well be true. It’s probably really difficult to make a project like that work, regardless of how talented the authors in question are. You like him even more than Pratchett, having read both? In that case I’m going to have to reconsider and give him a second chance, by reading some of the stuff he wrote *all by himself*…

          • keranih says:

            I very much like NG, but I’d put him in the same stack as CJ Cherryh – probably denser and deeper than you want in this moment. JMO.

          • LHN says:

            Cherryh is generally pretty dense, but a few of her books– Merchanter’s Luck in particular– are comfort reads for me.

            (I sort of wish she hadn’t abandoned the Union-Alliance world, which I liked, for the Foreigner series which I never got into. That said, it’s probably just as well she didn’t just churn U-A stories out forever.)

          • My very favorite Cherryh book is The Paladin. It’s in the same nameless genre as my first novel (but, of course, much better)–neither fantasy nor alternate history but historical fiction with invented history and geography.

            Which is why she is one of the people I dedicated my book to.

          • keranih says:

            Paladin was the one I was considering recommending for US. It’s one of the few ones I’d say was “upbeat”.

            (My personal fav of CJC’s right now is the Nighthorse books. I’d like it if she wrote more of those. And more Morgaine. And more aliens/humans ones – I appreciate her ‘deep dive’ in Foreigner, but I fell out of the series about book four and haven’t caught up.)

          • I’ve enjoyed the Foreigner books.

            My main complaint about Cherryh is that she is very good at doing people under extreme pressure, in a terrible hurry, and overuses it. The Morgiane books are an early example.

            What do you think about the Chanur books? One of them is my standard example of how to deal with a currently politically hot topic (gender differences) without making it feel as though that’s what you are doing–it fits perfectly into the structure of the world she has drawn.

          • keranih says:

            CJC also has this *really* strong pattern of slow build for 15/16ths of book, and then throws in five books of action & implications –

            – only half of which is immediately visible to the pov character/reader –

            – in the last quarter-quarter of the book. With the result that one lies on the floor, mentally exhausted but also with a sense of already? That’s it?

            *ahem*

            I imprinted on the Chanur books early, along with the Morgaine books, and love them for the adventure. Okay, and for the Dinner.

            The socio aspects didn’t hit me until later, when I was rereading (Legacy might be the one you’re speaking of) and went, wait, what, that’s actually kinda skeevy, isn’t it?

            Which it was. Not as bold a move as SM Stirling with the Draka, nor as obvious as Suzy McKay Charmas with the Motherlines books, but yeah, there was a point where one had to say, this isn’t really right, what they’re doing here.

            I admire the heck out of a writer who can do that, and do it *subtle*.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          I found Christie (and Jane Austen) much more approachable after seeing the films, which supplied the world-building that the authors’ contemporary readers did not need.

    • Urstoff says:

      Dickens seems to meet most or all of your criteria.

    • Psmith says:

      George Macdonald Fraser wrote enough fiction to keep you busy for a while. The first Flashman novel is an all-time great and the rest are merely very good. A fair bit of superb nonfiction too. Quartered Safe Out Here is one of the best WWII memoirs around.

      Can also recommend Raymond Chandler. Deadpan, but very funny, and some of the best American writing of the 20th century imo. (Had the same English teacher as Wodehouse, and I won’t go so far as to say they read alike, but if you read enough Chandler you can maybe see a faint resemblance.).

      • US says:

        “Fraser’s Flashman is an antihero who often runs from danger in the novels. Nevertheless, through a combination of luck and cunning, he usually ends each volume acclaimed as a hero.” (wiki)

        Sounds a bit like the character Rincewind from Discworld, if you’re familiar with Pratchett. I mention this because Rincewind is one of my favourite characters in the Discworld series.. Yeah, definitely worth giving a shot.

        Raymond Chandler is good, but I read all his novels a decade ago (15 years ago? Something like that) and I generally much prefer novels to short stories (so I don’t feel a great desire to have a go at his short stories).

        • DavidS says:

          I suspect Rincewind owes something to Flashman, though they’re very different in personality. Both are cowards, but Flashman is also a cruel, lascivious, ruthless bully. Whereas Rincewind just wants to not die.

          Seconded Flashman in that I find them incredibly easy, relaxing and enjoyable reading.

          • The Flashman books also teach you a good deal of history in an entertaining form. And I love the way the author uses his footnotes:

            “This account seems unbelievable, but is supported by [real historical source X]”

            “For this incident, the only source is Flashman.”

      • I actually liked the later Flashman novels better than the first, perhaps because the protagonist becomes less unpleasant as he gets older.

        The author’s slightly fictionalized stories of his army experience are a lot of fun. You can get all of them in one Kindle as The Complete McAuslan.

        • Psmith says:

          the protagonist becomes less unpleasant as he gets older.

          Yes, definitely. I think the first one has a certain snap and verve to it that the others don’t quite match, but Flashman goes from being a genuinely nasty character to a more-or-less lovable scoundrel over the course of the series.

          The author’s slightly fictionalized stories of his army experience are a lot of fun.

          Absolutely. His Black Ajax, about 18th-century prizefighter Tom Molyneux, is also very good, and put me on to Pierce Egan’s Boxiana. And I can see The Reavers and The Pyrates being particularly appealing for Discworld fans, too.

    • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

      Dumas.

      • US says:

        I found The Three Musketeers completely unreadable when I tried reading that one, and I’ve never read anything by Dumas since I tried that one out. On the other hand that was back in middle school, and tastes change (my tastes certainly have). I don’t know.

        But thanks for the suggestion.

        • Matt M says:

          Really? I’ve been on a classic literature kick lately and I found Dumas to be one of the easiest to read out of that whole genre – and Three Musketeers being significantly easier than say, Count of Monte Cristo. Tons more readable than say, Dickens (or most of the famous English novelists)

          • US says:

            That’s interesting to me. As mentioned it was a very long time ago. I probably should not trust my own impressions/evaluations from back then, then, but instead approach Dumas as if I’d never heard of the guy, the way I’ve never heard about some of the other people mentioned in this thread. Though in this context it should also be noted that Dickens is not really an alternative worth including in the analysis here (as I stated above, ‘Dickens is too much work’).

            I’m just speculating here, but one thing that might have played a role might be that I read a bad translation of the work. Back then I only read novels in my own native language, Danish, and as I learned some time ago from a blog written by a professional English-to-Danish translator, most Danish translators aren’t paid very well, to put it mildly. And at least to some extent you get what you pay for.

          • For something I like as leisure reading that isn’t fiction, try Casanova’s Memoirs, preferably the more recent translation, which is based on the original text, which finally turned up, rather than a version edited by someone else.

            I was reminded of it by the mention of The Count of Monte Cristo, in part based on it–the protagonist’s escape from imprisonment is an exaggerated version of Casanova’s real escape from under the leads in Venice. I gather that Felix Krull is also in part based on the Memoirs.

            The autobiography of a reasonably successful gambler, con man, scholar, adventurer in the 18th century sense.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            What he said. I found Dumas to be probably the easiest reader of his contemporaries in the canon; in fact, I thought that was his distinguishing feature, both while he was alive and to posterity. He also seemed to be a decent touch at comedy. Using the Three Musketeers as an example, d’Artagnan’s arrival in Paris is pure farce.

            That’s why I recommended him without comment. There’s no accounting for taste, though. And not all translations are created equal.

      • Lumifer says:

        Also, since Steven Brust was mentioned, it’s worth pointing out that he wrote a series called Khaavren Romances which is essentially Dumas set in the Brust’s Dragaera universe.

        • LHN says:

          Dumas’s style (with some credit to the style of Brust’s favorite Dumas translator), but the characters are less cheerfully amoral than the Musketeers. (Which tends to make me like them better than the originals.)

    • Skivverus says:

      Grew up on David Brin and so may be biased towards thinking his books are better than they actually are (to the extent that taste can be objective :P); Bujold and Cherryh have already been mentioned, but I’ll add one more to their recommendations.
      Steven Brust has an impressive range of writing styles; the humor is understated and woven into the stories, though, so not something you’d be able to really explain if someone hears you laugh.
      Will probably see about picking up some of the titles others have mentioned here myself.

      • US says:

        David Brin and Steven Brust, noted (will look them up later), and yet another + to Bujold and Cherryh.

        I must add here that I find the number of suggestions and ideas people have contributed here in this thread simply great and almost overwhelming. I had no idea my query would spark such activity here, but I’m glad that it did – and that others might benefit as well from these exchange, as Skivverus might do in the future (‘Will probably see about picking up some of the titles others have mentioned here myself’).

    • vluft says:

      Donald Westlake is worth trying out, I’d say, specifically the Dortmunder series, which tend to be heists where everything goes wrong, sometimes with nigh-Wodehousian levels of plot thickening. (His non-Dortmunder stuff tends to be hard-boiled crime fiction, as far as I know – not to my taste particularly.)

    • AoxyMouseOnArgo says:

      http://thegreatestbooks.org/the-greatest-fiction-since/1900

      Pick and choose the ones you have not read. Proceed to read a brief summary of the style of the books to see if it fits within your liking.

      Though, most of those books are not quite so filled with humor.

    • qwints says:

      Christopher Moore for comedy.

  10. Deiseach says:

    I’m not sure if I should link to this.

    But.

    Someone I otherwise respect has this on their Tumblr.

    Read the headline: “Trump’s New ‘Pro-Life’ Advisor Thinks Too Few Women Die In Childbirth These Days”

    Guess what the subject is about. I’ll give you a chance to think about it.

    [think]

    [think]

    [think]

    [think]

    Ready? It’s abortion. I nearly said “of course”, but what’s “of course” about that headline?

    Woman who is pro-life thinks there should be no abortions. This gets translated into “Gender-betraying bitch who has sold out to The Patriarchy thinks Real Proper Women who have the kind of sex they enjoy should be forced to get pregnant and die to punish them for their sinful sex-having, the sluts”.

    I don’t care two hoots about the politics of this piece, or that it’s about Trump and the election. I probably shouldn’t expect anything else from Wonkette, right? (It’s under the Gawker umbrella, I discover. Well, of course it is. Of course it is). I don’t even want to argue about abortion. But I’m just so tired of this strident screeching about who is and who isn’t a real woman, a real feminist, and that the consensus of all sane, not to say right-thinking people, is that abortion for any or no reason at any stage of pregnancy is just the bees’ knees and the only people who disagree are bad evil rich white cis het Christian men who hate and despise women and want to control them, and self-hating women who have sold their souls to gain approval/jobs from those men.

    In his continuing effort to convince voters that he is indeed a very holy and religious man who hates abortion and definitely cares one way or another about fetuses, Donald Trump has assembled a crack team of pro-life advisors, headed up by one Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the absurdly-named-since-she-was-never-said-anything-about-legal-abortion Susan B. Anthony List.

    I’m too disheartened even to swear, and I was going to tackle the religion bit but decided to drop all that – but the sneering about Susan B. Anthony is interesting, since apparently she did indeed have something to say about abortion, except that they claim it wasn’t her but a man writing under her name (though that would seem to contradict their position that she was a progressive activist who didn’t take no shit from no men) – and Wonkette and its ilk seem to have no problems with the fact that there isn’t even an Emily behind the famous Emily’s List, as long as it serves a cause they like.

    I don’t know what my point is, or if I even have a point, besides that the wells of discourse have become so poisoned that I don’t know if it’s even possible for people with different views to converse anymore (and discourse itself has become a loaded term). But here is someone I like and respect, as I said, linking uncritically to this piece, and so I have to take it that this is indeed their view of the matter – that Marjorie Dannenfelser wants women to die for having the wrong kind of sex. And I’m not even going to get into an argument with them over this because I know it’s no use – it will only stir up anger and dudgeon and not change any minds.

    I’ll be the Bad Guy in this if I say “Some women are indeed opposed to abortion. And it’s not because they want women to die”. Because being anti-abortion rights means you’re evil, correct? No ifs, ands or buts. Anything you may say to the contrary is only falsehood to mask your real intent: you’re a damn stinkin’ foetus-lover who prefers that real women die instead of a blob of cells, and think that they should die because the sluts had sex for pleasure.

    I think I want to cry, but I have no tears.

    • Diadem says:

      So a partisan site makes some slight exaggerations in an attempt the paint the other side in a negative light. This is surprising or noteworthy why?

      If you oppose abortion even when a women’s life in in danger, that means you want more women to die in childbirth. That’s technically correct, though it’s disingenuous to frame it like that, because you are presenting something that is a side-effect of the true goal as if it is the the goal.

      But c’mon, that kind of framing is not noteworthy. It happens all the bloody time, on all sides of all issues.

      • Deiseach says:

        some slight exaggerations

        And this is what I’m talking about. Not Wonkette – I don’t expect anything else from them. But the “them and us” entrenchment of views – “they said something critical about the perfectly harmless and true things we said, let us circle the wagons!” – that is depressing me from both sides.

        The “slight exaggeration” you say is that “Trump’s New ‘Pro-Life’ Advisor Thinks Too Few Women Die In Childbirth These Days”.

        Suppose I quoted a headline about “Clinton’s New ‘Pro-Choice’ Advisor Thinks Too Many Babies Survive Gestation These Days”. Would you consider that a “slight exaggeration” that is not worth getting upset over if you support abortion rights? Or that it doesn’t mean pro-choice and pro-life people can’t have a calm, rational discussion of the matter, just because those crazy baby-murdering fanatics take exception – who knows why? – to the neutral terms used to describe them?

        • Diadem says:

          Linguistically, the purpose of the word ‘slight’ there is not so much to describe the exact scope of the exaggeration, but to state that I don’t care about it. It’s a form of sarcastic dismissal I guess. Compare a statement like “So he gave a few cents to charity, who cares”. You could say that about someone whether the amount given was big or small.

          (Now that I am thinking about this kind of construct, I see that I did the same thing again in the first sentence on this paragraph. The word ‘exact’ could be left out without changing the meaning of the sentence, and would, taken literally, be inaccurate (since the word ‘slight’ is anything but exact), but it still adds emphasis. Sorry for rambling a bit, but I just love these kind of subtle style figures)

          That all being said, even taken literally I don’t think calling it a slight exaggeration is far from the truth, in this case:

          Suppose I quoted a headline about “Clinton’s New ‘Pro-Choice’ Advisor Thinks Too Many Babies Survive Gestation These Days”. Would you consider that a “slight exaggeration”

          Honestly, yeah. My main objection to that sentence would be the use of the word ‘babies’ there. It’s fetuses. It’s only a baby after birth.

          I mean such a headline would obviously be disingenuous in the same way the original headline is: It’s confusing a side-effect of the goal with the real goal. On reflextion, I should say that perhaps ‘exaggeration’ is entirely the wrong term to use here. It’s not exaggerating someone’s views, it’s twisting them. But as twists go it’s a pretty minor one.

          In both cases, the proper response to such an accusation would not be “no” but “Yes. That’s not my intention, but I accept that as a consequence”.

          But as I said earlier, the exact size of the twist is not the point. Whether it’s a small twist or a big twist, the point I was trying to make is the question: Why do you care about this specific example? This kind of thing is common as dirt.

          And in case that’s still too subtle, let me be blunt: I am accusing you of making motivated arguments. You are saying that don’t care about abortion or the politics of this piece, only about the dishonesty of the rhetoric it uses. But if that were true you wouldn’t have singled out this particular piece on this particular subject.

          • Deiseach says:

            It’s not the piece, it’s the person who linked it.

            I’m used to the “common as dirt” pieces and I generally ignore them. Why do I care about this specific one? Not for its content, which is the usual. But because it’s the usual, and the person who linked it never tried to soften it, or argue that “our real need is for [whatever]”, or acknowledged in any way that it was partisan propaganda, no, this was straight-up truth in journalism.

            And had the person been someone I considered unreasonable or prejudiced or otherwise “Well, of course they’d like this”, then I wouldn’t have been affected. But they weren’t. That’s what hit me hard.

            Suppose you are acquainted with someone whether it’s through work or a hobby or a friend of a friend or you meet them at Cousin Maurice’s wedding. They seem intelligent, friendly, and pleasant, and you find yourself enjoying your interaction with them and even finding things in common that you both like or agree upon or “oh yeah, that is really bad, isn’t it?”

            And then this seemingly sane, normal, pleasant person suddenly, in the same tone of voice and with the same expression, begins spewing the most outrageous and offensive bile. Imagine for yourself what it is – maybe it’s about women, or gays, or non-whites, or whatever.

            It’s nothing you’ve never heard before, and if your new acquaintance were a certain type of person (we all have a mental image of the kind of person who would say something like that) you wouldn’t be at all surprised. But they seemed so nice, so normal, so easy to have a discussion with, even if you had differing opinions.

            And now you suddenly discover that you can’t even talk to them about this because you are one of the bad evil wicked murdering villains who want to destroy and bring down the good people, the people like them.

            And you can’t even talk to them about it. There’s no hope of going back to “why do you think this/why do you think I think that/can you see what I mean here”. There is only – well, I don’t know what. What comes next? If we are all going to be in entrenched camps ripping out each other’s eyes, what happens?

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I think “babies survive gestation” assumes the very thing under question: are fetuses babies? “Advisor Thinks Too Many Babies Are Born” or “Advisor Thinks More Babies Would Be Killed” would be closer. And in either case, I would regard it as a blatant partisan attack that isn’t worth getting upset about.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @ Diadem
        If you oppose abortion even when a women’s life in in danger, that means you want more women to die in childbirth. That’s technically correct, though it’s disingenuous to frame it like that, because you are presenting something that is a side-effect of the true goal as if it is the the goal.

        No need to take it quite that far. Compare: “X would prefer a world where Y number of women die and no abortions are performed, to the current situation; though his first preference of course would be a world with better medical care so that the women could live too. [So we should all get behind better medicine.]”

    • Lumifer says:

      I think your expectations of Wonkette are far too high.

      Also, it’s election season which is a good time to take measure of a woman or a man. What will she or he do to assure the victory of the forces of light and to prevent That Monster from being elected?

      • “and to prevent That Monster from being elected?”

        Do people think it works? One might argue that the people who find it persuasive are already committed to vote against Trump, anyone currently inclined to favor Trump will be more likely to do so in response, and at least some neutrals will react the way Deiseach does, making them less likely to vote for Hilary, more likely to vote for Trump.

        Especially neutrals who are anti-abortion.

        It reminds me of the pattern I think I see on FB climate arguments. People on both (all?) sides post in a way that lets them have fun insulting their opponents and boasting of their own intellectual and moral superiority and that, I think, makes observers less likely, not more likely, to support their side.

        But it’s possible that I overestimate the observers.

        • 27chaos says:

          It’s not about persuading the neutral observers, it’s about consolidating support for one’s own side, ego-reinforcement, and trying to emotionally hurt those you disagree with.

          • Does bullying work? Evidence? Are people likely to abandon a position because people who disagree with it call them names?

            I can see it working if almost everybody disagreed and attacked you, but the context I’m observing is one with significant numbers on both sides, and the behavior is being done from both sides.

            I agree with ego-reinforcement as an explanation. “trying to emotionally hurt those you disagree with” is sort of right, except that it isn’t actually designed to hurt them so much as to let you feel as though you are attacking them. More like winning a video game against NPC’s than like winning a real battle.

            I take the pattern as a case of pursuing a private good while pretending, to yourself and others, to pursue a public good, and doing it even if the former activity harms the latter goal.

          • suntzuanime says:

            If the behavior only works when only one side is doing it, and the other side is doing it, your side better damn well start unless they want to be crushed.

            People underestimate how much bullying works because people try to keep up a brave front in the immediate bullying interaction, to avoid losing face. But you will learn which sort of things tend to expose you to bullying, and you will try to avoid those things in the future.

        • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

          The fact that it’s a strategy that’s survived many election iterations makes me wonder. On the one hand, its survival may be attributed to it being a successful way to generate clicks.

          On the other hand, I can think of a few benefits to it. In your climate change example, it seems to be a successful way of barring the opposition entry to the Overton Window. It’s possible that people do it as a way of marking out social territory, and that if the bulk of the territory is dominated by one tribe, people will tend to go along with the dominant tribe. It makes me wonder if the downside of driving away thoughtful neutrals is outweighed by the upside of incorporating hostility towards That Monster in less thoughtful or experienced neutrals.

          On a related note, does anyone know if propaganda is effective? My prior is that it is, and this sort of article seems like it serves the same function.

          • DrBeat says:

            It survives election iterations not because it is adapted to and good at winning elections, but because expressing contempt for people who disagree with you is a sacred act more important than winning elections.

        • Lumifer says:

          Do people think it works?

          The purpose is not to convince uncommitted others, the purpose is to prove your loyalty to the tribe and your commitment to the cause in the time of the Trials. Win or lose, someone will be fed to the hyenas and you’d better fling poo fast and far in order to not be that someone…

    • Corey says:

      Wonkette is a little snarky.

    • LPSP says:

      Let them shriek in their echo chamber. Who willingly follows this uncontroversially-valueless trash? It’s like going on Stormfront and being outraged. What did you expect?

      • Deiseach says:

        What did you expect?

        I didn’t seek them out. I would’t ordinarily mind (if, for example, I’d stumbled across it while reading a news or opinion piece elsewhere).

        It was more that “Here is someone with whom I have at least some commonalty, given that I generally like their work and can agree with them, linking to something about as subtle as ‘witches will steal your penis, come to our witch-burning next Saturday!’, and plainly seeing nothing to disagree with in it, nothing over the top, nothing extravagant or overdone, and using it to urge against voting for Trump because this is what would happen should he come to power: women would die because they’d be forced to remain pregnant. And so what hope is there for any kind of communication across the breach, any kind of discussion where, even if we do not come to agree on a common position, at least we can discuss rather than rave and spit at each other?”

      • DrBeat says:

        Stormfront isn’t popular and powerful.

    • Nicholas says:

      As always the breakdown is the same: Given the prior that cows and fetuses are both equally people, being pro-life and being a vegan are ethically interchangeable. Which makes politically pro-life positions look as ridiculous as the vegans who want to make it a criminal act punishable by life in prison to eat meat. But there is a cost, sometimes including death, of pro-life political policies. Which makes political pro-life movements looks like the vegans who want people who use animal-derived insulin to die instead of continuing to produce demand for animal harvesting.
      And that seems, from inside this perspective, to be ridiculous. Not just in the ordinary way that people sometimes are, but to the point that you can’t empathize with the position at all. What sane person would sacrifice human happiness to increase the well-being of pigs or bloatflies? So you begin to expect (because these people certainly aren’t acting detached from reality, or like they only care in a passing way about their vegan eco-terrorist cell human reproduction politics.
      So you begin to expect, in the fashion of things, that this is a Hamletian crazy-like-a-fox scenario. That the ridiculous belief that fetuses are people is a motte of some sort, with an inscrutable end-game that can only be achieved covertly. So what are the consequences of pro-life policies replacing pro-choice ones?

      • sweeneyrod says:

        “Given the prior that cows and fetuses are both equally people”

        How common is that prior?

      • Jiro says:

        The pro-life belief that fetuses are people is a motte, but not that motte. The motte is “I think it is wrong to kill fetuses because I have a principled belief about killing etuses” and the bailey is “I think it is wrong to kill things that my religion tells me it is wrong to kill”.

        Religion works that way; it tells people to do arbitrary things, and they then obey and do arbitrary things while irrationally ignoring the bad consequences of them. They don’t secretly intend those bad consequences.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Given the prior that cows and fetuses are both equally people,

        You might as well have said “Given the prior that pro-choicers are right and pro-lifers are wrong”, since that’s effectively what you said anyway.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Eh, I’ve flirted with the idea of being an anti-choice vegan. I mostly lean towards anti-life non-vegan though.

      • S_J says:

        Given the prior that cows and fetuses are both equally people…

        Interesting choice of comparison.

        A cow is a sentient[1] being. A human fetus may not be sentient, a human infant may also not be fully sentient.
        A human child, or a human teen, or a human adult, is usually understood as sentient.

        A cow is not a sapient[2] being. Neither is a fetus. Nor an infant under the age of 2. Somewhere between childhood and teenage years, sapience is fully expressed.

        Most of the cultural and legal rule-making intended to keep humans from killing other humans (whether infant, child, teen, or adult) appear to be rooted in the idea that one sapient being should not end the life of another. [3]

        The same rules are usually not applied to sentient animals. (Even though there are behaviors judged as wrong, under the reason of cruelty towards animals; the rules about not ending life are typically not applied by humans to animals.)

        The big question is, does a human fetus have the same right to life as a human infant?

        An infant may not be fully sentient, but is only potentially sapient. A fetus is likely less sentient, and still potentially sapient. In most cases, both depend on their mother for food, nourishment, and protection from the climate.

        If an abortion stops a beating heart (or a waving brain) of a fetus, is it the same level of wrong as ending the life of an infant?

        [1] Sentient–responds to sensation, has some evidence of awareness, self-awareness, and consciousness.

        [2] Sapient–the ability to reason at the abstract level. Not necessarily become a rationalist…maybe just be a rationalizer.

        [3] Both utilitarian and virtue-ethics arguments are available on this subject, but search for them is left as an exercise for the reader.

        • caethan says:

          It’s impressive that so many people like to blather about the mental characteristics of fetuses, infants, and children without, apparently, ever having interacted with any of them.

          Some stories about my not-yet-two-year-old daughter:

          * She knows her letters and numbers, reads picture books and tells me about what’s happening in short sentences, responds to verbal requests, and in general anyone who thinks a two year old child can’t reason or think is either woefully ignorant or a bloody fool.

          * When she was an infant and couldn’t yet crawl (~4-5 mos or so), she had figured things out well enough that she would pull on the handle of a mirror her cups were towered on in order to knock them over and put them in her mouth. I also used to play the cups game with her: take three cups of different sizes and colors, put the pacifier under one, mix them up, and let her find it. Which she usually did straight off.

          * When she was internal, and had started to kick, I used to play games with her – push back on her foot and she’d kick harder. She’d also kick Mommy’s iPad whenever she tried to rest it on her stomach. Once when we were all asleep in bed during an enormous thunderstorm there was an extremely loud lightning strike right outside that startled her – she started kicking and punching and acted very distressed, and my wife and I had to sing and pat her stomach for five minutes to get her to settle down.

          In short, every factual statement you have made about the mental capabilities of infants and children is wrong, and obviously so to anyone who has actually interacted with children ever. Maybe you should work on improving your facts before you try coming up with complicated philosophical arguments to explain the non-existent facts that you think you know.

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      @ Deiseach
      “Too Few Women Die In Childbirth These Days”

      This reminds me of statements like “If your aim never misses, you should advance to harder targets” … “If your first attempts never fail, you’re being too cautious” … “If none of your calves die, you’re using too much antibiotic” … etc. It sounds like a twist on a reasonable argument, such as “Currently the danger of death in childbirth is too low to merit /whatever/”.

      I was curious about the original statement, but couldn’t read on through the flames.

      • Matt M says:

        From a rationalist perspective, these are good points though.

        I once talked to a consultant who claimed that if you aren’t late for at least one flight every quarter, you’re wasting too much time at the airport. He was 100% serious.

        I’ve also had debates with non-libertarians where they’ve made challenges to me like “Prove that the roads would be safer if they were privately managed” and my response is usually something like “I make no such claim – it’s entirely possible the current roads are TOO safe and the market equilibrium would reduce safety in the name of greater efficiency or cost savings – which would be fine if it was a true reflection of the preferences of individual customers” And yes, they have spun that as “So you’re saying the problem with government is not enough people are dying in fiery car crashes??!!!”

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Good ol’ Umeshisms.

  11. Does anyone have some decent long essay or textbook length material on GMOs? I have some anti-GMO friends who’ve been bothering me about the issue lately, and I want some reading for all of our general education. Pro and anti welcome.

    Me: I’m presently anti-anti-GMO; I have major concerns about corporate agriculture but look at most fear of GMOs as irrational fear of biochemistry. I have a math, CS and chemistry background, and I come from a family of doctors. I’m comfortable with research papers.

    Friends: Vary from no science background to basic college level science education. All are comfortable with reading hard stuff and thinking rationally.

    Thanks!

    • Urstoff says:

      This immediately comes to mind: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2015/07/are_gmos_safe_yes_the_case_against_them_is_full_of_fraud_lies_and_errors.html

      But anti-GMO people tend to be fairly conspiratorial and think anyone who writes positively about GMO’s is paid by Monsanto. Hopefully your friends are just underinformed rather than part of the tin foil hat brigade.

      Also, here’s an IQ2 debate on the issue: http://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/genetically-modify-food

    • keranih says:

      William Salatin of slate has had several good columns on this.

      In terms of ‘corporate ag’ I would ask what other areas of the economy you want to be free of market efficiency.

      • keranih says:

        Edit – William Saletan, my bad. And was nija’ed pdq by Urstoff.

      • Zombielicious says:

        Obvious straw-man is obvious. “Corporate agriculture” also includes huge bipartisan farm subsidies received primarily by the largest few agribusinesses, patents and intellectual property of genes and organisms (see the attempt to patent pigs in Europe), and stuff like suing competing farmers into bankruptcy after your seeds blow into their fields. Aside from other potential problems like reliance on monocultured crops and centralized control of the nation’s and world’s food supply.

        • “and stuff like suing competing farmers into bankruptcy after your seeds blow into their fields. ”

          Assuming that’s the Canadian case from some time back that I read about in some detail, it’s pretty clearly bogus. The farmer in question was deliberately breeding back to the patented strain.

          Is there another case I don’t know about that better fits the story?

          • Zombielicious says:

            The case was a bit more complicated than that – Schmeiser’s 1997 crop included seeds that allegedly arrived in his field by wind (or some other similar method), which he noticed being Roundup resistant, saved and replanted in 1998. Claims against him for the 1997 crop were dropped, and he lost the case with Monsanto over the 1998 crop, which he had planted using the probably-blown-in seeds he saved from 1997.

            There was also the 2011 lawsuit with the Organic Seed Growers Trade Association, which ended with the Court of Appeals agreeing contamination was inevitable but that Monsanto wouldn’t be prohibited from suing due to an agreement not to sue where the contaminated fields contained less than 1% of Monsanto-patented canola.

            So yeah, it appears an epidemic of agribusinesses “suing competing farmers into bankruptcy” for seeds blowing into their fields is a myth, though with some basis in reality, especially when you include their various other lawsuits against farmers for saving seeds, use of private investigators to spy on them, etc. If any of the four other points I mentioned are incorrect, let me know, but I don’t think the misstatement substantially changes the point that Big Ag isn’t exactly an archetype of laissez-faire market efficiency. Personally I have more complaints against the subsidies than anything else, especially as the corn and soybean subsidies drive down the price of meat, with various negative consequences I’ve already argued about here before…

          • If I remember the case correctly, Schmeisser harvested crop from along the road that other farmers who were using Roundup Ready seeds drove their trucks along, planted the seeds, sprayed the plants with Roundup, harvested the crops that were not killed, planted the seed–possibly one repeat. Very clearly trying to breed back to the Roundup Ready from seed spilled by his neighbors.

            (For those not familiar with the case, Roundup Ready seeds were immune to the herbicide Roundup, which could thus be used to kill weeds without killing the crop).

          • Zombielicious says:

            I was unable to find anything saying that – the claim was that he was spraying Roundup to eliminate weeds near a public road, noticed some canola had survived, tested the Roundup on a few acres of his own field, and found ~60% of the plants were resistant. A neighbor had planted the resistant seed in a neighboring field in 1996. That Monsanto dropped the claim against him for the 1997 crop, despite ~60% “contamination,” and canola seeds are apparently easily dispersed, seemed like inconclusive evidence in his favor. However, since he has as much reason to reduce his culpability as Monsanto does to aggressively litigate potential infringements and avoid bad precedents, and since I wasn’t there, there doesn’t seem much reason to take either of them at their word.

            Not that I read it all, but what seems to be the final judgment is available here.

          • Deiseach says:

            It’s the monoculture that is the most worrying, apart from the “use our herbicide on our patented crops to increase yield so we get you coming and going: want to buy our seed, pay our prices plus we’re the only ones who produce the particular herbicide, use any other and it’ll kill the crops, so we’re your sole supplier for everything, buddy”.

            Putting all your eggs into the basket of “99% of growers use the one strain of GMO seed” is going to end up with problems along the line, as witness the Great Famine, monoculture and lack of resistance to a particular blight strain exacerbated by seasonal climatic conditions.

        • Corey says:

          To be fair, those problems are best addressed directly, rather than trying to limit genetic engineering itself. E.g. patent policy is a public policy choice.

          • Zombielicious says:

            I’m in no way opposed to genetic engineering or GMOs, in case I gave that impression. Not even big corporate agriculture really, just some of their shittier practices.

        • keranih says:

          It’s pretty heady stuff, to say “strawman” and then pull out “corporate ag is bad b/c ag subsidies”, which is a function of government, not agriculture.

          David Friedman covered most of the lawsuit stuff, and I’ll just say that the business w/Monsanto suing farmers was for breach of contract – ie, they bought seeds under a specific agreement, when there were other seeds they could have bought, and then violated that agreement, and were sued for that violation. Is this really something we want *discouraged*?

          As for the rest…ag subsidies are a hot mess whereever they are and under whatever rules they are enacted – look at the EU for a particularly horrific example of how to not do it, and they *deliberately* work to cripple large corporate farm firms – it’s not fair to blame corporations on something that is badly done when it’s monastery farms or the king’s dairy.

          Patents on bio inventions are still being worked out, but if you can own and restrict the use of specific lines of livestock – which people have been doing for forever – then I don’t see what is wrong with getting a patent on a specific line of pigs (and it’s really not at all worthy to imply that *all* pigs would be trademarked.

          Again, monocultures have been an issue since forever – see cotton, tobacco, and rice – it’s an issue of what makes money, not of corporations. (There is room to argue, even, that corporations live longer than men, and so a corporation farm is more likely, on average, to take the long view than any individual person.)

          And finally, for the idea that “the nation and the world’s food supply is centrally controlled” – no. That’s not how it works. Regionally advised, okay. But also in constant flux and fighting off upstarts and innovators left and right.

          (Same as the idea that Monsanto, etc, is pushing “just one strain of GMO corn/wheat/grass/ect” – this is one of the ways I can tell who has actually listened to a Monsanto sales rep, and who is just repeating talking points. Rep would rather sell you five different varieties matched to five different soil/moisture/tillage requirements on your place, than sell you enough to plant the whole farm and have to give you a volume discount. And the catalog changes every year.)

          There is *potential* for rent-seeking and regulatory capture, for sure – but we’ve already had the discussion about how to keep businesses from controlling government actions on their rivals – reduce the amount of government acting on that sector of the economy.

          But nobody wants to do that.

    • AoxyMouseOnArgo says:

      I have some worry about genetic engineering and creating super-foods. Crops that grow quickly, and can survive under harsh conditions. Could they spread out and dominate the eco-sphere? Perhaps we could create the best invasive species of all time?

      I am less concerned about safety issues. The phyto-chemical distribution of the drugs can quite likely be properly accounted for by testing the plant thoroughly.

      I am slightly concerned about some variables in GMO’s being maximized without account for others. I have already read that the speed of growth and size of the plant has created plants with less vitamins/minerals per calorie. Should there be laws saying that plant X isn’t plant X unless it has at least the mean nutrient count of the same species 40 years ago?

      • Loquat says:

        Invasive species – maaaaaaybe. To be invasive, the crop doesn’t just have to be good at surviving, it has to be good at spreading itself around, which immediately rules out major GMO crops like corn and beans which have been specifically bred NOT to disperse their seeds upon maturity. For the crops that do spread their seeds around a bit more, there’s the issue that the harsh conditions you’re likely to see on a farm are not the same as the harsh conditions you’d see in the wild – for example, in the wild being herbicide resistant is pretty useless because nobody sprays herbicide, but because nobody sprays there will be lots more competition from weeds than is allowed on a farm.

        Nutrient content – the trouble is, this isn’t just a function of the plant’s genetics, it’s also a function of growing conditions, especially the nutrient content of the soil. A crop grown in mineral-deficient soil, with nothing added by the farmer to compensate, is going to be low in minerals regardless of whether it’s Monsanto’s latest or an heirloom with a 200-year pedigree. And if you don’t control for growing conditions, determining the nutrient count for purposes of your suggested laws would quickly become a farce.

        • At a slight tangent, I have a blog post from a while back on the claim that CO2 fertilization makes crops less nutritious. I think it’s a pretty clear example of how to lie while telling the truth.

        • keranih says:

          re: “Invent superweed that jumps out of containment and spreads across the planet, ripping up asphalt and topping skyscrapers as it goes”:

          – Okay, so I exaggerate. But ag scientists do test the heck out of hybrids, and the odds of us creating a kudzu by accident are not great, much less to create it and let it loose. Ag breeding, after all, takes something that happens in nature, and them amps up that quality, generally at the expense of several other qualities. So the auroch becomes the cow, and can make milk (or beef, but not both) and along the way becomes a weaker, milder version of its ur-self.

          re: “GMO crops aren’t as nutritious as the wild type” – so much depends on what you mean by “nutritious”. There’s some interesting (but still incomplete) work on the gluten typing of historical wheat varieties vs the more modern (nonGMO) types, but in most cases, the “nutrition” profiles are not that different, and where significant, are in micro nutrients that aren’t an important part of that crop anyway.

          For the most part, plant breeding has been in response to consumer demand, which has been for aesthetics (size, color, etc) and price and less for flavor. Consumers *will* buy for flavor, but it’s a secondary thing.

          Again, this is totally not something you can blame corporate ag on.

        • AoxyMouseOnArgo says:

          It was something I read in Michael Pollon’s book “In Defense of Food”

          I read, though I might be mis-remembering it, that vitamins per calorie have decreased over the past 40 years with natural brreding methods, not GMO methods, due to an emphasis on food size.

          A suggestion to counter that is to use some standards for nutrients for food to consider that part of the crop.

          • keranih says:

            A suggestion to counter that is to use some standards for nutrients for food to consider that part of the crop.

            I fully support consumers using a nutrient profile to pick their produce. I’m not crazy about using such a thing for licensing/regulating ag products.(*)

            Aside from the obvious – what, iceberg lettuce is illegal now? And mushrooms? – there’s an easy way to get licensing for your new supersized melon that is high on water and low on Vit C – just restrict fertilization and water for the crop submitted for testing. Boom! that crop is smaller than its potential, higher in nutrients, and passes standards.

            (*) I’m ambivalent about source labeling and even more torn about things like milkfat percentages for fluid milk and species-testing for meat, because people *will* water the milk and sell you Wazu beef that is actually 100% Dobbin.

  12. Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

    Recently, after watching a vampire movie with my wife, she turned to me and asked me if I would become a vampire if it was the only way to save her from some unspecified danger.

    To be a vampire is to be immortal, but to survive at the cost of human blood. In the movie we watched, the human was inevitably killed when a vampire fed. Being a vampire introduces additional health risks (primarily exposure to direct sunlight, which can be lethal), but generally removes the normal human health hazards. For the purpose of this discussion, I’ll assume that the average human lives H days, the vampire needs to feed once every F days, and that the vampire lives V days longer than an average human after accounting for the additional risk. Additionally, I assume that a vampire can create other vampires, but that no vampires at all exist if you do not choose to become a vampire.

    My question is this: at what N, M does it become moral to become a vampire, not to save your spouse, but for its own sake? At the point where H=V/2=F, the vampire needs to feed only once in its lifetime, and lives twice as long as a human. In this scenario, the total life-years break even, and the only moral factor remaining is an intuitive opposition to the infliction of negative externalities. How much additional time do you feel needs to be added before the vampire’s drinking is a morally positive transaction?

    Building off this, would it be a moral choice to become a vampire so as to infect the world’s top scientists, assuming:
    H=V/2=F
    H=V/2=20F
    H=V/10=200F
    Bear in mind that the scientists are likely to do a lot more good when given brains that don’t decay due to age, and that the total life-years saved may outweigh the downside of having to feed the vampires.

    Finally, it seems like in traditional fantasy vampires do live significantly longer than humans (although they have to feed relatively frequently). Assuming the vampire scientists really do enough good for the world to balance out 1 human life per day per vampire, might the best fantasy system of government actually be some sort of vampire aristocracy?

    • Urstoff says:

      Could I as a vampire feed on wild deer like they do in the Twilight series?

      • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

        Let’s assume not, since that reduces the moral tension too significantly. You could, however, choose to feed only on very old people, so as to minimize the loss of QALYs.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Well, if you want to ramp up moral tension…

          You only “get” as many years as you take, and quality matters, so feeding on the infirm really does very little good. As you become hungrier and hungrier, you become less and less coherent and more and more feral, until you are Lestat subsisting on frogs and ready to drain the first baby that comes within scent.

    • onyomi says:

      This reminds me of a somewhat related question:

      I think it’s generally somewhat accepted (though it could be wrong) that most scientists/artists/thinkers actually tend to do most of their best, most influential, creative work fairly early on at some sweet spot between having enough experience/knowledge to make a real contribution and the onset of age-related cognitive decline/rigidity. There are many exceptions, of course, but they seem like exceptions (or cases of “old scientist continues to fruitfully dig into the field he pioneered in his 30s and 40s,” as opposed to “70 year old invents new branch of physics!”).

      What I’m wondering is whether there’s any consensus as to: to what extent is this just age-related cognitive decline and to what extent is it that a given brain tends to pick the low-hanging fruit which that brain is prone to notice in whatever area it’s good at, and, after that, subsequent innovations by that same brain, even if it remained as healthy as ever, would be much slower in coming (though that could change also if progress were made rapidly around said brain; though that also raises the question of how well even an ageless brain would be able to avoid getting “stuck” in old paradigms younger brains might never have gotten set in).

      In other words, if we could have an Einstein vampire (Einstein who lives for centuries and experiences no age-related cognitive decline), would he just keep making breakthroughs decade after decade? Or would he make the discoveries Einstein brain is likely to make and then settle into a pattern of valuable-ish but not revolutionary work?

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Dick Gross proposes that it’s just the result of selection on noise: people who don’t make discoveries early leave the field.

        • John Schilling says:

          Not the ones who have tenure, and it doesn’t take that much in the way of discovery to make tenure.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Gross is a mathematician answering the question: why do mathematicians do their best work before the age of 30? Most of them don’t have tenure when they do their best work. But maybe mathematicians are an extreme example and physicists do their best work in their 30s, after tenure. Onyomi mentioned Einstein who did his best work after he got tenure, but he did his Nobel work before the age of 30. One could examine the list of Nobel Prize citations. A substantial number of them are doctoral theses, although often the advisor is also credited.

      • LPSP says:

        I’d wager you’d need to freeze aging and attitude/values/motives at the 30’s to get the endless pioneering effect. 20’s would be more dynamic but ultimately too sloppy/irresponsible/fickle to make consistent progress, while 40’s has already calcified and become rigid, albeit in a pragmatic and tough sense but still limiting to innovation.

        Honestly most forms of age-locked immortality suck. Immortals should be able to visit any bio-chrono milestone they’ve actually reached, or earned in years. I mean this more than a 600 year old vampire could appear as an 80 year old if they wished or a teen, but if someone really jumps over the idea of turning into a kid again then sure, why not.

      • Skef says:

        I want to add the obligatory note that this phenomenon varies by field. Philosophers often do their defining work in mid or late career. Architecture is famous for late-career work (which may be partly due to opportunity, but I doubt that’s the whole story). Fiction-writing seems kind of mixed.

      • The experiment I long ago proposed was to pay someone who had made important discoveries in his youth and was now, say, fifty, to switch fields and see if, in the new field, he made a new set of important discoveries.

        Or, of course, find someone who did it on his own and look at the results.

        My impression, by the way, is that although the pattern may hold for science it does not hold for literature.

      • Finger says:

        Here’s a biography of Turing award winner Richard Hamming.

        Frustrated at several points in his career by aging scientists who were taking up space and resources that, he believes, could have been put to better use by Young Turks like himself, Hamming resolved while still young to retire early and get out of the way. So he ended his career at Bell Telephone Laboratories after 30 years, at age 61.

        He still believes his decision was the right one-that mathematicians are most productive early in their careers and their productivity drops off rapidly as they age.

        That he believes he is right, however, does not seem to make him happy. On an anniversary of BTL, he recalled receiving a commemorative poster listing year-by-year contributions BTL had made to research. Partially unrolling the poster, Hamming scanned the listing for his early years at BTL and noted complacently that he had worked on, or been somehow associated with, most of the chief contributions listed.

        He then hung the poster on a door, where it unrolled. Glancing at it again a few days later, Hamming realized that all his valued contributions came in the first 15 years of his tenure-he had not been associated with any of the subsequent projects listed. He tore up the poster and threw it away.

        Conclusion: It’s important to be “young”, where “young” is defined as “under 46”. (If Hamming retired at 61 after 30 years in Bell Labs, that would make the first 15 years of his tenure the years when he was 31-46.)

    • pku says:

      This reminds me of a “who would you rather bang” guy talk I had once that wound up devolving with questions like “ok, would you rather sleep with number 4 on your list, or have a threesome with 16 and 17?”.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Don’t leave us hanging. What was the answer?

        • pku says:

          My answer was #4, since my top 4-5 are women I actually know and have had crushes on, and there’s a significant drop after them when the “hot models and actresses” category starts. The other guy went with the threesome, on the argument that there was very little difference among his top twenty. What would you choose?

      • LPSP says:

        Those activities are only good if all the options are bad, and the challenge is picking (and justifying!) your choice of lesser devil, or devil-you-know as it may be. I used to devise sadistic ones with the guy across the hall in my first year.

    • Lumifer says:

      my wife, she turned to me and asked me if I would become a vampire if it was the only way to save her from some unspecified danger.

      I trust you know that the only possible answer to such a question is “Yes, of course, dear”? : -)

      • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

        Yes, of course. 🙂

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        The doctrine of Agree & Amplify disagrees.

        • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

          I never really went in for pickup culture. In this case, I’m having trouble even seeing what the”Agree and Amplify” would be.

          “I’d become a vampire even if you didn’t need saving”?

          I found most of the examples in your link to be needlessly combative; I want to make her feel loved, not assert dominance.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yeah but you probably aren’t dark triad.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            No clue either.

            Honestly, I figured the whole vampire question was fishing for a scenario to jill off to later: you as the sparkly immortal protector. I would say play along with it and emphasize the parts she thinks are hot.

            I found most of the examples in your link to be needlessly combative; I want to make her feel loved, not assert dominance.

            That’s probably a good sign. It shows that you’re not already a vampire at least.

            But yeah, part of relationship game is that you’re walking a tightrope. As long as you’re a known quantity there’s a lot less room to be attractive, and if you can’t maintain attraction then the relationship is over. Flipping that frame back on her, having her work to maintain your attraction, is a way to avoid that.

            In general, the more comfortable a woman is in a relationship the rougher things get. You don’t ever want to be taken for granted.

          • Jaskologist says:

            “Nope. Team Jacob all the way!”

          • hlynkacg says:

            I’m rooting for Team Abraham.

          • Lumifer says:

            Not to mention team Buffy X -)

    • Deiseach says:

      Does the vampire have to kill the human when they feed – that is, is it the blood itself (in which case, blood donations to build up a stock as in a blood bank would work) or is it the death and transference of the human’s life energy that sustains the vampire?

      Are humans to vampires as cattle are to humans? (That is a problem with Vampire Aristocracy rule, if they don’t think of humans as equals or as servants but as “Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs”).

      Could there be vegetarian vampires (surviving on blood substitutes)?

      A lot of vampire fiction has explored these questions 🙂

      • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

        We’re assuming that they have to kill when feeding. Humans and vampires are on equal intellectual footing, all else being equal, but vampires don’t suffer age-related degradation or normal diseases. No vegetarian vampires, due to the human blood and kill when feeding requirements. I think that those rules lead to the most interesting moral tension, but if you have a different scenario in mind, don’t hesitate to share it (just make it clear where the “vampire rules” differ).

        I’m unfortunately not read in vampire fiction, although my wife is.

        • Has anyone mentioned the obvious solution to the moral tension over being a vampire? Use your vampire powers to kill and feed on only evil people. Hitler isn’t around any more, and there is some risk of making mistakes, but there ought to be a fair number of obvious targets.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            Who gets to judge who’s evil? As a vampire, you’re hardly a dispassionate observer. Maybe if you only eat criminals who are on death row, but then either you’re fighting the state, or the state is suddenly incentivized to put a minimum number of criminals on death row per year, which also seems bad.

          • Anne Rice had a couple of solutions. I can’t remember whether her vampires were telepathic– if they weren’t, I think it would be too hard to find suitable prey.

            In any case, one solution was to kill people on the verge of suicide and the other was to kill murderers.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I’m not sure having the world’s top scientists around longer would be a good thing.

      (I’m ignoring what Onyomi mentioned above about aging, since vampires in particular ought not to have that problem.)

      Fields progress at least in part by the distinguished researchers of the past being replaced by newcomers. Both Tesla and Einstein, for example, towards the ends of their lives were fighting doomed rearguard actions against what would become the next generation’s paradigms. If old researchers could hold their fiefdoms indefinitely, there wouldn’t be any room for new talent to rise up and challenge their ideas.

      Beyond that, it’s very rare that a single genius will pull far out ahead of the pack. More often, once the body of evidence exists for a position to be arrived at you see one team scooping the other competing teams by a very small margin. The most brilliant scientist and the 100th most brilliant scientist are still operating on roughly the same level.

    • It sounds like the right answer is to vamp everyone who looks promising, feed every vamp-scientist in proportion to the work they do to save lives, and when their work stops saving lives, promptly cut off their human supply (and heads, if necessary).

      Assuming that we can use threats to make our vampire scientists science on demand, of course.

      Utilitarian ethics where we’re permitted to do very bad things end up with people enslaved and consumed oddly frequently, I find.

      • Loquat says:

        Which is kind of the opposite of Rebel’s suggestion that a vampire aristocracy might be the best form of fantasy government. I agree with you, though, that there has to be someone else to decide when a given vampire’s not justifying their upkeep anymore and take the appropriate action, otherwise you risk ending up with lots of useless vampires who don’t want to commit suicide, hanging around eating people for no benefit, eventually inspiring a human rebellion.

        Of course, any situation where vampires have a realistic expectation of dying when they stop producing enough is likely to be bad for vampire morale and inspire a vampire rebellion, so in general I think any scenario where vampires must kill humans to survive is going to be ugly for at least one side if not both.

        • Jiro says:

          What you should do is to make someone a vampire if the probabilistically average benefit they will produce during their extended life exceeds the probabilistic cost of making them a vampire and feeding on people. When doing so, you also precommit to letting them live until they die.

          If the vampire ends up being useless after a certain period of time, then since you have precommitted you still have to let him live.

          You’re essentially buying insurance, except the “payoff” of the insurance is the lifetime of free eating that the vampire gets after he stops producing and the “payment” for the insurance is (discoveries the vampire makes during his productive years – cost of the vampire eating during those years). Insurance compaies don’t benefit when they pay off, but they have to pay off since they have precommitted to doing so, and without this precommitment they wouldn’t exist in the first place.

          (Note that assuming vampires are considered people, everyone else’s scruples about killing them can serve as precommitment. This is also similar to the answer to killing one person to save five people with their organs: “sorry, I’ve precommitted not to kill innocent people so I’m not going to do it even if it brings a utilitarian benefit.”)

        • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

          there has to be someone else to decide when a given vampire’s not justifying their upkeep anymore and take the appropriate action

          A Chomptroller, if you will.

          any scenario where vampires must kill humans to survive is going to be ugly for at least one side if not both.

          I think that this is likely true in most cases, but you might be able to work with it depending on the parameters. If a vampire only needs to feed once every year, feeding vampires old humans with life expectancy under a year might be a worthwhile tradeoff, even assuming that the vampire isn’t producing significant results. This would of course require heavy regulation and likely be wildly unpopular and prone to abuse, so I overall agree with you it’s likely to be unfeasible. One problem that vampires introduce to a state is the requirement of a minimum death count per year; without vampires states may or may not have the death penalty, but with vampires they have an incentive to have a “death penalty quota” per year.

        • John Schilling says:

          I agree with you, though, that there has to be someone else to decide when a given vampire’s not justifying their upkeep anymore and take the appropriate action

          The Laundry has got that covered.

          To out the inside joke, The Laundry Files is a series by SFF author Charlie Stross about the eponymous branch of the British Government charged with Defending the Realm against various eldritch and apocalyptic horrors. Two of the latest novels involve vampires, of which the few surviving British specimens are on the Laundry’s payroll on account of their utility. The Laundry absolutely has the resources to track them down and kill them wherever they go (now that it knows they exist). It also has access to blood from hospice patients that will keep a vampire “alive” at a moral cost tolerable to the British civil servants running the show. Assuming there’s a benefit to offset that cost, or all bets are off.

          Not sure, but I think one of the vampires recently became King of the Unseelie Court, while still being a loyal subject of the British Crown. Not sure how that’s going to work, given that said Court includes tame vampires of its own. And yes, the lives of sentient beings are explicitly part of the keeping-vampires-fed equations, no animals or sublethal feedings allowed.

          • Loquat says:

            Hey, I’ve read that! The one where he introduces vampires, at least, not the second one. Did he actually establish that feeding on live animals doesn’t work? I know the blood of dead animals (and dead people) doesn’t, because he sets up his vampirism to be the result of eldritch interdimensional parasites that must feed on the brains of living victims via blood magic, but I don’t recall if any vampire characters ever tested animal blood that wasn’t from an already-dead animal.

      • Incurian says:

        Best comment ever.

      • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

        An issue with that solution is that it’s often not clear at the outset which avenues are actually promising, or what is likely to save lives. Assuming we can actually build a system which can support vampire scientists and terminate them when necessary, the rewards system can’t be set up on the basis of “your work will save X lives, so you get to eat Y humans”, since we don’t know in advance what X will be, but have to feed them as we go.

        I agree that utilitarian systems where one group gets shafted tend to break down. I’d be really interested, though, in seeing a story where the human protagonists revolt against their vampire overlords, only to discover that the system worked better under the vampires.

        • Loquat says:

          Just off the top of my head, I’d expect such a story to require at least one of three preconditions:

          1) The vampire overlords include one or more super geniuses and/or mages, capable of inventing/forseeing/etc things humans just can’t. Without them, humanity will be materially worse off.

          2) Humans are really bad at governing themselves, whether that’s due to existing conflicts among human subgroups, because the vampires dominated all government so there aren’t enough humans who know how to govern, or whatever. (Analogies to real-world colonialism and its aftermath go here)

          3) There’s some worse threat out there that the vampire overlords were holding at bay, and that the humans either didn’t know about, or didn’t know the full extent of.

      • Robert Liquori:

        “It sounds like the right answer is to vamp everyone who looks promising, feed every vamp-scientist in proportion to the work they do to save lives, and when their work stops saving lives, promptly cut off their human supply (and heads, if necessary).”

        Ack! I say, Ack! Ack! Ack!

        I will unpack my emotional reaction so that mere humans can understand it.

        The current problems in science are the result of scientists being rewarded with fame and money. How much worse would things get if they were rewarded with life itself?

        Incentive programs are not the One Weird Trick That Will Make People Do What You Want.

        • Deiseach says:

          If you’re creating vampire scientists primarily because they are the geniuses who are expected to create wonders over their long lifetimes to benefit humanity, the first thing they’ll use those smart brains and long lifespans for is to figure out a way to get out from under enslavement by humans (maybe second, how to enslave the humans and make them their cattle, maybe not). They’ll also do just enough brilliant breakthrough work spread out over enough time that it will never quite be worth it to cut off their heads, because give them another twenty years and they might just crack [insoluble problem] for you. (If they’re anyway smart at all and have self-preservation instincts, they won’t give you everything they can at once or in the start of their careers, because they know you’ll chop off their heads as soon as they are no longer useful, so better to always keep something in reserve).

          If you think a group of vampire geniuses with decades (or even centuries) to work on the problem can’t figure out a way of getting themselves out of the control of the mortals, you’re very sanguine.

    • hlynkacg says:

      This whole conversation is why I don’t think utilitarian’s can be trusted with anything important.

      If we’re sticking to the “feeding is fatal” and “no blood substitutes” paradigm I would argue that the only moral response to finding out that vampires exist is KILL IT WITH FIRE and suspect anyone who suggests otherwise of being a Renfield .

      Becoming a vampire is never a moral choice. Vampires are not human, they are explicitly anti-human eldritch abominations walking around in skin-suits killing people. You’d feed a feed a bunch of people to said abominations on the off chance that they’ll be useful in the future? What are you? The villain in a pulp fantasy story?

      Even if we accept the premise that vampires are nominally human, IE they retain the souls (or what ever you want to call it) of who they were before being turned, you still have the old “brilliant doctor is also a serial killer” type problem. Sure you can argue that the positive utility generated by Dr. Lector’s brilliant work outweighs a certain number of people a year getting served up with fava beans and a nice chianti, but my response is going to be something to the effect of “Do you want Nazi quietus experiments? Because this is how we get Nazi quietus experiments.”

      • Urstoff says:

        I don’t see a reason to deny vampires the status of moral persons. At the very least, it would seem worthwhile to research synthetic alternatives for human blood (ala True Blood).

        • hlynkacg says:

          Vampires having a workable alternative to feeding on humans obviously changes the calculus which is why I prefaced my reply by stating that I’m assuming the standard “gothic horror” paradigm.

          I don’t see a reason to deny vampires the status of moral persons.

          My 3rd paragraph is a direct response to this.

      • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

        Granted, vampires are “monsters” with goals orthogonal to those of mankind. But I think that deontological absolutism of the “Kill it with fire” type is premature. I’ll also grant that any attempt to keep vampires around in a controlled condition is likely to fail spectacularly.

        Let’s assume that vampires are human in the sense of “moral person”. Let’s further assume that there’s some mechanism such that we can keep their population from exploding. Given these conditions, are there some set of parameters where we can make a beneficial trade?

        I propose the following scenario; vampires live for an average of 101 human lifetimes, and need to feed every ten human lifetimes. Society sets up a completely voluntary “vampire lottery”, where 1 in 11 participants becomes a vampire, effectively gaining 100 lifetimes, and the other 10 become vampire food. I think that this lottery would have some appeal; if nothing else, you might expect a lot of cancer patients on death’s door to take the gamble, since they have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. In a situation where no vampires exist, running this lottery over the set of cancer patients means that we save just under 10 percent of them, which seems like an improvement over the system where we have to lose them all. Is there no variation of this sort of system where you would agree it’s better than the alternative?

        Note that in this situation the number of humans eaten is the same as the lifetime number of humans the vampire will eat, so that the system is stable over multiple iterations. In the early lotteries, there would likely be more victims and less vampires, while later lotteries would approach stability.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Do you want Nazi quietus experiments? Because this is how you get Nazi quietus experiments.

          • dndnrsn says:

            What’s a quietus experiment? Google’s giving me nothing.

          • hlynkacg says:

            It’s a reference to the exposure and respiratory trials conducted at the Dachau Concentration Camp during WWII. the Nazis’ work was of very high quality and informed the US military’s own post war studies.

            As a result the “Butchers of Dachau” have arguably saved many more lives in the intervening years, than they took, so by Rebel’s reasoning above, the Allies should have kept Dachau open. After all, who knows how many more lives the Nazis could have saved if given the opportunity.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            @dndnrsn, @hlynkacg

            Thanks for asking and answering the question, respectively. I was wondering that myself.

            @hlynkacg

            I think a fundamental difference between the quietus experiments and the ‘vampire lottery’ I proposed is that no one chose to be the Nazi’s guinea pig, but people could choose to opt into the lottery, and can stand to benefit from it. What do you think of the scenario I described?

            I’d like to add that I’m not necessarily in favor of the systems I’m proposing (although I’m not particularly against the vampire lottery, either).

          • dndnrsn says:

            @hlynkacg: I’d read about those experiments before, but I’d never heard them referred to as “quietus experiments”. Where’s that from? Again, seems unGooglable.

            And, I imagine similar reasoning was behind the US decision to employ scientists like Strughold after the war, instead of hang them.

          • hlynkacg says:

            As I understand it “Quietus” was the official label for the project and how my instructor referred to them when I was going through SAR School. I’m actually some what surprised that google is turning up nothing. I distinctly remember seeing the term used and in contemporary documents and transcripts of the Dachau trials.

    • I don’t know whether this would have been a good idea, but I’d have asked the reciprocal question– would you become a vampire for my sake?

      Also, there are non-fantasy versions of the question. Would you become a hit man to save my life? Join the military when they’re fighting a war we both think is immoral? (Assume that only combat positions are available.)

      And as for life span as reward, there’s Vance’s To Live Forever by Jack Vance.

  13. Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

    I want to start a long, salacious comment thread so I’m going to go with the most gosspiy topic possible:

    Who do you have a crush on in the rationalist-diaspora scene? Besides me, of course.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      >>/ratanon/

      • wtvb says:

        “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST, that wasn’t even a SSC comment! I had to literally USE my MASTER DETECTIVE SKILLS and KNOWLEDGE of COMMUNITY DRAMA to GO to SOME RANDO’S TUMBLR to find out that you were talking about” continues to be my favorite comment on that subreddit. The capital “USE” and “GO” just crack me up. Thank you anon, bless your posts.

    • Skivverus says:

      Deiseach and Keranih, assuming that this site counts as part of the scene you refer to; not something I expect to go anywhere in either case due to the whole “hundreds if not thousands of real-space miles away” and attendant logistical considerations, but them’s the breaks.

      As for why I’m answering this question at all, I’ll chalk it up to “longstanding personal character flaw”.

  14. Adam says:

    Scott, what do you think about the new RDoC system that NIMH is creating?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Not that new anymore – the guy who invented them has already left NIMH and moved on to bigger and better things (ie Google).

      I appreciate what they’re trying to do. Everyone suspects that the things we call “depression” and “schizophrenia” are mishmashes of a bunch of different underlying conditions – kind of like if pulmonologists diagnosed “shortness of breath” but didn’t understand the difference between pneumonia, lung cancer, and having just exercised too much. This obviously makes them hard to treat, and probably some of our current medications work for some underlying causes and others work for others – which leads to a philosophy of “just try whatever until something works”. I agree it would be really neat to finally figure this stuff out, find out exactly how many kinds of depression there are and what causes each of them, and then clear up some of this confusion.

      I’m less sure that dividing things up into a nice little matrix and demanding that researchers point to exactly which part of the matrix their research fits into is the best way to get to this future. Just to give one example, one of the few really great discoveries in psychiatry was the discovery about ten years ago that some weird psychoses were caused by antibodies to the NMDA receptor and could be treated with plasmapheresis. This is exactly the sort of triumph of biological psychiatry that NIMH wants more of, but it wasn’t done by somebody focusing on some particular neurological circuit and filling in a matrix. I don’t really know how research funding works, but I assume the effect of this will be to redirect research funding from other things into things that can easily fit the neurological-circuit model, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

      A lot of people I read in the psych research community are not impressed and think it’s kind of a stunt.

      • Adam says:

        Thanks.

        Where do you go to keep up on this? I’m interested in trying to keep tabs on things.

        I can understand why people might think of it as a stunt, but I think there’s too much momentum for this system to just go away. I think your pulmonologist example is a bit too close to reality for the status quo to exist for much longer (several years though).

  15. Anonymous says:

    In the last Links thread, this was posted: http://www.salon.com/2001/04/12/science_women/

    Did anyone else read it? Does it stagger anyone else that this was the state of the left 15 years ago? I mean, these are sane people I could very happily live and exchange ideas with! Frankly, the fact that in many cases it must be these same people who are now intractable maniacs scares me more than a little.

    (As an aside, reading this article not only blew me away but blew away the left’s claim that it’s the right who have been getting more aggressively partisan and out-there, at least in my eyes.)

    • The Nybbler says:

      No, that’s Cathy Young. She was a heretic then and she’s a heretic now.

      • Anonymous says:

        Could I ask you to expand on that?

      • Urstoff says:

        She’s a heretic to both sides, now. She was embraced for awhile by the proto-alt-right because of her anti-SJW writings, but now that she’s also anti-Trump and pro-immigrant, the alt-right and anti-semites have come out in force (on Twitter) against her.

        • Fahndo says:

          She was embraced for awhile by the proto-alt-right because of her anti-SJW writings, but now that she’s also anti-Trump and pro-immigrant

          Sounds great, thanks for the recommendation.

        • DrBeat says:

          “Proto-alt-right”?

          Not all people you dislike are interchangeable, and not all people you dislike are morally deficient because you dislike them.

          • Anonymous says:

            Check out that beam.

          • Urstoff says:

            Er, what? There was clearly a pro-GG/anti-SJW group that liked her writings until Trump became a thing, at which point the knives (and anti-semitism) came out.

          • DrBeat says:

            Pro-GG/anti-SJW still likes her. The large, vast, overwhelming majority of pro-GG/anti-SJW are not the alt-right and do not like the alt-right and do not support the alt-right.

            The confusion between them and the alt-right is higher than would be expected, due to the efforts of malicious abusive liars conflating the two groups.

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s so unfair when other people treat me as part of an undifferentiated mass but it is totally cool when I do it.

          • DrBeat says:

            When did I say Urstoff was part of an undifferentiated mass?

            There is a specific group of people who are doing things. I said that specific group of people did things. You can’t claim that since I don’t like wrongly being conflated with groups I have nothing to do with, I am not allowed to identify when groups do things.

          • Anonymous says:

            In your absurdly broad definition of “social justice”.

          • Urstoff says:

            I’ll concede that, although there definitely seems to be overlap between the two groups (what are Milo and his followers, if not that exact intersection of groups?). So yes, all normal caveats apply: #notallGG

          • DrBeat says:

            Urstoff: GG pretty much ended the honeymoon with Milo once he hopped on board the Trump Train.

            Anon: Okay, so you’re just following me around and shitting on me for the sake and purpose of following me around and shitting on me, then?

    • Eltargrim says:

      The article above is written by Cathy Young, who as far as I can tell hasn’t changed her positions much, if at all. Whether or not she was considered representative of the left at the time is a question for someone with a better memory of 2001.

    • Adam says:

      Not only Cathy Young. Larry Summers is still a fixture of the left. Being a blacklisted heretic of the academy doesn’t mean there is no place for you in the mainstream power apparatus of actual policy and decision makers.

  16. Franz_Panzer says:

    What is the SSCC’s opinion about a cashless economy?

    Is it good (because of convenience, more difficult to make transfers on a black market)?
    Is it bad (loss of anonymity in transactions, dependence on banks)?
    Will it happen or not?
    Are alternatives to official money like bitcoin viable, given its volatility and that governments can limit its usefulness?

    • Aegeus says:

      I’m a fan, on the grounds that carrying a plastic card is a lot easier and safer than cash, and having a log of all of my transactions is handy for both budgeting and fraud prevention. It’s a little bit weird at times – I’m able to buy things because I have a number on a computer somewhere, and my employer pays for my work by incrementing that number once a month – but it’s super useful.

      I doubt Bitcoin would see a huge following even if the government did nothing against it and the exchange rate held steady. Bitcoin is designed to act like cash, which is great if you want your transactions to be untraceable and irrevocable, but that’s a double-edged sword. If you lose your password or get hacked, your money is gone, as surely as if you had thrown a briefcase full of dollar bills off a cliff. People like the features that banks offer – trust, convenience, legal oversight – and don’t really care about the features that Bitcoin offers – anonymity and irrevocability.

      (Old joke on Reddit: “Bitcoin is a group of ancaps discovering why financial regulations exist, one theft at a time.”)

      I think there’s value in its existence, much the same way that there’s value in Tor or other encryption tech, but it’s not something you want or need to use in daily life.

      • JayT says:

        Is losing your password or being hacked any more likely than losing your wallet full of cash or being robbed?

        I think you would see (legitimate) people storing their cash in banks, but keeping a small amount of bit coins for things they don’t want to be tracked. Basically what most people use cash for today.

        • One of the scarier bits in The Handmaids Tale (from memory) was women losing access to their bank accounts and credit cards. A centralized system means you’re vulnerable to a centralized attack. That vulnerability isn’t just about any particular group– governments can turn agasint anyone.

    • Anita Restrepo-Sanchez says:

      “loss of anonymity in transactions”

      Why is this listed as a bad? That anonymity only really serves illegal or black market or otherwise immoral transactions, and you list eliminating or making those more difficult to be a good of cashless economy. If you aren’t planning on making illegal purchases, then you have no cause for worry.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Who gets to decide what’s immoral then?

        I’ve worked for born-again Christians and for hardcore feminists, and I wouldn’t want either of them to know about the contents of my bookshelf or my nightstand. Everyone has aspects of their life which they don’t want on public display whether that’s physical or intellectual.

        Total transparency means the only form of security is security through obscurity: as soon as anyone decides that they want to look, they’ll be able to dig up enough dirt to destroy you. Nobody is so clean that they are immune to that treatment.

        • Anita Restrepo-Sanchez says:

          Well, first, I mostly meant things that technically aren’t illegal because of loopholes or exceptions (usually put in place to protect the privileged and allow the law to be used as a tool against the oppressed), but probably should be.

          As to your initial question, we live in a democracy, so the answer is “the people, primarily (but not entirely) through their representatives, subject to the demands of tolerance and of respecting the rights of the under-represented and of not perpetuating systemic prejudice.”

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            I mostly meant things that technically aren’t illegal because of loopholes or exceptions (fnord), but probably should be.

            Can you give any examples of said things? I’m drawing a huge blank.

            the people, primarily (but not entirely) through their representatives, subject to the demands of tolerance and of respecting the rights of the under-represented and of not perpetuating systemic prejudice.”

            So, essentially, majority opinion unless the majority disagrees with you. Nice. Good to know.

            I’ll add you to the list of people I don’t want to see my bookshelf.

          • Deiseach says:

            subject to the demands of tolerance and of respecting the rights of the under-represented

            So vague as to be functionally useless. Do you tolerate everything? How about tolerating intolerance? Are there some things that simply cannot or should not be tolerated? What about competing tolerances – we’re seeing that with religious liberty versus newly acquired legal rights in things like same-sex marriage, whether it’s baking wedding cakes or signing marriage licences.

            How under-represented does your group have to be? What counts as under-represented? If there are no traditional orthodox Catholics who think extra-marital sex is a sin and marriage is only between a man and a woman on the board of the Student LGBT Alliance, should the Alliance be forced to allow them to be officers? (I’m using the flip side of the decision that university Christian organisations would not be recognised as official student bodies or allowed on campus unless they permitted non-Christians to serve as officers).

    • Lumifer says:

      The failure modes can be really bad.

  17. Playing off of the Scott Adams discussion …

    The central question for making sense of this election is whether Trump is clever or lucky.

    Almost everyone but Scott A thought Trump didn’t have a chance of winning either the nomination or the election. He won the nomination and did it comfortably–by the time the convention arrived it was all over.

    One possible explanation is that he was lucky. He had a bunch of characteristics that, under almost all circumstances, would have doomed his campaign as most of us expected. Some unlikely series of accidents made those just the characteristics that this time, in the Republican nomination contest worked. If that’s the story, lightning is unlikely to strike twice–Hilary will win. Call it Theory A.

    The other possibility is that he was clever. He was doing things that all the rest of us thought would lose but that he, correctly, believed would win. If that’s the story, he may well pull it off again. That’s Scott A’s theory. Theory B.

    The conditional probability of Trump getting the nomination is low on Theory A, high on Theory B. Most of us are Bayesians. We should revise our prior in favor of B.

    At the moment, he is running a pretty close race to Hilary–betting market odds 33%. The conditional probability of that is also lower on A than on B. We should revise the probability of B up a little farther.

    If A is correct, he will almost certainly lose the election. If B is correct he might still lose, since being clever might not be enough. But he might well win.

    • Shion Arita says:

      I think it’s a third option:

      He’s not really either clever or lucky. He just happens to have a set of characteristics that passively make other people like him and want to nominate him. He’s trying to get the nomination, and what he does to try and what he’s like ends up being what the right people support.

      As an analogy, I wouldn’t say that Usain Bolt wins all those races by being particularly clever or lucky. He’s fast.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Your third option appears indistinguishable from “lucky” as defined above.

        I think his recovery from the post-DNC drop strongly points to “clever”; someone merely lucky would have spiraled out of relevancy at that point. Trump changed his tack slightly and recovered.

      • bluto says:

        Clever seems like a catch all for any sort of political/charismatic talent.

        In a world without stopwatches, does Usain Bolt win all 100m dashes because he’s fast or lucky seems like a similar question. There aren’t easy ways to compare campaign effectiveness in different periods.

        • pku says:

          There’s a difference in that “clever” implies he’d probably also do better than people expect in office, while “lucky in that he has this specific sort of charm” means he’s good at this particular thing, which wouldn’t correlate with a generic measure of success or intelligence, and means that winning this election more easily than his doubters expect doesn’t mean they’re wrong about his ability to actually hold office.

          (In Trump’s case, I’d say there’s another complication – even if his charm is a result of his being a master manipulator with superhigh IQ, he’s a seventy year old man with no experience in politics – and while high IQ can make up for lack of experience, it helps a hell of a lot less for the elderly. Manipulation, OTOH, would be something he started learning when young).

    • Matt M says:

      “If that’s the story, lightning is unlikely to strike twice–Hilary will win.”

      I’m not sure this logically follows. A “political moment” might conceivably last up to a year or so. It’s possible that the “lucky” conditions Trump found himself in that allowed him to win the GOP primary were not necessarily exclusive to Republicans, but were conditions shared among the nation as a whole. It’s also possible that those conditions would not have meaningfully changed within the span of about one calendar year.

      As evidence for this, I offer the Trump campaign’s claim that he attracted a lot of independent or at least non-traditional voters to the GOP primary and did significantly better with such people than his competitors did (I haven’t looked into this myself – it’s possible that it isn’t true). If true, that would indicate that the same lucky conditions which helped him win the primary could help him win the general as well.

      Or it could be that he’s getting lucky in a different way. Among most correct-thinking people I know, the consensus seems to be that the only reason he’s even remotely competitive is because Hillary is far and away the worst possible candidate the Democrats could have nominated. There are people who seriously believe that if she collapsed dead tomorrow, Tim Kaine would win 80% of the popular vote because nobody hates him and he doesn’t have any scandals. This is going to be the narrative if Trump does win – that the only reason he did is because Hillary sucks and is corrupt and everyone hates her and that literally any other Democrat would have defeated Trump easily.

    • Adam says:

      He’s explored running for political office for at least the past 30 years, so at least some of this is that the timing is finally right, which is both luck, because he has no control over wider social conditions that help him, and clever, because he had the restraint not to run back when conditions were not right.

      • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

        Ya i was going to say, Persistence and Effort seem like the real deciding factors here.

        He’s spent 30+ years branding himself as the embodiment of success and the american dream( for a wide cross-section of the american non-elite public), and floating the idea of him as president the whole time.

        He’s indistinguishable from the cliched hallmark version of american success and business at this point, by his conscious design. It would be freaking weird if he wasn’t a surprisingly strong contender for president.
        We would have to consider seriously the possibility that democracy was an effective system of reasoned policy and rational argument, if Trump just fizzled out.
        All the theoretical frameworks we have of democracy predict this is exactly the kind of strategy that should work and has worked in the past, see Rob Ford in Toronto, Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, Barrack Obama in Washington, all cases of successful branding beating out other more experienced/rational candidates (in primaries and generals).

        The only reason the elite media didn’t see it coming was that they were too used to sneering at the trump brand to recognize its value.

        Like if you grew up in the non-urban middle class, and just thought of Trump as a successful and famous (if slightly weird) business man for a good chunk of your life, then this isn’t surprising. I distinctly remember on multiple ocassions hearing or reading him say something about running for president, or one of his hangers on mentioning it and i thought “Ya, i could imagine it”. Apparently outside of the sneering class a lot of people could imagine it,

        Trump values his brand at 4 billion dollars,
        the odds of him winning the White-house is 40% (538 poll tracker),
        If anything he might have valued it rather low.

        • pku says:

          I think you’re wrong about the phrase “sneering class”. People who use the phrase “media elite” seem to do so with a lot more sneer than the actual media ever put in their words.
          Of course, I mostly see them through the outgroup, so they may just be equally likely to sneer (going by the “how would you feel about your son marrying a member of the opposite party”, I’d guess they’re about 60% more likely to sneer). But they’re definitely not significantly more respectful.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think “lucky or clever” is a false dichotomy. He can be both and something else altogether.

      Trump is good at being manipulative. I guess that is clever.

      He is also more populist than any Republican politician in recent memory, when the electorate, especially the Republican electorate, has been trending populist. That’s more about luck.

      Populist demagogue arises in uncertain times is an old pattern. Sometimes that is because the politician harnesses the rhetoric, without truly being that demagogue, and sometimes they really are just a demagogue.

      • dndnrsn says:

        If it was a coincidence that he happened to say stuff populists approved of, and ran with it, that’s lucky.

        On the other hand, how do we know that he didn’t see a niche for populism and fill it?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @dndnrsn:
          Trump seems to have always been playing the demagogue. His reaction to the Central Park 5 seems like a fairly classic appeal. I find it really hard to believe the birther bullshit was Trump making a clever opening foray into politics to position himself as the populist choice in 2012 or 2016. I think that was just him giving voice to what amounts to a playground taunt about Obama’s name (and dad).

          The Republic base clearly wants someone who proposes “down to earth” solutions and they aren’t very comfortable with anyone who looks like they are patrician. Folksy and angry is where they are at. I think both the Republican base reaction to Sarah Palin in 2008 and the entirety of the 2012 Republican primary process really illustrate how embracing that base is of someone who is populist and uncomfortable they are with someone aristocratic.

          I think they were looking for a populist and they finally found one. But still, if Trump wasn’t running against such a crowded field, he probably still loses the primary. If Jeb? (or Rubio) had more personality than wet cardboard, either of them would be the nominee, and the field would never have been so crowded in the first place.

          One is tempted to give credit to Trump for recognizing that the field wasn’t strong, but everyone in the field also recognized that, which is why there were so many in the field.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Trump was indeed lucky in the field he faced. He was also lucky that it looks like the other plausible candidates all hoped he would take their rivals out for them.

        • Gazeboist says:

          Well, could he have filled another niche?

          That’s the luck argument, that knowing your moment isn’t enough in presidential politics because if you only have one moment it probably won’t come in your lifetime.

    • John Schilling says:

      Almost everyone but Scott A thought Trump didn’t have a chance of winning either the nomination or the election. He won the nomination and did it comfortably–by the time the convention arrived it was all over.

      I don’t think that counts as a comfortable victory, given the way the Republican primary is structured. By the time Trump’s rivals had withdrawn, 83% of the votes had been counted, with Trump winning 49.6% of the delegates to date and expected to win 58+3% of the remaining votes. That’s roughly equivalent to a 51/49 election where the loser gives his concession speech before the mail-in ballots are counted.

      One possible explanation is that he was lucky. He had a bunch of characteristics that, under almost all circumstances, would have doomed his campaign as most of us expected

      As phrased, you are implicitly limiting Trump’s luck to manifesting in Trump’s characteristics. I believe the biggest subset of the “Trump got lucky” phase space has to do not with Trump’s characteristics but with those of his opponents. Do I really need to enumerate their individual and collective defects here?

      If there is a path to a Trump victory in the general election, it runs through the same phase space. This is the year that both major parties threw their weight behind people capable of losing elections to Donald Trump.

      • Vaniver says:

        By the time Trump’s rivals had withdrawn, 83% of the votes had been counted, with Trump winning 49.6% of the delegates to date and expected to win 58+3% of the remaining votes. That’s roughly equivalent to a 51/49 election where the loser gives his concession speech before the mail-in ballots are counted.

        Winning half the votes when there are more than two competitors is a lot better than winning half the votes when there’s one competitor.

      • JayT says:

        51/49 is a small win in a two person race, but Trump had 3-5 viable competitors cutting up that 49%. It ended up being fairly comfortable. For the last few weeks of the Cruz and Kasich campaigns all of the talk was about whether or not they could force a contested convention, not whether or not they would win the nomination.

        • John Schilling says:

          Right, but given the mechanics of the GOP delegate selection process, Trump’s odds of victory take a substantial dive right after the first floor vote when “his” delegates become unbound. It was not impossible for him to win at a contested convention, but pretty much by definition – and especially for Trump – any race that ends with a contested convention is a very close race. And he was within a percent or two of a contested convention.

          • JayT says:

            Sure, but by the time it got to the convention Trump’s lead was insurmountable. just because at one point the race was somewhat close doesn’t mean he didn’t win comfortably. Bill Clinton lost 11 of the first 12 states to vote in the 1992 primary, but by the end he was so far ahead there was no question he would win.

          • John Schilling says:

            Trump’s lead didn’t become “insurmountable” until 83% of the votes had been cast and counted. Just about any 51/49 election will result in a statistically insurmountable lead by the time 83% of the votes have been counted. There is absolutely not contradiction between an election being genuinely very close, and an election’s outcome being known with certainty at the point where 83% of the votes have been counted.

            The fact that the US primary election system uniquely calls for pauses at various stages in the voting and vote-counting processes, doesn’t change that. In almost every other US presidential primary of this century, the outcome was known with certainty and the losers had conceded when less than 17% of the votes had been cast. That the best you can say about Trump is that his lead was insurmountable by the time it got to the convention, that’s the proof that this was a close election.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      I think there’s a lot wrong in this post.

      As I mentioned upthread, the fact that Trump is in the position he is against a candidate as disliked as Hillary is not impressive or surprising and doesn’t suggest he is very clever. Just about any Republican running against Hillary would have greater odds. You have to make your assessments of bayesian evidence against the background of other facts, including what we know about the political circumstances.

      Also, and relatedly, it’s false that it’s almost certain that he will lose if Theory A is true. Given what we know about how partisan elections work and about Hillary’s weakness as a candidate, just about anyone with an “R” next to their name would have at least a decent shot at winning, without needing to be especially clever. This is why the thought about “lightning needing to strike twice” is also wrong. With a little less confidence, I’d go further and suggest that his chance of winning on theory B is only slightly higher than his chance of winning on theory A. Too many of the factors that will determine whether he wins are out of his hands. People overestimate the importance of brilliant decisionmaking for getting elected. Politics is largely about being the right kind of person in the right place at the right time. And the chance of theory B is so low given everything else we know that even if Trump wins in a landslide the probability of Theory B being true will be low.

      Stepping back, though, it’s very easy to find facts that are Bayesian evidence for just about anything you like. The fact that Trump’s odds are greater than 10% is evidence for Theory B. The fact that his odds are less than 90% is evidence for theory A. If his polls go up it’s evidence for theory B. If his polls go down it’s evidence for theory A. If he doesn’t drool on the podium in the first debate, it’s evidence for theory B. If he doesn’t reduce Hillary to tears, it’s evidence for theory A. You can go on and on and get basically no useful information from this exercise. And if you pick and choose your propositions carefully, you can make it seem like there’s lots of evidence going one way, because there’s always lots of evidence going both ways. What matters is the total evidence, and the evidence provided by the mere fact that he won the nomination is swamped by all the other things we know.

      If you see someone in a fight, and they’re flailing around in a way that looks drunk and clumsy, and they manage to win, the fact that they won is bayesian evidence for them being a brilliant fighter whose talent is beyond observers’ ability to appreciate, rather than genuinely drunk and clumsy. And the more drunk and clumsy they look, the more unlikely it is that they win on the assumption that they aren’t a brilliant fighter. But that doesn’t mean that the more drunk and clumsy they look while winning, the more confident you should be that they are a brilliant fighter. This seems like the kind of reasoning that people pushing this “Trump’s apparent political incompetence + winning -> Machiavellian mastermind” are falling into.

      Trump isn’t doing particularly well. Maybe he’s doing well for someone who looks as incompetent as he does, but that doesn’t tell you much. When Donald Trump makes decisions that seem to informed observers stupid, this is evidence that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and the whole episode remains on balance evidence that he doesn’t know what he’s doing even when he ends up successful (of course, in reality, his obvious political blunders have hurt him).

      • pku says:

        a) I like the analogy. +1.

        b) Alternative: Trump is clumsy in ways some people think should matter, but actually don’t?This reminds me of the attitude of playing Go which goes “make your first three moves at random places not on the first line, then build on that.” For amatuer players that probably won’t noticably effect your win percentage – begining moves aren’t meaningless, but amatuer games are usually decided on midgame mistakes, not razor-thin margins. An amatuer who makes his first three moves at random might look like he’s flailing, but it would make him neither better nor worse.

        c) Where did you get that gravatar? You would think googling “cat with moustache” would work, but it hasn’t helped.

        • Philosophisticat says:

          I think it’s definitely true that Trumps defects matter less than observers thought they would.

          I made this avatar myself. I took a picture of a cat, and I summoned every ounce of my photoshop ability to draw a moustache on it. I’m very proud of it, and hope that someday it will stand as a testament to mankind’s artistic potential.

          I am also willing, for a hefty sum, to draw a moustache on a photo of a cat of your choosing. Talent should not go to waste.

    • Finger says:

      There are other possibilities. Maybe he’s *bold*, in the sense that he’s willing to try strategies that others aren’t willing to try for getting elected. (For example, instead of speaking carefully in anticipation of fact-checkers and critics, bluster your way through every statement to appear “alpha” without worrying about the truth of your words. Instead of apologizing when the media calls you out, double down and count on the low approval rating the average American gives to the news media to pull you through. Etc.)

      It’s also possible that he’s clever but only in particular domains. Many of Trump’s “businesses” consist of him licensing his name to others. Trump can be a master of personal branding and manipulating the media without being remotely level-headed on policy questions.

  18. Shion Arita says:

    I just posted something like this in an older open thread as a reply to something (something akin to ‘what common beliefs of the rationalist community do you disagree with), but might as well do it here as well since it will probably get discussion here.

    I don’t understand why people are afraid of unfriendly AI. I haven’t seen any evidence that they’re likely to be created.

    And, even if they are created that I haven’t seen any evidence they are likely to be particularly damaging. This part of it seems to be often taken as an (IMO unfounded) assumption without adequate support.

    I’m willing to talk about both aspects of it, but to me the second one is more salient because I haven’t seen much discussion on that particular issue.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Let’s get the inevitable out of the way. Have you read The Sequences?

    • sohois says:

      What kind of evidence are you expecting to see for each of these points? Both are in the end entirely theoretical since no strong AIs yet exist, so you cannot point to a bunch of computers and say “see, no unfriendly AIs have been created/done any damage”.

      So what you’re saying is that you disagree with the theoretical arguments put forth by the likes of Yudkowsky and Bostrom. Of course you can find a good number of other experts in the AI field that don’t support ideas of unfriendliness or even the development of strong AI, but what specifically is it that you don’t agree with amongst the theories that you have read?

      • Shion Arita says:

        I suppose the crux of it is that Yudkowsky and Bostrom assume that an above-human-intelligence agent would inherently have the capabilities to overpower humans opposing its behavior.

        I don’t think that follows.

        For the record I do think that strong AI is possible.

        • sohois says:

          I’m gonna answer this including your post just below this to abstemious; the main issue with your conjecture that AIs would have to empirically verify any kind of discoveries or inventions is simulation. A sufficiently powerful or intelligent AI could avoid actually testing things in reality by simply simulating a reasonably advanced model of the universe and testing its own propositions within that simulation. Thus, the AI could avoid having to give any kind of signal to humanity that it was testing dangerous ideas, or have to wait for its experiments to conclude in real time or other such limitations.

          There would be no need to rely on mere collected information from wikipedia or whatever. Assuming the AI had access to the physical laws of the universe it could begin simulation and later testing in that simulation.

          The arguments against this that I can foresee are as follows: First, simulations may not be nearly accurate enough for that kind of testing. To this I would argue that in any hard takeoff scenario a self improving AI will inevitably have enough power after some time to create an accurate enough simulation. Either you disagree with hard takeoff or you prevent the AI from having enough power and thus it isn’t a strong AI in the first place.

          Second, one may suggest that an ‘accurate’ simulation is not enough, and that a perfectly accurate simulation is needed right down to the quantum level. In this case, power arguments may have merit even in a hard takeoff scenario. I don’t really have the expertise to comment on this objection; I would guess that it is true for nanotech at least, but many other damaging innovations could be tested in more basic simulations.

          A third argument that I could imagine is the argument that the AI would not be able to create a simulation since it would lack the physical laws in the first place. This I think is fairly ridiculous but I’ll still address it. I don’t think anyone would bother to create a strong AI and then completely seal it off from any kind of information or physical stimuli; even if they attempted to give it only very limited information, then a sufficiently intelligent AI could most likely infer a huge amount of physical laws anyway and thus overcome this.

          • Loquat says:

            I’ve always had a problem with the idea that the AI can just simulate everything it needs to know to have all its new stuff work right the first time – if you’re going to operate in Earth’s biosphere, you need to know a whole lot more than just the laws of physics. If you’re trying to build robots, for example, a sufficiently clever AI might be able to completely simulate phenomena like rust, metal fatigue, etc, but it would be unable to prevent problems like a previously un-studied species of mildew eating its newly invented super-plastic. Biology is full of surprises like that, and the AI can’t possibly anticipate them all unless it manages to fully analyze all species on the planet, which is such a ridiculously massive project there’s no way a pre-world-conquest AI would be able to do it without science-fiction-level advances in technology.

        • fr00t says:

          Assuming that strong-AI immediately and freely wins is probably too strong (i.e. give it an internet connection and within the day it will be swallowing meatspace with nanotech).

          But the bootstrapping angle is compelling. Consider that we only have a general understanding of how our intelligence came to be (a tractable but computationally AWFUL gradient search over phenotypes), and lack the ability to modulate it even if we had the first idea of where to begin. Versus an AI with access to both its source code, first principles used to design that source code, and computational resources needed to compile/build/learn its mind. And given that you’ve already granted strong AI, its starting point is the level of the scientists and engineers who designed it

          Sure, maybe you could unplug it (though a person with even middling intelligence could make seed money on mechanical turk or some such and rent an anonymous compute-box somewhere, purely through a terminal with web access) – or keep it in the box and not let it out. But if it can happen once, it will probably happen again. It’s a monotonic power equilibrium.

          • DrBeat says:

            Its starting point is the level of the engineers who built it.

            They don’t know how to derive “how to be more intelligent” from first principles.

            If they knew how to make an AI more intelligent than the one they made, they would have done that.

            Where is it getting to information necessary to think itself to greater intelligence?

          • fr00t says:

            They don’t know how to derive “how to be more intelligent” from first principles.

            I never said that. I wouldn’t expect intelligence to be convex.

            The first principles it has are sufficient to build itself from scratch. That represents a huge basis of mathematics, computer science, possibly neuroscience, psychology, etc. ad nauseum. It can do novel science at the pace of a capable researcher (is that too strong of an assumption?), without fatigue and with perfect goal alignment (compared to monkeys shackled to dopaminergic nonsequiturs). It does not need sleep, can clone/fork/(merge?) itself simply by allocating cores and memory.

            I’m not antithetical to the idea that AGI is *way* harder than many believe it to be. But if you start by assuming it, even if that is as smart as it can ever get, seems like meat is already on the way out (a la Hanson ems).

    • abstemious says:

      I think the argument goes like this.

      At some point, people will create an AI that can understand English instructions. Like, you’ll be able to say “build me a house”, and it will go read Wikipedia to find out what a house is, and it will ask you clarifying questions about what sorts of features you want your house to have, and it will read an architecture textbook to figure out how how to design a house, and it will survey available properties to find a good place to put a house that meets your criteria, and then it will design a house and hire someone to build it for you. None of this is super difficult — everything you need is on the Internet these days. A patient human could do it. Computers think faster than humans; they can do it faster.

      Note that this is not an AI in the “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t let you do that” sense. This AI has no free will and does not act unless following orders. Only crazy people want to build an AI that acts on its own. Eventually someone will build one as an art project, and we’ll have to deal with it then. But we’ll have problems long before that happens.

      The problem is that this obeying-English-instructions AI is too powerful. Here’s something that’s not super difficult: hacking the Internet. You could tell the AI: “get me a copy of Donald Trump’s tax returns” and it would figure out where the tax returns would be stored, and then it would figure out who Donald Trump’s accountants were, and it would research ways of getting at information that isn’t made deliberately public, and then it would try a series of spearphishing attacks and zero-day exploits to get their passwords, and then it would hack every account they owned and send you the data.

      You could tell the AI: “destroy that city”. It would start by researching what a city was and what it would mean to destroy it, and then it would start breaking things until the city stopped working. Electrical utilities, water utilities, traffic lights, bank accounts, self-driving cars: all of these things can be hacked. Combat drones can be piloted remotely; airplanes run by autopilot; nuclear launch codes are, ultimately, stored in computers. We discover new and exciting vulnerabilities in our software every year; an AI can discover those vulnerabilities much faster.

      And none of that is the real problem. The problem is that some doofus is going to say: “AI, get me world peace, please”. The AI will research what world peace is, and it will figure out that human-on-human violence is not peaceful, and it will notice that the easiest way to ensure world peace is to kill all humans. Or, someone will say: “AI, get me world peace without killing all humans”, and it will kill all humans but one. Or, someone will say: “AI, get me world peace without killing any humans”, and it will put a sterilizing agent in the water supply so we don’t reproduce.

      So the problem we want to solve is how to tell an AI: “get me world peace without doing anything I don’t want you to do”. This is the problem of creating Friendly AI, and it’s harder than you’d think, because the AI can’t just look up “list of all the things you don’t want me to do” on Wikipedia. People are working on it, but it’s really really hard, and if they slow down their own AI-building efforts in order to make sure they get a Friendly one, somebody else will build theirs faster and take over the world first (and probably destroy the world in the process).

      Or maybe all this is wrong. Maybe thinking is much harder than our experience suggests, and even running in a modestly-sized datacenter, it’ll take an AI days to read an architecture textbook and weeks to design a house. Maybe computers are much harder to hack than all our experience suggests, and even an AI won’t be able to break into things like plane autopilots. Maybe all the information in Wikipedia and Youtube and everyone’s email account isn’t really sufficient to understand meatspace, and everything the AI does will be full of comically stupid mistakes, and it will need lots of human supervision and the humans won’t let it do anything evil. Maybe the AI will be smart enough to use existing toolsets, like turning the combat drones on and off, but it won’t be smart enough to manufacture killer robots or invent nanobots or bioengineer custom viruses — so we’ll just have a finite number of things to disconnect from the Internet, and once we’ve disconnected or destroyed all those things, it won’t be able to hurt us.

      Nobody knows. We’ll probably find out, though.

      • Shion Arita says:

        Maybe all the information in Wikipedia and Youtube and everyone’s email account isn’t really sufficient to understand meatspace, and everything the AI does will be full of comically stupid mistakes, and it will need lots of human supervision and the humans won’t let it do anything evil. Maybe the AI will be smart enough to use existing toolsets, like turning the combat drones on and off, but it won’t be smart enough to manufacture killer robots or invent nanobots or bioengineer custom viruses — so we’ll just have a finite number of things to disconnect from the Internet, and once we’ve disconnected or destroyed all those things, it won’t be able to hurt us.

        This is the main disconnect that I have.

        I don’t think the ability to manufacture killer robots or nanobots or superviruses is only a question of being ‘smart enough’.

        To manufacture killer robots, it would have to attempt to physically manufacture killer robots, have the initial attempts not work for various reasons, refine the design and process, test them to see if they actually work, etc. For the viruses it would need to have humans to conduct lots of biological experiments on to learn how to make these viruses.

        In other words, being superintelligent doesn’t give you a free pass on information theory. To me it seems like many people imagine a superintelligence to be something that’s able to violate the Parable of the Horse’s Teeth, to just sit there spinning its gears and produce procedural or phsyical knowledge from only its own thoughts, without having to perform empirical experiments in the outside world. I think there’s no way that all of the information in Wikipedia and youtube is sufficient to understand meatspace. There’s a really big difference between knowing about something and knowing enough about something and knowing the right kinds of things about something to be able to actually DO it.

        To use an appropriate quote, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” This goes for the AI as well.

        • RoseMallow says:

          The argument isn’t really dependent on the fact that a strong AI would definitely be much better than humans at that kind of generalized problem solving, just that it might be. It certainly seems plausible that an AI would be really good at that sort of thing.

          The way I conceptualize problem solving is that for any given problem, there is an infinite number of plausible solutions and steps in those solutions. The process of solving the problem is then following a pathway of steps which hopefully leads to the solution, and only really considering a small number of possibilities for a meaningful amount of time. The human brain does a bunch of this automatically, and the longer we work on a specific kind of problem, the better we get at telling which pathways are likely to yield useful results.

          If an AI is using a similar process, it seems reasonable that it would be way better at it than a human would be. It could run through possibilities much faster, tweak its algorithm to check a wider or narrower set of possibilities, and incorporate a bunch more data than humans can. It could also check most possible solutions almost instantly through simulations or the like, especially with programming problems. Even limited completely to computer systems, wiping out everyone should be possible. Also, if an AI were capable of improving itself, it would probably end up being smarter than we can really imagine, in which case it could totally kill all humans if it wanted to.

          All of the above is pretty much just speculation from someone who’s understanding of AI comes mostly from sorta remembering Gödel Escher Bach, but it doesn’t have to be definite. I think there’s maybe a 5% chance of unfriendly AIs being a problem(though I’m probably being overconfident), but a 5% chance of everyone dying is still something which is totally worth worrying about.

          Also, the people who actually work with and understand AI seem to be worried about it, which seems like a pretty solid reason to be worried about it myself.

        • Wrong Species says:

          When virtual reality gets good enough it could perform experiments there. And before you object that VR isn’t similar enough to reality remember that we’re talking timescales at least 30 years from now, and probably much longer. Will VR perfectly imitate reality? Probably not but it could reach the point of good enough for any practical purpose.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Also it doesn’t necessarily have to perform experiments. If you have it interact with people long enough, it could have a good understanding of meatspace long before it carries out its plans.

        • What about less physical scenarios, like crashing the stock market or taking over an automated defender system.

        • abstemious says:

          I think you might be right!

          I think enough of our stuff is now attached to the Internet that an AI could still get really scary. (And it’s going to get much worse once we deploy self-driving cars.) But, yeah, maybe it won’t actually be an extinction event. Hopefully it won’t actually be an extinction event.

        • roystgnr says:

          to just sit there spinning its gears and produce procedural or phsyical knowledge from only its own thoughts, without having to perform empirical experiments in the outside world

          There’s whole engineering discipline devoted to doing just that.

          You can’t develop new foundational science without new physical experiments, true. (although in practice you can squeeze more knowledge out of existing experiments than the human experimenters themselves typically do) But you can use existing science to do new engineering, and I would be surprised if human extinction isn’t achievable solely via new engineering. You’re talking about robots and viruses, not teleporters and unobtanium.

          • CatCube says:

            Finite element models are powerful, but it’s also easy to lead yourself down the primrose path without reference to external reality. Designs that check out in the computer still often require retrofit or redesign once construction starts, because the darned world doesn’t always turn out to match your model.

      • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

        At the very least, a “dangerous” AI can easily be as bad as a cabal of a million smart experts, all working together in perfect harmony in order to try to Take Over The World(tm) (because that’s how you ensure the world is *safe*).

        I am not really sure what they can or can’t accomplish, and would prefer not to see that.

      • Jiro says:

        I’ll suggest something very non-Yudkoskian here: We don’t need to program an AI to perfectly implement human values. We need to program an AI to implement human values as well as a human can (or a committee of humans).

        There’s this unspoken assumption that having an AI not understand that “world peace” implicitly means keeping humans alive is equal to not having an AI understand whether it’s better to live 5 minutes closer to work or make 5 dollars more per week.

    • Anon. says:

      What has been the result of every contact between two peoples at significantly different levels of technological development?

      • John Schilling says:

        The Skraelings sent the Vikings home with their tails between their legs, so if as implied the result is the same every time, why, it must be just peachy to be on the lower end of the development ladder at contact. Paleolithics rule!

        • Winter Shaker says:

          If I remember rightly from Jared Diamond’s Collapse, the Greenland Inuit were more technologically advanced than the Norse in the specific fields of surviving in the deep Arctic … and the Norse, through a few bad decisions and unfeasibly long supply lines eventually found themselves without decent metal weapons, and thus with no military advantage over the Inuit.

          • John Schilling says:

            Humans are more technologically advanced than algorithms in the specific field of surviving in meatspace, and we’ll have control over what weapons the AIs have at the start of any conflict.

          • Shion Arita says:

            Yes I agree John Schilling.

            As another example, humans have now gotten to the point where we can unilaterally dominate over other life on earth… kind of.

            But humans have been at about the same level of intelligence for approximately 50000 years. The intelligence itself was not sufficient to directly lead to our increased capabilities. It indirectly led to it through development of knowledge and understanding, and it took us 50000 years to get to that point.

            In addition it’s pretty obvious to me that humans’ capability of understanding things is far above the extent to which we actually understand anything, i.e. anatomically modern humans can attain a vastly greater technological and scientific level than we currently are at.

            I have a good friend from one of the remotest areas of africa, where people hunt with spears and think the earth is flat. It only took him a few years to get up to speed and do original research with the rest of us. It took humanity 50000 years to get there the first time.

            So I think that while an AI may be a lot better than humans at designing new technology and devising new scientific theories, it will remain comprehensible to us, looking at its actions in hindsight and interpreting the fruits of its investigation, for a lot longer than most people here seem to expect.

    • QuickSilverLies says:

      I suppose the crux of it is that Yudkowsky and Bostrom assume that an above-human-intelligence agent would inherently have the capabilities to overpower humans opposing its behavior.

      I don’t think that follows.

      For the record I do think that strong AI is possible.

      The A.I doesn’t have to “overpower” us to be dangerous. It merely has to suggest a course of action that is dangerous, whose danger we can not see.

      Consider for a moment invasive species. Through out history humans have introduced foreign species into new enviroments in an attempt to solve some problem. Many times these new animals ended up causing other problems the humans did not foresee. For example in Australia, the cane toad was introduced to help curtail the cane beetle population to help keep sugar cane alive, and now cane toads are a huge pest.

      Now suppose we have an A.I that we use for advice. We have some problem X (For example beetles are eating our sugar crops), that we are trying to solve. We ask the A.I “How can we solve X?” And the A.I gives a course of action for how to solve X (introduce cane toads).

      Since the A.I is so much smarter than us, we won’t necessarily be able to understand all the consequences of the plan it suggests. So if we are going to do what the A.I suggests, then the A.I needs to know to not suggest plans that would be contrary to our other values/goals. Cane toads are a bad plan because we don’t want to bring so much harm to the native wild life.

      Now “human values” are not something that we can merely be listed and then checked off by the A.I. That is the problem of friendly A.I. How do we get it to suggest/take actions that conform to our values?

  19. pku says:

    How common are recursive dreams for people? How common are multilevel recursive dreams? For those who have them, what’s the experience like?

    I woke up this week from a five-level dream (dream within a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream). That’s not super-unusual for me anymore (It happens, say, once every month or two), but it used to be incredibly unusual – I remember getting a multilevel dream a few years ago and freaking out a bit. Two-level dreams I’ve always had (I can remember one from when I was six or so). Also, I often get recursive dreams in clusters- I might get a fortnight with a bunch of them, then a few months without any.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I only remember ever having one recursive dream. It involved me lying in bed, sleeping, having a short nightmare, waking up panting, then immediately going back to sleep and it happening again and again (with a different nightmare each time). It was weird.

    • Cadie says:

      I’ve only had a three-level dream once that I can remember. Two-level happens often enough that it’s not a bizarre situation anymore; I don’t think I had any until adulthood, but now I get them every few months.

      Usually when I have them, the second dream – when I “wake up” and don’t realize I’m still dreaming – is boring. The first one might be weird or might not; the second is almost always mundane stuff, like I wake up and realize I’m going to be late for my shift at Dairy Queen and the dog ate my car keys. We don’t have a dog and I haven’t worked at Dairy Queen since 1997, but that sort of thing is still very realistic and logical compared to most dreams. Then I wake up for real.

    • Rachael says:

      I used to have them quite frequently as a child and young adult, but less so nowadays. For me they always had a nightmarish quality. I’d wake up, relieved, from a scary dream, and then realise with dismay that I was still dreaming, and feel trapped in the dream. Sometimes I’d even “wake up” and tell my parents or my husband about the dream, before realising I was still dreaming.

  20. Casey says:

    Does anyone know any intelligent blogs or other links about religion/spirituality specifically for atheists? I’m interested in picking up religion for mental health reasons – I’m not coping well with existential angst, getting older, fear of dying, all of that good stuff. Being an atheist, which is the intellectually “correct” position in my mind, has not brought me any happiness nor has it led me to making “better” life decisions. I believe that if I acted as though religion were true, I could eventually convince myself of it and thereby improve my well-being. I don’t care about being intellectually correct, I just want to stop lying awake at night worrying about death.

    Unfortunately, I’ve spent so much time being an atheist that most religious or spiritual material is….icky to me. I don’t even know where to start to find communities that are full of religious people who decided to believe those things on purpose, rather than being convinced of its inherent correctness or whatever.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      I recommend Book 3 of De Rerum Natura, ideally in the Martin Smith translation. It was composed for someone in precisely your situation. The section on the fear of death begins at line 830.

    • Protagoras says:

      I’m not really completely sure what you’re looking for, but if you’re looking for blogs that are less likely to seem icky to an atheist, I’m an atheist and I read Fred Clark’s blog, as well as Adam Kotsko’s. I’d probably recommend Clark more than Kotsko, and probably neither will work for your purposes if you are at all politically conservative, as while they may not be in the habit of saying things that offend atheist sensibilities, they are both pretty liberal and connect that to their theology.

    • Skef says:

      This is both a good and a bad time (the former because it’s more available, the latter because it’s trendy and there’s a lot of bullshit practitioners) but have you considered finding an ayahuasca group? Traditional religions are a bit oversold as solutions to the problems you’re dealing with, and given your current outlook a sub-cognitive approach seems much more likely to be effective.

    • Gazeboist says:

      Epistemic Status: when I was nine I decided I was probably an atheist; my actual opinion now is that the question is foolish, but most conceptions of God that people evangelize strike me as unworthy of worship. I’ve also never really experienced the issues you describe as a part of atheism.

      How’s the rest of your life? You can deliberately cultivate a community that will give many of the social benefits of religion. It will be harder than just joining a church(/synagogue/mosque/temple of another kind), and it won’t directly address any fear of death etc, but it will give you a sense of belonging and relevance, plus a set of things to think about other than dying.

      On another, similar note, the deliberate decision to focus on improving the world immediately around me (on, essentially, universalizability grounds) also helped with some fear of the immensity of the task of fixing everything.

    • The two religious authors I like are C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. They have not persuaded me to be a Christian, or even a theist, but they come across as intelligent and thoughtful people and good (in GKC’s case extraordinarily good) writers.

      • Anonymous says:

        Chesterton’s probably the foremost writer in the English language. Some of his essays are entirely without peer in my experience, and The Man Who Was Thursday isn’t far behind. I think he can be thoroughly enjoyed almost regardless of anyone’s beliefs.

        (I’d argue the other main contenders are Shakespeare and Stevenson, in case someone wants referents to what’s a fairly strong assertion.)

        • Ivy says:

          Some of his essays are entirely without peer in my experience

          You’ve piqued my interest. Could you name a couple?

          • Anonymous says:

            I’ll suggest the collection All Things Considered, and the specific essays (from outside that collection) “On Lying In Bed” and “The Toy Theatre”.

            Oh, and just for safety’s sake, let me underscore that this recommendation is on the basis of the writing as such. If you expect to be blown away by the ideas… well, you might be, but that’s not what’s advertised, anyway. The writing, on the other hand, is sparkling and unmatched. If you disagree with that, I am ready to be blamed. 😀

          • Deiseach says:

            The thing to remember about Chesterton is that he’s a journalist. He’s not an intellectual, he studied as an art student for a bit then dropped out of that and got into writing for a living. So he presents things from the level of “ordinarily intelligent and reasonably well-educated man”, not a specialist, a theologian, a philosopher or anything more advanced than that.

            His autobiography is great fun:

            There was a whole world in which nobody was any more likely to drop an h than to pick up a title. I early discovered, with the malice of infancy, that what my seniors were really afraid of was any imitation of the intonation and diction of the servants. I am told (to quote another hearsay anecdote) that about the age of three or four, I screamed for a hat hanging on a peg, and at last in convulsions of fury uttered the awful words, “If you don’t give it me, I’ll say ‘at.” I felt sure that would lay all my relations prostrate for miles around.

            I remember once walking with my father along Kensington High Street, and seeing a crowd of people gathered by a rather dark and narrow entry on the southern side of that thoroughfare. I had seen crowds before; and was quite prepared for their shouting or shoving. But I was not prepared for what happened next. In a flash a sort of ripple ran along the line and all these eccentrics went down on their knees on the public pavement. I had never seen people play any such antics except in church; and I stopped and stared. Then I realised that a sort of little dark cab or carriage had drawn up opposite the entry; and out of it came a ghost clad in flames. Nothing in the shilling paint-box had ever spread such a conflagration of scarlet, such lakes of lake; or seemed so splendidly likely to incarnadine the multitudinous sea. He came on with all his glowing draperies like a great crimson cloud of sunset, lifting long frail fingers over the crowd in blessing. And then I looked at his face and was startled with a contrast; for his face was dead pale like ivory and very wrinkled and old, fitted together out of naked nerve and bone and sinew; with hollow eyes in shadow; but not ugly; having in every line the ruin of great beauty. The face was so extraordinary that for a moment I even forgot such perfectly scrumptious scarlet clothes.

            We passed on; and then my father said, “Do you know who that was? That was Cardinal Manning.”

            Then one of his artistic hobbies returned to his abstracted and humorous mind; and he said,

            “He’d have made his fortune as a model.”

            So enjoy the writing 🙂

          • Anonymous says:

            Deiseach, I have to quibble with “ordinarily intelligent”. I agree with all the rest, but it seems perfectly obvious to me that Chesterton was quite extraordinarily intelligent; one of England’s greatest intellectual giants of the 20th century.

            Intellectual, on the other hand, specialist; certainly not that. Very much an ordinary man in that sense.

          • Somewhere there is a comment by Shaw on Chesterton’s book about Shaw. It amounts to “every fact he could have checked he got wrong, everything that required a perceptive understanding he got right.”

          • Anonymous says:

            one of England’s greatest intellectual giants of the 20th century.

            Intellectual, on the other hand, specialist; certainly not that.

            Good heavens, what an idiot I look. It ought to read “greatest mental giants”, of course.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Half joking here but become a transhumanist.

    • M.C. Escherichia says:

      I’m in a similar situation: I’ve been attending various churches lately and attended my first ever Roman Catholic mass yesterday… while still being a near-atheist agnostic.

      > I don’t care about being intellectually correct

      In that case, just go to church or synagogue or whatever you feel is appropriate and participate (but do so honestly; e.g. don’t take communion). If asked, just say you’re an interested agnostic. (Being good rationalists, we know that no belief should be assigned probability 0, so this is technically true.)

      After a while you might find yourself starting to believe. I suspect this might happen to me.

      But in any case, I’ve come to believe that taking part in religious rituals is a normal part of being human. The feeling I get in church now is a sort of gladness at being surrounded by people of good will; I feel uplifted — not necessarily by the presence of God, but by the presence of humanity.

      • Fahndo says:

        Being good rationalists, we know that no belief should be assigned probability 0

        What’s the probability that there is at least one belief that should be assigned a probability of zero?

    • dndnrsn says:

      Why not just join a church, synagogue, mosque, etc? Just fake it til you make it. Maybe if you hear enough about how God loved us so much that He sent His Son to suffer and die for us, or whatever, you’ll start to believe it.

      Or, just see if you can take a basic comparative religions course at a university. The study of religion, outside of theology departments, tends to be quite secular.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Comparative religion courses won’t help; the issues he’s facing are not knowledge gaps. A happier, better life is a matter of practice and habit.

        I’m going to agree with you on the “fake it till you make it” part (or, as lambdaphagy would put, LARPing). Learning to trust God generally involves a whole lot of spiritual trust fall exercises, and I suspect most common religious practices are beneficial even without the belief component. Either way, meeting regularly with well-adjusted, virtuous people is going to rub off on you in a positive sense. You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.

        The good(?) news is that humans are pretty good at deciding to believe in things. Start acting like they are true, and the intellect will follow, much like smiling will make you happier*. It is not logical, but it is often true.

        *Unless that was overturned with the priming stuff.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I found that approaching religion from a secular standpoint made me less atheistic. I find that a lot of people – even people raised religiously – don’t actually know that much about religion in general, or even theirs in specific.

    • phisheep says:

      I’ll second David’s author suggestions. Try particularly Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” and Lewis’s “Surprised by Joy”.

      Also well worth a look is the Ship of Fools forum. It is a forum rather than a blog, very wide-ranging, and populated mostly by Christians who don’t take themselves *too* seriously. Extremely well-moderated and interesting, and you are certain to find a sympathetic ear or fifteen.

    • Deiseach says:

      Religion may not help with fear of death. If you’re lying awake worrying about your mortality, consider if this might be something to do with depression.

      It’s hard to look the fact of your own inevitable death in the face, and even harder, as you get older, to realise the time behind you is greater than the time ahead of you, and death is coming closer all the time.

      Religion helps, but it may not be the kind of “well, if I convince myself I have an immortal soul, then accepting I’ll die won’t be so bad as that’s only my body, I will continue on” reassurance you may be looking for. It’s entirely possible to believe in the soul and an afterlife and still lie awake at night thinking about death and the shortness of life left to you.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        Most major religions have scary afterlives as well as heavenly ones, so you may add a new worry. A religion that offers a nice and assured afterlife is
        Wicca scrolling down from there finds Theosophy. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity have savior gods each with his own heaven to take you to (Krishna, the Pure Land Buddha, and Christ, respectively).

        Of all these, only Christianity requires intellectual belief in certain doctrines.

    • Aido says:

      You’ve stated you don’t care as much about truth-value, but regardless I would recommend Derek Parfit’s “Reasons and Persons”. He starts from thought experiments (teletransporters, callosotomies, etc) and derives truths about the nature of identity which are deeply unintuitive and fundamentally change the way you will think about yourself and your own death. It’s hardcore philosophy reading and if that presents a barrier to entry I would recommend skipping the first third of the book about the properties of consequentialism and jump right into the thought experiment sections. Should be able to find them without too much trouble.

      I’m also surprised nobody has mentioned Sam Harris. His main focus is meditation but the broader concept is spirituality for atheists. Consider listening to this reading covering chapter 1 of his book, and if it catches your interest you can dive in more fully.

    • Aneesh Mulye says:

      First, it isn’t possible to alieve something on purpose. You can create a highly functional lie, pretend to yourself that you believe something, but deep down inside you’ll know for certain that it’s a lie, and your discontent shan’t go away. What you are trying to explicitly do is to force yourself into doublethink, and that requires a certain obliviousness which attempting to do it consciously makes impossible.

      Second, even when doublethink is successful, it is a kind of violence against the self and a repression of the intellect; my sincere request would be to not do it.

      You may well ask, “OK, but what then? What do I do about the problems? Are these not the only options I have? Are my only options not a simulacrum of belief on one hand, and depression on the other?”, and the answer is that absolutely not; you’ve operating under a totally false dichotomy, probably the result of not knowing about the options. It is definitely possible to transcend the fear of death while still alive, but neither ‘atheism’ nor the various ‘mainstream’ religions (or non-mainstream whacko cults, for that matter) can teach you how to do it. It is understandable that you’d do so; (I suspect) I know how uncomfortable and even painful the state you find yourself in can be.

      You are in luck, and have some august company; these are the same questions that troubled the Buddha, and this discontent is also the starting point of the actual ‘spiritual path’ (I use the term because it’s the only one I know; please don’t reify it) the initial goad for which is almost always the discontent that you now exhibit. Classically, it is death, disease, old age, and finally the possibility of something more that drive this process. ‘Rationalists’ and ‘atheists’ find themselves in the (very uncomfortable and depressing) intermediate state – they have pierced the cocoon of comfort that the popular religions provide (this is, in fact, their psychological purpose and primary draw of those systems), and find themselves facing these realities naked and head-on without the possibility that the suffering they bring may in fact have a ‘solution’ that doesn’t just consist of using comforting BS to numb yourself to reality. It is notable that the thing the Buddha saw after seeing death, disease, and old age was a sadhu – and ascetic, a renunciate – due to which he opened himself to the possibility that there may, in fact, be something more he could do, that perhaps suffering could be transcended. (Without this possibility, you get stuck in a depressed half-life, which I think is the misfortune of some of the best rationalists, IMO.)

      Again, you are in luck; there is. Starting from the very starting point that you have, other people have in fact made the journey out of suffering (though not pain; they are not the same), some with guidance and some on their own, have left behind valuable advice for people in your position, and a number of such people exist today and can guide you at the points where you need it.

      I see that you are still looking outside yourself for solace and succor – with the idea that some religion, something out there, shall provide a means to alleviate your suffering. Note that though outside support may be absolutely necessary to you now, and you should not hesitate to take it as and when required, eventually you shall (have to) recognise that the process that you are going through is your own, that your life is your own, and that this is not just me preaching but a structural truth of the human condition. (And please, no doublethink; that’s a terrible and self-negating abdication of your own authority and life.)

      Partially because of the false dichotomy under which (I think) you’re operating, I see that you’re ‘prematurely optimising’, in a sense – reaching for a solution without properly being with the problem, perhaps because it feels too painful to be with the problem. The thing is, this leads to an obviously sub-optimal solution – that of reaching for a ‘mainstream’ religion – and I’m afraid you may waste years on that pursuit without it actually doing anything for you except wasting your time and energy, the only things you really have. You cannot ‘untake’ the Red pill of honest questioning that undid the mainstream religions for you, I’m afraid; you’ve outgrown them, and you can’t ‘ungrow’ until they fit again. The only way for you now is forward, not back – and going back is impossible in any case.

      Based purely on what you’re telling me, and presuming that your discontent is intense (it definitely sounds like it) and your search sincere, I’d suggest starting with Sam Harris’ book ‘Waking Up’, followed by Jed McKenna’s Enlightenment trilogy (please read the whole trilogy) as an introduction and an orientation. The latter is useful not merely for its practice advice (which I find somewhat ‘dry’) or specific content, but for the various ways in which it demolishes the BS that tends to accrete around things ‘spiritual’. The third book also deals explicitly with the stage/state you find yourself in.

      My own search, to try to make sense of my experiences during and after a meditation retreat (to which I had gone with no expectations and which I thought would at most be something nice to try – and which I definitely did not expect would completely shake up my life and identity) led me to the practice tradition of Shaiva Tantra; or rather, I kept searching until something made sense, and this was the first thing that did. After that, things really ‘clicked’ for me. This may not click for you; I don’t know what will. Finding something that does is also part of the process. In case you’re interested (and I am by no means implying that you should be, this is just the system I’ve found made sense of things, rings true, and works for me right now), I’d recommend two things to begin with: the book ‘Tantra Illuminated’, by Christopher Wallis, and the 40-Day Awareness Challenge to get a taste of what practice is and what it does, when it comes around in January next year. Additionally, you can look at the three videos (in order): What is the Purpose of Yoga, What is Awakening, and 8 Pitfalls on the Path of Awakening.

      (Speaking purely for myself, meditation in general and the Shaiva Tantrik tradition in particular has been absolutely transformative in my own life. I am much calmer, less anxious, more open, just happier in general, and life is more vivid as well. I’m also less prone to BS, both others’ and my own.)

      For actual practice recommendations, you have a variety of options. If you prefer a somewhat more dry, less ‘spiritual’ sounding approach that is reliant almost entirely on your own effort, then Adyashanti’s ‘The Way of Liberation’ (freely available on his website) is quite concise (I’m tempted to call it ‘enlightenment in ~45 pages’), and may even be a complete teaching. You will, of course, require more specific things as you go along – I’d suggest at least Adya’s book ‘True Meditation’ to go along with it.

      There is a large variety of Buddhist traditions, of varying quality; and many others besides. It is possible to spend years in a difficult search – I did, at least two, before I found what ‘clicked’ for me – and my recommendations are meant to help guide your search in the right direction.

      If the only I do with this post is to convince you to re-evaluate what you’re proposing doing to yourself, and consider that ‘doublethink+religion’ and ‘depression’ aren’t your only two options, and that I have made the best effort that I can to let you know that wasting years on uncomfortably repressing your doubts and playing along with a religion that you do not believe in is not your only alternative to depression, and that you are in a particularly painful stage of the natural process of human growth and that there is a next step and that you are damn well capable of taking it (and the next ones after that, if you so choose) and ‘coming out the other side’ (so to speak) then I shall consider myself to have succeeded (even if you decide to go ahead and do this unfortunate thing anyway).

      Or maybe everything I said is totally inapplicable to your situation, and finding a ‘mainstream’ religion and numbing out with the feeling of community that you think it’ll give you is exactly what would be right for you; what do I know about you other than this short post, after all, and who am I to tell?

      I wish you good luck. If you have further questions, feel free to ask – I’d be happy to answer them, if I can.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        Aneesh Mulye – “First, it isn’t possible to [believe] something on purpose. You can create a highly functional lie, pretend to yourself that you believe something, but deep down inside you’ll know for certain that it’s a lie, and your discontent shan’t go away.”

        To the extent that such a thing is knowable, I have explicitly believed things on purpose at least twice in my life, moving from Christian to Atheist, and then back to Christian, each time as the result of a distinct conscious choice. I am highly confident that it is possible to choose your beliefs; in fact, I am somewhat confident that all beliefs are downstream of personal choice.

        • Aneesh Mulye says:

          This is why I used alieve as opposed to believe; I think the distinction is meaningful.

          Secondly, did you make the choice to believe something while knowing and being convinced that it was as a matter of fact not true? Collapsing a state of uncertainty into one of two ‘gestalts’ (that’s the closest word I can think of) that you’re teetering between, or undergoing an organic process of changes in beliefs (even if a part of that process involves a conscious choice), seems to me very different from consciously deciding that you’re going to simultaneously know that something is not the case yet try to ‘believe’ it anyway because you expect doing so shall bring you some benefits.

          Finally, if you’re open to sharing it, I suspect that a more detailed account of how you did what you did, or of how/what the process (of changing beliefs) was for you may be of great use to Casey, if he/she/[pronoun] decides to go down that road.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Aneesh Mulye – “This is why I used alieve as opposed to believe; I think the distinction is meaningful.”

            ah, nuts. I thought it might have been, and should have googled the term. Also, apologies for the thread hijack. This question is one I’ve been thinking about a lot for the past month or two.

            “Secondly, did you make the choice to believe something while knowing and being convinced that it was as a matter of fact not true?”

            I was convinced pretty solidly convinced Atheism was absurd, but Christianity made me miserable, so I decided to stop believing in it. The absurdities and certainties switched polarity in fairly short order. Some years later I concluded that Athiesm was not good for my mental health, and that I had likely been doing Christianity wrong, so I decided to try believing again. The polarities shifted back fairly quickly. Strong family connections and lots of mental stress probably made this process a lot easier for me.

            “Secondly, did you make the choice to believe something while knowing and being convinced that it was as a matter of fact not true?”

            I would agree that Believing something that you know to be false won’t work. On the other hand, I think “known” is just another term for belief as well, and most of the interesting linkages of belief chase their own tails down long chains of recursion rather than being rooted in simple, straightforward fact. Lots of people argue over whether or not God exists; few people argue whether 2+2=4. I think this is because there are a lot of good reasons to believe either side of the former question, and no good reasons to believe one side of the later question. Introduce conflicting values, and I think 2+2 would likely be as fraught a question as the existence of God or Capitalism vs Communism or which candidate to vote for. I posted a thought experiment based on this idea a few threads ago to illustrate the idea.

            The point being, you can’t believe something is true if you know it to be false, but “knowing it to be false” is itself a belief. There’s always axioms at the end of the chain, and axioms are always open to reassessment.

            “Finally, if you’re open to sharing it, I suspect that a more detailed account of how you did what you did, or of how/what the process (of changing beliefs) was for you may be of great use to Casey, if he/she/[pronoun] decides to go down that road.”

            Past the above, I doubt my personal experiences are terribly relevant. There is an idea in Atheism and the Rationalist movement that belief should be forced by evidence. I think there’s a very limited extent to which this is true, but the world is too complex and bias too subtle for our minds to truly work this way on the questions that really matter to us. I think we believe what we wish to believe, what we find it useful to believe. Further, I think it’s healthier to admit this is what we’re doing, and do it consciously and as responsibly as we’re able. Other posters had the right of it: if one wants to believe, immersing oneself in a healthy community of believers while cultivating doubt in ones’ own certainties is a good way to get there.

  21. So, a question to the readers here about that most important topic, Harry Potter fanfiction, specifically, the Harry Potter Sacrifices arc, by Lightning on the Wave.

    I got pointed at this set of fanfic off of (IIRC) someone’s Tumblr. I picked up a copy of them in .doc form a while back, got nerd-sniped working out the most efficient way to convert .doc files to something Calibre-readable, and ended up the entire honking lot of them on my Kindle. I’ve been chipping away at them for a while, through a mixture of genuine interest, horror (very rarely the horror the author expects me to have), and occasional hate-reading.

    Has anyone else here been pointed to this? I mean, on one hand, I have to applaud the author for simply getting down such a long and coherent story, even in the relatively simple medium of Harry Potter fanfic. On the other hand…as I crest into Book 5, the phrase “The Left Behind of Harry Potter fanfic” is coming to mind more and more strongly. I feel like this series is an encapsulation of a subculture’s bad habits of thought just as the Left Behind books are, and wonder what other opinions people might have on it.

    Has anyone else read this? Does anyone else have any opinion on the series as a whole?

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      Have you considered setting up an automatic timer to get an idea how many hours you’ve spent reading harry potter fanfiction?

    • Aegeus says:

      I’ve never been pointed to it, and the words “eventual HPDM Slash” and “Harry’s twin Connor is the Boy Who Lived” set off some alarm bells, so under most circumstances I’d probably skip it.

      But I tried reading it anyway, and the badfic alarms kept getting worse. Everyone in Connor’s life has been preparing to fight the Dark Lord even though they have no way of knowing he’s returning (it sort of gives you the feeling they’ve been reading ahead in the script). Harry has been studying magic long before going to Hogwarts and is almost strong enough to fight Death Eaters. Wizards can sense each others’ power levels like we’re in Dragonball Z. A brief stop at the Potions Classroom station of canon, to show off the new and improved Harry some more. And that’s where I gave up, at about 15 pages in.

      I can see why you might call it an encapsulation of the subculture’s bad habits, because there’s just a lot of warning flags here. Like, it’s not bad on a technical level, there are no spelling or grammar errors, but everything about this fic is telling me to get out now before things get worse.

    • Yeah, you nailed a few of the big ones early on. I mean, I was fine with the drastically-revised magic system and world history (even if it did strip out most of the Harry Potter-ness), and the HPDM slash isn’t terrible in and of itself…but all of them added together are screaming warnings in the tongue of Shibboleth.

      I may post a review somewhere if I manage to make it through the entire series, but I would be really interested to know what anyone else who’s read it, especially people like me who aren’t in its target audience, thought of it.

    • Deiseach says:

      I tend to stay far away from Harry Potter fanfic these days so my only advice would be “don’t” 🙂

      Though I have seen some very favourable reviews of it, so it might be okay writing. Still doesn’t tempt me into reading it, though.

      (The furore over “The Cursed Child” is helping keep me far away from Potterverse; I’ve seen one person who liked and defended it versus a whole lot who think it’s really dreadful).

    • Anita Restrepo-Sanchez says:

      I don’t understand why people waste their dear time reading things that they know are likely to be terrible? And I really do not know why you bother with Harry Potter fanfiction. Not only is fanfiction generally not worth reading, for all the same reasons that no self-published, or published by vanity press or by niche ideological or religious mini-publishers are, with more added on, but we’re talking about a series whose original books are fairly terrible, so I’ve never wasted my time reading them.

      • John Schilling says:

        Please don’t feed the blatantly obvious troll.

      • Aegeus says:

        Not only is fanfiction generally not worth reading, for all the same reasons that no self-published, or published by vanity press or by niche ideological or religious mini-publishers are,

        If a book is self-published or vanity-published, it means no publisher was willing to pay for it, which is a fairly good signal of poor quality. The existence of publishers filters out all the good works from the pool.

        But if fanfiction is self-published, well, that’s the only option. Publishers can’t take fanfiction, because of copyright issues. That means that, while the pool of fanfiction does contain a lot of unpublishable crap, it also contains some actually good writers, who could probably have gotten published if they had chosen to write original fiction instead of fanfic. And thanks to technology and user recommendations, it’s quite easy to filter out the good authors from the crap.

        we’re talking about a series whose original books are fairly terrible, so I’ve never wasted my time reading them.

        I’ll ignore the obvious bait and point out something more interesting: Fanfic can be better than the works that it’s based on. Good authors can take apart a work of fiction, pick out the good parts, cut out stupid or contrived plot points, patch holes in the worldbuilding, and generally make it a better story than the original.

        (Fun anecdote: Jim Butcher said that he got the idea for the Codex Alera books when someone bet him that he couldn’t write a good book based on a lame idea. The challenger gave him a prompt of “The Lost Roman Legions, with Pokémon” and he turned it into an awesome fantasy adventure.)

        • Deiseach says:

          Publishers can’t take fanfiction, because of copyright issues.

          While that is true, there are the authorised sequels etc. (such as writing a follow-up to “Gone With The Wind”) and the unauthorised works like Wide Sargasso Sea, a response to Jane Eyre, as well as the rash of catchpenny crazes like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies etc.

          You get a lot of it in genre fiction, like the unstoppable flood of Holmes pastiches – some excellent, but some really atrocious. I’ve read fanfiction that is, as you say, much better than these official and legal professionally written things. Ditto with Robert B. Parker’s various detective series which are being carried on by new writers, and there have been authorised new adventures of Nero Wolfe and Hercule Poirot.

          As for turning fanfiction into original fiction, there’s the Cassandra Claire affaire where she took her Harry Potter fanfiction, filed off the serial numbers, and had it professionally published as original fiction under the series title of The Mortal Instruments.

          I have certainly read fanfiction that is much better than the professional version, and I’m sure it’s a training ground for people who want to go on to become professional writers. But it is free writing distributed for the price of nothing by people who love a particular fandom and are inspired to make something by it, and it’s fun for most people, both readers and writers. It’s art, even if the majority of it is low art.

          • keranih says:

            @ Deiseach –

            I too have read fanfic that is heads and shoulders above the average ‘pro’ fiction, and better than the original, to boot. However, I’m going to quibble on a couple aspects.

            Firstly, Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the ur example of a Fandom, and also tumbled into that happy period before any of Walt Disney’s works began earning money. So authorized or not, SH fic abounds, and is subjected to the same standards as the rest of pro-fic – does the publisher think it will sell? Likewise, Jane Austin.

            Secondly, the estate of Margarette Mitchell attempted to sue the pants off the author of Wind Done Gone and in the end settled out of court.

            Thirdly, the list of people who admit to using fanfic as training wheels is increasing annually, but as 50 Shades of Grey amply demonstrates, the drama of Fandom is also increasingly wrapt up in those publishing histories. There is more to fic than just art.

            Having said all that – heck yes, it’s art – and yes, it has a tradition separate from “professional fiction”. I would argue, though, that there is a strong sense of “doing it for the love of the art” running through literary fiction of all genres, and this is, in part, why the late lamented affair d’canines came into being – many professional writers come from socio-economic and fannish backgrounds that resist the idea of the reader is happy, the author gets paid, and push back against populist work that reflects the need to move units off the shelf.

      • I’ve read some excellent self-published fiction.

        HPMOR– it’s uneven, but where it’s good it’s very good. Amends, or Truth and Reconciliation, an impressive account of Hermione’s year after the end of Deathly Hallows. The main thing wrong with it is that it isn’t finished, and I’ve pretty much given up hope.

        The Martian was self-published. Marko Kloos’ milsf was self-published, and I liked the first three books a lot, though I grant I’ve bogged down in the fourth book. (Warning, the story is good, but the science is inexcusably bad.)

        Torchship is self-published, and quite a bit of fun.

        I would like to see an award for best self-published sf.

  22. onyomi says:

    Why is the newspaper comic strip business the most pro-incumbent business in the universe?

    There are obviously innumerable funnier (if often more niche, admittedly) webcomics out there which may, in a few cases, be equally or more profitable, but I’m pretty sure most webcomics do not make as much money as comics like Beetle Bailey, most of which are by dead people and their sons and grandsons milking the same sad punchlines decade after decade.

    I mean, I used to enjoy Peanuts and, of course Calvin and Hobbes (the sole known case of someone gracefully bowing out while ahead), and there are occasionally a few chuckles elsewhere, but it’s mostly terrible.

    But what I really want to focus on is: yeah, I know newspapers are struggling and read mostly by old people; I know businesses in general are risk averse and stick with what they know (Hollywood sticking with franchises and established big names), but really, the level of stagnation in this particular area seems almost staggering. Like you could write an economic paper on what went wrong or something.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      A) Few webcomics or webcomic artists are “fit for print” for a variety of reasons. Format, reliability (nobody wants to have to print “sorry, Miura’s on hiatus again” notices), content, etc.

      B) Everyone who would enjoy that content is already getting it online, and probably not subscribing to newspapers at all. There’s no actual marketing opportunity there. Are you going to tell a bunch of 20 year olds they can pay $400/year (really) for a NYT subscription to read the same comics they’re reading right now?

      C) A lot of newspaper subscribers are legacy. People (and companies) that buy them out of habit/to appear respectable, etc. Making large changes to your format in the hopes of getting more readers risks some of those subscribers thinking “wait, how much am I paying for this rag every month?”

      D) Most of these papers are already doing “youth outreach” stuff in their free digital editions. The NYT does manga reviews, for example, to appeal to 30+ year old librarians who want to be Hip.

      • onyomi says:

        “wait, how much am I paying for this rag every month?”

        My dad claims that he stopped paying for his newspaper subscription years ago, but they just keep delivering it. I guess they can claim their circulation numbers are still up?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Nothing went wrong.

      You aren’t the audience (nor am I).

      • onyomi says:

        Who is the audience? Old people who fear all change?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Well, yes and no.

          Newspaper comics have to be grockable by everyone who opens them. Unless we are talking about some niche weekly paper or something.

          So comics will be necessarily dominated by a form of lowest common denominator humor. This is also true of half-hour broadcast TV comedies. The most popular ones engage in what we would call tired, but others would call time-tested, tropes that are mined for reliable laughs.

          Most people who pick up a newspaper are perfectly happy to get a reliable small chuckle out of the comics. And it’s been that way for a long time. Every now and then something new gets thrown in the mix, but mostly “the old reliable” tropes got mined by whatever comic was there.

          Newspapers in general are in trouble, and get fewer and fewer new (young) readers, making it even less likely you get an editor who will do more than add a comic here or there.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Calvin & Hobbes is not unique. The Far Side and Bloom County are two more comics that lasted only the 80s (though Breathed’s career is more complicated).

    • BBA says:

      Calvin and Hobbes (the sole known case of someone gracefully bowing out while ahead)

      I’d add The Far Side there.

      Webcomics have pretty much sucked away both the supply of and demand for new newspaper comic talent. Artists don’t want to deal with the censorship and other loss of creative control, editors don’t see any reason to include anyone new when the audience is satisfied with the same old strips. If your dream in life was to sell out and become the next Jim Davis, too bad.

      ETA: I’m thinking specifically of Frank Cho and Aaron McGruder, both of whom had brief, controversial runs in the funny pages around the turn of the millennium, and neither of whom is even imaginable as a newspaper comic artist today.

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      I attended a speech by the editor of one of the larger newspapers in the capital of my province. She said that they most hate mail she ever received was when they forgot to add a comics section. I think a lot of people would be mad if they dropped any specific comic.

      • onyomi says:

        I feel like print newspapers are stuck in a “lame and irrelevant” spiral whereby they’re too afraid to alienate their small remaining audience by changing anything yet guarantee they’ll continue their descent into irrelevance by never changing anything.

        • LHN says:

          Aversion to comics page changes long predates the Internet. A newspaper comic was a known gravy train when Siegel and Shuster were shopping Superman around. (They wanted to be the next Flash Gordon.) Though they couldn’t get any bites, and so took a chance on the new monthly ten cent comic book format. (Whether that was a good choice depends when you ask them.)

          I was going to say it predates the decline of the newspaper, but that’s been going on for the better part of a century. When I was growing up, we had two competing newspapers. But decades earlier a major city might have half a dozen or more. I don’t know if there was more frequent change on the comics page in the days of the Yellow Kid, but I’m inclined to bet it was pretty risk averse even then.

    • Anonymous says:

      comics like Beetle Bailey, most of which are by dead people and their sons and grandsons milking the same sad punchlines decade after decade.

      I realize you didn’t actually claim otherwise, but just for the record, Mort Walker is alive. Old, but alive, to quote Morgenstern.

      Also, if you find yourself having trouble enjoying newspaper comics, you should check out The Comics Curmudgeon.

    • I don’t know. I remember talk about newspapers choosing to have fewer comics pages and printing the comics smaller, which led to less flexibility for the comics creators.

      I would leave the possibility open that newspapers have a death wish, but then it would be necessary to explain why.

      • John Schilling says:

        Newspapers are in a death spiral, which isn’t quite the same thing as a death wish. They absolutely have to print more and more blatant, intrusive, annoying advertising, or they can’t make payroll and they shut down next month. They absolutely have to keep printing the sorts of content the audience values, in a conveniently accessible format, or the audience will migrate to getting that same content via the internet over the next few years. Except the only place for the blatantly intrusive advertising to go is in the same place the desirable content already is, meaning the audience starts to leave and the advertisers start to demand lower rates for the same content and you have to cram in still more advertising…

        Comics getting shrunk is part of this dynamic. As is the part where the Sunday comics sheet is hidden inside an unlabeled advertising sheaf, forcing the reader who wants the comics to at least flip through every sheaf of advertising they’d otherwise roundfile at first glance.

  23. AnonBosch says:

    Gary Johnson said something stupid again. =(

    I’ve been bullish on Gary compared to most libertarians and right-wingers because I have bleeding heart tendencies. But he’s showing a worrying pattern of thoughtlessness.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      So the attack dogs are going after him now they’ve decided he’s taking more votes away from Clinton than Trump, huh?

      • Matt M says:

        The right-leaning libertarians I follow on Twitter have been loudly making this declaration for a couple weeks now, up to and including that the Aleppo question was a set-up for this exact purpose.

        • Homo Iracundus says:

          It’s tempting to see what Ken and the Popehat gang is up to now, but it’s the same impulse that makes people watch car crash/cult suicide aftermath videos on liveleak.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Why? I’ve always found Popehat to be unusually good and reasonable.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            They haven’t posted anything election-related in the last couple of weeks.

            I second the ‘good and reasonable’ endorsement, and I’d identify as more of a right-libertarian.

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            You haven’t noticed him becoming more and more frantic and unhinged at his Johnson’s dysfunction? And the disintegration of his NEVERTRUMP gang?

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            No. Link?

    • Diadem says:

      This seems to me to be a much more innocent mistake. Though no doubt the media will pounce on it.

      Everybody makes stupid mistakes on occasion. That’s not really a problem. It’s both normal and something that won’t affect job performance (elementary mistakes like that will be caught by advisors long before they make it into policy).

      Not knowing what Allepp is is more worrying, because it points towards a lack of general knowledge, or perhaps a lack of interest in current events. To some extend that’s also something that advisors can help with, but a President who often doesn’t know what is going on will definitely be less effective.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        Yeah, this is trivial.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Agreed. If this gets as much attention as Aleppo it suggests that the media really are after him.

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, it is a trivial mistake, and probably down to the rush of having to have an immediate response to news that is still breaking.

        But you could argue this is more serious than the Aleppo slip, because this is domestic news of very great local and national interest. And taking the opportunity to slip in “I was governor of New Mexico” to remind people that yes, I’m now putting in for the top job, plus a bit of flattery to first responders (vote for me, folks, and your friends and family vote for me too, you can see I’ll be on your side!) in the middle of what should be focussed on the event and the places and people attacked is somewhat opportunistic – then again, politicians are opportunists and if they come across as vultures using tragedy to profit, that’s the risk they run.

        A little slip on its own isn’t much. But a chain of little slips? He really can’t afford any more, not unless he does want the media deciding he’s a human disaster and portraying him that way.

        • JayT says:

          I think it was fairly obviously a slip of the tongue though, not a lack of knowledge. I would wager that he meant to say there were no deaths, but accidentally said there were no injuries.

          • Deiseach says:

            Oh yeah, a slip of the tongue plainly. But a guy getting some attention because he’s running against Trump and Clinton can’t afford little slips – or not to make a habit of them, because they will add up in the public mind.

            So what was he like as Governor of New Mexico? Are his former subjects public whom he served “10/10, would recommend” or “let the nation have him, at least that will get him out of our hair”? 🙂

          • JayT says:

            I realize now that I misread your comment. I thought you were saying this was a worse mistake, not that it was a more damaging mistake.

            As for what New Mexicans thought of him, when he was reelected he won by 10%, and he was running as a Republican in a fairly strong Democratic state, so I assume he was fairly well liked.

      • pku says:

        I haven’t even heard of it aside from this link (and I heard about the aleppo thing from three independent sources), so looks like the media actually did not give this an inappropriate amount of attention.

  24. Douglas Knight says:

    What constitutes an electoral landslide? Scott Adams predicted that Trump would win in a landslide. How do we adjudicate that? (He also predicted that Trump would be seen as “running unopposed” by the time the conventions were over.) Above, James Miller reiterates this prediction.

    Does it mean winning 55-45? 60-40? What if many vote for a third party? Should we then look to the difference? ie, should 50-40 counts like 55-45? Or should it be based on electoral votes? Perhaps red pixels in the Mercator projection?

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Well, the Wikipedia article uses electoral votes and apparently considers anything above 75% to be a landslide victory (the lowest victory listed comes in at 76%). That’s good enough for me.

      • Finger says:

        Question about that Wikipedia page. The page shows 14 electoral college landslides from 1900 to 1988. That was over the course of 23 presidential elections, so based on this data it seems about 64% of presidential elections ended in landslides. However, since 88 we’ve had 5 elections (Trump vs Hillary will be our 6th). None of these have been landslides, and Trump vs Hillary is not shaping up to be a landslide either, at least not yet. The probability of seeing 6 non-landslides in a row, assuming each election has an independent 64% probability of being a landslide, is less than 1%. Is this just a coincidence?

        Possible theory that explains this phenomena: Just like every industry, the media industry is getting smarter over time. Presidential elections are a topic viewers are interested in, so the media tries to create as lengthy a campaign season as possible by e.g. baselessly speculating about who might choose to run. Additionally, close races are much better for viewership than landslides. So whenever one candidate starts to do well, the media will attack that candidate to even things out and maintain viewer interest.

        I’m probably reading too much in to the data… the 1800s only had 7 landslides, and the end of the 1800s coincides with a landslide-free period that’s longer than our current one.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The difference in ’88 forward is ideological sorting and homogenization of the parties, which has gradually become further and further baked in.

          When parties more heterogenous, and their were liberal and conservative Democrats and Republicans, a Democrat in New York or Illinois felt no particular constraint in voting for a Republican from California.

    • Zombielicious says:

      If looking at voter turnout, which Adams also predicted to be record-setting, it looks like breaking 65% would both be the highest since 1908 and beat the very high (compared to recent decades) 2008 turnout.

      If going by margin of victory of the popular vote, > 20% would put the winner in the top six (including themselves), > 15% in the top 12, and > 10% in the top 20 – for all U.S. elections. So probably somewhere in the > 15-20% victory margin range.

      Personally I’d like to hear any kind of remotely quantitative Bayesian evidence for predicting a landslide victory for Trump. Planning on listening to the Adams interview in a bit. Considering it requires disagreeing with the conventional wisdom, most analysts, prediction markets, and fivethirtyeight.com, the prediction would seem to require extraordinary evidence beyond just “I’ve got a hunch.”

      • 27chaos says:

        > Considering it requires disagreeing with the conventional wisdom, most analysts, prediction markets, and fivethirtyeight.com

        I don’t on balance think it’s going to happen, but I am willing to give some amount of consideration to it, in significant part because I expect the errors made by all these groups are correlated with each other and nonrandom. That’s what happened with Brexit, after all.

        Earlier in the year, I placed some weight on the possibility of Hillary getting indicted about her emails.

        Currently, I place some weight on the possibility of something drastic happening to her health. Presidential campaigns are hard on the human body.

        Agree that Adams is a dummy. But those two scenarios hopefully serve as examples.of plausible reasons someone might believe, maybe assisted by an error in reasoning or two, that Trump is likely to solidly win.

        • Zombielicious says:

          Something significant happening to Clinton (e.g. conspicuous health problems, yet another major scandal) would change the analysis. That’s the way I think Trump is most likely to win – Clinton falls into a coma or something before the election. Could be wrong, but aside from that I’m inclined to just go with what fivethirtyeight.com says – they’ve got a pretty good track record so far, and will only have a more accurate prediction as the actual election gets closer. Though their odds have been changing in favor of Trump – he’s currently at a 40% chance, up from a low of 10.8% back in mid-August.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Three things that I think are going to be factors:

            A. Trump has generally done better than polls and pundits have predicted, hasn’t he?
            B. In several European elections, the anti-immigration candidate/party has done a few percentage points better than predicted. Brexit ditto.
            C. Predictions markets have been off, too – they predicted Brexit would fail.

            I’m mentally adjusting Trump’s chance of winning (according to Silver) upwards by a few points on account of the above.

          • pku says:

            A. pundits yes, polls know. Trump has generally done exactly as well as polls have predicted, until it became mathematically impossible for someone to pass him (at which point I think the guys planning to vote for Cruz or Kasich just lost heart and stopped going to vote). The argument by the pundits pessimistic on him was that the polls were overselling him.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Didn’t 538 predict for a while, based on polling, that he had slim chances of taking the Republican nomination?

            Of course, that doesn’t prove 538 wrong – we could live in the world where something with a 1% chance of happening happened.

          • Zombielicious says:

            Fivethirtyeight has also been pretty explicit that the primaries are much harder to predict than the general election.

          • dndnrsn says:

            That is true.

            I’m still expecting a bump for reason B.

          • pku says:

            @dndrsn – I don’t think their purely poll-based predictions ever went much below 40%. Nate Silver said the model was very inaccurate for primaries though, and judgement might be better (the first part is definitely true, based on past primaries).

          • Jaskologist says:

            Nate Silver gave Trump a 2% chance of winning the primaries. When those predictions didn’t pan out, he later said that they hadn’t built a proper statistical model when they released. (Raises the question: how many times has he made a non-model prediction that didn’t turn out so badly he had to issue a correction later?)

            So, why read Scott Adams? Because we have entered the bizarro world where his track record is at least as good as the professional political pundits.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Bizarro world indeed.

            Let’s put it this way. If a couple years ago, someone had said “Donald Trump is going to be the 2016 Republican candidate, and thanks to part of his fan base being a motley crew of far-right internet people, the Democrats will do a news release about how Pepe the Frog is a white nationalist symbol, and going into October he will be closing the gap on Hillary despite such exploits as insulting the family of a dead soldier” …

            Are you going to think that person is that much more out of it if they go on to add “and one person who predicted Trump’s winning the nomination was Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, who is also a sex hypnotist”?

            Sex hypnotism is the most normal thing here.

        • I can see two possible arguments to predict Trump winning by a large margin.

          1. Because of Trump’s negative public image, lots of people who are planning to vote for him don’t say so. I don’t know if polls vs performance in the primaries fit this or not.

          2. Trump did very well in the Republican debates. One could argue that he is a much more competent demagogue than Clinton, hence likely to do very well debating her, pushing his poll results from nearly even with her to well ahead of her.

          Neither of those strikes me as very likely, but I don’t think they are impossible.

          • pku says:

            2 seems possible, but the accuracy of the polls on Trump’s support in the primaries is decent evidence against 1.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Although perhaps the sort of people who would vote in Republican primaries are more resigned to public deplorability than the electorate at large.

          • Zombielicious says:

            The fivethirtyeight statistical model is also weighted by the reliability of the polls, so they’ve probably considered such factors and taken them into account when assigning the weightings.

            At least the debates will probably be entertaining as hell, if completely shameful and embarrassing for the entire country.

          • Lumifer says:

            lots of people who are planning to vote for him don’t say so

            In the UK that’s known as the Shy Tory factor.

          • At least the debates will probably be entertaining as hell, if completely shameful and embarrassing for the entire country.

            Somehow I find this hilarious.

    • Grort says:

      I think it should be based on Congress. If you win the Presidency _and_ your party gets filibuster-proof majorities in both houses of Congress, that is a landslide.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        No, Reagan won in a landslide in ’84, winning 49 states, but Democrats retained control of the house.

        Landslide is a shorthand for “Electoral College Landslide”.

  25. Wrong Species says:

    Back in 2011, Noah Smith argued against the “Great Vacation” theory of unemployment by noting that if there were all these people voluntarily withdrawing from the labor market then that would indicate lower supply which should result in higher wages. But we didn’t have higher wages so that indicates a demand side problem. Obviously conditions are different now, but I think I agree with him. However, isn’t his reasoning flawed? Lets say that unemployment was down but productivity was way down. Shouldn’t we expect the productivity numbers to overpower the lower supply of labor?

  26. I interviewed Dilbert creator Scott Adams. In the second half of the interview we discussed several topics of importance to the rationality community including cryonics, unfriendly AI, and eliminating mosquitoes. In the first part we discussed Trump as a master persuader.

    • Anonymous says:

      Magic sex hypnotism guy? Why would you want to interview him?

      • I have been reading his blog for a long time and find he offers great insights into the world. Adams, Eliezer, and (of course) Scott are my favorite rationalist bloggers. Most importantly, to understand Trump’s political success you need to understand why Adams thinks that Trump is a master persuader. Adams also wrote a fantastic self-help book.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          What is your definition of “rationalist” that he is a rationalist?

          The obvious definition is the LW diaspora, which is obviously false. And I think that his phrasings impede communication with that community. Perhaps you mean that he has good models of the world, and that you learn them from his blogging? Maybe you should say “correct” or “useful”? I’m not sure that’s quite what you’re saying, but don’t use “rationalist” to mean “correct.”

          • Rationalist is a vague word, but Adams does capture a lot of what the LW diaspora tries to do. His humans are “moist robots” = evolutionary psychology, he makes testable predictions of his views (Trump will win in a landslide, perceived health problems will with high probability cause Hillary electoral harm), he believes humans greatly overestimate their agency, he often admits when he is uncertain (he isn’t sure who would be the best president), he is willing to risk failure if the costs of failure are low, and most importantly he focuses on winning (see his self-help book for ways of creating winning systems.)

          • Anonymous says:

            Does he apply the scientific method to his hypnotism stuff?

          • ShemTealeaf says:

            I think Adams is almost a funhouse mirror reflection of a rationalist. He admits uncertainty strategically, in contexts that ultimately strengthen his position. He sometimes makes testable predictions, or things that resemble testable predictions, and then he remembers them selectively and interprets them creatively.

            His methods of communication are so disingenuous that, in the days when he still allowed comments on his blog, there was a popular theory that the whole blog was just an experiment (or perhaps an object lesson) in persuasion techniques. A significant portion of his own fans thought that he was essentially trying to prove that he could persuade people of anything, no matter how silly.

            Credit to him for being mostly right about the Trump nomination, but I can’t consider someone a rationalist if they deliberately eschew clear and honest communication.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Yeah, I’m a little skeptical of the “rationalist” labeling for him too. Forget the magic hypnotism stuff, he predicted a 99% chance of a Trump landslide. Rationalism is a big tent, but the one thing I absolutely demand is that you be able to calibrate probabilities appropriately.

          • I agree that 99% seems way too high and I wouldn’t be willing to bet at these odds, but Adams predicted Trump’s rise when everyone else thought Trump was a political joke who had no hope of winning the Republican nomination so I don’t think it’s reasonable for us to rely on our political intuition to dismiss Adams’ probability estimates as being non-rational. It’s possible that future historians armed with a much better understanding of human psychology will say that given Trump’s persuasion skills Adams’ estimates of the odds of Trump winning were consistently better than, say, Nate Silver’s were.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s also tough to tell with Scott Adams when he’s being 100% serious and when he’s clearly exaggerating for rhetorical and/or self-promotion purposes.

            My guess is the 99% figure is not his true best estimate of Trump’s chances of success, but rather something he said knowing it would draw attention to him and traffic to his websites. Does making a calculated exaggeration for the purposes of self-promotion preclude one from being a rationalist?

            I don’t know if I’d call him a rationalist or not, but I was also a regular reader of his blog long before the Trump presidential campaign and he definitely has a lot in common with other rationalist bloggers.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            “I agree that 99% seems way too high and I wouldn’t be willing to bet at these odds, but Adams predicted Trump’s rise when everyone else thought Trump was a political joke who had no hope of winning the Republican nomination.”

            And I’m saying that any credit he deserves for that makes him a good political analyst or something, but doesn’t make him a rationalist.

            I can’t find where I thought he said 99% chance, but I see 98% chance here.

            There are various ways of grading probability, like Briar score. I’m pretty sure that given his 98% figure, if Trump doesn’t win, Adams’ overall Briar score, even given his success on the nomination issue, will be worse than that of pundits who pooh-poohed Trump at the beginning (when Adams first got into the Trump-predicting business, the markets gave Trump 5% odds, so the average pundit probably only made a 95% wrong prediction, not a 98% one).

            Also, there was a bizarre incident in June where Adams wrote that he’d decided actually, Clinton was a better persuader than Trump, because she had called him racist, and now he was going to lose. After that I don’t think he ever really referenced that school of thought again. But this means that if Trump loses, he’ll be able to point back and say “Look, I predicted this!”. If you’re a rationalist, you don’t play both sides of the argument, you clearly and explicitly change your probability estimate and admit you were wrong before.

            (also, saying “Hillary called Trump racist” is about the stupidest reason to change your mind I can think of, let alone to call Hillary a master persuader. This is American politics. Everyone calls everybody racist. This is like saying a defense attorney is going to win a trial because he’s a master lawyer, then saying maybe the prosecutor will win, because he also seems to be a master lawyer, based on his bold strategy of arguing that the suspect was guilty.)

          • Scott A.

            “Everyone calls everybody racist” in American politics because if you can convince voters your opponent is a racist you win. Adams thought that Hillary started doing an effective job of labeling Trump a racist and wrote that if Trump couldn’t overcome this label he would lose, but, from what I remember, Adams always thought that Trump had the means, motive, and opportunity to overcome this label. Adams wrote that Hillary’s best move was getting nearly everyone in the media to label Trump as “dark” because this was a fantastic way of persuading voters that Trump was a dangerous racist. Hillary’s basket of deplorables comment was so damaging to her because, as I think Adams said, it made Trump’s alt-right (or whatever) backers seem cute rather than evil.

          • “But this means that if Trump loses, he’ll be able to point back and say “Look, I predicted this!””

            What he wrote was:

            “I now update my prediction of a Trump landslide to say that if he doesn’t give a speech on the topic of racism – to neutralize the crazy racist label – he loses.”

            If.

            “(also, saying “Hillary called Trump racist” is about the stupidest reason to change your mind I can think of, let alone to call Hillary a master persuader.”

            His argument was that “crazy racist” was an effective label, not that “racist” was. And he didn’t credit Hilary with discovering that, he credited her supporters.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            I think whether or not Trump wins, we can be confident that Trump giving a speech on racism wouldn’t be the deciding factor between a Trump win and a Trump loss, let alone a Trump landslide and a Trump loss. His credences are clearly screwy.

            I think it’s a mistake to take being rational as a necessary condition on being a rationalist. I’m not sure whether we should understand rationalism as an ideology or as some other broadly social phenomenon, but either way one can be a rationalist without being a good rationalist. Taking appropriate calibration as a necessary condition is a problem for the same reason.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Philosophisticat: If he were a huge fan of the LW Sequences and talked about superintelligence all the time, then I’d be prepared to call him a “bad rationalist”. Since he doesn’t talk about rationalist stuff or think in a rationalist way, I’m happy to just call him a non-rationalist.

            If he self-identifies as a rationalist (as in the LW category, not just “a rational person”), I might change my mind, but I’ve never seen him do this.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            @Scott

            I don’t follow him, but everything I’ve seen suggests that he is a non-rationalist, as you say. I was just commenting on using the fact that someone’s credences are wacky to disqualify them.

          • JayT says:

            So much of what Adams writes about is talking about putting yourself in situations where you have multiple ways to win, and no ways to lose. So right off the bat his writing is never going to have easily testable claims. He tells you that right up front.

            He may well be a rationalist, but I don’ think his writing is.

          • JayT

            “So much of what Adams writes about is talking about putting yourself in situations where you have multiple ways to win, and no ways to lose.”

            If such situations exist shouldn’t a rationalist take advantage of them?

          • JayT says:

            Sure, but that’s why I say he may well be rationalist, but his writing isn’t.

            Like Scott says,

            If you’re a rationalist, you don’t play both sides of the argument, you clearly and explicitly change your probability estimate and admit you were wrong before.

            That is obviously not Scott Adams. He explicitly says that he purposefully plays both sides of every argument he can.

          • onyomi says:

            I think Adams can be rather perfectly described in Harry Potter vocabulary as the “Defense Against the Dark Arts” professor who seems just a little too enthusiastic about how awesome and powerful the dark arts are.

            And the “death eaters” all support Trump…

        • Loyle says:

          Most importantly, to understand Trump’s political success you need to understand why Adams thinks that Trump is a master persuader.

          I think you accidentally added a few extra words there. Unless secretly Adams is the reason for Trump’s success and eliminating Adams eliminates Trump.

          Edit because I didn’t feel like making a new post: Thanks for the explanation.

          • Let me rephrase what I meant as a prediction: Ten years from now when social scientists discuss why Trump won 2016 in a landslide their starting point will be Scott Adams’ hypothesis that Trump was a master persuader.

          • John Schilling says:

            Pretty certain their starting points will be Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, and the political machines that thought either of those would be a winning candidate if only the machine said so.

        • Philosophisticat says:

          Trump is losing against one of the most (the most, really) unpopular candidates from either party in memory, doing worse than one would expect from a generic republican. I would expect a master persuader to do a bit better than that. I don’t think there’s anything to explain that the “idiot who stumbled into a favorable political environment” hypothesis doesn’t cover perfectly well.

          • Gazeboist says:

            I think “antipopular” (a word I just made up right now) better describes what’s going on with Clinton. Kerry was an unpopular candidate: nobody could be bothered to care about him. Clinton is a candidate who is actively disliked by wide swaths of the country, which is fairly unusual even modulo any kind of enhanced tribalism.

          • Matt M says:

            Agree with Gazeboist. If “losing to unpopular Hillary” means Trump is some sort of idiot failure, what does that make Bernie Sanders? Or Martin O’Malley for that matter.

            High negatives don’t mean what they used to. What they mean is that you’re a celebrity and you have name recognition and that counts for a lot in today’s society.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @Matt M

            Winning in a primary is different to winning the election.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m so tired of hearing that thrown out there as a justification to just entirely dismiss everything we saw happen last year.

            Explain HOW it’s different in this particular instance. Even among Democrat primary voters, I’m willing to bet that Hillary had higher negatives than Martin O’Malley by a factor of 10. So why did she do so well and he do so poorly?

          • Fahundo says:

            what does that make Bernie Sanders?

            Someone whose own party leadership wanted to see him fail. Also, he self-identified as a socialist, so it’s pretty impressive he went as far as he did.

            Or Martin O’Malley

            one of the bad guys from the Wire.

          • DrBeat says:

            She was anointed by party leadership, who had their whole balled-up fist on the scales in her favor the entire time?

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            one of the bad guys

            Eh.

          • Fahundo says:

            I mean, Carcetti completely turned his back on all the good things he set out to do, and promised, in exchange for more political power.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Well, yeah, but in a show about gangsters, drug dealers and other assorted fine fellows, a politician doing politician things doesn’t seem like too high in the “bad guy” scale.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            I didn’t say losing to Hillary shows Trump to be an idiot. Politics is fickle, and I think success has much less to do with individual brilliance, even specifically political brilliance, than a whole host of other considerations. I said his current position against Hillary is weak, weaker than you’d expect from any generic republican running against someone with Hillary’s negatives, and provides no evidence that he’s some kind of master persuader.

            What shows Trump is an idiot is all the things he says and thinks, and all the clues to his personality from his long history in the public eye.

          • Fahundo says:

            @WHtA:

            That was a major point of the show though; a lot of the gangsters were just doing the only thing they knew how to do. Meanwhile Carcetti had a good opportunity to help people as mayor and he threw it away because he would rather be governor.

          • Matt M says:

            I am not the least bit convinced that Ted Cruz would be doing significantly better against Hillary than Trump is now, or that Trump would be doing significantly better against Bernie/O’Malley/whoever than he is against Hillary now.

            You are basing this all on your “expectations” which are themselves not based in any particular facts other than what the official political consultants tell us should happen based on what happened 4-8-12 years ago. How did listening to the official political consultants work out for Jeb?

            It’s convenient that your “expectations” are defined in such a way as to confirm your priors about Trump being an idiot.

            Personally, I think this is all a long-game by the media to firmly establish that if Trump somehow DOES win it’s all Hillary’s fault and only because she was so terrible and corrupt and bad and literally anyone else would have beaten him so clearly he has no mandate and there is no movement and we can all just pretend this never happened.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            @Fahundo: I thought the point was that, in the end, Carcetti was pretty much stuck in the same way, constantly having to compromise in order to have the power to implement the changes he wants to, which always get postergated.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You guys are completely misunderstanding the message of Bernie’s results.

            First, examine Joe Biden’s decision not to enter the race. He wanted to, but he judged he had no shot against Hillary. Hillary had the fundamentals of the primary on lock.

            Now look at what Bernie said privately (and I think publically) early on. He didn’t get in the campaign to win. He wanted to put his ideas out there and shift the Dem platform and HRC’s positions and the Overton Window (which he was pretty successful at).

            It wouldn’t surprise me of O’Marley was a candidate mostly to give HRC another establishment candidate to run against.

            For a variety of reasons, HRC did not have a particularly enthusiastic base. That’s what let Bernie outperform his fundamentals in caucuses and small states. That’s the only reason he sort of kind of had a shot if you squinted.

          • Fahundo says:

            I think if he was content with staying mayor, he could have delivered on most of his promises. He was certainly making headway with the police department. His only given reason for not taking aid from the governor was that it would make his own gubernatorial campaign weak.

          • JayT says:

            I feel like the Republican leadership was far more anti-Trump than the Democrat leadership was anti-Sanders.

          • pku says:

            The Democrat leadership had an alternative they all agreed on, though, which made things easy. If it had come down to, say, Trump/Kasich early in the race, the republican leadership might have had a far easier time fighting him.

          • suntzuanime says:

            There’s also the possibility that the Republican leadership respected the will of the members of its party and so only used non-corrupt means to oppose its dispreferred candidate. Clinton stole the primary from Sanders, she did not beat him fair and square.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @suntzuanime:
            That’s pure B.S.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Could be, but until China hacks the Republican Party’s emails I’m bound to consider good faith as at least a possibility.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @suntauanime:
            People in the Democratic Party organization preferring Hilary win is much different than what you are alleging.

            Hillary won because she actually got more votes. She performed in line with her polling.

          • Nyx says:

            @Philosophisticat

            Most candidates in recent history underperform generic candidates from their party. The problem is that “generic Republicans” don’t exist, and when they exist they don’t win nominations because who gets excited about generic Republicans, and when they do win nominations, the media rushes to paint them as not generic because nobody wants to read about Generic Republican. Instead, they get to be VP picks instead; both Hillary and Donald picked generics as their VPs, because generics are popular, but they themselves are not very generic at all.

      • onyomi says:

        I think if you ban the people who bring up Robin Hanson’s most controversial couple of posts every time he’s ever mentioned, then you ought to start banning people who bring up “magic sex hypnotism” every time Scott Adams comes up, and for the same reason.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I don’t know what the “magic sex” part means, but hypnotism seems pretty central to Adams’ intellectual identity. I think his whole argument is that his work as a hypnotist allows him to understand hypnosis-style persuasion techniques that the rest of us can’t see. This seems different from citing a random idea Robin mooted one time.

          • onyomi says:

            I think it is the same because it references a few of his weirdest posts of all time as a way to discredit everything else he says. If it were just “hypnotism guy” or even “that shill for Trump,” these would be more fair, because he talks about hypnotism and Trump a lot.

            Hypnosis as a way to have better sex is just one of many, many contexts in which he’s discussed hypnotism and is not a core feature of his intellectual identity. But it’s arguably the oddest, most salacious thing to which he’s ever applied hypnosis, and so gets brought up by someone almost every time he’s mentioned on here.

            It would be like an economist who wrote a post about “the economics of incest” or something. And the remaining 99% of his posts are applying economics to less scandalous sounding aspects of life. But every time his work comes up someone says “oh, economics of incest guy.” Yeah, economics is central to his intellectual identity, but that’s not what’s being emphasized in such a case (yes, incest sounds more scandalous than “sex,” but “sex hypnotism” is intended to sound bizarre and crackpotish in a way just “hypnotism” does not).

          • Nelshoy says:

            @onyomi

            Reminds me of this old joke:

            A backpacker is traveling through Ireland when it starts to rain. He decides to wait out the storm in a nearby pub. The only other person at the bar is an older man staring at his drink. After a few moments of silence the man turns to the backpacker and says in a thick Irish accent:
            “You see this bar? I built this bar with my own bare hands. I cut down every tree and made the lumber myself. I toiled away through the wind and cold, but do they call me McGreggor the bar builder? No.”
            He continued “Do you see that stone wall out there? I built that wall with my own bare hands. I found every stone and placed them just right through the rain and the mud, but do they call me McGreggor the wall builder? No.”
            “Do ya see that pier out there on the lake? I built that pier with my own bare hands, driving each piling deep into ground so that it would last a lifetime. Do they call me McGreggor the pier builder? No.”
            “But ya fuck one goat..”

            You’re only ever as credible in the public eye as the least credible thing you ever say. Say enough things, and people are bound to find a salacious opinion they can use to load you with negative effect and not take you seriously. I think it’s why EY is a lot less esteemed these days than he was in 2008. Just pick his MWI overconfidence, fanfiction, taste in art, or whatever else discredits him the most to your target audience. Then no one reads the Sequences.

            I’m very impressed that Scott has mostly been able to avoid the Scottish goat effect, despite writing a lot on a bunch of topics (see his fairly positive rationalwiki page). But if he keeps writing and getting more popular like I anticipate, I have no doubt that he’ll hit a bit of ceiling.

            “Scott Alexander? Isn’t he that sexist alt-right sympathizing crazy cult white dude who believes in Moloch? Why would I take anything he says seriously?”

            The way I see things working with most writers/thinkers that people actually care about is:

            A.) they write well and accurately on a non-controversial topic, struggle for recognition before breaking into the public conscious. If they make errors, it’s probably not seen as a big deal for anyone except other researchers in their field. Examples: Most of the prestigious researchers who lead fields, Including big names that reached out publicly like Steven Hawking, Lisa Randall, even maybe Francis Collins, Jerry Coyne (?)despite being a devout Christian! They fuck people, which society deems to be acceptable.

            B) You go into controversy but be very very careful, about it. You keep your controversial speculations mostly to yourself and only let them known to a wide audience when you have good data to back them up. You keep your very controversial conclusions relatively quite and don’t stray far from your area of expertise. Examples: Steven Levitt, Arthur Jensen, Robert Putnam, Simon Baron-Cohen, kinda Gwern?

            They might fuck a sheep, but they do it far from the public eye or in a community that’s accepting of that.

            C.) they get into controversial issues or are very willing to wade into issues that go beyond their expertise. Not afraid to be contrarian or iconoclast. They eventually get well known enough that the laser beam is turned in on them. They have very supportive supporters because they are smart and have a bunch of interesting hypotheses for interesting things. But they also get a lot of haters who dislike what they say and their presumed overconfidence, put a lot of effort into finding their mistakes so that they can dismiss them when they aren’t too careful. Examples: Probably most famous popular intellectuals, Charles Murray, Jared Diamond, Stephin Pinker, Greg Cochran, Judith Rich Harris, Noam Chomsky, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Judith Rich Harris, Robin Hanson, Scott Adams, Malcolm Gladwell, Eliezer Yudkowsky, a lot of famous economists, most investigative journalists. It’s not a coincidence that I can name a lot off the top of my head even though they’re probably less common than the other types. They can be a lot of fun.

            They like to fuck a lot of things, and occasionally a sheep can get in there and now they’re Mcgreggor the Goat-fucker for life.

            I see Scott as a definitely in the C.) pile as long as his politics/sociology speculation stuff is more popular than his psychiatry. As such he should definitely anticipate a lot more haters and not-nice labels.

          • Matt M says:

            ““Scott Alexander? Isn’t he that sexist alt-right sympathizing crazy cult white dude who believes in Moloch? Why would I take anything he says seriously?””

            Most of my left/SJW leaning friends already react this way when I link to this blog. Sorry, Scott!

          • onyomi says:

            I think this is similar to “catechisms”/the infamous bingo game, but for people. For each prominent person who offers arguments for the opposition, a quick, easy dismissal should be ready to hand. A strawman version of the superficially oddest-sounding or most controversial thing they ever said is one of the most effective.

            Yudkowsky? You mean the Harry Potter fanfic cult leader? Scott Alexander? Oh, Moloch guy? etc.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t think it would work nearly as well if it was out of character.

            Although people like to preemptively bring it up a a lot, I’ve never seen Yudkowsky dismissed as fanfic guy. He does get hit with the MWI, but that’s much more characteristic of the larger criticism. Likewise I’ve never seen “oh Moloch guy” for Scott Alexander. He gets tagged for being too friendly/charitable to the far right, but again that’s not picking on some outlier post but, whether you agree with the critique or not, something that is actually based in sustained reality.

            Similarly, Hanson’s verboten post is entirely characteristic of what makes Hanson, Hanson. It may be the strangest or most salacious outgrowth of it, but it isn’t some random, out of character, off topic musing. Ditto for Scott Adams and the mass sex hypnotism post. He regularly makes fantastical claims for hypnotism and he has a significant prurient focus.

          • onyomi says:

            “I don’t think it would work nearly as well if it was out of character.”

            While I agree that a label with no basis in reality will have a harder time sticking than one with some resemblance to reality, I think the point of saying “oh, magic sex hypnotism guy?” each time he comes up is not to convince regular Scott Adams readers that he’s a crackpot, but rather to dissuade would-be Scott Adams readers from ever reading or considering any of his other ideas because, after all, why would you want to waste your time with “magic sex hypnotism guy”?

            Scott Alexander may be har