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OT61: Turn-Based Threadegy

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4. Comment of the week is Anonymous Bosch on Richard Tol’s analysis of global warming costs.

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926 Responses to OT61: Turn-Based Threadegy

  1. Tekhno says:

    The “oversampling” thing. So that’s settled then, right? I was never good at statistics or maths in general but perhaps it would pay for Presidential campaigns to get some people who are, or at least people who can check Wikipedia.

  2. Daniel says:

    Looking at the “Chance of winning the presidency” forecast at 538, one can see a peculiar three-carrots-in-a-row pattern. Can you explain this phenomenon?

    • gronald says:

      I think one of those bumps comes from the nominating conventions.
      Trump’s convention was first, and that gave him a boost, and then Hillary’s convention gave her a larger boost.

      The other bump is situated around the time of the first debate.

      Trump’s support edges closer to fifty percent the longer he goes without a major news story.

    • John Schilling says:

      Also note that the effect isn’t quite so pronounced if you select the “polls-plus” option, where the 538 team acknowledges that yes, we know about things like convention bumps and can try to account for them using historical trend data.

      But gronald is right; Trump can come within sight of victory so long as he shuts up and lets everyone focus on how much they like and/or hate Hillary. Then he opens his mouth and reminds people that too many of them hate him too. Since October, it’s been basically impossible for him to stand back and let Hillary do all the talking.

      • Alejandro says:

        It is interesting that the polls-plus model nullifies the effect of the R convention (meaning that the bounce it gave Trump was the historically standard one) but does not nullify the effect of the D convention in the same way. This may be the effect of convincing most of the Bernie holdouts (in normal years there aren’t so many “persuadable” voters not yet persuaded by July), or a conflation with the effect of bad stories for Trump that came out at the same time.

    • Alejandro says:

      I’m not sure what happened in mid July that made Clinton go down, I think there was a big piece of news about her emails. Then the R convention put Trump essentially tied in late July. The D convention gave a large boost to Clinton as it brought back disgruntled Bernie voters into the fold, and it was followed by a bunch of negative Trump stories (like the Khan kerfuffle) that continued through early and mid August. In mid September Trump pulled close again, partly because of Clinton’s pneumonia-related 9/11 fainting and partly because he avoided saying/doing anything too scandalous for some weeks. It stayed close until the first debate, which Clinton decisively won, and was followed by a series of blows for Trump (the Machado fallout, the tax story, the groping tape) that brought Clinton’s chances to an all-time high by mid-October. Since then with no more “big news” it’s been level with maybe a slow reversion to the mean.

    • onyomi says:

      It’s funny: by virtue of being overcrowded, this year’s GOP nomination contest rewarded being loud and obnoxious. But because Hillary is eminently beatable in the abstract, both due to her own flaws and other fundamentals about the economy, 8 years of Democrat president, etc. all a Republican needed to do to win the general was shut up and talk about fundamentals. But part of the reason the GOP nomination contest was overcrowded was because Hillary seemed so beatable, which rewarded being loud and obnoxious…

      • hlynkacg says:

        Well the GOP isn’t called the “stupid party” for nothing 😉

        • At a slight tangent …

          Orwell mentions that the British Tories were known as the stupid party. That makes me wonder if applying that label to the Republicans is derivative via the idea of left/right as a universal division.

        • Tekhno says:

          I’ve always heard UK conservatives associated with snooty upper class “public school boys” (this means private school in the UK btw), as compared to the rednecks led by low culture new wealth billionaires stereotype of American conservatism. I’ve never heard “Tories are dumb” or that quote from Orwell before, but attacks on intelligence are the main way that the American left attacks the American right.

          British conservatives certainly seem drastically smarter than American conservatives to me, or at least calmer and more sophisticated. I see the British left as more resembling the American right in its emotional intensity and “stupidity” these days.

          • I can’t give you the cite, but Orwell says something to the effect that the Tories have long been known as the stupid party but some of the contemporary ones are pretty smart, which is worrying.

            For what it’s worth, my father’s opinion was that Nixon had the highest IQ of the presidents he had interacted with.

      • dragnubbit says:

        The GOP field was pretty crowded in 2012 as well (though not as much as 2016), with Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, and Cain all leading the polls at one point, and in addition Paul, Perry, Bachmann, Huntsman, and Roemer all going into Iowa.

        This year many of the candidates who were polling terribly decided to stick around longer than usual because they had fewer money pressures. Everyone saw how a crank like Cain got speaking tours and book deals out of the free exposure he got during the primaries.

        With internet donations and cheap media, the money needed to run a skeleton campaign now is pretty cheap if you make no investments in a real campaign operation. This can be a good investment if it gets you a gig on Fox news, a paid speaking tour and a book deal.

        If the GOP wants a smaller field, they can no longer rely on the donor class doing the winnowing for them, or that candidates will not run quixotic campaigns out of self-respect or a desire to unify the party.

    • Gazeboist says:

      The thing to remember is that chance-to-win is zero sum.

      It looks like Trump loses support much faster than Clinton, which explains both their positioning and the shapes you see. If they were equivalent, we’d see (vertically) symmetric shapes that at least sometimes have one candidate cross the other and remain on top.

  3. Deiseach says:

    Leonard Cohen has a new album out. Ah, you never lost it, Lenny! Still my favourite Jewish Catholic Buddhist singer-songwriter! 🙂

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I never got into his old stuff, but I love the sound of his octogenarian voice. Not had the chance to listen to all of the new album yet, but I put in a vote for Slow from the previous album as a very excellent piece, a sentiment close to my heart 🙂

  4. Quixote says:

    A while ago some commenter posted a book online and SSC reviewed it and gave it an interesting but mildly negative review. It was about some author that had posted his last book and an online forum was discussing the book and trying to see what it meant. Does anyone recall the name of the book or the post that reviewed it? I can’t find either.
    //maybe posted too late to get eyes: if so I’ll try again next time

    • Montfort says:

      The Northern Caves? I didn’t read the work and don’t remember the review that well, but that’s the name that comes to mind.

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      The TNC review seemed fairly positive to me. Enough so that I wanted to read it.

      (Its short, check it out)

      • dndnrsn says:

        Definitely worth reading. Plus, it’s one of the few things I’ve read on a computer screen that felt like it was better on a screen (because of the format, which is frequently online posts) than it would have been on paper.

  5. sflicht says:

    So (and apologies for the culture war aspect here), Vox Day and Stefan Molyneux have a podcast up where they discuss culture war applications of a long-since abandoned (perhaps because convincingly discredited by empirical data) evolutionary biology concept called r/K selection theory. I for one was completely unfamiliar with this concept, which does have a certain intuitive logic to it, but I’m pretty poorly educated in biology. It seems interesting. Do any SSC readers have “market color” on the *purely scientific* aspects of its rise and fall?

    Of course I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the culture war aspect is interesting as well.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t know much about r/K (except vaguely sharing the belief that it’s been discredited), but I just looked up Stefan Molyneux, and man, he seems so interesting. See also http://defoo.org/defoo/ , which I can’t tell if it’s an official page or somebody’s attempt to lovingly chronicle every piece of intra-cult drama.

      • Wrong Species says:

        “Deep down I do not believe that there are any really good parents out there – the same way that I do not believe there were any really good doctors in the 10th century.” – Stefan Molyneux

        • rlms says:

          Also:
          “On September 24, 1966 a baby boy was born. He was named Stefan. This little boy would suffer unimaginable child abuse at the hands of his family. But it would be worth it. For little did this boy know that he would go on to be the greatest philosopher that had ever existed. He would succeed where others had failed. He would live his values, though the heavens may fall, ridding himself of all hypocrisy. Were it not for Stefan Molyneux, we may have had to wait yet another 2500 years for a philosopher capable of advancing the human condition.”

          • onyomi says:

            His older work is weirder and more self-aggrandizing, though also more interesting in some ways. He thinks he solved the is-ought problem, which, if it were true, I guess would entitle him to “giant of philosophy” status. But it isn’t. His idea is basically a rehash of Hoppe’s “argumentation ethics,” so far as I can tell.

            I do think his predictions for the Obama presidency were pretty spot on. Basically that if electing a person from a different background with a different perspective were enough to transform politics, then we should expect US politics and government to be totally different by 2016. Which, of course, it isn’t at all.

          • Rob K says:

            @onyomi Man did he suplex the crap out of that strawman! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone quite so blatantly project their views onto their opposition.

            “Here’s my (not widely shared) assertion about what democratic theory says will happen now and my (idiosyncratic, to the point of straightforwardly incorrect) interpretation of what Obama’s supporters were voting for. If these things don’t come to pass, I’m right about everything!”

            I mean, thanks for the link – I’d heard the dude’s name before, and I feel like I got enough of his vibe from that to know about what it means now.

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t think it’s a strawman to say that many Obama supporters saw him as, or hoped he would become, a “transformational” figure when they first elected him. Some continue to see him that way, though far fewer, I believe. I think even among those who think he was a pretty good president, many are disappointed relative to the hopes they had for him eight years ago.

            (I will note that though I am more right-wing than left-wing, I don’t see Obama as an unusually bad president as presidents go. I view him as an improvement on both Bushs (not saying much) and put him squarely in the Jimmy Carter, “failed to stop or slow down bad trends already in motion and probably gets more hate than deserved” camp.)

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Here is an example, from an Obama supporter who for some reason has a newspaper column.

          • Deiseach says:

            my (idiosyncratic, to the point of straightforwardly incorrect) interpretation of what Obama’s supporters were voting for

            Well, Obama seemed to buy into the rhetoric of his campaign (at least for a moment). The conclusion of his nomination victory speech in 2008 really set the bar very high – either he was lying like a rug in the cynical manner of politicians stroking their constituents’ egos, or else he really did mean to be Superman. If The Man Himself is promising rainbows and pots of gold for everyone, you can’t blame his supporters for going a bit over the top:

            The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment – this was the time – when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals. Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

            This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow? Restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth? Dude, talk about setting yourself up for a fall!

      • Randy M says:

        Did you mean to link the same page twice?

        Do you have a professional opinion on that “DeFoo” deal? It seems to me something that might be necessary in extremes, but I hold that obligations to parents are fairly strong and it seems that the an-cap perspective he brings causes him to disregard them in all but the most ideal of circumstances.

        • onyomi says:

          He gets the idea from Rand, who, if I understand correctly, didn’t think people had any more obligation to their parents and blood relatives than anyone else. On Rand’s view, you should love people for their “virtues” rather than past history with oneself (except insofar as that history is a proof or disproof of virtuousness).

          Put another way, I think their view is that one should be friends with e. g. one’s mother or brother only insofar as you would want to be friends with them if they weren’t your mother or brother.

          I, personally, have mixed feelings about this proposition. On the one hand, I think a lot of people err on the side of “everybody loves their mother; even people who hate their mothers love their mothers.” On the other, most children whose parents weren’t outright abusive seem to kind of “owe” their parents a lot in some cosmic sense.

          One could also make an argument that feeling special obligation to family is important to e. g. social order, a la Confucianism.

          • Randy M says:

            What does “friends” have to do with duty?
            (Not asking in order to challenge you, but to demonstrate my own position)

          • onyomi says:

            I’m not sure what he feels about “duty” in a vacuum, though I think many people think you have a duty to love (honor and obey) your parents, even if they are pretty crummy parents. Stef thinks you should only love them if they deserve love for the same reasons anyone else would be deserving of love (I imagine he would say you only owe a duty of love and honor to good parents, and, as you can tell, his bar for what constitutes “good parenting” is incredibly high).

          • lvlln says:

            Huh, is that really a Randian view? It’s an idea I’ve subscribed to for a while now, which I think I arrived at independent of Rand (not having read any of her writings or studied her philosophy with any depth). It just seems to me to be an obvious and inevitable result of the idea that all humans have equal moral worth. Treating someone better because they happen to be within some threshold of closeness to me on the ancestral tree seems to me to be ethically repugnant. I mean, don’t we call that nepotism?

            Then again, I must admit feeling some dissonance with this, because I do love my sister, and I do offer her help in ways that I wouldn’t offer someone similar to her who wasn’t related to me. Though it’s possible to work around that with the explanation that I have a near life-long relationship with her which I value, and I believe that even if I were convinced that we weren’t actually blood related, I would treat her the same. Or that I know that I live in a society that irrationally values family blood relations, and I know that my sister more or less follows by it, and therefore it’s in my best interest to convince her that I also follow it. But I’m not convinced that I’m not just fooling myself.

            Another way in which I feel dissonance is that I value human lives far, far higher than non-human lives. I’m not so sure I can rationalize this away so easily – I could say that it’s not based on genetic closeness but rather on empathy to other beings whose minds I believe work somewhat similar to my own, but it’s not clear to me that the minds of non-human living things would be less worthy of empathy.

          • Randy M says:

            What’s wrong with nepotism?

          • Gazeboist says:

            What does “friends” have to do with duty?

            What is this “duty” thing and where did it come from?

          • Randy M says:

            Isn’t that just starting down the spiral of materialism? It isn’t made of atoms, if that’s what you are going for.

          • Gazeboist says:

            I don’t think so? I recognize exchanges made or promised between specific people, and the obligations originating therefrom, but I don’t acknowledge an automatic obligation to make any particular exchange based solely on who is involved. If you want to claim that A has some duty to give or trade something to B based on their relationship, you need to justify it somehow.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t see how “I said I would love you, therefore I must love you” is logically a stronger claim than “You are my mother, therefore I must love you”. Both depend on certain axioms to have or not have binding power.

            The latter’s foundations are going out of fashion just slightly faster than the former’s foundations are, is all. You can argue that by carefully following through on your word you are more likely to be able to gain trust and cooperation from others and allow them to consistently predict your future actions–but these are just social conventions the same as “do your duty” would be, the same as “follow your heart” is, the same as “feed your child is.” Any of these might be widely abandoned or championed by any given society at any time–with of course different affects on the long term survival of that society, but in the long run, how does that impact the Truth of anything?.

          • Gazeboist says:

            “Love” is a bit abstract for what I’m talking about. I’m going for “obey” or “inform” or “give freely to” (or other concrete acts, I’m sure).

            In fact, the claims you’re contrasting don’t really make sense to me. I don’t see how someone could keep or break a promise to love someone else, since it’s not a concrete action. You can keep or break a promise to *appear* to love someone, but that’s a very different thing.

          • Autolykos says:

            I internally translate “duty” into “cultural expectations”. And while I don’t feel morally bound by the opinion of random schmucks, I recognize the expediency of keeping my head low and playing the game smiling. Managing your reputation budget and applying it efficiently will sometimes require you to pay attention to things that only exist in the minds of others.

      • Winfried says:

        I’ve listened to quite a few of his shows across the last few years, roughly around the same time frame I’ve been lurking here.

        I would be real careful about throwing stones from your glass house calling other communities cults.

        I don’t think either of you are cult leaders or are part of cults, but I would think you would be a bit slower to judge after your bouts of writing things you expected to or did regret.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      The theory was discredited by its appearance in a video game.

      I think the problem with the theory is that the two selection modes were too abstract and difficult to observe. It was replaced by considering concrete life histories, which is what people were really doing already, except that they were (often mistakenly) asserting that the life histories would be r- or K-selected. Stripping out the labels lost very little and forced them to check under what circumstances those histories were actually favored.

    • Gazeboist says:

      I’m pretty sure attempts to apply r/K selection to human subgroups struggle with the fact that humans in general are K-selected like crazy. We’re up there with whales and elephants for “most investment in individual offspring among all animals”.

    • Tekhno says:

      The thing that always strikes me is that it’s political use is supposed to show that leftists and liberals breed a lot with low investment, and that conservatives breed little with high investment. Liberals and leftists are rabbits, whereas conservatives are wolves.

      The problem is that conservatives, especially hardcore religious conservatives, have more children than people on the left, not less, so how can it be that conservatives are the K selected ones? It could be that leftists would be equally promiscuous as today before birth control existed and would have had more children in the past, but it’s equally possible that the promiscuity we observe among free lovin’ people is a product of birth control and wasn’t anywhere near as high before the 20th Century. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing so the theory can’t be tested.

      It feels more like a mythology designed to make conservatives feel like badasses. I remember reading about it on this site, before it spread elsewhere. It’s just a load of conclusion biased speculation.

      As for its use by actual biologists to apply to species, I haven’t a clue!

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        The left is an alliance of the high and low against the middle. The low are relative r-strategists, the high are pathological K-strategists.

        • Autolykos says:

          “The left is an alliance of the high and low against the middle.”
          This strikes me as odd, since the middle-class people I know are mostly socialist or green, while lower class tends to be more conservative and upper class more market-liberal (and the very elites conservative again).
          But then again, “middle class” is an incredibly poorly defined term, so we might just mean different things with it. But I guess I’d rather say conservatism is how the elites fool the lower class into acting against their own interests.

      • The context in which I’ve seen the K/r distinction applied to humans is as an explanation of a group of apparently unrelated racial differences, such as the fact (asserted–I presume true) that children of sub-Saharan African ancestry walk younger than children of European ancestry. The argument was that in the African environment the optimal strategy had more children and less investment per child than in the European environment.

        I don’t think I’ve seen it applied to conservative/liberal differences.

        • John Nerst says:

          This article discusses “regal” and “kalyptic” cultures as a memetic version of K/r selection, and they seem to map onto conservative/liberal pretty well. The metaphor is strained, though.

  6. Tekhno says:

    Ramble:

    Why do communities based on extreme politics always look and behave like historical re-enactment societies?

    I don’t just mean the far-right ones as you’d expect, but the left wing ones act like this too. They never seem to be able to move beyond the philosophy of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao etc (or Proudhon, Kropotkin, Bakunin, Makhno etc if anarchists). You can say “well duh”, but I don’t see the ideas of these figures as being foundational to the far-left, only to highly specific conceptions of socialism wrapped in a load of approved official positions on everything.

    Marxism is an idea that is dependent on a 19th Century view of society and economics. The idea that the bourgeoisie might buy out and pacify the proletariat with the welfare state is under-analyzed within this framework because while the groundwork for it was paved at that time, the large scale welfare states of the 20th Century were not in existence at that time.

    The 19th Century conception of economic mechanization also little resembles our present understanding of it. In the Fragment On Machines, Marx extrapolates the rationalization of industrial machinery forwards until he can produce a picture of rube goldberg like devices in which the proletariat act as the necessary “conscious linkages”, essentially lever pullers doing little work. From this conception it is then assumed that the power of the proletariat will grow while the power of the bourgeoisie will dwindle, since the bourgeoisie can no longer justify itself on the basis of organizing complex work if work is now so simple and productive.
    From a 21st Century understanding of automation we can see some holes in this viewpoint, firstly because any lever pullers are likely to be written out of the picture, and the conscious linkages that Marx talks about would reside in the programming of the machines. This would lead to the mass unemployment of low skilled workers and their lumpenization while empowering only high skilled workers in computing and engineering fields. A stratification of the proletariat occurs potentially producing new classes.
    Secondly, if we extrapolate further away from the false rube goldberg like view of mechanization, more and more automated machines would develop their own “conscious linkages” and act to perpetuate themselves. As things progress a smaller and smaller group of people remain economically necessary, and in the end perhaps no one is necessary.

    The modern conception of automation is discussed in Marxist circles, but not in any analytical way. The concept of Fully Automated Luxury Communism is only the invocation of a dreamy fantasy. The objection that automation will disenfranchise the bulk of the proletariat and reduce their class power seems to go unanswered. Historical materialism, in all its sophistication, seems to have been reduced to “and then a miracle happens!”

    Question: if we accept that capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction, does it necessarily follow that what comes after capitalism is a classless society?

    What if Marx was right that the “history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle”, but totally wrong that this history was about to come to an end? If automation causes a declining rate of profit in a free market, can’t the bourgeoisie just substitute wages for a basic income guarantee (the progressive elements of capital already support this)? Where is this even addressed in Marx? If automation then empowers software engineers to have control over the ownership and management of capital, then isn’t what emerges a new system beyond capitalism, but at the same time not at all a socialist system progressing towards communism? Gone is wage labor to be sure, but it seems dubious to conclude that private property goes along with it. The class system is not abolished, but reorganized; the software engineer proletariat “overthrow” the non-software engineer bourgeoisie, taking their place, and the rest of the proletariat become permanent lumpen-proletariat, a non-laboring class with little revolutionary potential according to Marx.

    This actually sounds just fine to me, but if the far-left wants to avoid this and establish a classless society then it actually has to address how class has changed since Marx, how welfare can prevent profit decline, and what automation does to class dynamics. They don’t seem all too interested in this, however. Better to read Lenin over and over again and get fuzzy feelings.

    While we’re at it, can I ask what relevance labor surplus has to modern people? Most people are annoyed at being poor or at inequality, not abstract conclusions based off the labor theory of value. An organic notion of 99% Vs 1% is much more effective and fits tricky modern class dynamics. It seems to me that if you can abandon Marx and get better results, then maybe you should abandon Marx. Or maybe I’m just concern trolling.

    Also, why celebrate failures? Do tankies really think that Stalin succeeded? Do anarchists really think that anarchist doctrine is just fine and that people like Makhno should be celebrated with Lenin getting all the blame? At least Trotskyites get to argue that Trotsky never got a chance. There’s too much focus on feeling good about losing well. Communism is further away now than it was in the 50s.

    The far-right are the same. The Hitler lovers never stop to consider that maybe Hitler hurt racial nationalism more than he helped it. His failure is always justified the same way. Mention that he destroyed Europe and allowed the Soviet Union to take territory and the reply is always the same; “Nuh uh! Hitler saved Europe! The Soviet Union was going to attack and by invading them he prevented them from taking more of Europe than they would have otherwise. So there, Schlomo!”

    Huh, about that there is a puzzling thing. Have you ever noticed that by the standards of the /pol/ crowd, the ex-Eastern Bloc countries are less degenerate than West Europe?

    Question: if Hitler saved Europe then why is the part he saved more fucked than the part he didn’t?

    The Jews!

    An overrepresented minority is still a minority. Taking the argument as true, they couldn’t have done anything without an overwhelming majority of “good goyim”. These types behave as if the Jews invented the concept of political equality cuz Karl Marx when white people invented it all on their own back in Ancient Greece.

    Question: if whites are invent degeneracy all on their own, then what purpose does Jew hating serve beyond ego shielding?

    (This question never leads to self-examination. It always leads to fits of rage and doubling down on genocidal fantasies.).

    What about technology? Race isn’t going to remain primary in a world of genetic manipulation and later attractions such as hyperintelligent AI. You want eugenics? Well, what if the Chinese do eugenics in the lab by selecting the best genes from whichever race fits the job?

    Question: Is it okay to “race mix” if you do it with a pipette instead of a penis?

    Whenever you ask these sort of questions, they get very uncomfortable and brush them off. The very possibility of such technology is denied. The past is paramount, because the past is comfortable. People can’t conceive of victory except by analogy to past triumph. New forms of victory are as terrifying as failure. At least failure is recognizable as something human.

    • sflicht says:

      I just want to mention that until reading your post, I’d never bothered to look up “tankie“.

    • Jiro says:

      These types behave as if the Jews invented the concept of political equality cuz Karl Marx when white people invented it all on their own back in Ancient Greece.

      Because after all, there aren’t any white people among the Jews.

      • Tekhno says:

        There are white people who are part of the religion, Judaism, but the Nazis are attacking the Jews on a racial level (to whatever extent that exists), not a merely religious one.

    • The_Other_Brad says:

      Why do communities based on extreme politics communities based on hero worship of dead political figures always look and behave like historical re-enactment societies? exaggerated hero-worshipping clubs that are less about a political stance and more about engaging in apologetics for the dead political figure’s cult of personality?

      It seems self-explanatory.

    • nancylebovitz says:

      Thanks– very interesting essay.

      There might be a more general process of crystalization that’s worth investigating. For example, nun’s habits got stabilized at some point. Chasidic Jews (at least some of them) dress the way they did in Europe.

    • rlms says:

      I think the short answer is that neither far-left nor far-right beliefs are particularly consistent or rational.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Stalin failed at making a classless paradise, but if you look at him using a generic, (appropriate for this thread) strategy-game-esque set of criteria, under his rule the USSR fought off a foreign invader, and ended as a superpower, in #2 place close to #1, where it was not at the beginning of his reign.

      So, he failed by his own stated criteria, but by the criteria of “ruthless, bloody-handed globe-bestriding colossus” he did quite well.

  7. suntzuanime says:

    I wrote a comment, apparently logged in, clicked to post, was sent to an error page saying “you are not logged in”, and when I logged in again my comment was gone. Fuck this registration business completely.

    • Deiseach says:

      Fuck this registration business completely.

      WordPress. Dribblings from the Devil’s dung-encrusted rump. This and Disqus. Registration qua registration is not in itself a bad idea, if it was run on a system that was any way interested in being usable, let alone making the experience pleasant, convenient and quick for the users. I know it’s open source, which means too many cooks spoil the broth and too many chiefs, not enough tribesmen, but there has to come a point where somebody takes overall responsibility.

      Editor’s note: None of the above is intended, nor should it be interpreted, as casting aspersions on Scott or his choice of blogging framework; I realise you have to take what you can get and it would be ungrateful of me to whine about getting all this fantastic content for nothing except the sweat of his brow. But WordPress can go take a very long walk off a short pier.

      • nancylebovitz says:

        WordPress made me register again. Fortunately, I finally have a password I can remember, but WordPress can just burn.

        I’m thinking about starting a group blog, and the choices seem to be between facebook and livejournal or possibly livejournal/dreamwidth. WordPress has its virtues, but registration is probably too high of a barrier.

      • Gazeboist says:

        WordPress’s problems are not rooted in its open source nature. They get down to some pretty fundamental problems with online ID and general internet stupidity. Sometimes a browser just doesn’t feel like implementing part of a standard. If that browser’s popular, well, tough shit my web-dev friend, you’ve just lost a bunch of useful features. And on the internet, your ID is not disconnected from what services you use, so if you don’t use the same services as anyone else, any ID sharing tech (looking at you, OpenID) is useless to you.

        • Deiseach says:

          so if you don’t use the same services as anyone else, any ID sharing tech (looking at you, OpenID) is useless to you

          But WordPress and Gravatar say they’re connected and compatible (“log in with your WordPress account! Change your Gravatar!”) and yet it took me about four attempts to do this.

          (1) Log in with WordPress account – which I had long before Scott implemented the registration policy – on Gravatar
          (2) “We’re sending you a confirmation email, click on the link”
          (3) Do this
          (4) Get sent right back to the “log in with your WordPress account” page again
          (5) Rinse and repeat

          For those who like writing their own solutions to make the thing work, I’m sure it’s great. For those of us who’d rather just click the goddamn radio button and get to where we want to go, it’s not so great.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Yes? The situation is awful. But it’s not awful because wordpress is open source, it’s awful for more fundamental reasons. That’s all I’m trying to say.

  8. M.C. Escherichia says:

    My experiments with Catholicism continue (attended a Tridentine Mass on Sunday, it was stunning in its beauty.)

    But anyway, this whole adventure leads me naturally to questions of how to reconcile the reality of evolution with the theology of the Fall in Genesis. It occurred to me today that one could solve this problem by saying that the Fall was time-symmetric. In my theory, Genesis is literally true, but the Fall affected not only the future but also the past. What had been a divinely-ordered creation became an evolved world full of predators and parasites and viruses and so on; and humanity thus went from a divine spiritual being to an evolved kludgey ape made of atoms…

    I am of course not serious about this, but it’s fun to play with these things (hence Unsong?) and I thought it was a nice idea. Does anyone know if something like this has been thought of before, maybe even seriously?

    • dndnrsn says:

      If you combine Jewish and Christian religious thought, you end up with a field so wide that pretty much everything has been thought of. Or, to put it another way: what has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.

      Serious answer: Not that I know of, but that was never my area of study. Next time I’m near my books I’ll try to remember to flip through them and see how scholars try and fit Genesis to evolution and such.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @ dndnrsn
        see how scholars try and fit Genesis to evolution and such

        In The Problem of Pain, probably Chapter “The Fall of Man”, Lewis takes evolution literally and Genesis figurativly. The cavemen were unfallen, paradisial; sometime after sapience they (over whatever ages required) became greedy, self-regarding, lustful … and here we are.

        (I’m posting from memory, leaving out some details which are, like most of Lewis, much better in his words.)

        I see hints in Lewis about the past rectroactively changing because of certain later actions, which might fit with some of Tolkien. (Remember L and T’s project was a shared universe of which T would write the past history and L the future.)

    • shakeddown says:

      Tolkein had a version of this – after the Numenorians attacked Valinor, Illuvatar changed the very nature of the world to make it round (as opposed to just raising/sinking islands or making things far away). Only elves were permitted to take the “straight” sailing path and reach it anymore – for men who tried sailing west, the world would just seem round.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Well, the general position is that the Crucifixion saved people who lived before the time of Jesus as well as those who lived after, and the idea that the Fall resulted in the corruption of things before the Fall itself wouldn’t be too different.

    • Deiseach says:

      Reconciling Genesis and theology – well, you have a wide range of options there. Let’s presume we’re leaving aside the Ken Ham style of Biblical literalism (because I’m not familiar enough with it to critique it on anything other than a surface level, and since it drives me crazy when people criticise Catholic theology from shallow knowledge, I’ll do them the same courtesy) and see what we can pull out of the pot.

      If we’re talking things like “Adam and Eve – our first parents: symbolic representation, representative individuals of what was a group, or literal first humans?”, we’ve got a couple of papal pronouncements on the topic.

      But before we get into that, I’m going to strike out at a tangent and say “Can everyone please remember Gregor Mendel was an Augustinian friar and abbot of his priory? Thank you!” I see plenty of references everywhere to Mendel but for all the textbooks say, he could have been a nice Silesian factory owner that made widgets and he grew peas in his spare time because gardening was his hobby. Abbot Mendel would, I am sure, thank you for the courtesy of using his proper title. Also, did you know (I didn’t) that “At Vienna, his professor of physics was Christian Doppler” (yes, that Doppler).

      Second, it’s only Official Catholic Teaching when the pope makes a pronouncement. This will be important, because various bishops, theologians, and even entire religious orders express opinions one way or the other, but unless the guy in the white cassock delivers the final word on it, all of those are only opinions and are not necessarily binding.

      Okay, back to the main point. Encylicals on evolution, especially human evolution – really the only one (there have been encylicals about Biblical exegesis that address scientific objections, and decrees and statements about evolution, but this remains the only encyclical so far to specifically address evolution) is Humani Generis from 1950 (the question had been kicked around since the 19th century, but since the Catholic Church did not teach Biblical literalism in the same way as various Protestant denominations, it wasn’t as big a deal about “Ha ha, we’ve proved the Bible wrong, now what are you going to do about it?” “Eh, go on the same way?”. Why it suddenly got important in 1950 I don’t know, probably somebody or other was making a jackass of themselves).

      Anyway, this encylical is important because it excludes polygenism:

      36. For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith. Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.

      37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.

      (I am going to swerve off at another tangent here to note, with great amusement, this sentence from the Wikipedia article on polygenism and Giordano Bruno. You may remember him as the Martyr for Science in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new Cosmos series? Yeah, they somehow neglected to include this bit:

      In 1591 Giordano Bruno argued that because no one could imagine that the Jews and the Ethiopians had the same ancestry, then God must have either created separate Adams or Africans were the descendants of pre-Adamite races.

      Something there to offend everybody on the topic of race relations.)

      Wikipedia has a good overview of the current state of play. I’d say you could try the Vatican website as well, but I wouldn’t recommend it – it’s a mess to try and find anything on it directly. Google is your friend here! There’s also the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which may help steer you? Though that’s more the “science” side than the “theology” side (because mixing those two was what got Galileo into trouble).

      • Deiseach says:

        I’ve also got to throw in here a large chunk of Belloc, from his 1929 “Survivals and New Arrivals”; it’s mainly about Biblical literalism, and it’s strange to see it dismissing what we’d nowadays call Fundamentalism as dead or at least dying, given the rise (in America) of the Moral Majority in the 80s, and particularly in view of the fact that between 1910-15 (again, in America) the “Fundamentals” series of essays were being published and promulgated, which laid the foundation of modern Fundamentalism.

        Okay, Belloc!

        My third example shall be from another writer of high standing in our time, thoroughly representative of modern English thought and also in close sympathy with his great audience; skeptical in profession, though as Protestant as Dr. Gore in morals and tradition — I mean Mr. H. G. Wells.

        Mr. H. G. Wells has been at great pains to discuss the fall of man, in which considerable catastrophe he puts no faith. But when he discusses the fall of man he always has in mind the eating of an apple in a particular place at a particular time. When he hears that there is no Catholic doctrine defining the exact place or the exact time — not even the name of the apple, he shrewdly suspects that we are shirking the main issue. He thinks in terms of the Bible Christian — with whom he disagrees.

        The main issue for European civilization in general is whether man fell or no. Whether man was created for beatitude, enjoyed a supernatural state, fell by rebellion from that state into the natural but unhappy condition in which he now stands, subject to death, clouded in intellect and rotted with pride, yet with a memory of greater things, an aspiration to recover them, and a power of so doing by right living in this world of his exile; or whether man is on a perpetual ascent from viler to nobler things, a biped worthy of his own respect in this life and sufficient to his own destiny.

        On that great quarrel the future of our race depends. But the inventors of Bible Christianity, even when they have lost their original creeds, do not see it thus. They take the main point to be, whether it were an apple — who munched it — exactly where — and exactly when. They triumphantly discover that no fruit or date can be established, and they conclude that the Christian scheme is ruined and the Fall a myth.

        It is clear then that the most eminent writers in the Protestant culture can still be concerned with Literalism. It is almost equally clear that they have never grasped that full doctrine of the Fall — the sole doctrine explanatory of our state — upon which, coupled with that of the Incarnation, the Catholic Church bases all Her theology.

        To put the thing in epigram (and therefore, of course, quite insufficiently), they are certain that we are animals which have risen. They have not met the idea that we may be a sort of angel who fell.

        Now I submit that if men of this eminence take the Literalists thus seriously — one solemnly arguing with them, another not understanding that there has been any other kind of believer — there must be a trace of life in Literalism still.

        There are, of course, innumerable other instances. You can hardly find an article in any newspaper discussion on religion — save the very few by Catholics, which are occasionally admitted as a favour — but takes it for granted that advance in physical science has shaken something which the writer calls “religion.” He can only mean the religion of the Bible Christian. For in what way could Physical Science affect the Catholic Church?

        You can hardly get an allusion to the evolutionist writers (in this country it is always Darwin) without the same idea cropping up: “The Conflict of Science with Religion.” But with what religion can Science conflict save Bibliolatry? On every side the recent presence of that strange worship — and even its present lingering — is taken for granted.

        It is then a true “Survival,” though I grant that it is on the point of death.

        Before I leave it I would like to suggest a doubt to the reader concerning it. The Biblical attack on the Church has failed because Bibliolatry has been destroyed by extended geological and historical knowledge. It is dying and will soon be dead. But will it “stay dead”?

        The good fortunes of stupidity are incalculable. One can never tell what sudden resurrections ignorance and fatuity may not have. Most of us, asked to make a guess, would say that in fifty years no odd Literalist could still be found crawling upon the earth. Do not be too sure. Our children may live to see a revival of the type in some strange land. Or it may come later. These aberrations have great power. We might, if we came back to life 300 years hence, find whole societies in some distant place indulging in human sacrifice, massacring prisoners of war, prohibiting all communications on Saturdays, persecuting science, and performing I know not what other antics in the name of James I’s Old Testament — especially if James I’s Old Testament should have become by that time (as it probably would have become by that time) a Hierarchic book preserved in a dead language, known only to the learned few.

  9. Urstoff says:

    Has Scott Adams gone bonkers or is he just trolling:

    https://twitter.com/ScottAdamsSays/status/791022440377782272
    https://twitter.com/ScottAdamsSays/status/790613540302270464

    Also, his incessant whining about “bullies”.

    • shakeddown says:

      There’s a lot to object to there, but “literally hiding”? STOP MISUSING LITERALLY WHEN YOU MEAN FIGURATIVELY.

      • Zorgon says:

        My assumption is there’s an unspoken “from the pollsters” after “hiding”.

        • shakeddown says:

          Are they though? I assume they’re not hiding under the bed or something. If they just screen calls or lie to the pollsters, does that count as literally hiding? (No I’m not fun at parties, why do you ask?)

      • John Nerst says:

        The “literally” is being used figuratively, like any other word can be. I feel a bit like a spammer for linking this a second time, but people reacting this way to “literally” has become as much of an annoyance to me as the alleged misuse is to them.

        • Montfort says:

          People understand that literally is being used figuratively. No one here is confused on this point, as far as I can tell. Some people, though, think it would be nice if there were some word that could unambiguously mean “this is not intended as a metaphor or exaggeration, please don’t interpret it that way.” Every time “literally” is used to mean “this is still an exaggeration, but less so than you might think”, this degrades their ability to use the word the way they want.

          The post you link explains the specific figurative way (the author thinks) people are using “literally”, and speculates as to why. But it doesn’t actually give the “‘literally’ police” a word they can use for their purposes, or adequately explain whether such a word can even exist, or argue that no one really needs such a word, etc.

          The thing that bothers me about self-described perscriptivists (to continue the meta-contrarian chain) is that often they seem to think explaining how a word is being used is somehow persuasive to people who think using it that way has bad consequences. This is sometimes helpful, when the bad consequence the perscriptivists fear is based on a misconception of usage, but it is rather common for perscriptivists to understand the usage and still think it’s net negative (e.g., ambiguity created outweighs convenience, inconvenience outweighs ambiguity resolved…).

          Descriptivists hold the trump card that language is going to change whether you like it or not, but that makes complaints about language mostly useless, not invalid. If you want to claim they’re invalid, you have to reach the merits of the case – what do people think are the bad consequences of the “new” usage, do they exist, are they actually bad, how do they compare to the benefits, etc.

          • John Nerst says:

            This risks exploding into a sprawling epic, so I’ll keep it as brief as I can…

            I somewhat agree that it isn’t just a matter of comprehension but of fundamental disagreement, but I get the feeling that many complaints like this are based on fundamental assumptions about language that don’t describe how it actually works – ordinary words are not technical terms with standardized definitions, but paintbrush handles that work by evoking thoughts in other peoples minds. That makes them inherently fuzzy and context-dependent.

            I think explaining that there is actually a communicative function behind things that seem nonsensical and just wrong (like “Paris is the capital of Germany” is “just wrong”) does show that language is not broken, not misused and what is happening is not a mistake. Instead it’s working as intended – but according to a different logic than assumed.

            That you can use the phrase “literally literally” if you want to use literally literally is only partly a joke. It’s not that “literally” is used to mean figuratively, but that the word itself is used in a metaphorical manner, like any word can be. If you want to say that it’s not meant that way you can preface it with “literally”…

            I agree that it’s a shame when specific words and technical terms are used in such vague ways that they wind up useless for what they were used for originally. (I work with data analysis and if I hear a marketer/consultant use the phrase “Big Data” once more I’m going to scream). But in the case of “literally”, this particular use fills an important function (it’s not plain exaggeration) – namely to counteract the tendency of metaphors and imagery to wear out over repeated use.

            So much for briefness…

        • shakeddown says:

          I wish he’d use the actual word “figuratively”, though. “People are figuratively hiding” is both more impressive-sounding and more technically accurate. Plus I like the sound of the word.

          • Deiseach says:

            Some people may literally hide; I genuinely do this (“oh crap, it’s someone I don’t want to answer the door to, quick let me stand in this corner/hide behind the curtains and hope they haven’t seen me and will give up and go away”).

    • dragnubbit says:

      It is always educational when self-proclaimed geniuses can’t keep their mouths shut.

      Remember, he is so smart that when this is all over he will write a post saying the entire election was meta for him and he was just doing an experiment on the public to see how gullible they were. And he might even believe it.

      • Tekhno says:

        What if this is the smart thing to do though? Just deceive people about things and then when they find out, deceive them about deceiving them and do it in a fun trollish way that enough people find likeable that they give you money. Seems smart to me.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’d classify both of those as objectively false but not “bonkers”. The quality of public discussion of both ISIS operational capabilities and US political polling capabilities is so abysmally poor that I can’t fault anyone that much for believing that ISIS is supercompetent and the pollsters are stumbling around in the dark. The lesser Scott A disqualifies himself as a serious commenter, in this case, on the grounds of ignorance rather than insanity.

      Or maybe he’s feigning ignorance for the sake of trolling, but so be it.

      • Rob K says:

        I checked my backyard this morning and there were two Trump supporters crouching in the recycling bins and a guy who claimed to be for Gary Johnson trying to blend in with the bamboo in the neighbors’ garden. I gave ’em some granola bars and handwarmers.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Trolllolollol. I enjoy watching him respond to his “haters.”

    • Mark says:

      http://blog.dilbert.com/post/152293480726/the-bully-party

      If Trump wins, I will have to assume that Scott Adams is a persuasion genius.

      • shakeddown says:

        I’ll do it if he wins in a landslide – 538 gives him a 15% chance of a narrow win, which is something that can plausibly happen.

  10. nancylebovitz says:

    Prazosin— a friend has been able to sleep instead of having insomnia from PTSD. The comments on the webpage have a bunch of people it’s worked for, and also a fair number it doesn’t work for.

    This seems like something worth getting the word out about– I hadn’t heard of it before.

  11. onyomi says:

    This post, which is a good idea, but which depresses me because it makes me think I’d get a lot more done and appreciate finer things if not for having too many digital distractions, caused me to have a thought:

    Everybody’s noticed that nowadays everything has to be super-entertaining to hold anyone’s attention: even our news has to also be a comedy show. On the one hand this is kind of good: we’re thinking of new ways to make information more accessible, digestible, engaging, etc.

    On the other, maybe there is a phenomenon where one can only expect people to spend time learning about, say, history to the extent it is presented in a medium as entertaining, or at least, nearly as entertaining as whatever alternatives are out there? In the future will children need history lessons embedded in VR hyper-porn to pay attention to anything for more than 5 seconds?

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      The question to me is, how long do you have to spend without stimulation to find a boring thing interesting? If you’re locked in an empty room without a media device, once-boring books start to look pretty intriguing.

      After about forty-five minutes without a media device, I can focus on a fairly difficult book for several hours.

      But I do repetitive work with little or no stimulation, and spend about half as much time on a computer as I do repetitive work. I have my own computer, but I only have about one hour a day with Internet access. If I had more access, I’d certainly use the Internet and my computer more.

      If attention does work this way, and if learning, say, history, isn’t an arms race, I don’t think it’s a problem if people have to isolate themselves to pay attention to it.

  12. what-is-rationality-anyway says:

    When I saw these articles on vice.com, I thought, ‘I wonder what Scott would say about this?”

    http://www.vice.com/read/nad-plus-brain-reboot-infusion-injection

    ‘The internet tells me NAD+ is popular among the “anti-aging community,” thanks to a Harvard Medical School study that found it rewound “aspects of age-related demise in mice.” It’s also supposedly good for: detoxing from alcohol and drugs, increasing energy and focus, reducing chronic fatigue, increasing your metabolism, and improving your cardiovascular health.
    ‘It still sounded like bullshit, but the only way I could tell for certain was to put it to the test. I’d quit drinking that particular week, and–as I’d learned online–this treatment could apparently help to mitigate my booze cravings….’

    (ALSO: https://hms.harvard.edu/news/genetics/new-reversible-cause-aging-12-19-13)

    http://www.vice.com/read/how-scared-should-i-be-of-the-rise-in-stds

    I assume that most asexuals are not directly participating in any of this. 🙂

    • Deiseach says:

      The first one sounds like the various fads that go around – $600 a pop every couple of weeks for what’s basically a hit of high-strength niacin? Treatments for people with more money than sense; some of you may remember the fad for Prozac back when it was first released, and how similar “journalist takes course of latest new wonder drug and gushes about how everyone should be on it” articles were all over the place. Like all crazes, it’ll be wildly popular amongst those who have to brag – but subtly, bling and fancy cars are declassé – about how much money to burn they’ve got from their frightfully important and hugely well-paid jobs, then after a while everyone will be doing it and once the oiks get in on the act, the trendsetters will move on to the next fad.

      “Vampire facials”? I somehow missed hearing about this before. Countess Bathory was simply ahead of her time in beauty treatment, it appears!

  13. FishFinger says:

    How do I read more while still enjoying it?

    There are so many books that I would like to read – novels, short stories, philosophy, non-fiction – both high-brow and popular. And I do read them… but at a very slow pace. It sometimes takes me 2-3 days to finish reading a short story. At this rate, I’m never going to get anywhere.

    And I’m not really concerned about increasing my reading efficiency or words per minute – although those probably couldn’t hurt. What I’m concerned about is the inability to focus on reading for too long. What happens is that I read a few paragraphs, and then the mental stimulation from reading gets my imagination to run wild, as if fireworks started exploding inside my head. Then I have to put the book down in order to either think (often in a very excited, emotional manner) about what I’ve just read or something else that my mind has wandered upon.

    Of course, if I really have to read something for class or whatever, I can just force myself. But that’s not enjoyable at all! When I do that I catch myself counting the pages until the end of the chapter or minutes until the end of my planned reading session, with a huge relief when it’s over – that’s not how the “joy of reading” is supposed to happen, right?

    I guess I don’t enjoy reading per se as much as I enjoy having read books – not for the bragging rights (although I don’t shy away from those) but for the ability to contemplate passages, paragraphs and entire gestalten later on. But I do have to actually read the book beforehand for this effect – summaries and excerpts wouldn’t work.

    Some have suggested that this is because I have ruined my brain with instant gratification stimuli that I get from playing video games or browsing the internet. That might be true… but I’d rather not swear off those things, either, if it’s possible.

    So – any tips on extending my reading sessions that won’t end up in envy for the illiterate?

    • Jaskologist says:

      If you want to improve at something, pick a metric for it and track it.

      In this case, start up a spreadsheet to track how many pages you read a day. Set a modest goal of 10/day. Now you will be able to hold yourself to account. Maybe you’re a gunner, and will do 20/day just to show them all.

      • nancylebovitz says:

        Reading more and enjoying it is a more complex goal than just reading more.

        Tentative advice– when you find yourself distracted by your thoughts, tell yourself you’ll think about that later, and then really do it.

    • shakeddown says:

      Go spend a weekend camping with a book (or a kindle, it’s easier to carry). I can do over 200 pages a day when I’m out hiking (and I really get into it, too – it’s the combination of clear air, physical exertion, and no distractions).

    • Gazeboist says:

      I don’t know how much you want to read specific things, but you could switch to things that are easily serialized. Read chapters instead of books, sections instead of articles, that sort of thing. If the stuff you want to read is already divided up this way, you might be able to just reframe things so you don’t have to guilt yourself into reading things you actually want to read.

      Unfortunately I’m not well-acquainted tools for dividing up electronic reading material with things like bookmarks, so it might be hard to use this strategy for non-paper things.

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      I read in a quiet place outdoors away from external distractions (good if you can get it) and keep a notebook to jot down my own mental distractions or thoughts about the book.

      That said, I don’t read as much as I used to. Sometimes I’ll spend all weekend reading, and then not read a book for months. The above worked when I had more free time, though.

    • Corey says:

      Does this happen with other activities? Sounds like classic ADHD, honestly. The best way to tell is to dose up with some stimulants and see if that makes you calmer & more focused.

    • rlms says:

      It sounds obvious, but only read things you enjoy. There is no point forcing yourself to read something you don’t actually like (at least not until you have established a habit of generally reading enjoyable things).

    • Zakharov says:

      Why do you want to read? If you read so that you can think about the contents of the book, there’s nothing wrong with not reading much if you can trigger thoughts with little text.

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      @ FishFinger

      Rather than extend the sessions, what about using a length you’re comfortable with, but have more sessions?

      What happens is that I read a few paragraphs, and then the mental stimulation from reading gets my imagination to run wild, as if fireworks started exploding inside my head. Then I have to put the book down in order to either think (often in a very excited, emotional manner) about what I’ve just read or something else that my mind has wandered upon.

      Maybe you’re already reading fiction, biography, some histories, etc, in the way that’s best for you. If the story has a suspenseful scene, then stopping to think (in a very excited, emotional manner) about it is the best, or only, way to fully experience and appreciate it. If you just go on to the page where the outcome is revealed, you’ve lost the suspense. That applies to surprise and other reactions. If it’s a comedy, stop and laugh whenever you feel like it, before going on.

      I enjoy having read books … for the ability to contemplate passages, paragraphs and entire gestalten later on.

      Talking about how the end mood differs from an earlier mood (which is often the point of the story) might require having paused to experience each mood as you read it. When one gives you a lot to think about, that’s a good time to put the book down and take a walk or a bath or a meal, giving you plenty of time to think about it.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Of course, if I really have to read something for class or whatever, I can just force myself. But that’s not enjoyable at all! When I do that I catch myself counting the pages until the end of the chapter or minutes until the end of my planned reading session, with a huge relief when it’s over – that’s not how the “joy of reading” is supposed to happen, right?

      I do this even with books I like to read. Especially when it comes to a long book, it feels satisfying to simply complete it. My generic suggestion would be simply to read more. You don’t have to give up the internet, you just have to get used to something that takes a little longer. You might want to focus on simply reading one chapter at a time. A non-fiction book can be thought of as many articles with an underlying theme all put together. So reading one chapter at a time can give you that feeling that you accomplished something without feeling like a chore.

    • Bugmaster says:

      What happens is that I read a few paragraphs, and then the mental stimulation from reading gets my imagination to run wild, as if fireworks started exploding inside my head. Then I have to put the book down in order to either think (often in a very excited, emotional manner) about what I’ve just read or something else that my mind has wandered upon.

      That sounds awesome. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

      What is your actual goal here ? If it’s to enjoy reading as much as possible, then I think you’ve got it nailed. If it’s to read as many books as possible, then sure, you’re performing suboptimally, but I don’t see what simply racking up page counts is supposed to accomplish.

  14. Front page story at nytimes.com about weaponized AIs: The Pentagon’s ‘Terminator Conundrum’: Robots That Could Kill on Their Own.

    Subtitle: The United States has put artificial intelligence at the center of its defense strategy, with weapons that can identify targets and make decisions.

    • John Schilling says:

      “Center of its defense strategy” seems to be an absurd overstatement of the DoD’s position on the matter, from what I know and from what I can see in the article.

      Closely-supervised semi-autonomous weapons are arguably central to US defense strategy in the next generation. Weapons that might “kill on their own” when explicitly cleared to do so and under direct supervision, e.g. the point-defense weapons on modern warships or the likely robot wingmen for next-generation fighter pilots.

      Truly autonomous and unsupervised weapons, that might be expected to distinguish between hostile and neutral targets with no human oversight, are something the Pentagon is tinkering with on the grounds that something useful might come of it, without yet being a central part of future plans or strategies.

      General rule of thumb: If “DARPA” is mentioned in anything but a historical context, whatever is being talked about isn’t central to US defense plans and is probably going to be gone and forgotten within a decade. The exceptions, you’ll know about when they are no longer DARPA projects.

    • bean says:

      Yep. We’ve had those since the early 80s. Yes, they’ve killed people and shot things down that they shouldn’t have. Yes, they’re still in service.
      I refer, of course, to the Phalanx CIWS, which is a very good system, so long as everyone involved is careful about what mode it’s in and what is downrange.
      But John is right on this one. DARPA looks at basically everything, and it’s not really an indication of where the US military is going. In fact, it’s probably a weak anti-indicator, in that it’s stuff that’s far enough from the main stream of thought to not be classified and/or handled by someone else.

  15. sflicht says:

    Most effective troll / genuinely beneficial political appointment President Donald Trump could make?

    I’ll throw out the following idea: hold Theil in reserve and then nominate him for Fed chair in 2018 when Yellen’s term is up. Advantages:

    * He’s an iconoclast, which might be pretty beneficial since I think the Fed suffers from groupthink more than most government bodies.

    * I personally don’t think macroeconomics is in a great intellectual position, so having an influential outsider perspective seems potentially more valuable in this domain than in others.

    * It’s a potentially long-term, influential position, so Trump has the chance to make a lasting difference, but I think it’s (at least somewhat) less politically fraught than SCOTUS confirmation.

    Since by imagining a Trump victory we’re already engaging in moderately extreme speculation, according to the Nate Silvers of the world, please join me in envisioning some of the more interesting/entertaining consequences that could plausible ensue.

  16. Well... says:

    I hope a little bit of self promotion is OK, because I discovered the most perfect metaphor for Trump’s presidential campaign, and it was created by Michael Crichton in 1987.

    • hyperboloid says:

      My personal favorite literary metaphor for Trump and his relationship with the republican party has always been William S. Burroughs’ “The Man who taught his Ass to talk”

      Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his ass to talk? His whole abdomen would move up and down, you dig, farting out the words. It was unlike anything I had ever heard.

      “This ass talk had sort of a gut frequency. It hit you right down there like you gotta go. You know when the old colon gives you the elbow and it feels sorta cold inside, and you know all you have to do is turn loose? Well this talking hit you right down there, a bubbly, thick stagnant sound, a sound you could smell.

      “This man worked for a carnival you dig, and to start with it was like a novelty ventriliquist act. Real funny, too, at first. He had a number he called “The Better ‘Ole’ that was a scream, I tell you. I forget most of it but it was clever. Like, “Oh I say, are you still down there, old thing?’

      “‘Nah! I had to go relieve myself.’

      “After a while the ass start talking on its own. He would go in without anything prepared and his ass would ad-lib and toss the gags back at him every time.

      “Then it developed sort of teeth-like little raspy in- curving hooks and start eating. He thought this was cute at first and built and act around it, but the asshole would eat its way through his pants and start talking on the street, shouting out it wanted equal rights. It would get drunk, too, and have crying jags nobody loved it and it wanted to be kissed same as any other mouth. Finally it talked all the time day and night, you could hear him for blocks screaming at it to shut up, and beating it with his fist, and sticking candles up it, but nothing did any good and the asshole said to him: ‘It’s you who will shut up in the end. Not me. Because we don’t need you around here any more. I can talk and eat AND shit.’

      “After that he began waking up in the morning with a transparent jelly like a tadpole’s tail all over his mouth. This jelly was what the scientists call un-D.T., Undifferentiated Tissue, which can grow into any kind of flesh on the human body. He would tear it off his mouth and the pieces would stick to his hands like burning gasoline jelly and grow there, grow anywhere on him a glob of it fell. So finally his mouth sealed over, and the whole head would have have amputated spontaneous- except for the EYES you dig. That’s one thing the asshole COULDN’T do was see. It needed the eyes. But nerve connections were blocked and infiltrated and atrophied so the brain couldn’t give orders any more. It was trapped in the skull, sealed off. For a while you could see the silent, helpless suffering of the brain behind the eyes, then finally the brain must have died, because the eyes WENT OUT, and there was no more feeling in them than a crab’s eyes on the end of a stalk.

      • nancylebovitz says:

        Wow.

        This is also about Moloch, isn’t it?

        • Rob K says:

          Burroughs said it was about consumerism. Nobody needs a talking asshole, and yet this guy decided he did and it ended up running his life.

          (Simplistically, the whole book is a series of vignettes comparing consumerism to heroin addiction in various explicit and revolting ways, hence “naked lunch, a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.”)

          But yeah, that’s a decent comparison to some of what Scott is talking about with Moloch. And, in particular, advertising, being discussed above here, as a multipolar trap.

  17. caryatis says:

    Anyone interested in arguing with me about effective altruism? I don’t understand how it can be true both that most/many people should be giving to charity and that most people are struggling to meet basic financial goals (as measured by percentage of Americans with debt or percentage who save enough for retirement). I have a few hypotheses.

    1) Effective altruists make more money than the average American. (probably true, but insufficient)
    2) Effective altruists are more frugal than average (probably not true, given how many seem to live in the Bay Area)
    3) Effective altruists care less about meeting personal financial goals.
    4) Effective altruists simply are rare birds, and the number of people talking about effective altruism on my Facebook feed is greater than the number of people who actually give money.

    I tend to believe 3 and 4. What do you think?

    • Jiro says:

      Effective altruists like to give to foreigners, who earn much less money than Americans, so the comparisons to percentage of Americans in debt isn’t very good.

      • caryatis says:

        I’m not suggesting that EAs should give to Americans in debt, but that EAs are likely to BE Americans in debt. Or am I not understanding your comment?

        • Cadie says:

          For people at medium income levels, debt is mostly avoidable. There are exceptions, like people who have very high medical costs or are caring for someone who does. But otherwise most average-income people can live on much less than they actually earn by choosing the cheapest housing situation that meets their essential needs, only buying clothes when they need to replace something and trying to buy second-hand for stuff that isn’t underwear, choosing free and low-priced entertainment, etc. Someone with EA tendencies is more likely to make those selections than someone who doesn’t have them.

          This doesn’t apply to people with low incomes, who really don’t have significant luxuries they can cut. Losing quality of life by cutting back expenses to the bone might end up costing more than it saves. If you’re squeezing out an additional $20 a month by depriving yourself of even tiny treats like your morning tea or a few skeins of yarn to do crafts with, the mental health impact might cost you more than that over time by hurting your productivity, causing call-ins, requiring medication adjustments and more frequent doctor visits, etc. It’s not like you can move out of a $1200/month apartment into a $900/month apartment that’s somewhat smaller and lacks the fireplace that you didn’t really care about in the first place but is otherwise mostly the same. Medium-income people can make trade-offs like that, though, and even if they balance it out with extra small treats to keep their happiness and productivity stable, they come out ahead.

          • caryatis says:

            >For people at medium income levels, debt is mostly avoidable.

            You’re not considering student loans. If you have six figures of debt, not uncommon among highly educated people, you’re going to spend probably 5-20 years paying it off even if you’re frugal in all the other ways you mention. (Obviously this depends on too many individual variables to list).

          • John Schilling says:

            “mostly avoidable” and “not uncommon” are not at all incompatible. Anyone who can rack up six figures of student-loan debt, can also get a somewhat less thorough or prestigious education with little or no debt. It may or may not be economically advantageous for them to take the debt-financed route, but it is hardly economically crippling if one insists on e.g. ethical grounds that one’s education must be debt-free.

    • suntzuanime says:

      A large fraction of people will just spend whatever money they have, and so they would be struggling to meet basic financial goals almost no matter what. If you give money to charity that means you have less money to piss away on something else, not that you have less money to pay down your debt or to save for your retirement.

      Also a large fraction of effective altruists don’t actually donate, lol.

      • andrewflicker says:

        Also a large fraction of effective altruists don’t actually donate, lol

        I’ve seen (one of) the survey(s) that revealed this, and I believe it, but it’s still boggling to me. How someone who prides themself on rational analysis of charity effectiveness, and on the value of donating to charity, doesn’t then donate… it seems like an exercise in hating oneself.

        I can understand not doing the full GWWC pledge- for most Americans, that’s a big jump, and is probably hard to swallow at first, especially if you’re in cases (like me) where your spouse isn’t an EA-believer. But to donate *nothing* staggers the imagination.

        • Montfort says:

          It shouldn’t be all that surprising – EA surveys frequently categorize as EA a very broad category of people who are sympathetic to EA, presumably to look as big as possible. The tradeoff, of course, is that then they get all the people who aren’t committed to it and it makes them look bad on donation stats.

          • andrewflicker says:

            I suppose that helps mitigate it a little, but even “sympathetic to EA” and “not donating to charity” seems like cognitive dissonance or self-sabotage. How can one be sympathetic to an ideology one finds false? And if one doesn’t find it false, then…

          • Jiro says:

            How can one be sympathetic to an ideology one finds false?

            Your idea of what “sympathetic” means seems to be vastly different from mine.

          • andrewflicker says:

            I’d be curious to hear your definition, Jiro. I can be sympathetic to *people* who hold or believe ideologies I believe to be false- but I can’t be sympathetic to the ideology itself.

        • rlms says:

          One possibility is that a high proportion of EAs are students with no or little income.

        • caryatis says:

          Some of us are sympathetic to EA, but prioritize managing our own finances. It’s the “secure your own mask before assisting others” thing.

          • andrewflicker says:

            I alluded to this point in my post, caryatis. I agree with you that large donations can be tricky for people who have troubling finances- it just seemed unlikely to me that such a high percentage of EA-ers are in such a case, and that their cases are particularly bad enough to justify $0 as opposed to a small contribution.

          • Reasoner says:

            @andrewflicker, I don’t make a small contribution because it’d be, well, small. I don’t have much money right now and I think I’ll be able to do more good in the long run by investing in myself. Not sure if my thinking is representative.

          • andrewflicker says:

            @Reasoner It might be. Certainly I can buy the “long-term donations are greater if I invest now” strategy as effective… it just would only seem to apply to a limited class of non-scholarship college students, mostly, or high-credit-card-debt carriers. It’s entirely possible that those two cohorts combine to form a majority of EA activists!

    • DavidS says:

      I think if you’re capable of being an effective altruist you’re capable of managing your own finances. Being ‘in debt’ is a bit misleading as e.g. mortgages may be reasonable. I don’t know if any EA people (presuambly of the more ‘give literally all you can’ Peter Singer types) have discussed if it’s better to get a mortgage or to plough all your money into financial independence (presumably a small flat) for more giving later. Presumably it depends on interest rates: if you can borrow at rock-bottom prices you should do so and give away the proceeds, I guess.

      • Aapje says:

        In some countries mortgages are subsidized, which means that it’s financially wise to get one even if you can afford the cost of the house yourself.

        • andrewflicker says:

          Even in cases where mortgages aren’t directly subsidized, it can be wise if the interest payments on the mortgage (plus all other related costs of ownership) are less than the rent premium.

          That isn’t always the case- I believe from what I’ve read that the rent premium is actually a little negative in the SF Bay Area, for instance- but in most places the rent premium is substantial enough that a mortgage can make sense if you’re able to get a good enough rate.

          • Aapje says:

            Indeed, although they are related, as subsidized mortgages increase the rent premium. Although one can subsidize rents as well, which would decrease the rent premium.

            One reason why the housing market is broken in my country is that the lower end of the market is rent subsidized and the higher end is mortgage subsidized. However, there is a big problem for the people who have too much money to get rent subsidies and too little to buy. Those end up in unsubsidized rentals with big rent premiums (which are boosted by subsidized mortgages).

            The result is that the middle class gets treated most unfairly.

      • caryatis says:

        >I think if you’re capable of being an effective altruist you’re capable of managing your own finances.

        Very few people I know don’t have student loans.

        • DavidS says:

          That’s why I went on to talk about reasonable forms of debt and situations where an EA has to decide if it’s more efficient to get debt-free first and then focus on charity or combine the two. A question both of efficiency and whether you want to protect your favoured causes from the fact your future self might not be an EA.

          In the UK, student loans are at a lower interest rate and come out of earnings at a fixed percentage so they feel more like a tax to many people (just one that stops once you’ve paid it for awhile if you earn enough)

          • Jiro says:

            whether you want to protect your favoured causes from the fact your future self might not be an EA.

            I don’t automatically assume that if my future self has different preferences from me, it is something I should try to avoid. Indeed, taking that to its ultimate conclusion would mean I shouldn’t ever want to do anything that might result in changing my opinion.

        • Aapje says:

          Fun fact: in my country the student loans just hit 0% interest.

  18. suntzuanime says:

    The new login system creates a bar on the top of the screen. The new comment widget on the side doesn’t take this into account and jumps you to the top of the comment you click, meaning the commentor’s name and avatar are obscured. It’s possible this is a good thing, as surely we should be judging the ideas not the people, but I thought I might mention it.

  19. R Flaum says:

    Can anyone think of a reason why different faucets in the same house would take different amounts of time to heat up even though they’re all connected to the same boiler? At first I thought it might be because some were farther from the boiler, but one of the slowest to heat up is also one of the nearest to it. This isn’t an actual inconvenience or anything, I’m just curious what could be causing it.

    • dndnrsn says:

      The same model faucet for all, or different models?

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      It’s a question of how long it takes for all the water in the pipes leading to the faucet to run out so water from the heater can start coming through. For two faucets at the same distance from the heater, the one with a lower flow rate will take longer, as will one fed by larger-diameter pipe.

  20. Tekhno says:

    What is it like interacting with someone with an IQ of 70? (assuming no mental illness)

    What kind of things do they have difficulty understanding?

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      You have almost certainly interacted with such people this very month, let alone in your life. Whyfor this question?

      • Montfort says:

        Because people generally don’t walk about with their IQ scores pinned to their chest. So even if, statistically, you’ve interacted with one, that doesn’t mean you know which interaction is relevant.

        Or, similarly, if someone who’s bad at estimating weights asks “how heavy is twelve pounds?” telling him he’s probably picked up something weighing twelve pounds this month isn’t all that helpful.

    • Mark says:

      I don’t know about someone with an IQ of 70, but my experience of interacting with people I felt to be less intelligent than me was that they simply couldn’t see things that were obvious to me. They didn’t have that connection.

      This is maybe a bad example, but recently I was working with someone trying to get parallax scrolling to work on a website, something that neither of us had any experience of. It wasn’t working, and instantly, my mind was like – maybe this isn’t working because this div is contained within this one, we should try to put it outside, or etc. etc. and many of my ideas were wrong, but they were more right than his, which were just blatantly idiotic to me.
      Like, he was trying to delete everything before we had tried to change any of the particular elements, such that I couldn’t understand what method he might be following at all to work out a solution. Or just doing things that were entirely contrary to the syntax and made no sense at all.

      I’ve also had the opposite experience, where someone is more intelligent than me, and everything they say just seems to work, and it’s almost like magic. My guess is that they are able to hold more relations in mind, or pattern match more relations than me, and that to them, my (incorrect) solutions must have seemed entirely idiotic.

      I’m really interested in this, but more interested in asking someone with an IQ of 140 what it is like to interact with me (I think I probably have an IQ of somewhere between 120-130, and have pretty good abstract thinking technique).

      So if there are any clever people out there, please tell me where I am stupid.

      • andrewflicker says:

        I think you’re more-or-less correct. I’m a math major and I work as a white-collar professional with a pretty diverse range of intellects. My office has current college students, many with master’s or bachelor’s degrees, many with no college degree, and a few who got a GED instead of a high school diploma.

        In general, if someone is less intelligent, they seem to struggle at seeing the “why” and “how” behind complex events. Your parallax-scrolling example is on-point. Greater intelligence tends to appear in one of two ways: Sometimes it’s a raw processing-speed or “power” sense, in which I can easily imagine coming to the same solutions, it would just take me more effort or more time. Sometimes, though, it does seem as “magic”, where the connection is totally non-obvious, and takes a great deal of repeated explanation or work-throughs before I can begin to understand.

        Interestingly, though, I think “IQ” and similar stats are a bit of an average-over-time. I’ll occasionally have flashes of insight where I solve problems like someone a SD or two smarter, and occasionally have moments of cloudiness where even simple tasks take longer than usual. As others seem to have these as well, it means we can observe a lot more examples of what someone being more or less intelligent looks like than raw IQ disparities might suggest.

      • I don’t know you so can’t tell where you are stupid, but here is a real incident that may be relevant.

        I read an article by someone arguing for a particular conclusion. It had two parts, each of which gave a reason to justify the conclusion. An important element in the second part was a point which implied that the argument of the first part was wrong. The author did not mention that point in the first part or its relation to the first part when he raised it in the second part, where it supported the argument he was making there.

        I mentioned this to someone who knew both of us as evidence that the author was dishonest. The response was that I was assuming that what was obvious to me was obvious to him.

      • KG says:

        As a prerequisite for getting into a certain school’s gifted program, me and my now fiancée are supposed to be near or at least IQ 130-something. I think my IQ is just below 140, and I think my fiancée is some 5 or 6 above that, but I consistently feel way stupider than her in most regards. She frequently makes connections that I don’t quite get or understand immediately, though I suspect a lot of it is due to a difference in knowledge as well as intelligence. But anyway she gets frustrated and confused when I don’t understand things, so I imagine that’s how smarter people usually feel with less smart people.
        In my own experience, I find it hard to gauge the intelligence of people I don’t really know (pretty much everyone but my fiancée and three friends) unless the difference seems really significant. Then I get annoyed or cynically sad that I am supposed to be at the high end of humanity’s brains.

        • Tibor says:

          But anyway she gets frustrated and confused when I don’t understand things

          People also differ in their teaching skills. This is not quite the same as intelligence. The fact that you often don’t understand her points might be due to her being unable to explain things clearly.

          Sometimes I find something easy and almost obvious (mostly this happens with economics for some reason, I guess it is because economics uses a couple of rather simple ideas but in ways that are often counterintuitive. But sometimes this happens to me even in maths) and then I find myself struggling while explaining it to others. I doubt this is because people are stupid but rather because I did not understand the point as well as I though. It is easy to get the feeling you understand something when you read about it in a book, it is even easier to gloss over details without which the whole things suddenly does not make sense any more when you tell others about it. It might be a bit exaggeration but a useful rule of thumb is that unless you can explain something to someone reasonably intelligent, then you don’t really understand it all that well yourself.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Tibor
            People also differ in their teaching skills. This is not quite the same as intelligence. The fact that you often don’t understand her points might be due to her being unable to explain things clearly.

            Teaching well is a learnable skill. So is learning well from a poor teacher.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Someone who knows more about IQ correct me on this – but can’t IQ vary between the different areas of intelligence for a person?

      Example: I’ve never been tested, but my brother and father have, and my father comes in about an SD higher. Dealing with reasoning, abstract thought, all that jazz, there is no noticeable difference between me, my brother, my mother (whose IQ I don’t know if it has been tested or not), or my father. We are all on the same level in, say, an argument.

      However, my father is significantly better with mathematical aptitude, visual processing, spatial orientation, etc. He’s much better at parking than my mother. He’s got a way better sense of direction than the rest of us – we get lost easily, while he finds great pleasure in finding new routes through the city. I had to do a great deal of mathematics drill in order to get to the point where I could scrape through the “math class for idiots who are never going to touch math again” in high school while he has no similar problems. He’s far better at remembering faces and putting names to faces.

      Similarly, whenever I get the “wow, you are much smarter than me” feeling from someone, it is generally when they’re much better than me at those things. Not just better enough that “I know how you did that, but I can’t do it”, better enough that I don’t even know how they’re doing it.

      So, it’s far from obvious to me that all IQs at a given level are equivalent.

      That said, the thing that really makes me think I am dealing with someone dull (rather than stuff that may not be linked to intelligence, like their use of language – could be ESL, could be dyslexic, etc) is a lack of comprehension of cause and effect. This is probably why IQ correlates with life outcomes – some people are just better at predicting the outcomes of their actions than others. Of course, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of smart people who make bad decisions with predictably bad outcomes – I’ve known a lot of people like that/been a person like that. But some people seem to make choices sober worse than me drunk.

      • suntzuanime says:

        There are subcategories of IQ. They tend to correlate with one another, so someone with very high verbal ability is more likely than not going to have above average working memory or whatever too, but two people with the same IQ will frequently have different strengths and weaknesses.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I suspect that I have an unusually high “spread” in that case. I’m incredibly slow at learning things visually, the other day I got lost because I got to a place going N but then somehow thought that the way to return to the subway was to go E, I couldn’t describe the faces of family members, IKEA furniture is a struggle, I haven’t touched a math course since grade 11, etc. And yet unless “bullshitting quotient” is its own thing, I have a master’s and can hang with professors in fields I have experience with. Probably would have done/be doing a doctorate right now if I hadn’t majored in drinking for most of my undergrad. Etc.

          Never ask me for directions.

          EDIT: on the other hand, the kind of intelligence valued in the humanities does consist to some extent, at least, of bullshitting. Walking into an exam you didn’t study for, hungover, and rocking a B- is basically the quintessential humanities student experience.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Combine “Stupider Than You Realize” with “IQ Percentile and Rarity Chart” to get an idea. For example, if 7% of people cannot find the expiration date on a driver’s license, that suggests that people with an IQ below 78 or so cannot find the expiration date on a driver’s license.

      EDIT: Okay, an IQ of 70 is roughly 3rd percentile. Looking up the NAAL sample question database, it seems like the only tasks they could accomplish reliably is signing their names on a blank Social Security card and identifying the country Terry is from after reading the following passage:

      My Dream
      by Terry Ardle
      My name is Terry. I’m From Ireland where the grass is so green and the countryside is so breathtaking.
      I came to the U.S. in Sept. of 1982 for a vacation because I was curious. I decided to go home and get a job to make more money to come back to the States. My ambition was to get more out of life.
      The States has a lot of opportunities for young people. It gave me the inspiration to be around people that were able to read and write.
      I wanted to help myself. It was a great expereince to have help with my reading and writing. Not being able to read makes you feel very insecure about yourself. Coming to a different land you learn a lot about the country and people.

      Conversely, they would not be expected to find the expiration date on a driver’s license or figure out the total amount of two checks being deposited in a bank account.

      • Montfort says:

        That’s a pretty good idea, but I wonder how many of the people taking the test couldn’t speak English at all – once you get down to tasks like signing your name, it might not matter, but it’s not always easy to identify country names in a foreign language.

        The data is sort of available in the form of the background survey, but it’s in a format specific to the AM Statistical Software, which is one trivial inconvenience too many for me right now.

      • Deiseach says:

        Okay, first off, you’re using literacy assessment as IQ assessment. Nuh-uh. Low literacy and/or numeracy levels do not mean stupid. There are plenty of people working reasonable jobs, often manual labour it is true but not solely in that area, who are responsible citizens, married, integrated into their social circles, and have poor literacy skills due to a combination of factors.

        In fact, the amount of coping strategies you have to come up with in a world where increasingly high literacy levels are expected, where you don’t have those levels, requires a lot of flexibility in thinking, being quick on your feet to come up with workarounds, and using other strategies to piece out information when you’re not sure of the words.

        Low literacy is also not the same as no literacy. Not being expected to be able to find the expiration date on a driver’s licence means “not being able to read the word ‘expiration'”, not “being so dumb you can’t tell what the number is”. If you think that’s easy, I challenge you to find the expiration date, or other such information, on a document not in a language you speak/write (I’ve had to do this with untranslated foreign passports, birth certs, etc. produced as documentary support for applications and let me tell you, not recognising the difference between Russian, Polish and Latvian on sight is a handicap – and that’s when the text is in the Roman not the Cyrillic alphabet, not to mention not being able to read Arabic, Malay or Indonesian). See in what percentile you’d grade your intellect when you’ve got three sets of similarly-formatted numbers but no idea what the squiggle of text beside them says, and someone says “You can’t even pick out which is the expiration date? How dumb is that?”

        This rant brought to you courtesy of time working as part-time clerical support in an adult literacy/workplace education centre 🙂

        • caethan says:

          My favorite Oliver Sachs story is where he’s evaluating an elderly patient for dementia in Chicago. The junior doctors have already talked to the guy, are sure he’s going senile. Doesn’t know who’s President, doesn’t know what year it is, doesn’t know what year he was born, completely lost it. Dr. Sachs walks into the room, strikes up a conversation about the Chicago Cubs – didja watch the game last night, great play in the final inning, reminds me of that one game back in 76, and by the way doc, when are they going to let me out of this hospital? Doctor walks out, “He’s fine. He couldn’t answer any of the questions you asked because he doesn’t care about them.”

        • lhn says:

          Do many drivers licenses/passports have future dates (or numbers that could plausibly read as future dates if you’re iffy on the local date format) on them that aren’t the expiration date?

          Looking at my own license, the only options are a date decades in the past, one a few years in the past, and one a couple years in the future. (And if you didn’t know what a zip code was, maybe that could be another date– but not in this case a plausible expiration date for a drivers license.) Assuming you know what an expiration date is and that one has to be there, ability to read the field labels doesn’t seem necessary.

          • Deiseach says:

            Nobody had to explain to me how a driver’s licence is laid out, because I can read. But imagine you can’t read the words “expiration date”. You don’t know what it means when someone asks you, because they’re assuming you know what “expiration” means, and you don’t have that level of literacy. You can’t read a driver’s licence, you’ve never been able to read a driver’s licence, so unless someone has explained to you what the lines mean – and why would someone explain to you, if they assume you can read? – you don’t know which line means what.

            If you’re reasonably smart, you can work out that the earlier date is the date you got it, so the date in the future must mean “expiration date”, or as you probably think of it, “date I have to renew it”. Most people with poor literacy skills have developed those kinds of workarounds.

            But you never know for sure, because if you can’t read well, you’re always guessing. And sure, you know that there is a date you have to renew your licence, but you don’t know that the term “expiration date” means the same thing. So if someone asks you “What’s the expiration date?” you’re stuck – what line do they mean? You think you know the right one, but what if it’s not the one you think?

            Didn’t Scott have a post way back on how patients misinterpret doctor’s instructions, even over things as simple as “take the capsule every four hours” because they think of medicine in general as “pills” and they’re not sure what the “capsule” is, and they’re too ashamed/intimidated to ask? (Or maybe Scott didn’t, but I have a memory I read something about that somewhere).

          • Creutzer says:

            You don’t know what it means when someone asks you, because they’re assuming you know what “expiration” means, and you don’t have that level of literacy.

            You’re cheating here. Not being able to read the word “expiration” because you can’t read is one thing. Not knowing the word is quite another. I’m not quite sure how you imagine all those people fail to learn to read without having a low IQ, but maybe they do. But that the same factors would also interfere with the acquisition of spoken language… ?

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m not quite sure how you imagine all those people fail to learn to read without having a low IQ…But that the same factors would also interfere with the acquisition of spoken language… ?

            Oh boy. Okay, you’ve got my dander up.

            “The acquisition of spoken language” is not as straightforward as you make it sound. There are comments on here somewhere about not knowing how words are/were pronounced; it does happen that you can know more words than you know how to pronounce, because you’ve picked them up from reading. My own example is that well up into my teens I didn’t know “awry” was pronounced “ah-wry” and not “aww-ree”, because I never heard anyone use the word. I came across it in reading at a young age, I worked out the meaning from context, I derived the pronunciation from breaking the word into two halves because it seemed to me to be the way to do it, but I never heard it used either in common conversation or in the classroom.

            It’s entirely possible to come from a context where nobody ever uses words like “expiration”. There was a radio play on BBC 4 last month about Joe Orton, and a scene in it had his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, explaining to him words like “respiration”. Orton wasn’t stupid, he was just uneducated. He knew what “breathe” meant, he didn’t know “respiration” because he’d never heard it used.

            Lack of literacy/numeracy skills isn’t simply “too stupid to learn”. Please remember, until dyslexia was established as an actually existing problem, dyslexic children would have been written off as “too stupid to learn how to read”.

            Now, things like poverty – yes, honestly, really, poverty – have an effect. Older generations (as in my parents’ generation) would have left school at twelve or thirteen because they had to go to work to help contribute to the family finances. Again, to use a personal anecdote, my mother wasn’t stupid – when she was working in a kosher jam and fruit factory in Wales, they asked her to move from the factory floor to the laboratory (she turned it down because of her distrust of her level of education). She got me, from the age of nine, to write letters for her and would regularly ask me to spell words or even explain them to her because she felt she had poor reading and writing skills. This was down to her school experience and not because she was “low IQ”.

            Some people are low IQ, that’s true. But a lot of people (thankfully, not as many, but it still happens) slip through the net – large classes, undiagnosed behavioural and other problems meaning they’re regarded as troublemakers and/or stupid so the teacher doesn’t waste time on them, things like dyslexia or even ‘don’t have glasses so can’t see words properly’, lack of time and attention by the teachers, and if you fall behind, it’s easy to keep slipping further and further back as you go along.

            People are ashamed of having poor literacy precisely because of the stigma of “failing to learn to read because of low IQ”, so they hide it – they become the class clown or they sit quietly in the back and as long as they don’t obstruct the class, they’re left alone. They leave school early, either by choice or simply dropping out. They struggle, they use workarounds, they pretend they can read, and don’t take opportunities that otherwise they could make use of.

            Low literacy, as I said before, is not the same as no literacy. They may have very basic skills, may be well able to write their name and read a few simple things, make guesses at others and so seem to be ‘reading’ when they’ve learned off that “this sign means such-and-such”.

            If you’re interested in learning about actual literacy provision, not assuming “people with poor literacy are that way because they’re all too stupid to learn to read, seriously who never heard the word “antidisestablishmentarianism”* in everyday chat?”, here’s the organisation under whose aegis the literacy centre I worked at operated.

            *No, I didn’t have to look it up to spell it. That’s no thanks to my own efforts, it’s thanks to paternal family line genetics which mean we’re all hyperlexic. And have a selection of mental problems to boot. But no literacy problems, so at least we can plume ourselves on being really smart, right?

          • Creutzer says:

            I was operating under the assumption that expiration is not actually that rare a word in spoken English because presumably, people occasionally want to talk about the expiration date of the products in their fridge. What I had not considered, and what occurred to me now, is that it’s not unlikely that uneducated speakers call it the best-before date instead. So you may well be right that someone may simply fail to acquire even the spoken form of this word for lack of exposure.

            It’s certainly true that in the current context, the statistics we’re talking about ought to be corrected for the incidence of dyslexia, to the extent that it’s unrelated to general intelligence (which I gather is very high).

            But I still think you should not conflate literacy and vocabulary as you do. Leaving school at age 12 is surely detrimental to vocabulary acquisition; it’s much less obvious to me what its influence on basic literacy should be (and that’s what we’re talking about here: identifying which spoken word corresponds to a given written form). Because, to be honest, I find it somewhat difficult to imagine what must be happening in those schools when a non-dyslexic, non-stupid child doesn’t acquire basic literacy by age 12. But then I can’t claim that I have ever witnessed what goes on inside one of those famed inner-city classrooms in the US.

          • nancylebovitz says:

            Deiseach,

            Thanks. I’ve been pushing the idea of doing more to increase adult literacy, though from general principles rather than your depth of knowledge. It’s all very well to tell parents to read to their children, but what if the parents can’t read?

            The usual reaction I get is that it’s impossible to improve adult literacy. I should check, but I think this is an unexamined premise rather than something with evidence behind it.

            I’m convinced that conventional schooling does a lot to teach despair about learning. A great many people seem to believe that if you couldn’t learn a subject in school, you can’t learn it at all.

    • Zorgon says:

      I have a good friend with an IQ that I am certain is significantly below 100, if not necessarily 70.

      She’s a graduate-educated and fairly successful professional that works in a people-centered domain. A lot of her advancement has come about because of… well, I tend to think of it as “human brownian motion”, the ongoing churn of human events, rather than because of any actual expression of skill or talent in her work. Certainly I’ve seen her at work and never seen any indication of any real talent or gift for what she does, but her job is not difficult mentally so she performs it perfectly adequately.

      Her husband has been educated to doctorate level in a STEM subject, but currently works a fairly low-status job with very long hours. He is of middling intelligence, despite his educational level. The two have a stormy and somewhat difficult relationship, but remain together due to a mortgage and several children.

      She makes a surprisingly large amount of money doing her job, and is in a two-income household, but despite this they are permanently broke and find it impossible to perform any kind of budget control. She has frequently demonstrated extremely poor impulse control, has extremely limited capacity to perform any kind of analysis on her life as a whole or on any given set of circumstances, and routinely blames absolutely anyone else for things which are clearly her own fault. I’ve seen her walk in front of a fast-moving car, stop in the middle of the road, glare at the driver, kick the bumper then complain about other people’s driving ability. As an example of her functional issues, she has severe difficulty constituting correct change even with notes, so she pays for everything by card. She’s previously asked me to help her fill out a fairly simple 2-page form. (Apparently at work she “just signs things”.)

      Despite all this she remains, in the greater scheme of things, a sweet and quite loving person with a strong personality and a likeable air. It’s also surprisingly refreshing to speak to someone who isn’t invested in the intellectual status hamster wheel; she neither feels intimidated by my intelligence, nor feels the need to attempt to compete (successfully or otherwise). It’s simply not an issue for her; she doesn’t understand everything I say, but that’s OK because I’m a “boffin” like her husband. I consider myself lucky to have her as a friend.

      Does that help you, Tekhno?

      • Incurian says:

        MSW?

        • Zorgon says:

          Diploma of Higher Education in Film and Television Studies. (She didn’t achieve an advanced degree, having checked.)

      • psmith says:

        I have a good friend with an IQ that I am certain is significantly below 100…. She’s a graduate-educated and fairly successful professional that works in a people-centered domain….
        Her husband has been educated to doctorate level in a STEM subject, but currently works a fairly low-status job with very long hours. He is of middling intelligence, despite his educational level.

        That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

        (Jaime’s Overcoming Bias link is also relevant here.).

        • cassander says:

          Would you mind explaining which part of that 50 page paper you think is relevant here?

        • psmith says:

          Sure. It’s basically just a more rigorously supported version of dndnrsn’s first paragraph below. Pages 9-14 review some of the literature on average IQs by occupation and discuss the kinds of training that works with various different IQ levels. Pages 31-38 discuss the correlation between NALS and IQ and the approximate correspondences between NALS scores and IQ levels–I believe this is actually the source of the Overcoming Bias post linked upthread. Pages 40-42, drawing heavily from Murray and Hernstein’s NLSY regressions, discuss typical life outcomes at varying IQ levels. Pages 19-29 also discuss the extent to which g is correlated with various job tasks. And all of this suggests that it is wildly unlikely to find person with IQ substantially below 100 getting an advanced degree and working a white-collar job, or a person with IQ 100-110 (“middling”) getting a STEM Ph.D.

          • Zorgon says:

            I will admit the “middling” is almost certainly an artifact of bias on my part. I wouldn’t guess he has anything below the 120 level in IQ, which would be fairly low-end for my social group, which skews heavily towards highly educated and high IQ. A large portion of the ongoing friction between him and his wife stems from communications issues that I’m pretty sure come entirely from the huge disparity between them.

            But in his particular case, his capacities seem to be overwhelmingly canalized into the area in which he was studying, however, and he was… I don’t want to say a “dull” candidate for a doctorate in experimental physics, because that’s a contradiction in terms, but I remember the two other people in my social circle that were his contemporaries while he was working towards his PhD and they were both almost transcendent in comparison with him. I suspect the “middling” came from comparison with them.

            She, on the other hand… I would be outright astonished if she registered even a 90 on any common IQ test. I’m quite serious. And I think that the assumption that a friendly low-IQ individual with a cavalier attitude to ethics could not manage to find their way to a pass or a Third Class degree in a non-STEM subject is almost certainly born of wishful thinking. (She did neither, and ended up with a DHE.)

            As for her job, well, I think we’ve all met her in workplaces everywhere. She gets by because she can do her very limited range of tasks well, and the ongoing process of workplace brownian motion has slowly moved her into supervisory positions; after all, she’s not likely to be fast-tracked by any sane company. It’s taken her about 15 years to reach this stage.

      • Deiseach says:

        She’s previously asked me to help her fill out a fairly simple 2-page form. (Apparently at work she “just signs things”.)

        (1) Nobody appreciates low-level clerical minions and how we compensate for the bosses’ lack of – er, well, you can see what 🙂 But yes, often it’s “I’ve filled in everything that needs to be filled in, I just need your signature” and you shove it under their nose until they scrawl their name. Or equally often, it’s “Yeah, the Department needs this detailed breakdown of everything for the annual returns, which I get paid an allowance to do as part of my duties and you don’t get; here, fill all this in and then get it back to me by this date, okay?”

        (2) What’s simple to one is tough for another – I keep trotting out art teachers as my go-to example here, but it’s true: one experience I had was one of our continuing education tutors who first asked me for help with her daughter’s application for a grant – which I did, because hey, costs nothing to be obliging, right, and I might as well put my experience toiling in the grants section to good use. Then she asked me could I fill out a form for her – as in, all the form. None of any of the arty people we had working for us had a mean bone in their bodies, but official paperwork was not their forté 🙂

        It is surprising how often people mess up forms, even people of normal and above intelligence. Even when you think “But it’s perfectly clearly laid out, why did they fill in that box instead of this one?” Forms are a lot more confusing when you’re not dealing with them everyday.

        • cassander says:

          A few years ago, when looking for work, I put myself in a coffee shop specifically for the purpose of filling out some employment applications. I ended up getting quite depressed because despite having literally nothing else to do and needing zero intellectual effort to fill out these forms, it was like pulling teeth to force myself to do. The sheer inanity of filling out my job history in slightly different formats several jobs in a row drove me to madness.

          The point being, whenever I am in a position where I can get other people to fill out any form longer or more complicated than a car rental, I will deploy every means at my disposal to get them to do so, including downright shameful levels of strategic incompetence.

        • Zorgon says:

          It’s worth bearing in mind that as far as I can tell, she functions in the same manner as cassander. I found myself filling in her forms for her because her husband was away at an inconvenient moment so she couldn’t make him do it.

          Except I would be incredibly surprised to discover her engaging in strategic incompetence to avoid filling in forms, since she doesn’t appear to engage in strategic anything.

          Which now I think of it either suggests she’s either much lower or much, much higher in IQ than I am.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I find it implausible that someone with an average (100) IQ, let alone lower, could get a doctorate, or a master’s, unless everyone marking them and every administrator was helping them along for whatever reason. Much less in a STEM field.

        While people who are less intelligent will have trouble with forms, trouble budgeting, and trouble connecting their actions to the effects thereof, this does not mean that you don’t have people of above-average, or even considerably above-average, intelligence who are bad at those things, for whatever reason.

        • dndnrsn says:

          In fact, I would expect that just about everybody who acquires a bachelor’s has an IQ at least single-digits above 100. A bit over 30% of Americans aged 25+ have a bachelor’s degree, and you have to assume that they are drawn mostly from the 70th and higher percentiles by IQ.

          70th percentile is IQ 108, but some people of 108 and smarter aren’t going to get bachelor’s degrees or higher. My semi-informed guess is that pretty much everybody with a bachelor’s has an IQ of 105 or higher.

          • Zorgon says:

            See answer above re. “Middling IQ PhD”. I acknowledge my perspective is skewed on that one, due to having experienced a number of very-high-IQ experimental physicists by comparison. Certainly not the right word to use. “Uninspired” perhaps.

          • Zorgon says:

            In addition, having checked with a mutual friend, she apparently ended up with a DipHE (a 2-year non-degree qualification), not a bachelor’s.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Is there some reason to think that she was helped through everything she did in school? Because you’re saying you think she has a 90 IQ, tops. When you consider that the average for high school graduates is 100…

            I think you’re just doing some sort of cousin of the Dunning-Kruger effect. You say that 120 IQ is low for your social circle, which is mostly highly-educated and high-intelligence. But 120 IQ is 90th percentile. Having gotten out of university, and dealing with a lot of people who are in the middle or on the left side of the curve, I’ve come to realize that even people I thought were kind of dumb are actually quite intelligent.

          • Zorgon says:

            It’s certainly quite possible I’m wrong due to salience bias (which I suppose it would be, despite my norms being the actual salient) – witness my misuse of “middling” for what as you say is almost certainly a 90th+ percentile individual.

            But getting through school, into University and ending up with a sub-graduate diploma in a non-STEM “fashion subject” pretty much entirely on a degree of charisma and pleasantness, along with a kind of institutional inertia? For a middle-class woman in my country? Yes. Definitely possible. In fact I’d suggest it was relatively likely.

            (My own primary experiences of the left side of the curve come from my childhood and pre-University years, primarily. Along with 18 months in the Tech Support trenches while looking for a real job after graduation. You have my deepest sympathies if you’re in that kind of context right now.)

          • John Schilling says:

            In fact, I would expect that just about everybody who acquires a bachelor’s has an IQ at least single-digits above 100. A bit over 30% of Americans aged 25+ have a bachelor’s degree, and you have to assume that they are drawn mostly from the 70th and higher percentiles by IQ.

            You seem to be assuming that colleges and universities select for intelligence, rather than class and/or money.

            Among the upper middle class, there is a very strong social expectation that Everyone Goes To College. Which means Real College, four-year non-profit rather than community college or trade school. And that means strong incentives for schools to provide some track by which anyone with basic literacy can get a four-year degree in mumble studies.

            Graduate education, no, that’s still fairly selective. As are most STEM educational paths, and some colleges and universities across the board. But saying that everyone with a four-year degree is ofsignificantly above average intelligence, significantly overstates the case.

          • dndnrsn says:

            From your description of her it sounds more like she is exactly in the middle of the bell curve, or possibly slightly to the right. There were a lot of kids I knew in high school who I thought were real dummies, but in retrospect they are probably exactly average.

          • Brad says:

            Graduate education, no, that’s still fairly selective.

            I don’t think this is any longer the case. There is such a proliferation of masters degrees and programs to offer masters degrees that a masters degree in itself doesn’t mean much anymore.

            There are a bunch of forces that helped bring this about. One was immigration law treating masters degrees as special. Another one was several large teacher unions negotiating automatic raises upon the receipt of a masters degree. Another was generous military education benefits of various kinds.

            As far as I know there aren’t too many diploma mill PhD programs out there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me that the number is growing quickly.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t think the military benefits are going to be a major player here because the people going for a master’s degree on the Pentagon’s dime are strongly weighted towards already having a four-year STEM degree.

            But I’d forgotten about the Education Masters; good catch. And bad policy, of course.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @John Schilling:

            “Single digits above 100” is not “significantly above average” – I said the former, not the latter. Quick Googling suggests an IQ of about 105 for graduates, which accords with my guess. That’s 63rd percentile, isn’t it?

            Sure, there are plenty of people with IQ 100, maybe slightly below, who have a degree in something. But “basic literacy” is what you would expect of someone with an IQ average of about 100 or so (of course, assuming it’s a language in which they are fluent and literate – the expectation of mass literacy is a fairly recent thing).

            I mean, this is what a BA in “Mumble Studies”, as you put it, proves: that they are basically literate, can jump through bureaucratic hoops, can sit still, can do what’s necessary to pull down a passing grade in general.

            @Brad:

            One thing that all the PhD students I knew obviously resented was the conversion of law degrees that were, at most, on par with master’s degrees into “juris doctor” degrees. You have the spectacle of people who did 3-4 years of undergrad and 3 years of law school claiming they have a “doctorate” the same as someone through the trenches of medical school or someone who just spent a decade plus in university to get a PhD or whatever.

          • lhn says:

            I have a JD and work in a law school, and I’ve never heard anyone seriously conflate a JD with an MD or Ph.D; it’s a professional degree comparable to an MBA.

            I do have a lawyer uncle who makes a point of addressing me as “Doctor” to twit my MD brother-in-law, but it’s a running gag. Aside from that, I’ve never heard anyone call a lawyer “doctor” the way they would a physician or academic.

            It is true that a JD is sufficient to teach law, so to that extent it’s treated as comparable to other doctoral degrees. But everyone knows that the real research-and-dissertation legal doctorate is the SJD/JSD.

          • It’s worth noting that while the initial law degree is called a doctorate (JD) the degree after that is called a masters (LLM)!

          • dndnrsn says:

            @lhn:

            Maybe lawyers don’t go around saying “ah I am Dr. So-and-so” but there was a graduation ceremony where they got treated to the same “doctorate treatment” as medical doctors and PhD holders. There was a lot of eye-rolling.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Zorgon:

            No need for sympathy. If I only had to deal with people who were average or slightly below average, I’d be happy. The worst people to deal with, I have found, are generally those of average or just-slightly-above-average-intelligence who believe they are incredibly smart. They’re in some kind of Dunning-Krugger uncanny valley place, where they’re smart enough to get stuff completely wrong, and then blame everyone else for being idiots.

          • Brad says:

            @John Schilling
            I’m sure you know more ex-GIs than I do, but I’ve run into more than one with a MBA.

            Also, there’s STEM and there’s STEM. A Masters in Computer Science from Georgia Tech is not all the same thing as a Master of Science in Information Technology from American Public University.

            @dndnrsn
            I can understand Phds rolling their eyes, but medical doctors are in the same boat. They don’t write a dissertation either.

            In any event, I don’t think you can make it though an accredited law or medical school (Edit in the US) and be outright dumb. But some of these masters programs, especially from online, for profit schools are a different story.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m sure you know more ex-GIs than I do, but I’ve run into more than one with a MBA.

            Sorry if I was unclear; I was referring to the earlier decision gate. People who go to graduate school on the government dime are usually officers, and while a four-year STEM degree isn’t required to become an officer, it is very strongly preferred. Well, that or foreign language. But you’re right that e.g. ROTC w/engineering degree -> military service -> MBA -> management track at a defense contractor is a common enough career path.

            Enlisted will often use GI benefits for a four-year degree after mustering out, but my impression is that going on to graduate school is relatively uncommon in that case.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Brad:

            Yeah, I’ve heard some PhDs express that opinion about MDs. On the other hand, I think the medical students I knew were probably the hardest-working ones. There’s foreign medical schools that advertise to North Americans who can’t get into med school in Canada or the US – I don’t know of an equivalent law school, because there are places that will take pretty much anyone.

            And, yeah, there’s a lot of super-dodgy master’s programs out there. Including some actually-prestigious universities that run master’s programs for foreign students that are … uh, not degree-mill level, but close.

          • lhn says:

            dndnrsn:

            I can imagine. My law school graduation was a separate ceremony, and we didn’t get the awesome robes that Ph.D.s seem to (if the faculty at my college graduation is any indication– it looked like a gathering of different wizard schools), so I didn’t experience that sort of effort at equivalence.

            The range of US law schools does go further down than that of med schools; in law, the bar exam has traditionally served as the gatekeeper. (Some states, notably California, allow graduates of unaccredited schools to sit the bar.) That’s probably in the process of changing due to the ongoing crisis in the legal employment market, which has led to a lot of law school retrenchment, some closures (with more expected), and a push to tighten accreditation standards. Though since law schools aren’t as cartelized as med schools, it probably won’t go quite as far.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @lhn:

            It wasn’t the official graduation, rather a smaller quasi-official thing, but yeah, some resentment.

            The really impressive part is when you go to a school that has various attached seminaries – the variety of different gowns and hats really does look like a wizard convention. Even the undergrads had gowns. Then when I was in grad school we had a better gown.

          • “The range of US law schools does go further down than that of med schools … . That’s probably in the process of changing due to the ongoing crisis in the legal employment market”

            I think you have it backwards. The result of the current shortage of law school applicants is to pressure law schools to lower their admission standards.

          • lhn says:

            David Friedman: Sure, but depending on the school, that’s either a temporary expedient or the beginning of a death spiral. Prospective students are entirely capable of looking at a school’s bar passage and employment numbers, and it’s pretty clear that they’re doing so. The ABA is tightening accreditation standards based on bar passage rates. Some bar exams have also raised their passing scores. Many law schools have gone from positive to negative on their universities’ balance sheet. (In part because scholarship money is being used to attract students with good GPA and LSAT scores to keep those other numbers up, and class sizes are being reduced to likewise maintain those averages.)

            Eventually something has to give. (Unless the legal job market turns around, which is of course the devout hope of every law school. But its generally recognized that a lot of what’s driving the change is secular trends like automation and outsourcing and other factors reducing the demand and remuneration for legal services, so the retrenchment is expected to be long-term to permanent.) Some law schools have closed, and probably more will going forward. Others have and will continue to shrink. And the process is all very visible.

            Beyond that, the existence of diploma mill law schools depended in large part on there at least being an image of law as a glamorous and lucrative field. If that perception doesn’t return, while each school’s bar passage and employment numbers become ever more transparent, then the bottom tier schools no longer have a dream to promote. If they become unaccredited and keep losing money, it’s hard to see them not dropping out of the market entirely.

            The top isn’t necessarily going to rise, but the bottom looks pretty likely to just go away.

    • caryatis says:

      I’ve noticed that lower-IQ people tend to give more black-and-white answers. For instance, they might say “I’m 100% Team A because [reasons]”, while the higher-IQ person might also be Team A, but would have a list of pros and cons to justify that and might be ambivalent about it. I remember getting ribbed in high school because my answer to so many questions was not “yes” or “no” but the typical lawyer’s “it depends.”

    • dndnrsn says:

      Vaguely related: Doing Googling to see charts of percentiles, holy crap, are some people who tested high on whatever test insufferable. You have people talking about how someone has to be in the top fraction of 1% to be considered “intelligent” and capable of “rational communication”. Yikes.

      Honestly, I have to admit, whenever someone starts talking about their own IQ during an argument, I immediately start discounting their opinion. It’s like the old theatre maxim: Show, don’t tell. I’m afraid to ever take a proper IQ test, because I’m not sure what’s worse: scoring really low and feeling like a dummy, or scoring really high and becoming insufferable.

      • Zorgon says:

        The problem is, it’s very hard being right without coming across as a complete asshole.

        (Can’t remember the origin of that quote and Google isn’t helping me, in what must be a giant gold-plated irony.)

        • Corey says:

          Scalzi has said “the failure mode of clever is asshole” which might be what you’re thinking of.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I don’t think that anybody who thinks a fraction of 1% of the population is “intelligent” and capable of “rational communication” is even remotely right.

          A lot of these people also seem to have a huge STEM bias – and I lost a lot of respect for the supposed “rational communication” ability of STEM people when half the STEM kids in my science-for-humanities-and-social-science/humanities-for-science-and-social-science distribution credit tutorial dropped the moment they learned the first paper was 2 whole pages, and the ones who remained made it sound like this was pretty tricky.

          Historical experience suggests most people who actually accomplish things outside of the academy – politicians, military leaders, etc – are high 120s to low 130s, occasionally higher. I’ll take them over some guy for whom the defining experience of his life is scoring 176 on some super elite IQ test because the normie ones aren’t good enough.

          I think the silliest case I ever saw was somebody commenting on an article by Vox Day writing about how his 160+ IQ had revealed to him that most people making money and stuff were dumber, and he was above that stuff. Surprisingly, none of the Evil Legion of Evil or whatever they call themselves called them out for this, which by Day’s own standard is pretty egregious “Gamma” behaviour (as he dubs it, the “secret king”).

          • Bugmaster says:

            This is completely anecdotal, but I do know a couple of extremely high-IQ individuals (we’re talking things like quadruple STEM-field Ph.D.s by age 25). As far as I can tell, they can indeed be really bad at seemingly easy things, like making lots of money or lots of friends. The reason for this is that they see the world very differently from average people such as myself: i.e., they can perceive the complexity of the Universe much more clearly.

            Thus, ordinary pursuits such as talking to people, or watching movies, or whatever, do not appeal to them — because they find such activities completely predictable and therefore deeply boring. Some of them might still be necessary, sure, but they are merely chores to be completed as soon as possible, not something to devote one’s life to.

            Anyway, that’s just my completely anecdotal and uninformed perspective.

          • I’ve known a fair number of very smart people, including more than half a dozen Nobel winners across three different fields, and my observations don’t support your description.

            For an anecdote that I don’t think fits your picture very well …

            Teller describes a conversation between Von Neumann and Teller’s young son, discussing the Santa Claus Probleme. How could Santa, in one night, deliver presents to all those houses?

            They came up with a solution. On Christmas, the Easter Bunny has nothing to do. On Easter, Santa has nothing to do. So obviously they have a deal, by which on Christmas the Bunny helps Santa out, on Easter Santa returns the favor.

            Not the conversation of someone who finds the world so complex that he can’t enjoy conversations with ordinary people.

            Wigner’s comment on Von Neumann:

            “There are two kinds of people in the world. Johnny Von Neumann and the rest of us.”

          • Aapje says:

            @Bugmaster

            they can perceive the complexity of the Universe much more clearly.

            Thus, ordinary pursuits such as talking to people, or watching movies, or whatever, do not appeal to them — because they find such activities completely predictable and therefore deeply boring.

            Perceiving the complexity better can make you worse at something.

            For example, many athletes makes unconscious movements. If a trainer teaches them become conscious of their movements, so they can optimize them, it’s normal that they first perform worse. They have lost their ability to act intuitively, yet don’t yet have the skills to make conscious movements at the same (or higher) level. There is a risk that they don’t have the ability to learn the latter skill and then the attempt to improve an athlete can leave them permanently worse.

            I believe that for some things, there is a big gap between the basic skills/intelligence needed to becomes conscious of the complexity and the skills needed to master the complexity. So people can then end up in the gap between the two, where they are more knowledgeable than some people, yet still perform worse.

            Talking to people can be extremely complex, especially for people who are not interested in arbitrary facts about other people and/or mentally modelling normal human thought patterns, which is important to communicate in socially acceptable ways, rather than purely logical ways.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Bugmaster: That’s why I think (and there’s some limited evidence) that most people who get to the top of politics, business, and so on have IQs in the mid 120-mid 130 range. More than that and they are increasingly likely to behave like stereotypical head-in-the-clouds professors.

            @DavidFriedman: I’m guessing that Edvard Teller’s kids were probably pretty smart themselves. Smart kids might not be smart like a smart adult is smart – brains not fully developed, limited life experience – but there are tons of precocious youngsters. I’m not sure I’d consider the family of a legendarily brilliant physicist to be “ordinary people”, basically.

            You are definitely right that there are absolutely brilliant people who in no way fit the mold of “head-in-the-clouds professor”. Von Neumann sounds like one. Wernher von Braun is supposed to have been quite the charmer.

            @Aapje:

            One thing I’ve personally noticed both in school and doing martial arts is that there are people who are personally talented, but lousy teachers, because it comes to them so naturally. Their response to the question “how do you do x” is “well, you do it.” Conversely, there are people who are relatively speaking mediocrities (by the standards of, say, professors or black belts) but who are excellent teachers – presumably because they’ve really had to focus on their own learning.

            Equally relevant to DavidFriedman’s point – there are, of course, people who are so good at everything you can’t even be jealous of them, just amazed.

      • smocc says:

        “I’m afraid to ever take a proper IQ test, because I’m not sure what’s worse: scoring really low and feeling like a dummy, or scoring really high and becoming insufferable.”

        Amen.

        Well, that and the fact that every time I try and take one for fun my brain responds to all questions about identifying the next item in a pattern by screaming “THERE IS NO UNIQUE ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION!!!”

        • Montfort says:

          This is basically my reaction to that kind of test, too, and I find it rather unpleasant. The only time I completed a whole test (a Raven’s progressive matrices, I think) was in elementary school, and I got through it by going entirely on gut feeling except for the very easy questions.

  21. Bugmaster says:

    Ok, I’ve registered my throwaway email account to post here (obviously). But… I’m not sure exactly how this works. Do I have a WordPress account now, or what ? Just curious.

    • Urstoff says:

      You are now subscribed to the wordpress newsletter for the low price of $4.99 per week

      • Bugmaster says:

        As long as operators are standing by, I can feel good about my choice !

      • Deiseach says:

        You are now subscribed to WordPress for eternity. You can’t use that email address for another account, you can’t use the same username with a different email, and you can’t delete accounts because that would be way too convenient for users and what is the point of WordPress if it’s convenient?

        • Bugmaster says:

          This may be a bit off-topic, but I’ve actually used WordPress tangentially for a couple of days, some time ago. The experience had convinced me that WordPress had been authored personally by the Devil. If your friend tells you that he chose WordPress for his Web publishing platform, there are only two appropriate responses: prayer, and weeping for his soul.

    • shakeddown says:

      Apparently I already had a wordpress attached to my email, so this is now using my wordpress name instead of my old username.
      Also, how do we do name links in this system?

  22. shakeddown says:

    Interesting post on probability/elections (Also mentions the possibility of quantum candidates).

  23. nancylebovitz says:

    I was recently in a discussion of Mount Tam by Leslie Fish, and it turns out it has some rich possibilities for topics– I’ll give you folks a chance to listen to it to form your own opinions, then post mine. Content warning: risk of earworm.

    Anyway, what’s the political situation for the story? Magical possibilities? Technological possibilities? Could more sensible people have avoided this conflict?

    • lhn says:

      My impression has always been that it’s a (secret) magical conflict born of necessity: the Big One is going to destroy one of LA or SF, and each city’s wizards are intent on saving their own. But their most sincere curse is directed at the fault that makes the conflict inevitable.

  24. Urstoff says:

    Are there any techno/military thriller authors that aren’t cringey writers? I wanted to read a novel about submarines (having watched The Hunt for Red October for the millionth time, and having read it multiple times already), but it seems that it’s pretty much impossible to find an author in that category that doesn’t routinely violate the “how to not sound like an amateur writer” rules. Or am I just part of the impossibly tiny market that wants to read a novel about submarines that has a proficient literary style?

    • John Schilling says:

      I haven’t yet found anyone to match early Tom Clancy in the near-future technothriller genre, alas. Does your submarine fix have to be contemporary or near-future? Because there’s no shortage of good stuff set in the obvious period, and I’ll give a shout-out to A Sailor of Austria, set in the earliest days of submarine warfare. It’s vaguely Flashman-esque in style, but John Biggins seems to have done his homework on both the technology and the history and Otto Prohaska isn’t quite as much of a jerk as Harry Flashman.

      Now, if someone would get off their duff and write the prequel to “The Sound of Music”, we could bring submarine warfare into the world of musical theatre.

      • Urstoff says:

        Prefer modern or cold war, but I’ll check that book out. Thanks.

      • nancylebovitz says:

        Literary writers are doing sf and some sf writers are literary, but this hasn’t happened with technothrillers. I’m going to assume it will happen sooner or later.

        • Urstoff says:

          It’s starting to happen with mystery, too, and horror has always had its literary side. I wonder why it’s happened to those genres but not technothrillers yet.

        • bean says:

          I’m not sure that’s a good assumption. Technothrillers are basically hard SF set in the present, and that genre seems most immune to literary penetration, because of how technical it is. To be able to write a technically good naval thriller, you either need to be the sort of person who read Jane’s growing up, or know someone who did and absolutely listen to him. I’m not even sure if that would be enough, actually. In any case, literary people seem unlikely to be able to make the jump, so you’re stuck with home-grown authors.

          • nancylebovitz says:

            There are literary science writers. I don’t know how hard it would be to take those skills into technothrillers.

          • Urstoff says:

            I guess the question then is why aren’t any of those people literary to begin with? Is it just that they’ve spent all their time immersed in the technical literature that they haven’t read enough literary fiction to understand the basics of writing fiction? As nancy points out, there are lots of science writers (many scientists themselves) that are very good writers.

            Maybe the market militates against it. The consumer doesn’t value the quality of the prose, and it’s just easier to write poorly than well.

          • bean says:

            Literary science writers, or literary science fiction writers? Because science fiction is a really broad field, and I’d expect the literary people to be drawn to the ‘exploring the human condition’ side instead of the ‘exploring technology’ side.
            For that matter, a literary science writer might not be enough. When I mentioned reading Jane’s Fighting Ships growing up, I wasn’t really exaggerating. The military is different from spaceflight which is different from chemistry or physics or computers. There’s a fair bit of domain-specific knowledge required to do a good story in any one of those, and I suspect it would be very hard to impossible to acquire if you didn’t have the relevant fascination draw.

          • nancylebovitz says:

            I meant literary science writers like John McPhee and David Foster Wallace.

          • Urstoff says:

            Science writers, as in people who write nonfiction books about science. I guess nancy is referring to literary authors who turn their attention to science, but I’m referring to scientists or science journalists who turn their attention to writing. Maybe writing competent nonfiction is easier than writing competent fiction, but having read a good share of incompetent nonfiction, I doubt it.

            So, given your point, the question again is why is the proportion of those individuals who write well so small compared with other areas of writing that require similar amounts of background knowledge?

          • nancylebovitz says:

            Are there any writers who write well about real-world military hardware?

            Also, technothrillers aren’t limited to military matters. For example, there’s being threatened by plagues and artificial natural disasters (earthquake pills!). You don’t have to spend decades on the details of Jane’s ships to write a technothriller.

          • bean says:

            @URstoff

            I guess the question then is why aren’t any of those people literary to begin with? Is it just that they’ve spent all their time immersed in the technical literature that they haven’t read enough literary fiction to understand the basics of writing fiction? As nancy points out, there are lots of science writers (many scientists themselves) that are very good writers.

            I suspect that it’s a combination of several things. One is that there’s some tradeoff between technical brains and story brains, and writing good fiction requires a lot of story brain. (For that matter, we seem to be ignoring the distinction between scientists and engineers here, which could tie into this.) Another is that people who could do the job get sucked into other markets. David Weber, for example, seems like he could write a really technically good technothriller (writing quality aside), but instead chooses to write SF.

            Maybe writing competent nonfiction is easier than writing competent fiction, but having read a good share of incompetent nonfiction, I doubt it.

            I’m not sure I’d go with ‘easier’ so much as ‘different’, although in a way that might be easier for certain types of people to get into.

    • bean says:

      It’s not fiction and it might be a bit out of your preferred time range, but Thunder Below by Eugene Fluckey, captain of the USS Barb during WWII, is amazing. Highlights include one of the top scores of any US submarine during the war, setting the surfaced speed record for submarines, and the only action by US ground forces on the Japanese home islands during the war.

    • Incurian says:

      As always, I will recommend Neal Stephenson. In particular, Reamde, Cryptonomicon, and Seveneves for the kind of thing you are looking for.

      Warning: he DOES like to say “clip” instead of “magazine” and although it drives me absolutely fucking crazy, his books are excellent.

      • Urstoff says:

        Whatever Neal Stephenson writes, they’re not technothrillers (although I haven’t read anything since attempting to read the Baroque Cycle since his general contempt for plot annoys me; basically, http://www.danielabraham.com/2011/06/17/the-cryptonomicon-rant/ ).

        • Randy M says:

          Contempt for plot is a good way of describing why it’s taken me a year (or is it two? can’t remember) to work through quicksilver. I found it perked up quite a bit in the middle once other protagonists were introduced that actually had goals.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Huh. I’m the exact opposite of you. My favorite Stephenson books are The Big U, Snow Crash, Diamond Age, and Anathem. All of the books you mentioned are among my least favorites, even Seveneves, since it’s kind of like two half-books jammed into one.

        I think that Stephenson is at his best when he focuses on plot, characters, and insane exponentially rising mayhem. He is at his worst when he decides that he’s an Important Author, writing about Important Things with Deep Meanings. That’s how you get unreadable door-stoppers like the Baroque Cycle.

        • Incurian says:

          I mentioned them for mostly being about current day technology, not because they’re my favorites necessarily.

          I agree that Seveneves should have been a series, or just focused one thing.

          I love the Baroque Cycle and aside from a slow part 1 of book 1 found it to be the best series I’ve ever read. Discworld and The Culture are among it’s competition, to give you an idea of how highly I think if it.

          That being said, I would not have started with it. Also, his books are on diverse topics.

    • Bugmaster says:

      It doesn’t count as a techno-thriller, exactly, but consider reading Michael Flynn’s Firestar. The sequels are not as good, but the first book was excellent, IMO.

    • sflicht says:

      I enjoyed Ghost Fleet.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Michael Crichton? Though he is more on the science fiction end of the techno thriller spectrum than the military end.

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      This is non-fiction and certainly not a thriller, but have you read Another Great Day at Sea by Geoff Dyer? A journalist does a writer-in-residence gig aboard an aircraft carrier.

      It’s literary in the sense that it’s reflective and competently written. (Douglas Coupland wrote another book in the series.)

      I skipped over the technical stuff because it’s not my interest, so I can’t remember how much there is, but I think there is a fair amount. The first sentence of the blurb is, “As a child Geoff Dyer spent long hours making and blotchily painting model fighter planes”, so make of that what you will.

  25. poppingtonic says:

    My friend Brenda Sharp is a psychologist who has counseled refugees. She’s written some enlightening experiences growing up in a very religious patriarchal society https://brendasharpblog.wordpress.com/2016/10/24/story-of-a-feminist/

    • nancylebovitz says:

      The essay isn’t just about growing up in a patriarchal society– it’s about feminism offering a way out, but then finding out that feminism is anti-male in a way which should also be opposed.

  26. Jordan D. says:

    In honor of Judge Merrick Garland’s 222nd day as nominee for the Supreme Court, a quick poll:

    1) Do you think Garland will eventually be confirmed? What odds do you put on this happening?

    2) How likely do you think John McCain’s statement that the Senate will block any and all Clinton nominees indefinitely is?

    3) How do you imagine this delay will affect norms going forward? Can we expect to see similar delays for any future case where the vacancy occurs in an election year?

    • Sandy says:

      How likely do you think John McCain’s statement that the Senate will block any and all Clinton nominees indefinitely is?

      Unlikely but given that the Republicans should retain Senate control at least through 2020, they’ll probably be able to force Clinton to compromise on what kind of judges she wants.

    • Jordan D. says:

      Since it’s only fair that I give my own answers:

      1) I think Garland is fairly likely to be confirmed. Since he wouldn’t be if Trump wins, I’ll subtract the odds of a Trump victory. I think there’s a reasonably good chance that Clinton would keep him in even if he’s not confirmed in a lame-duck session, but there’s also some chance Obama would withdraw him after the election to keep the Senate from voting on him then. I’ll call it about a 75% chance of confirmation.

      2) I can’t imagine the Republicans actually going this far, but to be fair I wouldn’t have called a Trump nomination either. I think Clinton is likely to nominate more judges in the mold of Garland, if given the chance, and I think at least a substantial segment of the Senate Republicans are going to be willing to compromise on those. I’m going to call this a 10% chance.

      3) I think we’re definitely going to see an increase in political tactical maneuvering for nominees, but I hope that the magnitude of this delay will remain remarkable in the future.

      • Brad says:

        For number 2 the probability of no obstruction is the sum of:
        1) Democrats get 60 votes in the Senate (very low)
        2) Democrats get 50-59 votes in the Senate and (68% per WS above) and
        2a) decide to eliminate the filibuster for SCOTUS nominations
        2b) Republicans decide not to filibuster all nominations
        3) Republicans get 50+ votes in the Senate and decide not to block all nominations

        Do you think #3 has a 90% probability or the sum of all of them?

        • larrykestenbaum says:

          2a) decide to eliminate the filibuster for SCOTUS nominations

          The filibuster is going away, period. That wall has already been breached, and what remains will be swept away as soon as 51 senators find it convenient to do so.

          • Brad says:

            I agree that the filibuster is critically ill and further I am happy about it, but I don’t think this next two years is going to be when it dies.

            If Clinton wins and the Democrats take the Senate, they still will need the House to get anything passed (as I’m sure you know, the Democrats have almost no chance in the House until after redistricting at the earliest). Anything that can get past the house is going to be able to get sixty votes in the Senate. So there is unlikely to be a need to eliminate the legislative filibuster.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Brad:
            I will be completely shocked if the filibuster for SCOTUS nominees lasts assuming a Democratic Senate and Presidency.

            Given the refusal to vote on Garland, a nominee whom Republicans literally asked Obama to nominate, you can’t depend on Republicans to negotiate in good faith on a nominee. They have shown they are perfectly willing to engage in naked partisan obstruction.

            Much like the debt ceiling vote, you can’t let one side win on that kind of issue. Otherwise, the only way to play the game would be to simply accept that SCOTUS never gets new justices absent the presidency and a 60 seat majority. That could mean the end of the court as a practical matter. The SCOTUS would slowly whittle away until the next super-majority. Then it would get packed (and you might even see additional members added, to ensure it stayed packed).

            From a strategic perspective, you can’t let one side “cheat” on the norms.

          • Brad says:

            To be clear, I agree that the filibuster for SCOTUS is doomed in the next two years. But LK claimed that the filibuster is going away altogether, which I read to include the legislative filibuster. I agree with that too, but not in the next two years. I don’t think that will happen until the next time one party gets the House, the Senate, and the White House.

        • Jordan D. says:

          I’m only addressing #3 here. I interpret McCain as saying that, assuming the Republicans keep a Senate majority and Clinton is president, they’ll hold up any of her nominees forever. I think there’s a very high chance that, over the course of four years, they’d barter away SCOTUS for something.

          (In fairness, I only had about a 40% confidence that they’d stall on Garland this long, so I might be wildly overconfident. But I think that of the factors which have let them stall this long- the impending race, the ‘brand recognition’ of Scalia and an appeal to the 2nd Amendment- only the last will have any longevity. I think the Democrats will find some way around that in four years.)

          I agree with Kestenbaum, below, that if the Democrats take the Senate, they’ll do away with the fillibuster quickly. In the event that the fillibuster were all that stood between the Democrats and SCOTUS, I have a higher-than-90% confidence that they’d abolish it.

          • dragnubbit says:

            When ‘bi-partisan’ McCain is signaling like this, it indicates that opposing any HRC nominations will be a litmus test for the GOP going forward. Yes he is in a re-election campaign but this type of posturing is normally a primary election tactic, not a general election one.

            Not sure how the GOP gets beyond this – they are backing themselves into a corner with their base that would prevent them from voting for anyone. It used to be the special purpose of politicians like John McCain to pop these bubbles of hyper-partisanship before they consumed the party.

          • shakeddown says:

            I think there’s a very high chance that, over the course of four years, they’d barter away SCOTUS for something.

            Hillary is (by reputation at least) better at these sort of backroom bargains than Obama, which may help here.

          • Corey says:

            @dragnubbit: Republicans are typically more concerned with primary elections than general ones, because most hail from safely Republican districts and/or States. (I don’t know if Arizona is one of them though) Democratic politicians don’t seem to have the same problems in safe districts, probably because the Democrats don’t have a Tea Party or Trump-supporter equivalent subgroup.

          • shakeddown says:

            Arizona is probably safe for McCain this election (548 gives him 95% to win it), but not so safe that he can ignore it – it’s been as low as 75% for him at some points over the cycle. Add in his incumbent advantage, and whichever republican runs when he retires (next time? he’s pretty old) will probably have a competitive race.

          • BBA says:

            I’m recalling the argument around the filibuster from 2009-10, back when the ACA was being considered – there were 50 votes to pass it with 60 votes, but there weren’t 50 votes to pass it with 50 votes (either by eliminating the filibuster or making it part of the budget). You had a handful of Democratic senators who preferred to preserve their own power rather than achieve the party’s goal.

            Now it looks like the Democrats are likely to only have 50 or 51 seats in the new term, so one or two defectors would be all it takes to preserve the filibuster status quo. In particular, Joe Manchin (D-WV) is up for reelection in 2018, represents a very conservative state, and has bucked the party line in the past. (Some of the lefty blogs I read were predicting that he’d jump to the Republican caucus as soon as they won a majority; didn’t happen, but he still looks like the most likely Nighthorse in the D column.)

            I don’t think it’s very likely given how much party discipline has hardened in just eight short years, but it’s certainly plausible.

          • dragnubbit says:

            @Corey: That is why McCain’s recent hardline stance on SCOTUS was confusing to me and I took it as indicative of a litmus attitude within the party. His primary was over long ago and he never will go through another.

          • dragnubbit says:

            @BBA

            If Clinton wins and the Senate breaks 50-50, the drama will not wait until 2018. There will be a special Senate election in 2017 to replace Tim Kaine’s seat, and it may be the only significant federal race that November. (In the intervening year a Democratic appointee will hold it).

    • larrykestenbaum says:

      I think if Clinton wins, Garland will be confirmed almost immediately by the current Senate.

      I don’t see Obama withdrawing Garland. When it comes down to it, if Clinton wins, I don’t think she’ll repudiate Garland either, whether or not Democrats also take the Senate.

      Consider: anyone who she comes up with as a substitute will be unfavorably compared to Garland. Also, in the wake of the contentious election, she will be trying to unify the country; casting aside Garland in favor of someone more liberal and partisan would be the antithesis of that.

      If Trump wins, but Democrats take the Senate (admittedly an unlikely combination), there is a 17-day window between the seating of the new Senate and Obama leaving office. Under those circumstances, the new Senate would move quickly to confirm Garland.

      • shakeddown says:

        OTOH, there is something to be said for punishing defection (in this case, punishing the refusal of the senate to do their job and vote on a candidate by replacing him with a “worse” one, from a republican perspective).

        • The original Mr. X says:

          The Senate’s job isn’t to rubber-stamp Presidential appointments, but to act as a check to the President’s power to appoint whomever he wants. If they don’t think Garland or whoever is a good candidate, refusing to confirm him *is* doing their job.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But they do think Garland is a good candidate.

            They even said before he was nominated that they would confirm him if he was nominated because he was so qualified (and an acceptable “compromise” candidate).

          • Corey says:

            This is one of the ways in which ideologically disciplined parties are incompatible with our system of government.

            Today, one expects that no Republican will find any nominee of a Democrat acceptable, and vice versa. This is on policy alone, not obstructionism for its own sake (or for political advantage).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Corey:
            That’s a both-sider argument, but we don’t have to go back very far to see this isn’t really true.

            Roberts was confirmed 78–22. An attempted filibuster of Alito failed 72-25. Sotomayor couldn’t be filibustered IIRC correctly (Dem’s had 60 at the time.)

            Kagen theoretically could have been filibustered, but with 59 Dem votes, it was extraordinarily unlikely to succeed, especially with Scott being up for re-election so soon. Not sure how much evidence it provides one way or the other.

            If McCain’s statement is taken at face value and holds, it is a shocking change in precedent.

          • shakeddown says:

            @Mr. X
            If they voted on and rejected him, that would be doing their jobs. Refusing to vote on a candidate is not doing their jobs (or at least gaming the system to an irresponsible degree).

          • Jordan D. says:

            I’m kind of hopeful this means a turn towards centrist judges. A lot of commentators on Garland’s nomination speculated that Obama picked him- in part- because he’s more centrist than a Kagan or a Breyer. In a situation where Clinton won’t nominate anyone who would backtrack on Roe or Obergefell and the Republicans won’t vote for anyone who will roll back Heller or defang the RFRA, I see room for candidates who are a lot less activist than the dream Justices of the Left or Right.

            (Maybe. Or I guess we could instead have crushing obstruction instead, who knows.)

            That’s why so many people speculate that Garland might be confirmed post-election, after all; it’s not that he’s a bad candidate or that the Republicans can’t live with him, it’s just that they’d really prefer to have another Scalia. If it becomes clear they’re not getting that, they might settle for a Garland.

            Don’t get me wrong, I adored Scalia’s writing and I thought he had many important insights, but I’d rather not see more Justices in that mold.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If they voted on and rejected him, that would be doing their jobs. Refusing to vote on a candidate is not doing their jobs (or at least gaming the system to an irresponsible degree).

            Honest, non-rhetorical question here: is there any practical difference between voting a candidate down and saying “We’re not going to vote on this candidate, go choose another one”? In both cases the actual outcome seems to be the same.

          • shakeddown says:

            Voting and rejecting a candidate allows the president to suggest another one, and can start a dialogue, especially if they specify what they find objectionable about a given candidate. just refusing all candidates on principle is refusing to do your job.

            If they voted on Garland, rejected him, and Obama couldn’t find a candidate they accepted (either by not finding anyone or by repeatedly giving candidates who were going to be rejected), I’d be inclined to split the blame evenly. If Obama refused to nominate anyone (or only made clearly unacceptable superliberal choices), I’d be inclined to blame him. (Also, I’d be a lot more okay with this if congressmen didn’t get paid, like the New Mexico state senate).

          • Jordan D. says:

            Yeah- as an example, my Senator is one of the ones who won’t vote on Garland. But even if pressed, in interviews, he can avoid the question by pointing at Grassley or saying that they need to wait for the will of the people or whatever. I think the reason for that is pretty clearly because the thing the Republican senate faults Garland for is not being very likely to vote for things they favor as often as Scalia would.

            (I sympathize with people who think that should be reason enough, even though I’m not Republican. The Court is a political body whether it likes it or not.)

            But my Senator believes- probably correctly- that a lot of people outside his direct base would disapprove of that if he had to be explicit about it. So he’d rather not vote “No” on Judge Garland, specifically because it would be pretty difficult to come up with a reason which didn’t sound hyper-partisan.

            I kind of wonder if there’d have been a “no” vote if Obama had chosen someone less qualified. If the senate could come up with even a semi-plausible reason outside of partisanship to reject the nominee, there’d probably be narrative benefits to doing it.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Let’s ask prediction markets. Betfair says that he will not be confirmed before the election. Predictit offers several predictions. 61% that Garland will be the next justice. 45% that the senate will vote on an Obama nominee. 35/37% that it will confirm an Obama nominee. (I haven’t read the fine print, but I assume “Obama nominees” go away when he leaves office.)

      • Doctor Mist says:

        I haven’t read the fine print, but I assume “Obama nominees” go away when he leaves office.

        An interesting question, sort of like how long you can take to ratify an amendment. Once Garland is nominated, could the Senate of 2028 confirm him? If Obama does not withdraw the nomination, could Hillary?

        There’s not really anything specific in the Constitution about the process. With only 115 justices there’s not even a whole lot of precedent, but I presume there is a consensus about how it works.

        I’m imagining a bunch of possibilities for intrigue novels. Confirming a nominee rejected by a previous Senate. Nominating someone who is unwilling to serve. Confirming someone who is dead (but nominated years before) in order to take up the slot. I guess most scenarios like that fail on the grounds that the President is hiring the guy “with advice and consent”, which limits the extent to which the Senate can completely end-around the President with a ringer. But have there ever been actual Supreme Court rulings on what “advice and consent” consists of? (And could there be, or is that a clear conflict of interest?)

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I’m talking about the fine print of Predictit, not the fine print of the constitution.

        • Gazeboist says:

          A dead or unwilling candidate does not occupy a seat, even if they are confirmed.

        • Brad says:

          There’s nothing in the Constitution, but by Senate rules and long tradition a nomination is considered dead when the session of Congress ends.

        • Jordan D. says:

          I’m sure Brad is right about this, but just to introduce a term people might not be familiar with-

          When a session of Congress ends, it concludes with an “adjournment sine die“, which means “without day”, and signifies that there is no date set for the next meeting. What’s important about that is that when Congress returns, it’s a different Congress. Technically, our federal legislature consists presently of the 114th US Congress, and when it gavels in during the first session of 2017, it will be the 115th US Congress.*

          Because it’s a different Congress, bills and matters pending before the 114th Congress become obsolete and have to be re-introduced to the 115th Congress, starting the process all over again. People involved in trying to get a bill passed will often say that they need action soon or “the bill will sine die.”

          I can’t find any authority saying that nominees, like bills, have to be re-introduced after an adjournment sine die, but it would make sense for the same reason!

          *This is also how a legislative body dissolves itself- it announces an adjournment sine die and simply never gavels back in again.

          • Brad says:

            Standing Rules of the Senate XXXI.6

            Nominations neither confirmed nor rejected during the session at which they are made shall not be acted upon at any succeeding session without being again made to the Senate by the President; and if the Senate shall adjourn or take a recess for more than thirty days, all nominations pending and not finally acted upon at the time of taking such adjournment or recess shall be returned by the Secretary to the President, and shall not again be considered unless they shall again be made to the Senate by the President.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @Jordan D, @Brad

            This is exactly the answer I was looking for. I felt sure it must be codified somewhere, I just didn’t know where. Thanks!

  27. luispedro says:

    wrt #3: as a fan of prediction markets, I worry about half-baked attempts being used to later conclude that they do not work very well. A true prediction market would look very different from what these groups have been doing (there is not a lot of info on that site, but the earlier paper probably provides a template: http://www.pnas.org/content/112/50/15343.full.pdf).

    One interesting point about scientific prediction markets is how much information would be gained from “insider” trading. People who were involved in the experiments but know they are not that solid would suddenly gain an incentive to “speak up”.

  28. nancylebovitz says:

    How to remove the WordPress toolbar.

    I don’t know about you guys, but I read on a laptop with limited vertical space *and* the toolbar cut off the top of the page with the name of the commenter *and* a black toolbar was amazingly distracting on a light-colored screen.

    • Deiseach says:

      Thank you and the heavens shower blessings upon you for that tip, Nancy 🙂

      • nancylebovitz says:

        You’re welcome.

        I find that sometimes the hardest part of solving a computer problem is intuiting that a solution is possible. The second hardest part is finding out what things are called. This is obviously(?) the point of view of a user rather than someone who goes into the guts of programs.

        In this case, I had experience on my side from getting rid of the yahoo toolbar. I’m amazed at how much calmer I was this time. When yahoo imposed its toolbar on my browser, I was in a screaming cursing rage.

    • larrykestenbaum says:

      Thank you so much for this!

    • shakeddown says:

      Thanks, much appreciated.

  29. akarlin says:

    Civilization V was one of the biggest gaming disappointments ever.

    A turn-based game that Ran slowly even on very good machines, the idiotic one unit per tile rule made concentration impossible and basic maneuvers a huge logistical challenge, and if anything the AI regressed relative to Civ IV. They also began treating every last mudhut from Songhai as a Wonder, presumably as part of the cultural trend against “Eurocentrism,” and Wonders themselves became worth little more than ordinary buildings, which devalued them entirely. Game mechanics such as finance and espionage were drastically dumbed down for the benefit of the console peasants.

    By all indications Civ VI hasn’t remedied these cardinal shortcoming in any substantive way (even though the corrupt game reviewers predictably beg to differ) so I for one will continue boycotting this travesty.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      They also began treating every last mudhut from Songhai as a Wonder

      Presumably you mean the Great Mosque of Djenne? That’s the only Civ V wonder that’s located in sub-Saharan Africa, and the only one built of mud. It’s also quite impressive.

      In general, the Wonders seem reasonable choices IMO.

      • akarlin says:

        From the Wikipedia: A 20th century reconstruction of a medieval era building that might have been modestly notable amongst the ziggurats of Sumer but in reality one that was mentioned literally once during its heyday and was otherwise only popularized by European explorers from the 19th century.

        I think that sort of proves the point that it’s an affirmative action Wonder. And it was far from the only one.

        • Anonymous Bosch says:

          It’s Civ. Complaining about that is like complaining about America being able to fight Sumer with pikemen and cavalry. If you want a game that accurately the captures the historical European boots stomping on historical brown faces I suggest you stick to Paradox.

          (Trigger warning: the latest EU4 DLC makes Ethiopia seriously badass.)

    • superordinance says:

      >every last mudhut from Songhai as a Wonder, presumably as part of the cultural trend against “Eurocentrism.”

      Civ 5 was still pretty Eurocentric. Civ 6 even more so. As for mudhuts, they included the Mosque of Dejenne. They were right to. It’s hardly a hut. Why, precisely, does that bother you?

      >corrupt game reviewers

      Oh, I see.

      • akarlin says:

        Why, precisely, does that bother you?

        Because it destroys immersion, amongst other things, seeing as nobody of note actually considered it to be a wonder of the world.

        • rlms says:

          Immersion? To quote from upthread: “Because we all know that the Civilization games are known for their gritty realism, like when the great Japanese scientist Leonard Euler discovers the radio in 1350 AD.”

          • akarlin says:

            Except that this is within the realm of feasibility (apart from the minor matter of the scientist’s name), whereas a rudely constructed mud-based structure being considered a wonder by the technological standards of the medieval period – a millennium after the Romans had constructed domes measuring several dozen meters in diameter! – is not.

          • Anon says:

            Except that this is within the realm of feasibility

            Electricity wasn’t even a distinct concept until the 1600’s or so. How would anyone develop the radio, which requires several jumps from the concept of electricity, 250 years earlier than that?

            whereas a rudely constructed mud-based structure being considered a wonder by the technological standards of the medieval period

            That’s the whole point of being a wonder though! The Pyramids weren’t that great, we could probably build a 1:1 replica with modern construction techniques in 6 months or so. The fact that ancient Egyptians spent years of time and many man-decades to construct them is what makes them a wonder. It has nothing to do with whether other people have done greater things.

          • akarlin says:

            Electricity wasn’t even a distinct concept until the 1600’s or so. How would anyone develop the radio, which requires several jumps from the concept of electricity, 250 years earlier than that?

            That’s a very strange argument in the context of the Civilization games since the whole point of those games is that you get to rerun history from 4000BC.

            If you turned the clock back, it’s entirely feasible that the radio would be invented by a Japanese scientist in 1350. Say, Chinese civilization adopts the alphabet, as happened in west Eurasia starting with Phoenicia, resulting in greater effective literacy rates and hence technological progress, and allows the Sung dynasty (or its equivalent) to launch an industrial revolution that comes to encompass Japan.

            The fact that ancient Egyptians spent years of time and many man-decades to construct them is what makes them a wonder.

            The Egyptian pyramids were great in the context of both precedence and eminence (up to that point, they were the most impressive structures built on Earth, and they are arguably the most impressive structures in the context of that particular technological stage of development). The Mayan pyramids were impressive at least by virtue of the fact that they were built in isolation from more advanced civilizations and were a significant enough achievement for that particular technological stage of civilization’s development. I can understand them being included.

            But neither applies to the Mosque of Djenne. It was built a millennium after the Pantheon and centuries after the Hagia Sophia, at the same time as majestic Gothic cathedrals were going up in Western Europe, and even parts of Dar Al-Islam were building far more impressive structures such as Alhambra.

            Frankly spending “years of time and many man-decades” on something is a competely crap criterion of greatness that I simply reject. Why not have the failed Millennium Dome as a Wonder then. Or the grotesque Romanian Palace of the Parliaments.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Civ 2 listed Women’s Suffrage as a world wonder, it’s hard to see this as any sort of betrayal of the series’s traditions.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            Not only that, they had female leaders for each Civ, in most cases resorting to mythical figures or wives who never reigned.

            Civ has always unabashedly placed diversity and game balance over any kind of historicity. I have a lot of trouble buying that the Great Mosque of Djenne was the straw that broke akarlin’s back.

        • DavidS says:

          First, who counts as ‘of note’ here? Is your argument that the people in the area of the mosque wouldn’t see it as a wonder or that nobody would?

          Second, you don’t have to buy into the ‘Dark Ages’ that much to see that it’s a bit ridiculous to talk about what the Romans had done a millenium before as the baseline as there wasn’t exactly a continuous uninterrupted development of that sort of thing from the early centuries AD to the early 1000s AD

          This may have changed (most of my experience is with Civ2 but I remember Wonders that weren’t technological breakthroughs/peaks at all, like King Richard’s Crusade, Darwin’s voyage, or the UN.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I have always been baffled about King Richard’s Crusade. Why does it do what it does? What does a crusade have to do with improving production?

          • Sandy says:

            It looks like a wonder for the wrong era. It just doesn’t hold up very well compared to the other wonders for the medieval/renaissance era that unlock at the same time. The Great Mosque of Djenne unlocks with Theology; other wonders that unlock with Theology are the Hagia Sophia and Borobudur. Explain to me how that primitive-looking structure (that was completed in 1907!) holds up next to those other two. There is no shortage of breathtaking mosques from around the world to serve as a representative wonder for Islam. Why was this one chosen?

            @dndnrsn: War economy, maybe? I never played Civ 2.

          • DavidS says:

            I always read it as ‘war economy’. Weirdly you get it from ‘engineering’ though, which fits the effect much better than the actual wonder!

            Lots of weird things in Civ. Like Leonardo’s workshop upgrading elephants to crusaders.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Sandy- Presumably the Great Mosque that is a Wonder is supposed to be the original one not the 1907 version pictured

            Also, Hagia Sophia is depicted in the game with minarets!

    • Urstoff says:

      I liked the one unit per tile rule. It made fighting much more tactical than strategic, and I always hated the micromanagement hell that late-era Civ wars inevitably were.

      • akarlin says:

        I don’t think implementing better mechanics for controlling many units should be that hard, especially in a turn-based game. For instance, the new Hearts of Iron IV does that quite well (even though its AI also leaves a lot to be desired).

        Another, even simpler, solution would be to cap your military units at some % of your population (modulated by ideology: Say, commies and fascists can mobilize more) in such a way as to avoid overcrowding the map.

        • Urstoff says:

          There are other solutions, yes, but the one unit per tile rule is one solution that I liked (though I am in the clear minority). Wars become tactical puzzles, as you have to very carefully consider terrain and unit positioning.

          • Spookykou says:

            Well I agree with you Urstoff at least as a design idea. The downside is the already bad AI in civ seems to have a REALLY hard time understanding the new tactical game, resulting in warfare being way too easy. The enemy units are constantly out of position and dying before they get to do anything.

          • Randy M says:

            The trouble was that not only were battles tactical puzzles, so were logistical issues of getting troops anywhere near the front sometimes.

          • Nyx says:

            Yeah, it got pretty frustrating trying to maneuver slow armies through chokepoints.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Yeah, it got pretty frustrating trying to maneuver slow armies through chokepoints.

            Sounds like “working as intended”.

      • switchnode says:

        Sounds like you’ve heard these arguments already, Urstoff, but for anyone else who might be curious: Sullla on 1UPT (last section).

        That said, I thought IV’s micro was amazing—it was the tactical element of war. In a gamey and not very literal way, yeah, but it felt like the right kind of problem: it demanded the right things and rewarded them in the right ways. How else could a game like Civ spanning orders of magnitude of scale pull it off? Not the way V tried.

        • Nyx says:

          For what it’s worth, Sullla is cautiously optimistic about Civ VI, although he’s unhappy that 1UPT is still A Thing.

    • nancylebovitz says:

      superordinance, thank you for pointing out that the “mud hut” is the Great Mosque of Djenne. It’s an amazing thing, and I hadn’t heard of it.

      akarlin, thank you for something of very different quality. Your comment is now my handy example for what’s wrong with hating inclusiveness.

    • blacktrance says:

      I don’t agree about the Eurocentrism point, but Civ V really was terrible. The interface is clunky, the game runs slowly even on my good computer, culture and civics aren’t as fun as they were in IV, the buildings are more generic, and worst of all, one-unit-per-tile made fighting wars a chore. If VI is like that too, I’ll be skipping it.

      About once a year I give V another chance, thinking if it could really have been that bad. Inevitably, it is.

    • nancylebovitz says:

      Even if the Great Mosque of Djenne isn’t the best thing ever, it looks as though it was a significant local best thing. It’s not a hut. The fact that it’s made of adobe is neither here nor there.

  30. J. Mensch says:

    Recently I became aware of Sam Hyde, who seems to be regarded as ‘the comedian of the alt–right’. One of his earliest gigs was at a Weird Twitter open mic in Brooklyn, where he spoke disparagingly about LGBT mental health, leading to a bunch of people booing and walking out. Here’s a similar set on the migrant crisis.

    He has a large-ish internet following, and a couple of months ago Adult Swim gave him a slot for his own show. Here’s the result of an attempt Buzzfeed then made at interviewing him, and a recording he released of his behaviour during the interview.

    What I found curious was how Hyde seems to be a sort of natural evolution of the weird twitter movement. Weird twitter (and its genesis, the SomethingAwful subforum FYAD) was largely about form, with no importance placed on the actual message itself. People would adopt bizarre personas and writing styles, and it was in the style itself that the humour lay. Fans were ‘in on it’ in that they knew the message was ironic, which pushed the boundaries of what you could actually say (eg https://twitter.com/dril/status/747822549069926400 ) . Under the guise of ‘irony’, then, Hyde is able to get away with content that would usually be shut down as homophobic or racist, and a twitter profile that’s a mix of Milo Yiannopoulis and InfoWars — https://twitter.com/Night_0f_Fire . He exploits the uncertainty about whether he’s serious or not, in the same way the post-irony movement did in other areas. Note for instance the audience reaction to the first minute or so of his weird twitter set, when it still has the appearance of being a joke.

    What’s maybe least surprising is how successful he is with younger audiences. Assuming that what shocks the older generation is always appealing, the only thing remaining to shock millenials is something that can’t be laughed off as irony, such as a seemingly sincere message that attacks their political sensibilities.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Yeah, he’s much truer to the “spirit” of weird twitter than the guys who got jobs making buzzfeed listicles or whatever.

      • J. Mensch says:

        I disagree. Again I see the ‘spirit’ of weird twitter as being about the form rather than the content. I think someone like Hyde would be guilty of ‘caring too much’.

    • Two Skrillexes says:

      I’m relatively familiar with the sketch comedy stuff Sam Hyde has done and the terrible (but IMO childishly amusing) stand up stuff he has done. I truly believe that he is a shock humor act. He is a real life troll. IIRC at one point he hosted a TED talk where he spouted buzzwords for 30 minutes, never saying anything of substance.

      Anyway, i think it’s reductive at best to call him an alt-right proponent based on his overall body of “work”.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g-nniO1WN4 here is a sketch he acted in. I assume he wrote a fair bit of at least his own lines, and although he’s there spouting racist, sexist stuff, the sketch is about how police are poorly trained violent idiots. Is that a popular alt-right stance?

    • Tekhno says:

      I have mixed feelings on him. I don’t think he’s being ironic as in not expressing his actual beliefs, just doing so in a confrontational way. In many ways this mirrors the kind of stuff social justice people do, only with a wink and a nod.

      The interesting thing is that he says he hates meaningless absurdism even though a lot of his shit comes across as vaguely right wing Dadaism, and honestly it’s his best stuff.

      I like the videos where he goes in with the intention of infiltrating people’s shit, challenging them, and pissing them off, but I really don’t like his standup at all. I think one of the differences is that in a video where he’s gate crashing a Weird Twitter meeting to read an anti-gay screed, the joke is the room clearing effect itself, and there’s a kind of vicious enjoyment created by the discomfort he’s generating in people. Also, the brass balls that requires.

      His stuff where he actually tries to tell jokes doesn’t work though. He’s not really a smart or witty guy, just a guy who is funny because of his weird personality. When the audience is invited in to laugh at the jokes, it just reduces him to a regular comedian and shows off his sub-par abilities. His skill is making the audience into the joke instead.

      @Two Skrillexes

      IIRC at one point he hosted a TED talk where he spouted buzzwords for 30 minutes, never saying anything of substance.

      Like every Tedx talk! I think he was expressing his contempt for futurists.

      Anyway, i think it’s reductive at best to call him an alt-right proponent based on his overall body of “work”.

      It’s more that he used to be a Ron Paul libertarian before moving in an alt-right direction.

    • Anon. says:

      I only found out about him through the [AS] show. Some skits were great (e.g. tap water), but they couldn’t consistently fill 10 minutes with good content, so…eh.

      I have no idea how many levels of irony “up” he is. Does it matter?

      • J. Mensch says:

        I have no idea how many levels of irony “up” he is. Does it matter?

        Sure, if it’s the case that he’s 0 levels up, and completely sincere (which is what I currently think is the case), I do think it matters that the next generation are responding positively to racism/homophobia/ableism as transgressive comedy. It also ties in well with recent analyses of Trump as some sort of ‘punk’ figure ( http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/21/opinion/campaign-stops/clintons-samantha-bee-problem.html )

        • Anon. says:

          Let’s take a bit from the tap water sketch:

          The problem with anger is that, an angry population of people, when their government doesn’t even provide them with clean water […] people with a lot of anger or testosterone usually flip cars over and sometimes even kill politicians. And I hate that shit, you can’t have that

          Levels of irony:
          0: he sincerely doesn’t like it when people revolt against high taxation + bad government
          1: he actually hates the situation and is literally advocating murdering politicians

          I don’t think either of those are the case, so we have to go deeper.

          2: parodying level 1 as overly-simplistic? Perhaps the “reality show” style of shooting/editing is a hint? Perhaps it’s attacking the notion that government should control people’s anger (focusing on the effect) instead of providing drinkable tap water (the cause)?
          3: ???

          In any case, I think this uncertainty/elusiveness gives the show depth and is a big part of the appeal.

          • J. Mensch says:

            Right, but maybe the more relevant bits for discussing Hyde’s politics are the screeds about gays and immigrants rather than the ones about tap water.

  31. Sandy says:

    The last OT had some criticism of Black Mirror. Vulture has more.

    Black Mirror relies on the illusion of depth. Its one-two punch structure is all about bombshells and astonishing disclosures, and it’s a format that capitalizes on the audience feeling they’ve discovered something important. When you follow Black Mirror through the wormhole, you also feel like you’ve come out the other side. You’ve learned something worthwhile. The truth of things — which is usually some version of how technology has perverted humanity — is hidden, and by the end, you get to see behind the veil.

    But that depth is not actually all that deep. The things Black Mirror uncovers about the nature of people and technology are pessimistic visions of humankind, and they’re also remarkably absent of nuance. Guess what: Reality shows are dehumanizing. Social media makes people say and do horrible things. Documenting every single moment of our lives has downsides. It’s like stepping through the wardrobe into C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, but instead of a magical land full of fauns and evil queens and talking beavers, there’s just a note that reads, “This is an allegory about Jesus.”

    As for season 3:

    V qhaab, V gubhtug vg jnf cerggl greevoyr. Rcvfbqr 3 jnf nyevtug, ohg gung rcvfbqr jvgu Oelpr Qnyynf Ubjneq jnf nfvavar naq “Fna Whavcreb” jnf hggreyl crqrfgevna, V qba’g xabj jul crbcyr xrrc enivat nobhg vg.

    • Mark says:

      I enjoyed it.

      (Spoilers for season 3)

      V gubhtug gung rcvfbqrf 1, 2, 3 naq 6 jrer ragregnvavat, 4 naq 5 jrer cerggl obevat.

      Gur fgbevrf pregnvayl nera’g zvaq oybjvat, ohg gurl ner abeznyyl vagrerfgvat.

      Puneyvr Oebbxre vf n pbzrql jevgre, naq gur orfg ‘oynpx zveebe’ fgbevrf ner fngvevpny. 15 zvyyvba zrevgf vf onfvpnyyl n fngver bs vgfrys.

      V gubhtug gung znlor jvgu rcvfbqr 3 (“fuhg hc naq qnapr”) ur jnf tbvat sbe fbzr xvaq bs “nu unn – gurl ner nyy crqbcuvyrf naq enpvfgf – abj ubj qb lbh srry” – ohg, V qba’g guvax gurer jnf ernyyl gvzr gb cebprff vg orsber gur fgbel raqrq.

      Hz, fb lrnu. V qba’g ernyyl guvax gurer vf zhpu gb fnl nobhg vg – whfg n xvaq bs inthryl vagrerfgvat naq ragregnvavat nagubybtl frevrf jvgu fbzr uvgf naq zvffrf, juvpu ernyyl fuvarf jura vg’f gheavat n fngvevpny rlr gb gur cerfrag.

    • Deiseach says:

      Black Mirror is not about technology. It’s a horror/dark humour anthology series, in the vein of Tales of the Unexpected and Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense.

      Modern technology is the McGuffin used in the series, but scrape away the veneer of smartphones and AI and it’s the same basic message: the universe is uncaring and impersonal, bad things will happen to good people, you don’t get what you deserve, and people are cruel, petty and malicious and will hurt you if they get a chance to do so.

      It’s not any kind of a commentary on modern society, technology, and the like except insofar as it’s the same commentary all down the ages: humans are imperfect, the printing press/telephones/movies/television/computers/progress in general has made society more atomised and the increasing pace of change has disrupted the natural rhythms of life so that we’re all running faster and faster to keep up. Thus of old, thus now.

      Brooker is writing old-fashioned ooga-booga scare stories, only with added irony and a coat of sophistication – Grand Guignol with pretensions to being Theatre of Cruelty.

      White Bear is not about using memory-wiping tech, it’s the Moors Murders case revisited, and how the tabloids for decades turned Myra Hindley into a figure to be execrated (even more than she already was); every so often the redtops ran scandal stories (e.g. alleging she was married in a lesbian wedding ceremony while in jail – they had to retract that one).

    • itsabeast says:

      I don’t agree with the Vulture article, but I appreciate that the author doesn’t make the fans out to be self-serious regressive luddites, which a lot of the show’s detractors do.

      V yvxrq Fna Whavcreb. Vg qvqa’g unir n ybg bs vaurerag pbasyvpg be grafvba (nqzvggrqyl vg jnf urycrq ol gur grafvba bs xabjvat vg jnf n Oynpx Zveebe rcvfbqr naq nffhzvat fbzrguvat greevoyr jnf tbvat gb unccra gb gur cebgntbavfg) ohg vg unq n fjrrg zrynapubyl gung nssrpgrq zr zhpu zber guna gur unefure rzbgvbany erfbanapr bs gur bgure rcvfbqrf. Vg znantrq gb qb guvf jvgubhg orvat znjxvfu be znavchyngvir.

    • Well... says:

      Isn’t Vulture basically repeating what Chunderer said last time?

    • SUT says:

      Sandy & J. Mensch’s posts combined make an interesting point:

      What if you took Black Mirror’s willingness to follow a trend to its ultimate conclusion and started with an unpopular premise. For example, how about a world that renounced surveillance that turned into lawless and disease ridden dystopia. How about social norms that develop after the U.S. instituted open borders?

      This would of course get the show sneered at, boycotted, protested, or worse. But the point being, if you’re going to make a simple and somewhat shallow sci-fi exposition, wouldn’t it be more fruitful to explore a thesis which many people display [psycho-analytical] resistance towards, and go down a road that most viewers have been inclined to never take?

  32. larrykestenbaum says:

    Recently, based on a Nancy Liebowitz’s recommendation posted here, I obtained a copy of the novel Underground Airlines, by Ben H. Winters.

    Nancy wrote:

    Underground Airlines is an alternate history in which a series of compromises led to slavery existing in the US (in four states) up to the present. The world-building is pretty good. Trigger warnings for just about everything.

    It is, indeed, a very bleak vision, where brutal slavery exists alongside the Internet and cell phones, and the name of the secret network that helps fugitive slaves has been updated from “Underground Railroad” to “Underground Airlines”. The protagonist is a former slave himself, who is forced to work as a federal marshal, tracking down and capturing other escaped slaves.

    You can read some other reviews for discussion of the morally compromised hero, or the not-very-satisfying resolution of the plot, or the audacity of a white novelist daring to address Negro slavery through black characters.

    What really strikes me about this book is the plausible politics of the world it portrays.

    The premise: President-elect Abraham Lincoln, en route to his inauguration in 1861, is assassinated in Indianapolis. In the aftermath of this shocking act of violence, a moment of national unity, work is revived on the Crittenden Compromise. Without Lincoln to oppose it, versions of Crittenden’s six constitutional amendments are enacted, including the final one, which prohibits any further amendment to the provisions protecting slavery.

    The Civil War is averted, the Union is preserved — and so is slavery.

    This is what Andrew Dickson White (in his autobiography) referred to as “anchoring slavery forever in the Constitution,” something he thought might have happened if the sectional crisis had been provoked by the election of John C. Frémont in 1856 rather than Lincoln in 1860.

    Historians of abolitionism estimate that, even in 1860, no more than 1% of Northerners supported immediate emancipation of all slaves. In other words, 99% were willing to tolerate the continuation of slavery in the South for at least the time being. Absent the trauma of the Civil War, that support for the status quo would surely have continued.

    The historical references in Underground Airlines repeatedly invoke the theme of compromise, as the scope and details of slavery are modified in succeeding decades. For example: President Truman induces Georgia to become a free state, but the highway connecting the states on either side remains slave territory.

    It’s not hard to see the parallels between this fictional history and the actual history of political compromises with racism and segregation. Well-intentioned leaders coped with the power of Southern obstinance on civil rights by making practical, pragmatic compromises. It turned out pretty well in the end, but it took another hundred years. In the fictional version, the compromises with political reality are just a few degrees more odious.

    Further, in the book, the U.S. is economically and politically isolated in the world community because of slavery, and this has plainly made the whole country poorer and more technologically backward. It’s obvious, but it’s politically irrelevant.

    All that said, in real life, it’s hard to imagine the Crittenden Compromise being accepted by the North in 1861, even with Lincoln dead. The slave power, accustomed to total control over the federal government, was asking too much, and was blind to the moral and strategic weakness of its position. But the secession fever could not have been slaked by anything less.

    Meanwhile, the assassination would have whipped up great fervor in the North — something the novelist had to disregard for the sake of the premise — and no Northern state legislature would have dared pass those amendments.

    Today, among historians on the Right, there is growing criticism of Lincoln, painting him as a dictator who caused an unnecessary war, leading to the deaths of more than half a million Americans and the destruction of the South’s economy and culture.

    But there really isn’t any other path that leads to a better outcome as of 2016.

    The takeaway is the same as that of Lincoln’s message in his mournful Second Inaugural (every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword): the Civil War had to happen.

    • Dabbler says:

      1- I don’t know the history very well, but wouldn’t it be a much smaller point of divergence and thus a lot more credible to have Lincoln have less political acumen, or a different President when the South does secede?

      2- If you’re not a deontologist I can see why that view stands, but granted deontology (and I admit plenty here won’t accept that premise), then what about possible deontological rules that might say it wasn’t for the best? Such as the fact that the United States routinely violates its own Constitution including in Lincoln’s behavior to trigger and conduct the war?

      3- This is admittedly minor, but even if the United States was 100% in the right I dispute the term “Civil War” for an attempted secession. That implies the Confederates were trying to conquer the United States, which they weren’t.

      • beleester says:

        As I understand it, even if Lincoln hadn’t won, if any Republican had won a later election, they would have faced the secession crisis. Lincoln’s election didn’t just put an abolitionist in power, it showed that a coalition built entirely around abolition could win elections, which meant it was just a matter of time before the South’s way of life was stamped out. Even if the North didn’t support immediate emancipation, the writing was on the wall. That’s why the South bailed out as soon as the first Republican president was elected, before his inauguration even.

        Maybe if you found a more moderate Republican president, who could get the Crittenden Compromise passed? But I don’t know if there are any such historical Republicans who would fit that role.

        • larrykestenbaum says:

          As I understand it, even if Lincoln hadn’t won, if any Republican had won a later election, they would have faced the secession crisis.

          Or if John C. Fremont had won the previous election in 1856. In the passage of his autobiography linked above, Andrew Dickson White discusses that possibility.

          The original constitution papered over the sectional differences, which only got worse over time. For example, if it hadn’t been for Andrew Jackson, the country might have split apart in 1833. The whole arrangement was unsustainable.

          Lincoln’s election didn’t just put an abolitionist in power

          Lincoln was NOT an abolitionist in 1860. See my post above: that was a radical fringe view. He was “anti-slavery”, which was not at all the same thing. People on both sides believed that if slavery were confined to the slave states, and not allowed to expand to new areas, it would eventually die on its own. The issue up through 1860 was whether or not slavery would be allowed in the federal territories and new states. Slavery in the South itself was considered untouchable.

          it showed that a coalition built entirely around abolition could win elections, which meant it was just a matter of time before the South’s way of life was stamped out. Even if the North didn’t support immediate emancipation, the writing was on the wall.

          Not “built entirely around abolition”: first, as I said, abolition was NOT part of the mainstream conversation in 1860, and second, a key Republican issue at the time was protectionism for Northern industries.

          But yes, the South and the cotton/slaveholder interest had been accustomed to full control of the federal government, and with Lincoln’s election, they saw that slipping away.

          Maybe if you found a more moderate Republican president, who could get the Crittenden Compromise passed?

          Lincoln was about as moderate a Republican as existed at the time, and he was opposed to the Compromise.

          We can all empathize with the politicians who, on the eve of the Civil War, struggled to find some common ground and avert bloodshed. But in the larger scheme of things, it’s a good thing they failed. I would compare Crittenden et al to the well-intentioned pacifists who tried to halt U.S. war preparedness and aid to the Allies in 1940-41.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            For example, if it hadn’t been for Andrew Jackson, the country might have split apart in 1833

            I’d be interested in hearing more about your take on this, if you’d care to elaborate.

          • I’d be interested in hearing more about your take on this, if you’d care to elaborate.

            My take: Andrew Jackson was such a violent S.O.B. that when he threatened to hang John C. Calhoun (his own VP), people believed him, and the crisis was averted.
            See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nullification_Crisis

          • sflicht says:

            Here’s an interesting take on Jackson’s personality: https://sites.google.com/site/thehistoryofandrewjackson/jackson-s-personality.

            Reminds me of Vox Day in some ways (I think Vox would be flattered by the comparison).

            Jackson was clearly “violent” in the sense that he ordered a genocide, but my guess is that this was not actually perceived as especially violent in his era. His bad temper, however, was notable and noted. This is striking, because Trump is likewise perceived as violent by the left whereas Hillary is not, despite her adamant advocacy of violence-centric foreign policies as a senator and as SecState.

            I don’t have any point, in particular; I just consider this yet another interesting datapoint illustrating long-term intertemporal continuity in the culture war.

      • larrykestenbaum says:

        1- I don’t know the history very well, but wouldn’t it be a much smaller point of divergence and thus a lot more credible to have Lincoln have less political acumen

        I think an 1861 assassination (especially given the tension of the times, and Lincolns eventual fate) is a smaller point of divergence than deconstructing Lincoln’s skills and motivations. Given certain conditions, we know what he did. Imagining that he chose to do something else instead seems the more ambitious divergence.

        or a different President when the South does secede?

        In the novel, with Lincoln dead, of course there was a different president in the spring of 1861.

        Given everything else going on, and the split among Democrats, it’s hard to see how Lincoln could have lost the 1860 election.

        I suppose one easy branch of non-Lincoln probability is to imagine William Henry Seward (the original front runner) nominated by the 1860 Republicans. How would he have been different as president? I defer to those whose knowledge of Seward is greater than mine.

        Such as the fact that the United States routinely violates its own Constitution including in Lincoln’s behavior to trigger and conduct the war?

        There are points in American history, and the Civil War era includes many of them, when some highly irregular things were done vis-a-vis adherence to the Constitution. Indeed, arguably the 1787 convention itself greatly exceeded the authority by secretly writing a constitution in the first place.

        That being said, I don’t think it’s at all accurate to say that “the United States routinely violates its own Constitution.” What do you mean by that?

        I dispute the term “Civil War” for an attempted secession.

        The consensus definition of many political terms diverges from precise etymology.

        • lhn says:

          The consensus definition of many political terms diverges from precise etymology.

          Or the Pacific War would be an oxymoron.

        • Eric Rall says:

          Seward was considered considerably more anti-slavery than Lincoln, and thus correspondingly less electable, the latter aspect being a big part of why Lincoln was nominated over Seward.

          Had Seward been nominated, he probably would have won anyway, and the Civil War would almost certainly have broken out anyway. He would have had to have done a lot worse than Lincoln in order to have the election go to the House: California, Illinois, and Oregon were very close and might have gone for other candidates (Douglas, Douglas, and Breckenridge, respectively), but Seward would also have had to have lost Ohio and Indiana (which Lincoln won by about 10 percentage points) to Douglas in order to get less than a majority of the electoral vote.

          If Seward did badly enough and the election did go to the House, a deal wouldn’t be completely out of the question where Seward would be elected (Republicans were two states short of an outright majority of state delegations in the House) in exchange for Crittenden-like assurances against rolling back slavery where it already existed.

    • nancylebovitz says:

      Thanks for the review and links.

      My name is Lebovitz.

      One more element of the book is that sanctions aren’t working. I think that’s the way to bet.

      There’s a mention of a plan to genetically engineer slaves from scratch, with the specific horror being that people without a personal connection to the past are especially vulnerable. This seems like a culturally non-rationalist point of view, but I’m not sure it’s wrong. Thoughts?

      • keranih says:

        Thoughts?

        That one of the most horrific parts of SM Stirling’s Draka dystopia was the creation of slaves who accepted and thrived in their situation – both before and after being gene-manipulated.

        Not because it couldn’t have happened, because individual people make their separate peaces with all sorts of things. And not because the Draka weren’t “good” masters when the mood suited them. And not because I don’t approve of domestication of non-human animals.

        The process of manipulating people’s inate, fundamental self strikes me as one of those God-type functions which we should leave alone. Even the Creator left us with free will, else we would be no better than angels.

        Having said that…it’s been frequently repeated that one of the evils of slavery, including that practiced in the Americas, was that children could be sold away from their mother, or husbands away from wives. If labor force replacements/increases could come without this stress, because the slave didnt have a family to be ripped away from, would that not be preferable to the original option?

        (You might have been asking a different utility question, in which case my apologies.)

        If you check out the reviews, please do say if you find any of them useful. Given my disinclination to be lectured at on the basis of my genotype, I’m already annoyed at one of them, based on Larry’s summary.

        • nancylebovitz says:

          keranih, I didn’t feel lectured at for being white, but I also realize that people draw the line at different places. The main character was angry all the time and hated white people, including the white people who were opposing slavery but not doing anything which could be expected to have a large effect on the institution.

          I was insulated from that because I knew that in the real world, white people had chosen to fight the Civil War. Many of them were drafted, but there was also a large abolitionist movement.

          One of the most chilling examples I’ve seen of people made into willing slaves was in Vance’s “The Dragon Masters”– it’s humans vs. reptilian aliens, and both sides have captured and bred members of the others to be willing slaves. There’s a bit of dialogue where one of the enslaved humans makes an incomprehensible effort to explain their worldview.

          Utilitarianism: the cooperative cow from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I have no answer to this, but I remain squicked. At least LeGuin didn’t write the abused child as a patriot of Omelas.

          What I was asking wasn’t a utility question, it was a factual question– do people have some internal protection from the effects of abuse if they know their personal and/or group history? I’ve seen a black person argue that the cultural disruption from being taken for slaves is a permanent injury, and I’m not sure he’s wrong.

          larrykestenbaum, apology accepted. It’s a common mistake. Just two days ago, I had to argue with someone that my name is really and truly spelled with a v. I take the problem with my name as evidence that people are wrong about a tremendous amount that never gets discovered.

          I assumed people hoped sanctions would work, but were completely unwilling to take on the costs and risks of forcibly forbidding slavery. It’s even plausible that the sanctions somewhat restricted the amount of slavery.

          • larrykestenbaum says:

            Another example of willing slaves are J.K. Rowling’s house elves.

            Arguably, though the house elves are more like serfs (tied to the land) than slaves (chattel to be bought and sold).

          • Spookykou says:

            @larrykestenbaum

            I always assumed house elves had similar ‘rules’ like Fae in lots of fiction and they had just made some bad deal at some point that had resulted in their status. Is there a detailed explanation of house elves somewhere that I missed?

          • Jiro says:

            Willing slaves are an example of the blissful ignorance and wireheading problems with utilitarianism. It’s wireheading because you are basically wireheading the slaves into liking slavery; the preferences of unwireheaded people are what control here. And it’s blissful ignorance because the wireheaded people no longer realize that they are suffering harm by unwireheaded people’s standards.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Jiro:
            It’s a tricky argument, though. Can one suffer harm without ever realizing it ?

            Note that I’m not talking about short-term benefits with long-term costs, such as smoking. Even though some smokers did not realize that smoking could give them lung cancer, they would not express a preference for lung cancer. This is not the case with wireheaded house-elves; their only joy is to serve. They are fully aware of the costs and the benefits, but their utility function is weighted in such a way that makes them treat servitude as a huge benefit.

            You could always say, “yes, this is why their utility function is wrong”, but a). how is that different from saying “my utility function is different”, and b). then what ? Are you going to go around re-writing people’s utility functions ?

          • Spookykou says:

            @bugmaster

            I think I have heard it before as rewriting preference.

            If someone feels like the most fulfilling and wonderful thing they can do is carve statues in your honor all day, if they wake up with a smile on their face, grab their pick and go to work on more statues. Sometimes they wake up in the dead of night, thinking about carving another statue, head out before the morning light and get an early start because there is just nothing else in the world like it. Then are you really a monster for giving them a hut a stone a selfie and some tools?

          • Creutzer says:

            I don’t see how house elves have anything to do with ignorance or wireheading. I’ve always understood them as beings that just have an unusual utility function that makes them inherently like serving whoever is their master. I’m not sure how the preferences of counterfactual house elves with a different utility function would matter.

          • Jiro says:

            It’s a tricky argument, though. Can one suffer harm without ever realizing it ?

            That’s the whole point of the blissful ignorance objection.

            We know that many if not most people prefer learning uncomfortable truths even if they may be happier not knowing. Utilitarianism normally fails to capture this.

          • Spookykou says:

            I never got the impression that house elves are willing?

            They are bound by old magic that forces them to comply, they are forced to admonish themselves when they go against the fine print of their ‘contract’ wherever it might be.

            But again maybe I missed some more detailed explanation that explained house elf behavior?

          • Sandy says:

            They are bound by old magic that forces them to comply

            There is a bit in Half-Blood Prince where Dobby instinctively tries to harm himself for speaking ill of the Malfoys even though his “contract” has ended, suggesting that there is some psychological programming involved.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Sandy

            Good point.

            But was that his condition before he started serving the Malfoy family, or after countless years as a slave?

            Do house elves don their first pillow case willingly, or are they tricked/manipulated/cursed/etc?

          • Wander says:

            I’m pretty sure house elves enjoying their servitude is brought up in the context of Hermione’s house elf rights movement. She runs across the problem that none of the elves in Hogwarts actually want to stop working in the kitchens because it’s what they enjoy doing.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Wander

            Oh yeah! Clearly it has been too long since I read the books.

          • Creutzer says:

            We know that many if not most people prefer learning uncomfortable truths even if they may be happier not knowing. Utilitarianism normally fails to capture this.

            It’s not too hard to capture, though, you just need two preferences. One over the state of the world, and another one over your own psychological state which is influenced by your knowledge of the state of the world.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            My vague memory is that most house elves both genuinely enjoyed servitude, and were treated decently well within their own parameters. House-elves that weren’t treated well (Dobby, Kreacher) went off in various ways.

            However, I’ve read so much fanfic that I’m by no means sure what’s textual off the top of my head any more.

          • J Mann says:

            I thought Rowling’s solution to the house elves was to better their situation within their preference function.

            The house elves enjoy service, but after some experience with it, they enjoy being paid for service more than they enjoy serving without pay.

            (The economic whiplash fanfic could have a situation where adult Harry and Hermione have to address house elf unemployment created by the introduction of wages and consequent reduction in demand.)

      • AlphaGamma says:

        There have been various SF books dealing with genetically-engineered or programmed slaves. Possibly the most interesting are those set in CJ Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe- I think Forty Thousand in Gehenna and Cyteen are the ones that spend the most time on them.

      • larrykestenbaum says:

        My name is Lebovitz.

        Ouch, that was inexcusable on my part. Many apologies!

        One more element of the book is that sanctions aren’t working. I think that’s the way to bet.

        That’s true, but I don’t get the sense that they were expected to work. Rather, it was a mechanism for Europeans to express moral outrage and distance themselves from slavery.

      • J Mann says:

        Nancy, a few probably not super relevant thoughts, but all tied into SF literature.

        – I do think rationalists need to answer why we shouldn’t engineer people to be happier in their roles, a la Brave New World. (IMHO, by the time we can engineer people, we probably can do better than human slaves, but I guess you can ask whether it’s moral to create AI or other organisms that enjoy service – cf. Al Capp’s Schmoo for an extreme example.)

        – Have you read Octavia Butler’s stuff on assimilation, especially the short story Bloodchild and the Xenogenesis trilogy? I think it has an interesting perspective on voluntary sublimation.

        • nancylebovitz says:

          One possibility for why we shouldn’t engineer people to be happier in their roles is that we might not be very good at it, both in terms of biological mistakes and failure to predict the roles.

          This being said, if more flexible circadian rhythms are possible, that might be worth engineering in.

          I’ve read Bloodchild, though not lately. I haven’t read the Xenogenesis trilogy– more exactly, the Oankali make me crazy. They’re superior because they aren’t hierarchical… but they’re dominating the humans.

          • J Mann says:

            Yeah, I think there’s some unreliable narrator stuff going on there, and that readers are supposed to feel uncomfortable with the whole thing.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          @ J Mann
          – I do think rationalists need to answer why we shouldn’t engineer people to be happier in their roles, a la Brave New World. (IMHO, by the time we can engineer people, we probably can do better than human slaves, but I guess you can ask whether it’s moral to create AI or other organisms that enjoy service – cf. Al Capp’s Schmoo for an extreme example.)

          Cordwainer Smith had some stories about a society of intelligent sentient/sapient dogs, presumably enhanced by humans who had then conveniently left. The dogs still wanted to have hands.

          It could be argued that humans have already produced a species that likes serving humans, and even bred them for special likes: water retrievers for water, etc. Whatever the ethics of the cavemen should have been, here we are with a plentiful species that does like serving us (within reasonable limits). Giving them hands is something feasible for us, and their hearts don’t need changing.

          Btw, George MacDonald (an ur-Inkling) with, iirc, some meat-eaters in Phantases, couldn’t do any better than flying schmoos (by a better name).

          • Jiro says:

            Apple trees “like serving us”. They sit quietly in the field and provide us with apples out of the goodness of their hearts.

            Dogs aren’t people. If dogs were people, breeding them to be servile, using the methods used to breed actual dogs, would have been evil. Giving them hands would not negate this evil.

          • J Mann says:

            Thanks – I’ll try to check it out. I guess David Brin’s Uplift Series is a more recent example.

            @Jiro – That still leaves the Brave New World question of whether we should engineer people to be happier with their lot. (Assuming that we can avoid or minimize negative side-effects). My intuition says no, but I was horrified BWW at an early age specifically because the argument is so utilitarian.

    • keranih says:

      @ larrykestenbaum –

      Thanks for the reminder about this book, and for the links to the reviews. Did you find any with a historical take?

      Today, among historians on the Right, there is growing criticism of Lincoln, painting him as a dictator who caused an unnecessary war, leading to the deaths of more than half a million Americans and the destruction of the South’s economy and culture.

      While I greatly admire Lincoln for his moderation and his perseverance through many trials, I think that it is only fair to note that Lincoln’s unconstitutional wartime actions would have been utterly unacceptable did we not assume those actions were in the pursuit of A Noble Goal. Had they been taken by Jefferson Davis, the left would use those very same actions as a sign of the innate corruption and oppressive nature of the Confederacy.

      But there really isn’t any other path that leads to a better outcome as of 2016.

      I am not a deep historian of the pre-CW period – being a bit more interested in the actual conduct of the war and of the frontier period that proceeded and followed it – but to me this statement has the advantage of being unfalsifiable, as we took the one path, and so all the others were closed off. One would have to do a good bit of work (including a rigid definition of “better” and “outcome”) to convince me that other options could never have put us in a better place than we are now.

      I really will have to check out the book now.

      • larrykestenbaum says:

        to me this statement has the advantage of being unfalsifiable, as we took the one path, and so all the others were closed off. One would have to do a good bit of work (including a rigid definition of “better” and “outcome”) to convince me that other options could never have put us in a better place than we are now.

        Fair point.

        Before I read this novel, I thought little about the Crittenden Compromise. The Washington Peace Conference in February 1861 seemed a futile effort, akin to bailing water out of the sinking Titanic. But in actual fact, the proposals were rejected on very close votes, such as 23-25 in the Senate.

        I’m all in favor of negotiated settlements rather than violent solutions, and I don’t accept that American slavery could really have persisted all the way to 2016, but things might have been a lot worse if Crittenden had succeeded.

      • dragnubbit says:

        Lincoln’s wartime constitutional excesses are a bit over-dramatized in my opinion. Suspending habeas corpus temporarily in order to preserve the seat of government is the sort of call we expect Presidents to make. And I am glad he made it.

        Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy did things in violation of their own constitution in their prosecution of the war but it did not add to their calumny. Their actions were governed almost solely by exigent military necessity throughout the entire war, and any rulings that occurred in confederate state courts basically were ‘whatever is needed militarily is ok’. There is no real equivalency to be drawn between the two factions on this score.

    • John Schilling says:

      I missed Nancy’s recommendation the first time, but this looks like something I’m going to want to read. Thanks to both of you.

      Until then, could anyone comment on the story’s presumed economic model for slavery through the 21st century? I can see lots of alternate-history scenarios where slavery lingers in the US for another generation or two, along the lines of Brazil or China. And I’ve got a nightmare scenario where slavery lingers just long enough for some Southern Henry Ford to discover that assembly-line production with cheap slave labor is the winning strategy for the early 20th century, which I’d like to see a smart writer’s take on sometime. There’s another slightly less nightmarish scenario where slavery is just plain uneconomical but legal obstacles prevent it being wholly abolished so it withers away to a few rich holdouts refusing abolitionist buyouts on traditional/cultural grounds.

      But if neither of those is the “Underground Airlines” model, what is? I’m assuming that by alt-now the rest of the world boycotts Slave Cotton the way we boycott Blood Diamonds, but with greater effect insofar as you can’t smuggle a million dollars in cotton in your pockets. And if there was a Great Depression any time in that world’s history, how do businesses which have to keep providing room and board to their labor force survive against competition who can lay off everyone who was producing the stuff that isn’t selling this year?

      Chattel slavery in a non-agrarian or only weakly agrarian economy strikes me as a dubious proposition, and I’d be particularly interested in anyone with a good take on it.

      • nancylebovitz says:

        Slavery still exists. There’s agricultural, industrial, sex, and domestic slavery in the US, partly of people who are in the country illegally (though I think some of them have their papers taken) and also through the prisons.

        There’s slavery on a larger scale in other parts of the world.

        I assume that slavery *does* make economic sense for the owners, though it’s also plausible that more competent management does better with workers who get paid and can leave.

        I’m pretty sure that domestic slavery absolutely does make economic sense since the price of labor is the major cost.

      • larrykestenbaum says:

        And I’ve got a nightmare scenario where slavery lingers just long enough for some Southern Henry Ford to discover that assembly-line production with cheap slave labor is the winning strategy for the early 20th century

        This is more or less what happens in the novel, at least as to the manufacture of clothing. One vertically integrated corporation, with cotton fields and factories and fashion designers, owns tens of thousands of slaves.

        • John Schilling says:

          That seems generally plausible, but the bit with “fashion designers” suggests that a distinctive line of clothing that cannot help but be linked with slavery is considered a selling point. I’d expect that slave labor would be more advantageous for low-end generic goods, at least in a world where slavery is generally condemned outside of the Deepest South. Still, it sounds like it’s worth a read.

          • larrykestenbaum says:

            Well, okay, maybe not fashion designers with names and reputations, but even low-end generic goods have to be designed by somebody.

          • John Schilling says:

            Even better. So basically the Levi Strauss of this alternate history is based in Atlanta rather than San Francisco, probably never crosses the gap from “utilitarian bargain” to “trendy and hip” (at least in urban markets), but the combination of cheap cotton and cheap labor make it too much of a bargain for the purely utilitarian market to refuse.

            This works much even better in my nightmare scenario than assembly-line manufacturing. Thanks. I think.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        the rest of the world boycotts Slave Cotton the way we boycott Blood Diamonds

        Part of me wants to diffidently suggest that a world in which the USA did not outlaw slavery would be a coarser world, in which the lack of an authentically virtuous superpower to serve as inspiration resulted in less democracy, less concern for human rights, etc.

        I know Britain outlawed slavery before the USA did. Perhaps if it were not overshadowed by the USA, it would have played that role.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I always assumed that slavery in the US would have disappeared one way or the other by the end of the 19th Century. The last of slavery in the Americas ended in 1892 in Brazil and Cuba. I can’t imagine the US having slavery after every other country outlawed it. Of course the ending of slavery in the US after the Civil War added to the impetus in the rest of the Americas, and a counter-factual wouldn’t have that impetus. But I still can’t believe that the US would have maintained slavery past 1900, even with no war at all. I haven’t read the book, but it seems like pure fantasy without some very dramatic facts well beyond an earlier assassination of Lincoln.

      • The pessimistic version starts with the explanation of why the major slave crops were cotton and sugar cane–because they could be produced by gang labor, which was relatively cheap to monitor and enforce. Arguably assembly line production had similar characteristics and so would have been a new niche for profitable slavery.

      • shakeddown says:

        Ho much of slavery in the americas going away was due to US influence though? (The closest analog I can come up with is British influence reducing slavery in China, but Wikipedia isn’t very helpful in explaining how large the british role was in reducing chinese slavery).

  33. stucchio says:

    I’d like to see what SSC thinks of the following idea.

    Currently, human systems often have human biases embedded in them. It’s a fairly pervasive feature. One obvious way to fix this is to take humans out of the system and replace them with machines. The machines can then work in a generally unbiased manner towards achieving an explicitly stated goal.

    Here’s an article I wrote on why this works well: https://www.chrisstucchio.com/blog/2016/alien_intelligences_and_discriminatory_algorithms.html

    However, the cathedral is generally hostile to this approach. The most recent example I’ve seen is this buzzfeed article (scroll down to where the reporter talks to Sebastian Thrun): https://www.buzzfeed.com/nitashatiku/vanity-fair-silicon-valley-donald-trump There is just an assumption – almost religious in nature – that an algorithm created by humans must inherit their biases. Cathy O’Neil (aka Mathbabe, in spite of having no math on her blog) recently wrote a book about this.

    Most examples they cite consist of machines discovering that not all goals can be simultaneously achieved. For instance, you can minimize crime, or you can have racial equity, but you can’t have both. The tradeoff is well explained here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/10/17/can-an-algorithm-be-racist-our-analysis-is-more-cautious-than-propublicas/

    I postulate that the hostility towards algorithms comes from this last fact. With human systems – e.g. “holistic” college admissions – the cathedral could pretend to achieve palatable goals (admit the best students) while secretly working towards their real goals (racial equity). Using algorithms force them to openly admit their real goals, and this is why the cathedral dislikes algorithms.

    I’d be curious to hear counterarguments to this theory. What does SSC think?

    • null says:

      Disregarding your use of ‘the cathedral’, a learning algorithm is only as good as the training data it receives. Considering crime, since you brought it up, it is already believed that there is significant bias in crime data, where people are incorrectly arrested, convicted, etc. due to racial factors. The algorithm does not know any ground truth; it must work with the data it is given. See for example the problems that facial recognition software has run into w.r.t. race.

      With regard to your example, colleges never claimed to admit only the students who would be most likely to graduate. Also, I am sure many people in this so-called cathedral would be happy to admit that they want racial equity.

      EDIT: If liberal journalists believe algorithms perpetuate racial bias, then it is clear why liberal journalists do not like them, and there is no need for a ‘real’ explanation.

      • stucchio says:

        See my blog post on the topic. Learning algorithms actually have the tendency to fix bias in training data, provided biasing features are available (either directly or via redundant encoding). In the blog post of mine I link to, I describe both toy examples (simple linear regression) and I also link to real life examples (e.g. a college admissions process that discovers SAT/GPA are biased in favor of blacks).

        If I built an algorithm for advertising, and the algorithm fixed a mobile vs desktop bias in the input data, you’d never think twice. Why do you feel that black vs white bias is inherently unfixable?

        Bias is just a pattern in the data. ML algorithms are designed to find patterns. Why would they not find a specific pattern that hurts the objective function?

        • PeterBorah says:

          I read your blog post. While it’s quite interesting as far as it goes, it misses the most important question: whether the output variable is a good operationalization of the outcome we want to optimize for.

          Consider null’s example of crime. If blacks are disproportionately targeted for arrest, then “black” is a legitimate predictor of “arrested”, and probably also “convicted of a crime”, and a machine learning algorithm will therefore learn those associations. But presumably we actually want to predict crimes committed, not arrest or conviction rates. The algorithm will then be biased with regards to the actual policy question, even though it is behaving correctly when measured against the data it was given. There’s no way for the algorithm to correct this bias, since it doesn’t have access to the “true” crime rate.

          This is a pretty unavoidable problem for anything that tries to optimize complex processes using simple measurements, as described in Seeing Like a State. It’s also pretty much the friendly AI problem.

          It’s a bit of a tangent, but the blog post also mentions AlphaGo as an example of an “alien intelligence”. This is very misguided. A core part of AlphaGo’s architecture is predicting human-style moves, and it uses that as its main filter for which moves to consider. The result is that AlphaGo’s play is extremely human-like. AlphaGo uses standard openings, standard fighting tactics, etc. The quotes by Go professionals praising AlphaGo’s surprising play are discussing the exceptions that prove the rule: AlphaGo found a few unique– though not shocking– moves which pushed our understanding of Go forward. This is exciting, but not particularly surprising, given that human players at the top level have done the same thing many, many times.

          • stucchio says:

            Peter, it’s true that an algorithm trained with the wrong objective function might get the wrong answer. So will a human system; just watch season 3 of The Wire for a fictional illustration of this.

            But the fix here – for humans or machines – is to fix the objective function. Use crime complaints instead of convictions, for instance. Declaring machines “racist” because they are tainted by the original sin of being touched by humans is not a solution to any problem.

            Also note that many of the critics of AI – e.g. ProPublica and their dishonest criticism of recidivism prediction – are not raising this issue at all.

            What you describe about AlphaGo is interesting. I didn’t follow AlphaGo too closely – can you link to more?

          • Robert Liguori says:

            Of course, if blacks also commit crimes disproportionately to their numbers (especially in conjunction with other factors like gender, socioeconomic class, and so on), and this fact is not acknowledged due to fears of being accused of racism and other -isms, a human learning algorithm will be likewise biased.

            The answer in both machine and human cases is to get access to the actual data. It is, as you say, not a trivial problem, because getting data on intelligent being runs headlong into the problem of people optimizing that data for their own purposes at every step from collection to dissemination, but that just means it’s that much more important to use all of our available tools to look at problems.

          • PeterBorah says:

            > But the fix here – for humans or machines – is to fix the objective function. Use crime complaints instead of convictions, for instance.

            You make it sound so easy, but this ultimately reduces to the friendly AI problem. If you have a general method for turning abstract human concepts like “preventing crime” into measurable statistics, that’s the most important scientific breakthrough in a hundred years.

            Regardless, even if it’s solvable, we would still need to actually solve it, and therefore we can’t ignore the possibility that our algorithms are producing wrong answers.

            > Declaring machines “racist” because they are tainted by the original sin of being touched by humans is not a solution to any problem.

            Neither is pretending that human-written algorithms using human-gathered data to achieve human-specified goals have nothing to do with humans. We can certainly use algorithms in beneficial ways that reduce bias, but we can just as easily use them to reinforce and obfuscate bias.

            > What you describe about AlphaGo is interesting. I didn’t follow AlphaGo too closely – can you link to more?

            The architecture is discussed in the Nature paper.

            The analysis of AlphaGo’s play as “human-like” is my own synthesis as a (very) amateur Go player who followed the games closely. You can read some professional commentary on the Deepmind website. I’ll freely admit that you have to read between the lines a bit. It’s easier to find pullable quotes saying stuff like, “a human would never play this move,” than the opposite. But notice all the sections where the commentators say stuff like, “the last 17 moves were joseki.” That means that those 17 moves were exactly what you’d expect a human to play. There are a lot more of those “dull” sections than moves where the commentators are impressed.

          • roystgnr says:

            Worsening the tangent, but:

            The first stage network used in making AlphaGo was trained to predict human-style (well, human-expert-style) moves, but this was just the first stage of training.

            The second stage was trained by playing against itself, and the third stage was trained via a data set generated by the second stage. At this point “predicting human-style moves” isn’t so much a “core part” of the outcome as it is an “initial guess”.

            The final version can use predictions from the previous stages to help choose and evaluate moves in a Monte Carlo tree search. They got the best performance by using a weighted mix of all three, so I guess humans are still sort of in the loop here… but if you think that evaluating tens of thousands of sometimes-human-inspired games per second doesn’t sound like an “alien intelligence”, then at this point we just have very different definitions of the word “alien”.

          • Furslid says:

            @PeterBorah

            The data fix isn’t that easy. How do you know that a certain set of data is unbiased?

            If it’s generated by a world that contains biased actors, it could be biased. To use the criminal complaints example. What if a subculture has a code of Omerta or Snitches get Stitches? They don’t report crime, and you get bad data. What if people report different races differently. Black people may be reported for behavior that white people don’t, and you get bad data.

          • cassander says:

            >This is a pretty unavoidable problem for anything that tries to optimize complex processes using simple measurements, as described in Seeing Like a State. It’s also pretty much the friendly AI problem.

            With an algorithm, what you’re measuring is completely transparent. That doesn’t solve the seeing like a state problem, but neither does not using algorithms, it just obfuscates the process. You’re completely correct, but it’s not an argument against using algorithms.

          • stucchio says:

            >You make it sound so easy, but this ultimately reduces to the friendly AI problem. If you have a general method for turning abstract human concepts like “preventing crime” into measurable statistics, that’s the most important scientific breakthrough in a hundred years.

            Building an objective function like “decide which loans will be repaid” or “reduce crime reports by choosing where to deploy police” is not remotely comparable to the friendly AI problem.

            The friendly AI problem is to define an objective function that satisfies human goals across all possible choice sets, not the extremely constrained choice set of “show ad X or ad Y”.

            >We can certainly use algorithms in beneficial ways that reduce bias, but we can just as easily use them to reinforce and obfuscate bias.

            No, it’s actually significantly harder. As I noted in my post, the tendency is for machines to reduce bias in achieving whatever the stated goal of the system is.

            So if the goal is a good goal, machines will reduce bias (relative to humans). If the goal sucks, machines will achieve that bad goal in an unbiased manner.

            The only way machines will be worse than humans is if somehow multiple human biases (in inputs AND in the objective function) cancel each other out in some desirable way, and the machine turns around and fixes only the bias in the inputs.

      • stucchio says:

        Also a reply to your edit. In fact, I don’t think journalists really believe algorithms perpetuate racial bias. I use the term “bias” in the sense of “make the wrong decision in a systematic way”.

        Algorithms are regularly attacked based on outputs that no one has any reason to believe are inaccurate, systematically or otherwise. For instance loan algorithms which say blacks won’t pay them back, adtech which suggest women won’t click as much on high paying job ads, etc.

        All these algorithms do is reveal that you can’t simultaneously offer loans to people who pay them back, and also offer loans to blacks at rates comparable to whites. This isn’t “perpetuating racial bias”, it’s simply revealing that that bias is actually an accurate prior.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I don’t see any reason you couldn’t program a computer to be just as hypocritical as a human. You just have to renormalize whatever target outcome you have in the training data to be equal between the black and white data points (or whatever equality you want to enforce).

    • gronald says:

      I think a lot of these problems are really hard to write algorithms for. One of the examples you use is that of trying to “admit the best students”. But what algorithm can you use for that? One student has a 450-word essay describing their leadership of their high school debate team; the essay has three spelling mistakes. Another student has an exactly-500-word essay about one time they volunteered in a soup kitchen. A third wrote something like that famous Hugh Gallagher essay. What algorithm are you going to write that will read those essays and decide who gets admitted to your college?

      Some problems are easier, of course. You linked to the COMPAS article, but isn’t that really a victory for the algorithm writers? They wrote an algorithm, some people said it might be racist, they explained why it wasn’t actually racist, and it’s still actively being used. The people who said it might be racist wrote another article admitting that the issue was complicated and maybe it wasn’t racist after all. It sounds to me like the system works.

      • Evan Þ says:

        The problem really seems to be that we can’t quantify our standards for “best students.” If we want academic success, we could give the program all the applications and performance data from the past decade or more and have it chew through that. If we want to optimize for starting salary after graduation, we can do that. If we then want to practice affirmative action for any given minority, we can have it favor those candidates by whatever amount we want.

        And on your particular example, I’d just throw out the essays altogether. How well does it predict success in college, after all?

      • dndnrsn says:

        College essays don’t seem to me to be much more than the equivalent of incredibly minor traffic offences that cops use as excuses to pull people over they want to pull over. They’re a pretext to approve or deny a prospective student for reasons that have nothing to do with their past performance as a student.

        • PeterBorah says:

          This seems unnecessarily cynical to me. At the very least, you can tell a lot about someone’s writing skills by reading their essays. With a good prompt, you can also tell something about their reasoning skills, personality and point of view, etc. At least at good schools, admissions takes a much broader view than just trying to accept the top x% according to some standardized criteria. Their job is to build a student body that will meet their school’s unique goals and provide the atmosphere they are aiming for.

          As a non-traditional student (I was homeschooled/unschooled my whole life), I’m very glad for essay questions on college applications. I didn’t have any past performance to speak of, so standardized tests and essays were pretty much the only thing admissions officers had to go on.

        • dndnrsn says:

          @PeterBorah:

          Acknowledged that stuff like that is probably helpful for homeschooled kids.

          However, I don’t know what you would learn about someone’s writing skills you couldn’t tell from looking over the marks of a kid who had been through the ordinary school system, from standardized testing, etc.

          I’m not sure I like the idea of students being judged on their personality and their point of view. At the school I went to, at one point at least, existing students played some role in “marking” applicant essays. This probably played a major role in making the place into an echo chamber.

          I also think the argument that top schools do it to meet “unique goals” and “provide the atmosphere they are aiming for” runs into the problem that this way of doing things was introduced to discriminate against Jews. Now it’s used to discriminate against various groups, primarily Asians, especially East Asians.

          I disapprove of admissions methods intended to keep out people who are academically worthy but are the wrong religion, colour, political affiliation, not legacy, poor, etc, especially when it’s done by stealth because at least if some kid is told “sorry, too many of your sort already” they’ll know that they’re dealing with bigotry instead of some failing on their part.

          Example:

          In 1938, Pembroke admissions dean Eva A. Mooar revised the form again to include “language spoken at home” and “race.” In a stack of index cards of notes that Mooar took during personal interviews in s “Can’t tell whether Jewish or not”; “Father has wavy hair, few front teeth and a marked accent. Says they speak German at home. Germans or Jews? Are blond, so probably the former”; “Color just off-white. Mother, white — deceased. Father black”; “Looks Italian,” and “Nice, ‘money’ people.

          If anything, I don’t think I was being cynical enough.

        • Brad says:

          There’s seems to be a huge disconnect between

          1)
          those that think that basically every high school senior in the country can be ranked by some objective metric of academic ability and every school ranked by some objective metric of academic quality and then each list should be used to figure out where everyone should go to college

          2)
          and those that think the problem is more complicated than that. That different schools have different goals, that sometimes those goals involve more than getting the “best students” (whatever that means), that students themselves have different goals, interests, preferences, strengths and weaknesses. That all that inherent messiness is okay.

          I’m in the latter camp. I don’t think there’s anything wrong whatsoever with a college, especially a private college, deciding that it doesn’t want an entire class made up of the members of the applicant pool with the highest SAT scores (or SAT score + some metric involving class rank and school difficulty).

          There’s a certain “good student” mentality where people internalize the artificial grading system of k-12. You can see it also in dating where some think that they deserve to have a particular other person love them because they have X or Y positive qualities. Same thing with a particular job. That’s not how life works.

          • stucchio says:

            Regarding (1), I claim that if you have a consistent and objective decision process, then (1) is true. Consistency means “if X is better than Y and Y is better than Z, then X is better than Z.” In fact, I have a mathematical proof of this statement:

            https://www.chrisstucchio.com/blog/2014/topology_of_decisionmaking.html

          • Brad says:

            You are assuming an atomized decision making process. Take drafting a football team for example, picking the best available players in each round may well land you with no linebackers. That wouldn’t be a very good team, would it?

          • stucchio says:

            If that’s the case, then X would be the entire team composition rather than an individual player. Either way, if your decision process isn’t totally broken, it is equivalent to maximizing some objective function.

        • dndnrsn says:

          @Brad:

          Obviously, looking at kids’ test scores and previous marks isn’t perfect. But it’s a bulwark against discrimination. The solution to “this measurement is not objective enough” is not to bring in less objective measurements.

          If an institution wants to come out and say that, for example, they’re going to make it harder for Asians to get in because they don’t want too many of them around, well, I think that’s repulsive. I think it’s not only repulsive but insidious to hide that behind some fluff about “community involvement” or whatever, because it both denies to students who are rejected the actual reason as to why, and prevents the general public from knowing that the administration are bigots, and acting accordingly.

          Private institutions should have fewer restrictions on their behaviour than public, but how many truly private institutions (that get no government money at all) are there? Plus, there are countries where most/all universities, or at least top universities, are public. My point about insidious discrimination being worse (of course, assuming that the actual discrimination is the same – getting beaten to death is worse than not getting into university, obviously) still stands.

          • Brad says:

            The solution to “this measurement is not objective enough” is not to bring in less objective measurements.

            There is no objective measure and there doesn’t need to be any objective measure. It isn’t a contest and there aren’t winners and losers. It’s a matching problem, like dating and jobs.

            That’s the major disconnect. You are trying to substitute your own values about why these institutions exist and what they should strive to be for their own preexisting values. Which is fine as far as it goes I guess. But don’t pretend that’s not what you are trying to do, that your preferences are somehow natural and neutral, and that any deviation therefore is insidious.

          • dndnrsn says:

            So, are you saying that “keep out Jews” is as legitimate a way for a university to decide who to let in as “look at their marks”?

            And, when it’s getting into the best universities – the ones with the best education, the ones where you make the best social connections, the ones that look the best on your resume – there absolutely are winners and losers.

            I do, in fact, think that upholding wealthy WASP social supremacy in the early to mid 20th century was a shitty set of values. I will acknowledge my priors, such as thinking that it’s shitty to discriminate against individuals for their ethnic group. I would at least ask that universities do the same, so that when somebody doesn’t get into their top choice, it’s damn clear it’s because they just didn’t have the right shape of eyes or texture of hair. I want the Dean to come out and admit, yeah, the university discriminates based on ethnicity. Instead of some vague bullshit about how someone “isn’t right for the community”.

          • Brad says:

            You seem to want to insist that any other metric than your preferred one must be a pretexual excuse to racially discriminate.

            Is that because you are unable to conceive of values other than your own and racial bigotry? If you are feeling uncharitable forget fomenting an intellectually exciting atmosphere, how about maximizing future donations?

          • dndnrsn says:

            I am not saying they are not the only thing. I personally have benefited from admissions standards intended to liven up the place. During my undergrad, I was far better at being socially involved (read, “drunk”) than at schoolwork. Joke was on the grad college I got into – upped my marks and was not that present socially. Suckers!

            I don’t think, however, that it is uncharitable to point out that anti-Semitic bigotry played a huge part in bringing these admissions standards to the Ivies, or that they currently play a role in penalizing Asian applicants.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I think it’s a bit of a stretch to call valuing a particular culture and not wanting to let in people who seem likely to damage or change that culture “bigotry”.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @suntzuanime:

            If that’s what they’re going to do, then they should at least say that openly. Given that the culture at the Ivies and other top universities tends to be one where racial discrimination is abhorred, in word if not necessarily in deed, it is incredibly disingenuous that they discriminate against Asians.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Didn’t they openly say that? You dismissed it as fluff about “community involvement” or whatever but most colleges are pretty clear that they’re trying to shape a community and that’s why they look beyond test scores.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I meant, if that community includes locking out unassimilated immigrants, they should openly say that. They don’t feel comfortable openly saying “we don’t want people who can’t speak English well”, let’s say, so they throw up a smokescreen (as was the case with Jews) or have vague criteria that end up being used partially as a cover for discrimination (as is the case with Asians). In the case of Jews, the discrimination was the point of the policy; in the case of Asians, the discrimination is an effect of the policy (additionally, AA and other positive discrimination policies to boost the numbers of under-represented groups have to result in fewer students from other groups, and that hurts Asians too).

            “We want community involvement” or “we want people who will fit into our institutional culture” could mean anything. It means, in this case, that people who pride themselves on their anti-racist bona fides can commit racist acts and feel clean.

          • Brad says:

            Again, your baseline for discriminatory impact is assuming that your preferred metric is natural and neutral and any deviation is discrimination.

            Unless the claim is that Asian-Americans are underrepresented with respect to their overall population?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Obviously, looking at kids’ test scores and previous marks isn’t perfect. But it’s a bulwark against discrimination.

            Looking only at test scores discriminates against pupils who went to poorer schools, who tend not to receive as good exam prep as pupils in better institutions and hence generally do worse in exams than they would have done with better teaching.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Brad:

            I will acknowledge there are other metrics, which as I said I have benefited from myself. But I think that if you’re running an academic institution, intellectual aptitude and past academic performance seem like fairly obvious metrics to start with.

            Asians are not underrepresented. They’re overrepresented, to the point that people worry about a given school being “too Asian”, and find some way to address that, in the same way was done to Jews back in the day. They are overrepresented because, by metrics that primarily measure academic testing and past academic performance, they do considerably better than the average, at least in some subjects. Being Asian means, essentially, that your SAT score will be counted as lower than it would for others.

            @The original Mr. X:

            The effects of exam prep are disputed. The effects of their worse educations hurt them across the board: if you take two students of equivalent intelligence, one who went to a bad high school and one to a good, the student who went to the good high school will have better marks, better standardized testing, and better ability to deal with university. The solution to this is to deal with the difference in quality of the elementary and high schools they went to, not try to compensate when much of the damage has already been done.

          • stucchio says:

            >You seem to want to insist that any other metric than your preferred one must be a pretexual excuse to racially discriminate.

            Back to the original topic, I claim that the main reason liberal types dislike algorithmic decisionmaking is because it forces these choices to be explicit rather than hidden in a “holistic” human process. You can’t hide behind vague platitudes like “different schools have different goals” – you need to actually explicitly write your goals down in the form of an objective function.

            Out of curiosity, what do you think the goal of university admissions is? And why do you think universities tend to totally revamp their admissions process whenever laws/court decisions tell them they are not allowed to discriminate in a specific manner? (E.g., after U-Mich was told it can’t use an explicitly racist point system, they immediately switched to “holistic” admissions.)

          • Brad says:

            Out of curiosity, what do you think the goal of university admissions is?

            Are you even reading what you are quoting? It’s right there in black and white “different schools have different goals”. How could I possibility tell you what the goal of university admissions is given that?

          • Aapje says:

            @Brad

            Does that mean that any goal is as valid as another; or do you think that colleges have certain obligations to society?

          • Robert Liguori says:

            Brad, a hundred years ago or so, every serious school had the admissions criteria “Admit students who we think will do well, but not too many of the races we don’t like.”

            Is this a good, respectable set of admissions criteria?

            A strict majority of colleges practice significant racial discrimination in admitting students. To the extent that structural racism describes things usefully in the world at all, it’s there in college admissions. Is this a bad thing now like it was about a hundred years ago?

          • Brad says:

            @Aapje
            Depending on exactly how they are incorporated and what government programs they participate in, I do think there are some obligations to society. But the parameters are very broad. I don’t have any problem, for example, with a college that sees as a core part of its mission turning out graduates who are and will stay good Christians.

            @Robert Liguori
            Your post is frustrating to me because dndnrsn made the exact same points, I responded to them, and your post gives no indication that you read or considered those responses.

            That’s the bad kind of dogpiling.

          • Jiro says:

            Asians are not underrepresented. They’re overrepresented, to the point that people worry about a given school being “too Asian”, and find some way to address that, in the same way was done to Jews back in the day. They are overrepresented because, by metrics that primarily measure academic testing and past academic performance, they do considerably better than the average, at least in some subjects.

            “Overrepresented” means “overrepresented with respect to applicants of similar qualifications and other races”, not “overrepresented with respect to the general public”. By this measure, Asians are underrepresented.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            With respect, Brad, you replied to his posts, and didn’t respond to his (and my) points.

            What are some of the values you are imputing for Ivy League colleges, if not to get the best, most likely-to-succeed students and give them a great education? You keep saying that colleges have different values, but seem to be very coy about admitting that some of those values were and are extremely racist.

            Which goes back to the root of this discussion; people need cheaty holistic criteria when it comes to distinguishing between people, because looking at objective metrics like “What kind of people score highest on standardized tests which correlate well with academic and life success?” means offering opportunities to too many unfavored minorities, and too few favored minorities.

            Colleges should not be racist. Colleges with racist values in admissions should not be respected for their decision to be racist, and should not be supported with public funds. Colleges which embrace values which require racism should have this pointed out, and condemned, because racism is bad.

            Is anything here controversial? Are you really arguing that colleges should be racist? I mean, I feel like the points you have brought up are aggressively tangential to my own, so I can’t really tell what argument you actually are advancing here.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Jiro:

            Brad specified underrepresented relative to the general population.

            @Brad:

            Christian schools do this. But they come out and say it openly. To my knowledge, there are no Christian colleges who pass themselves off as being open to other religions, Christians of other denominations, atheists, etc, then ask people what their religion is on the application, and decide “holistically”.

            If private institutions want to practice discrimination, they should make it clear what they are doing – they should come out and say, to give an example, that they don’t want more than 20% Asians, or first generation immigrants, or people who can’t pass a spoken English test, or whatever, on the campus, and explain why. This way, people can decide whether or not to apply to a given university, frequent a given business establishment, can decide whether or not they want to protest outside, they can decide whether or not they want to write letters to their legislative representative saying “do not give University X research money!” (and public money should have strings attached, a “private” institution dependent on private money isn’t really a private institution). And kids who get turned away will know why, instead of wondering if their marks or extracurriculars just weren’t good enough.

            Under a century ago, many people would have approved of a university saying they wanted to keep the number of Jews down. Nowadays, a university saying they want to keep the number of Asians down would probably catch a huge amount of flak. I think this is a positive social change. I think discriminating against individuals based on group membership when they can be considered as individuals is wrong. Not everybody agrees with me, of course.

            Vague, catchall, “holistic means whatever we decide” admissions criteria enable the people making decisions to hide prejudice and discrimination from the public and even from themselves – the admissions dean who pats themself on the back for their commitment to fighting prejudice and discrimination, and then acts in a prejudiced and discriminatory fashion, should not be allowed to lie to others or themselves in such a fashion.

          • Brad says:

            @Robert Liguori
            Your evidence for contemporary racism rests inextricably on question begging. You assume that SATs and a GPA metric are the natural and neutral baseline. From this baseline, which you just assumed, you measure discrimination. That’s bad reasoning.

            What are some of the values you are imputing for Ivy League colleges, if not to get the best, most likely-to-succeed students and give them a great education?

            What does best even mean? Best at what? Most likely to succeed at what, and measured how?

            Again this pervasive question begging seems like the result of internalizing a k-12 mentality that everything is nice and neat and can be represented by a GPA. That all you need to do to be a good student and (implicitly) a valuable person is make sure you do well on tests. That’s not how the world works, it’s not how the world should work, and it isn’t how colleges should work.

            Suppose Harvard admitted all and only the students with highest SATs and more than 50% of them wanted to study Computer Science and Biology. Should that tail be allowed to wag the entire university? Ought they layoff all their English professors because the admitted class doesn’t have anyone that wants to major in English? Or rather should they take into account the fact that they have all these great English professors and admit some students that want to study under them?

            Similarly, suppose Princeton looks at its alumni pool and finds that graduates of the school that ended up marrying people they met at Princeton stay significantly more involved with the school. They donate more, they are more likely to act as mentors to undergraduates, and so on. Further, suppose they have data that shows that colleges with gender ratios more skewed than 55/45 are far less likely to produce marriages. What’s wrong with them taking gender into account when building out their class?

            Finally, suppose the Brown administration spoke to many alumni and discovered that many of them said that the most valuable part of the Brown experience was living and learning with people from many different background. That while so many of their high schools were quite homogeneous, Brown was a place where people from various economic, geographic, social, religious, intellectual, and yes ethnic backgrounds were all thrown together. What’s wrong exactly with Brown deciding that they want to take this thing that people get so much value out of and keep on doing it?

            As I said above, it isn’t a contest, there aren’t winners and losers, and it isn’t about your worth as a human being. It’s a matching problem. Life isn’t an RPG where you can find out whether or not you are going to kill the monster by looking at THAC0.

            @dndnrsn
            You are repeating yourself. Again, you need to look at your premises. You seem unwilling to consider that any deviation from your preferred criteria could be honest disagreement over values — it has to be rank racism. And you insist on reifying those preferred criteria as the baseline from which any deviation requires public justification.

          • Anon. says:

            As EvolutionistX put it, “People discuss Affirmative Action as though universities had some sort of obligation to–or interest in–providing education for the good of the general populace.”

            They don’t.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            Brad, are you arguing the converse, that GPAs and SATs don’t correspond to intelligence and aren’t correlated with college and life success, as defined by, oh off the top of my head as a crude metric, getting a middle-to-upper-middle-class salary and being able to contribute back to your alma mater?

            Because if you’re arguing that a set of carefully-vetted-and-scrutinized questions graded multiple-choice by machines are racially biased, and that the results of that test correlate with life success, you’re essentially saying that reality itself is racist.

            If you’d like to argue against the correlation between SAT scores and life success, I cheerfully invite you to do so; I actually haven’t checked the strength of the correlation in a few years myself, so I’d welcome new data on it.

            And again, private institutes can discriminate however they like, for any number of perfectly legitimate causes. But we should be massively distrustful of any public institute which uses holistic, unaccountable measures which end up drastically out of line with observed reality.

            Again, I think that we’d get great gains just by getting the institutes to say “Yup, we’re discriminating against these students in these protected classes by this percentage because there are other students in these other protected classes we want more.” If a college wants to maintain a specific gender or racial balance, it should have the right to so, and we should have the right to know that they’re now discriminating on protected classes, and not give that institute public money.

          • Brad says:

            Brad, are you arguing the converse, that GPAs and SATs don’t correspond to intelligence and aren’t correlated with college and life success, as defined by, oh off the top of my head as a crude metric, getting a middle-to-upper-middle-class salary and being able to contribute back to your alma mater?

            What about propensity to donate back to your alma mater, isn’t that important to? Do you have any data whatsoever that correlates SATs or high school GPA and donations to alma maters?

            Also, are you now saying that maximizing donations is the one and only proper goal of a university?

            You want to talk about vague, what’s concrete about “correlating to life success”. Not to mention a definition of life success that is so bourgeoisie it is almost a parody of itself.

            You seem completely unwilling to engage with the fact that your values are not universal. There is nothing at all obvious or natural about the idea that schools should want to admit those from the applicant pool with the highest scores that maybe correlate to some extremely narrow definition of “life success”.

            Your entire argument boils down to massive is-ought confusion. Just because you strongly believe in the correctness of your tastes doesn’t transmogrify them into facts of the matter.

            But we should be massively distrustful of any public institute which uses holistic, unaccountable measures which end up drastically out of line with observed reality.

            Observed reality of what? You are begging the question.

            Yup, we’re discriminating against these students in these protected classes by this percentage because there are other students in these other protected classes we want more.”

            This is just your very stubborn assumption of what’s going on. You’ve provided no evidence except deviation from your preferred metrics (which you’ve failed to justify).

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Brad:

            Evidently you’re not reading what I’ve written. I’ve said 2 or 3 times now that I recognize that there are other criteria than “marks” or “racism” because I’ve benefited from those other criteria. It’s a bit rich that you’re the one dressing me down for being uncharitable because you are straight up ignoring what I’ve written.

            My position, which I have again expressed probably twice here, is that if academic, educational institutions want to use criteria other than academic testing and educational achievement they should bloody well say what they are, so that people know what the game is.

          • Brad says:

            @dndnrsn

            My position, which I have again expressed probably twice here, is that if academic, educational institutions want to use criteria other than academic testing and educational achievement they should bloody well say what they are, so that people know what the game is.

            And my position which I’ve written up at least two or three times is that your position is privileging something as a default that has no business being privileged.

            Schools should be somewhat transparent about their values, and as far as I can tell they are. That you don’t find it detailed enough because it can’t be reduced to code is your problem, not theirs.

            If a particular school wants to only use SATs and UGPA and tell the world that they do so, they should feel free to do so. Then you and those like you can apply to, donate to, or vote to support only those schools that comport with what you think is important. The rest of us can do likewise for schools whose values comport with our own.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Brad:

            I think that academic testing and educational achievement is a pretty reasonable Schelling point for admissions into academic, educational institutions.

            Further, I don’t think most schools are very transparent. How many schools say that they put a thumb on the scale to keep the number of Asian students down? How many schools explain how they choose who doesn’t get in to make space for AA admissions?

            I got into a graduate college based on heavy undergraduate student community involvement (which was explicitly mentioned as something they were looking for), legacy status (I don’t think explicitly mentioned but it was as close to an open secret as something can be), and possibly sex (there is speculation that they keep the male-female ratio close to 50-50, which means essentially AA for men, and they probably do this to keep the community harmonious – I did undergrad at a place that was/is about 2/3 women, and things were very acrimonious and still are – and also to make sure there’s lots of legacy babies). I definitely would not have gotten in on marks alone, because I was an unhappy screwup for most of undergrad. It was good for me, and the place was probably better than it would have been if they just took the top however many people based on undergraduate GPA.

            None of these are illegitimate. There are good reasons to support student community stuff. Ensuring legacy situations is very good for the place, and ensures the lights are kept on, because donations. Likewise, I think that relations between men and women were so much better than at my undergrad institution that, legacy babies aside, it was worth it: at the place I did my undergrad, women resented men for their disproportionate representation in (democratically-elected) student positions, and men resented women because a lot of them didn’t feel women really belonged in dorms that had once been men-only, clubs that had once been men-only, a dining hall that had once been men-only, etc.

            However, one was an official policy that was acknowledged, one was a policy that was all but acknowledged, and one was something that might not even have actually been a factor, but a lot of people thought it was.

            I just want the college to say what it is doing and why. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. If a private institution wants to say “right handers only” for whatever reason, I mean, their roof, their rules … but they should come out and say it, instead of just telling left-handed kids “sorry, you aren’t quite right for our community, but I’m sure there are plenty of places that would be glad to have you”, coupled perhaps with whispers about how that place doesn’t let people in who are too … sinister, if ya know what I mean.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            How many schools say that they put a thumb on the scale to keep the number of Asian students down?

            That seems to be to referring to complimentary sets of facts in a deliberately uncharitable way.

            Given a matriculation pool of a fixed number of students, attempting to raise the admission rate of one set/cohort of students necessarily lowers the admission rate of others. Unless you think they want to lower Asians to as low a participation rate as possible, that their end goal is motivated not by some other goal, but animus towards Asians, your framing seems incorrect.

          • Brad says:

            dndnrsn
            Not sure if we are convincing each other or what, but I agree with much of what you wrote in this last post other than the first two paragraphs.

            The disagreement with the first paragraph should be obvious. As for your second paragraph, I continue to be puzzled as to why you are so completely confident that Asians are being discriminated against on the basis of racial animus. Given that you acknowledge that other considerations exist and can at least in principle be valid, I don’t see why you keep coming back to this idea that they are just a smokescreen for keeping Asians out.

            In terms of specificity, I certainly think colleges could and should be more open about their desire for gender equality and legacy enrollment (assuming they desire them). But I don’t think they need to be made into mechanically apply-able standards.

            My sense is that if you go read the recruitment websites they do disclose that they are looking for more than just good grades and good SAT scores. Here’s some copy from Princeton’s website:

            Princeton’s admission process goes beyond simply looking for academically accomplished students. For each freshman class, we bring together a varied mix of high-achieving, intellectually gifted students from diverse backgrounds to create an exceptional learning community. We care about what students have accomplished in and out of the classroom. The process is highly selective. In recent years, we’ve offered admission to less than 10 percent of applicants.

            As you prepare your application, help us to appreciate your talents, academic accomplishments and personal achievements. We’ll ask for your transcript and recommendations, and we will want to know more than just the statistics in your file. Tell us your story. Show us what’s special about you. Tell us how you would seize the academic and non-academic opportunities at Princeton and contribute to the Princeton community. Above all, please write in a style that reflects your own voice.

            I could agree with putting in something about legacies, athletes, development cases, and gender balance.

            Beyond that, what more do you want them to say (other than that they have a ceiling for Asian applicants, unless you can prove they do)?

          • Robert Liguori says:

            Huh. I wasn’t aware that there was serious doubt about Ivy League colleges discriminating against Asian applicants these days.

            There are many complaints; here’s an article about a relatively recent one.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Brad:

            I don’t think it’s pure “racial animus” that keeps Asians out. They don’t hate Asians. It’s a fear that too many of them will get in, the place will be a monoculture, etc. I went to a school for undergrad where periodically people would express fears that it was “too Asian” – the idea being that there were all these foreign/first generation/unassimilated second generation immigrant students who didn’t speak English well, didn’t participate in campus life other than clubs focused on interests particular to Asians or clubs focusing on individual Asian nationalities, were only interested in a handful of subjects, etc.

            First, this ends up unfairly discriminating against Asian kids who would contribute to campus life outside of the Korean Students’ Association or whatever. I met plenty of assimilated Asian kids who, contrary to the general concept of “they’re different from us and they don’t understand or like us and we don’t understand or like them”, were “us”. Those people shouldn’t be shut out because of their last names. Plus, this was a public school, and some of the people who would just sit in their rooms and study were still citizens, and should not be discriminated against by an institution of their own country.

            Second, if foreign students who don’t speak English well, or immigrants who aren’t assimilated, are going to be discriminated against, or they’re going to cap the number of science and engineering students, or whatever, I think that should be said openly. Otherwise you end up with Asian kids thinking the problem is with them, wasting their time and money on applications where they won’t get in, etc. I don’t think that’s particularly fair or kind.

            Plus, the fact that holistic standards were brought in specifically to discriminate against Jews does make me suspicious of holistic standards.

            As for the Princeton stuff you quoted, my problem is with things like this:

            … a varied mix of high-achieving, intellectually gifted students from diverse backgrounds to create an exceptional learning community …

            This doesn’t really mean anything. Varied how? From what kind of diverse backgrounds? What’s an “exceptional learning community”? It’s so vague.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            I don’t think it’s pure “racial animus” that keeps Asians out. They don’t hate Asians.

            I don’t really see why it matters. Either you agree that born-traits are fair reason for discrimination or you don’t. If you don’t, then it is unfair, regardless of whether the cause is hate, love for the other, SJ ideology that pretends that these people actually have equal ability where they don’t, etc.

            I consider collectivist treatment of groups and valuing collective ‘fairness’ over individual fairness to be unethical in itself; as being inherently unfair and also incredible dangerous, as the worst crimes of humanity have been due to collectivist ideologies.

            This doesn’t really mean anything. Varied how? From what kind of diverse backgrounds? What’s an “exceptional learning community”? It’s so vague.

            Interestingly, as the heterodox academy fairly convincingly argues, colleges have become hugely less diverse in the last decade.

            This happened at the same time that ‘diversity’ became very important, although my observation is that many advocates of that ideal define diversity in a very non diverse way (basically, they want people who all share the same belief, just with a range of skin colors and genders).

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Aapje:

            Isn’t discrimination defined as unfair, based on group membership rather than individual merit? Of course, there are times when group membership is relevant – if I’m hiring someone to be the student coordinator for the campus LGBT centre, I’m probably going to give more consideration to LGBT people. It’s group membership, but it’s relevant to the job.

            Personally, I take the view that the smallest unit in a given situation possible should be considered, down to the individual. Sometimes you can’t do that – there’s no time, the information is not available, and so you accept the ride from the woman instead of the man on the basis that women get into accidents less. But when you can you should.

            And, yeah, my college experience was that diversity of income and diversity of opinion were quite rare. Lots of affluent kids with opinions ranging from mainstream left to far left (but not so far left as to deny themselves anything). A few lower-middle class kids. Very few actually poor kids. A handful of right-wingers, but they tended to make noise out of proportion to their numbers, probably as a reaction to the environment around them. Lots of people shouting about being silenced when in fact they were the ones shutting other people down.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            Isn’t discrimination defined as unfair, based on group membership rather than individual merit?

            That depends on whom you talk to. The regressive left certainly doesn’t use such an objective definition and instead defines it as an exclusive property of certain groups. Very often, they call it discrimination when merit based treatment has unequal outcomes for different groups (only when the unequal outcomes happen to the groups that are consider oppressed, of course).

            And in many colleges, they are in control.

            Of course, there are times when group membership is relevant – if I’m hiring someone to be the student coordinator for the campus LGBT centre, I’m probably going to give more consideration to LGBT people. It’s group membership, but it’s relevant to the job.

            I would disagree there. A person who is not LGBT but has personal reasons (like a LGBT family member) can be just as motivated, knowledgeable, etc.

            There is actually quite a bit of discrimination in ‘oppressed groups’ against outsiders and it would be extremely healthy to reduce this close mindedness. So it should preferably no longer be the case that a person who deals with LGBT issues has to be LGBT, a person who deals with ‘black issues’ has to be black, a person who deals with women’s issues has to be a woman, etc. We’ve already seen in feminism that such ghettoization of topics leads to echo chambers, dogma and a general lack of fact-based discourse.

            Personally, I take the view that the smallest unit in a given situation possible should be considered, down to the individual. Sometimes you can’t do that – there’s no time, the information is not available, and so you accept the ride from the woman instead of the man on the basis that women get into accidents less. But when you can you should.

            Agreed. Although AFAIK, women get into accidents more, but their accidents tend to be less severe. Also note that the disparity in insurance premiums is deceptive because those are dependent on accidents/period, while the accident rates that you care about when deciding to accept a ride are accidents/distance traveled. As women tend to drive less, lower premiums for women don’t accurately reflect their accidents/distance traveled.

            A handful of right-wingers, but they tended to make noise out of proportion to their numbers, probably as a reaction to the environment around them.

            The data suggests that you were wrong, as surveyed psychologists reported fewer conservatives than actually were present, which suggests that they actually make less noise than their number.

            Your misconception is probably due to ostracism resulting in a dichotomy: one group decides to blend in and another group decides to become loud activists. There is strong disincentive to take a middle position between these extremes (because you get assaulted from one side and yet are not fully accepted/supported by the other). Then the perception becomes that only the loud group are actually conservative, as well as there being the perception that most conservatives are loud.

            Lots of people shouting about being silenced when in fact they were the ones shutting other people down.

            Yet again, the same study has right-wingers report far a greater likelihood of being discriminated against than left-wingers (they call this ‘hostility,’ btw). It also has substantial percentages of left-wingers openly stating their willingness to discriminate (over a third for hiring decisions). If you take in account that the actual discrimination is probably higher due to unconscious discrimination or people who are unwilling to admit that they discriminate; this makes for an extremely hostile climate (and as many hiring decisions have multiple people who can veto it, even if ‘only’ a third of people are willing to veto conservative hirings, this can reduce the chance of a conservative applicant being hired by far greater percentages).

            Note that the paper shows a level of hostility reported by moderates that is closer to the hostility that conservatives report, than to what left-wingers report. This suggests very strong group-think and intolerance of dissent.

            Note that the above is not intended as an (exclusive) attack on the left, as I have no reason to believe that strongly dominant right-wing environments are better at this. I dislike those for the same reasons.

            However, I am more fierce about the left-wing because most left-wing ideologies are strongly against discrimination (and judge the people who let discriminatory environments exist very harshly), so if they foster a discriminatory environment; it is very hypocritical.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Aapje:

            In the case of the LGBT student coordinator, LGBT students would probably be more comfortable with a coordinator who is themself LGBT. Even if a cis straight person could do the job just as well, the “clients” would not perceive them as being able to do it as well, and perception affects reality.

            In the case of my college, I’m not saying it was a typical place. There were a handful of right-wingers who took perverse pleasure in being contrarians. I’d estimate they were a few percentage points of the student population, but a few times that the noise at student council meetings and such.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            dndnrsn: Of course, the same reasoning can be used to, e.g., kick that same LGBT coordinator out of the Boy Scouts, since most of the people dealing with him will have a preference for a straight, cissexual scout leader, and perception affects reality.

            And since trying to enshrine just a few preferences as valid reasons to discriminate always seems to end up with discrimination in favor of the popular and politically-connected groups, it seems pragmatically better to make common cause on an agreement not to discriminate on meaningless characteristics, rather than hope that my own set of traits remains on the not-allowed-to-discriminate list eternally.

            Plus…is there really an epidemic of straight people tactically choosing to coordinate for LGBT campus groups for nefarious reasons? If someone cares enough to do the paperwork and throw their hat into the ring, I say let them go through the process. There is a long and storied history of people saying “You can’t do this job because men/women/blacks/asians/gays/etc. don’t do this sort of thing.”, and it’s been pretty much without exception wrong, so I’m not sympathetic towards that argument generally.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            In the case of the LGBT student coordinator, LGBT students would probably be more comfortable with a coordinator who is themself LGBT.

            I only consider the sexual orientation an acceptable requirement for special cases, like situations where the person needs guidance from people with coming out experiences.

            However, the job of coordinator is by definition not to do things him/herself (like giving emotional guidance), but to coordinate what others do. So the job of a coordinator is to get the student in contact with people who can provide what the student needs, not to do it him/herself.

            It may actually be an advantage if the coordinator is not LGBT in this respect, as it reduces the chance that he/she makes his/her experiences dominant and it becomes a one person show. A non-LGBT coordinator would be far less tempted to step outside of the role and may be more eager to set up discussion groups that offer far more diverse standpoints (and thus are more likely to help) than a single ‘this worked for me’ conversation.

          • rlms says:

            @Robert Liguori
            If we are talking about the same roles, the reason x coordinators should be a member of group x is because that give them a special insight into the experience of other x’s. This is consistently applied, at least at my college where the “men’s coordinator” role equivalent is male. The analogy with a Scout leader fails because the requirements to perform that job well don’t have anything to do with sexuality (or race or whatever).

      • gronald says:

        College admissions might have been a lousy example. I’ll admit I don’t understand exactly what those essays are used for. I think it would be an error to say “I don’t understand what this is for, therefore its real purpose must be for people I don’t like to be secretly super racist” but I don’t have evidence either way. It would be nice if someone reading this were involved in college admissions and could explain.

        Let’s talk about hiring. Hiring (at least in tech) is a very painful and expensive process. It requires flying people to your city for interviews, it involves persuading your workers to spend time not working so they can do interviews, you have to hire tons of recruiters, and your hire rate tends to be pretty low anyway, so every tech person you hire means ten that you flew out and interviewed and didn’t hire.

        If there were an algorithm we could write that would make hiring decisions for us, we would totally have done that. Many of us have backgrounds specifically in machine learning. If we could just scrape LinkedIn for resumes, throw them all in a machine learning system, and send out a bunch of offer letters saying “congratulations you’re hired”, it would save us so much time and money.

        And yet I don’t know of a single tech company that makes its hiring decisions via algorithm. (Er, I think some of Scott’s sidebar advertisers are algorithm-based actually, but I don’t think they’re “hiring” in the formal sense where you get a salary and health insurance?)

        One hypothetical (strawman?) argument would be that tech companies are avoiding hiring algorithms because they all want to secretly be super racist about who they hire. It seems unlikely that all of them would do this simultaneously — you’d think there would be one or two that would choose the massive savings over the secret racism — but nonetheless someone might argue that’s what they’re all doing.

        I’d like to propose, instead, that nobody has written an algorithm for this because nobody knows how, because it’s a really hard problem.

        • Jiro says:

          It seems unlikely that all of them would do this simultaneously

          They’re doing it because of SJ pressure. This pressure falls on all of them simultaneously (except when no pressure needs to be exerted because they are already SJ.)

        • Aapje says:

          @gronald

          I’ll admit I don’t understand exactly what those essays are used for.

          Research shows that essays don’t improve grades, so it seems clear that they are not used to judge applicants by merit.

          In my eyes, that means that the real purpose must be bad. The question is whether the people using them intend to judge people by nefarious metrics or whether they are just dumb. If the former, then we need to figure out the kind of villainy.

          My current working theory is that it is a combination of both, as some of the people involved seem to honestly believe that they choose on merit, while others openly state a preference for ‘affirmative action.’

        • Corey says:

          Umm… there *are* algorithms for part of the hiring process. Resumes/applications all get screened algorithmically before a subset is presented to humans.
          AFAIK this is mostly for weeding out the extremely unqualified ones though (which, if your HR department is any good, is all that they’re doing before passing the rest through to hiring managers).

        • Robert Liguori says:

          Hiring runs into a few extra hurdles, though; in tech, there’s no meaningful SAT or standardized test, and the corpus of knowledge required both varies extremely from position to position, and itself changes as technologies grow and deprecate.

          Plus, people lie and misrepresent stuff on resumes all the time.

          There are toy programming challenges like FizzBuzz which can serve as first-pass filters, but by the time you’re in a position to watch someone fail at it, you’ve also spent the time and money to evaluate them, fly them out, and so on.

          Of course, there are big legal complications in hiring people. Griggs vs. Duke still stands, and it means that if you do come up with a test which accurately predicts success in job applicants, and that test reflects the reality of a job market which is not divided evenly by protected class, you need to be prepared to defend that algorithm in court, and prove that the skills tested there are related to the job.

          And finally, when you’re hiring people for computer stuff particularly, optimizing for “Can you hack our hiring algorithm?” is even more likely to end up with perverse results than the college applications case.

          All in all, hiring is a genuinely difficult problem, and it’s not just the fault of corporate incompetence, deceptive hires, or bad law.

  34. Wrong Species says:

    Anyone interested in discussing a new Black Mirror episode per open thread?

  35. Anon says:

    A few thoughts:

    1) The “report comment” button has disappeared for some reason. Assuming this is an actual design change and not just my computer being screwy, why is it gone and is it coming back?

    2) I think Turn-Based Strathreadgy works better than Threadegy, but hey, it’s your blog.

    3) Speaking of “hey, it’s your blog,” the e-mail I use to comment here is from one of those temp-mail burner sites. I tried to register with it anyway, thinking that WordPress would filter it, but apparently they don’t. While I think this is good because it allows me to maintain continuity with my old posts (or at least some from after The Great Gravatar Swap Of 2016), it does set the bar for “real e-mail” much lower than you’d probably expect.

    4) Civ VI looks alright from what I’ve seen online so far. The UI has issues and the various game mechanics seem too decoupled (e.g. using Envoys as a separate resource for currying city-state favor rather than gold makes balancing diplomacy versus your other goals a complete non-issue and makes diplomacy way too easy), but other than that it looks pretty great. Early game stops being a dreary slog, Wonders require actual planning and thought, and the Eureka system makes progress a lot faster while making Great Scientists less broken. Actually, the way Great People have been reworked so that each of them have unique affects is a major plus.

    (As an aside, I can’t stand the people who complain about the new cartoony artstyle and want more realism. Because we all know that the Civilization games are known for their gritty realism, like when the great Japanese scientist Leonard Euler discovers the radio in 1350 AD.)

    • thad says:

      I’ve only played a few hours of Civ VI, but I’m not a fan of the new map style. It will probably take me a few games to really get a good feel for the gameplay.

      With respect to art style, cartoony isn’t a bad thing per se, but the particular style they chose is not something I find appealing.

    • Loquat says:

      Have you tried saying “strathreadgy” and “threadegy” out loud? I did, and the latter is way easier to pronounce.

      • Anon says:

        I’m making the ‘d’ silent, like “judge”, so it’s “strathregy” versus “thredegy”. I think the first works better. To each their own.

        • Gazeboist says:

          Wait, you don’t pronounce the ‘d’ in “judge”?

          edit:

          After posting this, I tried both pronouncing and not pronouncing the ‘d’ in “judge”. I couldn’t actually tell the difference, but I remain convinced that the ‘d’ is pronounced.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The d shortens the u before it. Without the d, the word would be pronounced more like “jooj” or something.

          • Vojtas says:

            It should sound the same, the final phoneme of judge is the affricate /dʒ/, which sounds very similar to [d] followed by [ʒ].

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The final phoneme would sound the same, but without the double -dg- consonant the u would be longer.

    • bakkot says:

      “Report comment” is gone due to technical issues; I haven’t had time to look much into fixing it.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Report comment breaks the blog for some reason. I think Bakkot is working on it.

      The art is really the main thing I’m liking about Civ6 at this point. Too much of the rest of it still seems raw and unbalanced, or too boring and micromanagy (man, sure do love reassigning spies and traders every couple of turns for no reason)

      • Anon says:

        Reassigning spies and traders makes sense to me. You don’t want a spy doing the same thing all the time, otherwise it would get caught when someone noticed the pattern. And since the traders are what create roads between the cities, being able to move one around to a new place makes sense. There probably should be an automation option on the traders, but I think putting something like that on the spies would be harmful.

        I agree that some things are boring as hell (e.g. promotions and religious boosts) but the policy card system is well-done (could use more slots though) and I really like the civics tree. I also really like how each city-state has unique buffs (e.g. Zanzibar gives Cinnamon when you become Suzerain) and how each of the Great People have unique effects. It’s these little details, and how well-integrated and thought-out the District system is, that seem to give the game a lot more flair than the earlier games had.

        Also I’m happy about it because Civ VI is a complete game that doesn’t require 2 expansions to get a basic featureset together, unlike its predecessor.

        • suntzuanime says:

          I mean, when you sell a game for $60, I don’t know how much you can applaud it for being a complete game. $60 is a “complete game” sort of price to charge.

          (Yeah, I bought Civ 5 on release. I’m not making that mistake again.)

          • Anon says:

            That sidenote should be read less as “actual compliment” and more as “congratulations on not fucking up enormously twice in a row”.

            (You poor thing. I bought it in a Steam sale a couple years ago for like $15.)

          • Dabbler says:

            Aren’t there plenty of $60 games out there with bad reputations showing that nowadays that is unusually good behavior? Sad though it may be, such behavior at least notes comment nowadays. It’s not like we can put the norms back where they were.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Not with that attitude we can’t.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I don’t mind ability to reassign traders, but it seemed like half my time was pointless clicking to tell traders that yes, I still wanted them in the same city. Why can’t there just be a window where I can go to reassign traders every so often when I feel like it, and otherwise they just keep going where I tell them?

          Same with spies – I eventually deleted all my spies to avoid constantly having to tell them to keep doing listening posts, no, I didn’t want to provoke a war with Russia by stealing the one tech they had above me, stop asking me.

          • Spookykou says:

            Seconded. I only use spies traditionally as counter espionage and they in particular seem to have really short mission lengths or something.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      I wish Civ would bring back the era-specific leader costumes from Civ III. Fur-hat Abe Lincoln and three-piece suit Smoke-Jaguar were the shit.

  36. dndnrsn says:

    Does anybody have words that they continually get the meaning of wrong, and continually find themselves catching it, or learning over and over it doesn’t mean what they think?

    I always think that “vivacious” is a physical descriptor, rather than a personality descriptor. This is probably because it sounds similar to “curvaceous”.

    I always get confused when something yellowy-green is described as “chartreuse” – for some reason, I find myself thinking that chartreuse is a sort of purple colour. I have no idea why this is.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Wow. I always think of chartreuse as purpley as well. Also puce seems like it should be name of the color chartreuse is.

      I find myself having to relook up words that I don’t use in conversation. Sanguine was one I got wrong for a long time, knowing I was getting it wrong, and then needing to look it up… again.

      • onyomi says:

        Apparently chartreuse is one of the favorites of people who subscribe to a bizarre theory that, because they clearly remember certain things wrong (“Looney Toons” instead of “Loony Tunes,” for example), therefore there are glitches in the time-space continuum or a conspiracy or something.

        • Anon says:

          I find those people adorable. You remember Nelson Mandela dying in prison? Have you ever considered that you might not know your history?

        • dndnrsn says:

          Google tells me it’s Looney Toons. Are you from the no-e alternate universe?

          I always thought it was Berenstein Bears, too…

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, the Berenstain Bears is one of the most common; I think the problem is just that lots of last names end in -stein, and few, so far as I know, end in -stain, so people just see what they expect to see.

            It’s not just the no -e, it’s the word “tune” as in a musical tune, as opposed to “toon” as in “cartoon.” The old cartoons would always say “Merry Melodies Presents Looney Tunes.” I’m not sure if the pun on cartoon was always intended, but I think since most people think of these as works of animation, not music, they just remember “Toons” instead of “Tunes.”

      • J. Mensch says:

        Have the exact same experience with sanguine, where I always think it means the exact opposite (with the same knowledge every time that I was getting it wrong). I used to think I was confusing it with saturnine, but now I just thing that the word itself just sounds quite sad.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Sanguine is actually one of those self-antonymic words, because you can use it to describe a bloodily violent situation about which you should not be sanguine.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            I’m more used to seeing “sanguinary” used in that situation. Some of the word-pairs I find hardest to keep straight are the ones formed by applying two different suffixes, both performing the same function, to the same root. I dimly recall there being some sort of difference between “sensual” and “sensuous”, but I could never be arsed to remember what it is.

        • Montfort says:

          Clearly the solution is to become much more fluent in humorism. As a bonus, it helps out with phlegmatic, too (and choleric and melancholic, if anyone needs help with them).

          • onyomi says:

            See, I know that “sanguine” comes from Latin for “blood,” but when I think of blood rushing to someone’s face, I think of someone angry and stressed, not someone happy and healthy, as, I guess, humourism does.

        • onyomi says:

          Oh yes, I totally have that problem with sanguine.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Yeah, puce “sounds” like the colour chartreuse is, although not vice versa.

    • keranih says:

      It took me forever to understand that cyan means “turquoise” because the name “sounds” red gold to me.

      Also, “firmament” *clearly* means “landscape” and not “starscape.” I mean, seriously, wtf?

    • onyomi says:

      I remember thinking the word “odyssey” was a synonym for “oddity” until I was probably well into my teens.

      Until somewhat recently I thought the word “unwieldy” was “unwieldly.”

      I never had this problem myself, but I’ve noticed many people who think the word “remuneration” is “renumeration.”

      A horrifying new development seems to be people who think “penultimate” means “really, really ultimate.”

      • null says:

        Was the first thing caused by confusion between 2001 and the David Bowie song?

        • onyomi says:

          Haha… I think it was more just an incorrect guess which I didn’t hear used correctly often enough to notice. If I were a non-English speaker and you taught me the words “better” and “best,” I might guess that the word “bet” meant “good.” “Odd” means “weird” and “heresy” is a heretical thing, so an odyssey sounds like it might be a weird thing.

    • suntzuanime says:

      If it’s a reddish purple maybe you’re getting confused with “scarlet”, which is pronounced somewhat similarly even if spelled totally different?

      Personally I find I have to concentrate very hard not to confuse “peremptory” with “preemptive”.

      • onyomi says:

        It also sounds a little like cerise, which is a shade of red, coming from the same etymology as “cherries.”

        Incidentally, I’m always interested to learn about etymologies based on mistakes like the one Douglas Knight links. Singular “cherry,” for example, is based on (singular) French “cerise”–>”cherries,” which sounds like a plural in English, allowing for the creation of the singular “cherry.” “An alligator” means “a ‘the lizard'”… there was a cute youtube video with a bunch of these which I can’t find at the moment.

    • BBA says:

      If everyone gets a word wrong, it becomes the word’s new meaning. “Nimrod” used to mean a hunter, but now everyone thinks it means a fool. Humorously, this confusion apparently arose because Bugs Bunny called Elmer Fudd a nimrod, which he is under both definitions.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      I always used to get confused by “inflammable”, which sounds like it ought to mean the exact opposite of what it actually does mean.

    • Tristan Haze says:

      I find it hard to accept that ‘gambit’ doesn’t mean ‘risky, bold attempt’.

      • Montfort says:

        It doesn’t have a literal meaning that exactly matches that, sure, but popular understanding of chess gambits should usually allow you to use that definition as a metaphor, at least.

        • God Damn John Jay says:

          Just checked the definition, gambit has the implication of being more calculated than risky. I was convinced that it meant ‘risky, bold attempt’ until today.

    • Silverlock says:

      I have a few words like that — “ontology,” for instance, will not stay in my head for more than a few days. What has struck me is some of the words I have known for most of my life but didn’t know how to pronounce properly. I didn’t know until I was in my twenties that “awry,” for instance is not pronounced “aw-ry” but “uh-wry,” and I just found out a couple of days ago at age 55 that “ague” is pronounced “ay-gyoo” rather than “aig.”

      Fortunately, I had never had cause to speak either of those aloud, so I luckily avoided some embarrassment, but still.

    • paulmbrinkley says:

      I imagine Alanis Morissette did people no favors with regard to the word “ironic”.

      • Silverlock says:

        You don’t know what irony is, do you, Baldrick?

        Sure I do! It’s like goldy or bronzy but made of iron.

  37. dndnrsn says:

    Free market people: How do you account for the existence and activities of the advertising industry?

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but generally, free market thinking takes the view that people are by and large rational decision makers who are decent at making choices and at maximizing their utility. I am not much of a free market type, and honestly it’s one of the intellectual Turing Tests I would feel least comfy doing.

    How does the existence of an industry that is based around convincing people to buy things they didn’t know they needed/wanted, convincing people to buy more expensive name brand goods over generics, etc align with that?

    • sflicht says:

      I don’t see the tension you seem to see. Can you elaborate?

      • dndnrsn says:

        Well, advertising is based around exploiting people being irrational and bad at making decisions. If, as I have gotten the impression – and I am expecting that this is where it is most likely I am wrong – that free market thinking is based around people being rational and good at making decisions…

        Let’s put it another way. There is generally zero difference between the store brand of an OTC medication, and the name brand. With the latter, you’re paying for the advertising. Why does the name brand exist? If people were rational and good at making decisions, nobody would buy Advil or Tylenol or Aspirin at normal price, because it’s just throwing away a couple extra bucks.

        • Controls Freak says:

          If people were rational and good at making decisions, nobody would buy Advil or Tylenol or Aspirin at normal price, because it’s just throwing away a couple extra bucks.

          In general (the non-mathematical sense), this is true. However, there may be specific cases where it’s not true. This has little to do with your or my positions on advertising… and more to do with the fact that I learned something relatively recently that I want to share. I have a relative with Celiac disease. She was telling me that she can’t just buy random store-brand OTC painkillers, because while they have the same active ingredient, they may use different fillers and things that she would react to.

        • Timothy says:

          In the Tylenol example the theory is that you are paying a premium for trust, that Johnson & Johnson is less likely to screw up and poison you to death. Personally I do “take my chances” with the generic stuff but there was a real incident in 1982 when someone snuck Tylenol bottles with added cyanide onto the store shelves around Chicago, and Johnson & Johnson went all out with the response, including recalling ALL the Tylenol.

        • dndnrsn says:

          @Controls Freak:

          This is true. There are definitely cases where the name brand is superior to the store brand.

          For an example that’s even more clear-cut: frozen vegetables. I have noticed zero difference between a name-brand bag of frozen vegetables, and the store brand, except the price difference. It’s not even as though there’s heavy advertising for most brands.

          @Timothy:

          The safety measures that J&J brought in are industry standard now, though. Plus, if drugstore-brand acetaminophen was poisoning people, that would probably hurt the drugstore as much as Tylenol poisoning people would hurt J&J (intentional poisoning, or due to screwups in manufacturing, not ordinary liver problems).

        • Urstoff says:

          Rational decision making doesn’t prohibit the use of heuristics, and the recognition heuristic is can be pretty useful if you don’t want to waste time looking into the various merits of different products.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I will admit to having the kind of mind that enjoys things like categorizing which products are best, where money can be saved, where it’s worth spending the extra money, etc.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think “free market people” is too vague, so I’m not really sure who you are aiming this at.

      You appear to be offering what I understand to be a standard critique of the “efficient market hypothesis”, said hypothesis being summed up in a nutshell by the joke about the two economists and the $20 bill.

      I think the standard answer would be that marketing is providing a) information, and/or b) is part of the value of the product. Drinking Coca-Cola is a signal that you are like the people whom Coca-Cola portrays in their adds.

      Economists also get around this by meaning something different by rational than the non-economist does. To a large extent they assume that, by definition, what people do is rational. I don’t know if an economist would put it this way, but I think they regard biases as part of what you “want”, therefore acting in accordance with these biases is rational because it is what you want to do.

      • jimmy says:

        “[…] joke about the two economists and the $20 bill”

        I was in that position once as a middle schooler, only it was a one dollar bill and I didn’t have an economist to talk to. I did think to myself that it was odd that no one else had picked it up yet given that there were other kids standing around, and decided to trust the market. A minute later some other kid picked it up, clearly not understanding the efficient market hypothesis. He immediately dropped it.

        “Ew! There’s shit on it!”

      • Aapje says:

        @HeelBearCub

        To a large extent they assume that, by definition, what people do is rational. I don’t know if an economist would put it this way, but I think they regard biases as part of what you “want”, therefore acting in accordance with these biases is rational because it is what you want to do.

        The problem is that this completely undermines any claims that markets act optimally, because any influence by markets on how people behave gets defined away as ‘rational behavior,’ rather than the market making people behave a certain way.

        Imagine having one bonus system A that rewards employees that spend most hours at work and bonus system B that rewards employees that produces most tchotchkes. People will behave quite differently in reaction to each system, yet from an employer’s perspective, either can be optimal. In a ‘building secretary’ kind of job, being present may be most valuable and making tchotchkes can just be a fixed amount of work that can be done when not dealing with visitors. In a ‘production’ kind of job, making tchotchkes may be all that matters.

        So I’d argue that efficiency isn’t and cannot be an objective feature of a certain system, but is always a comparison between the (subjective) desired outcome and how close the system gets you to that.

        When people call a market system ‘efficient,’ they are declaring their own (subjective) desired outcome to be universal, which is dogmatic.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I also take the position that the assumption of rationality is a “big problem” for economics. One area is simply in communication, where the lay person and the economist frequently won’t have the same understanding of what is being said.

          From a modeling perspective, there is the phrase “it takes a model to beat a model” and AFAIK no one has come up with a way to model irrational agents. Once someone can come up with such a model that has more explanatory power, presumably we would see the science change.

          But I also think it’s a problem that some economists think that their definition of rational is “true” and don’t grapple at all with, say, the success of a product like Enzyte.

          • Aapje says:

            But I also think it’s a problem that some economists think that their definition of rational is “true” and don’t grapple at all with, say, the success of a product like Enzyte.

            There is evidence that economy students are more selfish than the average person, probably due to self-selection. I expect that examining markets all day also changes one’s decision making. It’s likely that they suffer from projection of their own motives/choices on others.

            I also suspect that within the profession there is also self-selection, with the more scientifically minded & modest going into econometrics and the like, while the more ‘creative’ go into macro-economics, where most claims are unfalsifiable.

            The economists that I’m upset with are mostly in the latter category.

          • nancylebovitz says:

            It’s clear to me that the market is composed of semi-rational players.

            I gather that loss aversion has been quantified. Has anything comparable being done with other sorts of common biases?

          • Gazeboist says:

            @Nancy

            From the WP page on behavioral economics:

            Reference dependence, non-linear probability weighting, and diminished sensitivity are three effects that were analyzed along side loss aversion to generate “prospect theory”, which has more explanatory power than classical economic choice theories. Hyperbolic discounting and similar issues with time-dependent utility form another area of research, and there are other less unified topics.

            @HBC

            From a modeling perspective, there is the phrase “it takes a model to beat a model” and AFAIK no one has come up with a way to model irrational agents. Once someone can come up with such a model that has more explanatory power, presumably we would see the science change.

            It sounds like you’re looking for behavioral economics? Which I don’t think has a single coherent model of a real human economic actor, but does have lots of interesting stuff on human decision making. It still makes assumptions about information which I think are flawed, but I don’t know if there’s heavy research on how humans gather and evaluate information in an economic context. Such would probably have to wait for psychology to sort itself out.

            I think the next phase of a lot of things, including economics, is to bring in time dependence. I think it’s clear that markets are neither perfectly efficient nor perfectly inefficient, and that a perfectly efficient market cannot exist in reality. But *how* efficient a real market can be is not obvious to me.

            EDIT – I just realized that in that last paragraph I conflated two very different meanings of “efficient”: economic efficiency and computational efficiency. My question is really about their combination. I want to know how long it takes a market composed of several agents to compute an efficient price for a good, given an inefficient price. Equivalently, how fast do prices change to reflect new information? And most importantly, how does the rate at which prices change compare to the rate at which the agents in the market gain new information?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Gazeboist:
            Thank you for the reference to behavioral economics. That is indeed along the lines of where I think the field could change assuming that models incorporating those kinds of findings over perform other models.

            But, even there, I think we still don’t see a mapping of what the economists think about markets in general and the success of products like Enzyte (completely fraudulent on many levels) or the lottery (sold not as entertainment, but as a way to win money). Especially when you take into account the actual stated motivations and reasoning of people who are buying those products.

            I don’t think this is actually anything like a deal breaker for the field of economics, I just think it shows one mechanism for an easy, obvious, and very damaging failure mode of laissez-faire policies.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            It looks like the makers of Enzyte were charged with mail fraud … I’m surprised there wasn’t a charge of male fraud.

            (Sorry)

      • dndnrsn says:

        By “free market people” I mean … well, not just ancaps, because as I understand it they’re pretty rare on the ground in real life, but in general people who would entrust much more to the free market than is already done.

        That way of defining rational seems … kind of a tautology. “This person values drinking Coke, therefore they value drinking Coke!” You can model anything as a preference, but it seems a bit weird to say “Alan blows all his money at the dog track and keeps getting the utilities shut off, so clearly he is making a rational decision to blow all his money at the dog track instead of pay his utilities bill”.

        • onyomi says:

          I think perhaps you are hoping for too much from markets for goods and services. Free markets in goods and services are great at providing people with the things they are willing to pay for, not at making them have good priorities.

          As for making people have good priorities, probably the best thing is education: teach people about nutrition and the demand for healthful food will go up. The function of markets in goods, services, and advertising is to produce what people want, not make them want the right things.

          Might there not be a perverse incentive for companies to e. g. incite desire for cheap, tasty, unhealthful food instead of healthful food that is expensive to prepare and deliver. Sure. But that incentive exists in terms of the production of such food and not just in its advertisement. But you couldn’t make people buy it if they weren’t already inclined to like fattening food.

          Being an ancap, on some level my answer is always “no, this idea for a government program is illegitimate because the government is illegitimate,” but that doesn’t mean I think a society with no rules is ideal, either. In theoretical ancap world maybe your neighborhood association decides there will be no ads for cigarettes or alcohol in the neighborhood where children are likely to see them. I don’t see a problem with that. Maybe people voluntarily sign the kids up for enrichment classes where they learn about nutrition and art, causing them to desire and demand better food and media.

          The ancap’s argument is that even law is best provided by a market. It’s not that no conceivable regulation about how you advertise could have a good effect, nor that no conceivable educational campaign teaching children how to make healthy choices could have a good effect, but about which system is more likely to find the right regulation or produce the right campaign.

          My contention is that a system with, in some sense, a market for systems, is most likely to get it right.

          • Spookykou says:

            Free markets in goods and services are great at providing people with the things they are willing to pay for, not at making them have good priorities.

            As for making people have good priorities, probably the best thing is education

            In Ancap world though, the Education systems is run by the markets though right. Why would they be teaching good(read: less profitable) priorities to people?

          • onyomi says:

            Conceivably there might be school you pay for, where your kids get taught the things you think are good for them, but also “School! Brought to you by Coca Cola,” which is free, but includes mandatory soft drink appreciation class. (similar to the bundling effect of ads and content in general)

            I’m sure this sounds horrifying and dystopian to some, but given there would likely be a lot more competition and innovation in ancap world school, I would personally predict the options for even the poorest to get a good education would be better than today.

            (Also, consider: we’d all find it highly suspicious if “School” by Wal Mart taught an unusually pro-Wal Mart version of history, but when public schools teach history… part of the benefit of ancap world, paradoxically, is that we don’t give private companies the benefit of the doubt to the same extent many do for government).

          • Spookykou says:

            @onyomi

            I would be more worried about subtle influence over time, for the express purpose of making us less suspicious of what companies say. Only those with higher education ever even hear the words Cognitive Bias…

            Wait, was I talking about Ancap world or our world?

            But more seriously, Moloch waits, bound by chains of red tape and magic runes of ancient regulations.

            Wait, I think I got less serious?

          • Furslid says:

            Spookykou: The markets aren’t one abstract entity that acts in the interest of big business. Do you expect Walmart to advance the interests of Target? No. Walmart would throw Target under the bus for more money.

            Then why do you expect “Educorp Brand Schools” to advance the interests of Walmart? Educorp would throw Walmart under the bus for more money.

            There are a lot of people like you who are concerned about a school teaching it’s students pro-corporate bias. That makes being conspicuously free from bias a marketing point. There’s more money for some schools in providing quality education than in providing poor education to help out other companies.

          • Jiro says:

            There are a lot of people like you who are concerned about a school teaching it’s students pro-corporate bias.

            As onyomi hinted, schools today already teach kids pro-government bias. If you’re happy with that, why would pro-corporate bias be any worse?

          • Bugmaster says:

            This may be a little off-topic, but still:

            In practice, what would be the difference between an ancap world, and our current world — assuming that we give the ancap world about 200 years to develop ?

            As far as I understand, ancaps advocate for increased local control over all major policy decisions (though I’ve never met anyone who actually identified as an ancap until now, so I could be wrong). However, given the obvious market advantages of consolidation, are there any mechanisms that prevent ancap mom-and-pop mini-corps from eventually aggregating into GovCo, your friendly international government services provider ?

          • Spookykou says:

            @Furslid

            Well I was mostly joking, I think our current education system does a poor job of teaching people ‘good priorities’ as Onyomi put it.

            But I assume the biggest risk with Ancap world is ‘megacorps’.

            When the conglomerate also owns the schools, then they can take small profit loss in their school division if it means huge sales of their sugar water. The option isn’t ‘good school’ for 1000 dollars or Coke school for free. You are looking at Coke school for free or Pepsi school for free or Coke Academy for Gifted Students 1000 dollars or Pepsi Institute for Higher Learning 900 dollars.

            Who is going to have the published PHD’s at their top end Academy, the Coke school family that also owns the universities or some random other organization that tries to compete with the insane capital and built in advantages of the mega corps by offering a course on Cognitive Bias, a concept half the parents haven’t even heard of.

          • onyomi says:

            “In practice, what would be the difference between an ancap world, and our current world — assuming that we give the ancap world about 200 years to develop ?”

            In a democracy, the currency is votes and success is measured by getting reelected. In ancap world, the currency is… well, currency and success is measured by making a profit.

            Making a profit requires efficiency, especially when you don’t have the power to tax. Economies of scale result in efficiency up to a certain point, but only up to a certain point, after which the problem of coordination kicks in. The biggest corporations are big today in no small part due to their ability to decentralize how much of the day-to-day gets done (look at Amazon). Certain corporations may get very big in ancap world, but they will tend not to get inefficiently big, as that will leave them open to competition.

            In a democracy, by contrast, efficiency is not particularly rewarded. In fact, it tends to be disincentivized, except insofar as voters actually vote for thrift qua thrift, because the game isn’t to see who can make a profit, it’s basically a popularity contest, and being thrifty doesn’t usually win you a popularity contest.

            Moreover, markets tend to funnel more resources toward success through, e. g. stock markets, whereas governments tend to funnel more resources toward failure because if e. g. public education is poor, that must mean the public schools need more money; if your department consistently comes in under budget, conversely, that may be a sign you don’t actually need so much next year.

            When the currency is votes, you vote to devote more resources to whatever seems to need more resources; when the currency is currency, you buy more of what works and stop buying what doesn’t work.

          • Spookykou says:

            @bugmaster

            They will form things similar to GovCorp the difference is they will make more money and all the people will be more miserable. Ancap is very good at making money, but making money =/= happy people.

            @onyomi

            I imagine Ancap would quickly generate ‘megacorps’ I am not sure I understand your argument against bigger companies under ancap. It seems obvious to me that, much like in AI risk ‘global conquest’ – controlling as many different parts of the market as you can, is an instrumental goal of making as much money as you can in a regulation free environment.

            It also seems to me that some industries are high profit and some are low profit but as long as there is some profit people will engage in them. As much as we would all love the margins that Coke sees on sugar water, there is market saturation, so we gotta do other stuff. If your megacorp owns a high profit industry, like sugar water manufacturing, and a low profit industry like school (assuming they can even make good for profit schools at every grade level??) then a 50% loss in profits from your school for a 5% growth in sugar water sales, would still be worth it. The other schools, also low profit, are owned by other mega corps. They all make more money working together on their low profit industries, like schools and news. *Letting them manipulate information in their favor*

            Maybe you have a knock down argument against megacorps in Ancap though that could change my mind?

            *edit

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Spookykou:
            I believe that one thing at least some AnCap’s want is the abolition of corporations altogether. Force everything to personal ownership,where the owner is personally liable for the actions of their business. None of this limited liability stuff, either. That probably put at least some downward pressure in company size and scope.

            But I think there are plenty of examples of people creating massive individually owned companies. I’m not sure when LLC’s came into being though.

          • Furslid says:

            @Spookykou. I don’t like megacorps as an argument against AnCap. AnCap may have a problem with megacorps. However, does it have a worse problem with megacorps than alternate systems? No.

            The various world governments are megacorps more powerful than any theoretical AnCap corporation could be.

          • Spookykou says:

            @HBC Yeah I could see arguments for an Ancap system that doesn’t have corporations, it starts getting really weird though!

            @Furslid That is strange to me, Megacorps seem like a really strong argument against ancap(meaning just our world with no governments).

            First, equivocating between governments and corporations doesn’t seem right to me. If you could, then what is Ancap getting you exactly?(as per Bugmaster’s question earlier)

            Second, a theoretical Ancap megacorp could (at least in theory!) own 100% of the earths production, which would make it more powerful than any current organization of humans*. Even smaller mega corps could be incredibly powerful entities.

            Third, it seems obvious to me that megacorps in a zero regulation system become worse than megacorps as regulated by a government.

            Also the value of being a megacorp goes way up as far as I can tell. Consider the value to Walmart of owning a legal firm, vs owning the court system through which most of their customers would attempt to sue them? Oh no it is corrupt I am going to start paying for Apple courts, the only other court system available in your service area. Of course, Apple Courts and Walmart Courts have already cross negotiated the highest possible fee that they can pay out in a wrongful death case, and its not very much.

            I mean, we have problems with monopolies, ancap world would be nothing but monopolies.

            *Except the illuminati maybe*

          • Bugmaster says:

            @onyomi:
            I’m not sure what you mean by “efficiency”. In our current world, large corporations are able to leverage economies of scale in order to significantly reduce their costs. This makes them arguably more efficient, in the sense that they can produce the same goods at a lower cost as compared to everyone else. This also serves to effectively shut out any competition: sure, you can start the Onyomi.com online store tomorrow, if you wanted — but you’d never beat Amazon’s prices. But perhaps you meant something else when you said “efficiency” ?

            Furthermore, I’d argue that sufficiently large corporations no longer need to worry about making a profit in the conventional way. For example, if you are a large telecom company, and you manage to push everyone else out of a major metropolitan area, then you no longer need to worry about improving quality of service or customer support. You have monopolized all access to what is arguably a basic service; people have no choice but to buy from you. From this point on, you improve your profits by reducing costs or moving into other markets, and not by improving the quality of your product.

          • cassander says:

            @ugmaster says:
            October 24, 2016 at 8:35 pm ~new~

            >Furthermore, I’d argue that sufficiently large corporations no longer need to worry about making a profit in the conventional way. For example, if you are a large telecom company, and you manage to push everyone else out of a major metropolitan area, then you no longer need to worry about improving quality of service or customer support. You have monopolized all access to what is arguably a basic service; people have no choice but to buy from you. From this point on, you improve your profits by reducing costs or moving into other markets, and not by improving the quality of your product.

            John Galbraith made this argument 50 years ago when he said that GM could never conceivably go bankrupt. It was wrong then and it is still wrong.

          • Spookykou says:

            @cassander

            Gm had a utilities monopoly?

          • cassander says:

            >Gm had a utilities monopoly?

            The only way to get a utilities monopoly is to have a government get you one. criticisms of them are, almost by definition, not criticisms of capitalism.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @cassander:

            The only way to get a utilities monopoly is to have a government get you one.

            What is the mechanism that, under the ancap system, allows corporations to get monopolies on anything except utilities ?

            I do agree that, in our current system, it is very difficult (though obviously not impossible, e.g. in the case of ye olde railroad companies and modern telecoms) to achieve a utility monopoly without governmental support. But note that, in order to obtain this support, would-be monopolists have to spend some money on bribing politicians (even though their actions do not fit the strict legal definition of “bribery” in most cases). Under an ancap system, couldn’t they overtly buy whatever support they needed ?

          • cassander says:

            @Bugmaster says:

            >I do agree that, in our current system, it is very difficult (though obviously not impossible, e.g. in the case of ye olde railroad companies and modern telecoms) to achieve a utility monopoly without governmental support.

            Both of those institutions have MASSIVE government support for their monopolies.

            >couldn’t they overtly buy whatever support they needed ?

            Buy support from whom? there’s no an-cap congress to bribe. To get a monopoly they’d have to buy, from every single person in the area they want the monopoly, all possible rights to the service in question. And while they could try to do that, doing so would cause a precipitous rise in the rights in question, ruin being the perennial fate of those who try to corner the market.

          • onyomi says:

            Besides some of the inherent difficulties in creating and maintaining a “free market monopoly,” others have mentioned, one other point: there’s nothing wrong with having a monopoly or a small number of providers per se if the way it is maintained is by providing a high quality good or service at a low price. It’s only a problem if they start charging too much or producing low quality goods and services. At which point they leave themselves open to competition.

            Also even if “Justice by Wal Mart (R)” has an unfortunate tendency to be biased in cases when you sue Wal Mart, if it provides good results in all other cases, it’s still probably better than what we have now, which I’d say is… mediocre-ish in general and highly biased against you if you are, e. g. suing the government. But if the downsides of Justice by Wal Mart start to obviously outweigh the benefits they will, again, leave themselves open to competition.

            The bigger point about megacorps vs. governments is that governments right now have a very big advantage corporations and private groups (as HBC says, there is a certain sense in which limited-liability is a government-conferred advantage for corporations; without it they’d definitely be weaker; I am somewhat agnostic as to whether some similar way of limiting liability would arise in ancap world) do not, which is political authority (see pp. 5, 13-14 for Huemer’s definition of this idea (pp. 9, 17-18 of the pdf)).

            Corporations and private organizations do not have these features Huemer ascribes to governments and if they grew over decades to somehow possess them then they would, in fact, be governments. But I don’t think they would, since getting to ancap world in the first place depends on a large percentage of the population thinking political authority is illegitimate.

            Even with this huge advantage (and with it, the all-important power to tax, which denecessitates profitability) governments have, we still have something like 190 independent governments in the world today and countless subsidiary governments. If governments haven’t yet achieved world domination with these advantages on their side, I don’t think megacorp would without them (and without any government-sponsored benefits they now enjoy either).

          • “In our current world, large corporations are able to leverage economies of scale in order to significantly reduce their costs. This makes them arguably more efficient, in the sense that they can produce the same goods at a lower cost as compared to everyone else.”

            This has not been true in the past and I see no reason to expect it to be true in the future. Up to some size being bigger gives more economies of scale, but not up to any size, and being bigger also produces diseconomies of scale–more layers between the president and the factory floor. We don’t actually observe that, absent regulation, industries automatically become monopolies.

            Consider the case of U.S. Steel, which was formed by Morgan consolidating a number of large firms into one with a market share of about 67%. “One hundred years later, its shipments accounted for only about 8 percent of domestic consumption.” That was without it ever being broken up by antitrust action.

          • Spookykou says:

            @cassander

            I think we are talking at two different ideas here.

            I agree that setting up any utility from scratch in an ancap society would be… honestly it seems nearly impossible? I am not sure how ancap handles public goods? Public goods bargaining companies that go around taking collections? I am not assuming building a new society from scratch, I am assuming you take modern america with its basic infrastructures and wealth distributions and then cut out the government. It is not clear to me who would then own the infrastructure, if the government sells it off and then reimburses all the citizens with a fat check, or divides the infrastructure of america up and gives it to all the citizens? If they sell the infrastructure then any company that buys it has an effective monopoly on that utility in that area, the cost of building new infrastructure to compete with them is prohibitive so they can exploit everyone. If everyone owns their own chunk of the grid, then massive coordination problems? Maybe those bargaining companies can try to set up a contract in the best interests of the people to insure they don’t get shafted by whoever ends up providing them power?

            @onyomi As far as I can tell our biggest disconnect is,

            But I don’t think they would, since getting to ancap world in the first place depends on a large percentage of the population thinking political authority is illegitimate.

            It is hard for me to wrap my head totally around the implications that would have on society. My assumption for megacorps is that they would instantly start to look a lot like governments only with no nationalism at their core and their only concern making profit. Well positioned to merge into larger and larger conglomerates to abuse the advantages inherit in those arrangements and amass assets.

            The government serves as a form of coordinated public power, and it is able to rein in corporations. Strip away the government and it seems obvious to me that the corps would be better at coordination than the writhing masses. But again I think there is the disconnect between ancap utopia and my model of America with the government suddenly gone.

            That being said, I really was joking from the beginning, I have never even thought about mega corps in this context before. Meditations on Moloch is much closer to my true concerns with ancap and ancap like things.

          • cassander says:

            @Spookykou

            >I agree that setting up any utility from scratch in an ancap society would be… honestly it seems nearly impossible?

            I think “nearly” is being generous. I’m not by any means an anarchist, too much death eater in me to be that optimistic about people. I am, however, very much a defender of a red in tooth and claw capitalism.

            > If they sell the infrastructure then any company that buys it has an effective monopoly on that utility in that area, the cost of building new infrastructure to compete with them is prohibitive so they can exploit everyone.

            They can exploit everyone for a while, sure. But part of the reason free market monopolies are so hard to maintain is that the more success they have, the more incentive they create to undermine them. Say you pull off a carlos slim and manage to buy all the cable in a given area, then start charging several times the going rate. That creates a massive incentive for people to build infrastructure on the low cost peripheries of your monopoly. And since we now live in Anarchistan, there are no zoning restrictions, EPA reviews, or other rules preventing me from, say, offering to pay the rent of strategically located grad students if they let me run fibre optic cables through their living rooms.

            This is actually the story of a lot of what we now think of as robber barons. the great barons were often simply the first people to apply modern business techniques to their particular industry, and thus grew to to enormous size. Soon, though, their methods were copied and they started to lose dominance. Standard Oil owned something like 91% of the oil production in the country at its peak, by the time it was broken up, it had fallen to 64%.

            >It is hard for me to wrap my head totally around the implications that would have on society. My assumption for megacorps is that they would instantly start to look a lot like governments only with no nationalism at their core and their only concern making profit. Well positioned to merge into larger and larger conglomerates to abuse the advantages inherit in those arrangements and amass assets.

            I think you greatly exaggerate the advantages of scale. Economies of scale are rare. 100 people working on an assembly line can make many more cars than 100 people making cars individually, but 10 of those factories in a single company are by no means certain to outproduce 10 operating individually.

            >The government serves as a form of coordinated public power, and it is able to rein in corporations. Strip away the government and it seems obvious to me that the corps would be better at coordination than the writhing masses.

            Why do you assume the corps share common interests? Apple and google think of each other as the enemy, not potential allies against the masses.

          • Spookykou says:

            @cassander

            First, I agree with everything you said.

            My idea on corporations banding together is mostly speculative for their behavior in the power vacuum/regulation free environment.

            Similar to the idea that a power vacuum created isis, with the governments gone, then put together a strong coalition and you are in charge. The only way to analysis this historically in comparison with known corporate behavior would be to find an example (I don’t know of any) when a corporate entity knew that it was potentially the highest authority in the land.

            The gains of coalition forming in our system just can’t compare to the value of coalition forming in this theoretical no regulation system. Look at the history of gangs in America to see rapid coalition forming from local neighborhood gangs into international entities. These are deregulated industries setting their own business standards. They achieved this kind of growth in 20 years while operating totally illegally in a country with a government.

            This is largely speculative and I make some ( I think ) largely unfalsifiable claims, but these are my just so stories. Since so much of ancap and similar ideas have just never been tested anywhere, the arguments fundamentally need similar but obviously different just so stories, about how private police forces, etc will just work out.

          • cassander says:

            @Spookykou says:

            >Similar to the idea that a power vacuum created isis, with the governments gone, then put together a strong coalition and you are in charge.

            Oh, of course. Once again, we are in violent agreement. The fundamental problem with anarchism has always been what to do when when someone remembers that coercive power is an option. The best answer the anarchists have for the problem is the promise of a stable, nonviolent equilibrium out there somewhere, but empirical evidence for the claim is, as you say, somewhat lacking. That’s a failure of anarchism in general, though, it has nothing to do with capitalism or corporations.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @cassander:

            Both of those institutions have MASSIVE government support for their monopolies.

            This is not true in the case of the original railroad monopolies, who ended up essentially being the local government in many cases, to the extent of setting up their own currency.

            Modern telecoms obviously enjoy massive government support, but that does not immediately imply that this support is the only reason (or, perhaps, the main reason) that allows them to maintain their monopolies.

            Buy support from whom? there’s no an-cap congress to bribe.

            Ok, let’s say that your electric power company is significantly larger than mine, but we service the same area. You offer to buy me out at a fairly impressive price. First of all, why would I refuse ? Presumably I like money, and you are about to make me rich, right ?

            Second of all, if I do refuse, what prevents you from upping your price, or starting a massive disinformation campaign against me (thus ruining my business), or simply muscling me out by force ? As you said, there’s no congress, so there’s no mechanism that prevents the use of such tactics.

          • cassander says:

            @Bugmaster says:

            >This is not true in the case of the original railroad monopolies, who ended up essentially being the local government in many cases, to the extent of setting up their own currency.

            Because they were GIVEN, free of charge, the land next to the track they laid.

            >Ok, let’s say that your electric power company is significantly larger than mine, but we service the same area. You offer to buy me out at a fairly impressive price. First of all, why would I refuse ? Presumably I like money, and you are about to make me rich, right ?

            sure. And? THere’s nothing wrong with free exchange of goods,and I’ve already discussed what happens should a monopoly actually form.

            >Second of all, if I do refuse, what prevents you from upping your price, or starting a massive disinformation campaign against me (thus ruining my business), or simply muscling me out by force ? As you said, there’s no congress, so there’s no mechanism that prevents the use of such tactics.

            disinformation campaigns are legal now. You see them on TV every day.

            >or simply muscling me out by force ?

            It’s ancapistan, there is no force. Now if you want to object to this stipulation, fine, but that’s objecting to the anarchism side of things, not the capitalism side.

          • Furslid says:

            @Spookykou

            If governments are treated as corporations, then what you get from AnCap is weaker megacorps. As bad as AnCap Walmart might be, I don’t expect it to have some powers that USgov has.

            I don’t expect it to have it’s own court system and outlaw any competition in courts. I expect that even if it has it’s own courts, Walmart would agree have another reputable court system try cases involving it to avoid bias and appearance of bias.

            I don’t expect it to have taxation power, where they can take X% of someone’s income regardless of how they use or value Walmart’s services.

            I don’t expect it to arrest and try people for crimes of morals.

            I don’t expect Walmart security to have universal jurisdiction. They couldn’t enter the property of other corporations and people to arrest at will.

            I don’t expect it to claim standing in every criminal case. An assault case wouldn’t be tried as Walmart vs Doe.

            Etc.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Furslid

            Yes at this point it seems clear that we are just talking about two different things when we say Ancap, and my model is admittedly made at least partially from straw. I can imagine other forms of Ancap where megacorps would not be a problem.

            @cassander

            I shudder to think that my position appeared to be anti-capitalism or anti-corporations in general. I am all for capitalism, the anarchy is where they lost me.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @cassander:

            Because they were GIVEN, free of charge, the land next to the track they laid.

            Even assuming that this were true, how would that be different in an ancap world ? If there’s some land that is sitting around, not being used by anyone, why wouldn’t they just come and take it ? Of course, in our modern world land is incredibly scarce; but that’s a function of our technological development and population size, not our economic system.

            sure. And? THere’s nothing wrong with free exchange of goods,and I’ve already discussed what happens should a monopoly actually form.

            Ok, so firstly, it seems we both agree that monopolies will inevitably form under the ancap system (since there are many incentives for this and few detriments). But, once a monopoly does form, I am not convinced that you can do a lot to dislodge it (in an ancap world, that is). They have more money than anyone else, so they can outbid you on anything they want. You could try competing with them, but they’d either buy you out, cut out your suppliers, or employ one of the other strategies I mentioned. Doing so is in their best interest at all times, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t.

            It’s ancapistan, there is no force.

            Wait, what ? Where did it go ? I guess I could be totally wrong about the world you’re proposing. I was assuming that this was a world where governments were completely nonexistent; but perhaps you meant a world where governments maintain their monopoly on force, but stay out of all the other market segments ?

          • Spookykou says:

            @bugmaster

            I think you are making the same ‘mistake’ that I was making, of speculating on our world just without government.

            It seems Ancap proponents assume that everyone in ancap world will just agree to not use force to get what they want. I have heard some of this idea before, I think it is supposed to work because there is an incentive for a peaceful system(more profitable on net?) so everyone just agrees to one. This seems like magical thinking to me, and doesn’t fit at all with my model of how people would act in such an environment.

            Cassander assumed that we both understood this ancap assumption that everyone peacefully agrees to not use force to get things and so we were arguing that corporation would grow exponentially and be horrible and evil even with third party arbitration. So Capitalism itself must be the problem, since ancap hand waves the An part away.

            I don’t know about you but this was not really my position, I was just assuming, a power vacuum, corporations next largest consolidation of power, they band together to secure their rule and form megacorps that are generally pretty horrible for everyone not at the top.

            Basically my problem was the Anarchy, not the Capitalism.

            To be fair to Ancap, basically everything I know about Ancap has come from random Onyomi comments on SSC so I am probably straw manning or confused on some or most of their position.

            edits

          • onyomi says:

            Ancap isn’t about everyone becoming a pacifist–it’s just dropping the double standard Huemer calls “political authority” which exists in most peoples’ minds with respect to the legitimate use of force.

            For example, almost anyone can think of cases of legitimate use of force by private citizens. If you are a privately employed mall cop, for example, you’d be within your rights to forcibly eject someone from the mall for stealing or defacing property, or in taking back any stolen property you found on them. You might even be justified in shooting someone if they open fire on patrons in the mall. And, of course, if you get beaten up by a mall cop for no good reason you can sue the mall.

            As to when and how and to what extent force may be justified or was justified is open to negotiation; ancap simply insists that force doesn’t gain any extra legitimacy simply by virtue of being deployed by an agent of the state.

          • CatCube says:

            And, of course, if you get beaten up by a mall cop for no good reason you can sue the mall.

            See, this is where the ancap (or any variety of anarchy) falls down for me. Sue the mall in what court?

          • onyomi says:

            There are different views on how exactly it might work. One proposal is that most people and virtually all businesses in ancap world will subscribe to one or more insurance/protection/rights enforcement agencies.

            In the “I got unjustly beaten up by a mall cop” example, you might actually get paid by your own insurance company who would, in turn, go after the cop and/or the people who employed him to recoup the cost of paying out your claim.

            How does the insurance company go after the mall for its money? Maybe they both use the same company with a procedure for investigating and arbitrating cases. Maybe they have different companies but which, by virtue of frequent dealing, have some pre-arranged agreement about how disputes will be arbitrated. Maybe they haven’t dealt with each other before but can come to some agreement like “we will abide by the decision of arbitration firm x, which has a reputation for fairness.”

            What if the mall is super recalcitrant and refuses to either pay up or defend themselves in court? Well, to some extent maybe ancap has a problem with this, but then, so does non-ancap world. In most cases of disputes over e. g. bills, the government doesn’t actually get involved. The party who thinks you owe them money sends you a bill and another bill and a threatening letter and then they sell the debt to a collection agency and if you still don’t pay the collection agency tells the credit reporting agencies which ding your credit which hurts your ability to buy a car… and so on.

            One imagines in ancap world reputation would be even more important, with the result that for most businesses and individuals it wouldn’t be worth the hit in terms of future ability to do business and get jobs and be insured in order simply to refuse to any settlement over any given case.

            It gets a little harder when someone has little to lose: say a vagrant murderer who doesn’t care about being unable to rent a home or get a job or get a credit card or get utility bills in his name. One ancap solution might be simply to exile this person entirely from whatever ancap territory knows about his murders and refusal to stand trial for them. In such a case someone might voluntarily accept imprisonment in preference to being forced to live away from all civilization, for example.

          • CatCube says:

            What if the mall is super recalcitrant and refuses to either pay up or defend themselves in court? Well, to some extent maybe ancap has a problem with this, but then, so does non-ancap world.

            In the non-ancap world, if you sue the mall and they elect to not defend themselves, you get a default judgement. They can’t just “opt-out” of the court system.

            Similarly, every bill collector has the option of suing your for your bill, it’s just that it often is cheaper and easier for them to pester you than to try to get a judgement. Even so, sometimes they *will* get a judgement against people and garnish their wages. In places where the loan is secured, they’ll move to seize the security (Yes, yes, I know you’re going to respond that they can contract with Ancap Repo, but the downside is that even if you pay your bill they can contract with Ancap Repo and dare you to stop them.) Their actions are always backstopped by the courts; in return, they can’t send somebody to your house with a baseball bat. It’s notable that lenders who *don’t* have access to courts will resort to this.

            One imagines in ancap world reputation would be even more important…

            Yes, and some people in societies suffering breakdown *do* do what you fondly hope and try to build positive reputation. Others elect to develop a reputation for killing your whole family if you cross them. History has shown that either can be effective for ensuring that people pay you the money they think you owe them.

            It gets a little harder when someone has little to lose: say a vagrant murderer who doesn’t care about being unable to rent a home or get a job or get a credit card or get utility bills in his name.

            I think you might be radically underestimating the circumstances under which somebody will default on bills because then they can’t get “insurance”. These people will band together and take what they need. (Yes, yes, your “insurance” groups will form security to prevent theft or destruction of your supply convoys. I think you are radically underestimating how difficult and expensive that can get.)

            One ancap solution might be simply to exile this person entirely from whatever ancap territory knows about his murders and refusal to stand trial for them. In such a case someone might voluntarily accept imprisonment in preference to being forced to live away from all civilization, for example.

            Taking the last point first, I think you’re radically underestimating the fraction of people who’ll voluntarily sign up for prison. You do understand there’s a reason we guard those, right? You’re making this way too hard, anyway. Just kick him to his knees and shoot him in the back of the head. There’s no law to put you in prison. Of course, if you end up being falsely suspected yourself, due process of law might be nice thing to have.

            You posit that voluntary groups will come together to enact all these rules and enforce them. This, frankly, looks like the Anarchist States from S.S.D.D., which is nominally anarchist but really has a government that huffily insists it’s not one. (We don’t have laws, we can only give advice. We advise you not to enter that secure military area. You don’t have to take this advice, but note that we’ve advised the guards to shoot any intruders on sight.) And even then, that Anarchy is only stable because it’s secretly backstopped by a superintelligent AI that uses it as a cover for its own insane purposes. There’s not really much daylight between where these “voluntary” systems will evolve to do the same functions we have now and what we just call government.

          • Spookykou says:

            @onyomi

            I am admittedly new to the finer points of this topic, but I tried thinking about it in the terms you set rather than my own terms.

            This idea in particular set the wheels turning.

            Ancap isn’t about everyone becoming a pacifist–it’s just dropping the double standard Huemer calls “political authority” which exists in most peoples’ minds with respect to the legitimate use of force.

            It reminded me of the recent political discussions here on SSC, in particular the more nuanced elements of Americas alliances/defense treaties.

            A major point was that the nuclear defensive agreements the US signs with other nations has a number of less obvious effects, to the purpose of greatly reducing nuclear proliferation and the risk of nuclear war.

            I mostly buy into these ideas, and I think they translate nicely into a general policy of centralizing the authority to use force to prevent the use of force.

            As for “political authority” is there more to this idea then just a population agreeing to a system of laws. It seems to me that people are constantly forming systems where they all agree to a set of ‘laws’ and then the population as a whole enforces adherence to these ‘laws’. This can exists without any governments, hierarchy, or anything else more complicated. In situations where there is no government then these pact laws are still enforced, with actual force, by the population. Governments are not an exception to this communal law system, they are just an extrapolation and growth out from this innate human behavior to form these kinds of systems, maybe this is ‘the problem’ Huemer is talking about.

            I am going to go and read that link you posted Onyomi and hopefully that will help shed some light on these ideas.

          • onyomi says:

            @Catcube

            See this, this, and this, especially 22:00 and 34:30 of the video and pp. 139-141 of the pdf.

          • Spookykou says:

            @onyomi

            I followed all the links you just posted, watched the referenced portions of the video and pages from the PDF. I think I understand where I disconnect from anarchy.

            The basic idea as I understand it, is to recognize that everything that a society does could be handled by markets, and markets tend to be more efficient then governments. I can agree with the first part, but the second part seems to be doing some equivocating of all society goals as being equally well handled by markets, when I have no evidence of this.

            In the video the speaker tries to equivocate between a monopoly on using force, with a monopoly on shoe manufacturing. He does not even try to address the ways in which using force to settle disputes and enforce agreements might be different from making and selling shoes. It seems to me that the best system for performing one task might not be the best system for performing another task with pretty seriously different qualities.

            In the PDF, the David F. quote is trying to equivocate between the legislating and execution of the united states government with car manufacturing. While I would agree that there might be more competition in a manufacturer market then in the democratic process for electing government officials. Again I am confronted with the default assumption that, since markets are good at making cars, clearly they would be good at this very different task.

            This seems like a pretty big assumption, but it might be true, i’m curious about the arguments for this position. My best guess is something like, competition pushes the best to the top in markets for goods and services, so if everything could be done by markets, then competitive markets would be better at doing everything.

          • “but the second part seems to be doing some equivocating of all society goals as being equally well handled by markets, when I have no evidence of this. ”

            I don’t think that’s the claim, at least in my form of the argument. There are some things that markets are worse at than others, most obviously where problems of market failure, which I define as situations where individual rationality does not produce group rationality, are serious.

            But the same logic that makes ordinary markets work poorly also makes the political market work poorly. Market failure comes from situations where an actor does not bear most of the net cost of his action, hence there is a substantial divergence between his interest and our interest. Such situations occasionally occur on the private market (externalities, public goods, adverse selection), but they are the norm on the political market.

          • Spookykou says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I can see this line of reasoning.

            Do you think it is at least possible for some other fundamental element of markets, beyond market failures to create negative outcomes? Basically that the political system does not allow for much at all in the way of competition, which in many cases could be a bad thing, is in this situation a good thing. That for the particular system of using force, I think it is at least reasonable to argue that competition might in and of itself be a net negative. I single higher arbitrator to dole out force if and when it was necessary having some inherent advantages. Again I am reminded of all the arguments for Pax America as a deterrent to nuclear proliferation and war of the last several decades.

            The growth of America as ‘world police’ MIGHT be responsible for the prolonged peace, in the same way that a central government(or government like thing) working as the police in general MIGHT be responsible for prolonged civil peace.

            I think your position is interesting, but find myself stuck on this singular issue of who controls the use of force, and how that particular ‘service’ strikes me as deeply fundamentally different from shoe manufacturing.

            Edit: some words

          • cassander says:

            Bugmaster says:
            October 25, 2016 at 9:27 pm ~new~
            @cassander:

            >If there’s some land that is sitting around, not being used by anyone, why wouldn’t they just come and take it ? Of course, in our modern world land is incredibly scarce; but that’s a function of our technological development and population size, not our economic system.

            Because it would be owned by someone. In the US case, it was owned by the federal government, who gave it to railroads.

            >Ok, so firstly, it seems we both agree that monopolies will inevitably form under the ancap system (since there are many incentives for this and few detriments).

            There are many detriments. Getting a monopoly in a free market requires, effectively, cornering the market, something that almost inevitably leads to failure.

            >But, once a monopoly does form, I am not convinced that you can do a lot to dislodge it (in an ancap world, that is). They have more money than anyone else, so they can outbid you on anything they want.

            they can out bid the first guy, maybe the first 20 guys. But every person they outbid just bids up the price of the next guy.

            >so I don’t see why they wouldn’t.

            They will try, they will also fail, for all the reasons market corners fail.

            >Wait, what ? Where did it go ? I guess I could be totally wrong about the world you’re proposing. I was assuming that this was a world where governments were completely nonexistent; but perhaps you meant a world where governments maintain their monopoly on force, but stay out of all the other market segments ?

            See Onyomi’s response above. I am not an anarchist, I do not advocate anarchism, but we are debating the likely path of capitalism within an anarchist system, so I am assuming a functioning anarchist system for the sake of debate.

          • “Do you think it is at least possible for some other fundamental element of markets, beyond market failures to create negative outcomes?”

            Two different responses:

            One problem, which I discuss in the current edition of Machinery of Freedom, is that there might be economies of scale in the use of force by one agency against another even if not in providing the service of rights protection to customers. That gets back to the issue of industry concentration. The system I described should work fine with a hundred agencies, but with only two or three it would be vulnerable to cartelization to recreate government, possibly a worse government than we now have. That’s still an issue of market failure, since monopoly is one of the standard situations in economics where individual rationality does not produce group rationality.

            There are a number of other reasons why the market for law and law enforcement might produce suboptimal results, such as individual irrationality. But I think all of those impact the government alternative at least as much. The irrational consumer gets stuck with a product he doesn’t like, whether a car or a private rights enforcer. The irrational voter very slightly increases the chance that everyone will get a government they do not like. So the incentive to be rational is much higher in the private market.

          • Spookykou says:

            The system I described should work fine with a hundred agencies, but with only two or three it would be vulnerable to cartelization to recreate government, possibly a worse government than we now have.

            This is a perfect statement of my concern, with the addition that in my estimation even if you start with a large number of agencies, there would be an incentive for them to merge for the express purpose of creating a government, with the initial mergers as leaders.

            I forget the book I read this in but the basic idea was, you create a wizards guild by going to a wizard weaker than you, and threaten to kill him if he does not join your guild, then the two of you go find a third wizard, and threaten to kill him if he doesn’t join, and so on and so on, and there is a better than random chance that if you got in first you might end up on top.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Others have pretty much covered my points regarding monopolies and violence, but still, here is my take on it.

            I think that ancap-ists (ancaps ? ancapites ? ancapodes ?) are making the same mistake as Communists: they innately assume that, in their world, people would value radically different things than they do in ours. Communists believe that people would be exceptionally altruistic (due to the removal of classist oppression); while ancapodes ((c) Bugmaster 2016 !) believe that people would be exceptionally more rational (due to the removal of governmental oppression).

            Unfortunately, based on what I know of history, I am convinced that neither proposition is true. In an anarchistic society (such as e.g. Somalia) violence would not be the last resort — it would be the first. If you have a bushel of apples, you’d better sleep with one eye open, because there are going to be lots of people around who are perfectly willing to shiv you and take the apples. You could argue with them, and explain why such actions would be detrimental to the social good in the long run; but you’re still getting shivved, because they don’t care about social good, they care about getting your apples.

            But violence is a service, just like any other; as such, it is subject to market forces. As with any goods or services, consolidation and economies of scale allow people to deliver violence much more efficiently: you can kill a lot more people with a gun than with a shiv, but now you need someone to manufacture guns for you (as opposed to just whittling a shiv by yourself).

            In our current world, we are outsourcing violence — as well as lots of other essential services — to a large organization called a “government”. Nothing I’ve read on this thread so far had convinced me that, in an ancap world, this would not also be the case (except we’d be calling this organization by a different name, perhaps).

          • onyomi says:

            “while ancapodes ((c) Bugmaster 2016 !) believe that people would be exceptionally more rational (due to the removal of governmental oppression).”

            Representative democracy assumes more rationality on the part of citizens than ancap, because it requires that people do a lot of research and really care about a decision (whom to vote for) that, on the margin, has no effect on their lives.

            In ancap world you get what you pay for and so have a much better incentive to do your research and choose based on criteria other than sex scandals, who has better hair, etc. This is why people currently make more rational decisions about what car to buy than who should lead the free world.

            Ancaps just say: “let’s pick our lawmakers and enforcers like we buy our cars.”

            As for “outsourcing” our violence, as mentioned in the Roderick Long video, to say that we need not have a monopoly provider of x in no way implies that each person will have to provide their own x (or defense against x).

          • “I think that ancap-ists (ancaps ? ancapites ? ancapodes ?) are making the same mistake as Communists: they innately assume that, in their world, people would value radically different things than they do in ours. ”

            I can’t speak for others, but that certainly isn’t my view. I think markets and political systems should be analyzed using the same assumptions about people. One of my main objections to the usual arguments for government is that they assume self-interested behavior by individuals in private markets but a government that simply does whatever benefits the people it governs–instead of a government that is the outcome of the interaction of self-interested individuals.

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander

            There are many detriments. Getting a monopoly in a free market requires, effectively, cornering the market, something that almost inevitably leads to failure.

            they can out bid the first guy, maybe the first 20 guys. But every person they outbid just bids up the price of the next guy.

            I consider your understanding of monopolies very flawed.

            Imagine that a product has big benefits of scale. One company runs all competitors out of business by undercutting them, even accepting temporary losses. Then once they have a monopoly, they increase the price way above manufacturing cost. This then allows the company to build up a huge war chest. If a new competitor comes along, the ex-monopolist can undercut the competitor. Even if the competitor has a strong backer and manage to achieve the economies of scale (unlikely), the ex-monopolist can use their war chest to keep them unprofitable for a very long time. The new competitor could try to keep at it until that war chest is empty, but this creates huge losses. A truly competitive situation doesn’t generate the extreme profits that allow them to earn back these huge losses, especially as building up the same benefits of scale as the ex-monopolist results in huge overproduction.

            So no rational actor will take on the monopolist, unless there is government protection of competitors, because it’s a recipe for losing your money.

          • Aapje says:

            @onyomi

            Representative democracy assumes more rationality on the part of citizens than ancap, because it requires that people do a lot of research and really care about a decision (whom to vote for) that, on the margin, has no effect on their lives.

            It’s actually the opposite of what you claim.

            A representative democracy implicitly assumes that people make decisions that they care about & are knowledgeable about, so the people who get most votes get support by various groups of experts who each boost the politicians who are best on that topic. Of course, this works far from perfectly in practice, because many people care deeply about things that they still know little about & on some topics, the actually ‘right’ people are a small minority of the people who care. Nevertheless, the system tends to work better than most alternatives we tried and does create better outcomes than averaging the knowledge of citizens, IMO.

            In an ancap world, you don’t choose a package deal for all topics combined, but instead, pick different providers. This is actually the argument that you guys keep using as the main advantage (that people pick what they want themselves rather than get decisions made by government). The logical consequences is that people then must be experts on many more different topics, as they need to pick a different provider for each of them, rather than trust in the ‘package deal’.

            In ancap world you get what you pay for and so have a much better incentive to do your research and choose based on criteria other than sex scandals, who has better hair, etc.

            Here you are making an argument that it’s more important for people to be rational in an ancap world, which in my eyes conflicts with your previous statement that ‘representative democracy assumes more rationality on the part of citizens than ancap.’ Perhaps the disconnect is that you think that ancap will magically create far more rationality in people, rather than require it. However, this assumption is unproven by you and probably incorrect, so I think it is fair to characterize your position as assuming more rationality on the part of people.

            I find your optimism unwarranted, as there is evidence that people don’t actually do that research. For example, in my country several things have been privatized over the last decade, but these markets are extremely static with very few people switching providers. If reality worked as you claimed it would, consumers would have responded by doing research and making smart decisions. In practice, it’s pretty clear that most people have limited time to do research and make decisions, so at a certain point they just give up. Probably way before you assume they do.

            There is a small minority of people who absolutely love shopping and I strongly suspect that ancap advocates consist mostly of this minority and who suffer from a frequently made flaw: assuming that others are like you.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            One of my main objections to the usual arguments for government is that they assume self-interested behavior by individuals in private markets but a government that simply does whatever benefits the people it governs–instead of a government that is the outcome of the interaction of self-interested individuals.

            I certainly assume neither and the evidence points to people being neither purely self-interested (unless you torture the definition to define altruism as selfishness), nor purely altruistic.

            The assumption behind representative democracy is not that politicians are altruistic, that is the assumption behind monarchy (& the like), where the monarch has absolute power. In a representative democracy, politicians are temporarily granted power through voting, which redirects their self-interested behavior (as they get/maintain their income, power, etc; by making voters sufficiently happy) and also selects for people with popular altruistic desires.

            I find it unfortunate that you go for this simplistic dichotomy (altruism vs self-interest), because thinking in such a dichotomy demonstrates that a person doesn’t understand the complexity of human nature and instead, predicts their behavior through one aspect of human personality, rather than a more realistic model.

            All theoretical economic theories inherently suffer from simplistic assumptions about human nature, which is why I consider them to have very little persuasive power, unless they have actually been tested in reality. Without that reality check, they usually tell us more about the things that the advocates want to happen, where those biases tend to creep into the assumptions, determine what gets included & left out, etc.

          • onyomi says:

            “Here you are making an argument that it’s more important for people to be rational in an ancap world, which in my eyes conflicts with your previous statement that ‘representative democracy assumes more rationality on the part of citizens than ancap.’ Perhaps the disconnect is that you think that ancap will magically create far more rationality in people, rather than require it.”

            No, my point is that ancap better incentivizes rationality, and it isn’t magic which incentivizes more rational choices, it’s the fact that people enjoy the benefits of good decisions more directly and suffer the consequences of bad decisions more directly.

            My point about democracy is that it requires people be rational about something which it does them no good to be rational about, since a single marginal vote almost never makes a decisive difference as to the outcome. Little wonder people actually vote mostly to signal tribal membership.

            As for the idea that people in ancap world will need to do a ton of research all the time in order to make good decisions: if you follow this logic backward it means that too many things are already produced by the market: why confuse people and force them to do their own research by having multiple car companies? Maybe the government should make one standard issue car for everyone?

            People prefer having options in every area where they do; I’m not sure why law and order would be an exception. You might say that it would require people to be legal experts, but no. Having competition among providers of law and order no more requires customers to be legal scholars and security experts than having a choice among car companies requires people to be car experts.

            Choosing politicians, by contrast, is an almost impossible proposition even for the small minority who choose to do a lot of research before voting. When you buy a new car or, say, a new insurance policy against violent crime and theft in ancap world, you are buying that particular service and deciding largely on the basis of a company’s reputation for providing that service. When you vote for a politician, you generally aren’t voting for them to do a very specific job (though there is a greater degree to which you do so at the local level, where the knowledge and incentive problems aren’t so great; to the extent ancap might resemble a bunch of tiny government-ish HOA-type entities, this is also in its favor). You’re usually voting for some kind of generalist who will then appoint all the bureaucrats who do the day-to-day work of the government.

            It’s the difference between asking a consumer to buy his own car and asking him to vote for the CEO of General Motors. The latter is much, much harder and requires a lot more industry-specific knowledge.

          • Bugmaster says:

            In our current world, people routinely make terrible decisions when shopping. This is partially due to the fact that there exists an entire industry whose purpose is to influence their decisions; but also due to the fact that most people can’t really be bothered to perform extensive research on each little shopping choice.

            In response, product manufacturers and service providers move to satisfy the demand as efficiently as possible, by doing things like applying lead paint to children’s toys, or claiming that cigarettes can cure your cough. In our world, it took government intervention to stop things like that. Some businesses suffered serious financial harm as the result, but the world arguably became a better place.

            If the ancap proponents are right about their views on free market and consolidation, then it would seem that we would still have lead-painted toys in the ancap world. But personally, I think that the ancap world would naturally transform into a more traditional governmental system (all but in name), and that government would still use its monopoly on force to ban lead paint.

          • cassander says:

            Aapje says:
            @cassander

            Economies of scale are not infinite, and there are large dis-economies of scale. As I believe I said elsewhere, 100 guys in a factory can make a lot more cars than 100 individuals going at it solo, but a company with 100 of those factories is not more efficient than 100 individual companies. In fact, it’s probably less.

            Most goods are mobile, so to achieve the sort of monopoly you’re talking about, you’d have to build a global monopoly, something that’s never been achieved for anything. if you managed to build you built such a colossus, simply keeping it from collapsing under its own weight would be a significant achievement on its own. Undercutting leaner competition would be a pipe dream.

            Utilities are an exception to the rule, which is why they were being discussed earlier, because they aren’t really mobile but instead bring services to a geographic area. But they’re even less suited to the sorts of economies of scale you described, precisely for that reason.

            @Bugmaster

            >If the ancap proponents are right about their views on free market and consolidation, then it would seem that we would still have lead-painted toys in the ancap world. But personally, I think that the ancap world would naturally transform into a more traditional governmental system (all but in name), and that government would still use its monopoly on force to ban lead paint

            Lead paint wouldn’t be illegal in the Ancap world, that’s true. There’d probably be more of it. But there’d also be a lot less asbestos because there would have been no government mandating its use to comply with fire codes at the turn of the century. Your cost/benefit analysis of the virtue of regulation is leaving out the cost side entirely.

          • Spookykou says:

            @cassander

            I am not sure how accurate you are with the asbestos and regulation in general. Asbestos is an amazing material in every way except one, the US government might have helped it along but in counterfactual ancap world I imagine it would have gotten around, and then never been banned. Just like lead paint, leaded gas, CFC’s, etc, etc.

            Counterfactual ancap world starting 100 years ago would almost certainly have cause unrecoverable damage to the world. Humanities advances in Chemistry happened to work out very nicely with our understand of its dangers such that we were able to stop ourselves, through government regulation. Without such a powerful tool for collective bargaining, ancap world would have been in a sorry state.

            It seems obvious that you can only even consider an ancap society moving forward from the information we have now, and pray that there is never another CFCs situation in the future.

            Edit: I mean in general we should hope that there is not another CFCs situation, even in a democracy, but in Ancap world stuff like that is basically a world killer.

          • “Imagine that a product has big benefits of scale. One company runs all competitors out of business by undercutting them, even accepting temporary losses. ”

            This is, of course, the usual urban legend about Standard Oil. The only problem is that it isn’t true.

            If economies of scale go up to the size of the market you have a natural monopoly. If they don’t, then a smaller firm can produce at the same cost as the monopolist–lower cost if by the monopolist’s size there are net diseconomies of scale. In the competition between a firm with 95% of the market and a firm with 5% of the market, the former trying to drive the latter out by selling below cost, the big firm is losing at least nineteen dollars for every one dollar the small firm is losing.

            It’s probably losing more, because at the lower price customers buy more, and if the big firm wants to hold the price down it has to expand production to do so. The smaller firm, on the other hand, has the option of reducing output to whatever level minimizes its losses, in which case the larger firm has to produce even more to hold the price down.

            This is a very old argument. You can find the points I just made in chapter six of my Machinery of Freedom.

          • glenra says:

            One company runs all competitors out of business by undercutting them, even accepting temporary losses.

            Being big in terms of market share makes pricing below cost ruinously expensive.

            Also, the nature of the economies of scale in an industry tend to change over time; the minute some new technology comes along to make widgets better and cheaper, the biggest existing players have a massive investment in older ways of doing things so a scrappy small upstart can often pull the rug out from under them faster than they can reposition to take advantage. (This is how the mini-mills replaced Big Steel and how airlines like Southwest with newer planes and less senior crew stole market share from United and American.)

            A smaller firm can also compete by specializing. They can go after any specific subclass of customer not adequately served by the bigger firm’s one-size-fits-all product.

            In a free market, being the market leader is a tenuous position. You have little competitors constantly nipping at your heels. One wrong move, and you lose.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            In the competition between a firm with 95% of the market and a firm with 5% of the market, the former trying to drive the latter out by selling below cost, the big firm is losing at least nineteen dollars for every one dollar the small firm is losing.

            This depends on many assumptions, like the product not being geographically bound, there not being an oligopoly among resellers, the costs of production being equal, etc. Take gas stations, the monopolist doesn’t have to lower the price at all their gas stations, just the ones near the new competitor. They most likely can still run an overall profit while making losses locally.

            If there are just a few resellers, the monopolist can sign exclusive contracts with the resellers, threatening to pull their products from the store if they don’t comply. The reseller would then probably make a greater loss on no longer having the products of the monopolist (especially if they have an assortment of goods) than they earn from being able to sell the new product.

            You are also weak manning the shit out of my argument. In many cases, the monopolist doesn’t have to make a loss, because they already have such a big margin above their production costs. I said that they do have the option to go below costs, but never said that it is necessary. Furthermore, the new competitor often has had to make huge investments to start of with. So they are generally weak, while the monopolist is very strong. So even if you get the very unlikely scenario of 19 to 1 losses (which is pretty much the worst case for the monopolist and generally not true), that can still be quite sufficient, assuming that these attempts happen rarely, so the benefits from the period that the monopoly is not under attack outstrips the costs of the defensive moves.

            Example of an (IMO) very reasonable possibility: monopolist produces 1 unit for 1 dollar, but sells for 5. New competitor produces for 1.1 dollars and sells at 2. Monopolist now lowers the price to 1 dollar, which they can do indefinitely, especially if they are a multinational that makes profits on other products. The best case scenario for the new competitor is that they merely have to match the price of the monopolist, so that they make 0.1 dollar loss per sale, which is going to end one day. Then the monopolist increases their price to 5 again. Of course, in reality the new competitor probably has to undercut the monopolist by a decent margin to make people be willing to take the risk of moving to a new product.

            Note that in this scenario, the reward for the monopolist winning this ‘war’ is a profit of 3 dollar per unit (their current margin of 4 dollars would go down to 1 dollar profit per unit), while the reward for the competitor achieving it’s goal is 1 dollar per unit (as they can only hope to achieve a competitive market). Basic economic logic dictates that the party whose end goal is more profitable, can afford to spend more to achieve their goal.

            The smaller firm, on the other hand, has the option of reducing output to whatever level minimizes its losses

            In my example, that would be producing zero units.

          • Aapje says:

            @glenra

            Also, the nature of the economies of scale in an industry tend to change over time; the minute some new technology comes along to make widgets better and cheaper

            That’s true, but R&D is strongly disincentivized in a pure free market, and government R&D would obviously not happen either. So you would be more or less correct for the kind of R&D that consists of a single guy in his basement making an invention, but many inventions require much more work and probably would no longer be done. So you’d have far fewer disruptive inventions.

            Furthermore, the monopolist could simply buy up the invention and use it to increase their margins even further or shelve it.

            A smaller firm can also compete by specializing. They can go after any specific subclass of customer not adequately served by the bigger firm’s one-size-fits-all product.

            That is true, although it generally matters little to the monopolist. Bespoke products tend to be so costly to make that they are way more expensive than even monopoly prices. Bespoke manufacturers actually reduce the ability for new competitors to come along with a slightly different product, to try and split the market, so they can help the monopolist more than hurt them.

            In a free market, being the market leader is a tenuous position. You have little competitors constantly nipping at your heels. One wrong move, and you lose.

            True, but an ancap world will probably have a less competitive market than we have now, so then it will be easier for market leaders to stay on top.

          • @Aapje:

            It’s useful to distinguish between a natural monopoly and an artificial monopoly, and you are not doing so–you go back and forth between arguments that depend on the assumption that the large firm has lower costs and ones that don’t.

            I don’t think anyone denies that if a firm producing for the entire market has lower costs than any smaller firm, the market equilibrium is monopoly–that’s the standard natural monopoly story. But it’s a situation that is very uncommon save for small markets–the one general store in a small town far from other small towns–or very specialized niches.

          • Spookykou says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Would it be possible for an artificial monopoly to become a natural monopoly if, any point of their production process is vulnerable to a natural monopoly, and they move into and take over that industry and deny that important production process from any would be competitors to their artificial monopoly?

            Can an artificial monopoly use it’s market share to demand exclusivity contracts, making it difficult for any would be competitors without a place to sell, or buy from?

            I am curious to learn more about how monopolies work, if you don’t mind I would appreciate a book/blog/something recommendation where I could learn more.

            Thanks

          • @Spookykou:

            It’s easiest for me to point you at stuff I’ve written which sketches the standard theory of monopoly but is not directed at your particular questions.

            Chapter in my Price Theory.

            My Machinery of Freedom isn’t webbed as separate chapters, but the relevant material is in Chapters 6 and 7.

          • Spookykou says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Thank you, I will read through both.

          • glenra says:

            @aapje:

            So you would be more or less correct for the kind of R&D that consists of a single guy in his basement making an invention, but many inventions require much more work and probably would no longer be done.

            Furthermore, the monopolist could simply buy up the invention and use it to increase their margins even further or shelve it.

            I think we’re thinking of different kinds of invention. One example I gave above was airlines. Planes are certainly in the huge, complicated class of invention; they tend to get better over time, and not due to the efforts of one guy in a basement.

            So: United Airlines started up in the 1930s by combining smaller firms that were using the best planes available at the time. As newer, better planes were invented, they added new planes to their fleet and gradually phased out older planes.

            Motivated by the need to serve the entire market, the United fleet and route structure becomes complicated. Pretty soon they have newer planes and older planes, big ones to cross oceans and small ones to take skiers to Jackson Hole. They are paying a pretty big complexity tax. Their pilots, engineers, and cabin attendants need to deal with the idiosyncrasies of a varied and aging fleet. This is inefficient and kind of expensive.

            Then Southwest Air comes along. They build a fleet of 550 planes ALL of which are Boeing 737s. They pick routes optimized for the plane they have and buy planes optimized for the routes and the staff they have. Having one type of plane means their engineers know that plane really well, always have the parts they need, and can fix stuff quickly. Having one plane means they can optimize boarding and refueling procedures for the exact plane they’ve got and reduce turnaround time. It means if a plane is broken and they swap in a different one, nothing else in the process or crew needs to change.

            Southwest’s advantage over United is that they started later. They can outcompete United on the kind of routes for which a Boeing 737 is (now) the best plane, leaving United with all the routes for which it’s not.

            (JetBlue did the same thing a little later; their fleet started in 2000 with 130 Airbus A320s)

            You really ought to read Friedman’s book. The strategies you suggest have counterstrategies he discusses (and gives examples of) in print.

            Regarding lowering gas prices in a particular area, does anything stop other nearby competitors from sending their refueling trucks to buy your below-cost gas to sell at their gas stations? (Standard Oil tried some similar tactics which failed in predictable ways)

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @dndnrsn:
          It’s not kind of tautological, it is tautological.

          Here is a round-up written by Tyler Cowen where he addresses various treatments of rationality by economists. Tautologically is not the only way economists define it, but, given an assumption of rationality by all actors in the market at all times, it strikes me as the actual underlayment of any model.

          I haven’t read that whole document, FYI, so I am not endorsing it (and I don’t know when it was written).

        • Wrong Species says:

          Who are you to tell people their preferences aren’t rational? What does that even mean? Preferences are arational. If I know that binge drinking alcohol will kill my liver, but continue to do it anyways, that doesn’t mean I’m irrational. It just means I value drinking more than my long term health.

          The only person who truly knows each persons preferences is themselves and since we can’t read people’s minds, we measure their preferences by what they do. We could also try surveys but those aren’t foolproof either and if we wanted to capture all preferences, that would be so many questions that it would be impossible to complete. Revealed preferences isn’t perfect but what is?

      • Deiseach says:

        Drinking Coca-Cola is a signal that you are like the people whom Coca-Cola portrays in their adds.

        I very much am not like the people Coke portray in their ads, no matter what decade you pick the ads from, and I drink Coke – not because of the advertising, but because I prefer its taste. So some people may indeed buy goods because of the aspirational nature of advertising (sophisticated/with-it/popular/happy/clever people eat/drink/wear this!), but not everyone does.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Deiseach:

          You, clearly, aren’t the target market for those kinds of ads.

          But, I’m pretty sure, given enough people “like” you, the marketers could figure out a way to bias you even more towards choosing not to drink Pepsi, or influence you to drink more Coke, or make you go farther out of your way to get Coke instead of substituting water/tea/coffee/etc.

    • sketerpot says:

      I’m a free-market person, so here’s a simple reply: the advertising industry can cause people’s decisions to be quite a bit more irrational than they’d otherwise be, and that sucks. It’s a problem.

      No human system is without flaw. If serious problems are all it takes for you to reject a proposed economic system, then you’ll reject every system I’ve ever heard described. But the show must go on, in some form or another, so the trick is picking the best of the flawed options. What alternative would you propose?

      • Aapje says:

        @sketerpot

        If serious problems are all it takes for you to reject a proposed economic system

        They don’t cause me to reject the system as a possibility, but rather the people who declare that system ‘optimal’ or ‘efficient’ or don’t recognize how their benchmark is somewhat arbitrary (like a bigger GDP being better).

        Most discussions about economic systems are utterly dogmatic and thus offer little information, other than revealing the biases of the debaters.

        But the show must go on, in some form or another, so the trick is picking the best of the flawed options.

        Well, right now the people running the show are steering the ship towards an iceberg while cheerily declaring that this is inevitable and the optimal choice (but to be fair, this has more to do with the choices within the ‘market’ system than the system itself).

      • Dabbler says:

        @sketerpot

        Just of curiosity, what about a free market system with a government that outlaws advertising? I think a government which regulates it heavily would be very hard but as another alternative what if there is some historical precedent out there to base it on?

        Neither would be my first choice. But despite their suboptimalities I think they’re worth thinking through simply to remind ourselves that it’s more than simple alternatives like “Free Market” or “Not Free Market”.

        • Aapje says:

          it’s more than simple alternatives like “Free Market” or “Not Free Market”.

          Actually, we don’t have an option of a true free market (the prerequisites of a free market are incompatible with reality). We only have an option of choosing the amount of regulation, where it’s even subjective which regulation makes a market more or less free.

          • Dabbler says:

            Question one- How do you define true free market? I just want to make sure we’re clear on our terms. I suspect you’re wrong, but to be fair at this stage I don’t know that.

            Question two- This sounds like the idea of “positive liberty”, which is deeply flawed.

            Most importantly, the linked with an ideal of fulfillment. If you define fulfillment as what a person desires, then it is nonsensical to talk about it as better than negative liberty. If you don’t, then you’re straight out imposing something on people for their own good.

            It’s also worth pointing out that it’s a contradiction in terms.

          • Aapje says:

            Question one- How do you define true free market?

            A market where prices are purely set by supply/demand & where there are no barriers to entry for suppliers or buyers.

            This is false in any reality where:
            – Property ownership exists (& there is not infinite property) and certain resources are thus owned by A, but not by B.
            – Suppliers and buyers are not in the same location and transportation isn’t free.
            – There is information asymmetry, like trade secrets.
            – Acquisition costs are not zero.
            – People don’t actually choose the lowest price or sell to the highest bidder, but have free-market incompatible desires (like a willingness to buy local goods, even when