Open Thread 61.75

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

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446 Responses to Open Thread 61.75

  1. Linked List says:

    What are some weird language quirks that you know in languages other than English? For instance, in Brazilian Portuguese we use definite articles before proper nouns. It’s like “The Bob went to the store and ran into the Marco”. Afaik it’s the only language that does that.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Greek (both Ancient and Modern) does the same.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Ancient Greek does usually, except if you’re referring to somebody for the first time in the conversation (“Bob went to the store. When he got there, the Bob ran into Marco. The Marco said to the Bob…”), except if the person is really famous.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          For instance in Ancient Greek basileus (“king”) without the article usually means “The King of Persia” rather than simply “a king.”

          (Ancient Greek has definite articles but no indefinite articles. Modern Greek uses the word for “one” as the indefinite article).

      • Linked List says:

        Huh. TIL.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Latin has no word for yes or no.

      Lots of languages have irregular verbs; Ancient Greek is the only language I know of to have an irregular noun (θρίξ, τριχός, in case you were wondering).

      • onyomi says:

        Chinese also has no words quite equivalent to “yes” and “no.” You typically say “correct” or “incorrect” if affirming or denying the accuracy of someone’s statement. But if you just want to answer a question like “do you like tea?” You literally say “like” or “don’t like.”

        • Loquat says:

          And we can hardly let it go unmentioned that this has spawned english internet slang – at the end of Star Wars episode 3, Darth Vader’s “Noooooooo!” was literally translated (and back-translated into english subtitles) “Do not want!”

          • onyomi says:

            Wait, is that the locus classicus of “do not want” or was it funny because it coincided with an existing meme? I had thought the latter.

          • Loquat says:

            It is indeed the source of the meme, as my above link to the Know Your Meme website will tell you. Specifically, it’s from a bootlegged copy of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, dubbed into Chinese, with English subtitles back-translated from the Chinese so shittily that the title was rendered “Backstroke of the West” – a guy posted screenshots of the whole thing on his blog, and the post was shared widely for the lulz. Ironically, “do not want” is one of the most accurate and comprehensible parts of the whole translation.

          • onyomi says:

            I do recall “The Backstroke of the West.”

        • Winter Shaker says:

          As I understand it, Scots Gaelic* also has no standard words for ‘yes’ and ‘no’. You can get by with ‘tha’ (pronounced ‘ha’ – the spelling system is fairly consistent but really weird coming from English) -‘it is’ and ‘chan eil’ – ‘it isn’t’ in a lot of cases, but in the Scottish independence referendum, where you had saltire badges with ‘Yes’ on them for the pro-independence campaigners, the Gaelic equivalent read ‘bu choir’ translating as ‘it should’.

          Oddly, I can’t remember, and don’t seem to be able to google what the equivalent ‘no’ badges said. The Gaelic-speaking areas did vote against independence after all.

          *Disclaimer: not a speaker of the language, I just know a few words

          • AlphaGamma says:

            I think there was a similar situation in Ireland with their recent referendum on same-sex marriage- the “yes” and “no” options on Irish-language ballots were “Tá” and “Níl”, which apparently mean “I am” and “I am not” (in favour of the amendment).

          • Deiseach says:

            Yep, same in Irish. There isn’t an equivalent of simple “yes” and “no”; most questions can be answered “Sea” (roughly pronounced “sha”) or “Ní hea” which literally translates out to “It is” or “It isn’t”, being elided forms of “is éa” (it is) “ní hea” (it is not) – forms of the copulais“.

            “Tá” and “Níl” are used, but that’s awkward because they’re the present tense of the verb (“to be”); it’s more like saying “Is-ness (existence)” and “Nothingness (non-existence)” and it sounds really clunky because when speaking Irish, you will use “Sea“/”Ní hea” or “I do/I don’t”, “It is/it isn’t”, and so on, e.g.

            Would you like a cup of tea? Ar mhaith leat cupán tae?

            Yes (literally “I would”) Ba mhaith liom/No (“I would not”) Níor mhaith liom.

            Actually the literal literal translations of that are not “like” but more “is it good with you” 🙂

            Scots Gaelic “Tha” pronounced “Ha” is similar to the local dialect here of Irish where “Tá” is also pronounced “haw” 🙂

            “Bu choir” would map onto Irish Gaelic as “Bá choir”, meaning as you said “should” or “(you would) have right (to do something)” “it would be correct/proper (to do something)” – this has carried over into Hiberno-English as “I had right to say something when Mary decided we’d all go to the park on Sunday morning but I didn’t and now I have to go”.

          • Aapje says:


            It could also just be good design 🙂

            In GUI design, there has been a strong move away from using Yes/No. Replacing those with verbs that actually describe what happens (Save/Don’t Save) is far less likely to result in people clicking the wrong button.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        English also does, if you can consider any of English to be regular. I would argue that as the plurals of most nouns are formed by the same method, nouns like sheep, person, ox and child are irregular as there’s no real way for someone unfamiliar with them to guess their plural.

        Similarly, Russian has various nouns with extremely non-standard plurals, sometimes taken from a separate word- and Russian grammar is otherwise quite regular.

      • Welsh doesn’t have “yes” and “no” either.

        Other weird things: the initial letter of a word can change according to the previous word, making it hard to figure out with a dictionary.

        There is no particle or ending for the genitive, you just park to nouns next to each other.

        Conjugated adverbs.

        • Deiseach says:

          Other weird things: the initial letter of a word can change according to the previous word, making it hard to figure out with a dictionary.

          Lenition! Irish has it too, the main difference (I think) being that when Welsh was written down as against Irish, we retained the lenited letter and it was dropped in spelling for Welsh? Amateur guessing here, so don’t take that as Gospel.

          Very crudely – in Irish, for instance, mother is “máthair”, first syllable pronounced “maw-“. “My mother” is lenited, so it is “Mo mháthair”, first syllable pronounced “waw-” (or “vaw-“, there are two possible pronunciations and it depends on which dialect you learn).

          In Welsh, the words would be spelled as pronounced, so “máthair” would turn to “mo wáthair” when written (I don’t know the equivalent Welsh words, so sorry). The same way Douglas Salo developed Sindarin, which Tolkien had said was based on Welsh, so “Bruinen” becomes “i Vruinen” when lenited (in Irish that would be “an Bhruinen”, “bh” being pronounced “v”) 🙂

    • onyomi says:

      Japanese and Korean have this thing where two different versions of numbers, one Chinese and one native, are used in different circumstances.

      It would be like if, in English, you used “one, two, and three” in certain circumstances and “un, deu, and trois” in others.* English does have the cute phenomenon, however, where we use native words for animals (cow, sheep, pig, deer, snail) and French words for food (beef, mutton, pork, venison, escargot).

      *Edit: words like “dozen” and “percent” are kind of like this.

      • Randy M says:

        Grouping words like dozen, few, or couple typically have exact meanings but my impression is that they are used to convey some level of uncertainty.

        • onyomi says:

          Here I just mean that “dozen” comes from the French word for twelve, douze (or for a group of twelve things, “une douzaine”), as opposed to using some conceivable English word, like “a twelver.”

      • Skotos Holt says:

        It would be like if, in English, you used “one, two, and three” in certain circumstances and “un, deu, and trois” in others

        It does.

        One, two, three, …

        First, second. third, …

        A, couple, few, handful, many, dozen, lots, …

        • The original Mr. X says:

          That’s not a valid example, because one, two, three are cardinal numbers and first, second, third are ordinal.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Agree with Mr X – the situation is (from my very very limited memory of learning some Japanese, so correct me if I’ve messed this up) like if you had a different word for ‘two’ depending on whether you came into a restaurant and asked for a table for two (without actually specifying two people), or went into a shop and asked for two apples – the generic numbers that you use to count (at least, from one to ten) are native Japanese, but the numbers that you use to specify how many of a particular thing are Chinese loan words.

          • Mark says:

            You can use either with people – you can say “ni-nin” (where ni is the Japanese derived from Chinese) or “futari” (where futatsu is the japanese japanese).

            But I think for more than two people you would just say “san-nin, yon-nin” etc (Chinese version).

            Some counters you use the Japanese – “hito-sara” means “one plate” ”mikakan” means “three days” but I think more often you use the Chinese version “ichi ni san” – and then add on a counter (like “piki” for animals)

            The generic way to count things is the Japanese Japanese number. Normal way to count (numbers) is the Chinese Japanese.

            And there is something where if you are counting backwards you use a different word for some of the numbers to when counting forwards, too.

            (This sort of thing might not be so noticeable in English because of the similarity between numbers in all European languages? Three, drei, trio, trois tre)

      • JulieK says:

        A counting system derived from Brythonic Celtic (the language in Britain before the Anglo-Saxons showed up) remained in use in England for counting sheep until not so long ago.

    • Corey says:

      I heard there are languages with a negative yes, as in an unambiguous single-word answer to the question “You don’t like tea?” if you don’t like tea.

      • lvlln says:

        That’s really interesting, because answering “No, I don’t like tea” to “You don’t like tea?” is something I’d consider a very weird quirk of English. Logically, and with Korean as my 1st language, it’s always been clear to me that the answer should be “Yes, I don’t like tea” or “No, I do like tea.” The fact that some languages have a 2nd “Yes” specifically to avoid this weird quirk that’s in English is extra quirky.

        • onyomi says:

          Conversely, when learning Japanese (native language being English), I had to think of “hai” as meaning something like “yes, (what you just said is correct),” and “iie” as meaning something like “no, (what you just said is wrong).” Just thinking of them as “yes” and “no” would have been misleading.

        • Matt M says:

          I feel like casual English still hasn’t quite figured this out. If someone asked, “You don’t like tea?” then one could plausibly answer “No, I don’t” or “Yes, that’s right” and both would communicate the idea that the person does not like tea. In the case of this question, if you HAD to limit it to one word, “Yes” is probably better than no, but a one-word answer in this case is likely to create some sense of confusion without any explanation/follow-up.

          • Randy M says:

            “True.” seems to work but isn’t what most people expect.
            I’d say “Don’t ask questions where there’s no easy non-ambiguous answer” but then again, maybe the formulation exists not to efficiently exchange information but to prompt for a more detailed response.

            Rarely will you start the conversation with “You don’t like tea.” More likely it is what you would say when seeking confirmation.
            A starts pouring tea.
            B says “None for me, please.”
            A replies, “Oh, you don’t like tea?” what they are asking for may be to start a conversation about why or how particularly the other person doesn’t like tea, or to express a fear that something about their tea was not meeting expectations.

      • Aapje says:

        In Dutch, you can just say the equivalent of ‘correct’ (klopt) or ‘exactly’ (inderdaad).

      • Adrian says:

        German has the word “doch” (rhymes with the Scottish “loch”, not with “dock”) to contradict a negative assertion. “You did not do your homework! – Yes, I did do my homework.” becomes “Du hast deine Hausaufgaben nicht gemacht! – Doch, ich habe meine Hausaufgaben gemacht.”

        Interestingly, there’s no explicit counterpart, i.e., Ja:Doch::Nein:Nein, so “You told me to jump! – No, I didn’t.” becomes “Du hast gesagt, ich soll springen! – Nein, habe ich nicht.”

    • beleester says:

      In Biblical Hebrew, a leading vav (“And…”) reverses the tense of the verb it’s attached to. “Vayikra” means “And he spoke,” but “Yikra” means “He will speak.”

      Thankfully, modern Hebrew got rid of that.

    • martinw says:

      In Dutch, any noun can be turned into a diminutive form via standard rewriting rules. E.g. “auto = car” and “autootje == little car”. (German has the same thing although I think it’s less commonly used there.)

      • Linked List says:

        Portuguese too, and I think Spanish as well. There’s also an “augmentative” (sp?) suffix to say something is large.

        • Alejandro says:

          An even more fun example is the pejorative suffix, used to transform a word into a despicable, worthless or generally low-value version of the original word. Me and my friends used to go to a little bar in Buenos Aires that we affectionately called “el barsucho”.

      • In Dutch, any noun can be turned into a diminutive form via standard rewriting rules. E.g. “auto = car” and “autootje == little car”. (German has the same thing although I think it’s less commonly used there.)

        Yiddish has this quality, too, and there is also a double diminutive (tep = bowl, tepel = cup, tepeleh = little cup).

        In Yiddish, anything with a diminutive is neuter; diminutives ungender nouns.

        (Disclaimer: I’m not a fluent speaker; I learned all these things decades ago, and may have details wrong.)

        • AlphaGamma says:

          In Yiddish, anything with a diminutive is neuter; diminutives ungender nouns.

          This is fairly common- it’s the case in Modern Greek and IIRC German.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I think it’s the case, at least sometimes, in Ancient Greek as well; e.g., παῖς (boy), παιδίσκον/παιδάριον (little boy); ἄνθρωπος (man, person), ἀνθρώπισκον (little man, manikin).

      • And the Dutch are *really* fond of diminutives. If you translate it literally, it sounds like Enid Blyton.

    • hlynkacg says:

      I’ve always thought it was kind of funny (and typically Russian), that a lot of Russians seem to frame the good/bad dichotomy as bad “плохая и неплоха” bad vs un-bad , while calling something good “хорошо” seems to imply a certain level of exceptionalism the way “Amazing!” would in English.

      I also think it’s funny that that the root of the Russian term for profanity is “матъ” thanks to the ubiquity of “yo momma” type jokes/insults.

    • onyomi says:

      Somewhat related to this question:

      Is there an (ideally non-arbitrary) ideal number of world languages? For the purposes of art/poetry? For the purposes of thought? Some might say the ideal number of languages is 1. But language probably shapes thought to at least some extent. Would having fewer world languages mean lower variability in types of thinking possible?

      The case for the poet is somewhat easier (more phonemes, more structures, more idioms all=more to play with), though even then, there must be some limit (taken to reductio ad absurdum, we’d have a different language for every individual, at which point there would be no communicative function; somewhat less speculatively, apparently Papua New Guinea has 800 languages (?!). This seems like somewhat more than ideal for a population/territory of such a size, though of course there are always lingua franca).

    • Wander says:

      Swiss German, along with having no formalised way of writing it (Schwiitzerdüütsch, Schwyzerdeutsch, whatever works for you pretty much), has a really fun way of making slang. You add “li” on the end of everything. Bueb (boy) becomes Buebli, Tasche becomes Taschtli, Spaetzle becomes Spatzli (or Knopfli, in my family at least), and so on. You can do this with a lot of words, and the Swiss really do it seemingly at random.

      Amusingly, it’s very similar to Australian English in that way, but they use “ey” instead of “li”.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        University of Oxford slang back in the ’20s used to do that, with “-er” added to the end of pretty much anything. Incidentally, that’s also where the word “soccer” comes from: Association Football was often written with the abbreviation “Assoc.”, which then became “Soccer” in the contemporary slang.

      • French has an even funner one based on swapping syllables.

        “The name verlan is an example: it is derived from inverting the sounds of the syllables in l’envers ([lɑ̃vɛʁ], “the inverse”, frequently used in the sense of “back-to-front”).”

    • Incurian says:

      I’ve noticed many Arabic speakers, when speaking English, will refer to something a certain number of days in the past by saying “before # days.” It took me a while to realize they were talking about the past, not the future. I suspect that’s how it is spoken in Arabic.

    • shakeddown says:

      Swiss German is one of the very few languages that aren’t a context-free grammar, due to having cross-serial dependencies.

      …at least, according to Wikipedia. When I asked my German friend about it she said their sample sentence was meaningless. (Upon which we called a friend of hers who was a native Swiss-German speaker, who said it was meaningless and asked if we had been drinking. We had.)

      • suntzuanime says:

        Well, there are a lot of sentences that make important linguistic points that random native speakers will swear up and down are meaningless. Like center embedding: the rat the cat the man saw chased escaped.

        • shakeddown says:

          Oh man, that one took me a while to get. (Another good one: “Time flies, you can’t. They fly too quickly.)

        • Ninmesara says:

          Just out of curiosity, how meaningless is that sentence to a native speaker?

          • Loquat says:

            The rat the cat the man saw chased escaped?

            It’s not meaningless, but I needed to spend a minute analyzing it to figure that out. Presumably there are other native speakers who wouldn’t be willing to spend the time and would just dismiss it as meaningless. Also, it’s super awkward and I can’t imagine anyone ever saying it under normal circumstances.

          • Spookykou says:

            At first blush it was meaningless, even given that I knew I was about to read a seemingly meaningless sentence, so I would say it is a pretty solid example.

          • Tekhno says:

            Does the sentence mean that the man saw a cat that was chasing a rat, and the rat escaped from the cat? If so, I got it straight away.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Loquat
            Like center embedding: the rat the cat the man saw chased escaped.

            Without the context I wouldn’t have thought to construe it as a sentence. I saw something like: ‘The rat and the cat and the man and the saw [all nouns comprising a compound subject] chased and escaped [two verbs making a compound predicate]. But ‘chased and escaped’ didn’t make sense, so I looked for which noun would fit which verb; then I saw what kind of pattern it was.

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      What I always wanted to know: Do other languages use Latin words/phrases for their legalese? E.g., does the Portuguese legal system use the phrase “mens rea” or do they have another phrase for the legal equivalent?

      • Brad says:

        I don’t know the answer, but in addition to Latin we also have some French in our legalese. The reason for it is because the Norman rulers of England originally did business in their own language — Old Norman. That eventually transformed into Anglo-Norman. Long after everyone else stopped speaking that, the conservative legal profession was still using a degraded version called Law French. After it finally switched over to English (or Law English) some remnants remained. The word ‘attorney’ for example.

      • Linked List says:

        Yes, Latin is everywhere in lawyer-talk. It’s because nearly all legal systems were heavily influenced by the Roman tradition.

      • Ninmesara says:

        I am not a lawyer and this might be hilariously wrong. In the relevant section of the Portuguese Penal Code I can’t find the expression mens rea, so I guess that word must not be in use. Also, the Portuguese Legal System is not based on the Common Law, and as such there might be no single concept that maps into mens rea. In general, whenever I have read any kind of legal document I’ve never found any Latin word. You also don’t hear many (if any) Latin words when lawyers/judges speak on TV. My non-specialist understanding is that the concept of mens rea is covered by the Portuguese words dolo (the person intended to commit the crime and did so with the knowledge of the consequences – this word is a legal concept which is nver used in everyday conversation) and negligência (negligence, equivalent to the english word). This is not to say that legal speech is easy to understand, as it uses a specialized vocabulary, but I don’t think it uses s lot of Latin.

        On the other hand, Portuguese is one of the closest languages to Latin, and many of the words in use by the legal system might be very close translations of the original Latin word.

        In medicine, for example, we do use some Latin words to refer to anatomical landmarks, but they are considered Portuguese words, and pronounced as such. Even then we actually translate many Latin words. For example, while the English speaking world refers to a certain muscle as teres major (literally “the big round one”), the Portuguese refer to it as grande redondo (literally “the big round one”). The muscle commonly known as “lats” (in english latissimus dorsi – literally “the broadest muscle of the back”) is known in Portugal as grande dorsal (literally “big [muscle] of the back”). I believe the same may apply to the legal system.

        On the other hand, in the past Latin was widely used especially in scientific, legal and religious communications.
        In very old theater plays, for example, lawyers and priests drop Latin expressions all the time.

    • Izaak says:

      Clusivity: some languages have multiple pronouns for “we”, one of which represents “a group of people including me and you”, and one of which represents “a group of people including me but excluding you”.

      Noun Classes: Technically, languages which have a grammatical gender really just have noun classes which match up with semantic gender. Some languages which have strange grammatical genders, or noun classes which don’t match up well to semantic gender:

      1) Men and Animate Objects
      2) Women, Water, Fire, and Dangerous Things
      3) Edible Fruit and Vegetables
      4) Everything Else

      Luganda (these categories are not strict; there are a lot of exceptions)
      1) People
      2) Long, Cylindrical Objects
      3) Animals
      4) Inanimate Objects
      5) Large Things and Liquids
      6) Small Things (Luganda allows formation of diminutives by changing another noun’s gender to this gender)
      7) Miscellaneous, but contains most names of languages
      8) Rarely used, can be used to form pejoratives
      9) Used for nounifying verbs
      10) Mass Nouns

      1) Things whose creation is not controlled by the subject, including places you can go, relatives who are older than you, things you sit on or wear.
      2) Things whose creation is controlled by the subject, like your children, spouse, or favorite color.

      Evidentiality: Many languages have grammatical ways to express the certainty or source of a statement, such as whether the event was seen, heard, or relayed second hand.

      Plurality: Most languages have singular and plural distinctions. Some languages also have another plurality option; dual. This represents that there are exactly two of something. A few languages even have a trial plurality; however, this is only ever seen in pronouns, never in regular nouns.

      Vowel Length: Despite what many people are apparently taught, vowel length is not a feature that english has (unless you’re Australian). However, vowel length is surprisingly common around the world, even though I suck at consistently doing it.

      • Linked List says:

        Love this! LANGUAGES BE CRAY

      • onyomi says:

        Japanese and Korean are the only languages I know of which conjugate verbs differently depending on the level of formality of the situation as well as the relationship of the speaker to the listener. Do you know of any others which do this? Of course, French and Spanish have “vous” and “usted,” but those aren’t entirely separate systems of conjugation.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          For what it’s worth, I’ve been learning Portuguese recently, and have gone from having a smattering of the European variant to, for personal reasons, rapidly brushing up on the Brazilian variant. European Portuguese has a distinction between


          (informal you singular) and


          (formal you singular, but not as formal as

          o senhor / a senhora)

          but many parts of Brazil (including where the person whose dialect I am now learning comes from),


          has disappeared, meaning that if I forget to put it back in when talking in informal situations or to small children in Portugal, I sound kind of stuffy and archaic.

          It would be like British English still retaining


          while it disappeared in most of the USA I guess.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Re evidentiality, I have a vague memory of the idea of a language where there is no grammatically correct way of making a statement without also incorporating your level of confidence mathematically. My best guess is that this would have been our host’s own conlang Kadhamic, though given its origin story as a conlang even within its fictional universe, constructed out of the solution of philosophical problems that the real world has failed to solve, I’m not sure how fully he developed that. And I could be conflating it with something else anyway.

        • keranih says:

          Quite possibly that was one of the languages in Janet Kagan’s excellent & fun novel Hellspark.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Evidentiality: Many languages have grammatical ways to express the certainty or source of a statement, such as whether the event was seen, heard, or relayed second hand.

        Latin does that by changing between indicative and subjunctive in “because” clauses:

        “Marcus Juliam ducturus est quod eam amat [indicative]”: “Marcus is going to marry Julia because he loves her (and I am confident that he really does and this is really his reason).”

        “Marcus Juliam ducturus est quod eam amet [subjunctive]”: “Marcus is going to marry Julia because he loves her (or so he says, although personally I’m doubtful).”

    • Ninmesara says:

      For what it’s worth, European Portuguese also does this, but not consistently. It depends on the level of formality of the conversation. Not using the definite article is more formal, while using it is more informal. If you’re talking to friends, it sounds artificial not to say “The Marco”, but if you’re an anchor on TV you’d never say “The Marco”. From listening to Brazilian TV I believe the formality dynamics must be the same.

    • Tibor says:

      In Czech we decline the names when we call someone, the case is called vocative. So for example if you call me in Czech you say “Tibore”, not Tibor. It works for any noun (although for some words the vocative coincides with the nominative). Usually -a in nominative changes to -o in vocative, -e stays the same and words that end with a consonant get an extra -e at the end. Interestingly, the mutually intelligible Slovak doesn’t have this grammatical case and neither does any other Slavic language as far as I know. Latin is the only other language I know of which uses the vocative (but only for some words).

      Speaking of Brazilian Portuguese, I find the colloquial “a gente” in the sense”we” really weird (especially since the proper nós is even shorter). (A gente literally means the people in Portuguese but it is often used in the sense “we” in Brazil).

  2. AlphaGamma says:

    Continuing the East-German doping discussion from the previous open thread:

    I’m still wondering why the East German doping system was more effective than any other Eastern Bloc country, or China for that matter.

    Probably a combination of (comparative) wealth, a major pre-Communist tradition of amateur sport, and a fairly large population. West Germany didn’t do too badly at the Olympics either- usually a couple of places behind the East in Games where they both participated.

    • dndnrsn says:

      West Germany had a population more than 3x as large as East Germany.

      It’s a good point that, for an Eastern Bloc state, East Germany was quite wealthy.

    • Skeltering Lead says:

      The East German government may also have been more focused on enhancing national prestige through Olympic medals than other states. It’s not obvious why any country, especially relatively poor ones, should lavish resources on winning sports competitions. A national training program wouldn’t fit under the old Anglo-American amateur ideal. To pick on rowing again, we (the US) used to send the champion college team to the Olympics, rather than select the 8 best rowers nation-wide. We’ve obviously moved to a more Easter Bloc style national program since, with either less or better hidden doping.

      • Aapje says:

        It’s not obvious why any country, especially relatively poor ones, should lavish resources on winning sports competitions.

        1. Sports are a relatively cheap way to establish nationalist ingroup/outgroup feelings in people
        2. Legitimacy of the government generally depends on the society achieving things under its rule, sport is again a relatively cheap way to achieve something. The USA has ‘best nation in the world’ and ‘American Dream’ rhetoric to achieve the same, which requires a lot more effort & resources to make good on (and they happen to fail IMO, which is one of the reasons that people like Sanders and Trump get so much support).
        3. Dictators often like being celebrated/validation. It’s relatively easy to get applause by slipping on the podium with a successful athlete.

        • nimim.k.m. says:

          Well, yes, those reasons existed for all communist countries.

          However, one could argue that all those incentives were more pronounced for East Germany because they were in a far more direct ideological competition with West Germany than some other states. “Let’s divide the Germany in two parts under different regimens and let’s see which part does better!” The need to show off where they could was heightened.

          • Matt M says:

            Totally agree with this. I’m no expert on Russian or Chinese culture, but it seems somewhat plausible to me that they could brush off the Olympics as a pointless frivolous plaything dominated by western culture that the new Communist man has no reason to waste their time on.

            That’s probably not so easily done for the East Germans who grew up playing and caring about the exact same sports and sporting traditions that their West German rivals have.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Matt M:

            My understanding is that both the USSR was and China to this day is pretty big on fairly aggressive training and streaming programs to develop athletes who can compete, at least in some sports, at an international level.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Most Eastern Bloc countries seem to have that attitude, and the Chinese still do. Is there a reason to think that the East Germans were more focused on treating the Olympics as war without the shooting than the USSR?

        Maybe they just had superior organization, fewer problems to worry about, better doping, whatever.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Is there a reason to think that the East Germans were more focused on treating the Olympics as war without the shooting than the USSR?

          I was under the impression that the motivating factor had more to do with competition between the Soviet states than a particular desire to defeat the West. IOW, wanting to beat the West was the base level motivation that was constant, but keeping your doping regimen secret even from other Soviet states gave you bragging rights within the bloc.

          • Tibor says:

            That’s not a very likely explanation. Even though the east block countries were theoretically sovereign, they were free facto all ruled from Moscow. There would be no official support of competition between them (there were several cases of advanced technology being replaced by inferior Soviet one in Czechoslovakia because the Soviets always had to be the best. For example a certain mechanism used on bicycles in indoor racing which was developed in Czechoslovakia had to be replaced for political reasons with the old one even though all western block cyclists actually ended up switching to the new one). But as others mentioned, DDR was supposed to be the advertisement for communism because of the easy comparison to western Germany (in Berlin it was the most obvious).

            I think that the relative wealth was not so important. Czechoslovakia was even slightly richer and even though doing was also present, it was not on the same scale as in Germany. Also, doing is not that expensive and the much poorer Soviets managed to be the first to put a man (as well as several animals) to space, which was tremendously more expensive than administering doping and building a few reasonable facilities for sports. Unlike on Germany or Czechoslovakia where it would’ve lead to a rebellion, the Soviets could let half of the country starve and use the saved money for propaganda projects. Had they wanted to organize DDR level doping (and there definitely was a lot of it there too), they wouldn’t have had a financial problem with that.

          • John Schilling says:

            Even though the east block countries were theoretically sovereign, they were free facto all ruled from Moscow. There would be no official support of competition between them…

            I would think that likely to shift the nationalistic desire for competition to less official venues, no?

            Moscow could have ordered the Eastern European nations to stay home, to send their best athletes to take up residence and serve on the Russian team, to offer the IOC a Warsaw Pact team or none at all, but was instead OK with allowing each of those nations to compete in their own name against the whole world. Including against each other, including against Moscow.

            If that’s the only game the East Germans are allowed to beat the Romanians or the Russians at, I expect it will be a game they will try very, very hard to win.

  3. Sniffnoy says:

    History-of-popular-science question for anyone who might know (cross-posted from elsewhere).

    I remember as a kid always hearing about how, back when rocketry was first getting started, everyone believed rockets couldn’t work in space, because Newton’s 3rd law doesn’t work when there’s no atmosphere to “react against”.

    Now, there really was a famous NYT op-ed from 1920 that made exactly this claim. But I find it pretty incredible that any actual physicist could make a mistake like that (given how Newton’s 3rd law and its equivalents, such as conservation of momentum, are pretty tightly woven into the structure of both classical and later theories of physics), and, perhaps more relevantly, aside from that one piece (and things from decades later discussing it), I haven’t been able to find any other reference to this idea.

    So my question is: How widespread was this myth? Was this something people actually believed on any large scale (before or after the 1920 piece), or was this just the mistake of a few ignorant writers given a platform, blown up by later generations into another story about how they all laughed at such-and-such an idea? Basically, is the “rockets won’t work in space” myth itself largely a myth?

    My suspicion is it’s the latter, that this wasn’t widely believed to any substantial extent, given how little I’ve been able to find on this; but I am definitely not a historian and am wondering if anyone knows more.

    • hyperboloid says:

      Even in 1920 no person with even a basic scientific education would have believed that a rocket could not function in a vacuum. Newton’s Principia was published in 1687, and his ideas were essentially immediately accepted by the intellectual establishment of the time. The basic physics had been settled at the very beginning of the scientific age. It was well understood that if mass was ejected from a body travailing through a vacuum that body would be subject to an equal and opposite force, and no reputable institution of higher learning anywhere in the western world would have taught differently for three hundred years.

      Popular understanding is a little bit harder to gauge, but while the spacecraft in Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon” is famously launched by cannon, it uses solid maneuvering rockets. So the trope of using rockets to maneuver in space was present in popular culture fifty years before that New York times piece.

  4. What is the major problem with America’s criminal justice system as it currently stands?

    According to progressives like Michelle Alexander in her book “the New Jim Crow” and Elizabeth Hinton in her book “From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime” the problem is that the criminal justice system treats African-Americans very, very differently for the exact same behavior than whites (and presumably Asian-Americans as well.) Media outlets like Vox and the New York Times seem to run a lot of stories about how the criminal justice system is biased. And, anecdotally though I suspect representatively, in my experience of talking to well-educated liberal coastal people, they see this kind of bias as a huge problem.

    However, as far as I can tell, the criminological evidence—which Scott reviewed well in “Race and Criminal Justice: Much More Than You Wanted to Know”—suggests that the criminal justice system mostly though not completely treats people of different races similarly for the same behavior. The massive disparities often falsely [1] described as result from biased treatment in reality result from different behavior. The key way to reduce the “mass incarceration” of blacks and Hispanics, at least relative to whites and Asian-Americans, is to reduce the rates at which they commit crimes to ones comparable to whites and Asian-Americans.

    This seems pretty incontrovertible from the evidence I’ve seen, though if you disagree I’d be glad to hear your reasons for it. And indeed, Scott reached similar conclusions in his follow up post responding to Ezra Klein on race and criminal justice. However, the reason that different groups commit crimes at different rates is often automatically assumed in e.g. articles in even relatively more centrist outlets like Vox or 538 to be differences in poverty, which is itself automatically assumed to be the result of racism and systematic oppression. I think the evidence for this is much less compelling than is often assumed, and in reality culture and HBD are probably better explanations. Consider:

    —Fluctuations in the economy that have major impacts on the well-being of ordinary citizens produce no changes in crime rates (as Barry Latzer powerfully argues at length in the very underrated “the Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America”.) We can see this by looking at how crime actually decreased during the Great Depression, with a contraction of IIRC ~1/3rd in GDP and a rise in unemployment to 25%, and stagnated during the Great Recession, with a contraction in GDP of ~10% and rise in unemployment to ~10% (IIRC on the specific numbers) while it increased considerably during the 1960s, with consistent full employment and high GDP growth. See:

    —According to this Washington Post article, the NLSY shows affluent black kids are 3x more likely to commit crimes (or, to be politically correct, “be incarcerated [for some unnamed reason, probably discrimination]”) than *poor* white kids:

    —RCA finds that economics is an insufficient explanation for differences in homicide rates:

    —While the just-so story progressives like to hear is one about how the desperation of poverty leads people to commit crimes, one could easily tell a just-so story in which the same factor (e.g. low IQ) causes both.

    And then, with the protests/riots of Black Lives Matter and the essays in the Atlantic of Ta-Nehisi Coates both demonstrating this in very different ways, we find that the America of 2016 cannot live with these racial disparities, but seemingly cannot fix them either. What is to be done?

    [1] A cursory Google search for “criminal justice system racist” turns up these two articles near the top, both of which repeatedly incorrectly identify disparities caused by differing rates of criminal offending (or other relevant confounding variables) as being caused by racism:

    • Corey says:


      • While I think this certainly may be a factor, I’m skeptical that it adequately explains the discrepancy: considerable differences in offense/incarceration rates have persisted from the first records thereof post-abolition in the late 19th century to the present, despite what I presume to be fairly large changes in lead exposure.

        I think the lead-crime thing, which Vox has been pushing a bit recently, is an example of liberals trying to indirectly solve an intellectual problem posed by race differences in a race neutral way (see also: gun control.) While I sometimes/often agree (like in this case) with the specific policy ideas, I think it should be recognized that there’s an underlying issue they won’t address.

        • Spookykou says:

          I think Scott also pushes the lead-crime thing, I thought it was on pretty solid ground. I could understand thinking it is not the only factor, but I am surprised you think it ‘may be a factor’. Besides it is a form of bio-determinism, it should be bosom buddies with racial theories.

          • Corey says:

            The lead-crime connection in general is pretty solid, it tracks across countries, cities, etc. differential timings in banning leaded gasoline. If it works as elsewhere, India’s just about due for a big crime rate drop IIRC.

            As for US racial differentials, since lead exposure is location-based and the population is pretty segregated, it’s going to be difficult or impossible to disentangle from race itself.

    • shakeddown says:

      Race aside, I think America has far longer prison sentences for similar crimes (across all demographics), which is the main reason the incarceration rate is so high.

      • Right, and Michael Tonry made similar arguments in “Malign Neglect”, which I read at Scott’s recommendation in “Race and Criminal Justice”. But, as I implied in the original comment when I said “mass incarceration…relative to whites and Asian-Americans”, while the baseline of American criminal justice (and, analogously, gun violence) may well be too punitive, it doesn’t seem to be that bad in the eyes of the chattering classes and ordinary people for whites and Asians who live in America.

    • Sandy says:

      I briefly assisted a law professor working on a forthcoming book about the American prison system; his view on the matter was that the spike in mass incarceration over the last 20-odd years is largely down to prosecutors systematically overcharging to meet expectations and embellish their crime-stopping credentials, which helps them get noticed so they can move up the ladder and maybe transition to careers in politics or the judiciary. Jail time for smaller offenses, more jail time than usual for bigger offenses. This has various spinoff effects; for example, longer prison sentences lead to greater desocialization and thus increased chances of recidivism. I also recently had a chance to speak with Juan Cartagena, a civil rights lawyer who currently serves as the President of PRLDEF; he largely agreed with the idea and felt prosecutors should arrive at a consensus against overcharging to tackle mass incarceration. This strikes me as a coordination problem — the incentive to overcharge remains even if all prosecutors decide overcharging is a bad thing, and complicating factors like politics and public opinion might set the dominos in motion anyway.

      • Very interesting, thanks for the information. I think my responses to comments above are relevant here.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        But why would this have only started happening in the past 20 years? What is there about this that wouldn’t apply before?

        • Eltargrim says:

          Could be a competition effect; the rate of production of lawyers is greater than the rate of production of senior law-related positions. If the bottleneck appeared at the junior prosecutor level, that could lead to increased competition for positions. Conviction rate is an easy metric to point to and say that you’re effective.

          I’m having a hard time finding reliable historical numbers, but is it possible that, say 25 or 30 years ago, law school enrollment spiked, competition rose, and the culture of prosecutor’s offices changed?

          • Sandy says:

            The glut of lawyers is definitely a factor I hadn’t considered.

          • The_Other_Brad says:


            Does this mean the solution is to kill all the lawyers? Perhaps open a yearly hunting season on them? :p

          • Deiseach says:

            Does this mean the solution is to kill all the lawyers? Perhaps open a yearly hunting season on them?

            A culling programme is the only humane way to deal with the effects on the profession of over-crowding and too many graduates from law schools for the amount of jobs that are out there. Otherwise you get packs of scrawny young disease and parasite-ridden barristers scavenging in dumpsters, roaming the streets fighting with family pets and scaring the children 🙂

          • Skeltering Lead says:

            Bow and spear hunting will be permitted year round, of course. It’s more sporting.

        • Sandy says:

          I’m not 100% sure, I only read an abstract and a few chapters of the book’s draft. But from what I gather, there were harder sentencing laws passed in the 80’s and 90’s (like truth in sentencing laws and Clinton’s Violent Crime Control act) in response to the urban crime problem that strengthened the incentives of prosecutors to be unforgiving and even zealous in their charging.

        • The leap in crime rates from 1960 to 1975 (homicide rates tripled, other crimes rates moved in parallel) led to a tremendous voter backlash. Punitive measures against crime became hugely popular. Here in Michigan, every 1970s/1980s ballot proposal to get tough on crime passed by overwhelming margins, carrying every county. Legislatures also moved to increase prison sentences and impose mandatory minimums.

          Whatever else you might say about the criminal justice system, it is ultimately sensitive to what the electorate wants, and the new emphasis on heavier punishment worked its way into every transaction.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            …And the violent crime rate actually did start dropping steeply in the 80s and has been dropping ever since.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            And yet almost every other rich white country had the same rise and the same fall without an increased incarceration. The effect of incarceration was zero.

          • And yet almost every other rich white country had the same rise and the same fall without an increased incarceration.

            Perhaps parliamentary democracies are more resistant to demagoguery on criminal justice issues?

            The effect of incarceration was zero.

            I meant that the rise in crime led to a political response which led to incarceration. The impact of expanded incarceration on crime rates is a separate question.

          • Sandy says:

            And yet almost every other rich white country had the same rise and the same fall without an increased incarceration. The effect of incarceration was zero.

            How many other rich white countries had heavy concentrations of non-Asian minorities in their major cities? Cities, after all, set the political pace of the nation almost everywhere in the world. New York City in the 80’s was around 25% black and 15% Hispanic. The black percentage is about the same today while the Hispanic percentage has nearly doubled. London, on the other hand, is only about 13% black today and unlike the United States, there are no cities in the UK where that percentage is higher the way 60% of Atlanta is black. So for whatever reasons for the link between race and incarceration you can imagine, whether black people just commit more crimes and get jailed more as a result or whether the electorate’s desire for harsher punitive measures is secretly a white desire to throw more black people in jail, the political impulse to increase incarceration wouldn’t exist anywhere else in the white Western world.

          • shakeddown says:

            the point was that the implication more incarceration=>less crime doesn’t really hold, since we saw the exact same decrease in crime over the period in countries that didn’t do that. America’s race-and-crime relation is probably unrelated to the crime decrease, though it may be related to the incarceration rise.

          • Randy M says:

            The effect of incarceration was zero.

            For this to be literally true, wouldn’t the recidivism rate be zero? Or is crime a zero sum game, where if we let people prone to crime free, those already out will have less chance to commit crimes?
            Or is there no inherent propensity to criminality, and people just emerging from prison are equally likely to be affected by the social/environmental influences as anyone else?

            Otherwise, it seems very hard to understand how longer de facto sentences would not equal less crime unless the convictions had basically zero correlation with actual guilt.

          • “And yet almost every other rich white country had the same rise and the same fall without an increased incarceration. The effect of incarceration was zero.”

            That’s a strong claim on a subject about which lots of people have strong feelings. Can you point at the data that justifies it, in particular the “zero,” the claim that not only was the change in incarceration not the only cause of the fall but it had no effect?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Here is the OECD data. I don’t claim that eyeballing it is a strong argument, I just claim that it is orders of magnitude stronger than any argument that has been put forward for a non-negligible role of incarceration in American criminal fluctuation.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @ Douglas.

            Yeah Douglas I think eyeballing the data gives the opposite impression you indicated. It appears that the US both went up faster and down faster than other countries, so maybe incarceration does matter. But even more than that, my impression is that US is so different from the other countries presented that you really can’t use the other OECD countries for any sort of conclusion.

          • shakeddown says:

            How about comparing Minnesota to Canada? They seem similar demographically/culturally enough that the main difference is laws.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Mark, Your conclusion does not at all follow from your description of the data. First of all, America went up without decreasing incarceration. If it went up fast and down fast, then it was already different in speed before incarceration diverged, so incarceration did not cause speed.

            But your description of the data is ridiculous. Perhaps you just mean to say that you refuse to compare America to other countries because it started at a different baseline. It went up 2x and down 2x, the same as other countries. It did so in the same time it took other countries to go up and down. Also, whites and blacks in America moved in tandem, both up 2x and down 2x.

            shakeddown, Canada shows that incarceration causes crime.

          • Douglas wrote: “And yet almost every other rich white country had the same rise and the same fall without an increased incarceration.”

            Shakeddown wrote:

            “since we saw the exact same decrease in crime over the period in countries that didn’t do that.”

            Looking at the OECD data, neither statement is true, the second farther from the first. Other countries had a rise and fall, but it wasn’t the same either across countries or relative to the U.S. The fall starts earlier in the U.S. than in most of the other countries, the rise and fall are enormously larger in absolute terms and, at least eyeballing it, somewhat larger in relative terms.

            That’s aside from the fact that the data don’t tell us how other countries responded to the initial rise, whether they took any actions in response.

            Douglas concludes “the effect of incarceration was zero.”

            The data don’t show that. There is a large difference between “the data don’t prove that incarceration had a large effect” and “the effect of incarceration was zero.”

          • phisheep says:


            “is crime a zero sum game, where if we let people prone to crime free, those already out will have less chance to commit crimes?”

            I suspect this is true of *some* crimes at least, though any evidence I have is anecdotal at best and UK-based.

            Household burglary is one example. A prolific burglar can quite easily create a one-man crime wave in a small town, which is sort of manageable with improved security/neighborhood watch. Lock ’em up and new burglars emerge then when the first one gets out there are several on the streets.

            More obviously perhaps is anything to do with illegal trading (drugs, contraband etc) where incarceration opens up a gap in the market for others to exploit. It is pretty hard to reduce the supply when there is a ready market out there, and harder to track down a new gang rather than keeping tabs on the one you already know about.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            First of all, America went up without decreasing incarceration.

            I don’t think anyone said crime went up because of decreasing incarceration. I can think of several possibilities for both the up and the down, but no explanation for both. They have different reasons.

            But your description of the data is ridiculous. Perhaps you just mean to say that you refuse to compare America to other countries because it started at a different baseline.

            The baseline shows that the US is quite different from other countries. I think it is more ridiculous to expect a country from a different baseline to behave the same. Although to my eyeball, the magnitude of the other countries changes are quite different from each other also. The only thing the same is that all went up at some point, and then all went down. I think there are so many confounding factors that you can’t say anything with confidence.

        • Adam says:

          The six-day LA riots became the most well-chronicled civil uprising in American history, and the largest and most violent since the New York Draft Riots of the mid-19th century. 10,000 National Guard troops and nearly 2,000 local officers deployed to quell random acts of violence, destruction, robbery and mob assault, under Martial Law and a dawn-to-dusk curfew. With security concentrated in the hottest areas, civilians, most notably in Koreatown, assembled their own attack forces to defend their stores and properties; this almost tribal scene of warfare; the closest the city ever came to total anarchy. The LA riots were the peak of urban violence in America, with at least 58 dead (almost all homicides), at least 3700 buildings burned, and 11,000 arrested in the aftermath. Insured damages reached an incredible $1.268 billion.

          Why the early 90s were a really good time to be tough on crime

          That’s only one event, but in general, unlike today when politicians just lie about how much danger you’re in so you’ll vote for them even though the world is the safest it’s ever been, the 70s and 80s were actually a time of pretty high crime and violence in the urban U.S. and 90s sentencing laws were a pretty direct response to that.

      • Reasoner says:

        See also under “American Culture Treats Prosecutors as Heroes”.

    • qwints says:

      Your argument against an economic explanation seems very weak. Comparing GDP and unemployment to violent crime doesn’t account for economic inequality or property crime, and the RCA article finds that poverty is correlated.

      • >GDP and unemployment

        I’m pretty sure the lack of correlation is true for property crime as well, and I don’t think economic inequality has much to do with crime rates because the huge spike in violent crime in America from ~1964-1994 began around a decade and a half before the beginning of rising economic inequality and ended amidst very high economic inequality. I think this is all pretty strong (though not conclusive) evidence against the kind of vulgar mechanical economic explanation for crime (especially perpetrated by NAMs) that’s popular among liberals.


        Yes, neither I nor RCA would disagree that poverty plays some role in crime, though at least I would reiterate my earlier suggestion that confounding variables may explain some of this. However, RCA shows quite convincingly that, as he puts it:

        “Although it’s clear that poverty predicts homicide quite independently of black, it’s also clear that black predicts independently of the poverty. Moreover, if you look closely at the distribution and other analysis I present here it’ll be clear that poverty doesn’t come close to closing these racial differences.”

        Also, I note that you didn’t address the article describing NLSY data I linked that seems to show African-American children raised in relatively affluent circumstances are considerably *more* likely than white children raised in *poor* ones to be incarcerated as adults (presumably for, you know, committing crimes.) I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some way to look at the data to deflate this gap a bit. However, even if the size of the real gap is reduced considerably from the form in which it was presented, it poses a huge challenge to a simple story about economics perfectly explaining crime rates.

        • qwints says:

          I don’t think that “economics perfectly [explains] crime rates.” I agree that economics does not fully explain the overall crime rate or racial differences in crime rates. For that matter, so does the NAACP which points to other environmental factors (e.g. social isolation) as an explanation. I don’t think you’ve shown that it’s not a factor.

          I’m pretty sure the lack of correlation is true for property crime as well,

          Why do you believe that? Here’s a 2001 study from the Journal of Law and Economics of state level data from 1971-1991 finding a positive correlation between unemployment and property crimes, but mixed results for various violent crimes. You can find a broader survey of other micro and macro level studies here at pages 3542-3543.

          • I wrote a reply, but it seems to have disappeared after I posted it, possibly for containing too many links as per below in the thread. While I don’t want to rewrite the entire thing (at least right now), two quick points of importance sans links:

            1) The authors of the study say that a substantial part of the fall in property crime in the 1990s can be attributed to the fall in unemployment. However, the massive rise in unemployment during the Great Recession failed to produce a reciprocal rise in property crime, which continued to fall slightly. If we were to go back to 2001 and ask the authors at the time what they think would happen to property crime if the worst recession of the post-war period was to occur in a few years, is this really what they’d predict? (Also, unemployment rates in the 1960s, when the big rise in many crimes began, were almost equivalent to those of the 1990s, when the big fall did.)

            2) A general point I forgot to make in my original comment: African-Americans and Hispanics have almost identical economic outcomes, but the Hispanic incarceration rate is around 40% of the African-American one.

          • qwints says:

            Fair point about what the study’s authors would predict. I agree that their theory would suggest that we should have seen an increase in property crime rates post 2008 compared as opposed to what actually happened. I don’t think that you can meaningfully comment on whether economics partially explains crime by just looking at national numbers.

    • keranih says:

      What is the major problem with America’s criminal justice system as it currently stands?

      The nation-wide demand for laws (“community norms”) to be enforced across too many different communities with different norms.

      Regarding the racial difference in crime rates – Jill Levoy in Ghettoside argued – while drawing on the research of others – that in the post CW South (the cultural homeland of American Black Culture) the white property owners/taxpayers/community leaders had no reason to insist police investigate ‘black on black’ crime, and the natural resentment of white society by former slaves led the newly freed Black community (which had never had a tradition of being honest and forthright with the white slave owners) led to resentment of any attempts by white police to investigate crimes by blacks.

      Add in post-CW retribution by former slaves, white repression of the political and physical power of former slaves, Reconstruction, and the rest of the mess, and Leovy argues that Black culture/communities suffered a lack of proper policing, which led to lack of trust in police, which led to poor performance of police, which led to people taking the law into their own hands.

      I think it’s a decent theory, but even in the book, Leovy fails to account for the relative lack of violence in Hispanic communities.

      Ghettoside is worth reading – but I found it turned me off pop culture detective stories. Most dead bodies in any given US city are poor young black men, not wealthy, sophisticated, educated upper middle class whites. Watching most detective TV feels like a whole class of people is being disappeared.

      (Leovy felt the same way about the news – so she wrote up every. single. one. of the murdered dead in LA, in a regular column about local crime, for more than a year.)

      • Sandy says:

        Ghettoside is worth reading – but I found it turned me off pop culture detective stories. Most dead bodies in any given US city are poor young black men, not wealthy, sophisticated, educated upper middle class whites. Watching most detective TV feels like a whole class of people is being disappeared.

        Relevant from the subreddit

        • keranih says:

          Yah! for an actual study looking at this.

          Bah! For a serious failure in categorization –

          And under ‘Hispanics,’ we included non-Hispanic Latinos such as Brazilians.

          The US census category ‘Hispanic’ includes people of Spanish and Portuguese descent. Which was done deliberately to include Brazilians, because the intent was to capture the Latino ethnic/geographic group, not just Spanish speakers. (That the Latino/Native American line is fuzzy is just another example of how the boxes are an artifact, not a real thing.)

          Stepping further back from this – the art we consume matters, as it shapes the brain as we consume it. I am very very far from any strong feelings about what we-as-people-in-society should do with this bit of in formation, aside from a very strong impulse to start frothing at the mouth anytime anyone suggests a government rule or action based it, but I really wish more people understood this.

          The art and fiction and entertainment we take in shapes our expectations of reality – about what other people actually think, about what actually goes on, about what the predictable reactions are to any given action. Our brains are imperfect at filtering out the stories as false, and so we dream of impossible things.

          • Spookykou says:

            The art and fiction and entertainment we take in shapes our expectations of reality – about what other people actually think, about what actually goes on, about what the predictable reactions are to any given action.

            They particularly color our expectations of fiction! It is very frustrating playing table top games with people who don’t share my particular ‘cultural history’ and have wildly different expectations for how the town guard or local lord would respond to the things they are saying/doing.

      • nancylebovitz says:

        I’ve wondered whether black communities suffer from *random* policiing. Being conscientious and harmless is not an adequate protection from the justice system, and being violent isn’t reliably punished.

        • Tekhno says:

          This sounds like the paleoconservative concept; anarcho-tyranny.

        • keranih says:

          Being conscientious and harmless is not an adequate protection from the justice system

          Eh. *chews lip*

          While I can not blame all of my attitude on the recent national-headline events, I have to admit to a significant reluctance to put faith in any claim that a citizen in trouble with the law “was a good person and wasn’t doing anything”. Surely not all of these people were lying, but omg, so very very many people claim that they were totally innocent, not doing anything officer, I swear, that car was upside down when I got here.

          Like I said, I’m struggling against my biases, but also against personal knowledge of various lying ratbastards that I’m related to my ownself.

          and being violent isn’t reliably punished.

          *rubs face* This is where that “various community norms” comes in, I think. Or something like – deep blue communities struggling with a dual commitment to punishing gun ownership and protecting African Americans from harsh judicial treatment. *shrugs* Something is going to give.

        • Aapje says:


          I’ve read an article (no link :/ ) that made this exact argument, that black communities are both over- and underpoliced.

          Basically, the police is so afraid of certain neighborhoods that they restrict their behavior to two modes:
          – Do nothing
          – Go all out

          So instead of a nicely proportional approach that addresses the communities problems, about half the crime is ignored (leading to a breakdown in trust within the community) and half the crime results in an overreaction (resulting to a lost of trust in the police, which then results in a lack of cooperation, which then makes it even harder to act proportionately).

      • Deiseach says:

        Most dead bodies in any given US city are poor young black men, not wealthy, sophisticated, educated upper middle class whites.

        Well, that’s the (unfortunate) truth behind most detective stories; anybody can read about real murders in the papers, and it’s a simple case for the police to solve generally. What makes a mystery is when a crime like murder happens where it’s not supposed to happen, so there’s no obvious suspect, and all the suspects are generally supposed to be the type who are “above suspicion” (that’s why so often, in early mysteries, the well-off family and friends try to get the police to focus on tramps, servants or others more likely to belong to the ‘criminal classes’ instead of upstanding citizens and pillars of the community like themselves).

        Until you get the genre of police procedurals which attempt to be more or less realistic, you are going to get amateur sleuths investigating murdered duchesses, not dairymaids (Poe’s “Marie Roget” was an exception here, since ‘Marie Roget’ was the type of working-class girl one would expect to fall into bad company and come to a bad end; it was based on a real case which may not have been murder but the results of a botched abortion, according to Wikipedia).

        It’s the attitude shown in Raymond Chandler’s 1940 “Farewell, My Lovely” to a killing committed by a white man in a “mixed block” (a neighbourhood that is being increasingly lived and worked in by black people) – warning for period-specific racism:

        A man named Nulty got the case, a lean-jawed sourpuss with long yellow hands which he kept folded over his kneecaps most of the time he talked to me. He was a detective-lieutenant attached to the 77th Street Division and we talked in a bare room with two small desks against opposite walls and room to move between them, if two people didn’t try it at once. Dirty brown linoleum covered the floor and the smell of old cigar butts hung in the air. Nulty’s shirt was frayed and his coat sleeves had been turned in at the cuffs. He looked poor enough to be honest, but he didn’t look like a man who could deal with Moose Malloy.

        He lit half of a cigar and threw the match on the floor, where a lot of company was waiting for it. His voice said bitterly:

        “Shines. Another shine killing. That’s what I rate after eighteen years in this man’s police department. No pix, no space, not even four lines in the want-ad section.”

        …“He might have another suit,” I said. “And a car and a hideout and money and friends. But you’ll get him.”

        Nulty spit in the wastebasket again. “I’ll get him,” he said, “about the time I get my third set of teeth. How many guys is put on it? One. Listen, you know why? No space. One time there was five smokes carved Harlem sunsets on each other down on East Eighty-four. One of them was cold already. There was blood on the furniture, blood on the walls, blood even on the ceiling. I go down and outside the house a guy that works on the Chronicle, a newshawk, is coming off the porch and getting into his car. He makes a face at us and says, ‘Aw, hell, shines,’ and gets in his heap and goes away. Don’t even go in the house.”

      • John Schilling says:

        Ghettoside is worth reading – but I found it turned me off pop culture detective stories. Most dead bodies in any given US city are poor young black men, not wealthy, sophisticated, educated upper middle class whites.

        Most dead bodies in any given US city are not dramatically interesting.

        Borderer, and to a lesser extent Cavalier, cultures encourage people to commit the sorts of murders that Inspector Lestrade or even Inspector Clouseau could solve before the first commercial break, if they cared. Which they frequently don’t, because everybody knows Borderers gonna Border so why bother?

        Which leaves us the Puritans and the Quakers to provide murders worthy of a Sherlock Holmes and forty-two minutes of a television audience’s time. Much fewer murders per capita, but for more interesting reasons and with more thought into how to get away with it (because the police will care). And those cultures happen to be pretty solidly white.

        Also, for fictional purposes everybody knows the only type of person you can cast as a despicable villain without being accused of perpetuating harmful stereotypes is a greedy corporate executive, another generally white demographic.

        • Matt M says:

          If “Law and Order” is any indication, I’m forced to assume that 90% of murderers in NYC are white.

        • keranih says:

          I agree on several of your points, and recognize frustrated snark, but I’m going to push back on two points here:

          Borderer, and to a lesser extent Cavalier, cultures encourage people to commit the sorts of murders that Inspector Lestrade or even Inspector Clouseau could solve before the first commercial break, if they cared. Which they frequently don’t, because everybody knows Borderers gonna Border so why bother?

          Homicide was another really interesting examination of the process of policing murder in the US. Most of the book covered the frustrations around murders of and by African Americans, but a smaller portion of the work covered homicide investigations in “Billy Town” – the equally impoverished area largely populated by Appalachian-descent people. A sharp contrast was made between the two areas both in rates of violence and in the willingness of the locals to talk to police.

          In any rate, Borderers aren’t African Americans.

          The other thing I want to push back against is the idea that homicide police don’t want to solve murders of young black men. The first hand accounts tell a different story – the police *want* to solve the crime, but can do nothing without actionable evidence presented by the neighbors, friends, and family.

          Snitches, you see, get stitches. It’s more important to the community that the members stand united against outsiders than that the non-murderous members of the community unite with the police against the murderers.

          • In any rate, Borderers aren’t African Americans.

            The comment above may have been referring to the thesis Thomas Sowell put forth in Black Rednecks and White Liberals that African-Americans were exposed to and significantly influenced by Southern culture, and thus including African-Americans as honorary cultural Scots-Irish. (I assumed that he wasn’t literally referring to Puritans and Quakers, as opposed to culturally similar residents of the regions whose subcultures they shaped, either.)

          • John Schilling says:

            What Nathaniel just said.

            And while the policeman might hypothetically want to solve an inner-city black-on-black murder if there were witnesses available, I’m fairly certain that most of the veterans have learned to preemptively limit themselves to maybe five millidamns on account of there predictably won’t be any witnesses. Borderers gonna border, etc, not worth stressing over and there’s not going to be any overtime for this one.

            Agree with Homicide as an ideal case study, particularly since we’ve got the book as a record for what actually happens and the TV series for what parts of that reality Hollywood can work with.

      • Regarding the racial difference in crime rates – Jill Levoy in Ghettoside argued – while drawing on the research of others – that in the post CW South (the cultural homeland of American Black Culture) the white property owners/taxpayers/community leaders had no reason to insist police investigate ‘black on black’ crime, and the natural resentment of white society by former slaves led the newly freed Black community (which had never had a tradition of being honest and forthright with the white slave owners) led to resentment of any attempts by white police to investigate crimes by blacks.

        Add in post-CW retribution by former slaves, white repression of the political and physical power of former slaves, Reconstruction, and the rest of the mess, and Leovy argues that Black culture/communities suffered a lack of proper policing, which led to lack of trust in police, which led to poor performance of police, which led to people taking the law into their own hands.

        I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t yet read Ghettoside, though I’m somewhat familiar with the basic arguments from osmosis. I think it sounds plausible in the abstract, but it’s in such direct and obvious tension with the other progressive claim on the subject that “African-American communities are over-policed” that it’s hard to believe. (Orwellian attempts at doublethink notwithstanding.) And I do wonder about the alleged culture of refusing to and threatening those who do cooperate with the criminal justice system (“snitches get stitches”, “stop snitching” etc.) in some African-American communities. If that does actually exist, it seems pretty self-destructive and pointless and not necessarily the police’s fault.

        The point about (relative lack of) Hispanic crime is an excellent one that I’ve often made myself in other contexts.

        • Matt M says:

          To me one of the easiest ways to look at the very nebulous and often somewhat shady assertion that “culture” is the difference would be something like a survey of “Agree or disagree: snitches get stitches” and see how that breaks out along racial lines.

          I think the results would be quite illuminating…

        • Adam says:

          It’s not really in tension. Black communities are heavily policed now and since the start of the war on drugs, whereas the quoted claim seems to be talking about quite a while longer back.

        • keranih says:

          progressive claim on the subject that “African-American communities are over-policed”

          Are they over policed, though? I mean, in terms of police response to calls by citizens, murders and reports of stolen property?

          So many progressive claims of discrimination and bias seem to rest on an unsupported assertion that two populations – identical except for a superficial characteristic that is entirely immaterial – are treated differently for no cause.

          Then one digs into the data and asks a few questions and wow, the two populations are not actually identical after all.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            One plausible argument: they are under-policed when it comes to actual crimes, and over-policed when it comes to traffic violations, lack of various permits, failure to show up in court, and so forth where the “criminals” are usually ordinary folks who are easy to push around, and solving the “crime” means bringing in more money for the city. There were a few surprisingly good articles in the media about this going on in Ferguson.

            This isn’t necessarily a racial issue, either, given that we see a fair amount of this in law enforcement generally in the United States. Much easier to go after the guys who probably don’t have guns and the demonstrated willingness to use them, no matter what the skin colors involved are.

          • keranih says:

            @ ThirteenthLetter –

            So, work though this with me…

            The increased rate of violence and failure to follow the law is greater among African Americans when it comes to assault, rape, muggings, and murder. However, it is *not* elevated when it comes to drunk driving, speeding, driving w/o a license, disregard for orders of the court, failure to pay child support, dealing in drugs, or shoplifting…so increased scrutiny/harassment of African Americans for these “not actual crime” actions is not warranted? Do I have that right?

            I am open to discussion of police over-reach, as well as the complexity of trying to substitute fines for imprisonment as deterrent against an impoverished sub-population. However, if we say that this is not a racial issue, then we lose our ability to understand excessive Black violence as proposed by Leovy (and others.)

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Perhaps, but it still involves a broad swath of the population, both black and white. Addressing this sort of bureaucratic over-policing/criminal under-policing would benefit everyone and it’s possible to do without “solving” racial issues (something which hasn’t happened for decades, and which after the last few years of officially-promoted incitement and division probably won’t happen for many more decades.)

    • Fossegrimen says:

      From the outside, the largest problem seems to be the misnaming of the entire thing. It should be the Criminal Revenge System, not Justice.

      A sane justice system would focus on anything that is proven to lower crime and recidivism rates, not on mandatory minimums and other bizarre ideas.

      When you come from a country where laws and regulations are constantly reviewed with respects to “Is crime going down?”, the US system seems like it’s from some over-the-top dystopian fiction.

      • Aapje says:

        Most people include revenge as part of their definition of justice.

        • Spookykou says:

          That is actually why I have never liked the concept of justice. The entangling of righting a wrong with wronging a wrong doer.

          • Aapje says:

            I guess that it greatly depends on how you view humanity. Do you see people as automatons that need to be fixed if they malfunction; or do you see a social structure where people put each other in emotional debt which then has to be paid off for the person to remain accepted in the group.

            I would argue that the latter cannot be ignored.

          • Spookykou says:


            I think you are saying that revenge is a path to forgiveness, which runs across two problems as I see it.

            First, it is not what actually happens, people who serve their time are not by and large welcomed back into society with open arms, so the system doesn’t work and is a bad model of human behavior.

            Two, it assumes that forgiveness is a mechanism of justice, which is problematic because forgiveness is a totally subjective personal metric for those wronged. While I generally agree with the use of bright line rules, they work best for clearing up a fuzzy and small range, turning 3-7 into 6 as the ‘age to start school’ and assuming that captures most cases. In the case of forgiveness the range is more like 0 – sideways 8. If I mugged a Buddhist monk(No idea why but stay with me here) then we can safely throw out my criminal case, because I am forgiven by my only victim. Someone else might never forgive me, even actively hate me for the rest of their life. Then you also have victimless crimes.

            It seems clear that our system does not achieve forgiveness(by society or the individual) and is not designed to, it is designed to achieve Schadenfreude at best if we are talking a positive feeling in the victims. Mostly it is designed for retribution for retributions sake.

            Interesting? side note: I heard once (and it could be totally bogus) that people who live in cultures/places where they actually can exact revenge, who can, with their own two hands, kill the person who killed one of theirs. Describe it as one of the most euphoric and satisfying experiences in life (contrary to what holly wood has been telling us for years) but that people who witness the execution of a similar person, feel nothing like that, at best a vague ‘well at least now I know they will never do it again…’ emptiness.

          • Aapje says:

            I think that it is better framed in terms of sacrifice. A car thief has forced the victim to sacrifice something and also forced a sacrifice of trust on the community (they can less afford to be trusting, which is costly). People (subconsciously) know that they cannot afford to let people force this sacrifice on them, so they must deter it. A common way is to force the perpetrator to make a greater sacrifice than the profit (s)he made, to make crime have give negative net profit for the criminal.

            One of the issues with modern sentencing is that people seem to have harsher demands of that enforced sacrifice than is warranted by the recidivism figures, which creates a feeling that ‘justice is not done.’ As a result, people desire to balance the scales by adding more forced sacrifice (punishment).

            Again, this is not limited to the person who is wronged, because society as a whole is wronged by the crime as well (and aside from that, people act as ‘white knight’ to the benefit of others).

            In short, I disagree with your belief that punishment is retribution for retributions sake. It’s more that people see the punishments as milder than they are perceived by the convicted.

            PS. Your last paragraph refers to ‘an eye for an eye’ laws, which proscribe that the perpetrator suffers the same injury as the victim. In some cases, this goes as far as you say: where the victim or family of the victim gets to personally harm the perpetrator. I’ve heard of a case where a victim of an acid attack was allowed to throw acid on her attacker (she pardoned him instead). In most cases the perpetrator seems to buy a pardon with money and the retribution in kind is not carried out.

          • At a possibly relevant tangent …

            I pattern you see in a number of legal systems, including Islamic law and saga period Icelandic law, is that deliberate killing is treated as a tort against the kin of the victim. They have the option of retaliation, a fixed payment in compensation, or forgiveness. That’s taking Aapje’s idea of a debt quite literally.

            I think it likely that most existing legal systems evolved out of systems of that sort (good evidence for Jewish, Anglo-American, Islamic, some evidence for Roman), which might affect our intuitions.

        • Deiseach says:

          That’s why the state prosecutes on our behalf, it takes vengeance but not revenge. People want revenge so they want someone who wronged them to be locked up and treated harshly (that’s the whole point of the White Bear episode of “Black Mirror”, after all; the public is on a revenge high and maltreating Victoria, even when they’re not the ones directly affected and taking sadistic pleasure in her suffering, justifying it by self-righteousness that she deserves it due to the nature of her crimes. The court system is complicit there due to the perception that this is what the public wants, so justice is being explicitly denied by those charged with upholding it. There’s more votes in revenge, it would seem).

      • qwints says:

        In the US system retributivism (as it’s normally referred to in philosophy of law) is prioritized to the detriment of rehabilitation and sometimes even deterrence.

        • Jordan D. says:

          That’s sometimes true, but a lot of the most putative laws which I can think of (e.g., Three-Strikes Laws, minimum mandatory sentencing acts, etc) were explicitly intended to maximize deterrence-through-imprisonment. I know from experience that a lot of people see retribution and deterrence as the same thing; harsh penalties should deter wrongdoing and, if it fails in the first instance, will be eventually successful because the criminals will be off the streets for good.

          I suspect but have no evidence that most lawmakers in the US have given up on rehabilitation, outside of investment in programs intended to limit addiction relapse.

          • qwints says:

            Max sentence laws, especially three strikes, run into the “in for a penny, in for a pound” problem. Once you max out penalties, there’s nothing left to deter people from further bad acts.

          • Aapje says:


            At one point, it becomes rational to murder the person that is wronged to reduce the chance of conviction.

            Not good.

          • Jordan D. says:

            Oh, I think I see the problem. When I said ‘deterrence’ I meant both in the scholarly sense of ‘keep people from committing crimes by making the price for doing so high’ AND the colloquial sense of ‘keep people from committing crimes by locking them up for the rest of their lives.’

            The hope of the lawmakers who passed them was both that people would commit fewer crimes out of fear and that they’d commit fewer crimes because they would not be let back out of prison.

            I don’t support generic sentencing regimes like that, but I think there still is a lot of support. The average American voter really doesn’t like criminals- that’s why most successful judicial campaigns are about emphasizing what an aggressive prosecutor you were, with the subtext being that you won’t be a soft-on-crime judge who lets crime-doers off lightly.

            So I guess what I’m saying is that I think the prevailing mindset is still ‘if they won’t shape up, get them off the streets and keep them there’.

          • Randy M says:

            The average American voter really doesn’t like criminals

            Hence the sentiment that the ciminal justice system doesn’t exist to protect the public from lawbreakers, but vice-versa.

        • Brad says:

          You missed the fourth generally penological goal that is generally recognized in American legal philosophy — incapacitation.

    • nancylebovitz says:

      I think a great many Americans believe that if you’re arrested, you must be guilty, and if you’re guilty, you deserve however you’re treated. This affects a lot of what’s wrong with the justice system.

    • Deiseach says:

      affluent black kids are 3x more likely to commit crimes (or, to be politically correct, “be incarcerated [for some unnamed reason, probably discrimination]”) than *poor* white kids

      Okay, I want to see some kind of proper comparison for that one. What is the comparison between ‘rich’ black youth and white youth from a similar socio-economic background? What are the crimes for which they are being imprisoned – is it being drunk and disorderly, or is it “had half a kilo of coke when pulled over by the cops”?

      Wealth deciles is all very well, but that’s a relative measure, if we take it that black earnings are going to be lower on average than white. If the black youth who are ‘rich’ by measuring black wealth are actually middle income/near poor by the measure of white wealth, that could have more to do with it.

      That would still give you a disparity between poor white and poor black youth, but that might be more explainable. As it is, that study is presented as “See? Even the kids of doctors and accountants will be thrown in jail for no reason, if they’re black, while the kids of meth ‘cooks’ will get off if they’re white!”

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      The War on Drugs.

      African-Americans were catching up to whites in the post-war period (sometimes even before, depending on the metrics you use), and were knocked back some several decades in the 70s, and they’ve never really recovered.

      Whether or not drug laws were racist in motivation (probably), or if they’re enforced in a racist manner now (unclear), their impact on African-Americans is particularly strong. The fact that drugs are illegal makes it harder to get medical treatment, and also allows violent gangs of criminals to make money. Without a source of income you have a bunch of high school boys and some slightly older young men who might commit some petty crime, occasionally fight their equivalents in the next neighborhood over, but left as they got jobs and families. Now with the allure of big money if they make it, there’s much more incentive for serious gang violence. In addition, dealers tend to get harsher sentences than users. So you have more young men in prison, more violence, fewer people working legitimate and stable jobs, more fatherless children or deadbeat dads, less reason to stay in school, and poor role models for kids.

      Blacks were the group that mostly took up dealing street-level drugs like crack and heroin when they became big, and they were in a particularly fragile spot since they were already doing worse than average.

      And, of course, the War on Drugs has similar (if probably weaker) impacts on other minority communities and many white communities, as well as causing concerns about privacy rights, the militarization of police, drug-fueled violence in other countries, etc.

      All this for only $40 billion per year!

      edit–the minimum wage and similar measures, along with the godawful education system, the terrible way welfare is set up, and other issues I’m forgetting are also relevant. But I suspect the War on Drugs is the single biggest issue.

      • hyperboloid says:

        The drug war was only one part of what happened to black America starting in the 1970s; deIndustrialization was at least as big a factor.

        From the time of the great migration onwards African Americans had been a huge part of the lower end manufacturing work force. They often worked in relatively unskilled non union jobs in non capital intensive light industry; so when the rust belt started to rust their jobs were the first to go.

    • Migratory says:

      I enjoyed this, but it’s an underestimate. First, if you’re going to compare it to legislatures wasting money, surely you should include the amount of money that Hitler destroyed/wasted during his war? In addition, it doesn’t account for the cultural and political damage that he did.

      • paulmbrinkley says:

        By a similar argument, Hitler actually mitigated his own damage, by serving as the greatest example of evil since Vlad the Impaler(?). So you might need to reduce the size of a hitler by the estimated damage of people who considered doing the same thing and were in a position to effect such changes, but then realized they’d be Literally Hitler and went back to working for Amnesty International instead.

        Maybe the good done by people who didn’t want to be Hitler was high enough that he ended up being a net benefit to society. Who knows? Such is the nature of counterfactuals.

  5. odovacer says:

    When and why did Heartiste/Chateau Roissy become so racist/bigoted? I was a semi-regular reader in the late 2000’s and appreciated some of his dating/hookup advice, the vast majority of his posts were of that theme. After I applied some of his tips and improved my dating skills I stopped reading regularly. I would occasionally revisit his website, but after it changed to Heartiste it seemed to really go downhill in terms of content. There were a lot more political posts, some of them outright racist; the comments really declined in quality as well. I mean, I recall that 2009 Roissy had black friends and recognized that game could be practiced by almost any man. The comments section, while it had its share of trolls, did have posts from people who practiced game. What happened?

    • Sandy says:

      Sounds like a pretty inevitable development. Heartiste has a strikingly anti-progressive worldview so his preference is to retard or reverse the spread of progressive ideas throughout society. Overwhelming black support for the Democratic Party is one of the cornerstones of the strength of American progressivism, so eventually Heartiste would get the idea that his interests and the interests of black people are not just unaligned, but diametrically opposed.

    • There’s been a sort of parallel development with Stefan Molymeme, who seems to have switched from libertarian economics content to alt-right/light culture war content recently.

    • rlms says:

      Cthulhu always swims right.

    • ChetC3 says:


    • dndnrsn says:

      I’ve seen more than one person say that the original author was replaced by somebody else, but I don’t know if there’s any truth to it.

      My hypothesis is that the Redpill “men and women are different and people who say otherwise are lying to you” can lead pretty smoothly into “races are different and people who say otherwise are lying to you”. It’s basically become a white nationalist blog.

      • Aapje says:

        Obviously, people who believe in biological differences in one case will more easily believe in biological differences in other cases.

        However, slippery slope arguments like yours are not very strong, especially as biological gender differences seems to have strong scientific evidence, so then your argument is at risk of glorifying the ‘right kind’ of scientific ignorance.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I don’t think it’s a “biological differences to biological differences” – it’s a “they were lying about this, so they must have been lying about that” sort of deal.

        • hyperboloid says:

          What percentage of people don’t believe that psychological differences between men and women are rooted in biology?

          Around hear I often hear that this is an unspeakable politically incorrect heresy, but I see very little evidence of that. Men are form mars, women are form Venus, is a pretty common trope in popular culture. Even among the sort of people who are often accused of being “social justice warriors” it’s is taken as indisputable fact that gays and transsexuals are “born that way”; it seems to me impossible to me to square this notion with the idea that gender does not have a biological origin.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The SJWs are happy to maintain the inconsistency and demand you do as well.

          • hyperboloid says:

            The kind of radical feminists who most strongly believe that gender is entirely socially conditioned have a history of being very hostile to transsexuals.

            The truth is that “social justice warrior” is, like Moldbug’s concept of demotism, a made up category that has almost no descriptive power. As used in this forum it has little meaning beyond enemy.

            Mind you, it’s not that their aren’t politically correct bullies out there, it’s just that the so called social justice movement as such does not exist. Narratives of oppression are a powerful source of solidarity, and right wingers have taken various dispirit groups who have very little in common and constructed an imaginary omnipresent enemy. The fact that some on the right do have legitimate grievances against the liberal establishment doesn’t change the fact that this sort of world view borders on being a kind of conspiracy theory.

          • The Nybbler says:


            The SJWs are neither the Devil nor Keyser Soze; they cannot convince anyone they do not exist.

            As I understand it, the TERFs — trans-exclusionary radical feminists — basically lost to those we now call SJWs, and are themselves marginalized.

          • Sandy says:

            The kind of radical feminists who most strongly believe that gender is entirely socially conditioned have a history of being very hostile to transsexuals.

            Most of those women are also pretty old; the current generation of radfems are not Mary Daly types in that regard.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            What percentage of people don’t believe that psychological differences between men and women are rooted in biology?

            Around hear I often hear that this is an unspeakable politically incorrect heresy, but I see very little evidence of that. Men are form mars, women are form Venus, is a pretty common trope in popular culture.

            Maybe in pop culture you can get away with saying that men and women are innately different, but in somewhere like a university it would be a lot more controversial. Just look at what happened to Larry Summers, for example.

            Even among the sort of people who are often accused of being “social justice warriors” it’s is taken as indisputable fact that gays and transsexuals are “born that way”; it seems to me impossible to me to square this notion with the idea that gender does not have a biological origin.

            TBH I doubt many people have thought over the issues in a systematic enough way to notice the inconsistency.

          • shakeddown says:

            No, they have noticed this and thought it through (much in the way creationists have thought through the obvious inconsistencies). As I understand it, they have something like four separate categories (sex, gender, orientation, and another one I don’t remember) which wind up in some weird system that makes it all consistent.

            Of course, that’s their intellectual thought leaders (I guess gender studies professors have to find something to put in papers they write). I don’t know how much your average tumblerette follows this (though Stereotypical Tumblerette *is* a gender studies major…)

          • dndnrsn says:


            “Psychological differences between men and women are rooted in socialization” is not a hugely uncommon opinion. You have people who will say “hormone treatment should be more easily available to trans people” (which is a view that, for the record, I agree with) but will frame the impact of the hormones as a solely physical thing. I don’t have my copy of Whipping Girl at hand but I believe there is a selection where Serrano basically says “hate to break it to ya but hormones actually do have a psychological effect”. If that was common belief – or, a common belief among the likely readers of that book – there would be no point to her making that statement.

            And, sex is biological, gender is social. A lot of people (not confined to ignorant vs supposedly informed, or any side of any debate) equivocate between the two pretty egregiously. You do get some adherents of the fuzzier social sciences who say that biological sex is a social construct, but their arguments generally require that you already commit to their belief system.

            There are, of course, people whose views are completely inconsistent. You will find people who will recognize the physical effects of hormones for trans people – but get offended at the notion that the considerably greater average size and strength of men relative to women is due to hormones. Or even get offended if you point out the considerable average differences.

            None of these people have to be radical feminists – none of the ones I’ve encountered have been, save perhaps one (who told me that the only reason men were stronger than women was because boys were told they were stronger than girls so they worked out more, or something even more mind-over-matter than that – which seems to me to be incredibly insulting to female athletes, as it implies that they just aren’t trying hard enough).

            I agree with the original Mr. X. Most people, even those you might expect to have thought about the issue systematically, haven’t.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        Not entirely surprising, and you’ve seen a lot of blogs that started out mildly contrarian drift hard into crazytown over the past several years because of it. If it turns out the overculture is lying to you about X for ideological reasons, it’s much easier to then believe that the overculture is also lying to you about Y for ideological reasons. “They’re not telling us the truth about the relations between men and women, why should we believe they’re telling us the truth about racial differences/vaccination/Vladimir Putin/et cetera?”

        This is a great reason why the overculture should not lie.

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      moar clicks, obviously

      It’s probably what Scott noticed when he would write about social justice issues: He would get more page views. The Heartiste guy is (or was) probably more interested in getting pageviews than genuine alt-right affinity. But, just like murderer Ghandi…

  6. Am I Banned says:

    Is my other account banned (I’ll reply with the name if this one goes through)? I’ve tried posting several comments; it refreshes the page and shows a new comment number, but the comment never appears.

    • Am I Banned says:

      Yea, this one goes through immediately. My other account is Controls Freak. So, uh… am I banned?

      • Artificirius says:

        You might have run afoul of the banned words list.

        • Eltargrim says:

          Banned words list, too many links, banned users list, it’s hard to say.

          • Am I Banned says:

            I’ve tried multiple different comments on completely different topics. I don’t think I’ve tried any with zero links yet, but I’ve definitely tried multiple comments with only one link. I even tried an, “Am I banned?” comment… (WAIT! That one was a comment with no links…)

          • hlynkacg says:

            I suspect that you may have run afoul of the spam filter. Hopefully Scott will see this soon and take appropriate action.

    • Corey says:

      Bans are all listed on a registry page, at the “Comments” link at the top, and you’re not on it. So probably a robot banned you instead of Scott.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Like every other time this happens, you posted a few too many links and got autoclassified as spam. I think I’ve fixed the problem.

      • I believe a comment of mine has run afoul of this as well, can you confirm/deny? It was in reply to Gwint’s comment at 10:48 AM, 11/23/2016. (Not including the link just in case.)

  7. Wander says:

    Since we have people talking about language here, and a general over-representation of linguists and Jews in this community, can someone tell me why my dad’s Swiss German has been previously mistaken for Yiddish?

    • I don’t know much about German, and next to nothing about Swiss German, but Yiddish is said to preserve an older form of the Germanic language, before a lot of the elaborate grammar emerged. In other words, to a modern German speaker, I would imagine it sounds somewhat archaic, perhaps even simple-minded or “rural”. Swiss German may well have some of that quality.

    • The Nybbler says:

      If you’re going to call people “buebli” (or “bubele”, Yiddish), you have to expect that.

    • Aapje says:

      If Yiddish is spoken or written in Latin characters, it is semi-understandable to me, because of my knowledge of Dutch and German. Some dialects of Dutch, German and English are pretty much equally hard for me to understand. So I can see how one could easily mistake it for a German dialect. Perhaps the Swiss intonate in ways that are similar to Yiddish.

      Example of Yiddish:

      Yeder mentsh vert geboyrn fray un glaykh in koved un rekht. Yeder vert bashonkn mit farshtand un gevisn; yeder zol zikh firn mit a tsveytn in a gemit fun brudershaft.

      I can understand over 50% of this, even though it is a rather complex sentence, despite never having studied Yiddish or having more exposure to it than once in a blue moon.

    • rlms says:

      People assuming that a language that sounds similar to standard German but a bit different must be Swiss German?

  8. HeelBearCub says:

    Shoot me if you must, but given that the report button is gone, how do we stop flagrant and repeated abuse of the community norms by one particular poster?

    • andrewflicker says:

      Make it clear in polite, on-topic responses that their behavior is inappropriate. Highly unlikely but ideal result: They get the message and adapt. Far more likely result: Scott, who seems to at least skim nearly every comment, will ban them in due time.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Does being the board nudge (in the Yiddish sense) work, though?

        I’ve been called out in the past simply for calling people out…

        • andrewflicker says:

          If you are the sole person doing it in every case, then no, it would lose effectiveness. What’s the expression? “Pick your battles”

  9. TheBearsHaveArrived says:

    Who else suspects that most things space related are…scammy?

    Like the mission to mars. Are there some reasonable Fermi calculations for its cost, or capability or sustaining it? Or, how much does it actually cost to go up to an asteroid to mine it?

    It hits the futurology crowd big, but I am quite cynical about all of it. It seems like a near total waste of money until vastly better renewable energy becomes developed.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I think there are a lot of things space related that aren’t scammy at all. The human race gets a lot of mileage out of e.g. telecommunications satellites. I think there have been some people who have perhaps oversold certain space things for the I Fucking Love Science crowd, but there’s nothing necessarily scammy about dreaming of Mars and taking the incremental steps that may someday lead there.

    • shakeddown says:

      Aside from satellites, yeah, pretty much. An actual mars mission might be practical in a couple centuries, which would be cool.

      • hlynkacg says:

        I’m not particularly fond of the “cult of Musk” but I think that you’re seriously overestimating the obstacles involved if you think that it will take centuries rather than decades

        • shakeddown says:

          Whoops, I meant to write “permanent Mars settlement” (and apparently got distracted while writing).

          • TheBearsHaveArrived says:

            We already *know* we can get to mars safely and back. Or, by safely, we mean within low percentage of death X.

            We also have good estimates of the costs required under various parameters.

            Any permanent settlement *really* depends on how capable renewable energy tech becomes, with probably the type of nanotech that singularities* out normal peoples desires anyways.

            That seems to be the case with a lot of Musk tech. What is the man actually doing? It all depends on the quality and capabilities of the renewable tech, which I am not sure the company contributes to.

            *term used loosly.

          • John Schilling says:

            Any permanent settlement *really* depends on how capable renewable energy tech becomes

            How do you figure that? Existing solar-photovoltaic energy technology is probably sufficient to support Mars colonization. Existing geothermal energy technology would probably support Mars colonization at some sites if current educated guesses as to Martian geological activity are validated by further exploration. Existing nuclear energy technology would support Mars colonization even if the fuel has to be imported from Earth, and there’s a good chance it could be found locally. And I think I can actually make a workable fossil-fuel energy economy on Mars, using soil perchlorates and lava-flow sulfates, but that also would need to be validated by targeted exploration. For the first generation or so, solar-photovoltaic is the safest bet.

            Energy technology does not seem to be the limiting factor for Mars colonization. Long-duration life support, the medical aspects of the Martian gravity and radiation environment, and highly automated manufacturing and maintenance, strike me as the real problem areas.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ John Schilling
            Agreed it seems to me that the big unknowns are on the medical and life support front. The energy and general infrastructure requirements on the other hand are pretty well understood. Those problems are solvable so long as our notional Mars settlement can get to the point where it’s producing its own air/water/food and it’s settlers aren’t dropping dead left and right of cancer.

          • Spookykou says:

            Could we reasonably create underground settlements that would solve most of the radiation problem(I am assuming thin atmosphere is the source of the problem but I don’t know). The health concerns of prolong low G living seem like the biggest problem, would any of the stop gap methods currently used in the ISS be relevant or is it basically a totally different type of problem?

          • John Schilling says:

            Could we reasonably create underground settlements that would solve most of the radiation problem

            Underground settlements solve the problem to the extent that people actually live underground – but if you’re going to spend all of your time underground, there’s not much point in going to Mars. Lots of the infrastructure that needs maintaining is going to be on the surface, lots of the interesting stuff that brought you to Mars in the first place is on the surface, and there are some really great views.

            Reasonable assumptions about people only going out on the surface when they have something worth doing there, and at least burying the living quarters under a meter or so of regolith (aka “dirt”), will get the total radiation dose down to levels that are known to be tolerable for otherwise-healthy adults, but the type of radiation is different than we see on Earth. Smaller numbers of heavier and more energetic particles than from the atom-bomb fallout that makes up most of the data from which we compile “how much radiation is too much?” statistics. We’ve got a fudge factor to equate the two, but there’s guesswork involved.

            The reason for the difference is partly Mars’s thin atmosphere and partly its lack of a decent magnetic field – interestingly, one of the data sets we look at for this is Concorde flight crews, flying for cumulative years above almost all of the atmosphere at high magnetic latitudes, but there aren’t enough of them for really good statistics and there are still differences between the two environments.

          • hlynkacg says:


            Honestly? We don’t know. We just don’t have all that much data on the health effects of truly long term (measured in terms of years rather than weeks) low-gee or radiation exposure.

          • bean says:

            Honestly? We don’t know. We just don’t have all that much data on the health effects of truly long term (measured in terms of years rather than weeks) low-gee or radiation exposure.

            It’s worse than that. We have near as makes no difference zero data points on medical response to any G levels between 0 and 1. We don’t know at all how people will react to prolonged exposure to Mars or Lunar gravity. There was supposed to be a centrifuge on the ISS that could answer some of these questions, but it got cancelled. Radiation might be easier to model on the ISS (on mice or whatever the standard is) although I’d have to check to make sure the Earth’s magnetic field isn’t screening something important.
            I’ll point out that Mars is the second-worst body in the Solar System to colonize from an economic point of view. There might be other reasons to go there, but it’s not likely to pay off nearly as quickly as Lunar or asteroid colonization.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Underground settlements solve the problem to the extent that people actually live underground – but if you’re going to spend all of your time underground, there’s not much point in going to Mars.

            For me the most important reason for going into space is to avoid possible extinction of humans if a very bad asteroid hits, a super nova nearby, a very bad nuclear war, etc. So I think there is a very good reason to live on Mars underground, if that is the only option.

    • bean says:

      Everything except cost can be gotten fairly easily. There have been a tremendous number of studies of this sort of thing, most of them in the same ballpark. Look through NTRS (NASA Technical Reports Service) for a good sample. Any that are much smaller than the rest are probably silly. (Robert Zubrin, I believe, holds the prize for this, but he went crazy quite a while ago.)
      Cost is harder, but a good rule of thumb might be taking the cost estimates of the typical studies and doubling them.

    • John Schilling says:

      Like the mission to mars. Are there some reasonable Fermi calculations for its cost, or capability or sustaining it? Or, how much does it actually cost to go up to an asteroid to mine it?

      There are many such calculations, giving results that differ from one another by at least an order of magnitude. Aerospace cost estimation is notoriously unreliable; often the only way to find out whether something can be built for cost X is to budget X dollars and go try to do it.

      Note: Do NOT generalize this to, “We can find out what something costs by doing it and adding up how much we spent”; that incentivizes most of the people doing the work to spend far more than they need to.

      And be careful to keep track of what requirements you are actually trying to meet, vs. the requirements someone else making a cost estimate was trying to meet. For example, any NASA program that says its goal is to send astronauts to Mars, actually has the goals of sending Astronauts to Mars and employing fifty thousand high-skill, high-salary workers in crucial political districts, many of whom have skills that aren’t really appropriate for an efficient Mars mission architecture. If you work for NASA, and propose an efficient Mars architecture, your program gets cancelled when Senator Shelby notices that it doesn’t include enough Marshall-built SLS boosters. If you work for Elon Musk and crib from a NASA Mars mission plan, you find that Musk can’t afford to both fly to Mars and pay an extra forty thousand people to say “I’m helping!”

      There are credible cost estimates for things like asteroid mining that would make them highly profitable enterprises. Probably also exploring and settling Mars, but there we have the problem that both the cost and the market are uncertain. But it’s reasonable to have someone round up enough money to give it a fair try and see what can really be done.

      • hlynkacg says:

        ^ Pretty much ^

      • Douglas Knight says:

        What do you mean by “asteroid mining”? You seem to be saying that materials from asteroids would be cheaper than materials from Earth, but would they be cheaper on Earth or only in space?

        • hlynkacg says:

          There are generally two types space mining. Type one is find a chunk of platinum ore (or some other material that’s rare on earth but reasonably common in the belt), wrap it in foam and drop it on an empty stretch of land somewhere where your mining crew can collect it. Type two is mining for in-space use. This is usually proposed as extracting ice and volatiles for use in manufacturing propellant.

          Profitability for type one is pretty easy to calculate. If the cost of mission drops below “x” where is the cost of digging a similar amount of ore out of the ground you’ve attained profitability.

          Profitability for type two is a bit trickier as you need someone to consume the material you produce. That said, the need to carry large amounts of propellant from Earth to orbit is a major driver of mission costs so having a type two operation in place makes type one more profitable.

          The cheaper it is to retrieve that asteroid, or build that solar power satellite, the easier it is to get a favorable return on investment.

        • Iain says:

          Some valuable metals (platinum group metals, at the very least, and maybe others) are far more concentrated in certain asteroids than anywhere on Earth. The Sudbury Basin, a major mining area, is a leftover impact crater. Planetary Resources is banking on the idea that there’s enough platinum out there to justify asteroid mining. (My understanding is that one of the concerns with Planetary Resource’s plan is actually that asteroid mining would produce so much platinum that the price would crater and the investment wouldn’t pay off.)

          • Adrian says:

            My understanding is that one of the concerns with Planetary Resource’s plan is actually that asteroid mining would produce so much platinum that the price would crater and the investment wouldn’t pay off.

            That’s a common misconception. Mining asteroidal platinum for use on Earth would not swamp the market any more than opening a new conventional platinum mine would. Mining takes time, whether in space or on the ground, and even if you could magically extract all the platinum from an asteroid at once and beam it down to Earth, there’s no reason why you would have to put it all on the market within a short timeframe.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Also, my understanding of economics is very shaky and based on viewing a few MRU videos and reading one David Friedman book, but I’d have thought that even if we did find enough platinum on an asteroid to dwarf into insignificance all the platinum reserves on Earth, that shouldn’t crash the price enough to make it unprofitable to mine the asteroid, it would just crash it enough to mean that you’d only get normal profits from mining it, rather than astronomical* profits. And that’s even assuming you are unable to monopolise the asteroid.

            Am I missing something?

            *Ba-doum ksh.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Winter Shaker: a great example of Poe’s Law.

          • Iain says:

            I haven’t looked into this particularly deeply, and I can’t find a source that crunches the numbers. That said, asteroid mining seems like the sort of thing that has very high fixed costs relative to terrestrial mining, which need to be amortized across the amount of platinum that is sold. The global production of platinum in 2014 was 161,000 kg. At $32K/kg, that works out to about five billion dollars/year. Meanwhile, the amount of platinum you can get from a single asteroid is potentially enormous: for example, this asteroid is estimated to contain 5.4 trillion dollars worth of platinum, which works out to about 170 million kg: more than a thousand times the current annual production. Is there demand for that much platinum? At what price?
            I can imagine a world where asteroid mining can massively shrink the marginal cost of platinum, but only at a scale so large that the market for platinum can’t support it. There are hints of this on the Planetary Resources website:

            Such access to a new, abundant supply source would disrupt current price levels and serve as a catalyst for significant innovation. Production of technologies like catalytic converters could be revolutionized, reducing emissions through improved efficiency, and opening the door for other innovations in technology in the automotive sector and beyond.

            In other words: once there’s cheap platinum, surely people will find profitable things to do with it! That’s not an implausible story – indeed, I think it’s pretty likely – but it’s not a mathematical guarantee.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Iain: First, I can’t find a credible source for 2011 UW138 being worth $5.4E12; everybody seems to be saying “up to 5.4 trillion…”, and citing essentially an astronomical friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend as having said this. My own BOTE calculation says most probably $33 billion and three-sigma upper bound $500 billion; so maybe someone slipped a decimal place somewhere.

            Second, the current global market for platinum is 161 tonnes/5 gigabucks per year; the market for platinum-group metals is about 310 tonnes/10 gigabucks.

            Third, there is no law of man or nature that says you have to A: mine that particular asteroid, B: bring all of it back, or C: sell it all in one year. If the market is absolutely capped at 310 tonnes per year, that’s what you sell, and collect your $10 billion a year. Or maybe $5E9 because you have to undercut terrestrial competitors to capture the market. Or more likely $20E9 because the market isn’t absolutely capped and when you cut the price in half you more than double the demand.

          • paulmbrinkley says:

            I can think of one law of man that would pressure you to sell faster: you paid all manner of people for the labor of getting your mining equipment there, and they’re demanding payment, and for some reason you underestimated the costs, and now the laborers, or perhaps more likely, the creditors who invested the money you spent on said labor, are beating down your door.

            One hopes that the creditors would understand that you need to meter out the supply in order to meet financial goals, but that still means they’d have to wait longer, and maybe they don’t want to (or maybe they’re facing deadlines of their own).

            Wrt “double the demand”, I’m not sure if that really holds, or maybe you were deliberately arguing a little loose. If halving the price means you sell twice as much platinum, you make exactly as much as you would have before, after all. The only extra I see you making is if all that platinum usage leads to people needing platinum for a heap of other additional products.

        • John Schilling says:

          As others have noted, platinum-group elements are the one class of material that we know where to find in space in concentrations and quantities for which there is a proven market on Earth, and where the transport costs could plausibly be low enough to make for a reasonable return on investment.

          Volatiles for use in Earth orbit are another known resource for which the market is somewhat speculative, as the people who currently use that sort of thing (mostly rocket fuel for comsat deployment and the like) have narrowly optimized their systems to use Earth-launched propellants, etc. It is highly likely that if you are producing lunar or asteroidal-sourced rocket fuel for your platinum-mining operation and offer it for sale to the comsat guys at $1E6/ton FOB LEO, they will modify their systems so as to take you up on that.

          The bit where, when you offer air and water at $1E5/ton, people find it profitable to build luxury hotels in orbit involves somewhat more market risk, but will probably happen eventually.

  10. philosophisticat says:

    I haven’t read these, as it’s not really my area of interest, but because there are, I gather, a lot of people here who think not enough attention is given the ways in which men might be disadvantaged relative to women, some might be interested in a symposium of philosophers writing on the topic here: (the one on Philippe van Parijs’ piece).

  11. Anon. says:

    Something I was thinking about after reading the “recent AI progress” post: in humans, intelligence is related to both learning ability and learning speed. Given a complex task, a smart person might be capable of one-shot learning whereas someone less intelligent would need repeated practice to “drill it in”.

    This doesn’t really map onto NNs as they are today, it’s not like the best-performing solutions also have the lowest training times. So what’s missing?

    • andrewflicker says:

      Not really a direct response, but here’s a lemma that might help you think about it:
      Digital NNs have essentially perfect memories, and humans do not. Thus, a “dumb” (slow-learning) NN can still draw upon large and accurate memory of past learnings to achieve good performance. A “dumb” (slow-learning) human might not have this facility, so it presents as “dumb” (low-performing).

    • Adam says:

      At least two things are different about animal neural architecture and artificial neural nets. 1) Animals brains are much better at abstracting and generalizing, so we can apply knowledge we already have to new problems, whereas for the most part, ANNs are all trained from scratch to solve one specific problem and that’s all they’re ever good for. 2) Usually the best we can do with ANNs is random or zero weight initialization. Animals come with pre-trained brains. There is an awful lot we are born already knowing how to do and how to recognize. This is a little less obvious with humans because we take so long to fully develop and are born pretty helpless and useless, but many other animals are born amazingly close to fully functional.

      That’s not a complete answer, but the point is ANNs are slow to train in general compared to animal brains. It doesn’t seem this way because we can digitally represent the training examples so a ConvNet on sufficiently modern hardware can look at hundreds of billions of labeled images in a few minutes, whereas showing that many images to a person would take longer than they’ll remain alive. The reason better-performing nets tend to take longer to train is they’re more complex. They introduce a wide variety of non-linearity and extra tunable parameters so they can learn a broader hypothesis class than a more constrained net. Typically, adding all the extra complexity requires more regularization, too, so you don’t overfit the training data, making the training take even longer. But all that investment in complex architecture and regularization works.

      As far as we know, the components of animal brains are orders of magnitude more complex still than any ANN we’ve ever conceived of, and also generalize better. But they don’t take as long to train because they’re pre-trained by billions of years of organic evolution. The differences are amplified, too. A fast human learner might take one look at a calculus textbook and fully learn the material. A slow learner might take six looks, but those additional looks might take an extra two years. The difference between an ANN that requires a few hundred thousand training examples to learn and one that requires a few hundred billion may only be an extra day or two of training time.

  12. Jordan D. says:

    I mentioned something similar a few weeks ago, but for those interested: here’s a complaint filed against a group of companies and lawyers who are allegedly getting negative reviews of their clients de-indexed by filing lawsuits against dummy defendants to get court orders-

  13. Winter Shaker says:

    I see that Almost No One Is Evil. Almost Everything Is Broken has been moved to the ‘Embalmed Ones’ category. I thought it was just that Jaibot was extremely sporadic about posting to his blog; has he officially given up?

    Edit: also, while I’m poking about the blogroll, Follow The Squirrel seems to link to a specific post from October 24th, rather than the main page.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      No particular reason, just noticed it had been a long time since anything was on it. And I’m trying to prevent the Others category from swallowing the blogroll.

      Thanks re:Squirrel

  14. Tekhno says:

    (Assuming a liberal-conservative/liberal government is elected and privatizations are in the cards)

    Privatizations usually go like this:
    -Something is owned by the state.
    -We now sell it off to the highest bidder.
    -Possible cronyism where politicians sell stuff to their friends.

    I’ve been playing about with an alternative.

    Privatizations could go like this instead (I’d prefer to distinguish it by calling it Marketization, since it’s actually publicly owned in a far more literal way than before in that it’s owned by all as property and exposed to the market as a publicly traded corporation):
    -Something is owned by the state.
    -We now distribute share ownership in the name of each citizen at the date of the marketization.
    -No cronyism but…

    This is where I get stuck. If equal shares are distributed, then who comprises the shareholder board and decides things about the CEO to run the thing? I mean, obviously if they are market exposed then it’s going to become unequal fast, but wouldn’t you need some transitory mechanism before you get to a situation where any group has controlling shares?

    • rlms says:

      What about a fun third alternative where the government just gives the company to a randomly chosen citizen (or more realistically a few hundred)?

    • Brad says:

      Russia did something like this, except it was to the workers instead of to the population at large. My understanding is that it was largely a disaster and lead directly to the rise of the oligarchs. It’s one of the examples people like to point to (fairly or not) when they attack do-gooder American experts bearing neo-liberalism.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I think that it was to the general public. Actually, they gave out vouchers and maybe to turn a voucher into a share of a particular company it was necessary to go there in person, which resulting in insider ownership, which may be what you are talking about. But I think that the companies with insider ownership worked out better than those with dilute ownership, which were looted by their insiders.

        They did the same thing in many post-communist countries. It worked out better in some of them. China has had a few such privatizations, some of which went better than others. It seems like it should have been easier in China privatizing one thing at a time, than in Russia or Czechoslovakia privatizing everything.

      • Tekhno says:

        Well, the option to keep everything nationalized was no longer tenable, so that leaves only one other option, which is to privatize by giving concerns directly to the highest bidder as we do today. Would that really have been better than what happened?

      • cassander says:

        Russian citizens got vouchers to purchase stock in state run industries. And the reason the oligarch program got so bad isn’t because they gave the companies away, but because after about 6 months they reversed course on the shock therapy and heavily regulation/re-nationalized a ton of stuff. Russia is not a failure of shock therapy, it’s a failure to do shock therapy.

        • Aapje says:

          Didn’t the oligarch’s also buy those shares for pennies on the dollar (or kopeck to the ruble), because people didn’t realize their value?

      • Tibor says:

        However, Czechoslovakia did the same and while there was some shady stuff involved, it was generally quite successful (however, it was not just for workers, but any adult citizen who would bother picking up the coupons).

        There was a lot more shady business with the privatization which was done by the first method described – which applied to some selected, mostly big companies. Some of it ended up quite well, such as selling Škoda Auto to Volkswagen, Škoda is now one of the biggest employers in the country and a very prosperous company, some of it ended up with shady deals where someone got a factory from the state for almost nothing and then resold it for much much more.

        So I think the coupon method is actually pretty good. I think the problems in Russia have more to do with a corrupt environment and no tradition of the rule of law than with the basic idea of coupon privatization. Even Czechoslovakia had a break of 40+7 (communism+nazism) years of absence of the rule of law AND large part of the economy was privatized at the same time. I would expect much better results when you are selling one company at a time in a country with a reasonably developed rule of law.

    • John Schilling says:

      This is where I get stuck. If equal shares are distributed, then who comprises the shareholder board and decides things about the CEO to run the thing?

      The head of the consortium of investors who says, “You don’t really want to deal with the hassle of owning one out of three hundred million shares in a company you know nothing about located on the other side of the country, do you? Here, I’ll give you fifty bucks for that…”, a hundred fifty million times. Costs just under eight billion, and gives majority ownership / full control of a company worth twenty billion.

      Or more, or less. As others have noted, Russia did something close enough to this as makes no difference, and it turns out to concentrate wealth in the hands of whoever has the most ready cash on day zero and is best at quickly valuing new enterprises. Which may not be well correlated with aptitude at actually running a going concern.

      • Tekhno says:

        and it turns out to concentrate wealth in the hands of whoever has the most ready cash on day zero and is best at quickly valuing new enterprises.

        As opposed to concentrating wealth in the hands of who has the most ready cash to purchase stuff off the government, is best at quickly valuing new enterprises, and has the bidding rigged by the politician they’ve been bribing.

        Which may not be well correlated with aptitude at actually running a going concern.

        Maybe not, but doesn’t this hold true just as much for the other kind of privatization?

    • Matt M says:

      Most people don’t want shares in an electric utility. My guess is some aspiring oligarch would offer to buy up the majority shares and would probably be able to get really good prices out of the poor/desperate. Think of that episode of the Simpsons where the stockbrocker convinces Homer to sell his stock in the nuclear plant for a “cool” $25 so he can buy a beer, and then the next night the stock is worth $50,000

      • Tekhno says:

        Yeah, but the purpose of this scheme isn’t to maintain equal ownership in perpetuity anyway. In the case you have mentioned, Homer Simpson loses out, but in the case of most privatizations of national interests he doesn’t even get a look in in the first place.

        Also, oligarchs are a given; a constant of human history. It’s better to have an organic process for aspiring oligarchs than to simply sell stuff to a relatively fixed dynasty of cronies. That’s what the whole French Revolution was meant to settle.

        • Matt M says:

          I don’t disagree that your conception is better in theory – I just think that at the end of the day, the end result is almost identical. To the Homer Simpsons of the world, it doesn’t matter whether they “get a look at it” or not – because they don’t really care to look at it in the first place.

    • andrewflicker says:

      Why not modify? Transfer 20% shares to the public at-large, with a “cannot sell or transfer in first 6 months” clause, and sell off 80% shares to the open market? (Individually, not as a giant single purchase)

      If successful, start tweaking the public share % up until you see it start to have undesirable side-effects.

  15. TheBearsHaveArrived says:

    How much does reasonably high-def video streaming cost? And by that, I basically mean the devices that *only* focus on capturing high-def video, no storage, and then forwarding them to a different device? Or at least, even with reasonable accuracy.

    This is inspired by videos of workers driving forklifts in construction accidents and such, or even the existence of window washers on high rise buildings. Or heck, can anyone with a knowledge of optics say how accurately one can transmit images with a large mirror? Or something along those lines.

    I thought it was within human ingenuity to use basic mechanics and optics to remove a good deal of those jobs to take a person out of harms way, and use either video streaming or mirrors to take them away. Why do humans in all these jobs exist, really?

    I think the tech to do this existed in what, the early 1980’s? For all kinds of jobs. I’m wondering how so many of these jobs exist.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      You want to replace humans with remote-controlled robots? The robots are probably a lot harder than the remote control part. A window washer is a human directly manipulating a squeegee. It would be extremely expensive, perhaps beyond the state of the art to automate that.

      A remote-control forklift would be easy to make, at least one that can do everything that a regular one can do. But would the remote human control it as well as the local human? The forklift provides a lot more information to the human than just visual, such as the sound of motor or the resistance of the steering wheel. Streaming audio is just as much a commodity as streaming video, but resistance is boutique. And there are lots of unspecified vibrations — if you can’t specify it, you can’t transmit it.

      So there’s a lot more to this question than video. And commodity video won’t cut it. Streaming video with a 1 second delay is extremely cheap. TV is 30 frames per second. I think a 30ms delay, a single frame, would degrade performance, particularly in the very crises that you’re seeking to protect people from. And even if no frame is delayed, the 30ms of ignorance between two frames is a real cost. Probably today 100fps with 10ms delay is cheap and maybe that’s good enough. Gestalt human vision is low resolution, but when you look at something, you can see great detail, so you’d need much higher resolution than normal (probably many commodity cameras would suffice). But cameras do have advantages over humans, such as flexible placement, like the backup cameras on cars.

      For simple tasks, people do use completely automated forklifts (not remote control). But the complicated tasks are the ones where humans need to know exactly what is going on.

    • hlynkacg says:

      You’re probably looking at a minimum of $50 – $150 dollars for just the camera but I think you might also be underestimating the difficulty of the control problem.

      A lot of the things like solid-state gyros and accelerometers, and kinematic control algorithms to go with them are fairly recent developments in the grand scheme of things.

    • Iain says:

      It’s also a lot easier for a human to get off the forklift and (for example) move some small piece of debris out of the way, compared to equipping a robot forklift to do the same. Having a human presence adds a lot of flexibility.

    • Adam says:

      I think we’re probably at the point where drone technology could feasibly replace high-rise window washers, but we’ve only been there a year or two at most. And humans who do this job are still cheap. I’m not even sure it’s very dangerous. The safety harnesses are rated at thousands of kilograms. High-rise construction, on the other hand, is very dangerous, but not currently automatable or doable by remote control.

      Cursory search, so maybe not a great source, but the New Yorker seems to think high-rise window washing is now safe.

  16. Skeeve says:

    This is an Unsong question, but I couldn’t really think of a better place to ask this; as far as I know there are no open threads on the Unsong site.

    So, according to the interlude The Broadcast, television broadcasts are not a thing – they don’t work anymore, haven’t since the mid 1980’s. The best you get is either film reels or VHS, and VHS is rare enough that Ana had to scour flea markets and garage sales to find both a working television and a working VHS player. It sounds like most people don’t have them, because why would you?

    So with that in mind, how is Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy the Vampire Slayer even a thing? Stage plays? Weekly serials at the movie theatre? I only started reading Unsong yesterday, so I refuse to believe no one else has thought to ask this.

    • shakeddown says:

      She was in comic books and movies (Aaron mentions remembering her from comics and movie screens at one point). This has indeed been asked in the comments.

      • Skeeve says:

        Right on; it was probably a minor mention that I glossed over before I knew about the lack of TV broadcasts. Thanks.

    • hlynkacg says:

      Weekly serials at the movie theatre was my guess. That or the “Buffy-verse” existing as a cinematic series comparable to our “MCU”.

  17. EricN says:

    Does anyone know where I could find a list of posts on There are some great stories and articles, but I don’t know how to find things on the website besides following the occasional link someone shares with me. Thanks!

    • Montfort says:

      There are four pages collecting what I think is most of the content – I’m presuming that since they haven’t been blanked or removed Scott doesn’t mind people reading them still. The categories are: essays, lists, fiction, and art.

      Scott, feel free to redact information in this comment if you desire.

  18. keranih says:

    (Apparently, Scott deleted the post I wanted to link to from the scratchpad (alternatively, I just flipped past it twice over) but the post was something to the tone of “hows about we celebrate the things we currently agree are awesome about long dead people – like their resistance against authority, and their bravery in the face of environmental dangers, and their moderation in the quest for power – and we just plain ignore the bad parts, like adultery, or racism, or that they were slave owners when slavery was legal – and call it good?”)

    ‘Cause, as Scott noted, we are each of us a mess of positive attributes and negative traits, and trying to find heroes who are all Good is going to be a straight up failure. Or else (and Scott sez this also) that it would require re-writing historical fact to pretend that Our Heroes didn’t actually have negative attributes. Which combines the error of post-factual revision with out right failure of integrity.

    I don’t see where this got a lot of play in the open threads, and I wish others had spoken more of this, whilst my ass had been (*) banned.

    IMO, it would be best if we publically celebrated the best parts of our fellow humans, and while not ignoring the bad parts –

    – that Hitler loved dogs and his mistress & raised the self-respect of the average German Christian does not make up for everything else –

    – didn’t insist that our fellow humans be perfect before they were worthy of emulation or just ordinary respect. We are each a mess of brilliance & beauty and stupidity & brutality, so calls for perfection seem doomed to fail – and, worse yet, fail our more honest fellow humans, who possess enough self-reflection to recognize that they are imperfect, and who decide, well, then, I’ll go to hell, and if I can think of something worse, well, I’ll do that too!.

    We are bound for better things than that.

    (*) righteously, with which I do not quibble

    • Douglas Knight says:
    • shakeddown says:

      I support this, with the caveat that we should celebrate the good sides of people if those good sides are the things they’re famous for. (Columbus is more famous for being a brave explorer than for being a slaver, so we celebrate that. Hitler is more famous for being a genocidal maniac than for being a good boyfriend, so we don’t bother to celebrate the latter with him).

      • Wrong Species says:

        The things they are famous for is directly related to what we choose to emphasize. George Washington and the mythical cherry tree is more famous than the Whiskey Rebellion because we tell children the former. But if we lived in a more libertarian society than the latter might be more well known.

        • shakeddown says:

          Right, that’s the point. They’re famous for what we emphasize, and we should be able feel comfortable acting as if that’s the important thing about their characters.

          Also re: the Whisky rebellion story, that’s interesting, because I’d always heard it told as a pro-Washington story (he forged the country and didn’t mind getting tough when it was necessary, and such was his prestige that the rebels gave in without even a fight). It’s strange to hear that it’s told from a libertarian perspective.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Imagine that Columbus right now was more famous for slavery than discovering the New World. Then you’d be saying that we should denounce him because he’s more famous for that. Essentially, we should be emphasizing the things that we already emphasize because we already emphasize them. It seems arbitrary.

          • shakeddown says:

            Yeah, pretty much. The idea is that we celebrate Columbus as a code for celebrating badass exploreriness, and if Columbus was code for slavery, that wouldn’t work.

    • Columbus was also directly responsible for the Columbian Exchange, which (1) was horrific, spreading new diseases, causing millions of deaths, and largely depopulating vast sections of the Americas, (2) was beneficial, with important new crops and technologies crossing in both directions, (3) was historically inevitable and could not have been avoided, but (4) was undeniably one of the most significant events in all of human history.

      If Columbus had never lived, or had different interests, someone else would have done it eventually, but in actual fact, he was the one who grasped the knob and opened the door.

      I do not begrudge the designation of a day with his name, to commemorate all this.

      • Columbus is also famous for believing the world was round when everyone else thought it was flat and he would fall off the edge.

        It isn’t true, of course, but it’s one of the things he is famous for. The truth is that everyone knew the world was round, everyone but Columbus knew how big around it was, how wide Eurasia was, and could subtract the one number from the other and get a distance much longer than Columbus had any hope of going before he ran out of food and water.

        Where “everyone” is only mild hyperbole.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Nomination for Columbus as the Patron Saint of Beneficial Falsehoods.

          • hlynkacg says:

            lol, seconded.

          • bean says:

            This is why I’m opposed to veneration of Columbus. Some have hypothesized that he had heard rumors that the Americas existed, and used his estimates to get money from the Spanish, but that runs into the problem of his believing he’d actually found India.
            In actuality, he was an idiot who got really lucky. His story should be told as a warning.

          • Randy M says:

            No, because people aren’t that logical. “Look, he was merely lucky, you aren’t likely to be lucky if you take chances on falsehoods” simply isn’t going to be convincing to the average person who looks at it and says “hey, it worked for him!”

            But then, enslavement etc. aside, society probably benefits from having a portion that are drawn to taking the long odds on endeavors.
            (Or not. It’s probably the same mindset that lets a person rationalize “Some people can’t drive drunk, but I’m a great driver, so I should be fine.” as “most explorers die, but I’m a great explorer, so I should be fine”, and how much exploration analogous activities are needed?)

          • John Schilling says:

            Some have hypothesized that he had heard rumors that the Americas existed, and used his estimates to get money from the Spanish, but that runs into the problem of his believing he’d actually found India.

            If we take his public statements at face value, he believed the Earth to be substantially smaller than everybody else. In which case, he would presumably interpret reports of lands a few thousand kilometers west of Iceland or whatever as being “India”, and upon discovering a land right where he thought it out to be say, “Yep, an uncharted bit of India, just like I expected”. It’s not like even the best-educated Europeans of 1492 really understood what the eastern coast of India/Asia looked like.

          • bean says:

            If we take his public statements at face value, he believed the Earth to be substantially smaller than everybody else. In which case, he would presumably interpret reports of lands a few thousand kilometers west of Iceland or whatever as being “India”, and upon discovering a land right where he thought it out to be say, “Yep, an uncharted bit of India, just like I expected”. It’s not like even the best-educated Europeans of 1492 really understood what the eastern coast of India/Asia looked like.

            That’s exactly my point. His estimate of the Earth’s circumference is only defensible if the intent was to fool the Spanish into funding him, and that he actually knew or strongly suspected that there was undiscovered land in the way. Instead, he fooled himself into a wildly false belief, and just got very lucky. This should not be admired, it should be used as an example to the ages of what not to do. Columbus is second only to Robert Falcon Scott in being unjustly considered a hero instead of an object lesson in what not to do.

          • hyperboloid says:

            I am the only person who thinks it’s weird that every October we celebrate, let’s be honest, Dia de la Raza?

            The global prominence of Iberian culture is due almost exclusively to the dumb luck of one incompetent navigator. Latin America is stuck with “Cristóbal Colón”, as good Anglo Saxons we are not.

            I propose we abolish Columbus day, move elections to the first Monday in November, and create a new federal holiday (To be called Mayflower Day, Pilgrim day, or Compact Day) to honor the arrival of democracy in the new world.

            If we are going to have a holiday to commemorate a civilizational creation myth, honoring a guy who worked for an empire that the founders of Anglo American society considered their mortal enemies is a little bit odd.

          • Minor point. If my memory is correct, Columbus not only underestimated the circumference of the Earth, he also overestimated the width of Eurasia, thus pushing down his estimate of the difference between the two.

          • John Schilling says:

            His estimate of the Earth’s circumference is only defensible if the intent was to fool the Spanish into funding him, and that he actually knew or strongly suspected that there was undiscovered land in the way.

            It is also defensible if it is an honest mistake. There are (we are speculating) reliable reports of land in a place that land should not be if consensus estimates of A: the size of the globe and B: the extent of its land masses, are correct. Therefore the consensus is wrong about something. Columbus could have simply guessed wrong…

            Instead, he fooled himself into a wildly false belief, and just got very lucky.

            …about something basically irrelevant. If you have reliable reports from Icelandic storytellers or Irish fishermen or whatnot that there is land 5000 km east of Spain, there is no great luck involved in finding land 5000 km east of Spain.

            And if your plan is to seek out strange new worlds with new life and new civilizations, to boldly exploit what no man has exploited before, it hardly matters whether your placement of these worlds in some grand cosmology is “wildly wrong”, nor whether you misname them on the basis of that mistaken cosmology. What matters is, you have evidence that there are new worlds within reach of your ships in a particular direction, and lo – when you go and look, there they are.

          • Matt M says:

            But his pitch to the Spanish crown was pretty explicitly “I will find you a water route to your profitable trading partners in Asia” was it not?

            He certainly failed to deliver that. Whether what he did deliver was “just as good” or possibly even better is up for debate, but I don’t think “I will go and boldly find new stuff” was ever a part of his actual mission statement.

          • hyperboloid says:

            @ John Schilling

            There is really no evidence that Columbus had ever heard of Icelandic settlements in “Vinland”. The only European accounts available in Latin at the time were hundreds of years old, and generally only recorded that Scandinavian settlers had colonized an island called Vinland somewhere in the extreme west.

            Adam of Bremen, an 11th century
            German chronicler and one of the few sources to correctly put Vinland to the west of Greenland, gives this account:

            He {Danish King Svend Estridsen} also told me that many in this part of the Ocean have discovered an island called Vinland because there are grapevines growing wild which produces the best of wines. From trustworthy Danes rather than from fantastic tales, I also have heard that there is an abundance of cereal which is self-sown. Beyond this island, he says, are no more inhabitable islands in the Ocean. Everything farther out is covered by immense masses of ice and perennial fog. .

            There is no record of any European ever believing that Vinland was in Asia. And at any rate Columbus was looking for trade and spices, not the land of always winter. Even if had heard of Vinland it’s likely he wouldn’t have cared.

            The idea of sailing west to reach Asia originally came from Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli a Florentine mathematician and cartographer. Toscanelli claimed to have been present during the reception of a delegation from “Cathay” (The contemporary European name for the northern Yuan) by Pope Eugene IV in 1432, but historians have generally dismissed this claim.

            Nevertheless Toscanelli produced a map showing “Cathay”, “Mangi”(Ming ruled southern China) , “Cippangu”(Japan) and Importantly the mythical island of Antillia to which Christians had supposedly fled after the Moorish conquest of Spain.

            Columbus compounded the errors of Toscanelli’s creative cartography with his own asinine calculations, and decided that the distance from the Canary islands to Japan was a bit less than four thousand kilometers (the real value is closer to twenty). The great navigator somehow convinced Ferdinand and Isabella that he could sail west, stop in on some lost Visigothic cousins to deliver the good news of the reconquista, pick up a load of Asian spices and be back in time for tea.

            The man had his head pretty throughly wedged up his own rectum. His discovery of the new world is one of the great historical examples of pulling a Homer.

          • ” There are (we are speculating) reliable reports of land in a place that land should not be if consensus estimates of A: the size of the globe and B: the extent of its land masses, are correct.”

            Surely “there is at least one land mass between here and Asia” is a more plausible explanation than “the globe is much smaller and Asia much wider than everyone thinks.”

          • John Schilling says:


            There is really no evidence that Columbus had ever heard of Icelandic settlements in “Vinland”.

            Narrowly correct, specific to “settlements”. There is IIRC credible evidence that the Norse conduced timber-harvesting expeditions to North America into the 15th century, mostly in support of the Greenland colony but with some crossover to Iceland. That never got written up in Latin for Continental audiences, but some of it was written into records in Old Norse in Iceland and if you were hanging around Icelandic sailors’ taverns in the late 15th century it is barely possible you could have even talked to some greybeard who had once set foot in the Americas. More likely, someone who could point to the beam holding up the roof and say “my grandfather brought that back from the West – what, you see a tree on this island that could make a beam like that?”

            Columbus reports having visited Iceland as a merchant sailor in 1477. He does not provide a transcript of his barroom conversations.

            @David Friedman:

            Surely “there is at least one land mass between here and Asia” is a more plausible explanation…

            Postulating unnecessary continents seems to be the sort of thing William of Occam counseled against.

            Generally speaking, when someone reports observing something wholly new and unknown, it is wise to start by considering what known thing they might have misinterpreted.

            “the globe is much smaller and Asia much wider than everyone thinks.”

            “Or” would suffice; “and” is not necessary. Now, how big are the error bars on those figures in the late 15th century? As understood by the literate but informally educated amateur.

          • hyperboloid says:

            @John Schilling

            It is interesting that Columbus visited Iceland, but that’s all it is, interesting. By Columbus’s time the effects of the little ice age all but destroyed the Norse settlement, with the last recorded ship reaching Greenland colony in 1406. Any hypothetical hunk of Canadian timber would have been around for decades by that point, and any story about it’s origin would be a couple of generations old. “barely possible”
            describes a lot of this story.

            But for the purposes of argument let’s imagine that Columbus did hear about a land to the west of Greenland from some salty old Icelandic sea dog. Let’s further imagine that he believed this story at took it as evidence that the Icelanders at reached the coast of Asia. then why did he never mention this in the course of trying to sell various European monarchs on his expedition to the west? Why did he not follow the old Norse route to what he would have believed to be the Asian mainland?

            The distance form Iceland to Newfoundland is less than two thirds as long as Columbus’s hypothetical route to Japan. Why not follow this route west, then track south along the coast to his destination? Such a route would have kept him in sight of land, and importantly fresh water, for much of the journey.

            But all of this is irrelevant speculation, because we know why Columbus thought there was easily accessible land to the west.

            Columbus corresponded with Toscanelli, and used the map makers fanciful cartography of Asia, combined with cherry picked classical sources, as a starting point for his plans. Error was compounded with error as a garbled version of Al-Farghani’s figure for the circumference of the earth (Columbus confused the Arabic mile with the shorter Roman mile), was combined with Marinus of Tyre’s erroneous estimate of the size of Eurasia, and Toscanelli’s notion of “Cipangu” (a confused amalgam of Japan, Taiwan, and Indonesia) being in the middle of the Atlantic.

            Ironically we also know that Columbus was inspired, at least in part, by sailor’s stories of an island to west that had been colonized by Europeans; but it wasn’t Vinland, it was Antillia, which of course doesn’t exist.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          @ DavidFriedman

          My feeling is, we should call it Queen Isabella Day, aka ‘Fund Crackpot Research Day’.

          Columbus is also famous for believing the world was round when everyone else thought it was flat and he would fall off the edge. [….] It isn’t true, of course, but it’s one of the things he is famous for.

          And so we’re back to se non vero, ben trovato: if it wasn’t true, it should have been. Well, not falling off the edge, but the iconic “Brilliant contrarian braves voyage to prove his theory, and finds shocking unrelated jackpot.” The moral virtue is directly tied-in to finding/producing the jackpot. Hitler’s marital virtue was orthogonal to his genocide; and aiui Gandhi’s marital flaw was orthogonal to his political success; so imo we can downplay their marital virtue/flaw and emphasize Columbus’s virtues of contrarianism and courage. After Columbus had discovered America, his behavior to the Native Americans was very bad — but orthogonal to the discovery, as his motive for his voyage was East Indian spices, not West Indian slaves.

          Imo the including of the orthogonal parts of the narrative shows that these famous people, like the rest of us, are a mixture of good and bad — but we can still accomplish some very good things. Our personal flaws don’t invalidate the good accomplishments; we needn’t throw the US Constitution out because “It was written by a bunch of slave owners.”

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @ Larry Kestenbaum
        Columbus was also directly responsible for the Columbian Exchange, which (1) was horrific, spreading new diseases, causing millions of deaths, and largely depopulating vast sections of the Americas

        Which Columbus had no way of predicting, because –

        – He was looking for a shortcut to the [East] Indies (whose people his people had already been trading with for a long time)

        – If he had known there was a big ‘savage’ continent in the way, he probably would have stayed home

        – The discovery of America was long before the discovery of germs.

        • Which Columbus had no way of predicting

          Not relevant to my point. He didn’t know he was opening a door, but he opened it nonetheless. The opening is irrevocably tied to him.

          • nancylebovitz says:

            This discussion of Columbus Day strikes me as weird because I never thought of it as being about Columbus being wonderful– he was kind of cool, but the real point was to celebrate that America exists. (Sorry, rest of the western hemisphere, I’m just talking about the inside of my head.)

          • Matt M says:

            The unspoken implication of a lot of the anti-Columbus day stuff is that “America existing” is also absolutely NOT a thing that should be celebrated. That the European discovery of the Western Hemisphere was, on net, a terrible thing for the world as a whole.

            But that’s a pretty politically unpopular thing to say, so they stick with easier wins like “Columbus had slaves” which are a lot more palatable to the public at large. But the push towards replacing it not with “America day” or “Exploration day” but rather with “Indigenous peoples day” seems to suggest that they want to replace a celebration of America with a celebration of, basically, the opposite of America – the thing that America replaced.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Bingo. It’s black armband history, nothing more.

    • Wrong Species says:

      We are not a “mess of positive attributes and negative traits”, we’re just a mess of different attributes that we label “good” or “evil”.* History is a collection of stories and we use heros and villains to support them. Columbus helps with the narrative of modern progress through exploration but he also serves as a villain in the narrative of society gradually progressing on racial issues. Whether you choose to view him as a hero or villain depends on which narrative you want to emphasize.

      *Someone is going to argue with me dismissing a rather contentious issue but let’s be real. Moral realism is ridiculous. We as a society can’t even agree on any kind of moral axioms. Any agreement(slavery,genocide) we have is simply moral fashions rather than some well reasoned truth.

      • Philosophisticat says:

        If moral realism is ridiculous, it’s not for the reasons you give. Moral realism isn’t committed to thinking that our moral agreements are well-reasoned, or that the fundamental moral axioms, if there are any (and the model of axioms may well be the wrong way to think about morality) are something we should expect people to recognize or agree about. And the mere existence of disagreement, even longstanding disagreement, about a topic isn’t any strong reason to think that there are no objective facts about it, as a cursory look at longstanding disagreements about economics, evolution, the existence of God, etc. should make clear.

        If you’re going to “lets be real” about a contentious issue you may want to do better than gesture towards the arguments that every entry level metaethics course spends thirty minutes refuting on day one.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I’ve had this argument a million times with people, including yourself, that seem to have a good understanding of this subject and I’ve never even been slightly convinced. I don’t really want to get in to it again. Maybe this is the kind of thing that can’t easily be explained through debate and needs to be digested through a book. I doubt it but i won’t dismiss it. Any suggestions to “refute” my crude moral antirealism are welcome although I’m certainly not going to spend $100 on a textbook.

          • Randy M says:

            If you’ve had the argument a million times, what makes you think you are going to convince anyone with “Let’s get real.”?

          • Wrong Species says:

            My main point wasn’t about moral realism. It was about how we view historical figures is related to the narratives we use. Bringing up moral realism only to simply dismiss it was a mistake.

          • Randy M says:

            The real sin was not use it as an opportunity for a pun. “Let’s get unreal, people.”

          • Philosophisticat says:

            Moral antirealism isn’t easy to refute. The reasoning for it you gestured to in your post is. Maybe you have more sophisticated reasons you didn’t feel like sharing; I can only go by what you wrote.

            Sorry for distracting from what you really wanted to talk about. As a metaethicist, seeing that kind of post (“Moral realism is so obviously stupid! come ON, people don’t even agree on what the moral axioms are!”) is like being an economist and seeing something like “increasing the minimum wage is obviously good for the poor! I mean you’re taking money from rich corporations and giving them to low-paid workers! Duh!”

            I probably would have let it slide if it weren’t for the complete lack of intellectual humility. If you won’t modulate your confidence I’d advise you to at least modulate your tone in the future.

        • Spookykou says:

          When it comes to philosophy I am about as sharp as a sack of wet mice, so feel free to ignore me, but moral realism is the position that there is some sort of objectively true morality?

          What definition do they use for ‘objectivity’, or in other words, who would win in a fight, moral realism or solipsism?

          • Philosophisticat says:

            As is common in philosophy, there are borderline views that are hard to characterize, but roughly, the sense in which morality is objective for the moral realist is that there are facts about what is right/good/etc. which are not perspective-dependent (in the way e.g. tastiness is perspective dependent).

            In a fight, solipsism wouldn’t even acknowledge its opponent and moral realism would feel bad about striking first, so I’d call it a draw.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            That definition seems to be cognitivism, which is a lot broader than realism. I think that there are serious equivocation problems with people who use the term realism.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            Cognitivism is, on the standard understanding, half of moral realism – cognitivists claim that moral claims purport to report facts. Realists think that in addition, they sometimes succeed.

            Moral error theorists are cognitivists but not realists. I guess in some trivial way they think there are “facts about what is right/good” (Nothing is right/good), so I should have qualified that out.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I am not concerned about how to classify error theorists and was including the second point in cognitivism. Maybe philosophers agree on such a definition, but they equivocate with something much narrower.

            In particular, Wrong Species’ fluctuating “moral fashions” satisfy this definition, but I think very few people — apparently not including you — would call it “moral realism.”

          • Spookykou says:

            Thanks for the reply!

            Follow up question.

            It always seemed to me that solipsism holds the position, ‘It is impossible to know objective truths about reality’ and this is a functionally ‘true’ statement(at least for me in my brain it seems to be), but who really wants to be a solipsist? So we all just agree to assume objective reality is ‘real’. This works for almost everything you could want to talk about, but it seems like it doesn’t mesh well with ‘There are objective truths about reality’.

            But again, sack of wet mice.

          • Philosophisticat says:


            I don’t think solipsism, understood that way, is a plausible position. I think one can only really get there by assuming an incredibly demanding conception of what it takes to “know” something. Descartes didn’t do us any favors by kickstarting modern philosophy with precisely such a view, but philosophers today think that having knowledge of X doesn’t require that you, for example, be able to eliminate with certainty every alternative to X. With less stringent conceptions of knowledge, it’s generally not too hard to find things about reality we can know. If high standards on “knowing” trip you up, it’s easier yet to see how we might have rational beliefs about reality.

          • Spookykou says:

            Interesting, I think I understand the problem with extreme demands on knowledge, and I think my default is to agree with a more relaxed criteria for knowledge. I don’t think I need to be agnostic just because I can’t prove that god/s are not ‘real’, for example. I just have this idea running around in the back of my mind that it is impossible to actually ‘prove’ objectivity. Which is fine, I am willing to accept that I can’t actually prove that objective reality is ‘real’, cause I am just going to assume it is, and that tends to work out a lot better for me. Where this position and the agnostic position meet, and how they differ, is something that I have not pinned down yet though.

            Thank you for the responses, I will continue to think on this!

    • Anatoly says:

      “Man proceeds in the fog. But when he looks back to judge people of the past, he sees no fog on their path. From his present, which was their faraway future, their path looks perfectly clear to him, good visibility all the way. Looking back, he sees the path, he sees the people proceeding, he sees their mistakes, but not the fog. And yet all of them— Heidegger, Mayakovsky, Aragon, Ezra Pound, Gorky, Gottfried Benn, St.-John Perse, Giono — all were walking in fog, and one might wonder: who is more blind?

      Mayakovsky, who as he wrote his poem on Lenin did not know where Leninism would lead?

      Or we, who judge him decades later and do not see the fog that enveloped him?

      Mayakovsky’s blindness is part of the eternal human condition.

      But for us not to see the fog on Mayakovsky’s path is to forget what man is, forget what we ourselves are.”

      (Milan Kundera, Testaments Betrayed)

    • The Nybbler says:

      The hard part is when the evil is intertwined with the good; particularly when the good is a direct result of the evil and would not have happened without it. This makes people uncomfortable. Would the world have been a better place if Columbus had left the Indians alone? It seems rather unlikely.

    • Matt M says:

      My view on this is that in the overwhelming majority of cases, what we ought to celebrate is not men themselves, but their achievements. Columbus’ major achievements were noteworthy and, in the opinion of most, improved the world for the better – therefore I would consider him worthy of celebration despite certain moral failings he possesses when held up to today’s standards. The same thing could be said of the likes of other increasingly unpopular historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, etc.

      I feel like the original idea was to honor these people for their achievements, but society got so caught up in worshiping the individuals themselves that the idea morphed into “hold them up as paragons of virtue to be admired in every way” which is obviously dumb, and has resulted in overly-extreme pushback such that Columbus is now treated as an evil villain who committed genocide for fun.

      But if you celebrate the achievement itself rather than the person, you can avoid a lot of the unpleasantness.

    • Brad says:

      IMO, it would be best if we publically celebrated the best parts of our fellow humans,

      didn’t insist that our fellow humans be perfect before they were worthy of emulation or just ordinary respect.

      Do we really need long dead heroes? Inasmuch as having heroes does fill an important role psychologically and sociologically, what’s wrong with having a strong presentist bias?

      In general, I think how contemporary Americans think of Napoleon is pretty good model for historical figures. Most people know who he was, at least vaguely, but there’s not a lot of emotional valiance there — neither as a villain or a hero. Compare that to the seemingly never ending Jefferson/Hamilton/Adams rollercoaster. I see the former as healthier.

    • Adam says:

      Personally, I try to just admire and emulate traits and actions, not people. It is admittedly hard not to admire a person with a lot of admirable traits, and then become disappointed when you discover the bad ones.

    • BBA says:

      Columbus Day isn’t actually about Columbus. But it’d be too exclusionary to rename it Italian Appreciation Day, despite that being the real point of it.

  19. Brad says:

    I know there are at least a few others that enjoy reading legal decisions. I found the Brexit decision to be interesting. In part, but not solely, because there is a very different style to it than typical American legal opinions.

  20. Anon. says:

    What do you use for citation management?

  21. Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

    I recently read on a Quora A2A a question that was basically “What would you do if a random person on the street kissed you?”

    The answers ranged from “Ugh this is assault” to “It depends on hot they were!” I’m wondering if there are any personality differences between the two types of people. Something akin to Jonathan Haidt’s liberal vs conservative hierarchy of values: e.g., are the people who were like “this is assault” more purity driven than the “if they were hot” sorts?

    So SSC: How would you react if a stranger kissed you? And how do you fit on Haidt’s mapping of moral values?

    An interesting, if slightly related tangent: It seems as though romantic kissing of that sort is limited to large societies. Small hunter-gatherer societies don’t do romantic kissing; as a matter of fact they find it weird like “wearing socks for earmuffs” level weird.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I think my reaction would depend on how physically threatened by them I was, more than any other factor. Attractiveness would play into it, but as a secondary factor. So would my anxiety regarding germs. And, of course, the sort of kiss matters.

      I (male) have had gay men of my acquaintance get very “hands-y” with me, and I don’t particularly mind – it’s a bit flattering. But all the guys who have done this are guys I am confident (in most cases) I could take in a fight, and in one case I know I could, having grappled with the guy. Were a gay man I know could beat me in a fight to come up and start massaging my neck or whatever, I would feel threatened – there’s a couple of gay men I have grappled with who get the better of me, and it would threaten me if they came up and started invading my personal space.

      Assuming it’s someone I am not threatened by, yeah, attractiveness would play a role in my response, but not a huge one. A hot person who has no respect for my personal space is still a person who has no respect for my personal space.

      And, I mean, I’m kind of anxious about contamination. That’s relevant.

      Finally, the kind of kiss is relevant to all this. The style of cheek-kissing that exists as a greeting in some European countries? I mean, someone doing it unprompted would be weird. But it would not be the same as someone coming up and going at my tonsils – which would come off as more aggressive (and thus more of an issue if I felt threatened), more sexual (and thus their attractiveness more relevant), and grosser (I only want somebody’s saliva in my mouth with my prior consent, in part because bodily fluids are gross – people get sweat and sometimes blood on you in BJJ, and that’s one thing, but if someone on the street came up and started rubbing their sweat on me, let alone blood, I’d freak out).

    • Randy M says:

      I don’t think anyone could manage a really intimate kiss without my cooperation, so it would probably be some combination of shove away, step back, and “Um, who are you?”
      But the average unarmed stranger is not likely to be threatening to me.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      Assuming there’s no threats or violence involved and that nothing else comes from it, it mostly depends on the attractiveness of the person, bottoming out at moderate annoyance.

    • Adam says:

      It’s technically assault, but if it was a woman I otherwise would want to kiss, I’d not be bothered. Similarly, anyone walking up to me on the street and punching me in the face would be assault, but if it was a 90-pound 13 year-old kid, I’d probably just laugh or get mildly annoyed, depending on how I otherwise felt that day.

    • blacktrance says:

      I’d be on the “this is assault” part of the spectrum. Maybe a little less if they were attractive, but I’d still be significantly upset.
      I normally score around 0 for Purity on Haidt’s test. Maybe this has more to do with Openness, Agreeableness, and Extroversion.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’d assume they were trying to pick my pocket or provoke a fight. If they were sufficiently attractive, I might turn it into a game of seeing whether I could steal a kiss while keeping my wallet.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Assuming we’re talking full on mouth-kiss, definitely assault. (unless kisser is one of a small number of extremely attractive celebrities, in which case I’m obviously dreaming). Some lesser sort of kiss and I’m probably going to just be annoyed and assume the kisser has confused me with someone else.

      I’m a libertarian and a prude, which means I reject authority/respect, and accept purity/sanctity only as a personal value (that’s the prude part). I tend to accept ingroup/loyalty (though I’m very particular about my in-groups) and accept fairness/reciprocity below that. I’m not sure how considering it “assault” fits in to those; it seems to be a matter mostly of the common one, harm/care, and whether or not you would consider an unwanted kiss to be harm. The prude comes in here… strange bodily fluids, ewww.

    • Well... says:

      I don’t like romantic kissing (i.e. kissing mouth-to-mouth) either. Haven’t since I was out of my teens, maybe earlier. I’ll oblige my wife when she wants to, and maybe once in a blue moon actually initiate it myself (mostly because I like the way she reacts) but if you told me I’d never kiss mouth-to-mouth again in my life I’d be relieved.

      I have no idea where I am on Haidt’s map. You should provide a link to a quiz or something where I can find out.

      If a stranger kissed me:

      1. If the stranger was male I’d probably try to break his nose, no matter where he tried to kiss me or how successful he was. If he looked like he could kick my ass instead, I’d just try and put a lot of distance and/or heavy objects between us as fast as possible. In either case I’d then try and clean off whatever parts of me he touched. I don’t know whether I’d actually go and destroy some of his property (e.g. smash his car’s windshield or something), but I’m sure I’d consider it.

      2. If the stranger was female, my response would be to reject her (most likely without anger or aggression) and point to my wedding ring. Context would dictate the speed of the rejection and whether it was followed by friendly conversation, a swift exit, or something in between.

      Whether she’s clean/healthy is more important than whether she’s hot. If I’ve been looking at her all night and she’s really absolutely stunning, if I’d caught a whiff of her perfume earlier and it brought back vivid memories of lusty summer nights when I was a high schooler, then when I’m pushing her away my hands might take care to pass a little more information along to my brain than she or anyone else will ever know.

      If the female stranger who kissed me was a crazy homeless lady or something, my reaction would be pretty much the same as with the male who looks like he could kick my ass.

    • Adam says:

      Oh yeah, I’m low on purity too, but this seems to fit an acceptable definition of the word assault, so it’s assault. I imagine I don’t get the tremendously negative connotation many get from the word, though. Getting beat up is assault, right? Well, I got in fights as a kid. I got knocked unconscious once. I had my eye completely swollen shut for two weeks once. So what? I was fine. I remained friends with the people who did it and don’t think they needed to be put in prison or anything.

    • Deiseach says:

      I wouldn’t exactly class it as assault but then again, it depends on the degree of persistence, force used (does the person grab you, try to hold your hands so you can’t push them away, etc)?

      It’s much the same as if a stranger came up to you on the street and tried to stick their hand in your pocket/handbag: hey, that’s none of your business, mister!

      I don’t like to be touched casually, anyway, so I’d need some degree of inviting a kiss, or at least that it was part of a social ritual (kiss on the cheek in greeting).

    • Tekhno says:

      @Tyrant Overlord Killidia

      “What would you do if a random person on the street kissed you?”

      If it’s someone unattractive who is in an unprotected social category, then I’m probably going to fight them. This in practice means that I’ll be punching men, or in some rare cases, hypermasculine women who all the other men on the street wouldn’t dogpile me for hitting.

      If it’s someone unattractive who is in a social category protected from violent consequences, then I’m probably going to run away. This in practice means I’ll be running away from ugly women, dwarfs, disabled people, and god forbid, children.

      If it’s someone attractive then I’m probably going to break away and give them a strange look, while asking them to explain themselves. My mind would mark this woman down as being extremely dangerous and a possible threat to my livelihood. This kind of spontaneous activity that is outside my models of normal humans let alone women, suggests mental illness and/or poor impulse control. My penis might decide otherwise, but I don’t think he’s that dumb.

      Small hunter-gatherer societies don’t do romantic kissing; as a matter of fact they find it weird like “wearing socks for earmuffs” level weird.

      The article alludes to this being because of these societies being more “egalitarian” or because of different pre-existing and limited formal uses of kissing, but I think there’s an another explanation…

      The Tsonga people of Southern Africa are also openly disgusted by the practice: “Kissing was formerly entirely unknown… When they saw the custom adopted by the Europeans, they said laughingly: “Look at these people! They suck each other! They eat each other’s saliva and dirt!” Even a husband never kissed his wife” (Junod 1927: 353-354).

      Kissing, like any sexual activity, spreads germs, so in a primitive society it would be for the best if sexual contact was limited to specifically what is necessary and that forms of foreplay that could drastically increase rates of transmission were frowned upon. Now, they obviously wouldn’t know this, but they do find it disgusting and dirty, rather than just being perplexed that foreigners do this.

      A lot of modern behavior may just be down to us not being as worried about germs. Even though humans don’t have a germ level detecting sense, there may be modifications to behavior caused by general levels of security.

      I remember once a discussion on a movie forum, in which analingus, of all things came up. I said that it was absolutely disgusting and a surefire way to increase STD rates. For this, I was called a prude, a 12 year old, and it was even insinuated that I was being homophobic (even though all the discussion was heterosexual in nature, which implies it was an association they had in their minds, not me). I cited CDC facts about the transmissibleness of various STDs through various activities, but to no avail, and the act of trying to warn people about dangerous sexual activity was conflated with being an authoritarian socially conservative dictator who wanted to stop people being kinky. At some point, one person in the conversation admitted that he had licked the ass of a prostitute, and I gave up.

      For some reason, few people in our society treat weird sex with many many partners as being a dangerous activity. Well, you reap what you sow.

    • Creutzer says:

      Something in me revolts when I hear this sort of thing, offensive and objectionable though I would find it myself, termed “assault”. For me, that word inescapably implies violence. It can be used to describe non-violent behaviour by way of metaphorical or hyperbolic use as a stylistic device. Such as when someone is said to assault someone else with questions, etc. You could even say that you were being assaulted with a kiss, but it sounds humorous to me because of the hyperbole. It’s not a straight, unembellished statement of a matter of fact.

      What’s going on here? Has a technical, legal meaning of the word taken over entirely, so that my meaning is effectively outdated, or is the word ambiguous and everybody here is simply presupposing that it’s clear that they’re just using this technical meaning?

      • dndnrsn says:

        If somebody came up and put their tongue in your mouth, that’s totally assault. Especially since it probably involves grabbing you.

        • Creutzer says:

          You’re not answering my question. Grabbing somebody is hardly automatically violent.

          • dndnrsn says:

            If you grab somebody and they elect to make an issue of it, there could be legal consequences. If you were to kiss someone without their consent and they elected to make an issue of it, or perhaps even if somebody else did, there might be legal consequences.

          • Creutzer says:

            Yes, I’m aware of that. It’s what I assume the technical, legal sense of the word “assault” to be. You probably only skimmed my last paragraph above and didn’t quite correctly infer the question I was asking, which is whether this legal sense has, in fact, become the everyday sense of the word, or whether it has retained a violence-implying everyday meaning (which is what I find in my mental lexicon) and everybody in this thread is just using the legal sense because they think it’s obvious that the everyday sense does not apply.

          • dndnrsn says:

            OK, reading it again, I see what I missed. Technically, I don’t know if the legal meaning has taken over, given how much the legal definition of assault differs from place to place. I, personally, would consider forcibly kissing somebody without their consent to be violence, regardless of the actual law.

      • John Schilling says:

        The technical, legal meaning of the word “assault” is invoked when you raise your fist; actually striking someone would be “battery”. Which makes “sexual assault” a weird sort of legalism; most definitions require contact, which would otherwise be battery. And some state have “sexual battery” as a separate crime from “sexual assault”, but with I think little consistency as to where the line is drawn.

        Regardless, I agree that it would be useful to maintain both a legal and a linguistic distinction between plain unwanted contact, and that which would reasonably be considered to threaten injury or abduction.

        • Deiseach says:

          I imagine (though this is complete conjecture on my part) that “sexual assault” and “sexual battery” got added to the lawbooks because the definition of rape was ‘penetration by penis in vagina*’, so “grabbing someone’s crotch/breasts/backside” wasn’t rape, but it wasn’t plain old “assault and battery” either.

          *For instance, so I was given to understand, penetration by an object wasn’t rape, forced oral sex wasn’t rape, etc. technically so another charge had to be brought unless the laws were going to be amended to say “and this this this and this counts as rape, too”. Sometimes it’s easier to just write a new law than amend an old one since some bright spark somewhere is now going to bring an appeal about “hey, if the old law no longer holds, my conviction no longer holds, either!”

          As to the threat of injury and abduction part, I wonder if some people would fear possible injury or abduction as a follow-on to unwanted kissing? Most of the responses have been along the lines of “well, if she was hot, I wouldn’t mind so much” but what if it wasn’t a she? What if a guy walked up and kissed you? What if a bigger guy, who you can’t be sure won’t turn mean and you can’t be sure you can fight off, does it? Is it a compliment now? Is it okay so long as he’s hot?

          I hate the over-sensitivity and calling everything an assault or a threat that some engage in, but I have to think that for most women, the idea at the back of our heads is “If he feels confident enough to do this, what else does he feel confident in doing? If he thinks he can kiss me without my knowledge or consent, what else does he think he can do? If he thinks I look attractive enough that he can try for a kiss, does he think I’m appealing enough to go for trying to have sex? And if I refuse him will he turn mean and violent?”

          Because most people don’t walk up to strangers and kiss them uninvited, you have to have suspicions about the people who ignore social rules to do that – are they drunk, high, doing it on a bet, or for more sinister reasons? If they’re drunk/high enough to ignore “don’t kiss strangers without their permission”, what else would they ignore?

        • John Schilling says:

          I hate the over-sensitivity and calling everything an assault or a threat that some engage in, but I have to think that for most women, the idea at the back of our heads is “If he feels confident enough to do this, what else does he feel confident in doing?

          That’s the sort of thing I was going for with “reasonably consdered to threaten […] abduction”. I don’t think a stolen kiss in public, reaches that standard, but e.g. this one is right on the edge.

    • Tibor says:

      Unless that person were visibly ill, dirty, etc., I’d probably react with a mixture of surprise, not knowing what to do and a certain amount of amusement. Obviously, I’d be more receptive if that person were an attractive woman (but I’d also get a bit suspicious because this simply doesn’t happen).

      Once a guy kissed my hand out of the blue. I was taking the CPE (that’s a certificate of proficiency in English issued by Cambridge) exams and he was one of the examiners at the oral part of the exam – as I was leaving I wanted to shake his hand and he kissed mine instead. That surprised me a lot, I didn’t say anything and left the room as quickly as possible. I still don’t know if he was gay and fancied me and this was a really lame approach or if he was just having a laugh at my expense. I think the latter is more likely though.

      I can imagine that my reaction could be very different if I were a woman, possibly walking down the street at night and a big menacing (from my perspective at least) guy came to me and suddenly kissed me. I’d probably feel threatened then.

    • Acedia says:

      I’d assume it was some asshole filming a Youtube “social experiment” and look around for a camera.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I’m not sure what it says about me, but my answer is “I need to understand their motivation and patterns of behavior to know how to classify their action.”

      There are some obvious reasons why (mistaking me for their S.O.), but also the fact that boundaries are frequently not explicable and need to be discovered through personal experience. It matters a lot to me a lot what the position, vector and velocity of their moral movement looks like.

      The law, of course, can go wildly wrong when trying to do that.

    • keranih says:

      I feel like this is a relevant link.

    • Rosemary7391 says:

      I’d run. Doubly so if they were drunk. I don’t like most people touching me (including family and all strangers; only close friends get a break), so a stranger going so far as to kiss me would be extremely unpleasant.

  22. nimim.k.m. says:

    This might be of some interest to the ancap or the general libertarian-leaning property-rights crowd here on SSC. Or maybe not, but this is an Open Thread, so here goes…

    Anyway, this particular domestic newspiece caught my eye, because sounds like it’s a scene from a weird legalistic scifi story concerned with landownership legal loop-holes:

    The security services in Finland are now worried that Russian state actors have been buying private property and land in Finland, possibly for nefarious purposes.

    Direct quote from a report made by intelligence services to a parliamentary committee. “During a crisis situation, a land-owner acting with a hostile foreign state could build structures on their private property that allows them to deny our usage of [national] transport infrastructure or to house hostile troops [on their property].” End quote, translation mine.

    This is not what they probably meant (in general, I believe intelligence services like CIA and so often buy and use properties in other countries even during peacetime), but the way they phrase it, it sounds like our government has not any say what happens on private property some foreign national bought, even during a national war-like crisis! Like the police can’t go and check if they are moving or housing any hostile troops there.

    • hyperboloid says:

      I don’t know about Finish law, but, speaking as an American, if I decided to build a pillbox on my own property, or convert my basement into a bunker, I’m not sure the police could do anything about it, unless I was violating the local zoning regulations.

      Even in the US, with a handful of tightly regulated exceptions, it’s illegal to stockpile military grade weapons. But I don’t think there are any laws against fortification.

      Is the idea of Russian agents turning farm hoses into fighting positions a realistic concern for Finland? …meh

      I’d be more worried about Russian front companies buying controlling interests in business that manage critical infrastructure. Waking up on the day of a Russian invasion
      and finding that gas, power, and communication lines were being cut by newly activated sleeper agents would be a real problem.

      • hlynkacg says:

        “Sleeper agents” tovarish? I think you meant to type “the Russian ethnic minority being abused and threatened by the Finnish government”. 😉

      • Matt M says:

        I think the concern is less “we are powerless to stop any landowner from doing things we don’t like with their land” and more “if a lot of people do this all at once, we simply don’t have the resources to combat it quickly enough to prevent them from doing significant damage”

      • Adam says:

        There was the MOVE incident. They were stockpiling weapons, but the level of force used was justified by the fortification.

  23. Controls Freak says:

    Due to being temporarily robo-banned, suddenly extremely busy, and generally separated from SSC, I just got back to respond to several comments on my SIGINT post (y’all had some really good replies, and I wanted to keep the conversations going). I know open threads die out very quickly, but I’ll be monitoring that thread for a while longer if you want to get back to me again.

    In a similar vein, unless anyone strenuously objects, I’ll plan on putting together a similar write-up on more domestic tech law that I think has similarly gotten a pretty bad rep from various media outlets. Likely topics include encryption (at least FBI v. Apple and Burr-Feinstein), CISA, the Rule 41 update, who knows what else?! Now’s your time to complain if you want to stop me!

    • Adam says:

      I don’t read this site consistently and didn’t see your original thread, but that was a good comment and well-made argument. One of the better discussions I’ve seen.

  24. snahgle says:

    Hi friends, a while back Scott posted some comments on the value of a vote. I put some more thought into this question and came up with a somewhat larger answer: >$20,000/vote in 2012, and probably >$100,000/vote in 2016.


  25. keranih says:

    Political anecdata time, feel free to skip:

    So I’ve been avoiding discussing politics at work for MONTHS, esp since I started the new job. It gets alluded to from time to time, but the typical reaction is a roll of the eyes and omg the founding fathers have disowned us all. (In my workplace, the new administration is absolutely going to impact our job, but *shrugs* so do a lot of things. It’s in the water, man, just roll with it.)

    However, I keep running into really weird political expressionism outside of work and my highly-work-centric social group. For instance:

    I’m at the farmer’s market today, on a truly miserable rainy day at the tail end of the season. Everyone – and there’s less than half the usual vendors – manning a table is glad to see me – they know I only come with a twenty dollar bill but that I’ll spend a little everywhere. The fellow at the sweetbread tent sees me get out of the car and starts waving at the SUV parked next to him.

    “She got greens,” Sweetbreadman sez, as I walk up, with my obnoxious “Eat Local, Eat Awesome” tie-dyed bag over my shoulder. Greensgal climbs out of her warm vehicle and looks at me dubiously.

    “It mustard,” she says, like no blond pink-skinned gals know how to cook mustard greens.

    “No collards?” I ask, ’cause mustard is not my fav.

    Greensgal shrugs. “Jes mustard t’day,” she says, and names a very reasonable price. I’ve got a smoked piece of bony pork in the freezer, so I get a mess of greens from her, and a sweetpotato bread from Sweetbreadman, and make him break my twenty.

    Seasonsguy has a new kind of salsa, so I get a jar of that, and the last of my twenty goes to the fellow at the end for a pound of beans and a dozen multi-colored eggs. All this goes in my obnoxious hippy gather bag.

    Eggsman counts my money, and comes up a dollar extra. “All these new bills, they stick together,” he says, and gives it back, and get annoyed when I question his math.

    The extra dollar could only have come from Sweetbreadman, ’cause I have the left over dollar in my hand. So I trek back to Sweetbread man and tell him that both of us must have counted wrong. He takes my dollar, looks at it, then snorts and hands it back.

    “Nah. You keep it. Thank you for yer honesty, and f’ supporting small businesses. With people like you, we are gonna make America great again!”

    Beside him, under the tent where the rain won’t get on her hair, Greensgal snorts. “America’s already great,” she mutters.

    I give them both my best smile, stuff my dollar in my pocket, and say, “That’s not a conversation I’m getting in the middle of.” They both nod, and wave me off back into the rain.

    This area’s pretty solidly for Trump, but Greensgal has more than a few people on her side. My home state’s a battleground, still, and I sent off my ballot this morning, with extra postage so it gets there by Tuesday. Down to the end, I was still struggling with whether to write in Cthulhu or Steve Rogers.

    Sweetbreadman is huge and dark and has a laugh like James Earl Jones. His bread recipe comes from a great-grandmother who married at the age of 15, two years after she moved from Alabama. It was, he sez, the dessert at her wedding. It has the bare minimum sugar in it, and the making of it varies by the season – plum and peach and pear and sweet potatoe and pumpkin and apple, and then a long spell when it is just applesauce, until the spring fruit comes in.

    We are each and all our own person, and I am at my best when I am dealing with just a couple people at a time. Too many, and I start averaging, and that’s…sub-optimal.

  26. TheBearsHaveArrived says:

    Why are the percentiles for the physics GRE so low(or even no common difficult supplementary test)? There isn’t really a limit to how well hard tests can be as to their predictive power. To make it more difficult, just combine the test with the hardest problems on the AIME and you immediately get a test that accurately tracks people with top physics knowledge and a logical reasoning IQ of 160+, without too much math contest style studying.

    Is it political correctness, gender gap style? Its similar in high school where the physics score is capped at a *low* percentile, making the test unable to correctly track top people. The biology GRE, with the least gender differences, scales to the 99+th percentile.

    Is it some weird way to discriminate against foreign chinese students, willing to put in the hours to be great scientists? If the test was harder, there would be no denying that most top students are chinese.

    • shakeddown says:

      If the test was harder, there would be no denying that most top students are chinese.

      Anecdote: When the professor and me graded our discrete math class last year, we split up the finals into halves alphabetically. The second half of the alphabet had all the top scores; this seemed like a really weird coincidence until we realized it contained all the Zhous and X(.)*s.

    • vvvivarium says:

      You’re right that the Chinese students absolutely do the best on the Physics GRE. They are the ones consistently scoring 990 and making the top score only 93%. In admission to grad schools, they are actually held to higher standard and have to have a higher score than someone applying nationally. (When I was in the midst of applying, there were a lot of people complaining that Chinese students cheated a lot and that’s why so many people scored 990– but that could just be sour grapes on their part :P)

      But this test is not an IQ test. You should really look at the format before commenting on it. It is a 170 minute test of 100 multiple choice questions, so on average you have 102 seconds to complete every problem. The Physics GRE is a whirlwind tour of every single formula you encountered in physics undergrad and your ability to have rote-memorized all of them (plus some order-of-magnitude reasoning, unit conversions, and knowledge of famous physics experiments like the Michelson-Morley experiment). There is no critical thinking beyond plug-and-chug in most of them.

      (Anecdote time from me too: When I prepared for it, I made 200 flash cards of simple formulas to memorize–things like the lens-makers equation, the wave function of the ground state of hydrogen, and also electric field equations that are easily derivable from using Gauss’s law. These are all simple things to derive from first-principles, but on the GRE, you cannot waste time doing any derivation, you just have to know what the formula is, or move on and come back to it later if you have time. I did not finish answering all the questions, and it’s not expected. Most people run out of time.)

    • Matt M says:

      “Is it some weird way to discriminate against foreign chinese students, willing to put in the hours to be great scientists?”

      I’m more than willing to entertain this possibility.

      I don’t know much about physics, but when I took the GMAT to get into business school, I scored in the 97th percentile. I talked to some admissions people and private counselors all of whom basically said “that’s a pretty good score but it’s a REALLY good score for an American.” Some of them estimated that upwards of half of the 95% or better scores are given to Indians/Chinese, and the top U.S. schools are nowhere close to being willing to allow half of their class to consist of foreigners.

      This makes the discrimination faced by Asian students fairly obvious and easy to figure out. In the program I ended up taking, they split everyone into teams of five – EVERY team has one Indian student, and about half will have a student of some other international origin (and about half of those are Chinese). This split seems to be very constant year after year. So every year, about 20% of the class is Indian, about 5% is Chinese, and about 5% is “other international” (mostly Japan and Korea but a few South/Central America and Africa mixed in). I got to know many of the Indian students pretty well, and across the board they had higher GMAT scores than the Americans did on average. My belief is that if business programs admitted based on GMAT alone, 75% of the class of Harvard/Stanford/Chicago would be international in origin every year.

      • TheBearsHaveArrived says:

        It makes sense in business schools. Cultural familiarity matters in that field much more then others.*

        Just like the US IMO and Putnam winners, almost all of them are of chinese origin. If there was no affirmative action for American students, would the entire scientific student graduate body at most top universities be of chinese/indian origin?

        *In some schools, in business for males height is more correlated with future success then GPA(and I don’t doubt a similar statement is true for female bust and beauty)

  27. TheBearsHaveArrived says:

    Resume question.

    Would there be *any* benefits to getting certified in…most of these?

    There is some wiggle room in taking the tests without majoring in the subject. I think it would be simple enough to study for the tests and then say “I’m a certified mechanical, electrical, and industrial engineer”

    • CatCube says:

      BLUF: Probably not worth it, if you’re asking here. If you were in a field where those mattered, your professors would be talking about them during class.

      The FE is only the first part of certification. After you take the FE, you need to have experience in the chosen field (typically 4 years, but it depends on your state) to take the Professional Engineer examination, which is what will give you your professional license. Note that many states require an engineering degree, even if NCEES does not.

      As for whether or not it’s worth it, that depends on your chosen field. The typical requirement for a PE is based on needing a licensed engineer to stamp construction drawings for construction projects. So it’s absolutely critical for structural, civil, and environmental engineering, and could be important for mechanical and electrical if you’re working in areas that will require a PE to hack off on the projects (buildings, major civil works, etc.) Typically, one engineer is overall responsible for the project, but the culture seems to be that if you don’t get your PE after a little while, people will start to wonder what’s wrong with you, even if you don’t stamp drawings yourself. If you’re coming out of college, an employer fields that require a PE will generally expect that you’ve taken your FE, as it’s typical for their junior engineers to be working towards their PE.

      If you’re going to be working on say, spacecraft or computers, I don’t think that your bosses will care one way or the other about a PE, and therefore won’t care about the FE.

      • TheBearsHaveArrived says:

        Professors miss a surprising amount of stuff.

        I wonder if will help in joining a new startup. How many people can say they contain the knowledge of virtually all of undergrad engineering, at least at the level of competency determined to be good enough to have the FE down?

        I have annoyance at the computer science GRE being removed. When those tests are done correctly, there is never a good reason to not have them, especially now that they are electronically administered and graded by computer.

        It does make me wonder why there is not too much want for those with great multi-disciplinary knowledge…

        • CatCube says:

          Professors may miss a lot of stuff, but they generally don’t miss major components of their own profession. This is exactly equivalent to saying that law professors are ignorant of the bar exam.

          Further, the FE is not anywhere near having “knowledge of virtually all of undergrad engineering.” It’s mostly to ensure that you have at least a basic grasp of fundamental principles before you get hired and started on the road to being a professional engineer. It’s a first step on the path of licensure. If you’re given an employment offer from somebody who thinks that it shows that you have virtually all undergrad engineering knowledge, think carefully before accepting the offer; you might be signing up for employment with an idiot.

          If you really want to, go for it. As somebody who’s in a field that requires the a PE, and therefore the FE, it’s kind of a baffling decision, but it probably won’t *hurt*.

  28. TheBearsHaveArrived says:

    Place bets.

    This is all a simulation of pre- singularity history? I consider the simulation arguments somewhat persuasive, or matrix sim.

  29. Deiseach says:

    Right, there’s been some discussion on here before about how do you encourage smart(er) people to have kids, when it’s the poorer/less intelligent segments of society that are having the most children, so that the average population IQ is not getting up where it needs to be.

    This is the attitude needed to overcome, and I’d be very interested in how you think this could be done.

    A few caveats; I want to be charitable to the woman because I’m in the same boat – voluntarily childless and single. I wonder if she has similar reasons to mine but it’s just that the article skimmed over them and settled on the single worst one: kids are so expensive, I’ve been able to spend all my money on me, me, me!

    If the article had gone into “I think I would be a dreadful mother and I would cause more harm to my children than is warranted in having them”, that’s a different view of the matter than “Yeah, but if I had kids, I’d have to look after them, and that would cramp my style about staying out late and jetting off on holiday!”

    Oddly, for someone who says she put all her time and energy into growing her business than a family, she doesn’t sound to be that particularly successful after twenty-thirty years, not more than she would have been had she married, at least. And surely there is one man out there who also thinks “Yeah, kids are a drag”? So I do think the basic reason is more along the lines of “I think I wouldn’t be a ‘good’ wife and mother, so I don’t want to marry and have kids” – but who wants to admit to that, when it makes you sound more of a failure than “I decided instead to be a successful businesswoman”?

    Anyway – so what is the solution to “Yeah, but kids are expensive, you have to give up your free time, I don’t want to be changing diapers and paying for university when I could spend my spare cash on fun times and fun things for myself”? Would an appeal to “this is for the good of the nation” overcome individualism? I think what it sounds like here is “I’m used to living and working like a man, I don’t want to be the wife in a possible scenario if I get married, I want to be the husband” – because she anticipates that she’s the one who would be stuck with the majority of the housework and childcare on top of working full-time, or else have to cut back on her work and career in order to fit in child-rearing while her husband’s career gets priority.

    Second – what opinions, if any, on independence for California? Should the Golden State strike out to free itself of the encumbrance of the rest of the country?

    In our view, the United States of America represents so many things that conflict with Californian values, and our continued statehood means California will continue subsidizing the other states to our own detriment, and to the detriment of our children.

    Weirdly, they then follow this claim (“the rest of the nation is siphoning off our wealth!”) with this reasoning (“we’re falling apart, we can’t afford anything, we need our own pennies!”) which seems to undercut their argument – if California should be considered on the scale of a nation rather than a state, it sounds distinctly Second World rather than First:

    Although charity is part of our culture, when you consider that California’s infrastructure is falling apart, our public schools are ranked among the worst in the entire country, we have the highest number of homeless persons living without shelter and other basic necessities, poverty rates remain high, income inequality continues to expand, and we must often borrow money from the future to provide services for today, now is not the time for charity.


    (1) What are “Californian values” and what makes them distinctive from American values?

    (2) California – wealth creator being leeched upon by the needy other states, or hell-hole falling apart that can’t afford to look after itself, much less spare the resources stolen by greedy private corporations with the connivance of the US government?

    Certain minerals and other natural resources like coal, oil, and natural gas are being extracted from California at below market value rates by private corporations with the permission of the U.S. Government. While a small portion of the revenue is shared with us, our share has been withheld during times of sequestration. That means the U.S. Government is paying their debts with royalties collected from selling off California’s natural resources. Independence means we will gain control of the 46% of California that is currently owned by the U.S. Government and its agencies. We will therefore take control of our natural resources and be the sole beneficiary of royalties collected if and when they are extracted from our lands.

    Yeeeaahhhh – good luck with that one, independent California. What are you, socialists or something? If you break contracts with the private companies, who is going to do business with you? If you charge them what you think is the going market rate for the commodities, you’ll learn all about ‘what makes business great’ and how you can’t do that or else.

    (3) Independent People’s Republic of California – yes please, the rest of the nation urges you nutjobs to go ahead with this or oh no, whatever will we do when Hollywood is based in a foreign country? 🙂

    • The Nybbler says:

      Well, personally I don’t have any kids because I had a miserable childhood and made my parents miserable in the bargain, and I don’t care to experience and inflict that from the other side.

      But in general if you want to make intelligent and wealthy people see that the benefits of having kids are greater than the costs, you actually have to make that true. You can’t just fool them into changing their attitudes. Right now it’s pretty much true; unless you’re rich as Croseus (or Clinton) you can’t have the good life and kids at the same time. The cost of having kids goes up with income, faster than income, from the median up to the 98th or 99th percentile of income. It’s not seen as acceptable to delegate some parts of childcare, and where it is acceptable, service workers are often prohibitively expensive.

      • keranih says:

        rich as Croseus

        *Sappho fistbump*

      • My wife and I have been comfortably well off throughout our marriage, but not rich as Croesus or close. I don’t think that having children prevented us from doing much we would otherwise have wanted to do, and it provided very large benefits.

        One question is what else you want to do. In a conventional marriage, with one party working and one running the household, the working party isn’t very much limited by having children. Whether that’s better for the party staying at home, typically the wife, depends a lot on what else she wants to do. Rearing children is a good deal of work, but also a rewarding job–more interesting and rewarding than many of things people do as jobs, although not all.

        I don’t think telling people that the nation needs more smart kids is going to have much effect. Changing the culture so that being a housewife isn’t seen, among highly educated people, as a failure might do more.

    • Matt M says:

      It might sound crazy, but you may consider appealing to political struggles of the future.

      I knew a couple who were the typical Oregon granola-eating Earth worshipers who didn’t want to have kids. Over the past year or so they went from “It would be evil to burden mother Earth with another destructive human” to “Holy shit we better start reproducing or the future will be run by Trump supporters” pretty darn quickly.

      If your secular atheist friends don’t want to reproduce, maybe show them some charts depicting birth rates among Catholics, Mormons, and Muslims, and ask them what they think the next 50-100 years will look like if everyone like them decides they’d rather have a new purse than the ability to influence the philosophy of future generations.

    • keranih says:

      Re: The linked article –

      I didn’t have the same take-away. To me, instead of a materialistic/money-hungry attitude, the author expressed more of a ‘builder’ attitude – the business was what she wanted to create, not a family, and she came to the same conclusion that a lot of people have regarding the time constraints on family and career.

      I do agree that we don’t teach our kids (esp our daughters) to value creating a family nearly as much as we ought to, if we want them to see families as something worth creating. For a while, marriage was the assumed default (*) and celebration of careers for women necessary to break out of that assumption. But I think that the last few decades have shown that we’ve probably gone too far in the other direction.

      (*) and maybe not that much of a default, what with the warnings and pressure to avoid being an ‘old maid’. It seems there has always been some degree of resistance to “settling down”.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think the person interviewed for the article probably has deeper reasons than merely “I can spend my money on myself” but the writer put them very badly so it came off sounding like “I wanted to do things for me, me, me”. I do wonder how the article would be framed were they talking about a man, rather than a woman – surely there are plenty of men who decided to skip having kids? Or is that the good old double standard – it’s normal if Joe decides he doesn’t want to be a father, but it’s Going Against Nature if Josie does it?

        I think there may be people who decide they would be bad parents, but saying that is not as acceptable as saying “I decided to build a successful career instead of having a family”. I think we need to support people and we can’t do that if there’s a feeling of failure or shame about “I can’t even do the bare minimum of not being an abusive parent” around.

        • Matt M says:

          I can’t recall if this was a large-scale thing or not, but I remember a few years ago in the city I was living in, there was suddenly a barrage of TV and radio ads encouraging people to be foster parents that basically went “Worried about being a bad parent? Don’t be! It’s easy – these kids just want someone to love them!”

          Struck me as a potentially dangerous message… but the point is that whoever it was that decided to run these ads was under the impression that one of the biggest reasons people don’t choose to become foster parents is “fear they would do a bad job”

    • keranih says:

      Re: Cali –

      What are “Californian values”

      California is West. That gives it an independence of thought very different from the Atlantic coast. (Which feeds the “tolerant” virtue that is prevalent across most of the West – “whatever you want to do, it’s up to you”.) It’s also been ‘settled’, wealthy, and peaceful longer than the rest of the West, which makes it more ‘Eastern’ than the rest of the West. It’s also heavily reliant on trade for its wealth. (Which means that the implicit second part of Western tolerance (“…so long as you don’t expect me to get involved”) breaks down in the statist demand for centralization.)

      So – California is the sort of top-down state-centric culture that one finds in DC, NYC, and the rest of the NE, only a separate strain that denies the supremacy of New England over it. And it’s also one of the most future-centric regions in the country, trying to get shut of its past in a way that completely suits a state with a rep as the “second chance” mecca for everyone who has failed in the past. In California, all the dreams can come true. We can become the perfection we dream of. And if not, well, we’ll just dream bigger dreams, and sell them to you, cheap at twice the price.

      California – wealth creator being leeched upon by the needy other states, or hell-hole falling apart that can’t afford to look after itself

      Emmm….I’d go with “wealthy and talented spendthrift heir to a rich fortune, that makes a lot of money but spends as fast as it comes in, and has never had a reason to learn moderation.”

      Independent People’s Republic of California

      I’m enough of a daughter of the Old South to say that if they want to leave, they should be given leave to go. But I think it would be horribly bad for California itself, as sometimes I think the only thing keeping the Inland Empire married to Hollywood (and both to Silicon Valley) is that together they’re California, united against the rest of the barbarians, and if California splits off, they’ll fall to squabbling among themselves.

      Losing the economic powerhouse of California would not be awesome for the remaining states, and it would certainly lower the bar for, oh, Texas to break off. And then who knows where it would end. (There are possibilities that we will be lucky to live through.)

      All in all, I would advise against any state breaking off from the Union, but there is only one state that I think I have a say in what it does.

      • Matt M says:

        I wonder how D stumbled upon “independent California” stuff. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen much of it before.

        I have; however, seen a lot of stuff about the “six Californias” position, which I am very much in favor of.

        I’ve also seen much more talk of possible separation coming out of Texas than out of California.

        • Deiseach says:

          I saw a link to it on another blog, where the person linking was more or less “It would be so terrible to see you go – here, let me hold the door open for you, bye!” 🙂

          I wonder how Independent California would fare – they’d have to start working on those desalinisation plants pretty swiftly, because I can see the people upstream of them in the remaining USA either deciding “This is our water” or charging them through the nose for it. Agriculture appears interesting – it’s only a tiny sector of the Californian economy but on the other hand a massive amount of American food is produced in California (or so it’s alleged) – is this one area they could use leverage? “We can do without you, you can’t do without us”?

          And if Independent California happens, would we see internal problems, with wealth creators (like Silicon Valley) feeling resentment at being taxed to provide services for the poorer sections of the new nation?

          • keranih says:

            Well, I would absolutely expect an independent Cali to be a lot more invested in border control, and a lot less tolerant of sanctuary cities, but that’s just my cynicism talking.

            re: California ag – on the one hand, California ag plus modern transport killed off local ag in a lot of places. On the other hand, it’s not like Arizona, Idaho, Oregon, FL and Texas would not be delighted to take up the slack, and on the gripping hand, the US actually has very low barrier to import for most ag products. Certainly CA would be able to meet our sanitary requirements.

    • Adam says:

      I’m probably roughly your target demographic, but unlike Nybbler, I did not have a miserable childhood. Unlike you, I’m not a miserable person and don’t think I’d make miserable kids. My wife is kind of in that boat, though. Personally, I’m basically indifferent. If she wanted it, I’d do it, but she doesn’t, so I don’t.

      The first and most obvious answer is to make for some kind of easier-than-private-sperm-bank way of donating our ability to breed to someone else, so we could have children genetically but not raise them and ideally not gestate them, either. However, both of us have a sufficient number of siblings and cousins with children that most, if not all, of our genes have been passed to the next generation anyway.

      Appealing to political struggles or religion wouldn’t make any difference to me. A world full of Catholics and Muslims is basically the world of 50 years ago anyway. Widespread atheism is a fairly recent thing. We weren’t any worse off then and we ended up with the world we have today. I have no reason to think widespread religiosity would do any harm. As for Trump supporters, they’re overwhelmingly old. It doesn’t seem their own grandchildren are likely to be Trump supporters anyway. Nor am I sure I have any reason to care. Populist demagogues worse than him have come and gone in this world and we’ve nonetheless managed to continue a generally upward trajectory in average quality-of-life across the entire world. Even if Trump really turns out to be literally Hitler, we survived literally Hitler.

      You seem to ask this question a lot, but you’re in the group of people who have voluntarily chosen not to breed. What would change your mind? My wife’s sister is probably closer to the specific group this comment identifies, successful young professionals building a career. She abandoned that, quit work, and is just raising kids now. Her secret is her husband makes over half a million a year. My sisters did it, and their secret is they stayed near home and my parents help them out tremendously.

      What if, right before I die, I just wander into some random poor neighborhood and shoot everyone I can find before I go down? That has more of an impact in shifting the balance of the future gene pool than having my own children and is of roughly zero expense. Why aren’t you asking people to do that? Or, if my goal is to change future philosophy like Matt M is saying, surely I can have a much greater impact by becoming some sort of public intellectual than by have one-fourth the effect of television and peers on 1.9 half-copies of myself?

      • Matt M says:

        “Or, if my goal is to change future philosophy like Matt M is saying, surely I can have a much greater impact by becoming some sort of public intellectual than by have one-fourth the effect of television and peers on 1.9 half-copies of myself?”

        I think there’s a certain amount of hubris involved in this. For the record, my friend who recently decided to have kids was a middle school teacher who entered the profession thinking he could shape young minds that way, and found out that no, someone’s parents have a LOT more influence over their thoughts and beliefs than their third period social studies teacher does.

        In theory the “best” way to spread philosophy might be to become a Paul Krugman or a Noam Chomsky or someone, but it turns out that’s a pretty difficult career path and not very many people achieve it.

        • Aapje says:

          I also think that to manipulate people successfully, you have to become a good manipulator (duh), which is done by saying things that work on people’s minds, rather than saying things that are correct and/or consistent with your goals.

          So basically, you have to sell your soul to the devil and accept telling lies for (supposedly) the greater good.

      • Deiseach says:

        You can have all the public intellectual influence you like, but if the public is gradually, year on year, becoming stupider en masse, that’s not much use. “Smart guy talking on TV” or posting on the Internet is not going to change the way Jack and Jill and LeShondra and Makalya live their lives, make their choices, and end up influencing society.

        I don’t necessarily think the public is becoming stupider, but I am interested in the arguments by people who think that, bluntly, the morons are the ones having kids and this is going to have a terrible effect on the population IQ so we’ll all be out-competed when the Chinese crack genetic engineering and churn out super-genius babies. My position there is to ask them “So what are you doing about it? If you’re concerned about all these stupid poor people having babies condemned to live in poverty because they’ll be too stupid to get careers in the world of tomorrow, what are you doing to raise the waterline, smart person?”

    • John Schilling says:

      unless you’re rich as Croseus (or Clinton) you can’t have the good life and kids at the same time

      What is your definition of “the good life”? Because I know plenty of people with ordinary white-collar jobs and salaries who have children and e.g. enjoy vacations in Paris every once in a while.

      And plenty more who consider the kids to be the best part of life, such that even a childless Croesus could not be considered to be “living the good life”.

      • The Nybbler says:

        A life where you can pursue significant interests outside kids and work. A vacation without the kids every few years doesn’t cut it. It seems to me that most people with kids are basically completely consumed between activities related to the kids, and work.

        If raising the kids is the best part of life, I suppose you can be OK with that. It’s a secular sacrilege of sorts to say that it _isn’t_, but in fact for many people it isn’t.

        • Aapje says:

          The problem is that you can only (legally) go one way. Once you cross the Rubicon, you can’t go childless if you dislike the outcome. This means that there is strong incentive to rationalize away any negative feelings & pretend that the kids are your goal in life…which, de facto, they have become.

        • Matt M says:


          You think that’s truly realistic? Rewarding family life AND successful career AND dedicated pursuit to varied other interests? That strikes me as a bit fairy-tale “have it all”-ish.

          If your family and work lives are both good, is it really so bad that you might not have a ton of time/money for your birdwatching hobby? I think a whole lot of society is in a position where they’d be glad to have any ONE of those three things – much less all of them at once…

          • The Nybbler says:

            If it’s not realistic, then you can’t be surprised when those with the means choose to pursue other interests than kids. If it’s just family and career, then basically all your energy is spent bringing up the next generation of humans, who will do the same, ad infinitum.

          • Urstoff says:

            It depends on your definitions of “rewarding” and “successful” as well. If you define success in a career is working 80 hours a week and being the top in your field, then no, those three goals are not jointly satisfiable. But there’s no reason to have such a lofty definition of successful. Ditto on “rewarding”. Modern (white suburban) parenting culture has gone overboard in the “participate in activities with your kids every waking hour” direction.

            You can have a satisfying career at 40 hours a week. You can have a rewarding family life without spending every hour on the weekends participating in family activities.

          • To introduce a real world example, my parents brought up two children with very little use of babysitters or the like and yet had rewarding and successful lives.

          • The Nybbler says:


            The world you grew up in was very different than the world children are raised in today (or even when I grew up; I’m Gen X). The amount of constant attention to children that society demands from middle to upper-middle class parents is far greater.

          • “The amount of constant attention to children that society demands from middle to upper-middle class parents is far greater.”

            How does society “demand” it? I have two children of my current marriage, the older being now 25, as well as two grandchildren from my first marriage. I haven’t observed any such demands.

            Our children got a fair amount of attention, but nothing close to constant attention.

        • John Schilling says:

          If raising the kids is the best part of life, I suppose you can be OK with that. It’s a secular sacrilege of sorts to say that it _isn’t_, but in fact for many people it isn’t.

          When you invoke “the good life”, singular, you aren’t talking about the tastes of “many people”, and you aren’t actually supposing it is possible to be OK with the alternative. You are making a single normative statement for essentially all of humanity.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Almost everybody, across the intelligence range, when given the option, has fewer children. I don’t think intelligence is the primary factor or anywhere close – someone of below-average intelligence now will have fewer children than someone of similarly above-average intelligence would have in the past, or in societies where birth control isn’t available or is less available, people in general and women in specific have the ability to say they don’t want to have however many kids, delaying marriage and having kids isn’t accepted/the norm, women have fewer choices/no choices, etc. (All of which was the case in the past everywhere – I’m painting with a broad brush, of course).

      If people really wanted to have kids, nobody would experience sexual desire, which is just a way people’s genes trick them into having children. As soon as people were given the option to avoid having children, or to have fewer children, they took it, regardless of gender.

      • bean says:

        If people really wanted to have kids, nobody would experience sexual desire, which is just a way people’s genes trick them into having children. As soon as people were given the option to avoid having children, or to have fewer children, they took it, regardless of gender.

        This totally fails to explain why people who are infertile go to great lengths of get kids, either via medical help or adoption. Adoption is the absolute refutation of this. In that case, it’s not even their genes getting passed on, but they’re willing to go to really great lengths to get kids regardless.
        Yes, not having kids is more accepted than it used to be, and kids are much less important economically, with social security, decreased use of child labor, and the increased expense of raising kids. But that doesn’t mean that people liking sex is the only reason why people keep having kids.

        • dndnrsn says:


          This is a good point and I should have considered and qualified what I was saying better because looking back what I’m saying is obviously incomplete.

    • John Schilling says:

      Oddly, for someone who says she put all her time and energy into growing her business than a family, she doesn’t sound to be that particularly successful after twenty-thirty years, not more than she would have been had she married, at least

      Yeah, my thought as well. I ran a small business about the size of hers while single and childless, and I’ve watched people do it while married and childless and married with children. The spouse is an asset, straight up. Spouse plus children is still usually a net win if the spouse is on board with the risks of running a business vs. taking a salary. If the author sacrificed family for career success, she got a raw deal – and one that’s going to look a lot worse in another twenty years.

      If she simply didn’t want a husband or children, fine, but the “look at me, six figures, whee!” bit, isn’t the way to sell it. I note that Thomas Edison and Elon Musk each had six children. Musk arguably cheated by creating them in batches in a laboratory.

      • Matt M says:

        Experienced this myself. Thought my lack of SO/kids could be a competitive advantage in the job market because I could devote my entire life, become “married to the job”, etc. Joined a fairly elite company in a fairly elite profession where 80 hour weeks aren’t uncommon. Get there and immediately discover 90% of my colleagues are married with 3+ kids, and I think 100% of the partners are. It’s causing some difficulties in fitting in to be quite honest.

        • Deiseach says:

          I think, weirdly, it’s a bit easier to be the “married to the job” figure if you’re female; there, of course, you get the “but didn’t you want a husband and family?” attitude but it’s tacitly accepted that if a woman wants to get on, she can’t juggle both a career and family until much later in life. The old maid married to her job because she couldn’t get a man.

          With a man, it’s more “what’s wrong that you couldn’t get a wife/why don’t you want to settle down” because of ingrained attitudes; the assumption that your wife will be the one doing the heavy lifting of child rearing, that her career will take second place to your own, that she’ll be the support mechanism of your home life. The impression I get is that bosses like a married man at a certain stage of his career because it denotes someone settled who is not going to up and off on a whim, and it’s also seen as a stage in adulthood to be successfully negotiated, one of the life cycle transitions – never having married is seen as lacking maturity, of being out of step with your peers.

          It can be all bollocks, but unfortunately it’s such an entrenched attitude culturally (and I imagine globally) that it’ll take a lot of conscious work to overcome it. The elitism may have a part to play as well; “I’m making so much money, I can afford for my wife to be a full-time stay at home wife and mother/we can afford childcare and good schools, a nanny or at the least an au pair” so that having kids is a signifier of status and success 🙂

          • Matt M says:

            Just for the record, in my particular firm (not sure how representative this may or may not be) most of the spouses seem to be similarly high-achieving working professionals. I’m really not get the feeling that any significant amount of these relationships are “I earn the money you stay home and watch the kids” in nature – it’s more of a “We both earn ridiculous amounts of money, grandma or nanny watches the kids, and then when we have some time off and take the kids to a five-star resort in Aruba for some family bonding” thing

            Which strikes me as bizarre and not necessarily something to emulate – but at the same time, my lack of ability to participate in conversations regarding the best family-friendly five-star resorts in Aruba may be holding me back professionally…

          • rlms says:


            The assumption in that article that it must be the wife who becomes a houseperson is interesting.

      • Aapje says:

        The top jobs are basically 2 people jobs, where the one person (usually the wife) takes care of the home life for the ‘career person.’ Of course, a single person could replicate this by getting a personal assistant (see Tony Stark with Pepper Potts).

        BTW, this is also why it’s so very hard to get female CEOs, you don’t just need 1 person to shed their gender roles, but their partner as well.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      California – wealth creator being leeched upon by the needy other states, or hell-hole falling apart that can’t afford to look after itself, much less spare the resources stolen by greedy private corporations with the connivance of the US government?

      Depending on how much wealth the greedy corporations and US government are leaching, those two statements don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

    • Urstoff says:

      Just read Bryan Caplan’s book. It’s pretty convincing.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I personally would hate to have a life without kids. My basic feeling is “what is life about if not to bring up another generation?” I suppose that is my selfish DNA bossing me around, although I’ve tricked my DNA since my kids are adopted. 🙂

      Obviously not everyone has the same attitude I have. I don’t think it is a good idea to induce folks to have kids if they aren’t interested and think they would be bad parents. I think we should trust that they know their own minds. It is not a good thing for people to be parents unwillingly.

      But it is a good point that it seems the poor want to have more kids than the rich or middle class, and that is probably a bad thing. But I think it’s more of a problem of the poor having too many kids than the well to do not enough. Why do they continue to have more kids? Because they aren’t succeeding in other things, and parenting is something they can do? Or because they simply are careless with birth control? I hate to bring Big Brother into it, but if this truly became serious then forced sterilization for those who have kids that can’t take care of them? That is pretty drastic though, so I don’t support that now. But in principle, society shouldn’t be supporting parents that voluntarily create children they can’t support. I think this is only an issue for welfare parents, not the working poor who have limited resources but do support the kids.

      By the way, D, I wish you hadn’t put the California thing on the same comment, because that deserves its own thread. Although I’ve mostly heard about Texas threatening to secede. And bring this closer to you, D, are there more Ulsterites that want to become part of Ireland now because of Brexit?

      • shakeddown says:

        I like the idea of making welfare conditional on accepting birth control (do we have a form of birth control that is easily removable, has no significant side effects, for which it is easy to verify people haven’t removed it?) It avoids bringing big brother too much into the picture – if you don’t want big brother in the picture, you’re free to refuse welfare.

        • John Schilling says:

          Among many other flaws with “let them eat cake, so long as it is laced with contraceptives”, I believe you have grievously underestimated the human desire for grandchildren. When the poor young heroine of this tale decides she wishes to try and conceive a child this year, against the dastardly plans of the story’s vile Republican villain, there will be as many as four adults willing open their homes and pool their resources to make up for her being denied welfare benefits while attempting to conceive. Five if we count the prospective father.

          If you make the contraceptive irreversible, maybe you can work around that problem, but then the plan is even more easily cast as downright genocidal, and your reading on a well-calibrated Evilometer starts reading in the hundreds of milliHitlers.

          • shakeddown says:

            Eh, I’m only very slightly eugenical. If she can find family to support her, good for her.
            Also, the aforementioned contraception should apply to men too – so the father wouldn’t be able to father children in that state. Of course, this all assumes perfect contraception which I’m pretty sure we don’t have, but hell, it’s not politically feasible anyway.

          • John Schilling says:

            Also, the aforementioned contraception should apply to men too – so the father wouldn’t be able to father children in that state.

            Lots of social problems become easy to solve if we are allowed to postulate new technologies that have exactly the characteristics we want them to.

            This isn’t even one of those. At most, your proposal serves only to increase the sexual market value of males not on welfare. Really, it serves to increase the market for sperm banks and sperm storage centers. And if you try to prevent poor black people(*) from availing themselves of those services, yeah, you’re past 500 mH and climbing.

            (*) Won’t matter that the rules will apply to poor white people too, any more than it matters that cops sometimes shoot poor white people.

          • At a slight tangent …

            Back when people were pushing for legalized abortion and widely available birth control, the standard argument was that those would prevent unwanted children from coming into the world, with the implicit assumption that almost all births to unmarried women were unwanted.

            We got legal abortion, sex education in the schools and widely available contraception, and the percentage of children born to unmarried mothers went sharply up, not down.

            My conclusion is that most of them are not, probably were not before the change, unwanted.

            Why did it go up instead of staying the same? My explanation, borrowed from Akerlof and Yellin, is that making sex without pregnancy easier meant that women who wanted children had to compete on the sex market with women who didn’t, hence were able to charge a lower price–could no longer make sex conditional on marriage or a commitment to marry.

        • Matt M says:

          This is such a political non-starter though.

          It’s considered hugely controversial to make welfare conditional on not consuming drugs that are already illegal.

          The first politician to propose something this in public would see their career immediately ended. They would be defamed as eugenicist and a sexist and a bigot who is trying to control the bodies of poor black women. Comparisons to Hitler would fly on a level that would make Trump look like Mother Teresa.

  30. A couple of open threads ago, I posted a link to Peter Wehner’s recent column In Defense of Politics.

    Last February, another defender of politics was heard from: conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    We live in a big, diverse society. There are essentially two ways to maintain order and get things done in such a society — politics or some form of dictatorship. Either through compromise or brute force. Our founding fathers chose politics.

    Politics is an activity in which you recognize the simultaneous existence of different groups, interests and opinions. You try to find some way to balance or reconcile or compromise those interests, or at least a majority of them. You follow a set of rules, enshrined in a constitution or in custom, to help you reach these compromises in a way everybody considers legitimate.

    The downside of politics is that people never really get everything they want. It’s messy, limited and no issue is ever really settled. Politics is a muddled activity in which people have to recognize restraints and settle for less than they want. Disappointment is normal.

    But that’s sort of the beauty of politics, too. It involves an endless conversation in which we learn about other people and see things from their vantage point and try to balance their needs against our own. Plus, it’s better than the alternative: rule by some authoritarian tyrant who tries to govern by clobbering everyone in his way.

    As Bernard Crick wrote in his book, “In Defence of Politics,” “Politics is a way of ruling divided societies without undue violence.”

    Over the past generation we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics. These groups — best exemplified by the Tea Party but not exclusive to the right — want to elect people who have no political experience. They want “outsiders.” They delegitimize compromise and deal-making. They’re willing to trample the customs and rules that give legitimacy to legislative decision-making if it helps them gain power.

    Ultimately, they don’t recognize other people. They suffer from a form of political narcissism, in which they don’t accept the legitimacy of other interests and opinions. They don’t recognize restraints. They want total victories for themselves and their doctrine.

    Both of these guys (Wehner and Brooks) are conservatives. Wehner is a Republican who worked in the Bush White House; Brooks has written many hundreds of essays I have disagreed with. I don’t mind making common cause with them in defense of basic democratic norms, but I’m not happy that it’s necessary.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Politics is an activity in which you recognize the simultaneous existence of different groups, interests and opinions. You try to find some way to balance or reconcile or compromise those interests, or at least a majority of them. You follow a set of rules, enshrined in a constitution or in custom, to help you reach these compromises in a way everybody considers legitimate.

      The counter of the Tea Partiers (or the Trumpers), is that this is not actually what has been happening. Instead, a separate political class with its own interests and opinions has been set up; they hash out differences among themselves and completely disregard interests from outside the political class, leaving a large number unrepresented.

      • Instead, a separate political class with its own interests and opinions has been set up

        Presumably almost all U.S. Senators and Representatives must be members of this supposed “political class”. Taken together, they represent a very wide range of views on almost every issue.

        leaving a large number unrepresented.

        Could you give an example of a view on a substantive issue, held by a large number of people in the U.S., which is unrepresented in Congress?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Could you give an example of a view on a substantive issue, held by a large number of people in the U.S., which is unrepresented in Congress?

          Strong limits on immigration and restrictions on trade.

          • Urstoff says:

            A clear benefit of living in a republic rather than a direct democracy.

          • shakeddown says:

            Two of the top three candidates this election ran on this exact platform, though. Including one who was a senator. Hardly un unrepresented position.

          • Brad says:

            The last three major trade agreements, all voted on in 2012, with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama were passed by votes of 83-15, 66-33, and 77-22 in the Senate and by votes of 278-151, 262-167, and 300-129 in the House.

            In the summer of 2013, Trey Gowdy (R, SC) introduced the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (SAFE Act). The bill would have significantly toughened immigration enforcement. The Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigration group, wrote a series of blog posts praising it. It had 39 co-sponsors from 22 different states. A similar bill entitled the “Michael Davis, Jr., and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act” was introduced by Senator Jeff Sessions in 2015. It had seven co-sponsors from five different states.

            Looks to me like there is representation.

          • John Schilling says:

            The SAFE act certainly seems like the sort of thing that Nybbler was talking about. Now, how many of its provisions have been adapted to fit some subsequent piece of legislation? You know, as part of a process to “…balance or reconcile or compromise those interests, [and] reach these compromises in a way everybody considers legitimate”?

            Because one other thing is clearly a part of modern politics, is legislators casting token votes for laws that cannot pass, or against laws that cannot be stopped, or will be overridden by the courts, for no other purpose than saying to their base, “we care, we tried, now shut up and vote for us”. And one of the lessons of Trump, and the Tea Party before him, is that the voters on the right at least aren’t buying that any more. Sanders tried to teach the same lesson from the left; unclear whether it has sunk in.

        • John Schilling says:

          Nibbler got two of the big ones. I’ll toss in both non-interventionism and decisive interventionism; Congress’s Overton Window on the proper nature and extent of our various foreign wars is I believe far narrower than that of the general public. At both ends.

        • shakeddown says:

          Congress is heterogeneous enough in its values and cultures that I’m inclined to suspect that any idea that really has zero support in congress is probably that way because studying its effects in-depth causes people to oppose it.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I don’t think it needs to be literally zero support, just not enough support to actually get whatever it is passed.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I don’t have your faith that Congress has done a lot of in-depth studies. The folks in Congress may be slightly smarter than the average person, but I bet everyone on this forum is smarter than your average Congressman, and maybe smarter than every Congressman. They are good at politics, not policy. And staying within a narrow band is what gets them elected.

          • I bet everyone on this forum is smarter than your average Congressman

            This is probably true.

            and maybe smarter than every Congressman.

            That seems exceedingly unlikely given the number of people in both groups. And I am almost positive that Congress contains individuals who are a good deal smarter than I am.

          • rlms says:

            “I don’t have your faith that Congress has done a lot of in-depth studies. The folks in Congress may be slightly smarter than the average person, but I bet everyone on this forum is smarter than your average Congressman, and maybe smarter than every Congressman. They are good at politics, not policy. And staying within a narrow band is what gets them elected.”

            I was going to argue against this by using elite college attendance as a proxy for intelligence, but from some brief research it seems that only 7% or so of Congressman went to Ivy League schools, which is much lower than I expected (I presumed it would be similar to the 25% of British MPs who went to Oxbridge). But even so, I am fairly certain that very few people are smarter than every Congressman, and the average intelligence of Congress is higher than you think. This is especially true when you take into account that the relevant kinds of intelligence differ between SSC and Congress; SSC definitely has more maths PHDs, but Congress has more people with the various skills you require for/get from a law degree (which are more relevant to making policy decisions) as well as (I hope) more domain knowledge.

    • keranih says:

      You follow a set of rules, enshrined in a constitution or in custom, to help you reach these compromises in a way everybody considers legitimate.

      “Everyone” sure seems to be doing an awful lot of work, here.

      It’s as if we had a singular, non-diverse culture, with commonly agreed upon values that everyone shared.

      Sounds like that would be a nice place to live. Wonder if I could visit sometime.

    • Matt M says:

      Of course, the Ayn Rand position here would be that politics IS some form of dictatorship (the dictatorship of the majority essentially) and that the ACTUAL two options for people dealing with each other are politics/force and free trade.

      The notion that “getting the chance to participate in a social ritual wherein there is a 0.0001% chance you will get to select between one of two big guys with a gun bosses you around” and “some random big guy with a gun bosses you around” are two dramatically different things is…. suspect, to say the least.

      • rlms says:

        I hope that that is the straw man Ayn Rand position, because the dramatic difference between the two things you mention is clearly evident from the great lengths people take to go from one to the other.

        • Matt M says:

          Perhaps going to such great lengths is not rational.

          My point is, “politics vs dictatorship” is not a valid way to divide the two ways to accomplish something, because it leaves out the entire realm of voluntary interaction.

          If, instead, you divide by “voluntary vs coercive” then politics and dictatorship both clearly land on the same side of that divide.

          • rlms says:

            I’m not sure how useful that divide is, but that’s another argument. I take your point about the classification missing out a large category of possible societal structuring, although I think doing so is reasonable as the discussion is about government and I don’t know what an entirely voluntary form of government would look like (indeed I’m pretty sure many people argue that all government is coercive).

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      If you defend “politics as it would be if only those people weren’t taking part”, are you really defending politics?